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The International Writers Magazine - Our 23rd Year: California Stories

The Lottery Ticket
Martin Green

It began as a simple scheme by two clerks who worked in the State Lottery Oversight Bureau (SLOB). The two, Hank and Pete, were sitting around one afternoon with nothing much to do. The State, it was California, was in a bad way. Work had slowed down and the Governor had already ordered one furlough day a month, which was like a five percent pay cut.. Employees spent most of their time talking about what bad thing was going to happen next. Rumors were swirling around like smoke from a forest fire (these were also happening in California), more furloughs, pay cuts, layoffs.

"Hey," said Hank. "What if we rigged the lottery?"
"What?" said Pete.
"You know. Nothing big. Like if we arranged, kind of, to get hold of, say a $100,000 ticket. Hell, I’m barely making it now with one furlough day and we know more are coming. And we’re probably going to be laid off anyway."
"Yeah, you’re right. How are we going to do it?"
"Well, I know this guy who runs a little market in my neighborhood. We see to it that he gets a winning ticket and then he gives it to me."
"Why should he give it to you?"
"I tell him it’s some kind of test the Bureau is doing. He’s a dumb guy. He’ll go for it."
"Okay, but we have to split it two ways. Let’s make it a $200,000 ticket."

But Arnold, the market guy, was even dumber than Hank had thought. "What?’ Hank yelled at Arnold. "You sold that ticket I gave you!"
"I’m sorry," said Arnold. "We got busy, I reached into the wrong drawer. Can’t you do your test or whatever it was over again.?"
Hank grabbed Arnold by the collar. "I hope you know who you sold that ticket to," he hissed.
Arnold took a relieved breath. "Yeah, yeah, I know who it was, a nice old lady, shops in here all the time."
"What’s her name?"
"Hoskins. Mrs. Hoskins."
"Do you know where Mrs. Hoskins lives?"
"Yeah, it’s not far from here. I made a couple of deliveries to her. I’ll go get her address."

As Arnold had told them, Mrs. Hoskins lived not far from the store. Her house was a small one, but it looked well-kept and the tiny lawn in front was neat and green. Hank rang the bell and when Mrs. Hoskins came to the door he and Pete showed her their SLOB ID’s. "We understand you bought a lottery ticket at that store down the road," said Hank.

"Yes, I did. I don’t ordinarily buy lottery tickets, but everything has gotten so expensive nowadays. I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if I can win something."
"Uh, that’s what we want to talk to you about."
"You do. Well, come on in. My son Billy works for the State, too." She added proudly, "He’s a manager."

She led them into a pleasant living room with family pictures displayed on tables and on the walls. "Can I get you boys some tea?" she asked.
"Uh, sure," said Hank.
"Yeah, please," said Pete.

When Mrs. Hoskins went into the kitchen, Hank said to Pete, "This should be a piece of cake."

Seated and sipping their tea, Hank and Pete started their attack. "We printed some special lottery tickets, to, uh, keep track of where they went." Said Hank.

"To make sure nobody cheated, you know," said Pete.
"Right," said Hank. "And you got one of those tickets by mistake."
"My goodness," said Mrs. Hoskins. "Am I in trouble?"
"No, of course not," said Hank. "In fact, all you need to do is give us back that ticket and we’re authorized to give you ten lottery tickets in return."
"That’ll give you ten times as much a chance to win something," said Pete.
"Oh, that’ll be nice. There’s just one thing, I gave my ticket to my son Billy."
"Yes. You see, I was visiting them just yesterday. I told you Billy is a State manager. He has to take a furlough day; well, I’m sure you boys know all about that."
"If he’s a manager, that shouldn’t hurt that bad."
"He does make a good salary, but he bought one of those big houses when everything was so expensive; you know, the housing bubble. Now he has to struggle to pay his mortgage. I thought, if he could win the lottery … Billy told me it was silly, but I made him take the ticket anyway."
"That was very nice of you," said Hank. "But we still have to get that ticket back. Can you tell us where your son lives? You’ll still get the ten lottery tickets, of course."
"I will? That’s very generous of you. I’ll write down Billy’s address."

Billy’s house was a large one, but, Hank and Pete noticed, rather sparsely furnished. Maybe all of his money had gone to buying it with not much left over and now there was that big mortgage to pay. Billy had been as hospitable as his mother after Hank and Pete had showed him their SLOB ID’s and explained why they were there.

"My mother actually thinks it’s possible for someone to win the lottery," he said, laughing. "You fellows know better, right? You have a better chance of being struck by lightning."
"Yeah, ha ha," said Hank.
"But I had to humor her so I let her give it to me and pretended it was a big deal."
"So you have it now. We explained why we have to get that ticket back."
"That’s just it, I don’t have it any longer."

