I pushed up from my records, eyes burning. My pocket calculator kept flashing back the same digits that condemned me:
I tipped a Budweiser and turned back to the tax papers stacked on my kitchen table. Taxes, taxes, taxes. They just pile up, an overwhelming burden, ever more pressing. I felt crushed by the weight.
I'd gotten the word from my alleged accountant Tuesday.
"Tim? The IRS called. They want to go over your deductions."
I sighed. I knew better than to have William Clymer do my taxes. But I was trying to save money. "Is this a gentle way of telling me I'm being audited?" I asked.
"Not exactly 'audited,' " Clymer told me. He was adept at fumbling words. The Internal Revenue Service was, he said, just "intrigued" by my bookkeeping methods and wanted to "review" my records.
"I thought everything was copacetic, Bill. I paid good money to have you file my return. I should have gone to some boutique tax place," I said.
Clymer sniffed. "They're fishing. Your forms were completed in accordance with generally accepted accounting practices and in line with the latest IRS ... "
"Spare me," I said. "How much do they want."
"They're quibbling over some of your mileage claims. I'm afraid they may have you on a couple of points."
"How much do they want?"
"One thousand, three hundred fifty-one dollars and forty-nine cents. Plus penalties and interest," said Clymer.
I sighed. The long-awaited home computer was slipping away. I'd have to settle for a used system or, more likely, none at all.
"When are we due in?"
"You're supposed to be at the Federal Building at ten Thursday." That's the problem with living in Kansas City. Every governmental agency has an office building just a couple miles away.
"What do you mean 'You're supposed to be at the Federal Building.' Aren't you coming with me?"
"Uh, I've got another engagement. But I, uh, don't think there's any problem."
I sighed again. "Bill?"
"Don't worry. Just go. Smile and nod. Take your records and act tough. Don't admit to anything. And don't be afraid to stand up for your rights. They're very sensitive to that now."
"Now! How would you know .... " It hit me all of Clymer's accounts were being audited. That was just wonderful: I had to have my taxes compiled by the guy the IRS was going to make an example of. Marvelous.
"Do you know who I'm seeing?" I asked, resigned.
Papers shuffled. "Thade. Dennis Thade. Hmm. Don't know this guy, but if he's like the others, he'll be a piranha."
Others, I thought. Great. Yes, Bill Clymer would probably spend the next few years and several tens of thousands of dollars getting a government-funded lesson in "generally accepted accounting practices."
"Tim?" I shook myself back to the day and the task at hand.
"Hey man. Don't worry," said Clymer. "The most they'll get out of you is the fourteen hundred bucks. That's the most they'll get."
"Why don't I feel comforted?"
"Trust me, Tim."
Needless to say, the calculator only reinforced what the faceless Mr. Thade would gleefully tell me I had over-claimed mileage expenses because I was driving an older car. Never mind that the car was a fully restored, 1955 Ford Thunderbird that would bring twice Mr. Thade's salary should I ever part with it: The tax laws clearly stated that cars ten years old and older are allowed just a flat, seventeen-cent per mile deduction when driven for business purposes. No other expenses could be claimed.
Ten years? I had shoes older than that.
Disgusted, I hurled the offending calculator against the wall and retired to bed.
It was 9:30 Thursday morning. I was a half-hour early for my appointment with the ominous Mr. Thade. I was nervous. Every where I looked in the Federal Building, I saw the faces from the IRS. Everyone even the receptionists looked at me with knowing eyes. There are no innocents in the Federal Building. Everyone seemed to know of my screwed up taxes. You could tell: They all smirked and grinned. A fat red-headed woman pointed me to Auditing. There, an emaciated blonde sat behind a massive desk with a broad telephone board. My taxes paid for that desk, I thought. "I'll bet that desk cost more than one thousand, three hundred fifty-one dollars and forty-nine cents," I blurted.
The skinny blonde smirked the same smirk I had seen on a dozen other aces in the soulless place they call the Federal Building.
"You're here to see Mr. Thade?" she asked, stretching the last name out like Midwesterners do.
Deflated, I nodded.
She glanced over her calendar (there wasn't a mark on it, I noticed), and hummed to herself. "I believe you can go in," she said.
"I'm a little early," I floundered.
"Don't worry. He's not busy. He's seldom busy this time of day."
Mid-morning? And he wasn't busy? I felt gently renewed. No priggish employee at the public trough was going to intimidate Timothy Adams! The blonde punched a button on her huge telephone console.
