Wylie Zimmerman spied Hooter McCormick herding his pickup into the parking lot of Zimmerman, Flamdam and Whisker Accounting.
Wylie Zimmerman made a beeline for the backdoor. But it was too late.
By the time he jerked open the door, tattered leather briefcase in hand, Hooter was already standing there with a bulging feed sack dangling from each hand and a grin that stretched from earlobe to sideburn.
"Heya Wylie, I was hoping I wasn't too late."
Wylie scowled like a duck dropped in the desert and waved Hooter inside. "Naah. You're right on time about two days after the fact."
Hooter followed Wylie into a sprawling dusty office that he had dubbed the money cave long ago—once the money went in you never knew what happened to it he'd explain to people as Wylie grimaced.
"Actually, I figure I'm lucky to be here at all," said Hooter matter of factly. "Got snowed in at Angel Fire. Then, you remember the Winchell twins? Well, they showed up, got in a jam, and I had to help them, and here I am."
Character Building 101
It was the same every year. Wylie would gladly have had his bushy eyebrows exfoliated by a blind elf with a chainsaw than suffer through preparing Hooter's tax returns. But around these parts, family was family, even if they were shirttail cousins.
"Whatcha got this year, Hooter?" asked Wylie, eyeing the feed sacks and dilapidated ledger Hooter had carefully placed on the desk. He knew full well this annual adventure would include deciphering everything from questionable receipts, to calving records, to racing forms from Remington Park. And that was nothing compared to trying to unwind Hooter's unique tax logic.
"You know," Wylie said, forcing a smile, "As we've discussed in the past, I'm not so sure that you wouldn't be money ahead by just filing a short form."
Hooter grinned back as he eased the ledger toward Wylie. "I appreciate that, Wylie, I truly do, but you know my philosophy on this tax stuff. The only chance a guy like me has is showing Uncle Sam what a sorry goat rope this tax system has become."
Before Wylie could muster an answer, Hooter was off and running: “I still say they ought to take the average budget for the past five years, reduce it 15 percent, then divide the remainder by every man, woman and child in the U.S.
“What could be more fair? Everybody who has access to the stuff our tax money provides pays their fair share, no more and no less. And starting out with a budget reduction each year means that Uncle Sam has to run things more like a business, either figure out how to defray expenses or how to increase non-tax income. Plus, they've got to pay you 10% interest on all the money they hold back from you during the year. That higher interest lets them know they're a risky investment. Then, the interest gets paid back into Social Security for the person. What's that leave, about 5 percent to make up for the difference in the social security tax we pay now? So, you're talking a 10 percent cut in social security taxes off the top. On the income tax side, fair-share taxation means the majority of folks would pay less than they do now. Ain't that a deal?"
The logic seemed more solid to Hooter than a cast iron safe entombed in granite. That's why he wasn't interested in filing any short form.
"It's squeal and steal robbery's what it is," Hooter continued "I don't mind paying my fair share, but when some three-eyed dung bug or other supposed endangered species has a higher annual income than I do, somethin's wrong. Besides, I've got multiple enterprises to keep in the black."
Indeed, if there was anything redeeming about having your soul strained through a rusty barbed wire sieve each year, trying to make sense of Hooter's taxes, it came in discovering what new and creative enterprises were afoot at HM Land and Cattle.
That IRS Thing
"Before we begin," said Wylie, reluctantly opening the ledger and peering over the top of his half-moon glasses. "Tell me where we are with catching up those back taxes and where we are with filing estimated quarterly taxes for the year?"
Hooter stiffened like a dead frog in a Panhandle blizzard. "I've told you, Wylie, to have back taxes means that you have taxes from the past that must be paid and that is impossible when the alleged back taxes were never taxes that needed to be paid. File another extension."
"Hooter," said Wylie crossly, "We've already got extensions dating back to your 1989 tax returns, and four audits to boot. We've got to do something."
Hooter slapped his knee with a jubilant cackle. "Atta' boy, Wylie. Dontcha' see, that means we've got 'em on the run. If they'll keep pestering for 10 years, you know there's some fire behind their smoke they don't want us to find."
Wylie stared at Hooter incredulously, more deflated than a Frisbee beneath the wheels of a freight train. "But, but Hooter, I don't think you..."
