The Project

The noise from outside filtered through the closed window next to the bed. A horn honked. The city had awakened.  Michael groaned before rolling over. The noise seemed to get louder. He covered his head with his pillow. It helped little.  He knew it was time to get up. He didn’t want to…but things needed to be done. A chill overtook his body. He wrapped the tattered blanket around himself tighter. Hell, it’s time to get going.

He sat up and swung his, still wrapped, legs over the side of the bed. He rubbed his eyes before looking around the elevator-sized space. The cell he had spent eight of the last twelve years in was bigger. It was depressing. He hated the room as much as his life. It didn’t match up with how he pictured it turning out. He thought that he’d live in squalor for the rest of his life.

Change was coming. Never in his wildest dreams could he have predicted the events that changed the course of his pitiful life. The days living in squalor were over. After he finished the project, he would be done with his old life. Time to move on.

He stood, making the space appear even smaller. A bed, a small dresser, and an end table with a lamp occupied the room. The rooming house sat on a busy street in a very bad neighborhood. It was the sort of establishment that respectable clientele would pass without a glance. If the rooming house attracted patrons of a higher quality, Michael would not be staying there. He smirked at the thought, knowing what was to come.

After using the shared bathroom and showering, he went back to his room to get ready. He glanced at his cell phone to check the time: 6:15AM.  He needed to be at the bus stop by 6:20. He grabbed his coat, put it on, as he hurried down the hall. A light rain began to fall; it didn’t bother him. He did, however, like snow better. He made it to the Bus stop, a block and a half away, with a minute to spare.

He saw Narrissa as he approached the bus stop and its covered bench. She came out of her apartment building and stopped on the porch, waiting. Michael knew what was to follow.  A moment later, three kids exited the tenement:  two boys and one girl. First, there was Polia, the youngest. Next, Bobby, the middle child, came out just behind her.  Tommy brought up the rear. He was the oldest and helped his mother with his younger siblings. Michael saw a lot of himself in the older boy, but he, also, saw a future with fewer opportunities than he had at that age. The world was a harsh place that ate up dreams. He thought about his youth, as Narrissa and her children crossed the sidewalk to the bus stop.  Still, Narrissa’s children, despite everything, appeared happy.

The neighborhood, although only a block and a half away, was far worse than his own. Gunshots rang-out several times every day. Drugs infested the three blocks that made up her neighborhood. Prostitution, he knew, was there, but it was hard for him to tell who was working the streets and who was not. Today’s women, to him at least, dressed as if they all prostituted. It was probably for that reason he was drawn to Narrissa. She dressed nice, far from conservative, but she looked sexy in a respectful way, although “sensual” would probably be a better word.

The two younger children ran to the bench. Michael got up to let the children sit down. The rain was barely a drizzle now. Tommy sat next to his sister and Narrissa stood, as always.  Michael watched their every move. Narrissa smiled, before mumbling “thank you” to him. She was always courteous and seemed happy. Life weighed her down. He could see it without a doubt; however, she handled it with dignity.

Michael engaged in polite conversation with Narrissa about work, her kids, and how life sometimes didn’t seem fair. However, Narrissa believed that although life was hard it could be fair. But you had to do your best to better yourself for the sake of your family. She worked three jobs and still could barely afford a one room studio. It was tough, but she managed. She refused to get anymore government help than food stamps. Welfare was not an option. The small studio, for now, provided shelter. Narrissa possessed a determination to stand on her own. She wanted to show her children that could be possible with hard work.

Michael admired her, but unfortunately, he had seen too much of what the world had to offer. He knew the kinds of people who populated the seedy side of cities and towns.  People like him. The rich were not excluded.  Michael knew this firsthand. The poor, as Michael saw it, got it the worst.  Narrissa treated people the way she wanted to be treated.  She didn’t judge.

Michael was known to the neighborhood. He had a nefarious reputation. People thought it best not cross him, because it could mean the difference between life and death. The truth was far more complicated than their perception of him.  If provoked, he believed without a doubt that he’d again take another’s life.

He was firm believer that in the criminal world­­­­­­—bad people should be able to handle other bad people anyway they saw fit:  beat them up, rob them, even, kill them.  As long as they were active criminals, it would be okay.  Some believe “once a criminal always a criminal.”  Michael knew one could change…but it was up to the person to want to change for it to happen.

Change was difficult.  The influence of peers did not make it any easier. Criminals and convicts alike ridicule those who assimilate back into society and become a “citizen” again. As if, being a loyal person to your family, neighborhood, city, and country was the most horrible thing one could do. Michael understood that for some reintegrating back into society was the worst. Human beings are a violent, warring species. For that reason, Michael did not understand why people were so surprised about the behavior of those like him. Wasn’t he, and his kind, more human, for not constricting themselves to some made up dogma? Be civilized, for what reason? Life only happens once. Despite Narrissa’s belief, life will never be fair…. Not as long as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer—or prison.

Narrissa’s boys have a better chance of going to prison than to college. Why are there more police patrols in poverty stricken neighborhoods than more affluent ones? Unless they end up at MCI Norfolk, they will never have the chance to go to college…and rise above their station in life. Although more and more prison education programs for higher learning exist today, it will never be the ideal place where one should want to learn. Why remake a bright future from the ashes of a previously destroyed one—when it isn’t necessary? All people deserve a chance to succeed. Michael thought about the uncertainty of the future…and he…at first didn’t notice that Narrissa was talking to him. He must have nodded, as if he acknowledged her, because she was in the middle of what sounded like a response.

“…don’t know what I’m gonna do? The kids have after school programs and I really need this extra cash. What do you think?”

Michael shrugged, not knowing what exactly she was talking about.

“Yeah, me neither. I guess the Boys are old enough to go on their own, but Polia needs to be at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club by 2:30.”

Narrissa looked as if the world became too heavy for her to support any longer.

“What is it you’re gonna do, again?”

She blinked. “I-oh-um, I can clean my friend’s house tonight for fifty dollars. She pays a flat rate for the job, and it only takes me an hour tops. But it takes me an hour to get there and two hours for the return trip…’cause I gotta wait for the train.”

“Who’s gonna pick ‘em up?”

“That’s the problem. If I get Polia to the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, then she could stay until six. I should be able to make it back in time to pick her up.”

“Don’t you work at Tony’s tonight?”

“Yeah, eight to one.”

“You got someone to watch ‘em?”

Narrissa glanced around. Her children sat patiently on the bench. And there was only one other person waiting for the bus—and he never looked their way. Michael knew the man and saw no problem.

“It’s alright, he’s cool,” he said, as if reading her mind.

“Tommy’s gonna watch them. He’s old—”

“Sheesh, not again,” Tommy said, frustrated. “Ma, I hate watching them at night. Bobby’s a pain…I was gonna go over Joey’s to watch a movie.”

“Sorry, baby,” Narrissa said, looking a bit regretful. “But we need the money.”

Tommy fell silent. He knew his mother was right. He didn’t like it, but he understood. Life was hard—and he hated it.

“Narrissa,” Michael said in a whisper, “don’t tell anyone he’s watching them.”

“I know, he’s not twelve. But he’s smarter than most twelve-year-olds, besides, Tommy does a good job.”

“Believe me, I know. Your kids are the most well behaved children I’ve ever met, sheesh!”

Tommy chuckled.

Narrissa smiled, as a bus turned the corner. “Here comes our bus, you taking the 24 today?

“No, I gotta wait for the 22?”

“Oh, alright, um, I gotta go.”

