Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes

by David Dodge
Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes

by David Dodge

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Overview

A CPA in 1940s San Francisco searches for his partner’s killer in this witty and “hard-hitting” mystery by the author of the classic To Catch a Thief (Time).
 
The first in the series of noir mysteries starring hard-drinking accountant Whit Whitney, Death and Taxes follows the calculating amateur detective as he looks into the murder of George MacLeod—a top tax consultant who was a close colleague of Whitney’s, at least until his body was stuffed into a bank vault.
 
A fast-paced, sharp-witted tale involving everything from pretty blondes to bootleggers to tangles with the Treasury Department, Death and Taxes “winds up at a lightning pace . . . Fast and easy to read” (New York Herald Tribune).
 
“Rapid-fire action in the manner of Dashiell Hammett.” —The Detroit News

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626816022
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 09/01/2018
Series: Whit Whitney , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 314
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

David Dodge (August 18, 1910–August 1974) was an author of mystery/thriller novels and humorous travel books. His first book was published in 1941. Dodge's fiction is characterized by tight plotting, brisk dialogue, memorable and well-defined characters, and (often) exotic locations. His travel writing documented the (mis)adventures of the Dodge family (David, his wife, Elva, and daughter, Kendal) as they roamed around the world. Practical advice and information for the traveler on a budget are sprinkled liberally throughout the books.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

George MacLeod had a bankroll, a good-looking brunette wife, and a weakness for blondes. He was reputed to be one of the best tax men in San Francisco, and people of means paid him substantial fees to pare their income taxes down as far as they would go without giving the G-men an opportunity to talk about fraud. George was smart enough to keep business and pleasure apart; he did pretty well in both fields until he got involved with a girl who had yellow hair and tax troubles. The combination was fatal to him.

His office was on the eighth floor of the Farmers' Exchange Building. The sign on the door said:

MACLEOD AND WHITNEY CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTANTS TAX CONSULTANTS

Inside there was a small reception room divided in half by a waist-high partition, and behind the partition was a desk for the girl who answered the telephone and turned away book salesmen. Her name was Miss Kelly. She was not very ornamental, but she was fast at dictation and her typing was superlative. Except during the income tax season she constituted one-third of the office staff. She was forty-five years old, and she had a maidenly crush on James Whitney, the firm's younger partner.

Beyond the reception room several doors opened off a short hall. The first door to the right was marked MR. MACLEOD, and the one opposite, MR. WHITNEY. There were two facing doors a few feet farther down, and the end of the hall was flanked by a washroom and a filing vault with a cast-iron door and a combination lock. A window at the far end opened onto a fire escape.

MacLeod's bad luck began on Friday, May 17, 1940, the day his partner started on a vacation. The vacation was scheduled to begin at five o'clock; at three Mr. Whitney was sitting in Mr. MacLeod's office with his feet on his partner's desk, wearing his holiday clothes: green slacks, brown and white shoes, a coat tailored out of a high-class horse blanket, a yellow necktie, and a panama hat. Mr. Whitney was thirty-three years old, tall, thin, and a pretty good tax man himself when he worked at it. He liked blondes well enough, but he also liked brunettes, brownettes, red-heads, and women with gray hair if they weren't too old.

MacLeod sat at his desk with a pipe in his mouth, his coat off and his sleeves rolled up, scowling at the instructions on the back of Schedule C, Form 706, Federal Estate Tax Return. He was about twenty years older than his partner, and he had a bull neck and the beginning of a belly. Salmon-colored hair grew thickly on his wrists and the backs of his hands and thinly on the top of his head. Pipe-ash decorated his vest.

Whitney took a final puff of his cigarette and threw it out the open window. "It's three o'clock. How much longer are you going to work on that thing?"

"What's the rush?" said MacLeod without looking up. "You got all day."

"I've got better things to do with it than sit around watching you work. If you want to buy me a drink, let's go. You can do that some other time."

