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Authors: Susan Dunlap

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BOOK: Death and Taxes
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“Your secret is safe with me.”

As soon as I hung up, I put in a call to the ME. He’d finished the postmortem. Nothing was definite, of course. Toxicology tests take two to four weeks. But he did find a puncture wound in Drem’s buttock and residue of a substance that fit Raksen’s central-nervous-system depressant.

I leaned back in my chair in the uncomfortable luxury of my empty office. Someone had wedged the tiny hypodermic between the seats of Drem’s bicycle, which meant either his killer had lucked upon the bicycle when he happened to have the poison hypodermic in hand or he knew where that bicycle would be. Drem sounded like a man of set routines. Now, if I could just find one person in all of Berkeley who didn’t hate the man, one person who had tolerated him enough to know what those routines of his were …

Pereira’s twenty minutes had come and gone when she trotted into my office and established herself in “her” spot on Howard’s desk. She shoved open the bottom drawer, plopped her feet on the edge, and favored me with a smug grin. Then she looked around for coffee and donuts to mooch. Howard’s absence made it harder on Pereira. I moved my cup of Peet’s out of her reach and kept my hand on my donut. It had been the only chocolate old-fashioned in the box.

“So,” I said, “what’s your great surprise?”

“A coup, Smith.” Pereira’s grin grew wider. Her blond hair nearly twitched with smug. “When I tell you Drem’s name has come up at parties, it probably won’t surprise you. The man’s famous. Even among auditors, Drem’s a bulldog. He gets his TPs—that’s taxpayers to us TPs—by the throat and doesn’t let go until they pay. He never initiates an audit that ends up with a No Change.” Connie eyed the remaining half of my donut.

Had it been a merely a glazed instead of a chocolate old-fashioned, I’d have relinquished it. I broke off a quarter and plopped it in my mouth. “What’s No Change mean?”

“Exactly what you think. When you get audited, either you pay, or the IRS admits you don’t owe more—No Change. They hate that; it wastes their time.”

“So he just kept digging till he found errors?”

Connie’s eyes opened a smidge wider, as if to say that things weren’t that simple. They never were with Pereira and finances. The stock-market pages were her Disneyland, bankers and brokers her Mickeys and Minnies. I remembered now that about twelve hours ago, before Drem’s death and our argument, I’d promised Howard I’d ask her about his charity deductions and Publication 526. That could wait. I leaned back in my chair and braced my feet against the back of Howard’s. If he’d been here, he’d have had his chair angled toward the door and his long legs stretched to the wall beside my desk. I pushed the thought of him out of my mind.

“Smith,” Pereira said, “there are different types of audits and auditors: office auditors, field agents, collection agents—”

“Wait! What’s an office auditor?”

Connie eyed the chocolate old-fashioned. I could divert her with my coffee, but I nixed that idea. Another, albeit lesser, donut I could get from the box, but machine coffee and Peet’s were not the same species of liquid. I handed her the donut.

She took a bite. “There are three categories of initial audits in the IRS. The easiest is when a form comes in the mail for you to send in some information. The assumption there is that you will admit your guilt and pay up. The second is the office audit. For that, you and your accountant show up, records in hand. Then you pay up. And the third is the field audit. They save this for businesses with records too cumbersome to carry into the office, or TPs with operations they want to eyeball. Then there are agents in collections. By rights, Drem should have been one of them, packing a rod and facing down the Mob. But maybe that was too dangerous for Drem. Anyway, he was a field agent.”

“So he was likely to have been out seeing someone, someone who may have profited by his not being around to continue the audit, the afternoon he died.”

Pereira nodded.

“We’ll need a list of his victims, or whatever IRS calls them.”

“Fat chance, Jill. You won’t get that without a warrant and a big fight, and even then …” She grinned.

So this was the coup. “So?”

“Well, Smith, seems Drem was the apple of his group manager’s eye. Always up on the Procs and TDs—”


“Revenue Procedures and Treasury Decisions. Didn’t shoot the breeze or bitch about the irates.”


“The TPs who call with questions or complaints.”

I took a long swallow of coffee. It was lukewarm now, but still good.

