April, 2003

April is the cruellest month

Tax Shelters: A Countdown to April 15th

    Laura Shapiro DS 2 KassRachel TS 3 Lucy Batman 4 Destina Gladiator 5 julad DS
6 shalott SV 7 Basingstoke Brimstone 8 shalott DS 9 Speranza WW 10 Destina SG 11 shalott DS 12 Gearbox M7 (ATF)
13 shalott Discworld 14 Justine SV 15 KassRachel DS        

March, 2003

March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb

Tax Shelters: A Countdown to April 15th

2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 Stormy DS 29 Beth H. HP
30 Arduinna multifandom 31 Mama Deb TS

Writers: Basingstoke, Destina, Gearbox, julad, Justine, Kass Rachel, Laura Shapiro, Lucy, shalott, Speranza; added 3/28: Mama Deb, Arduinna, BethH., Stormy Stormheller

Fandoms: Due South (DS), The Sentinel (TS), Batman, Smallville (SV), Gladiator, Stargate (SG),     Brimstone, M7 (ATF), Discworld (Pratchett), West Wing (WW)

added 3/28: multimedia (Professionals, I Spy, Invisible Man, The Avengers), Harry Potter


"I need your help, Benny."

"Certainly, Ray. What's the nature of the case?"

"The nature of the case," said Ray, pushing past him and thumping an overstuffed manila folder onto his kitchen table, "is Raymond Vecchio versus those notorious crooks, the IRS." He bent to pick up some receipts that had fluttered to the floor, giving Fraser a pleasant view in the process.

"My knowledge of contemporary American tax law isn't what it could be, but—"

"You don't have to know anything about that. You just have to help me remember some cases. Now, let's see..." He opened the folder and pulled out a sheaf of dry cleaners' tags, all stapled together. "These cover all the suits that actually survived. But these —" he stabbed his finger at another stack, "these are the suits I had to buy to replace the ones you ruined. Okay, this first one, September fifteenth, maroon Armani jacket...that was when we first met."

Fraser smiled. "You helped me track down Gerrard."

"And got blown up for my trouble. Oh, that reminds me, here's the credit card bill with the Air Canada charges too."

Fraser's heart warmed as he looked down at Ray's financial mementos. "November seventh. I saved you from drowning."

Ray grinned at him. "You sure did, Benny, but you couldn't save my suit. Or my shoes — Hugo Boss, full of lakewater." He sucked his teeth. "Eight hundred for the suit, two-fifty for the shoes."

"Ray, are you sure these things are deductible?"

"It was in the line of duty, wasn't it?"

Fraser couldn't argue with that. Besides, it was thrilling to hear the word 'duty' in Ray's mouth. He moved closer. "Going back to November first, I see you have two charges here."

Ray gave him an affectionate glower. "First, you covered me in parasites. Then, you wrapped me in meat."

"To keep you from freezing to death." Fraser put his hand on Ray's shoulder.

"I remember," Ray leaned in, his voice low. "I also remember how the cleaners couldn't get the horsefat out of the wool."

"November twentieth?"

Ray's eyes twinkled. "Garbage chute."

"December fifth?"

"Baby barf."

"December twenty-third?"

Together, they said "Kerosene."

Fraser slid his hand to the back of Ray's head, pulling him in for a kiss that was combustible without the aid of any chemical solvents.

Forty minutes later, they rose from the table. A piece of paper was stuck to Fraser's backside.

"Oh dear. I think this invoice got a little damp —"

Ray frowned. "Oh, that's for next year's return."

Fraser made out the smudged lettering. "Now, Ray, I don't think you can get a tax write-off for the Riviera. You shot the gas tank intentionally, after all."

"This is America, Benny. My car blows up, somebody owes me." Another kiss, this one postcoitally sloppy. "In a reasonable universe, that somebody would be you."

"All my money is Canadian. Perhaps I can find another way to reimburse you."

Ray smiled magnanimously. "You can try."

—by Laura Shapiro (500 words)

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Every day Sandburg went straight for the kitchen table, picked through the mail, muttered a curse, and got himself a beer.

Some days, aftewards, he flopped down on the couch. Some days he made dinner. Once he hung out in the kitchen while Jim cooked.

As the days went by, the curses seemed more vehement. Less good-natured. One day, Jim finally asked.

"They haven't sent my 1099."


As the word left his mouth, Jim realized who Sandburg meant: Rainier. Apparently Sandburg could see the understanding dawn, because he smiled, an angry twist that bore no resemblance to his usual expression, and went on to get his beer.

"They don't have a leg to stand on," Jim said later.

Sandburg glanced at him and shrugged. "They know I don't want to call." Then he unmuted the television and returned his attention to the game.

Then one day he came home, headed for the mail, and muttered a different curse. This time when he got the beer, he took an envelope with him.

Sandburg retreated after the pizza came. He left his door open, which Jim liked; if they were both in the house with doors open, Jim could preserve the illusion that they were still spending as much time together as they used to. He sat with his book and listened to the papers rustling.

Not long later, the pen scratches stopped.  Jim angled his head slightly and zoomed vision in to read, in the reflection of Sandburg's darkened monitor, why Sandburg wasn't working.

The pen was poised over the line which read "Occupation."

Near midnight, Sandburg emerged, rolling his arms back and cracking his neck. "God, I hate this shit." When he stretched, his t-shirt rode up slightly, exposing a crescent of skin.

Jim reminded himself not to stare.

"We could've sent them to Hal," he offered. "We still can. There's time."

Sandburg shrugged. "I'm almost done." He sat down on the couch beside Jim and let his head fall back. "But man, my neck is killing me."

Apropos of nothing, a moment later, he muttered, "I need to get laid."

Jim glanced at him: faded sweatshirt, plaid pyjama pants, wool socks. "You planning to go out? In that?" Amusement in his tone, hiding the jealousy of whoever Sandburg might meet.

Sandburg grinned. "Nah, I'm too lazy. Which effectively limits my options, I realize."

"Hey, is it my fault you're a purist?"

Sandburg turned his head and stared as if Jim had grown horns.


"I'm not a purist," Sandburg said, slowly. "At least, if you mean 'purist' the way I think you do."

It was like a roller-coaster ride, the way his stomach dropped and heart soared.

A minute passed. "You're not straight," Jim said, cautiously.

Sandburg shook his head.

"I thought..." Jim's voice trailed off as the implications of this new understanding dawned.

Sandburg let his head fall back onto the couch, which was shaking slightly because Sandburg was chuckling. Then he was full-out laughing. "Are we really that dumb?"

Jim grinned; the whole world seemed lighter. "I guess we must be."

The silence was different now. Not accusatory, but promising. Sandburg's heartrate was ratcheting up. And something in the air was tantalizing. Made Jim's mouth water. When he glanced over, Sandburg shifted to take Jim's face in his hands. Strong hands.

"It's the thirteenth," Jim said, a last feeble protest. "Don't you need—"

"Fuck the taxes," Sandburg rasped, and then their mouths met, and April wasn't the cruelest month at all.

—by Kass Rachel (587 words)

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List number of dependents.  Include name, relation, age, and social security numbers.

