About the Author
Shane Kuhn is a writer, director, and producer with twenty years of experience working in feature films, documentaries, and advertising. He is a cofounder and executive board member of the Slamdance Film Festival, and a member of the Writer’s Guild of America. He lives in Colorado and works as Vice President of Creative Services for a San Francisco-based media and special events company. He is the author of The Asset, The Intern’s Handbook, bought for film by Sony Pictures, and Hostile Takeover, the second book in his John Lago intern-assassin thriller series.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Intern’s Handbook 1
IT’S THE HARD-KNOCK LIFE
If you’re reading this, you’re a new employee at Human Resources, Inc. Congratulations. And condolences. At the very least, you’re embarking on a career that you will never be able to describe as dull. You’ll go to interesting places. You’ll meet unique and stimulating people from all walks of life. And kill them. You’ll make a lot of money, but that will mean nothing to you after the first job. Assassination, no matter how easy it looks in the movies, is the most difficult, stressful, and lonely profession on the planet. From this point on, whenever you hear someone bitch about his job, it will take every fiber of your being to keep from laughing in his face. This work isn’t for everyone. Most of you are going to find that out the hard way because you’ll be dead by the end of the month. And that’s still just the training phase.
If you’re having second thoughts, that’s a natural reaction. The idea of killing people for a living is what second thoughts were made for. In response to all of your questions regarding whether or not you’ll feel bad, lose your nerve, live in constant fear, or even want to kill yourself, I can provide one simple answer: yes. All of your worst nightmares will come true in ways you never imagined. And either you’ll get over it, or you’ll be gargling buckshot. Either way, you’re covered.
When you reach your darkest hour—which will arrive daily—take comfort in the fact that you never really had much of a choice in the matter. Like me, you’re gutter spawn, a Dumpster baby with a broken beer bottle for a pacifier. We’ve been described as “disenfranchised.” Our diagnosis was “failure to thrive.” We were tossed from county homes to foster homes to psych wards to juvenile detention centers—wards of the state with pink-slip parents and a permanent spot in line behind the eight ball. Little Orphan Annie would have been our homegirl. So, what were you going to do with your life, starve on minimum wage, greeting herds of human cattle at Wal-Mart? Sell your ass to Japanese businessmen? Peddle meth to middle school kids? I think not. For the first time, you’re going to be able to take advantage of being a disadvantaged youth because everyone knows that orphans make the best assassins. Try humming “It’s the Hard-knock Life” while you empty a fifteen-round Beretta mag into Daddy Warbucks’s limousine and you’ll see just how sweet revenge can be.
If you’re reading this, you are a born killer and the people that recruited you know that. You have all the qualifications. First off, you’ve never been loved, so you feel no empathy for loss. To experience loss, you have to have had something to lose in the first place. Since love is the most important thing you can ever feel, and you’ve never felt it, then you are bereft of just about every emotion except anger.
And let’s talk about anger. Have you ever heard of Intermittent Explosive Disorder? Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve experienced it. It’s that blinding, uncontrollable rage that turns you into a violent, sometimes homicidal, maniac. Maybe you beat your foster brother half to death for drinking the last Pepsi. Or maybe you fully unleashed it on your juvie cell mate and granted him an early release in a body bag. All the social workers, corrections counselors, and psych doctors, with their nicotine-stained fingers and permanent caffeine twitch, have classified you as dangerously antisocial with a footnote about how you have nothing constructive to offer society. But at Human Resources, Inc., everything that made you a pariah will now make you a professional.
Now let’s talk about brains. You’ve been kicked, thrown, and dragged out of every school you ever attended. But if you’re reading this, you are of genius level intelligence, even though you probably beat the shit out of every bumper sticker honor student in your town. How else would you have survived? Only someone with wits beyond her years can stay alive when the whole world thinks she’d be better off dead. You’re at the top of the evolutionary food chain, adapting to things in ways that would have made Charles Darwin soil his Harris tweeds.
Finally, you may have noticed you have some extraordinary physical abilities. I’m not talking about superpowers, for those of you whose only male role models came from a comic book rack. If you had been raised by something other than wolves, you might have played football or basketball or earned your black belt in something. You would have excelled because you are stronger, faster, and more agile than the average person. Your reflexes are like lightning and your field of vision captures everything down to the finest detail. Incidentally, that’s why you avoid crowds. Simultaneously concentrating on every movement made by hundreds of people is not only overwhelming, but it also makes you hate humanity even more than you did before. Bottom line: you did not choose this career, it chose you.
