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A ticket to PARADISE LOST

CHAPTER FIVE

+ Our story so far: The four remaining lottery winners were being grilled at the Sheriff's Office about the deaths of Paulie and Johnny. Not knowing where else to turn, the four requested that attorney Harry Hill represent them. Harry didn't know why the four were being held, but he feared the worst.

Jimbo Hobbs tossed the empty whiskey bottle in the garbage and sat down on an old milk crate stashed behind his bar. He wished the damn phone would quit ringing. His bookie again _ how had he let this happen?

He was going to lose Windy Oaks campgrounds for sure this time. Over a million bucks! How did he manage to rack up that kind of debt?

Sweat dripped down his cheek and he wiped it away with a chubby hand. After his second wife left him, the gambling had gotten worse. He hadn't seen his kid in 10 years and his mother's illness had drained him of every last penny before she died.

Another police car pulled up outside the bar and Jimbo swore under his breath. Those cops had scared away all his customers. There hadn't been a soul there all day.

He walked to the door of the bar and stared out at the cops roaming among a spider web of yellow police tape. He opened another bottle of whiskey as he thought about the bookie, the cops, Johnny Bartolli and Paulie Starr being dead _ and that lawyer, Harry Hill.

Why had he ever let on to Harry Hill that he knew about the lottery ticket? It had been a hunch to act like he knew, even if he was still unsure if he had heard Johnny correctly that night he overheard the six friends talking in the bar.

It had taken him awhile, but gradually, the memories of Harry Hill returned. You don't spend every summer with a kid growing up and not remember him, no matter how many years go by. But Harry had changed so much since the years when he came to visit his grandparents. Jimbo knew he looked down on him for owning this shabby little place. But who was he to think like that? Harry was nothing but a drunken ambulance-chaser.

Harry had gotten so upset that night. He asked Jimbo if he knew where the lottery ticket was and got furious when Jimbo told him no. Harry had rambled on about keeping secrets and things being more complicated than they needed to be.

Jimbo hadn't seen him since he stormed out of the bar a couple of weeks ago. Why was he so angry? He was in financial trouble, too; he had been complaining forever. But, still, he was awfully worked up when he left.

The next day, Paulie was dead.

Paulie. He didn't even want to think about that.

Harry was right. Things were more difficult than they needed to be.

+ + +

"Well I just don't understand why I can't get a more comfortable chair. This plastic stuff is bad for the back. My hip is killing me and . . . ." Ada's voice droned on and the detective dropped his head into his hands and massaged his temples.

Inside his head, her words became a stream of high-pitched babble he was convinced only dogs could comprehend.

For the last hour she had moaned and complained about everything from the coffee to the sport coat he was wearing. Apparently the color was simply "no good" for his skin tone. He stared hopelessly in the direction of the two-way mirror on the wall and daydreamed about finding a new career.

In the next room, Edith was demanding her sixth bathroom break and an equally frustrated officer was staring at the ceiling. He wasn't sure how much more he could take; she was about to break him.

In the hall there was a showdown between Gus and Jake and the sergeant behind the desk. Like a couple of schoolboys stuck in the principal's office, neither was backing down.

"I should fake a heart attack just to see what Deputy Do-Right over there would do," Gus muttered.

"Don't you dare," Jake hissed, knowing full well that at any given moment Gus could throw himself into a mock spasm on the floor with enough moaning and twitching to draw a crowd.

Gus made a wheezing noise and Jake nailed him in the ribs with an elbow.

Gus laughed and winked at the cop, who grunted his disapproval.

+ + +

Ada, Edith, Gus and Jake were back at Windy Oaks, and he knew they were planning to look into this mess on their own. Why couldn't they just keep their noses out of it? He could already picture them asking questions and probing into things that were better left alone.

He set the glass back on the counter and filled it again. He would drink it all away tonight. What was he supposed to do now? Things weren't supposed to get like this. It was supposed to be simple. He couldn't back out now, though. He was too close.

The phone was ringing again. That incessant ringing! He yanked the cord out of the wall and poured himself another drink. This would all be over soon enough and he would be set. He just had to keep those four old coots off his back and find that ticket _ no matter what!

About the author

Amanda Welch is a 20-year-old public relations major in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. Her hope is to one day work as an event coordinator/planner. A Citrus County native, Welch graduated from Crystal River High School in 1999. Though focused on a career in public relations, writing remains her passion. Welch owes all the thanks in the world to her grandfather for being a most amazing editor and critic and to her family for supporting her each and every day.

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