A better who?

The most valuable thing that anyone has is……….time. It doesn’t matter how much one has accumulated or acquired in life, when your time is up, you can’t buy another day. Agree?

I think the second most valuable thing that one can possess is good health. Agree again?

I posted the photo (A better who page 2) for various reasons. One reason was to show my torso. About 4 months before this photo was taken, my waist size was 34 inches. The photo shows a 30 inch waist. I decided to make a change after my doctor told me, during one of my annual check-ups, that my belly fat was bad fat. Beyond one meal a day, I simply drank a cup of coffee with honey to curb my appetite whenever I was a little hungry.

Next, I will tell you about a friend of mine who is 5’4″ and weighed 190 pounds. Six months later, she was and still is in the 140-145 pound range. No special exercise routine, just a reduction in sugary drinks, and sweet, starchy foods.
As many already know, doctors will tell you that excessive fat in the waist area or abdomen is bad or unhealthy fat. My friend discovered that she had become diabetic due to her diet of high sugar and starch consumption. Thus, the accumulation of her excessive belly fat.

PLEASURE!

“Music for the soul of man” Leon Huff

Richard Elliot’s “As I Sleep” is so beautiful. (Youtube) See how you like it.

Luck!

In one of his movies, W.C.Fields was asked, “Do you think poker is a game of luck?” His reply, “Not the way I play it.”

Correction? In one of his movies, W.C.Fields was asked, “Do you think poker is a game of chance?” His reply, “Not the way I play it.”

Are you very familiar with luck? Author, Walter Lowe Jr. is.

The Nigerian was selling, well, particularly risky futures. The setting; a poker game in a Las Vegas casino.

When a surfeit of pleasure dulls an already mediocre mind, a man commonly begins to fancy himself a philosopher, always ready to expound his view of the world to a captive audience. Thus it was that Alfred Toomey III said one evening to the Nigerian with whom he was playing five-card draw, “Anything can be bought for money, my friend.”

He was, at that moment, raking in nearly $20,000 worth of chips. “The reason our friends”– he was referring to three men who had just pulled out of the game, having lost more than $50,000 apiece since the five had begun playing six hours earlier–“the reason our friends had to leave wasn’t that they weren’t skilled card players. They were actually very good, don’t you think?”

He didn’t wait for the Nigerian to answer. “But they simply weren’t rich enough to take the chances that you and I can take. There is a price beyond which no man is willing to gamble. Am I right?”

The Nigerian smiled, nodded and pointed to the dealer for the cut. Five cards to each man. The Nigerian picked up his cards, arranged them in his hand, then stacked them face down on the felt. Alfred didn’t even bother to look at his.

“So you see,” he continued, “even luck can be bought with enough money. Anyone who saw me win the past five hands at this table would say I was lucky, but I wasn’t lucky. I simply outbid everybody for the pot. Except you, of course. You had the good sense to fold.”

The Nigerian was swathed in a striped tribal robe and wore a round flat white hat. He had tribal scars on his cheeks that Alfred found both disgusting and, in an odd way, stimulating. The black man was also missing the last third of the little finger on his left hand, which, Alfred had noticed, he raised above the surface of the table only when he had decent cards. His smile was benign, utterly polite, revealing nothing to Alfred except, possibly, a high level of craftiness. But then, people see what they want to see.

“To fold when you have little chance of winning is merely good judgment, my friend,” said the Nigerian quietly. “And that as well as love and luck are the three things that are priceless.”

“Well, I might agree with you about good judgment and love,” said Alfred, finally picking up his cards to find a pair of deuces, a pair of tens and a seven, “but luck, no. Luck can definitely be bought. I just bought luck at this table, don’t you see? Five thousand to you.” He pushed five $1000 chips into the center of the table, sat back and lighted a cigar.

The Nigerian smiled, still quite politely but with what Alfred interpreted as a hint of insolence around the corners of his mouth, and said, “I beg to disagree, my friend. You didn’t buy luck. You merely bought power. They aren’t the same thing at all. Haven’t you ever heard the saying that an ounce of luck is worth more than a pound of gold? A man with much wealth may find his money to be a blessing or a curse. But the man with luck or, as the Moslems would say, kismet in his favor is blessed, indeed. I see you and raise you five thousand.” Taken aback somewhat by the Nigerian’s eagerness to increase the pot, Alfred pushed in another $5000 and kept a close eye on the Nigerian’s left hand, which, he suspected, would rise from the table as the Nigerian discarded. But his opponent dropped four cards from his right hand, and laid the remaining one face down on the felt and waited for Alfred to discard.

“Give me one,” said Alfred. Then, looking at the Nigerian with a raised eyebrow, he asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to take three instead?” Tough odds.”

