Chapter 1

A dog’s head on a stick. A collie, I think—the cloud of iridescent blowflies made it difficult to tell. Fido was impaled in the front yard like a decomposing totem pole, right next to the burnt-out shell of a Cadillac-green 1978 Camaro GTO, about five yards upwind of the rusted kissing gate.

At least it wasn’t a six-foot, seven-inch albino Texan singing the aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and accompanying himself on a Peruvian goat’s-hoof rattle. That was last week. This week, a dog’s head on a stick.

My name’s Mark Douglas, and I work for the IRS. Welcome to my world.

“Move in. Move fast. And try not to do anything too stupid,” I told my IRS boys.

We stop-and-go’d through the gate single file, then fanned out into the front yard, taking up positions according to job description and proficiency.

Miguel, an overly excited newbie, had a company-issued bullhorn with him. He fired up that puppy and barked out directives right next to my ear.

“Minton, Paul! Or Paul Minton, if you prefer! This is the IRS, or the Internal Revenue Service, as we prefer!”

Rooks, what could you do with ’em? Can’t live with ’em, can’t Taser ’em in self-defense. I cuffed Miguel upside the head, trying to move him along.

“Just stick to the script, Miguel, would ya?”

He gave me a hangdog look and flicked on the megaphone again.

“We’ve come to take possession of your worldly belongings equivalent to the amount of six thousand seven hundred and forty-two dollars and twelve cents!”

Old-timer Harry Salt, a thirty-year vet who’d cut his teeth during the glory days of post-Reaganomics and all that entailed, spit disdainfully on the ground, because he couldn’t spit disdainfully on Miguel. I could relate.

Our backup, Wooly Bob, was off in the moving truck. That was the team, the crew, the IRS bang-squad, or so we called ourselves outside of company earshot.