Rollover night, the nation glued to the box for the Oz Lotto draw.
Jocelyn, self-appointed syndicate boss, poured a large Chardonnay, the ‘Chateau Cardboard’ kept in the pantry for everyday use. She preferred wine from the cask, she claimed, it was more convenient, living alone.
Pen poised to note the numbers – though she knew hers by heart – she crossed her fingers and made a wish. Number seven: there’s one, a little sip and a smear of crimson lipstick on the rim of the glass. Number eleven: there’s two, another sip, another smear. Thirteen: how she’s enjoying this. Three drawn and she has them all. Twenty Four: big gulp. Nine: bugger! Another mouthful. Twenty eight: Yes, how good is this? Five from six now. Eighteen: fantastic, got that too. The first bonus number is Fourteen: incredible, her lucky number.
Six from seven plus a supplementary. Not a jackpot, but damn close!
Don’t panic Joss, take a drink. Steady your nerves. Shit, have I finished the first one already? What to do. Don’t panic. Shall I ring the others? No, I’ll ring Godfrey!
Tina Vanderbilt, office dogsbody, crouched naked on the bed of a cheap motel as the draw was made. She forgot about Lotto. Nothing mattered except the swarthy Italian who parted her thighs. Her lover, a bricklayer called Mario, had invited her to spend a few days at a ‘love-shack’ on the Central Coast. Her reward was five nights at The Pink Flamingo in Umina – a festival of fornication with screams accompanying every climax and a welcome cigarette in the recovery phase. Awesome, she said. She had Mario’s name tattooed on her left buttock.
Tina had sneaked a sickie to bed her Lothario, feigned a stomach bug. But The Bitch was suspicious. Joss, the poisonous PA, would tell the boss and he’d summon Tina for a final-final warning. So what, it was worth it. Mario was a stallion.
Godfrey Gottlieb, principal accountant and barroom orator, held court in The Royal, as he did most nights. Shorter than most, Godfrey grew in an instant when perched on a barstool – a small man with a big attitude. He told a yarn about a client who fiddled the taxman and everyone guessed his identity before he got to the punch-line. Like most of Godfrey’s stories it saw him giving sound professional advice that was ignored by a foolish client, or it involved a foolish client taking Godfrey’s sound professional advice and making a killing. There were minor variations but the message seldom varied: Godfrey-smart, client-stupid. Godfrey liked an audience almost as much as he liked a drink. At The Royal he had both.
How the locals loved Godfrey. His advice was free and you could get as much as you wanted. He was the entertainment!
A look of self-importance crossed his face as his mobile rang. “No peace for the wicked,” he announced. “Can’t a bloke have a quiet drink at the end of a working day?”
A frown appeared when he saw the name and he cut Jocelyn’s call. How many times must he tell her never to ring when there was a possibility his wife could be around?
“So, as I was saying, this client, right . . .”
Melanie McGuire, the fourth member of the Gottlieb syndicate, was the accountant who did most of Godfrey’s work and made him look competent. The achievements he boasted of were her doing. He didn’t pay her well enough, and she knew it. She longed for the day when her kids left school and she could tell Godfrey where to shove his job.
As the draw was made Mel was chiding her daughters for neglecting their homework. Being a single-parent was hard. How she welcomed the glass of Shiraz that was her nightly reward after the kids had gone to bed.
She hadn’t a clue about the result of the Lotto draw. What was the point of finding out? First thing tomorrow morning Jocelyn would give everybody a ball by ball account, whether they wanted it or not.
But Melanie did know what she’d do if she won a heap of money. It involved her boss and a rude gesture.
The office of G. Gottlieb & Co. was alive with smiling faces as Jocelyn delivered the news.
“We haven’t won the jackpot,” she said, trying to pour cold water on the wild speculation that was being tossed about. “But we’re in with a big shout of a decent dividend.”
