For Every Winner There's a Loser by Harry Downey.
Inside his head Rodney didnt try to pretend about his writing. He knew his limitations, and finding plots for his short stories was something he wasnt good at - his own original ideas that was, and not just a variation on something hed seen or read somewhere else. No matter how hard he tried, whatever he worked on, somehow it finished up never far away from someone elses concept.
Not this time though. OK, so this new idea was prompted by that thing on ITV a few weeks back, but his jump from that plot - a bit routine hed thought at the time - to this guy contemplating killing his wife after a massive win was miles away from what hed watched. A winning lottery ticket was about the only thing they had in common. This time he had a sure-fire winner, and he knew it.
Something that might shut em up down in the Claims Department where hed resigned himself to the comments that were regularly thrown at him.
Rodney. Will you write longer stories when you get better, then?
Are you going to make as much money as that Rowlings woman?
So, you write the short stuff to practice for writing proper books, do you Rod?
Proper books- the term always wound him up but he did his best just to ignore it. He knew his day would come. Like Del Boy used to say This time next year, Rodney ..
Then he became a published author.
The acceptance of The early bird - just one story out of nineteen submitted to various editors - had come right out of the blue.
When he saw his story in Charisma - after the initial glow of pride - he felt disappointed and deflated. Some of his precise formatting had been ignored, and the closing paragraph that included the all-important twist in the tale was missing. Nobody reading his little masterpiece would ever have known that the vicars wife had been involved in the thefts all along.
To a man who tried so hard to do a solid job on his proof-reading the results were sloppy and nothing like the copy he had sent in. And they even got his name wrong. Up there in bold type Wilkins instead of Wilkinson.
The rest of the little A5 magazine didnt impress him and the stories were a poor lot. Rod regretted signing up as and paying his ten quid subscription, so when Charisma folded soon afterwards he wasnt surprised. He e-mailed the editor (ex-editor by now as he was very keen to stress to Rod), but the promised refund cheque still hadnt arrived.
So with his Great Idea burning away in his head, Rod settled down for the evening at his laptop. As usual, Mary was downstairs in front of the massive Sony HD set, chocolates already opened, and impatient for Coronation Street to start. Frost was to follow and apart from the loo and a cup of tea, Mary wouldnt move much from her favourite seat. She might lose a few pounds if she did move more. He found he was thinking things like that rather a lot these days.
Rods stories werent finished quickly. What took the time before he pressed a single key was his painstaking reading-up and preparation - his homework.
His own reading for pleasure had given him a massive respect for the top writers in the Spy / Thriller genre - people like Frederick Forsythe and John le Carré. Research, detail, background these big boys knew how to do it. So, read, watch and learn, Rod. Study the subject, make notes, and thank the Lord for search engines. His desk-pad had a few jottings on it.
Man, married twenty something years, unhappy marriage - his wife has let herself go. Winning ticket - massive win on lottery. Decides to start afresh - kill wife and take up with young girl in the office.
The girl in the story - Jackie I think Ill call her. Of course, Kylie down on the Reception Desk is my Jackie. Its time I stopped daydreaming and actually did something about her - something like asking her out. Shes gorgeous. Mary, well shes not in the same bracket these days - sort of Stockport County to Man U thing.
Just how would Arthur Randall - Rod always liked to choose his characters names early in the process - kill Muriel? Then how would he dispose of the body?
A few more notes were on the paper in front of him. Shoot? Strangle? Poison? If poison, what sort? Head and hands cut off to avoid identification. Feed bits to piranha fish. Keep rest in freezer. Take remains out in small boat and chuck overboard. How he kills her isnt important if no-one ever finds out - and they wont if theres no body to find. Dead Simple - good idea for title there? Missing wife? Explanation - she walked out on him. Marital differences public knowledge. Muriel has her own inherited money - enough for her to live on independently.
Nothing much too difficult to research if he looked in the right places. Hed start with Google - if they cant help, no-one can.
Normally Rods homework was done at his laptop. The following Saturday for a change he sat in front of a TV set to do his research. Cold and frosty outside, in a warm living room at home ready to watch the National Lottery programme seemed a reasonable place for many people to be. For Rodney though, it was a first. As was his purchase of a Lottery ticket down at the Tescos near his office. Hed asked the woman behind the counter what had to do to select the numbers and how much it cost.