“And then I heard that the group manager was sick last year, and Drem, not the senior agent by any means, took her place at the Fresno meetings, which is as close as you get to conventions in the world of IRS. It’s where they look over the TCMP figures and set the local DIFs.”

I didn’t even bother to ask. I’d decode those later.

Pereira plopped the last vestige of my donut into her mouth and smiled as she chewed. “So, Smith, it was an easy guess that our Phil would have a few enemies in the IRS office.”

I took a final drink of my coffee and handed Pereira the remains. “And you found one?”

She finished it in a swallow. “Better than that. Found and just interviewed. And guess what he told me?”

“At this hour Saturday morning, either everything or nothing.”

Connie shrugged. “My source, whose identity I swore on my mother’s grave I’d never reveal—”

“I’m sure your mother will appreciate that when you tell her.”

“As much a pain as she’s been, she should be pleased to be some use. But anyway, my source was in the office Friday and just happened to look at. Drem’s log and—”

“Saw who his last appointment was?” I asked, excited.

Pereira handed back my empty cup and stood. “Right. It was Lyn Takai.”


been Philip Drem’s last business appointment before he was murdered. She hadn’t mentioned he’d been in her studio just hours before he was killed. In fact, what she’d said was “I hadn’t even thought about him in ages.” All in all, that was a big lie for an innocent citizen to present to the police. She wouldn’t be as cool as she’d been last night—not explaining this.

I left the patrol car in front of the violet house with the white picket fence and took the walkway between it and its neighbor double speed. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find Takai, the yogi, doing a headstand on the cement patio between her cottage and the violet house. Or braising tofu on her stove out there. Or washing off bad karma in the blue-tuliped sink, or more ascetically in the cracked sink, had either been upright and usable.

But she was doing none of those. The stove and refrigerator stood untended, the tuliped sink lay on its side, and the cracked sink was gone. A healthy set of police raps on the door convinced me Lyn Takai was gone too.

Disgusted, I drove back to the station, called in a favor from Tim, the DD clerk, and got him to move the background on Takai to the top of the pile. I didn’t expect much. What could a woman who displays her appliances in her front yard be hiding? Takai seemed like someone who’d consciously opted for a life with little excess. Yoga, I gathered, was called the eight-fold path; it was a safe guess that that path rarely led to riches.

While I waited, I checked the reports Pereira had collected. She’d sent Acosta to Drem’s apartment on Milvia Street. No one was home, and a canvass of the ground-floor tenants in the fourplex indicated that Drem lived alone and pursued the type of life that would make him eligible to represent accountants in any 1950s movie—no entertaining, no loud music, and most of all no women (in fact, no friends at all). Drem’s flat was on the second floor next to a female hermit whom neither of the ground-floor tenants had ever seen. According to them, Drem’s only interests were bicycling and badgering them about car emissions. One suggested Drem could improve his image by imitating his next-door neighbor.

Acosta’s report indicated he hadn’t found Sierra, the street person Mason Moon had fingered as having seen the “cop” by Drem’s bike. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a street person to transfer himself to another street. I was sure Acosta would find him and discover Sierra hadn’t seen the patrol officer at all. But I’d feel a lot more comfortable when the question was closed.

I filed Pereira’s report and tried Lyn Takai’s phone number. No answer. I called Tim. He growled something about patience. Something else about half an hour. There are few tyrants like a clerk.

I walked out to the squad room looking for Pereira. She’d signed out an hour and a half ago. She’d been on Evening Watch last night—3:00
to 11:00
With Drem’s death, she couldn’t have gotten home before 2:00
And up for Morning Meeting. It didn’t take a wizard to figure what her plans would be today—sleep, with the phone turned off.

The tax accountant she’d quoted on Drem was a Rick Lamott. I dialed his number. On the Saturday before April 15 I expected a secretary to answer, but the voice said, “Rick Lamott. What can I do forya?”

“Detective Smith, Berkeley Police. I need some background on the IRS.”

“You know Connie Pereira?”

“She’s the one who suggested you.”

“Well, for Connie. Whataya need?”

“Tell me about TCMP, DIF, and Philip Drem.”

“Pothole and paving roller. You got an hour?”

“It’ll take that long?”

“You look like Connie?”

“Not a bit,” I snapped.

“Okay, so I’m superficial. Slide down the surface, and you get to the bottom faster.”

