As you may remember, Argus Joseph Thomson is a poor lawyer specializing in Poor Law for the poor. Here he tells us how he was driven to become a lawyer.
His childhood friend, Doc Blomister, had been working as an undertaker’s assistant and was charged with having sexually violated the corpse of a well-known movie star who was said to have died from over-exuberant frolicking with a Wyoming cowboy. They had Doc cold, pictures and all.
The charges shocked the community considering the fact that Doc enjoyed all of the apparent accouterments of normalcy and good citizenry. He attended the Baptist Church every Sunday; he was an officer in the Junior Chamber of Commerce; he served as an Assistant Scout Master, and he was an avid member of the Cowboy Joe Club, those rabid boosters of the University of Wyoming football team. But you can never tell about the secret stuff that stews away inside of people, especially immigrants from Pumpkin Buttes.
Doc’s lawyer pled Doc “not guilty by reason of insanity.” At the trial a psychiatrist, Dr. Henrietta Homony, testified that Doc’s depravity was attributable to the abuse he’d suffered as a child at the hands of Miss Bromley – the trauma of which, Dr. Homony testified, left Doc terrified of the opposite sex and powerless to relate to living women. “This is irrefutable evidence of his insanity,” the shrink testified, “because as every mentally healthy male should realize, the female of the species is essentially harmless and easily dominated by the superior, stronger male in whom God had entrusted the fate of the species.”
Doc’s lawyer hauled Miss Bromley into court to testify. She was the teacher at Pumpkin Buttes country school where both Doc and Argus attended.
“When you caught Wilbur Blomister down at the creek with Bessy Lou Hogelstein playing doctor what did you do?” the lawyer asked Miss Bromley.
“I don’t have to answer you,” Miss Bromley said lifting her chin. “That’s privileged.”
“Answer his question,” Judge Hammond interjected.
“I did what any decent woman would have done.”
“What’s that?” Doc’s lawyer asked.
“I won’t answer.”
“You’ll be in contempt of court if you don’t,” the judge snarled.
“Come over here and I’ll show you,” she said to Doc’s lawyer as she reached into her apron pocket.
“Answer the question,” the judge said.
“I’ll answer, but this is a form of rape. You are extracting from me what I do not wish to give. I swatted his little. . .what do you call it, Your Honor?”
“Call it whatever you want,” the judge said.
“If I have to say such a word I wish to use only the correct, legal terminology.”
“Call it his do-whackey,” the judge said.
“I spanked his little do-whackey with my ruler,” Miss Bromley said.
“Thank you,” the lawyer said.
“I should hope so,” Miss Bromley said. “That was the least I could do under the circumstances, and I made him promise he’d never do such a thing again as long as he lived.”
Later the lawyer called Doc to the stand in his own defense. He had grown into a nice looking young man, and his lawyer had him dressed in his three-piece black undertaker’s suit. His hair was cut short and slicked down with the latest hair grease for men so that he looked like an IBM sales rep.
“Why did you do this terrible thing, Mr. Blomister?” the lawyer asked right out. Doc didn’t answer. He looked down at his hands and began to weep.
“Tell the jury, Mr. Blomister.”
Finally Doc began to mumble something through his sobs.
“Speak up, Mr. Blomister!”
Then Doc said something about being in love and something about loneliness and that’s all his lawyer could get from him.
Doc’s lawyer took less than a minute to sum up for the jury. “What this man did was the unspeakable crime of a madman,” he whispered. “But think how lonely it is to be a corpse in a drawer in the morgue. Think of that ladies and gentlemen!” Thereupon Doc’s lawyer submitted his case, and the jury was out only long enough to elect a foreman and take a single ballot before they returned their verdict, and Judge Hammond sentenced poor Doc that same day to forty years, which is probably longer than he would have gotten had he murdered the woman in the first place.
I visited Doc in the Teton County Jail before they transferred him to the state penitentiary at Rawlins. He was wearing his blue denim jailhouse clothes and he looked pale and helpless. I didn’t know what to say to him.
“You shouldn’t have come here, Argus,” Doc finally said. “Ya shouldn’t never have nothin’ to do with the likes a me.”
“You’re my friend, Doc. Everybody makes mistakes. We all have our stuff.”
Then, like a small boy, Doc asked, “Do you have stuff, too, Argus?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Is yer stuff like my stuff?” he asked hopefully.
“No, Doc,” I said. Doc looked disappointed.
“Was yer stuff as bad as mine?”
“Stuff is stuff,” I said.
“No, stuff ain’t stuff. There is stuff and there is stuff. An’ my stuff is the worst there is.”
“No, Doc,” I said, and I started to reach out and touch his arm, but I thought better of it. It seemed wrong to touch a person when he’s in jail.
“It’s awful in here,” Doc said. “I hope they kill me.” He was silent for a long time. Then he said, “All I think of is the Buttes,” and he choked up, but he held it back because real men are not supposed to cry, especially in jail.
“You’ll make friends,” I said.
“They won’t have nothin’ to do with somebody that done the stuff I done.”
“But, Doc, there are murderers in there, and rapists in there and people who beat up old ladies and there’s people in there who’ve done terrible things to little kids. You didn’t hurt anybody. Yer stuff isn’t so bad.”
Suddenly Doc asked, “What did you do, Argus?”
“Well, Doc,” I said, “a man can’t talk about his own stuff.” Then I knew I should have told Doc about Marilyn Monroe because all the hope drained from Doc’s face, and his eyes looked like they were painted on with flat brown Kem-Tone, but Doc would have never understood. Nobody understands anybody else’s stuff. “You’ll be all right, Doc,” I said. “You can learn to make license plates, and you’ll meet a lot of interesting people.” Suddenly I began to cry, and Doc, being very considerate, turned his back.
Then a guard as big as a beer-wagon horse came in and hollered at me, “Hey, you a friend of this stiff-fucker?”
“Don’t you call him that!” I said, and I took a big wild swing at the guard who slammed me up against the bars, picked me up off the floor and heaved me out of the cellblock like he was throwing slop to the chickens.
After that I retried Doc’s case over and over in my mind. I would have argued it differently. I would have riveted the jury with steady eyes and in a low, deliberate voice I’d have said:
“Ladies and gentlemen: Wilbur ‘Doc’ Blomister is a very nice person. He’d never commit rape, and he’d never commit robbery. He’d never hurt another living being; he’d never even kick a mean dog. This would be a better world if there were more people like Doc. Think of it! There’d be no little children with their heads smashed in and old folks beaten and robbed. Why, the FBI would be out of business, and the politicians wouldn’t have to compete with each other to see who could be the toughest on crime, because there wouldn’t be any crime. That’s the kind of world we’d have if everybody was like my client, Doc Blomister.”
“Now Doc testified about love. But we’ve all been in love with the dead. I, myself, have been in love with Marilyn Monroe for years, and I know plenty of people who are still in love with Elvis Presley. And so I ask that you find that Doc is only a poor lonely man who is afraid to love the living. We all need to love and to be loved, don’t we?” I looked at the jury, but they stared back at me with Kem-Tone eyes.
“It’s a frightening thing to love somebody. It can cause great injury to your heart, isn’t that true?” Doc is no criminal. Criminals injure the living. Doc is only a poor lonely man. I wish you could forgive him.” But the jury wouldn’t forgive him. I looked from juror to juror, but in my mind’s eye I saw them sitting still and stony like 12 cadavers. I thought, “Oh, Lord, the jury is dead, and they’ll find poor Doc guilty for having violated one of their own. Probably render the death penalty.”
After that Argus decided to go to law school.