The bus pulled over and stopped before opening its doors.

“Bye, Michael,” Tommy said.

 He nodded and mussed Tommy’s hair as he walked to the bus.

“Hey, before you go,” he said, in a hurry. “Tell your friend you can’t clean tonight, and I’ll make sure that I bring some big tippers with me to Tony’s.”

“Cool,” Tommy said, standing in front of the door.

“You better be serious, Michael, ‘cause I really need it.”

“Guess I’m not goin over Joey’s.”

“Hey, if your moms says it’s alright, I’ll take you to the movies on Friday.”

“Can I go, too?” Bobby said.

“Michael, I’ll talk to you tonight.” She turned and ushered her kids onto the bus.  “You and your sister are going to your Gram’s this weekend, so can go see your father.”

“Oh, it’s time already?”

“Yup,” she said, before looking at Michael.  “You better come through!”

The bus doors closed before it pulled away from the curb and lumbered down the street.  Michael waited for the bus to turn the corner.  Once the bus was out of sight, he walked to the corner nearest him, turned right, and continued walking for another block until he came to a 5 series BMW.  He got into the car, sliding behind the steering wheel.  Before pulling off, he sent a quick text: “It’s on.”  He drove a few blocks, pulled into Dunkin Donuts, and went through the drive-thru.  While in line he sent another text to several people, this one read: “Come to Tony’s tonight.” Tommy would have laughed at him for not using texting shorthand. The thought made him smile. He pulled up to the window, picked up his order, and left.

The dry run went smoothly. He could not believe that he was actually gonna go through with it. Who was he kidding with his “Project,” he couldn’t go through with it. No, there was too much riding on it. Life changing. But it could transform him as well. Something like this could only be transforming. A flight of fancy, that’s it…nothing else. He can dream, right? He was not so sure he could. Doubt filled his heart. Imagine him getting nervous. He killed a man without as much as a flinch…and here he was shaking. Has it been six weeks?  Could he pull it off? Life was not fair.  He felt himself becoming a slave to the project. This was about to change Tommy’s life. “Poor kid,” he muttered. He didn’t believe the little man could handle what was to come.

Michael liked Tommy. They hung out on the block a few times. And they went to the movies one afternoon.  Michael had run in to Tommy, after the kid skipped school.  Michael remembered those days, when he’d cut out to go see a movie. The kid wanted to see a movie and he felt that Tommy was safer with him. Who knew what kind of trouble the kid could have found himself in? Besides, Michael didn’t believe in coincidences, so when he saw Tommy in front of the Loews theatre, downtown, he believed it was fate. Destiny. His project had to be finished.

Six weeks had passed since first deciding that Narrissa would be the one. They needed to be set free. He felt almost sorry for what he was about to do. She was it. The pick. His luck changed that night. He remembered it clearly. As he did most nights, he sat in a corner booth in the back of the bar watching the other patrons. Tony’s Bar and Grill had been his hangout since before he went to prison. It was more bar than grill. He had been happy to find it open after he got released about seven weeks before. Tony still ran the bar, now, with the help of his son Paulo.

Later that night, six weeks ago, while he ate and drank, he saw this cat named Banks walk up to the bar. They called him Banks because he made a lot of money. A street hustler who crossed the line to increase his wealth. He sold to children and used violence on citizens. Michael saw dollar signs. An hour later, Banks left Tony’s. He zigzagged his way to his car. The man could barely stand. The Pepsi blue Mercedes sat around the corner from Tony’s. Banks went to get into his car but never made it.

The street, which more resembled an ally, was empty. Not a soul witnessed Michael’s actions. He stirred not even a pebble as he creped behind Banks. With a quick left hook to the man’s carotid artery, he rendered the drunken man unconscious. He put him in the back, laying him across the seat. He drove a short distance to an abandon building. He robbed the man of his money and jewelry, before dumping the unconscious man onto the building’s wet concrete. He abandoned the car on the other side of town. The cash amounted to about $5,000. The jewelry would have to wait until he could sell it.

On the way to the subway to return home, Michael stopped at a 7Eleven and bought something to eat and five scratch tickets as well as 11 Powerball tickets. The jackpot reached over $500,000,000. He scratched the tickets and won $100.  It was his lucky night. Didn’t luck bring him Banks? It was, he believed, not a crime to rob such a man. It simply wasn’t.  Banks was a product of the streets like him, so he got what he deserved. But an unease grew in his chest. Michael realized he should probably change his ways, his life. How? He thought, before brushing it off. He chalked it up as sentimentality brought on by age. He was approaching thirty-seven.

 The next morning his entire belief system crashed. A total reboot needed to be done. The first revelation actually came the night before at Tony’s while he waited for Banks to leave. He overheard a waitress talking to a patron about Narrissa. He didn’t know either woman. But the waitress, he now knew, was named Diane. Diane and her friend talked about Narrissa taking on a third job. The thing that most interested Michael was that her babies’ father was Jon Reeves, at least for her two youngest.

Michael had crossed paths with the man and hated everything the self-important egoist stood for. He was surprised at how he treated his children. Here Narrissa struggled every day to supply the necessities for his children.  And with no help from this clown. The man wasn’t a father. He was a donor. The jerk had money. He never went without inside. He had more in his account than Narrissa had in hers, that’s for sure. He could bet on it. A germ of an idea formed in his analytical brain—the project was born.

The other revelation came when he turned on the morning news. The lottery numbers for previous night were displayed on the screen. He stared, opened mouth, at the Powerball numbers:  12, 13, 24, 28, 36, and (17). There was no need to check his numbers, for he knew them by heart. Twelve was the age he learnt to shoot. Thirteen, for the summer of his life.  He had been told you only have one. Twenty-four, for when he moved out and got his girlfriend pregnant.  Twenty-eight, for when he started his stretch. Thirty-six, for the age he would be when he got out. And last but hardly least, the Powerball number seventeen for the eternal age of his son.

He had played those numbers for the last five years. Well, his mother played them for him. After he got out more than a month before, he started playing them himself. Now, he hits! What madness! It didn’t feel real to him. As if, it was a big mistake. He couldn’t be the winner. Someone more deserving should have won. They should have the ticket. Ticket, he never played one ticket? He played ten, swapping out one of the other numbers with the Powerball. And he played another with a different Powerball number. He used twenty-two, for the age his son would have been now. He was bugging! There had to be other winners for the grand prize.

The news anchor appeared on the screen.

“Now, the Powerball jackpot reached $532 million. The sole winning ticket asked for the cash payout. They will be getting approximately a $190 million. Yes, I said that correctly…the sole winner of last night’s Powerball hit the jackpot.”

“Did anyone come forward, yet?” Said Kim, another anchor.

“No, but we do know the ticket was bought locally, Kim?”

“Where was the ticket purchased?”

“At a local Boston 7Eleven.

 Michael shut off the TV and sat there stunned. It’s just him. The “worthless feeling” he quickly pushed away earlier rose back up like the most disgust bile. There were things he needed to do. But he just sat there.

 Jon Reeves image popped into his mind. It was because of Jon Reeves that his project was put in into play. Now, it was six weeks Later…he was backing out. He had a rep to protect.  He just couldn’t see himself potentially destroying this family. But he hated Jon enough to risk it. Tommy’s image flashed before him… what about him?

 He should have never gotten attached to that kid. But let’s face it, Tommy has nothing to do with Jon. Tommy deserved the life Michael knew he, himself, squandered away. Stupid! Never mind stupid sentimentalities… he had to go through with his project. It would set things right. It could ruin lives!  It will ruin. He hated Jon Reeves so much that he had blood-vailed vision. God, help him.

