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**CURRENT PRINT: 318: Installment 25 features "318," by Birmingham's Nadria Tucker, the story of a stripper's daughter in prep for a beauty pageant and so much more. Also: "Big Doug Rides Torch," a short from Chicago's Jonathan Messinger's new Hiding Out collection.
CONDOTOWN Robert Duffer
SLIP Charles Blackstone

Richard Egan

Egan's THE2NDHAND debut, here. The ultimate bet on the lottery. Egan lives and writes in Canada.

Tomorrow. Noon. Twenty-two hours away.

Proliferation of pious opulence would soon be my primary function in this world.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

I was perusing a luxury speedboat catalogue in the teacher's lounge, desperately trying to enjoy my day-old bagel and tepid latte, when Mike walked in. His tie was uneven. His shoes didn't quite match for some reason. I hated my life.

"Got your ticket yet?" he inquired.

"I've got a few," I replied.

"Big money. Yup. Big money this week."

"I'm aware."

"Did you see the game last night?"

"What game?"

"Oh, I was hoping you knew... Well, off to the shop. One of my kids lost a finger today, y'know. Nasty business. Nasty."

"Thanks for stopping by."

I hated my life.

My last class of the day was scheduled to take place in three minutes and I had prepared absolutely nothing for it. Luckily, a specialty cable television channel had produced a less-than-horrible biomentary on T.S. Eliot at some point in the early 1990s, so I was able to examine several European sports-car brochures as the semi-competent philistines assigned to me by the city this semester stared blankly at a television screen and unsubtly counted the seconds and minutes that were to impede their collective escape from this government-sanctioned suffocation cell.

I was unable to think of anything but the grandiose frivolity that my life would soon embody. Pornographic fantasies raced through my mind, slowing down only to enjoy capriciously scenic views fraught with a detached elegance that could only be described as mega-orgasmic.

The school day mercifully came to an end at exactly 3:30PM EST. I was in my car and on the freeway before an armada of dreadfully iconic yellow buses evacuated the parking lot. My recently purchased Tears for Fears Greatest Hits CD blared through the speakers which came with the modest sound system currently installed in my modest automobile as I drove home at speeds approaching Mach 12.

Dinner that evening was comprised of a single course: peanut butter pizza. This was a delicious concoction I had stumbled upon years ago, when I was still in college, and was largely responsible for my current 46-inch waistline.

I managed to amuse myself for a few hours by surfing the Internet, looking up, amongst other things, exotic islands that were currently up for sale, the lavish trinkets available for purchase at upcoming auctions at Sotheby's, and profiles of mail-order brides from the former Soviet Union. This eventually grew tiresome and I retired to my bedroom in pursuit of nocturnal slumber.

Unable to cope with the merciless anxiety building within me, I decided to take a sleeping pill in order to get through the night. It worked -- until my telephone rang at 2:47AM, violently rousing me from a beautiful, dream-free unconsciousness.

It was my ex-wife. She was drunk.

"You never call me anymore," she whined, slurring at least three of these five words.

"Carol, it's the middle of the goddamn night. Call your sponsor."

"She's in Hawaii... or Maui... or something... I miss you."

We had divorced eight months earlier after it was revealed during a taping of The Marshall Wilkins Show that I was, in fact, not her baby's daddy. That honor went to our 17-year old paperboy, who proceeded to do some kind of worm-like break dancing maneuver on stage upon hearing the results of our DNA tests, which were read aloud by Marshall Wilkins himself. While ostensibly an utterly traumatic affair, I did receive a complimentary tote bag in addition to an all-expenses-paid round trip to Chicago as a reward for my extravagant embarrassment, so I suppose I shouldn't complain too egregiously.

"Go to hell. You're not getting any of my winnings tomorrow either -- I already checked with Donald."

"Donald Duck?"

"No, my lawyer, you stupid whore. Good night."

I hung up.

