The Winter Coat
My fingers flicked across the screen like a concert pianist performing a well-rehearsed and all too familiar musical score: odd numbers, one to thirteen, seventeen and twenty-seven (my lucky numbers), and a small bet on red, just to make sure. I tapped the screen one more time, and the roulette wheel spun, the little ball flying round the circle, fast at first and then slowing down until it bobbed between the little numbered slots before final coming to a rest. A red nine. The machine chimed and flashed up my winnings. I felt the familiar buzz of pleasure that winning always brought. If I stopped now, I’d be up on the day – not that I would stop, of course.
“Good one. You gonna switch it round now, and go evens?”
I half turned towards the speaker, a rather dishevelled man in his fifties, sporting a grey stubbly beard and unruly grey-white hair. His clothes were similarly scruffy except for a rather splendid green coat that looked brand new. “Nah, gonna stick I think.”
He shrugged, then turned back to his own screen muttering something about young people not knowing what they were doing.
I should have listened of course, because the next spin of the wheel the ball landed on thirty-one black, winning me nothing. It sounded like the man next to me hadn’t fared any better with his strategy, if the slamming of his hand against the machine accompanied by some rather colourful language was anything to go by.
I was just setting up my next bet, when he spoke up again.
“Say, I’ve got a good play here, but I’m a bit short of readies. Don’t suppose you could lend me a bit could you?”
I shook my head, sadly. Gamblers did not make good creditors.
He tried again. “Look, you wanna buy my coat? It’s a great winter coat, really warm and everything. Brand new too, just got it for Christmas. I’ll take a tenner for it.”
I looked at him sceptically, my eyes flicking from him to the piles of crisp white snow outside. “You don’t want to do that mate. Look outside, it’s quite literally freezing out there today.”
“Please. I’m really onto something with this one, I just need a bit more. I’m gonna win on the next one, I know I am. I’ll give you twenty back for it.”
I could see the desperation in his eyes; I knew I shouldn’t but at the same time it was a damn good bet to take. Heads I make a tenner profit; tails I get a brand-new coat that was a damn site better than my threadbare effort. I could tell Jackie I bought it in the sales.
“Okay then,” I said finally. “You’ve got a deal.”
“Thank you. Thank you. You won’t regret this,” he said as we swapped coat for crisp new note from my wallet. That was all my betting money for the day, but I’d already decided only allowing myself twenty was too limiting, so I used my card to add some more credit to the machine. A little more wouldn’t break the bank.
No more than a couple of minutes later, there was more cursing from next to me. Looks like I was going to be keeping the coat.
“Didn’t work,” the man muttered angrily. “Damn thing is fixed.”
I nodded sympathetically. “Sorry ’bout that.” The anger fizzled out of him before my eyes, leaving utter dejection. I looked outside. The snow had started falling again. “Look,” I said finally. “Keep the coat, okay. You’ll freeze to death out there without it.”
“You sure?” he said as I passed the coat back to him. “Thanks, so much. I’ll pay you the money back.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like gambling any more today, so I cashed out my remaining credit and left. I walked down the street to get some lunch.
A few minutes later, as I walked back up the street to my office, munching on a hot dog as I went, I saw the man stumbling out the bookies. He was shivering in the cold winter air, the thin, tatty checked shirt he wore doing nothing to keep out the chill.
Steve Haywood lives in a small historic city in England. As well as writing short fiction, he blogs about short stories, novels and assorted topics at http://www.inkypages.co.uk. He can also be found on Twitter@Lancaster_Steve