Jeez, thought Hank. What’s wrong with this family? Can’t they even hold on to a lottery ticket? "Where is it," he asked.
"I gave it to a homeless guy."
"A homeless guy? Then we’ll never be able to track it down."
"No, you should have no problem. I know where this guy hangs out, downtown, usually in front of a gift store. He’s harmless and the store owner kind of looks after him. She sometimes lets him sweep up and gives him a few dollars. I see him every time I go downtown and usually give him a dollar or two. This time he saw the lottery ticket in my wallet and said, "Boy I’d give a million bucks to win the lottery. I thought that was funny so I gave it to him. You and I know he hasn’t a chance of winning, but it made him feel good."
"Do you know this guy’s name?"
"It’s, uh, Joe, or maybe John. I’m not sure."
"And where exactly is this gift store?"

Billy told them. By this time it was night. Hank and Pete agreed they’d go downtown first thing next day.

It was rainy and windy when Hank and Pete found the gift store and maybe that was the reason Joe, or John, wasn’t around. They went inside the store and talked to the owner. Yes, she knew the homeless guy and he was usually somewhere in the vicinity but she hadn’t seen him that morning. It was probably the weather. Hank and Pete loitered around the store for a bit and the rain let up. "There he is," said the owner. "Across the street. Under the awning."

Hank and Pete dashed out and over to the homeless guy, who was dressed in several layers of clothes and had an old shopping cart with him. "Joe," said Hank. "We’re from the State lottery agency." He and Pete both flashed their SLOB ID’s.
"Did some guy gave you a lottery ticket yesterday?"
"My name’s John." He gave then a wary look. "So what if he did? It ain’t against the law, is it?"
"No, no," said Hank. "It’s perfectly legal. The only thing is that’s one of our test tickets. It shouldn’t have been sold. Now we have to get it back."
"A test ticket? Like maybe it’s a winner?"
"No, it’s not that," said Hank with all the sincerity of one of the State politicians telling a lie. "It’s worthless. It’s just that we goofed and our boss will have our asses if we don’t get it back."
"We really need to get it back," said Pete with equal sincerity.
"Huh," said John. "Well, maybe. But I should get something out of it."
"Sure," said Hank. "We’re authorized to give you ten lottery tickets in return."
John laughed. "Ha, we know what they’re worth. I want real money."
"Okay. We’re authorized to give you $50."
John looked doubtful. "$100," said Pete quickly.
"That’s more like it. Okay." John reached into one of his many pockets and extracted the lottery ticket but just then a gust of wind came up and blew it from his shaky fingers. The ticket flew up in the air as if it was a bird taking off while Hank and Pete stared upward in disbelief.

Gordon, an eight-year old boy, was shopping downtown with his mother. She was busy looking into the window of a dress store. A piece of paper blown by the wind came down and landed at his feet. He picked it up. "Look, Mommy," he cried. "I found a lottery ticket."

Hank and Pete came running up. "Hand me that ticket, kid," said Hank, gasping. Once again, the SLOB ID was flashed. "This is official business. I need that ticket."

Gordon looked up at his mother. "Do I have to?" he asked.
The mother looked uncertain. "I don’t know," she said. "What’s this all about?"
"That ticket is part of a test to catch cheaters. It got out be mistake. We need it back."
"I never heard of such a test. Maybe that ticket’s a big winner."

Hank could see that this woman was going to be stubborn. But he hadn’t gone this far for nothing. He quickly reached over and snatched the ticket from the boy’s hand and started to run. Pete took off after him. The woman shouted, "Police. Help, police." But the number of police personnel downtown had already been drastically cut by the city because its budget, like the State’s, was so far in the red. There wasn’t an officer in sight. Hank and Pete got away Scott free .

Hank and Pete were in a bar filled with other State workers, all grousing about the Governor, about the furlough, about more cuts coming down the road. Hank looked over at Pete and winked. The announcement of the week’s lottery winning numbers on the bar’s big TV set should be coming soon. A caption saying "Breaking News" appeared on the screen. The announcer said, "This just in. The head of the State Lottery Oversight Board has disappeared and millions of lottery dollars have disappeared with him. All lottery drawings have been suspended, indefinitely."

There was a buzzing in the bar. Again, Hank looked over at Pete. This time he said, "That’s f------ California. That goddamn crook. You can’t win."

The TV announcer spoke again. "Another bit of State news. The Governor has ordered a second furlough day."

© Martin Green August 2009

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