The Lottery Winner By James Miller
It was a fine summer’s day when George’s front doorbell rang in the middle of the afternoon. He had just enjoyed a refreshing glass of Chardonnay to celebrate his 55th birthday and, as he headed towards the vestibule, was in excellent fettle. That was about to change, very dramatically.
Standing a couple of paces back from his doorstep was a young man with a mop of long black hair.
“Good afternoon” said George to the stranger. “Can I help you?”
“Oh, you most definitely can, Mr Gardiner,” he replied, smiling. He then pulled out a copy of the local paper from his jacket. “I’ve been reading about you and we have something to discuss. The theft of my property, to be exact.”
George was stunned. It was as if he had been clubbed with a sledge hammer….
Six months earlier – on Monday, April 7 – an event was to transform George’s boring, mundane life as an unimpressive chartered accountant going nowhere.
The grimness of George’s professional prospects was mirrored in all other aspects of his life. He had married Wendy when he was 20 and she had bossed him around ever since.
On Monday, April 7 the Gardiners had breakfasted in total silence, as usual. George’s car was in for a service so they headed together for a Number 4 bus.
It was on time for a change and they sat at the front. As the bus was about to pull away, George spotted a National Lottery ticket, wedged into the chrome rim of the seat in front of him.
“It’s a ticket for this week; that’s a good start to a Monday! ” said George happily, slipping it into his wallet.
Seven days later George Gardiner walked purposefully into his boss’s office and told him to stuff his job. George’s ticket had netted him a little over £9m but the bonanza was a something he and Wendy decided to keep to themselves. No publicity meant no tricky questions about how and where he “bought” his ticket and as the Gardiners were literally friendless, they didn’t have to explain why they were taking early retirement.
However, news of their good fortune did filter out. Wendy was certain their solicitor’s glamorous receptionist – “ a yappy, stuck up bitch” – was the culprit. The evening paper then got wind of it and a clever reporter door-stepped a surprised Wendy into confirming they had won big in the Lottery.
Other than the unwelcome newspaper publicity, all was good with the Gardiners. The windfall had transformed their lives and re-ignited a spark in their relationship that had been extinguished for years. For them every day was wonderful until the dark-haired young man arrived on their doorstep….
“What theft? No idea what you are on about” George blurted, having recovered some composure.
“Well, I’ve read all about your big win but we both know that it wasn’t your ticket Mr Gardiner, don’t we?”
“Are you mad? I’m sorry, I’ve nothing to say to you” said George and slammed the door shut.
The young man then popped open the letterbox and shouted, “I’ll come back tomorrow once you’ve had time to consider this” and posted through an envelope.
George shouted on Wendy and watched the man walk calmly down the garden.
The secret was out! But how on earth had this lad uncovered it. They had told no one?
George babbled out details of the encounter to Wendy.
“What’s in the envelope?” she asked. George tore it open and started to read the letter inside.
“My name is Alfie Franks and I bought the Lottery ticket that won you £9, 847, 637. I left it on a Number 4 bus and you stole it and claimed my money.
“I do not want to make trouble for you but I want what is rightfully mine. On the other hand, if you refuse to cooperate, I will expose you as a cheat.”
The Gardiners were dumbfounded and sat around the dining room table until after midnight discussing how this man knew so much and what options were open to them. They concluded that they were completely cornered.
They decided they would speak to the man the following day and test the veracity of his story. Deep down, they both knew that this “Alfie” held all the cards. Probably the best they could do was broker some kind of deal or cover up. Alfie came across as an educated, pragmatic character. He had expressed no anger at their deception and was may be open to reason.
They both had a sleepless night but their strategy was agreed.
Right on time, the door bell sounded.
“You had better come in,” said George, without any greeting. He introduced Alfie to Wendy and they sat formally around a table.
“Your claim seems extraordinary to us and, without any sort of evidence, is groundless,” said George, sounding out the young man.
“I hope you are not going to be difficult, Mr Gardiner. We both know the truth.”
“Let me take you through it. I shoved the ticket into the back of the bus seat while I chatted to my pal. It was only after I stepped off that I realised I had left it. Luckily for me, I saw you and your wife take the seat – and the ticket – as the bus left the stop.
“I didn’t give it any further thought but when I saw your picture in The Herald it was pretty clear to me that you had cashed in my ticket. I couldn’t remember all the numbers I had chosen but enough to know it was my ticket.”
“I repeat, you have no evidence,” replied George calmly.
“Not on me,” stated Alfie confidently, “But it is my face – not yours – on the newsagent’s CCTV buying the ticket and I know when and where I bought it. That’s your evidence. It is irrefutable”. He smiled smugly.
The Gardiners were silent. The real owner of the Lottery ticket was sitting opposite them. There seemed to be no doubt about it.
“We need time to consider what you’ve said” George requested. “Can you come back in an hour?”
Alfie agreed and returned 60 minutes later.
“We would like to negotiate,” said George.
“You have nothing to negotiate!”
But after some persuasion and to the Gardiners’ relief, Alfie became less inflexible and began to talk and compromise.
Two weeks later Alfie gazed contentedly at his laptop screen, where the RBS website displayed his current account details. “Seven million smackeroos!” he muttered to himself. He regarded himself as both Lucky and Smart.
Lucky to have been seated behind the Gardiners when they discovered and pocketed the lottery ticket on the Number 4 bus. Lucky to have spotted their picture in the evening paper. And smart enough to execute a plan to dupe them.
Meanwhile, Tony Gillespie clocked off his eight-hour shift at the Nationwide tyre replacement depot as an apprentice fitter on the minimum wage. Tony had long forgotten about the Lottery ticket he had left on the Number 4 bus on Monday, April 7.
