Special Agent Spencer Coffey is an FBI agent from the New York field office. He is from Long Island and has a pronounced accent that some find abrasive. Coffey is an arrogant man who has a high opinion of himself and a low opinion of almost everyone else. Vincent D'Agosta instantly disliked him and says he is "dipped in green shit".
He is brought in to take over the Museum Beast Murders case after Special Agent Pendergast orders the grand opening of the Superstition Exhibition cancelled, causing the museum director to complain directly to the governor.
Coffey immediately disagreed with Pendergast's recommendation to cancel the gala, telling Pendergast that they would instead seal the perimeter and post additional NYPD and FBI officers. He believed that he would quickly catch the murderer as soon as the opening was finished. Pendergast cooperated with Coffey, secretly happy to no longer be the officer-in-charge. Coffey's appointment relieved Pendergast of his duties managing the exhibition security and gave him the time to research and explore the museum's extensive subbasement.
During a security briefing, Coffey belittled Pendergast for finding fault with the museum's security system. He told Pendergast: "[H]ead down to your office and eat that catfish sandwich your wife put in your lunchbox." Pendergast, whose wife was deceased, became visibly angry but mastered himself and quickly left the room. D'Agosta called him a "disgrace to law enforcement" and a "sack of shit".
Hours before the opening of the Superstition Exhibition, Coffey refused to allow the NYPD to make a final sweep through the exhibition. This turned out to be a disastrous decision. Two days earlier, NYPD Officer Fred Beauregard had been murdered while investigating a noise inside the exhibition. The first group of visitors to the exhibition would find his body, turning the opening gala into a riot as they stampeded the exits.
Coffey set up a forward security post inside the Great Rotunda which he manned during the opening gala. After the discovery of Beauregard's body, the situation spiralled out of control quickly. A jumpy police officer fired his shotgun at a noise in the museum's main electrical room, cutting power to the entire building. Without power, the security doors came down automatically and crushed several people.
Coffey managed to get outside and maintained radio contact with D'Agosta, Pendergast, and the others still trapped in the museum. The already bad situation quickly became worse as Mbwun, attracted by the smell of so many people in a confined space, came up from the subbasement to hunt. D'Agosta and museum security director Ippolito led a group of police offers to try and intercept the beast, but it attacked them from above and Ippolito and several others were killed.
D'Agosta and the remaining police led a group of 30 to 40 guests including Mayor Harper into the subbasement to try and find a way out of the building. Coffey attempted to redeem the situation by arranging for workers to cut open one of the security doors with an acetylene torch. As Mbwun attacked more guests, he also called for a SWAT Team to enter the museum, kill the beast and rescue the trapped people.
Coffey watched with the SWAT team spotter as the team entered the museum through the roof. The SWAT team's red squad, following the sound of gunshots, quickly found Mbwun but were killed to a man.
After losing the SWAT team, Coffey appeared to crack under the pressure. He refused to speak to Agent Pendergast and retreated to the FBI mobile command unit van. He began blaming everyone else for the evening's events: Pendergast, D'Agosta, the museum security team. Shortly afterwards he was relieved of command and replaced by Agent Slade.
After the events at the museum, Coffey was reassigned to the Waco, Texas field office.
The Book of the Dead
Coffey did his best to put that night at the museum out of his mind; on the rare occasions when he thought of it, he quickly sublimated any memories of his own mistakes with the comforting thought that he was "being too hard on himself, as usual."
According to Pendergast, the Waco office under Coffey's "leadership" was the recipient of several Bureau records: the lowest number of closed cases, the highest number of agent transfer requests, and the highest number of alleged legal and ethical violations. During his tenure, Coffey also opened fire on a teenager walking home carrying a large catfish, whom Coffey had, in the dark, mistaken for a Branch Davidian terrorist with a bazooka. Coffey's partner had to tackle him to stop the boy from being killed - although, as Pendergast wryly noted, the boy was probably in little danger, since Coffey ranked dead last in his Academy class during marksmanship training.
Somehow, Coffey managed to arrange a transfer back to the New York City field office - Pendergast sarcastically referenced the fact that Coffey's father-in-law was a retired U.S. Senator, implying that this was also how Coffey had avoided being dismissed from the Bureau many times over.
Coffey was secretly delighted when Pendergast's former mentor, Special Agent In Charge Mike Decker, was murdered in his home, as Decker had been responsible for Coffey's humiliating demotion and transfer after the Museum murders. Coffey was even more ecstatic when Pendergast was arrested on several charges of murder, including Decker's. Coffey quickly arranged to take the lead in the investigation; since the case against Pendergast was believed to be ironclad, Coffey believed his sole task was to extract Pendergast's confession.
