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Death, Taxes, and Extra-Hold Hairspray, July 2012
Death and Taxes #3
by Diane Kelly

St. Martin's Press
Featuring: Tara Holloway; Nick Pratt; Brett Ellington
320 pages
ISBN: 0312551282
EAN: 9780312551285
Kindle: B007FU84E2
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
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Fresh Fiction Review

"Hilarious tale of IRS agent up against a southern militia group as well as a megachurch pastor"

Death, Taxes, and Extra-Hold Hairspray
Diane Kelly

Reviewed by Patricia Woodside
Posted October 10, 2012

Romance Suspense

IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway has her hands full. If it's not the backwoods militants who threaten her safety or the megachurch pastor who is using his church like a personal ATM, then it's the sticky extra-hold hairspray that her boss favors for her pink beehive.

Tara Holloway is funny. DEATH, TAXES AND EXTRA-HOLD HAIRSPRAY is even funnier. The chuckles kept coming as Tara grappled with these two prickly cases with the help of another special agent, Nick, who's got both the pastor and Tara in his sights.

Doesn't seem as though a tax attorney should be quite as witty as author Diane Kelly. Then again, I'm guessing Kelly either finds a lot funny in the course of her day job or uses humor to escape its boredom. Either way, readers are the beneficiaries of a quick-witted heroine whose dry wit makes her laughable escapades more delightful. Caught between the boyfriend she can count on and the co-worker she's attracted to, Tara must navigate the shark-infested waters of her personal life as skillfully and doggedly as she does her tax cases.

I'm not sure how many books are in the Death and Taxes series, but I'll definitely be back for more. I haven't laughed this much while reading in a long time.

Learn more about Death, Taxes, and Extra-Hold Hairspray

SUMMARY

IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway is hard at work again. This time, she's after Noah Fischer, the charismatic minister of a Dallas mega church known as The Ark. While the pastor may not worship a golden calf, he's milking the church like his personal cash cow, financing his luxurious home, designer wardrobe, and lavish vacations via the church's collection plate. Despite repeated requests for the taxes due, Fischer has yet to render unto Caesar.

As if dealing with an uncooperative preacher and his extensive legal team isn't bad enough, Tara's also pursuing the vice-president of The Republic of Texas, a militant separatist group purporting to operate its own sovereign nation. August Buchmeyer hasn't paid taxes since Ronald Reagan was in the White House and is none too happy when Tara comes to collect.

Tara's usual partner, Eddie, has been temporarily promoted to head the Dallas Criminal Investigations office while their boss, Lu Lobozinski, undergoes treatment for lung cancer. Unfortunately, the chemotherapy reduces Lu's signature eight-inch strawberry-blond beehive to pitiful peach fuzz. Even Lu's Chinese contraband extra-hold hairspray isn't enough to give her thinning hair its customary height and attitude. Tara vows to find Lu a wig just like her usual updo, but it's not easy to find a beehive wig these days, let alone one in Lu's unique pinkish-orange color.

To make matters worse, Tara's boyfriend, Brett, has gone to Atlanta for business, leaving her vulnerable to the charms of Nick Pratt, another special agent assigned to assist her on the Ark and Republic of Texas cases.

Tara's life has become a hopelessly tangled mess. Can she find a way out of these hairy situations?p

Excerpt

Chapter One
This is what Happens When Rednecks have too Much Time on Their Hands

"Damn." I dropped the phone back into its cradle on my desk. I needed help on a case, but it seemed no one was available this afternoon. I'd called every special agent in the Dallas IRS Criminal Investigations office.

Make that every special agent but one.

That one sat directly across the hall, his cowboy boots propped on his desk, his right hand rhythmically squeezing a blue stress ball as he eyed me. I sat at my desk, pretending not to notice.

Why didn't I want Nick Pratt working on this case with me? Because the guy had whiskey-colored eyes that drank a girl in, an ass you could bounce a quarter off, and more sex appeal than George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Johnny Depp combined. I realize these factors might all sounds like reasons to want to work with him. Problem was, I was in a committed relationship with a wonderful guy and, despite that fact, wasn't entirely sure I could resist temptation.

