Joaquin Garcia could not be more obvious. At 1.93 metres and weighing in at 180kg, there's no missing the man. In motion, he's a slow-moving shambles: he fills the pavement, listing heavily from side to side. Hypnotised into confidence by the frankness of his body, the hundreds of dopers, gangsters, terrorists, money launderers, dirty cops and corrupt politicians that Garcia, during his 26-year career as an FBI agent, condemned to prison never really studied his face. That mouth, so beautifully formed, but prim; those eyes: hooded, at once opaque and unnaturally crystalline. It is the human face of a falcon. And, like all apex predators, falcons prefer live prey. Hailed as the finest undercover agent in history, Garcia, 56, has blown his cover. His memoir Making Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia Family has not only become a New York Times best-seller, but attracted Steven Soderbergh and Paramount, who will be making the movie. 'Probably of all the people I've cross-examined, [Garcia is] one of the toughest nuts to crack,' says Paul McKenna, a defence attorney. Despite the US$250,000 price on his head and that outrageous conspicuousness, America's most famous infiltrator drives his eight-year-old daughter to school each morning and goes about his business without any discernible paranoia. In part, this could be because once the reward was announced, the FBI paid visits to the bosses, underbosses, and consiglieri of all five mafia families with the news that any attempt on Garcia's life would ensure their lives became 'a living nightmare'. And then there is Garcia's courage to consider: the man is incorruptible. His childhood might not have been typical for a law enforcement officer but the themes of brutality and treachery were always present. Born in Havana to 'an important official in the Cuban Treasury' and an opera singer, Garcia grew up in an affluent home with nannies, housekeepers and a government chauffeur for his father. When Fidel Castro overthrew the dictatorial Batista government on January 1, 1959, Garcia's father, fearing for his life, contacted US counterparts, woke his three children, kissed them goodbye and left with an FBI attache for New York. Castro's militia came for him the following morning. Working as a hotel bookkeeper and two menial jobs during the day, his father earned enough to fly his family out of Cuba in 1961. Growing up, Garcia felt humiliated by his accent ('I would say 'choos' for shoes or 'shins' for chins, or 'jello' for yellow, and my friends would make fun of me'). He received a football scholarship to a school in Virginia, where he met two brothers whose father was an FBI agent. And then Serpico was released, and, as Garcia says, 'I suddenly saw my whole future, what I was meant to do with my life.' Now based in upstate New York with his family, Garcia misses the functional urban ugliness. 'Bobcats, turkeys, coyotes ... I'm in hell!' he says, laughing. He trains undercover agents at the FBI Academy and at Pathfinders Consultants International, the investigation, financial advisory and intelligence company he set up with two longtime friends and ex-FBI men. In the course of training, Garcia runs students through psychological profiles, but as far as he's concerned, the only ones who can handle undercover are those who are born to it. 'Undercover agents die all the time! They're in the front line! And someone who is using dope and very paranoid could test you for a wire, tap you as an informant, and then kill you, so you have to always be aware. 'In undercover, people can turn like you snap a finger. Instant change. You can be in a bad place real fast if you make a mistake. These people are killers. If they get an opportunity to take advantage of you, they will. So the ability to think quickly on your feet is critical. I've done more than 100 operations, and have never been patted down for a wire even though I always wear one,' he says. Garcia's ability to metabolise multiple realities is in itself a form of genius, but the psychological toll is evident in his speech. In the space of a single sentence, he will shift from first person to second and third, a reflection of his uncertain sense of identity. 'I was carrying up to five telephones,' he flatly says, 'all of them with different rings. I was simultaneously playing the role of a mobster, a Cuban drug lord, a Colombian drug lord, and when the phone rang, I had to flip open the personality associated with that phone. There's only one take in undercover, and if you make a mistake, it's your last one.' In 2002, Garcia created Jack Falcone, the big-time jewel thief from South Florida who would make him famous. Throughout his career, Garcia had always played outsiders ('I was always the heavy, the boss, the man who reported to no one'). He had successfully played an Italian to Asian, Russian and Hispanic criminals, but never to another Italian - which would be a different, and vastly more dangerous, game. Garcia succeeded because the American mafia comprises first- and second-generation Italians; none of the men with whom he fraternised could even speak Italian, much less understand it. The Italian they speak is more custom than language. 'When I was out there,' he says, 'you would see people line up to be around these guys. The Godfather made them out to be these tortured, honorable men, when they're a bunch of thieves and murderers. In the mafia, I was always told the crime family comes before blood: 'If your kid is on the operating table and only has 10 seconds to live, and then your boss calls you in, you leave and report to him. Send flowers to your kid's funeral later.' And people want to be like these guys?' In part, the appeal of the mafia rests in its vernacular, an urban symphony of tubular diphthongs and vowels that hit like a sucker punch. This idiom in combination with mafia custom (the salty humour, the bespoke wardrobe, the rechristening of members that is common to all cults - Joe Dogs, Joey Potsnpans, Tony the Ant, Sammy the Bull, Stevie Beef, and the like) and an almost suicidal passion for adulation lends itself to inspired fictional representation: menace and vulgarity laced with hilarity. 'When the story hit the front pages I had reporters ringing me up saying they wanted to write the book,' says Garcia. 'This is perfect, what a mob story, you're a modern-day Donnie Brasco ... and I was scratchin' my head, because I wasn't even thinking like that. This was the only mafia case I'd ever worked. Before, I had extensive narcotic experience where I'd taken down loads and no one was interested. But when I pretend to be some mob guy, I have a hundred offers.' In some ways, the reporters who approached him were no different to the criminals with whom he worked: their interest was in commercial viability. 'It's a business to all of them. That's all it is: strictly business. The way they rationalise it? 'This is a business people want. They want the dope, so we give them the dope.' They don't analyse. But there is so much human blood in cocaine.' Garcia is almost shouting. 'It's amazing to me that coke is a drug of choice among educated people. And crack is even worse. That goes down in really bad neighbourhoods. Stabbings, killings ... and the children of these people are just destroyed. Strip clubs are the same - the money goes into all the wrong pockets. Guys need to understand that by buying cocaine or going to a lap-dancing club, they are directly contributing to the death and suffering of millions.' The relish with which Garcia recounts his experiences suggests not only a refined predatory instinct, but a real passion for justice. 'Oh, it's a tremendous rush,' he says. 'There is no better feeling than being able to convince a guy to bring you hundreds of kilos of cocaine, enough to lock him up, which is when you've - ' his voice contracts to a fist ' - got him.' He retired in 2006, he says, 'but still did contract work with the bureau. The police corruption case was a kind of gradual withdrawal, like a smoker going from three packs to two and one. Every once in a while, I miss it. Friends tell me about undercover operations, and I'm like, 'Man, I wanna get back in.' But I can't, because my face has been exposed. But I had a great run. It was the experience of my life.' Writer's notes Name: Joaquin Garcia Age: 56 Born: Havana Lives: upstate New York Family: wife Elizabeth, daughter Kelly Rose, eight Genre: true crime/memoir Other jobs: footballer, FBI special agent Latest book: Making Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia Family Current projects: 'I retired from the FBI in 2006, then spent some time with my family, whom I hadn't seen in quite a while. Now I'm in business with a couple of retired FBI managers and we've started a security consulting firm. I will be teaching undercover [agents] in local police departments - how to become an undercover agent and all that. I'm also working on a radio show, but I'm not allowed to say anything about that yet.'