In this incredibly moving, autobiographical report, Jack Ballentine, an undercover policeman who poses as a hit man, tells of many of his cases, of the difficulties he had in keeping his various identities straight, and the effect his various roles had on his personal and emotional life. In Murder for Hire [ISBN-10: 0-312-38452-1], In his moving autobiography, Jack Ballentine tells us about his upbringing in Arizona, his early goals, the influence of his parents, how he [almost by accident] became a policeman, the identities he adopted in his undercover work, the stresses involved, and how he was saved by his wife Patti and their sons.
Jack grew up as “…an unaffected youth in a middle-income family…” in Arizona, one of four children of John and Joan Ballentine, remarkable parents who gave him “...their love and guidance that gave… a conscience and purpose in life.” While a student at the University of Arizona he hoped to be a counselor for convicts and abused children. One day, a group of friends, including his best friend, Tim Hallahan, decided to take the test for the Phoenix Police Department. Jack decided to join them.
His mother, thinking that police work was much too dangerous, did not give him the acceptance notice. However, Jack found it and explained “…how much I wanted to help people and how this was the best chance I had to make a difference…”. She relented but with one stipulation. She gave him a card with a prayer to Saint Michael, “…the patron saint for all police officers…” and asked that he say the prayer every day and carry the card with him forever. He had it laminated and still carried it during the writing of his book.
After 22 weeks in the Police Academy, and graduation, he was assigned to a patrol car and, then, to “…a specialty unit that handled street gangs and other surveillance and fugitive activities.” His entry to undercover work came through Tommy Hernandez, who was impressed by Jack's bravery and power. Tommy said that Jack had to “bulk up” if he wanted to do undercover work. Jack was ready for his first undercover assignment after he gained 75 pounds [reaching 250 pounds] and could bench press over 400 pounds. He let his hair grow to his waist and grew a beard; when in role he was dirty, disheveled, and smelled of alcohol. His appearance was so frightening that children fled to their mothers when they saw him.
Jack had a daily routine to maximize his health, sanity, and identity. Every morning he would take a quick shower, work out for two hours in a hard-core free-weight gym, hurry home to eat lunch in time to watch soaps on TV [his favorite being Guiding Light] and dress in appropriate duds for that day's identity. Then, since he usually appeared as a dirty drunk, he would roll around in the dirt and the grease and oil of his truck, and pour cheap alcohol down his shirt. He had two vehicles, a truck and a motorcycle [which had been cobbled together by a friend of his from spare parts of other bikes].
He assumed several identities: a warlord in a motorcycle gang [the first]; a member of the white supremacist group called the Aryan Brotherhood; a Mafia guy from upstate New York; a disgruntled Vietnam vet, and the “toy boy” of a rich real estate broker, among others.
People who hired him included: a sadist/cannibal who wanted to torture and kill young boys and eat their body parts [but didn't have the nerve to kill them himself]; people coming to trial who wanted the witnesses removed; people who wanted their spouses gone for a variety of reasons – money, abuse, new lovers; and the parents who wanted to kill their son for the $1000 stereo they had given him for Christmas.. Sometimes the clients wanted multiple murders, e.g., the mailman who wanted to kill his wife, then his boss at the post office, and then his two business partners.
Of course, all of his meetings with people who thought they had hired him were recorded on videotape and the “clients” were arrested.
The problem for Jack, with his various identities, was that they didn't closely resemble the person he really was. Although Jack was very good at his job, and very convincing, he said that “I found myself constantly questioning how I could be so believable when it went against my very core.” It was difficult to remember who he was on a given day or hour. “…I found myself drifting further from the reality that I once knew and loved.”
Jack's life improved considerably after he met Patti and her son Geoff, and married Patti who, he said saved his life. Two years later she became pregnant with their son Cody. He “fully realized the power of family in a man's life and never wanted to lose it.”
Although he tried to keep his family “…sheltered and separate from the dark life…” he lived, it wasn't always possible. After every case, he thought his identity would be revealed and he would be exterminated. The many death threats he received did not reassure him.
Finally, Jack decided to get out of undercover work. He transfered to the homicide division of the Phoenix Police Department and, later, to the Phoenix Fire Department.
He said that, as he placed the police badge on his step-son, Geoff Ballentine, “…my eyes began to well up and the badass in me that had lived the life of a street thug had finally been put to rest.”
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked the story because it is realistic and convincing and it covers a part of life with which I have no experience.
Best scene in story:
In my favorite scene, Jack is on a three-day school science camp trip with his son. He's been asked to be a camp leader and to teach a class on tying knots. On their second day, while on a long hike, another camp guide tells Jack that there is an urgent message for him back at camp. It turns out that some “soldier-of-fortune nut” has taken a contract to kill him, and the SWAT team is at his house. When he calls his wife, Patti, she interrupts the phone conversation to give the SWAT team members more drinks and cookies. He hears her say “If you boys need any more sandwiches let me know.”
Opinion about the main character:
I like Jack Ballentine's dedication to his work and family, and his honesty, sensitivity, integrity, and compassion.