Envy always implies conscious inferiority wherever it resides.
- Pliny the Elder, Roman Naturalist (23-79 A.D.)
Chapter 2: The Ticket
Johnny ran the tips of his fingers from the top of his forehead back through his hair like a comb. He’d had a few girls tell him how they dug his shoulder-length hair and the hand-comb-thing was a little affectation he indulged in to draw attention to it, but right now he was just trying to gather his thoughts.
“What the hell do we do now?” he said.
“We had nothing to do with this,” Susan said. “We should just go to the – ” but she halted herself before the word “cops” could come out as Darren seemed to snap alert and Johnny shot her a wide-eyed glance that said something to the effect of, “Did you not just see what this guy is capable of?”
“You were saying?” Darren asked. The flat tone and lack of his concern in his voice was a bit chilling.
“I don’t even know what to think right now,” she said. “We just need to get the hell out of here.”
“What if a neighbor sees us leave? It’s only what,” Johnny checked his watch, “Ten after nine? There’s still a good chance we’d run into somebody if we tried to split right now. Maybe we should just chill here for a bit and figure things out. It’s not like he’s got friends coming over all hours of the day.”
“Oh my God,” Susan said. “He called all three of us just over an hour before he died. Don’t you watch those forensic shows, they’ll pull up those outgoing calls from his cell phone records and they’ll have him calling all three of us, right before he died!”
“We could admit we were here and say it was self-defense.” Johnny offered. “Plant a knife in his hands, say he was on drugs and invited us over and then he just went nuts. It’s three against one, and he’s not talking . . . Oh, man. Oh, Jesus.”
“Okay, are you guys done?”
Susan and Johnny both turned back to Darren.
“There is a lottery ticket in that bathroom and we are going to find that ticket and cash it tomorrow. That’s the first thing. No one’s going to care or even notice if this guy doesn’t show up for work again tomorrow, no one’s even going to know he’s dead until the body starts really stinking the building up and by then, we’ll all be filthy, stinking rich with new identities and our toes in the sand of some South American country.”
The ticket. For a moment, Johnny’d been so consumed with the horror of the murder, he’d forgot all about that winning ticket. The body, the ticket – it was head-spinning. His attention would be so overwhelmed trying to grasp the reality of the one, he’d lose hold of the other. It was like juggling two separate thoughts which were both too big to hold in your head at the same time.
“If we claim the winning ticket and take the money and run and then they find one of our co-workers was killed the night after the winning ticket was sold . . . ” Johnny said.
“Coincidence, man.” Darren replied.
“And not only was he killed the night after the winning ticket was bought, but I bet he was a regular at that 7/11,” Susan said. “I bet he bought a Slurpee there every night and they probably already got the call that it was their store that sold the winning ticket and then a couple days later the cops are going to show them a picture of the dead man and they’re going to say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember him, he came in here all the time.'” Susan was getting frantic.
“Not cashing the ticket is not an option,” Darren said coolly.
The words hung out there for a while.
“Oh shit, the cops can just sit there at that 7/11 and go through the surveillance tapes for the entire day.” Johnny said.
A small crack started to show through the smooth veneer of Darren’s confident face, but he recovered quickly. “Let’s just find the damn ticket first, okay?”
“Yeah, fuck it, let’s find that thing.” Johnny said.
Susan felt a twinge of disappointment as she looked at Johnny, wondering how he could be so callous with their lives at stake and a dead body lying right there before them but then she checked herself and realized there was no way she could pretend she wasn’t just as eager to feel what it felt like to hold a $137 million lottery ticket in her hand.
As Darren headed to the bathroom, a sudden hint of a smile flashed across Johnny’s face. He cocked his head to the side just a bit, took a single step forward to the body, rolled it over on its stomach, slipped a hand into the right back pocket of his jeans and smoothly pulled out his hand holding that square little yellow scrap of paper. The little bastard had just slipped it in his back pocket. “Well lookey what I found!”
You couldn’t help but look at it in awe. There, in that slightly larger than a Post-It-Note-sized slip of paper, was the power to move mountains or buy an island, to change your whole entire world . . .
“My God,” Susan said in a voice of holy reverence.
Darren stood in the doorway of the bathroom, seeming to fill the entire frame, intense but silent.
As he held the ticket, a thought suddenly sprung to Johnny’s mind and with a short, involuntary laugh, he blurted out, “What if it’s totally bogus?” Then he said, “What if this guy was so pathetic he thought this was some kind of funny prank to play on us or a way to actually get some people to come over to his house and hang out for a few hours?”
“Nah, it’s the real deal,” Darren said. “You could see it in his eyes, when he held that ticket and shook it in our faces, his eyes were wild, like Gollum holding his ‘Precious’ or something.”
Susan began typing the address to the California Lottery website on her iPhone.