Secret Agent Man, by Christina Fulton

My father always loved James Bond movies. Whenever there was a marathon on TV he would watch it like a child who just discovered the chain-smoking joy that only Saturday morning cartoons could bring. I think he admired how smooth all the Bonds were, and how they could basically double down on all the deadly sins and never get caught. They made womanizing look sexy and the art of sneaking around in enemy territory look as easy as the women.

However, my father was no 007. In fact, if we are being honest, he was more of a .007 or possibly a -7. He lacked the capacity to tell a successful lie, and even though he longed for the erotic/adventurous secret life of all the Bonds, he could never truly have it because his cover was always blown by his inability to juggle stories, use common sense, and trust the right people.

When he was about seven he thought he knew more than adults and decided one afternoon, while his mother was at work, he was going to use the stove. My grandmother expressly forbade him to use the stove because she had seen too many children fly by her nursing station at the hospital with stove related burn injuries. To make matters worse, he did it in front of his younger sister. He made a bountiful feast of hot cocoa and melted butter on bread to make grilled cheese sandwiches. He thought since he had given his sister half, and he had been the one to meticulously clean up all the evidence, she would keep the secret. A word my aunt was immune to.

For the next few months my father was, for all intents and purposes, her bitch. Now, I tell me creative writing students to only curse when it feels warranted. Never senselessly OD on nasty statements. However, I feel the word “bitch” is the only way to truly describe it. My aunt went as far as to concoct a special little song that she would start to sing whenever she wanted something from him, or he was doing something that displeased her. It went something like this: “He put the butter in the oven and made hot cocoa on the stove.”

Then, she would just repeat it as many times as necessary, until she got her way. Sometimes she would torture him with it if she had nothing better to do. She would go out with a bucket of chalk and write it on the driveway, using his full name of course, so their mom might see it when she returned home from work. My father would then have to run out there with a hose and wash it off. It got so bad all my aunt had to do was sing the first few words of her song and he would snap to it.

This torture went on for a few months before my grandmother decided to put a stop to it. Unfortunately, she may have “jumped the gun.” I have also warned my creative writing students against using clichés, but I feel “jumping the gun” was appropriate because my father was a walking, talking list of clichés, and the Bonds were awfully fond of guns. My father’s favorite was the Walther PPK. It was small but sexy—how he considered himself, I’m sure. “The short man with an insanely large ego” was perhaps the cliché that defined him most. To my college graduation he wore special shoes with extra lifts, not to conceal a poison tipped dagger or micro-film, but just so he could gain a precious sense of being above it all.

When he was a little older he thought it would be fun to sneak up on my aunt and scare her. However, she was standing in front of an open door that led to two flights of stairs and a basement with a cement floor. She fell and broke a series of bones and spouted blood from her nose and mouth. My father rushed to her shouting,“I’m sorry…I’m sorry…don’t tell…don’t tell!” A true Bond would have never been so quick to chicken out and apologize. Especially not Sean Connery, who was my father’s favorite due to the fact that this was one Scotsman who never took any lip of off anyone with tits.

“What are you crazy? I have to tell,” she screamed. My father tried to play doctor to cover up his accidental brush with soroicide, but my grandmother came home and quickly rushed my aunt to the hospital.

This irresponsible behavior carried over into adulthood, where it started to disrupt all the satellites in his celestial orbit. On one of his first dates with my mother, a woman marched up to them in a crowded restaurant and threw a glass of water in his face. That set the tone for the rest of their relationship. My father always preferred the Bond movies that featured multiple top-heavy heroines or villainesses, like Goldfinger with the hard-hitting Pussy Galore and the jaded Tilly Masterson. He called it “having options.” In spite of that attitude, my mother swore up until the day we put him in the ground that she always loved him. My mother, the most loyal Bond girl, never got enough screen time. She was his Money Penny.

A year after my grandmother died from a severe stroke, my aunt declared war against all tobacco products in her house. She quit smoking and rubbed everyone’s face in her new found bodily piety. She even had a few slick words to say to my mother who had every reason in the world not to quit. Especially, since my father had threatened to kill himself, while my mother was trying to divorce him. She had known since I was still in my single digits that he had a mistress. Her best friend, Judy, caught him trying to live out a scene from Casino Royale in Atlantic City, sporting his own little version of a well-endowed Vesper Lynd. My mother had made peace with it in the hope that there was still enough love leftover for her. However, when Vesper Lynd showed up alone and uninvited to my grandmother’s private family funeral, after my father had sworn to her she wasn’t coming, she couldn’t take it anymore. My mother was burnt out and in ashes. I remember her trying to light two cigarettes at once as she drove me back to my college dorm.

