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IN THE MONEY
By the Numbers Book 10
BY LEEANN BETTS
When Carly’s neighbor, a recent lottery winner who doesn’t trust banks, disappears on his way home from cashing his check, Carly doesn’t buy the story that he left on a long vacation. And what about this mystery friend he talks about, the one who’s been giving him investment advice?
On top of that, another mystery rears up: somebody has hacked into a hospital computer system and is issuing fraudulent billings. Mike and Carly are hired to stop the breach and identify the culprit. There are plenty of suspects: Gerard Payne, an IT guy at the hospital with a gambling problem. Gail Prouse, the hospital CEO, whose mother is in an very expensive nursing home. Ted Wilson, hospital director who knows more about computers than he lets on. And two other employees who worked at companies which also experienced similar breaks in their cybersecurity.
Does Bob, the insurance investigator for the community hospital know anything about the missing neighbor? Is he involved in anything else nefarious, such as the recent bout of double and triple billings of health insurers that’s been in the news?
Can Carly learn the truth or will she disappear along with her neighbor and his money?
“You what?” Carly Turnquist stared at her elderly neighbor. “How many numbers?”
“Three.” James Norwood frowned, his eyebrows bushier than his out-of-control hair. He shook his head, eyes still glued to the television. “Shh!”
Carly, a forensic accountant who loved numbers more than she liked most people, smiled and sat in the easy chair in the older man’s living room. Likely just another false alarm in the never-ending lotteries the man bought into. The widower and original owner of his home gripped lottery tickets in his hand and leaned toward the television as the fourth ball dropped into the chute. In the background, theme music rose in volume one moment in a crescendo before fading to near-silence. She glanced at the clock as their Wednesday evening ritual neared its conclusion. Three ‘til eight. Right on time. A few more minutes, and she’d head home.
The host held up the next ball. “Twenty-six. Do you have twenty-six?”
James shook his fistful of tickets. “Got that one, too.” He closed his eyes, his lips moving as though in prayer. Then he turned to her. “You’ll see. I just feel it in my bones. This is my lucky day.”
Carly grinned. “I hope so, James, for your sake. You say that every week. I’d like to know somebody who won more than a few dollars in one of these things.”
The fifth ball rolled down the chute and came to rest at the end, the television camera trained on it. The host, a suave middle-aged man who probably starred in daytime soap operas—although Carly had no idea who he was—picked up and held the white orb. “Fifty-three. Lucky fifty-three. Are you getting close?” He dropped the ball next to the twenty-six then faced the camera. “Two more numbers. That’s all it takes to win.” He snapped his fingers. “No, wait. That’s not all it takes to win.” The camera panned the live studio audience. “What else does it take?”
In unison, the crowd screamed the well-rehearsed answer. “You gotta buy a ticket!”
“Right.” He patted his hair and tugged at his tie. “Let’s take a commercial break, shall we?”
Again the crowd went wild. “No-o-o-o-o!”
He tilted his head as though considering their reply.
Carly groaned, earning her another shush from James. They went through this same routine each week, rain or shine, ever since James asked for her help. His failing eyesight meant he regularly mistook sixes for eights, and ones for sevens. After the third false alarm of telling half of Bear Cove he’d won the lottery and facing the resulting ridicule when proved wrong, she offered to join him for the drawings. He’d bought tickets for about five years, certain he was destined to win. Carly once told him he’d be better off giving the money he spent on tickets directly to a charitable foundation that looked after parks and wildlife. He responded saying that would happen when pigs flew.
Oh, well, what was five minutes out of a lifetime?
He won ten dollars about a month ago, the closest he’d come since she began spending Wednesday evenings with him. And despite her eagle-eye oversight, one other time he announced another win. Cataracts blurred his vision so he mistook a sixteen for an eighteen. He excitedly danced her around the living room that night in an awkward Lindy. She barely had the heart to tell him of his mistake.
If he’d thought it was simply the ten-dollar prize, she’d have given it to him herself.
Instead of being disappointed, he took that close call as a sign he’d win sometime. Soon.
The host held his hands out to quiet the audience. “Okay, okay. I’m listening.” The music blared then died down again. “Let’s go for broke, shall we?”
The audience clapped, shouted, and stomped their feet in approval.
“Then, let’s get ‘er done.”
The final ball dropped from the globe and headed for its landing place. The camera zoomed in. James leaned closer to the point Carly thought he might fall out of his chair. If that happened and he broke a hip, he’d need to win the lottery just to cover his co-pay.
“Forty-two. Four-two. Is the brand new winner you?”