“Please don’t tell me how to play poker, sir,” the Nigerian answered curtly.

Alfred’s eyes locked with the Nigerian’s and for a moment, anger glinted between them, but Alfred had gambled enough years to know better than to let emotions affect his game. He picked up his one card, a ten of clubs that gave him a full house, then stacked his hand in front of him and pushed 40 $1000 chips into the pot.

“I kick forty,” he said softly. He decided to clean out the Nigerian. He didn’t like his attitude. The Nigerian would learn, the hard way, that luck could be bought.

The Nigerian examined the four cards he’d been given, sighed and leaned back to think. In a moment, he shrugged, then push nearly half of his chips into the center of the table. However, he kept his hand on them, reserving his right to withdraw them.

“What’s the matter, chief?” said Alfred, laughing. “The pot too spicy for you?”

The man’s dark eyes flashed and his lips curled into a sneer as he leaned over the table. “In my country, we are use to spicy things,” he said, “and don’t take the liberty of calling me chief. I am a prince in my land, not a chief.”

“Well, hey,” said Alfred coolly, “I didn’t mean anything, you know. Just an expression. But what I want to know is, when are you going to take your hand off your chips so we can find out who has the better luck?”

“OK, but first I ask you one thing. If I lose this hand, you will play me another for the pot, double or nothing. If you win, you take all my chips. If I win, you still have a couple of hundred thousand to play with. What do you say?”

“Well…..”
“Five cards, face up. What do you say?” urged the African, still leaning over the table.

“OK. Sure. That’s next game. Just let’s get on with this goddamn game, for Chrissakes,” said Alfred, beginning to find the man annoying.

“Fine. I meet your forty and call,” said the African, finally relinquishing his chips and sitting back in his chair.

Alfred spread his hand on the table. “Full house, tens over deuces,” he said smugly.
The Nigerian shook his head and threw in his cards, uttering an expletive in a tongue Alfred didn’t recognize.

“And now,” asked the dealer, “you want me to deal a five-card hand, face up?” Both men nodded in agreement. As the dealer shuffled the cards, Alfred noticed the African slip the fingers of his left hand into a little brown-leather pouch that he wore around his neck like a talisman. He caught a glimpse of something sparkling in the man’s dark fingers just before he popped whatever it was into his mouth. Was it an electronic device? Was it a suicide capsule to be bitten if the African lost the hand? The Nigerian’s demeanor changed. Briskly rubbing his palms together, he appeared to anticipate owning the pot.

“You look like you’re counting your chickens before they hatch,” said Alfred, “so I hope you won’t be disappointed.” The black man smiled.

The first two cards were aces, the club to the African and the spade to Alfred. Alfred’s second card was the ace hearts; the Nigerian’s, the king of clubs. Alfred’s third card was the ace of diamonds; the Nigerian’s, the queen of clubs. When all the cards had been dealt, Alfred had three aces, but the Nigerian showed a royal flush.

“Holy shit, I don’t believe it,” said Alfred as the Nigerian retrieved the chips.
“Would you care to play another hand?” asked the African, showing large white teeth.
“Goddamned right I’d care to play another hand,” Alfred replied testily.
“But, of course, you won’t win,” the Nigerian said matter-of-factly.

“Bullshit. Luck goes around and comes around, buddy,” answered Alfred. With that, he removed his suit jacket, loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves.

“Wearing fewer clothes has never improved a man’s luck, as far as I know,” the Nigerian remarked dryly.

Deal,” Alfred commanded the dealer. “Five-card draw.”
Alfred lost the hand, a full house to four aces, and parted with $100,000. He also lost the following hand and the next, parting with $100,000 each time. A half hour later, it was all over. The Nigerian had taken nearly $5000,000 worth of chips from him.

“Damn!” exclaimed Alfred, slamming his fist on the table, as he lost the final hand, four fours to four fives. Then point his finger at the African’s face, he said, “Now you wait right here, Prince whatever your name is, and I’l be right back with more chips. I want a chance to win my money back.”

The Nigerian shook his head and laughed. “No, no, my good man. Keep you money. You will simply be throwing it away if you keep betting against me. There is no way you or anyone else can beat me at a game of chance for the next twenty-four hours. But I’m not a greedy man. I’m satisfied with what I’ve won so far. I merely wanted to teach you a lesson.

The thought of this arrogant small-time potentate from some jungle telling Alfred that he was being taught a lesson was more than he could stomach.

“What lesson, Mr. Big Man? Tell me!” Alfred bellowed, barely able to restrain himself from punching the man’s confident grin off his round shinning face.

Ignoring his rage, the Nigerian looked at the dealer, then back at Alfred and, leaning over the table, whispered, “I can tell you something about luck if you will come to my room with me. I cannot talk about it here.”

