It was supposed to be down time, a break between trials, a trip to the big city. I was going to sit with a bit witness and listen to him be questioned by federal agents. He wasn’t a target of the investigation. He was just one of many folks agents wanted to interview about a major crime.
Trust of government, whether state of local, is in short supply in my household. My father was an illegal immigrant, living on forged papers until the day he died. But for his decision to shoot a man, and the requisite need to flee Detroit, I would not exist. In the pre-computer era, you could leave one town, and hide in another. He was an armed robber by trade. You settled disputes about loot any way you could.
He fled Detroit with a svelte young beauty he was seeing. When they arrived in Chicago, she became my mother. They married. He stuck around for awhile, but the money was too easy on the streets, so he took off. I didn’t see him again for 40 years.
Thus my issues with authority.
My wife has issues all her own. Her mother and father were way left of center back when it was a crime not to swear loyalty to the United States. Her father did his time at Danbury while she was a young girl.
We’re not national anthem sort of people.
So I am sitting there with the feds, two FBI agents and a federal prosecutor sitting across the table. We sign a proffer agreement: My client will answer their questions, and they will promise not to use his words against him in any prosecution. The only thing that could go wrong would be if he were to lie. Although the government can lie to us with impunity, we the people can go to prison for the lies we tell to government agents.
Things begin in a friendly enough way, but soon turn tense. The client’s answers aren’t satisfying the federal agents. He tenders explanations that don’t make sense. Suddenly, he is far too forgetful, even for a young man whose smoked a forest worth of weed.
I notice him fiddling with a cell phone, apparently sending and receiving text messages as he answers questions. Not good, I am thinking, when his phone rings.
“I need to answer this,” he says.
“No you don’t,” I answer. “Unless that is your doctor prescribing you life-saving medicine you need to stay alive right now, you’re not answering the phone. What we’re doing here is important. Give me your phone.”
I’ve not felt such a smug sense of righteousness since I last grounded one of our children for some infraction against what passes for my sense of order.
He hands me the phone, and I place it in my lap.
The infernal toy begins to buzz, a text message brightening the screen. I ignore the message displayed.
Then the phone buzzes again, and then again.
I look down.
“If you tell the reporter anything more about me, your life will get much worse,” the message reads. Am I really reading a threat of some sort conveyed to a young man in the midst of speaking to the FBI?
Tense and privileged discussions follow. We agree to let the FBI search his phone. As we’re doing so, the phone rings. I answer it.
“You tell him he better not talk about me,” a caller says, after I identify myself and explain my client was otherwise occupied.
It was supposed to be downtime, but it ended up as anything but that. A whole new world of chaos opened in a moment, and now, I suspect, my next trip to the big city will be anything but a joy ride.
You just can’t make this stuff up.•