Jake smiled, closed his eyes, and tossed his dart.
“Oh, my God!” someone yelled. “That’s seven bull’s eyes in a row! Without looking!” The crowd in the little bar went wild, some high fiving each other frantically and others slapping Jake on the back. Too bad some had bet against Jake on that last throw. Too bad for them, but great for Jake. The bartender was holding over fifty-seven dollars of his newly won money.
Jake opened his eyes, acknowledged the crowd’s adulation, and said in a loud voice, “Just lucky, I guess”. Tonight’s fifty-seven dollars was only a small part of his recent winnings. The crowd had seen his incredible prowess at darts tonight, but only he knew the true extent of his fortune this entire week. He couldn’t lose, not at the ponies, poker, or at the crap tables. Everything was coming up winners for Jake. There would be an end to this run of luck . . . he knew that for sure. But for the time being, he was going to ride this train to the end of the line.
“You want an escort to your car, Jake,” the bartender asked as he handed Jake a paper bag full of money. “You know, just in case.”
“Nah, I’m good. I know these people. They’re my friends,” Jake replied.
“Suit yourself, hero,” the bartender said as he shrugged and went back to listening to the music on the radio. He hoped that ‘dart boy’ got home in one piece. He’d been really good for business tonight.
Jake went to the front door, yelled goodnight to everyone and then stepped out into the early hours of a cold, dark October morning. It took a moment to remember where he’d parked his car, but as he turned up the collar of his coat and headed towards it, he felt a tapping on his shoulder.
He figured the bartender had arranged for an escort anyway and he turned to tell whoever it was that he didn’t need a bodyguard . . . he could take care of himself. But what he saw made him stop cold on the sidewalk and just stare at the figure alongside him in the dim light.
“Don’t be afraid, Jake. I’m not here to hurt you,” the stranger said in an other-worldly voice. Even in the faint light, Jake could see that the person was dressed immaculately in a tuxedo, topped with a Borsalino hat, and carrying a cane.
Jake smiled bravely and replied, “I’m not worried, friend. You seem to know me, but I don’t ever recall meeting you. We’ve met before?”
“No, Jake, I’m not from around here. Here, let me give you one of my business cards. Then we can go to your car and have a little conversation about your recent run of luck,” the tuxedoed man explained, handing Jake an elaborate back-lit little card that read “Jerome-Regional Luck Manager-Region 7”.
“Oh, and Jake, I’d like that card back. We don’t like to advertise our existence,” the man added.
Jake nodded, read the fancy little card several times, turned it over, and then handed it back. “Regional Luck Manager, huh?” Jake said with a faint hint of disdain in his voice. “Are you some sort of collection agency or something?”
“No, Jake, nothing like that. Let’s go to your car and get out of this weather, okay? I promise this won’t take long. You’ll be home in your warm bed before you know it. I just have to make sure you have all the facts about your recent run of good fortune,” the stranger offered. Then, extending his cane towards Jake’s car and taking Jake’s arm in his, he said, “Shall we?”
As Jake was being led towards his car, he was intrigued by what was happening. This stranger seemed to know about his recent lucky streak. He thought he’d been pretty close to the vest about it, telling no one. But if this guy knew that much, he might know where Jake had hidden his newfound fortune. This might just be some elaborate ruse to lure Jake into an ambush.
“It’s not an ambush, Jake,” the stranger remarked out of the blue as they walked together. “We’re not trying to rob you, or anything. Your money is safe in your hiding place . . . in the garage. Again, I’ll explain in the car.”
Jesus, Jake thought, this guy is reading my thoughts. I’d better watch my step.
As they closed the car’s doors and Jake turned on the engine and the heater, the fancy-dressed man turned to him and said, “Jake, you’ve had quite a run lately. And that’s over as of right now.”
“Wait,” Jake said, interrupting him. “You’re telling me my luck’s run out. Is that what this is about? That somehow you and your little agency have the power to do that? C’mon, who do you think you’re talking to?”
The man handed Jake a large coin. “Okay, Jake. Maybe this will convince you. Go ahead, toss it, and call it, heads, or tails.”
Jake nodded, tossed the coin in the air, and called ‘Heads’. It came up ‘Tails’. Jake tossed it again and again and again, losing every time. He stopped at twenty tosses and in dismay handed the coin back to the stranger.
“Just to convince you absolutely, Jake, I have a deck of cards in my hands. You’ll notice that all the cards are face cards except one that is a ‘six’. I’m going to shuffle the deck and ask you to pull out one card. If you pull a face card, I will leave the van and you’ll never see me again and your luck will continue. But . . .” the man explained as Jake immediately reached out and pulled out a card. It was a ‘six’.
The stranger reshuffled the deck and each time Jake pulled out the lone ‘six’.
“Are you a believer now, Jake?” the man asked coldly.
Jake nodded, defeated. “Why me? Aren’t there a lot of other winners out there? Why pick on me?” he whined.
“Alright, let me explain what’s going on here, Jake,” the man in the tuxedo said. “We, and I mean the agency I work for, allocate luck at the moment of conception. It’s a way that problems in past lives can be smoothed over in new lives. But, I won’t go into details here except to say that there was a little bit of a mistake made in your case, Jake. And we just found out about it. Follow me so far?”
Jake turned a bit and said, “So, what you’re telling me is that I got more luck than I was supposed to be allocated, right? Basically, I’ve overdrawn my account.”
“Yes,” the man replied. “First time it has ever happened. So, we’ve got to right the ship, so to speak. And that means you’ve got to go on a very prolonged losing streak, Jake. You can keep all the money in your garage, but if you continue to gamble, and we know you will because you can’t help it, you’ll lose it all and more. This is just our way of fixing our little mistake. Balancing the scales, so to speak. No hard feelings, I hope.”
“Wow, of all the billions and billions of people ever born, I’m the only one, huh? What are the odds of that?” Jake said aloud to himself, making some calculations in his head.
“Very, very long odds, Jake. As are the odds of you ever winning another bet. So, you have a choice. Give up gambling or go down swinging.”
“But,” Jake interjected, “There’s still a chance I could win a bet. Is that what you’re telling me?”
The man nodded and replied, “A very, very, infinitesimally small chance, Jake. Yes, you could win a bet because we know there’s a fundamental flaw in our system which we haven’t figured out yet how to fix. Your losing streak is really just a band aid until our IT guys apply a fix. Could take a while.”
Jake said he understood completely and there were no hard feelings. He and the man in the tuxedo shook hands and the nattily-dressed fellow left the car and walked away into the dark, cold morning.
Jake watched as the man disappeared around the corner. He wanted to wait until he thought the man couldn't read his mind anymore. He waited ten minutes, trying to keep his mind blank throughout.
Finally, Jake started to think. He knew he’d definitely lose if he gambled. No question about that. His stash of six thousand and change in the garage could disappear pretty fast if he didn’t watch out. So he needed to put his money somewhere that wasn’t technically gambling. Someplace where he could win without really betting.
He leaned back and then it came to him. He’d call his brother-in-law, the stockbroker. All he ever heard at dinner at his sister’s was how everyone was making a killing on Wall Street these days.
Jake didn’t know much about stocks and such, so he figured he’d just show up this morning at his brother-in-law’s office with a bag of cash and have him spread it evenly across the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Hey, it wasn’t gambling. It was investing.
And you can’t lose, he’d always heard from his brother-in-law. He checked his watch, saw the date was October 28 and decided to get a little breakfast before heading home to his stash in the garage.
Jake was pretty proud of himself. After all, he was twenty-seven years old, it was 1929, and it was about time he started making money like the rest of the squares out there.