Furious though Alfred was, he was also intrigued. He followed the Nigerian out of the casino, up to his room on the 15th floor of the hotel. Once inside, the Nigerian closed the door behind them, went to the bar and mixed them each a drink, sat down at the table in the center of the room and motioned to Alfred to sit across from him. Once Alfred was seated and nervously swirling his Scotch and soda, the African fingered the little bag around his neck, loosened the drawstrings that tied it shut and, between thumb and forefinger, extracted and placed on the table three small luminous beads, each about the size of a raindrop. Each shone from within as if a minuscule light bulb had been inserted in it. Yet, though they glowed, they were also transparent, as Alfred could clearly see the grain of the tabletop through them.

“What the hell are these?” he asked.

“Luck, my friend,” said the Nigerian, picking one up gently between his fingers and handing it to him. “Here, hold it. Feel it. Smell it.”

Alfred took the little sphere and rolled it between his fingers. It was warm and he detected a sweet odor coming from it that he couldn’t identify. He also noticed that his fingers were tingling slightly, as though they’d received a small electrical charge.

“Are you crazy? I don’t know what this damn thing is, but it sure isn’t luck. You can’t get luck in a pill, chief. That I know.”

Overlooking Alfred’s calling him chief, the African replied with complete seriousness. “But you don’t know that. Here is the proof. Each one of these little, ah, crystals, if you will, contains a day’s worth of luck. Of this I am certain. I took one just before we played the double-or-nothing hand. Surely you noticed?”

“Yeah, I noticed,” said Alfred, staring at him in disbelief.

“But still you think this is not luck?”

“All I can say chief,” Alfred, shaking his head, “is that you’re a lot more superstitious than I gave you credit for. Who told you these thing gave you luck, your witch doctor?”

“I suggest you refrain from mocking that which you don’t understand,” said the Nigerian, glowering.

“Understanding voodoo bullshit isn’t high on my list of priorities,” said Alfred, shoving his drink across the table, standing up and heading for the door.

The Nigerian chuckled. “If you were sure that these little crystals actually contained kismet, you would pay almost any price if I could supply you with your own bagful, would you not?”

Alfred paused at the door.

“Well, then,” the black man continued, “the resolution of your doubt can be easily obtained by your having the opportunity to put my little crystals, my ‘voodoo,’ as you say, to the test. If you have tested them to your satisfaction, then I’m sure you will not hesitate to part with your entire capital worth for an ounce of them. Or at least that is the only bargain that I would seriously consider.”

The Nigerian smiled broadly, chuckled as if at his own private joke and took a long sip from his rosy glass of kir.

“You know,” said Alfred, “I don’t know what tribe you’re the prince of, but they’re in deep trouble. You’re completely out of your mind.” So saying, he walked out, slamming the door behind him.

Twelve hours later, Alfred knocked on the hotel-room door. It opened and the Nigerian stood in front of him, with eyebrows raised.

“I’ll give you three tests,” said Alfred. “and if you and your little beads get through them alive, I’ll buy a bag of them. But not for everything I have. I need enough cash to keep living the way I want to. I’ll give you the rest. What the fuck.”

The Nigerian smiled and pursed his lips thoughtfully. “What, by the way, do you own?” he asked.

“A chain of four hundred and seventy all-night convenience stores. They’re called Midnight Roundups. They’re mostly in the Western states–Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, California. The rest is in stocks , bonds, and cash.”

The Nigerian frowned. “I don’t like that business. Boring.”

“Well, it almost runs itself. I have good people running it for me. I’m sure you won’t find——-”

“I don’t want it,” the black man interrupted. “How much of what you own—-cash, bonds, stocks, and so on–can you convert to gold in two weeks?”

“Gold?” That’s not easy. Maybe a hundred and thirty million.”

“If you can convert about a hundred and thirty million into gold, deliver it to the vault downstairs and sign this agreement”—he held out a one-page contract–“I’ll put the last three of my little crystals through any three tests you desire.”

“Suppose my first test is for you to put a fully loaded forty-five Magnum to your head and pull the trigger?”

“Read the agreement,” said the Nigerian, walking over to the table where he was eating a breakfast of grapefruit, coffee, and yogurt. He poured a cup of coffee for Alfred as he stood in the middle of the room, reading the contract.

“OK, I agree to the first stipulation. There has to be an element of luck involved. That makes sense.”

The Nigerian nodded, pulled up a chair to the table and began sipping his coffee and reading the newspaper.

“But, hey, what the hell does this second paragraph mean? In return for the gold, I get the bag? I want the luck not the bag, chief. I’ll take the luck in aluminum foil if it really works.”

