Things I Learned Working for the FBI
The first thing I noticed was that the Special Agent fingerprinting me hadn’t done this very often or was having a bad day. We were on the second print card and the agent rolling my inked fingertips on the card said, “I’m going to have to start over.”
He then asked me if I’d heard of the Bike Bandit.
I had. He was a serial bank robber in our area with an MO apparent from his nickname.
The Agent pointed to an old blue mountain bike parked in their printer room.The Bike Bandit had left that one behind during a recent robbery. I got no further information about their suspect, like whether they had anything more than the generic white male late 30’s who wore a baseball cap and sunglasses or whether he was now the Reebok bandit. What I did learn was that the grumbling, tired agent perked up when he got to show off the robber’s bike to the field office’s new janitor.
Over the next months I’d get to know some of the other agents as I dusted, vacuumed, changed light bulbs, and emptied the biggest paper shredder I’d ever seen into my rolling trash can.
One agent liked to talk any time she wasn’t busy. She always spoke of herself and the agency as a single entity, starting sentences with “We at the FBI.” She was a walking boiler plate for national law enforcement. She’d also stop conversations midway through like an internal switch had been thrown, as if she had remembered something more pressing than oversharing with the help. She also reminded me frequently not to touch the unlined waste bins at each desk reserved for things to be shredded.
Two agents had learned some Swahili when they were assigned to investigate a bombing in Kenya.
Another agent asked me about the building’s pigeon problem. I had no solution except to occasionally hose down the outer walkway where they pooped. He then confided that he used to plink pigeons with a pellet gun at one office in a major city. I told him my wife got a shotgun as a birthday present because, after all, we were talking guns, right? He had been told to not shoot the pigeons. He didn’t say whether that was why he was here now and not in the major city.
I also learned that these guys could have a mean sense of humor. I had just emptied the dust and dirt from the vacuum cleaner. Along comes another agent and, before I could stop him, dumps some phone books into my trash. A plume of dust flew up into his face. Two nearby agents started howling.
I expressed sympathy and took mental notes.
It’s frequently repeated to write what you know. Could I write an FBI agent in a story? I haven’t done it yet, but I have plenty of stuff to draw from. I was able to observe them long enough while cleaning up after them to know that they have certain personality traits shared with everyone else as well as a standoffish culture that keeps them separate from others. Like any other cross section of people, I liked some of the agents quite a bit. A few never gave me the time of day. One regularly gave me the stink eye when I fired up my vacuum cleaner. Maybe he was the smart one.
Always keep a writer at arm’s distance, as Garrison Keillor once said.