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The International Writers Magazine

Congratulations - You Are a Winner!
Thomas Healy

Later than usual for work, Gus Chesney rushed out to his Subaru wagon and started to unlock the door when he noticed the left front tire.  It was flat as a dinner plate, with several deep gashes in its side.  The air valve was nearly sheared off, hanging by a small thread.  The back left tire was also flat.
"Can you believe it?"

     It was his next door neighbor, Will Fowler, standing in the driveway beside his burgundy Taurus.
     "Your tires slashed too?"
     "All four of them," he fumed, slamming the heel of his palm on the hood.  "It's absolutely ridiculous."
     Chesney also was upset but not as much as Fowler, who had only moved into the neighborhood a month ago and was not used to the occasional problems associated with residing within a few blocks of a high school.  The guy will be, he thought, if he stayed long enough.
     "You figure some kids from the school are behind this?"
     "I can't imagine who else would be."
     "The savages," he railed.  "I just wonder how they'd like it if someone flattened the tires of their cars.  I wish I knew where they lived because, believe me, I wouldn't have any hesitation about doing just that.  They deserve it, the damn savages."
     "They wouldn't like it."
     "You're damn right they wouldn't.  And their parents wouldn't, either, but they don't care.  For a few cheap thrills they get to make life miserable for everyone but themselves."

     Chesney took a taxi to work, deciding to call a towing company early the next morning to haul his car to a tire shop to replace the damaged tires.  A shipping clerk for an electronics supply store, he found stacks of orders and messages when he finally sat down at his desk and did not get through them all until a few minutes before it was time to break for lunch.  Tired, he tilted back and stretched his arms straight above his head, groaning softly under his breath.  He started to get up then decided to see if he had received any personal messages on his Yahoo account since he checked earlier this morning.
     Scrolling through his in-box, he noticed an email from "Toyota Car Promotions."  He did not open it at first, suspecting it was some lame offer to purchase another overpriced car, and read two other messages he had received.  Then he went back to it and, to his amazement, read that he had been selected for a cash prize of 3,600,000 Pounds Sterling and a brand new Toyota Prius.  He could not believe it, he had never won a thing in his life, and carefully read the notification again.

     "The selection process was carried out through random selection in our company database of over 250,000 email addresses from all the continents of the world," it explained.  Further, it said this was the tenth promotional lottery sponsored by Toyota and was approved by the British Gaming Board.  Still, he remained skeptical, doubting if someone who had never won even a stuffed bear at a shooting gallery could ever be the recipient of such a magnificent prize.  He knew of course that all sorts of people win lotteries, not just luck and clever people, but he could not believe he could be so fortunate.  And yet it seemed credible, particularly the secret pin code and reference numbers he had been provided, in red ink, to use when he contacted the claims agent to receive his lottery prize.

     He had to reply to the agent within five business days of the notification otherwise the prize would be revoked.  Anxiously he tapped a thumbnail against the side of the computer screen, trying to decide what he should do.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime, certainly, making it possible for him to satisfy every obligation he owed and do just about whatever he wished, but it just seemed too good to be true.  He looked up from the screen at the other employees in the store, wishing he could ask one of them for advice but he was cautioned in the email not to tell anyone about the prize to avoid any fraudulent claim being made.

     Despite his reservations, he contacted the agent, furnishing him with the confidential numbers and his name and address and nationality and telephone number.  Then he clicked off his Yahoo account and leaned back from the screen.  A ring of perspiration spread across the middle of his back.  His throat felt dry and his heart pounded so furiously he was afraid everyone in the store could hear it.
     He might well be a millionaire, many times over, Chesney thought to himself, as he hurried out of the store at half past noon.  Usually he took his lunch pail into the storage room and ate his sandwich at a work bench with a few others, but he was too excited to go there today.  He could not sit still and, besides, he was afraid he might be tempted to disclose that he had won a lottery that would make him rich enough to buy a chain of supply stores.

