“I know her,” Karissa said.
I made a show of looking past the moderately attractive woman sitting at three o’clock before turning back to Karissa. “From where?”
“The gym,” she whispered before squinting to get a better look. “Oh…”
“She has the Altuzarra bucket bag.”
Karissa rolled her eyes. “The Altuzarra bucket bag. Super in-season. Impossible to get.”
“Tell me more,” I said, leaning forward.
She smirked and put her hands on top of mine.
“Matthew,” she said, “sometimes I think you’ll never appreciate the finer things in life. I don’t expect you to know about handbags but you don’t want to date a woman who doesn’t. You need me to know this stuff. Trust me.” She winked and smiled, her nose wrinkling.
Our server approached. I ordered comfort food while Karissa ordered an appetizer as her entrée, joking with him she would just eat most of mine. He gave a chuckle but Karissa and I knew she wouldn’t, mozzarella being one of the things prohibited by her self-imposed personal deprivation plan.
As he walked away, I looked over Karissa’s shoulder and noticed the owner, his back to us. I would wave if he looked around; I was a regular and he sometimes sent free food my way. He didn’t look up though, focused on the register. Karissa saw me looking over her shoulder and turned around. “What’re you looking at?”
“Trying to say hi to Anthony.”
“He’s always nice to you,” she said.
“One of the benefits of being a regular.”
After a minute, our server returned with drinks but Anthony, hunched over the cash register, still hadn’t looked up. He closed the drawer and put cash into a zippered bank deposit pouch, locking it. Then he glanced around, too briefly for me to wave without seeming spastic, before jamming a second pile of cash into his pocket as he walked through the kitchen door.
I let out a snort.
“What happened?” Karissa asked.
“He pocketed the cash.”
Karissa looked over her shoulder to where Anthony had been and then back to me, incredulous. “Isn’t this his restaurant? Isn’t that what he’s supposed to do?”
I sighed. “He took one pile of cash for a bank deposit. Then he put another wad in his pocket. To take home.”
“So?” she said, eyebrows arched.
“You’re cute…,” I said, placing my hands on hers. We had some version of this conversation not infrequently, Karissa tolerating explanations of financial idiosyncrasies. I did the same with handbags. “…but you have no idea how the world works.”
“Oh, really? Do tell.”
“He took some cash to deposit. That’s what gets recorded. His accountants will account for it, report it to the IRS and he’ll pay taxes on it. The other pile of cash, which was much bigger by the way, he’s going to keep that. He’s not going to tell his accountant about it. Or pay taxes on it. It’s a fifty percent bonus.”
“Fifty percent? Who pays fifty percent in taxes?”
I feigned exasperation. “What do you pay?”
“I don’t know. My dad does my taxes.”
“Of course he does,” I said with a second sigh. “Okay. Let’s say Anthony is in the thirty-five percent tax bracket, so he pays the government thirty-five cents of every incremental dollar he makes, right?”
“So a dollar he accounts for is really sixty-five cents, right?”
“But if he doesn’t deposit it, if he just keeps it, it’s like he actually made a dollar fifty-three. To keep a whole dollar, a single post-tax dollar,” my index finger in the air, “he actually has to make a dollar fifty-three. This way, instead of making a dollar fifty-three and paying taxes and keeping a dollar, he just makes a dollar and keeps it and the rest of us pay the taxes.”
I became animated when talking about these sorts of things, life’s little injustices.
“When you think about it, the only reason we have cash is for illegal stuff. Skimming. Gambling. Drugs. When the money’s electronic, it has to be accounted for; there’s a trail. Electronically, you can’t steal without laundering it but, stuff like this,” I said, motioning towards the cash register, “where it’s a cash business, you can just put cash in your pocket and dodge taxes all day.”
“Matthew…” Karissa said, smiling the way one does with a well-meaning child, before resting her own hands on top of mine in a conciliatory gesture, “…everyone does that.”
M. Albert Malvehy grew up in Miami Beach during the 1980s, before its gentrification and subsequent bedazzling, and completed his undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Miami. While still in clinical practice, he earned a business degree from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. He subsequently left clinical medicine to work in finance and consulting. It was during this period that he picked up literary fiction, later getting the indulgent idea he could write it. Ignoring those who say one can never go home again, Dr. Malvehy has since returned to both medicine and Miami, where he runs a boutique medical practice and writes. He is married and has two children.