Averyell A. Kessler
Another Saturday morning; another unwelcome visit from a government snoop. My grandfather, WG, was not happy. This time, it was the middle of July, when Mississippi’s blast furnace summer sucked the breath out of every living thing and clouds of steam seemed to rise from the sidewalks. Again his office was empty, so he spent a casual morning sipping coffee and perusing Wall Street Journals from the last three days.
He heard a knock on his office door, and looked up to see a stodgy man, with Porky Pig cheeks and hang dog ears, standing in the doorway.
“Mr. Avery?” he said. “Mr. W.G. Avery?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Who in the hell are you?”
“Ronald Carruthers. Internal Revenue Service. May I sit down.”
“Do I have a choice?” WG asked.
“Heh, heh,” Ronald replied, flashing a crocodile smile. “I’ve been working with your CPA on the most recent filing from your business. Year 1962.”
“That’s right,” WG said. “My CPA is supposed to be managing that.”
“He is, very well too, except for one thing. That’s why I’m here. By the way, you got a pretty big operation here.”
“I know, what do you want?”
“You’ve taken a deduction of over $9,000 for a business expense with no explanation or itemization. Your CPA can’t explain it. Can you?”
“Not sure I remember,” WG replied. “Let me think.”
“Take you time,” Caruthers said in an avuncular tone. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his ample stomach.
WG’s knew quite well where the entire amount had gone. A long-time employee, a truck driver named John Tubbs, had been injured in a fiery accident on the Natchez Trace outside of Tupelo. He’d paid the man’s hospital bill in full as well as his salary during his many months of recovery. Sadly, the IRS did not consider it deductible expense. Out of necessity, WG’s story telling ability kicked into overdrive and he devised one of his most outlandish stories. Although his tales usually included a small nugget of truth, this one was pure fiction.
“Can we talk about this man to man,” WG asked. Carruthers eyes glittered and he licked his lips. Man to man conversations were rare in his experience. Especially on this day.
“I was down in New Orleans on a business trip with some Ford fellas from Detroit,” WG said, “and we decided to take a tour of Bourbon Street. We ate raw oysters, listened to some jazz, and then they wanted to go to JoJo’s. You heard’a that”
“Um, no. Don’t think I have.”
“It’s a house of…………………um, you know. One of them places down in the French Quarter. A real high-class place, full of fancy furniture and chandeliers. Women all around waiting for men to take’em upstairs.
“Oh………….A brothel?” Carruthers eyes were saucers. His face flamed red, even his pudgy elbows turned pink.
“You could call it that,” WG answered. “I didn’t go upstairs, but the Detroit fellas did. I waited in the lobby and smoked a cigar. I was tired and not paying attention, and my cigar slipped out of my fingers and fell on the floor right in the middle of this big oriental carpet. Next thing I knew, the damn carpet flamed up. Must’a been covered with dust. JoJo, whoever the hell she was, started yelling. I tried to stamp out the fire, but it got worse and the room filled up with smoke. A fire alarm went off and all hell broke loose. Half-dressed women were screaming and running all over the place. The Detroit guys hitched up their pants and bolted out the back door. When a fire truck pulled up, I knew I was in trouble. In the end, I had to pay for the carpet, the smoke damage, and a bunch of waterlogged furniture. Plus, JoJo charged me for the firemen who hung around all night and took turns upstairs. The whole things was %&^** disaster. Good thing I carry a lot of cash. Now, here’s the problem.”
“There’s more,” Carruthers gasped. For a moment, he didn’t move. His litany of IRS questions dissolved into tongue-tied silence.
“My wife knows nothing about this. If she finds out, I’ll be in big trouble. I gotta keep this quiet.”
“Absolutely, Mr. Avery. You can count on me. I’ll just mark this deduction approved and we’ll move on like nothing ever happened.
“Whew! That’s a relief, Mr. Carruthers. Us fellas gotta stick together, ya know.””
“Trust me, your wife will never hear a word from me. And call me Ron.”
Oddly, Ron Carruthers and my grandfather became friends. WG sent him a ham every Christmas. Carruthers repaid the gift by visiting WG’s office every year to tell him his tax returns had been approved. They talked politics and laughed about carpet fire. WG never fessed up and Ron Carruthers never knew the truth. Apparently fake news has been around for a very long time.