Chapter One

       CRASH! The whole 7-Elevenbuilding shook hard from the impact of the car. A Chevy Nova had busted through the front window and propelled itself into the convenience store, knocking over shelves of merchandise. The glass in the window had shattered into a million pieces on the floor. Slowly, the driver got out of the car and stood among the glass fragments. He wasn’t hurt during the accident. There was some real damage to the store’s front window.

Mason Rossman, the cashier at the neighborhood7-Eleven convenience store, had been hit by the car while restocking the potato chip snacks shelf. He lay unconscious next to a regular customer named Alice Edgell who also was knocked out. Neither of them moved as they lay on the floor. Only an eerie silence could be heard in the air where the car had stopped.

The manager of the convenience store, Jim Chandler, came out of his back office to see what was going on. He was shocked by the bad scene before him and recognized the driver, whose name was Randy Hudson. 

“What the hell?” said Jim.

“I couldn’t stop on the ice in the parking lot,” Randy explained, looking sheepishly at the manager. “I just slid into the store. Sorry.”

“I’ll call 911 and report the crash to the police,” said the store manager, upset with Randy.

Upon receiving the call, a police dispatcher wanted to know where the accident had taken place.

“The 7-Eleven on 14th Street,” answered the store manager. “Two people have been injured. We need ambulances immediately.”

      The dispatcher summoned police cars and two ambulances to the scene. Jim checked the two injured people but was at a loss about what to do about them. Due to all the damage, Jim put a sign on the front door indicating the store was closed for business. 

            Randy climbed back inside his Nova and attempted to move his car out of the store, but it wouldn’t start. He got out of his car again, shook-up.

            “Randy, you did a number on the store’s front window, breaking it to smithereens. I’m hot about what you have done this morning,” said Jim, disgusted.

“I’m truly sorry. It’s not like I meant to crash into your store,” Randy said, trying to explain the reason for the accident. “The ice in the parking lot is to blame. I couldn’t help it.”

Two police cruisers arrived and a pair of cops entered the store.

“What happened?” asked Sergeant Fuller, looking over all the damage.

“I couldn’t get my car to stop because of all the ice in the parking lot,” said Randy. “It wasn’t my fault.”

“Let me see your driver’s license and proof of insurance,” said the police sergeant.

“I don’t have either one. I’m driving on a suspended license and don’t have insurance on my car,” said Randy nervously.

“Put both hands behind your back. I’m going to handcuff your wrists,” said the police officer.

“Not so tight,” complained Randy when the cop put the handcuffs on him with his hands behind his back.                

“You’re under arrest,” explained Sergeant Fuller who read Randy his Miranda Rights to retain council and remain silent.

Two ambulances with four attendants arrived to the parking lot and rushed inside the store. They checked Mason’s and Alice’s wrists for a pulse. Mason’s pulse was steady but Alice had a weak one that could barely be detected. 

The police sergeant placed Randy into the one of their patrol cars locking the backseat door shut tight. He hauled the unlicensed driver down to the Grand Traverse Law Enforcement Center on icy roads. The cop put Randy into a jail cell.

The four ambulance attendants put both unconscious accident victims on gurneys and moved them outside in the cold weather. Then they placed Mason and Alice inside the back of the ambulances and hurried them to the emergency room at the Munson Community Health Center. Once there they went into the surgical rooms for treatment. Mason had a compound fracture of his forearm. Alice sustained massive internal injuries to her body and was near death as the surgeons operated on her chest. Her red blood covered their gloved hands as they worked on her in the hospital.

A wrecker arrived and pulled the Chevy Nova out of the store. The owner of the tow truck took it to Gene’s Auto Parts on M-37 and sold it for scrap. Jim called a carpenter who came an hour later to the 7-Eleven, with plywood sheets to cover the broken front window. Once the carpenter arrived, the store manager began to sweep up all the broken glass. They moved the shelves back in place and picked up the merchandise off the floor, mostly bags of potato chips. The carpenter completed the plywood barrier that secured the store in an hour. The store reopened for business.

