Death and Taxes
Martin walked home from work in the rain. Bus fare was not an option; he didn’t get paid until the end of the week and rent was due. In a perfect world there would be no work, or rent, and he could curl up in a ball under a big blanket and wait for it to all be over. But, the world not being perfect, he got up and went to work every single day.
In the dim light of his living room, his answering machine blinked red. He hit play and listened to the message: “Martin, it’s Bob Jenkins. Long time no speak. I’ve got something to discuss with you. Be at Mary’s Bar tonight at seven-thirty. It’s important. Try to make it. It’s important. That’s all. It’s Bob Jenkins.”
A cold sweat broke loose and ran amok under his shirt. It couldn’t be. It was impossible. Literally, figuratively, physically – metaphysically – impossible! But a third replay confirmed it was indeed the voice of Bob Jenkins.
Martin knelt on the ground beside his bed and pulled out a box containing a newspaper clipping dated August 17th, 2001. “Banker Burned in Biz Blaze,” it read. The story detailed how fire gutted Jimson and Sons Light Fixtures on Midwood Avenue and claimed the life of accountant Robert Jenkins, who’d been visiting the office on a routine audit.
Staring at the clipping as if looking for reassurance or proof that he was not insane, Martin tried to figure out what to do. Should he meet this guy, this disembodied voice from beyond the grave? If so, it might prove to be a more interesting than average Thursday night. Not only was it dark and stormy and filled with voices from the dead, but Mary’s was supposed to be quite trendy and Martin hadn’t been there before.
And so Martin went forth into the night. Very wisely, he remembered his umbrella.
Bob was the same as ever: slender and gangly with sloping shoulders and thin, light brown hair.
“God, I’ve been busy,” Bob said. “Tons of work. Mountains.”
Martin frowned but said nothing. He wasn’t sure how to ask Bob why he wasn’t dead.
“So,” asked Bob. “How’s work?”
“Boring.” This was true. “And you?”
“Well, like I said, busy.”
“Oh. Right. Seen any good movies lately?”
“Nah. I feel like I haven’t been out of the office in about fourteen years.”
Martin nearly choked at that.
The rest of their conversation passed surprisingly smoothly, aided by the liberal imbibing of beer. At no point though could Martin broach the subject of the big, dead elephant in the room.
At the end of the evening, Bob said, “Walk me home, Martin. I don’t live far.” He led Martin past the park, down Fifth Street, and into Greenwood Cemetery. They stopped in front of a grey marble slab simply engraved with
BOB JENKINS 1969 – 2001
Bob grabbed Martin’s shoulders. “Listen to me. You and I have been friends for years, right?” Martin nodded. “So you won’t take this the wrong way, but… I have to tell you something that you probably don’t want to hear.”
Visions of death danced before Martin’s eyes. So this was it – this was the meaning of the visit from beyond the grave. The great big duvet in the sky was calling him home and he never would worry no more. Tears of joy and self-pity sprang simultaneously to his ducts.
Bob pressed an envelope into Martin’s hands. He opened it slowly, cautiously. “We are writing to inform you that there are inconsistencies on your tax return for the year ending 2001 – ” Martin looked up in disbelief. The letter was signed Robert Jenkins, Claims Adjuster, Internal Revenue Service.
“You owe an additional $4,584.93.”
“I’m being audited?” Martin bellowed.
“We don’t get to choose our cases, if it makes you feel any better.”
“I don’t have to listen to you! You’re dead!”
“That may be true, but work is work and it has to get done by somebody.”
“This is insane! I’m getting out of here!”
Martin attempted to run but tripped over a votive wreath. Bob was on him in a second, pinning him to the ground. Martin struggled but the dead man was too strong for him.
“Either you bring me a check,” Bob grunted, “Or you’ll have to call our toll-free service number and set up a payment plan.”
Martin screamed – shrieked really – in a manner most blood curdling.
“Oh, it’s not that bad,” said Bob.
But it wasn’t his heretofore-unknown debt that was making Martin scream.
During the scuffle, he’d fallen on his umbrella and driven the pointy end of it right through his own heart, impaling himself atop Bob’s grave.
The last thing he heard before he died was Bob whispering, “I’m sorry but you can’t fight us, Martin.”
Martin opened his eyes. It was very dark at first, until –
– the lid came off his casket.
Bob was smiling down at him. “I told you you couldn’t fight us.”
He dumped a sheaf of papers in Martin’s lap and threw him a ballpoint pen and pocket calculator.
“If you start working it off now…” He consulted a small calendar and made a few notes. “Shouldn’t take more than a couple of months. That’s our one advantage here – no expenses.”
“And when I’m done with these? Then I can finally… rest?”
“Well…” Bob looked around helplessly. “Dave, do you want to field this one? I don’t know how to tell him.”
“Hi Martin.” A friendly-looking face appeared beside Bob’s. “I’m Dave Glass. I represent the Great Lakes Savings Company?”
Great Lakes. The name alone made Martin freeze in fear.
“Ah, yes. I see you haven’t forgotten. Neither have we. Martin, today I’m here to talk to you about your student loans.”