Mauro Corvasce and Joseph Paglino’s book, Murder one: A Writer’s Guide to Homicide, has a ton of great information for mystery writers. I just wrapped up a section on gang murders (chapter 5) and am moving on. However, I’m skipping chapter 6. It’s all about the mob, and to write a convincing mob story, you’ll need a lot more information than I can give in a couple of blog posts. Plus, mob stories bug me almost as much as gang stories. If you’re interested in what the authors have to say about mob murders, buy the book. I’m moving on to contract killers.
Contract killers are unique, in that they are the most emotionally removed from their crime. They’re professionals for hire, and emotions have no part in that particular field. I’ve read a story or two that contained a hit-man who wasn’t a sociopath (and therefore capable of feeling compassion for someone other than himself), but those types of stories are rare and hard to pull off. To write a great contract killer, you really need a sociopath. Anyone else is going to mess it up and get caught. (Maybe you could use that to your advantage in a story.)
The motivation for contract killers is greed–they want the cash. Or guns, drugs, cars, women, whatever payment happens to appeal to them. Maybe they kill for the promise of a favor in return at some later date. Feel free to get creative in this and catch the reader’s attention.
Contract killers come in both genders, of any age bracket, and of multiple skill sets (from novice to experienced). They don’t wound, torture, or stalk their victims. Their mission is to kill, and do it fast. The less time they spend on it, the less chance they leave behind evidence that will lead police back to them. Many have military, law enforcement, or covert operations backgrounds, but not necessarily. They know their weapons, their abilities, and their limitation. They can blend into an area–standing out means getting caught. Getting caught means not being able to spend the contract fee, so hired killers don’t take huge risks.
Finding a contract killer isn’t hard, but it involves exposure that only desperate people are willing to take. Most contract killers hang out in places with others of like philosophy (read criminals): bars, pool halls, and other colorful places. To find a killer, have your character hang out in places like this and pass the word around to the hookers, burglars, bartenders, and ex-cons. Eventually, that message will reach someone willing to do the job. However, spreading the message like that can lead to the wrong person hearing (law enforcement, the target, fill in the blank) so it’s a huge risk. Some convicted felons work as informants for the police and will report that someone’s nosing around for a hired killer.
I’ve read of non-criminal characters asking family and friends if they’d be willing to kill someone for cash, but that’s taking a bigger risk than wandering through a biker bar. If your protagonist is a bit on the foolish side, this could work. I read another book where a contract killer was found through a want ad in a gun magazine. I guess that could work, too, if you make it believable (i.e. vague wording of the ad) and you’ve set up the story so your character actually knows which magazine to look in for that type of service.
One final risk in hiring someone to kill for pay is that the killer must be trusted to keep quiet after the deed is done. If your protagonist hires a killer, and the killer is caught, he’ll most likely sing to the police about who hired him in order to get a reduced sentence. With all these risks involved in hiring someone to kill, it seems to me much easier to find another option. But that wouldn’t make for an exciting book, would it?
More on this topic in my next post.