Ad Valorem

Genetic testing is the staple of filing taxes in the future.

Carol was nervous. The taxman was coming to visit. Or, more precisely, the Identity Authentication Technician. She’d dreaded the visit for weeks. But it was inevitable because of the anniversary. Her property tax bill had been “frozen” when she reached 65, early in the 21st century—50 years ago. It was the responsibility of the IA tech to verify she really was the “grandfathered” Carol Garland and not a child or other relative trying to cheat the taxman. “Carol” smiled uneasily as she drove into Dallas. “Frozen taxes” was a rather ironic phrase in this context, insofar as the genetic material she needed to retrieve was in self-contained cryobox.

She left her lake house—where the real Carol Garland had retired over a half a century earlier—for the hour-long drive into Dallas and a small bank that still kept safe deposit boxes. It wasn’t a pleasant drive. Unfortunately to get to North Dallas she needed to get on the old LBJ Freeway, which had been part of the U.S. interstate highway system. It was poorly maintained, and there was a hefty toll to be paid to the company that bought the highway from the government after President Paul sold off the government’s assets to pay the banks following the federal bankruptcy in 2020.

She retrieved the cryobox from the safe deposit box. It held the blood, skin and nail samples that belonged to her late mother—the original Carol Garland. It was another hour's drive straight through Dallas and to the southern suburb of Juniper Valley, where a rather expert gene forger lived. The nondescript tract home had all the external accouterments of suburban life—even to a few children’s toys carelessly strewn in the front yard.

“Looks very suburban,” Carol said with a wry smile to the man who opened the door.

“I try to blend in,” he said.

Raju Etminan had the cheerful cynical of demeanor of someone who makes vast amounts of money breaking the law doing something that might get him arrested at any moment.

“Please roll up your sleeve, Miss Stephanie.” He knew her real name.

She grimaced as she complied. Etminan held up a long needle that glinted in the ambient blue sterilization light. He shook a large vial of the snap-cloned blood he made from the sample she brought him and began the process of running arterial stints up her right arm. The needles were so sharp she barely felt a sting.

“He’s expensive, but worth it,” she thought.

He chatted genially as he ran the stint up her arm. “What’s the occasion?”

She ran a falsely wrinkled hand over her brow. “Fifty-year anniversary of the tax freeze.”

He leaned forward and looked at her intently.

“Excellent cosmetics job, by the way. You certainly look the part.”

“Thank you, I have discreet friend in Tyler who does the make-up.” She winced slightly as he ran a second stint up her arm. “Of course, I have to come all the way to you to get the important work done.”

“I take pride in my work,” he said as he wiped away a drop of blood. “Now the other arm please.”

He finished the left arm in a few minutes and then began the process of attaching the false gull-wing fingertips and nails, along with the small pouches beneath them that held more blood, in case the IA Tech wanted a finger stick. He applied a thick gel to the inside of her mouth, and then the process ended in tiled room as he sprayed her with a wash that would produce the desired gene reading from any random skin scraping. As she stood there naked while he spritzed, she appreciated his professional demeanor. When he was done, he handed her the can that contained the ersatz snap-gene solution.

“Please spray yourself any place you think I missed.”

He left the room as she did a little touch-up.

She self-consciously adjusted her gray hair as he returned to the lab.

“Now, you’re sure they can’t touch the hair?”

“Quite sure, the laws haven’t changed,” he said. “I follow these things closely.”

He smiled as he handed her the cryobox back. “It’s a little concession. You can’t mess with the hair.”

Despite her anxiety, she had to smile back.

“Damn right,” she growled slyly as he pulled out her debit card. “Men have died for less in Texas.”

He swiped the card. “I hope you enjoyed your visit to the spa today, Mrs. Garland.”

She nodded and slipped the card back into her purse.

He showed her to the door. “Have a safe drive back. And good luck.”

“Carol” drove back to the bank and returned the cryobox, and then headed out of the city. The traffic was light. The solar-powered cars were staying in the right lane, and the troopers were taking care of business, insuring the black Firebirds and Mustangs that rushed into the city with the crystal glass and crank—that had been refined out in the country, raced in unimpeded. Despite impersonating her mother, she was still old enough to remember before the war on drugs was won by drugs.

Despite impersonating her mother, she was still old enough to remember before the war on drugs was won by drugs.

After Paul fled the country and the coalition recovery government began, one income source that was tapped was to end practice of freezing property taxes when a homeowner turned 65. As time passed and people lived longer and longer, it seemed a lesser among many evils. Stephanie’s mother had retired from her Dallas job and moved to the lake when she was 63. She received her tax freeze two years later. Two years after that, they stopped giving them. But she was “grandfathered”—forever.