Dependents.  He briefly considered writing "Robin, sidekick, age varies, ss # varies."  His accountants wouldn't like that.  Still, after almost 20 years of filling out the same questions every March, it was tempting.

So, dependents.  Well, he certainly contributed a great deal to Oracle's expenses, but not the majority, and besides, he somehow doubted that "hacker/communications expert/wheelchair-bound all-around resource" would go over any better in the accounting offices of Wayne Industries.

And he wasn't even going to begin to try to figure out where Dick fit in all of that.

The real trouble with a secret identity, he had discovered, was not keeping the secret.  It wasn't the police (Jim Gordon having more or less decided there were things he Didn't Need to Know) or the press (as long as Bruce Wayne provided gossip column fodder every few months, the likelihood of connection was minimal) or neighbors or even parents of sidekicks.

The real problem was the IRS.  No supervillain could match them for sheer persistence.  And of course they needed to know where every single cent of Wayne Industries money went.

And he was pretty sure that kevlar wasn't deductible.

It didn't help that even the shady connections he used to get equipment and other necessities demanded a certain level of documentation.  The last time he'd needed parts for the Batmobile had been an accounting nightmare.

"You'd better not be trying to claim me as a dependent again."

"I haven't done that since you were seventeen," Bruce said, more shortly than he had intended.  The cowl and suit had come off an hour ago, but this was the BatCave.  And tax season never put him in the best of moods.

Strong hands gripped his shoulders through the sweatshirt.  "Actually, you forgot in '98.  I got phone calls from your accountants.  They wanted to know if there had been some sort of lifestyle change on your part."

Bruce relaxed back into the hands that were taking all of the tension out of his shoulders. He wondered briefly who Dick had learned that from.   He'd learned in the circus to ease the soreness of exertion, and Batman had taught him to work cramps out of muscles in a hurry, but this, thisbliss was something new, something he'd learned in their years apart.  Bruce flashed briefly on a certain alien warrior princess, and pushed the thought away.

That became easier as lips touched his neck, just lightly enough to tease.  "When they asked, oh-so-discreetly, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  There we were, barely speaking, and they were asking...well, of course, we weren't.  Not yet."

There was no recrimination in Dick's voice, but Bruce felt a moment of guilt all the same.  There was little point in brooding over wasted years.  Of course, Dick would be the first to point out that Bruce excelled at brooding...

Bruce abruptly turned, giving a moment of thanks for his foresight in choosing swivel chairs for the cave.  He had only a moment to see Dick's grin before he pulled the younger man down into a bruising kiss.

"I thought you had to work on your taxes tonight," Dick said when they finally separated.

Bruce didn't even glance at the forms as he maneuvered the two of them to the exercise mats.  "For what I'm paying them, the IRS will wait."

—by Lucy (531 words)

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So many coins, stacked in tilted columns; their uneven edges glinted in the firelight. Cicero had never seen so much money all in the same place. He carefully straightened each stack as he counted the price of his freedom for the last time. He could not afford to make a mistake.

"Will they come to you to collect the tax?" he asked softly, aware of Maximus behind him, watching him.

"I certainly will not go to them."

Cicero tried not to smile. His master was sometimes arrogant, and the unguarded edges of a soldier's tongue could be sharp.

Maximus added, "The collectors will set a table at the edge of the encampment, where they will line up the men, strip them of their wages and call it fair tax. Rome pays her men with salt. In return, they pay her obeisance with blood and gold."

Cicero fingered the largest stack of coins. "'Tis a great deal of money."

"It's little enough. Just a small percentage of your value to me."

Value. Other words presented themselves: cost, loss. Cicero knew Maximus did not speak of value in the same way other Romans did. It was not an issue of the price he paid for his possessions, but of the worth of another human being. Cicero had long known this, even if it was not a thing they might discuss. "You pay dearly for your kindness to me."

"I have inflicted freedom upon you, Cicero, and it is no kindness. It is a privilege, one you have well-earned."

"So you have said." Cicero took up a small leather pouch and spilled the coins into it; they ran through his fingers like music, bright and fleeting, gleaming like hope.

So much to be thankful for, and yet Maximus would not listen to words of thanks. No payment in kind was possible. Cicero knelt in front of Maximus, who regarded him with a wary expression as he ordered, "Leave the pouch with my armor, where I may easily find it in the morning."

Just a few short hours until dawn, and then.... Cicero could not remember what freedom felt like. He clasped both hands around the pouch and closed his eyes. Somehow, he knew he must find his voice, to say the one thing left to say. "I pledge you my faithful service, in return for-"

"That would defeat the purpose." With rough hands, Maximus took hold of Cicero and raised him from the ground. "Once the vicesima manumissionis is paid, you need never kneel before any master again."

Cicero looked into eyes that snapped with the fire of imagined injustice. "You paid for my choice," he said, and lifted his head higher. "I will choose, then. Send me away, if that is your wish. But it is not what I choose."

Maximus pulled Cicero into a sudden, brief embrace, unexpected and fierce. Cicero listened to the even heartbeat beneath his ear, and heard the meaning of his master's refusal in its rhythm. "The true cost of freedom is sorrow," Maximus said, and Cicero knew it to be the bitter lesson of one who had paid the price.

—by Destina (525 words)


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Ray was re-stocking the drinks machine when Stella came back, breathless.

"It wasn't the pizza boy," she whispered, crouching down next to a crate of Seven-Up.  "It's the mechanic, I'm sure of it.  I found a picture of the third victim."

Ray frowned at her.  "He had an alibi.  What about his alibi?"

"Must be the accomplice, it's the oldest trick in the book."

"How do you figure— hey, Mrs. Santino, how ya doin'?"

"It's hot outside," Mrs. Santino said, flapping her elbows to get conditioned air into her thickly-forested armpits.

"Here," Stella said, offering her a Pepsi.  "Joey's on Lane Six, I think."

Ray hunkered down, pretending to adjust the springs.  "How do you figure the keys into it, then?"

"Easy," Stella whispered, eyes glowing.  "He's a mechanic.  People drive into his shop, get out of the car, and hand him—"

Ray kissed her.  "Baby, you're a friggin' genius!"

"Oh, you love birds!" Mrs. Klein cooed.  "Just like me and my Willy, at your age."

"Martha's not here yet, why don't you go get an iced tea?" Stella said, smiling sweetly.  Mrs. Klein hobbled off, and her smile turned to a grimace. "Ray, get me out of here.  One more senior citizen and I'm gonna—"

"How much did you just earn us?"

Stella tried not to look smug, but at least smug looked gorgeous on her.  "Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars."

"That's three months off, easy." Ray stood up, helping Stella, and then he dipped her till her hair brushed the dirty floor.  "Bahamas?  Caribbean?  Jamaica?"

She grinned.  "Alaska."

"Alaska?  As in, way up north? Snows a lot? That Alaska?"

"Hey.  I'm bored with five-star cruises.  I want to go on an adventure."

"When I said I'd follow you to the end of the earth, I didn't mean Alaska."

"We can stop by Ray and Fraser's," she said, insinuating one long leg between his.

"Bermuda, sure.  Tahiti, sure.  Fiji, no problem."

"Ray, I'm bored with islands.  There's nothing around here but islands."

