Cliff Thompson is a recurring character in the Nick Temple Files. I wanted to create a spy with the freedom of movement that a CIA agent would not have, so I made him a freelancer. In The Heraklion Gambit, I sketched out his backstory in a handful of paragraphs. The result, satisfactory from my point of view, is a man living in the shadows, a man who any day might be terminated by any number of governments, a man made for the deadly game of espionage at the heart of the Cold War. I love the guy. Here, then, is his brief backstory.
"Cliff Thompson zealously guards his independence from the routines of bureaucracy. He is almost pathologically averse to anything having the slightest appearance of government formality. Nick is certain that if he ever told Thompson he’d have to drop by the office to get paid that Thompson would tell him to shove it and he’d never hear from him again. Nick’s guess is that Thompson had more than his share of bureaucracy during his time in the military and his stint in the OSS. It took Nick the better part of a year to convince Thompson to provide coherent reports that weren’t simply meandering narratives. The results have been outstanding as Thompson has one of the clearest minds Nick has ever encountered in a freelancer.
"Thompson is a strange contradiction. His time in the military was so distasteful – for reasons he won’t discuss – that he likes to shove it to the U.S. government any time he can. For instance, he does whatever he can to avoid paying taxes; Nick has to pay him in cash that is entered simply as a “development” expense on the debit side of the office’s ledger. Thompson is constantly changing his address to thwart attempts to track him down to get him to pay alimony to his less-than-deserving wife. (Somehow, in spite of being pregnant and giving birth to a child towards the tail end of her husband’s 24-month continuous absence during World War II, she and her lawyer were able to convince a judge to stick it to Cliff Thompson.) He ignores court orders, subpoenas, IRS threats, and any static from a government that seems less than grateful for his years of sacrifice and service.
"However, he’s convinced that the Soviets are a bigger menace than his own government. He doesn’t worry so much about the possibility of World War III, or the collapse of representative democracy at the hands of crazed communists. His worry is simple: if the Soviets ever control the country he lives in, he has no doubt that their government will be a much bigger pain in the ass than the American government is. So he’s got a dog in the hunt, as he likes to say, and he spends way too many of his waking hours figuring out how to personally torment anyone who has any connection to Moscow’s rulers. Much to his delight, if Thompson could ever be said to experience such an emotion, Berlin is the perfect place for him; so long as he stays within the city’s limits he can thumb his nose at America’s stateside authorities, and continue his life’s work of “fucking with Ivan” as he likes to say. All of which makes Cliff Thompson a pain in Nick Temple’s ass. Nick would have him jailed in a New York minute if it weren’t for the constant flow of actionable intel that Thompson has produced year after year."