"Sure, sure. Just as soon as I finish this schedule." MacLeod kept on reading. Whitney looked at his wrist watch and said something dirty. He let the front legs of his chair to the floor with a thump, crossed to the window, and leaned his elbows on the windscreen. "I'll give you five minutes more. Then I'm leaving."

The French telephone buzzed at MacLeod's elbow. He said, "Uh?" into the mouthpiece, listened a moment, and tipped a switch at the corner of his desk. "Hello," he said. "Hello, honey. How are you?"

Whitney recognized the tone; the caller was female and blonde.

MacLeod said, "You got a what?" The receiver made noises. He said, "For 1938? Did you file a return for 1937?" More noises, and MacLeod rolled his eyes at Whitney and shrugged. "I don't know whether they're right or not, Marian. If you made any money you have to file an income tax return, otherwise no. If you —" More noises from the receiver.

MacLeod scrawled some notes on a piece of scratch-paper. "How much did you get for them?" He listened, nodding, and made more notes. Finally he said, "They've got you, Marian. You should have filed a return." The receiver wailed and he laughed. "It isn't that bad. Bring the notice in tomorrow morning and I'll fix it up for you."

The voice went on talking. MacLeod said, "Well, why don't you come out for dinner tonight? I'll call Kitty and tell her ... Oh, nuts. She'll be glad to see you." He winked at Whitney. "Sure, any time. I'll call her. Bring the notice along. G'bye." He touched the switch, said, "Miss Kelly, will you call Mrs. MacLeod?" and put the telephone down, grinning.

"Here's one for the book, Whit. This girl had fifteen thousand dollars' worth of securities she inherited back in '35 and she sold them in '38 and made about three thousand bucks profit and didn't file an income tax return. The Treasury Department caught up with her and wants one. It'll cost her fifteen or twenty dollars at the outside, and she's crying her eyes out." He laughed.

"Fifteen bucks is a lot of dough," Whit said. "How about that drink?"

The phone buzzed and MacLeod picked it up. "Kitty? I invited Marian Wolff to dinner tonight. She'll be out there any time." He listened, frowning. "Well, what difference does that make? She isn't expecting a banquet. Tell the cook to put another plate on the table, that's all ... No, just Marian. She's alone ...What's the matter with the three of us? ... All right, all right. Who do you want?" He looked at Whit. "Sure, he's here, He won't come, though. He's leaving town ... Well, you talk to him."

He put his hand over the mouthpiece. "She wants you to balance the party. Four's company, three's a crowd. You can make it."

"No dice," Whit said. He took the phone.

Kitty MacLeod said, "Whit, will you please come to dinner tonight?" Her voice was a throaty contralto.

I wish I could, Kitty, but I'm leaving for Santa Cruz in about fifteen minutes."

"Business?"

"Some. Mostly pleasure. I've talked George out of a vacation."

"Can't you leave tomorrow morning? George has invited one of his girl friends to dinner and I've got to have a fourth. Please come."

"I can't do it, Kitty," said Whit. MacLeod slapped him across the seat of the pants and made affirmative gestures. "The business end of the trip is a conference tonight with a client in Santa Cruz. I couldn't make it if I stayed for dinner."

"Damn," she said. "Well, that's that. How long are you going to be gone?"

"A month."

"I'd like to see you before you go. You're sure you can't make it?"

MacLeod was still being persuasive. Whit kicked at him and smiled politely into the mouthpiece. "I'd like to see you too. I'll accept the invitation when I get back if it's still open."

"It's always open. Have a good time."

"I will. I'm sorry I can't make it tonight."

"You can do something for me," Kitty said. "Tell George to try to be home on time, and ask him to stay sober until he gets here."

"Sure. I'll tell him. 'Bye." He put the phone back in its cradle.

"You're passing something up," MacLeod said. "This Wolff won a beauty contest at U.C. a couple of years ago. One of those blonde babies that makes your head swim."

