The Lottery – Chapter 2

The next day, I walked back over toward the Circle K. I didn’t have any money and we still had a couple of more cans of Dinty Moore. I rationalized going back, maybe I would see the lady who gave me the money. Maybe I could give her back her lottery ticket. In truth, since fleeing Earl, I had discovered people were careless when they were pumping gas, and sometimes they’d drop change or even a dollar bill.

When I arrived, there was news van parked out front with the letters KSLA stylistically painted across the side paneling. A tall brunette stood in front of the plate-glass window, talking at the camera. As I approached, she smiled at the camera and said, “That’s right, Greg. One lucky soul bought the winning ticket in last night’s drawing.”

She was quiet, presumably listening to a TV anchor. “Well, Mr. Khan said he’ll give part of the store’s proceeds to charity as well as sharing part of the one-million-dollar bonus with his employees. Back to you, Greg.”

I stood there, next to the icebox. They had sold the winning ticket at this store? I reached into my pocket, feeling the crumpled ticket. No doubt Mr. Khan’s Circle-K had sold hundreds, maybe even a couple of thousand tickets since the last drawing. With my fingers holding the ticket still in my pocket, I walked into the store. The winning numbers from last night scrolled across an electronic marquee over the checkout counter. I silently read them, 07, 19, 34, 41, 62, and 32.

Repeating them in my head, I turned and walked back out, ignoring the perplexed look on Mr. Kahn’s pimply teenaged relative working the counter. As casually as I could, I strolled around the side of the building and fished the ticket out of my pocket. There was a single row of numbers across the center of the ticket, I read the numbers, 07, 19, 34, 41, 62. And the Mega Ball of 32.

I had won. I pushed the ticket back into my pocket and leaned against the cinderblock wall. I murmured, “Holy shit! I freaking won!”

I didn’t know what to do, but I ran all the way back to the car. Mom was still sleeping, just like she’d been when I left earlier. I knocked on the window until she lifted her head and saw me, nearly dancing beside the car.

When she popped the lock, I climbed in, closed the door, and hit the electric lock. Then I pulled the ticket from my pocket. I felt like Charlie Bucket from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as I said, “We won, Mom.”

Shaking the sleep from her eyes, Mom said, “What? Won what?”

I took a deep breath, collected my erratic thoughts and said, “The lottery. This is the winning ticket.”

Mom gave me a look that said, don’t bullshit me, “I hope you didn’t spend any of my tip money on a lottery ticket, Robin.”

I shook my head, “No, I swear. When I went to the convenience store, a lady was getting into her car when the ticket flew out. I tried to catch her, to give it back. But she was already gone.”

With a mollified look, Mom said, “Fine. Now stop pulling my leg, Pooh Bear.”

I grabbed her arm, “Mom, I’m not kidding. I went to the store and there was a news van and the reporter was talking about how the winning ticket had been sold there.”

I paused and waved the ticket under Mom’s nose. “And this is it! I swear.”

Still eying me skeptically, Mom said, “Please let me get some more rest. There’s a Cracker Barrel up the road. I think the bruises are faded enough that a little mascara will cover them up just fine, and I can go find out if they’re hiring.”

She lay back in her seat and closed her eyes. I couldn’t believe it. Frustrated, I reached over and turned the key in the ignition until it engaged the battery and turned on the radio. I scrolled through the dial until I hit on a news station.

Mom opened her eyes and glared at me, as a voice said, “…Right, Rhonda. Some lucky Texarkanian is holding a lottery ticket worth over three hundred million dollars.”

Another voice, this one female, chimed in, “That’s a lot of Benjamins, Carl. So, what should this lucky lady do if she finds herself holding the winning ticket?”

“If He hasn’t already done so, he should sign the back of it. The last thing you’d want to do is win the lottery and then fail to sign the ticket.”

The female voice replied, “So, once she signs the ticket, what then?”

The male voice chuckled, “Well, if it were me, I’d cash my ticket and host a gigantic party and buy everyone margaritas and Shiner Bach. But the smart thing to do is sit down with a reputable attorney and accountant and figure out how you want to receive your money. That three-hundred-fifty-million-dollar prize is actually the annuitized payout before tax, and that’s paid out over a thirty-year period. Of course, the president’s party plans on raising taxes, so you do the math.”

The female voice said, “Sounds like the lump sum is the way to go.”

“Perhaps. That’s right, the lump sum comes in at two hundred and fifteen million dollars, before taxes. You’d walk away with about one hundred-sixty million dollars and change after Uncle Sam takes his pound of flesh. Of course, lots of lottery winners have taken the lump sum payments and because of poor financial planning end up dead broke a few years later, so even if taxes go up, someone who takes the 30 years’ payments has a lot of time to figure out how to manage his money.”

The female voice said, “Right. Just to recap, ladies, someone in Texarkana won the Mega Millions last night. So, if you’re just joining us, take a look at your ticket. The winning numbers are seven, nineteen, thirty-four, forty-one, sixty-two. The Mega ball is thirty-two.”

I held the ticket to Mom, “See.”

Uncertain, she took the ticket. Her lips moved as she read each number. When she looked up, she murmured, “Pooh Bear, you should sign this right now. Do you have a pen?”

Underneath a couple of changes of clothes were some school supplies. Pencils, pens, protractors, and the like. I grabbed a pen as we put our heads together and read the fine print above the signature line.

Mom let out a little groan, “Oh, Robin, it says you’ve got to be eighteen.”

I don’t know how many times I had read the back of Earl’s lottery tickets. Even though this ticket was from Texas and those Earl bought had been from Louisiana, the fine print was almost identical. I was surprised Mom hadn’t considered this. I love my mom more than anyone in the entire world, but at that moment, I considered what the man on the radio had said, lots of people who win the lottery squander their winnings. Earl and Mom lived paycheck to paycheck even though, between them, they had made decent money. Certainly enough to do better than a mobile home. While a lot of that could be laid at Earl’s feet, I figured Mom wasn’t any better than Earl at managing money.

Holding the pen over the signature line, I looked at my mom in a new light. She had always been Mom. She’d held me when I had hurt myself as a little kid. The first day of each school year, she’d taken me to school so I wouldn’t have to ride the school bus. She’d always made me my favorite foods when I begged her to. But she’d had a hard life. I was born a month before she turned fifteen. Her mom had kicked her out around the same time, and she and my father dropped out of school. After that, Mom worked as a waitress in Baton Rouge until the cops had busted my dad for drugs when I was still little. He was killed in a riot at Angola, and that was how Mom ended up with Earl. When she claimed my dad’s effects, Earl had been one of the prison guards to assist her. Before she left, he asked her on a date, and for reasons I can still hardly fathom, she agreed.

I handed her the pen, even as additional worries rattled around inside my head. “Can you sign for me, Mom?”

Her hand trembled as she took the pen, “Are you sure, sweetie? After all, it’s you who found it.”

I wrapped my hand around hers and pushed the pen against the paper. “How about we sign it together?”

With me holding her hand, Mom scrawled Samantha and Robin Lambert.

“There, Pooh Bear, what do you think?”

I wasn’t sure she should have signed my name on the ticket, but I also knew we needed to talk to a lawyer. I pulled out my wallet. The only thing inside was my school ID. I carefully put the ticket inside before returning my wallet to my back pocket.

“I’m glad we’re not in Louisiana anymore,” I said, “Can you imagine Earl finding out?”


We walked the last couple of blocks to Grant Jones’ office. The last of the gas in the Celica was gone. We were both glad it was March instead of July or August. When we arrived, we were winded and a bit warm, but otherwise fine.

Mom stared at the unassuming office. It didn’t look like much, but I’d seen it the day we drove into Texarkana and it was the only lawyer’s office I could think of. “Do you really think this is a good idea, Robin? If this guy’s a lawyer, he doesn’t look very rich.”

Out of gas and money also meant we were out of options. Instead of saying that, I grabbed Mom’s hand and, in a voice far more confident than I felt, I said, “Sure. Not all lawyers have expensive offices.”

The door opened with a chime into a small lobby with cheap plastic folding chairs along one side and a plain wood-laminate desk on the other side. The laminate was peeling with age. Behind the desk was a hallway. A moment later, as I seriously considered leaving, a young woman with nearly black hair and vaguely Hispanic features came around the corner. Her face lit up, “I thought I heard the door. How can I help you?”

Seeing the confused look on Mom’s face, I stepped forward, “Um, is Mr. Jones available? We’d really like to meet with him.”

The woman leaned her backside against the table, “Do you have an appointment? Mr. Jones is terribly busy.”

On the other end of the desk was a plastic potted plant. The green leaves were coated in a thick film of dust. I wondered what kind of law Grant Jones practiced, and I regretted suggesting him to Mom. Still, I felt like we were out of options. “Uh, no appointment. But it’s really important.”

The woman, who I figured was older than my mom’s twenty-six years, said, “Important? I could check his calendar and see when he can fit you in.”

At that, Mom tugged on my shoulder, “Come on, Robin. Let’s go.”

A rich, baritone voice echoed out from the back of the office, “Lucinda, was that the door?”

The woman frowned at my mom as she went over to the hallway, “Just a lady and kid. You want me to put them on your calendar?”

We were nearly at the door when a tall man in a wrinkled Oxford shirt stepped around Lucinda. He gave her a disapproving frown before saying, “Is there something I can help you with?”

Mom glared at the woman, “You seem a bit busy. We hate to bother you.”

Before she could say anything else, I stepped between her and Lucinda, “Um, we need help with, uh, a legal matter. You’re a lawyer, right?”

He rested a hand on the other woman’s shoulder, “Thanks for checking on things, I’ll take care of this, Lue.”

Once the woman disappeared back the way she came, the man said, “Sorry about that. Lue’s my girlfriend, not my receptionist. So, you need help with a legal matter? What kind of legal matter?”

While he seemed friendly enough as he sat on the edge of the desk, I wasn’t sure how far to trust him. Mom rested her hand on my shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze, “How do I know we can trust you?”

The man’s lips twisted upwards as he said, “Well, there’s this thing called an attorney client privilege. If I were to represent you in a legal matter, then anything we talk about is protected by it.”

Mom and I have watched plenty of legal shows on TV. We knew about attorney client privilege. But when did it start? I said, “Well, how do we know if you should represent us?”

The small smile turned into a grin as he said, “We do something called a consultation. Just a short meeting where you tell me why you might want to hire me and we see if it makes sense to continue.”

Still not sold that we were doing the right thing talking with Mr. Jones, I said, “Is that covered by the attorney client privilege?”

Nodding, the man said, “If people aren’t honest during a consultation, then it gets really hard to represent them. Anything you tell me about why you want to hire me stays just between us. Does that seem fair to you?”

I glanced up at Mom. After almost letting her impulsiveness get the better of her, she glanced at me, “It’s up to you, Robin.”

I returned her smile before turning back to Mr. Jones. “My mom and I, we, um, we recently came into some money. And well, we’re not sure what to do about it.

Mr. Jones leaned forward on his desk, “I’m assuming a few hundred dollars wouldn’t have you guys coming in to talk. Did someone leave you an inheritance?”

I shook my head.

Mr. Jones scratched his chin, “You didn’t stumble on a stash of cash somewhere? Maybe someone else’s money?”

Shaking my head, I said, “No. I think it really belongs to us. We just don’t know what to do next.”

Mr. Jones swallowed as his eyes grew round, “You folks, do you have the winning lottery ticket?”

I nodded, “Yeah. We just realized it this morning.”

Mr. Jones stood and paced back and forth. “Wow. That’s no small thing. No wonder you need help. But why me? My practice is about half criminal defense and half divorces, wills, and probates.”

For the first time since coming into Mr. Jones’ office, I felt something right about him. The way he questioned why we’d use him was genuine confusion. I said, “Well, we just got to town a few days ago, and yours is the closest law office to where we’ve been staying.”

He chuckled, “And here I was hoping it was because you guys had seen my mad legal chops in court.”

He came over and offered his hand, “Robin, right?”

I nodded, “Yes, sir.”

“I’m uncertain if I’m the best person for you, but the two of you look like you’ve had a hard spell recently and I’m willing to represent you and your mom’s interests.”

While I felt a bit of relief, I still had questions, “Thanks. But until we’re able to cash the ticket, we don’t really have any money to pay you. You’re not going to try to collect a third of our winnings as a fee, are you?”

The lawyer laughed, “Oh, that would get me disbarred, I think. No. Nothing like that. The first thing we’re going to do is verify the ticket. Once we’re sure you’ve got the winning ticket, you and your mom will sign an agreement with me to be your attorney and represent you, at my normal rate of one-fifty an hour.