Later, Mason’s wife, Samantha Rossman, drove up to the 7-Eleven parking lot. Dressed for the cold weather, she wore a heavy winter coat, a red scarf, and matching mittens. She was shocked to see the store’s front window. Plywood covered the hole in the store.

“Oh my God, what happened to the window?” she asked Jim, stepping inside the store.

“There was an accident. I tried to call you but your cell phone was dead,” explained Jim, tossing more broken glass into the trash barrel.

“I forgot to charge it last night,” said Samantha, wondering what was going on.

“I also called the Walmart Hair Salon but someone said you had just left from work. Mason was injured in the car accident that occurred when Randy’s car went through our front window. An ambulance took him to Munson,” said Jim.

“How bad was he hurt?” asked Samantha, concerned about her husband.

“Bad,” answered Jim. “You should go to the hospital right away to check on him.”

Samantha turned around and left the 7-Eleven in a hurry. She drove fast to the hospital and entered the emergency room. A receptionist told her Mason was in surgery. She worried about him. An hour later he was taken to a private room where he remained unconscious. Samantha waited another hour in his room and he finally woke up.

“What happened to me?” asked the groggy patient who lay in a hospital bed. He had a splitting headache from his concession.

      “There was an accident at the 7-Eleven and you got injured. A cast has been put on your forearm. Can you see it?” she asked with tears in her eyes.

“Yes,” said Mason. “This is bad news. We don’t have health insurance to cover the costs.”

“I spent twenty dollars on Powerball lottery tickets. Maybe I’ll win the $800 million jackpot and our worries will be over,” said Samantha, trying to encourage her husband.

“Fat chance,” Mason told Samantha. “The chances of winning are over two million to one. You wasted twenty dollars on lottery tickets.”

“Try and get some rest,” said Samantha, concerned about Mason’s arm.

            Doctor Price entered the hospital room and stood next to Mason’s bed. He said, “Mason, you had a compound fracture of your forearm and probably a head concussion. You were a lucky man. How are you feeling today?”

            “I have a splitting headache,” said Mason, feeling sorry for himself.

            Did you know Alice Edgell?” asked Dr. Price

            “Yes, she’s a regular customer at 7-Eleven,” replied Mason. “Why?”

            “She had severe internal injuries and despite our best efforts died during surgery,” Dr. Price told him. “She fought hard to stay alive but in vain.”

            “That’s too bad. I always liked Alice and considered her a friend,” said Mason. “Doctor, how long before my cast can come off my arm?”

            “Three to four weeks,” answered Dr. Price. “Try and get some rest. There isn’t much we can do about your concussion. It will heal over time. We’ll keep you overnight here at the hospital for observation. Are you his spouse?” he asked Samantha.

            “Yes, I am Mason’s wife,” Samantha told him.

            “Let Mason rest today. Come back tomorrow at noon to pick him up for home,” suggested the doctor.

            “Okay,” agreed Samantha.

            Dr. Price said good-bye and left Mason for the emergency room and the next patient.

            “Try to get a good night’s sleep,” suggested Samantha to her husband. “I’ll pick you up at noon tomorrow and get you back to our apartment. Good-bye Mason.”

            “Thanks for caring about me. Good-bye,” he told his wife. She left the hospital for home in the cold and icy weather. The west wind coming off the big lake howled loudly. That night, worried about Mason, Samantha experienced a restless sleep.

            The next day at noon Samantha arrived at the hospital. Mason had been released from the hospital following a period of observation. She started to drive Mason back to their small apartment in the poor section of Traverse City. They were making monthly payments on their dilapidated old car. The automobile was a junker but all they could afford.

            “How’s the birthday boy doing?” she asked as she drove down the slick road.

            “Frankly, not good at all,” replied Mason who barely remembered it was his twenty- second birthday. He had forgotten turning twenty-two and never thought about his birthdays now that he was getting to be a young adult. 

            “The roads are still icy,” said Samantha. “A lake-effect snowstorm is brewing outside. It’s freezing and the temperature is near zero degrees. The wind chill makes it even colder. There was ice on the windshield this morning. I hope this is the last storm of winter and spring arrives soon.”
            “So do I,” he agreed, rubbing the cast on his arm because his arm itched.   