“Please sit and have coffee with me, good friend,” said the Nigerian, extending his hand to the chair on the other side of the table. Alfred sat down and lighted a cigar, thinking that perhaps he was dealing with a madman, in which case it’s always best to remain calm.

“You see,” said the Nigerian, disdainfully removing the maraschino cherry from the center of the grapefruit, “the bag produces the beads of luck each time it has a new owner. Within forty-eight hours after you receive it, it will contain twenty-eight crystals, each weighing exactly one gram. Exactly an ounce of luck, all told.”

“You expect me to believe that? Besides, I thought the old saying was an ounce of luck is worth a pound of gold,” Alfred said sarcastically.

“Ah, no sir. Worth more than a pound of gold. In your case, it’s worth about nine tons of gold. But, after all, it’s a very old saying. Inflation, you know.” He smiled broadly as he stirred the strawberries up from the bottom of his cup of yogurt.

“And why is this third stipulation so important?” Alfred asked, perusing the remainder of the contract.

“Mmmmmm. The part about your having to wear the little bag around your neck until the luck is used up? Yes, that’s very necessary. And so is the last stipulation, that you use all of the luck within two years after you receive it. Both of those things are very important for the magic to work properly.”

Having finally come to the conclusion that the Nigerian wasn’t insane but merely deeply superstitious and, therefore, deeply stupid, Alfred smiled to himself. He was going to have some fun with this pompous man; so much fun that the Nigerian would beg him to take back the half million he had won from him, just to buy out of the deal.

“Well, my good chief,” Alfred said jauntily, sitting at the table once again and allowing himself to take a big swallow of the hot coffee, “I think we can work something out. I can have the gold delivered here in forty-eight hours. We can instruct the bank that if you claim the gold in thirty days, it’s yours. After thirty days, only I can take it out of the vault. We’ll get two keys; one for you and one for me. If you live through me tests, I take the bag and you come here and take the gold. If you don’t survive, I reclaim the gold after a month has passed. Agreed?”

Alfred took a pen from his vest pocket and held it poised over the contract, waiting for the Nigerian’s assent. The Nigerian reached into the pouch, took out the three beads of luck and laid them on the table, rolled each one between his fingers for a moment. At last, he looked up at Alfred with a smile of peaceful resignation and nodded.

Alfred signed the contract, then pushed it across the table. The Nigerian affixed his signature to the document, then produced a duplicate contract, which they both signed. The Nigerian kept one copy and Alfred folded his and slipped it into his suit jacket.

“I’ll see you in twenty-four hours,” he said, heading for the door.

“But. . . . ” The Nigerian leaped to his feet and followed Alfred out into the hallway. “But aren’t you going to tell me the three tests?”

Alfred chuckled deep in his throat and his eyes radiated sheer cruelty. He greatly enjoyed watching furrows of anxiety appear on the Nigerian’s forehead.

“Perhaps you’re not as superstitious as I thought,” he said with feigned admiration.

Two days later, the African received a gold-embossed card that read:

I invite you to spend the weekend with me at my summer home on San Cristobal Island. A Learjet is waiting for you at the airport on runway 24. The jet is stocked with caviar, lobster, shrimp and excellent wines. I’ve had a selection of African music programmed into the sound system, though I don’t know if it’s to your taste. If you want something else, just ask the stewardess. She’s entirely at your service. Enjoy your flight.

Yours, Alfred

The African frowned, crumpled the invitation, threw it into the wastebasket and began packing his bags.

*

“The first test,” said Alfred, right after he and the African had finished a dinner of crab-and-kiwi salad, broiled shark and baked rum custard, “comes now.”

They were aboard Alfred’s 300-foot yacht, the Too Me, and it was midnight. The lights flicked for a moment in the dining cabin and Alfred ordered the waiter to inquire if there was a problem top-side. Once they were alone, he continued, “The lights always flicker on this damn thing. Anyway, what you’re going to do is simple. Tonight, you’re going to jump over-board wearing a life preserver. We’re about a mile offshore, and from now until dawn, the current will be taking you to the coast of the island. Can you swim?” The African nodded.

“Good, all you have to do is paddle to shore between now and sunrise, at which time the tide will begin to reverse its flow. If you make it to the shore, it’s a two-mile walk to my estate. You should be able to make it there by noon tomorrow easily, provided you can swim ashore. What do you say?”

“Ah, as you say so quaintly, what’s the catch?” asked the African.

“Sharks, jellyfish, coral reefs as sharp as knifes. In that order,” said Alfred, with delighted amusement. “Have some more wine or some custard before we go?” He poised a bottle over the African’s glass but wasn’t surprised when he covered it with his hand.

“Water is enough,” said the Nigerian, reaching into the pouch around his neck, extracting one of the small beads and slipping it into his mouth.

