I'm making calls based on questionable deposits over ten thousand dollars and I get this Milliken's account. His wife Donna answers and all she can tell me is that her husband, Joe, said the money was a bit of magic. She has to be as dumb as a post to say that to Revenue Canada. Then on a second call, Milliken is no better.

I hate farmers. Generally, they are lousy with numbers and think that is excusable because they can calve off a cow, or combine a field of oats. I had a farmer ask, where would you number-crunchers be if we didn't grow your food? I asked him, in response, if he appreciated the schools and hospitals and roads and health care that taxes provide? He looked a little surprised that a woman, especially one that doesn't look tough, would have an answer so abrupt.

I try to be positive; maybe this Joe Milliken audit will be lucky for me. Some of the best stories at the workplace are about farmers. It's sort of a contest--the cases we are assigned. Generally farmers don't often end up as big coupes for Revenue Canada.

We've been busy, since the government announced that all small businesses would be audited within five years. It's just numbers, I'd tell my in-laws, but they are not fans of anything governmental. My husband has stopped defending me, I've noticed, and that's not adding in the plus column for our relationship. Even though it's time for us to consider starting a family, we're not. Sometimes I'm putting it off, sometimes he is. The numbers don't add up, he said the last time we discussed this. If we want to build a house, we both have to stay at the jobs we have. There isn't money for a baby, too.

It's not easy to be an auditor. A lot of businesses operate without proper books—not necessarily anything illegal—just math fear. Form phobias. Accounting freeze-up. Plain old procrastination. If even one-thirds of the people made a step toward doing something, the earth would tilt on its axis.

At their kitchen table, I see the Millikens try the confusion tactic. Piles and piles of papers are on the table, but it doesn't bother me. I hide my pleasure when I spot the bank statement that contains the flagged amount. I use a tactic of my own to circle the figure in red ink. He looks as though I have struck him. The wife senses something and turns to him. I don't know if it is fear or love that covers her face but it hurts me to see it. She could be my mother, the age difference is there. I feel protective in a way, because her Prince Charming isn't. The sum of his looks is disdain and impatience. She probably has told herself a million times that he isn't really cruel and he's a good man at heart, and I've seen what that did to my mother. I can see how it happens because I've just begun that inner lie myself. A woman's excuses for her man are like candy thrown from a parade float in small town anywhere.

It's not the numbers in the accounting columns that tips us off to the real skinny of a situation. Certain numbers, or certain things jump out at you. I'm looking at the same man as she is and I see nothing special. He obviously believes this audience is under his thumb. She's very quiet.

They are the hard working, old dogs and coveralls type, like they came out of a story book for children. At Revenue Canada, we know it is luck and fate that got them this far, for it certainly isn't brains.

The figure is twenty-five thousand dollars and it's not money from grain sales, or cattle sales, or rent from some property, and when I suggest that it is lottery winnings perhaps, the woman repeats that it is magic. Isn't that right? Joe. She blinks her eyes, with a fixed smile, but it's not her that I watch. A slow blush rises from his neckline and travels to his hair, thick and black even though he is fifty-two.

I resist the urge to run my hands over my bald head shaved for a cancer research fundraiser. My scalp feels like a man's chin at five o'clock and I know my appearance makes people uneasy. I can see it in their eyes.

His eyes are like marbles in a cow pie face, weathered and crusty, almost as if he's never been inside, never been soothed by lotions or mildness. She is as pale as milk, like an Alzheimer patient kept in front of a television's light.

His hands fidget from hand wringing to a wipe on his pants, to one-finger ear scratches.

Bingo.

I share this part of my job with my husband, where something foul gives up a whiff; where I just know that there is an irregularity and I'm about to uncover it. I think of it as one of those things that a spouse would appreciate. The look he gives me says enough. Later, out in public, he will announce that I am a bloodthirsty government auditor who enjoys catching and prosecuting hard-working folk.

I never wanted a marriage where words had to be considered before spoken, or perhaps silenced entirely. I think sometimes that I should just cut my losses, but I cannot find the words to explain what is wrong. To say out loud that he doesn't respect my work seems lame, and hardly the reason for divorce. I've been told that I am too sensitive. Is that a self-esteem issue? Am I just weak? Then my husband gives me the warmth and love that I married him for, so that I cannot challenge him. I'm sunk. A baby is not the answer, I know that, but I still want a child. I want the marriage I thought I was going to have. To start again at zero is inconceivable.

I pull back and ask about the Milliken's TFSA accounts. They begin an excavation in the filing cabinet; he hovers over her as she offers file after file. He rejects each one and then tosses them aside, without a glance at where the papers land. A number of folders vomit their contents. Then he slips, swears and kicks at the papers. There is nothing but disorder now.

She cringes. I keep a professional appearance. I could ask him to remove himself from the room as we have been coached to do. I could announce my departure and a return day appointment. Is he clever enough to manufacture the documents that are lost in the interlude? I think not. Is he going to explode the moment I depart? He's got the ugly look of a man who needs to transfer his frustrations onto someone else. Is he a hitter, or does he let his words deliver abuse and misery in her life? I believe a little more pressure might put him over the edge. I could protect her, if I just let it go, but she needs to see the truth. I hold my phone to my face. He's not stupid. He knows that I can call for assistance—the police, if need be—but in fact I'm going to speak to head office, and book an in-office appointment.

Next Thursday at 1:00. I write the date on my business card. I take out a red pen and star the items that they are to bring. Details of capital gains and losses realized in the last five years, all their expenses and income for which no T slips have been issued. This is about that twenty-five thousand dollars I tell them, in case there is any confusion.

His confession is carried on a sprayed spittle of disgust. He says that he can tell me how he got that money. It's not taxable. And it's not something that he can be jailed for. It's from his mother's account. She's looked after in the home, she wants for nothing. She meant for him to have it. So he took it. He needs it now, not ten years from now when she dies. It's not a freaking fortune anyway. This is what he says.

His face is defiant and hateful and full of blame. I can read his thoughts. He thinks that I should have left well enough alone. I don't back down from his glare. My expression is steady and while I'm supposed to hide my contempt, I allow a certain amount of it into my gaze. His head lowers and his gaze sinks to the floor. I don't know what cock and bull story he told his wife, but I see the light forming in her eyes. Did he sweet talk or bully his way into getting power of attorney?

Milliken is right about his legal stance; much will depend on whether there are siblings to bring charges. Or if the old mother has anyone strong enough to put this to rights. But it's enough for me to call for a full extensive audit and bring in our legal department.

I do feel very good about today. My work is nothing to be ashamed of despite my husband's opinion. Society is hinged on checks and measures and retribution. Taxes are for paying, and audits are good for the soul. How else can you expose the irreconcilable and know where to divide? In the final column it must balance out.


Title image "Magnified" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2016.