Whoa, whoa. Yeah, I hear you. But I want you to just—hold on. Before you go wagging that knife in my face any more, you need to listen to me.

Whatever you do. Don’t. Move.

Hold your fire, Red Dog. Just a snake in the grass. Repeat: Hold your fire. Over. OK, pal, I need you to very, very slowly put the knife back in your jacket. You’ve got yourself into a pretty pickle here, my friend. Let’s see if we can get you out.

Don’t believe me? I’ve got six snipers on the roof of every building around this alleyway, and they’re just waiting for my order to gun you down where you stand. See that light glinting up there by the water tower? That’s “the Claw.” He’s got a hook for a hand—lost it in Belfast in the ‘80s. I give the signal and he’ll put a bullet through your ear. Roger that, Red Dog. Two minutes to green light. Lock and load. Over.

Talking into my shoulder? Ha, ha. I bet that’s what it looks like, pal. I bet it does. I also bet you’ve never heard of an audio laser before. Haven’t seen too many of those down at the Radio Shack, have you? I can beam a whisper clear across the country—shit, I could have you nuked from a silo in Arizona if I wanted to. Easy there, buddy. I’m not going to do it. Just do exactly what I tell you and you can get along to mugging whoever you want.

First, though, you really need to put the knife away. This is for your own sake. I’ve got no beef with you. I appreciate you’re just trying to put food on the table, drugs in the bloodstream, what have you. But if my men up top get the slightest inkling that my life is in danger, they won’t even wait for my word—they’ll take you out in a heartbeat.

There’s a guy up there, ex–Tamil Tiger, who can pop a shot through the gap in your teeth from 200 yards away. Goes by Skanda—the Hindu god of war—but who knows what his real name is, or how many men he’s killed. One trigger-happy son of a bitch, though. I’ve given my men two minutes before they’re going to open fire, but I swear that guy’s wristwatch must run a little quicker than everyone else’s …

That’s it. Just put the knife down. There you go. Nice and easy. Kitten’s been declawed, Red Dog. Stay at the ready. Over.

What? Sorry, son, that’s classified. Although, I suppose … yeah, why not? Let me just turn my audio laser off, here—bet it looks like I’m just playing with the buttons on my shirt, doesn’t it? There we go. Now, I have to ask you something: How much do you love your country?

Truth is, I’m with the Department of Homeland Security. You’ve stumbled right into the middle of a sting operation. See that abandoned warehouse? There’s an Al Qaeda sleeper cell holed up in the basement. You wouldn’t believe the setup they’ve got down there: a full computer network, small-arms storage, bomb-making facilities. They think I’m FBI counterintelligence—I’ve been providing them with false information for nearly two years. Tonight’s the night, though, my friend. We’re taking these bastards down.

Let me ask you something: You like the Statue of Liberty, enjoy the way it looks? How about Disneyland? Fenway Park? I see you nodding. You’re a patriot, you know what’s at stake. You don’t want to see kids getting their heads blown off at EPCOT Center, a dirty bomb going off during the World Series. I’m with you, pal. Simply put, this mission can not be compromised. We didn’t come this far just to have it slip away.

That’s it, there you go—now just zip up your jacket so the snipers don’t think you’re going to pull anything. I’ll get back on the horn here … All clear, Red Dog. Stand down. Repeat: Stand down. Over. Nicely done, my friend. You’ve made the right choice—not just for you, and not even for me, but for freedom, for democracy, for America.

You know what? This might sound crazy, but we might even be able to use a guy like you. Someone on the streets for recon, someone who can slip unnoticed in and out of places guys like me can’t, someone to nab a few wallets here and there. How’d you like to work for Uncle Sam? Use your skills at petty thuggery for good instead of evil? Think about it: rubbing shoulders with some of the country’s top brass, a government e-mail address, full medical and dental—and the buffet lunches! Don’t get me started.

How do I get hold of you? You got a phone number? Ha! We can’t be talking about this stuff on pay phones, pal. Anywhere I might find you? Sure, I know that underpass—it’s right near one of our deprogramming facilities. I’ll get in touch.

You’ve done your country a service today. Hold your head up, son. Be proud. That’s it. Now get on your way—I think I see an elderly couple waiting for a cab down the block. Godspeed. Good luck. And God bless America.