The first thing a columnist does when he reports for work is check in with the city desk to find out whether the world is coming to an end or whether there are any other late developments he ought to know about.

So I stopped at the desk and asked Gene Bachinski, "What's new?"

He handed me a key. "Tell me why I found this on the floor of my car today," he said.

Stamped on the key was the word "Fiat." Attached to it was a thin, narrow piece of white plastic on which two words were written: "Soviet Embessy."

I studied the key and its tag for a long time. Then I asked, "It's not the key to your Fiat?"

"No," he said. "This one is mine."

I compared the two keys. It was obvious they were not for the same car.

"And you don't know how the other key got into your car?"

"Nope," he said. "What do you make of it."

I thought for a long time. Finally I said, "I don't know. I think your best chance to solve this mystery is to find somebody who doesn't know how to spell 'Embassy.'"

Walter Douglas, at the next desk, asked Bachinski: "Has your car been in the shop for service lately?" Bachinski nodded. Douglas shrugged and said, "So some Russki from the embassy had his Fiat in the same shop at the same time, and a mechanic dropped the other guy's key on the floor of your car. Big deal."

Doggone that Douglas. I was just going to think of that solution when he beat me to it.