Better not put myself to the test, right?

My usual partner, Eddie Bardin, had received an unexpected temporary promotion to Acting Director three weeks ago when doctors found a spot on the right lung of our boss, Lu Lobozinski. Lu had taken time off for her chemotherapy treatments and recovery, appointing Eddie to take her place until she was able to return.

Eddie's promotion left me to handle a buttload of cases on my own. And not just any old buttload, but cases that had been purposely put on the back burner for years because each case was guaranteed to be a major pain in the ass.

One of the biggest of these cases involved an eighty-three-year old chicken rancher who'd served seven consecutive terms as vice president of a radical secessionist group. Another involved a popular, charismatic preacher who financed a lavish lifestyle via his congregants' tax-deductible donations to his mega-church. It was almost enough to send me back to my boring old job at the CPA firm.

But not quite.

The phone on my desk rang. The caller readout displayed the name N PRATT.

Dang. No way could I ignore the guy now. It would be too obvious.

I looked across the hall as I picked up the phone. Nick looked back at me, one thick brown brow raised. How the guy could look so damn sexy in a plain white dress shirt and basic tan slacks was beyond me. Maybe it was the oversized gold horseshoe-shaped belt buckle that did it, drawing attention to his nether regions like a flashing neon sign that said wanna get lucky?

"Big Bob's Bait Bucket," I said in my best southern twang. "We got whatcha need if whatcha need is worms."

You got me. I'm a bit of a smart ass. But I had spent two summers in high school working for Big Bob. Minimum wage plus all the free nightcrawlers I I wanted. Which was none.

Nick shot me a pointed look across the hall. "Why haven't you asked me up to help you?"

Because you make my girlie parts quiver in a very unprofessional manner. But I couldn't very well tell him that now, could I? Better think quick, Tara. "You looked . . . um . . . " Gorgeous? Sexy as hell? Absolutely boinkable? I went with "busy."

He grinned, flashing his chipped tooth, an imperfection that somehow only added to his primal appeal. "I fake it pretty good, don't I? That's how I got fast-tracked to senior special agent."

Nick's career as a special agent with the IRS had indeed been meteoric, at least until three years ago when he'd been forced to flee the country or die at the hands of Marcos Mendoza, a violent, money-laundering tax cheat.

Lucky for Nick, Lu had later assigned me and Eddie to renew the case against Mendoza.

After the creep threatened Eddie and his family, I'd smuggled Nick back into the U.S. and the two of us had brought Mendoza to his knees. Literally. Hard for the man to stay standing after I'd shot off his left testicle. I'd considered taking the gonad to a taxidermist for mounting, but I doubted my mother would let me hang it over the fireplace back home next to Dad's sixteen-point trophy buck.

Nick sat up at his desk, his expression serious now. "You gave me my life back, Tara. I'll never be too busy for you."

Nick was directly offering to help me out. No girl in her right mind could say no to that, even if she had been avoiding him. There's only so much willpower to go around. I hung up the phone. "Saddle up, cowboy," I called across the hall as I stood and grabbed my purse. "We've got a chicken farmer to check in on."

#

We snagged a car from the Treasury's fleet and drove for what seemed an eternity through flat, dry country. The radio was tuned to a country station to combat our boredom and the air conditioner turned on full blast to combat the outdoor temperature, which had topped out at one-hundred and three. That's August in north Texas. Brutal.

Nick had brought his stress ball with him and manipulated it in his right hand, slowly turning it and squeezing. His movements were oddly sensual and had me wondering how his hands might feel squeezing certain parts of me.

Splat.

We drove past a farmer driving a green John Deere tractor though a field, kicking up dust and scattering insects, most of which veered on a suicidal path toward the windshield of the car. I was glad I wasn't driving my precious red convertible BMW out here.

Splat.

Splat-splat.

Splat.

