I’m in Chapter Eleven of Sean Mactire’s book Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think. It’s called Wise Guys and Hitmen. In my last post, I covered the mafia character. Today I’ll focus on Hitmen.
Mactire put hitmen and mafia in the same chapter because hitmen arose from organized crime. The original hitman was a shadowy figured called the “Shotgun Man.” He was the muscle of the crime family, using deadly force to back up the might of the godfather. He enjoyed total immunity because, although everyone knew who he was, they all feared him too much to testify against him. He supposedly retired to Sicily after Prohibition ended.
To the mafia, killing is a business. Executions are either a matter of policy of mob bosses or for large sums of money. The executers, called “Enforcers,” are soldiers solely at the disposal of the bosses, the only guys with the authority to order a contract hit. Victims of contract hits are usually “someone within the Syndicate, a rival criminal, or someone who is a client of an organized crime family, such as a loan-shark victim, gambler, or drug user. These contracts were strictly for mob businessmen to take care of mob business by using mob talent to handle problems requiring executive action.”
I want to quote a lengthy paragraph of the book because it’s worded so well I could never paraphrase:
It may not seem logical that murder could be a “business,” but in part, the term soldiers best explains why this cold-blooded mentality exists. To the mob bosses, the victim of a contract is the enemy, some “bum” who wouldn’t pay his debts and had to be made an example of or someone who cheated the mob or an informer or a fellow mob leader who got out of line or rival mobsters involved in a “war.” The reduction of victims to some subhuman level gives the soldiers, these sadistic personalities, justification and rationalization to kill the people that the bosses have decreed deserve to die.
If that doesn’t help you get inside the mindset of a hitman, I don’t know what will. Using that mindset, you should be able to create a fabulous character who’s totally believable and maybe even sympathetic (if you do it right). Plug this mindset into a personality type and you’re on your way.
Mactire goes on with plenty of history, naming famous hitmen, what they did, and some interesting terminology that I’d never heard. “Buckwheats” is killing a man in a slow and painful manner to send a message. Mactire gives real-life examples of some “buckwheats,” so don’t read that part if you’ve got a weak stomach.
The chapter closes with this: “Today’s wise guys are better educated and more businesslike than their predecessors. But they are still vicious sociopaths.” He goes on to say that today’s mafia are moving more toward the narcissistic behaviors, and “ratting out” their superiors to either get ahead or get even. This is important if you’re writing a modern novel with mafia overtones.
Finally, remember that most of the victims of mafia crime are directly related to the mafia: customers, rivals, and family members. If you’re sending a hitman after your protagonist, he’s going to fall into one of those three areas, or he’ll be an innocent bystander (maybe a witness who is willing to testify). Also be careful to avoid a cartoonish hitman. Give him depth and personality, or he’ll be cardboard.