black economy

2 Conversations

a story for no purpose, a tale of our time in five acts

He stood awkwardly by the table while she made tea, watching her every move. ‘What’s the matter?’ she said, cautiously sniffing the milk. He didn’t know what to say, didn’t know what she meant. Lack of precision confused him; pronouns always did. He wondered if she could tell what he was thinking; he automatically ascribed this power to all women regardless, a sort of sixth sense.

He was fresh out of a meeting with his accountant. It seemed destined to last for ever and Crawford had not been slow to pick up on Harry's impatience. 'Think what I save you, Harry, not what I cost.' Harry had matched the accountant's laughter with a grimace; everyone's a comedian these days and on £90 an hour plus VAT, who wouldn't be. Oh, the joy of it. 'It's like this, Harry...' and Crawford had explained at great length the process whereby the revenue selects those whom it wishes to audit. The word 'random' came up again and again leaving Harry distinctly unimpressed. 'They see me as a soft target, that's what it is,' he had grumbled. 'Not at all, Harry, not at all, that's not the way it works.' Smug bastard.

He took his tea and sat down. She didn't want him worried. She hated it when he came to her like this. He looked across at her and smiled, reassuringly. She had done something with her hair, he wasn't sure what. It seemed to be streaked with red, looked expensive. 'It's all right,' he said wearily, 'it's been a long day, that’s all.'

the explanation

Later, after they had made love, he lay on the bed kissing her feet and marvelling at the silky smoothness of her skin and he told her of his treachery. It was to do with tax and fraud, and as he said the words her lack of interest showed itself in an attempted withdrawal but he tightened his grip and nestled her feet firmly in his groin and began nuzzling her luxurious calves.

‘They were evading tax,’ he said, kissing the underside of her thighs, ‘and I wasn’t.’ He came up for air and looked into her eyes, searching her mind. 'So I shopped them.'

‘Your mates?’

‘I don’t have mates,’ he said, laughing, watching her squirm as he gently squeezed her ankles between his thighs. ‘I’m a professional, I don’t have mates.’ He stopped squeezing and set her free, watching her settle back on the headboard, arms clasped around her legs. ‘It’s a class thing,’ he said, ‘I have colleagues, friends and colleagues. Or at least, I had.’ She pulled a face at him and laughed, showing a set of teeth, less than perfect. One of the incisors was chipped and not for the first time he wondered if she’d been in a fight and why she hadn’t had it fixed. Not that it troubled him. He wasn’t into teeth.

She regarded him coolly through the twin peaks of her knees, grinning at him with her eyes. ‘Why did you do it?’

‘A massive tax bill, year after year, which I was paying and they weren’t.’ He shifted on the bed, partly so he could better see the splay of her calves and partly to make himself more comfortable for the telling of his tale.

It seemed a strange venue for talking tax. An old four-poster that creaked every they moved, pink sheets contrasting unbearably with her lovely flesh, duvet and teddy bear, long discarded, lying on the floor and an old-fashioned wind up alarm clock ticking away on the mantle piece. It still smelled of damp despite the heat being given off by the radiator. Why had he done it? It was a question the tax inspector had asked. ‘Because I don’t like paying bloody tax any more than I expect you do,’ he had said, angrily. ‘Especially when I get the feeling I’m the only one bloody paying it.’

the scam

It wasn’t her scene. It was all about some silly rules and how someone had shifted the goalposts. ‘Bloody labour government, what do you expect?’ he had said. She wasn’t interested in tax and didn’t want to know. He paid her in cash; they all did, she had insisted on that from the start. She stifled a yawn and prepared to give him her undivided attention while he told her at some length of the iniquities of IR35 and the fake contracts scam that he had seen prosper hand over fist and that had passed him by.