Alfred handed him a glass of ice water and watched him drink. Then, raising his wine glass as a toast, he said with a mischievous chuckle, “Good luck, chief.”

The African looked at him with imperious disinterest and said calmly, “Lead me to the deck.”

Five minutes later, he was overboard.

Alfred knew the waters well. The mako sharks were always hungry and there were hundreds, maybe thousands of them circling in the cove every night, feeding on the schools of pompano and mullet. When the African began kicking his legs and trying to swim, the sharks would surely get him. But if he somehow managed to get within 1000 yards offshore without being eaten by the sharks, he would have to swim through a virtual asteroid belt of jellyfish–so many that sometimes they gathered in great clumps spanning 100 feet across, each trailing dozens of 50-foot tentacles containing one of the most potent paralyzing agents known. If the African touched but one of these tentacles, it would be unlikely that he’d ever make it within 100 yards of the shore. But if he did, he would encounter jagged coral reefs. To cut himself would be death, for his blood would call the sharks. And even if he managed to cross the reefs, his wounds would make him too weak to have any hope of walking two miles in the sun.

For all of these reasons, Alfred was astonished when the African walked into his sitting room the next day precisely at noon and explained, as he bid one of Alfred’s butlers to bring him a glass of cold guava juice, that shortly after Alfred had abandoned him in the water, the yacht of a wealthy Saudi Arabian had foundered on a sand bar not 100 yards from him. He had called out and they had taken him aboard, given him dry clothes, a bowl of hot stew and a bunk to sleep in until morning. During the night, the tide had risen and swept the Saudi’s yacht off the sand bar, and the crew had pulled into port for repairs, letting the Nigerian go ashore.

“And I suppose,” said Alfred after the African had finished his account, “that you attribute your extraordinary good luck to your little beads?”

The African said nothing but merely smiled and sipped his fruit juice.

“You may be convinced,” sneered Alfred, “but I’m not. Not with a conviction worth a hundred and thirty million dollars, anyway. Relax, eat, then meet me outside on the veranda at midnight. We’ll go for a walk. Be sure to bring your little bag.”

“Sir,” said the African, feigning umbrage, “I wouldn’t travel without it. It’s better than American Express, you agree?”

*

“Smell something familiar?” Alfred asked with a conspiratorial grin as he led the Nigerian on a moonlit tour through his private zoo.

“Ahhh, yes,” replied the Nigerian, pointedly sniffing in all directions, “the aroma of evil.”

“The aroma of day-old lion shit, to be specific,” said Alred, pausing to toss several small sirloin steaks to a pair of large and vicious-looking pit bulls that followed him wherever he walked.

“Just over the next hill, I have my big cats. I have Siberian tigers, black cheetahs and snow leopards. Beautiful animals, don’t you agree?”

“Quite beautiful,” the African agreed solemnly, softly caressing the bag around his neck with his left hand.

“But I suppose you’d be more interested in seeing my two pairs of African lions. Oh, yes, and the baby. Cute little thing. Just able to walk around the cage with the big lions. Her mother’s quite protective of her though.”

As they approached the big-cat cages, the animals began to growl and howl with such ferocity that the African couldn’t help swallowing hard. Alfred noticed this and smiled with delight. “They haven’t been fed since day before yesterday,” he said, looking about in search of something. “Ah, yes, there it is.”

He was referring to a large wooden box that had apparently been deposited there by one of his servants. He opened it and inside were several pounds of steaks and roasts packed on ice. These he began tossing into the cages. He first fed the snow leopards, then the black cheetahs and finally the tigers before announcing that, by some mistake, the servants hadn’t left enough food for the lions.

“Which it seems,” he said, turning to the African, “brings us to our second test. There is a bolted door at either end of the lion cage. What I want you to do is simply open the door on the left, step into the cage, walk to the other door, open it and walk out. If you come out the other door alive, I’ll throw a free Rolls-Royce into the deal.” With that, he lighted a cigar and began to chuckle to himself. He then went to the wooden box and opened a side compartment that contained a .30-06 rifle. He loaded it and held out three bullets in the palm of his hand.

“If you get in trouble, and if you’re lucky, I’ll make four perfect shots through the bars of that cage before they tear open your main arteries. Fair enough?”

“You’re generous,” said the African, trying to swallow one of the luck beads despite his dry mouth.

“Have some Perrier from my canteen,” Alfred offered cheerfully. The African gulped down the water, then looked for a moment as though he might be overcome with nausea.

“Don’t think I ever saw a black man go green before, chief,” Alfred said, taunting the lions by dangling a hunk of meat just outside the bars.

“Please stop that,” said the African. “I’m going. Just be sure you keep the larger female in your sights. She looks to be the most dangerous.”

