Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

This Mission Is Code Named 16, Double-Oh Seven.

16. License to Kill, Gladys Knight. I thought I hadn’t seen this movie until it came on late-night cable a few weeks back. Then I realized that I had seen it, but I had blocked it out of my mind because it was so terrible. It might challenge “View to a Kill” as the worst Bond I’ve seen. At least “View to a Kill” had campy Roger Moore and Grace Jones and Christopher Walken and it was almost thirty years ago now. But anyway, this is not about the movies. The song is fine, there’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about it. It’s a late-eighties formula song with a Bond stinger. At least Gladys Knight delivers her lines with more feeling than most of the people in the movie. Sorry, I keep forgetting.


Fiction: License to Kill

There are three showers in the laboratory level, and Devin is worried that there should be more. The disinfectant smell no longer bothers him, after five years; only its absence does. He talks casually with his colleagues, jokes and smiles, but when following lab protocol, he is deadly serious. Of the thirty-seven tests he has completed in five years, only one was questioned for testing irregularities.

Today the mice cannot even move. He takes the usual measurements of activity, respiration, heart rate, and notes them down alongside the results of four hours ago. Devin had not taken his own measurements before coming to this facility; there were always graduate students and lab assistants for that. But when working on antidotes to the biological weapons agents the government feared its enemies were developing, the fewer people granted clearance, the better. So Devin prepares his own test protocols, cross-checked with one of his few colleagues, and rotates the duties of recording data.

The antidote is not working; the mice will soon be dead. Devin does not note this unscientific appraisal, but he shares it with his colleagues over lunch, and they agree. The number of mice incinerated in this facility could feed a city of cats for a year, Janelle jokes. They all laugh.

Devin doesn’t own a cat–why would he keep an animal that attracts fleas and shits in the house?–but he has long admired them, along with spiders and hawks: creatures that eat vermin and keep the world clean. Contrasted with the lab, the world seems to grow filthier every day, and there is nothing Devin can do but work longer hours in the white, bright lab, breathing in the smell of disinfectant and killing mice with weapons-grade viruses.

Eventually, though, he has to go home. Government regulations against overwork and scientific protocols against tired researchers drive him out, up the elevator, into the dirt and smog-filled city. He hurries to his car, drives to his building, where he takes another elevator up to his apartment. On the way, he passes an old man who coughs into his hands and then pulls the same door Devin just touched; he spies three disturbingly unidentifiable stains on the walls and floor of the elevator; a bag of garbage in the hallway left by the woman who lives two doors down from him. He has complained to the apartment management many times, but still she leaves her garbage in the hall.

What is a man to do, forced to live among these disease-ridden, dirt-cloaked creatures? Has the world really become so disgusting in a few short years? Perhaps the problem is in him, he thinks. Perhaps the problem is that he is a cat afraid to take on the mice.


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