“You must have a pretty raw butt.”

He laughed. “Yeah, and a flock of feds who’d like to make it a lot redder. Hey, it’s lunchtime. I’ll buy you lunch. I’ll be by in ten minutes.”

“Make it noon. Front desk. Ask for Detective Smith.” I hung up. The guy sounded like the one who made you say never again to blind dates. But he wasn’t a date; he was a source. It’s wonderful not to be a teenager anymore, to be a cop with a gun. Still, I ran him through files before he came. No priors, no warrants.

I sent Heling to reinterview Drem’s neighbors on the ground floor of his fourplex. They might have a clue about Drem’s relatives, hobbies, or habits. If Drem ended his workday at Lyn Takai’s, that still left a lot of time before he died. Maybe he’d stopped home. Maybe he’d stayed at Takai’s. That would be a good explanation of why she’d lied and why she wasn’t to be found at home now.

I tried Takai again. Still no answer. I was just about to dial Tim when he pushed open my door and poked a sheaf of papers at me. “Voila!”

“Thanks, Tim. We’re square.”

He grinned. “Which means you are once again ripe for the picking.”

I read through the report. I’d been right and wrong. Right that Lyn Takai didn’t own much. Wrong in thinking of it as nothing. She rented her studio. No reportable assets, except for one. Lyn Takai owned a property on Carleton Street called the Inspiration Hotel, in partnership with Mason Moon, a Selena Hogan, and an Ethan Simonov. The quartet had an eighty percent mortgage and a ten percent second. Nothing murder-inducing about that.

It took me a moment to recall the Inspiration, a shabby, transient-type place that was in the process of being renovated.

And as for Mason Moon being one of the co-owners, I wasn’t so surprised about that. Berkeley is the town to which the sixties retired. Aging hippie on the outside and successful entrepreneur underneath was hardly an unknown combination. There just wasn’t a catchy name for it yet. What amazed me was that Moon would be involved in a renovation project that required sustained work.

But Tim hadn’t stopped with the background on Takai. He’d also run detailed background checks on the trio and turned up a better than average number of entries. Selena Hogan had two warrants outstanding in Nevada (speeding—not uncommon for those racing up to Reno to get rid of their excess money. And having left their cash there, few rushed to pay the traffic tickets they associated with their rotten weekends). Mason Moon was the star on the Records Management System that lists citywide contacts with the department: trespassing, disturbing the peace, failure to disperse—the plop artist’s roll of honor. And Simonov had been indicted in Oregon for tax evasion. Tax evasion—now that was interesting. I moved Simonov up on my list of prospects.

A yogi, a plop artist, a racing gambler, and a felon. Just what kind of property did these people own together? I was just about to head out to find out when the phone rang. Rick Lamott was in the lobby.

Rick Lamott had probably been waiting fifteen minutes when I opened the double doors to Reception on the second floor. From the main door downstairs two wide staircases lead upward, hugging both pale-beige walls. A WPA Tara. The stairs end at a balcony-hallway that forms Reception: a row of plastic chairs facing the desk clerk’s window. The only thing that makes Reception tolerable to our guests is the knowledge that their next stop may be worse.

Now the chairs were occupied by a white teenager in a down jacket that smelled of long-term sweat and dirt, an elderly black woman with a cloth shopping bag between her feet, and a leather-jacketed eighth-of-a-ton-er who looked like an over-the-hill Hell’s Angel. The kid and the woman were seated as far away from him as possible.

But planted in front of him, only slightly taller than the seated Angel, was a sandy-haired guy in an expensive chocolate-brown suit wagging a finger at the bearded face. “
call it tax evasion. But you don’t have to put up with that crap. We’d label it tax avoidance. Avoiding taxes is every citizen’s right under the Constitution.” He turned to look at me. “Smith?”

If I hadn’t seen the scene, hadn’t known the background, I would have assumed from his tone that he’d had his secretary summon me here to his meeting.

Before I could answer, he turned back to the ersatz Angel. “Get yourself a good accountant. You can’t afford me, but you can do a lot better than what you’ve got now.” Then he made for me, grinning anxiously. “Come on. My car’s double-parked.”

BOOK: Death and Taxes
11.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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