“Only one way to find out,” Mel said, pushing Joss toward the door, “Take the registration card and our ticket down to the newsagent and confirm it’s a winner.”
“I will, I will,” Joss said, unable to contain her delight, “but before I go, I must have a word with Godfrey – in private!”
The last two words, like a factory siren, brought smiles to workers’ faces. Godfrey could imagine their gossip when his door was shut.
“If you must,” he muttered, retreating to his goldfish-bowl and sucking the atmosphere from the room. Jocelyn closed the door, a glance directed at the smirking onlookers, a warning shot.
“Joss,” he said. “Do you have to chuck grist into the rumour mill?”
She narrowed her eyes. Teacher was cross.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “But you know how people talk.”
“You didn’t return my call,” she said.
“No,” he said, “Gabrielle and the kids, it’s difficult sometimes.”
“Godfrey,” she said, cutting to the chase. “It’s Tina.”
“What about Tina?”
“She’s recently joined the syndicate – how Melanie talked me into it, I can’t for the life of me – well, never mind. Tina didn’t pay her Lotto money this week. She’s on sick leave with some shonky illness so she can screw her randy Italian boyfriend. If we win anything – is she in or out?”
“Out,” he said, and the look on his face said there was no need to get a second opinion.
“Sure?” She asked him anyway.
“Abso-bloody-lutely.” For a second Godfrey saw himself in The Royal.
“Thank you,” Jocelyn said, and patted him on the shoulder like she might congratulate a pet pupil.
She couldn’t wipe the smirk from her face as she left the room.
Jocelyn was right. Not a jackpot, but half a million dollars can get you close to an orgasm. It divvied up at almost a hundred and sixty-six grand each – a mere one hundred and twenty-five if you’d split it four ways.
The presentation took place at G. Gottlieb & Co. and next day it took front page in the local rag. Godfrey was the star and the public might be excused for thinking he’d been born giving interviews. The cameras loved him, the scribes, the radio hacks. It felt like holding court in The Royal, but with a bigger audience.
“It won’t change anything,” he announced. “My staff love working for G. Gottlieb & Co. It will be business as usual for all of us on Monday morning.”
Tina, frazzled from her sex marathon, was ropeable on Saturday arvo when her dad revealed the front page with a picture of Godfrey Gottlieb grinning like a mayor at a free buffet. Melanie and Jocelyn were either side, Mel a good head taller, Joss towering above him. Godfrey’s eyes fixed on Joss’s boobs.
“No wonder he’s bloody grinning,” Tina’s dad said. “Champagne,” he added in disbelief, “They’re sipping champagne! Where did you say you were again, Tina?”
“I’d no idea if you were in the syndicate or not.” Mel said apologetically when Tina, face like a hatchet, stormed into the office on Monday morning. “I remember you joining because I had the devil’s job persuading Miss Bossy-Knickers. But she complained you never paid on time, so I assumed you’d dropped out.”
“Pig’s arse!” Tina said. “Last time, I paid the whole month in one hit. True, I didn’t give Her Ladyship this month’s money, but I was off sick.”
Mel rolled her eyes and Tina acknowledged it with a knowing smile. “Even so, Mel,” she said, “you’d expect The Bitch to put-in for me if I was away from work, wouldn’t you? She knows very well I’ll pay her back.”
“Well, I can tell you this much,” Melanie said. “She puts-in for Godfrey if he forgets. Know why?”
“Because he puts-in for her, know what I mean? Nudge, nudge – wink, wink.”
“What do you think I should do, Mel?”
“You’ve got to shirtfront Godfrey. Tell him you must be included when the money’s divvied up.”
“Godfrey says no.” Tina had just left the boss’s office. She was a great mimic.
“What?” Melanie asked, disbelieving.
“Says he doesn’t think I was sick, and anyway, even if I was, I didn’t pay on time. Not in it, can’t win it,” she mocked his voice again.