By the middle of the century, it was obvious some people were assuming the identities of their parents to keep the freeze on their property intact. It was the same as when people used to cheat on rent-controlled apartments in the big cities. That when the authentication process kicked in. Of course, if Carol Garland was really alive, she’d be 115, but Stephanie assumed her identity 20 years earlier—three years before she died. Chronologically, she was only 73. Mother and daughter had plotted to insure the sham would be maintained indefinitely. A self-driving vehicle passed her, the occupant’s auburn hair just showing above the seat as she dozed. That reminded her of a friend.

“Call Ginger” she said.

Ginger came on a moment later. “Hey, girlfriend, did you have your test yet?”

“No, I’m still on the way back from Dallas. The IA Tech is coming to the house at six,” she said.

Ginger was a real friend, someone who met her mom’s standard for true friendship.

“A real friend is someone who knows something that can get you thrown in jail,” her mother would say. “And not tell—or care.”

“I’ll head over and meet you. We can have some tea until they come.”

“Thanks, you’re great.”

Ginger was waiting in her car when Stephanie arrived. She shook her head as Stephanie walked over.

“You look great. You really do look just like Carol, especially with the gray in your hair.”

Stephanie pointed her key towards the silver cedar shingled A-frame house.

“I just hope he keeps his appointment. I’d hate to have to go through all this again. The stints are already beginning to itch. I hope I don’t sweat off the spray.”

Ginger put a hand reassuringly on her shoulder as they walked in. She was as broad-shouldered and solid as Stephanie was tall and willowy.

“You’ll be fine. How many times have you done this?”

“Four. And they’ll probably be getting more frequent.”

“You’ll do fine,” she said as she went into the kitchen to make some green tea.

It was a concession to the age of the subjects that the IA Tech made house calls. The man at the door was as colorless as his suit. He shook Ginger’s hand rather awkwardly.

“Is this your daughter, Stephanie?”

Carol stiffened and passed a knowing glance at Ginger.

“Here we go,” she thought. “Mind games to trip you up.”

“This is my friend Ginger. Steph lives in South Africa, and has for 20 years,” she said. “I hope she’ll have this house some day.”

“Well, we do, too,” he said in a small attempt at humor. “She would be paying at the current ad valorem tax rate.”

Ginger gestured towards the door. “I guess I’ll be going now.”

After she left, the Tech opened a shiny aluminum briefcase.

“I know you’ve been through this before, so I don’t need to explain anything, do I?”

She began to roll up a sleeve up her artificially wrinkled arm. He smiled stiffly at her.

“No, that’s alright. In deference to your age, I’ll not have to draw a blood sample this time. No finger stick, either. We’ll take a cheek swab.”

She inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. That was one of the more effective gene samples to forge; she still had that durable protein gel in her mouth. After he swabbed the inside of her cheek and placed the wipe inside a sterile tube, he looked around in a rather off-handed way.

“Can I use your bathroom? I need to take a break before I head back.”

“Of course. It’s that door down the hall to the left.”

When he came back to the table she noticed he placed something in the case before snapping it shut.

“I appreciate your courtesy and cooperation,” he said as he hefted the case and handed her a slip of paper. “Here is your receipt for the DNA samples I have taken.”

The use of the plural caught her attention and she looked down at the slip of paper. It indicated the test had taken an “Oral Epithelial Sample”. Then she saw it also a said a “Random Household Sample” had been taken.

“Random Household Sample,” she read a bit slowly. “What does that mean?”

“The law says that while we cannot do tests announced, we do not have to say in advance what kind of test we will use.”

“I know that,” she said, rocking back on her heels a bit. “But what does that mean?”

“We’re also allowed to take DNA from inside the home, to see if you’re really still living here. The tax freeze only applies to your domicile.”

He turned to the door. “I know that hasn’t been done before, but since its a fifty-year authentication, I took a back-up sample, hair from the brush I found in the bathroom. Just being conscientious. You understand.”

“Of course,” she said softly.

She didn’t look out the window as he drove away. “Call Ginger” she called to the house.

Ginger's voice came on in a minute. “OK, how did it go?”

“The jig is up. He took hair from a brush in the bathroom.”

“Oh, shit.”

Stephanie sprawled on the couch in a limp posture of despair.

“They’ll throw my ass in jail now.”

Ginger paced and struck her fist in her palm.

“Well, you obviously can’t stay here and wait for the news. They’ll just come out and arrest you. You can stay at my old apartment in Fort Worth and I’ll contact you there.”

Stephanie rolled over on her side. “And then what?”

“Massachusetts. Cabo San Lucas. Seychelles. There’s any number of places you can go where the government can’t get you.”

Stephanie reached over to an end table and picked up a card.

