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Without Due Process
Back in the not-so-distant and not-so-good old days, I remember staying up until all hours every April 14 finishing up my income tax returns. It wasn't because they were all that complicated because there was never that much money. No, the difficulty was always nothing more or less than an almost fatal tendency to procrastinate where income taxes are concerned. Once I had completed the dirty job, likely as not I'd reward myself with a couple of stiff belts of MacNaughton's.
A few things have changed since then, some of them for the better. For one, I'm trying, one day at a time, to keep away from Demon Rum. For another, thanks to Anne Corley, there's a hell of a lot more money in my life, and as a consequence, a much more complicated income tax problem. These days, my relations with the IRS are handled by a CPA firm hired and supervised by my attorney and friend, Ralph Ames, whose presence in my life I also owe to Anne Corley. The only thing that hasn't changed is my tendency to procrastinate.
That's why, on the evening of April 14, Ralph showed up around eight o'clock, bringing with him my completed but unsigned returns. The ink was still wet. Ralph, who has been through this exercise with me now a time or two, had held a gun to my accountant's head and insisted that, no, we were not going to file for an extension.
I fixed a pot of coffee, and for a while we sat in my living room window seat, visiting and watching the nighttime boat traffic crisscrossing the black expanse of Puget Sound. Finally, though, Ralph cleared his throat, switched on the table lamp, and handed me the weighty manila envelope. "Time to go towork," he said.
As I read over the return, I knew better than to expect to get anything back, but when I hit the bottom line and saw that the amount due equaled 80 percent of my annual take-home pay as a homicide detective for the Seattle Police Department, I about hit the roof.
"You've got to be kidding! That's how much I owe?"
Ralph Ames nodded and grinned. "Can I help it if you're making money hand over fist? We lucked into some very good investments this last year. Stop complaining and write the check, Beau. You can transfer in enough money to cover it tomorrow or the next day."
First I signed the return, then I reached for the checkbook. With pen in hand I paused long enough to verify that astonishing figure one last time. "What's the point in working then?" I demanded irritably. "Why bother to show up down at the department day after day?"
Ralph waited patiently for me to finish writing the check. When I handed it over to him, he put both the signed return and the check on the coffee table.
"Good question." He smiled. "Seems to me I've mentioned that very thing to you a time or two myself. You need to lighten up, Beau, Work less, learn to have some fun, maybe even find yourself a woman. That's an idea. Whatever happened to Marilyn? I haven't seen her around here for some time."
Marilyn Sykes, the former chief of police on Mercer Island, had been a sometime thing, someone to chum around with and take to bed occasionally until she up and turned serious on me. With a lucrative job offer from Santa Clara, California, in hand, she had come to me with an ultimatum to either get with the program as in marriage or else forget it because she was leaving. She took the job in Santa Clara.
"She got married," I said. "Just before Christmas last year. To some big-time electronics wizard down in California. She sent me an announcement."
"You'll get over her eventually," Ralph said.
I shrugged. "It wasn't that big a thing, really."
Ralph shook his head. "I wasn't talking about Marilyn Sykes," he said carefully.
Without another word, I got up and went to the kitchen to get more coffee. Ralph Ames was one of the few people who knew just how big a hole Anne Corley's death had torn in my heart. It's not something I like to advertise. Years later, I still don't much want to talk about it. Not even with Ralph.
For a few minutes I avoided the subject by dinking around in the kitchen and making one more pot of coffee. Then, just as the coffee finished, I was saved by the bell in the guise of a timely phone call that cut off all further discussion.
The familiar voice on the other end of the line belonged to Sergeant Watkins, the day desk sergeant in Homicide. My partner, Detective "Big Al Lindstrom and I were on call that night, so the phone call was no particular surprise. What was surprising was for Watty to be making the call rather than the night-shift sergeant. Not only that, he sounded genuinely relieved to hear my voice.
"Glad you're okay, Beau," he said. "I'm more worried about the guys who don't live in secure high rises. Big Al's all right too, by the way. I just checked. He's coming in from Ballard right now. I told him to stop by and pick you up. We need you both down at the department ASAP. I'll meet you there."
That meant Watty had called me from home. His coming back into the department at night was more than slightly out of the ordinary, so something was definitely up. "What's going on?" I asked. Without Due Process. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.