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Right Livelihoods: Three Novellas

I The Omega Force


1. The Current National Security Environment

I came to on the loggia-the only question was whose loggia? There was the Cavanaghs' loggia, designed by that famous and locally celebrated architect whom I once met. The name is gone. The Cavanaghs' loggia faced the backyard, and they had a splendid garden with unusual varieties of rosebushes. No, this was not the Cavanaghs' loggia. Was it the Hilliards' loggia? I saw theirs when I attended one of the Hilliard cocktail extravaganzas. A hot ticket in these parts. I felt a sublimity at the view of the distant water, the rocky coast, the Hilliards' tulips, ably tended by their one-armed caretaker. No, it wasn't the Cavanaghs' loggia, it wasn't the Hilliards' loggia, and it wasn't the Pritchards' loggia, where my wife once got into a contretemps with the own ers of the demesne. Helen (who prefers that I not use her real name in this account) grew red in the face in repelling some uncharitable remark by Sydney Pritchard. We strode proudly toward our sports coupe, parked in the gravel turnaround.

I suppose it is possible that I have not visited all the loggias in our municipality, and that adventure was my only purpose in coming to this address, since I had no other purpose that I could recall. Maybe I was keen to see the loggia in question, and that was why I had slept the night through here on the porch furniture of these obliging folks, some rather lovely sturdy stuff painted white and leavened with lime green cushions. However, it's true that in the fi rst light I did not feel particularly well. It must have been a bug of some kind.

The sun rising in the east served as my alarm. As I am fond of saying, I keep the hours of a small child, going to bed before prime- time programming, waking with the light, a light that naturally prompts a fresh bout of reminiscences about the evening previous and its bonhomie. This time of year, early autumn, most of our summer residents have gone home to their suburbs to attend to their law firms or their little boutique money management firms or perhaps to their commercial real estate businesses. The owners of this particular loggia (and the house attached) were therefore not in evidence. Yet their porch furniture remained.

My lips and cheek were swollen from a multitude of mosquitoes that had taken advantage of overnight access. We have twenty varieties of mosquito on our little island, and I think I must have fed every one. Of course, I was wearing my favorite rust-colored poplin shorts and some knee-high socks that went strikingly well with my Docksiders. I also wore the pink polo shirt that my wife says distracts from the blotchy skin problems that beset those of us in the Social Security set. My hair, I'm sure, was badly disarranged. I could barely close my left eye. I hate to disappoint my neighbors and friends by not being turned out in a way that says just who I am: a jaunty former employee of the public sector.

Here's a charming detail. There was a paperback lying beside the chaise longue on which I'd apparently spent the night, a mystery novel of some kind entitled Omega Force: Code White, by one Stuart Hawkes-Mitchell. What a baronial nom de plume! The paperback was well thumbed, and no doubt the own ers of the house were the consumers of the paperback. Perhaps they had spent some of the dog days just past fl ipping through the pages of Hawkes- Mitchell's thriller. I decided I should at least have a look, as it was another forty-
fi ve minutes or so until I could (a) ask to borrow the commode inside, or (b) make my way along the beach and back toward my own home.

The cover of Omega Force: Code White pictured a strapping young man leaping from an amphibious landing vehicle while brandishing a rather alarming handgun, probably a nine millimeter or some such. He was grimacing, this young man, wearing an expression that is to be found in all on-field photographs of football coaches. You'd think football coaches had only two expressions: grimacing and shouting. In the distance of the embossed pictorial image that adorned

Omega Force: Code White

, there was a young woman with an ample bosom. It has not escaped my notice that a paperback cover must always feature an ample bosom. It should go without saying that I prefer antique stories where remarkable people solve crimes and restore law and order using old- fashioned know- how and deductive reasoning. However, I am not one to turn aside a bosom, should it present itself.

Consider the testimonial information on the cover of the paperback. It promised "mind- twisting suspense." I wasn't sure, in my mildly nauseated and headachy condition, that I wanted to be thus contorted. Further, this was the sort of book that would "keep you on the edge of your beach chair." "From alpha to omega, you won't be able to put it down." "The newest episode of Omega Force promises and delivers." Who could resist? I was just about to read past the endorsements from the Orange County Register and the Times- Picayune when I heard a fateful rustling behind me.

