FOR RICHER OR POORER, IN BUSINESS AND IN STEALTH.
Can IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway break up a clever ring of tax cheats who love money, dishonor the IRS, and disobey the laws of justice?
When Tara agreed to be her best friend’s maid of honor, she knew it would be a ton of work. But planning a bachelorette party is a piece of (wedding) cake compared to her latest mission for the IRS. Her target is radio host Florence “Flo” Cash, star of “The Flo Cash Cash Flow Show.” Not only has Flo been giving her listeners shady tax advice, she’s set up an elaborate barter system that leaves Uncle Sam out of the equation—and Tara tied in knots…
“CHOCK-FULL OF FUN AND ENERGY.”—Romance Reviews Today
While Flo flouts the IRS at every turn, Tara has yet another case to tackle: a catfishing Casanova who’s relieved several lonely ladies of their cash, credit cards, and dignity. When her best friend’s big day arrives, it’s all Tara can do to keep from crying uncle. But when Tara snatches the bridal bouquet and her boyfriend Nick catches the satin garter, could Tara’s days of filing single tax returns be over?
“TARA HOLLOWAY IS THE IRS’S ANSWER TO STEPHANIE PLUM—SMART, SASSY, AND SO MUCH FUN.”—New York Times bestselling author Gemma Halliday
Tara Holloway returns in Death, Taxes, and a Satin Garter, the eleventh installment in Diane Kelly's hilarious series!
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About the Author
Diane Kelly is a former state assistant attorney general and tax advisor who spent much of her career fighting, or inadvertently working for, white-collar criminals. She is also a proud graduate of the Mansfield, Texas Citizens Police Academy. Diane combines her fascination with crime and her love of animals in her stories. Diane now lives in North Carolina, where she spends her days catering to her demanding cats or walking her dogs in the region’s beautiful woods.
Read an Excerpt
Death, Taxes, and A Satin Garter
By Diane Kelly
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Diane Kelly
All rights reserved.
"Figured you might need some extra caffeine this morning." Nick shot me a wink as he raised a steaming white take-out cup and stepped into my office.
"Because it's Monday?" I asked coyly as I took the cup from him. The fact that it was Monday had nothing to do with my need for a jump start this morning. Nick, on the other hand, had everything to do with it. We'd stayed up quite late last night. I'm not one to kiss and tell, so let's just say that Nick and I were playing Uno, if Uno what I mean.
I took a sip of the life-giving latte and sighed in bliss, casting a smile at my coworker/boyfriend/Uno partner. Nick was tall and muscular, with dark hair and eyes the color of Kentucky bourbon. Nick had a thick, short scar on his left cheekbone and a slightly chipped tooth, but these minor imperfections only made him seem more manly. But his good looks were simply a bonus. What mattered much more to me was that he was hardworking, honest, and loyal, not to mention an expert at Uno. His sweet romantic gestures, like bringing me my favorite latte this morning, didn't hurt none, either. I wasn't sure what I'd done to deserve him, but I sure was glad he was mine.
His shiny gold belt buckle gave off a glint as he plopped down into one of my wing chairs and propped his cowboy boots on the corner of my desk, making himself at home. He gestured to the huge stack of files on my desk. Seemed there was always a huge stack of files on my desk. "Whatcha working on today?"
"The Flo Cash case."
Nick and I were both special agents for IRS Criminal Investigations, tax cops who pursued those who willingly evaded their obligations to Uncle Sam. Some people considered themselves above the law and left law-abiding citizens to foot the bill for roads and military defense and Social Security and national parks. That's where we special agents came in. We worked to make sure everyone paid their fair share. It might sound like a mundane job, but, trust me, it was anything but. During my fourteen-month tenure with Criminal Investigations, I'd gone undercover in offices, an Italian restaurant, and a strip club. On several occasions, pissed-off tax evaders had fired on me. One tried to blow me up with an improvised explosive. Hell, I'd even been tackled by security at the airport and attacked by a weaponized rooster. What other job would offer this kind of action and excitement? Certainly not my former job as a CPA.
