David stared at the screen and then down at the slip of paper in his hand. Three. Fourteen. Fifteen. Twenty-seven. Forty-two. All five numbers the same. Five and nine. Also the same. All seven numbers flashing across the bottom of the screen matched those held between his oil-stained fingers. He had won. Twenty-seven point three five million pounds. He stared at the figures lined up after the pound sign. Even the second decimal place represented more than twice his annual salary as a mechanic at the local garage. He felt numbed, unable to move, unable to speak, unable even to think. He could do nothing but sit and stare at the screen – at the numbers he had chosen at random just two days before and the numbers that followed that pound sign. He had won.
In his whole life, he had only ever won anything once before, and that had been at a village fete near his home when he had just turned eighteen. Despite the fact he felt that such events were not really the done thing for lads his age, he had gone along all the same. This was entirely because he was hoping to catch a glimpse of Melanie Parker, the attractive and highly popular girl who sat in front of him during his maths class at college. Melanie had failed to put in an appearance at the fete, and it was only months later that he found out she had spent the afternoon with his best friend, Stephen Armitage. Stephen was also supposed to have been meeting him at the fete, but in the end David had given up waiting and wandered around the village green on his own.
He had tried his hand at the coconut shy, but there had been people watching and the pressure had thrown off his aim to such an extent that he had not only failed to miss the coconuts and their posts, but one ball had glanced off the metal bar that held up the safety net and shot into the beer tent. After that, the only other stall he had dared to risk was the tombola.
He considered the tombola to be nothing more than a waste of money, but at least he was taking part and showing willing. It was the usual deal – all he had to do was pull out a ticket ending in a zero or a five. His first three tickets, as he had expected, produced neither, but his forth was a winner. He had won.
‘Four sixty is that, dear?’ Asked the lady behind the stall as she look at the ticket, shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun with one hand. He nodded and she began hunting around for the ticket’s twin. He had spotted it almost immediately, but felt it would be wrong to point it out, as though this would somehow spoil the fun for her. Eventually, after what seemed an almost unbelievable length of time, the lady discovered the ticket taped to a bottle of Scotch whisky. For a panicked moment David had thought the lady was going to ask him for proof that he was old enough, but she handed him the bottle without the slightest hesitation.
‘Four sixty. There’s you go, you lucky thing.’
‘Thank you.’ he said, taking the bottle. ‘Thank you very much.’
He had never actually tried whisky before, considering it to be something of an old man’s drink – he was more used to the cheap, two litre bottles of cider one of his older-looking friends bought – but he was pleased with his prize all the same and, with an extra spring in his step and a smile of his face, he made his way from the village green towards the road where he had parked his mother’s car.
It was then, as he emerged through one of the narrow gates, that it had happened. Two lads suddenly appeared on either side of him, apparently from nowhere, though he assumed they had been waiting for him in the shadow of the hedge. He knew them both from college and even now, years later, he could still remember their names: Justin Blake and Tyler Scott. He could no longer remember their faces, however – in his mind they had become twisted and evil, more like the faces of some kind of nightmare gargoyles than boys. They were both from the local council estate – always getting in trouble. And David was scared of them.
‘What you got there then, Davey?’ asked Tyler with mock friendliness. ‘A little treat for me and Justin? How kind of you. Isn’t that kind, Justin?’
Tyler’s friend said nothing in response. Instead he made a grab for the bottle, but David managed to pull it away from him before he caught it. Unfortunately, it was then easy prey for Tyler, who snatched it out of David’s grasp before pushing him roughly backwards into the hedge. They had run off then, laughing, as he picked himself up feeling angry and ashamed and itching horribly from the nettles that had cushioned his fall. Even to this day, seventeen years later, David had never tasted whisky – he couldn’t bring himself to do so.
And now here he was with another winning ticket and the promise of twenty-seven million pounds plus a couple of decimal places. Just think of all the things he could do with that money! He would buy a new car for a start, that was a given. Then he could at last get rid of that ancient Nissan he’d bought from his mother – the same one, he realised, he had driven to the village fete. What else could he do? He could pay off his mortgage, that would be good. In fact, forget that, he would simply buy a new house. A big house. A country mansion, maybe, with a swimming pool and a banqueting hall and even helipad. And he’d buy a helicopter too, why not?
