Beating The Odds

SHORT STORY by Joseph Scott Kierland

To a kid in the Bronx they were just small folded sheets of paper with exotic names on them like Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC, Clemson, and Nebraska. Next to each one was a number you could circle and bet. Check out the point spread. Pick a minimum of three. Circle your choices. Then give it to the kid who'd run it back to the guy over the dress store before the football games started. Pick four the odds grew more, pick five they were alive, eight you believed in fate, and if you did ten...forget about it.

Blind Charlie always did ten. Every week the kid collected the blind man's one hundred dollar bill and he'd just laugh and lose. "You gotta take your chances," he'd say. Then he'd rub the kid's head for good luck and mumble into his ear, "Life ain't worth shit if you don't take chances, kid. Know what I'm saying?"

The kid nodded like he understood what the blind man was telling him. Then one day, on his way back to the dress store, he began to think about it. All his customers were taking chances. Sometimes they hit. Most times they didn't.

Only the kid knew Blind Charlie was blowing a hundred a week on the football pool. That was inside info. Secret stuff. The kid had come up with his own hook. All he had to do was stop handing Charlie's bet to the guy in the dress store, slip the hundred dollar bill into his pocket, and rip up the sheet with the ten circles on it.

The kid's inside info worked fine until one Saturday morning when all those distant places with strange names and numbered circles fell into place on Blind Charlie's sheet. By the time the West Coast games were over the whole neighborhood knew he'd hit that football pool for a cool ten grand. A cheering crowd waited for him in front of the dress store. He presented his winning receipt but the guy took him aside and told him he'd never got his bet. Charlie could always figure things fast. He nodded at the guy, took the congratulations from the cheering crowd, and didn't mention it again.

The kid had hurt Blind Charlie and the next day he went looking for him in the school yard. The handballs, softballs, and dice suddenly stopped rolling when he walked up the the blind man and touched him on the arm.

"It's me, Charlie," he said.

The blind man turned toward him in the silent yard. "You owe me ten grand, kid," he said.

"I know," the kid said, pulling out some sweaty bills from his pocket and shoving them into Blind Charlie's hand.

"What the hell's this?" the blind man asked, fingering the small pile of money.

"Those are your bets," the kid said. "Seven hundred dollars. I'll owe ya the rest."

"Yeah, sure you will," the blind man said taking the kid in his arms. "You gotta take your chance or life ain't worth shit," he said, and the handballs, softballs, and dice started rolling again.