6. Nobody Does It Better, Carly Simon (from The Spy Who Loved Me). The first and best of the “Bond is an amazing lover” themes. Not is it a great ballad that absolutely works with the movie, lyricist Carole Bayer Sager also included the awkward title of the movie in the song lyrics: “That was one of the things they said, ‘where’s the title [of the film]?’ So I kinda just poked it in part of the verse: like heaven above me, the spy who loved me, is keeping all my secrets safe tonight. When I was writing the song, I was thinking I was writing a love song to James Bond.” She was, and nobody has done it better.
Fiction: Nobody Does It Better
(Note: I am borrowing here from Kyell Gold’s furry superhero universe chronicled in “In the Doghouse of Justice,” which features mature stories about a league of canid superheroes. Kyell is cool with this.)
So you’re an African Wild Dog who at the age of fifteen discovered that when he wanted someone to do something really badly, that person would do what he wanted.
You were an unremarkable pup up to that point: smart enough to keep advancing in school, athletic enough to play football. Your mom might have been a tour guide through the nearby jungle for rich first-worlders on safari, or she might have been a clerk for one of your town’s legal companies; you never really told anyone because it wasn’t important. Your father had been a big game hunter or maybe a soldier, but had given it up the day he’d sighted down his rifle and realized he was no longer willing to end a life. They raised you and your brothers and sister to be kind, to be generous, to stand up for yourselves without knocking down anyone else, as your mother said often.
As you explored this new ability, you found that there were limits. You couldn’t make someone a different person. You couldn’t, for example, tell the bully who beat up your younger brother to befriend him. That maneless lion did put his arm around your brother, true, but five minutes after you walked away your brother wailed for you and the lion was punching him again.
You couldn’t sustain this coercion longer than you could concentrate on it.
You could affect what people thought they saw and heard. This came in handy when your best friend Ogano saw you make your classmate put back the Fanta he’d stolen and forget he’d taken it; Ogano shook all over and said, “Demon!” and you had to tell him that he’d only seen the buffalo kid reach for the Fanta and then think better of it and then you’d both gone outside.
It became complicated and so you used your power almost not at all by the time you were eighteen, but you always wondered what good you might do with it. So you applied to the superhero league you read about in the paper. They sent an escort to bring you to their headquarters, which looked nothing like the comic books (much more starkly steel and brick), and they gave you a series of tests, some on paper, some using your ability.
In the end, you were accepted, and though you were nervous the first time you went on a mission, you told the criminal to drop her weapon, and she did, and WonderWolf said afterwards that he’d never seen a mission go so smoothly, and you were hanging out with WonderWolf and Psycho Coyote and you even met Crypto and it all seemed like a dream.
The first profiles of you began appearing in the newsfeeds. You were interviewed, every reporter bringing along a portable camera, every reporter making the joke, “You can’t make the camera write something nice about you.” You smiled and chuckled politely every time even though the joke hurt. You wouldn’t ever make someone write anything about you. They could write what they wanted.
And all of them said similar things. “Nicest superhero we’ve ever met.” “If you were going to pick anyone you know to be entrusted with this power, it would be Coercion Dog.”
(You don’t like that name, but the League’s PR person came up with it. You wanted to be called Hilali because that’s your name.)
Not all the missions went well; when you couldn’t get close to the target, your power didn’t work. But Crypto was good at assigning you to the right spot, and your first evaluation came back glowing. You bought your parents a new house, your eldest brother a car.
In your second year, new articles started appearing. “What Drives Coercion Dog?” one journal wrote. WonderWolf was motivated to save this planet as he couldn’t save his home world. Glace’s mother had served twenty years on the police and had instilled in her daughter a devotion to law and order. Sim felt the suffering of others and had to remedy it; Scope would be driven crazy by her overloaded senses without the League’s gadgetry. And so on, and so on. But Coercion Dog was just a nice guy from the third world. The journal wondered openly what secrets you were hiding.
Your League’s PR person told you not to worry, that it would all go away. But then one of the religious groups you hadn’t paid attention to, one that had lauded your inclusion into the league, found that your religion didn’t match theirs. Overnight, your “enactment of God’s will” became “a dangerous power.” They asked people whether they wanted a hero who could reach into their mind and make them do anything—anything at all.
Your record, you hoped, would speak for itself. But you were the subject of a parody website article jokingly Photoshopping you into the background of the President’s office during a foreign policy fiasco. More than one site picked up the photo—but not the “parody” designation. The articles grew angrier, the shouts louder.
“A lie can travel round the world before the truth gets out the door,” the league PR person said, as though that was meant to comfort you.
Your ordinary background became a target, as though no superhero could be so unrelentingly nice without a trauma behind him. None of the league’s application forms had a spot for “terrible childhood event that shaped you into a hero,” but that was the narrative, and because you didn’t fit, you were assumed to be hiding something. Your teammates told you not to read the articles, but they bombarded your life: in e-mail, in social media, anywhere you tried to read the Internet, and you couldn’t stop looking at what people said. You wanted them to like you, and every time someone didn’t, it seized your heart with a grip like a crocodile’s teeth.
It wasn’t the wild accusations that bothered you. It was that people wanted to believe that you weren’t as good as you claimed.
And then you slipped. You were doing an interview after a successful mission. The reporter was hostile, asking whether you controlled your teammates, asking whether you humiliated the criminal when you controlled him, asking another question about your background and your parents and the town where you grew up and you couldn’t help it, you wanted so badly for him to believe you that you felt the snap of your power. The reporter stopped asking questions and said, “Of course I believe you. You’re just a good guy, that’s all.”
It looked terrible on camera. The PR person bared her teeth and said she could spin it, but you knew in your heart it was too late. “Let me resign,” you told her, and she couldn’t stop you from signing the contracts and leaving.
People leave you alone now, because you tell them to. You don’t read anything on the Internet anymore. You live on the upper floor of your parents’ new house and you look out over the town.
Sometimes, when you can, you set things in the town right. You don’t know why you still want to do it, but you can’t make yourself stop.