Given the potential dangers, working as a special agent required good weapons skills. It also required excellent financial skills. We IRS investigators were the cream of the crop when it came to federal financial detectives. We were experts at ferreting out funds, hunting down hidden accounts, and seeking out secret stashes of cash. Not that our jobs were easy. We just made it look that way.
My largest current case was against Florence "Flo" Cash, a popular local radio personality who hosted a morning talk show from 7:00 to 11:00 AM on weekdays, broadcasting to listeners during their morning commutes. In her daily Cash Flow Show on KCSH, Flo offered stock tips and investment advice. She also answered financial questions from callers, offering her opinions along with clever, sometimes-cutting commentary, and a healthy dose of sound effects.
Problem was, neither Flo nor the radio station she owned had paid a penny in taxes in years. With so little reported income, it was highly questionable how Flo could pay her personal bills and the station could continue to operate. The person responsible for asking the questions and getting answers was me, IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway, five feet, two inches of chestnut-haired kick-ass in cherry-red steel-toed Doc Martens and an end-of-season-sale suit.
Nick cocked his head. "Find anything good in Flo's file?"
The file contained a meager stack of financial reports collected by the auditor who'd visited Flo Cash months before. He'd had no luck wheedling information out of the woman, and the accounting records she'd provided showed a surprising dearth of activity, to which she'd responded, according to his report, "with only a shrug." No doubt she'd be a pain in the ass. Fortunately, I was used to dealing with pains in the ass. Sons of bitches, too, as well as the occasional rat bastard and sociopath. By the time a case got kicked up to Criminal Investigations, the target had been given plenty of opportunities to come clean and pay up but had steadfastly and repeatedly refused. A stupid move on their part. Because now they had to deal with me.
I pulled Flo's W-2 from the file and held it out to Nick. "This is interesting."
He took the paper from me and looked down at it. "Twenty-one thousand dollars? That's all the radio station paid her last year?"
The station was owned and operated by the KCSH Radio Corporation, which, in turn, was wholly owned by Flo herself. She served as both the host of the Cash Flow Show and the corporation's Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operations Officer.
"Yep," I replied. "She paid herself only a few cents more than minimum wage." She'd claimed a bunch of personal exemptions, too, enough to ensure that no federal income tax was withheld. Of course she didn't have to worry about state income taxes. Texas was one of a small handful of states that imposed no state tax on personal income.
"Minimum wage?" Nick's brows drew in to form a V. "How can she live on that?"
"Good question. She inherited her house in Lakewood Heights from her father when he passed away eight years ago, so she doesn't have a mortgage to pay. But there's still annual property taxes of twelve grand, not to mention homeowner's insurance, car insurance, food, utilities, gas, and all the other normal bills people have." My own bills included my Netflix account, an inordinate amount for cat treats, and my Neiman Marcus credit card, which seemed to be perpetually maxed out. Also my recurring payment to the salsa-of-the-month club. This month's flavor had been Black Bean Mango, a surprisingly tasty combination.
"Did she inherit money, too?"
"Not much," I replied. "Her father lived to ninety-eight. Her mother had died the year before at ninety-six. They'd used up most of their funds by then for their own living expenses and care. According to the probate records, there was only a little over seven thousand dollars left in Flo's father's bank account when he passed."
"Does Flo have other income?" Nick asked. "Interest or dividends or proceeds from stock sales?"
"Only in nominal amounts. She doesn't seem to have much in the way of investments."
In other words, things didn't add up. And when things didn't add up, it was usually because someone had been playing hide-and-seek with their cash.
I pulled Flo's previous three years' tax returns from the file and showed them to Nick. "Take a look for yourself. Every year she ends up with no taxable income once her itemized deductions and personal exemption are applied."
Nick flipped through the returns, his eyes scanning the pages. "She's filed single status every year, so she doesn't have a husband footing the bills." His eyes went from the page to me. "Does she have a roommate or live-in boyfriend? Maybe a rich aunt or sugar daddy helping her out?"
