DIAL HIM FOR MURDER

HELLO? I NEED SOMEONE TO KILL MY HUSBAND.

Jack Ballentine has honed his hit man act almost to perfection. A good-natured man in real life, the detective can easily transform himself into a very believable crook when he has to. At six foot five, he's physically imposing, and his size helps sell the image.

Over the years, Ballentine has fooled bikers, sex perverts and businessmen into thinking he's a fellow scoundrel. Sharleen Bath, a middle-aged former Sunday-school teacher with no criminal record, promised to be no match for him.

Bath telephoned Guns for Hire late on the morning of January 8. Leigh Wilson soon put undercover cop Ballentine on the line.

Ballentine introduces himself as "Jake."
"My concern when [Leigh] said to call back another day, it could have been a setup," Bath tells Jake. "I have to trust you."

Jake turns the tables by asking Bath if she's an undercover cop. After she insists she isn't, Jake makes his pitch. "You hire me to do something, I do it, period. I wanna see a face so that I know who I'm dealin' with."

Bath ®MDRV¯agrees, but also ®MDRV¯insists that the murder be committed in the next ten days. "Maybe I'm really off-base," she ®MDRV¯ says, "but is it possible that it be done in a car? Is that kind of thing possible, or is that back to Al Capone days?"

Jake ®MDRV¯assures her that murder by car bomb is a distinct possibility, but he wants to know something. "Is it an `ex' or is it a boyfriend or what?" he ®MDRV¯asks.

"A husband," Bath ®MDRV¯says, adding that James Bath is planning to visit her in Phoenix on January 17. That's why the job ®MDRV¯has to be done so soon, she ®MDRV¯says.

"What are you willing to pay?" Jake ®MDRV¯asks. "Have you thought replies, "and maybe I'm so far out of my field, but I thought $10,000."

Jake ®MDRV¯asks Bath for "a couple thousand on top," which she soon ®MDRV¯agrees to. "I don't ever fail," he ®MDRV¯promises her.

"That's important. You've been able to do this before?" she ®MDRV¯asks. Sure, he ®MDRV¯says.

Bath ®MDRV¯wants Jake to take pains that her husband's murder will appear to be business-related. Then she ®MDRV¯gets down to the potentially gory details:

"He lives on a boat, but I don't want anything happening down there at the marina," she ®MDRV¯says, trying to keep her marina-manager boyfriend out of it.

She ®MDRV¯adds, "This isn't anything to do with insurance money. I don't even know what he has."

Bath and Jake ®MDRV¯conclude their telephone conversation by agreeing to meet in person the following day. "In Canada, by the way, there's not a death penalty for things the way it is down here," she ®MDRV¯reassures her new associate. After some discussion, Bath ®MDRV¯ recommends that they meet in the parking lot at the Black Angus on Alma School and Southern in Mesa.

"I'll wear jeans, and my jacket I'll have on is a hot pink and black," Sharleen Bath ®MDRV¯says. "'Bye."

SHARLEEN BATH drove into the Black Angus parking lot in her maroon 1990 Lincoln, five minutes before her scheduled 10 a.m. meeting with "Jake."

Jack Ballentine was waiting for her in front of the restaurant, wired for sound and within sight of Phoenix police technicians and their hidden VCR camera. What the detective saw was a deeply tanned bleached blonde whom, as advertised, was wearing her hot pink and denim outfit.

Bath ®MDRV¯pulls out a list of handwritten questions she ®MDRV¯wants to ask the soon-to-be-hired hit man. "I've been reading true-crime books since I decided this," she ®MDRV¯tells Jake. "This has been a decision for about a year and not a couple of weeks. So it's not like I'm going to change my mind."

Bath ®MDRV¯seems to have contemplated every angle. She ®MDRV¯tells Jake she wants to put $10,000 in cash in a storage locker at the Vancouver airport. ®MDRV¯She'll send the killer the key to the locker after the deed is done. "I have been pulling it out a little bit at a time, so there is no trace on the money I've been taking," she ®MDRV¯ advises him.

Things ®MDRV¯get personal. Bath ®MDRV¯confides to is involved romantically with a man other than her husband. "I've been married for 28 years," she ®MDRV¯ tells him, "and everybody including Mom thinks we're the most happily married couple they have ever seen. Two wonderful kids. If I was to tell them I was in love with the most wonderful person in the world, if I was to divorce, it would devastate my family."

Bath ®MDRV¯adds, in an unintentionally funny aside, "This kind of thing does not happen in Vancouver. In Montreal, maybe." She ®MDRV¯tells Jake she's been suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and ®MDRV¯ says she came to polluted Phoenix "to get my lungs cleared up."

Then ®MDRV¯it's back to talking turkey. Bath ®MDRV¯ draws maps for Jake that ®MDRV¯will help him find James Bath's place of business from the Vancouver airport. She ®MDRV¯shows Jake a photograph of her husband.

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