The paperboy that had impregnated Carol, whose name escapes me at the moment (I say, but I lie), was killed in a car crash a month after he humiliated me on the aforementioned talk show. I made several hundred photocopies of his obituary, which were now stacked in a well-manicured pile atop my nightstand. I used a fresh copy each night to wipe my ample stomach clean after masturbating. Marshall Wilkins' booking agent wanted to do a follow-up on the story, but I respectfully declined. Carol's baby was in a foster home last I heard.

As I was now wide awake, disingenuous angst resonating throughout my precarious psyche, I decided to fetch myself a nightcap for good measure.

A cocktail comprised of Royal Crown Cola and Crown Royal Whiskey was hastily assembled. I added a splash of lime for cinematic effect. Beverage in hand, I inexplicably wandered into my home office, which was located in the southern wing of the decade-old bungalow I had inhabited for the past thirty months.

My unfinished novel, which had gone through dozens of working titles, sat atop an antique pine desk that had been a wedding gift from a distant cousin of mine who now lived in solitary confinement at Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario.

The plot to this literary monstrosity was idiotic in hindsight, but it had taken me 1,246 pages to realize. Eight summers were spent manufacturing this wretched pile of incoherence, and here it sat, mocking me with an indeterminate smugness that made me yearn for a dramatically lower IQ, so as to appreciate it at least on an ironic level.

The last line I had written seven seasons earlier floated off the page and proceeded to dance around the room like a middle-aged ballerina on ecstasy.

This robot was not my friend; he was simply an ally in this war against the overlords.

I vigorously rubbed my eyes, trying to wipe the ghastly scene from my periphery. When I looked again, it appeared as if I had succeeded and all that could be seen littered throughout my vapid workspace were the countless volumes of Barely Illegal magazine that I had been collecting lately. For. The. Articles.

It was now 4AM. The draw was in eight hours.

I showered for 26 minutes, got dressed, and drove to work -- only a few hours early. The tickets were in my briefcase.

As a means of contrived distraction I marked a series of essays from one of my sophomore classes in assembly line fashion. Everyone got a B.

My first class of the day was ominously titled "An Introduction to American Literature." A pop quiz was announced, a proclamation which drew groans of protest from dozens of teenage lemmings soon to be making the inglorious voyage from semi-cautious naiveté to cynical despair.

With the awkward precision of a celibate gynecologist I inspected a guide to high-end real estate as the thirty-one attendees of this particular class scribbled nonsense upon loose-leaf paper.

Second period was free, which gave me the opportunity to do a few brisk laps of the school's football field, Henry Bell Sports Grounds, named in honor of a student who'd committed suicide, much to the consternation of his affluent parents.

11:29AM. Thirty-one minutes until wealth, glory, and moralistic impunity.

My 11:35 class was transformed into a study period for all in attendance as I busied myself placing the dozens of tickets I had purchased in evenly spaced intervals atop my desk. The goal was to make spotting the victor as easy as possible.

At 11:59 I stood with militaristic attentiveness before my vast collection of tickets, now ordered in sequence of their so-called "Super Number" -- a randomly assigned pair of digits that would soon enhance the fate of a grossly overweight high school English teacher.

My AM radio was tuned into the appropriate station.

The announcer paused for a clichéd and poorly recorded drum roll. He read the numbers aloud in a drone-like fashion, a point I might have resented had my heart not been beating at a rate comparable to that of an amphetamine-addicted jackrabbit.

The Super Ball number he read was 96. I scoured my desktop for these sequential digits with a desperate fervor that could have been perceived as lunacy by the casual observer (of which there were several).

Ninety-six was not to be found.

A life flashed before my eyes. Not the life I had lived but one I knew I could never have -- a life of abject decadence and majestic pomposity.

The painful realization that my current, seemingly arbitrary existence would not be escaped on this or any day expedited an emotive seizure that coerced me into a rapid series of motionless convulsions, as complete and utter anguish occupied every conceivable fiber of my being.

A sharp pain struck my chest. I was suddenly unable to breathe and the room began spinning in a most violent fashion. I fell forward, hitting my head on a desk that was occupied by an asthmatic pupil of mine who was in the habit of wearing grease-stained sweat pants to class on Thursdays. A look of bewildered distress upon this homely student's visage might be the last thing I would ever see. And for this, I was grateful.