In his world, this worked differently. People, well society, believed the likes of him would hurt them at any moment.  It’s not true, at least not for Michael, although some criminals do hurt or rob citizens. Michael never understood it, to him they were just amateurs. “Do unto others as they do unto you,” that was his motto. Was he above the law? No! He’d save that for the politicians. He was just not a citizen. He could be, but he’s….

Michael struggled with emotions of angst, fear, and of the unknown. He would be heading into a world that he no longer understood. He lived for today, for tomorrow may never come. He felt energized and yet tired. Life was moving too fast now. He couldn’t sleep. He moved in a daze. His life, because of the lottery, was about to change. And he wasn’t so sure he could handle it.

He pulled the BMW over, took a sip of his tea, trying to keep himself going. He would crash soon. The couple of hours of sleep he got the night before didn’t help. Yet, he felt wired.   His insides were electrified. He parked a block away from where the Boston Stock Exchange used to be on Milk Street. He did not want to be seen. He waited. Everyone that walked by was dressed in business attire and carried a briefcase. The person he waited for appeared. She wore a stylish pantsuit.  Michael would know her anywhere. The woman’s name was Crystal Glass. Her parents had a twisted sense of humor. It sounded to Michael like the name of some protagonist in some mystery novel. He could see the title of the book in his mind: Breaking Glass. Interestingly, he believed that she would make a great model for a protagonist: strong, good at her job, and as a business and finance attorney she had plenty of conflict.

Michael got out of the car and walked over to meet her.

“Michael, you look great!” Crystal said. “It’s been a long time.  I’m sorry that it took six weeks, but what you asked for is very time consuming.”

She handed him a large, thick manila envelope.

“No problem,” Michael said, laughing, “guess I got my weight’s worth.”

“Everything is there. I had our in-house CPA prepare and send out the necessary tax information.” She paused a moment smiling. “I still cannot believe you won—

“Me neither.”

—the lottery, that’s a lot of money, so what are you going to do, now?”

A sardonic expression formed on his face. “What else, Crystal—spend it.”

They both laughed.

“All right, big guy, I have to go. If you need anything, like help spending some of that money, you have my number. You’re now a VIP with our firm.”

 “Yeah, I guess that’s because I’m officially rich.” He held up the manila envelope.

Crystal gave Michael a hug and walked back the way she came. He went back to his car. He was now ready. It all made sense. He still wasn’t sure.  Right?  No, he knew.  Nothing.  The project played out in his mind.  Stop with the fantasies!  There was no way he’d do it. A concrete idea scrolled across his mind.  It was a good one. It would kill that no good so-called king of the yard.  Seeing his children in such a state would torture a man like him.

On the way to his new brownstone, one of the tasks Crystal’s firm handled for him, he stopped at Stop & Shop to pick up a few things. He was in the produce aisle when he overheard a couple of women talking. One of them mentioned Narrissa’s name.  He immediately started to listen closely, curious to see if it was the same Narrissa. It was. He glanced at the women to see if he knew them. He didn’t. One was wearing a bright green shirt and the other a black shirt several sizes too small. The universe was trying to tell him something.

 “Can you believe that no good baby’s daddy of hers?”  Green shirt said.

“Hell no, the worst part is the player got money—lots of it!”

“Yeah, I heard that too.”

“I didn’t hear it. No, not at all.  My brother hangs with that fool, and he told me Jon sent him $10 grand to work with.”

“Really, your brother gotta pay that back though, right?”

According to him, no. He just has to make it grow. I guess Jon said that he had too much money in his account, and he was afraid Narrissa might try to take him to court or something.”

 “She should. A man gotta pay his share. She didn’t have those kids by herself.”

 “I agree, but Narrissa would never ask that man for a thing.”

“Yeah, I Know that’s true.”

“I still can’t believe that she’s still living in that studio with those three kids of hers.  It’s gotta be tough…ain’t right!”

“She needs a miracle!”

“Yeah, I hope she gets one.”

“She’s a good mother—”

“And friend.”

Michael couldn’t listen any longer. Life has been hard for Narrissa. And he was about to make it even more so. He knew where she would be at 6:30 tomorrow morning: at the bus stop. Besides, she lived within a few steps from the bus stop. He didn’t care, one way or the other, what happened to the two younger children. But Tommy, for some reason, he cared deeply about—and it was for him that he was on the fence.  Probably from regret of missing out on his own son’s childhood. He smiled. No one deserved what was going to happen to them more than Jon, who had about 10 more years to do. And what was gonna happen to his family would torture him for the rest of his life.

He wished that he could see the man’s face when he finds out. All because he didn’t take care of his children like a father was supposed to. The kids would be better off dead than subjected to his lack of fatherly love. Michael truly believed with all his black-heart that his project would take place the next day. The universe had spoken.

At his house, he fell asleep watching a movie. Michael found himself dreaming about his youth. He was about seven and he was walking with his father. They were on their way to get ice cream. He and his father liked to go to the Common on Saturdays to fly kites or play catch, although sometimes they would go to the Public Garden. Afterward, they would go to their usual place. Michael normally ordered a hot fudge sundae and his father always got a banana split.

A young woman stood in front of the ice cream parlor. She begged for change. People going in and coming out put change in her cup. Michael had never seen anyone in need before. And he had cringed at how dirty the woman’s clothes were. Didn’t she have a nanny to wash and bathe her? Michael was confused. As they walked by the woman, Michael asked his father why she was so dirty, but he got no answer.

Michael watched the woman outside while he ate his hot fudge sundae. He wanted to ask his father about her again, but he remembered how his facial expression looked on the way in. His father had a look of disdain, not that a seven-year-old would know what it was called. He just knew that his father didn’t like the woman.

“How’s your Sundae?”

“Good!” Michael answered, a little too excitedly. “How’s your Banana Split?”

“Fine, very fine,” his father said, before eating a piece of banana. Do you want to try it?”

“Nah,” he said shaking his head and making a face. “I don’t like Pineapples, remember? You always forget.”

 “Oh, yeah, I must have,” his father said. However, he knew quite well what his son liked and disliked. He just wanted the boy to try new things, and retry old ones. Taste buds change. Unfortunately, his father never thought to simply ask him to try the Banana Split again, because he might like it now. If he had, his father would have found out two things: One, his son would try anything to please his father. And two, his son still did not like pineapple. “Do you want to go see a movie today?  Are you all right?”

 A strange expression twisted young Michael’s face. “What are they doing to that woman outside?”

There were several people outside harassing the beggar.

 “Dad, what did she do wrong? Dad, someone’s gotta help her!”

 Michael’s father turned toward the window to see what was happening, then back to his son, who was visibly upset.  “She’s a vagrant, son. She does not belong begging for change outside of here. It’s disgusting. Besides, it could hurt this shop’s business.”

 “I don’t understand, Dad! They’re hurting her!”

“Look, son… that woman can get a job…but she doesn’t.  She could earn her own money. But she’d rather beg for change than work. She’s lazy, just look at her. Disgusting. She obviously doesn’t take responsibility seriously.”

Michael started to cry. Twin-rivers flowed from both eyes.  His father would have none of that “baby stuff.” He removed a handkerchief from his jacket pocket. “Here, dry your face.  Big boys don’t cry, buddy.”

 “I—am—sorry. I just don’t understand why someone doesn’t give her a job.”

