Hoyt’s Saturday mornings were something precious to him. Even if they were running behind on a job, he never jumped back into it until noon on Saturday. The mornings were his. He did whatever he wanted, with no attention to time, pressure, cost or productivity.
Susan, who always felt the pressure of money, deadlines, overruns asked Hoyt how he could segment out his time on that one day of the week. Hoyt didn’t have an answer, could not explain it. “I just set aside the time,” he had explained to her. “Pretty much every other minute of every other day, I am on the clock, under the gun. Those days I have my shoulder to the wheel, my ass in gear and my ear to the ground. Saturday morning has to be different or I would just lose it.”
Often, he would spend Saturday mornings at one or the other of the assisted living facilities – what his dad would have called an old folks’ homes. All he did was show up and listen. The people he met were gems. A bit rough around some edges sometimes but they had stories to tell, opinions to share and the usually calm wisdom that comes from knowing that nothing you say will ever change the way the world works. But they wished it would.
This particular Saturday morning, Hoyt went to the library. Libraries were like museums of a world apart. Sometimes Hoyt would just pick up a book at random from a shelf and sit down and read it. If he liked it, he would pick it up next time he came. His personal rule was you could only pick out one book a visit. If he couldn’t stand it, he would re-shelve it and go back home. This particular day, he picked up the papers – the library had a dozen or more newspapers – rather than a book. The library slid each paper into a wooden rail. Kept them from becoming wrinkled as people read. Also kept people from walking off with them. He browsed through a selection of local and national papers trying to see how the world was. What had changed since he had with a couple of hundred billion in the bank. Noting much seemed different.
This wasn’t an election year, but a number of the front page stories talked about the people who were launching campaign efforts for office in the elections for next year. In the case of congressional representatives, they had just won election the previous fall but were either back out on the campaign trail or were trying to control stories of wrong-doing, influence peddling or (most often) just acting like the jerks that they were. Who else but an asshole, Hoyt thought, would run for public office these days?
This wasn’t a way to have a good Saturday morning. Hoyt was about to leave when he looked up and saw that Walter and Kenneth – two of his acquaintances from one of the assisted living centers where spent Hoyt some of his Saturday mornings – had joined him at the table. He had been so lost in the papers he had not noticed. Walter had taken one of the papers that Hoyt had finished reading and was making rude noises about what he was reading.
“Buncha crap,” Walter said. “Complete, unrecycled crap.” Kenneth looked over and grunted his agreement.
Hoyt looked at his two friends. “I’m not saying I disagree with you,” He said, “but what in particular generated your comment?”
“Every goddamned thing in this paper,” Walter replied, dropping the newspaper and its wooden carrier, loudly, to the table.
Kenneth shushed him and said, “Watch your language you old coot, you’ll get us tossed outta here.”
Walter waved a hand in dismissal, but he did lower his voice.
“Just look at the headlines and you will see what I mean.”
Walter laid the paper down on the table sideways, so all three of them could read it at the same time.
“Start at the top, Walter said. “The president announces that we will be sending one and a half billion dollars in military aid to Egypt as a response to the insurgent uprising. Do you know what that is?”
Walter didn’t wait for a response.
“That’s money that we give to Egypt on the condition that they spend it with US defense firms. That’s plain corporate welfare. If we just gave the defense contractors the billion and a half, they wouldn’t have to actually manufacture any weapons and bother with shipping them overseas. That would also mean that there we, as a nation, would be making fewer weapons. Those weapons,” he tapped at the headline, “will be turned against us once Egypt joins the ranks of failed states all over the middle east.”
Walter looked straight at Hoyt. “Do you want your tax dollars sent overseas so US corporations can line their pockets with it all once the money boomerangs its way back to them?”
“No,” Hoyt said, estimating that this was about the amount of conversation or acknowledgement that Walter needed.
“Look at this one. Congress approves extended drilling and fracking operations in US national forests and parks. Do you want to have our national parks become oil fields? Of course you don’t.” This time there was no pretense of waiting for Hoyt to respond. Walter was on a roll. Hoyt smiled. This was going to be good. “I don’t know anybody outside of the federal government – and the big oil companies who are paying them – who wants to do that. Is there anything you and I could do to stop them?”
Hoyt started to say ‘No’ but he didn’t act fast enough. No way, or need, to say anything.
“Can you think of any country we invaded since Korea that the US public wanted to invade? How many people, given the chance, would have said ‘Don’t invade Afghanistan?’ “
Walter paused for effect, but was not expecting an answer.
“How many people would have said ‘Let’s go invade Iraq?’ The public is smarter that the people who get elected. Why is that?”
Hot didn’t say anything. What was there to say? After a pause, Walter went back to the paper.
“Then there’s this one. Our governor has signed the bill that will build a network of oil and gas pipelines across our state to take the stuff pumped out of the grounds of the national parks and deliver it to some major port down the line.”
Walter looked at Hoyt.
“Do you know what the plan is? They are going to build that pipeline along the median of the Interstate highways. Do you want to have gas an oil pipelines a couple of feet from your door when you’re driving down the highway. I can tell you I don’t.”
