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Junior Hits The Big One
About the Author: Kevin Egan is the author of eight novels, including Midnight, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013. In addition to his prior appearance in Mystery Magazine, his short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mystery Tribune, Rosebud, and The Westchester Review.

Junior could not remember exactly when he installed the deadbolts on the front and back doors. They were his sister Annie’s idea, so it must have been before she got sick. Dave at the donut shop said they were dangerous, especially if the house caught fire. But Junior slept better at night knowing the deadbolts protected him from burglars.

He opened the front door, dug into the mailbox, and tumbled handfuls of envelopes into the plastic basket of things he carried around the house. So many bills came every day, and not just from Annie’s hospital. Native American children sent bills. Veterans groups sent bills too. And so did people fighting disease, hunger, drunk driving, child abuse. He wrote the checks the same day the bills arrived, scratching his pen until his hand ached. He did not want any bill collectors chasing after him.

After he finished with the bills, he sponged his armpits and limped to the bank. Luckily, Gary was working the customer service desk because Gary was his friend. Gary was nice to him, not like the Asian teller who always frowned when he withdrew his own money or the Latino teller who seemed annoyed when he needed to repeat himself.

“What’ll it be today?” Gary said when Junior sat down at his desk.

“One hundred fifty,” said Junior.

“You withdrew a hundred fifty on Monday and a hundred fifty last Friday.” Gary stared at Junior and waited for a response that never came. “And you can’t keep writing those five dollar checks.”

“They’re bills.”

“They aren’t bills.” Gary sighed. But he pressed the withdrawal slip with his thumb so it would not wrinkle when Junior signed, then took it himself to the Asian teller, who caught Junior’s eye at a distance and slowly shook her head.

Junior spotted Dave in the back booth of the donut shop. Dave sat sideways with one thick arm thrown over the back rest, the other hand spinning his cell phone on the table. His curly blond hair was still wet from his morning shower. Junior nodded hello, then stood waiting at the counter. Without a word, the owner ripped cards from spools of scratch-off lottery games and a hundred dollars later handed Junior a stack as thick as a paperback. Junior brought the cards to the booth and dropped himself onto the bench opposite Dave.

“You want to do some?” he said.

“Nah,” said Dave. “You know I don’t like that kinda stuff.”

Junior thumbed the first card off the top of the deck and began scratching with his lucky Bicentennial quarter. Dave’s cell phone buzzed. He squinted at the number and mumbled that he needed to take this call outside. Junior watched him go, thinking how Dave always got phone calls here and always said he needed to take them outside.

Junior scratched a few cards, then paused to sweep the gray dust off the table. He soon had eight winners, four for two bucks and four for four bucks. A total of ... well, he would add them up later. The door opened with a puff of outside air. Junior lifted his head, expecting Dave but seeing the Asian teller instead. He quickly curled his arms around the cards, covered the lucky quarter with his elbow. The Asian teller ordered tea and, as the owner filled a cup with hot water, glanced back at Junior and frowned. Junior froze, waiting. The door opened again, and Dave slid back into the booth.

“You done already?” he said. “How much you win?”

Junior pressed a finger to his lips.

Behind the counter, the owner dropped a tea bag into the cup.

“What did you take off him today?” the teller said, her voice a harsh stage-whisper. “Fifty dollars? A hundred dollars? You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“He wins,” said the owner.

“He wins? That’s why he withdraws more money every other day.” She shouldered her purse and left the shop.

“Some people should mind their own business,” said Dave.

“I’m going to hit the big one someday,” said Junior, scratching again. “People laugh, but I know it’s going to happen.”

This story appears in our SEP 2023 Issue
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