"That's cause we're a peninsula."

Stella pouted, but at least pouting looked gorgeous on her.  "It's enough to drive a person crazy."

"That's why we're the serial killer capital of America.  But serially, folks..."  Stella glared at him and he sighed.  "Look, we got a gorgeous beachfront penthouse.  A bowling alley next to a retirement village.  A great cover for amateur sleuthing, not to mention the best tax-write off our accountant could want.  What do we need with Alaska?"

Stella slid a finger inside his collar and traced it up his neck.  "Roaring fires, fur rugs, no phones..."

"Cut that out," Mr. Coulson scowled from the bench as he tied his shoelaces.  "Just cause you're the only man in the neighborhood gettin' laid, no need to do it in front of everybody."

"Barry!" Mrs. Coulson snapped.

"We did just make a tax-free quarter million for doing our old jobs," Stella pointed out.

"I hear Hong Kong has great shopping this time of year," Ray pleaded, but Stella just smiled.

"That can be our next reward."

—by Julad (515 words)

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Note: this is a sequel of sorts to Shack #6

There went the wall again. At least he'd been expecting it this time. Clark carefully put down the tractor and flew down the hall to watch Lex climb in through the smoking, glassy edges of the hole, dusting ice from his shoulders.

"Nice of you to drop by," Clark said, forcing down a grin.

Lex smiled pleasantly, in that way that meant he was mad as hell. "Actually, I'm here about the rent."

"It's not the first of the month." Clark ignored the fact that his mouth was watering anyway.

"There's been a small problem."

"Oh?" Clark tried for innocent. He wasn't sure if he was pulling it off. It was always hard to tell, with Lex.

Lex strolled past him and down the hallway to the bedroom. Clark paused to melt some ice down over the gap in the Fortress wall before following.

"Planning to take up farming in your spare time?" Lex poked at the tractor engine.

Okay, he could play along. "It's for the Smallville 4-H club."

Lex hit him with a raised eyebrow and a smirk, then wandered over to the bed and stretched out. "Nice of you to take time out of that busy schedule of saving the world and getting in my way."

Clark gave in. "So what's the problem?"

"Oh, I think you know."

An edge of pissed-off had actually climbed into Lex's voice, and Clark had to clench his jaw muscles so hard they actually hurt to keep from losing it. "Sorry, no clue," he said, not trusting himself with more.

Lex unzipped the jacket he was wearing and took a sheaf of papers out of an inner pocket. "This might help."

Clark caught the packet and scanned through it at high speed, putting on a wide-eyed expression for Lex's benefit. "Wow. $1.5 billion, huh?" Clark reminded himself to thank the Prime Minister again.

"You know, I can't imagine how the Canadian government came up with that assessment for a piece of tundra 800 miles from the nearest town."

Except of course he could imagine perfectly well. Clark quit trying not to grin. Lex could handle being on the other end of a smug expression once in a while. "So what are you going to do?"

"Well, I could forfeit the property," Lex said, "but I think I'm going to pay it."

Clark stopped feeling smug. Lex was rich, okay, but — "You're going to pay a billion dollars in taxes? Just to keep —" He'd been going to say harassing him, but he could see from the glitter in Lex's eyes that he wasn't going to get away with that.

"My net worth went up by $20 billion last year. I can swing it. Of course," and Lex shrugged off his jacket, smiling for real now, sharp as a knife, "I'll have to pass along the higher costs to my tenant."

And then Lex pulled his tie loose, and Clark was abruptly over him, pushing him flat, wondering if maybe this was what he'd had in mind all along.

—by shalott (509 words)

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Zeke opened his eyes to find the Devil standing over him.

"Rise and shine, buttercup! It's a beautiful morning on beautiful Earth!" The Devil was dressed in a pin-stripe suit with a transparent green visor.

Zeke grunted. "Let me guess, you have another cryptic clue leading me on another wacky adventure..."

"Oh, no, no, no. You can find your next soul down the street at the corner store. No, I'm here for something much more important." The Devil smiled down at him. His eyes sparkled in a manner that was not encouraging.

"I can't even begin to imagine."  Zeke swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up. The Devil stood over him, inside his personal space.

"It's April 15th. Tax day."

"Oh." Figured. Zeke fished his money out of his pocket and flipped through it, trying to divide in his head. "What's fifteen percent of $36.27?"

"Zeke. That's Caesar's, that's not mine."

Zeke snapped his head up. The Devil smiled a little wider. He trailed one finger down Zeke's jaw line. "A pound of flesh should do it," he said.

Zeke shot backwards. "Hold on just one second—"

The Devil raised his eyebrows. His smile didn't budge.



"Work-related expenses," Zeke said, sliding out of bed on the other side. The Devil cocked his head and held up his hand; there was an abacus resting in it. "The time I almost lost my eye," Zeke said.

"Hm." The Devil knocked a bead from one side to the other.

"When I got sick with typhoid."

The Devil knocked over another bead.

"I was bitten by a snake."

One more bead.

Zeke thought, hard. "Miscellaneous bumps and bruises."

"Oh, but they don't leave a mark and barely hurt. I don't know if we can deduct that," the Devil said, shaking his head sadly.

"Well, who's the auditor here? Bend the rules a little," Zeke said, feeling ridiculous.

"The auditor? Who do you think?" The Devil looked up. Zeke glanced up automatically, seeing only ceiling. "He is the executive and the judiciary, the legislative and the bureaucratic. We are but his employees," The Devil said. He set the abacus on Zeke's dresser. "Are you ready to pay up?"

"I'm not so sure—" The Devil was suddenly in front of him. He thrust a hand into Zeke's guts.

"—uff," Zeke said, and collapsed. The Devil drew out a handful of organs, dripping with blood and bile.

"Well then." The Devil set the innards on the scales that were now atop Zeke's dresser. "Ah, we're a little over..." He pulled out a length of intestine and tossed it back to Zeke.


"There. One pound exactly. Now for the deductions." The Devil picked out a piece of organ and tossed it on top of the intestine. "Your eye."


The Devil picked out anther piece. "Typhoid."


He snipped off another bit of intestine. "Snakebite."

Zeke finally gave up and lolled across the floor—not in pain, but feeling awfully funny. Kind of like someone had scooped his guts out of his belly and not put them back.

The Devil dropped a last bit of organ on his chest. "And bumps and bruises, because I'm feeling generous."

He bent down and patted Zeke on the forehead. "Now get to work!"

Zeke gave him the finger. The Devil just chuckled.

—by Basingstoke (562 words)


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Okay, so it wasn't exactly an original idea. Good enough for Al Capone was more than good enough for Vincenzo Lombard, Carlo Stracchi, and the rest of Armando's pals. Ray kept his poker face on for the benefit of his button men while the Feds demolished his desk and carted papers away, but inside he was grinning like a loon.

It was just as well he was in a good mood. It wound up having to last him a trip to the station and four hours sitting in a holding cell with half of the made men in Las Vegas pacing and yelling around him, every one of them outlining plans for the mystery snitch that he could have done without hearing.