“Well he’s a nerve,” Mel said. “I know for a fact Joss put-in for him when he forgot. I was there when she phoned him.”
“Well, she didn’t phone me.”
“Maybe it’s because you haven’t got a cock and balls and you’re not her boss? Just a thought!”
Tina snorted. “Yeah, I know he’s rooting her. But how do I prove it?”
Mel gazed at the ceiling, biting her tongue.
“Have you got the dirt on him?” Tina quizzed, with more than a grain of hope in the question.
“As a matter of fact, I have,” Mel said, hands on hips, cocky.
“What!” Tina couldn’t believe her ears. “Tell me, tell me quick.”
“I shall deny I ever told you this, Tina, but I’ve got the goods on the little fat man and his PA with the big boobies.”
“Are you having a lend of me?”
“No. I’m not.”
“Well, tell me about it, for Christ’s sake, Melaneeeee….”
“Well,” she began, “you know how Godfrey’s not crash-hot with computers and I-Phones , right?”
. “Yeah,” she said, her hands clasped in prayer.
“Well, a few weeks ago he asked me to sort something on his mobile phone. I took it into my office and had a little play, fixed the problem. I know I shouldn’t have done it, Tina, but I sneaked a look at his pictures.” She rubbed her palms like a magician about to produce an ace from up her sleeve – and then she did!
“There were heaps of Godfrey and Joss together. I won’t go into detail, Tina, I’ll leave that to your dirty mind, but I’ll just say I stopped calling him ‘the big boss’ after I saw him undressed. And I’ll tell you this much, Joss is no natural blonde either.”
“Oooooo.” Tina’s leg jigged so fast she looked like she was doing a tap dance. “How do I get his mobile?” Then she crashed. “Oh, but he’ll have deleted them by now.”
“Well,” Mel said, folding her arms. “It shames me to admit this, Tina, but one of the pictures accidentally found its way onto my mobile. For safekeeping, you understand?” She grinned. “Godfrey didn’t notice, and it was weeks ago.”
The ringing of the telephone interrupted them and Melanie turned to answer the call. The five minutes she was busy were the longest of Tina’s life.
“Melanie, come in please.” In his mind Godfrey was being big boss, hands clasped, beaming like he was about to hand out a Nobel Prize.
“I have something for you,” he said, holding out a pink envelope, her name written on the front in large capital letters.
Melanie sat down without being invited and took the envelope from him. She didn’t smile.
“It’s your share of the Lottery prize,” he said. “It’s a cheque for one hundred and sixty-six thousand dollars.”
“Thank you,” she said without enthusiasm, “but for the record, I must tell you that I think Tina should be included.”
“Stop!” Godfrey raised his hands. “Don’t go there. I’ve had it up to here.” He raised the back of his hand up to his chin. “You know my decision.” He breathed slowly and might have been counting under his breath.
“I’m told she’s made an appointment to see a lawyer?” Mel said.
“Bullshit,” Godfrey said, waving his hand to close rthe discussion.
“You’ll be sorry,” Mel sang.
It was disrespectful, he thought. “And there was I,” he said, “innocently assuming you’d be pleased to get your hands on the cheque.”
“Oh, I am,” she said. “I’m so delighted I’ve brought something for you.”
Godfrey’s mood brightened. He grinned as if posing for the front page.
“My resignation,” Mel said, and slammed it down hard on the desk.
“Mel, come back. How can you do this? You know I depend on you.” They were the last words she heard as she marched from Godfrey’s office.
And then she turned and delivered the gesture she’d long dreamed about.
Nothing could have prepared Gabrielle Gottlieb for the shock of seeing her husband coupling with his busty PA. He, short and paunchy like a dwarf on steroids, she with jellied flesh: a porn-star in a school uniform with stockings and suspenders. It was ugly!
Gabrielle saw it once and couldn’t bring herself to look again. She ran to the bathroom and spewed into the bowl.
