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Author Bio


I grew up in a tough working class neighborhood, and those places breed tough people. I was born near the end of WWII, so many of my friends and classmates were the first generation sons of the men who worked in the shipyards and on the long shore during the war. Bears of men, who bred big, strong sons who always had enough to eat. My high school produced thirty-three All-Americans and a Heisman Trophy winner in three years.
            My father was neither a longshoreman nor a ship worker. He was a salesman who discovered in 1940 that he was 4F.
            So after I graduated from law school, where I went to avoid having to find a job after college, and after a short stint as a prosecutor, criminal defense was a natural. And during that endeavor, I met some people who were not only tough, they were bad. 
            In a certain sense. 
            I have always had a soft spot in my heart for outlaws, but criminals are another matter.  Criminals must be evaluated on a case by case basis because they tend to be swine. Outlaws are different. Some are swine, admittedly, but if they are the real thing, they have a code and they live by it. 
            Take Jimmy G. 
            I never met anyone tougher than Jimmy G, or more antisocial. And I don’t mean sociopathic—that is a given—I mean antisocial. Jimmy G frequently offends even his best friends. 
            Toughness, it appears to me, is not the ability to throw punches or kicks, although that can help you get out of a jam. Rather, toughness at its core is a quality of mind.  It is a willingness to go to the mat instantly if your boundaries are crossed, and to do whatever it takes to prevail. 
            For instance, one of the well-known conventions in the netherworld of pool halls, strip joints and night people is that to put one’s hands on the person of another without advance permission is to invite an immediate, and violent, response. However, toughness must be disciplined. It must be held in check and used only when appropriate. Otherwise it is just random, senseless barbarity, both dangerous and likely resulting in unpredictable consequences. That’s why someone who is truly tough, and knows it, will walk away from a confrontation he could easily dominate.
            Jimmy G’s inclinations were always right at the surface. His shoulders were back and appeared relaxed, and his brow was strong and usually a little knit, as if he had his mental teeth sunk into an internal problem of some kind. He looked out from under his brow, and in his eyes was the ice cold of his general disdain for mankind, just waiting. And he always turned his left side a little toward anyone unknown he encountered, almost as if it was unconscious. 
            Once on a downtown sidewalk on the way to lunch he brushed past a slowpoke who, with his friends, was taking up the entire sidewalk. When the lout erupted Hey, punk, you bumped into me Jimmy G did a quick about-face with military precision and laid the fellow out. Jimmy G smiled down and said Yeah, and I hit you, too and then he looked at the miscreant’s friends.  There were no challengers. Jimmy G is not a large man, nor is he small; he is compact, and he is serious.
            How Jimmy G and Tall Paul, two guys with short, well-groomed hair, leather coats, nice slacks and bad attitudes became embroiled in a beef in this redneck country-western bar on the far east corner of the city is not important. Nothing had gone right all day long, so Jimmy G and Paul decided to stop for a drink. Jimmy G’s piece was, as always, clipped under the dashboard in what looked like a fuse box that hid it from view.
            Tall Paul was one of a kind. In the 1970s he had gone to college through an innovative outreach program while doing ten years in the penitentiary for armed robbery, applied himself and had actually become well educated. He had a degree in English Literature, and you could tell that easily even in a short conversation. What came out of him most of the time was an argot straight from the street-corner—what was called “the dozens” in the 1950s—but when he would mix that talk with what he had learned in prison he hit a groove, and he could be brilliant. He was quick, sardonic, observant, and his wit was razor sharp. But he wasn’t a fighter, at least not physically. His duels were all in words, and at the redneck country-western bar, he was way out of his element, besides being a little bit drunk.
            Jimmy G, on the other hand, was as ready as can be, but he was quiet in unfamiliar settings and he didn’t like the odds in the redneck bar, especially after Paul got into the—uh—discussion with the Stetsons about politics, and then about religion and politics. Paul explained that you had to be an idiot to believe in religion because of the private lives of the people who pushed it on everyone, which were less than virtuous. Therefore, he argued, even they did not believe it and so it was obviously a hustle for money.
            Jimmy G kept trying to get Paul to shut up, and finally dragged him out of the place, but this group of exburban cowboys followed; the damage was done. 
            The sun had gone down.
            They were surrounded in the parking lot. One of the rednecks, a truck driver according to the official investigation that followed, fired a pistol in the air because, well hell, it just seemed like the right thing to do. Paul was tackled and pulled away from Jimmy G, whom the cowboys ignored. Jimmy G ran for the car. He quickly opened the door, squatted down and reached in without looking. He thumbed back the two clips holding the box closed and palmed the pistol, looking behind him. No one had been attracted by the dome light. He closed the door and started back. 
            Paul was down and being kicked as Jimmy G approached, but before he could rescue Paul he was confronted by three lummoxes—brothers—all with “primitive leers” he said later.  The louts cornered him between two cars turning what Jimmy G thought would be a shortcut into a trap. They came at him one at a time, and did so eagerly, probably trusting to bulk. Jimmy G called them Howard Huge and the Huge Brothers.
