When Indian Butch left me on the Alaskan Highway, I called him a tin soldier. Maybe mocking his metal hat was unfair. Years later, it came back to haunt me, the soldier part anyway.
I got a letter from the IRS, saying they wanted to audit me. I worked in the The Dalles, Oregon--the most rusty town in the West. Caught in a rural time warp, it sprawled on the Columbia River like a wrecking yard. Cement buildings wavered like antiques in the hazy heat, the summer air so languid it could have been bottled for Prozac. The only excitement, other than rattle snakes and a scorpion or two, was a cougar that killed an 800-pound horse and dragged it a long ways--the talk of the town for months.
But it was a perfect hideout. Courtesy of GI Bill trade school, I operated a one-man dental lab, even though I lived upstream across the river in a single-wide in Bingen, Washington--an even more dilapidated backwater, 45 minutes away, if you did not T-bone on the rickety 50-cent toll bridge. I spent my days crafting metal-and-ceramic crowns and bridges, for an old-school dentist in the office above me. Sometimes, I could hear him bellow at fidgeting kid patients: "God-damit! Shut up! I told you to hold still!" He was a big man, Germanic in heritage.
I took my shoe-box of receipts and reported to the Vancouver, Washington, IRS office. It was a narrow, clap-trap, wood building. I swallowed a drink from my flask for fortification before I went in; then another. A man at a metal desk greeted me in an empty room. Rifling through my paper-clips, the agent concluded I was no tax renegade; my income barely put me above poverty. No way he could pluck a dime from my paltry purse. He was pleasant enough until he asked the question:"There seems to be some doubt about your residency."
"I work across the river, in Oregon," I explained. "But I live here in Washington."
"Interesting, multiple resident." He frowned. "Did you ever live in Washington, DC?"
"The capital?" I replied. "Well, not exactly. I wouldn't call it living. I might have visited."
"We found some FBI records. A man you might know."
"Huh?" For some reason, I was sweating.
He pulled a paper from a folder. It was the Washington Post turkey terrorist article. Something that I never wanted to see again.
"Don't know the relevancy." He set it on the desk. "Sometimes the bureau gets clogged with all kind of arcane filings."
"Bureau? I thought the IRS was an institute."
"Exactly." He held the paper. "Just like the Smithsonian...The National Zoo, that is."
"I've heard of it," I said. A true statement if ever there was one.