"A lot of good she'd do me. Every time I've been to your house I've had to entertain your wife while you took some girl out on the porch and gave her a lesson in the elements of accounting."

MacLeod grinned. "What's the matter with my wife? Don't you like her?"

"Sure I like her. But I'm not coming to dinner, so you might as well forget about it. How about buying me that drink?"

MacLeod leaned back in his chair and locked his hands behind his head. "Any minute now. But you ought to see Marian Wolff, Whit. If there ever was a girl who'd look natural in diamonds, she's it. She was born for the money, and she came so close to having a million dollars it makes her head ache." He rocked gently in the swivel-chair. "She was Harald Wolff's daughter."

Whit looked bored. "Is that so? Fancy."

"I told you about him. The bootlegger. He was one of the first clients I ever had."

"I never heard of him," Whit said. "And if you want to know the honest to God truth —"

"Don't say it." MacLeod raised his hand. "It's an interesting story. The United States of America versus Harald Wolff, or how the Treasury Department caught daddy with his pants down."

"I want a drink."

"Stop bellyaching, will you? You'll get your drink. I want to tell you about Harald Wolff."

Whit sighed and sat down.

MacLeod said, "How long have we been partners? Three years?"

"Two and a half. Honest, George, even if it were interesting I wouldn't want to hear about it."

"Shut up." MacLeod lit his pipe and slid comfortably down in his chair. "This was all wound up before your time, and it goes way back. Old man Wolff and I knew each other when I was just starting in business. We used to go hunting together every season, and I did his tax work. He and two or three other guys and I would bundle our stuff together and go up in the hills the day before the deer season opened and stay there until we had the limit ... sometimes a day or two, sometimes a couple of weeks. Wolff and these other birds owned a brewery over in Oakland. I audited their books for years until prohibition came along, and then they got along without an auditor.

"Prohibition almost ruined them. It was a nice tight little corporation and they had started on a shoestring and plowed everything back into the business and were making good beer and building up a local trade, when blooey! — no more likker. They were cooked. They couldn't make beer and they couldn't get out — nobody would give a dime for the best brewery in the country. So they made near-beer and wondered how long they could last.

"Things got leaner and leaner. Wolff struggled with his honesty all through 1920 and finally gave up and began to turn out the real stuff. He had always run the brewery pretty much by himself, as brew-master and president of the corporation, and he just forgot to tell the other stockholders what was going on. He had the bookkeeper in his pocket — a little bastard called Zimmermann — and the two of them sold beer, real beer, as fast as they could turn it out. Thirty-five dollars a barrel in those days. Zimmermann handled all the receipts; cash on the line and no discount. Near-beer was worth $12.50 or thereabouts, and Zimmermann recorded the sales on the corporation books at the near-beer price, tossed $12.50 in the till, and turned the extra $22.50 over to Wolff, less protection money and a little knockdown, I guess. Wolff was only paying him a couple of hundred a month; I think he had something on him. But whatever Zimmermann got out of it, Wolff didn't miss it. He made almost a million bucks clear in 1921 and 1922."

"And then the axe fell," said Whit. "I know."

"Not then." MacLeod shook his head and puffed hard on his pipe. "They got scared and quit. The big boys began running beer in from the East, the competition got tough, and Wolff had to hire gunmen to drive his trucks. There was some shooting, a few of his boys got killed and it began to cost him more than it was worth. Besides, he wasn't cutting any of the other stockholders in on the gravy and if they found out what was going on it would be too bad. So the Gold Star Brewery went back to making near-beer until repeal."

"I'm a jump ahead of you already. When did the Treasury Department catch up with him?"

"In 1935. The Bureau of Internal Revenue had been sniffing out the bootleggers for years. By the time they got to Wolff he couldn't be prosecuted under the Prohibition Act because it was a dead letter, but evasion of income taxes was something else. Some ex-prohibition agent had to explain where he got his money and he peeped on Zimmermann, and when they sweated Zimmermann he spilled the beans. Wolff and a couple of the other stockholders and I came back from a hunting trip in the fall of 1935 and there was a deficiency letter waiting for Wolff — half a million in taxes, plus fifty per cent fraud penalties, and interest since 1921. It came to a million and a quarter."