"And that's another thing," said Hooter cutting the bumfuzzled accountant off at the pass. "What did you ever hear back on our Day Light Savings Time exemption?"
Wylie Zimmerman buried his walrus jowls into his puffy hands and shook his bald head from side to side in utter woe. "I told you, Hooter, that's nonsense. What do you think they're going to let us do about it?" Wylie never learned.
"Nonsense!" shouted Hooter, slamming his fist on Wylie's desk hard enough to make Wylie's collection of swizzle sticks dance and clatter like marionettes in a hailstorm.
"Nonsense!" he shouted again. "These pig-eyed heathens have to be held accountable. They've robbed me of time. They've robbed me of money and they're tab is spinning past the red line!"
The Daylight Savings Time deduction, at least according to Hooter, goes something like this: In the early seventies, presumably as an energy-saving measure, the government implemented daylight savings time by which standard time leaped ahead one hour each April, then dropped back again each October. Rather than lose an hour in the spring, then gain it back in the fall, Hooter held that he lost an hour every day that Daylight Savings Time was in effect. In round numbers, and conservatively, Hooter calculated that the government owed him $379,414.02 for time taken away from him without even asking.
"Besides that, it's discrimination," argued Hooter. "Those folks in Arizona, they saw the hand writing on the wall, bless their souls, and they don't allow the government to steal that time."
Super Duper Flexible Fiscal Goo
Wylie's face was turning an odd shade of orange as he scrutinized the ledger sheets before him. He tossed a handful of aspirin into his mouth and started gnawing on them like a beaver on new bark.
"What's this $10,000 expense for a bobcat? Is this the same skid-steer you bought about 12 years ago?"
"It is, Wylie, the very same one," Hooter said with pride.
"Ummm, Hooter we already depreciated that out about five years ago."
"I know that," said Hooter indignantly, "But, I sold it to Joe Bob to clean pens, then I bought it back from him."
"But Hooter, you can't claim something you've already written off."
"I know that, Wylie. But I sold it, and bought it back. Now, Joe Bob, he gets to claim the whole $500 he paid for it as a pen cleaning expense, but the extra I'm claiming I have to stretch out over time, and you don't hear me whining, no sir."
Wylie slouched down in his chair. "Hooter, you can't just arbitrarily write down a number and claim that's what you had to pay for something that you already paid for and depreciated a long time ago."
Hooter bristled. "Wylie, do you consider the tax table to be an arbitrary set of numbers?"
"No, of course not," said Wylie, his voice rising in anger.
"Well, that number there isn't arbitrary, either. In fact, I have four wheels, and hydraulics to back it up. What have they got?"
"Alright, alright, we'll comeback to that,” said Wylie, playing his calculator like Mozart tickling the ivory. "According to this, you claim that you made about $23,000 on your cows last year, another $4,000 in the feedlot, then lost about $56,000 in this other column labeled Various Enterprises?"
"That sounds about right," replied Hooter, staring at the balance sheet imbedded in his mind. “My diversification strategy was sound, but we had some tough luck this year.”
Wylie just stared at Hooter for a long stretch. Then he tried again. "You've got a deduction here for $4,000 on white paint. As a farmstead improvement we can only deduct a portion of that over time."
"But, it wasn't for the ranch, per se," said Hooter. "It was for the armadillos."
"Yeah, you'd be surprised how much paint those little buzzards can suck up," said Hooter.
Wylie started leaking out short, quick whistling breaths. "And that would have something to do with the various enterprises?"
"So, I have to assume this porcine procurement and burial line item also has something to do with it?"
"Yeah," said Hooter, taking off his hat and staring at the yellowing tile on Wylie's floor. "That was for Leo, may he rest in peace."
"Leo!?" shouted Wylie, fearful that Hooter was involved in some kind of human fatality.
"Yep, poor old Leo. He was my diving pig. Figured I'd pick up some pin money, selling tickets."
"A diving pig?" said Wylie in disbelief.
Hooter glanced up. "Yep, best one you ever saw. But he drowned. Think he hit his head on the diving board."
Wylie has his face buried in his hands again. "Hooter, just what do you expect me to do with all this?"
Hooter got up. "Hate to run, Wylie, but Daylight Savings Time is just around the corner, gotta make hay while I get paid for my time. One thought for you that might help, though. Just between you and me, I'm thinking about taking this deal public, maybe have one of those IPO things, what ya' think?"