“Because she doesn’t want one. Besides, people like her do not make good employees. Once someone hits bottom like that it is over. She’ll never be good at anything again, nothing.”

“Um, can we go?”

 “Sure, grab your jacket.”

On the way out, the woman stood waving her arms in the air. Once they were outside they both understood.

“They took my money! Those guys, you seen ‘em!  They –um, took my money. And beat me up, too! What animals!”

Blood dripped down the women’s face. The woman sat on the sidewalk and bawled. Michael broke free and ran up to the young woman…then hugged her tightly and kissed her on the forehead.

“Thank you,” she said.

 The boy reached in to his pocket and removed all he had.  He gave it to the woman: $1.80.  Young Michael hugged the beggar once more before walking back to his stern-faced father.

He awoke, sweaty and wide awake. Could it be that I will do it? Of course he would, for his mind was already made up. Nothing could change it now. No stopping this madness.

 “I must do it!”

 Michael glanced at the clock on his dresser: 4:30a.m. He expected it to read 5:32. He got out of bed and went to go take a shower. It felt good not having to share a bathroom. He glanced around. Life was sure strange. He stopped at the bathroom door. Could he really do it? He smiled, already knowing the answer. No. Yes. Maybe. After he took a shower, he ate a hardy breakfast: an egg-white omelet with Italian deli-meats, cheese, and peppers. Along with a cup of tea to wash it down.

He thought for a moment about Narrissa and her children, and he wondered what, if anything, they were eating. He got dressed in a brand new tailored Armani suit. He looked good, even respectable. Considering there was a wild beast being concealed inside, it was kind of amusing. He checked the time:  ten past six. Time to go.

The BMW pulled over and parked in the space before the bus stop. He arrived early by ten minutes.   He waited in the car listening to music.  Tupac’s “Dear Mama” came through the Bose speakers.  Time moved at the pace of an ant stuck in the slime of a snail.  Michael could hardly believe he was about to do it.  He became fully aware of his plan.   He reached under his seat and removed a loaded handgun.  A blacked-out .40 cal.  Smith and Wesson.  He checked the chamber—making sure one was already loaded.  He then tucked it into his waistband in the back.

The door to the tenement opened.  He watched Narrissa and her children cross to the bus stop.  He took a deep breath, gaining the courage to do what he planned, before opening the door.

“Hey, look, it’s Michael,” Tommy said running up to him.  “Nice car!”

Narrissa glanced in his direction.  “Wow, you clean up nice.  Great suit.”

“Thanks, I came to say goodbye.”

“Why, where you goin?”

“Nowhere.  At least I’m not leaving Boston.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’m not leaving, you are.”

“What?  I don’t—”

Michael reached into his suit jacket. He paused then exhaled, before pulling out…a large envelope.  “This is for you.  I decided that you and your family deserve it more than I do.”

“What is it?” she said, holding the envelope in her left-hand.

Tommy ran over to his mother.  “Can I open it?”

Michael went to stop him but it was too late.

  Tommy tore it open and removed its contents.  “It’s just a Powerball ticket.  Who cares?”

He handed it back to his mother.

  Narrissa studied the ticket.  The numbers were familiar, but she knew they weren’t last night’s.  No one in Mass won.  She looked at the date on the ticket—and it all became clear as vodka.  The unclaimed winning ticket.

“It can’t be…is it?”

Michael nodded.  “What do you think?”

 “I can’t take this…it’s too—”

 “Stop.  It’s a gift from me to you and your children, Tommy especially.”

“Now I really don’t get it,” Tommy said, a bit confused.

“Baby, it’s the big winner from six weeks ago.”

“The 500 million dollar one?  No, it ain’t,” he said doubtful, before looking at Michael, “is it?”

 “It is.  That piece of paper is worth, because I took the lump sum, about 200 million dollars.  But you don’t care about that, it’s just a Powerball ticket.”

Tommy stood there for a moment processing what he was told.  “And you just gave it to us?”

 Michael nodded.

Tommy began to jump up and down. The younger children joined in and began to scream, “We’re rich!  We’re rich!”

 “Hold on a second, Tommy stop!  Stop it!  I’m sorry but we can’t accept this… it’s yours.”

Michael straightened out his suit jacket and pointed to the BMW.  “I’ve got plenty.  I made out okay, too.  Unlike me, you’re a responsible person.  I see how much to try to provide for your children.  I was never there for mine.  You do the best that you can and it shows.  Your kids are great, they really are.”

Narrissa stared at the ticket.  There was a moment of silence.  She was afraid.  Michael could see it in her eyes; life sometimes handed us the unexpected.  And Narrissa didn’t know how to respond.  Who would?  Most people wouldn’t give away a thousand dollars, never mind hundreds of millions.  Skepticism was her only recourse. It was totally understandable.

“Why us?”

“You just said it, us.  Narrissa, you don’t do a thing without including your children, which is a good enough reason by itself.”

“Okay, but what’s in it for you?”

 “Satisfaction that someone who deserves it will benefit from it.  Believe me, it wasn’t easy.  It’s a lot to give up, but I played several variations of the same number…it’s not all I won.”

“But why?”

“Because I don’t deserve it.  They do!” He nodded to the children and pulled out another envelope.  This one legal sized.  “Here, she will be your guide.  Her firm will handle everything.  She opened the envelope and read the business card.

Narrissa laughed.  “Crystal Glass, it sounds—”

 “Made up.”

“Yeah.”

Narrissa became lost for words.  She didn’t know what to do or say. Nothing seemed appropriate. The children, however, led by Tommy knew—they ran to Michael and gave him a great, long group hug.

“Thanks, big guy, Tommy said.  “See, you are a good person.”

“No Tommy, I’m not, even bad people do good things sometimes.  And this is just one of those times, that’s all.  Michael became overwhelmed with emotion. Feeling emotion like this was difficult for him to deal with. He believed it made him soft.  Or maybe what he was afraid of was something else entirely.  He hugged the children back.  Narrissa joined them.  He missed his son; he should go to the cemetery to visit him.“Alright, I gotta go,” he said.  “Now listen, you have an appointment with Crystal this morning at 9:30.”

“But I got wor—” she broke off, laughing.

“And now you know the real reason why,” Michael said, smiling.  “I gotta go.”  Without another word, he turned and walked back to his car and got inside.  He watched for a moment.  They looked happy.  He hoped that he didn’t ruin their lives.  He had seen a few reports on how lottery winners end up worse off than they were before.  And deep down inside, Michael knew that he would have—and still might—become another statistic.  Hell, he should be used to it by now.

 A knock on the window brought him out of his thought.  Tommy stood beyond the glass staring at him.  Michael lowered the window.

 “What’s up kid?”

“I’m not gonna be able to hang out with you anymore, am I?”

“Probably not—

“Oh, that sucks!”

 –unless, you call me.  If it’s okay with your mother, then it’s okay with me.”

“So we’re still on for the movies on Friday, right?”

Michael had forgotten he promised to take Tommy to the movies.  But it brightened his dark heart that the kid remembered enough to bring it up.

“Yeah, lil man, sure,” Michael said, “look, um, I gotta go, Tommy.”

 “Alright.”

Tommy went back to his family.  He had never seen his family so happy.  He watched, as Michael pulled off and continued watching the BMW until it turned at the end of the street.  It occurred to Tommy, at that moment, that if he didn’t call Michael that he’d never see him again.  “Hey, Ma…I need a cell phone.”  He already knew the number.

