For the record: That wasn't Mike Deaver's limousine on the cover of Time magazine.

The car, in which Deaver chatted into a phone implicitly connected to the Capitol building in the background, was rented for the shot -- the perfect setup for the words ultimately superimposed in the foreground: "Who's This Man Calling? Influence Peddling in Washington." As Mike Deaver's brother puts it, "It wasn't even his car, that was the worst part of it. Mike had a Jaguar at the time, and there isn't a wide-angle lens wide enough ... to shoot a picture in the back seat of a Jaguar."

It does not seem to occur to Bill Deaver or the other defenders who raise this point that Mike Deaver's willingness to reach for the cheese in so obvious a trap might itself be considered a compromising detail. But in raising it, they acknowledge a more elementary truth:

Without doubt, the March 3, 1986, cover of Time is to Deaver as the vicunåa coat was to Sherman Adams, as the Monkey Business will be to Gary Hart; the salient detail that will stalk him through time, a shorthand allusion to the destruction of a public man.

In his acquiescence to that photograph lie all of the themes raised by friends, detractors and former associates who try to explain the long rise and free fall of Michael Keith Deaver.

The crime for which the 49-year-old former White House deputy chief of staff goes on trial today is perjury -- five counts of it, said to have taken place in testimony before a congressional subcommittee and a grand jury.

Whitney North Seymour Jr., the independent prosecutor whose 10-month investigation led to Deaver's indictment in March, produced no charges that Deaver violated ethics laws governing a former official's lobbying activities, so the trial will not directly address the offense of which Deaver was originally suspected: peddling to clients the high access he derived from his 19 years of service as Ronald Reagan's closest aide.

Nor will it address Michael Deaver's sin, as the gentle folk of Washington see it. This is the realm in which he has already been tried and found guilty, but has only begun to serve his sentence: for how he used his power while he was in the White House; for his ways of losing friends and making enemies; for weaknesses of character or will or intellect; above all, for misunderstanding the rules of the game. Although you will not hear of it in court, this is the bill of particulars that most animates Washington.

"I think he's had the fastest rise and the fastest fall ever in this town," says former White House political director Ed Rollins. "And I'm sure that Mike Deaver will be an obvious example used to people coming to this town in the future, who will talk in terms of the Deaver Model of how not to do it, or what can happen to you very quickly."

Deaver is described most vehemently as a man who destroyed himself through arrogance and envy; most mildly as an unusually vivid example of the bad things that happen to people who don't return their phone calls; most passionately as an appropriately ambitious son of the middle class who was living out a Reaganite dream of success when he was waylaid by resentful others; and most compassionately as an insecure loner who became a solitary drinker who became a recovering alcoholic, a man who might yet find some measure of personal, if not public, redemption in the calamity he invoked.

But always, he is described as an image maker whose sin was to lose control of his own PR.

The Early Years Mike Deaver's lawyer, perhaps mindful of his client's unfortunate way with his own image, has bolstered Deaver's resolve against granting interviews for this or any other story. So his brother Bill speaks as something of a surrogate -- the next best expert -- on the early years.

"Once in a while I read an article that says we were poor, and it irritates me, because I don't think -- we never really thought of ourselves as being poor," he says. "We weren't wealthy ... But, you know, we always had three square meals a day."

He is responding, implicitly, to the most obvious theory about Deaver's undoing: that he grew up too hungry to keep his head in an administration staffed by the likes of Texas millionaire James A. Baker III and Wall Streeters Donald T. Regan and William J. Casey.

Says Lyn Nofziger, the former White House political director who is a fellow child of Bakersfield, Calif., and fellow graduate of San Jose State University: "I think that to a certain extent {if} you come out of a small town, and kind of -- I hate to refer to my hometown as a hick town, but basically a relatively unsophisticated town -- and you wind up at a state school, and you're ambitious and you've got a certain amount of talent, I think that those things all drive you. You know, to go beyond what you started with."

Bill Deaver, who is two years older than his brother Mike, talks sparingly of their childhood in Bakersfield -- and in Madeira and Riverdale and Arvin and Mojave, the desert town where his parents finally settled in 1948, when Mike Deaver was 10. Their father Paul Deaver sold Shell Oil products and got transferred every few years until he quit to work with a Shell distributor and buy a Mojave service station. He later sold the station and took a job in the fuel branch at Edwards Air Force Base, 20 miles southeast.

Paul Deaver -- who, with his wife Marian, still lives in Mojave -- is today a recovering alcoholic. Bill is close-mouthed about what his father's drinking meant to his childhood, at one point acknowledging in response to a question that, yes, it was rough on the kids (a sister, Susan, was born in 1950), but mostly maintaining that it "wasn't that much of a problem" until later years, when Bill and Mike were grown and out of the house.

