This is the conclusion of a fictional short story in two parts. It is just over 2000 words.
The people from the Lottery company checked that Barry had the ticket, which they inspected carefully. They went inside, and Mr Nisha confirmed that he had sold it. They seemed happy enough. One of them was on the ‘phone to the company, but Barry couldn’t hear what was being said. A chunky woman introduced herself as Valerie. “Call me Val.” She insisted. She told him that she was a volunteer, a previous winner who helped to guide the lucky ones through the process. “You don’t mind helping out with some publicity, do you Mr Matthews?” He shrugged in reply. “Call me Barry if you like.” After a short debate about Molly the dog being allowed in the car, Barry climbed in the back next to Val, with Molly sitting on the floor. He had told them, “Either the dog comes, or I don’t go. You can just send the money instead.”
As they drove off, the youngest one stayed behind. He said he had to get to the office, but as the car turned into the main street, he was on his mobile. “Hi, it’s Alex.” He was excited, and could hardly control the volume of his voice. “This one’s a peach. A homeless man in a shop doorway with his dog, and he wins the jackpot. It’s a genuine rags to riches story, you couldn’t make it up.”
Barry stared out of the tinted window as the car headed south over Waterloo Bridge. Val was going through what was to happen next. “You will be taken to a hotel, and meet the representatives from the organisers. They will put you up there, make sure that you get something to eat, and run through what you should be thinking about. Tomorrow, there will be a short press conference, and no doubt the TV cameras will want to be there too. You will be famous, Barry. Is that OK?” At the Elephant and Castle roundabout, the car headed south, in the direction of Kent. He suddenly realised he had to reply. “Fine by me.” About an hour later, they arrived at a smart country house hotel in the Kent countryside. Val hadn’t stopped talking, but in all honesty, Barry had to admit that he hadn’t really paid much attention to her prattling. She had spoken mostly about her own experience, and although it was too harsh to say out loud, he couldn’t really care less about her.
Val escorted him to a lovely room. “Perhaps you would like to change before the meeting.” She suggested. “Into what?” Barry replied. “This is it.” Val looked uneasy. “Well, maybe a bath, and a rest before the meeting then. Is there anything you need at the moment?” “A bowl please, so I can give Molly some water.” He pointed at the panting dog, before dropping onto the huge soft bed. He had forgotten just how soft a bed was. It was as if he had never slept in one before. Val went off to consult with the officials. “Don’t let him change, whatever you do.” She was told. “Let him freshen up, get that smell off him. He can have dinner in the room, and breakfast too for that matter. But we want him looking just like that, when the press guys come tomorrow.” Once they had brought the water bowl, Barry stripped off and ran a hot bath, using the foam and oils supplied by the hotel. He sat in that bath for a long time, using the fluffy dressing gown provided when he was out and dry. A knock on his door was followed by a waiter, with menus for food and wine. Barry could choose what to have for lunch, and it would be served in his room. He chose a steak, and ordered some chicken for Molly, who was curled up on an expensive-looking rug near the windows.
After lunch, the telephone rang. It was Val, asking him to be kind enough to meet them in the Hambledon Suite, on the ground floor. Barry rummaged through his rucksack, and found some reasonably clean socks and underwear, as well as a creased but washed shirt. Entering the conference suite, he felt decidedly under-dressed, but not too bothered about it. Val was there, with three serious-looking men. They stood up as he came in, and shook his hand in turn. They explained their roles. One was a legal adviser, another dealt with financial matters, and the third was a regional manager. “You are going to be a very wealthy man, Mr Matthews, and we regard it as our responsibility to give you the best advice on how to manage your winnings.” That was said by the manager, as the others nodded. Barry felt bold enough to ask the burning question. “Exactly how much are we talking about?” The manager smiled. “You had the only ticket to match all the winning numbers. This is the amount, I am sure you will be pleased.” As he spoke, he slid a piece of paper across the desk. It contained just one line of type, a long row of numbers. £16,683,488.42p. Barry read it twice. Over sixteen and a half million pounds. He had hoped that it might have been a couple of hundred grand, but he hadn’t expected this.
“I am sure that you will agree, Mr Matthews, a life-changing sum of money.” This from the financial expert, an older man with something of the Victorian about him.
Much of what went on after that seemed to Barry to be happening at fast-forward. He signed some papers, and agreed once again to tomorrow’s press conference. They asked for bank details, and he could only give them details of an old savings account. All the others had been closed, when he had gone bust. He was told that his bill would be covered until the following afternoon, and after that, he would be responsible. They asked him to tell Val what he wanted to say to the press, and they would check it before he spoke. He shook their hands once more, and went back to his room. Someone from the company would be back the next morning, and Val would stick around, if he wanted to talk. But he didn’t want to talk, he wanted to sleep. To sleep in that soft bed. Molly was pleased to see him when he got back, then scooted back to her comfy rug. He undressed, and slipped into the clean bedding.