The irony of it was, it was his brainchild. It was he who had recruited the others, offered the honeyed words, baited the trap. They had been on a big air conditioning contract in Saudi - Harry doing the heat exchangers and chillers, Mervyn Stokes the Control and Instrumentation, Derek 'Polly' Flinders power electrics and Charles Sutton the fans and ducting. Between them, they had all the expertise needed to handle that sort of work. When the axe fell, they had gone their separate ways but Harry had kept in touch and when IR35 came along it was Harry that had floated the contracts idea. 'It's the self preservation society,' he had sung at them, full of beer in the Malt Shovel one post-budget Saturday night, 'You know it makes sense,' he had said, near paralytic, parodying Harold Wilson. They settled on 'The Tax Preservation Society', TPS for short, and adopted the motto, 'a contract a day keeps the taxman away' and the adrenaline was running pretty high. Oh, how they laughed; one in the eye for New bloody Labour and up yours, Gordon F*****g Brown. Then Harry got a big job in New York and it was bottoms up and heads down for twelve hours a day, six days a week. And when he got back he found the TPS was up and running and they had cut him out. 'That's what you get when you take your eye off the ball,' he had growled to anyone who'd listen. But the truth was, Harry had lost touch and New York had given him time to think things through. It had also given him time to loose his nerve - Harry had bottled out.

the agony

‘It’s not the tax, I object to,’ he said. ‘In principle, I agree with it. It’s the way it’s administered I don’t like - it’s so bloody unfair. It’s like it’s an optional tax and I’m the only one who’s volunteered for it.’ He pulled her feet towards him and started kissing her toes one by one. ‘Do you know,’ he groaned from beneath her feet, ‘towards the end of the tax year I’m paying 40% tax, plus 10% employee’s national insurance, plus,’ he jabbed her toes with his finger to emphasise the point, ‘plus, 12.2% employer’s bloody national insurance.’ He let go of her feet and watched them spring back to the safety of her bottom. ‘It’s hardly worth getting out of f*****g bed for.’

She laughed and crawled down the bed towards him, kissing him, and smoothing his hair, calming him. She lay on her back, her feet on the headboard and nestled her head on his thighs. ‘That can’t be right,’ she said, surprising him; he didn’t think she’d been listening. He knew it wasn’t a women’s thing; unlikely to make the pages of Cosmo, he thought - unless there was a lesbian angle he’d missed. She wasn’t interested in tax but she knew enough about it to avoid paying it. He sometimes thought everyone did except him and it depressed him – everyone else had the balls to take their chances, why didn’t he? She looked up into his face and gave him a toothsome grin, which she knew she was good at and which she knew he couldn’t resist. ‘It doesn’t work like that,’ she said. ‘You must be over the national insurance threshold before you reach 40%.’

‘Yeah, well,’ he said, ‘you’re forgetting my pension. That kind of f***s things up’

‘Ah! Your pension, I forgot you are an old man,’ and he gazed with awe on her belly as she laughed, longing to bury his face in it and blot out the world.

the ecstacy

She kneeled on the bed facing him; it was almost time to pick up the kids and she didn’t want to be late. He cupped her breasts in his hands, weighing them, watching her eyes as he thumbed the nipples. ‘They did a good job when they knocked you out, didn’t they?’ he said softly.

‘We’ve got about ten minutes, cowboy,’ she said, rolling onto her back, ‘then you have to be off.’

But he wasn’t finished yet, hadn’t got it out of his system and his bitterness continued spilling over. ‘They think all they have to do is set up dummy contracts with each other and reinvent themselves as bloody consultants,’ he muttered. He looked down at her and sighed deeply. He was finished now, that was it, rant over. ‘Are you listening to me, you bitch?’

‘Yes, of course,’ she said, sliding her legs through his.

‘Okay,’ he said, breathing hard into her face, biting her lip and making her squeal, ‘what was the last thing I said?’

‘You’re going to be a consultant,’ she chortled.

‘F*****g bitch,’ he said.

© Researcher 208309, 21st February, 2003.

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