He strolled into my office wearing a tired blue suit, a knitted tie that looked like something out of the eighties, the knot carelessly pulled together. He carried a lonely black leather bag that sagged in places, bulged in others, from years of use. Without expressing simple courtesies, even offering a name, he grabbed a chair at my table, laid the bag at his feet, and sat down. From the bag, he produced a small laptop computer, which surprised me given what I had already seen, and placed it on the table along with a cell phone—A cell phone? Really?—and also what looked, with the binding worn and frayed, like an ancient Bible, though I had my doubts.
“Just one of you, then?”
His aged, yellow eyes held me for a moment. “I think I can manage.” Like the computer and the cell phone, his voice came out different than I had expected, too. Instead of something scratchy or feral, it was soft like a mortician consoling a bereaved loved one.
He looked at the table. “Would you like some coffee?”
I almost laughed. “It’s my office. Maybe I should be asking you that, huh?”
His smirk told me that was the intent, so I nodded and reached for the phone. Pressing the INTERCOM button, I leaned in. “Mary, would you please bring in two coffees?” When no response came, I offered him an embarrassed look. “I forgot. Mary’s not in right now.”
“Of course.” His eyes still looked at me expectantly.
“You want I should make you a coffee, is that it?”
The smirk again. “That would be nice, Mr. Singleton.”
For occasions like this, though not exactly like tonight’s, I had purchased one of those single-cup coffee makers. Slide the cartridge in, press a button and, voilà, a steamy blend of java right at your fingertips. I returned and placed the coffees on the table, where my guest had already opened his laptop.
After taking a sip, he said, “Last year, you claimed several deductions on your return for a satellite office in Ruidoso.”
I frowned. “You’re welcome.”
“For the coffee. You asked and I provided. Even seasoned businessmen know how to say, Thank You.”
He stared at me for a moment. “Mr. Singleton, the coffee is appreciated, but right now I trust you’re ready to take care of the matter at hand.”
Like I had much choice in it. “Sure.”
He looked back at his computer. “The satellite office?”
“Yes,” I said. “I do business in Ruidoso—real estate transactions, probating estates, a few traffic claims.”
He nodded, but then frowned. “The confusing part, however, is that you’re not even licensed to practice law in the state of New Mexico—”
“I have a law partner.”
“—and you don’t even advertise in the local market.”
“So, does your wife know about the lack of any real business?” He looked directly at me. “Or about your partner?”
By the look in those eyes, I knew the omission of “Law” was intentional. Sherre was neither a lawyer nor an employee. She was my—escape. And Morgan, my wife, didn’t have any idea about the affair; neither did Sherre’s husband.
“No.” I leaned back. “I never mentioned it.”
He nodded and returned his gaze to the computer.
“On your return, you also claimed contributions to a local church in the amount of fifty-six thousand dollars.”
“Would you like to see the contribution statement?”
He shook his head. “No need. I already have the details.” Long fingers quickly tapped at the keyboard. “The money went to the Archbishop at the local diocese.”
“That’s right.” I scratched at the center of my chest, finding the irritation odd. “Father Andersen’s my priest,” I added, placing direct emphasis on the last word.
“But the money went to buy a boat.”
“They do mission work along the Mexican coast.”
“And there’s some nice fishing off that same coast, I see.” He nodded toward the far wall, but I didn’t look. I knew the picture he saw—Father Andersen and me on the deck of that boat, smiling for the camera, fish and beers in hands.
The strange irritation in my chest turned into a dull pain.
Looking back at his computer, my visitor said, “Your return also includes a Schedule F, where you show substantial losses.” He looked at me, his eyebrows pulled together.
I nodded. “A ranch, down along the Rio Grande. I raise Longhorns.”
“Yes, I’ve seen the steers.” He turned to the computer. “But the income you reported doesn’t agree with the money that’s been accumulating in your offshore account.”
I shook my head. “What offshore account?”
The smirk again. “Mr. Singleton, while many don’t know about the Cayman account, I think you should know that I do. And I think you should also know I’m aware of the true source of your income.” He shook his head. “And to think of all the miserable lives lost to drug addiction each year.”
The pain in my chest turned from a dull throb to a sharp prick. It was time to turn the tables. “So, this is it? This is all you have, just a few—uh, misrepresentations on my tax return?”
“No, I’m just getting warmed up.” Turning to the black book, he flipped it open. “Let’s see,” he said. “’You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.’”
“By not reporting all the income and claiming bogus deduction, both for business and then so-called charitable contributions, you failed to remit the proper amount of taxes, money that rightly belonged to the government. That’s stealing, Mr. Singleton.” He turned back to the book. “’You shall not give false testimony or covet your neighbor’s possessions.’ That includes his wife.’”
Remembering the heart attack, the stabbing pain I thought had left, I looked at the book. “So, it is a Bible.”
“Of course.” Sharp teeth grinned at me. “Even the devil knows the scriptures.”