Finders, Keepers

Written in response to the prompt of “sloth” for a collection based on the seven deadly sins.

Milton was loitering outside his local pub, smoking a pungent roll-up, when he saw it fall from the man’s back pocket. No-one else seemed to have noticed. The man appeared unaware of his loss.

Nonchalant and unhurried — his usual pace — Milton went to take a closer look. A black leather wallet, well worn and tattered at the corners, rested on the tarmac almost hidden by the curb. He brushed his greasy fringe out of his grubby face and bent over, grunting with the effort. He paused for a moment, pretended he was fastening his shoelace, then slipped it surreptitiously inside his jacket. A smug grin spread across his face. He straightened and continued walking.

The man crossed the road up ahead. Went out of sight as he entered the mall. He could have chased him, he could have called him back, but that would have required some effort on his part. Milton never did anything if it required effort.

He wandered to a nearby bench and slumped on the seat. He rolled and lit another cigarette before investigating his ill-gotten gains. It was a beautiful day. There was no rush.

Inside the wallet was a couple of crumpled twenty dollar bills and a handful of loose change. There was a driver’s licence. A bank card. A faded old photo of a couple of kids. Some receipts and a business card.

He pocketed the cash and skimmed the name and photo on the licence — Lou Simon Aver. No address listed, not that he cared. The business card bore Aver’s name, and his role with a swimming pool construction company. He slid his fingers into the inside pockets. There was something else — a piece of folded yellow paper. Milton recognised it instantly as a Lotto ticket.

He unfurled it and read the numbers. The printed date said it had been purchased only three days prior for yesterday’s draw. Curiosity got the better of him. He took his phone from his pocket, pulled up the Lotto website, and read the results.

His heart pounded. His jaw fell slack. The roll-up dangled from the edge of his lip. It stuck to a flake of dry skin and spit, and shed hot embers onto his jeans. They burned through the denim and seared his thigh. He barely noticed.

The numbers. They all matched up. In his hands he held the winning ticket for a sixteen million dollar jackpot.

There was no way he could find the guy. He could be anywhere. Milton couldn’t possibly catch up to him now. He could hand the wallet into the police station, say he’d found it in the street, but a winning lottery ticket? Anyone would keep that.

He remembered a phrase kids at school used to say. Often at an unexpected find. “Finders, keepers; Losers, weepers.” It seemed amusingly appropriate. Milton stuffed the winning ticket into his pocket.

He stood up slowly, wallet still in his hand. He ran a dirty fingernail over the rough grain of the leather. It was old and shabby and it needed replacing. It really wasn’t worth keeping. The local police station was in the opposite direction to home. He’d have to walk for another ten minutes. It was well out of his way.

He shrugged, tossed the wallet underneath the bench, and strolled away without another thought.

The media reported it as a feel-good “rags to riches” tale. A young man, down on his luck, who used his last few dollars to buy a lottery ticket and won big. At least, that was what he told them. He got his fifteen minutes of fame. A brief segment on local TV. It was fun while it lasted. He even scored a few one-night-stands.

Milton had no plans for the money. Instead, he carried on as he always had; bumming around, spending time in his local, drinking and smoking his winnings. His mother suggested he do more; maybe buy himself a house, a fast car or take a trip around the world? She asked, meekly, might he at least now move out of the family home? But he wasn’t interested in any of that. There was only one thing he really wanted, and he knew just the man for the job. He found Aver’s business on the internet. Hired him to install a swimming pool in his parent’s back yard.

Milton reclined on a lounger in the midday sun, munching chippies and swigging cold beer. He watched Aver sweat as he worked. He wouldn’t use the pool, he knew that much, but Milton found the irony hilarious. Paying the man with money which was rightfully his all along.

Later, when he came to at the bottom of the freshly dug trench, a deep gash on his forehead and his back broken in two places, he was dimly aware of Aver standing above him. Lip curled in a satisfied smirk.

“You think I didn’t memorise that ticket?” He hissed. “I knew those numbers off by heart.”

Milton tried to answer, but could utter nothing but a grunt. His jaw felt slack, maybe broken. Aver scratched his chin and chuckled nastily.

“Of course, it doesn’t matter really. You’ve been duped, pal. You’ve been seen. The old ‘winning-ticket-in-the-lost-wallet’ trick. It gets them every time.” He gestured at the sun-drenched sky. “The big bloke, Him up there, he doesn’t always like my methods. But even He can’t argue that I’m successful. I always find the hidden sinners. I’m just thinning out His herd.” He tipped the metal edge of the mixer, sending its contents into the trench below. “Thanks for the soul, pal. I’ll see you in Hell.”

Milton felt the heavy, liquid concrete embrace and smother him. It filled his mouth. It sealed his eyes. It smothered him in solid retribution.