The Big Win

John Garrett knew that he was a boring man. A fifty year old accountant, he lived in an average semi with his wife Sue, who had been his first (and only) love. If he could have managed it, he would doubtless have had two point four children, but as fractional children don’t happen, he’d settled for two. He was boring, but he was comfortable and that was enough for him.

He felt, therefore, a profound shock, a sense of disbelief, and an emotion that he belatedly recognised as terror, when he saw one Saturday morning that his lottery entry had won the jackpot. He checked the numbers on the screen. He checked the numbers on his ticket. He double-checked the dates on both. Everything matched. His eyes kept straying to the figure at the top of the screen. “Jackpot £18,279,317”.

His hands were shaking.

“Darling. Would you come here a minute, please? I want you to look at something for me.”

Sue came into the room. Her smile changed to a look of concern as she saw his face. “What is it, love? You look quite pale.”

He pointed at the screen and the ticket. She examined both. She ran her tongue over lips that were suddenly dry. Hesitantly she said, “We seem to have won? Is that it?”

“The numbers match. I bought the ticket for last night’s draw and the dates match. That means we’ve won.”

They looked at each other. Abruptly things had become different. There were – possibilities.

Suddenly Sue grinned. It was a feral expression, showing all her teeth. “John, we’ve won. We’ve bloody won.” She grabbed him, kissed him, pulling him close, rubbing against him. “Fuck me, we’ve bloody won. Eighteen million bloody quid. Fuck me.” She pushed him away. “Well get on the bloody phone to them, then. What are you waiting for?”

John picked up the ticket. He felt a little calmer, less tremulous. Now that Sue had seen the ticket and confirmed it matched the draw, he could start to allow himself to believe that maybe they really had been ridiculously, unjustifiably, lucky. Maybe they really had won.

It was John who insisted that they should remain anonymous; he said that otherwise they would receive a flood of begging letters. This thought attracted rather than repelled Sue, who would have enjoyed wielding the power of patronage as she flaunted their new-found wealth. But John was firm, and this was so unusual that Sue capitulated. It was nice to have an assertive husband, as long as he confined it to matters that didn’t really matter too much to her. And in return for anonymity, she extracted a promise that they would move to a bigger, better house; she knew that John, as soon as he’d considered it, would have argued in favour of staying where they were.

Sue handed in her notice at work the day after the money was safely banked. John didn’t. He liked the routine, and his secretary was an attractive brunette. In fact, now that he was rich she seemed even sexier. Wealth brought an expanded horizon. He had been used to suppressing thoughts of luxuries; now he could afford them.

Sue didn’t mind him continuing with his job for a while, as she didn’t particularly want him under her feet at home, but there were limits. After a few months, she felt demeaned by his continuing to work, undervalued. Didn’t he want to spend time with her?

It was evening, several weeks after they had moved to their new home. John had just returned from work. Sue poured them each a drink, then snuggled up close to him on the over-stuffed sofa.

“Do you remember what it was like before we married?”

John smiled, and slid an arm around her. “Oh yes,” he said. “I remember very well. What plans we had!”

“Do you feel that maybe – now we have money – you might like to do some of the things we dreamed about?”

“Which things did you have in mind?” John took a mouthful of single malt scotch and savoured it. How delightful that he could drink it every evening without considering the expense! He ran his hand over the inside of Sue’s thigh. She kissed him, hard.

“You remember how we always said we’d go to Africa, and see elephants and lions, and the migrating wildebeest? I sent off for details of a safari and they came this morning. Would you like to look at them? After dinner perhaps?”

“Mm, maybe.” He kissed her. There were better things to do than look at brochures…

When John opened his briefcase at work next morning, he found an envelope full of glossy publicity for Safari DeLuxe Tours. There was a quotation for a six week holiday. John winced automatically when he saw how much it was, before he remembered that it no longer mattered. He could afford it.

He read the brochures at lunchtime. Although it was expensive, and many stays were in comfortable hotels or game lodges, he counted seven nights under canvas, and twenty-three days when they needed to be in a 4×4 vehicle by 6 o’clock in the morning. That was definitely not his idea of first class travel.

His secretary, Dawn, came in; he’d never managed to persuade her to knock before entering. He would have been embarrassed to shuffle the brochures into his case, but he surreptitiously slid the itinerary with its tell-tale price under some other papers.

“Ooh! Are you going to Africa?”

“We’re thinking of it. It’s Sue’s idea; it’s not really my cup of tea.” He smiled at Dawn.

“You know what?” she said. “You’ve been quite different the last couple of months. Ever so cheerful and nice.” John glanced at her suspiciously, but her face was candid. She gave him a grin. “I suppose I’d better give you these letters for signing and get back to this month’s sales figures.”

