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Blowback by James Patterson



Blowback by James Patterson PDF

Author: James Patterson

Publisher: Little

Genres:

Publish Date: September 12, 2022

ISBN-10: 0316499633

Pages: 512

File Type: Epub, PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

IT’S A BRISK autumn day in June in one of South Africa’s largest cities, and thirty-year-old Benjamin Lucas is enjoying an off day from his South African Diamond Tour. He stands just under six feet, with close-trimmed dark-brown hair, and has a muscular physique from hours in the gym he likes to keep hidden by wearing baggy clothes. On the all-inclusive, ten-day excursion package, he and the other eleven members of his group had walked Pretoria, visited Soweto, the famed site of the decades-long simmer, eruption, and fight against apartheid, and spent a day and night up north at the Madikwe Game Reserve, ooohing and aahing at the sight of elephants, hippopotamuses, and zebras from the comfort of their air-conditioned Land Rovers.

Alone now in Johannesburg, Benjamin keeps up his appearance as a travel writer on an off day, while knowing deep down that if this day ends in failure, the best outcome would be an arrest and expulsion after some torturous days in the custody of South Africa’s State Security Agency, and the worst outcome would be a slit throat in some back alley.

Yet Benjamin keeps an open and happy look on his face as he saunters into the popular section of Johannesburg known as Cyrildene, the city’s Chinatown. At the entrance to the neighborhood on Friedland Avenue, he stops and takes a photo of an impressive arch ornately styled to resemble a pagoda.

There are close to a half million Chinese living in South Africa, most of them in and around Johannesburg. A few blocks in, he feels like he’s in his hometown of San Francisco. The Chinatown residents, the tourists, the outdoor stalls, the blinking neon signs in Chinese characters marking shops and bookstores, restaurants, and tearooms, the scents of all the cooking bringing him back to his childhood, before he went to Stanford, before he got his master’s degree in Asian Studies at Boston University, and before he joined the Central Intelligence Agency.

Benjamin makes it a point not to check the time because he doesn’t want any watchers out there to think he’s heading for a meeting, which happens to be the truth. But his legend as a freelance writer is airtight, with real articles written under his cover name searchable on the internet, and because everything he’s carrying in his shoulder bag marks him as what he pretends to be: a travel writer.

His wallet contains his identification in his cover name of Benjamin Litchfield: California driver’s license, a San Francisco Public Library card, credit cards from MasterCard, Visa, and American Express, as well as loyalty cards for Walgreens and Chevron, and other bits and pieces of what’s known as wallet litter.

He’s wearing white sneakers, tan jacket, plain khaki pants, and a bright-yellow baseball cap from South Africa’s football team, nicknamed “Bafana Bafana.”

If examined, his Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III digital camera would reveal lots of photos of his tourist activities. There are only a few pieces of technical equipment in his possession, including a tracer in the camera’s electronics, so the CIA station at the Johannesburg consulate knows his location.

And then there are his Apple earbuds. If they were taken from his ears without his approval, they would continue to play tunes from his iPhone, contained in his travel bag.

But now, securely in place, they are playing a double role: thanks to overhead, highly classified Agency HUMMINGBIRD drones, the bud on the left will send out a high-pitched tone if it detects surveillance radio frequencies used by officers of the State Security Service, and the one on the right would send out a low-pitched tone if it detects surveillance radio frequencies used by officers of his real opponent today, China’s Ministry of State Security.

Benjamin casually checks a clock in the window of a store selling medicinal herbs and powders.

It’s 10:45 a.m., and in fifteen minutes, he’s to meet an officer from the Ministry of State Security—their equivalent of the CIA—who wants to defect to the United States, and both earbuds are silent, meaning everything seems to be going well. A countersurveillance team from the Agency ghosted his route earlier, and if they had spotted anything amiss, he would have been instantly contacted through the same enhanced earbuds.

So far, the earbuds have been quiet.

But it’s not going well.

He can’t spot them, but he feels he’s under surveillance.

Being undercover overseas is always one delicate balancing act, constantly evaluating the people and scenery around you, juggling the external legend of who you are and what you’ve done, while keeping the training and discipline of being a clandestine operative inside.

Studious Dr. Jekyll and murderous Mr. Hyde, their sharpest instincts combined and enhanced with state-of-the-art technology.

The exterior Benjamin is still happily wandering—apparently aimlessly—through these Chinese markets, while the interior Benjamin becomes more assured that he’s been spotted.

He feels like his balancing act is one fatal step away from collapsing this vital op, potentially the most important he’s ever been on, into a bloody failure

BUT THE HALF smile of a curious tourist remains as he continues his job.

It’s hard to explain but after years of doing overseas operations, you develop a sixth sense that you’re being watched, nothing you could learn in class or during field training while at the famed CIA Farm. The old-time lecturers would tell amusing tales of how their predecessors stationed in Moscow during the height of the Cold War had a hell of a time meeting up with agents. The KGB had everything wired in Moscow, from taxicab drivers to spa attendants, but one funny way of determining that the KGB was after you was taking a few seconds to look at the surrounding cars and their windshield wipers.

Cars without windshield wipers, innocent. Because every driver in that worker’s paradise Moscow knew that windshield wipers were kept in the car and were taken out only when it rained or snowed. Parking a car with the windshield wipers attached meant they would be stolen within seconds.

But cars with windshield wipers, they belonged to the KGB, as well as cars with the best tires. No Moscow thieves would dare go after those vehicles.

Smart tradecraft, back in the good old days when the intelligence world was black and white.

Here, in the Chinatown section of Johannesburg, it was all shades of cold grays and blood red.

Benjamin keeps on walking, not breaking stride, looking at the reflections in shop windows and car windshields, and he can sense it. There is a rhythm in the movement and swirls of crowds, but in running surveillance, sometimes you have to stop and see what you are following, and in doing so, risk standing out like barely hidden rocks in a smooth-flowing stream.

Up ahead are a series of food stalls with bright large umbrellas shading them from the June sun. A thought comes to him. Benjamin stops and smiles, chats to the shopkeepers in English, takes photos, and then buys a skewer of disgusting-looking fried food.

He takes it in hand, starts munching on it, and, approaching a municipal wastebasket, suddenly stops and spits out whatever spicy piece of meat was in his mouth, doing his best to upchuck what was left in his stomach from breakfast, and in doing so, sweeps the area around him with his sunglasses-hidden eyes.

There. Young Chinese man suddenly stopping while crossing the street.

There. Young Chinese woman, smartly dressed, carrying a briefcase and talking on her phone, taking just a few seconds to turn her head away from the phone to look at him.

Benjamin has been made.

He’s being surveilled by Chinese intelligence.

Depending on what orders his Ministry of State Security counterparts have received from Beijing, he might not be alive by the time noon arrives


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