At approximately 8 o'clock last night, three sober-faced agents walked into the home of Rep. J. William Stanton (R-Ohio) and stopped the party the Stantons were giving for Andrew Tully, author of "Inside the FBI," and William H. Webster, director of the FBI.
"Uh, we've been asked to check on the problem that we got a call about," said the tall gray-haired one, pulling out a tiny black notebook. His trench coat was damp from the rain. "Now, I'm going to have to ask a few questions about the missing furs."
Standing around in the living room of this fashionable Northwest home, with ice tinkling in their glasses, were such guests as William Webster, Stansfield Turner, director of the CIA, and Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti.
The congressman's wife, Peggy Stanton, in her red blouse and black velvet pants, frowned indignantly at the agents. "What call? I didn't make a call. pI'm insulted. What are you doing in my house?"
Tully, the author, sidled up. "What's going on here?"
The gray-haired guy: "May I have your name, sir?"
"Tully: "Ernest Hemingway."
"How do you spell that?"
Suddenly a man in a trench coat with red ski mask pulled over his face and a bunch of fur coats slung over his arm lumbered down the stairs, past the posters on the wall of Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger. He strode out the front door.
"Ah! That's my coat!" yelled one alarmed woman.
Before the agents could decide what to do, the thief burst back in the front door, ski mask still in place. "I've had a change of heart!" he shouted. "I can do better than this on 14th Street!" He threw the coats down on the floor.
The agents broke into laughs.A few people in the living room applauded. "Oh, great," moaned 13-year-old John Tully, outfitted in gray fedora with an index card in the brim reading, "Stash the goods on me." He reached for the coats. "Now, I've got to put them all back."
The occasion for this party was the just-published book by longtime follower of the FBI, Andrew Tully. But the crime motif was very much in keeping with the holiday as well, according to Peggy Stanton.
"We're trying to put the crime back in Christmas," she said, opening the front door of their home, adorned with a green Christmas wreath -- and a picture of Dillinger in the center. "Oh, I hope that's not sacrilegious."
Peggy Stanton decorated her foyer's walls with blown-up mugs of such criminals as Pretty Boy Floyd and Adam Richetti. On the foyer on a table was a tape recorder (turned off) with a card that read, "Speak a Little Louder Please."
"I don't do parties," said the gray-haired "agent," a congressional staffer, who asked not to be identified. "I'm a friend of Peggy's. How do you think it went over? I don't think we convinced many people."
Tom Smeeton, a staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and one of the agents -- all the actors in this little show were congressional staffers -- is also Peggy Stanton's brother. "Most parties are pretty staid, pretty ho-hum," said Smeeton. "Peggy wanted to liven it up."
But to make sure it didn't get too lively, the Stantons and Tully had already tipped off Webster, Turner, and Civiletti about what Tully called "a scam."
"Very clever, Peggy, very clever," said guest Clark MacGregor on his way out.
"My husband, Bill, said that Bill Webster has been here an hour and hasn't offered him a dime," said Stanton to Rep. Henry Hyde (D-Ill.).
Judging from the merriment, there wasn't even a hint of hostility between Congress and the FBI over Abscam, the FBI's very real sting operation that caught on video several well-known members of Congress taking bribes from agents posing as Arab sheiks.
"It never even dawned on me," said Rep. Stanton. "I didn't even think about it."
But what about all those congressmen who got upset with the FBI?
"I never heard that," Stanton said.
"Oh, no. No, no," said Rep. Hyde. "There's no animosity -- especially among those of us who weren't part of Abscam." He guffawed. "There should be more of these."
"More stings?" said Peggy Stanton.
"No. More parties," said Hyde.