Of course, my father got caught up in all his sister’s nicotine-patch halleluiahs and hype. He even had the nerve to lecture my mother, who was hanging on to her sanity by a puff. This made catching him outside with the occasional cigarette a small yet so incredibly savory victory for me. All the Bond weapons hidden inside cigarettes and cigarette holders couldn’t help him. Then, he would childishly beg me not to tell anyone, and for some reason, I didn’t. For a long time, I didn’t know why. Maybe it was the fact that every time I looked at my father I didn’t see a grown man, but a little boy pretending to be a spy.

My father would have many more infamous incidents like this throughout the course of his life that showed him to be the very last person you would want on a top secret mission to save the world. Telling you about every time my father got caught in a lie would be monotonous and probably just as impossible as trying to count all the cheesy sexual puns used by all of the Bonds. Plus, all his other lies seem rather small in comparison to the “oh-oh” moment that started the final countdown sequence in his life. My father, who owned a very successful home improvement business and had a wide range of lucrative investments, had been cashing checks in a way that was slightly less than legal, which then led to the involvement of the ultimate diabolical villain, the IRS. The bank teller warned him that what he was doing was illegal, and she said that she would have to report him if he continued.

I believe if the teller had been a man, the odds of him listening would have gone up exponentially. First, he had seen way too many Bond girls get a slap in the chops for him to ever truly respect women. My second theory is that he thought he was too suave for her to ever pull the trigger. After all, how many Bond girls started out as villains and then succumbed to that good old 007 charm? Unfortunately, my father’s charm was all tapped out, and there was no rocket pack or high-tech Indian rope trick to carry him to safety.

The weekend before the IRS raided my father’s office was the last time I spent Thanksgiving in New Jersey. We were making the usual rounds and attempting to play normal family, as per usual. My mother had opted out of going up north to visit relatives that clearly did not have a problem with my father’s mistress attending my grandmother’s funeral and introducing herself as his “girlfriend.” It had been a few years and everyone had thankfully stopped asking why my mother was always absent from the festivities.

We stopped at my godfather’s beach house for the mandatory after-Turkey-Day salutations. This was the Thanksgiving when Tiger Woods’ infidelity to his wife, Elin Nordegren, was sprinkled all over the major news networks. My father sat in their living room laughing and making bad golf jokes about how Tiger had “teed her off” and how he “was in the rough for sure.”

I finally snapped, thinking of my own mother. “It’s not funny! That woman’s pain is now public. Not to mention, their kids are being exposed to all of this negativity.” He immediately stopped and changed the channel and the conversation entirely. This wasn’t the first time I called him on his infidelities, but this was one of the few times I did it in public. Everyone in the room knew exactly what I was alluding to and tried to escape the undertow of embarrassment by starting side conversations or pretending to clean up the kitchen.

A few hours after he dropped me off at the airport that Monday, the IRS arrived. If my plane had been delayed I would have watched as they knocked over filing cabinets, took all his hard drives, and rattled-up the poor secretary for precious inside intel. Apparently, the checks were just breadcrumbs that led to much larger offenses. To this day, I am not quite sure what he did. After my mother and I found out he was in trouble in December, he fell off the radar. I do know, whatever it was, was enough to earn him some pajama-party time in the white-collar slammer and fines in the several millions range. This time, my father was caught and he didn’t have any gadgets, gizmos, or busty gal pals to bail him out.

Over the next few months, he did everything physically and legally possible to keep us out of it and in the dark. Maybe there was a touch of secret agent in him after all. Whatever the reason, I was relieved because I knew my mother still loved him and testifying would have devastated her. Like Bond, my father found a way to get himself out of trouble in March; unlike Bond, he did it by using the cyanide pill.

Whenever I see the opening title sequence to the old Bond movies, and that gun has its sights set on James, I think about my father. Then, all I see is red.

***

Christina Fulton graduated from Florida Atlantic University with an MFA in Fiction. She teaches at Miami Dade College. Her novel Dead Ends is available on Amazon. Her writing has been published in Rozlyn Press Anthology, The Gravel, and If and Only If.

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Christina Fulton

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  1. […] Grabois, James Holbert, Warren Read, and Jonah Smith-Bartlett. Nonfiction by Michael Milburn and Christina Fulton. Poetry by Dylan Debelis, Jenifer DeBellis, Jonathan Duckworth, Alison Hicks, Tricia Knoll, Rebecca […]

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