Hooter McCormick was the only client that Wylie Zimmerman had ever fired. He'd done Hooter's tax work for years, or attempted to, but there came a day three years back when his constitution balked at the thought of one more go-round with Hooter's logic-defying approach to the tax system, not to mention the constant calls from the IRS and subsequent audits on Hooter's behalf.
“My business has grown in other directions, so it is with great regret…” is what he'd told Hooter. “No, I'm sorry, I have no one to recommend to you…”
Although professional to the core, Wylie was so happy to shed his client that he'd driven to Apache Flats to drop Hooter's records at his feet, then he caught the first plane to Vegas for a celebration.
As it so often happens in business, Wylie's replacement turned out to be the friend of a friend of a friend who ended up being a closer pal than those connecting the two.
Fact is Boudreaux “Buddy” Babineau III and Hooter were among the few the two had ever met who saw the world similarly. Heavens, Buddy even understood how it was that the untimely death of Hooter's diving pig some years earlier was a legitimate business expense. As such, after a short interview in his Lubbock office, Buddy was tickled pink to take Hooter on as a client. Truth was, Buddy didn't have any other clients, nor did he need them. A series of successful oil and gas deals meant Buddy never had to hire out his legal and accounting expertise ever again. But, he liked Hooter, plus he hated the tax system.
Ever since taking Hooter on, Buddy had fended off requests for another audit through the use of his wit, charm, experience and some legal maneuvering that would have made F. Lee Bailey proud. He answered every urgent call from Hooter about another threatening letter with the same calm, “Not to worry, they can't do that.”
Now, more than ever Hooter was glad he'd had to find another taxman.
“Blood suckers!” shouted Hooter as he crumpled up the letter and aimed it toward the trashcan. “Blood suckers,” he growled as he dialed the numbers to Buddy's office.
“They claim they're going to seize my assets and take control of my accounts!” shrieked Hooter into the phone.
“Not to worry, Hooter. They can't do that,” came Buddy's soothing voice.
“I appreciate that, Buddy, and you've been right all along, but they never threatened this before.”
“As I say, there's nothing to worry about. In the name of sport, however, and as a courtesy to them, of course, might I recommend that we invite them for a visit? I've no doubt the Insidious Revenue Suckers have overestimated you tax liability. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they owe you money. Do you have the name and number of the agent? I'll have Delia arrange it.”
First Steps to Nowhere
So it was that Hooter sat in Buddy's office awaiting the arrival of agent Hunter Smithton. Buddy was happily puffing on his ever-present pipe. He patted a pile of folders on the corner of his desk that had to be at least a foot thick. “Yes sir, Hooter, it just doesn't get any better than this. Leave it to me and enjoy.”
Hooter wanted to do just that, but he wasn't sure how he was going to get out the mess he was in, or even what kind of mess it actually was. Who could understand all those forms and accounting terms to start with. Hooter wasn't heartened by the appearance of agent Smithton: about 6 ft. 4 in., shaved head, built like a linebacker.
Buddy just grinned from ear-to-ear before blowing a cloud of pipe smoke into the agent's face as he took him by the arm.
“I've taken the liberty of setting up a work station for us,” said Buddy leading the agent and his client through a giant oak door. “I call it the war room.”
Indeed. Hooter guessed the room had to be at least 1,200 square feet. There were boxes upon boxes bursting at the seams scattered all around. Several computers winked and whirred along the right-hand wall. At the front of the room was a gargantuan blackboard, made more white than black with the scribble of dense and endless mathematical equations.
“Actually,” said Buddy. “I should really call this the Hooter McCormick hall. All of this is in response to your little request.”
The agent glared, then he forced a smile. “I appreciate a sense of humor as much as anyone else, but I know Mr. McCormick's tax returns and corresponding records couldn't come to all of this.”
“Au contraire, Mr. Smithton,” said Buddy with a grand flourish. “Have a seat. All of this is in response to your organization's harassment of my client.”
Smithton stiffened at the challenge. “Well first, we are not harassing any…”
“There, there agent, there will be plenty of time for denials. Like you, we are busy men, so let's get to it, shall we? In your letter you threaten to seize my client's assets. Rather than getting into the illegalities of such a preposterous notion, I took it upon myself to do some research.” With that Buddy hoisted the foot-thick bundle of folders onto the table.