This is your handbook. The Intern’s Handbook. It’s not a part of your new-hire welcome packet. In fact, if they catch you reading it, you will be dead before you can turn the page and your faceless, fingerless corpse will be divided into six trash bags and dissolved in a vat of sulfuric acid in some nameless New Jersey chemical plant. So, please be discreet, because there’s a good chance this handbook will save your life.
My name is John Lago. Of course, that’s not my given name because my biological parents were too busy disappearing from my short life to sign my birth certificate, which said “Male Baby X.” My foster parents called me whatever they managed to blurt out between backhands and booze. So when I was old enough to scrape up a hundred bucks, I paid a guy to forge me a new birth certificate and make a man out of me.
Why John Lago? I could have chosen anything and it’s not every day that you get the opportunity to name yourself. It all started with my love of classic cinema. The only friend I ever had growing up was Quinn, the projectionist at the local porn theater. When the place closed for the night and all the pervs slithered home, Quinn would spool up some amazing films from his extensive collection. I grew up on Stanley Kubrick and Akira Kurosawa. I knew who Clint Eastwood was before I knew who was president. For me, film is the great escape (which is also an amazing movie), and I recommend you cultivate an appreciation for it because you’re going to need something other than hideous, soul-eating nightmares to occupy your mind. Monsters like us can learn to be human beings from watching movies. All of the experiences we never had are covered in film, and they can be our emotional cave paintings, guiding our path among the ranks of normal society. So your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to try watching something other than epic fails and donkey porn on YouTube. Just avoid assassin movies, because they’ll give you all kinds of bad ideas.
Back to my self-inflicted, Hollywood-inspired moniker. My surname is born out of the greatest era in American cinema—the 1970s. “Lago” is the name of the doomed western town in Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, a film that is, without question, the story of my life. I chose “John” because, even though I’m guaranteed eternal damnation, I’m a big fan of John the Baptist. He prepared the unwashed masses for the coming of the Messiah, is given props in the Qur’an for his Purity of Life, and unlike Jesus, he never asked God for a get-out-of-jail-free card before Herod served his head up on a silver platter. I learned all of this by watching Chuck Heston bring the fucking brimstone when he played headless John in the biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told.
As for the rest of the meat puppets in this tragic parable, some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty. I didn’t manage to stay aboveground and out of a supermax hellhole by broadcasting the identities of my contacts at HR, Inc. or my targets. And I’m not going to start now. In keeping with the theme, their names have been pulled from the venerable celluloid of classic and contemporary cinema. If you can figure out what films they come from, you’ll get extra credit.
I’ve been an employee of HR, Inc. since I was twelve years old. I’m now twenty-four, soon to be twenty-five. I have “completed the cycle,” as they say. When I started here, my recruiting class consisted of twenty-seven smart-ass punk motherfuckers with two feet in the grave, including myself. There are three of us left. So you might say I know a few things. Or in what is undoubtedly your parlance—that of a modern-day smart-ass punk motherfucker with two feet in the grave—“Dude’s got mad skills, yo.” Hip-hop, you have fucked the king’s English for life. Good on you.
If you’re anything like I was at your age, you’re probably convinced you’re going to live forever. I have news for you, brothers and sisters. The shortest distance between truth and bullshit is six feet straight down. It doesn’t matter if you believe me or not because there’s no greater reality check than a 230 grain .45 caliber hollow point hitting your forehead at 844 feet per second.
So swallow your pride and read this book. I don’t have to write it. I’m doing you a favor. In fact, I’m risking my neck for you, and I’ve never even met your sorry asses. The thing is, no one ever gave me the heads-up on anything when I started this gig. Of course, I had my training. But I never got the inside scoop. In most businesses, you learn the ropes from those with more experience. Not this one. Bob, our intrepid leader, wouldn’t talk dirty to his wife unless she was on a need-to-know basis. In my opinion, Bob’s tight-ass approach to secrecy is the reason why many of my classmates now have tree roots growing out of their eye sockets. He calls himself a “big picture guy.” This is a Business 3.0 way of saying he doesn’t give a shit about anything but the bottom line, least of all you. There are more where you came from, and when you whack one mole in this business another invariably pops up. Protecting the interests of his “clients”—the bloated, scotch-guzzling frat boys of the nouveau American aristocracy—is his first and only priority. Everyone else is expendable.