The noise from outside filtered through the closed window next to the bed. A horn honked. The city had awakened.  Michael groaned before rolling over. The noise seemed to get louder. He covered his head with his pillow. It helped little.  He knew it was time to get up. He didn’t want to…but things needed to be done. A chill overtook his body. He wrapped the tattered blanket around himself tighter. Hell, it’s time to get going.

He sat up and swung his, still wrapped, legs over the side of the bed. He rubbed his eyes before looking around the elevator-sized space. The cell he had spent eight of the last twelve years in was bigger. It was depressing. He hated the room as much as his life. It didn’t match up with how he pictured it turning out. He thought that he’d live in squalor for the rest of his life.

Change was coming. Never in his wildest dreams could he have predicted the events that changed the course of his pitiful life. The days living in squalor were over. After he finished the project, he would be done with his old life. Time to move on.

He stood, making the space appear even smaller. A bed, a small dresser, and an end table with a lamp occupied the room. The rooming house sat on a busy street in a very bad neighborhood. It was the sort of establishment that respectable clientele would pass without a glance. If the rooming house attracted patrons of a higher quality, Michael would not be staying there. He smirked at the thought, knowing what was to come.

After using the shared bathroom and showering, he went back to his room to get ready. He glanced at his cell phone to check the time: 6:15AM.  He needed to be at the bus stop by 6:20. He grabbed his coat, put it on, as he hurried down the hall. A light rain began to fall; it didn’t bother him. He did, however, like snow better. He made it to the Bus stop, a block and a half away, with a minute to spare.

He saw Narrissa as he approached the bus stop and its covered bench. She came out of her apartment building and stopped on the porch, waiting. Michael knew what was to follow.  A moment later, three kids exited the tenement:  two boys and one girl. First, there was Polia, the youngest. Next, Bobby, the middle child, came out just behind her.  Tommy brought up the rear. He was the oldest and helped his mother with his younger siblings. Michael saw a lot of himself in the older boy, but he, also, saw a future with fewer opportunities than he had at that age. The world was a harsh place that ate up dreams. He thought about his youth, as Narrissa and her children crossed the sidewalk to the bus stop.  Still, Narrissa’s children, despite everything, appeared happy.

The neighborhood, although only a block and a half away, was far worse than his own. Gunshots rang-out several times every day. Drugs infested the three blocks that made up her neighborhood. Prostitution, he knew, was there, but it was hard for him to tell who was working the streets and who was not. Today’s women, to him at least, dressed as if they all prostituted. It was probably for that reason he was drawn to Narrissa. She dressed nice, far from conservative, but she looked sexy in a respectful way, although “sensual” would probably be a better word.

The two younger children ran to the bench. Michael got up to let the children sit down. The rain was barely a drizzle now. Tommy sat next to his sister and Narrissa stood, as always.  Michael watched their every move. Narrissa smiled, before mumbling “thank you” to him. She was always courteous and seemed happy. Life weighed her down. He could see it without a doubt; however, she handled it with dignity.

Michael engaged in polite conversation with Narrissa about work, her kids, and how life sometimes didn’t seem fair. However, Narrissa believed that although life was hard it could be fair. But you had to do your best to better yourself for the sake of your family. She worked three jobs and still could barely afford a one room studio. It was tough, but she managed. She refused to get anymore government help than food stamps. Welfare was not an option. The small studio, for now, provided shelter. Narrissa possessed a determination to stand on her own. She wanted to show her children that could be possible with hard work.

Michael admired her, but unfortunately, he had seen too much of what the world had to offer. He knew the kinds of people who populated the seedy side of cities and towns.  People like him. The rich were not excluded.  Michael knew this firsthand. The poor, as Michael saw it, got it the worst.  Narrissa treated people the way she wanted to be treated.  She didn’t judge.

Michael was known to the neighborhood. He had a nefarious reputation. People thought it best not cross him, because it could mean the difference between life and death. The truth was far more complicated than their perception of him.  If provoked, he believed without a doubt that he’d again take another’s life.

He was firm believer that in the criminal world­­­­­­—bad people should be able to handle other bad people anyway they saw fit:  beat them up, rob them, even, kill them.  As long as they were active criminals, it would be okay.  Some believe “once a criminal always a criminal.”  Michael knew one could change…but it was up to the person to want to change for it to happen.

Change was difficult.  The influence of peers did not make it any easier. Criminals and convicts alike ridicule those who assimilate back into society and become a “citizen” again. As if, being a loyal person to your family, neighborhood, city, and country was the most horrible thing one could do. Michael understood that for some reintegrating back into society was the worst. Human beings are a violent, warring species. For that reason, Michael did not understand why people were so surprised about the behavior of those like him. Wasn’t he, and his kind, more human, for not constricting themselves to some made up dogma? Be civilized, for what reason? Life only happens once. Despite Narrissa’s belief, life will never be fair…. Not as long as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer—or prison.

Narrissa’s boys have a better chance of going to prison than to college. Why are there more police patrols in poverty stricken neighborhoods than more affluent ones? Unless they end up at MCI Norfolk, they will never have the chance to go to college…and rise above their station in life. Although more and more prison education programs for higher learning exist today, it will never be the ideal place where one should want to learn. Why remake a bright future from the ashes of a previously destroyed one—when it isn’t necessary? All people deserve a chance to succeed. Michael thought about the uncertainty of the future…and he…at first didn’t notice that Narrissa was talking to him. He must have nodded, as if he acknowledged her, because she was in the middle of what sounded like a response.

“…don’t know what I’m gonna do? The kids have after school programs and I really need this extra cash. What do you think?”

Michael shrugged, not knowing what exactly she was talking about.

“Yeah, me neither. I guess the Boys are old enough to go on their own, but Polia needs to be at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club by 2:30.”

Narrissa looked as if the world became too heavy for her to support any longer.

“What is it you’re gonna do, again?”

She blinked. “I-oh-um, I can clean my friend’s house tonight for fifty dollars. She pays a flat rate for the job, and it only takes me an hour tops. But it takes me an hour to get there and two hours for the return trip…’cause I gotta wait for the train.”

“Who’s gonna pick ‘em up?”

“That’s the problem. If I get Polia to the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, then she could stay until six. I should be able to make it back in time to pick her up.”

“Don’t you work at Tony’s tonight?”

“Yeah, eight to one.”

“You got someone to watch ‘em?”

Narrissa glanced around. Her children sat patiently on the bench. And there was only one other person waiting for the bus—and he never looked their way. Michael knew the man and saw no problem.

“It’s alright, he’s cool,” he said, as if reading her mind.

“Tommy’s gonna watch them. He’s old—”

“Sheesh, not again,” Tommy said, frustrated. “Ma, I hate watching them at night. Bobby’s a pain…I was gonna go over Joey’s to watch a movie.”

“Sorry, baby,” Narrissa said, looking a bit regretful. “But we need the money.”

Tommy fell silent. He knew his mother was right. He didn’t like it, but he understood. Life was hard—and he hated it.

“Narrissa,” Michael said in a whisper, “don’t tell anyone he’s watching them.”

“I know, he’s not twelve. But he’s smarter than most twelve-year-olds, besides, Tommy does a good job.”

“Believe me, I know. Your kids are the most well behaved children I’ve ever met, sheesh!”

Tommy chuckled.

Narrissa smiled, as a bus turned the corner. “Here comes our bus, you taking the 24 today?

“No, I gotta wait for the 22?”

“Oh, alright, um, I gotta go.”

