The Seven Year Itch
(A J.J. McCall Novel – the FBI Series)
by S. D. Skye
Why J.J. Can Detect Lies…
When I first conceived the idea for this FBI Espionage (really, counterespionage) series, I wanted to write a heroine modeled after an African American agent with whom I worked at the FBI. She was the only black woman serving as a supervisor in Russian Counterintelligence/Espionage program and I wondered what drew her to a field largely dominated by white males. She was an anomaly but darn good at her job. One of the things I remembered about the agent is that I admired her because she had an almost innate ability to walk into a room, command it, and then cut through the BS. We worked on a task force together, and she waded through all the white noise to get to the nitty gritty and take care of business almost immediately. She wasn’t at all arrogant or bossy, just very no-nonsense, just-the-facts, Jack.
So, when creating the J.J. McCall character, I wanted to somehow infuse J.J. with that same ability to cut through the BS. I wanted her “gift” to be something of a superpower, but not really a superpower because I don’t write paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction. I don’t have the imagination to world-build to that degree.
I also wanted her “gift” to be grounded in some reality.
Espionage, spying, and intelligence collection is all smoke and mirrors. When I thought about the major challenges counterintelligence agents face, one significant problem is attempting to discern the truth from lies. When an FBI Agent pitches an officer in a foreign intelligence service and he refuses to speak with the FBI, does he really mean it? Or is he putting up a front because he’s afraid of getting caught by his counterintelligence service? When a new Russian diplomat enters the United States and claims he’s legitimate, is he “clean” or is he a spy on a mission to steal U.S. secrets? From operational covers (or legends) to targeting and recruitment, to intelligence collection, the human intelligence spy world is built around lies. Counterintelligence is essentially the ability to use a variety of investigative techniques to detect the truth and then use that truth to neutralize your “enemies.” And you’d be surprised at the degree to which even our so-called “friends” and “allies” target U.S. government information.
So, just imagine a character who could detect a lie in this world?
Pretty cool, right?
So, I created a character that could mitigate the “lying” problem by detecting them. Then I immediately wondered if I had made her job too easy. As writers, we can’t make anything easy on our characters or it’s not fun for the reader. Readers like to see characters that face challenges, that suffer before they succeed.
After some thought, I realized such a gift was limited in its use. First, she couldn’t be everywhere at once or listen to every conversation. Her gift would only be useful if she was speaking to a bad guy at the time they were lying about something related to a case or operation. Secondly, if you think about why people lie, we tell lies for a multitude of reasons. In addition to attempting to deceive others, we tell lies to protect other people’s feelings. We may lie to protect someone else from harm. All sorts of reasons. So, even though J.J. can tell whether someone is lying, she cannot answer the very important question of why without digging a little deeper. So this gives her an “edge” in this spooky world but limits her ability to leverage it.
As for the “itch,” years ago I took a class taught by an FBI agent, and he taught us methods to detect whether someone might be engaging in deceptive behaviors during interviews. Sometimes when people tell lies it makes them itch and they scratch. And I remember one instance in which we were watch the video of a subject being interviewed and the subject would scratch his nose only moments after telling a lie, but he was oblivious to this twitch. So, I turned that around and made J.J. itch whenever she heard a lie. As a romantic comedy author in my other life, I thought it would lend itself to some potentially very funny scenes. In addition, most people with extrasensory gifts welcome them. But I thought J.J. would reject this uncomfortable “gift” of an itch, which would add to the tension when she dreaded the onset.
All that was left was to explain how she got the “gift.” At first I was just going to play God and not explain it, rather tell the reader, “This is the way it is, deal with it.” Well, as a reader, I probably wouldn’t buy into that. So, I decided to explain it through a little voodoo. I conducted some research and found out that people from cultures around the world actually believe in the curse of the “The Evil Eye,” that some “magic workers” could cast a bad luck curse on you through a contemptuous gaze. So, I gave J.J. roots in the Louisiana where in certain sects they believe in jadoo (magic workers) who actually do such things.