Cash gifts from a family member, friend, or significant other could explain how Flo managed to stay afloat on such a small salary, yet she'd offered no such explanation to the auditor. Most people didn't like the IRS poking around in their business any more than absolutely necessary. If she'd received gifts, why hadn't she provided evidence of the gifts to the auditor and nipped this investigation in the bud?
I raised a shoulder. "Rich relative, sugar daddy, buried treasure, who knows?" Hell, maybe she'd sold her plasma or a kidney. Of course I wouldn't rest until, one way or another, I had the answer. Nick knew it, too. I was nothing if not tenacious. In most cases, the answer to how people could live beyond their apparent means was that they had a source of unreported income. People seemed to think Uncle Sam wouldn't catch up with them. They better think again.
A head topped with a strawberry-blond beehive poked itself through the doorway. The head belonged to our boss, Luella "Lu" Lobozinski, also known as "the Lobo." Lu had come of age in the sixties and had maintained her towering hairstyle ever since. Same went for her go-go boots, blue eye shadow, and false eyelashes, which, ironically, had now come back in style. Rihanna and Kim Kardashian had seen to that, no pun intended.
Lu narrowed her eyes at me and Nick. "You two better be working. I don't pay my agents to just sit around and flirt with each other, you know."
As if Nick and I didn't put in dozens of hours of overtime every year. I rolled my eyes and held up the file. "We're discussing the Flo Cash case."
"Oh. All right, then." She turned to Nick. "Any chance you can help Carl move this weekend?"
It was the curse of owning a pickup truck. Someone was always asking for help with a move. Of course Nick wouldn't mind in this instance given that it was Lu who was asking. She might be tough on us, but that's because she had high expectations and only hired agents she knew could meet her rigorous standards. She encouraged us to be our best, and she had our backs with those up the chain of command when, despite our best efforts, things went awry. We couldn't ask for a better boss. She couldn't ask for a better boyfriend, either. With his crisscrossing comb-over hair, polyester leisure suits, and shiny white buck shoes, Carl wasn't much to look at. But he more than made up for it with his personality. He was a doting, affectionate, generous man, and he treated Lu like a queen. Both of them had lost their spouses and were getting a second chance at love. It was sweet.
"Anything for you, Lu," Nick said. "You know that."
Lu had maintained Nick's office for three years, keeping it waiting for him while he'd been stuck in Mexico after a violent target identified him in an undercover investigation and Nick had been forced to play along with the guy or risk a horrific death. Yours truly smuggled Nick back across the border and helped him nail the bastard. Not to brag on myself, but I kick ass.
"How about Sunday afternoon?" Nick suggested. "I'm tied up Saturday. Tara's dragging me to her best friend's fancy wedding and I've got to be fitted for a tuxedo." He cut a wink my way. We both knew I wasn't dragging him anywhere. With many of our friends planning to attend and Alicia's parents springing for an open bar, the wedding was sure to be a lot of fun. "Besides, Tara's parents are coming in for an overnight visit."
Nick had invited my father out on his bass boat. Dad never passed up a chance to go fishing, and my mother never passed up a chance to visit her only daughter. Besides, she needed a new pair of shoes to wear to Alicia's wedding and Dallas offered far more shopping options than my small hometown of Nacogdoches in East Texas.
"Where's Carl moving to?" I asked.
"My place," the Lobo replied.
I sat bolt upright. "Did you finally accept his marriage proposal?" Carl had been hounding her for weeks, proposing time and time again. His persistence had even scared her off for a bit, though she'd missed him horribly and the two had eventually reconciled.
"No," she said. "We realized that at this age getting married would complicate things legally and financially for ourselves and our children. We'd have to redo our wills and the deeds to our houses. That would take a lot of time and cost us a small fortune." She threw up her hands. "And don't even get me started on benefits and beneficiaries and all of that mumbo jumbo."
"So you two are going to shack up?" I teased. "Live in sin?"
She snorted. "Not much sinning going on at our ages. Not that it's any of your business."
