By Bob Hazlett
“Comin’ right up,” said Archie
I’m cold to the bone, thought Rudy, pulling himself onto the stool at the narrow end of the bar and squinting as his eyes adapted to the dimly lit room. He flopped his flat cap down in front of him.
It had been a long, hard day. They were all long, hard days, but this one seemed especially draining. Loading and unloading trucks on a day with snow and freezing rain got into his bones a little deeper than usual. His straggly gray hair was wet, as was his threadbare flannel jacket. His jeans were damp too, and he carried the wet wool smell with him.
The burn of the whiskey going down felt good. As he began to warm up, Rudy signaled for another.
Clancy’s bar looked and smelled the same tonight as any other night. Three solo drinkers sat at the bar trying to wash away another miserable day. The sound of pool balls cracking and an occasional laugh told of a pool game in progress at the back of the bar.
Two men sat in a booth conversing in hushed tones. To Rudy, they looked unsavory.
I should judge? , Rudy thought. I sure don’t look or smell like a bank president.
The second drink arrived, and Archie had time to talk.
“Whiskey, neat. Did you have to work outside today?”, inquired Archie.
“Some. When the trucks couldn’t get to the loading dock, we had to unload from the ground. Otherwise, we were outside but under roof. At least, we weren’t getting wet.” Rudy replied.
“Well, when you win the lottery, you won’t have to work outside at all,” joked Archie.
“Yea. When pigs fly,” laughed Rudy. Hey, wait a minute, I did buy a ticket this week.
“Archie! When do they draw the numbers?”
Archie looked at his watch. “Right about now.”
The TV was tuned to a sports channel playing a rerun of an old football game.
“You gonna change the channel?”
Rudy’s gnarled fingers worked their way through his flannel jacket and a couple sweaters to finally reach his shirt pocket and pull out the lottery ticket. It had been there for a few days. It was soft from sweat, but he could still read the numbers.
Rudy knocked back his drink then moved to another stool where he had a better view of the TV.
Archie flipped the channel. The drawing was already in progress. The three-number game had been drawn and balls were coming up for the Pick 4. Next would be the big one. Six two-digit numbers, worth twenty-three million dollars this week.
Rudy picked up a pencil lying beside the cash register. The attractive young lady on the TV did her thing, and the lottery machine spat out six balls. Several customers groaned. Rudy copied each number onto the back of his ticket then compared those numbers to the numbers on the front. He almost fell off the bar stool.
“Archie! Read those numbers again.”
Rudy broke into a huge grin. It was all he could do to keep from screaming.
I’m rich! I’m rich! I’m rich! A million thoughts flooded Rudy’s brain in a split second.
He glanced at the mirror behind the bar and saw the two men in the booth watching him intently. The grin left his face.
The shock hit him right between the eyes. He wasn’t rich. He was a target, sitting in a sleazy bar, in the bad part of town, with twenty-three million dollars in cash in his hand. Every person in this place would kill for this ticket without thinking twice.
“Well, Rudy, did you win?”, asked Archie from far down the bar.
“Naa. Not even close. I laugh at myself because every week, I throw another buck down the toilet.”, exclaimed Rudy, trying to explain away his excited grin for the benefit of the two men still watching him.
What am I going to do? I’ve got to get out of here. No! Stay! It’s safe in here. Calm down and figure this out.
Rudy moved back to his seat at the end of the bar where he had a better view of everyone. The two in the booth had stopped looking at him and resumed nursing their drinks – no conversation now.
“Another whiskey, Rudy?” asked Archie, coming to his end of the bar.
Oh, how he wanted another drink, but common sense told him to stop drinking.
“How about a burger and a beer?”, Rudy replied, his trembling hand tucking the lottery ticket in the pocket of his jacket.
Rudy sank deep into thought, trying to figure how to make it home safely with his twenty-three-million-dollar ticket.
Hell, home isn’t safe. My little shanty won’t stop anyone trying to steal twenty-three million. They’ll kill both Klara and me in a blink.
Archie interrupted Rudy’s thoughts with the beer. “Burger will be up in a minute.”
Rudy continued ruminating, alternating between exhilaration about twenty-three million dollars and terror about safely getting the money.
Process thoughts flooded his mind. How would he cash the ticket and where would he put the money. He didn’t have a bank account. He didn’t know the address of the redemption location.
Archie slid one of Clancy’s famous burgers across the bar. The aroma tickled Rudy’s nose.
I am really hungry, thought Rudy, taking a big bite of the burger and a long draw on the beer.
His mind continued to spin with questions about redeeming the ticket. He had heard that the lottery place is crowded with people every day trying to scam winners when they come to collect.
Maybe I shouldn’t rush to turn in the ticket. He thought about holding the ticket a month or two. He would need a place to hide it. Possibly a safe deposit box?
A glance at the men in the booth brought Rudy’s immediate danger screeching to the front of his mind. They were not looking at him but he knew they were.
How to get home tonight became his most pressing question. He lived just three blocks from Clancy’s, but now it seemed like a thousand miles. He was sure the two would follow him and case his house for later, or worse.
I’ll take a cab and have him drive me around some then take me home.
Rudy jumped at the sound of the toilet flushing and the door slamming as a big burly man, still zipping his fly, exited the bathroom next to his stool.
He knew he had to calm down. Rudy’s concern shifted to Klara. He had to move them both to a safe place for the night.
He decided to have the cabbie drive around a bit, then go pick up Klara and take them to a hotel on the other side of town.
Financial reality hit home. He didn’t have enough money for that. He wondered if Klara might have some cash? That brought a smile. He was holding twenty-three million dollars in his hand, but didn’t have cab fare.
I’ll go outside and stand where there’s a lot of people while I try to hail a cab.
Rudy got up from the bar, left enough money for his bill, and headed for the door.
Freezing rain and a strong wind greeted him as he stepped outside but not a lot of people. Not even one. He hunched down into his jacket and pulled down his cap. “I hate winter.”
Rudy walked to the curb and looked both ways for a cab. He saw one coming down Fletcher Street on the far side and heading away from his house.
Glancing back at Clancy’s doorway, he noticed the two men had come out of the bar, and were standing there looking at him.
They’re following me. He whistled to hail the cab. “I’ve got to get out of here, now”, he said to himself.
The cab stopped and waited for Rudy to cross the street. Rudy stepped off the curb running for the cab.
The car came out of nowhere.
* * *
“It’s about time you woke up.”
That’s Klara’s voice. Why does she sound like she’s in a tunnel? thought Rudy.
He tried to move and searing pain shot through his body. “What the … ?”
“Don’t move.”, Klara admonished, as she got out of the chair and moved to the foot of the bed so Rudy could see her.
“You’re a mess … three broken ribs, a broken leg, and at least a bruised liver … maybe more.”, Klara replied to the dazed and quizzical look on Rudy’s face.
“You got hit by a car as you tried to cross Fletcher Street.”, said Klara. “You’re in St Michaels Hospital, and you’ve been unconscious for two days. Why were you crossing Fletcher Street? That’s not the way home from Clancy’s.”
Rudy’s mind cleared, and adrenaline shot through his system.
“Klara! I can explain everything. You won’t believe what I have to tell you. First, get me my jacket.”
“Jacket? Rudy, I threw that rag in the trash.”
“The ER nurse gave me your stuff. That jacket was dirty, wet, and covered with blood. I pitched it. You need a new one anyway.”
Rudy slumped back on the bed as tears began to roll down his cheeks.
“Now, what did you want to tell me?”, asked Klara.