            Mason hated the job at the 7-Eleven that paid close to minimum wage. He had to stand all day behind a cash register wearing himself down. There was an endless line of customers buying coffee, donuts, snacks, candy, newspapers, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. He was short and overweight with a balding head. Not interested in exercise, Mason was out of shape and not particularly healthy or clean. He seldom showered.

            Mason had graduated from high school and did not attend post-secondary school, even though Traverse City was home to a well-respected community college. His father had passed on, along with his sister. He didn’t have any living siblings in his family, just his aging mother who lived alone in a modest house.

            Things were not going right in Mason’s life. For one thing, his feet were sore because he stood long hours behind the cash register. His back always hurt. He wanted a better job or, even better, to become a successful writer. Dreams of becoming an author were his only ambition and an unrealistic lifetime goal. He lacked the writing skills necessary to get his novel published.

At the end of his typical day shift he waited for his wife, Samantha, to pick him up in their old beat-up car. Samantha worked as a part-time hairdresser at the local Walmart store. She had a trim figure, was well-endowed, and styled her blond hair with the current fashion at the beauty salon. Unlike Mason, she was an optimist. Although they were in near poverty, she didn’t mind not having money. She just dreamed about renting a better house and buying a new used car.

            Samantha was the extremely dedicated daughter of a sickly mother named Alice Ridgeway. Alice had a terminal case of lung cancer from chain-smoking for thirty years. Each day Samantha stopped by her mother’s home to have some coffee and conversation. Her mother appreciated Samantha’s company but she didn’t like Mason at all. Despite her mother’s objections about Mason, Samantha was a loyal and faithful daughter—to a fault. She loved her mother dearly.

            “On the way home, Mason said to his wife, “I’m tired.”

“You had a rough time yesterday. Try to rest when we get home. The Powerball lottery drawing tonight is up to over $800,000,000,” she told him, excited. “I bought five tickets.”

“It’s a waste of our money. Your odds of winning are extremely low. I’m angry with you Samantha for spending our money on lottery tickets. We have bills to pay every month. In the future, don’t waste our small paychecks on the lottery,” said Mason, upset.

“Maybe I’ll win some money,” said Samantha. “If I do win the jackpot, I’ll split the money with you and buy a house, plus a better car.”

      “Wishful thinking,” said Mason. “We could have gone to McDonald’s or Burger King twice for twenty dollars and have change left over.”
      Mason is such a pessimist, Samantha thought to herself. He should let me dream about winning the lottery instead of being so negative. Maybe I will win the jackpot someday. He’s hard to put up with sometimes but despite his weaknesses as a husband I love him.

            Once home they climbed out of the car and walked to a small two-bedroom apartment trying to stay steady on the icy sidewalk. They went inside and took off their winter coats, scarves, and mittens. The small home was in the low-rent district of Traverse City, furnished with a Goodwillcouch and old wooden chairs someone had painted black. Samantha thought the apartment was okay for the time being, but Mason didn’t like it because of the small size. It wasn’t satisfactory to him. He wanted a bigger office to work in while preparing his novel. Mason thought he deserved more room.

Samantha started to prepare lunch. Mason changed into a blue T-shirt, gray sweats, white socks, and old tennis shoes. He went into the second small bedroom, sat down at the writing desk, and checked his e-mail on the laptop computer.

Damnit, not again, he thought to himself after reading the only current e-mail message. Another rejection from an agent. I’ll never get published at this rate.

Mason had gotten a brief Dear John notice from a New York agent for his new book, which was entitled The Love Affair. The note was a form letter and a terse rejection of his novel. The plot of The Love Affair concerned the struggles of a young couple in Traverse City, Michigan, and how they overcame them. Samantha helped him correct his spelling and grammatical errors in the manuscript. She thought it wasn’t a good novel but didn’t have the heart to tell Mason her opinion. He could not find a literary agent to represent his book to publishing houses despite his best efforts. Mason sent out hundreds of e-mails to New York City and elsewhere across the United States.

