How many spy novels begin with an epigraph from the “Scylla and Charybdis” of Joyce’s Ulysses?
E. Howard Hunt, CIA officer, Watergate burglar, and, according to many, participant in a conspiracy to kill JFK (in his deathbed confession, Hunt admitted to foreknowledge of the assassination, but insisted he did not participate) wrote more 80 books, many of them spy novels.
Oddly enough, Hunt was a recipient of a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship—beating out Truman Capote and Gore Vidal in the process. Some of Hunt’s immortal prose is offered below. I especially like “this old well-remembered smouldering coal of your loins” (I think he stole that from Wallace Stevens poem about a snowman).
"Every life is many days, day after day.
We walk through ourselves,
meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young
men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love.
But always meeting ourselves."
Seat 23 on the New York-Paris flight had been empty since Shannon. The man in seat 25 was asleep, his right arm propping his body against the occasional yawing of the Constellation. When the plane banked slightly, the late-afternoon sun shone through the plexiglass window, touching the man’s face. The light penetrated his eyelids, creating a changing world of red that hummed and pained until he woke and leaned forward. He put his face in his hands, felt the rasp of his day-old beard.
A stewardess was serving coffee a few seats ahead. When she came to seat 25, she said, "Coffee now, Mr. Cameron?"
He nodded and took the warm plastic cup from her hand,
"Too much sun? Shall I draw the curtain?"
"No. I want to see the coast of France."
She looked at her watch. "Landfall in forty minutes."
She smiled, then moved aft, prim and poised and very certain of her place in a world ruled by men. When Cameron finished his coffee, he walked forward into the washroom, turned on the electric shaver, and sanded the stubble from his chin.
Washing in the small aluminum basin was not a success, and after he had dried his face he walked down the aisle to his seat. His eyes were still sensitive from sleep when he looked through the bubble window, down at the Irish Sea.
Clouds appeared suddenly, then vanished, leaving the plexiglass smeared with air-blown droplets that shivered past in the slip stream. The sea was calm in the late summer afternoon. Below, to the left, was a fishing smack, its wake a tracery of white from twelve thousand feet. Five miles ahead a tanker bore sluggishly toward Liverpool.
The dying sun gilded the sea, blinding him until he closed his eyes and turned away. Leaning back against the yielding upholstery, he felt the monotonous, boring vibration of the ship’s four propellers. Their harmonic drone became a babel of voices that beat against his brain. The beat became a crescendo of pain and remembrance racking his mind until his body was weak, and his hands gripped the seat arms as though to restrain himself from running away.
He opened his hands slowly and looked at them. They were flushing with blood again, blood that surged back into the pallid, drained palms. Palms. Blood on the palms. Palm Sunday. Bloody Sunday, when you smashed the taunting face of a devil you hated—Roy Sprackling, who laughed when you learned about him and your wife. The sneering swine who had hit you first and kicked you when you were down; kicked you until you dragged yourself up and flat-handed the side of his devil’s neck, dropping him to the rug, where he lay bloodily hemorrhaging, and you laughed uncontrollably until people took you away. . . .
But even now you remembered the woman you had married. You recalled the lift of her breasts, the rise of her forehead, the slope of her flanks, the small curved gathering of her leg muscles. You remembered those things because over the years they had become part of you like your fingerprints, the color of your eyes, the rhythm of your heartbeat, unidentifiable from yourself. No separate entity, this old well-remembered smouldering coal of your loins. You would always remember, because it was the price you were paying for giving yourself away.
And Ruth would remember too. She had a good memory for faces, a good memory for bodies that had claimed her before yours. She had not forgotten Roy (the smoothfaced sneer,the locker-room laugh, the inflection of interrupted smut, the bravado of a ruttish boar), and she would never forget him now. She could never forget her lover lying on the floor, never forget the limpness of his hands, the twitching of his cheek, the ashen face of the condemned paralytic. His half-dead desiccated body was hers now. Hers alone and forever.
The stewardess tapped his shoulder. He looked up to see her pointing below. "There’s France," she said. "Have you seen it before?"
"Did you come over on business?"
"I’m not sure."
Her eyebrows drew together. "You don’t know?"
"A friend asked me to come."
"Oh," she said uncertainly. "He must be a very good friend."
"We grew up together," Cameron said. "We were in the war together. As friends go, he’s one of the best."
He watched her walk forward to the next seat, a little sorry that he had upset the pat little airlines speech she had been prepared to deliver.
But he had no plans for making a flight reservation west. He was nearing the end of a one-way ticket. Half an hour more, and it would be up to Phil to tell him what the plans were. Cameron was glad that Phil Thorne had not been Stateside when he was convicted for assault against Sprackling. Phil would have done something if he had been around. It would have been quixotic and unnecessary and would have helped no one at all. And the Foreign Servicewould not have approved.
The fields and forests below were beginning to purple in the June evening. It was the France that had raised him; the country he had known and loved and fought in and deserted. Now, in the end, he had come back to her, repentant for intervening infidelities. And for him, always, it would be a France of dusty, troop-trodden roads, and liberated vin rosé and a girl named Marcelle. . . .