The host’s attempt at light-hearted banter wore on Carly’s patience. Maybe next week she’d make sure she had something else going on just to give herself a break. Every week the same. James claiming he would win. Saying he had the numbers needed to claim the big prize.
But he never did.
Didn’t stop him from trying, though.
She made a mental note of the numbers—now in ascending order—lined up on the display tray at the bottom of the screen. Four. Eleven. Twenty-six. Forty-two. Fifty-three. Maybe she should write them down. She looked around for a piece of paper and a pen, finding both in the drawer of the end table near her elbow. She scribbled the numbers just below an old grocery list: bananas, milk, bread, peanut butter.
The theme music quieted again and the host stepped forward then switched on the globe to his left. “Let’s go directly to the final number. The key to whether you’ve won or not. The prize ball. The big blue one. And here she comes.” A second ball-filled globe slowed and a blue ball with white numbers rolled down into place. The host held it for the camera. “Twelve. One-two. Buckle my shoe.”
James peered at his tickets, riffling through the pieces of paper then he jumped to his feet. “Twelve. Got that one, too.” He twirled around the room like a drunken ballerina. “I won the lottery. I’m rich.”
Sure. Likely he did have all six numbers.
On different tickets.
She held up her slip of paper. “Let’s go over to the dining table and check your numbers.”
He clutched his tickets to his chest. “I’m telling you, I won. The big one. The Big Kahuna. The whole enchilada.”
She smiled at his mixed clichés. “You can hold onto them. I’m not going to steal your winnings.” Most likely ten dollars. Like last time. “The light is better over here, so I can see the numbers more clearly.”
He shuffled over to the table and spread his tickets out in front of him. Same as every week. Three tickets. Bought at three different places. The grocery store. The corner store. The gas station. On different days. But always he wore his Boston Red Sox hat for a good luck charm.
She scanned the first ticket. “Not that one. No four there.”
He scowled at her. “I know that.”
She checked the second. It had a four and an eleven, but that’s where the similarity ended. “Not this one, either.”
He tapped the final ticket. The one he bought at the grocery store. “It’s this one. I knew it would be. The girl what sold it to me smiled when I said I’d take her to Hawaii with me if I won.” He smiled. “And if I win big, I’ll take the guy from the gas station and the woman from the corner store, too.”
No doubt he told these people the same thing every week when he bought his tickets. And the clerks likely heard it a hundred times a day from folks longing to win. Hungering to do something nice for somebody.
He pinned the ticket to the table with his index finger. “This is the winner.”
She smoothed the paper flat. Four. Eleven. Twenty-six. Forty-two. Fifty-three. Twelve.
She glanced at her piece of paper.
Maybe for the wrong date?
Nope. Today’s date.
Then she must have written a number down wrong.
She checked the television again, but the drawing now over, the numbers were no longer on display. Her mouth went dry. If James won the jackpot of several million dollars, his entire life would change. He wouldn’t have to live month to month on his social security benefits. He could afford to get his car repaired—heck, he could afford to buy a new one if he wanted. He could take the cashier to Hawaii as he promised. Along with the other two. And their families.
She picked up a discarded ticket and turned it over, looking for a phone number. She’d call and get the automated system to repeat the numbers to her. Because she must have made a mistake. People like James simply didn’t win two million dollars. It was always an office pool of twelve people destined to lose their jobs at the end of the month. Or a single mom with a sick child and no health benefits. Or a young couple just starting their lives with huge student aid debt. Or a widow who gave it all to her church.
Not people like James. So far as Carly knew, alone in the world. Comfortable but not wealthy. No children. His wife gone. She’d never heard him mention even a religious institution or an alma mater that would tickle his fancy to give some additional funding.
Just a cashier at the local Saving Way who never expected an old man to remember her if he did win. And a clerk at a corner store. And the guy who swiped windshields at the gas station up on the highway.
And none of them really expected him to fulfill his word.
She located then dialed the toll-free number, putting a little check mark beneath each number as the girl-next-door robotic voice read them off.
She disconnected the phone and sat back, her ears ringing.
She hadn’t made a mistake.
James possessed all five white numbers.
He had the blue number.
He’d won. . . the whole enchilada.
Leeann Betts writes contemporary romantic suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical romantic suspense. In the Money is the tenth title in her cozy mystery series, and together she and Donna have published more than 25 novellas and full-length novels. They ghostwrite, judge writing contests, edit, facilitate a critique group, and are members of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, and Sisters in Crime. Leeann travels extensively to research her stories, and is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary LLC.
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