Ode to the Double-Crossed Lacky in "Thunderball" 

by Tara Laskowski



EDITOR'S NOTE: We're opening the massive and much-hacked Barrelhouse Online archives one Throwback Thursday piece at a time, with a note from one of our editors about the piece and what struck them about it, way back in the day. Here's a note on "Ode to the Double-Crossed Lackey in Thunderball," from editor Dave Housley: 

I remember where I was when I read this submission: sweating away on the elliptical machine at the State College YMCA, around about 8 years ago, reading through and discarding submission after submission, hoping for one that was at least entertaining enough to make me forget how out of shape I was for a few minutes. I didn't know Tara at the time (now I do, and I'm a huge fan of her work). I read the first paragraph and got off the elliptical machine, drove home as fast as I could, logged into Submittable and added a note into our standard acceptance that said something along the lines of "I'm accepting the shit out of this because it's fucking awesome."  

I'm realizing now that the piece does what a lot of my work tries to do, which is focus on characters that are off to the side, in the shadows or, like poor Mr. Angelo, quickly discarded. What is it like for that person when the camera moves on to follow the awesome adventures of the suave Mr. Bond? What is it like for all of us who are sitting on the sidelines, watching the awesome adventures of everybody else in the world?

The thing I love about this piece is how it does all of this with such efficiency and humor. I also love the fact that its a pretty clear predecessor to some of Tara's later, awesome work, especially her most recent book Bystanders, which you should buy right now. In these five short paragraphs you can see some of the tools she'll be working with in the coming years, which is one of the really cool things about being a literary magazine editor: every now and then you can look back and see how somebody's early work will yield greater results over time -- again, click that link above and buy her book now.

Okay, enough of my yapping: you're going to enjoy the shit out of this story, because it's fucking awesome. 

They really did you in Mr. Angelo, didn’t they, just when you thought it was going to be ok and the quarter of a million dollars they offered to transfer to you via a square white briefcase would be your ticket out of here, new face or old. And the rotten part is that no one will ever recognize you for who you are, outside or in, or that you did it all for Lorraine, who thinks you’re still abroad somewhere doing secret work for the government.

You went for it all, two excruciating years of extensive pilot training, voice lessons, film clip analysis, multiple, painful plastic surgery operations. They stuck needles in your cheeks and piled ice packs on your swollen neck until it grew numb and hard and blue. You became him, some Bond girl’s brother, all for the elaborate ruse hatched by some guy you never even met — a guy with a cat, for God’s sakes. You always hated cats. They made your hands itch and your throat close up. No amount of plastic surgery can change that.

You flew the plane and stole the atomic bombs like they asked you, and landed that plane gorgeously on the water right next to their luxury cruise liner—so precisely your own sister would be proud if she knew. You remembered as kids flying remote control planes, watching them dot the sky like birds, double crossing each other’s paths again and again. As you unlocked the plane’s wheels and thumped them on the ocean floor, you thought of your sister’s laugh and it made you sad.

If it makes you feel better, days after the henchmen sabotaged your seatbelt, cut your oxygen mask and left you at the bottom of the ocean to drown, they, too, died in painful ways—spears through the heart, torn apart by sharks. This is the price you pay working for evil.

It’s a shame. All that work for that ungraceful, undignified end. You’ve read the O’Henry tales of irony and might’ve even heard stories of the British government releasing Nazis back to Germany with lies on their tongues. We’ve glorified the villains and incorporated them into our language and lore — Benedict Arnold, Judas, Tokyo Rose. But for you, nothing. No term or song, no grand explanation or chance to escape. Just a stillness after the panic ceases, a gentle rocking on the bottom of the ocean, and those dreams, the flickering film strips of what might’ve been.

Tara Laskowski is the author of Bystanders (Santa Fe Writers Project) and Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons. She has been the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010, and is a columnist and reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books