“The only way a person would even think of approving such a plan would be if they owed the gas and oil people a lot. A damned bunch of a lot.”
Kenneth smirked and said “Shouldn’t bother you. You know they won’t let you drive anymore, Walter.”
“You either, Kennie,” Walter shot back.
“Maybe, but *I* still have my license.”
“Whatever,” Walter said, waving a hand towards Kenneth again.
“Look at this. Some wacko politician wants to charge admission to the US. She’s proposing legislation that would put a price for anyone without a US passport to clear immigration at international airports. This is supposed to cut down on illegal immigrants. Who is she fooling? Illegals don’t fly in on jumbo jets.”
He made a sound that could only be called a scoff. “These are the people who are supposed to be leading us? Nothing but a bunch of money grubbing, power hungry wackos, the lot of ‘em.”
“So run for office, get elected and fix this bunch of bull,” Kenneth said, probably the same thing he said every time Walter got wound up on politics. Kenneth looked at Hoyt, winked, and said “If you need to be a sociopath to win, my money’s on Walter.”
“Ha,” Walter said, “fat chance I would have. I don’t have the millions of dollars it takes to run a campaign. I don’t have any big corporations lined up with 30 pieces of silver so they can have their way with me once I get elected.”
“I tell you what, Hoyt,” Walter said, suddenly turning serious, “since Washington’s second term, none of the presidents elected before Nixon would stand a chance of being elected today. Every one of them would be ridden into the ground by scandal-hungry media or attack ads before the first primary.”
Now Walter did stop for a breath or two. Then he continued, softer. “Think about what that means. If decent honest people can’t be candidates, who do we end up with?”
This wasn’t the quiet, peaceful start to his Saturday that Hoyt wanted. As soon as he could gracefully extract himself, he wished Walter and Kenneth well and walked out of what should have been a calm library and into the sunlight. He called Tipton. It was almost lunch time so Hoyt asked Tipton to meet him at the same In-n-Out. If Tipton had a problem with it, he didn’t grumble and agreed.
Tipton showed up right on time. Wearing a sport coat and jeans, this time, no tie. His suit was probably in the cleaners, Hoyt thought. Business casual didn’t quite fit a man like Tipton any more than cut-offs and sandals would. A bit like putting shoes on the wrong feet. They function, somewhat, as intended but it is awkward and uncomfortable.
They got down to business immediately. There was a lot of paperwork to sign, a lot of things to decide and Hoyt no experience to guide him in this kind of landscape.
Tipton, he discovered, was actually good at this. He explained what each document was, why it needed to be signed or, sometimes, what Hoyt’s options were if he didn’t want to sign. An hour or more into the explanations, they needed to find a notary. There was an insurance agent with offices in the strip mall connected to the hamburger place, so they crossed the parking lot and walked in.
Yes, they found out,the woman at the desk was a notary. Tipton asked what she would change to notarize some documents. “Most of the time,” she said, I don’t charge. The only people who ever ask me to witness are policy holders. The service is a gratuity I can offer them.”
Hoyt took the lead. This kind of conversation was one that he had grown used to in working with real estate agents, often in store fronts just like this one.
“If you had someone like me – who isn’t one of your customers – ask you to notarize a document, I think it would only be fair to have you charge to do that, don’t you think?”
“I suppose,” she agreed, a little unsure of the direction of the conversation.
“Just for today, shall we value your service at $10 a page?” Hoyt asked.
The woman laughed. “Oh, I don’t think I would every charge that much.”
“You would be doing me a favor to help me get these documents signed, and I would like to pay you for your time. Is that okay?”
She agreed, probably thinking she would get of folding money in the exchange.
She was in for a bit of a shock, and with a bit of a cramp from writing.
Hoyt and Tipton left, paying her $250. Tipton paid; Hoyt might be an overnight rich guy but he still only had about 50 bucks in his wallet.
There were still more things to do, but they would have to wait until Monday when Tipton and Hoyt could find a magistrate to dot some of the i’s and cross some of the t’s. Tipton suggested dinner. Hoyt looked at his watch and was shocked to see that it was after five. He hoped Manny had been running the crew. Then he realized that his phone hadn’t rung, so there was nothing unmanageable happening. He felt guilty anyway.
Tipton picked the restaurant. It was part of a restaurant chain, but it was upscale. Hoyt had never eaten there. When he looked at the menu he could see why. The cheapest thing he could see cost $21 and that was a salad. Tipton must have been able to see the sticker shock on Hoyt’s face. Maybe it was the way the menu trembled a bit in his hands. He leaned over and gently put a hand on the menu Hoyt was holding, pushing it down until it was flat on the table.
“Trust me, son, you have earned this. If it’s okay, I’ll order for the two of us?”
The meal started with seared tuna – little thin slices of a tasty pink meat, cool in the center but crusted with white and black sesame seeds and sitting on a bed of greens covered in some marvelous. Hoyt had no idea that tuna wasn’t tan and packed in a can. Then there was a steak, not a big one but one that was almost as soft as the tuna had been. Desert was something like a pudding that the waiter heated with a small blow torch right at their table.