Mojave is in the high desert, a place you come through -- as enough trucks do to make it something of a hub -- if you're on your way down Interstate 395 from Reno or Carson City to Los Angeles. "Well, the first time you saw it you'd probably say, 'Jesus, how could anybody live here?' " Bill Deaver says.

Bill now lives in Washington, where he works for his brother's now-struggling public relations firm. But he has spent a good portion of his life in Mojave, where he has worked as a police dispatcher, served as president of the chamber of commerce, and owned and edited a newspaper; and he clearly loves the place, despite his joking observation that "if somebody gets poor in Mojave, they leave for some better place to be poor in."

Because there was no high school in Mojave until the mid-'60s, Mike Deaver went to high school at the Air Force base, about an hour's ride by school bus. (It is easier to picture the wide-open spaces of the Deavers' childhood when Bill explains that he went to school an hour away in a different direction, to a district that had the longest school bus routes in the country: "It was in Ripley's.") The brothers had jobs every summer during high school, in Mike's case first at a hamburger stand, then for several summers at the printing plant at Edwards. "So we had to get out and hustle a little bit," says Bill Deaver. "But I think that's great."

Mike "pretty much put himself through" college, too: managing his fraternity house during the summer, and playing piano. The Deaver boys had begun their piano training at the age of 5, and Mike, who proved to have perfect pitch, had kept it up. Over the years he would make the piano his occasional livelihood and his chief instrument of social grace.

The only one of the children to graduate from college, Mike majored in political science after flirtations with journalism and with the Episcopal priesthood. He has told reporters that his interest in the Episcopal church -- the more conservative, the better -- is explained by a search for traditions. "Every time we moved to a different town, they had a different Protestant church," says Bill: first Presbyterian, then the United Brethren, and finally, in Mojave, Congregational.

After his 1960 graduation Deaver worked for a year and a half as an administrative trainee with IBM, and served in the Air Force Reserves, which trained him as a medic. He spent most of his six months' active duty in an office, however -- the last two months of it at Hamilton Air Force Base in nearby Marin County, typing autopsy reports on the early casualties of Vietnam.

Nights, he played in San Jose supper clubs for spare cash. The management of a place called the Interlude asked him to drop his last name and play under the name Michael Keith. "The guy he went to work for said, 'Deaver sounds too much like Weaver, which sounds too hillbilly for San Jose, so what's the rest of your name?' " explains Bill.

In 1962, the Santa Clara County Republican Party hired Mike Deaver as executive director -- an exalted title for a job that involved mostly the grunt work of directing volunteers and organizing precincts. He was well liked by the older men he worked for, and three years later the GOP State Central Committee hired him to handle several coast counties in its drive to recapture the state legislature. In that role he came to the attention of William P. Clark, the young Ventura County lawyer who was county chairman, and who introduced him to his life's work.

The Reagan Relationship Nofziger tells a story about the early years of Deaver's devotion to the Reagans:

While Reagan was governor of California, "They were down in Mexico on some kind of an official function. And Mrs. Reagan had left her purse, forgotten her purse," Nofziger says. "She mentioned it, and Mike went dashing off to get it." In his alacrity, "he didn't see the glass door, and he ran right through the glass door" that stood in the way of his goal.

In Bill's memory of the story, Nancy Reagan had asked for a glass of water.

Deaver's relationship with the Reagans -- almost always described as unique in the annals of Ronald Reagan's life -- is not only the key to the power he held in Washington, but in some respects the key to the man.

Clark invited Deaver to work on Reagan's transition team in 1966, after Reagan resoundingly defeated Democratic Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown. When Clark became Reagan's cabinet secretary, Deaver became his deputy; later, when Clark moved to executive secretary, Deaver moved with him. In the last two years of the governorship, after Clark left to become a superior court judge, Deaver was one of three senior assistants to the governor reporting to Chief of Staff Edwin Meese III, and held the title "director of administration."

Deaver's role in those years evolved into the one he would carry on to Reagan's campaigns and the White House: the gatekeeper, the detail man, the aide who looked after the personal staff and who without question had Reagan's best interests at heart. As in the White House, Deaver declined to get deeply involved in the making of policy. In an administration largely staffed by neophytes, "Mike fit in well," says political consultant Sal Russo, who was a self-described gofer in the first term; Deaver was "basically conservative, not deeply ideological."

In those years Deaver also earned the trust of Nancy Reagan. By some accounts, it was Deaver's 1968 marriage to Carolyn Judy that sealed the relationship. Carolyn, whom he met when she was working as a secretary in the governor's office, was a Junior Leaguer who worked with Mrs. Reagan on a state arts council, according to Russo.

