The Summons - Page 26

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The US Air flight left Memphis at six-forty in the morning, which meant Ray had to leave Clanton no later than five, which meant he slept about three hours, the usual at Maple Run. On the first flight, he dozed off en route, again in the Pittsburgh airport, and again on the commuter flight to Charlottesville. He inspected his apartment, then fell asleep on the sofa.

The money hadn't been touched. No unauthorized entries into any of his little storage units at Chancy's. Nothing was out of the ordinary. He locked himself inside 18R, opened the five fireproof and waterproof boxes, and counted fifty-three freezer bags.

Sitting on the concrete floor with three million dollars strewn around him, Ray Atlee finally admitted how important the money had become. The real horror of last night had been the chance of losing it. Now he was afraid to leave it.

In the past few weeks, he had become more curious about how much things cost, about what the money could buy, about how it could grow if invested conservatively, or aggressively. At times he thought of himself as wealthy, and then he would dismiss those thoughts. But they were always there, just under the surface and popping up with greater frequency. The questions were slowly being answered - no it was not counterfeit, no it was not traceable, no it had not been won at the casinos, no it had not been filched from the lawyers and litigants of the 25th Chancery District. 'l And, no, the money should not be shared with Forrest because he would kill himself with it. No, it should not be included in the estate for several excellent reasons.

One by one the options were being eliminated. He might be forced to keep it himself.

There was a loud knock on the metal door, and he almost screamed. He scrambled to his feet and yelled, "Who is it!"

"Security," came the reply, and the voice was vaguely familiar. Ray stepped over the cash and reached for the door, which he cracked no more than four inches. Mr. Murray was grinning at him.

"Everything okay in there?" he asked, more of a janitor than an armed guard.

"Fine, thanks," Ray said, his heart still frozen.

"Need anything, let me know."

"Thanks for last night."

"Just doing my job."

Ray repacked the money, relocked the doors, and drove across town with one eye on the rearview mirror.

The owner of his apartment sent a crew of Mexican carpenters around to repair the two damaged doors. They hammered and sawed throughout the late afternoon, then said yes to a cold beer when they were finished. Ray chatted with them as he tried to ease them out of his den. There was a pile of mail on the kitchen table, and, after ignoring it for most of the day, he sat down to deal with it. Bills had to be paid. Catalogs and junk mail. Three notes of sympathy.

A letter from the Internal Revenue Service, addressed to Mr. Ray Atlee, Executor of the Estate of Rueben V Atlee, and postmarked in Atlanta two days earlier. He studied it carefully before opening it slowly. A single sheet of official stationery, from one Martin Gage, Office of Criminal Investigations, in the Atlanta office. It read:

Dear Mr. Atlee:

As executor of your father's estate, you are required by law to include all assets for valuation and taxation purposes. Concealment of assets may constitute tax fraud. The unauthorized disbursement of assets is a violation of the laws of Mississippi and possible federal laws as well.

Martin Gage,Criminal Investigator

His first instinct was to call Harry Rex to see what notice had been given to the IRS. As executor, he had a year from the date of death to file the final return, and, according to the accountant, extensions were liberally granted.

The letter was postmarked the day after he and Harry Rex went to court to open the estate. Why would the IRS be so quick to respond? How would they even know about the death of Reuben Atlee?

Instead, he called the office number on the letterhead. The recorded message welcomed him to the world of the IRS, Atlanta office, but he would have to call back later because it was a Saturday. He went online and in the Atlanta directory found three Martin Gages. The first one he called was out of town, but his wife said he did not work for the IRS, thank heavens. The second call went unanswered. The third found a Mr. Gage eating dinner.

"Do you work for the IRS?" Ray asked, after cordially introducing himself as a professor of law and apologizing for the intrusion.

"Yes, I do."

"Criminal Investigations?"

"Yep, that's me. Fourteen years now."

Ray described the letter, then read it verbatim.

