Art by Nessa Darcy
by Jim Murray
Fred Money, the revenue man, had a tough job. He sighed audibly as he recalled his dealings with the rabidly eccentric to the totally paranoid. The range of behaviours that he dealt with in the zany routine of other people’s taxes would break the hearts of a conclave of saints. Fred himself would have added a well-experienced prophet or two to that list. The word had come down from the departmental boss for Fred to go suss out the taxability of this old geezer somewhere out in the sticks.
So Fred sits there in this oldster’s tiny parlour as he endeavours to conduct the revenue interview. There is a fire roaring blue murder in the grate, forcing Fred to abandon his overcoat and loosen his tie.
So far, it’s not going according to the departmental protocol as Fred wrestles with this wandering fritillary of a mind. The customer seems moon-mad and he’s smiling wider than the Grand Canyon, dodging and weaving Fred’s best questions like a well-trained pugilist. Fred is thinking that he’ll lead this one up the garden path into the trap of his logic soon enough. After all, he’s the department’s best trouble-shooter, with over twenty-five years experience in dealing with the worst excesses of human deviance. And Fred knows that when it comes to taxes that the average punter can be really clever. Deviance was not the word for it. In Fred’s opinion, Einstein would have had trouble understanding the mental equations of the taxable public. But, Fred is biding his time, hawkishly waiting to spot an opening in the oldster’s defence, where he can land a sucker punch.
Fred is reckoning that this customer thinks that he’ll make it to the bell by acting the deaf old coot. As Fred is enquiring about the tax money, your man is talking about the wax and honey. Now, the customer is claiming that he knows nothing about taxis. Fred sighs again when the old geyser says that since he rides a bicycle he has no need to take a taxi.
“It’s TAXES, with an E,” says Fred.
This old fogey is smarter than he looks. For a moment, Fred is thinking that his reddening face must be coming out in hives with all this stress. Fred Money, the Ace of the Revenue, consoles himself that it is only five years to the pension and blessed retirement. But now the old coot is loading more coal on the fire and Fred is thinking that he’s trying to boil him out. The perspiration begins to sizzle on Fred’s brow. Fred loosens his shirt and drops a notch on his trousers belt. Oh no! Is that paraffin oil he’s got now!
Anyway, now he’s showing Fred a picture of a saint replete with halo, as the old codger blesses himself six times in a rapid sequence of gestures. Fred listens with a sort of anguished awe to the rattle of a mumbled prayer. This one is fast as a gazelle flying from a herd of tigers. Now, he tells Fred that the picture with the halo is Elvis’s cousin – an uncle of his own self. Fred knows that insanity is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
Fred murmurs blandly to himself, “Make my day, ha!”
But this Oldsmobile was getting hard to pin down. Fred would bet you that he had the dough stashed away in his grandmother’s crypt. But Fred Money always got his man – sooner or later. Fred asks him for his current occupation. He tells Fred that since he’s an OAP he’s got so many free units.
“You knit… and I’ll purl,” says Fred in a muffled whisper.
“What’s that again?”
“Nice ol’ fire there.” Fred knows that two can play at this game.
“Say that again.”
Fred listens for the reply intending to remain unfazed. He’s heard it all in the last twenty- five years.
“I’m a wasp breeder,” comes the innocent answer.
Fred nearly gulps his sugarless tea all the way back to the departmental Christmas ball.
“Yes, I’m a wasp man,” and the old coot is saying this cheerfully with a fool’s pardoning grin.
What would Ron Chumley the revenue boss, make of this?
So Fred ventures a slightly probing enquiry.
“Is there much of a market for …er wasps.”
Fred listens vaguely as the other takes off on a long saga down a blind alley into a long description of his ‘customers and their unusual needs’.
“There’s not much money in wasps these days. You see it’s only ten mature wasps for five pence each and at the bargain price of eight pound sixty for half a hive without the queen, plus the VAT of course. And it’s only two pounds extra for the queen of the hive. It’s supply and demand you see. And supply is up while the demand is down.”