John stuffed the details of the African holiday into his case. Perhaps he should suggest that Sue went by herself? Possibly he might – but no, he didn’t want to cheat on Sue. He shook his head firmly. Sue wouldn’t be happy if he said he wasn’t coming with her.

She wasn’t.

It was their first row for years, and ended with Sue locking herself in the main bedroom. John sat and drank scotch. She was being an unreasonable bitch. Who’d bought the lottery ticket anyway? When he woke up at 5 a.m., he was sitting in an armchair, cold, and with a pounding headache. He took ibuprofen, and black coffee, and tried to settle himself in the guest bedroom, but it was no good; he couldn’t sleep.

He gave up trying at seven o’clock, and went into the kitchen. Sue was already there. She looked at him, stony-faced, but spoke quietly.

“I’m sorry, John, but I was extremely disappointed. I know you’re not as keen on travelling as I am, but last night was as though you’d trampled on our dreams together.” She sighed, and then added, “Can I make you a coffee? You look terrible. I’m sorry if you had a bad night.”

John felt contrite. He was just about to apologise to Sue, and say that he would go with her to Africa, or indeed, to the ends of the earth if it would make her happy, when she placed her finger on her lips to silence him.

“No. Don’t say that you’ll come. You’ve spoilt the dream; that’s gone now. It’s my dream, but not yours. I’ll go alone. Perhaps we’ll find somewhere else that you’d rather visit.”

“I’m sorry,” he managed, as she handed him a mug of steaming black coffee. She nodded.

“Let’s just drop the subject. Do you fancy some breakfast? Some bacon, and a couple of fried eggs?”

It was several weeks before Sue left for Africa. John waited a couple of nights, and then invited Dawn to come for a drink. They were enjoying themselves, so it seemed completely natural that they should go from the cocktail bar to a restaurant. John relished Dawn’s uncomplicated delight in the deferential service and the elaborate cuisine. And if he kissed her when he’d taken her back to her flat in a taxi, it was chastely on her cheek.

You couldn’t in good conscience say that Dawn led him on; she let him set the pace. Had John been disposed to stay faithful to Sue, Dawn would have been disappointed but no worse. She enjoyed life, and saw no reason to deny herself life’s pleasures. If she thought of Sue at all it was to consider that taking a six-week holiday without John was just asking for trouble. Presumably sex no longer interested her.

Sue wasn’t able to keep in touch every day – not all the lodges had wifi, and, of course, there were those nights in tents that had dismayed John so much. However, she called him several times a week, on Skype where possible. She looked fit, bronzed and sleek. Despite the drying effect of the sun and the wind, her face looked less lined, more youthful. John was glad she was finding the holiday satisfying despite his absence.

It was four weeks after her flight out, Saturday morning, nine o’clock, when the doorbell rang.

“Do want me to go?” asked Dawn.

“No, it’ll only be the postman. I’m not expecting anything. They’ll go away.”

Dawn chuckled. “You randy so-and-so!”

The doorbell rang again. John levered himself out of bed.

“I suppose I’d better see what they want.” He pulled on his dressing gown.

The doorbell rang a third time. Dawn looked irritated. “They’re a bit of nuisance, this time on a Saturday!”

It was a tall gentleman in a smart suit at the door. His expression was serious.

“Mr Garrett?”

“Yes?”

“My name is Mark Cornforth. I’m the General Manager of Safari DeLuxe Tours. May I come in please?”

They seated themselves in the lounge.

“I’m very sorry, Mr Garrett, but I have some bad news for you. As I’m sure you’re aware, we can’t make our safaris completely safe – we are, after all, working close to large, powerful and dangerous creatures. Sometimes there are accidents.

I’m afraid we experienced such an accident last night. For some reason your wife left the tent and wandered away. One of our guides noticed and followed quickly to bring her back, but he was too late. There was a lion close by that attacked her, and killed her before we could shoot it. I’m extremely sorry.”

John shook as though feverish. “Are you sure?”

“I’m afraid there’s no doubt. The tour guide identified her for the Kenyan authorities.”

John covered his face with his hands. His pulse was racing. Dead! And he’d been…the thought nauseated him.

“We’ve made arrangements for the body to be returned to the UK. I imagine that the police will want you to identify it, just as a matter of routine you understand.”

John nodded. His cheeks were wet with tears. He ushered Mark Cornforth out of the house, and wept.

“What’s happened, John? What’s the matter?”

“It’s Sue. She’s been killed.”

Dawn covered her mouth with both hands. “Oh, no! Oh, John! How can I help you?”

“I think – if you just go, and leave me on my own for a bit. Do you mind?”

“Are you sure?”

John nodded.

The body arrived in England about a week later, and sure enough, John was asked to identify it. The pathologist drew back the cover and John looked down at the still features.

His head spun. The buzzing in his ears rose in a vicious crescendo. As his legs buckled and the whirling blackness claimed him, he croaked, “But this isn’t my wife!”

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