The photo shoot next morning was a real set-up. Barry was dressed in his old coat and battered boots, with Molly on her washing-line lead next to him. He held up a huge fake cheque bearing the amount he had won, and shook a champagne bottle until it fizzed over everyone. He decided not to say much, just confirmed that he had been living on the streets, and agreed that the lottery would change his life. Val handed out a press release with his real name and age, as well as a romanticised version of how this street tramp had found his way back into society courtesy of a lottery ticket. By 11 am, it was all over. They left him with contact numbers for the advisers, telling him to be in touch when he had an address, or if he needed help. Barry was approached by the hotel manager, who offered to let him keep the room for now, at a preferred rate.
One lesson soon learned was that if you have enough money, people who want it will come to you. Within two days, a young man arrived from the bank where he held the savings account. He wanted to discuss investments of course, but he also arranged for Barry’s account to be reinstated, as well as the issue of bank cards and credit cards, which arrived by courier the following day. He was contacted by local tailors offering bespoke clothing services, and estate agents left messages all day, suggesting that they pick him up and show him around some very desirable properties in the area. The hotel began to receive so many calls asking for Mr Matthews, that he told them to say he had checked out, and they didn’t know where he had gone. Sacks of mail arrived too. Thousands of letters sent by people pleading for investment in wonderful inventions, asking for money to pay for expensive life-saving operations, and a hundred and one other sob stories. Many claimed to know him, and some even threatened exposure of made-up crimes, or to reveal secrets from his past if he refused to send money. Barry read a few, but soon got bored with them. He asked the hotel to get rid of them, and ordered a taxi to take him to Maidstone, the nearest large town. He asked the taxi-driver to wait for him, and told him to expect a big tip. The driver knew his story. He waited.
He left Molly in a dog-grooming parlour as he went around the busy centre. After a good haircut and shave in a trendy barber’s, he stopped off in some smart shops, buying new clothes and shoes, as well as a sharp suit. When the staff asked what they should do with the clothes he had been wearing, he told them to throw them away. He also bought a leather holdall to put everything in, and a very expensive watch. In a mobile phone shop, he paid cash for a sim-only phone, and topped it up with five hundred pounds. That should last a while, he thought. His last stop was at the office of one of the estate agents who had contacted him. With minimal fuss, he was able to rent an isolated house about ten miles away. He was assured that it was furnished tastefully, completely equipped for all his needs, and he need do nothing more than move in. He paid the six months in advance, and was handed the keys. The agent gave him the contact numbers necessary for the utility companies, and advised that he contact them that day. Barry collected Molly, who had clipped nails, a very clean coat, and looked years younger. He walked back to the spot where the taxi had dropped him off, and the smiling driver was there waiting.
After three weeks in the house, Barry had set it up well. Everything could be done on the telephone or online. You didn’t need to go out, unless you wanted to. He had soon arranged the best available Internet service, and purchased a state of the art laptop. He bought a huge TV for the bedroom, and subscribed to all the latest satellite services. Food was ordered in, as well as casual clothes, some nice bedding, and pretty much anything else he needed. Molly could wander around in the large garden. She didn’t need long walks at her age. He checked the post every day. So far, nobody had found out where he was. The letters had stopped, and he was very much yesterday’s news. Someone else would soon win another jackpot, and he could slip away into obscurity.
After six weeks had passed, he telephoned Mandy’s parents. The lady who answered told him that she had lived there for almost two years. The man who lived there before had died, and his wife had gone to live with her daughter in South Africa. She had an address somewhere, if he wanted it. Barry declined the address, and thanked her for her time. He sat and thought about the news. South Africa? What the hell were Mandy and Geri doing there? He considered the possibility of hiring a detective agency to track them down, but wondered what he would say if he found them. Perhaps his new-found wealth would lure them back to him, but he was no longer sure that was really what he wanted. He called the agent who managed the house. He wanted to rent it long-term, he told the man. A payment arrangement would be put in place, to include someone to check on the house from time to time, keep it maintained, and sort out the garden. “I am going away for a while, and I will not be able to be contacted.” Barry informed him.
The next afternoon, Barry dressed in a thick hooded sweatshirt and jogging trousers. He put on some black trainers, and unwrapped the new heavy coat from the box it had arrived in. Taking off the designer watch, he placed it in a bedside drawer, next to the switched-off mobile phone. He took some cash from the table, and put the notes into a pocket of the coat. The taxi arrived at four as arranged, and he and Molly were on the train to London within the hour.
He knew where to get the best dry cardboard, and it was still there. Three large sheets would be enough, and all he could carry anyway. Settling down in the doorway next to Mr Nisha’s shop, Molly jumped into his lap, and he stroked her head.
Barry smiled at his faithful dog as he said, “Home at last, Moll.”