Copyright ©2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Now, let me take you to a shady parking lot in Colorado. Two men are meeting.

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS: They're in the parking lot of a Loaf 'n Jug, which is like a - kind of like a convenience store.

RATH: That's our guide for this story.

LASKAS: Jeanne Marie Laskas. I'm a correspondent at GQ Magazine.

RATH: One of the men is named Lucero. He's meeting another guy who's sitting in his parked truck. Here's how Laskas describes that guy.

He's got a lot of tattoos, mean, angry tattoos all over him and lots of big, silver, mean-looking rings, long, skinny beard hanging down his chest. He looks just like what you want a hit man to look like.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: He's a hit man, and that's where this story gets a little graphic.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You still want to do it?

JOHN LUCERO: Oh, yeah. I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You want it done soon?

RATH: That's a recording from the meeting between Lucero and the hit man.

Lucero's kind of nervous because he's never dealt with a hit man before. And he is excited because this hit man is going to solve his problems. He's going to make right, in his mind, the wrong that was done to him by his girlfriend.

Lucero says that when his girlfriend broke up with him, she laughed at him. He wants the hit man to attack her, specifically to slash her face, leave her with a permanent disfigured smile like the Joker, revenge for that laugh.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)

LUCERO: I'm talking about - I want her life a completely living hell to where - what she did to me. Every - I want it to be a vice versed. What she took from me is what I'm going to take back.

RATH: Lucero's short on cash, so the payment will be guns, a shotgun and an AK-47 assault rifle. But the hit man gives Lucero a chance to back out.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So you know when you leave here today...

LUCERO: A deal's a deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...deal's a deal. It's a done deal, because I'm on it now.

RATH: Lucero is undeterred. The deal is finalized, and Lucero gets ready to step out of the truck.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right.

LUCERO: (Unintelligible) man.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right.

LUCERO: So once I leave this door, it's on and you got your deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right. So I got the go?

LUCERO: Got the go.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right. All right, brother.

LUCERO: All right. Careful now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'll try.

LASKAS: When Lucero finally leaves the car, what we come to realize is this hit man is an undercover ATF agent who has only been posing as a hit man all this time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: That's why we have those tapes. They were recorded by the hit man, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The ATF says John Lucero received an 11-year prison sentence for the attempted hit. But then there's the other character in this story, the person Jeanne Marie Laskas calls the hit man who is not really a hit man. He's one of many special agents who do this undercover work, stopping murders for hire.

Laskas spent several days meeting with this particular agent. She calls him Charles Hunt. But that's a pseudonym, because this agent spends most of his time living another life.

Every day, pretty much, he's changing into his, you know, dirtbag gear. He said he's putting on his jewelry. But he works the streets finding out who out there needs what. But the word gets out that he'll do anything for a price, anything. This is a word-of-mouth kind of job.

And how would you describe him beyond the sort of hit man caricature that he portrays?

LASKAS: Well, he's just a lovely, lovely man, sort of soft-spoken, kindhearted, family guy, couple kids, lovely wife. He's kind of playing like a little bit of a Superman role. He has his disguise in his trunk, and he gets changed into his hit man gear, and he goes out and pretends to be a hit man.

RATH: You got to think, doesn't it take a toll on somebody that decent to be portraying someone so indecent all the time?

Well, and I think in his case, for a time, it did. You know, he's been through, you know, many of these experiences with horrible things, people wanting fingertips, people wanting eyeballs, I mean, just really gruesome things. And at one point, he was undercover for months at a - some area nation kind of biker home. And he did not come out of that whole. He came out of that having a hard time remembering who he was. And, in fact, his marriage did not last through that whole period of his life. So I think it does take quite a toll on these people.

Jeanne Marie Laskas says it's hard to say just how often contract murders are committed. After all, thousands of murders go unsolved every year. But her meetings with this agent revealed how the world of underground crime sometimes does business in places as banal as a Loaf 'n Jug parking lot.

I guess I didn't realize that. You know, we kind of live on our - in our sanitized lives. You're not - we don't get exposed to violent crime in our daily lives. But maybe it's right underneath our noses and we don't realize it. And there's this army of agents out there kind of keeping things at bay.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: That's Jeanne Marie Laskas. Her article appears in the latest issue of GQ. It's called "Oops, You Just Hired the Wrong Hitman."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.