"Jesus," said Whit fervently.

"You get the idea. Wolff had dropped me off before he went home, and I was scraping off two weeks' whiskers when the phone rang. It was Wolff — he'd just opened the deficiency letter. He was mad — not scared, just mad as hell, and plenty tough. 'George,' he said, 'some son-of-a-bitch has double-crossed me, and I'm going to cut his throat.' I asked him what it was all about and he told me what the postman had handed him. I thought it was a joke at first — I didn't know anything about the bootlegging then — but he was serious. So I tried to calm him down. I told him to bring his deficiency letter over and I'd see what we could do about it, but he had his own ideas. He'd bought an airplane about a year before so he could get places in a hurry, and one of his ex-gunmen was flying it for him; the guy had been an aviator in the war. Wolff asked me who was the top man in the Department, and I told him the Commissioner of Internal Revenue at Washington, D.C. was pretty high up the line, and he said 'Good, that's all I want to know. Goodbye.'

"I tumbled to it then. I told him not to be such a damn fool, that it wouldn't do him any good, that he didn't know anything about income tax procedure, that he'd have to go about it the right way, and so on. But he said to hell with it, he'd do it his own way, and hung up."

"So he went to call on the Commissioner?" said Whit. "That's one way to file a protest."

"He started to call on the Commissioner. He and his aviator took off that morning and were halfway over the Rockies when the plane changed its mind; they jumped, and Wolff's parachute didn't open. The pilot was picked up after he'd been wandering around in the hills for a week living on his fingernails."

Whit grinned at him. "And then you stepped in and lost the case."

MacLeod shrugged and began rolling down the sleeves of his shirt. "I did what I could but they had him cold. His will named his attorney executor of the estate — a guy called Marston. He was a pretty good criminal lawyer but he didn't know anything about taxes, so he turned the case over to me. The deficiency letter gave us thirty days to protest and by the time I got into the case there was about ten days to go. We filed a protest on the last day." MacLeod smiled. "God, it was some protest. Neither Marston nor I knew a thing about the bootlegging, the corporation's books naturally didn't show anything, and even if we had known that Zimmermann was the key man, which we didn't until later, he was hiding out. I wrote twenty-five pages of stuff that would bring tears to your eyes and it was rejected so fast I don't think they even bothered to read it. And then we had ninety days to pay up or go before the Board of Tax Appeals. So we paid up."

Whit was horrified. "You what? A million and a quarter without going to the Board?"

"It was only a million then. The fraud penalties were automatically withdrawn at Wolff's death. There wasn't any point in appealing. We called in Wolff's daughter — this blonde I was telling you about — and put it up to her. She was sole heir. The estate would liquidate at just about enough to pay the taxes and interest, with maybe a few thousand left. If we appealed, interest would cost almost a hundred dollars a day, even if Marston and I worked for nothing, and I guaranteed that the case would be in the courts long enough to eat up every dime and then some. Furthermore, we didn't have any more chance of winning than a fiddler's bitch and I told her so."

MacLeod lifted his coat from the back of his chair and put it on. She squirmed like hell but there was nothing for her to do. She could quit then and take what was left after the Government was paid or she could throw it all down the rat-hole. So she gave up, and Marston liquidated the estate and paid off." MacLeod looked at the calendar-pad on his desk. "Four years ago this month. The estate was mostly securities and the market was pretty good then or she wouldn't have got a dime. As it was, Marston salvaged about fifteen thousand dollars' worth of the best stocks and turned them over to her. She sold them as soon as the market went up a little, like a chump, instead of trying to live off the income, and she didn't file a tax return. That's what the telephone call was about. Anything to do with income tax scares the pants off of her."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Death and Taxes"
by .
Copyright © 1941 David Dodge.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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