It helps being able to tell when someone is lying to you. In my line of work, it can be a lifesaver—the difference between actual life and death.
This morning, about an hour before dawn, I was standing in the freezing cold in a parking lot on the outskirts of Hobart, Australia. The ass-end of the world.
My contact was standing in front of me, confidently telling me why he wasn’t able to deliver what he’d promised. I watched, arms crossed over my chest, waiting for him to finish.
Here’s what I know about liars: some of them are incredible. Years of practice, an unwavering commitment to their craft. You almost have to have respect for what they do, they’re so good at it.
Others… well, others aren’t so good. Like my contact. Lying is like anything else—if you don’t do it often enough, you can’t expect to be flawless when the time comes.
I watched closely as he told his story, about how the package had been acquired, but stolen by an unknown, faceless man. I listened to his voice as he described being held at gunpoint, how terrified he was for his life, how he thought his children were going to grow up without a father.
It was very convincing. To the untrained eye, at least. But not to me.
What did my contact do wrong? Almost everything.
He stood stiff as a board. No movement, no hand gestures, nothing that indicated he was recalling an actual event. Think about how someone tells an exciting story—they’re animated, they use gestures to relate certain things that happened, they change their voice to indicate someone else speaking. That’s how you tell a story when you’re remembering an actual event.
Next: he covered his mouth with his hand for half the story. Classic liar move: it’s almost like you’re trying to hide your words, because you know they’re dishonest.
These two things were damning enough, to me. But the real proof came when I questioned him.
“Who else knew about the delivery?” I asked.
“Who else knew about the delivery? Nobody. Nobody else knew about the delivery,” he replied.
Repeating my question—a great way to buy some time to think of the right reply.
“Well, someone must have known,” I said. “I’m not buying that someone randomly stumbled across your car just as you were receiving the package, happened to have a gun, happened to know how valuable it was.”
“Are you saying I set this whole thing up? You think I have screwed you over?”
Defensive… angry… it couldn’t get more cut and dry.
Luckily, I plan every trade with the assumption that I’m going to get double-crossed. It helps to have a plan, and a backup plan, and a Plan C just in case everything really goes to shit.
I had a feeling I wouldn’t need Plan C. The guy looked ready to jump out of his skin—like I said, he wasn’t very good at this. Not at all.
I casually tugged at my ear. On receipt of the signal, a red dot appeared on the contact’s chest.
“So,” I said. “There’s two ways this can go down…”