Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jimmy Dominguez was a legendary procurer of cases. Somehow in the mixed tangle of relationships I got to know him and we became friends. He was a Damon Runyon character, one of those tough guys who came up in the rough part of New Orleans, and at the age of sixty he was just as mean and tough as he ever had been. Jimmy was scary mean. What I am trying to say is that he would scare you with his voice, his demeanor and his eyes, even though he was only five feet five.

Jimmy had been a motorcycle cop for twenty or more years, and then retired as chief of detectives of Baton Rouge. He then became an “investigator,” really a procurer of cases, for the legendary tort lawyer Al Brumfield in Baton Rouge. Brumfield was a wealthy plaintiff attorney back in the sixties and seventies until he was murdered in his home one night by burglars. It was rumored by Jimmy that he was killed by a family member, but Jimmy was also a little crazy and paranoid. I know from rumor, and from what he told me himself, that he had killed at least three men---in the line of duty or otherwise.

Let me describe him when I knew him in the late sixties, seventies and early eighties. Two hundred pounds, five feet five, his bald head had a deep creased indention running front to back, and he packed a .45 automatic on his hip under his leisure suit jacket. He wore an old lime green and a light blue leisure suit long after they went out of style. A thick gold chain around his neck, big gold rings on nearly all of his fingers and long fingernails that weren’t always the cleanest looking. His face was oddly kind of small, taking up less room on the front of his rather fat head than it should have, jowls, and his small hard eyes were set close on his nose.

When Jimmy laughed, it was a heh heh with his thin lips pooched out showing his teeth which were in need of maintenance. He was a scary looking man, especially when he laughed. I had a skinny somewhat proper secretary, about forty five or fifty whom he called whistle britches for she wore corduroy pants often and as you know when you walk fast with those pants they rub together and make a sissing sound. He would come into the office wearing his felt hat he pulled down over his eyes, and his dark aviator type glasses, and look right at her crotch and lick his lips. She would make a whimpering little noise and run into the back of the office, and he would laugh his heh heh laugh.

Jimmy brought me some dog cases, meaning some that were worthless or difficult at best. He brought his good cases somewhere else. For some reason, the country people, the Cajuns of South West Louisiana and the rednecks of Mississippi thought he was brilliant, some thought he was a lawyer, and they all thought he was a messenger from the God who lived in the city who could deliver them wealth from their offshore case or car wreck. He would hear of a serious accident somewhere, and he knew someone in the area. Next thing he was in this person’s house, drinking their coffee, charming their socks off, then signing them to a contingency fee contract. Brumfield would settle the case and keep the money his account for a long time “in the client’s best interest,” and finally release it to the client when the client began to worry him about it.
There is something to this, for I once had a million dollar judgment in a case against the highway department and my clients had no money left in less than a year.

Jimmy introduced me to the prison population at Angola, where I immediately had a hundred clients. In those days the vehicles and tractors were insured by Fireman’s Fund, and prisoners were always getting seriously injured on them. Once a hootenanny, which is a barred cage on wheels used to transport prisoners to the canefields, loaded to overflowing with prisoners locked inside, was being pulled at a high rate of speed by a guard down a gravel road, and things got out of control and the hootenanny flipped upside down in a deep pond. Nobody died, but there were injuries and many nearly drowned—you can imagine the terror. I settled those cases after a while.

Another case involved a black boy, less than thirty, along with a trustee and four other prisoners all of whom were in for murder, were loading a pickup with bales of hay. When the truck was loaded, the trustee and two murderers got in the cab, two murderers sat on the tail gate, holding onto the support chains, and there was no place for my client to sit. He didn’t want to sit with the murderers---as his crimes were petty theft and some burglaries during which he always got caught red-handed. So he clambered on top of the great stack of bales and tried to hold on as the trustee careened down the gravel road at a high speed—--making a curve during which maneuver the top bales and my client separated from the truck and continued in the original direction---all terminating in a canefield with my client’s severely broken leg. My little New Orleanean client had spent his life in one jail or another, actually getting rehabbed more in prison than at home—for his mama would lock him in the attic while he was home to keep him out of trouble.

Once he got out of jail, still in his cast, and wanted to borrow some money. The problem about plaintiff lawyers is that their clients are nearly always indigent and broke. I gave him a check for $100 because he had no shoes and needed a shirt. My office was on Plank Road at the time, sometimes in the late sixties, and about two hours passed when he came back, crying, begging me to fix the check. He had clumsily tried to alter the check to make it $100,000, and was turned away from the bank. I should have kept the check as a souvenir.

