Authors: Shane Kuhn
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For Skoogy and Kenners Bear.
When all seems lost, hard work will save you. Never surrender.
Federal Bureau of InvestigationâNational Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), Quantico, Virginia
his is the first day of the rest of your life,
I think to myself as I squint under the bright fluorescent lights in a windowless interrogation room. In the reflection of the yellowy two-way mirror, I look like a bug in a jar, quietly waiting for a mentally disturbed five-year-old to fill it with water and watch me stiffly gallop to a slow and painful death. But my executioner doesn't come in the form of a bored suburban brat. He comes in the form of Assistant Director Winton Fletcherâa fifty-something FBI poster boy with a scrubbed red face (Ivory soap), machine-precision haircut (Floyd the barber), cheap, ill-fitting suit and prep school knockoff tie (Joseph A. Bank), and high-polish wing tips with skid-proof rubber soles (Florsheim).
“Fletch,” as I like to call him, embodies the clean-cut, red-blooded American values invented by square ad execs and political campaign managers of the 1950s. All of it amounts to an intentionally colorless persona designed to put even the hardest criminals at ease and seduce a full confession. If I wasn't an honored guest of Uncle Samâtop hat, tails, orange jumpsuit, maximum-security cuisine, and lethal injection for dessertâI might mistake him for a Lutheran minister or an aluminum siding salesman from Wichita. He saddles up on his high horse across the table from me.
“I'm Assistant Director Fletcher,” he says.
“Hi, I'm Dr. Rosenpenis,” I reply in homage to
the worst most quotable movie ever made.
He smiles at me, uncertain how to take what I've said, but jaded enough not to give a shit. Someone with his tenure in this place has pretty much seen it allÂ .Â .Â . until today. He pulls a crisp new yellow legal pad from his briefcase and begins to awkwardly rummage through it, looking for something else.
“Your pen is in your side suit jacket pocket, Fletch,” I offer. “You probably put it there so the guards wouldn't hassle you about bringing a potentially deadly weapon into a room with a homicidal maniac.”
He smiles again and pulls out the pen.
“I'm impressed,” he says, carefully placing his legal pad on the table next to a thick file folder with my name emblazoned on the tab in institutional block letters:
“You should be,” I say menacingly.
He doesn't look at me or react. He's been trained not to react to any negative fluctuations in emotion, only positive. He's been trained to keep all exchanges under complete control. Interrogators can never be looked at as people with personal lives and weaknesses. They are like Fletcher, unassuming and understated in every way, well-spoken robots who do their jobs with immaculate precision. On that note we have at least one thing in common.
Fletcher pulls a clear plastic evidence bag from his briefcase and lays it on the table. Inside is a bloodstained composition book with the following title scrawled in Sharpie on the cover:
The Intern's Handbook
My original manuscript. First edition. I smile at it like a father would smile at his newborn baby after coming home from a long combat tour. He sees my smile and makes a mental note that I am probably not going to feel any remorse for my sins.
“I'd like to talk about this, John.”
“Have you read it, Fletch?”
“What did you think?”
“Well, I have a lot of questions aboutâ”
“No, what I meant was, did you like it? Was it a good read? Would it pair well with box wine at your wife's book club?”
He puts on reading glasses, another disarming tactic. Grandpa wants you to sit on his lap, enjoy a butterscotch candy, and shoot the breeze. Here comes the pedantic grin. The feds are also masters of making you feel like you are sick or abnormal. Why do you think they attempt to look so militantly normal? Because to the criminal mind, they strive to be the foil, the mug shot frame that forces you to look at yourself and ask,
What's wrong with this picture?
“I found it very interesting.”
is another word for
in this context. Probably thinks
are cultural oracles. I hate him for evading and I hate myself for caring.
“Like I said, I'd like to talk about it,” Fletch reiterates.
“What do you want to know?”
“Is it all true?” he asks.
“Every fucking word.”
“You said that you wrote it to help other young people who had been put in the same position as you. Is that the only reason?”
“That was why I
writing it. After a few chapters, I realized I needed to write it more for myself than for anyone else.”
“You needed to get some things off your chest?”
I exhale a sigh heavily laced with annoyance. It's time to mess with Fletch a bit. He's too into his routine, and I need to jam the signal. I lean in like a film noir confidant, the devil on his shoulder.
“I'm sure you can relate, Fletch. A man in your position. So many secrets. So many things you wish you could undo. For years you've lived in the pressure cookerâbut you can't go home and talk to the missus unless you want to put a target on her back. Let's face it, you can't talk to anyone, because what you know is like a plague that needs to be buried or burned with the rest of the bodies. But they don't stay buried, do they, Fletch? Eventually you justÂ .Â .Â . unload, like emptying a full magazine into someone's face. It's a bit messy, but undeniably cathartic.”
The consummate professional, Fletch leans in as well, playing off my vibe, showing me he's a regular guy. It's like when a pasty executive who's been clipped by life tries to shoulder up at the airport bar to exchange war stories when he's never even been in a fistfight.
“Is that why you wanted to talk to me today, John? You have something you need to unload?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“I'm all ears.”
they'd love those jug handles in my cell block, Opie.
“May I have a cigarette, Fletch?”
“There's no smoking in here.”
“Okay. Maybe I'll go back to my cell.” I yawn. “Salisbury steak and potatoes au gratin tonight. After cobbler some of the boys are going to give me a jailhouse tramp stamp.”
He lights me one of his own cigarettes. Marlboro Redâthe Budweiser of cancer sticks. I draw on it greedily. The nicotine rush dulls the pain in my head but fires up the maddening itch that I cannot scratch under the plaster cast that covers my leg from ankle to arse.