            Jimmy G showed Howard the piece when they were about three arm-lengths apart, and when Howard shrugged and took a step forward anyway Jimmy G pistol whipped him, knocking him backward. Then he looked at the second brother, who was confused and stunned.
            He looked at Jimmy G, and he looked at his badass older brother lying on the ground bleeding and moaning—that was incomprehensible—and he got sore. He took one long step forward, glowered down at Jimmy G and said: You won’t use that gun, punk!
            I cannot understand why Jimmy G gets called punk. You can tell from ten feet away that he is most definitely not a punk. People who know nothing about him, but with any street sense, recognize it immediately.
            But not the second Huge Brother. He didn’t get it, and he was just the right distance away. So Jimmy G, thinking It’s loaded, the safety is off—why not? put the pistol right up to the Brother’s sternum, smiled into his face, said . . . bye now, and pulled the trigger.
            That’s what I mean by specific, predetermined reactions to given situations. It was inevitable, when he failed to back down, that the second Huge Brother would get shot. Nothing else could possibly have happened, given the circumstances and the people involved. 
            From Jimmy G’s standpoint, it was the brother’s fault. He had seen the gun and he had seen his older brother felled with one crack to the head. His only option was to back down. An incredulous Jimmy G said later If you have the gun, you are in charge!
            People who have been involved in these kinds of situations frequently report that their sense of the passage of time is distorted; they say it seems as if time slowed down and everything happened in slow motion. But time does not slow down, and in the microsecond of time it took for the hammer to fall and fire the bullet, and for the bullet to reach the end of the muzzle, the second brother came to understand what he should have known from the beginning with uncharacteristic—indeed, unprecedented—speed, and he moved just enough to save his own life.
            This was not like the shot fired into the air. This was serious. All of the activity around Paul quickly ceased when the second Huge Brother staggered backward into the cowboys spouting blood and making noise. The pistol in Jimmy G’s hand suddenly had their attention, and they all backed off. Jimmy G got Paul on his feet and into their car, and no one tried to stop them. They drove to the emergency room at the local hospital just a few blocks away. Jimmy delivered Paul to the ER staff, then vanished into the night.
            What the Huge Brothers could not know was that, while not a drug user himself, Jimmy G was known to associate with a group of people reputed to be mid-level—that is, wholesale—heroin dealers. Jimmy G had no criminal record whatsoever, but he was rumored to be both the shipping and the collection departments of the wholesale heroin business. The police went around to all his known associates with an arrest warrant for him, of course, and that caused some minor difficulties, mostly pushing and shoving because the police had arrived too early (i.e., before 2:00 p.m.) and had rudely awakened people, who were consequently cranky. But Jimmy G was nowhere to be found. 
            This part of it may be hard to understand for people who tend to see things only in black and white: There exists an uneasy truce between the police and people they know are criminally active but who, for one reason or another, are out of reach at present. The truce is much more tolerable to the criminals than it is to the police, some of whom are self-righteously indignant that God has not yet hurled the sinners into the abyss.
            In situations such as the Jimmy G affair, it is necessary for the police to talk to those closest to “the suspect,” and in most cases that works out all right. However, when the police want to have heart-to-hearts with people whose family rules for the past three generations include never talking to a cop under any circumstances, it is more problematic.
            It is not unusual, if cooler heads prevail, for a detective to call on the telephone and ask to meet for coffee and a private talk, and it is not unusual for the invitation to be accepted. These interviews are always circumspect, involving a certain protocol based on the understanding that some subjects will not be discussed and others can only be broached off the record or hypothetically. It can actually save the police a lot of time and trouble to learn that they need not bother looking for someone.
            It always goes much easier if cooler heads prevail.
            So they gave up actively looking for Jimmy G around town, life went on, and then one day Jimmy G called me out of the blue. I didn’t ask him where he was. He said he wanted to come home and asked what it would take. 
            That was easy. I arranged for release on the charges in advance of the court appearance, and since Jimmy G had voluntarily surrendered himself, they released him on his own recognizance, despite the severity of the charge—assault in the first degree, with a maximum penalty of twenty years in the penitentiary. Today it would be different—he would be required to post at least ten percent of $250K. The prosecution asserted that he had fled, but Jimmy G said he had been panning for gold in Alaska on his own and he didn’t know about the charges. When he heard about them, he said, he came back immediately.  
            I was surprised that the State tried so hard to keep him locked up. He had after all surrendered himself, but I chalked it up to the case having been assigned to Mikey. Mikey was one of those prosecutors that simply has no sense of proportion, and he goes on crusades. 
            Prosecutors, to fulfill the legal requirements of their jobs, and at the same time to be faithful to the ethical requirements of their profession, must take a dispassionate view of the cases they choose to prosecute. If the cases have insurmountable legal problems, they should be jettisoned regardless of the importance of the suspect.
            But that was not Mikey’s approach. If Mikey decided that the defendant was a bad person, Mikey would stop at nothing to see to it that he was punished for something.