I wanted the curse to be generational, so I started with J.J.’s great-great grandmother. After spinning the idea around my head, I thought it would be an ironic twist for a jadoo worker to curse someone with the ability to tell the truth because they got caught in a lie—so being law enforcement minded, I thought “scam gone wrong.” The only thing was, I didn’t know about scams back in the early 1900s. So I conducted more research and found out about the “Spanish Prisoner” scam that crooks ran on African Americans in the 1900s. Creole people were mixed race. They had such light skin that they could pass for Spanish. As the scam went, the wife of the “Spanish prisoner” would claim her husband got arrested on Jim Crow charges and beg for bail money. If the victim helped her, they be rewarded with Spanish gold and become rich. Of course in reality, the crooks took the money and ran. But the harshness of the Jim Crow legislation apparently made a lot of African Americans susceptible to the scam. There I had my scam.
So in the midst of all this fiction, there is quite a bit of truth. Mix all the above ingredients together and that’s how I came up with the “Itch” in The Seven Year Itch.
Her Family Was Vexed With a Generational Curse. Now for Lie Detecting FBI Spy Catcher J.J. McCall, the Truth is in The Seven Year Itch.
FBI Special Agent J.J. McCall is a born lie detector who recruits foreign spies to catch American traitors. She and co-case agent Tony Donato have lost two of their most critical Russian sources in the past two years, and they may lose another in just a few short days if they don’t catch him, The ICE PHANTOM, a rumored insider spy more insidious and elusive than Ames and Hanssen combined. They suspect he might be burrowed deep inside FBI counterintelligence—and his body count is going up.
Drawn into an unsanctioned mole hunt, they have a week to catch him, save a key source’s life—and their own. While J.J.’s lie detecting ability helps them narrow down the list of suspects, the lie she tells to herself may help the ICE PHANTOM defect to Moscow and get away with the murder of the man she loves.
Skye's debut FBI Series, filled with mystery, espionage, romance, and suspense, will keep you burning through the pages until J.J. catches the very last spy.
J.J searched for serenity in bottom of a Belvedere bottle. The wait for his sugar-coated lies had dragged on for too long, and she’d lost patience. After glancing around the small reception area to ensure no one was watching, she removed from her purse a silver flask and smiled. It was filled to the brim with relief. One small gulp and the soothing burn slipped down her throat, calming her prickly nerves. Inside she felt on the brink of dissolution. The 10 am swallow was just a necessary evil. It would get her through the meeting, until time for her next dose of repose.
Another dead source. She couldn’t stomach the thought of his demise. Two had been more than her fair share. The unceasing cycle of loss had worn her resolve thin. She’d refused to let another family suffer that pain if she could in any way prevent it. J.J. wanted to tell the FBI where to stick her badge and gun, but she had promises to keep. Promises to Viktor. Promises to herself. No matter what Cartwright said, she’d see her case through until the end. And the end was as near as nightfall because the op was simple and would go off without a hitch.
J.J. stiffened her back and squared her shoulders as the elixir took effect. Her posture mirrored that of the powerful yet graceful eagle perched atop her FBI badge. She’d eyed it, waiting for the carefully choreographed denial and deception ritual to begin.
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S.D. Skye is a former FBI Russian Counterintelligence Program Intelligence Analyst and supported several key cases during her 12-year tenure at the Bureau. She has personally witnessed the blowback the Intelligence Community suffered due to the most significant compromises in U.S. history, including the arrests of former CIA Case Officer Aldrich Ames and two of the Bureau's own--FBI Agents Earl Pitts and Robert Hanssen. She has spent 20 years supporting counterintelligence, intelligence, and military missions in the U.S. Intelligence Community.
An award-winning author of romantic comedies in her other life, Skye is a member of the Maryland Writer's Association, Romance Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. She's addicted to writing and chocolate--not necessarily in that order--and currently lives in the Washington D.C. area with her son. Skye is hard at work on the next installment of the series.
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