The following narrative was written as my final submission for English 404, Creative NonFiction, during the Fall 2022 semester. Read Part 1 HERE.
“It’s always the ones with the dirty hands pointing the fingers.”Sonya Teclai, musical artist.
“Think of it as we’re building a pyramid; you would never start at the top,” the AUSA (Assistant U.S. Attorney) explained. “You begin with the foundation, then build upwards from there,” he droned on. The analogy didn’t make me feel any better. I pictured myself and my friends as bricks getting piled on each other, layer by layer, wondering how much pressure I could stand as they kept building their damn pyramid.
Washington, D.C. might be an International City and the capital of the free world, but trust me, it is, at heart, a small town. There are few secrets when it comes to elected officials and bureaucrats. I knew it was only a matter of time before the whole world got wind of my snitching.
My ex-girlfriend was someone I suspected would be another brick in the pyramid. Forget that we had been separated for nearly a year, my lawyer explained, “The feds would try to squeeze her for leverage over you. You must reach out to her.”
This was not going to be an easy conversation.
We met in one of those dive bars in a part of town that we would never have been caught dead in when we were dating. I guess it didn’t matter much now. Anonymity was the goal. I gave her the bad news, and she didn’t take it well. “What the hell does this have to do with me?” she exclaimed as her voice rose a few octaves to no effect on the few customers in the fine dive establishment. Then, any hope that I could trust her to keep the matter confidential evaporated quickly. “Are you wearing a wire? Are you trying to entrap me?” She leaned forward, speaking into my chest, “I knew nothing about your craziness back then. Do you hear me, whoever is listening to us?”
There was no wire, no one was listening to us, and I was not trying to entrap her. I thought it was fair to warn her that I was a bigger jerk than she knew me to be when we were a couple. But all I could tell her as I got up to leave was to Get a lawyer and that I was sorry.
The marble bench was still uncomfortable. The subpoena stated that I was to appear outside the Grand Jury room at an appointed hour, and someone would come to give me further instructions. Considerable time had passed, no one had come looking for me, and my lawyer hadn’t arrived. I considered looking for a pay phone to call his office, but I was afraid to move. All I could think about with every ticking second was how I would explain what I was doing outside a federal grand jury room if someone I knew stopped and asked me questions.
I suddenly recognized a woman walking down the corridor with a group of people heading toward another jury room. Our gazes locked for a second, and I turned, looked down at my cards, and pretended that I was intensely reading them. My stomach had passed into my throat and then collapsed like a rock back into place. When the group had passed, I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the back of her head. She never looked back.
The relief was short-lived. I thought about my parents and family in New York and how I would explain everything. My lawyer and the feds told me there was no guarantee my name wouldn’t be made public once the grand jury had completed its work and someone had been indicted. In fact, due to the high-profile nature of this investigation, it was a good chance that my name would be splattered across the front page of the Washington Post, the New York Times, and every local radio and television outlet in Washington. “You’ll be famous.” I don’t want to be famous.
I was preparing to sign the immunity agreement when I suddenly realized I had a question or two. I hesitated for what must have been a second too long when someone, the AUSA or the DEA agent, slammed their hand down on the table. Hard. Addressing my lawyer, “Sir, you better speak to your client. He is either prepared to answer all questions before the grand jury, or this agreement will be torn up.” Both men suddenly got up and left the room, leaving my lawyer and me.
Shaking from the confrontation, I got up from my seat and walked to the sole tall narrow window overlooking the plaza in front of the courthouse. I pondered my fate as I watched the people below briskly moving about their business, oblivious to my panic and the world falling around me. How the hell did I get to this moment?
I knew the answer, of course. Greed. Recklessness. Now I was in a room in a courthouse, getting ready to sign an agreement that would make me a snitch. I didn’t want to go to prison. It was either them or me. I once spent four hours in a police station lock-up in 1968 and was close to losing it. A federal penitentiary, I’m sure, would be worse. Sign the damn agreement.
My lawyer finally arrived, insisting on last-minute instructions. “Tell the truth, but be very specific in your responses, and don’t go off on tangents.” I heard him, but my mind was somewhere else. At that moment, I steeled myself.
My vision narrowed, staring down a tunnel with no light at the other end—only darkness. Afraid I was being sucked into a vortex, there was nothing to hold onto as I free-fall, twisting and turning, rolling and spinning, my eyes wide open because I couldn’t close them. No, I think I will be forced to witness my fate, feel it, like a million shards of glass cutting into me. And I wonder if this is what hell would be like if it existed.
All I could think about was asking for forgiveness, a new beginning, and wishing I could quietly slink away in anonymity.
The mahogany-colored door to the jury room opened beside me, and a woman stepped out. “Mister Ruiz, we’re ready for you.”