Jimmy’s prize prison procurer of clients was named Paul. All the prisoners I represented were in Camp A, the murderers, rapists, big time crime guys who had been injured. This guy was thin with dark almond complexion and oddly colored blue eyes. He had cut a man up into little pieces and put the dismembered parts into a big suitcase. He ran his drugs, whores, extortion and contraband like the Godfather of the prison. Nobody messed with Paul. He never made parole and died up there in that hell hole, but given that he was insane, he surely didn’t belong in society. Insane doesn’t mean slobbering crazy---it means constant intention to harm in order to protect oneself for they are in frenzied concealed terror. They are completely devoid of feeling and have no sense of responsibility---that is why they can kill or harm without remorse. Jimmy was just like him in a way. This was in the late sixties and seventies before I learned to detect and stay away from anti-social personalities. It was scary, but exciting.

One of Jimmy’s techniques of control was blame and put you on the defense. His voice and demeanor was a weapon. He growled, even gurgled, turning his lips up in a snarl, while almost getting in your face when he felt he was losing control. I was terrified of him at first until I realized I could play his game. His favorite starting point was a growl: “Why didn’t you return my fugging phone call?” He probably never called at all. Finally I would just tell him he is a lying sack of shit he never called. He would laugh and all would be right.

Once a good friend was sitting across my desk from me in the corner of my then small office on Perkins Road when Jimmy burst in, wearing his hat pulled down over his eyes, sunglasses, lime green leisure suit, growling, “why don’t you return my damn phone calls?”

The door opened in a way that Jimmy couldn’t see my friend. But my friend could see him. My friend knew I kept a gun in the top drawer of my desk. I growled back: “You lyin’ SOB, you ain’t called me!”

“You, you,” Jimmy said, pulling his coat back as if reaching for his gun. I slammed the drawer of my desk open and reached inside and my friend hit the floor. Jimmy saw him for the first time and we both began laughing and my friend looked up wide eyed, still expecting lead to fly. My friend and I still laugh about that scene as he got to meet the legendary Jimmy Dominguez.

Jimmy had lots of ups and downs—his wife Sadie died. I think, in spite of his tendency to wander and I was amazed that some women really found him irresistible---and I still wonder at seeing a fine young babe wrapped around a tattooed, unwashed, hairy beast and thank the gods that women are truly blind. If they weren’t, I would have been devoid of love life and so I just was thankful for the blind ones who stumbled by me.

Anyway, Jimmy finally had a stroke of sorts that deprived him of his weapon, his voice. He could only growl and gurgle. He had set up the “Big D Bail Bonding Service,” bailing criminals out of jail, and was having problems with his partner. He and his wife sat across from my desk explaining the problem, and Jimmy’s eyes would bug out as he tried to talk, but could only burble and growl, his face turning red and redder as that animal inside tried to get out. She would lean away from him and reach out and touch him to cool him down, yet as if she had to keep a little distance at times like these for he just might explode and she would be hit by shrapnel. Still attempting to talk he would growl, almost slobber and finally resolve into a little bugeyed squeak. I thought he was going to have cardiac arrest right before my eyes, all the while thinking “he’s getting what he deserves.”

Finally Jimmy went to whatever reward awaited him, and I stood between his daughter and his wife at the coffin, looking down at what was left of Jimmy. We said nothing for a while, then his wife said under her breath, “There lies one no-good rotten sonofabitch.”

After a couple of heartbeats, his daughter said, “Yeah. Daddy was a no good rotten sonofabitch.”

I thought this was a fitting farewell for a man whose life consisted mainly of terror, extortion and threats. Maybe he wasn’t all bad. I was able to ride over and above the thing he was, being an observer and not a participant in his game. I am sure he never knew a moment’s peace, and was as miserable a human as I have ever known, concealed by his demeanor of bluff that he may have been willing and able to deliver. Had I not known him so well, I would have thought he was just another Mafioso, for he looked and acted the part---and claimed he was the confidant of Carlos Marcello and his gang---he may have been. All I know is that my gut went into a clinch when he showed up, and only relaxed when he was gone.

This little spinning forgotten cinder out on the far reaches of an insignificant galaxy, is peopled with angels, demons, geniuses, miscreants, idiots, all miracles in their own way. If you hang around long enough and mix it up with the tenants of this planet, you will run into the Jimmys, or Swaggarts (I represented Jimmy Swaggart for seven years) all trying to survive in their own way, which is interesting for they cannot, being immortal spiritual beings, but survive. People like Jimmy D. try to survive by keeping others down, and people like Jimmy S. try to survive by putting fear into others in another way for another reason in the name of salvation. And I sometimes almost weep seeing their struggles and pain trying to overcome problems they create for themselves. I wonder where Jimmy is today. If one believes in Karma he may be one of the dogs he kicked, working his way back up the gene pool. On the other hand he may be singing with the angels, laughing at the effects he created on me. Knowing him was, looking back, a treat, for he was the last of a breed. The way things are going, fifty years from now his kind will be on forced medication, unless he is a psychiatrist, which would fit his mind-set, and he would be dispensing the pills or administering the shock treatment.

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