MISSOULA, MT—Only a thin tissue of lies screens area resident Jessica Jurgensen from the unpleasant reality that her friend Gina Tobler forgot her 34th birthday, which occurred four days ago.
"How did you like the card?" Tobler said in a carefully plotted phone call to Jurgensen Tuesday. "What?! I put it in the mail last week! I can't believe you didn't get it yet!"
The card, which currently sits inside a bowl of keys on Tobler's kitchen counter, is ready to be mailed, awaiting only the purchase of a stamp.
In lieu of a timely card, Tobler presented Jurgensen with an intricate work of fiction in which she cast herself as sensitive and considerate, if somewhat hapless.
"I can't wait until you see the card," Tobler said. "I ordered it online weeks ago. I hardly ever order things online, but it was so perfect, no other card would do. I waited for it for so long, I was about to get another card, but then it finally did end up arriving on Wednesday, April 14. I remember the day, because I was so relieved I'd be able to send it out with plenty of time."
By alternating statements of contrition and annoyance, Tobler created a smokescreen and bought herself the additional time required to devise a plan of action.
"I was going to mail the week before last, knowing how incredibly slow the post office can be," Tobler told her friend. "I planned to drop it in the mailbox across the street from my optometrist's office when I picked up my new glasses. See, I didn't want those incompetents who collect the mail in my office to get a chance to lose it. But then I was in a rush to get my car's oil changed, so I didn't. But then my mechanic told me I needed to replace my brakes immediately, and that I'd better leave my car there. By the time I got home in the cab, I realized I'd forgotten your card in the glove compartment. I was so mad at myself!"
To back up her story that she mailed the card last week, Tobler considered rolling back the date on the postage meter at work, but was unsure if she'd be able to figure out how to do so. Instead, she created the following blueprint: She will place the birthday card into the mail with insufficient postage. When the birthday card is returned, she will smudge the original postage date—should there be one—or obscure it with an additional stamp.
In the meantime, she will maintain a steady stream of disinformation to baffle her friend.
"If you haven't gotten your card yet, maybe I should just go to the store and buy another one," Tobler told Jurgensen. "But I don't want to get you some ugly one, just because the post office is inefficient. Well, it'll come eventually. You'll know it's from me when it gets there. It has the cutest cat stamp on it. I know how you love cats."
Tobler said she "immediately regretted mentioning that damn cat stamp," which she still has to find.
Tobler's meticulously constructed but delicate house of cards nearly collapsed when Jurgensen phoned Saturday. While attempting to cover her tracks, Tobler dragged her woefully ill-prepared husband Todd into the operation.
"I picked up the phone and it was Jessica," Todd told reporters. "Suddenly, Gina started waving her arms and mouthing words to me about God knows what. I put the phone down and she whispered in my ear not to tell Jessica that the birthday card is still here. Luckily, it never came up. But then Gina scribbled this note to me that I should tell Jessica she's going to love the card that I saw [Gina] get in a package in the mail at the same time as last week's Sports Illustrated.'"
Todd's subsequent confusion nearly blew Tobler's cover and compromised the entire mission.
"I didn't know what Gina was trying to tell me at all," Todd said. "Finally, I just handed her the phone so she could talk to Jessica herself."
Once the card is returned and re-mailed, Tobler plans to complete the maneuver with a confirmation call and close the book on her masterpiece of deception.
"I'll be glad when this is all over," Tobler told reporters. "I don't think I can bear another week of fudging the truth. It's exhausting keeping it all straight."
Meanwhile, Jurgensen remains wholly ignorant of the fact that she's being fed a diet of intrigue and deception.
"Gina and I are both a little scatterbrained," Jurgensen said by phone from her Ronan residence. "I was surprised that she remembered my birthday at all. I totally forgot to call her last year until two days afterward. Luckily, I covered by telling her I was in the hospital for inhaling toxic fumes at work."