     He walked so briskly the first few blocks he felt as if he had sprouted wings, as if he were soaring past the crowded car wash, the Armenian pawnshop, the check-cashing store, the motorcycle dealership, the dry cleaning store.  What usually took several minutes to travel he seemingly did in a matter of seconds.  But he was scarcely aware of all the places he passed, all he could think about was the possibility that he might be a very wealthy man soon.  Then, crossing against a red light, he was nearly sideswiped by a brown panel truck, which had to swerve sharply to keep from hitting him.

     Slow down, he cautioned himself, the truck's horn blaring in his ears.  Or else you might not be able to spend any of your prize money.

     Heading back, he paused in front of the pawnshop and stared at the display of Spanish doubloons in the grimy window.  In another day or two, he reckoned, he could easily purchase the doubloons, probably everything in the shop.  The notion filled him with satisfaction, knowing that he could have almost anything he wanted, but all he needed at the moment was four tires to replace the ones that had been slashed.  If he won a great deal of money, as he hoped was the case, he didn't expect to go on a huge spending splurge because there just wasn't much he required now in his life.  Maybe if he was a little younger he might consider purchasing an Italian sports car, perhaps also a speedboat so he could go water skiing when he wished, but such possessions didn't interest him any longer.  Basically he was content with what he had however modest it might appear to others.

     Stepping away from the pawnshop, he thought of his Uncle Dennis who a couple of times a week played blackjack at the Indian casino at the beach.  He loved to win of course, regardless of the size of the amount, but even more he enjoyed all the attention he received from the dealers and the pit bosses.  What he referred to as "the sweet grease" that went with being a frequent player.  They called him by his first name, knew what he liked to drink, provided him with tickets to performances in the show room, always placed a bowl of Camel Lights at his elbow.  That was something Chesney thought he might enjoy too and he was confident he would receive it if he won the money he was promised.
     The next morning Chesney arrived early at the store and sat down at his computer and immediately checked his in-box to see if he had any messages.  There were three and, sure enough, the first one was from the claims agent.  Feeling as if he should sign himself with the cross, he took a deep breath then opened the email.

     "I received your email and have forwarded your winning cheque and car to the courier firm that will handle the delivery," the reply began matter-of-factly.  He was so ecstatic he turned away from the screen, the blood rising in his face, his pulse racing.  He wanted to let out a scream but quickly composed himself and looked back at the screen.

     The agent then informed him that his prize would be delivered to him "within 24 hours after you have taken care of the required cost."  His smile quickly dissolved when he saw the word "cost," his heart fluttered in the back of his throat.  He realized then he would not be the recipient of a grand prize but more than likely was the target of some kind of scam.  He was not really surprised, having all along suspected it was a ruse, though he could not deny that there was a small glimmer of hope that it might be genuine.

     Dejectedly he clicked off the message, refusing to read anymore of it, and went to Google and typed in "Toyota Car Promotions."  Seconds later, in thick black letters, appeared the headnote "Scam Example."  The lottery he supposedly won, he discovered, was in fact a scheme run by a gang of scammers in Lagos, Nigeria with no connection whatsoever to the Japanese company.  Sometimes Toyota was used in the fraudulent promotion, sometimes BMW or Honda.
     God Almighty, he thought, shaking his head.  Nigeria seemed as far away as the moon.

Later that afternoon, during his coffee break, Chesney went to the bank around the corner and made a modest cash withdrawal to buy the tires for his car.  The young teller who waited on him treated him brusquely, as if the money belonged to her, and not him, her eyes as dull as the tone of her voice.  When he asked for an envelope to put the stack of twenty dollar bills, she sighed audibly and rummaged around in a drawer and pulled out a crinkled envelope and shoved it under the glass partition then turned her back to resume the conversation she was having with another teller before he interrupted her.

Idiot, he thought to himself, stepping away from the partition.

Of course, if he had all the money he was promised, she would never have treated him so rudely but would have gone out of her way to be helpful, smiling a Chiclet smile that would have made him shade his eyes.  Yesterday, he was a millionaire, able to afford the most expensive brand of tires available, but not today.  He was used to looking for bargains, though, so he didn't mind not having all the money he was told he had, but what he wished he could have was some of that grease his uncle relished so much when he played blackjack.  Then he would not have to put up with the rudeness of some teller in a bank, then he would feel as if he were a person of means.

© Thomas Healy Jan 2007

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