You are my priority. If I can save some of you—the most pathetic human punching bags next to the orphans in India that swim in rivers of human excrement—then maybe I’ll only end up in the seventh circle of hell instead of the eighth. And if you live through all of this, maybe you can make some kind of name for yourself, shrug off the filthy rug you’ve been swept under, and create a legacy that transcends trailer parks, drunken beatings, and fucking for food. We will probably never meet. However, in our own twisted way, we are the family that none of us ever had and we have to stick together. It might not be much, but this little handbook is the only proof you’ve got that someone has your back.
Despite the fact that absolutely no one ever had my back, I’m rapidly approaching the ripe old age of twenty-five, a milestone that very few of you will ever cross. While most young professionals are just getting their careers started at twenty-five, that is the mandatory retirement age at HR, Inc. According to Bob, it is the cutoff point at which people begin to question anyone who would be willing to work for free. And I quote: “Even if people believe you are still an intern at twenty-five, you will call attention to yourself as a loser who is way behind in his or her career path. And calling attention to yourself is a death sentence.”
The whole philosophy behind HR, Inc., is that an intern is the perfect cover for an assassin. Again, quoting Bob:
“Interns are invisible. You can tell an executive your name a hundred times and that executive will never remember it because they have no respect for someone at the bottom of the barrel, working for free. The rapport they have with their private urinal far exceeds the rapport they will ever have with you. The irony is that all you really have to be is an excellent employee with a strong work ethic and they will heap important duties on you with total abandon. The duties that their lazy, entitled admins and junior execs wouldn’t do without guns to their heads are actually critical day-to-day tasks that keep a business running. They also open the doors to proprietary data, personal information, and secure executive areas. The more of these duties you voluntarily accept, the more you will get, simultaneously acquiring the keys to the kingdom: TRUST AND ACCESS. Ultimately, your target will trust you with his life and that is when you will take it.”
As much as I hate to stroke Bob’s ego, the concept is fucking genius. But why, you may ask, do we go to so much trouble just to whack someone? La Femme Nikita can pop a guy with a sniper rifle from a hotel window while she runs a hot bath. Couldn’t we park ourselves on a rooftop with an L115A3 long range sniper rifle and shoot our targets like fish in a barrel? A British commando in Afghanistan took out two Taliban soldiers from over eight thousand feet with that baby. That’s like drilling someone in Battery Park while you’re eating dim sum in Chinatown.
There are many reasons why we don’t do things like they do in the movies or on the battlefield. First off, even a Navy SEAL sniper is going to miss once in a while, and they’re the best in the world. Bullets and physics are a real bitch, and we can’t afford to miss. Second, when high-profile mucky mucks start getting splattered all over the streets of the biggest city in America with military-issue weaponry, that’s called a pattern. Patterns are one of the FBI’s favorite pastimes. Mix that with politics and you’ve got so much heat you can’t whack a pigeon without getting black-bagged and taken to Guantanamo Bay for the all-inclusive interrogation and torture package. It’s ironic, but this work requires the utmost finesse. That’s what separates the professionals from the shirtless hillbilly dipshits you see on Cops.
If one can provide a high-quality product for a reasonable price, there’s a huge market for assassinations. As long as you avoid patterns and make it seem like your target’s enemies are the hitters, you can—yes I’m going to say it—get away with murder and make a killing.
The key to success in this business is quality personnel. That would be you. Here at HR, Inc. we are trained very well. It takes years to perfect this so-called craft, which is why they recruit us when we’re young. But excellent training does not guarantee success or even survival. I’ve seen recruits that were considered stars get that smug look wiped off their face with both barrels on their first job. The most important thing I’m going to try to teach you is this: solid training will give you the skills you need to be good at this work, but good and dead is still just dead. Knowing when to set that training aside and allow your instincts to take over will make you unstoppable.
I am unstoppable. I owe much of that to experience. So, in order to truly prepare you for what you’re getting yourself into, this handbook will chronicle, in great detail, my final assignment. Within this account, you will see the job as it really is, not as it is in Bob’s theoretical world of “typical scenarios.” I’m sorry, but there are no typical fucking scenarios when you’re planning and executing the murder of a high-profile, heavily guarded individual. Bob will train you and then train you to rely on your training. This is a military approach, and it works well in military operations—for the most part. I will teach you to think like ...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.