He sat in one of the corners and tried not to listen, bitching in grand style at anyone who got close to him, running Armando's mouth on autopilot. He wondered what Pop would say. Scratch that, he knew what Pop would say, what he'd have said to any of this. That was one voice he'd always be carrying around with him. Fraser, though. He'd stopped hearing Fraser in his head after the first couple of months. It hadn't felt right, having conversations with him in Armando Languistini's voice.

He wasn't the first to get a bail hearing, and the local cops escorting him weren't any too gentle. But when he got out of the courthouse, the car that was waiting for him had smoked windows and an agent he knew behind the wheel, and his lifeguard Milson was sitting inside.

The door thudded shut behind him, cut off the sounds of the strip, the neon lights. Ray leaned back, closed his eyes, and breathed in deep as the car moved away from the curb. The engine had been idling, and the air smelled like a downtown Chicago street in August.

"You're crazy, you know that?" Milson was putting ice in glasses. "The risks you took, you should be getting out of this city in a bodybag."

"Hey, it's done. We brought the bastards down. Just water, thanks." He took the glass and drank deep. Armando Languistini drank thirty-year-old scotch and hundred-dollar bottles of champagne. Ray felt him sloughing off like dead skin, put a hand up to his face almost expecting to feel it peeling. "You got a razor around here?"

They pulled over a few miles out of some backwater dump to get the shaving kit out of the trunk. The driver went into town to grab them some lunch, and Ray wet his face down with bottled water and took off the mustache without soap or shaving cream, squatting over the center divider and craning his head to keep his upper lip in the rearview mirror. He couldn't see his whole face at once.

He slept from there to the Salt Lake City hotel. He shaved again in front of the big bathroom mirror, with the grain, against the grain, until he couldn't feel any stubble under his hands. The fluorescents made his skin look leathery and orange and his eyes bleached grey, like he'd spent more than just three years out here in the desert sun.

He closed his eyes. "What now, Benny?" he asked softly.

Come home, Ray.

—by shalott (544 words)

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Josh sat up.  "You thought of something?"

"No."  Sam jerked away from the doorframe. "No, I didn't, I'm sorry."

Josh got up and came around the desk.  "Yeah, you did; you totally did."

"No.  No, really, I—"

"You thought of something, I can see it on your face.  Plus it's a mean thing."

"It's not a mean thing," Sam protested.

"Yeah, it is."

Sam crossed his arms and looked away, as if he were posing for the cover of his biography, Sam Seaborn and the Redemption of The American Political System.   "I don't have mean ideas—"

"Yeah, you do."

"—you have mean ideas.  I have noble ideas."

"And by noble you would mean...?"

"Nothing," Sam said slowly. "Just.  I was thinking about taxes."

"What about taxes?"

Sam put on his glasses.  "Cutting them."

"We can't cut taxes."

"I know we can't cut taxes."

"So you're thinking about how we can't cut taxes?"

"Yeah," Sam said.  "And I think we ought to take more of a public position on that."

Josh tilted his head sideways.  "Okay, so maybe you didn't get the memo on this, but—traditionally, Republicans cut taxes.  We raise them.  It's kind of a sore spot, actually."

"Which is why we should publicly deny that we're considering a tax cut."  Sam ripped his glasses off and pointed the earpiece at an imaginary reporter.  "Yes.  Allen?"  It was actually a fairly creditable impression of C.J.  "No, I have no reason to believe that the President is considering a tax cut.  No, as far as I know, it's not on the table.  There's no way we could cut taxes and still support this magnificent list of programs.  List of magnificent programs," Sam amended, pocketing his glasses. "It's the programs that are magnificent, not the list.  Never mind.  I'll work on it."

"The magnificence isn't the problem!  The problem is—wait, tell me the mean part."

Sam looked surprised.  "It's all the mean part."

"Yeah, to me!" Josh yelled, nearly jumping up and down, "like to my health and my ability to sleep, like ever again—"

"Is there a tax cut on the table?" Sam demanded.

"No!  There's no—"

"Sure there is, there is now, because the White House is denying it."  The faraway look was back.  "So we get to look like we're considering tax cuts while we're actually selling our agenda to the American public."

Josh jammed his hands into his pockets and sighed. "''Yet again,'" he chanted, "'a liberal Democratic White House is refusing to cut taxes while spending our hard-earned dollars on unnecessary programs—'"

"Magnificent.  You meant magnificent programs."

"I meant—"

"Because they are.  That money goes to help people.  That money feeds poor children, hires teachers and policemen—it's the same money, it's money for programs that people want.  Tax money is program money, it's the same money.  And we do great things with it.  We do what the American people asked us to do with it."

Josh scratched his head.  "That's pretty noble."

"Well, not really."  Sam stepped closer and lowered his voice.  "The Republicans won't challenge us to cut taxes if they think we might actually do it.  That's their one issue."  He smiled a little and added, softly: "I got the memo, Josh.  In fact, I wrote the memo."

"You want to co-opt the issue," Josh mused.

"Yeah.  They'll be apoplectic." Sam's eyes glinted.  "They won't know which way to—"

Josh grabbed Sam's face and pulled until they were nose to nose. "I love you when you're mean."


"Whatever.  Let's pitch it to Leo."

—by Speranza (597 words)

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P3X-593. P3X-797. PXR-2D2. PXC-3PO.

Daniel opened his eyes and sighed. No amount of planet-counting was going to do the trick. Generally it put him out like a light, but not this night. Not while he was shivering from the cold and separated from two members of his team. Not while a dozen armed men were outside the door.

They were supposed to be on Earth enjoying a rare day off. Jack would be mowing the lawn, making nice with the duster. Washing the car. Daniel would be edging the lawn, maybe nailing up some shelves in the garage. Things that were routine, and boring as hell, and really appealing at that particular moment.

"Daniel. You awake?" Jack's whisper from the near-darkness pulled Daniel back to reality.

"Yes." He turned his head, then turned on his side to face Jack. Their legs were still touching; body contact was an automatic motion detector, the easiest way to determine when Jack had dropped into sleep. Daniel searched for the vague outline of Jack's face.

"Dark in here," Jack said.

"How's the head?"

"Still attached." Jack shifted; there was a rustle of clothing. "You need your jacket back."

"No," Daniel said, and threw an arm across Jack's body to secure the makeshift blanket in place. "Leave it."

"It doesn't make any sense for you to-"

"Jack. Leave it." Daniel didn't move his arm. After a moment, Jack relaxed.

"So, you want to explain to me what the hell these people have against us?"

"Well. As near as I could make out, when they were questioning us..." Daniel hesitated. The locals' idea of questioning had been angry shouts and a few well-placed kicks and blows to the head when Jack tried to answer. "We violated a local law of some sort that places restrictions on how goods are paid for."

"What goods?"

"You remember that roasted bird we bartered for in the marketplace? Apparently, accepting it for even trade was a breach of etiquette, since we didn't offer up an additional item as well. Sort of, I don't know - a tax."

"So we're chicken thieves?"

"No, we're...chicken thieves charged with tax evasion."

Jack snorted. "Can we file for an extension?"

"Ah, no. Too late, I think."

"What now?"

"Don't know, exactly," Daniel said.