The bus pulled over and stopped before opening its doors.

“Bye, Michael,” Tommy said.

 He nodded and mussed Tommy’s hair as he walked to the bus.

“Hey, before you go,” he said, in a hurry. “Tell your friend you can’t clean tonight, and I’ll make sure that I bring some big tippers with me to Tony’s.”

“Cool,” Tommy said, standing in front of the door.

“You better be serious, Michael, ‘cause I really need it.”

“Guess I’m not goin over Joey’s.”

“Hey, if your moms says it’s alright, I’ll take you to the movies on Friday.”

“Can I go, too?” Bobby said.

“Michael, I’ll talk to you tonight.” She turned and ushered her kids onto the bus.  “You and your sister are going to your Gram’s this weekend, so can go see your father.”

“Oh, it’s time already?”

“Yup,” she said, before looking at Michael.  “You better come through!”

The bus doors closed before it pulled away from the curb and lumbered down the street.  Michael waited for the bus to turn the corner.  Once the bus was out of sight, he walked to the corner nearest him, turned right, and continued walking for another block until he came to a 5 series BMW.  He got into the car, sliding behind the steering wheel.  Before pulling off, he sent a quick text: “It’s on.”  He drove a few blocks, pulled into Dunkin Donuts, and went through the drive-thru.  While in line he sent another text to several people, this one read: “Come to Tony’s tonight.” Tommy would have laughed at him for not using texting shorthand. The thought made him smile. He pulled up to the window, picked up his order, and left.

The dry run went smoothly. He could not believe that he was actually gonna go through with it. Who was he kidding with his “Project,” he couldn’t go through with it. No, there was too much riding on it. Life changing. But it could transform him as well. Something like this could only be transforming. A flight of fancy, that’s it…nothing else. He can dream, right? He was not so sure he could. Doubt filled his heart. Imagine him getting nervous. He killed a man without as much as a flinch…and here he was shaking. Has it been six weeks?  Could he pull it off? Life was not fair.  He felt himself becoming a slave to the project. This was about to change Tommy’s life. “Poor kid,” he muttered. He didn’t believe the little man could handle what was to come.

Michael liked Tommy. They hung out on the block a few times. And they went to the movies one afternoon.  Michael had run in to Tommy, after the kid skipped school.  Michael remembered those days, when he’d cut out to go see a movie. The kid wanted to see a movie and he felt that Tommy was safer with him. Who knew what kind of trouble the kid could have found himself in? Besides, Michael didn’t believe in coincidences, so when he saw Tommy in front of the Loews theatre, downtown, he believed it was fate. Destiny. His project had to be finished.

Six weeks had passed since first deciding that Narrissa would be the one. They needed to be set free. He felt almost sorry for what he was about to do. She was it. The pick. His luck changed that night. He remembered it clearly. As he did most nights, he sat in a corner booth in the back of the bar watching the other patrons. Tony’s Bar and Grill had been his hangout since before he went to prison. It was more bar than grill. He had been happy to find it open after he got released about seven weeks before. Tony still ran the bar, now, with the help of his son Paulo.

Later that night, six weeks ago, while he ate and drank, he saw this cat named Banks walk up to the bar. They called him Banks because he made a lot of money. A street hustler who crossed the line to increase his wealth. He sold to children and used violence on citizens. Michael saw dollar signs. An hour later, Banks left Tony’s. He zigzagged his way to his car. The man could barely stand. The Pepsi blue Mercedes sat around the corner from Tony’s. Banks went to get into his car but never made it.

The street, which more resembled an ally, was empty. Not a soul witnessed Michael’s actions. He stirred not even a pebble as he creped behind Banks. With a quick left hook to the man’s carotid artery, he rendered the drunken man unconscious. He put him in the back, laying him across the seat. He drove a short distance to an abandon building. He robbed the man of his money and jewelry, before dumping the unconscious man onto the building’s wet concrete. He abandoned the car on the other side of town. The cash amounted to about $5,000. The jewelry would have to wait until he could sell it.

On the way to the subway to return home, Michael stopped at a 7Eleven and bought something to eat and five scratch tickets as well as 11 Powerball tickets. The jackpot reached over $500,000,000. He scratched the tickets and won $100.  It was his lucky night. Didn’t luck bring him Banks? It was, he believed, not a crime to rob such a man. It simply wasn’t.  Banks was a product of the streets like him, so he got what he deserved. But an unease grew in his chest. Michael realized he should probably change his ways, his life. How? He thought, before brushing it off. He chalked it up as sentimentality brought on by age. He was approaching thirty-seven.

 The next morning his entire belief system crashed. A total reboot needed to be done. The first revelation actually came the night before at Tony’s while he waited for Banks to leave. He overheard a waitress talking to a patron about Narrissa. He didn’t know either woman. But the waitress, he now knew, was named Diane. Diane and her friend talked about Narrissa taking on a third job. The thing that most interested Michael was that her babies’ father was Jon Reeves, at least for her two youngest.

Michael had crossed paths with the man and hated everything the self-important egoist stood for. He was surprised at how he treated his children. Here Narrissa struggled every day to supply the necessities for his children.  And with no help from this clown. The man wasn’t a father. He was a donor. The jerk had money. He never went without inside. He had more in his account than Narrissa had in hers, that’s for sure. He could bet on it. A germ of an idea formed in his analytical brain—the project was born.

The other revelation came when he turned on the morning news. The lottery numbers for previous night were displayed on the screen. He stared, opened mouth, at the Powerball numbers:  12, 13, 24, 28, 36, and (17). There was no need to check his numbers, for he knew them by heart. Twelve was the age he learnt to shoot. Thirteen, for the summer of his life.  He had been told you only have one. Twenty-four, for when he moved out and got his girlfriend pregnant.  Twenty-eight, for when he started his stretch. Thirty-six, for the age he would be when he got out. And last but hardly least, the Powerball number seventeen for the eternal age of his son.

He had played those numbers for the last five years. Well, his mother played them for him. After he got out more than a month before, he started playing them himself. Now, he hits! What madness! It didn’t feel real to him. As if, it was a big mistake. He couldn’t be the winner. Someone more deserving should have won. They should have the ticket. Ticket, he never played one ticket? He played ten, swapping out one of the other numbers with the Powerball. And he played another with a different Powerball number. He used twenty-two, for the age his son would have been now. He was bugging! There had to be other winners for the grand prize.

The news anchor appeared on the screen.

“Now, the Powerball jackpot reached $532 million. The sole winning ticket asked for the cash payout. They will be getting approximately a $190 million. Yes, I said that correctly…the sole winner of last night’s Powerball hit the jackpot.”

“Did anyone come forward, yet?” Said Kim, another anchor.

“No, but we do know the ticket was bought locally, Kim?”

“Where was the ticket purchased?”

“At a local Boston 7Eleven.

 Michael shut off the TV and sat there stunned. It’s just him. The “worthless feeling” he quickly pushed away earlier rose back up like the most disgust bile. There were things he needed to do. But he just sat there.

 Jon Reeves image popped into his mind. It was because of Jon Reeves that his project was put in into play. Now, it was six weeks Later…he was backing out. He had a rep to protect.  He just couldn’t see himself potentially destroying this family. But he hated Jon enough to risk it. Tommy’s image flashed before him… what about him?

 He should have never gotten attached to that kid. But let’s face it, Tommy has nothing to do with Jon. Tommy deserved the life Michael knew he, himself, squandered away. Stupid! Never mind stupid sentimentalities… he had to go through with his project. It would set things right. It could ruin lives!  It will ruin. He hated Jon Reeves so much that he had blood-vailed vision. God, help him.

