“Hey, honey. How ya doing?” the Tax Man asked. He had been cleaning the dishes from dinner when the Facetime call came in from his wife. He propped the phone up on the bar top. She was sitting on a lounge chair under the palm roof of the upper deck of their Baja home. The sun had set and a red line detailed the distant horizon behind her. Her brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and the sea breeze tugged at a few loose strands. Her face was tan and full of a smile that only surfing could bring to her lips. He filled the sink with water to soak some pans.
“I am great!” she exclaimed. “The surf was perfect today. Not too big and peeling left just the way I like it. Stok and I caught one wave after another. He really is a fantastic surfer. You would be very proud of him. We were trying to figure out when the last time was that you two went surfing together. Five years ago?” Her eyes saddened a bit. “We both agree that it’s just not the same without you.”
“Trust me. I would much rather be there than here.” He paused and thought for a second. “Yes, five years ago when we went down with Bob. Hopefully, I will be joining you soon.”
Hearing this lifted her spirits back up. “Wonderful! Are you close to wrapping up the estate files for the Johnsons? I am so sorry I have not been there to help and go to the funeral and all.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it. Taking care of your father is more important than being here.” He toweled off his hands, picked up the phone and moved to the living room. “Walking, don’t watch.” He knew she never could handle a Facetime call with him walking around. The movement made her dizzy.
She diverted her eyes asking, “How was the weather there today?”
The Taxman sat in his favorite chair and set the phone on the armrest. “Kind of one of those typical Colorado late spring days. Started all sunny and beautiful and then the high clouds moved in with the wind. I spent the afternoon in the office preparing documents for Bob.”
“Oh good. I am guessing that you heard from him then. Where has he been?” Her voice was anxious.
“No actually, I have not heard from him. Kind of weird. I know he tends to disappear, but I was not expecting it now. Not so soon after his father passing. He has a lot to learn and to be caught up on. Let’s face it; this family needs a leader right now.” His voice and eyes trailed off to something across the room. “I…I am guessing I will see him soon though.” He squinted.
“You ok?” His wife asked with concern.
He shook himself back, “Yes. I am fine.”
There was a pause while they studied each other. “Oscar, you are not telling me something,” She finally said. “There has been something off about you for the past few months. I didn’t want to say anything since I was down here and all. I could just be missreading things, being away for so long and all. But, both Stok, and I see it. You’re very preoccupied. Even before the death of Reynor. What’s up?”
The Taxman just shook his head and smiled. “You two are sweet. I am a lucky man to have you both. A man should have such a good wife and son. Stok is always worried about my well being. That is his way, and your way is to stand behind me through anything. Thank you.” His smile faded, and he looked directly at her. “Not all that we do in this world is right and just. Sometimes things are done because you have no choice.” His eyes lifted to that far away place again. “Sometimes we do things because our past choices have made the present a fuckin’ wreck. Those things are seldom good or bad. They are just what they need are, because there is no other way for them to be.”
She felt like he was explaining himself to someone else. Someone in the room that she could not see. “Oscar, honey. You are not making sense. Is there someone there with you? You seem distracted.” Worry filled her voice. “Oscar!” She almost yelled.
His eyes returned once more to the screen. They were calm. His face was open and very content. “All is fine my love. All is just fine.” He smiled a satisfactory smile. “I will see you soon. Say “Hi” to Stok and your father for me. I have some work to finish up.”
She looked at him with uncertainty and was not fully convinced he was ok. But, his smile was genuine, and his voice was strong. “Good night, honey, I love you.”
“I love you, too. Catch a few waves for me. Oh, and tell Stok he has done very good work and will make a fine Taxman.” He gave a kiss and hung up.
Oscar the Taxman sat still with his eyes studying the shadow outside the sliding glass doors. The lights from the house lit up parts of the garden patio, but most of it was in darkness. He sat for a long time just watching. The wind had died down, and the newly gained stillness felt exceptionally empty. The silence worked its way into every corner of the room. It was a silence that could make a man with a heavy conscience, sick. For the Taxman it was paralyzing. Minute after long minute passed. Silence. The Taxman grew impatient, but for some reason, for the life of him, he could not move. He had an odd comfort in it all. Not moving, he felt, gave him a sense of invisibility. Then the room changed. The silence persisted, but the room became small and heavy. He felt as if it was pushing in on him from all sides, like the air pressure had doubled.
A floorboard creaked, and from his left, a familiar face melted from out of the shadows. A face synonymous with death. It did not startle the Taxman but rather, it set him at ease. Then another face appeared to his right, and this face did startle him. This face was the adult version of a young girl he used to know. A person he had not seen in many years.
“Sanna?” he said with an air of surprise. They all waited in silence, and soon the Taxman’s face gave way to a look of understanding. “Ah, your father is favored by Loki.” His head bowed, shook slowly side to side and he smiled. “That clever bastard.”
The Regulator stepped forward and the air thickened yet again. “Yes, he was favored by Loki and he was clever and matter of fact, he still is.”
The Taxman slowly reached into the cushion of the chair and pulled out a sizable dagger. He held it in front of his face studying the blade. It was not a threatening jester.
“Sorry, but that cannot go with you,” Sanna said as she also moved closer.
The Taxman’s eyes shot up, and both confusion and panic filled his face. “You can’t honestly be sending me to Valhalla and Odin’s hall without a weapon.”
“Well, there’s the rub,” The Regulator said. “You’re not going to Valhalla. You’re not going to dine in the halls of Odin. You’re going to Hell.”
“Hell? You mean Hel, Helhiem?”
“Sorry old friend. Hell,” said The Regulator.
“But, I am no Christian.” The Taxman’s voice was wavering. The death he had resigned himself to had all of a sudden started to lose its appeal.
“Theft we can live with. Men in your position have cheated the family for generations. A skill handed down from father to son. You skim a little bit but not too much. It’s a civil game. But, treachery and greed, well, these things- they can’t be forgiven. You and the others have upset the balance of things. Your betrayal has spilled over into the afterlife.” The Regulator took a seat on the coffee table, pulled back the hood of his sweatshirt and looked directly into the eyes of the Taxman. The Taxman pulled back slightly. He wanted for nothing more than to look away, but for all his effort he couldn’t. The Regulator’s eyes were black. All black. The usual clear, piercing blue was gone. The whites were gone, and all that was left were two black pools of nothing. Looking into the Regulator’s eyes, the true depth of his missdeeds were heaped upon him. Nothing had ever felt heavier and more suffocating, and he knew nothing ever would. The Regulator reached out and gently removed the dagger from the dead man’s hands. The Taxman began to weep.
Sanna moved to The Regulator’s side. She looked behind the Taxman and nodded. A sprinkle of water sprayed across the Taxman’s head. A voice, speaking in Latin, could be heard behind him. A prayer of some sort. His mind started to swim, but he could not move. The Regulator’s eyes had him paralyzed, again. After a few minutes, the rites had been declared. He had been baptized and sworn into the kingdom of God. The oppression of his sins turned from a blanket of despair to a layer of feathers. He was light and uplifted, and he rose from the chair. He turned to see the honest, welcoming face of John.
Smiling, the Taxman said, “Thank you. I have been redeemed.”
John shook his head. “Sorry my man, you have been condemned.”
The Taxman swung around just in time to see two pistols pointed at his chest. Two sharp blasts filled his head. The last thing he saw was a tear falling out of each clear, blue, piercing eye of the Regulator.