“Well, you sure know your big cats,” said Alfred admiringly, training his rifle on the cage as the African quietly pulled back the bolt on the door.

As he stepped inside, the lions stopped growling and looked at him with wary surprise. The African stood paralyzed by the door.

“Go on, chief,” shouted Alfred. “Walk.”

But the African couldn’t move. Then, with a terrifying hint of their impending attack, the lions began to crouch and growl deep in their throats. Still, the African couldn’t move. He merely closed his eyes and clasped his hands, as if in prayer.

“Well, if you can’t walk across, then get the hell out, man!” shouted Alfred.

But the African was trembling. His knees were locked. He knew the lions smelled his fear. He knew they would be upon him before he could turn around.

At that moment, there came a great howling and barking as Alfred’s pit bulls hurtled down the hill in pursuit of a zigzagging jack rabbit. The jack rabbit, mindful only of the dogs behind it, momentarily ignored what lay in front of it and mistakenly leaped into the cage. The streak of movement unleashed the coiled energy that the big animals were about to vent upon the African, and all four adult lions rushed to the far corner of the cage to participate in the capture and dismemberment of the hapless hare. In that brief moment, the African managed to break his paralysis, rush to the other door and slip out just before the lions realized that there was hardly enough rabbit meat to go around.

*

“Your performance last night in the lion cage was amusing,” Alfred said to the African the next morning as they boarded Alfred’s personal aircraft.

“For a man with deep confidence in his luck beads,” he continued, “you seemed quite terrified. But I suppose that was for my benefit?”

“The body has its own instinctive fears, you know,” replied the African, taking a seat at the back of the small aircraft and carefully adjusting the round hat atop his head, which had been nudged askew by the winds gusting across the landing strip. “But tell me now; why have you brought me to this airplane?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Alfred yelled back from the cockpit, “so meanwhile, enjoy yourself.  There’s a cooler back there with beer, wine, caviar, and sandwiches.”

The African’s reply was drowned by the engines as Alfred began his take-off.   The African stretched out and dozed off with his right hand clasped around the small leather bag.

“Wake up,” said Alfred, hours later.  We’ve crossed the Coral Sea.”

“Which means?”  asked the Nigerian, sitting up straight and adjusting his hat.

“Which means that we’re now over the Australian mainland.  Queensland territory, to be specific.  Almost a half hour from Hughenden.”

“Explain yourself, sir,” said the African impatiently.  And then he noticed that Alfred was holding a pistol.

“Give me the little bag,” said Alfred.”I . . . . . I can hardly believe that you’re doing this,” said the African, obviously shaken.  “I thought you were an honorable man.  I thought we had an agreement.  You were to give me three tests.  If I passed them, I would willingly give you the bag and you would willingly give me the gold.  Now you wish to steal it from me and kill me?”

“You misjudge me, chief,”  said Alfred, laughing.  “I am giving you three tests.   You’re about to take your third, as a matter of fact.  I don’t intend to kill you with this gun.  It’s merely insurance.”

“Against what?”

“Against the possibility that you might try to get out of your third test.  Would you like to know what it is?”

The African nodded.

“Well, you’re going to jump out of this airplane with no parachute, from a height of seven thousand feet.”

“But, sir,” protested the African, “there is no chance of my surviving such a fall.  No man could fall from this height and live.  To ask me to do that is a breach of contract.”

“Oh, no it isn’t.  Would you agree that if such a thing had ever been done before, it wouldn’t be impossible?  Of course you would.  Well, it just so happens that according to Ripley’s Believe It or Not–are you familiar with that book?  Anyway, in Ripley’s, it says a man once survived a seven-thousand-foot fall from an airplane.  It has been done once.  Therefore, there is a chance, however remote, that it might happen again.  Do you agree?”

The African stared at Alfred for a long time, and then he said quietly, “Do you know that you’re quite mad?”

Alfred cuffed the man with his open hand, grabbed him by the neck of his robe and yanked him to his feet.

“Mad, am I?”  You superstitious Hottentot!  Don’t tell me I’m mad when I have a hundred and thirty million dollars on the line!  Men have killed for far, far less.  I’m merely making sure that what I’m trading my money for is worth the price.  Now, head for that door, take your luck pill and give me the goddamn bag!”

Alfred waved the gun toward the cabin door just behind the cockpit and the African obeyed him.  He reached into the leather pouch, extracted the last bead and swallowed it.  He gently removed the pouch from his neck and smiled softly as he handed it to Alfred.  Without saying a word, Alfred yanked open the hatch, shoved the African through the portal and quickly struggled to reseal it.  Having done so, he rushed to the cockpit to regain control of the craft.

His only regret was that he hadn’t had enough time to confess that the story about Ripley’s Believe It or Not was a lie.   He would have loved to see the expression on the African’s face.