A colorful assortment of bug guts now decorated the windshield like miniature Rorschach ink-blot tests. One of the spots looked vaguely like our boss, who'd sported a towering strawberry-blond beehive since the sixties. Her hairdo had to be at least eight-inches tall, held together by a thorough coating of extra-hold hairspray.

I pointed at the pinkish goo. "What's that look like to you?"

Nick squinted at the glass. "The Lobo."

"My thought exactly."

Nick glanced my way and my crotch clenched reflexively. He always looked hot, but he was especially attractive at the moment. He'd topped his stylishly shaggy brown hair with the white felt Stetson I'd bought him shortly after sneaking him back out of Mexico. Yep, I'd always had a soft spot for cowboys. Make that two soft spots--one spot was metaphorical, the other was between my thighs.

Nick flashed a mischievous grin. "You know what's the last thing to go through a bug's mind when he hits your windshield?"

I shrugged.

"His asshole."

I rolled my eyes and pulled to a stop behind another white government-issue sedan parked by a rusty gate. "Here we are. The middle of BFE."

A spray-painted plywood sign affixed to the barbed-wire fence read "Property of the Republic of Texas. Trespassers will be violated."

Nick groaned. "You didn't tell me we'd be dealing with idiots."

"You didn't ask," I said. "And need I remind you that you volunteered for this assignment?"

"Next time I'll ask for more details before I commit," he muttered.

The Republic of Texas was a separatist group, a bunch of anti-government loonies who referred to themselves as "Texians" and operated an unofficial sovereign state. For such a small organization they'd proved to be a huge pain in the ass. The group had issued numerous bogus court summons and filed frivolous lawsuits with both the Supreme Court of Texas and the International Court of Justice at the Hague, challenging the annexation of Texas in 1845 by the United States. That's what happens when rednecks have too much time on their hands.

After shootouts between federal agents and armed extremists in Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas, the government had received a lot of flack, virtually all of it from whack jobs and nearly all of it undue. There's no clean way to take down these types of people. They don't exactly think and act reasonably.

Government agencies had learned to be extra careful in handling interactions with members of such groups. In 1997, state troopers had negotiated a surrender with Richard McLaren, the former leader of the Republic of Texas, after he'd been accused of fraud and kidnapping. Still, two of the group's members had refused to cooperate and one of them had been shot dead after they'd opened fire on a police helicopter.

Thus, despite the fact that August and Betty Buchmeyer hadn't filed a tax return since Ronald and Nancy Reagan were bumping uglies in the White House, Lu had made a strategic decision not to arrest the couple. Rather, she'd instructed me only to see what we could collect from the elderly deadbeats, perhaps make an example of them to the dozen or steadfast Texians who stubbornly stuck to their beliefs.

Collections work was boring as hell, essentially standing guard while staff from the collections department seized any non-exempt assets. While most tax evaders cursed and glared, others moaned and sobbed, lamenting the loss of their RV's, their collection of mink coats, their limited-edition prints. But sheez, by the time it got to that point they'd been given ample opportunity to make payment arrangements and had stubbornly refused. It wouldn't be fair to honest, hardworking taxpayers to let scoff laws off the hook.

So here we were.

Nick and I climbed out of the car. The intense mid-summer heat caused an instant sweat to break out on my skin. Nick shrugged into his bulletproof vest and a navy sport coat. I slipped my protective vest on over my white cotton blouse and secured my gun in my hip holster, covering them both with a lightweight yellow blazer. Standard precautions. After all, it wasn't likely a couple of octogenarians would put up a fight. Right?

A hundred feet inside the gate sat a weather-beaten blue single-wide trailer in a thick patch of weeds. The house stood slightly cock-eyed from settling unevenly into the reddish soil. The metal skirting had pulled away in places and there was no telling what manner of vermin had made a home under the structure. An enormous, outdated satellite dish mounted on a sturdy five-foot pole stood between the trailer and a lone, misshapen mesquite tree that struggled for life in the bare, dry dirt. An ancient pickup with faded two-tone brown paint sat on the far side of the dirt driveway. Two rusted tractors, a dented horse trailer, and a broken-down trampoline, its springs long since sprung, littered the yard.

