Tax-free living

Editor’s note: Deidre is taking a couple weeks off. This article was originally published on May 1, 2003.

One day in the not-too-distant future … Nadir pushed the grimy broom down the hall of Viacom High School in Sparks, feeling proud that he wasn’t like so many other parents who shirked their turn at cleaning the schools. He pushed open the door of what used to be the school’s band room. The large room, its floor stained by chronic ceiling leaks, was lined with slots and video poker machines in various stages of disrepair. Makeshift hotel beds and tables with fancy place settings gave Viacom High students a chance to practice making beds for tourists, folding napkins and serving coffee from the right—or was it the left? Nadir couldn’t remember. Oh, well. At least his sons were getting the kind of job training they’d need if tourism ever picked up again.

Nadir’s mouth was dry. He couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t felt thirsty. He set down his broom and leaned over a grubby drinking fountain. Out of the spigot came a thin stream of ruddy liquid. Nadir sucked up as much as he could before gagging.

“Since I moved our international headquarters to Reno, our profits have soared,” bragged Reno mayor P.T. Zenith III. He sipped a clear, iced beverage and nodded at the young exec. “If you move Fox’s weapons division here, you won’t be sorry.”

The exec rubbed his watch distractedly. “So how are the public schools in Nevada? That’s what our employees will be asking. It’s not easy keeping qualified missile system development specialists these days. Especially for what we pay.”

Zenith looked away, out the window of his office atop the former Cal-Neva Hotel Casino.

“We have several fine private schools south of Reno,” he said, thinking of his own daughters at a boarding school in Maryland.

“Private schools?” The exec laughed. “We ain’t paying that kind of money, Mayor Z.”

“Hell, your employees don’t actually have to work here,” Zenith said, chuckling loudly. “Just think of the tax-free Silver State as the guardian of your gross receipts.”

Zenith laughed at his clever pun. The Guardian XPZ guided-missile system had catapulted this tiny firm into a mighty market force—and that was before it had been acquired by Murdoch News, War & Gaming—aka “Fox.”

It would be quite a coup to get Fox to move its weapons division to Nevada.

“Let’s talk real estate,” Zenith said. “I have a beautiful location you’ll want to see—right on the shores of the Disney Inland Sea.”

“Disney Sea? You mean the lake formerly known as Tahoe?” The exec furrowed his eyebrows. “I thought Microsoft owned that.”

“Huh-uh,” Zenith grinned. “Changed hands last year.”

The ditch north of Viacom High was nearly full. After state leaders had decided more than a decade ago that garbage collection was an unnecessary frill, a contractor volunteered to dig a garbage dump in the middle of what had been the state’s largest track and field facility. After all, the field hadn’t been used since the early 2000s.

Track meets, football games, soccer—these games were offered to wealthy kids at private schools, kids who could pay to play.

Nadir pulled the barrel over to the ditch and gave it a good shake to dislodge the contents. Paper bags. Pencil stubs. Diapers left behind by teen moms who brought their babies with them to class.

Nadir headed back into the building and stowed the empty garbage barrel in a large storage room with dozens of derelict computer monitors and CPUs. The school district kept the computers around in case, someday, there’d be money to turn the power back on. Nadir pulled the door shut and locked it, studying the faded letters that had once marked the room: “Library.”