Monday, May 7, 2012

Lotto Man by Duke Droste

I should have realized that I pushed things too far. A simple mistake really, but I learned a valuable lesson. It started when I won the Texas Lottery twice in the same month. It’s not as amazing as it might seem. I’m a software engineer by trade and I had cataloged the winning numbers for several months when I saw a pattern. It’s akin to predicting where a raindrop will fall as it rolls to the bottom of a window. Instead, it’s applied to fifty ping- pong balls. So I see this pattern in the way the numbers fall, and I wrote a software app to help estimate within an acceptable variance the likelihood that a certain series might drop.

I’ll try not to get too technical, but I study the printout of future numbers until I see them pop into my head, then I break them up into combination sets of six. I repeat purchase all the combinations so that my numbers have a chance to hit every Wednesday and Saturday for a month.

This is how I won twice. Two different sets matched three weeks apart, and I won approximately eleven million dollars after taxes. It’s not chump-change, but not crazy-let’s-buy-an-island money. The second time I arrived at the Austin lottery offices they scrutinized me but chalked it up to dumb luck. Loving the attention received from friends and family, I also became a celebrity at work; my co-workers couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t quit.

Curious if I could pull a hat trick, I wanted to continue my research and tried again. I had heard of people winning the lottery twice, but never three times. Three was statistically more difficult, but the ‘Wow’ factor resonated huge to my ego, and I couldn’t resist the challenge. I won again, not realizing the consequences.

Another week passed, and as usual, I was working late at my company’s office. Everyone had left for the day, except me. The quiet helped me concentrate. A noise came from down the hallway. I thought it must be the cleaning crew. Buried deep into a problem, I hardly noticed anything, but this creepy, tickling feeling crawled up my spine, telling me something was wrong. I looked to my left and leaning against the door frame stood this guy. He dressed well, wearing a dark suit with shoes shined to a glossy sheen. He appeared as if he had just come from church. I didn’t know whether it was his clothes, or the way he waited at my door, like he owned the place, that bothered me most.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

The man shifted his weight off the door and folded his arms in a supreme sense of being.

“Yes, you can, Eric.”

“How do you know my name?”

“It’s on the placard beside your door,” said the man with a cool smile. I felt a slight sense of relief. Maybe I had let my imagination run away, but he continued. “What I do know is you’ve got liquid assets of roughly ten and a half million. That’s after you bought the new house and the Porsche. Sweet ride … it’s really cherry. Saw it parked outside before I broke into your building.”

“Who are you? What do you want?”

“Oh, nothing really… I’d like to know how you did it.” The man spoke with his hands as much as his mouth. “Friends call me, Ralph.” He didn’t offer a handshake.

“Did what?”

“Don’t play coy with me.” Ralph sauntered a few steps toward me. “You know…how’d you hit the jackpot three times? Once is sweet. Twice is special. But three times? Well, that causes people to ask questions … especially the kind of people I represent.”

“And who do you represent?”

“Let’s just say their names end in vowels. Now, if there’s a goose laying golden eggs in the neighborhood, my associates want to know about it. So what’s your secret? You have someone on the inside? ‘Cause if there’s criminal activity, they’ll want their cut.”

“I haven’t rigged anything. I’m just … lucky I guess.” I tried to stay calm but I stammered the last part. Ralph raised an eyebrow as if he didn’t believe me.

“Oh … so you’re tellin’ me, wee folk ar’ whisperin’ numbers in your ears, eh?” he asked in an Irish brogue and chuckled at his joke.

“Look, I’m calling 911.” Feeling my pulse rise, I got twitchy and reached for the phone.

“Whoa, there Chief … no need for getting all pissy. I’m just here to see if I can be of assistance. Like I was saying … the people I represent have the financial means to help. You can’t keep winning the lotto over and over and not raise any suspicions. Other enterprises like ours … other governments … our government…”

“I pay my taxes. Uncle Sam has no beef with me.”

“Sure, but let’s say you win more jackpots. Don’t you think someone will notice? Who knows, there might be a criminal investigation. Maybe someone starts digging in areas my friends find … uncomfortable. But what if they find nothing? The Feds could get real interested in how you’re able to predict certain things. They might force you into the NSA and tell you it’s for the good of the country. Make you lay gold eggs for them.”

I hadn’t looked at it that way. It did make sense, but still I didn’t want to have anything to do with this guy.

“You know the old saying about give a man a fish …” Ralph moved closer to me. “What do you say? Teach me, Eric. Teach me to fish.” He sported a wicked grin.

I started to reply but a wry smile must have given me away as Ralph closed the distance in two quick steps and slapped me hard across the face. My head felt like it were on a swivel—the pain, clear and bright.

“Now, don’t give me any lip.”

“I don’t—”

He grabbed me by the neck and slammed my face into the keyboard and held me there with his forearm against the back of my head. My computer bell began to chime in staccato.

“I need you to tell me … now,” he said in a cool whisper. He released me, and I straightened myself. My head swam, and I’m sure I had key indentations on my face.

“Hey, what’s that for?” I managed to splutter out.

“That’s for whatever smart-ass thing you were about to say. Do you need another demonstration?”

“No … Let me speak.”

I explained my process and how my app worked, but I didn’t add the part about my contribution. I gave him a printout with the numbers he needed to play.

“Just so we are crystal on this. I want you to see something,” said Ralph.

