Johnny loved to play the penny slots. The only problem: he never seemed to have enough pennies. In fact, he’d just reached the bottom of a cup, and all he had done was feed the machine.
“Shit,” he said. Back home now. Scrub Ma’s back, fix them dinner, watch some TV, go to bed, work another shift at the convenience store tomorrow, and then back here. Where he’d waste a few more dollars.
The woman at the slot next to him looked away for a minute. On impulse, he swiped a penny from her cup. He didn’t wanna go home yet. One more, right? And it’s not like she’d ever noti–
“Weren’t you out?”
She was looking at him kinda funny. He faked a smile.
“One in my pocket. Luck.”
She nodded thoughtfully, then went back to playing. He stuck the penny in the slot, and pushed the button.
“Wait,” he heard. Grimacing inwardly, he turned. She was looking at him again.
“If it’s your lucky penny, then shouldn’t you–”
Her words were cut off by flashing lights and flowing coins. Johnny’s head spun toward the machine. He’d won.
He’d won. For the first time ever.
“Or,” the woman ventured, “maybe you should have tried that one first.”
Grinning like a madman, he turned and began to feed another coin into the slot.
“If I was you, I’d quit while I was ahead,” the woman said. Johnny ignored her, and pressed on. One empty cup later, he wished he had listened. He thanked his lucky stars that the woman wasn’t there so she could say–
“Told ya so.”
And there she was, right behind him, watching. “Well, who asked you?” he fumed, and stormed out. The evening was just as miserable as he had thought. Actually, more so, as he counted the money he had lost in his head, over and over again.
He continued to play the penny slots every day. He continued to lose. Then one day, down to his last few cents and on impulse, he swiped another penny from a player next to him.
And he won again. This time, he held onto everything.
“So,” Johnny said to himself as he left the casino, “I steal twice, I win twice. There’s gotta be a pattern here.”
He tested it the next day, with some change he had stolen from his mother’s purse. Pennies, nickels, quarters. Every single one a winner. He carefully fed a few coins back into each machine so the owners wouldn’t get too suspicious. He didn’t win on those. The pattern held.
Neither, when he replaced the money he had stolen from Ma, did he win on any other stolen coins. Until he stole the same amount back. Then he started to win again.
Okay, Johnny thought. So I won’t give back anymore.
He started to vary casinos. He won everywhere he played, as long as the coin was stolen. Every day, Johnny would swipe a few cents from somebody’s purse. Every day, he would take home his winnings and add it to the hoard he was building. Hundreds of dollars a day came in on someone else’s small investment, all of it his money. He carefully banked it. Soon, he could afford to quit his job and play full time. Then he’d really start to win…
But one day, management met him at the door of his favorite casino. Management’s name was Mr. Kraft, and management did not look pleased to see him.
“Sorry, buddy,” Mr. Kraft said. “No more for you.”
“What?” Johnny couldn’t believe it. Or rather, he could…he’d heard things like this happened. It was just that they never happened to him. They never could before.
“You win too much,” Mr. Kraft said. “House rules.”
“Man, I’ll call the Gaming Commission on you!” Johnny said. “Let’s see what they have to say.”
“Go right ahead, Mr. Latieri. We’ll be happy to make our case too?”
“Case for what?”
Johnny was ushered into the building, and taken to a very exclusive office high above the pits, where he watched in disbelief as Mr. Kraft played clip after clip of him stealing from other patrons. “You know you’ve stolen enough by now,” said Mr. Kraft, “to get hit with a felony. And that’s just here. Who knows how much else you’ve taken?”
“Hey, look, man,” Johnny mumbled. “I don’t want trouble.”
“Neither do we,” said Mr. Kraft.
And that was that.
So Johnny didn’t quit his job. He didn’t escape his life. He tried other casinos, but found out he was blackballed at all of them. Soon he couldn’t take it anymore. He used some of the money to buy a disguise, and snuck back in, and started playing the slots.
Kraft caught him in five minutes, and took him to the basement.
“People know where I am,” Johnny said as they walked down the hall, trying to sound threatening.
“Oh, yes, you’re tough, Mr. Latieri. The quavering voice really helps sell your image. Listen…we gave you your chance to leave, scot-free. Now it’s up to you what we do next.”
“What do you mean?”
Mr. Kraft opened a door. Behind it was a gigantic slot machine.
“Take one of your coins. Put it in the slot. Play. If you lose, I call the police. If you win, you can play here as much as you like from now on.”
“What’s the catch?” Johnny said.
“No catch. That’s the deal. On the other hand, I can always call the police right now if you’d like.”
Johnny walked up to the machine. Put a coin in. Pressed the button.
The machine came up all cherries.
“I win! I win!” Johnny shouted.
Then he was crushed by three tons of pennies.
Let me know what you think of the story. If you like it, please feel free to forward the link to your friends! If it wasn’t to your taste, better luck tomorrow — a new piece of short fiction goes up every day.