Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Once a Lucky Man by Kenneth Sibbett

Kenneth Sibbett's tale of an unremarkable accountant whose life gets turned upside-down when he finds a rare coin on the street.

Herbert was a man of few friends, as a matter of fact, he had no real friends at all. Of course he knew people, but they were mere acquaintances at best. Herbert wasn't lonely and accepted his fate, keeping his feelings to himself. He had never been popular, even as a child. Especially as a child. If you asked anyone who knew him back in the day, they would be hard-pressed to remember much about him or his family.

Herbert didn't hate people, no, far from it. He said hello with a smile just as he did goodbye. No one hated Herbert, or had reason to. How can you hate someone you don't know?

Graduating from a Community College with a two-year degree in accounting, Herbert worked as an accountant in a distributing company. It was the only job he ever had. He did his job well enough, but kept a serene yet faraway look on his face. He made less money than most because he never asked for a raise. He wasn't one to rock the boat and the status quo fitted his personality. Like millions of other workers, he wanted only to do his job and go home. Herbert's life would have gone on as usual, if he had not been at the wrong place at the right time one fateful morning.

Most humans are creatures of habit, and Herbert was no exception.

He left his small apartment every morning at exactly 7:30am for his short walk to work. He had made this walk every week day for over twenty years and knew, if blindfolded, he could still walk it and never miss a step. He walked into his closet/office every morning at 8:00am sharp. He had never been absent or late in all this time. Never, that is, until one fateful day that changed his life forever.

It was a freezing day in January with winds blowing so hard Herbert had to stop and adjust his scarf and button the furry flaps on the sides. As he continued on his way, he happened to look down to see a shiny coin in front of his right foot. He stopped, picked up the coin and went about his day.

It was not until Herbert came home and began emptying his pockets of loose change, that he noticed one of the coins looked somewhat odd. Different from the others. Herbert sat on the edge of his bed, turned on the nightlight and inspected the coin. It was a dime, quite old and shiny. Much more unusual than he first thought.

Herbert walked to his desk and retrieved a small microscope from a desk drawer. Finding the date was easy enough, the coin was in excellent shape. Seeing the dime's mint date was 1894 surprised him. This coin was over 200 years old and in extraordinary shape. He knew it must have been in someone's coin collection to be in such mint condition and could be worth a few dollars, or even a few hundred.

His father had a small coin collection that he had inherited, along with some literature and a book of values of rare coins. Herbert put the collection away after finding few coins worth more than a few dollars and had forgotten all about them, until now.

Retrieving the box from a bedroom closet, he opened the coin book and searched for a dime from the 1800's. What he found as he checked and rechecked the date and markings on the coin almost made him fall out of his chair. The coin book dated from the early nineties, his father died in 1996, but the price quoted was well over a million dollars. It was one of the rarest coins in the world.

Over and over, Herbert checked the coin's value. He researched the coin on Google's search engine with his laptop for hours. It looked like the real deal. A 1894-S Barber dime, in excellent shape. An expert coin dealer had said it may be the "rarest U.S. dime in existence and quite possibly the rarest small silver coin in the world." Needless to say, Herbert got little or no sleep on this night of the luckiest day of his life.

Herbert sat at his desk daydreaming about a future with all the money he would ever need. He failed to tune into the nightly news as he had like clockwork every other night. He missed the story of how this coin came to be in his hands. But not for long.

The real owner was a rich divorce lawyer who, along with his wife, were robbed and murdered at their home. A vicious gang of thieves had tied up the man and his wife and forced them to open a safe. The thieves stole the money and jewelry inside, along with a large coin collection.

The men had learned of the safe from a former employee of the family, and money and jewelry were what they expected to find. They found little money, but did find several pieces of expensive women's jewelry. They then proceeded to murder the couple. These were amateur thieves who thought leaving witnesses was a sure way to get caught and jailed.

They were right, of course, but dumbness is as dumbness does. They had made enough stupid mistakes to get caught in record time. They were unaware that everything they did was video-taped by the couple's security system.

Leaving the mansion, the thieves met later to split the spoils from the robbery. The thieves split the money but had no idea what the jewelry was worth. Finally, each grabbed a piece until all was gone.

The coin collection was a puzzle though. Each man wanted to get out of the area as quickly as possible, after all, they knew things were going to get very hot, very fast. So they did what any thieves with no knowledge of what something is worth would do. They tore the coins from their coverings, counted them and split the money evenly, paying no regard to the real value of the rare coins, only the face value of each coin. Idiots, indeed.

They then went their separate ways, not realizing that each had a pocket full of rare coins, one that could be worth millions of dollars.

