"Books on subjects related to the professional hit man are hard to find. But there are a few publishers out there who have the backbone to provide those of us who take life seriously with the necessary educational materials." -- from Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors.
Paladin Press, the Boulder publisher of such fare as Ultimate Sniper and Guerilla's Arsenal: Advanced Techniques for Making Explosives and Time-Delay Bombs, released Hit Man back in 1983. Almost ten years later, an ex-con in Detroit named James Perry ordered a copy of Hit Man, along with How to Make a Disposable Silencer, Vol. 2, from the Paladin catalogue. The folks at Paladin remembered that particular order: Perry's personal check bounced. But Maryland cops didn't find that out until after Perry had made good on a contract to kill the ex-wife and eight-year-old paraplegic son of Lawrence Horn, a former Motown exec who'd fallen on hard times. Ultimately, both men were found guilty of first-degree murder -- and the survivors of Millie and Trevor Horn filed a wrongful death suit against Paladin for criminally aiding and abetting. Hit Man, written by the pseudonymous Rex Feral, was a veritable how-to manual for the hits, the suit claimed. If books could kill...
Then movies could bore you to death, judging from Deliberate Intent, the made-for-FX flick that premiered in Denver Sunday night. "So much of it was fictionalized that it made Hit Man look like a very simple narrative," sneers Peder Lund, who founded Paladin in 1974. Though reluctant earlier to discuss the lawsuit, he's now happy to take a few shots at this "television trash."
For starters, Lund doesn't have a palatial estate in England -- where he was shown shooting clay pigeons while the butler handed him a cell phone -- but "a very small cottage in the middle of a village." And the "idea of me having a valet, or a butler, is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, I only use a cell phone about once a year -- when my car breaks down."
On the other end of the line was a fictional version of local attorney Tom Kelley, who not only defended Paladin, but also does First Amendment work for such suspect businesses as the Denver Post. Although Kelley has yet to see the movie, he's gotten reviews: "I think the thing that irritates me most is the actor who played me was puffy and out of shape," he says. Meanwhile, Rod Smolla, the law professor who came up with the idea of suing Paladin, was played -- very sympathetically -- by Timothy Hutton. "He's really a little short, dumpy guy," says Lund.
Both Lund and Kelley were eager to argue the books-can't-kill defense in court, but at the behest of Paladin's insurance company, and in the wake of the Columbine killings, the suit was settled in May 1999. "Whether you like the content of any book -- be it Hit Man or next week's Westword -- you have a right to read it," says Lund, from his non-palatial office in Boulder. "And the publisher not be held responsible."
For those who missed it, Deliberate Intent airs again on Sunday, August 13. In the meantime, cast your vote on FX's Web site: "Does freedom of the press protect anything -- even instructions for murder?"