Those were my orders, from my nationally famous partner, regarding the 1969 murder of Joseph Yablonski, an American labor leader in the United Mine Workers. Our firm was Bailey, Alch and Gillis, and that was F. Lee, if you please. He was the hottest lawyer in the country because he was the best lawyer in the country. He was gifted with the most extraordinary mind I have ever seen in play. Watching him work was an exhilarating and educational experience. He was a stunning genius on his feet. I would watch him cross-examine a witness and have no idea as to where he was going. And if I didn't, the witness had no clue. When the inevitable trap was ultimately sprung, the witness was decapitated. I watched and studied his moves, as my personal criminal trial education continued. I was learning from the Master. These were heady, fast-track times.
The day after the Yablonski murder, our office received a call from a woman who identified herself as the sister of one of the alleged shooters who was about to be arrested and charged, and who wanted Bailey as his attorney--fast! An appointment was made for him on the following day at 2p.m. Bailey, whose commitments had him flying, non-stop, all over the country, was unable to be there and thus delegated to me the most urgent and important task of getting the client signed. I looked Lee straight in the eye and solemnly declared my realization that this was a most challenging assignment and that he need not worry. I was not without talent and would roar to the occasion. Lee felt certain that this would be a big score, since the suspect's fees would be paid by the Union, not known to handle things in a niggardly way. The secretaries were duly advised as to the next day's preeminent event and all was at the ready. A notorious case, bringing in a hefty fee, created the atmosphere we lived for. And I would be the one to lock it up.
I was late getting back from court. Maximum panic mode. Please, Lord, let the guy be patient. If not, it's off the roof. Schmuck, schmuck, schmuck. I ran from the elevator, stopped briefly to gather myself, and entered our penthouse suite. There, sitting in the waiting area, was my man. Muscles bulging under his t-shirt, soiled jeans, an unmistakeable Mine Worker murderer. I introduced myself, apologizing profusely for my tardiness, and beckoned him to follow me down the hall to my office. Don't run, idiot, and be cool. I grandiosely gestured him to a chair as I noticed my secretary waiving me over.
"You may have to speak up a bit, he's a little hard of hearing."
"No problem, thanks."
I sat across my desk from him, and decided to get right on with it. You don't bullshit with guys like this. I studied him, mano a mano, and let it fly. Skip the preliminaries.
"Sir! You killed Yablonski! Mr. Bailey will take your case. I've discussed it with him. The retainer will be $50,000. He'll set the final fee down the line when the facts are clearer. Is that agreeable?"
The guy just stared at me. No expression. No reply. Thirty seconds passed. Zilch. Then I remembered what my secretary had told me. I was talking too softly. The guy couldn't hear me. I moved my chair up, so that the edge of my desk was collapsing my chest. I sat erectly (relax-I'm not going there), leaned forward into the famed giraffe position, and bellowed, "Okay! You killed Jablonski! Bailey will take the case! Fifty grand up front, the total fee to be set later!" I was, just about, yelling.
Same freakin' thing. Nada. Maybe his eyes widened to the point of the pupils popping out, but he said not a word. Another thirty seconds of silence. Perhaps I should sit on his head and risk spritzing his eardrum with saliva. Suddenly, thank God, I perceived lip movement.
"My name is Jim Duffy. Yesterday, I got pinched for drunk driving. That's why I'm here."
Ha-Ha! The Alch could not be fooled that easily. I shot right back.
"No need for that, Sir. This is a privileged conversation. My lips are sealed. Murder is a heavy charge, but we're here to help you!" My secretary later told me that she could hear me through the walls.
He rose from the chair, white as snow, opened my door and began fast-trotting down the hall. I took chase. He was muttering, "These f--kin' guys are nuts! A lousy OUI ticket and I'm lookin' at the chair!"
"Come back. Please stop. We have to talk!" But, it was no use. The guy jumped on the elevator and was gone. I had lost him and probably Bailey's confidence as well. I had flubbed the dub.
Subsequent events proved not so. The next day, the sister called, apologizing for her brother being a no-show. He had been steered to a union-connected lawyer. The big case had simply never materialized. No fault of mine.
But, somewhere, in this world, there was a man undergoing a lobotomy, in a desperate attempt to rescue his sanity, and forever obviate his fear of serving fifteen years for a traffic ticket.
One thing, for sure. He would not be a repeat client.
True story. Dem waz da days.