Coffey interviewed Pendergast inside Herkmoor Federal Prison in upstate New York several times. After their first interview, when Pendergast refused to confess, Coffey manipulated Warden Gordon Imhof into tormenting Pendergast in his cell, by falsely claiming that Pendergast had insulted the prison and Imhof personally, including making derogatory remarks about the size of Imhof's genitalia. Although an extremely professional prison administrator, Imhof's weak spot was that he demanded respect for the law from his inmates, and this made him susceptible to Coffey's lies.
Imhof arranged for Pendergast to be placed in a cell adjacent to an obsessive-compulsive "drummer" inmate whose rhythmic beating on the walls of his cell had driven several other inmates to fury. Pendergast, however, devised a code from the drumming that allowed him to "converse" with the inmate.
Coffey was vexed when, at their next interview, Pendergast still refused to confess. He blamed Imhof for not being "tough" enough on the prisoners, and insisted that something harsher was necessary to "soften" Pendergast. Coffey "ordered" Imhof to place Pendergast in an exercise yard dominated by a notoriously violent drug gang leader and rapist, whom Pendergast had arrested and sent to prison. By this time, Coffey was taking less and less care to be respectful of Imhof, who was becoming tired of Coffey's arrogant and imperious behavior, but agreed nonetheless.
After Pendergast spent an afternoon in the exercise yard, and was forced to kill the gang leader in self-defense, Imhof warned that returning Pendergast to the yard would ensure his death at the hands of the other gang members. Coffey eagerly met Pendergast for their next interview, confidently expecting him to confess.
In a tone of mocking obsequiousness, Pendergast began to pour out his "admiration" of Coffey, listing the shining accomplishments of his career, including the debacle at the Museum and Coffey's lackluster administration of the Waco field office. By the time Coffey realized he was being insulted, the guard in Pendergast's cell had heard enough to start snickering at Coffey behind his back, though he tried to hide it. As Coffey was leaving, Pendergast included one final insult, suggesting that Coffey read William Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing, as Coffey could learn a great deal from the character of Constable Dogberry (a bumbling night watchman with a hugely inflated opinion of himself).
Coffey stormed out of Pendergast's cell and "ordered" Imhof to place Pendergast in the exercise yard, immediately, despite Imhof's warnings that doing so was a virtual death sentence. Imhof said he would not take such action without the F.B.I.'s official authorization, and Coffey impatiently agreed to sign.
As soon as Pendergast was placed in the yard, Coffey radioed the two guards watching the yard and demanded their presence, threatening them both with termination or transfer to "Black Rock, North Dakota" if they didn't come immediately. By this time, Coffey had given up all thought of prosecuting Pendergast, and simply wanted to arrange his death. The absence of the guards actually acted as a cover for Pendergast to make his escape from Herkmoor, assisted by Vincent D'Agosta.
According to the electronic tracking bracelet attached to his ankle, Pendergast had never left his cell, so Imhof was confident that no prisoner had escaped from the prison, despite the attempt made. Reviewing the escape attempt with his staff, Imhof was outraged to hear that Coffey had been ordering, and threatening, the prison's guards, despite the fact that, as an F.B.I. agent, Coffey had no official authority inside the prison. At this point, Coffey stormed into the Warden's office, complaining about being kept waiting and that Imhof had not followed his "orders" to place Pendergast in the yard. Coffey was taken aback when Imhof refused to be intimidated, and began to leave the room, until Imhof stated - while being tape-recorded, for the official record - that Coffey had exceeded his authority and, by threatening the prison's guards, was directly responsible for the escape attempt. All of Coffey's arrogance deserted him, and he sank into a chair, feebly pleading that whatever happened was just a misunderstanding, and they could resolve it without Coffey's superiors being told. At that point, the guards reported back that Pendergast was gone from his cell, and had indeed escaped.
Pendergast, with D'Agosta's help, was later able to prove that he had been framed by the real murderer, his brother Diogenes, and was exonerated. Later, NYPD Captain Laura Hayward informed D'Agosta that Coffey had been pilloried by the F.B.I., both for "royally screwing up" the Pendergast investigation, and for his improper actions at Herkmoor Prison. She added that Coffey had been demoted to GS-11, received a notice of censure in his file, and been transferred to the F.B.I.'s field office in Black Rock. With a smirk, D'Agosta commented that Coffey would need to buy himself a new set of thermal underwear, to prepare for the infamously harsh North Dakota winters.