International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: California Stories
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.
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, Im barely making it now with
one furlough day and we know more are coming. And were probably
going to be laid off anyway."
"Yeah, youre 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 its some kind of test the Bureau is doing. Hes
a dumb guy. Hell go for it."
"Okay, but we have to split it two ways. Lets make it a $200,000
But Arnold, the market guy, was even dumber than Hank had thought. "What?
Hank yelled at Arnold. "You sold that ticket I gave you!"
"Im sorry," said Arnold. "We got busy, I reached
into the wrong drawer. Cant you do your test or whatever it was
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."
"Whats her name?"
"Hoskins. Mrs. Hoskins."
"Do you know where Mrs. Hoskins lives?"
"Yeah, its not far from here. I made a couple of deliveries
to her. Ill 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 IDs. "We
understand you bought a lottery ticket at that store down the road,"
"Yes, I did. I dont ordinarily buy lottery tickets, but everything
has gotten so expensive nowadays. I thought, wouldnt it be nice
if I can win something."
"Uh, thats 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, "Hes 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?"
"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
"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 were authorized to give
you ten lottery tickets in return."
"Thatll give you ten times as much a chance to win something,"
"Oh, thatll be nice. Theres 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, Im sure
you boys know all about that."
"If hes a manager, that shouldnt 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
Billy told me it was silly, but I made him take the ticket
"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?
Youll still get the ten lottery tickets, of course."
"I will? Thats very generous of you. Ill write down
Billys 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 IDs and explained why they were there.
"My mother actually thinks its 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
"Thats just it, I dont have it any longer."
Jeez, thought Hank. Whats wrong with this family? Cant they
even hold on to a lottery ticket? "Where is it," he asked.
"I gave it to a homeless guy."
"A homeless guy? Then well 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. Hes 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 Id give a million bucks to win
the lottery. I thought that was funny so I gave it to him. You and I
know he hasnt a chance of winning, but it made him feel good."
"Do you know this guys name?"
"Its, uh, Joe, or maybe John. Im not sure."
"And where exactly is this gift store?"
Billy told them. By this time it was night. Hank and Pete agreed theyd
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, wasnt 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 hadnt 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. "Were from the State lottery
agency." He and Pete both flashed their SLOB IDs.
"Did some guy gave you a lottery ticket yesterday?"
"My names John." He gave then a wary look. "So
what if he did? It aint against the law, is it?"
"No, no," said Hank. "Its perfectly legal. The
only thing is thats one of our test tickets. It shouldnt
have been sold. Now we have to get it back."
"A test ticket? Like maybe its a winner?"
"No, its not that," said Hank with all the sincerity
of one of the State politicians telling a lie. "Its worthless.
Its just that we goofed and our boss will have our asses if we
dont 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. "Were authorized to give you
ten lottery tickets in return."
John laughed. "Ha, we know what theyre worth. I want real
"Okay. Were authorized to give you $50."
John looked doubtful. "$100," said Pete quickly.
"Thats 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 dont know," she said.
"Whats 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 tickets a big winner."
Hank could see that this woman was going to be stubborn. But he hadnt
gone this far for nothing. He quickly reached over and snatched the
ticket from the boys 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 States, was so far in the red.
There wasnt an officer in sight. Hank and Pete got away Scott
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
weeks lottery winning numbers on the bars 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,
There was a buzzing in the bar. Again, Hank looked over at Pete. This
time he said, "Thats f------ California. That goddamn crook.
You cant win."
The TV announcer spoke again. "Another bit of State news. The Governor
has ordered a second furlough day."
© Martin Green August 2009
“I wonder why Irv Kane hates me?” I said.
“Irv Kane hates a lot of people,” said my friend Abe Silverman.
“Yeah, but he seems to have a special hatred for me.”
Paul Lerner opened his eyes and looked at the bedside clock---8:15. He’d made it through another night, he told himself. Since his last birthday, 87, he’d found himself saying, or thinking, this every morning.
The Thanksgiving Dinner (Post-Trump)
Ah, Thanksgiving. The time for families to get together. This year we were scheduled to go to Ellen’s sister Sophie and her husband Mort’s for the annual feast. And I’d have to deal with Mort’s crowing after Donald Trump, to everyone’s surprise, not to say shock, had won the presidential election.
Nicks going to ask you for that loan. I
knew it when they announced those furloughs.
of the Day
The alarm rang. 6:45. Arnold Gray reached over and turned it off.
His wife Mary stirred slightly but remained asleep. How many days since
theyd done it now? 23 and counting.
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