Early the next morning as one of the gang was leaving town, he stopped to eat breakfast at a small restaurant that just happened to be on the same street that Herbert walked to and from work. Herbert didn't know it, but he passed one of the thieves moments after the man left the restaurant and accidentally dropped one of the rarest coins in the world onto the sidewalk, directly into the path of a man whose idea of excitement was staying up late on Saturday night to watch a movie.

Herbert's life was soon to change, in ways that no one could ever possibly imagine. Especially Herbert.

It took the police less than 72 hours to catch the thieves and murderers that committed these atrocious acts. One member of the gang had tried to pawn several pieces of jewelry worth well over $250,000, for only few thousand dollars. He was quickly arrested. After a quick plea-deal to avoid the death penalty, he sang so fast the others were caught and jailed within hours.

All the jewelry and most of the cash was also confiscated. When the authorities saw how they treated the rare coins, carrying them in their pants pockets, they could not help but laugh. When the couple's children and rightful owners saw all the coins the police had gathered, the laughter stopped.

There was one coin missing, but not just any coin. The rarest and most valuable coin in the entire collection was gone.

A 1894-S Barber dime, worth millions, was missing. No matter how much the police sweated the crooks or what kind of deal they offered, no one knew what had happened to this valuable coin. Each gang member agreed to take a lie detector test, for they had nothing to lose, and all passed. The collection went to the new owners, except for this one rare coin. It had vanished from the face of the earth, or so it seemed.

Herbert tried going about his business as usual. Days and weeks passed and he saw dozens of news reports about the robbery and murders and the missing coin, especially the coin. The news of the bumbling thieves and the coin worth millions went viral and became international news. The criminals were even seen walking around the mansion on a video supplied by YouTube.

The coin was now in the hands of a lonely man who had never had much of a life. A man who knew that selling it was a definite no-no. No one on earth was stupid enough to buy a coin that every law enforcement agency in the world was on the look-out for.

Herbert's nerves were gone and his hair began falling out from worry. He was late for work a few times and even missed a day. He began to suspect people were staring at him and talking about him behind his back. When he walked into a room, people stopped talking, or so it seemed to Herbert.

Herbert was now never without the coin, which he also carried in his pants pocket. He had to keep the dime in his hands whenever possible for fear he might lose it. The dime then began to affect his work. His boss began noticing errors in Herbert's figures and the company almost lost an account because of one his errors. When the boss complained, for once in Herbert's life he raised his voice, told the boss to go to hell and stormed out of the building.

It was only later, after arriving home and cooling off, that he realized what a complete idiot he had been. Herbert had saved some money over the years, but only enough to live on for a few months. He had no idea what he would do. Who was going to hire a 50 year old man with only a two-year degree from a community college?

Herbert awoke from a recurring dream that would not go away. In the dream he returned the dime to the police as he should have. But instead of thanking him or even giving him a small reward, they arrested him and charged him with being an accessory to murder. The judge sentenced Herbert to the electric chair just as he woke, sweating and screaming.

He hadn't slept in his own bed in weeks nor had he shaved or showered. Herbert unplugged his phone, even though he rarely received calls. He peeked out of cracks in the blinds to view the outside world, now thinking it was only a matter of time before a Swat Team busted down his door and arrested him. He ate little and looked as if he were homeless, which he wasn't too far away from being anyway. All this because of a dime. A dime that he stopped and picked up, just as anyone else would have.

After not seeing his tenant for weeks, the landlord entered Herbert's apartment. Herbert had lived here for over twenty years. He found him in a bathtub filled with water, crimson red from the blood of Herbert's slashed wrists. The landlord threw up looking at his bloated and maggot-ridden body. The police, along with the coroner, both agreed it was a suicide. There would be no autopsy.

There was a note, but it was more a riddle than a suicide note. The police chalked it up to a man who must have lost his mind. Written on the suicide note were these words:

Always been a poor soul
Always toed the line
Yet now I die a rich man
Tho' I only have a Dime

Of course, no one could have known that the man who had slit his wrists had also swallowed the rare coin moments before killing himself. They buried Herbert along with the dime, and of course, it was never found.

6 comments:

  1. very good story, i´m sure there´s a moral to this: honesty is the best policy?
    either way, well done
    Michael McCarthy

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  2. Would have made a nice episode of the Twilight Zone

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  3. Does this remind anyone else of Gogol's "The Overcoat?"

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  4. This is so amazing, I didn't see it going that direction. I love this so much. I expected him to return the coin or travel to a new city and sell it. I like the story, how everything connects. I understand he was frightened of what could have been done to him but swallowing the coin in the end seemed a bit selfish. There was nothing to gain from that but anxiety can really mess someone up.

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  5. Having him swallow the dime was a good choice, revealing the complexity of character previously revealed in his description as someone having difficulty in relating to others.

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  6. Gripping, suspenseful, and tragic. Sibbett always manages to bring the human touch to those on the margin and on the edge. Another great story!

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