“Hmmmm?” Fred nearly coughs his trachea onto the floor but manages to continue on calmly.
“Is it now?” he says.
“I cater for the local revenge market,” and the old deviant hums away to himself.
“The local revenge market…ahem!!”
“Specifically,” says he, “the biological revenge market.”
“Oh I see now, you cater for the biological revenge market,” and Fred is trying to remain in the land of mens sana in corpore sano.
Fred is just about to reach for his GP’s last tranquilliser prescription, which he keeps in a bottle in his coat pocket specifically for occasions such as this.
“I’m trading on the Internet,” the other says briskly.
Fred decides to gulp a Valium or two after all.
“Yes, you’ll find us under WWW.”
“Yes, it stands for Wasps Wasps Wasps.”
“Just click on the little rodent and up comes the White Anglo-Saxon Pestilence Society. Or WASPS in short.”
Fred is starting to reach for more of that bottle again. He drops a further notch on his trouser belt and loosens another button on his shirt. His handkerchief is now busily bailing the perspiration forming on his brow.
“You see, we’re a trading company for Wasps. But business is not so good these days. You see, sir, the long-term love affair is out as a media trend. So, business is going against vengeance and vendettas.”
“I see,” said Fred weakly. Fred knew that the ‘poor mouth’ strategy took many different forms. But Fred could hardly believe his own ears.
“Could you say that again…ahem! This may require a bit of clarification.”
Fred could hear his own voice speaking, but it seemed almost unreal to him as if he was listening to himself on television.
”Say what again?”
“Ahem! The bit about vengeance and vendettas. And what was that about the biological revenge or something?”
At this point the oldster leapt to his feet, as Fred was about to lay the file down on a nearby chair.
“No, Stop,” he shouted.
Fred Money could only blubber the question in amazement and incredulity at this sudden action of his customer.
“No, that’s Caesar’s resting place. Leave the file down on the floor.”
Fred entered into an even more curious and astounding trance as he listened to the explanation for this rather odd behaviour.
“Caesar is the foreman of the wasp training programme.”
Fred looked and saw a rather wizened looking wasp, which seemed to be sleeping on a very tiny cushion in the centre of the chair.
“Would I be correct in saying that the insect on the chair is Caesar?”
“You would sir, but do not refer to Caesar as an insect. And never refer to him as Julius. He’s rather sensitive about that, you know. He prefers the politically correct term.”
“What’s the er…um…politically correct term for Caesar?”
“Why, he’s Caesar Wasp of course.”
“Of course, what else could he be,” and Fred manages to display a rather sombre if bemused grin upon his wearying face. Fred loosens another button on his shirt and his hairy chest is beginning to be exposed. Fred is treading on ground that is getting more and more moisturised. For a moment he questions himself as to whether he’s here at all. Maybe it’s all just a dream – a rare kind of profound nightmare. It must be that cheese he ate last night. Mother always said not to eat cheese last thing at night. She claimed that cheese made for nightmares. But she could eat as much cheese as she liked as the doctor had given her a little yellow pill. She called them ‘Mother’s little helpers’. She said it made her smile in the rain. Nowadays, Fred has got some for himself. And there were times that he certainly needed them.
“Yes, Caesar is the general in charge of all revenge operations. He’s an expert on battle manoeuvres.”
“Battle manoeuvres?” The question seemed to stroll off Fred’s unbelieving lips as if the whole scenario were some sort of great conspiracy against him.
“Why, Caesar has read all the literature on The Campaigns of Napoleon. He’s no slouch either on the battles of Alexander the Greek or Julius Caesar – I’m referring here to the Roman chap of course.”
“Of course, who else?” And Fred began to think that his mind was uprooting its tent and emigrating from his head.
The oldster went on chattering about the advantages of wasps vis-à-vis bees for the purpose of doing the job in hand.
“Wasps are the most economic, since they don’t lose their sting.”
Fred loosened a further button on his shirt. He felt that he was beginning to resemble a dipsomaniac after a rough bout on the town. Finally, in a steam of perspiration, he decided that none of this was true at all. But first, for some strange reason, perhaps driven by the stressfulness of the hour, he checked that the date was not April First. Then, the livid thought struck him that it was a set up by the office crew or maybe a candid camera programme. But, try as he might, Fred could discern no camera about the place, hidden or otherwise. Could this old dope have slipped him a micky finn, some kind of drug? Fred decided he’d ask one final question just to settle any doubt remaining that this old bloke wasn’t for real.
“I have an assistant,” the old coot says.
“Gotcha,” whispers Fred to himself. He’ll not be paying employer’s social insurance, no doubt.
“Micky Finn from up the mountain comes down and lends assistance sometimes.”
Fred thinks that this is odd. Very, very odd. He’s just been thinking he might have been doped when this old coot mentions this Micky Finn bloke. Is it just coincidence or cunning? Fred swallows another Valium. He’s getting worried now. Worried is not a sufficient term to describe his state.
“Can you …er clarify how this wasp revenge system works?” Fred says finally.
“Well you see, I take the orders from the e-mail or they come by post. Then there is a discussion of the Wasps Military Command, led by Caesar.”
“Of course, Caesar…who else?” Fred spoke the words with the kind of gloom that he usually reserved for bereavements only. And weddings - sometimes.
”Caesar Wasp, please. He prefers to be called Caesar Wasp. Or if you must, call him Field Marshall Wasp.”
“Field Marshall Wasp,” and Fred began to believe that as he reiterated these words, his colon had decamped into his stomach as a definite wave of nausea washed across the shores of his conscious awareness.
“He’s a great tactician and very patient and knows exactly where to position his troops to best advantage.”
So Fred said, “And where does the er .. wasp army um… target. I mean, I presume.”
“A very good question. It’s simple really: when the birds and the bees fail you can call in the wasps. We leave it entirely up to the Wasps Military Command in consultation with the revenger. But it is not unknown for the troops to attack the revengee’s crown jewels so to speak. Micky Finn gives his considered opinion, too. Caesar is very fond of our Micky Finn. He’s Daddy’s little helper. Isn’t he Caesar?”
At this point the wasp rises from his cushion and circles around Fred’s head. The wasp returns to his cushion and settles down again.
“You see, that’s his way of showing his appreciation.”
Fred is astonished. But he pulls his frayed self together. He loosens his trousers belt a notch and tries to counter attack.
“What’s that about the er…um revengee’s crown jewels?”
“Yes, these are some of our more polite terms. Wasps are very polite creatures.”
Fred shifted uncomfortably in his seat and tacked in the direction of the cool air that was suddenly wafting through an open door. The oldster had opened the door to the stairs and was standing there grinning like a full moon at Fred, the earthbound tax-man who was mentally, at least, traipsing in quagmires of bewilderments.
Fred was losing his rag and as he wiped the fluid from his face he heard himself make a very voiciferous demand.
“For god’s sake show me the books. You have books don’t you. SHOW ME YOUR BOOKS.”
“Indeed,” and the old coot disappeared up the creaking stairway.
Fred sat back in his armchair. His eye fell upon the spot where the sleeping wasp had been. But the spot was empty and for some unknown reason an ominous feeling began to crawl up his spine that precipitated a short bout of anxiety within the precincts of Fred’s skull.
It was almost inaudible at first. A low humming noise began to grow within the confines of the old house. Fred sat bemused. His mind and eyes wandered about the room scattering the trinkets of his thoughts upon the crammed moth-eaten paraphernalia and the wood-wormed furnishings. The humming increased in volume until Fred in a moment of grim realisation became aware of its origin. Frozen in his seat he gaped at the form winding down the stairs. A column of wasps, in perfect military order was wending slowly towards him. Fred’s heart bounced inside his chest and his eyes popped into a forward position. He could swear that at the head of the advancing wasps, leading them into battle was none other than that Field Marshall Caesar Wasp. Fred leapt to his feet and decided to put wisdom before valour. He dashed as fast as he was worth from the house. After all, he was never going to outmanoeuvre a Field Marshall who was familiar with the complete campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte. No, siree.