*

Two days later, back in his office in downtown Denver, Alfred told his secretary to hold his calls, then opened his top desk drawer and took out the brown leather bag.  He noticed that his pulse quickened, just as it did before sex or winning at poker, as he loosened the draw-string.  But something was wrong.  As hard as he pulled, the bag wouldn’t open.  Although nothing visible kept the aperture closed, it remained tightly sealed, as if invisible fingers were pressing it shut.

Then he remembered the stipulation in the contract that the bag had to be hung around his neck.

The moment he did so, the mouth of the bag unfolded softly, not unlike a flower.  Looking down into it, he saw a  cluster of tiny,  glowing capsules.

“Hello, George?  Alfred.  I want to put ten grand on every long shot you can find.  I want the worst horses in every race at every race track.  I want the line on every underdog sports team, every bum prize fighter and every lottery in the world.  Oh, play any number you want.  It doesn’t matter.  Yes, I know it could cost me a couple of million.  I can afford it.  Just do it.”

He hung up the phone and had his secretary reserve a table at his favorite restaurant.

As he settled into the back seat of his luxuriously appointed limousine and poured himself a spot of cognac, he absent-mindedly  watched the other cars cruising beside him on the highway, thinking to himself that he would very soon be the richest man in the world.  Only when he noticed that the limo was speeding toward the median strip did he realize that something was wrong.  He yanked back the curtain between himself and his chauffeur and found the man slumped over the wheel, the victim of a heart attack.  Separated from the front seat by a bulletproof glass, there was nothing Alfred could do but stare in horror as the limousine vaulted the median strip and slammed into the side of an 18-wheeler.

Two weeks later, as he recovered in the hospital after surgery, the nurses had to inject him with a tranquilizer when he received a postcard from the African that said:

Sorry to hear about your bad luck.  Mine is fine.   I fell into a large haystack behind the country house of a very nice physician from Sydney.  He treated me immediately for shock, then rushed me to the nearest hospital.  I suffered only a broken wrist and ankle.  I have collected the gold.  Also the Rolls-Royce you promised when I escaped your lions.  Thank you for the good sport.

Once Alfred calmed down, he phoned his personal attache’ and ordered him to find the African and bring him to the hospital immediately.

When  the African arrived, dressed as usual  in his striped robe and a flat white hat.  Alfred became nearly apoplectic with rage and the nurses wanted the African to leave, but Alfred overruled them.

The African took a seat at his bedside, nodded and smiled.

“It didn’t work!”  yelled Alfred.

“No?” asked the African.

“Bullshit! I lost two million in long-shot bets in one day! And on the same god-damn day I very nearly lost my life! How the hell can you say that was good luck? It’s the worst luck I’ve ever had!”

“Precisely,” said the African.

“What?” asked Alfred, not yet understanding.

“You see, you bought a bag of luck, my friend,” said the African, with tones one might use to speak to a child. “I never said the beads were all good luck. Half of them are good and half of them are bad, as a matter of fact. The only way you can tell which one you’re taking is to wait and see what happens to you. But, by a careful process of elimination, you can eventually know how many of each kind you have left. If you’re lucky”–he chuckled at his own joke–“if you’re as lucky as was I, you’ll use all the bad luck early.”

“You see,” he continued, “I had already had fourteen days of the worst luck a man could have when I met you. And I’d had only ten days of good luck. So I knew what my last four beads were.”

As the African’s words sank deep into Alfred’s semitranquilized mind, he sat upright in the bed and violently yanked at the leather pouch, wanting to fling it away. But the moment he touched it, the leather string tightened around his neck and continued to tighten until he thought he would suffocate. Then, just before he passed out, it loosened. As he heaved for breath, the African shook his head.

“Tsk,tsk, you didn’t believe the contract, did you? I told you that you couldn’t take it off until you’d used all the beads. Now do you understand?”

Alfred nodded. And then for the first time since he was a boy, he began to cry. Great gulping sobs burst out of him and he buried his face in his pillow.

“There, there,” said the African sympathetically, “I know exactly how you feel. Here. Let me show you what I’ve been through. Perhaps you’ll feel better. You see that my little finger is missing on my left hand? That happened with my first bad luck bead. I have scar on my stomach from the second one, scars from bullet holes in my buttocks from the third, I have grafted skin on my right leg from the fourth, a bit of steel plating in back of my skull from the fifth…….”

Alfred waved for the African to stop.
“I …I believe you,” he said, blowing his nose and wiping his eyes, “but isn’t there any way out of it? Suppose I just don’t swallow any of the beads?”

“You can do that, but if you do, at the end of two years, the bag will strangle you to death.”