"Marriage with Carolyn made everything change in terms of his relationships in the office," Russo says. "Mrs. Reagan and Carolyn {were} very, very close, almost a mother-daughter thing. So when she and Mike got married, that's basically what put Deaver in like Flynn with the Reagans."

Russo allows that, yes, Deaver seemed ambitious in those years with the governor; "but I didn't consider him one of these guys with the blood on his lips. I never felt he was unscrupulously ambitious. I thought he was just a hard-working, wanting-to-get-ahead kind of guy."

The Crucial Episode Whatever else can be said about Deaver, he cannot be described as a man who dropped in to work for an administration for a couple of years, building his Rolodex before resigning to capitalize on his time at the White House. He spent 19 years of his life -- broken only by a period of four months -- working for Ronald Reagan.

Technically, of course, Deaver was self-employed for the six years between the end of Reagan's second term as governor and his 1980 election as president. But the public relations firm in which Deaver was a partner had Ronald Reagan as its chief client.

Deaver and a fellow Reagan aide, Peter D. Hannaford, started Deaver & Hannaford Inc. to take on the lecture and writing opportunities that were flooding Reagan's way. "When Reagan left the governorship, it was expected -- not known, but expected -- that he would seek the {presidential} nomination in 1976," recalls political consultant Jim Lake, a good friend of Deaver's. "Circumstances dictated that in order to preserve the option to work for Reagan ... somebody had to do some work."

Over the years, Deaver & Hannaford grew into a moderately flourishing firm with offices in four cities and clients as diverse as Rockwell International, the 3M Corp., Eugene McCarthy, the California Trucking Association and the Taiwanese government (an account that would stir controversy in 1980, when reporters questioned the propriety of Hannaford's double role as a Reagan speech writer and a representative of a country that inspired one of Reagan's most idiosyncratic foreign policy views).

Working for Reagan meant working in Los Angeles and a wearing weekend commute back to Sacramento, where Carolyn was coping alone with two small children. While Hannaford wrote columns for Reagan and helped with the radio speeches that were syndicated nationwide, Deaver traveled with the sometime-candidate and did the political liaison work. Hannaford, who had run a public relations firm in San Francisco before joining the Reagan state house, is widely described as the one more involved in the business aspects of building the firm.

The only break in Deaver's service to Reagan came in 1979, when he ceded a power struggle to campaign manager John P. Sears, an eastern lawyer who had been hired for the 1976 campaign on Deaver's recommendation. Several of Reagan's longtime California supporters, including Nofziger, had already been squeezed out; that November, in an emotional meeting at Reagan's home, Sears, Deaver, the Reagans and then-Sears aides Charles Black and Jim Lake faced off over the conflict that had been boiling for months: either Sears or Deaver would have to go. Reagan was distressed at being forced to choose, and Deaver as always moved to lighten his load: He resigned from the campaign, saying, according to Lake, "You don't have to make a choice. I'll make the choice."

Although Deaver returned to the campaign several months later -- after Reagan fired Sears on the day of his victory in the New Hampshire primary -- most who know Deaver call this episode a crucial one in his career.

Some believe that a taste of life without Deaver increased Reagan's dependence on him: In later years, when Deaver struggled with his divided impulses -- to go or to stay? -- the Reagans were adamant about keeping him as long as they could.

Others say that the incident spurred that struggle: "He wouldn't say it often, but every once in a while he would admit he couldn't believe that he was the one who had to be sacrificed, and that both the president and Mrs. Reagan had let him down," says a former colleague.

"It was a rough period for Mike," says Rollins. "It made him probably a little more cynical in the sense of, 'Nobody's irreplaceable to the Reagans.' "

After the 1980 victory, Deaver was genuinely torn about whether to come to Washington and join the administration. The phrase "kicking and screaming" is often used to describe his surrender.

"He did not go back there planning to be a permanent fixture," says his former secretary, Shirley Moore.

And for a time, at least, Mike Deaver kept an outsider's wry perspective on the city that would seduce him. He has told several people the story of how, riding in a limousine along Pennsylvania Avenue shortly after Reagan's inauguration, he spotted former Carter press secretary Jody Powell trudging along the street in sudden anonymity. As he related it to Reagan biographer and Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon, Mike Deaver said to himself, "Remember that picture, Deaver."

The story, often retold as a yardstick of how much Deaver changed, has the ambiguity common to all good stories: Some describe it as the lesson that Deaver forgot; others, as the warning he learned too well.

Tomorrow: The Washington transformation.