Andrew Burt is a writer who lives in Golden, Colorado. "The Last IRS Agent" first appeared in Pirate Writings #14.
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The Last IRS Agent
by Andrew Burt
Given their role in the certainty of Death and Taxes, one wouldn't expect the Internal Revenue Service to simply vanish. Jesse Starr certainly didn't when he went to bed that last day of March.
He awoke the next morning in his comfortable bed in the comfortable D.C. suburb of Tysons Corner, relaxed by the birdsongs of Spring and the hint of cherry blossoms beyond the shades. Until he remembered he was taking today off, and why: Income Taxes. His smile sagged. He braced himself to be crabby to his wife, Jo Oakes, knowing sometime today she'd be reminding him that, here he was again, waiting until April to get started, and why didn't he just do it all in February when the W-2's and 1099's had dribbled in? He'd try not to be cranky about it, but he knew how the day would go. As fun as a self-inflicted root canal, just like every other year. Or so he thought.
"Jo, honey, have you seen the instruction book for the 4562? You know, the Depreciation and Amortization form?" Only ten A.M. and already stymied. Was office furniture depreciated over five years or seven? He couldn't remember, and last year he'd done both: Five on the computer he never used and seven on the new couch in the rental unit. The one the tenants promptly spilled blueberries on. Roger next door, the CPA, he'd know. "Jo, what's Roger's number?" he yelled from the kids' bedroom that now served as an office.
"They're in Grand Cayman this week," she shouted from the living room.
He sighed. Roger would probably just tell him to "expense it" anyway -- but taking it all this year, being the easy way out, must mean he was being cheated by the IRS. Besides, depreciation was as American as voting on Tuesdays.
Damnation! He'd have to call the IRS. Always a joy.
"Your estimated waiting time is three minutes; thank you for letting us serve you." He'd heard that for the last half-hour.
Alternatives, alternatives. The library didn't carry any forms or instructions beyond the bare essentials. A self-help book? Feh, for weaklings. Call an accountant? Never: Accountants, like lawyers, were only for desperate or pathetic people. The government was by the people, for the people, and by God he was a people. If he couldn't figure out his own taxes, something was wrong with America. He hung up. There was only one way out.
"Jo, I've got to run down to that temporary IRS office in that little mall down Leesburg Pike to pick up a booklet. I'll be back in an hour."
With the car's windows down to enjoy the warm, clear day, he'd almost returned to a feeling of peace. Driving gave him a chance to distance himself from the drudgery of taxes and focus on their purpose. Sure, he grumbled about taxes like everyone else; it was socially acceptable. When it came down to it, though, he felt proud to pay them. It wasn't just that he understood their necessity, but he felt good knowing that they corrected various social injustices and were as complex as they were only because they were truly fair. Granted, he couldn't fathom all the reasons why they were so convoluted that no single human could grasp them all, but he had faith in the function of the government; compromises never please everybody. Best damned country in the world, he thought.
"Hours: 10-4," read the sign in the window of the mini-mall pad that the IRS had begun renting during tax season as a show of how service oriented they really were. The national sales tax scare, and the personnel cuts at the IRS that would have entailed, had definitely made them more consumer-friendly. Except that it was eleven A.M., and the "Closed" sign hung on the door.
Jesse peered in; there seemed to be a light on in back, and -- was that a shadow he saw move across the floor? He pounded on the glass. "Hey, anyone there?"
No reply. He pounded again. The shadow stood very still.
His pride in paying taxes wilting, he trudged to the car. The only other IRS office he knew of was their main administrative headquarters, downtown on the Mall.
Jesse was almost hot by the time he hiked from the parking slot to their building at 12th and Constitution. Out front a crowd of onlookers and police ogled another crowd of cameras and lights and glamorous faces, mingled with what must be radio and newspaper reporters--identifiable by their frumpier attire, notepads and recorders. "Hey, what's going on," he asked, after muscling his way past the barricade to one of the film crew.
"What, you been in a cave all morning, man? They're gone. The whole freakin' IRS. From the commissioner to the phone clerks -- nobody showed up for work anywhere in the country. 'Scuse me, my guy's up next for a shot." The man slithered into the throng.
"Press pass?" asked a policewoman who'd come over. "You'll have to move behind the line," she said in reply to his dumbfounded look, and ushered him toward the spectators.
No, this kind of thing didn't happen, he thought, shuffling back to his car. But once inside, the radio confirmed the absurd. "...continuing our special report. The President is at a loss to explain the disappearance of the tens of thousands of Internal Revenue Service staff. For more on this--" he listened to it racing all the way to the mini-mall where he'd seen the shadow. Perhaps they hadn't all vanished.
The light was still on, a hopeful sign. He drove around to the receiving docks and employee entrances. Other than a wino sprawled near the IRS office's back door, the alley was deserted. Jesse tried the door -- locked--then pounded on it. "I know you're in there. Come out! I just want to talk," he added, plaintively.
"Hey, buddy," he addressed the wino. "Have you seen anyone come out of there?" He moved to nudge the man with a foot, the smell of urine and stale alcohol breath assaulting him. "Hey--"
Then Jesse noticed that under the threadbare overcoat was a freshly pressed pair of trousers. And tucked behind him against the wall, his shoes were polished wingtips that had never lived a day on the street. He shook the man awake. "You, where's the man who was inside there? The man who gave you these clothes?" He plucked at the Oxford pin-stripe shirt hiding beneath the coat.
"Nryer whl grbl," the man grumbled, smacking his lips and remaining asleep.
Jesse turned as a high-pitched whine filled the air for a moment, like an anorexic doorbell. Behind him a ten-foot-to-a-side pyramid of piano-key blackness had appeared, with an eye of brilliant light shining near the top. The whiny gong sounded again, as if summoning wraiths home to the underworld after a night of rascality.
He heard a shuffle of cloth as the wino rose behind him, shedding the foul overcoat and looking very much the dapper IRS agent.
"Oh no you don't," Jesse grabbed the man by the arm as he tried to make for the portal. "Not without answering some questions first."
The man sighed. "Very well. I suppose we should tell someone. If you must know, we're from the planet Fubar, over there," he said, pointing roughly under Jesse's car. "You Earthlings probably think it's bad timing to pull the plug on this income tax stunt right now, but, sorry, it's been well over a hundred years and we just couldn't keep from laughing any longer. It's like...oh, I can't remember what you humans call it." He pulled from Jesse's grip. "Nevermind. Got to go now!"
He dashed for the portal, his body vanishing as he entered. Then the portal itself rolled up and was gone.
Jesse shook his head, ambled to the car, and drove home.
"Guess what?" Jo greeted him at the door. "I found it!" She held the Form 4642 instruction booklet in her hands. It was buried in with all those receipts you wanted me to sort."
Jesse sighed. "Thanks, but, Roger was probably right. I'll just expense the new desk. Besides," he added with a grin, "I have a feeling the tax laws are going to change a lot this year."
Suddenly he heard a whiny gong, and sure enough, behind them was the inky portal with the gleaming eye. "Oh, I remember now what you call it," the voice of the last IRS agent boomed out. "April Fools!"