Plan twice, shoot once.

James Bond vs. The Spook

By Piper Bayard

You could say I work with Bond. James Bond. The real one. But that wouldn’t be quite right. I work with a spook.


Please don’t ask me how a small town author/belly dancer/recovering attorney grew up to be the writing partner of a seasoned covert operative, because that is a story I can never tell. But I can tell you this . . . It’s nothing like fiction.


His name is Holmes. Jay Holmes. And unlike James Bond, that’s not his real name. That’s because when covert operatives reveal their identities – even decades after they are out of deep cover – people can die. Assets and loved ones alike can become targets. So when a celebrity author shows up in an “I’m a Spook” T-shirt flaunting a “covert” career, it’s a dead giveaway that though she may have done some great and necessary work with an intelligence agency, she has never been a covert operative in the field. Covert operatives must forever keep a Chinese wall around their true identities.


Not Holmes. Holmes avoids suits wherever possible.

Not Holmes. Holmes avoids suits wherever possible. 


So what’s this real covert spook writing partner of mine like? First off, Holmes and his ilk are “spooks,” not spies. As Holmes says, “Spying is seamy. It’s what the Russians do.”


Spooks refer to each other lightheartedly as “spooks.” That’s also what military personnel call them when military and intelligence operations overlap. For example, if an intelligence team is working in a secured area of a ship, the crew refers to them as “the spooks.”


There is no official Dictionary of Spook Terminology, but the proper terms for spooks are “intelligence operatives” and “intelligence agents.” By habit, “operative” is used by CIA personnel when they are talking among themselves or reviewing an operation, and “agent” refers to someone – usually a foreigner – who is collecting information in a foreign country. Intelligence personnel are the “operatives” who are managing the foreign “agents.”


And all of those wild car chases that happen in books and movies? Sure. They happen now and then in real life. Holmes has personally driven down the Spanish Steps and gone the wrong way up a narrow one-way street to get his man. But what you almost never see in fiction is that spooks wear seatbelts. Religiously. “Because you can’t finish the mission if you’re dead.”


There are also many things fictional spooks do that real spooks never do—or at least few live to tell if they do. How many times in fiction does a spook duck into a doorway and peek out of it to spy on someone he’s following? That’s a good way to get dead in real life.


One of the first things spooks must learn about following people is to not be followed themselves. It’s common for bad guys to have their own people tailing them to pick up any newcomers, so spooks can’t only focus on who’s in front of them. They have to be acutely aware of who is behind them, too. That means that if a spook wants to watch someone from a doorway, she has to take her eyes off the target, go all the way inside a building, and only turn around once she’s out of sight of the street. Then she can come back out and stop in the doorway under some other pretense than watching someone. It also gives her the chance to handle the bad guy’s trailing entourage.


Another thing fiction almost invariably gets wrong is the spook’s relationship to room service. How many times has Bond ordered room service? And how has that worked out for him? You’d think he would have learned after Rosa Klebb’s stunt in From Russia with Love that this is a seriously bad idea. Even the spooks in the otherwise realistic movie Act of Valor ordered take out and paid the price.


This isn’t only because of the opportunity for an enemy to poison them, it’s also because it’s generally bad juju for spooks to invite strangers into their space when they are on a mission. In fact, Holmes won’t even have a pizza delivered to his home. The only food he actually enjoys is his own, his wife’s, or mine if it includes chocolate, and only then if he is eating at home or at the home of a trusted friend.


So back to my original question – what’s this real life spook like? Unlike fiction, Holmes is incredibly mundane. While he has an incredibly charming boyish smile, he doesn’t look a thing like James Bond, Jason Bourne, or Jack Reacher. In fact, real spooks come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities. When they aren’t on a job, they might be working as Wal-Mart managers, secretaries, teachers, insurance salesmen, or corporate CEOs. And their days at home can look like anyone else’s, filled with gardening, grocery shopping, cleaning, and following behind their children turning off lights. Holmes would say that spooks are ordinary people with a bit more than average commitment and dedication to their work.


More like Holmes. Never too good for the dirty work.

More like Holmes. Never too good for the dirty work.