Nick chuckled and asked, "How much stuff does Carl have to move?"
"Not much," Lu said. "I've got a full house already and no need for most of it. He's just bringing his favorite chair and a desk."
"That'll work," Nick said.
"All right, then. Carry on." With that, she turned on her shiny white patent-leather heel, the fringe on the bottom of her dress swinging as she headed back to her office.
Nick retrieved his cell phone from the breast pocket of his shirt and checked the time before returning it. Pulling his feet off my desk, he stood. "I've got a conference call in fifteen minutes. I better git."
Though Nick was a senior special agent and I was still a relative rookie, our offices sat directly across the hall from each other. He had nice, sturdy furniture, though, while I had to put up with a wobbly chair and a file cabinet with sticky drawers.
I took the tax returns from Nick and gave him a two-fingered salute. "Later, gator."
While Nick returned to his office, I took a more thorough look at the KCSH corporate records. The expenses were first on my list. Only three people other than Flo had been issued W-2s by the corporation, the small staff including two young men who handled the radio station's technical tasks and an equally young woman who took care of administrative matters. Given the limited staff, the salaries account was minimal, right at $150,000 including Flo's paltry pay.
The biggest expense was for syndication fees. Flo Cash's Cash Flow Show was the only original, local show offered by the station. The remaining content included syndicated financial programs, such as the popular Dave Ramsey Show and Bull Versus Bear, a show that went into extensive up-to- the-minute detail on the stock market.
Like the house Flo had inherited, the building that housed the radio station had long since been paid off, with taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, and repairs being the only current costs. No mortgage meant no mortgage interest deduction. A minor amount of equipment was still being depreciated, and there was around five hundred dollars in office supplies expense and eighty-nine dollars in postage, but that was pretty much it as far as expenses went.
I took a look at the income next. The primary source of revenue for most TV and radio stations was advertising fees. When Flo's father had owned and managed the station, Flo had been in charge of selling ads. She'd been damn good at it, too. Back in those years the station had brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad revenue. In the years since Flo had owned the station, however, the advertising income reported by KCSH hadn't even been enough to cover the expenses, leaving the corporation with a net loss each year, the most recent being over three grand.
Of course, it wasn't necessarily unusual for a business to have a bad year or two and to even run in the red. Airlines and carmakers seemed to do it for years at a time, bank loans keeping them afloat. But such was not the case where KCSH was concerned. There was no interest expense deduction, indicating there were no outstanding loans. The accounts payable, which indicated the debts the station owed to others, had not increased appreciably, so the station didn't appear to be behind on its bills. Flo's equity account, which showed her investment in the corporation, had increased, meaning she'd put money back into the station. But given her paltry salary, where had that money come from? She appeared to have no investment accounts or other liquid assets like CDs, and the days of people hiding money in their mattresses were long gone.
Something wasn't right.
I logged on to my laptop, brought up the KCSH Web site, and clicked on the live stream icon to listen in. Flo took a call from a sixty-year-old man wondering whether he'd saved up enough to take early retirement.
"That depends," Flo said. "How long are you planning on living?"
"Well," the man said, "I don't drink or smoke —"
"So you haven't even started living," Flo shot back, following her retort with the standard drum and cymbal sound effect. Ba-da-dum. She asked him a couple more questions, finding out how much he'd saved and how much he spent per month. "Sorry, buddy," she replied. "It's too soon for you to be put out to pasture." An elongated cow sound followed. Moo-o-o-o.
The next caller was a recently divorced woman who wanted to know whether she should sell the house she'd been awarded in the property settlement. "It's got more yard than I can keep up on my own," the caller said, "but we got a really good interest rate when we bought it a few years ago, so the payments are low."
"Keep the house," Flo advised. "It's a good investment. Hire yourself a young, hot gardener who works shirtless." The advice was followed by a canned wolf whistle sound effect. Woo-wee!
Excerpted from Death, Taxes, and A Satin Garter by Diane Kelly. Copyright © 2016 Diane Kelly. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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