Before he left New Mexico, Staake says, Martin asked him to have a friend draw a picture of Bieber strapped to a chair, wrapped in barbed wire, with a bullet hole in his head. Staake says Martin had told him, "If I was free, here's what I'd want to do—put Bieber in a cage, rape him repeatedly, and put it on YouTube."

On November 14, according to a police affidavit, Staake and Ruane set out on their four-day cross-country road trip. They talked several times a day by phone with Martin, who tracked their progress on a hand-drawn map he had crudely traced from a Weather Channel map on his TV. As his henchmen drove east, Martin played his head games with them. On the third day, he told Staake he had spoken to his Chinese-gangster friend, who had given a new order. "He just told me you need to castrate them," Martin claims he told Staake, adding that they were to put the testicles in Ziploc bags as proof that their mission was accomplished. Martin says Staake was both shocked and confused. "He said, 'I'm not gonna cut off their wankers,'" Martin says. "I said, 'We're not talking about wankers, Mark. We're talking castration.'" Martin says that when he explained the distinction to Staake, the response was the same. Eventually, says Martin, Ruane agreed to disfigure his victims for a price of $5,000 per person, $2,500 per testicle.

By the time Staake and Ruane reached Barre, Vermont, on November 18, the BMW was thick with fast-food wrappers, discarded Marlboro 27 boxes, and a man-stench that would not abate. That evening, they drove up to the address they had for the first victim, Maurice Simoneau, a small apartment building. According to Simoneau, when his father met the pair on the porch, they told him they were from out of state and that a friend had told them Simoneau "would show them around town." Simoneau's father told Staake and Ruane that his son wasn't home. They soon had other troubles. They learned that Staake's 80-year-old stepfather, a grandfather figure to Ruane, had died of cancer in New Mexico. Exhausted from the drive and emotionally drained, they were a sobbing mess when Martin called a short while later. "Tanner was yelling on the phone—he was going crazy," Martin says. "They were both crying. I'm trying to keep them together."

"We were both pretty tore up, pretty worn out," Ruane says. Martin says he instructed them to give up for the night and head 80 miles north to Derby, Vermont, about four miles from the Canadian border, where PL lives. Running low on cash, Ruane says, he and Staake decided to sleep in the car.

After a night in subfreezing temperatures, Ruane woke around 6 a.m., sore, tired, and cold to the bone. He started driving, put the heater on, and pulled onto I-91, heading north. "I was frozen, trying to light my cigarette and defog the window and drive all at the same time," he says. "That's when I missed the exit."

The duo drove straight up to what looked like a toll booth. It was in fact the U.S.-Canada border crossing. When they realized their mistake, Ruane made a U-turn, but it was too late: They were stopped by border agents, who ran a background check and found a warrant for Staake's arrest—he had violated his probation by leaving New Mexico. The border agents handed Staake over to the Vermont State Police and let Ruane go. He was frozen with fear. "I sat there for four hours—I was scared, dude," Ruane says. "I'm 23 years old, never been on this side of the U.S. before without one of my guardians. I had half a tank of gas, maybe 20 dollars, and I was 3,000 miles from home."

He recalled the first thing his uncle had told him on the trip: "Don't make Dana mad."

When Martin called Ruane's cell a short while later and learned of their run-in at the border, he was furious. According to the police, Ruane told Martin over a tapped prison phone line that he didn't want to "move it forward" without his uncle because it was his "deal." Martin agreed, according to the police, realizing this 23-year-old with no criminal experience couldn't do the job alone. "It's gonna end here," Martin told him. Ruane was upset, or pretending to be, telling Martin, "Fuck! Dude, this pisses me off so bad, brother." He told Martin that he and his uncle had the heart to do the job and, authorities say, asked Martin to keep the gig open for them. Still smarting, however, Martin said of his intended victims that they "don't know how fucking lucky they got."

• • •

It might have ended there. But Martin couldn't accept the failure of his plan. Even if he didn't kill Justin Bieber, he figured he could still gain global notoriety for his effort—just as Mariah Yeater is infamous for trying to ensnare the singer in a sex scandal, just as Hinckley is infamous for trying to kill Reagan. He decided to explain the plan to authorities and set up Ruane. "I knew my calls were being recorded," Martin says. "Once I know the plan is dead, now I need to tell prison officials about it. I'm talking to one of the witnesses on the telephone, who isn't too bright, and I can get him to start talking about it and I did, because I wanted people to know that Dana Martin is doing this. I knew that by telling, I was going to be guilty of conspiracy. I don't care. But people now know that we were going after Justin Bieber."

Martin asked to speak to his prison caseworker, Sergeant Edgar Pinon, and told him the details of the plot. Pinon notified the New Mexico State Police, and Martin agreed to cooperate—he would talk Ruane through the plot as the authorities listened in. The next morning, Ruane called Martin. With officers from the Corrections Department's Security Threat Intelligence Unit instructing him, Martin told Ruane to pull into the nearest service area, the Pilot truck stop in Rotterdam, New York, and wait for some of Martin's Vermont friends to bring him money to get home. While Ruane idled in the parking lot, Martin talked him through the plot for the benefit of the eavesdropping cops. Ruane was chatty, telling Martin that he and his uncle had bought gardening clippers, "for, like . . . trimming roses," allegedly to perform the castrations. He said the clippers were his idea. He said his uncle was going to "handle the whole putting down of the dogs, and I was going to go snip-snip." He again told Martin how bad he felt that he could not finish the job. When I ask Ruane about the taped calls, he says, "I was just saying what my uncle told me to say." Beyond that, he says, he doesn't remember the specifics of the calls.