Ive got a virgin here he heard her say to a colleague - he must the only man in the store whos never done it before. He should be able to make a nice line or two in his new story out of what hed overheard - maybe even a couple of paragraphs. Still, he wished she hadnt called out her comment as loudly as she did. People everywhere turning and looking at him was a bit embarrassing, to say the least.
Apart from seeing snatches of it when he happened to be in the room when it was on the programme was all new to Rod. So he watched, remembering all the time he wasnt an ordinary viewer - he was a writer researching his next story.
Mary was an unwitting guinea-pig that evening - the victim-to-be hoping and praying that tonight would be her lucky night, the night she won the Big Prize. Her reactions to the televised draw were critical in the story, but his own feelings as he watched would be vital if he wanted to make his tale as realistic as possible.
The narrative he had already begun to plan upstairs over the last couple of days was being fleshed out and revised in his head as he sat there.
Arthur watched Muriel with increasing disgust. She sat in her usual seat on the three-seater settee, the seat closest to the fire and the television set. She had kicked off her slippers and they lay where they had fallen, between her and the stone fireplace. Her legs were mottled by the heat from the gas fire. On the arm of the settee her right hand hovered over the Cadburys Roses box the giant size, he noticed and she dipped into it repeatedly. She didnt look to choose or select from the box; whatever her hand grabbed hold of went to her chocolate-ringed mouth. Already the box was nearly empty and he knew that she would have another one in reserve somewhere nearby. Silver foil wrappings were scattered around where she sat.
Muriel seemed unable or unwilling to watch silently, with the rustling of wrapping papers, the crunching and noisy enjoyment of her chocolates and her apparent inability to restrain from making comments about what was on the screen. Arthur knew from the rare, previously shared evenings in front of the television that what he was enduring was how his wife normally was when viewing - his presence there made no difference. She enjoyed watching television - hed even heard her say with near disbelief that it was her hobby - and the noise she made while viewing annoyed her husband as much as her pleasure at what she watched baffled him. Mediocre entertainment at best, he thought, his wife obviously revelling in it.
He pictured the scene as it would be a few months ahead. He and Jackie - together - in their own little love-nest. Instead of that woman hed grown to loathe, the fat - (no mincing words Arthur, you know its true) - the fat, slovenly, lazy, woman shed become after over twenty years together - instead his darling Jackie would be there with him. Just the two of them. Jackie - everything Muriel wasnt. Slim, beautiful, vivacious, amusing, intelligent and sexy.
Were all of these qualities in his beloved really true? Rod didnt know. In fact he knew hardly anything about her. All the virtues that he attributed to Kylie were assumptions based on nothing more than a nice smile back from her in response to his regular Good Mornings. But his angel looked so ravishing, so pure, so stunning, so beautiful, that no-one who looked as she did could be less than perfect. So what if I am twenty-five or so years older than she is - a man can dream, cant he?
Seeing Mary looking like a stranded whale on the settee made his need for Kylie more and more pressing. Next week - no Rod, thats not good enough, a vague next week wont do - first thing on Monday morning hed make his move on Kylie/Jackie. Hed had a good line in chat in the old days and a bloke doesnt lose a talent like he had back then. It must be like riding a bike - its something you never forget. Just see her, charm her and arrange that all-important first date. Lifes beginning to look better already. All except for that gross creature just a few feet away from him that he married when he didnt know any better. Thank God there were no kids to bother about.
Rod was increasingly baffled by what he saw on the screen and his wifes reactions to it all. The word Rollover was mentioned constantly - meaning next to nothing to Rod but clearly a lot to the studio audience and to Mary who gave a little shriek each time the word came up.
Now what youve all been waiting for here and all you good people watching at home This Weeks Winning Numbers. Somebody somewhere is going to be a whole lot richer tonight. It might be you. Good Luck to you all. Here We Go.
When the smooth young man everybody in the studio audience so obviously adored uttered these words at what even Arthur could see was the highpoint of the show, Muriel for a moment or so stopped eating her chocolates.
Torn between trying to see his wifes reaction and what was happening on the screen Rod did his best to take it all in. Mary had a number of tickets - ten every week he remembered her saying once, not that ten quid was anything to her after all her father left her - and had fashioned herself a little clip-board to have them all in her view as the winning balls began their journeys to end up in a tube. Rod assumed that the numbers in the tube he could see were the winning ones - something that was confirmed by these same numbers up on the screen and an excited voice calling them out. The whole process seemed to flash by yet go on forever. There they were 1, 7, 13, 25, 26, 38.