It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the finest meal he had ever eaten.
In between bites, Hoyt had a chance to ask Tipton questions that had been drifting around in the back of his mind.
“So you don’t work for the bank?”
“No,” he was on contract for this trust fund case.
“Then you are getting paid?”
“Oh yes,” Tipton has said. “I normally work for one tenth of one percent of the fund. This time, the bank talked me down to 1% of that.”
“How much is that?”
“Close to 25 million dollars,” Tipton said, trying on that uncomfortable smile once again. “This is the last job I will ever take. When we’re done, I’m done.”
“When will you be done?” Hoyt kind of liked having Tipton around to help him understand things he had never thought about before.
“I’m not really sure when I will decide I am done,” Tipton said, he put his elbow on the table, not in Hoyt’s french fries this time, and rubbed his forehead as if he were trying to erase the worry lines that were always there.
“Truth is,” he said, “I like you. I like working with you. I have no idea why. You are the first client I have ever given one wide crap about. This is odd. If you don’t have a problem with it, I’ll hang around a while. Get things sorted out.”
Hoyt grinned, a wide comfortable grin. “Yeah, I’d like that. I could use your help and, really, I could use someone who won’t freak out when they learn I’ve got all this money.”
“It’s not just the people you need to worry about.” Tipton looked somewhere between serious and grave, an expression he wore well.
Hoyt didn’t respond.
“There’s the government to worry about, Tipton shook his head, “they are going to want their piece of this as well.”
Hoyt admitted he hadn’t even thought about taxes. “Crap,” he muttered. Suddenly things had taken the wrong turn.
Hoyt was pretty good with numbers in his head. He had been paying about 17% of the income he reported in Federal taxes, about 6% in state taxes – meaning that he handed out close to 25% of every dollar to some government or another.
“If I just inherited 750 billion, in round numbers, then I am going to fork over one hundred and billion or so?
Bummer, he thought, that’s a lotta damn money. I still end up with an incredible amount, but still …
Tipton cracked a smile and laughed. “I can tell you are not used to wealth yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you can use some of your money, put carefully and quietly in the right hands, to shield most of your windfall. How do you think loopholes get into the tax code? They get stuck in there by people who can influence politicians.”
“Sounds like cheating.” Hoyt said, not really aloud but Tipton heard him.
“You need to think of it as looking out for the next person who comes along and is faced with this same situation.”
Hoyt had no response to offer. He couldn’t see how his situation would happen to all that many in the house renovation business.
Tipton started to explain. “Where I would start would be to use income averaging.”
Hoyt thought about that. “Okay, could work. I’ve been filing taxes ever since I started working while I was going to college. Say, something like 6 years now. But …” Hoyt’s mind was trying to jump through hoops he couldn’t see clearly. “I think it’s going to come out basically the same.”
“You are thinking small, again. What I mean is average the fund over its life. Income tax has only been collected since 1913. So any monies the fund earned before that cannot be taxed. If we can get changes to the tax code written right, you would only pay taxes on this most recent annualized income. Let’s see what we can do, but I’m betting your 1040 this year will list right around 15 million as income and you won’t pay more than one third of that in taxes.”
“You’re joking, right? I make a quarter of a trillion dollars in one year and we can get it written down to 5 million in taxes? That’s crazy!”
“No, Hoyt, that’s reality for those that have the right kind of influence. I can get the ball rolling on this on Monday, if that works for you.”
“I’m just a bit dazed. It doesn’t seem fair. I’m not sure I am comfortable with paying so little.”
“Little?” Tipton almost exploded. “Little? You would still pay millions and millions of dollars. Think of the alternative. Let’s say you pay $50 billion in taxes. Is that going to make a dent in with the government spends? Not at all. Your money will be lost in rounding errors or siphoned off for some purpose you would detest. Rather than feel guilty, you ought to think of what good you could put that money to. Then do _that_ rather than hand it over to the loonies that run this country.”
Hoyt had no answer. At least for today, he was worn out thinking about being rich.
He also didn’t want to think about quitting his current job. That would leave Ty and Susan high and dry on the houses they were flipping. They were back to comfortably running two crews. So much went into just trying to manage the inventory and backlog. If he walked out on them now, there is no way they could keep going without a real mess on their hands. And after the experience of trying to run three, trying to work two houses with one supervisor would be a very bad answer.
He realized that an idea had been growing, like s mushroom, in some dark, damp corner of his mind. It was at that point that his father’s voice intruded on his evening. Do it right. Do it now. Yeah, yeah. Got it, dad.
Sigh. There was no way to get around the thought now.
If he didn’t quit flipping houses, he wouldn’t have time to tend to the mushrooming idea. He needed some way to exit gracefully from Ty and Susan. He Talked it over with Tipton and between them, they came up with a plan. Tipton, Hoyt learned, was great at hatching schemes.