            Mason found five more agents’ names and addresses listed inside of his Writers Digest magazine. He prepared some new query letters, typing slowly with his broken arm, and sent them off into cyberspace, hoping for better luck.

After sending the query to five agents in New York City, Samantha called Mason to come into the kitchen for a late lunch. Once Mason saw what she was preparing for their noon meal he complained, “Not macaroni and cheese again.”

“Sorry,” Samantha said, “I know it’s not much of a birthday dinner. I get paid on Friday this week. Also, all the monthly bills are due on Friday too. Maybe we’ll have money left over to buy better groceries after paying our bills. Until then we will have to scrape by with what is available in the cupboards. Once another girl leaves the hair salon at Walmart,I’m next in line for a full-time job. The extra money will help with the groceries and maybe even a better used car.”

            “A new used car would be nice. I hope you’re right about full-time work. I’m getting sick of macaroni and cheese,” he told his wife, barely eating the late lunch.

Depressed about their lack of money, Mason again discussed his future as an author with Samantha. She had heard his fantasy before and didn’t really talk to him, she just listened. Mason hoped to have his book published and made into a movie. Then he could become a full-time author and make something out of his life. He wanted the fame and riches that only a successful novel and a Hollywood film production could provide. His goals were lofty and unreachable due to the lack of Mason’s writing skills.

As they ate, Samantha said, “Honey it’s been a long time since we made love. How about some bedroom action tonight? We could have fun making love together.”

“I’m too tired,” answered Mason.

“It’s been two years since we got married and I’m still not pregnant. How can I get pregnant if you don’t ever make love to me?” asked Samantha, worried about him always being tired and avoiding sex with her.

“I don’t necessarily want rug rats,” replied Mason.

Shocked by his comment, Samantha said, “Before we got married, we agreed to have children after one year. Don’t you remember?”

“I changed my mind,” Mason told his wife, who was disappointed and started crying.

“I can remember when I couldn’t get you out of the bedroom. Now you watch too many porno movies you rent from the adult bookstore and can’t ever get it up for me,” complained Samantha with tears running down her cheeks.

Mason ignored her statement, but knew it was true. Making love to his wife was boring and did not succeed in stimulating him anymore. He remained silent, listening to her complain some more about their lack of a sex with each other. Finally, she quit talking about their declining love life in the bedroom and they sat silently while Mason finished his macaroni and cheese. Instead of thinking about what Samantha was saying to him, he ate his lunch reflecting on his novel, which he had just finished writing.

When lunch was over Samantha washed the dishes. Mason went back inside his bedroom office to send out more query letters to literary agents. Most agents get over one hundred queries per week so it was slim pickings. He spent the first part of the evening working on his laptop. It was tedious work with his broken arm and he struggled, with his one good hand, to type. Finally, he sent out five more queries to New York City and elsewhere in the country, hoping for the best. [William: I would take this out as you said something very similar a little earlier]

Life had been a struggle for Mason. At age three his parents were killed in a car accident. He could only barely remember them. After their deaths, he and his sister Kristen were adopted by his grandparents on his father’s side of the family. His grandfather believed in the old school of discipline: if you spared the rod you would spoil the child. He practiced corporal punishment on Mason for breaking even minor household rules. Despite his negative opinion of his grandfather Mason loved his grandmother dearly. She spoiled him with homemade cookies and ice-cold Royal Crown soda pop each day. Each night at bedtime she would read Mason a story from a children’s book. He was a normal boy full of mischief and a desire for adventure.

When Mason was ten years old Kristen died and his world shattered. Her death represented a traumatic time in his life and he missed her dearly. His grandmother had raised Mason and Kristen to be Christian Scientists. Christian Science is a religion based on Mary Baker Eddy’s book Science and Health. It teaches that sickness is an illusion that can be corrected by prayer. According to Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Science prayer is most effective when not combined with medicine. Reality, according to her Christian Science textbook, was spiritual and the material world an illusion. Disease was mental error rather than a physical disorder, and should be treated not by medicine, but by a form of prayer that seeks to correct beliefs responsible for the illusion of poor health. Sickness, according to Mary Baker Eddy, is considered mental error.

