STOOPER - J. R. LINDERMUTH
Sometimes luck happens when you least expect it.
That’s what he thought later. At the moment Teddy was digging out his last two dollars and the woman was yacking on her cell phone. Ran right into one another. She gives him this murderous look, a bit of profanity and struts off, heels clicking on the tiles. Teddy shrugged, inhaling the stink of her perfume, shook himself and was about to move on himself when he saw the slip of paper spiraling down between them.
A quick stoop and he’d snagged the paper. Seeing what it was, he called out to her.
The woman glanced back over her shoulder, gave him the finger and keptgoing. Teddy shrugged again, watched her get swallowed up in the crowd. Then he took another look at the slip. And he grinned.
This was a winning ticket. And it hadn’t been cashed in. Teddy did a little pirouette, raising his hands in the air and beaming a crazy smile at people passing by who looked at him like he was crazy.
But now he took a cautious look around. He knew who the woman was. Silvestri’s old lady. Silvestri was not a guy to mess with. Teddy thought maybe he should try to find her and return the ticket. Still. Had she recognized him? Nah. How would she know a nobody like him? He smiled again and pocketed the stub.
Teddy continued on over to the betting window. He wouldn’t cash in the ticket yet. He still had the two bucks for a wager on the next race. Why not? Maybe his luck was changing. If not, then he’d see what this ticket was worth. He noticed it was a Pick 3-tallied on the winners of three races. Depending how much she’d wagered, it could be a big payoff. Silvestri’s woman wouldn’t be the kind to make no little bet. But Teddy wasn’t going to let it go to his head yet.
No one had to tell Teddy the odds were stacked against the individual bettor. He’d been coming to the track long enough to know the first rule was never to bet more than you could afford to lose. But who the hell paid attention to rules? You couldn’t win if you didn’t bet, could you? Which was why he was down to his last two bucks. Normally he would have used one of several systems he’d employed in the past. This time he just plunked down the two bucks to win on a horse selected at random. What the hell? There was nothing left to lose but two dollars.
He wandered, intent on watching the race. Grinning to himself, he thought it ironic how many bets he’d made in his life and here he was about to collect as a stooper. A serious bettor, Teddy had always looked down on those scavengers who made their living retrieving discarded tickets in hope of finding accidentally discarded winners. Some of them did make a fairly decent living at it. Lots of winning tickets do go astray. For a guy who went to the track broke, the worst he could do is go home even. But Teddy could never see himself sorting through other people’s garbage. Gross. The thought of it gave him the willies.
Teddy was hungry, but he didn’t have any money left. Instead of going out to the grandstand he wandered into the new casino addition in the clubhouse. Thinking of how stoopers made their living it occurred to him people often overlooked change at the slots. He’d do a browse and see if he might retrieve enough change for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. There was a tote board in the casino and he could check later to see if his nag had won. Fat chance of that.
He went from machine to machine. Some casinos had new machines that spit out paper vouchers instead of coins. They still used the old ones here and the constant musical din of the machines and the clatter of coins spilling into the trays hurt his ears. He found a few overlooked quarters and thought of a ham on rye soon had his little ones eating the big ones, as his ex-wife used to say.
Winter was coming on. Teddy thought he might head down to Miami if he reaped enough money from the ticket. That would be nice. Sunshine and women in bikinis. He would.
He rounded a corner and almost bumped into the woman. One of Silvestri’s goons stood behind her. She glared at him and thrust out a hand. “There you are,” she snapped. “Gimme my goddamned ticket.”
“Ticket? What ticket?”
“Don’t give me no shit. I had it in my hand when you ran into me. You must have grabbed it.”
Backing up and shaking his head, Teddy muttered, “No, I didn’t. Maybe somebody else picked it up.” He glanced around him, seeking the quickest exit. He might have considered giving it back to her when she first dropped it. But not now; not when it promised a big payoff.
“Let me at him, Shirl,” the goon said, stepping menacingly past her. “I’ll soon get it out of him.” The guy was a head taller and at least forty pounds heavier than Teddy. He had a face like a bulldog and the bulge in his ill-sitting jacket denoted a persuader of a less subtle kind.
Teddy spun around and split down the aisle between a row of poker machines, the goon hot on his heels. “Come back here, you little shit!” the goon snarled. “I’m gonna tear your fuckin’ head off when I catch you.” The threat only spurred Teddy to run faster. He came out of the clubhouse adjacent to the main parking lot and sprinted across the street just as a courtesy bus came around the corner from the south gate. These buses ran every half hour or so, bringing patrons from the subway station in town to the admission gates.
Teddy didn't know where he was going. He just ran, hoping to lose his pursuer among the parked cars in the lot.
Suddenly, behind him, he heard the squeal of brakes, a solid thud and a chorus of screams. Stumbling to a halt, his lungs bursting with the unaccustomed exertion, Teddy swiveled around. The bus was halted in the middle of the road, a crowd of people gathered in front of it. “He just ran out in my path,” the driver was saying. “I couldn’t stop in time.”
Another bus had pulled up behind the first one.
Teddy grinned and felt in his pocket for the ticket. Taking a deep breath, he walked across the lot and got on the bus. “What happened?” the driver asked as he boarded.
“They said some guy ran out in front of the bus.”
“No shit? Some people have the worst luck.”
BIO: J.R. Lindermuth is the author of seven novels, including three in the Sticks Hetrick mystery series. He has published short stories and articles in a variety of magazines, both print and online. Check out Jack’s Place for reviews and sample chapters.