“Well, what about taking a bad luck and a good luck together? Maybe they’ll cancel each other out.”

“How will you know which is which? I could never tell them apart myself. No, sir, there is no way out of it. There are two consolations, however. The first is that no matter how badly you may be injured by the bad-luck beads, they will never kill you. You may lose a limb or two, but you will always survive. The second is that if you play your odds right, you can make more of your good luck than your bad luck makes of you. Do you get my gist?”

Alfred nodded forlornly, sighed and stared at the ceiling. After a moment, he motioned to the African to leave him alone. At the door, the African turned, pressed his palms together and bowed.

“Good luck, chief,” he said, and then departed with a broad smile.

The African’s smile angered Alfred, and his anger jolted him out of his despondency. He sat up, sipped water from a glass at his bedside and tried to think. He thought until his brain grew tired and he dozed off. When he awoke the following morning, he knew what he had to do.

“It was so simple all along,” he said, chuckling, as he carefully poured all 27 of the little beads out of the pouch into the palm of his left hand. He then reached for the glass, lifted it to toast the African and said, “Here’s to luck, chief,” tossed the beads into his mouth and swallowed them in one gulp.

He had reasoned that if he’d already taken one bad-luck bead, there was now one more good-luck bead than bad in the bag, and if every good-luck bead canceled out a bad-luck one, the effect would be one day of good luck.

Knowing that he had only 24 hours in which to take advantage of his guaranteed good fortune, he went to work on recouping his losses. He dialed his bookie.

“George? Alfred. I want to place another couple of million on long-shot bets.”

“The last time you asked me to do that, I thought you were crazy, Al,” said George, “but now I figure you know what you’re doing. You must be the luckiest son of a bitch in the world.”

“What are you talking about? I lost every goddamned bet the last time. You told me yourself day before yesterday that all my horses ran last, all my dogs ran last, all my teams went belly-up, and all of my boxers got their asses kicked. Plus which I totaled my Rolls and damned near totaled myself.”

“Ain’t you read the papers, Al? Didn’t nobody call you and tell you about the sixty million? Didn’t nobody in your organization tell you about the guys in the truck you hit?”

“What sixty million?”

“Well, I’ll be,” said George, chuckling. “The man makes headlines in every paper in America and nobody tells him about it. You ought to fire somebody for not telling you, Al. Course, maybe your doctors didn’t want you to get excited. Anyway, sure, you lost all those bets I told you about, but since you told me to buy you lottery tickets, I bought you a thousand in every state with a lottery and I bought you some numbers in the Irish sweepstakes. The drawings were yesterday and you hit the jackpot in New Jersey and Illinois. You got six mil from Jersey and four mil from Illinois. But the ass kicker is that you won the Irish sweeps for fifty. Fifty million big one, baby!

“What?” said Alfred, stunned.

“It’s in all the afternoon papers, Al. You ought to be hearing from the newspaper and television people in a couple of hours. You’re the first man in history to hit three multi-million-dollar lotteries on the same day. Not to mention your crime-buster act with your Rolls.”

“Crime buster? What the hell are you talking about, George?”

“Jeez, you really ought to fire somebody for not keeping you informed, Al. The truck you hit with the Rolls was filled with stolen goods. You know where from? From your Midnight Roundup warehouses, that’s where. There was a gang of guys who who’d been robbing you blind for the past six months. The two in the truck you slammed confessed and the cops busted the whole bunch. They could have ruined your business if they’d kept it up for another year or so. But, thanks to your fabulous luck, your accident is sending them all to the slammer. That was in this morning’s paper. You didn’t know about that either? You really ought to—–”

But Alfred had already hung up. He stumbled out of bed and limped painfully to the toilet where, shoving a finger down his throat, he tried to vomit up the beads.

But, as he feared, it was too late. He heard the whine of the hospital’s smoke alarms, then he smelled smoke and heard people running through the corridors outside his room, shouting, “Fire!” He tried to open the bathroom door, but something was blocking it. Frantic with fear, he rammed his shoulder against the door, beat his fists upon it and shrieked for someone to get him out until he collapsed on the floor.

And there, as he laid his head on the cool tiles, he realized why the door wouldn’t open.

The little brown pouch was crammed under it, acting as a doorjamb.

*

The firemen rescued him just in time to save his life. He required plastic surgery and skin grafts for the third-degree burns he had suffered, but he survived, just as the African said he would.

And for the rest of his life, Alfred Toomey III never gambled again. When George asked him why, he explained, “George, there are two ways to make a lot of money. One is to work hard and invest what you earn, and the other is to have a lot of luck. I can afford to work hard, but I can’t afford luck. It’s too expensive.”

George didn’t understand, but Alfred did. He kept the little brown bag in a glass case on his desk as a reminder.