In his world, this worked differently. People, well society, believed the likes of him would hurt them at any moment.  It’s not true, at least not for Michael, although some criminals do hurt or rob citizens. Michael never understood it, to him they were just amateurs. “Do unto others as they do unto you,” that was his motto. Was he above the law? No! He’d save that for the politicians. He was just not a citizen. He could be, but he’s….

Michael struggled with emotions of angst, fear, and of the unknown. He would be heading into a world that he no longer understood. He lived for today, for tomorrow may never come. He felt energized and yet tired. Life was moving too fast now. He couldn’t sleep. He moved in a daze. His life, because of the lottery, was about to change. And he wasn’t so sure he could handle it.

He pulled the BMW over, took a sip of his tea, trying to keep himself going. He would crash soon. The couple of hours of sleep he got the night before didn’t help. Yet, he felt wired.   His insides were electrified. He parked a block away from where the Boston Stock Exchange used to be on Milk Street. He did not want to be seen. He waited. Everyone that walked by was dressed in business attire and carried a briefcase. The person he waited for appeared. She wore a stylish pantsuit.  Michael would know her anywhere. The woman’s name was Crystal Glass. Her parents had a twisted sense of humor. It sounded to Michael like the name of some protagonist in some mystery novel. He could see the title of the book in his mind: Breaking Glass. Interestingly, he believed that she would make a great model for a protagonist: strong, good at her job, and as a business and finance attorney she had plenty of conflict.

Michael got out of the car and walked over to meet her.

“Michael, you look great!” Crystal said. “It’s been a long time.  I’m sorry that it took six weeks, but what you asked for is very time consuming.”

She handed him a large, thick manila envelope.

“No problem,” Michael said, laughing, “guess I got my weight’s worth.”

“Everything is there. I had our in-house CPA prepare and send out the necessary tax information.” She paused a moment smiling. “I still cannot believe you won—

“Me neither.”

—the lottery, that’s a lot of money, so what are you going to do, now?”

A sardonic expression formed on his face. “What else, Crystal—spend it.”

They both laughed.

“All right, big guy, I have to go. If you need anything, like help spending some of that money, you have my number. You’re now a VIP with our firm.”

 “Yeah, I guess that’s because I’m officially rich.” He held up the manila envelope.

Crystal gave Michael a hug and walked back the way she came. He went back to his car. He was now ready. It all made sense. He still wasn’t sure.  Right?  No, he knew.  Nothing.  The project played out in his mind.  Stop with the fantasies!  There was no way he’d do it. A concrete idea scrolled across his mind.  It was a good one. It would kill that no good so-called king of the yard.  Seeing his children in such a state would torture a man like him.

On the way to his new brownstone, one of the tasks Crystal’s firm handled for him, he stopped at Stop & Shop to pick up a few things. He was in the produce aisle when he overheard a couple of women talking. One of them mentioned Narrissa’s name.  He immediately started to listen closely, curious to see if it was the same Narrissa. It was. He glanced at the women to see if he knew them. He didn’t. One was wearing a bright green shirt and the other a black shirt several sizes too small. The universe was trying to tell him something.

 “Can you believe that no good baby’s daddy of hers?”  Green shirt said.

“Hell no, the worst part is the player got money—lots of it!”

“Yeah, I heard that too.”

“I didn’t hear it. No, not at all.  My brother hangs with that fool, and he told me Jon sent him $10 grand to work with.”

“Really, your brother gotta pay that back though, right?”

According to him, no. He just has to make it grow. I guess Jon said that he had too much money in his account, and he was afraid Narrissa might try to take him to court or something.”

 “She should. A man gotta pay his share. She didn’t have those kids by herself.”

 “I agree, but Narrissa would never ask that man for a thing.”

“Yeah, I Know that’s true.”

“I still can’t believe that she’s still living in that studio with those three kids of hers.  It’s gotta be tough…ain’t right!”

“She needs a miracle!”

“Yeah, I hope she gets one.”

“She’s a good mother—”

“And friend.”

Michael couldn’t listen any longer. Life has been hard for Narrissa. And he was about to make it even more so. He knew where she would be at 6:30 tomorrow morning: at the bus stop. Besides, she lived within a few steps from the bus stop. He didn’t care, one way or the other, what happened to the two younger children. But Tommy, for some reason, he cared deeply about—and it was for him that he was on the fence.  Probably from regret of missing out on his own son’s childhood. He smiled. No one deserved what was going to happen to them more than Jon, who had about 10 more years to do. And what was gonna happen to his family would torture him for the rest of his life.

He wished that he could see the man’s face when he finds out. All because he didn’t take care of his children like a father was supposed to. The kids would be better off dead than subjected to his lack of fatherly love. Michael truly believed with all his black-heart that his project would take place the next day. The universe had spoken.

At his house, he fell asleep watching a movie. Michael found himself dreaming about his youth. He was about seven and he was walking with his father. They were on their way to get ice cream. He and his father liked to go to the Common on Saturdays to fly kites or play catch, although sometimes they would go to the Public Garden. Afterward, they would go to their usual place. Michael normally ordered a hot fudge sundae and his father always got a banana split.

A young woman stood in front of the ice cream parlor. She begged for change. People going in and coming out put change in her cup. Michael had never seen anyone in need before. And he had cringed at how dirty the woman’s clothes were. Didn’t she have a nanny to wash and bathe her? Michael was confused. As they walked by the woman, Michael asked his father why she was so dirty, but he got no answer.

Michael watched the woman outside while he ate his hot fudge sundae. He wanted to ask his father about her again, but he remembered how his facial expression looked on the way in. His father had a look of disdain, not that a seven-year-old would know what it was called. He just knew that his father didn’t like the woman.

“How’s your Sundae?”

“Good!” Michael answered, a little too excitedly. “How’s your Banana Split?”

“Fine, very fine,” his father said, before eating a piece of banana. Do you want to try it?”

“Nah,” he said shaking his head and making a face. “I don’t like Pineapples, remember? You always forget.”

 “Oh, yeah, I must have,” his father said. However, he knew quite well what his son liked and disliked. He just wanted the boy to try new things, and retry old ones. Taste buds change. Unfortunately, his father never thought to simply ask him to try the Banana Split again, because he might like it now. If he had, his father would have found out two things: One, his son would try anything to please his father. And two, his son still did not like pineapple. “Do you want to go see a movie today?  Are you all right?”

 A strange expression twisted young Michael’s face. “What are they doing to that woman outside?”

There were several people outside harassing the beggar.

 “Dad, what did she do wrong? Dad, someone’s gotta help her!”

 Michael’s father turned toward the window to see what was happening, then back to his son, who was visibly upset.  “She’s a vagrant, son. She does not belong begging for change outside of here. It’s disgusting. Besides, it could hurt this shop’s business.”

 “I don’t understand, Dad! They’re hurting her!”

“Look, son… that woman can get a job…but she doesn’t.  She could earn her own money. But she’d rather beg for change than work. She’s lazy, just look at her. Disgusting. She obviously doesn’t take responsibility seriously.”

Michael started to cry. Twin-rivers flowed from both eyes.  His father would have none of that “baby stuff.” He removed a handkerchief from his jacket pocket. “Here, dry your face.  Big boys don’t cry, buddy.”

 “I—am—sorry. I just don’t understand why someone doesn’t give her a job.”

