Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Making Muffins for the FBI

When we left our story*, Coach had just dropped a major drama in my lap and walked out my front door.

Not yet having learned that you can’t turn to the cause of a problem to find its solution, I called The Wasband as soon as the door’s bolt slid into its latch. Of course, I got no real information. No comfort, either. Only condescending demands to “Drop it, Jerri,” as if this had nothing to do with me. Like my future wasn’t on the line right along with his.

After the initial panic wore off, I figured out there was little to do other than drop it. Oh, and pray that we’d seen the last of Coach. Rumors swirled throughout the team parents, but other than that, life went on in the strange new pattern that now passed for normal in our lives.

Before we move on, let’s review, for just a moment, the B movie our lives had become: I was about to turn 40, my CEO husband had run off with his secretary, who was younger, thinner, and blond, with all those stereotypes imply. What could I do but go back to college? That’s right, as soon as the dust settled, I matriculated at a local learning establishment, hoping to learn how to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Now that everyone's up to date, let’s return to our regularly scheduled story.

One day I returned from my “Social Problems” class (oh, the irony) to find this message on my voice mail: “This is George Reagan of the Minneapolis unit of the FBI. I’d like to talk with you as soon as possible. Please call me at 555-BIG TRBL immediately.

The FBI. The FBI! Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The FBI wanted to talk to me! How could that be? When did our lives come so completely off the rails? How did we get so totally F’d?

I sat in a straight-backed, wooden kitchen chair for an hour, staring at the white phone on the white wall as though it might rise from its blankness to answer some of my questions.

It didn’t.

Eventually, I picked up the handset and dialed. When I reached Mr. Reagan, he asked to come by the house to talk with me. We settled on 9:00 the next morning.

Sunrise found me pacing the kitchen. I literally did not know what to do. After endless deliberation, I decided to treat Mr. Reagan as I would any other guest.

As my kids got ready for school, I stirred together a batch of blueberry muffins and made a pot of coffee. Yes, indeedy, there I was in my very own kitchen, as though it were a normal thing, making muffins for the FBI.

It was a beautiful spring morning. After the kids clattered out the door, I set the table on the deck, using cheerful pastel placemats and my favorite dishes. Seconds after I arranged the muffins, orange juice, and coffee on the table, the doorbell rang.

Walking to the door, I took several deep breaths and tried to still my pounding heart. I finally opened the door, and, for a split second, helpless laughter burbled out of me. I quickly straightened my face and my attitude and grasped the hand of the FBI man standing on my doorstep. As we shook hands and introduced ourselves, I stole glances at George Reagan’s tan trench coat and ugly black crepe-soled shoes. He must have noticed my efforts to stifle myself, because he broke into a smile himself.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Such a cliché. But my parents gave me the coat when I graduated from the academy. What can I do but wear it?”

George gestured ruefully toward the driveway where a non-descript maroon 4-door sedan sat in the sunshine.

“The coat isn’t any worse than the car,” he chuckled. “I might as well be a cartoon character.”

As we laughed together, I led George to the back of the house and out onto the deck.

“It’s so nice this m-morning, I thought we’d s-s-s-sit on the deck,” I stammered.

George’s eyebrows did a quick loop-de-loo as he took in the table setting then settled back into place as he sat down. He accepted coffee and a muffin, and shook his napkin onto his lap. After stirring a dollop of cream and two spoons of sugar into his coffee, George reached into his briefcase and pulled out a small tape recorder and a ratty looking notebook.

His first question set the stage for all that followed:

“Do you know Mr. D. T. Coach?”

When I nodded, George asked me to answer aloud.

“Yes.”

I’d seen cop shows. I knew enough to answer only and exactly what I was asked.

“How do you know Mr. Coach?” George asked.

We continued for an hour or so, the questions getting more complicated as the interview went on.

By the time we got to questions about The Wasband, I was shaking. My coffee was long since cold and my muffin was nothing but a pile of crumbs on my plate. I hadn’t put a morsel in my mouth, but I couldn’t keep my hands off the damn thing.

George, on the other hand, suffered no such issues. He drank cup and after cup of coffee, each flavored with one dollop of cream and two level spoonsful of sugar. At least three muffins disappeared from his plate, one small bite after each question.

Finally, the Big Question: “Did you know Mr. Coach asked your husband for money?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know that?” asked George.

Pretty sure he already knew the answer, I took a deep breath and departed from my “answer only the question mode” to tell George about Coach’s visit to my home.

Next, George told me that he knew about The Wasband and Joey and asked whether the situation had created money issues for us. When I asked how that related to the matter at hand, he told me that many a CEO had gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar after supporting both a wife and a girlfriend turned out to be much more expensive than he’d reckoned on.

George’s forthrightness opened a door between us. Abandoning the simple question-and-one-word answer format, we broke into a wide-ranging conversation. After another half hour or so, he said,

“Well, that just about does it. But I do have one more question before I go.”

His voice sounded ominous.

“Okay,” I ventured warily.

“Do you think The Wasband is guilty of sharing insider information?”

George had handed the chance to get back at The Wasband to me on a silver platter. A few well-placed words from me and the investigation would take flight. The kind of investigation that could embarrass and inconvenience the hell out of the SOB at the least. Send him to jail at the most.

For a second or two, I was so tempted to go there that I literally could not breathe. I picked through the muffin crumbs on my plate, concentrating on trying to take in oxygen. In the end, I knew that only the truth would set me free.

“That depends on exactly what you mean,” I began.

“If you’re asking whether it’s possible that he had a few beers and said more than he should to make himself sound like a big man, I have to say yes. That’s not just possible, it’s very likely.”

I paused: The temptation to stab the bastard in the back still nagged at me. With what felt like a physical effort, I pulled forth the truth as I knew it.

“If you’re asking whether I believe he shared information with the intention of profiting in some way, no. I don’t. The man may be stupid, but he’s not a criminal.”

That’s when George Reagan uttered the words that will remain in my heart to the end of my days.

“Well, I’ve met Joey, and now I’ve met you. He left you for her. That alone proves he’s stupid."

No one had said anything that nice to me in more than 16 years.

At that moment, George Regan, FBI man extraordinaire, could have had his way with me. Anything he wanted. Right there on the deck, in front of God and all the neighborhood children playing on the swingset in my backyard.

Fortunately for us all, George did not know this.

Instead, he finished his coffee and replaced the tape recorder and notebook in his briefcase. We walked to the front door, where he shrugged back into his trench coat. Finally, George shook my hand and wished me good luck. I never saw or spoke to him again, but we’ll always have our blueberry muffin morning.

In time, Coach was convicted of a variety of SEC violations and sent to prison. His wife divorced him and his children grew up without him. What could have been worth that?


*"Down the Rabbit Hole," the post from Sunday, Sept. 3, 2006, includes this story.

4 comments:

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Love that he was so cliche. Also happy Coach got what he had coming!

Suzy said...

“Well, I’ve met Joey, and now I’ve met you. He left you for her. That alone proves he’s stupid."
Great line. Absolutely loved this story. Is Mr. FBI available?

Mystic Wing said...

Great, great, great story!

You really need to write a book. I suspect there are lots and lots of stories in you just waiting to be told.

liz elayne said...

okay in my mind i am thinking about how George the FBI guy tells the story of the amazing woman who made these glorious blueberry muffins and was married to a slimeball that he unfortunately didn't catch doing anything that he could do anything about...

great story!