            Ultimately, of course, the truth dribbled out: Jimmy G’s ex-girlfriend Janie had been involved with a county deputy sheriff until about eighteen months before she met Jimmy G. She came back about six months after the shooting, having gone to Chicago, she said, in his company.
            But before Chicago, he had taken her with him to get rid of the gun. That was accomplished by one of Jimmy G’s associates in the heroin business, who had a cutting torch, according to the police reports. Then, of course, there were the multiple reports of the conversations that Janie had with her deputy sheriff ex-boyfriend about Jimmy G’s travels in the months before the shooting, many of which she had accompanied him on. She knew nothing personally about the people upstream from Jimmy G, because they had their own boundaries, but she knew where many of the deliveries were made.
            None of this surprised the police, but Mikey became, if it was possible, even more deranged, especially when he discovered that Janie, sensing what the onrush of events portended for her (or perhaps having been warned by her ex), high-tailed it for the Midwest and anonymity when it became known that Jimmy G was coming home and that her debriefing would become a matter of public record.
            Janie was an astonishingly pretty girl, almost elfin, with short, dark hair in ringlets, dark blue eyes and a swimmer’s body. She had an eclectic taste in men, obviously, but was clearly attracted to the kind of men who would tell her what to do—Jimmy G surpassed at that sort of thing—so she lived in the moment and followed the path of least resistance, hoping I guess to be able to smooth any ruffled feathers later. To her credit, she knew Jimmy G better than to even try.
            Of course, nothing about heroin was admissible in the bar shooting case, because Jimmy G was not at the bar on business. And they didn’t have the gun, which Jimmy G said was stolen by Janie, knowing she would not be there to deny it. And Jimmy G came to the trial in a suit about half a size too big for him, making him look even smaller and less threatening than normal. 
            The trial took place in one of those huge, ornate old courtrooms that are becoming so scarce for resource reasons. The walls are decorated with portraits of stern looking 19th-century judges with long beards, the solid oak of the pews and the seats in the jury box are well-polished by the sliding of a century of butts, covered with everything from the finest silk and worsted wool to prison-made denim. The scene virtually reeks of tradition. 
            Despite all the space, when the Huge Brothers came in to testify and approached the bar—that barrier across the courtroom between the lawyers’ tables and the spectators’ seats—they kept as physically close to the wall and as far away from Jimmy G as was humanly possible. They were obviously trainable. 
            They described events pretty much as they occurred, and had a very difficult time explaining what they would have done if Jimmy G had not had the pistol. Howard— the brother that got pistol whipped—was a thug. The second Huge Brother was not; he was one of those unfortunates—everyone knows them—to whom, even after repeated explanations and drills, even the most elementary workings of simple arithmetic remain mysterious. And it is that way for them forever. 
            It is not that they are bad people. It is just that awakening comprehension takes, in their case, inordinate time. The light is on, but if you knock on the door it takes a while for anyone to come and answer.
            The case for the defense consisted primarily of the doctor who had treated Paul and who said he had lost over a pint of blood and might well have died if the kicking had not stopped; and Jimmy G. The law in this state says that one is privileged to use deadly force to fend off mortal peril to oneself or another, and that if the facts supporting that defense are admitted the prosecutor must disprove it beyond a reasonable doubt. That is a heavy burden, because it’s hard to prove a negative.
            So Jimmy G testified, said that he had the gun for target shooting and that he only used it because he thought they were going to kill his friend. He came off as this mousy little guy who would not hurt a flea.
            The cross-examination went well, I thought, right up to the time that Mikey ran out of proper questions. Then he started down a road that the judge had forbidden to him to travel in response to a pretrial motion from me. 
            Mikey started a question and halfway through I objected. The objection was sustained.  Mikey began another question and halfway through I objected, and that objection was sustained. 
            It is conventional wisdom that a shocking event or communication can cause one to lose color. Well, the opposite phenomenon is also possible, and I saw it occur before my eyes that day. As he stared at his notepad, and then a random police report that he picked up from the table, Mikey’s neck and then face, even his ears, became crimson. He looked like a human thermometer and the heat was slowly edging upward. It took a while. First it was just his neck, but then it rose to his jaw and then his cheeks and nose. When he had become completely beet-red, he leapt to his feet and shouted at Jimmy G: Isn’t it true that you had a gun because you were a collector for a big-time heroin operation . . . 
            Well, the rest of the question was drowned out by my shouting an objection and a motion for a mistrial and the judge granting it. 
            The jury was sent away, and although there was a good chance they would not have been able to prosecute Jimmy G again—double jeopardy—it was by no means a done deal. So when the new prosecutor on the case offered Jimmy G two years bench probation, which is probation with no reporting requirement and no probation officer, for a no contest plea to misdemeanor assault, he took it.
            After all, we could get it off his record three years after he completed probation. And, of course, he had never been in trouble before in his life.

© Lawrence Olstad

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Author Bio

Larry Olstad - photoLawrence Olstad was born, raised and educated in Northwestern Oregon.  He spent three years living in New Jersey and New York before returning to the west coast for law school. After practicing law for twenty years, he now spends his time doing legally related work.