When I was little, I always imagined I would be a mom or a teacher or a grandma. Every dream surrounded children. Before I got married I told my husband I wanted to stay home and raise my own children. He was thrilled. But life sometimes gets tripped up. What we do and what we mean to do gets split, like parallel universes, we envision the life we want while we settle for the life we are living.
Here I sit in the most unremarkable café, waiting anxiously for my lawyer to come. How did I end up here? Alone I sit at the table drinking my water. The waiter keeps asking me to order, but I am too nervous and too broke. The café is dark. If the lights are on, they make little difference. I keep glancing at the tinted windows that run the length of the café front and then look down at my water, feeling conspicuous. Where is he? He promised he would meet me here as soon as I was out of danger. Funny, I hadn’t suspected trouble as I waltzed into the Federal Building down the street an hour ago. I asked the secretary at the front desk for directions to the third floor cafeteria. I asked a few more workers once I got to the third floor. I was to meet my counsel there. As I walked into the florescent lit room, the smell of precooked food hung in the air. There were nondescript tables scattered throughout the room and a long ala cart table at the far end with a few bored patrons viewing the items.
My lawyer was sitting down at a table in the center of the room. Smiling, I headed toward him. As I got close he put his head down and spoke just loud enough for me to hear. “Just keep walking and pretend you don’t know me.” I clumsily looked for somewhere to go. I headed toward the food wishing I had brought my wallet. I got in line, grabbed a tray and stood staring at the choices. A few moments later my attorney rose and grabbed a tray also. We walked through the line together. He grabbing food as we went and me pushing my empty tray.
“You are in a lot of danger right now. I need you to calmly leave this building, make sure you don’t talk to anyone. Walk out the door and turn to your right. Cross the street and walk until you see the diner. It has large plate glass windows and it is dark. Go get a table and stay there until I come. Don’t talk to anyone.”
I turned, abandoning my tray and let my feet obey his commands. I kept hearing his voice in my mind, “You are in a lot of danger right now.” How can this be? This type of stuff isn’t supposed to happen to Mormon moms. I quietly left the cafeteria; I felt the stares of others as I walked out of the room. I retrace my steps to the elevator. The cold marble on the floor and the walls seemed hard and formidable. I pushed the button and waited for the shiny silver doors to open for my escape. The wait was painfully long. Others came to stand by me. They were quiet. Sinister. We all entered the metal cave together and began our descent. I worried I was followed, but as we left the elevator I was the only person heading for the exit.
I retraced my steps past the metal detectors and then pressed open the large class doors to freedom. The Arizona June heat suffocated me. The sun blinded me momentarily, but my feet kept walking. I put my head down and found my way down the street. Finally I reached this diner. It is dark and menacing. There is a tall bar with 20 or so stools. Most of the people in the place are sitting up to the counter, looking at each other through the wall of mirrors behind the counter. I am sitting on the other side of the room, in the far back, and waiting.
The décor reminds me of a cheap version of T.G.I.Fridays. The grease and meat flavor hang in the air. There are a few people that look like they maybe homeless, but most of the patrons are in business suits. I glance behind me and catch a man’s eye. Fear begins to percolate while I wait. “Is that man looking at me because he is with the F.B.I. or did he just look up the same time I did?” My mind begins to envision the worst. I imagine the news reporting on a young mother who never returned home today. I interrupt that idea only to have visions of a newspaper with my mug shot on the front cover. I can’t shake the fear.
Once again I glance toward the door looking for my lawyer, a tall older gentleman. When I first met him in his office a couple of weeks ago, I had to keep from laughing because he looked so much like Perry Mason. Not the young Perry Mason from the original show, but the older version from the last few years of his life. He is tall and distinguished. I keep glancing toward the door hoping to see him, worried I will see Federal Agents with guns and hand cuffs instead. How long can I wait?
This morning when I awakened I thought today would be the end of my troubles. I excitedly got up and fed Stephanie, my baby. After trying on every dress I own, I settle for a bright green silk dress. It is attractive, but I don’t look professional. I look like a mom—which is exactly what I am. I picked up the phone to call Lisa, she has agreed to babysit my girl while I go testify to the F.B.I. of the embezzling I had discovered my boss was doing. Stephanie begins to cry as we pull into the Lisa’s driveway. I am not sure if she is upset about being dropped off or if she is feeding off my emotions. I stoop down and brush her red wispy hair out of her eyes. She reaches up and grabs my neck, this is going to be harder than I realized. I pull her away from me as I stand back up. I cannot think of anything to say to the woman that is holding my little girl's hand. I go out to my car and leave.
I am not very familiar with downtown Phoenix. Funny that for three years I could drive through it, but still not know the city. Before I got in this mess I lived on the east side of Phoenix. When Lee Pioske asked me to help him get his books in order, I was excited for the opportunity. I had been an operations manager at the main office of a small stock brokerage. We only had ten or so satellite offices, but I had been responsible to make sure the paperwork was up to NASD standards. Lee had never been good at paperwork and I had always redone his work in my office so it complied with regulations. I knew this would not save him if the NASD were to walk into his office. I could feel the anticipation of correcting his disordered mess. I loved how this job fed my OCD and sometimes I just reveled in the joy of the details. So I started driving through Phoenix to get to the west side of town, to the satellite office that he owned.
The first time I worked for Lee, his wife let me in and showed me to the top of the stairs to the first door on the left. The carpet was dark brown and dirty. The room was overcrowded with outdated large dark desks. I couldn’t see the tops of the desks because of the computer monitors, confirmations, tickets, statements, junk mail, personal letters and even a few dirty dishes. The one small light only seemed to cast shadows over the darkness.There was no window to the outside and I had to take a deep breath before entering.
I sat down in an over sized office chair and almost fell back completely. The chair leaned like a gymnast reaching for her back bend. My fall was stopped by a big box behind me full of miscellaneous papers. To most people this would be a manager’s nightmare, but I was excited by the challenge. I pulled myself back up off the box and began making a list of supplies I would need to turn this chaos into NASD discipline.
That was two years ago. Before I was managing all of his satellite offices, before I understood he was not only stock broker, but also commodities’ trader. Before my husband changed careers. Before we depended on my salary. Even before I discovered he was planning on leaving the country, not on a trip like he said, but to leave me looking like the person who had stolen the millions of dollars that were missing. Now, my baby is in someone else’s arms and I am sitting in downtown Phoenix, in this dark diner waiting. Alone.
Eventually, my lawyer worked out the immunity. Hours later he came and sat by my side and explained how the F.B.I. tried to renege on their verbal agreement. I felt a wave of gratitude for my attorney who had saved me from their trap. I spent five hours sitting at a large conference table with the F.B. I. agents my lawyer had been fighting. They grilled me hour after hour. When they were finally satisfied with my responses I stood up to leave. They told me to sit down in a “we aren’t even close to being done” voice. They delineated everything I could not do without jeopardizing the case. I was now considered a "federal agent" and would basically be undercover for them.
The crisis wasn’t over that day like I had hoped, but eventually the dust settled. I had lost my licenses, my job, and my house, but I gained the life I always wanted in the process. I no longer had to abandon my baby every time the phone rang. I no longer had babysitters when the work load became too great. I lost everything I never wanted and finally my little girl dreams came true.