"You may enter, Mr. Adams," she said. Then she smiled, a full-toothed, real life, Midwestern smile.
Odd, I thought. There was nothing on her calendar yet she knows my name. And her smile, her teeth. The teeth appeared jagged, pointed. Like the teeth of a, well, like the teeth of a piranha.
I walked around the desk and leaned into the door that bore a plate with "D. Thade" stenciled on it in gold script at eye level.
The room was dark, so dark that my eyes had to adjust before I could see furnishings. The air was cold and had a musty, almost fetid smell.
What is this, I asked myself.
"Mr. Thade, I'm here." I heard a grunt from in front of me; I took it to mean "come in."
I stood silent for several more seconds as my eyes adjusted to the gloom. I saw a stern wooden chair placed in front of a massive desk a larger desk even that the one in front of the receptionist. Thade (I guessed it was him) sat in a huge, leather chair which was turned away from me. I walked toward a wood chair, gingerly fondling the packet of records I had tucked under a now-sweating armpit.
I walked from the door toward my chair, striding atop a thick carpeting that seemed to push me higher, ever higher. The murky office, the bouncing floor all combined to make me darkly suspicious. I reached the Spartan chair, sat and waited.
For interminable seconds, I waited, silent, wordless. And no sound came from the leather-bound chair across from me. Seconds dragged into minutes as I waited.
"Mr. Thade?" It squeaked from my mouth.
"Shh." Guttural, sibilant hissing answered my hushed query. His voice was breathy, very defined: The sound of a wind blowing through the bones of the serpent.
I sat silently waiting. Good ploy, I thought. Even though I'm early, even though he's obviously not busy, even though no one else is on his calendar, Mr. Thade is going to make me wait until he's ready.
Minutes eventually combined into a half hour, then an hour. After more than sixty minutes of silent, twitchy fidgeting, I spoke.
"Mr. Thade?" Try to be reproving, I though. I mean he does work for you.
"Mr. Thade." I repeated. "I am a busy man. I don't appreciate being early for an appointment, then being forced to sit in the dark for an hour before coming to the matter at hand."
There was no response.
I was annoyed. I'd decided Mr. Thade was hung-over from Wednesday night partying and was in no mood to "review" my records.
My eyes, due to the duration of my waiting, had adjusted to the murky light in Mr. Thade's office. My belief Thade was unprepared was reinforced when I glanced across his desk. Thade's desk was bare except for a red telephone. There were no papers, no records of my tax filings, visible. There was not even a pen or a pad.
"Mr. Thade." This time I spoke sternly. I was losing my temper, outraged that a taxpaying citizen was being forced to waste a half a day while some witless public servant lolled in his chair, too drunk to work. "I see you are quite unprepared to discuss this matter."
"What matter?" A response! But I had much preferred the silence! His voice was low, almost a hiss. It seemed to come from a mouth too full of teeth. It was breathy, sibilant and unnerving. My resolve evaporated.
"The, uh, matter of my, uh, taxes." I was stammering nervously, having a difficult time spitting out even small words.
A low, hissing laugh followed. And the massive, leather-covered chair began to turn slowly.
"Your taxes," hissed Mr. Thade as his chair slowly turned. "Your taxes?" More laughter. I felt a sudden, stabbing fear.
Thade was now nearly facing me. I could see that he was dressed, most peculiarly, in a robe.
A robe, I thought wildly. Why would an auditor be dressed in a robe? This is not a judicial proceeding; it's only a "review" of my documents. And why isn't there more light? There's so little light. I leaned forward, gently touching the desk, and sought to take advantage of what little illumination there was to see Thade's face.
And I saw why he spoke in such a hissing fashion.
I saw and a pain seared through my chest, as if I had swallowed a cherry bomb which exploded near my heart, shredding my lungs. Pain shot through my left shoulder and rushed down my left arm. My eyes, though, would not close in pain. Instead, they opened wider, ever wider, until I feared the corners of my lids would split and the eyes themselves would pop from the sockets and roll onto Thade's ominous desk.
There was no flesh on Thade's face. What little light was in the room bounced off a hole where a nose should have been. One eye socket was empty and the other glared, blood red; watching as I fell back into my uncomfortable chair, and began my slide into oblivion.
"Your taxes," hissed Thade through fleshless jaws. Another, brutal, hissing laugh.
"You fool. I'm the other one."