On a nice, quiet street in a nice, quiet neighborhood just north of Houston lives a nice, quiet man. He is 54 years old, tall but not too tall, thin but not too thin, with short brown hair that has turned gray around the sideburns. He has soft brown eyes. He sometimes wears wire-rimmed glasses that give him a scholarly appearance.
The man lives alone with his two cats. Every morning, he pads barefoot into the kitchen to feed his cats, then he steps out the back door to feed the goldfish that live in a small pond. He takes a few minutes to tend to his garden, which is filled with caladiums and lilies, gardenias and wisteria, a Japanese plum tree, and rare green roses. Sometimes the man sits silently on a little bench by the goldfish pond, next to a small sculpture of a Balinese dancer. He breathes in and out, calming his mind. Or he goes back inside his house, where he sits in his recliner in the living room and reads. He reads Shakespeare, psychiatrist Carl Jung, and Gandhi. He even keeps a book of Gandhi’s quotations on his coffee table. One of his favorites is “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”
He is always polite, his neighbors say. He smiles when they see him, and he says hello in a light, gentle voice. But he reveals little about himself, they say. When he is asked what he does for a living, he says only that he works in “human resources” at a company downtown. Then he smiles one more time, and he heads back inside his house.
What the neighbors don’t know is that in his bedroom, next to his four-poster bed, the man has a black telephone, on which he receives very unusual calls.
“We’ve got something for you,” a voice says when he answers. “A new client.”
“Okay,” the man says.
The voice on the other end of the line tells him that a husband is interested in ending his marriage or that a wife would like to be single again or that an entrepreneur is ready to dissolve a relationship with a partner.
The man hangs up and returns to his recliner. He thinks about what service he should offer his new client. A car bombing, perhaps. Or maybe a drive-by shooting. Or he can always bring up the old standby, the faked residential burglary.
As he sits in his recliner, his cats jump onto his lap. They purr as he strokes them behind their ears. The man sighs, then he returns to his reading. “Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed,” wrote Gandhi. “Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.”
The man’s name is Gary Johnson, but his clients know him by such names as Mike Caine, Jody Eagle, and Chris Buck. He is, they believe, the greatest professional hit man in Houston, the city’s leading expert in conflict resolution. For the past decade, more than sixty Houston-area residents have hired him to shoot, stab, chop, poison, or suffocate their enemies, their romantic rivals, or their former loved ones. He has met with housewives who tell him they cannot spend one more day on this earth with their adulterous husbands, and he has met with husbands who say they cannot survive any longer with their nagging wives. He has met with ex-wives who are angry that their ex-husbands left them with so little in their divorce, and he has met with ex-husbands who are furious that their ex-wives got so much. He has been asked by employees to kill their bosses, and he has been asked by bosses to kill their employees. He has been hired by scorned lovers, broke businessmen, and teenagers who are mad at their mothers or fathers. He has even gone to the county jail to visit inmates who tell him they have been unfairly arrested and that their only way out is for him to shoot the witnesses scheduled to testify against them at their upcoming trials.
To his clients, he is like something out of a movie: the lone vigilante, the mysterious gun for hire. Whatever he is asked to do, he simply shrugs and says that he can handle it. His work, he tells them, is like science: a matter of proper observation, correct instrumentation, and exact coordination. He does not ever let emotion get in the way of his job. And when the time comes for him to make his move, he promises that he will dispatch his targets quickly and then disappear so that the police will never be able to learn who he is.
Actually, the police know all about him. They like to drink coffee with him. Gary Johnson is not a hit man. He is a staff investigator for the Harris County district attorney’s office who is on call, night and day, to play the role of the hit man for police departments in and around Houston. Whenever the police learn through an informant that a person wants to hire someone to knock off someone else, they cannot just go out and arrest that person. To get the proper evidence to win a conviction, they need to catch that person ordering the hit and then paying for it. That’s where Johnson comes in. The police have their informant introduce Johnson to the person looking for a contract killer. Then it’s up to Johnson, who is wired for sound, to get that person to say that he wants someone murdered and then to pay Johnson to do the job.
Although plenty of cops have pretended to be hit men in undercover murder-for-hire investigations, Johnson is the Laurence Olivier of the field. In law enforcement circles, he is considered to be one of the greatest actors of his generation, so talented that he can perform on any stage and with any kind of script. If he