In the original Rocky movie Rocky tells Adrian he boxes because he can’t sing or dance. I can identify. After twenty-six years as an FBI agent, I now write because I can’t sing or dance. Throughout my career, criminal defense attorneys accused me of being a great fiction writer, referring to the affidavits I filed against their clients. In retirement, I thought I’d put those so-called fiction writing skills to good use.
“Targets Down” (B&H Publishing), my second novel in the Matt Hogan series is now available. Publisher’s Weekly called my debut novel, “Enemies Among Us,” “a page-turning roller coaster that feels like Jack Bauer’s 24 without sailing over the top.” Actor/producer Jack Scalia read an advance copy of TARGETS DOWN and liked it so much he optioned it. Mark Roemmich of Noble House Entertainment Pictures is writing the screenplay.
Much of my career was spent undercover so it makes sense Matt Hogan, my alter-ego, would be an undercover FBI agent…only younger, better looking, and with more hair than I have. Although fiction, I want to give the reader a realistic look at the FBI and what undercover work really entails. Hollywood seldom gets it right and too often our perception is only what we see on the big screen.
As in many undercover assignments, where you begin is not where you finish. As I’ve discussed at Big Peace, I was undercover for three years in Operation Smoking Dragon. It began with Chinese manufactured counterfeit cigarettes but lead to nearly pure crystal meth, ecstasy, the North Korean Super Note, a $60 million surface-to-air missile deal, even former Russian intelligence agents selling me stolen cars. In TARGETS DOWN, Matt finds twists and turns as he seeks to find who killed two people and critically wounded an FBI agent’s wife.
Here’s chapter one, I hope you enjoy it…
TARGETS DOWN: CHAPTER ONE
The powerful hand gripped the silenced Russian-made weapon and the tattooed arm straightened. As the teenager talked to the killer’s two associates in the darkened parking lot, she had no idea she was about to be erased by the threat behind her. It was all so impersonal, but career criminals operated on a different plain. Morality was never an issue; expediency was. The Ukrainian girl was a liability and thus expendable.
The ever-constant traffic on Ventura Boulevard masked the sounds of the two muted gunshots fired in rapid succession. From just a few feet away either shot to the back of the head was fatal. Before anyone exited the rear door to the Russian Veil, the three men threw the limp body into the bed of the pick-up truck and were gone: another anonymous victim of Los Angeles street justice, a judicial system lacking due process or fairness. Even a quest for freedom was a capital offense.
Matt Hogan stood in front of the mirror admiring his greased biker-hair look. His rugged battle-scarred features were in sharp contrast to the metrosexuals parading up and down the Sunset Strip on any Saturday evening. The undercover agent then sprayed a 70 percent solution of alcohol on the left side of his powerful neck. He carefully placed the Tinsley transfer, blotted the paper, waited a few seconds, and just as carefully removed the transfer. Satisfied with his work, he finished with a dash of baby powder to aid in drying the large prison-like tattoo. A movie studio German “SS” now complemented the stubble. But even clean shaven, Matt could be a menacing figure, a no-holds barred, man’s man.
If it’s true, the hotter the fire the stronger the steel, then Hogan was as strong as they came. A member of the FBI’s small cadre of undercover agents, he successfully played the role of contract killer, drug dealer, and when cleaned up, a sophisticated white collar criminal. A psychologist described him as a “synthesist,” a person who could void himself of his own personality and take on the characteristics, mindset, and mannerisms of whatever the part required. Matt was good, maybe too good. Sometimes even he questioned who he was.
Working undercover meant more than a fake driver’s license and a fictitious name. It was living life as a liar for hours, days, even months at a time. It meant becoming one of them without becoming one of them. Distance offered detachment but when you went undercover it became personal. It was getting close to people whom you will ultimately betray and probing the darkest side of humanity, including your own. Unlike Hollywood, there were no retakes–a botched line, a missed mark, a mistake–could mean instant death. Matt Hogan walked in the flames many times; he experienced the fire.
As he began writing the letters H-A-T-E on the fingers of his right hand, Steve Barnett walked into the Joint Terrorism Task Force locker room.
“Well, if it isn’t the Mary Kay of the FBI,” said Steve. “You enjoy putting on make-up way too much. I hope you aren’t switching sides on me.”
“Don’t ask. Don’t tell,” said Matt concentrating on his artwork.
“Why don’t you just pierce your ear and grow a ponytail, like every other undercover agent I know?”
“Caitlin won’t let me. She’s got a pretty strict dress code around the house. In fact, these biker undercover assignments keep me sleeping on the couch until I take a shower.”
“I guess that’s why she’s been spending so many nights with me at my place.”
“In your dreams big guy, I know for a fact she doesn’t date the follicly challenged with a bad weave.”
Steve pulled out a comb and began to rake his sparse locks styled in a weak comb-over. “That’s how much you know. I’m a Hair Club for Men honor graduate and she loves to run her fingers through these amber waves.”
Matt didn’t even look up, still writing on his fingers. “I’m surprised you’re awake. Isn’t this way past your bedtime?”
Steve looked in the mirror, moving his face even closer, carefully examining his skin, searching for tell-tale signs of aging, “These late nights are causing all kinds of wrinkles.”
“I’m not sure eight hours of sleep or Mary Kay will help,” said Matt without cracking a smile.
“What about Botox?”
“Yeah, that might fill in a few of those deep crevices around the eyes but you still don’t have a shot with any skirt rated higher than a three or four.”
“You’re probably right. I keep hoping my near perfect shooting scores at the Leisure World pistol range will attract some blue-hair with money, but I’m even striking out there.” Steve paused, turned serious, and then said almost in a whisper, “Dwayne said we’re ready to start the briefing, when you are.”
An FBI office is like a locker room with the requisite jock-snapping and sarcastic sniping. The thin-skinned need not apply. A sense of humor is almost a requirement, sometimes the sicker the better. Those on the outside would never understand or appreciate the need to talk or act the way grown men in law enforcement do. Those in the military understand. Those on the front lines fighting evil know the need. It brings a sense of relief from the tensions the real world throws at you everyday, the constant reminders of your mortality. It also brings a sense of camaraderie. You can’t count on judges, lawyers, law makers, or administrators. Like the combat soldier or Marine you can only count on the man next to you on the urban battlefield.
Matt blew on his fingers to accelerate the drying time of the ink from the tattoo make-up pen and followed Steve to the room at the end of the long hallway.
Ed. Note: You can read Mark Tapson’s review of “Targets Down” here.