Fifty yards beyond the house stood a series of long metal barns. The hot breeze blew toward us, carrying with it the faint sounds of clucking and the stench of bird poop. Over it all flew the Burnet flag, an azure background with a single gold star in the middle, the last flag flown over Texas when it was still an independent country.

Nick gave a whistle. "Boy howdy. This is quite the presidential palace."

"Buchmeyer's only the VP," I corrected.

"Whatever. It's still a dump."

No correction needed there.

The collections agent stepped out of her car and met us on the asphalt. She was slender, fortyish, with curly black hair. She wore a floral-print dress with sensible flats, and introduced herself as Jane Jenkins.

"This shouldn't take long," Jenkins said. "I'm not expecting to find much. Other than the trailer, twenty acres of scrubland, and the pickup, there's no other property in their name."

"What about the chickens?" I asked. "They've got to be worth something." After all, a two-piece meal at KFC ran about four bucks. I should know. I'd had some extra crispy for lunch.

Jenkins shook her head. "We've got a strict policy in collections. We don't seize anything that eats and craps. Costs too much to care for animals."

Made sense. Better to wait for the owner to sell the birds then seize the resulting profits. Problem was, the IRS had levied the Buchmeyers' bank account years ago, garnering over six grand in one fell swoop just after the couple received a large payment from one of their customers. Since then, they couple had taken to operating on a cash-only basis.

Where the cash was being held was anyone's guess. With any luck, we'd find some in their trailer today, maybe under a mattress or in their toilet tank. Eddie'd once collected ten grand from a delinquent taxpayer who'd hidden large bills in his bowling bag, including stacks of hundreds stashed in his bowling shoes under a pair of Odor Eaters. When Eddie couldn't find the cash he was sure the man had somewhere in his possession, he'd left the apartment and pulled the fire alarm at the complex. On hearing the alarm, the guy ran outside with the bowling bag. A dead giveaway.

Yep, sometimes being a special agent calls for creative tactics.

Nick, Jenkins, and I carefully stepped across the metal cattle guard and walked up to the gate. The opening was secured by two large, rusty padlocks joined with heavy gauge chain thick enough to anchor an aircraft carrier.

I stepped forward and tugged on the locks. They didn't budge.

Jenkins frowned. "I called ahead and told them to unlock the gate for us."

It wouldn't be the first time a taxpayer refused to cooperate. Wouldn't be the last, either. For some reason, people didn't like turning over their sports cars, big-screen televisions, and jewelry collections to the IRS. Not that we were likely to find anything like that here. The Buchmeyer's profits had been modest. If they'd paid on time, their tax bill would've been paltry. But once three decades of interest and penalties were tacked on, those tiny tax bills had grown to over a hundred grand.

The three of us spent a few minutes searching for any keys that might be hidden about, turning over rocks, checking in and under the mailbox and behind the fence posts. We came up empty-handed.

I glanced back at the trailer. The faded blue-and-white striped bath towel serving as a curtain in the front window was pulled back, an older woman's face visible. She raised a gnarled hand and gave me the finger. Wouldn't be the first or last time that happened, either.

"Got their phone number handy?" I asked Jenkins.

She rattled it off and I dialed the Buchmeyers on my cell.

After five rings, someone picked up the phone. "Hello?" an old man's voice rasped.

"Mr. Buchmeyer, this is IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway. We need you to come on out here and unlock your gate."

An elderly man's face appeared in the window now. "I ain't going to do that, young lady," he spat. "I don't recognize the authority of the United States government to tax me nor seize my property. This here place belongs to the Republic of Texas. Didn't you see the sign?"

"The sign doesn't mean anything, Mr. Buchmeyer."

"Like hell it don't! If you all dare to enter my property, I'll be obligated to defend it. Now you go about your business and let me go about mine." With that, he hung up the phone and yanked the curtain closed.


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