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Handed, On A Gold Plate
About the Author: Robert Mangeot’s more than two dozen published short stories appear here and there, including ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, THE FORGE LITERARY MAGAZINE, LOWESTOFT CHRONICLE, MYSTERY WEEKLY MAGAZINE, MWA’s ICE COLD, THE ODDVILLE PRESS, and the Anthony-winning MURDER UNDER THE OAKS. When not writing, he is talking about writing at workshops or serves as the current Vice President for the Southeast chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

It’s after nine already, and Wade still doesn’t know what to do with his hands. These are the pre-broadcast procedures, a short hour yet before tonight’s Tri-State Gold Plate lotto draw hits air. He’s watched his audit firm’s other staffers do the evening pick fours, and everybody holds their arms down like fool robots. Wade is finally here, finally seizing his shot at the Lottery’s riverfront studio and his first Gold Plate he’s to certify from stage left. He’ll be onscreen at the intro zoom-in. A flash tops. Wade aims to nail it.

The studio is tiny, black curtains and carpet, smaller than the soundstage Wade imagined. It has plain walls and a bare floor. Small, but the drawing platform waits like an island of satin and glitz in the low dark. Left of it is where he’ll stand and in no time become a commanding figure in auditor lore.

Wade has practiced belt-buckling his hands at the sternum, how TED Talk people do. Here against that glittering stage, the clamped hands feel too closed-off, like he’s protecting a wound. He could fold his arms for the intro. Casual. Confident. Or too brash, probably.

Lotto Jack the Gaming VP goes hard on fresh-meat auditors, Wade has heard. Refuses to have most back for one screw-up or another, but most haven’t gone all-in on an English label suit and tie combo for executive suave. None have grown so potent a mustache as Wade. That’s how money and widely-viewed the pick fours are, that each Gold Plate requires expert independent presence, that the rent-a-cop outside confiscates phones and electronics, that a headquarters man like Jack supervises the ten o’clock draws personally. Lotto Jack growls while studying Wade’s firm ID and driver’s license. A camera guy but with a fancy Specialist title shoves forms and a perma-scowl at Wade.

Lotto Jack and Mr. Specialist open the security cage, a matching key each, and everyone scans the machines for damage or foul play evidence. It’s all good. Mr. Specialist’s random number generator selects which blower machine they’ll use. Air-mix blowers, that’s the lingo. Wade offers to help roll it to the platform, get that important feel for the situation there. “Don’t scratch my tech,” Lotto Jack says. “Frigging newbies.”

“Worthless,” Mr. Specialist says.

Next, the procedures have everyone sign the cage maintenance log, Wade too. Okay, this isn’t a television gig exactly. It’s Internet live stream. It’s where a star auditor ride gets launched intro flash by intro flash if the auditor is poised enough, debonair enough, the public assured enough. Between the genuine wool suit plus tailoring and premium grooming supplies, he’s in debt so deep that the credit card people are sending urgent notices. It won’t matter when he’s banking star coin.

Lotto Jack assesses the ball case seals for tampering. By rules, the Lottery keeps three cases in this steel-type locker, and Mr. Specialist’s number generator selects whichever is Case Two. It’s the size of a spy movie briefcase, with a shell made of space age materials and clasps that Lotto Jack flips open with a double snap. Epic is what it is.

A rainbow of ping pong balls sit ready. The maintenance log confirms this case had a periodic once-over that very afternoon, but Lotto Jack runs through his traps anyhow. He counts each ball in sequential order, makes Wade mark that a full set is present. “Hey,” Wade says, “what’s your viewer feedback on the auditors? Should I hold square to the camera or lean a shoulder sideways or something?”

Lotto Jack doesn’t answer that. He slips on clean room gloves and plucks out the six. More procedures, Jack validating a four-ball sample to within legal tolerance. Rubs each sample ball like major league pitchers do, weighs each, grumbles out a standard eighty grams. Wade pens that in on his drawing form.

Test one. Jack steps behind his computer stand like it’s mission control and gets whooshed air tossing the balls inside the bubble. A sideways lean, Wade’s thinking, that sideways lean toward the platform might be his star move. Engaged and assertive. Rebel.

Lotto Jack barks at Mr. Specialist to find Robyn. Robyn, she’s the off-camera voice talent who greets the Tri-State Gold Plate audience nightly and reads each winning number with honey-perfect diction. This is it. The Gold Plate.

This story appears in our NOV 2020 Issue
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Reader Discussion

A fun fast tongue twisting read to the end.
By Tom Michniuk

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