[Unpublished, March 2003]
I’m a pastor’s wife, mom of three, short, plump and southern, so people are generally surprised to hear that I was once under investigation by the FBI for making death threats on behalf of the Mafia.
It could happen to anyone, really.
One night we were having dinner with a couple in our congregation, Bob and Cathy, while our combined five kids played downstairs in the rec room. My husband’s gingery Chinese stirfry was disappearing fast, and Cathy’s special Chocolate Overload cake was waiting in the kitchen.
Then Cathy put down her chopsticks. "Oh, I forgot to tell you!" she exclaimed. "Bob’s writing an investigative piece—real investigation, not just the city-budget kind. It’s a little scary."
Bob leaned back and affected a nonchalance usually associated with trenchcoats and dangling cigarettes. "It’s about the Mafia," he said. "It’s big time. Did you know that they’re all around us? Even here in our little town."
This seemed unlikely. We lived in a suburb a hefty commute from the big city. We had a few stop lights, discount stores and fast food joints, but nothing like the ominous urban grime associated with a major crime syndicate.
"How it works," Bob went on, "is that they bring young guys over from Sicily and put them to work in pizza joints. Every morning they get up and make pizza, and every night they come home; if you watched them for weeks, that’s all you’d see. Then one day a phone call comes in, an order to knock someone off. They go out in the night, do the dirty work, and the next day are back spinning dough."
"It’s kind of scary," Cathy repeated.
Suddenly Bob looked at me. "Hey, you know that pizza place in the mall, the one in the food court? ‘Pizza Supreme’? It’s one of them. It’s a front."
"No!" I said, feeling uneasy.
"Sure is," he responded. "That’s one of the places I’m keeping an eye on."
A few weeks later I was at the mall and thought I’d just stroll by the food court, though the idea of a smiling killer’s face watching me over the pepperoni was unnerving. But to my surprise the "Pizza Supreme" counter was boarded up. Instead there was a sign announcing, "Coming soon, Ocean Breeze Pretzels!"
I clicked on a mischevious idea. My camera was in the car so I ran and got it, then took a photo of the boarded-up business. When the film was developed a few days later I sat at my kitchen table, thinking through my plan. First, a plain, unmarked envelope addressed to Bob and Cathy. Then I took the photo of the forlorn shop and turned it over, a laundry marker in my hand.
What would be the broadest, most obvious joke I could make? I wondered. I clutched the marker in a fist and scrawled in shakey capitals, "YOU WRECKA MY BUSINESS, I BREAKA YOU FACE."
I dropped it in the mailbox, chuckling. Bob and Cathy would wrack their brains trying to figure out which friend had pulled this clever practical joke.
A joke. I swear, it was a joke.
Several days passed. It was time for our annual vacation, and I was rushing around packing for the next day’s departure. I almost didn’t answer the phone.
It was Cathy. "Oh, hi," I said, a bundle of kid’s tshirts in my arms. I tried to sound casual, so as not to give away the game too early.
"I know you’re busy," she said, "but I was just calling—well, to ask your prayers. Something terrible has happened. I’m going to take the boys and go stay with my parents for a few weeks, but Bob will stay here. There are FBI agents in his office right now. You see," she whispered, "we’ve had a death threat."
"Oh, no!" I said, genuinely shocked.
"Yes," she said, "we got a photograph in the mail, with a threatening message. They’re dusting it for fingerprints now. Tomorrow they’re planning to go confront John Gotti with it."
Of the calvalcade of collapsing emotions I felt at that instant, the strongest was that I would really prefer John Gotti not find out anything about this, ever.
"Listen, Cathy," I said, "I think I have some good news for you, because I actually know who sent that photo. Actually—it was me."
It took a few more exchanges to convince her; the menacing big guys had taken on such realistic bulk in her mind that it was hard to replace them with her diminutive pastor’s wife.
"So, do you think Bob will be angry?" I asked in a small voice.
"Oh, I’m sure he’ll eventually find some humor in it," Cathy replied, politely. She was clearly still a little stunned.
As she hung up to phone Bob with the good (?) news, I went back to the kitchen. I pulled out an identical envelope and the same marker, and wrote a note of such abject apology that it seemed extra stamps would be required for the weight. My husband was home for lunch, and picked up the finished product.
"I’m going back to the office now," he said. "Do you want me to drop this in the mailbox for you?"
"No," I said. "I have to crawl there on my knees."
[Unpublished, March 2003]