Mark visits his post office box and finds another letter from the Canada Revenue Agency. He’s been receiving more and more of these in the mail, but has ignored them all. He’s had bad experiences in the past and didn’t want to hear any bad news. Reluctantly he opens the letter and finds the government has done an audit and he owes more than $20,000 in back taxes.
He calls his accountant, who thought he’d taken care of the problem months ago. The accountant says as long as Mark has all his records and can prove his expenses, he’ll be fine. However, when he goes to see Bud and get the records Bud has been storing for him, he finds they are missing…
Mark had five days of dread before his meeting with the tax agent. His office was in Mississauga just below the 401 on Hurontario. Mark parked Mother Load in the building’s parking lot and waited till nine before putting on his best clothes and heading into the office building for his reckoning.
Mark had no records with him, only copies of the tax returns his accountant had prepared for him.
Despite looking everywhere in his office for Mark’s files, even in the basement of his home, Bud couldn’t find the papers anywhere. Mark had no other choice but to show up at the tax office – cap in hand – and ask for mercy…and several months to pay his fines.
“Ah, Mr. Dalton. My name’s Max Levy. Did you find the office alright?” the tax man asked when Mark arrived.
“No problem. I slept in my truck overnight in the parking lot to be sure I wouldn’t be late.”
The agent looked at Mark skeptically, one corner of his mouth curled up in a sneer. “Of course you did.”
Mark wanted to protest, saying he did too spend the night in his truck, but he knew it wouldn’t do him any good. Without his records he was cooked.
The agent spread Mark’s last return out on the desk, then turned to Mark, looking at him over the glasses resting on the end of his nose.
“Your fuel, truck washing, insurance and just about every other expense that has to do with your truck are much higher than the average for the industry. It’s one of the reasons your returns stuck out from the crowd.”
“I live out of my truck,” Mark said.
“Yeah, so you’ve said,” the agent said without even glancing at Mark. “Here, for example.”
He put a paper on the desk in front of Mark. “Your meal claims are enormous. The Government of Canada is already being generous with longhaul truck drivers by allowing them to claim 80% of their meals on the road compared to people in other industries who are away on business, who are allowed to claim just 50%. But you, you’ve claimed meal expenses that are more in line for what three people would claim in a year, never mind one.”
“That makes sense,” Mark shrugged. “Because I live in my truck I have to pay for every breakfast, lunch and dinner I eat. If you have to buy three meals a day for a year, meal expenses would end up being high, wouldn’t they?”
“Yes, they would.”
Mark felt he’d scored a victory. “Well, alright then,” he said with a nod.
“Do you happen to have any proof – any proof at all – that you do in fact live out of your truck and have been working continuously over the course of the last year?”
There was that word again. Proof. Mark looked around as if proof was something that might just be lying around the room, previously unseen.
“No,” Mark said at last. “No proof. The place where I stored my tax returns was renovated and the box with my records in them was moved somewhere where we can’t find them.”
“Isn’t that convenient?”
Mark ignored the remark, knowing the man had every right in the world to be skeptical. He sighed, “Without the records, all I have is my word.”
The agent smiled politely.
“Mr. Dalton, would it surprise you to know that there are people out there, Canadians just like you, who lie to the government in order to pay less taxes?”
Lie was a strong word and Mark couldn’t be sure if the man was accusing him of lying or not. But since Mark himself might have stretched the truth on a few expense reports in the past, he replied, “No, it wouldn’t surprise me.”
“Would it surprise you to know that there are some people who transact business in cash solely in order to avoid any record of their business dealings and forego paying tax money to a government which needs that money to provide essential services to those very same people?”
That one was easier.
“No,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised by that at all.”
Over the years he’d had all kinds of people quote him two prices for their services. Truck washers were good ones for that; $35 with a receipt, $20 without. Well, when profit margins were razor thin, who wouldn’t take that deal? Mark Dalton, that’s who.
He had his truck washed so often that no one would believe he spent so much on cleaning his rig.
He always got a receipt because he knew that if he were ever audited, he’d be able to show that he’d actually spent every one of those dollars on cleaning his truck. The problem was, he didn’t have those receipts and if there wasn’t a receipt it was like it never happened at all.
“And would it surprise you that over the 24 audits I’ve done this year on truck drivers, I’ve been bang on with every one of them?”
“That would surprise me, yeah,” Mark said.
“Twenty-four for twenty-four. A perfect record.” A wry smile. “And I don’t think there’s any danger of me not going twenty-five for twenty-five.”
“Always a first time for everything, right?”
The agent smiled. “I don’t think so.”
They continued on until lunchtime, the agent accusing Mark of making false expense claims and Mark saying he lives in his truck.
“I think we need a break,” the man said, his patience clearly being taxed by Mark’s insistence.
Outside of the building for lunch, Mark drove to McDonald’s – saving money for his tax bill already – and took his time getting back to the office. After all, what was the rush?
When he returned, the agent looked pale…as if he’d eaten a bad burrito for lunch. And as he entered the office it all made sense. Bud, of all people, was there, and there was a big cardboard box on top of the desk.
“I finally found your records last night,” he said. “Funniest thing…during our reno, one of the contractors hit a sprinkler and a lot of stuff got wet. Somebody changed the box and didn’t mark it. Nobody told me either.”
“So it’s all there?” Mark could barely get out the words.
“Yes, and I’ve just been showing Mr. Levy the first three months of last year, you know…matching up your invoices with your meal expenses, showing him that you were truly on the road for the first 90 days of the year. We’ll do the rest of the year too, and the four previous years too. As long as he’s got nothing to do for the next couple of weeks.”
“Okay, okay, so you live out of your truck,” the agent said, looking at Mark. “I’m still having a hard time believing it.” His eyes narrowed. “Are you crazy or something?”
Mark was about to answer, but Bud cut him off. “I can answer that one for you. Absolutely!”