"I didn't write that," Gage said.

"Then who did?" Ray snapped, and immediately wished he had not.

"How am I supposed to know? Can you fax it to me?"

Ray stared at his fax machine, and, thinking quickly, said, "Sure, but my machine is at the office. I can do it Monday."

"Scan it and e-mail it," Gage said.

"Uh, my scanner's broke right now. I'll just fax it to you Monday."

"Okay, but somebody's pulling your leg, pal. That's not my letter."

Ray was suddenly anxious to rid himself of the IRS, but Gage was now fully involved. "I'll tell you something else," he continued. "Impersonating an IRS agent is a federal offense, and we prosecute vigorously. Any idea who it is?"

"I have no idea."

"Probably got my name from our online directory, worst thing we ever did. Freedom of Information and all that crap."

"Probably so."

"When was the estate opened?"

"Three days ago."

"Three days ago! The return's not due for a year."

"I know." :

"What's in the estate?" -

"Nothing. An old house."

"Just some crackpot. Fax it Monday and I'll give you a call."

"Thanks."

Ray put the phone on the coffee table and asked himself why, exactly, had he called the IRS?

To verify the letter.

Gage would never get a copy of it. And in a month or so he would forget about it. And in a year he wouldn't recall it if anyone mentioned it.

Perhaps not the smartest move so far.

FORREST HAD settled into the routine of Alcorn Village. He was allowed two calls a day and they were subject to being recorded, he explained. "They don't want us calling our dealers."

"Not funny," Ray said. It was the sober Forrest, with the soft drawl and clear mind.

"Why are you in Virginia?" he asked.

"It's my home."

"Thought you were visiting some friends around here, old buddies from law school."

"I'll be back shortly. How's the food?"

"Like a nursing home, Jell-O three times a day but always a different color. Really lousy stuff. For three hundred bucks plus a day it's a rip-off."

"Any cute girls?"

"One, but she's fourteen, daughter of a judge, if you can believe that. Really some sad people. We have these group bitch meetings once a day where everyone lashes out at whoever got them started on drugs. We talk through our problems. We help one another. Hell, I know more than the counselors. This is my eighth detox, Bro, can you believe it?"

"Seems like more than that," Ray said.

"Thanks for helping me. You know what's sick?"

"What?"

"I'm happiest when I'm clean. I feel great, I feel smart, I can do anything. Then I hate myself when I'm on the streets doing all that stupid stuff like the other scumbags. I don't know why I do it."

"You sound great, Forrest."

"I like this place, aside from the food."

"Good, I'm proud of you."

"Can you come see me?"

"Of course I will. Give me a couple of days."

He checked in with Harry Rex, who was at the office, where he usually spent the weekends. With four wives under his belt, there were good reasons he wasn't home much.

"Do you recall the Judge hearing a case on the coast, early last year?" Ray asked.

Harry Rex was eating something and smacking into the phone. "The coast?" He hated the coast, thought they were all a bunch of redneck mafia types.

"He was paid for a trial down there, January of last year."

"He was sick last year," Harry Rex said, then swallowed something liquid.

"His cancer was diagnosed last July."

"I don't remember any case on the coast," he said, and bit into something else. "That surprises me."

"Me too."

"Why are you going through his files?"

"I'm just checking his payroll records against his trial files."

"Why?"

"Because I'm the executor."

"Forgive me. When are you coming back?"

"Couple of days."

"Hey, I bumped into Claudia today, hadn't seen her in months, and she gets to town early, parks a brand-new black Cadillac near the Coffee Shop so everybody can see it, then spends half the morning piddling around town. Whatta piece of work."

Ray couldn't help but smile at the thought of Claudia racing down to the car dealership with a pocket full of cash. The Judge would be proud.

Sleep came in short naps on the sofa. The walls cracked louder, the vents and ducts seemed more active. Things moved, then they didn't. The night after the break-in, the entire apartment was poised for another one.



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