My lottery ticket had the winning numbers!
I looked up the website on my phone and discovered that although it wasn’t a major win, it was worth about twenty grand, pretty much a fortune to me.
“What are you messing about at, Simon?” yelled my horrible boss Marian from the customer’s shop area, bringing me down to earth with a bang. “Them clothes out to be out here on the rails and on sale by now! Checking the pockets is hardly rocket science, is it?”
“Nearly done,” I called out, wishing that this job in the charity shop wasn’t quite so awful, and that I had a nice kind boss, instead of a shrieking ghastly harridan. And also fervently wishing that the lottery ticket had been my own, and not an item that I had found just now in the pocket of an old suit.
I thought back to eight years ago, when I had enjoyed a wonderful life as a successful actor. My career had ended on a high, when I starred in a short-lived TV series, called One Man Band, about Mike McDonald, a struggling song-and-dance entertainer who ekes out the gaps in his showbiz career by working as a private detective who gets involved in all kinds of human dramas – locating missing people, missing property, tackling various kinds of skulduggery, always supporting the underdog, and with every episode ending on a heart-warming high. The production company had run into difficulties, and the next series was never made, and I got no other acting roles that year, ironically because I was ‘typecast’ in the public’s mind as do-gooder and song-and-dance man, Mike McDonald. That TV job turned out to be the last role I ever had, and after eventually giving up on the acting profession and taking various short-term jobs of every kind, I had finally been unable to get a job at all, like so many others in this town. Voluntary work in the charity shop seemed like a good way of keeping occupied and doing my bit for society, but I wished I had gone to a reputable outfit such as the British Heart Foundation, or Marie Curie, rather than the cheapskate ‘Rainbird Trust’, where I’d found out that eagle-eyed avaricious volunteers nicked any items of value and often used questionable accounting practices. For that reason, I knew I couldn’t take anyone at the Rainbird Trust into my confidence about the winning ticket.
In my break I phoned the lottery company to ask their advice as to what I should do. The lady I spoke to was called Karen, and we got on well from the start. She told me that only person who could claim the winnings was the one who had bought the ticket, and since no one had filled in the name on the back, she could only suggest asking around locally, and hoping that whoever had sold the ticket could help. If I drew a blank, she said the only other thing was to send the company the ticket, and they would make efforts to trace the buyer.
“From our point of view it’s a worry, because anyone can easily pretend they bought the ticket, especially if the winner is unaware of their win and can’t challenge it,” she told me. “We’re grateful for your honesty.”
“Trouble is, I found it in a man’s suit pocket, so the likelihood is that the ticket owner is dead, and his wife gave his clothes to our charity shop,” I told her.
“Don’t worry – if you can trace whoever inherits his estate, then we’ll gladly pay them,” Karen assured me.
“Great, so with any luck I might be able to bring a bit of cheer into the life of a newly bereaved widow. I’ll certainly do the best I can.”
We went on chatting for a while, and I found myself telling her about my past as an actor, and how the situation I’d found myself in was similar to one of the episodes of One Man Band. She remembered the TV series and said that she had loved it, and was delighted to talk to the man who played generous, kind-hearted ‘Mike McDonald’.
So it was down to me to do some detective work to find the owner of the lottery ticket.
The suit trousers in whose pocket I had found it had one leg sewn up at the knee and the material seemed old and worn, and of a style favoured by an older person. Since most of our donated clothes have belonged to recently deceased folk, my guess was that the lottery winner was dead, he had been male, disabled, and probably elderly.
Next day was my day off. I had paid for the one-legged suit, and touted it around all of the local newsagents, where lottery tickets were sold. Locality was the key: I was banking on the likelihood that my winner lived locally, bought his lottery ticket locally, and his wife had donated his clothes to the local charity shop.
At the end of a long day of failure, I finally struck gold. Friendly Mr Patel, of the Corner Newsagents, agreed that he did remember a man in a wheelchair, whose wife brought him into the shop every week and bought his lottery ticket, and that he hadn’t seen him for a couple of weeks now. And yes, that did look like the kind of suit he had worn.
“I would help the old couple out over the front step and onto the pavement,” Mr P explained, “And they always went off in that direction.” He pointed. “I once saw them going left down Montague Road, so I think he lived along there.”
At the fifth house, the old lady who opened the door eyed me warily at first, then she stared dead-eyed, as I told her my story. I noticed the wheelchair in the hallway behind her, so I realised I had probably succeeded in my quest.
“So the old bugger won the lottery just after he’d snuffed it?” she said in surprise, laughing to herself as she kept me standing on the doorstep. “Well it looks like I’ve had the last laugh on the jammy old bastard! I reckon this is about the only time I’ve ever got a penny out of him, the tight-fisted old sod!”
My mouth must have fallen open in surprise.
“So what’s in it for you then?” she snapped rudely, snatching the ticket, staring at the winning numbers and glaring up at me. “I suppose you’re after a reward?”
I didn’t answer, just walked off, too depressed for words.
Next day I was sacked from my job at the charity shop, because they had heard about my appropriation of the lottery ticket, which was in breach of the rules.
During the next few days I was ruminating on the old saying that ‘No good deed goes unpunished’, when Mr Patel phoned me, telling me that he had contacted the local TV station and they wanted to do a small piece for the evening news about the case of the one legged lottery winner for the evening news, including my role in the little drama. At his shop it was almost like old times: a camera crew, a microphone and a breathless lady reporter listening to my story, and also asking about my past as an actor, as well as a jovial Mr Patel, and a surprisingly beaming old lady, who was now feigning grovelling gratitude for my actions. One glance at her mean eyes told me that she was no doubt being paid for the interview.
“This little drama is almost like one of the plots from your TV series, One Man Band, isn’t it?” asked the TV interviewer, referring to my past career as an actor. “Where the hero Mike McDonald helps someone out?”
“I suppose it is,” I told her. “Except Mike got gratitude for helping people. All I’ve had is a kick in the teeth when the charity found out about what I did, and the merry widow here reckoning on I was only doing it to get a reward. Frankly I wish I’d never bothered.”
On the way home, I realised what a mess I had made of things. Now I’d lost the job in the charity shop, I knew that the Job Centre would be on my case, pressuring me, threatening to cut my benefits, which included the rent for this crummy bed-sitting room, and that I was running the risk of being homeless.
The phone call next day came just as I was at my lowest ebb:
“Simon? This is Karen, from the lottery company. I’m just phoning to thank you for all you’ve done,” she said. “The slot on the TV news was a lovely bit of free publicity for us. And the ending, the way you call out the horrible old lady, it was TV gold, you had us all in fits of laughter. You really do have a likeable personality. You’re made to be an entertainer.”
“So why am I an unemployed charity worker?” I asked.
“I’ve been telling my bosses here about what you did, your past as an actor in that TV series, and all the trouble you went to, to help the old lady who you didn’t even know, and they were well impressed. It so happens that we’re looking for someone to head up our forthcoming ad campaign on television, and we think you’d be ideal. There are lots of experienced actors who can sing and dance, but no one else has quite got the charm of lovely Mike McDonald. The rates we can pay will make that lottery win seem like chickenfeed. Would you be interested?”
(image by Mohammed Hassan, from Pixabay)