Chapter Fifty-five

   "Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I'm Leo Joyce, and welcome to The Big Drawing, with tonight's jackpot all the way up to -- drumroll, please -- forty-eight million dollars!!! And, here to help me as always, Lady Luck, tonight being played by the leggy and lovely -- Anna Matopeia!"
   "Thank you, thank you, Leo. How much is our jackpot worth tonight?"
   "I just announced it, Lady Luck, you must not have been listening."
   "I apologize, Leo, but my mind has been all over the place lately."
   "Well, I'm sorry to hear that, Lady Luck, but since we're on the air -- live -- and since the viewers at home are anxiously waiting to find out if their hard-earned investments have paid off, why don't we take the next step and walk over to the lottery ball machine and pick the numbers!"
   At home, curled up on a sofa with Maureen, I clutched my twelve hundred lottery tickets and prayed to a greedy, avaricious God, for my ship to come in, or at least run aground. (If you want, you can skip ahead and see what happens, just don't tell me, okay, because I'm not sure where I'm going with this yet.)
   "Jim, let me see those lottery tickets again." I handed them to her. Meanwhile, Leo's assistant, the ubiquitous long-stemmed Anna Matopeia, was about to pluck six numbered Ping-Pong balls out of a clear plastic revolving barrel.
   "Lady Luck, hand me the first ball!" Anna stopped the spinning cylinder, opened the hatch, reached in and grabbed a ball and handed it to Leo.
   "Nine. The first number is nine -- oh, I'm sorry, it's not nine, I was holding it upside down. It's six. Six is the first number." Anna placed the ball in its slot on a rack, reached in for another, grabbed it, handed it to him.
   "Two. The next number is two." She grabbed another.
   "Five. Five." Another.
   "One. The number one." And another.
   "Three. That's three." And finally, the last ball. Leo really took his time with this one, milking it until it was butter. Meanwhile, Maureen had dozed off, her head resting on my shoulder.
   "And the last number is... four. Four. The winning numbers, once again -- why don't you read them, Lady Luck?"
   "Here they are, Leo, tonight's winning numbers, worth forty-eight million dollars, are: Six... Two... Five... One... Three... Four. That's 6-2-5-1-3-4."
   And there it was. 6-2-5-1-3-4. 1-2-3-4-5-6. I was rich. I was rich! Rich!!! Maureen! Wake up! Wake up!!!
   "Jim?" Maureen woke up, and noticed. "Aren't those your numbers?"
   They are indeed.
   "Jim, Jim, this is wonderful! You're rich, you realize that, don't you?"
   Yes, I do. By my count, twelve hundred tickets at forty-eight million apiece comes to... $57,600,000,000! That's nearly sixty trillion dollars! Of course, after taxes are taken out...
   "What are you going to do with all that money?"
   Invest it.
   "In what?"
   In an idea. An idea I had some time ago. It came to me at a cataclysmic moment. I was running through a busy intersection, traffic coming at me from all directions, a taxicab bearing down on me, when... blammo! -- oh, wait, look --
   On the TV, Anna Matopeia had diverged from her scripted goodnights, and was addressing the camera directly.
   "Ladies and gentlemen, I realize that this is normally the point in the show where Lady Luck says goodnight and her trademark, 'Let Lady Luck be yours!' However, tonight I'd like to make a special announcement. Leo Joyce and I have decided to get married."
   There was a gasp from the studio audience, a gasp so palpable it knocked the lottery machine over and dozens of Ping-Pong balls spread across the stage floor as Leo and Anna helplessly flipped and flopped and flailed about, unable to stand up, no matter how hard they tried. It was hilarious. Click! I changed the channel.
   "Hi, it's me again, former Native American Dan Cloud, formerly Duncan Clark, formerly Dancing Cloud, just reminding you that there are only a few days left in the unbelievable 'Move In Now' offer from Powloo Towers."
   "What are you doing Jim? That was Dancing Cloud on TV."
   I know, I know. He's become a huckster extraordinaire. The first millionaire on his cliff. I wish him well. But I've got my own life to worry about. And a little money to spend. Want to help me get rid of a couple of trillion dollars this afternoon?
   "You bet!" Suddenly energized, Maureen went down to the garage, started her vintage pre-war Aston-Martin, and picked me up outside in front of her building.
   "Great car," she gushed. "My favorite color, beige. Thanks."
   It was nothing, I nonchalanted, even though I had to bargain with the former owner for about three days to get it for her. I fastened my seatbelt and we zoomed off on that imaginary highway in my mind. First stop? Tokyo. Watch out, Maureen, you're driving on the wrong side -- aaaaaaaaah!!!
   "Why do they do that? Why do they drive on the wrong side like that?"
   They don't care, they're anarchists. Of course, to them, we're suckers for driving on the -- watch out!
   "He didn't look! It's not my fault!"
   Okay, okay, calm down, even if this is fiction, someone could get hurt. I switched on the old AM radio.
   "We interrupt this program to make a special announcement. The forces of the Rising Sun, His Majesty's servants and protectors, have attacked and destroyed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. From now on, any non-Japanese will be rounded up and herded into concentration camps."
   "Jim? What does this mean?"
   I'm not sure, but, to be safe, you better let me drive.
   "But you don't even know how to -- what are you doing? Careful! You'll knock the car out of gear, watch where you -- "
   There, how's that? Now, let me think... I remember this shortcut that takes us through the back streets of Tokyo, out of Japan, through South Korea, around North Korea, then across Mongolia, avoiding China, through Finland, Scotland, across Greenland, into Canada, to the Niagara River, then over Niagara Falls and into the United States. Hang on!
   "Jim, Jim... I feel funny... I don't feel so good... Jim?"
   What's the matter?
   "I... I feel kind of funny, I feel kind of like I'm not here... like I'm no longer... "
   Maureen? Maureen? Where are you? Where'd you go? Maureen? Where'd she go? She disappeared. So did the car, and Japan, and, and -- everything's gone, everything... everything except... this bed I'm sitting on, and the sink over there, and the toilet in the corner. Where... where is this? Where am I? This looks like... jail. Am I in jail?
   "You're in jail, Reynolds, and if you're planning on having a hot meal for dinner tonight you might want to shut up. You're disturbing the other inmates."
   There are other inmates?
   "Yes, and they don't appreciate you going on and on like this."
   I was only thinking.
   "Well, keep your thoughts to yourself."
   I'll try.
   "Very well."
   The big, menacing prison guard moved away, and I was alone. How did I end up here? I wondered. How did I -- wait! What chapter is this? Of course! Fifty-five! That's the chapter they threw out as a deadline! So, Notesie's word wasn't good anymore. He promised the matter would be taken care of. Some caretaking. I was in jail for not delivering a novel on time, a novel they cared so much about that they were more interested in getting back the lousy seventy-five hundred dollar advance, chump change for them.
   "Hey, schizo!" yelled someone from another cell. "What are you in for?"
   Me? Breach of contract.
   "Breach of contract?" I could hear laughter, mocking in tone, echoing throughout the place which I now recognized was, clearly, a prison. Well, folks, it certainly wasn't intended as such, but, at least for now, this is a "prison novel."

(This ends Chapter Fifty-five, if no one objects.)

Chapter Fifty-six