Jack lifted his hand and touched Daniel's face. His thumb brushed across Daniel's lips, tracing them. It was as much contact as they dared while they were on a mission; it wasn't nearly enough. "You should get some sleep," Jack said.

"Can't. You go ahead. I'll wake you in a couple hours. Got to make sure your brain's not more scrambled than it was when we got here."

"Thanks so much," Jack said dryly.

They were both quiet for a moment.

"Death and taxes," Daniel murmured.


"The only sure things in life," Daniel said. "Death and taxes."

Jack curled his fingers tightly around Daniel's. "Not if I can help it."

—by Destina (500 words)

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Ray yanked open the passenger door. "—just to make me insane, don't you?" He leaned over and unfastened the seatbelt.

Ben struggled to swing his legs out of the car. It was remarkable how difficult it was to maneuver without using his hands. "I'm sorry, Ray. I had no idea that Mr. Pilsudski and his associates would take such strong exception to my actions."

"What, you thought they were going to send you flowers? You were standing outside their door telling people they were ripping them off! Are you getting out of there or what?"

"I'm having some difficulty—"

"Yeah, no kidding." Despite his aggrieved tone, Ray slid an arm behind Ben's back and helped lever him out.

Ben leaned on Ray gratefully and let him close the car door. "You must admit, offering their clients less than half of the refund to which they were entitled —"

"Fraser, when you walk into a place with a sign on the front door containing the words cash, free, and instant, you know you're going to be taken for a ride. If somebody goes in there anyway, they're just getting what they deserve. Like some other people I could name. Where are your keys?"

"Left front pocket. Ray, are you suggesting that I deserved to be assaulted?" Ben felt vaguely offended.

Ray smirked, that was the only word for it, and turned him around to slide a hand into his pocket. "You sure they're in here?"

Ben paused. "Oh dear."

"No, wait — let me guess."

"I think they might have fallen out —"

"— while you were getting your fingers stomped on," Ray finished. "Forget it. We're not going back there at 2 in the morning." He banged on the glass. "Hey! Somebody let us in here!"

"Ray! This is a school night."

"Jesus. Only you would get the door fixed and then lose your key. Okay, give me some room." Ray knelt down and started fiddling with the lock. Ben leaned against the wall and waited. At least it was mild for March. He sighed.


"Oh, it's nothing."

The door clicked open. "It's not nothing, that was a sigh, that's something. Come on, what?"

"It simply occurred to me that I'll have some difficulty performing most of my duties this way."

Ray held the door for him. "Dragon Lady's going to have you playing statue for a couple of weeks?"

Ben followed Ray up the stairs. "Yes, I expect so."

Diefenbaker rose from the rug and whuffed softly as they came into the apartment. He trotted over to his food dish expectantly, and Ben guiltily realized he hadn't given Diefenbaker's comfort a thought all evening.

Ray glanced over from the sink. "Don't fall for it, Benny, I fed him when I dropped him off. Yeah, don't give me that look, you greedy mutt."

"Diefenbaker! Ray, I do appreciate—"

"Don't worry about it. You going to be okay? You hungry? Want something to drink?"

It never ceased to warm him when Ray dropped his usual pose of disinterest. "No, I'll be fine," Ben said softly, glad all over again for this unlikely man. "I'll just get to sleep."

Ray nodded, then hesitated, looking at him. Ben looked down and realized he was still in full uniform. "Ah. Ray, would you —"

Ray sighed. "Yeah, come here."

It was odd, being undressed by someone else. Ray's knuckles, warm, accidentally brushed the skin below his collarbone. Their eyes met.

And for the first time that night, he truly longed for the use of his hands.

—by shalott (599 words)

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They were trying not to fuck—

("Never at work," Chris had said, although he wanted Vin fiercely, had fantasized about bending him over the credenza and taking him. "Ain't never going to be a better chance," Vin had countered, smoldering as he slouched against the doorframe.  "I checked: we're the only ones on this floor.")

— when the shot rang out.

"Downstairs, IRS office."  Chris grabbed his sidearm and pushed out from his desk.

Vin was already running for the north stairwell.  One hand pulled on an ATF baseball cap. The other held his gun.

Chris was slower, limping from the wound that had him catching up on paperwork on a Saturday morning. He caught up on the stairs, where Vin instructed a woman, "Call 911, tell 'em what you told me and that ATF agents Tanner and Larrabee are on the scene."

"Gunman gone postal about his taxes," Vin explained.  The sexual tension that burned between had turned into something else, something feral.  The spark in Vin's eyes was the same, though. "A few folks are holed up, the rest ran.  Perp's by the west wall, threatening an auditor."

"He'll see the door open when we go through.  It's an open floor plan."

"Only the top. They've got 6-ft cube walls."

Chris took a breath, nodded. His leg twinged. He pulled open the door.  "Go."

Vin ran left, gun up, bent low.

Movement to the right, and Chris brought up his gun.  Civilians. He grabbed a tome from a shelf — Tax Code, what else? — propped the door open, waved them through. He limped, head down, to the right. Incessantly ringing phones covered his noise.

Peeking around a corner, Chris caught sight of the perp and hostage. A youngish man with a gun was pointing a .45 at the seated auditor.  Nearby, the shattered remains of a monitor smoked.  The perp was yelling, "You can't do this, you can't make me!"

Couldn't ask for a better straight line. Chris stepped out into the aisle, gun aimed.  "Freeze! ATF!"

The man swung around, back to the cubicle wall so he could watch cop and hostage at the same time. "Don't come any closer!"

"You're surrounded," Chris lied. "Put down your weapon."

"I'm gonna kill this tax man, he can't make me pay..."

Damn. Escalation from yelling to intent-to-murder. Chris tried to sound soothing. "No son, he can't make you pay. All he's got is a calculator. Why don't you let him go?"

Behind the gunman, Vin scrambled over a cubical wall.

"Who are you? What's ATF?"

Chris smiled, wolvish over the barrel of his Colt.  "Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms.  Tax men with guns."

At that moment, Vin popped up from the cubical behind the perp and put his gun to the man's temple. "Lay down that weapon real slow...."

The man complied. Chris sighed and walked painfully down the aisle to finish the arrest.

The police took the perp away and took their statements. Afterwards, Chris sat on a desk, waiting to reconstruct the scene.

The ringing phones finally, finally, stopped. Vin emerged from a wiring closet.

"Thanks," Chris said, suddenly feeling the adrenaline flooding his bloodstream. Vin sauntered over, long-legged and wicked, face flushed from his own adrenaline rush.

"You owe me."

The area was cordoned off, the offices shut down until the evidence crew arrived. They had a moment of near-privacy. Chris said, "I'll pay. In my office."

Vin grinned and reached out to help him up.  Chris pulled himself up to standing, and then leaned in close, their hands still clasped, their eyes glittering.

—by Gearbox (599 words)

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Rimble Patterswot lay on his back in the alley behind his shop and stared up at the sky. He wasn't feeling particularly well, the result of a hasty parting between his stomach and the knives of the Patrician's tax collectors. He'd been working up to giving in and opening up the till, too, and then the guards had been called away to deal with some Klatchian who thought being from a foreign country exempted him from taxation. Abandoned for a tourist! It was a disgrace. He tried to say this out loud, but it came out more as a whimper.


The voice didn't bother traveling through his eardrums to get inside his head. Rimble stared at its owner and screamed, or rather gurgled a bit, and squeezed his eyes shut.


EXCUSE ME. I'M NOT QUITE FINISHED WITH HIM YET. The second voice was almost exactly like the first one, except for being entirely different.











After a few minutes, a horrible sound like dice rattling around in a cup began.



The second voice was obstinate. IT'S NOT MY FAULT YOU GOT HERE EARLY.

The awful rattling noise began again. Rimble had the sinking sensation that he was going to open his eyes to see what it was. He was quite sure it was a bad idea, and also quite sure he was going to do it anyway. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes.



Rimble stood up. He didn't feel any more pain. "Oh, that's not so bad, then," he said, surprised. The next moment, he had faded away entirely.

Death hooked his scythe back onto the saddle and mounted. He looked down at the grey-robed figure standing with folded arms over Rimble's mortal remains. There was something he was supposed to do now, wasn't there? Oh, yes. I AM GOING NOW. HAVE A NICE DAY.


Death paused, not sure how to respond. SORRY?




Death would have blinked, if that had been possible. I DON'T THINK THEY SEE IT THAT WAY.


I HAVE TO LEAVE NOW, Death said, a little desperately.



FINE! LEAVE THEN! Taxes glared down at the merchant's body as the pale horse trotted off. It really wasn't fair.

Well, at least there was always the estate tax.

—by shalott (598 words)

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"What's so hard about it?" Clark's teasing him. "Fill out the forms, send them in, get it over with." He's out of place in the Talon, but then, Clark Kent is out of place everywhere. Tall, ungainly, inhumanly pretty.

"You know," Lex tells him, "I hate when you're disingenuous on purpose."

Clark looks like he's about to offer up that coy who, me? smile, but he smiles ruefully instead, acknowledging the point. "How long does it take you?"

"Not very long. I have accountants. They're very good at this sort of thing. They'd better be, for what I'm paying them." He picks up the inch-thick pile. "This is just returns on investments and acknowledgment of donations. It can take weeks to do the whole return properly."

"But you check everything yourself."

"Of course. Trust no one, Clark."

Clark grows quiet at this, offering one of those looks. As if he hopes to hear the right answer next time, because Lex's grade is getting low.  "Of course."

Passive-aggressive little shit. Clark's staring into his coffee mug like Lex just kicked his puppy. He knows he should say is that all?  or I'm busy, but the numbers are swimming and have stopped making any sense.

"What?" he asks, unable to ignore Clark. "Don't tell me. You want me to trust my accountants." Lex grins at him, projecting healthy skepticism. Setting an example.

He gets a weak smile in response. "I want you to trust somebody," Clark says, and he sounds a little desperate, a breathiness in his voice Lex would like to believe in.

And can't. "What? Like you?"

"Would it be so horrible?" Clark asks. "If you did?"

It's a fair question. Lex considers it, considers Clark's too-guileless eyes and his beautiful, lying mouth. Tries to predict the repercussions of trusting a serpent at his breast. The calculations are far more complex than anything his accountants could do.

It's too much. He doesn't want to think about how much he wants Clark, wants him utterly, wants his secrets and his truth, wants to crawl inside his skin, wants to fuck and touch and own him.

Lex throws his papers into his briefcase, instead, leaves half his coffee on the table, walks away without answering Clark. He knows that Clark will be too close on his heels in a half-minute, and there he is, too close, too fast, and why does he hide it? Half the kids in this town are mutants— what's Clark got to be afraid of?

"Lex." No regard for personal space. He's stepping on Lex's heels. How appropriate.

"Get off me," he says, angry and not about to hide it. Not from Clark, who claims he can take it.

"No," says Clark, grabbing him and spinning him around, and Lex has to catch his breath in shock, or awareness, or need. That Clark would stand up to him like that. That he's matching Lex's anger with his own — with narrowed eyes and a bruising hand on Lex's arm.

God, if only. They were perfectly matched; it would be incredible. They would break down and build over; they could remake the world. So much possibility. If only.

"Did I hit you with the car, Clark?" Lex grates out, and Clark knows —it's in his eyes — that this is the dealbreaker. Lex can almost hear the space between them chilling, the sound of Clark's armor rising up around all that warm, flawless skin.

He wishes to god that Clark could figure out a way around this. A way to answer him that isn't a lie.

—by Justine (599 words)


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I figured it out a few days after we caught Ellery, my second week of being Vecchio.

Sure, I'd already noticed Fraser was hot.  Hadn't been getting much of a vibe from him, though.  Until I asked if he found me attractive—you know, just needling the guy a little—and there was something new in his voice.  Sounded a little awkward, a little strained.  Turned my crank.  Took me the longest damn time to figure out what made him sound different: I had my freaking glasses on.

You can bet your ass I took advantage of that, later.  Used 'em like bait, the first time.

Once he figured out it was okay to be interested—that clue phone rang midway through the first kiss—I didn't need help catching his eye.  Thank God; my glasses suck.  After all the teasing and shit I had to deal with in school, I do not want any reason to wear them except when I have to aim.  Fortunately Fraser has some kind of survival thing which means he doesn't think about sex while we're in danger.  By the time his libido comes back online, the glasses are back in my pocket.  Where they belong.

So it's April 13th and I'm on the sofa, working on two sets of taxes.  Because of course Vecchio can't fill this shit out from wherever the hell he's undercover, and all my paychecks have his name on 'em, so I have to fill out Vecchio taxes—but I can't just stop filing my own taxes, either.  Welsh swears to God the IRS isn't going to give me shit about my unexplained lack of income, but I'm still not happy.  Twice the paperwork.  Which makes my head hurt.  So I have to whip out the glasses.

Fraser's in the kitchen finishing the dishes.  Why we can't eat takeout on paper plates is beyond me.

I don't hear the water shut off, that's how far up my ass my head is.  The IRS don't write in English.

Next thing I know his mouth is on the back of my neck.  Gentle, at first, but then the teeth come out.

"Hey," I say.  "I'm working." And he pulls away, and part of me's a little sorry, but I've gotta get these things finished, we can fuck later.

I've managed to read another sentence and a half when his body pushes my knees apart.  He's kneeling on the floor.  Hands on my thighs.  Breathing through my jeans, right onto my dick, which wakes up pretty much instantly.  To hell with the taxes, Fraser's sucking me through my pants.

 I drop the papers and they slide off his back all over the floor.  He doesn't seem to notice.  He's popping the buttons on my fly, tugging, and I'm lifting my hips, and then I'm in his mouth.  Holy Jesus.  Every single time it blows my mind, there has never been anything this good, nothing, ever, like Benton Fraser's mouth around my dick.

It doesn't take me long.  He slides onto the sofa next to me, and I manage to work his jeans open, and I'm reaching for my glasses to put them on the table so I can really grind my face into his crotch.  And he stops me.  A little hoarse, like always when he knows he's about to get a blowjob.  "No," he says.  "Leave them on."

So I do.  When he comes, he actually makes some noise.  Groans my name so loud Dief probably hears.

Y'know, maybe the glasses aren't so bad.