Marys single word of frustration was passionate but suppressed. Unused to having her husband with her like this in the evening, shed almost forgotten his distaste for anything he thought of as vulgarity. She tore the slips from the clip, scrunched them up and dropped them on the floor. Rod, knowing Marys attention was on the events in the studio, looked at his own single ticket. His numbers matched those flashing away on the screen. It took a moment or two for Rod to control himself and to decide instantly that the win would stay a secret.
So, what happens now? If somebody wins a big prize how much will it be then? Mary turned and looked at him, surprised to hear his voice. It was the first time either had spoken since Rod had sat himself down at the opposite end of the settee earlier - something that happened so rarely she was still puzzled by it.
Well, tonights a Rollover so theres extra money for a winner. Theres a show later on tonight when they tell you how many winners there are for the big prize and how much theyve won. I usually watch it if it doesnt clash with anything else.
Arthur looked across at the long tank on its stand on the side-wall. There they were - his tropicals - his small collection of guppies, a pair of angel fish, the glinting neons in their own never-still world, and down at the bottom a catfish grubbing away. Harmless, gentle creatures.
But piranha fish like those hed seen in that James Bond movie. Horrible brutes - like miniature sharks from what he knew of them. Still, he wouldnt have to take em for walks or anything - just buy as many as he wanted for a specific job then hed get rid of them. Perhaps trade them back for some decent tropicals to add to his collection. All hed need would be a new tank somewhere, probably in the garden shed - then theyd go. And so would the evidence with them. Perfect.
After hed cut off her hands and feet they wouldnt be much of a problem. Just lower the bits into the tank on a metal chain and then leave the rest to the piranhas. Probably starve the fish for a day or two before just to make them even more ravenous. Lift out the chain with just the bone hand left on it and voilá - the evidence has gone the way of all flesh. Well done, Arthur. Nice line that - way of all flesh. Getting rid of the head - well, just see what you learn from watching the hands being eaten. Same principle though, just feed the fish when they look hungry. In fact, instead of all the bother with a boat to dispose of whats left, why not just cut her up and let the fish have all of her? It would just take a bit longer, thats all.
Then after Muriel had gone he could do what he liked. Just allow the story that shed left him to get around and be accepted - everyone who knows the two of them would probably express their surprise that she had gone and not Rodney - and let time do its work for him. Jackies would be the shoulder to cry on, and what happened later would seem inevitable.
Remember Rod, moneys no object any more - and it would be yours. No need to go cap in hand to that woman ever again. Tropicals by the dozen - whatever he wanted. Theres plenty of room for more tanks round the place thats if they decide to stay in this house. Jackie might well want something bigger and better than a three-bedroomed semi. A move to the seaside, go to live abroad, whatever. Anything his darling asked for she could have.
Now Ive seen it Im just a touch curious to know how it all turns out, thats all. Let me know later on what happens - I might even start buying a ticket like you do. Im popping out to the pub for a pint.
Down at the Green Man the talk was all of that days football. Malcolm Chambers came in for his usual drink just minutes before closing and joined in.
They could do with whoever won the Lottery tonight down at the City Ground. Just one winner and hes won a fortune nearly enough to buy half a striker at todays prices.
Rod finished his drink and went home. There was a message on the telephone table from Muriel that just had a pound sign and numbers on it - £14386293. He switched on his laptop, went to Google, and typed in his request. Among the options he found what he wanted Piranha fish all you need to know about them.
Just one more thing to do then turn in. He reached down the Yellow Pages and there they were the people over in Miston hed dealt with before.
TanksALot Exotics. We supply anything for the aquarist. The more challenging your need the more we like it.
Then just what he hoped to see.
Open Sundays 11 5.
Muriel was grunting and snorting away in her own bed when Rod went to his. He lay there in the dark, smiling and happy. Today had been an extraordinary day. Tomorrow, well think of it as a workday. A working Sunday, Rod, with things to do - a phone call to sort out the details about his winning ticket and all his millions, then a few purchases to make. But Monday - Monday was really going to be a very special day. Yes, Im looking forward to Monday.
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