Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to introduce you to an exciting, just-published espionage novel, The Clandestine Consultant, by Luke Bencie. If you like novels by Alex Berenson, David Ignatius or Ian Fleming, you’ll like this story of The Tall Man’s adventures in tradecraft.
Author’s Note: All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official positions or views of the CIA or any other US government agency. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying US government authentication of information or Agency endorsement of the author’s views. This material has been reviewed by the CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information.
To the other passengers sitting around me in first class, as well as the attentive cabin crew refilling my glass of Bordeaux, I was just another anonymous businessman somewhere between thirty-five and forty-five.
Little did they know I hold a treasure trove of interesting secrets—some of which have shaped the course of world history. In the very near future, more of these secrets will unfold into events with life-changing consequences for thousands of people. You might read about them in newspapers and wonder how or why they happened. Or, perhaps you won’t hear of them at all. But I knew they were coming. I might even have caused them.
Who am I? Perhaps a spy, you might think. Maybe an assassin. More innocently, I might be lawyer, a lobbyist, or a diplomat. Or could it be that I’m a thief? What about an international arms dealer?
The truth is I am (in my mind, at least) none of these things. But by technical definition I am also all of them. But for now, call me an international consultant. That’s what my business card reads, that and my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Nothing more. Nothing less. Not even a name or phone number. My job is to advise and assist those at the highest levels of power and influence. My client list includes kings, sheiks, warlords, and dictators. Sometimes, I also help the ultra-rich and maybe the occasional high-level politician. I solve their toughest and most embarrassing problems. Discretion is my policy, and I am particular for whom I do work. That’s why I avoid celebrities altogether. They’re too emotionally unstable and cannot keep secrets.
As secretive and mysterious as I am, turn on the television and chances are you’ll see the results of my work. At any given time, 75 percent of the planet is undergoing some form of turmoil or strife. Wars, uprisings, invasions, economic crises, insurrections, famine, disease—the list goes on and on. The world is not a nice place. Never has been. But where most people read the newspapers or their websites and bemoan the chaos and despair, I read them to scout for clients and profits. Single-paragraph news stories, tucked away in the bottom corner of the international section, provide me with an abundance of leads. You could say I specialize in the disreputable.
I don’t advertise my services, nor do I solicit business from strangers. I work strictly by referrals from previous clients, some of whom, interestingly enough, despise one another so much they have tried killing one another. Remember the saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?” Well, I’m the person who maintains that relationship between enemies. I’m the ultimate middleman—a fixer.
Mariana and I are sitting in uncomfortable silence as our Gulfstream IV silently races above the Amazon rainforest at 600 miles per hour. Since meeting at the airport less than four hours ago, we have not really spoken much, other than trading a couple of “bom dias” on the tarmac. She has been busy pretending to be reading the contents of a government manila folder, and I have remained thoroughly engaged with stirring my Old Fashioned on the rocks. At least the plush Italian leather swivel chair I’m sitting in is amazingly comfortable.
The dark-skinned stewardess with the thick carioca accent who prepared my drink, despite putting in too many drops of bitters, is wearing the tightest black pants, which perfectly accentuate her lovely Brazilian butt. What is it with Latin women and tight black pants? In order to not upset Mariana, I attempt to conceal my ogling. I then try to gauge which one of them has a better rear end, Mariana or this stewardess? Actually, it’s no contest. The stewardess is undeniably attractive, but Mariana is legendary. I’m discouraged over the idea that I may never see her naked again. It’s time for me to break the ice.
“Mariana, may I tell you how incredible you look today?”
“Tell it to the stewardess. You’ve been removing her slacks with your eyes since we boarded.” Ouch!
“Actually, I’ve been undressing both of you, and you can’t believe what else I have you two doing.”
“You want her? Go get her,” she says, without even looking up from her papers.
“Do I detect a hint of jealousy?” I say, trying to sound playful.
Now she looks up and checks to see if the stewardess is out of earshot.
“You need to understand something, Mr. Ward.”
Really? She just called me Mr. Ward?
“We’re on our way to conduct a very important operation, one that is going to change a country’s history—one that could get us both killed. You need to take this seriously.”
“First of all,” I shoot back, “my name is Paul. Or, if you prefer, you can call me ‘gostoso’ (Portuguese for tasty). Next, I’m always serious about my work. How the hell do you think I’ve been able to operate right under the noses of every intelligence service and law-enforcement agency across the globe for the past twenty years? And lastly, I’m a professional consultant, not a hit man, which makes this ridiculous plan of yours all the more fucked up. I mean, come on, you send a team of Navy SEALs into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden, but you’re sending me to off this dictator? The whole thing makes zero sense. If anyone needs to get serious, it’s you guys.”
“You have no idea what it takes to preserve democracy,” she snaps.
“Preserve democracy? That’s your justification? Who the hell is pulling your strings, lady?”
“This isn’t up for debate—Paul. Remember, just do the job and you walk. Don’t do the job and spend the rest of your life in prison—or worse. End of discussion.”
“Fine!” I bark.
“Yes, fine!” she counters.
The stewardess hears us and emerges from the galley.
“Dá licença, que a gente tá conversando aqui… vaca!” Mariana yells. “Pode voltar pra copa!” The unsuspecting stewardess retreats in stunned silence.
“Jesus, was that really necessary?”
She slams the manila folder on her tray in front of her.
“I’m sorry,” she says in a quivering voice, “You’re right, this plan doesn’t make any sense at all. I can’t believe I agreed to this shit.”
Her eyes tear up, ever so slightly.
“I should apologize to that girl,” she says remorsefully, and rises to walk toward the galley.
“Hey,” I say in a soft voice.
“Yes?” She stops, turns and looks tenderly at me for the first time today.