Clype by MONICA CALLAN
‘Why can’t I come with you?’
‘Because you’re a girl.’
‘No that’s not a good enough reason.’
‘Look, I want to be with my own friends, without you always tagging along. We’re going to play football and climb trees, boy things. Go and find some girls to play with. Look there’s Whatshername and all those girls from school. Now go.’
I looked to where he pointed. The girls, in their pretty sleeveless dresses, sat outside McKinlay’s farmhouse, comparing their dolls and chatting. All white socks and black patent shoes. Their brushed and braided hair adorned with clips and hairbands. I looked at myself in last years t-shirt and cut-off shorts, my scraggy hair flailing round my face. Wriggling my toes I saw them peek through holes in Alex’s old canvas shoes. I didn’t have a doll.
‘But they’re boring Alex. Can I not play football with you?’
‘No, there’s no girls in our gang. Now bugger off.’
‘Oh I’m telling mammy that you said a bad word.’
‘See, that’s the other thing, you’re a wee clype too.’
The word took my breathe away. Surely he knew I wouldn’t tell. I was never a clype. Using my shocked silence to gain his freedom he took off down the field. His friends, dangling from the trees, egged him on to hurry up and he sprinted away, afraid I would follow. I tried, the breathe catching in my chest, nettles and brambles hooking my legs, leaving stings I would feel later. I stopped when they disappeared into the dark woods. Panting and crying, I watched until they reappeared again, crossing the flooded field to the football pitch.
With mum at work, Alex was supposed to be looking after me, and he usually did. He showed me where the mice lived in the hedges and which ponds had the most frog spawn, which trees were easy to climb, and where the birds nested in the barns. But the fun always ended as soon as his friends showed up. Then I was dumped.
The sun had dried up all the puddles in our garden so I wandered to the pond in McKinlay’s orchard to check for frogs, but only water boatmen skated there. Lying in the shade, with my face almost in the stagnant water I watched them slide around.
‘Hey! I see you. You leave my apples alone and get out of here.’
‘I’m not going near your apples – they’re not even ripe yet, moron.’
I kicked up the dust as I fled along the lane to see the cows. It was cool under the trees at the gate where Tilly and her sisters sheltered in the soft mud. They mooed, watching me with interest as I climbed the metal bars and sat surveying the open fields and wide countryside.
‘It’s a grand sight eh?’
I turned to the voice. A man with greying hair, in a dark brown suit and matching city shoes, was standing just by my right shoulder. I shuffled further along so he could see better.
‘Suppose it’s alright.’
‘You probably see it every day so you don’t realise how lovely it is.’
His voice was whispery so I had to lean towards him. He smelled like the village boys on a Saturday night. I shrugged. I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers.
‘I sell tractors and I was just leaving the farm over there,’ he said pointing to where I had come from, ‘but I had to stop when I saw this view.’
‘At McKinlay’s farm?’
‘But they have cows and apples. They don’t plough fields.’
‘Funny, that’s what he said too.’
He licked his lips. Beads of sweat had appeared on his face as he scanned the countryside.
‘God it’s hot eh? Know what? I think I’m going to drive on into the village and get some ice cream. Do you want to come? I’ll get you one too.’
‘I can’t. I’m not allowed to go beyond the boundary wall.’
‘What? A big girl like you not allowed to go into the village just down there.’ He pointed at the church spire poking up through the distant trees. ‘ How old are you anyway?’
With his eyes darting about he reminded me of the weasels that lived in the dark woods, sitting up on their hind legs with their necks stretched, heads turning, always alert, always checking. He sidled nearer to me.
‘I’m nine and I can go, just not on my own.’.
‘Well now, you won’t be on your own. I’ll be with you.’
‘No I can only go if my big brother is with me.’
‘You have a big brother? Where’s he then?
He stepped back and looked up and down the lane.
‘He’s about. He’s supposed to be watching me but his friends came over.’
I sighed and looked at the ground.
‘And I bet he left you all on your own to go off with them. Well that’s not very nice is it? But imagine when you tell him that you had an ice cream and he didn’t. Won’t he be jealous. It’ll serve him right for leaving you alone.’
I thought of what he said. It was true, for once I’d have something that Alex didn’t and I’d have my own adventure story to tell him too.
‘So what’s it to be then, a nice big strawberry ice cream?’
‘I prefer chocolate.’
‘Well chocolate it is then. I’m sure they’ll have that.’
‘Baptiste’s? They have every flavour. They’re the best. We went there for my birthday and I had the biggest ice cream ever.’
I could see the ice cream, in the long heavy glass, topped with nuts, whipped cream and runny caramel. At the bottom was that thick sauce that was really just melted chocolate. Swallowing hard, I could almost taste it.
‘Well let’s go then. What are we waiting for?’
Little trails of sweat ran down his face and I thought he probably needed the ice cream more than I did. His dark car sat low under shady trees. It’s long nose facing up towards us. Imagine, me in a fancy car! I would roll the window down and wave to everyone. I was just swinging my leg over the gate when it dawned on me that his car was facing the wrong way if he’d come from the farm. I stopped climbing. He stared at me and I thought, no it wasn’t the weasels he reminded me of, but Sally cat when she had a mouse in her sights just before she pounced. I jumped backwards into the mud beside the cows.
‘Sorry mister. I can’t. I think I hear my brother and his friends over there.’
‘Oh. That’s a shame. But hey, maybe next time. Anyway, don’t tell the boys that I’m buying ice cream or they’ll all want one, and I’m not made of money. And don’t be getting me into trouble with your mum either for wanting to take you down to the village. I was only going to get you an ice cream after all’
‘I’m not a clype mister,’ I shouted back to him as I ran across the cow field.