It was a French door, and there were drapes on the far side of this threshold (that is, in the interior), some kind of beige drapery, perhaps a linen, a summery weave, suitable for cottage life. And now there was a face in it, a woman's. I caught a glimpse of her at the moment in which she discerned that I was here, reclining on the loggia, facing the beach plums and the massed phragmites, and beyond this overgrowth the sea. Her expression chilled my heart for the rest of the day, as I could not fail to make out the disappointment it displayed. I sat up straight on the chaise longue, like the man of selfrespect I believed myself to be, and I prepared some remarks for the lady of the house on the importance of a dip in the north Atlantic on a day such as this. What ever else the day would bring her, I wanted to assure her, whether feast or famine, nothing would be accomplished through an expression of concern and disappointment. Put a little lift in your step! Whistle a bright melody!

The French door swung open. The woman I've described did not exit the house, did not come to stand upon the loggia with me. Far from it. I could see her chary eyes squinting against the sun.

"Dr. Van Deusen," she said. The chain remained on the door, though as everyone knows, we have effectively de- prived the criminal element of any foothold in my town. The criminal element cannot afford the real estate prices, nor can they bother with the tedious ferry ride.

"Ma'am," I said, waiting for her name to come back to me, "it's a beautiful morning, and I was just thinking about a swim. The texture of sea salt and sun on the skin, well, it does build character."

"I'm surprised you can-" There was some kind of sublingual clucking from her, some censorious rhythmical clucking or tsking, as though I should feel badly about something. And yet so far as I knew there was nothing to regret at all. "Well," she said at last, "can I help you get back to your house?"

I told her that I could very well get back under my own power. Of course, a brisk walk was one of the pop u lar activities in our community of like- minded souls.

"Your wife took the car," she said.


"You don't-"

"I remember perfectly."

Memory is an inconsistent retrieval system, as anyone will tell you. It's shot through with imprecisions. Occasionally, things happen that are beyond our ken, beyond our enfeebled understanding. Occasionally, we choose not to linger over events, the way a woman will cast off the particulars of her labor when that labor is completed, when the babe is brought fl ush into the world. It's this way with me. If I prefer to concentrate on the good things, a lovely bottle of wine, a fine sunset, an afternoon rowing in the harbor in my inflatable raft, who will say that my memory is insufficient? My memory is reliable on the very things it chooses to remember.

"Dr. Van Deusen," the woman began, and again I could hear a hectoring tone creeping into her pleasantries, as when she next said something about the constable. Frankly, I didn't appreciate her point of view. I've spoken with the constable on any number of occasions; for example, about the need for better policing at the ferry dock, about the unfortunate tendency of joyriders to speed down the main road to the country club. I've even advised him to detain certain young people who were frolicking dangerously in their convertibles. I also knew that the constable, whose position was largely honorary, had fiscal problems of his own and would not be drawn into any controversy having to do with this unhappy woman's loggia, nor with my ongoing desire to do reconnaissance on the loggias of my town.

Since I would not be talked down to, there was nothing to do but seize the copy of Omega Force: Code White and say farewell to the loggia and its commodious chaise longue. I pulled my polo shirt over my head, briefly getting this shirt caught on my spectacles, and I headed down the winding path to beachside. Did the woman call to me about whether I needed a towel? I believe she did. She asked if I needed a towel, and I believe that I specifi ed that I liked plush towels. If there is one thing I cannot stand it is the thin white towel. I called behind me that I would accept a towel as long as it was large, plush, preferably navy blue, and if she could also bring a beverage, that would be welcome, maybe a screwdriver with a twist; I would be grateful for these additional gifts, and if it suited her, she could meet me on the beach, where the waves were rather disappointing for the commencement of autumn, which is, after all, hurricane season. In autumn, you expect some of the finest waves of the year.

Did I overlook to mention what kind of doctor I am? I am a doctor of public policy. I received my doctorate from Georgetown in the early sixties, and in this way it was not required that I serve in a certain Asian police action, though I would gladly have served, because I believe in making sacrifi ces for noble ideals. There were other impediments that might have made military ser vice impossible, however. I was married, of course, and my wife, who, as I say, prefers that I not use her real name in this account, was in social work and could not be counted on to be a wage earner. Furthermore, our son, Skip, of whom I am enormously fond, had some developmental problems. Skip has spent most of his life living at home with us. So I earned my doctorate, and in the sixties I went on to become an American civil servant. This was my way of giving back to the community, working my way up the ranks in the cabinet- level department known as Health, Education and Welfare. It's fair to say that this was not considered a proper job among the men of my family, most of whom went into business. I was good at Latin, I could do a geometry proof like I was born to it, but I was less gifted when it came to reading an earnings statement.

And now what I mean to discuss is the current national security climate.

Excerpted from Right Livelihoods © Copyright 2012 by Rick Moody. Reprinted with permission by Back Bay Books. All rights reserved.

Right Livelihoods: Three Novellas
by by Rick Moody

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316166340
  • ISBN-13: 9780316166348