“Godfrey, don’t leave this house until I’m back,” she said over breakfast. “We have something to discuss when I’ve taken the girls to school.” There was a fierce look in her eyes and a tone of voice he didn’t recognise.
“Somebody sent this,” she said as she thundered back into the kitchen. “One of your staff, I presume.” She slammed the phone down hard on the table.
Godfrey felt like someone had ripped open his guts, his organs spilling onto the floor and landing with a squelch at his feet. He stood there gaping at the photo, his mouth moving but no words coming out. He read the caption – ‘Not in it, Can’t win it?’
“I’d better . . . explain,” he stammered eventually.
“Unnecessary,” Gabrielle said. “You’ll pack your things and leave this house before the girls come home from school. Understood?”
He nodded and there were tears in the corners of his piggy eyes. It had taken forty-seven years for Godfrey Gottlieb to experience the feeling of shame.
He would never forget the look of disgust on Gabrielle’s face.
“You’re fired!” Godfrey stormed into the office. “Get out, out, out.” He shooed Tina to the door like a pet that had peed on the carpet. “Collect your things and go.”
“Godfrey, are you crazy. What’s this about?”
“You know what this is about,” he screamed. “Sending pictures to my wife. Don’t think I don’t know you’re behind this, Tina.” He pushed her through the door and tossed out her handbag. “Don’t come back,” he said with a flourish, before heading for Joss’s office.
“Gabby booted me out this morning,” he moaned. “Tina pinched my mobile and found our pictures. She sent one to Gabby’s phone.”
“Godfrey Gottlieb,” Jocelyn exclaimed, her mouth opening in shock. “You swore you’d deleted them!”
“I, I must have missed one,” he said.
He would have got the glare then but she sensed it wasn’t the right time.
“What can I do?” he wailed.
To Jocelyn, the question came dressed as a miracle. The skies parted and a choir of heavenly angels sang Hallelujah. Her heart beat faster and her spirits soared. She approached Godfrey and smoothed his hair, oblivious to what the onlookers might think.
“You can move in with me,” she said in a husky voice, caressing the words.
“That would never work,” he said, shaking his head. He said it too quickly, with his eyes shut and his face scrunched like he found the idea distasteful.
Jocelyn sprang to her feet and ran from the office. It was the first time anyone at G. Gottlieb & Co. had seen her cry.
Godfrey slept in his office that night, but not well. The big leather armchair, seat of sordid sex and source of dubious decision-making, had found another function. He squirmed his way through the night, listening to the ticking of the clock and watching the hours go by. He checked his phone every few minutes, longing for a ‘come home’ call that never came.
Around four his phone rang and he jolted awake, hoping.
“Yes, who’s this?”
“This is the Prince Albert Hospital. I’m ringing to advise you about your wife.”
“No, no. Jocelyn. She was admitted earlier and has asked us to contact you. She’s not your wife?”
“No. Jocelyn’s my . . . I’m her . . . her boss.”
“She wants you to collect her.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Jocelyn took an overdose of barbiturates mixed with alcohol but fortunately her condition is no longer serious.”
“But . . . can’t she take a taxi?”
“Mr Gottlieb. Jocelyn needs support right now.”
“I’ll come, but only to sort out this mess. Do you understand?”
“There you go, Sam.” The licensee of The Royal Hotel placed a schooner of ale on a gleaming copper tray in front of his customer. “Godfrey’s late tonight.” He said.
“Signing autographs probably,” Sam said, smacking his lips.
“Got to give it to him, he handled those interviews really well.”
“He did too; so matter of fact. What a bloke he is, Godfrey, witty, clever. The money won’t change him.”
“Not a chance. He’s got the lot, Godfrey Gottlieb, successful accountancy business, loyal staff.”
“Nice kids, supportive wife.”
“Just another day at the office.”
“Like he said on TV, it’s business as usual at G. Gottlieb & Co.”
“Yeah, my oath he is.”
By Mike Woodhouse from Australia