“So there I am, homeless, shaking with the cold, right, squatting in this shop doorway, a mound of blankets and all that.”
“I’m starving, but what I really need is a smoke. I’ve found a few fag-ends but I’ve no paper. Then I see this scrap blowing down the road towards me. Like, just skipping along. Beautiful. I grab it. And then, as I’m rolling it up, I see it’s a lottery ticket.”
He’s told the story a hundred times, of course. The young blonde woman sitting at the bar next to him sips her cocktail. Death in the Afternoon. Her long red fingernails are wrapped delicately around the bowl of her glass.
“Just like that.”
She smiles a beautiful smile, her earrings sparkling. Her legs are crossed and he finds it hard not to look at the silky stretch of her thigh. He thinks about running his hand along it. He knows what she wants, of course; he knows how it is. If it wasn’t for the money she wouldn’t look twice at him. His ruined teeth may have been fixed but his sun-ravaged face is still a mess. Still, he doesn’t mind.
“Well, yeah, you can guess the rest. I check the date and it’s today. I turn to look at the screens next to me — I said it was a branch of TV World, right? — and there are my numbers coming up on the screen, one after the other, bam, bam, bam. Suddenly I’m a millionaire. Ten times over.”
“Enough to make you think there is a God after all.”
She smiles a little smile to herself.
“Of course, there’s the little matter of the price,” she says, as if it’s something that has only just occurred to her.
“The price? Don’t worry about that, love. The drinks are on me.”
“I didn’t mean the drinks.”
She glances sideways at him. There’s something different in her face then, something he catches a glimpse of beneath that immaculate exterior. A hint of red in her eyes, a red that has nothing to do with her make-up. A look of ferocious hunger. For a moment, the elegant fingernails wrapped around the glass are more like claws. She smiles and the beautiful woman is back there next to him.
He sips his drink, ice clutching his stomach. He sees how things are. The piano continues to tinkle away in the background. The hum of conversation around them doesn’t pause.
“But that’s not how it works,” he says. “I’ve seen the movies. You’re supposed to tempt me first, offer me a deal.”
She stares into the depths of her cocktail, as if fascinated by the streams of bubbles in the milky liquid.
“That’s how we used to operate. These days we’ve polished up our marketing skills, raised our game. Now we give you what you want up front, then take it away if you don’t agree terms. It’s still technically within the rules. We find it gives us a better strike rate.”
“So it’s, what, my eternal soul or back to the old life on the streets? Starving, freezing, being beaten up?”
She smiles sweetly as if it’s the simplest thing in the world.
He doesn’t really have to think. He waves at the barman and orders them both another cocktail.
“Seems like a bargain to me,” he says.
Simon Kewin writes fiction, poetry and computer software, although usually not at the same time. His fiction and poetry has appeared in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies. He lives in the UK with Alison and their two daughters Eleanor and Rose.