Plot Summary

The setting for this one is the U.S. in the 20th century or possibly early 21st century (as imagined from a 1970s perspective). That is to say, it's modern day or near-future from a technological perspective. The protagonist (a truck driver, IIRC) has learned that someone has reported him for not paying his taxes a few years ago. In this U.S., that is a capital crime, and the sentence is delivered via an IRS assassin, with no appeal or clemency possible.

I am a bit fuzzy on how the assassin first contacts the protagonist. I think he pays a courtesy call to the man's house. I seem to remember something about a legally-required period of notification, and an offer to make it quick if the man surrenders, but I'm very iffy on those points. What I do recall is that protagonist flees his home, with the hopes of reaching Mexico (and thus, escape his death sentence).

The story proceeds with a cat and mouse type pursuit with several close calls. As the man nears Mexico, he sees his final obstacle to freedom. The U.S. has built a massive wall along the border, to keep people from escaping the U.S. (IIRC, there are other reasons besides the tax one) The man crashes the vehicle he is driving (with the IRS agent - assassin close behind), but manages to get over the wall.

The man thinks he is safe, but then he learns there's a trick. This is actually not the border wall. That's several hundreds yards further south. The "dummy wall" was put there to trap people trying to escape. The IRS agent explains all of this to the man as he prepares to shoot him dead. The protagonist is about to give up all hope, when he remembers something. He quickly asks the agent about the year he didn't pay his taxes. He then points out that he made too small a sum that year to have owed taxes in the first place. The agent reluctantly admits that the man is right, and leaves the man with his life.

The story closes with the protagonist walking towards the true border wall, secure with the knowledge he is a free man.

Time or Era of Publication

I'm almost positive I read this one in a sci-fi collection from the 1970s. It could be older than that, but I don't think it was from anything more recent than the 1970s.

  • 3
    O.K. other than being set in the future, what part of this is a sci-fi/fantasy story?
    – Möoz
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 2:47
  • 7
    @Mooz Alternate history is a recognized subgenre of SF.
    – user14111
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 2:55
  • 8
    @user14111: This isn't alternate history: at the time it was written, it was straightforward set-in-the-future sci-fi. (That said, I have no idea what Mooz is getting at: either way, it's clearly sci-fi.)
    – ruakh
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 5:44
  • 5
    What? That story was fictional? Oh... Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 8:20
  • 3
    + 1 for the description, an exemplary story-ID question Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 10:25

1 Answer 1


This is The Tax Man by Stephen Robinett.

You're right about the time frame; it appeared in Analog in February 1975.

The ending is not quite as you remember it, as least as far as the reason for escape; the protagonist convinces the tax man that the destruction of his truck during the pursuit constitutes the loss of a capital asset, and that this reduced his tax liability to zero.

It ends:

"Loopholes," said Lamb, picking himself up. "Loopholes."

He walked towards Mexico.

  • 7
    I recall the loss of the truck being the reason that he is saved now. That makes a lot more sense than my original remembrance (i.e. simply and suddenly remembering you didn't owe any taxes in the first place).
    – Helbent IV
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 3:07
  • 3
    @RedshirtCrewmember your method wouldn't make sense at all. Why would the IRS send an assassin without first verifying that the report actually is true?
    – Nzall
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 10:26
  • 1
    Also, the actual ending also has a weird loophole: He failed to pay his taxes years ago. How would the loss of a capital asset in the current year reduce his tax liability for those years ago?
    – Nzall
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 10:28
  • 10
    @Nzall - tax law is funny like that. :) Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 11:29
  • 1
    This story sounds interesting. Where can I go to get a copy of this book/magazine? The link above doesn't appear to be to the story.
    – Classified
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 21:52

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