“This has all my financial information. We’ll have to work on transferring money while I’m on the run.”

Ginger smacked her palm again. “It’ll be tough, but I’m sure we can salt away something so you can at least live some place.”

She finished the beer she had been drinking. She walked into the kitchen and came back with two.

“Come on, Steph.” She held one out. “You’ll feel a little better, at least for now.”

Stephanie glanced and then reached over to grab the bottle without otherwise moving.

Ginger popped hers open. “Hey, you’re not the first person to do this.”

“Hey, but they’re getting tougher year after year. Nothing pisses the Recon-IRS like cheating them out of their money.”

Ginger slapped Stephanie’s knee.

“Hey, I know what we can do. Let’s have a wake. For your mom. Right now.”

Stephanie turned around and sat up.

“Actually, I’d like that. I’d like that very much.”

“I kinda knew how much it hurt inside, you know, when your mother passed away and you couldn’t really do or say anything,” Ginger said.

“You were a big help then,” Stephanie sniffed.

Ginger paused as Stephanie tool a swig. “How about telling me about your mom? Like when you were young. I only knew her when she was old, and you were all grown. What was she like when you were growing up?”

Stephanie snorted. “She was a tough cookie. Dad died in Iraq when I was just a baby and she raised me by herself.”

She took another swig. “But she wouldn’t take anything from anyone—or off anyone. She said she’d do whatever it would take to take care of her little girl, and she did.”

She took another slug. “She married late, and I was her only child. I guess I was her little jewel. She always spoiled me, but she was very hard-nosed otherwise. It was her idea to do the identity switch.”

Ginger raised her eyebrows. “I didn’t know that. It’s usually the kids who want the tax break.”

“Shit, no!” Stephanie laughed. “It was her idea. She was in on it from the get-go. That’s why it’s worked so well.”

She started to cry. “Until now.”

Ginger moved over and hugged her.

“At least, if she ever did something that wasn’t legal, she had the smarts to get away with it,” Stephanie sobbed. “Now look at me! I’m going to prison!”

“We’re getting ahead of ourselves,” said Ginger. “Let’s deal with things as they come. Now, what about some of those memories?”

Stephanie looked up, still sniffing. “There was this time when I was 16 and we were in the West End in Dallas, and well, she wanted some Sonny Bryan ribs...”

As she told the story Stephanie began to laugh through the sobs, and Ginger laughed with her.

Ginger’s car was a self-driver, so they both slept during the trip to Fort Worth. Ginger didn’t get back to Cedar Creek Lake until 4 AM. She bought a burn phone and called Stephanie the next afternoon. She could tell Stephanie was excited. “You’re not going to believe this, but the email from the tax district said I passed the authentication.”

“That’s great... but how?”

“I have no idea. Maybe they really didn’t check the sample. Think it’s safe to come back?”

“Sure. I can’t imagine it’s a trick. Just be thankful for bureaucratic laziness.”

That evening back at the lake house they sipped mulled tea. It was the first chilly night of the fall. Stephanie lit the fireplace.

“I can’t believe we got away with this,” she said. “Maybe it’s time for an exit strategy. Before my luck runs out.”

“You know, your test results are a public record,” said Ginger. “It should be online by now.”

Stephanie snapped her fingers. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

She logged into the tax district’s web site. She rubbed the side of her face as Ginger looked on from behind.

“This makes no sense. It clearly shows the cheek swab and hair sample were taken and tested,” she said.

Ginger stiffened behind her.

“Didn’t you tell me you were born more than a year after your father died?”

“Yes, mom said he left a sperm sample in case he didn’t come back from the war, so she should have a child no matter what.”

“Your mom was pretty happy to have you, then wasn’t she?”

“Yes, she was. She used to tell me how happy she was to have a daughter and…”

Ginger laid her hand on Stephanie’s shoulder. “Have you ever had your DNA mapped?”

“No, I never wanted there to be a record that might be compared with mom’s... Oh, my god!”

She turned. Ginger nodded.

“That’s the reason you look so much like your mom with the make-up. You’re a clone.”

Stephanie stood up. “But that’s impossible! Cloning was illegal even back then.”

Ginger smiled. “Like you said, your mom was a tough character. She probably decided she was going to have that daughter, no matter what.

“But I never suspected a thing.”

“That story about your dad leaving a sample before going off to war,” Ginger said. “That must have been just that. A story.”

“You said you didn’t think you were a smart as your mom and you were going to jail,” Ginger said. “Well, she got away with illegal cloning, and you’ve gotten away with tax fraud. You’re both criminals! Like mother, like daughter.”

Stephanie looked at her for a moment in shock, and then exploded in laughter.

Ginger laughed even louder. “Who says there aren’t happy endings anymore?”

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Ad Valorem