All this happened some time ago. Ron Chumley, the Revenue Commissioner, rouses the troops from the podium of an office table. His hair is askew and his discarded coat lies prone under his feet. The perspiration drizzles from his brow and his regulation tie hangs anarchically from his neck. Ron speaks in grim tones. The ears of miscellaneous typists, clerks and revenue officers are glued to his voice. Ron is saying: “It could be the end of democracy as we know it. Without taxes the body politic must cease to exist. Anarchy will prevail and decent civilization will dissolve.” Ron pauses and takes a crumpled piece of paper from his trouser pocket. The A4 sheet has a message glued on it with cut out newspaper letters. He continues: ”This document is a warning to all God-fearing citizens. We are the last revenue office in the country. The rest, as you know have been abandoned after the assaults of armies of wasps. I say ‘armies’ because they have defeated our best efforts at defence. They are organized and cunning. They are trained and well armed. The WMC have signed this threat and they will attack at 3pm. I say to you. Fight them over your desks; swat them with your files; hit them with your portfolios; swat, swat, swat them, until the very end. We shall delete them on the filing cabinets; we shall crush them in the aisles; we shall drown them in the typing pool. We shall liquidate them in Company Accounts. We shall never surrender.”
Ron pauses and says: “If you get injured there are two doctors available in the outer office. Fred Money is the appointed medical co-coordinator.” Ron steps down from the desk as the assembled officers cheer and prepare for the battle.
Meanwhile Fred listens to Ron’s speech in an outer office. A door opens and Vera from Pay As You Earn approaches him. But she has a white coat on and wears a black and yellow striped jumper under her coat. Fred looks at her again and he’s unsure if it’s Vera after all. Is it or isn’t it Vera? He whispers to himself.
Then she says; “Mister Money, there are two doctors available today. They are Doctor Caesar Marshall and Doctor Michael Finn.”
Fred looks at her again. His brain is frying and he feels a definite sense of nausea.
“Who?’” Fred asks incredulously.
“Doctor Caesar W. Marshall and Doctor Michael W. Finn.”
Fred mumbles to himself. He falls on the floor, blubbering.
“Mister Money, are you okay?” she asks in alarm.
And as her words echo down the honeycombed corridors of the building Fred begins to wail.
“It’s not true. It’s not true. It can’t be true.”
Fred looks up from the floor. For the first time he notices a sign on the wall.
‘Worldwide Alliance for Social Psychiatry.’
“W.A.S.P.” groans Fred.
A door opens and a white-coated medical type enters the arena. He smiles as he brandishes a hypodermic needle in his right hand. Fred realizes to his horror that it’s that old coot from the wasp farm.
“Now, now, Mister Money, this will calm you down.”
In a moment, men in white pants swarm around him and pin Fred to the floor.
“You’re mad,” Fred thunders.
”No, Mister Money, you are mad. You see, sanity is the consensus of the majority. The rest get stung – for life.”
“It’s democratic tyranny. Reality is a collective delusion,” Fred whispers.
“Now, now, just a little sting in the tail-end and you’ll be nice and calm. Daddy’s little helper will solve it,” the old coot says.
Fred can’t believe it. It must be a trick. The needle jabs home and he whimpers.
“I’m not mad not not not…keep your mickey finns away from me. It’s a conspiracy against…mother - mother, help me.”
As Fred falls into a deep doze the one with the empty hypodermic says: “I suppose he thinks that just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you. Now, who’s next for Daddy’s big little helper?”
He turns to the lady in the striped jumper and says: “On further consideration you can cancel all my appointments for the immediate future. I have to see a man about my tax returns. I want him to find some loopholes to get a rebate on all my kindly deeds of charity.”
And as he ambles back to his office he hums softly to himself.
“All you need is love,
love is all you need."