He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out some papers, handing them to me. I unfolded them and saw pictures of my family: Mom, Dad, my brother, and my sister.

“I know where they live. Have names and addresses of more. Your sister’s sure is a cutie. One thing to remember Eric: there are worst things then dying.”

Stunned, I didn’t utter a sound as he glided out of my office.

As any good scientist, I spent the rest of the night organizing my thoughts and analyzing the situation to solve it like a puzzle. It took me a couple of hours to get focus and calm my nerves. I had to rationalize my emotions and think through this cold and Spock-like. Funny, he mentioned my brother. I hadn’t seen him in years, but it was the spark for an idea. I just needed to buy some time.


Ralph appeared a couple of weeks later as I was getting out of the car in my garage. That damn Porsche sat so low to the ground that I was off balance when he jammed me between the car door and the frame with one foot on the ground.

“The numbers didn’t pay out,” he snarled. He pushed harder on the door crushing my chest.

“I … told … you … it … could take several weeks,” I said pushing to counter him.

He relaxed and allowed the door to open. “You never said weeks. Do you take me for a fool?”

“Do you take me for a wizard?” I said regaining my breath.

He flinched threatening to strike me.

“I told you the number patterns had to be played in various combinations for several weeks to get a hit.”

“Let’s just say, Patience in not one of my virtues.”

“You have virtues?”

“Sure. Trustworthy—if I promise to hurt you, I will. Loyal—if you do what I say, I won’t hurt you. Helpful—if you don’t help me, I will hurt you. Should I continue?”

“No, I get the picture.”

“Good, I’ll be back in two weeks. You‘d best hope these numbers hit.” Ralph pushed on the door one last time to serve me a parting crunch.

I needed those two weeks to prepare for the next meeting.


I rarely left my house. I wanted to be assured the next encounter with Ralph would be on my home turf. I stuck to a pattern of working from my bedroom with the curtains open. I knew he kept an eye on me since he had left. It didn’t matter. The front door remained unlocked, but it was the patio door he came through. I waited for him at my desk, feigning to be lost in my work. Ralph’s face glowed crimson, and he held the Saturday night lotto ticket crumpled in his hand, shaking it with violent intent.

“I told you I would be back if you didn’t lay some gold eggs for me.”

“Not with those numbers. My app pulled them out of thin air,” I said leaning back in my chair with a wide smile.

“That will cost your sister, dearly,” grumbled Ralph.

“Nope … I don’t think so. I have something for you.” I handed him a few printouts of my own.

“What’s this?” He looked at the papers.

“So what, little Eric took some pictures.” He stepped closer to me.

“No, no, no,” I teased. “Look closer. Those are pictures of your associates, I believe. I took the liberty of placing contracts on them. I did so in your name, and they can be dead before you can do anything about it. It’s amazing the kinds of things you can do with fifty million.”

“Fifty million?” He looked at the photos and appeared to control his rage.

“Oh, yeah, here is another piece of paper you might want to read.” I wadded it up into a ball and threw it at him. “That’s my second cousin twice removed. She just won the Illinois Mega Jackpot—372 million dollars. She was happy with her modest take of 30 million. Then she deposited the rest after taxes into an real estate entity set up that belongs to another which belongs to another and so on and so on,” I said rolling my finger to make the point.

Ralph’s jaw dropped. “I’m going to kill you,” he said in a soft voice.

“No you’re not. You’re going to be my employee. Hold still, though. There’s a nasty red bug crawling up your shirt.” I so enjoyed this.

He looked to his chest, saw the laser sight, and froze. “Why would I work for you?”

“Well, it’s more like an arrangement. You’re going to make sure nothing happens to me. You see, I put up another 50 million and split it among several hard-case people. They’re paid in full and have nothing to do so long as you don’t screw things up.” I put my hands behind my head and stretched. “If I so much as stub my toe, they’re going to hack your foot off. That goes for my family and friends.”

Ralph seemed weaker and more pliable to my words.

“You’re going to be head of my security. We’ll negotiate your salary later.”

“But …”

My cell rang. I held a finger up to Ralph. “Hold on a sec. Yes, come in.”

Ralph and I could hear the front door open and close. Footsteps came up the hall. A large man dressed in black holding a pistol with its laser sight pointed at Ralph, entered the room.

“Hey li’l brother, this guy hasslin’ you?” The man smirked.

All the blood drained from Ralph’s face and his hand relaxed letting the crumpled ticket and papers fall to the floor.

“Ralph, you remember my brother Shawn? You were so kind to provide an updated photo of him the first time we met. Shawn, as you know, has been living in New Orleans for a number of years. I’d lost touch with him, but I thank you for encouraging our reunion. You see Shawn is sort of the … black sheep of the family and knows some …unsavory characters with whom I set up my retainer for your contract. Ten people flushed with five million each and all they have to do is kill you in any way they deem fit, should something happen to me. They’re also watching each other, so if you have any thoughts of turning one, the other nine will eliminate them.”

Shawn flashed forward and cracked Ralph’s skull with the butt of his pistol. Ralph fell to his knees. “You may be head of security, but you’re my bitch, now,” growled Shawn.

“Ralph, it seems like you’ve learned a valuable lesson here,” I said.

“Wha…?” asked Ralph still kneeling and gazing back at me through a fog.

“Never mess with someone holding a quarter billion dollars of disposable income.” 


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