“But,” began Smithton.
Buddy cut him off again. “Now, it's not polite to interrupt, you should know that by now. This folder contains a summary of the entire affair, including miscalculations by your agency, credits unclaimed by my client and so on. The crux of it is that rather than my client owing you anything, the government in fact owes my client $17,814.31, plus interest, I might add. As a gesture of good faith my client is willing to forgo the interest due if this matter can be settled today.”
“Now, see here,” tried Smithton again.
“Indeed, interrupting is the sign of a weak character, Mr. Smithton. “Perhaps that is what led to you're little, shall we say, lapse of judgment in 1993.” Buddy plucked another folder from the table.
“Ah yes, here we are. One charge of public intoxication, one charge of obstructing justice. Hmmm…and the latter charge occurred first, now that is an interesting approach to mayhem.”
Smithton looked exactly like a snowman feeling the first warm waves of a Chinook win. “I don't think…”
“Oh dear,” continued Buddy, wrinkling his brow in concentration, “Then there's this little indiscretion in 1998, which really isn't so little, is it? Well, thankfully no one was hurt.”
Hooter had melted into an overstuffed chair. Whether Buddy was getting him in deeper or pulling him out, he couldn't tell, but he was sure enjoying the show.
Smithton pounded his fist on the table, towered over Buddy and seethed in an incoherent rage: “How? You have no right…doesn't have anything to do with the matter…it's against the law…I'll see you swing…”
Buddy simply blew another puff of smoke into the agent's face and pushed him into a chair.
“Aren't IRS records handy tools for tracking down information about individuals, Mr. Smithton? My background search would have taken much longer without them. Now that we know more of each other—much more about you than I would have ever liked to, let's get on with the business at hand. You are threatening to seize my client's assets for not paying back taxes. But as you can plainly see in the summary I've provided you, Mr. McCormick doesn't owe you anything, so the only question is when he can expect a check from you.”
Knowing When to Say Win
Though visibly shaken, Smithton was fighting hard to keep up the bluff. “You're not the only one with a calculator, friend. I've been over the case with a fine-tooth comb, and your client owes us $8,123.27, including interest, and has owed portions of it for going on five years.”
That brought Hooter back into the game. “You blood-sucking, time-stealing…”
“I think what my client is trying to say,” interjected Buddy, “Is that you have a lot of nerve to fallaciously accuse and harass him when your agency is at fault. If you persist in this manner we'll have no choice but to file suit to that effect.”
“File suit!” shouted Smithton, hammering the table with oversized mitt again. “What would you have to file suit over? All I'm trying to do is get this deadbeat to pay what he owes.”
Hooter was halfway across the table with justifiable homicide in mind, but Buddy caught him by the belt and pulled him back across.
“There, there, Mr. McCormick, I don't blame you a bit, and yes, we will add assault to the charges against this societal blight,” soothed Buddy. Before the agent had a chance, Buddy turned on him.
“What he owes. That is an interesting proposition. What my client owes who and for what? Certainly it can't be that you think he's not paying his share. Last I looked, according to the Tax Foundation individuals and couples with an adjusted gross income of $28,000 or more are paying 96 percent of all of the federal income taxes collected. You do realize that almost a third of the nation's tax payers, primarily those making less than that amount not only don't pay any taxes but get refunds!”
“Furthermore, you're certainly aware that the cost to taxpayers of complying with the tax code, in addition to the tax itself, is the equivalent of about 20 cents for ever dollar of tax collected.”
“So, you increase the taxes and the cost of complying with them for individuals and for small businesses like that owned by my client, business people who provide jobs for others and are willing to take risk, even while you rob them of the incentive to take that risk, then you have the audacity to talk about what they owe?”
“No, I'm sorry agent Smithton. My client has grown weary of this harassment for extraordinary extortion,” continued Buddy.
“You'll what, ask me to dance?” smiled Buddy, taking a photo from the file folder. “I dare say that must have been a legendary office party. Isn't cross-dressing illegal anywhere?”
The last Buddy and Hooter saw, Smithton was running out the door like his life depended on it.