“Tell her to bring me another Old Fashioned, but go easy on the bitters this time.”
Mariana frowns at me with a look that says, “You’re an asshole.”
You might think I’m being unfair to Mariana, and I probably am. But there’s a good reason for it. When Mr. Lee returned to my hotel room after forty-eight hours, as he promised, he once again used his cover as my tailor to bring me my new suits and, more importantly, new information. Mr. Lee had put Mariana under surveillance and hacked into her personal emails. Not an easy task, with Mariana being a trained intelligence officer who’s accustomed to detecting surveillance and practicing good OPSEC—operational security.
But Mariana has never met the likes of someone as devious as Lee. When he discovered that she jogged near her apartment every morning at around six-thirty, and always ran along the same route while listening to her iPod shuffle, he devised a simple plan. Lee assumed that Mariana was too smart to fall for the old trick of simply clicking on a dummy email, which would allow a hacker to gain access to her computer. He also assumed she maintained updated antivirus software.
Not to worry, as he says. He quickly found another way into her email inbox.
Before one of her morning jogs, Lee left a bright-blue iPod Shuffle on the sidewalk along her chosen path. The idea was that another runner had accidently dropped the iPod and kept on running. When Mariana spotted the device, she picked it up—while Lee watched from the bushes to confirm the pickup. She then dutifully asked all the other runners she came across if they had lost it, but no one claimed it. So Mariana took the iPod home and plugged it into her laptop to see if there was any evidence of its owner.
To Mariana’s surprise, the iPod was filled with close to one hundred hit songs, in both English and Portuguese. Impressed by the playlist, Mariana began dragging some of the songs from the iPod onto to her computer’s playlist. As she transferred the files, she also unknowingly allowed Mr. Lee’s virus to infect her email inbox. As a result, Mr. Lee gained access to all of Mariana’s personal emails, which he then printed out and brought to me at my hotel room, concealed in the garment bag with the Brioni suits.
The content of those emails made me rethink the entire operation.
Mariana returns from the jet’s galley and walks toward me. She has apparently apologized to the stewardess, given the relieved look on her face. She is also carrying my fresh drink.
“Everything okay?” I ask.
“Yes, everything is okay. I apologized to the girl and told her I was upset because you were staring at her ass. She apparently seemed flattered by that and then asked if you and I were a couple.”
“What did you say?”
“I said, yes, we are, and invited her for a threesome tonight.”
“Really?” I ask, suddenly intrigued.
“No, dumbass. I told her that you were some loser pervert, and now she’s too scared to even come back out here again.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“It’s better this way. Now we have complete privacy,” she says in a seductive voice, straddling my legs while handing me my drink.
“Wait a minute. Two minutes ago you hated me. Now you’re sitting on my lap? Why the sudden change of heart?”
“Doesn’t a woman have the right to change her mind? Besides, I just realized that whether this operation is total success of a complete failure, I’m probably never going to see you again. So, I might as well enjoy myself.”
She starts to unbutton my shirt. After an hour or so of enjoying each other’s company on the leather sofa in the jet’s cabin, Mariana has returned to her seat, once again reading through her government folder. It’s apparent to me she was nervous about the operation and needed a way to release some stress. I, of course, was happy to oblige. What is it about private jets that turn women on so much?
I’m in no way complaining about my current situation. I recognize when I’m being played for a fool. Mariana still doesn’t know I’ve read her personal emails and understand the full scope of her plans for me. I also know her other secret—that she and Joe are in a relationship.
The Gulfstream’s wheels gently touch down on the runway as we arrive in Don Pedro’s homeland. Outside the windows is a lush, tropical landscape filled with bright colors set against a stunning, mountainous backdrop. Steam is rising off the plant life, a result of a recent rainstorm. It’s hard to believe this jungle paradise is in such disarray. Why can’t Disney run Latin America, instead of corrupt dictators and politicians?
It has always bothered me that these countries are so full of natural resources yet maintain such poor infrastructure, high unemployment, and low wages, and are unnecessarily reliant on loans from the International Monetary Fund. I would be willing to bet that if you brought in a local city council from any small town in Nebraska, those ethical, God-fearing patriots who believe in earning your keep and maintaining a smart fiscal budget, you could improve the management of most Latin American countries tenfold.
Forget calling in a bunch of Harvard MBAs from consulting firms such as McKinsey or Bain. Just clean out all the jefes in power and replace them with people with common sense. Then perhaps Latin America would become the economic powerhouse it should be. Maybe that’s what my current employers are intending to do.
As the jet rolls to a stop, Mariana and I get up and walk to the front of plane. As we do, the sexy stewardess, who has remained tucked away in her galley, shoots me a look of disdain. I haven’t seen her since Mariana told her to give us privacy. Her scowl makes me think Mariana told her something pretty awful about me. That, coupled with the fact that she probably snuck a peek at Mariana and me fooling around on the back couch, must make her dislike me even more.
But then, I’m not here to make friends but to kill a president.
Luke Bencie has worked in over 120 countries and has trained thousands of domestic and international students from police, military, and intelligence services on topics such as economic and industrial espionage, border security, intellectual property protection, counterfeiting/piracy, and recognizing/discouraging terrorist travel movement.
As the Managing Director of Security Management International (SMI), Mr. Bencie has been a consultant to the US Department of State, US Department of Defense, Fortune 500 companies, as well as foreign governments. He specializes in conducting strategic and security management assessments, performing counterintelligence and due-diligence investigations, and also provides specialized intelligence advisory services. He is the author of Among Enemies: Counter-Espionage for the Business Traveler and Global Security Consulting: How to Build a Thriving International Practice. The Clandestine Consultant is his first novel. All his books are available in both print and Kindle formats on Amazon.