Some of my new cell matesâaround eight or ten 'roid-raging lifers who could bench-press two of meâhad heard about my former profession and took me for a test-drive my first day inside. I tore most of them shiny new assholes, but they managed to jack up my
leg and rearrange my face before the crooked guards stepped in and pretended to give a shit. I try to scratch inside the cast again. No dice. I get all Zen and try to make it go away with my mind but end up looking like I'm having a mild seizure.
“John, do you fully understand your rights and the nature of this interview?” he asks, gently raising a condescending brow.
“No. Where am I again?” I laugh, blowing smoke in his face.
He lights a cigarette of his own to show me he's just doing his job.
“I need to be sure you're of sound mind,” he says politely.
I laugh for an awkwardly long time. Just for fun.
“I thought you said you read my book.”
“Then you just proved that there
such a thing as a stupid question.”
He ignores me and writes on his pad like an actor on one of those cheesy legal shows.
“When they brought you in, you had been shot and you had a cocktail of narcotics in your blood that would have been lethal to a man twice your size. On your first day with the general population you assaulted numerous prisoners and two guards before they beat you unconscious and shattered your leg. Quite frankly, John, I can't believe you're still breathing, let alone coherent enough to undergo an interview.”
“Is that what you call this? An interview?”
“Yes. What do you call it?”
“A bad joke with a jaw-breaking punch line,” I say and stub the cigarette out in the palm of my hand.
It's subtle, but I see a slight twitch in his lip, an involuntary reaction. He's beginning to get the picture:
John Lago is in the building.
“That's the kind of thing that might give me the wrong impression about your mental state,” he says calmly.
“Why is that?”
“Most people use an ashtray.”
“I'm not most people. But you already knew that.”
He writes notes, buying a little time to figure out how to regain control of the exchange, but I'm not about to let him start thinking for himself. I'm here for one reason, and it's time to cut to the chase.
“You're not going to find any answers on that legal pad, Fletch. If you're uncomfortable speaking to me, perhaps you should bring in someone with a more expensive tie.”
He leans forward on his elbows. Alpha posturing. He's angry. I can see that, at one point in his life, he might have been intimidating. He doesn't realize that he no longer possesses that quality.
“John, there's one very important rule I need you to follow if this is going to work.”
“No sex in the champagne room?”
“Don't fuck with me,” he says, lightly threatening. “I've seen a lot of guys like you on that side of the tableâall with the same attitude, full of themselves. You might think you're special because of who you were
. But in here, you are a man that needs to convince me not to stick a needle in your arm and put you down like the family dog. Am I making myself clear?”
“Let's not fight,” I say.
He settles back, proud of his steely delivery and strategic deployment of the F word. Probably a Brando fan. Loves the smell of testosterone in the morning.
“I just want to make sure we understand each other,” he says, dialing back the aggression so my anger doesn't make me shut down.
I smile back at him but the light goes down in my eyes and I know that to him I look like a demon in an orange jumpsuit. Intimidation has been my occupation since I hit puberty, and this meat balloon is no different from my other marks. His look of surprise at my sudden change in demeanor is tantamount to a flinch.
“Fletch, if you know anything about me, you know that death is the least of my concerns. Compared to what my enemies are going to do to me, long before I ever make it into a courtroom, your little needle is more like
summer vacation with the family dog
. Forget about what you think will motivate me because I can pretty much guarantee you I'm
like the others that have sat across this table from you.
so we understand each other,
I didn't ask to speak to you because I feel guilty and want to rock floor seats with Jesus at the resurrection. I'm going downâso far I may never hit bottomâand the only thing I care about is making sure I don't go alone.”
Now he really is all ears.
“Who do you want to take with you?”
He pauses as a jolt of electricity charges the room.
“You know where she is?”
“I can find her.”
Fletch is drooling. Clyde just offered to drop a dime on Bonnie.
“Do you actually think I'm going to bend over for you without asking for a bit of a reach around?”
“We don't negotiate, John.”
“Then this conversation is already over.”
He is uncomfortable. This is not going as he planned. I get the impression he swaggered around the firing range earlier this week and bragged to the other mustaches about how he was going to school John Lago at his own game. It's laughable. So, I laugh.
“I'll do my best within my authority,” he almost whines. “But I'm not making any promises. What do you want in exchange?”
“I want to see her.”
“It's pretty simple, Fletch. If I help you bring her in, I want to see
her, in the flesh, one last time. Until you can agree to that, we have nothing more to discuss.”
“I'll see what I can do.”
An hour later I'm back in my six-by-six cell reading the fan mail my fellow cons have written on toilet paper, candy bar wrappers, and anything else that will hold ink and slipped under my door. Of course, every celebrity, even a D-lister like me, has to deal with the entire spectrum of the limelight. Sentiments range from guys telling me they're going to skull fuck me and cut me up into little pieces to guys wanting to pay me to teach
how to skull fuck someone and cut them into little pieces. Then, of course, there are the guys who want to be my bitch or my bride and vice versa.
But unlike most minor celebrities, I'm not delusional enough to think I'm a household name and deserve recognition as such. For those of you who don't know me, let me smoke the tires a bit and get you up to speed. I am a killer, professional variety, assassin species. Hey, don't hate the playa. You might have taken this gig too if, like me, you were born with one foot in the grave. But my childhood is a morbidly hilarious story for another day.
Until recently, I was employed by Human Resources, Inc.âa front for one of the most elite contract assassination firms in the world. Our specialty was our cover: the internship. HR, Inc. would place us in companies as interns, the bottom-feeders of the corporate world, and we would use our wallflower anonymity to slither up the corporate ladder like ninja black mambas and smoke heavily guarded, high-value targetsâmostly well-heeled Fortune 500 golf zombies who won't be missed at the church picnic.