Notice I said that Holmes would say that. He strongly objects to the notion that he and other covert operatives are special in any way. However, speaking as a small town author/belly dancer/recovering attorney with a home in “normalville” and a window into the shadow world, I would suggest that from most people’s perspective, there is one thing fiction definitely gets right. These folks are anything but ordinary.

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18 thoughts on “ James Bond vs. The Spook

  1. Pingback: James Bond vs. The Spook « Bayard & Holmes

  2. The person next you might be a spook. Holmes survives because he’s probably visited some of the readers of your blog just to find out who they were and faded into normalcy. James Bond was fiction and begat fiction though Fleming was the real deal. I knew James had made it when Playboy satirized him in Little Annie Fannie, calling him Jimsy Bond and overplaying his, um, “missions”. Anyhow you and Mr. Holmes rock.

  3. This reminds me of some of the dads of kids we grew up with. They always were just like all the other dads, except they never talked about work (but we all knew – and knew not to ask anything) For some reason they always seemed “solid” and observant of everything going on. Knock on wood, life has turned out well for all of them. Anything but ordinary, thanks guys – for it all.

    • Note to Jenny: Send Piper more Almond Roca for absolutely any and every reason. Thanks for the compliment. ~Piper 🙂

  4. Awwww you mean life as a spook isn’t glitzy casinos (where the spook is known personally by real name) followed by self-defibrillation, a car chase that wrecks a $300,000 Aston Martin, ending up in Venice? Surely Holmes must have at least ONE car that turns into a submarine? 🙂

    • LOL. If Holmes has a car that turns into a submarine, I definitely think he should give his BFF the keys right now! 🙂 ~ Piper

  5. Thanks for the insight, Piper. It is indeed a rare person who’s willing to take on such a life-altering (and life-threatening) profession. And thank you for your service, Jay! 🙂

  6. A Bass-Pro Bellydancer? LOL. I think the non-fiction description of a spook is more riveting than the fictional description. That’s what makes it so intriguing, the fact that your mani/pedi gal could actually BE a spook! Very interesting post, Piper. 🙂 Have you ever made a mistake and accidentally revealed something about Holmes you weren’t supposed to? It must be hard to ‘keep’ the secret without accidentally revealing something!

    • I think he’s way more interesting than the fiction, but mostly because in real life, he cooks, and he makes the best sesame chicken you’ll find anywhere. As for me, there’s a saying that you keep the knife from cutting you by knowing how the knife can cut you. I am acutely aware of how the knife can cut, and I remain vigilant at all times where Holmes is concerned. His trust is sacred to me, and protecting his identity is a way of life. I find that most people are respectful and don’t pry, and that makes things easier for me. … Watch out for that mani/pedi gal. 🙂

        • Seriously. Sesame chicken, lemon chicken, ginger beef, Bolonaise sauce, French onion soup, pork loin with cherry sauce, and even chocolate cake. The more complicated the recipe, the more likely he is to tackle it. His wife and kids are spoiled rotten in the gourmet department. So am I when I get the chance. 🙂

  7. Piper, I never know how much of your writing is fiction, but that’s okay because your fiction is first-rate. My best friend used to comment about my reminisces, ‘Never the truth get in the way of a good story.’ I always preferred my version of that saying: ‘Never let the truth get in the way of what really happened!’

    No matter what the real story is with Holmes and his ‘small town author/belly dancer/recovering attorney’ BFF, I never tire of your great imagination and your ability to share it via your command of the written word. BTW – For your readers who have not yet read your book, Firelands, I gave it my highest recommendation on Amazon. (unsolicited pitch) – Mike

    • As for the truth and fiction here on the site, we will always tell you if something is fiction. This one is all true. Thank you so much for the compliment and for the Firelands pitch. Totally makes my day. 🙂

      Just out of curiosity, would you be a journalist or politician by any chance? Your version would totally work for either.

      • I am not a politician although I have been told I sometimes sound like one. I have worked as a journalist. Actually, I have had several careers which is often the case with us liberal arts majors. However, I am officially retired, and now my wife and I travel full-time. My favorite pastime is reading, so I am always on the lookout for good writing.
        Salud desde España. 🙂 – Mike

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