—by Kass Rachel (599 words)

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31 March

"Work, damn you, work!" Blair grabbed at his hair, pulling strands out of the ponytail to hang around his face. He pushed them back over his ears, and returned to his laptop.

Jim had to grin as he watched from the kitchen. "Program not working?"

"Life was so much easier before I started getting a paycheck. University did all the hard work. Stupid software." He banged the table next to the computer, making his coffee cup jump. "God. Deductions and expenses and I'll bet if I get anything back at all, it'll be less than this cost." He took a gulp of coffee and made a face. "Tell me again why I got it?"

"Because you thought it would be cool." Jim walked to the table, coffee pot in hand. He carefully refilled the cup, leaving a good inch or so to allow for tantrums. "Since you had actual income to report this year, you figured why not get a tax program and do it yourself, and not deal with accountants prying into everything." He bent over the screen. "What's the problem?" He used the proximity as an excuse to touch Blair's shoulder. Blair smelled like coffee and frustration.

"I can't get this thing to install...oh. There it is." He leaned back against Jim. "Thank God." He sat up and opened the file next to the computer. Jim turned to go back to the kitchen.

"No! Stay. You're good luck. Stay right there." Jim complied, keeping a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Why don't you do any of this? I mean, look at these questions - mortgages, uniforms, expenses, and you told me what your grandparents left you. You should be drowning in tax forms." Blair quickly keyed in the relevant information. "Oh, cool! I can deduct the program itself!"

Jim didn't want to answer. He wanted to lose himself in standing next to his partner, and he really didn't want to talk about his finances. He put down the coffee pot and started rubbing Blair's shoulders, enjoying the play of muscle beneath his hands. He felt them relax at his touch. "That's what accountants are for, Chief. They get the paperwork, and I pay them...they could do yours, too."

Blair tensed under his hands. "No way, man. I can't afford an accountant." He pressed a few more keys. "There. I think that did it. Refund!" The number on the screen barely held three digits. "Want to go out to dinner to celebrate, Jim?"

"I guess you don't need the accountants after all." Jim smiled and bent to kiss his forehead. "Where do you want to go?"

Blair stood up and turned to wrap his arms around Jim. "I guess it's not a huge deal for you, but doing this alone - it's like a rite of passage. My first year as a non-student, you know?"

"Yeah. I know." He bent his head down to meet Blair's lips. "Why don't we just stay in tonight?"

"I love you, too." Blair smiled.

—by Mama Deb (500 words)

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30 March

"Yeah, yeah, okay, so I did a multi-media, elves, taxes, canadian shack, under-600-word story." —Arduinna. 

(Ed. Note:  A glossary is provided below.")

Cheese sighed. Loudly.

Chalk never even looked up. "Leave off, mate. The boss said we're the only ones could do this, and we were to have some peace and quiet for it. It's not easy, you know, trying to figure out 40-odd years of taxes for two different countries! We don't have time for a quick shag in front of the fire."

Cheese looked longingly at the pitiful excuse for a fire, thinking what a couple of blankets and a nicely naked Chalk could do to liven it up. "You sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure." Chalk drooped all over, even his ears seeming to point downward. "I've been going through these, and they're in awful shape. Steed never paid a farthing's worth of tax in his life, and he's spending his pension like it's water. Scott, here, paid his taxes all along, but it looks like Robinson kept siphoning his off to support old girlfriends. Still, he's not so bad off; Scott took him in after they retired, they've been sharing quarters."

"Oh?" Cheese said, perking up for the first time.

"Don't you be making assumptions, lad," Chalk said, shaking a severe finger at him. "Not everyone's like us, you know."

"Spoilsport," Cheese muttered. "Okay, go on, who else, then?"

"Ah, it's endless," Chalk said, flinging papers down in his frustration. "Only one out of five ever seems to have even thought of paying taxes, and half of them thought about it and then decided against it, from what I can tell. Every secret agency in Britain and America is about to be done for tax fraud, if we don't get this mess sorted out. And the boss could only buy us 48 hours outside Time to do it in. It's hopeless, Cheese, even for us."

Cheese frowned at him, not liking this new Chalk. "If the boss thinks we can do it, we can do it," he said firmly. "Come on then, who's next? What about our Bodie and Doyle? Mr Cowley wouldn't let them get away with not paying their taxes, surely?"

"You'd think not. But he left it up to them, and they never bothered. Spent it all on other things. The Cow just found out about it — someone at Inland Revenue tipped him off that most of his lads were being investigated on a matter of back taxes owed, and bob's your uncle, the Cow's on the phone to every agency head he can think of, then the North Pole to call in a favor."

"And that would be — "

"Us, yeah."

Cheese looked around the rather rickety shack and sighed again. At least Canada was a bit warmer.

Chalk pulled out the most recent stack of papers, if Cheese was reading the color-coding right. "It just keeps getting worse. Here, look — Hobbes thinks he's paying his taxes, like the law-abiding citizen that he is, but Fawkes has siphoned off the entire Agency's taxes into a  numbered account in the Caymans."

Both elves stared glumly at the towering stacks of paper, all with the same stories to tell, then looked at each other.

"So," Cheese said brightly. "Shag by the fire, then?"

"Shag it is," Chalk agreed. "Sod 'em all. I'm on holiday, I am."

—by Arduinna (540 words)

Glossary:   *Chalk & Cheese: Christmas elves, invented by Dorinda for CI5, the Professionals mailing list;  *Steed: The Avengers ;  *Scott & Robinson: I Spy; *Bodie & Doyle, Cowley: The Professionals;  *Fawkes & Hobbes: Invisible Man

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29 March

Harry Potter and the Tax Seminar of Doom

Edna Winston gave her long-yellowed seminar notes a final, cursory glance, then looked up at the men and women who had assembled for the Fictional Characters Association's thirty-second annual Tax Workshop. "All right, ladies and gentlemen, . . . ."


"Terribly sorry, Mr. . . . Lupin, is it? Ladies, gentlemen, and werewolves, I'd like to welcome you on behalf of your union to this year's special session for British Fictional Characters who are inexplicably forced to pay U.S. taxes.  As always, coffee, tea, and pumpkin juice is available at the back of the hall. Now, I thought we'd begin this year's workshop with a brief Question and Answer period, so if any of you have any . . . ."

"Dependent children," interrupted a tall, imposing figure in black. "How many of the insufferable brats am I allowed to claim on this year's return? Ouch!"

"Don't you dare refer to either of us as 'dependent children,' Severus Snape," snapped the brown-haired girl sitting to his left, as she prodded him sharply in the ribs with her wand. "You know full well that by the time either of us have enough of a 'relationship' with you for you to claim us as anything, we'll already be adults."

"Well, actually, Hermione . . . "

"Do shut up, Harry," she hissed. " Do you want us to be inundated with Cease and Desist orders . . .again?"

"Oh, right. Sorry."

The dark-robed wizard glowered at his two charges, then turned his glare to Miss Winston. "As I was saying, will I, in fact, be able to claim either or both of them as dependents, or will they continue to be valueless thorns in my side for the foreseeable future?"

Harry shook his head and muttered, "Thorn in his side. That's not what he was saying last night. Thorn. Hah! And it damned well wasn't in his . . . side."