“Because she doesn’t want one. Besides, people like her do not make good employees. Once someone hits bottom like that it is over. She’ll never be good at anything again, nothing.”

“Um, can we go?”

 “Sure, grab your jacket.”

On the way out, the woman stood waving her arms in the air. Once they were outside they both understood.

“They took my money! Those guys, you seen ‘em!  They –um, took my money. And beat me up, too! What animals!”

Blood dripped down the women’s face. The woman sat on the sidewalk and bawled. Michael broke free and ran up to the young woman…then hugged her tightly and kissed her on the forehead.

“Thank you,” she said.

 The boy reached in to his pocket and removed all he had.  He gave it to the woman: $1.80.  Young Michael hugged the beggar once more before walking back to his stern-faced father.

He awoke, sweaty and wide awake. Could it be that I will do it? Of course he would, for his mind was already made up. Nothing could change it now. No stopping this madness.

 “I must do it!”

 Michael glanced at the clock on his dresser: 4:30a.m. He expected it to read 5:32. He got out of bed and went to go take a shower. It felt good not having to share a bathroom. He glanced around. Life was sure strange. He stopped at the bathroom door. Could he really do it? He smiled, already knowing the answer. No. Yes. Maybe. After he took a shower, he ate a hardy breakfast: an egg-white omelet with Italian deli-meats, cheese, and peppers. Along with a cup of tea to wash it down.

He thought for a moment about Narrissa and her children, and he wondered what, if anything, they were eating. He got dressed in a brand new tailored Armani suit. He looked good, even respectable. Considering there was a wild beast being concealed inside, it was kind of amusing. He checked the time:  ten past six. Time to go.

The BMW pulled over and parked in the space before the bus stop. He arrived early by ten minutes.   He waited in the car listening to music.  Tupac’s “Dear Mama” came through the Bose speakers.  Time moved at the pace of an ant stuck in the slime of a snail.  Michael could hardly believe he was about to do it.  He became fully aware of his plan.   He reached under his seat and removed a loaded handgun.  A blacked-out .40 cal.  Smith and Wesson.  He checked the chamber—making sure one was already loaded.  He then tucked it into his waistband in the back.

The door to the tenement opened.  He watched Narrissa and her children cross to the bus stop.  He took a deep breath, gaining the courage to do what he planned, before opening the door.

“Hey, look, it’s Michael,” Tommy said running up to him.  “Nice car!”

Narrissa glanced in his direction.  “Wow, you clean up nice.  Great suit.”

“Thanks, I came to say goodbye.”

“Why, where you goin?”

“Nowhere.  At least I’m not leaving Boston.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’m not leaving, you are.”

“What?  I don’t—”

Michael reached into his suit jacket. He paused then exhaled, before pulling out…a large envelope.  “This is for you.  I decided that you and your family deserve it more than I do.”

“What is it?” she said, holding the envelope in her left-hand.

Tommy ran over to his mother.  “Can I open it?”

Michael went to stop him but it was too late.

  Tommy tore it open and removed its contents.  “It’s just a Powerball ticket.  Who cares?”

He handed it back to his mother.

  Narrissa studied the ticket.  The numbers were familiar, but she knew they weren’t last night’s.  No one in Mass won.  She looked at the date on the ticket—and it all became clear as vodka.  The unclaimed winning ticket.

“It can’t be…is it?”

Michael nodded.  “What do you think?”

 “I can’t take this…it’s too—”

 “Stop.  It’s a gift from me to you and your children, Tommy especially.”

“Now I really don’t get it,” Tommy said, a bit confused.

“Baby, it’s the big winner from six weeks ago.”

“The 500 million dollar one?  No, it ain’t,” he said doubtful, before looking at Michael, “is it?”

 “It is.  That piece of paper is worth, because I took the lump sum, about 200 million dollars.  But you don’t care about that, it’s just a Powerball ticket.”

Tommy stood there for a moment processing what he was told.  “And you just gave it to us?”

 Michael nodded.

Tommy began to jump up and down. The younger children joined in and began to scream, “We’re rich!  We’re rich!”

 “Hold on a second, Tommy stop!  Stop it!  I’m sorry but we can’t accept this… it’s yours.”

Michael straightened out his suit jacket and pointed to the BMW.  “I’ve got plenty.  I made out okay, too.  Unlike me, you’re a responsible person.  I see how much to try to provide for your children.  I was never there for mine.  You do the best that you can and it shows.  Your kids are great, they really are.”

Narrissa stared at the ticket.  There was a moment of silence.  She was afraid.  Michael could see it in her eyes; life sometimes handed us the unexpected.  And Narrissa didn’t know how to respond.  Who would?  Most people wouldn’t give away a thousand dollars, never mind hundreds of millions.  Skepticism was her only recourse. It was totally understandable.

“Why us?”

“You just said it, us.  Narrissa, you don’t do a thing without including your children, which is a good enough reason by itself.”

“Okay, but what’s in it for you?”

 “Satisfaction that someone who deserves it will benefit from it.  Believe me, it wasn’t easy.  It’s a lot to give up, but I played several variations of the same number…it’s not all I won.”

“But why?”

“Because I don’t deserve it.  They do!” He nodded to the children and pulled out another envelope.  This one legal sized.  “Here, she will be your guide.  Her firm will handle everything.  She opened the envelope and read the business card.

Narrissa laughed.  “Crystal Glass, it sounds—”

 “Made up.”

“Yeah.”

Narrissa became lost for words.  She didn’t know what to do or say. Nothing seemed appropriate. The children, however, led by Tommy knew—they ran to Michael and gave him a great, long group hug.

“Thanks, big guy, Tommy said.  “See, you are a good person.”

“No Tommy, I’m not, even bad people do good things sometimes.  And this is just one of those times, that’s all.  Michael became overwhelmed with emotion. Feeling emotion like this was difficult for him to deal with. He believed it made him soft.  Or maybe what he was afraid of was something else entirely.  He hugged the children back.  Narrissa joined them.  He missed his son; he should go to the cemetery to visit him.“Alright, I gotta go,” he said.  “Now listen, you have an appointment with Crystal this morning at 9:30.”

“But I got wor—” she broke off, laughing.

“And now you know the real reason why,” Michael said, smiling.  “I gotta go.”  Without another word, he turned and walked back to his car and got inside.  He watched for a moment.  They looked happy.  He hoped that he didn’t ruin their lives.  He had seen a few reports on how lottery winners end up worse off than they were before.  And deep down inside, Michael knew that he would have—and still might—become another statistic.  Hell, he should be used to it by now.

 A knock on the window brought him out of his thought.  Tommy stood beyond the glass staring at him.  Michael lowered the window.

 “What’s up kid?”

“I’m not gonna be able to hang out with you anymore, am I?”

“Probably not—

“Oh, that sucks!”

 –unless, you call me.  If it’s okay with your mother, then it’s okay with me.”

“So we’re still on for the movies on Friday, right?”

Michael had forgotten he promised to take Tommy to the movies.  But it brightened his dark heart that the kid remembered enough to bring it up.

“Yeah, lil man, sure,” Michael said, “look, um, I gotta go, Tommy.”

 “Alright.”

Tommy went back to his family.  He had never seen his family so happy.  He watched, as Michael pulled off and continued watching the BMW until it turned at the end of the street.  It occurred to Tommy, at that moment, that if he didn’t call Michael that he’d never see him again.  “Hey, Ma…I need a cell phone.”  He already knew the number.