Obviously he would not spend all his winnings on himself – that would be disgraceful. Yes, it was he would had actually won, but there were others to think about too. His parents, for instance. He would be able to provide for them and ensure their final years were the best that money could buy. Hell, he’d pay off his sister’s mortgage too, and maybe even give her a little extra for her two children. That would be the right thing to do – after all, he could hardly hide the fact he had won from them when he was living in his new house and driving around in his new sports car. And wearing a proper, Italian suit, tailored perfectly to his body – he had always fancied one of them. His family would soon realise he had money.
So would his friends, too, he guessed, although he wouldn’t have to worry about his good-for-nothing work colleagues, since he would give up his job at the garage straight away. No more spending his days covered in engine oil and grease. No more belligerent customers wanting to know exactly how their bills had ended up being so much higher than the estimates. No more putting up with the bullying from Mike, the owner of the garage. No more work at all, in fact.
But what would his excuse be for leaving? They’d want to know why he was quitting his job. Suddenly feeling worried, David reached out for his cigarettes and hurriedly lit one. The guys at the garage would know the real reason. They would all know. It didn’t matter what reason he gave them, they would sniff it out soon enough, and the moment they realised he had come into all this money, they would be after him. Oh, they might not actually demand any of his winnings or try to force him to give it to them, but they would come all the same, hassling him with their sob stories and financial crises, their eyes glistening with real tears, their grubby hands begging.
He would have to make a rule of some sort. That was it! He needed a rule. Only give money to family members, maybe, or just to family and close friends. Perhaps he could create some kind of upper limit for each category – a million pounds for close family, his parents and his sister, and a hundred thousand for other relatives, like Auntie Janet, who did at least send him a card on his birthday every year, even if she did get the date wrong. Then, say, fifty thousand for his closest friends, Pete, James and Anne, and maybe five thousand for other not-quite-so-close friends. Yes, that could work.
David stubbed out his cigarette in the ash tray and looked at the ticket still clutched in his hand. Twenty-seven point three five million. It was such a lot of money – more money than he could even begin to get his head around. It was the sort of money people would kill for.
He didn’t know where that thought had come from, but it filled him with horrible, icy fear. Suddenly he was eighteen again, trapped against the hedge by Justin Blake and Tyler Scott. The panic, the humiliation, the futile anger – all those horrible, helpless feelings came flooding back as he pictured their hideous, gargoyle faces and their cruel, spiteful laughter. Yes, people really would kill for this sort of money. In fact, people would kill him, David, specifically. Even if he did nothing with the money, even if he stayed here in this grotty, little flat and stuck with his grotty, little car and his grotty, little job, even if he did not change anything at all about his lift, people would still know. Someone would find out. And then his life would be over.
David reached out again for his cigarettes and lighter, an instinctive reaction in times of panic and fear. Yet even as he did so, he suddenly realised what he had to do. He knew that there was only one solution to his life-threatening problem. The cigarettes remained unmoved, leaning against the chipped, glass ashtray, as he picked up the lighter and flicked open the top. He pulled his thumb back on the wheel. It sparked and lit, producing a steady, yellow flame. David looked at it for a moment before lifting up the ticket, still pinned between fingers and thumb, and holding it over the flame. The dry paper caught easily and began to burn, the fire moving quickly across the bottom of the ticket and along one side.
Three. Gone was the new, flash sports car.
Fourteen. Gone was the big house in the country.
Fifteen. Twenty-seven. That was the swimming pool and the banqueting hall.
Forty-two. The helipad and helicopter.
Five. His parents’ final years of comfort.
And nine. The money for his sister and her children.
Each number flared and died, turning from yellow to black to grey in his hand. With a relieved sigh, he dropped the smouldering remains of ticket into the ashtray. The problem had been dealt with, the bullies and the murderers turned aside. It was over. He had won.
‘Next week,’ thought David, as, in the ashtray, the embers glowed orange and died, ‘Maybe next week, if play the same numbers again, maybe then I’ll have more luck.’