Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

A ticket to PARADISE LOST

Our story so far: The four surviving Lottery winners have returned from the sheriff's station after several hours of interrogation. As they manage a fitful night's sleep, a raccoon threatens to ruin everything by burying their prize, a Lottery ticket worth $13-million, inside the sign to their RV park.

CHAPTER SEVEN

It was just after midnight when Gus woke with a start. That damn prostate again, and now he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep. He mind raced as he thought about where everyone else was and what they were doing. More importantly, who was killing them off.

It was the damn ticket, no doubt about it. His mother always said no good ever came when friends got involved with money. He wished he had listened to her.

Just before dawn, Gus came to a decision. He would go get the ticket, turn it over to the cops, and come clean about what had happened. Someone had to tell the investigators about the $13-million as a possible motive for the murders, and it might as well be him.

He pulled on his fishing pants and a wrinkled T-shirt, both of which had seen better days. He gathered up a

flashlight and a pair of needle-nose pliers to pull the plastic bag holding the ticket out of the wooden pelican's beak.

Gus felt very important. He walked down the path toward the entrance to the RV park. The Windy Oaks sign was tilted, its burned out neon bulbs shedding just enough light for him to see the wooden pelican on the sign.

Even knowing that he was alone, the rest of the residents snug in their beds, Gus was scared. How did he know that a killer wasn't stalking him this very moment, waiting to get his hands on the ticket? He flipped off his flashlight, using only the remaining lights on the sign, which now read only "Win."

How ironic, Gus thought, the sign says win, something they had all talked about doing since starting the lottery pool months ago. Since then, they had won the jackpot, two of the group had died, and the others were scared of their own shadows. Some win the lottery turned out to be.

Gus' heart beat faster, and he could feel his knees shake as he stepped up to the pelican. He could hear the leaves rustle under his feet, and he was scared. God forbid one of the others would find him out here.

Gus stole to the edge of the pelican and traced his fingers down the 3-foot-tall bird's unreasonably long beak. He reached inside to grab the ticket and felt his knees give way and a scream start in the back of his throat: the bird's beak was empty!

Gus sank to his knees, not caring that the leaves were rustling. He put his head in his hands and began to sob. The money, all that money just waiting for him, and it was gone. He had plans for that money, the Jag, the face lift. And now he was going to be the old pal, Gus, he'd always been.

Suddenly he realized he didn't like the old Gus very much, and he wanted desperately to be the extremely wealthy and debonair Gus the money would make him.

He stood slowly, as feeble as an old man. He had to tell someone, and he knew the investigating deputy was worthless. Still, the cops were the only ones be could think of to trust. He trudged back to his house, picked up the phone, and reluctantly dialed 911.

Gus gave the dispatcher on the other end of the line a rambling, disjointed story of people being murdered and lottery money being stolen. He knew he was making no sense, but he couldn't think straight anymore.

The dispatcher told him deputies were on their way to the Windy Oaks and he should wait for them by the sign. Gus waited next to the pelican, reaching again and again into the bird's mouth just in case he was wrong.

But he wasn't. The ticket was definitely gone.

Just as he pulled his hand from the bird's mouth the last time, he heard the screech of the sirens as the cops arrived. Three marked units pulled into the park, their red and blue lights flashing in the early morning light.

"Hey, old-timer, you the one who just called dispatch?" shouted the first deputy. Slowly, Gus nodded. "Yeah, I called," he said reluctantly, and he started in on his story. Halfway through his tale Gus heard footsteps coming his way.

"Hey, man, what's going on?" Jake called out to him.

Gus turned to Jake and started to explain. As soon as Gus said that he had called the police, Jake exploded. "Why, you bastard, you piece of . . ."

With that, Jake's right fist flashed in the moonlight and crashed into Gus' nose, dropping the old man like a bag of dirty laundry.

As deputies leaped on Jake, trying to pin his waving arms to his back, Jake continued to yell at the bleeding Gus. "What the hell were you doing out here by yourself? You were going to steal it, weren't you? Damn, you probably killed Paulie and Johnny, too, right?"

"Where is it?" Jake screamed to Gus as he was shoved into the open back door of the sheriff's cruiser. "Where's the ticket?"

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement