Fred had no idea he could change his luck until one morning when he was stopped by a red light on Main Street at Garrison. At that intersection there is a small median strip which is usually occupied by a panhandler holding up a sign full of his personal woe. Instead, on this day, a ragged man with a straggle of unwashed hair occupied the strip. He held a sign that read:
Tired of sitting at red lights?
Improve your luck.
He walked down the line of waiting cars holding a bundle of small cards in his other hand. If a driver would roll down their window, he would hand them a card. Curious, Fred rolled down his window and accepted a card. It read simply:
Open noon to 9 p.m.,
149 Boomer St.
The light had changed. Fred jammed the card in the edge of the glove compartment door.
He forgot about it until two weeks later when he was running late to a second date with a young woman rich with potential compatibility. He hit every red light on Main Street and arrived ten minutes late at the restaurant where the maître d’ handed him a note reading:
What I value most in a man is punctuality. Goodbye loser.
He went back to his car and pulled loose the card from the glove compartment lid. The address, he discovered, was for a seedy mall half full of abandoned shops, the kind of place where someone might rent space for the month of December to sell remaindered Christmas toys.
The glass storefront of Luck Enhancement was curtained on the inside. A simple cardboard sign on the door gave only the name of the establishment in one-inch letters.
He pushed open the door and went in. The shop was empty except for a pleasant-faced young woman sitting behind a small metal desk. She was dressed decorously in a beige blouse and slacks that blended quietly with the emptiness of the room. The desk was bare except for a sheaf of papers and a credit card machine.
The young woman smiled up at Fred. “Good evening,” she said. “How may we help you?”
“I’m interested in improving my luck. Your card said you could.”
“Of course we can. How much luck are you interested in?”
“What do you mean, how much?”
“What percentage of the time do you want to be lucky?”
“How can you measure that? How do I know how lucky I am?”
“One simple measure is the traffic lights. For example, if you purchased a seventy-five-percent-luck contract, when you drive down Main Street, three quarters of the time you’ll hit green lights. One quarter of the time you’ll hit red lights.”
“What would that cost?”
“Seventy-five percent luck would be fifty dollars a month.”
“How about one-hundred percent luck? What would that cost a month?”
The young woman frowned. “We don’t recommend total luck and we don’t give it to you on a monthly basis. If you insist, we do have a single one-day slot open right now. It would cost five hundred dollars.”
“But I’d have total luck for that one day?”
“Absolutely. You would have perfect luck for twenty-four hours.”
“You mean I could fly to Las Vegas, play roulette and win every time?”
“We don’t recommend your doing that, but you could do it.”
“So when is this slot available?”
“It starts at 9 p.m. this evening. It would end at 9 p.m. tomorrow. Or, if you were in Las Vegas, it would be 6 p.m. their time.”
“Is that the only slot you have?”
Fred got on his phone and checked airlines. He shook his head. “I can’t do it,” he said. “There’s a flight out of Harperville to Atlanta at 10:30 a.m. that connects with a 2 p.m. flight to Las Vegas that arrives at 3 p.m. Vegas time or 6 p.m. our time. That would give me three hours to gamble. Unfortunately, both those flights are fully booked.”
“Are there later flights?” said the young woman.
“Sure. There’s a flight at 2 p.m. connecting with a flight that would get me in Las Vegas at six-thirty their time, way after my lucky day would be finished.”
“You could book on those later flights and then standby on the earlier flights.”
“You mean take a chance someone wouldn’t show up and I’d get their seat?”
“You would not be taking a chance. You will have perfect luck.”
Fred thought that one over. It did make sense, if sense meant anything in the strange world he was about to inhabit. “I’ll do it,” he said. “How do I pay?”
“We’ll take a credit card. If for any reason you feel you did not have perfect luck, challenge the credit card billing and we’ll refund the full amount.”
“You mean satisfaction guaranteed?”
“I did not say that. I said we guaranteed perfect luck.”
Before he paid for his day of luck, Fred got on his phone and made the reservations for the later flights. He then paid the young woman with his credit card.
“You’re all set,” she said as he was turning to leave. “It’s one minute to nine; your luck starts when you get in your car. Remember, your luck runs out at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. Be sure to wear your watch. There are no clocks in casinos.”
As Fred drove back to his apartment, he hit every green light on Main Street. His perfect luck was already working. As a double check, he stopped in at the convenience store around the corner from his apartment to buy a scratch lottery ticket.
“You know,” he said to the young man behind the counter, “I hit every green light coming here on Main Street.”
“Of course,” said the young man.
The young man swiped up a picture on his phone and handed it to Fred. It was a scene of an apartment building with smoke pouring from the upstairs windows. “Six-alarm fire over on Dartmouth Street,” said the young man. “When there are fire trucks coming through, they lock the traffic lights on Main on green and put the side-street lights on flashing red.”
“Any fatalities?” said Fred.
“The news said everyone got out safely, but there are a lot of people looking for a new place to live.”
Fred scratched his lottery ticket. He had won, but only twenty dollars. When the young man got the cash for Fred, the cash register drawer snapped shut on his hand. He stood there holding his damaged fingers in his other hand, his face contorted with pain. “Just my luck,” he gasped. “No ping-pong finals tonight.”
* * *
At ten-thirty the following morning, Fred sat at the gate in the Harperville Airport, waiting standby along with the booked passengers. He watched as the gate agent behind the counter picked up her microphone, obviously to announce the boarding of the flight. Suddenly she put down the microphone and picked up her phone. She listened for a minute, frowned, then motioned for Fred to come over to the counter.
She was still talking when he got there. “Thank you for calling us; save the records from your trip to the ER. As we’ve got a standby, your seat won’t go empty. Be sure to apply for a replacement ticket on a later flight.”
She hung up the phone and turned to Fred. “One of our booked passengers for this flight won’t be taking it, so his seat is yours.”
* * *
At close to 2 p.m., Fred sat in the Atlanta airport waiting standby with another group of booked passengers. Five minutes before the scheduled flight time, Fred glanced over at the walkway leading to the gate. A woman came hurrying down it, dragging a carry-on on wheels. In her sharp blue business suit, she was probably a high-end executive rushing to an appointment in Las Vegas. Fred watched as one of her high heels caught on a crack in the walkway. She pivoted into the air to come smashing down on the floor. She made no move to stand up, just gripped her twisted leg with a wail of pain.
Fred was impressed with the response from the airport staff. In less than five minutes three medics appeared with a gurney. Carefully and professionally they eased her onto it. Before they left with her firmly strapped in place, one of the medics came over to the counter and showed the gate agent a slip of paper, probably the woman’s boarding pass.
The gate agent smiled across at Fred and motioned him over to the counter.
* * *
Once aboard for the flight to Las Vegas, things did not go as smoothly. There was a forty-five-minute wait for take-off and another half-hour wait for a gate to open up in Las Vegas. Fred walked out of the Las Vegas airport at 7:15 p.m. Eastern Time, an hour and a quarter later than planned. He had hoped to grab a cab and head right for the Golden Choice Casino, but as he came out onto the transportation waiting area, a passenger from a previous flight was climbing into the last visible cab.
“Sorry,” said the guard on duty. “We won’t see another cab for a while. No flights usually come in at this time and the cabbies don’t like to wait around.”
Two minutes later, a single cab did appear. As they pulled away from the waiting area, the driver leaned half back over his shoulder and said to Fred, “Only time a passenger ever had a heart attack in my cab. First thing I knew of it, he was gasping for breath in my back seat. I took him straight to the ER at Sunrise. Hopefully I got him there in time.”
“Quite an experience,” Fred said.
“Bad luck for me. I didn’t feel I should delay the medics, so I never collected my fare. I was heading home, but the airport was right on the way. I figured I might pick up a fare.”
* * *
At the Golden Choice Casino, Fred checked his bag in the hotel lobby and headed for the casino. He found a roulette table with a two-hundred-dollar minimum, figuring his big winnings would look less suspicious there. He bought a couple of two-hundred-dollar chips and slid one of them onto Black. His watch read seven-thirty. He had hoped to have at least two and a half hours to make his winnings with a series of small and less noticeable bets. With only an hour and a half left, he had to move faster. So each time he won, he added his winnings to his chips on the table and either left them on Black or moved them to Red. He always won.
At first he was not noticed, but his growing stack of chips soon attracted attention. More people crowded around the table, some curious, some adding their own bets to his. This additional action slowed the betting. Just after the eighth round of play, Fred glanced at his watch and saw it was one minute to nine Eastern Time. His twenty-four hours of total luck was over.
Instead of leaving the chips on Black, he motioned to the dealer to pass his whole winnings over to him. He looked down at the pile. There had to be over a hundred chips in front of him. At two hundred dollars a chip, that was well over twenty thousand dollars when cashed in. He knew that cashing in that large a winning would involve taxes for the IRS, validation of his identity, and payment by a check later in the mail. But the bulk of the money would be his.
However, his need to use the bathroom trumped any thought of immediately collecting his winnings. “Bathroom,” he said to the dealer and rushed to the men’s room.
He was halfway through relieving himself when a young man in Levis and a T-shirt took up the position at the next urinal to him. He did not unzip his pants. Instead, he whispered, “You’ve put Amanda in terrible danger.”
“What?” Fred said.
“My girlfriend Amanda, she’s the dealer at your roulette table.”
The young man glanced around the restroom to make sure no one else was there. “You won eight spins in a row betting on Black and Red. That never happens. Also, you kept betting your full winnings each time as if you were absolutely sure of winning. Along about the sixth win in a row, you were noticed. Did you see those two men in the dark suits standing across from you?”
“They’re a couple of thugs working for management. When Amanda sees something strange, she has to push her emergency button. The goons show up to watch and try to figure out if you are using a system of some kind. And with roulette, that system probably includes cooperation from the dealer.”
“It isn’t like that,” said Fred. “She wasn’t involved.”
“I know she wasn’t, but the gangsters who run this place don’t. They’ll be suspicious Amanda is involved and they tend to act on suspicions.”
“You mean they’ll fire her?”
“Much worse than that. They’ll likely try to persuade her to confess her part in the scheme and not with polite questions.”
“That’s why we need you to help.”
“How can I help?”
“You have to go back to the table and lose some of your winnings, enough so it will look like you were just one more idiot who thought they could make a lucky million and discovered you never can.”
Suddenly Fred thought of his chips waiting on the roulette table as trouble, not wealth. He glanced at his watch. It was definitely well past the end of his lucky day. “Okay,” he said, “I’ll give it a try.”
Back at the table, he pushed five chips out onto Black and prayed for a loss. The ball bounced around the wheel and dropped finally onto Red 7. The dealer scooped back his chips. Her face betrayed no emotion, but Fred thought he could see relief in her eyes.
At first, Fred thought he would lose only ten or twenty chips to demonstrate he was not on a forever-winning streak. Then he realized that if he and Amanda were working together, such a small loss might be a deliberate part of the scheme, a way to allay suspicion. He noted the two men in dark suits were still watching, even though he was steadily but slowly losing chips. To totally convince the thugs he was just another sorry gambler, he would have to lose most of his winnings.
It took him two hours but he got his winnings down to around ten chips, enough at least to cover his investment in good luck. Along the way, he started deliberately muttering to himself, simulating the bleating of a once wealthy, but now disillusioned, fool. The two goons finally looked at each other, nodded and left.
As Amanda passed him his small stack of hundred-dollar bills, she leaned over and whispered, “Thank you.”
He handed her back a one hundred dollar tip.
* * *
Fred had booked a flight back home for the next morning. He had a boarding pass for a real seat, no more standby games. As he sat in the boarding area waiting for his flight, he noticed a young woman by the gate counter. She had a baby in a carrier hanging in front and a large carry-on bag over her shoulder. She was in animated conversation with the gate agent.
Then she turned suddenly, crossed over to Fred, and dropped into the seat beside him. She unhitched the baby carrier and dumped the baby, carrier and all, into Fred’s lap.
“Do you mind holding Samantha for a minute?” she said.
The baby looked up at Fred’s face, gurgled happily and belched.
“Yes, sure,” he said.
“Don’t worry, she’s just been changed,” said the girl as she fished in her giant carry-on bag for a tissue to wipe her eyes. Fred saw she had just been crying.
“You know,” she said, “today is my birthday. It’s supposed to be my lucky day according to my grandmother, rest her soul.”
“So is it?”
“You better believe it definitely is not. If just one passenger doesn’t show up, I get their seat and get to see my husband for three hours before he’s shipped overseas. But they’ll all show up. Just my luck.”
Not my problem, Fred said to himself.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said to the girl.
Then Fred looked over at the entrance to the gate. Coming down the walkway hurried an elderly woman awkwardly dragging a carry-on bag on wheels, obviously late for the flight. She was so intent on reaching the gate Fred knew she did not see the yellow warning signs for a wet section of the floor.
Fred handed the baby back to the girl, stood up and pointed at her. “Give her my seat,” he shouted to the gate agent.
The agent smiled over at him and raised her hand with a circle of thumb and forefinger.
He looked back over at the walkway. The elderly woman had hit the wet spot and started to slide, arms flailing. But a pilot, coming the other way, moved quickly to catch her in his arms before she fell. The pilot steadied her on her feet, collected her carry-on, and helped her over to the counter.
The girl pulled on the harness with the baby and stood up next to Fred. “That is very sweet of you,” she said. “But then I knew it had to be my lucky day.” She kissed him on the cheek and walked back over to the counter.
Fred watched the elderly woman and the girl with the baby board the jet. The airline would get him on the next flight or the one after that. What was the hurry anyway?
Stan Dryer is the pen name for an author who lives in southern New Hampshire. Prior to 1990 he published 17 short stories in magazines that included Playboy, Cosmopolitan and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He has now returned to fiction writing and has recently had fourteen short stories published in a number of magazines including Fabula Argentea, Mystery Magazine, Adelaide Magazine and Write Launch. To read some of Stan’s work and find out more about him, visit his blog at standryer.com.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Fred’s Lucky Day”:
We liked author Stan Dryer’s well-told tale on the dual premise of balance and that you don’t get something for nothing. “Fred’s Lucky Day” brings home the idea that what’s good for one person might result in harm for another. It’s a good resonant lesson in selfishness versus compassion.
Another great story by Stan Dryer. I’m glad Fred turned out to be a nice guy instead of someone just out for himself. It gave the story depth and heart.
Wonderful story, Stan! Well-written, with a fun plot and a compelling message.
Fun read! I was so sure that Fred was being conned at every occurrence of his “good” luck, that it was nice to have his good fortune redefined by a dose of reality, then accompanied by his good deeds.
I just found this little treasure trove of short stories. Like a very expensive box of fancy chocolates, I’m going to have to limit myself to one or two a day – so I can savor each one properly.
Stan is a wonderful writer and I am thoroughly enjoying myself here!