I’ve never heard of anyone working for such little money. “What? A buck fifty? What’s the catch?”

Mr. Jones’ melodic laughter filled the small office, “No, not a dollar-fifty. One hundred and fifty dollars an hour.”

This was a first for me. I craned my neck to look at my mom. She just shrugged, “It’s up to you.”

Even though my estimation of Mr. Jones was growing, Mom and I had a golden opportunity. I didn’t want to squander it. I thought back to some TV show I once watched and a clever question within the dialogue. Turning my attention back to the lawyer, I said, “I guess the fee is okay. But before Mom and I sign, is there any question that we should be asking but aren’t.”

The lawyer gave me a critical eye, like he was appraising me. “You know, Mr. Lambert, I’ve worked with lots of folks and that’s one of the best questions I’ve been asked. It shows me you understand that you don’t understand everything but you want to learn. That’s an excellent trait. Now an honest answer is that I don’t know everything, even about the law. Any attorney who’ll tell you otherwise is lying. But what I’ll do is faithfully represent you and your mom’s interests. Where I’m weak, I know other attorneys who I trust, where I can tap their expertise. Just be mindful those attorneys may charge more for their expertise than me. And if we need their help, you’ll be sending them checks for their hourly rate when this is done.”

After listening to Mr. Jones, I realized he hadn’t exactly answered my question, but he told me what I needed to hear. I said, “Mom, I think he’s the guy we should hire.”

With a conspiratorial wink, Mr. Jones lowered his voice, “Let me get rid of Lou, then let’s you and me make a photocopy of that ticket of yours.”

After letting the lawyer make a copy of both the front and back of the ticket, I hung out with Mom in Mr. Jones’ drab. Badly dated lobby. Nobody came or went. Save for the attorney’s voice coming from an office toward the back of the building, it was quiet. It was just pushing two in the afternoon when Mr. Jones returned to the lobby. “I talked with a friend in Austin, who knows one of the board members of the Texas Lottery Commission. I sent him a screenshot of the front of your ticket and although there’s a very thorough review process, it looks legit. You’ve hired yourself a lawyer.”

Mom grabbed me in a hug as I nearly shouted, “Yeah!”

When we settled down, I asked, “Where’s the contract. We’re ready to sign.”

Mr. Jones ruefully laughed, “You recall this is a Saturday afternoon. My assistant, who handles printing and prepping it, will be in the office on Monday. Until then, how about this,” he stuck out his hand to me, and added “My dad used to say with an honest man, a handshake is as good as gold. With a dishonest man, a written contract isn’t worth the ink and paper.”

I took his hand and felt a firm grip. I did my best to match it. Then he shook Mom’s hand.

“We’ll complete this Monday morning. Now, I don’t know about you folks, but I’m famished.”

As if the word was enough, my stomach gave a loud growl. Mr. Jones opened the front door and waved us toward it, “There’s a taco truck a couple of blocks away that makes some of the best salsa and chips this side of the Rio Grande. Why don’t we head over there and see about doing something about that monster in your stomach, Mr. Lambert?”

By the time we finished eating at an outdoor picnic table across the street from the taco truck, Mr. Jones had pulled nearly all the truth from me and Mom. I left out the details of what Earl had caught me and Jeremy doing. Partly because he didn’t need to know it, and mostly because Mom only had the vaguest of ideas.

I cleared the table and was coming back from a trash barrel when Mr. Jones said, “Look, I can’t stand the idea of the two of you staying in your car until Monday. Let me get you a hotel until then. It’s the least I can do.”

I didn’t mind the idea of paying him for his work as our attorney. But I didn’t like the idea of taking his charity. Well, not any more than we already had by letting him buy us lunch. Mom was shaking her head, too. She beat me to the punch, “We can’t do that. We can manage on our own until then.”

Mr. Jones looked over at me and Mom, almost like he was checking us both out, except he didn’t give off a creeper vibe. “Look, Ms. Lambert, I’m not being altruistic. It’s not safe in this neighborhood at night. I don’t want anything happening to either of you.”

I could see Mom was about to say no again when the lawyer added, “If it helps, I’ll be billing the stay to your account. Consider it a bit of a loan until we can settle your bill.”

He made perfect sense, and I was glad to see Mom’s head bobbing in agreement.

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