Miss Winston looked down at her notes. "No, I'm sorry, Professor Snape. To satisfy the authorities, both children, would, in fact, have to be your legal dependents at the time of filing. All right, who's next? Perhaps the red-headed gentleman in the back row?"

"Bill Weasley, ma'am."

Miss Winston sighed. "Ah, yes, Mr. Weasley. I remember you from last year and the year before that. The answer's never going to change. Next? Headmaster Dumbledore, isn't it?"

"Indeed it is, Miss Winston," he replied, his eyes twinkling merrily over his half-moon glasses, as was expected of him in all but the most dire of circumstances. He sighed, and the twinkle faded from his eyes. "Although it pains me to raise this question, I'm afraid we shall all soon have need to know whether social security survivor benefits are considered taxable income."

"Oh dear." She thumbed through her notes for a moment, then turned back to the Hogwarts headmaster with a frown. "Has there . . . I don't seem to have any record of . . . right, I'll just ask then, shall I? Has there been . . . a recent death about which I have yet to be informed?"

"Oh, no indeed, my dear," Albus assured her. "Or rather, not yet. Alas, Sibyl Trelawney has had a vision that the fifth book promises to be less than kind where one as-yet-unknown member of our happy association is concerned."

"Ah! The fifth book, is it? Well, Headmaster, as The Order of the Phoenix won't be released until June 21st, all questions of survivors benefits will need to be deferred until next year's filing."

Albus beamed. "Thank you, my dear, for clearing that up."

"You're very welcome, Headmaster." She scanned the room. "The big black dog with its paw raised in the . .. oh, terribly sorry, Mr. Black. You didn't look yourself for a moment."

"Think nothing of it, Miss Winston. Now . . . I believe I may have asked this question once or twice in previous years, but . . . it's about the issue of joint filing."

Miss Winston sighed. "Mr. Black, I have twelve years worth of inquiries from Azkaban in my files, but I'm afraid the answer is still no. Until the marriage laws change, you and Mr. Lupin must continue to file separate tax returns."

"But the wizarding world . . . ."

"For Merlin's sake, Mr. Black!" Exasperation was clear in her voice. "You're not a stupid man. You know full well that the laws of the wizarding world aren't relevant when it comes to paying U.S. taxes."

A familiar hand darted up from the left side of the room.

"No, no, no! Moving to a different part of the room and transfiguring yourself to look like a goblin is all very well and good, but no matter how often you ask, Mr. Weasley, it will make no difference. You will just have to inform your employers at Gringotts that they are going to incur great financial penalties once again if they insist on paying their corporate taxes in knuts, sickles, and galleons."

"Honestly, what is wrong with you people . . . um . . . you people and other things? Don't any of you remember the words of your very own 'Wizard of Electricity' - Benjamin Franklin - who said 'Nothing is certain but death and taxes?'"

"That is a lie!" hissed He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named from the back of Miss Winston's head.

Miss Winston scowled. "I'll thank you not to interfere when I'm working, Tom." She slipped the silk scarf from her neck and fastened it tightly around her head, muffling the words of her unwelcome companion.

"Ladies and gentlemen . . . death may not be certain, but taxes most assuredly are. I think this is a good time to take a short break, after which will be the first of our guest lectures, entitled "Harsh New Penalties for Late Filing" which will be presented by Mr. A. Dementor."

—by Beth H.

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28 March

April Thirtieth

"Ray. Ray. Ray? Ray!"

"What?" Ray landed behind the dumpster with a muted plunk, struggling to wipe the rain from his glasses and reload his gun simultaneously. He succeeded, astounding himself.

"What, Fraser? What? I'm kinda busy over here." He sent two more shots in rapid succession around the sheltering corner, hearing first the clang of metal on metal, then a satisfying squish-thud coupled with a yelp. Then moaning. One down.

"Did you happen to look through the mail today?" Glint of polished brass against sodden scarlet as Fraser banked off a retired bicycle wheel to lever his way to the top of the dumpster, the lid of which he'd mistakenly believed to be closed. Ray heard the gentle plop of Mountie landing on bags of garbage. At least, he hoped it was bagged.

Another soft plop in the shadowed interior as Ray joined his fallen comrade. "The mail? Did I check the mail? You're a freak. You do know that, right?" Toddling the few unsteady steps to the far side, Ray-in-the-box jumped up and delivered another couple of rounds into the night.

"My foot! My foot! Goddamn bastard shot me in the foot!"

Two down, one to go. Ray hunkered against chilly metal, panting like Dief in July. "Yeah. Mail. There was something for you. A brown envelope. From... Canadian Traditions and Review. You waiting on something?"

Fraser was sifting through bag after bag of nastiness. More dry cleaning bills. Greatness. Maybe they could write 'em off.

"Would you, by any chance, mean Canada Customs and Revenue Agency?"

"Maybe...that the place you get your weird Canadian rituals and annual subscription to 'Inuit Story Gazette'?"

Despite dumpster-darkness, Ray felt mighty sure an eyebrow was being groomed. "That would be the Canadian equivalent of your Internal Revenue Service. Or 'I-R-S'." Ray's eyes had adjusted to the lack of light enough for him to see Fraser enact those annoying little finger-quotes. Ray feared he might have to shoot Fraser as well as the baddies. "I'm waiting for my tax forms, Ray. They're due April thirtieth."

"Yeah. Don't wanna piss off the Queen or anything. Gotta pay those tithings."

Fraser-silence. Gotcha! Score one for Ray and his word-a-day calendar.

Or maybe Fraser was listening to the sounds outside. Or lack of. Okay. Quiet in the dumpster good; quiet in the bad-guy areas, not so good. What're they up to? And, wham, a dripping gun-hand-wrist-sleeve appeared over the edge of the dumpster, haloed by sickly streetlight. Instantly, some sort of nunchuk-like contraption crashed down on the disembodied arm with just the right sort of crunch. A streak of lightning revealed Fraser brandishing a pair of dead toasters knotted together by frayed electrical cords.

"You always wanted a bola."

"Right you are, Ray." Fraser's smile reflected multi-coloured neon as he twirled the impromptu device overhead, looking like the addlepated ringmaster of a breakfast-themed circus. It might have made a satisfying swooshing sound, but it couldn't be heard over moans and cries of "My wrist!" "My foot!" And just "Ooohhhh."

Three down. Let's go.

Backup. Paramedics. Welsh. Reporters. Fraser and Ray sniffed and quickly granted permission to go home, clean up and email their arrest reports... only to find the Goat had been towed.

"Well, I did mention the 'no parking' zone when we stopped here."

"Fraser. We were being pursued by criminals, in case you don't recall. I parked where I could park and still be alive to own a car." He ran a sopping sleeve across his nose audibly, squinting at the spot where his car had been. "We'll just get a cab."

"I'm not sure we will get a taxi on a night like this, Ray. There doesn't seem to be much vehicular traffic in this part of town at present."

"Oh, c'mon, Fraser, we'll get one no problem. You know what they say."

"And that would be...?"

"There's only two sure things in life... death and taxis."

 —by Stormy Stormheller (660 words)

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