In the 1880s, Mark Twain was a prominent and outspoken critic of Mary Baker Eddy’s book Science and Health and her new religion. He attacked her viciously and even wrote a book against the Christian Science religion. But his daughter Clara Clemensbecame a Christian Scientist and also wrote a more positive book about the religion entitled Awake to a Perfect Day.

After breaking bonds with the Christian Science church Mason did intensive research on diseases and medical care. Kristen had died of hyperglycemia. Instead of going immediately to a hospital, a Christian Science practitioner who served as a faith healer had been sent to pray for her. After her death doctors claimed she could have been easily saved by an insulin injection, even one given just two hours before she died.

Once Mason became aware of the circumstances surrounding Kristen’s death, he researched Christian Science diligently on the Internet. He discovered that other children had died following a lack of adequate of medical attention. For the first time, he read that Christian Science was considered a cult by some people. The unnecessary death of his only sibling turned Mason against Christian Science and he refused to go to church. He broke off all attendance with the church at the age of fifteen, bitter about his sister’s death. Having nothing more to do with the religion Mason no longer attended any church and was not sure of his beliefs about life after death. He considered himself to be a cynical agnostic even as a teenager.

Also, by the age of fifteen his grandfather died of natural causes brought on with a heart attack. When Mason entered high school he was living at home with only his grandmother, in a small house next to the Traverse City State Hospital grounds. It was a modest home but loving.

During high school Mason’s grades were a B average. He hated gym class because he was overweight and almost obese. Mason was teased at school about his weight problem. His favorite class was a creative writing course taught by a mentor named Miss Jackson. She always gave Mason an A+; apparently she thought he had some talent writing short stories. Miss Jackson motivated him and he acquired a passion for writing even with his limited skills.  

After high school graduation, he wrote human interest articles for the daily Traverse City Record Eagle newspaper, the weekly entertainment guide named The Northern Express, and the monthly Traverse Magazine. He was a barely adequate writer who liked getting paid for his articles, even though it was a small amount of money. Over time he built up publication credits to use in his background information with literary agents when he sent out query letters. Mason had just finished his novel entitled The Love Affair.

He struggled financially to send his novel to a typist for a professional look and finally, after a long time, succeeded after saving some money from his 7-Eleven job. After dinner, Mason stayed inside his makeshift office. Samantha watched The Big Bang Theory reruns on an old black-and-white television set. She was a smart, independent, and friendly woman with tremendous inner power to help conquer the toughest challenges. Her loving father had died the previous year of a heart attack and she missed him dearly. All that had been left of her family was her mother who had terminal lung cancer and was not thought to survive the disease.

The only other living thing in the apartment was Samantha’s blue parakeet with long tail feathers in a birdcage. She had named her pet Blue Birdie. Often Samantha let Blue Birdie out of the cage to fly around the apartment. It would land on the rim of her reading glasses and stay there several minutes, perched by her eyebrow. When she decided it was time to put Blue Bird back in the cage Samantha would hold out her index finger straight and the parakeet would hop down on it. Then she placed Blue Bird inside the cage. It was the young woman’s favorite pet.

Samantha had a best friend named Pamela Spencer whom she had known since her elementary school days. Pamela was attending Northwestern State College in Traverse City, studying to be a nurse. They palled around Traverse City, sometimes going out to lunch when Samantha could afford it, and otherwise spent a lot of time together. They became close friends,

At eight o’clock that night Mason came out of his makeshift office and said to Samantha, “I’m going down to the Union Street Saloonfor my free birthday drink. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”

Mason wanted to celebrate his birthday at the Union Street Saloon.

“Please don’t stay out too late, and be careful. The roads are icy tonight,” she cautioned him.

“Okay,” he said, not being concerned the about driving conditions.

Mason knew his wife Samantha was correct—the roads were icy but he didn’t care. He left the apartment and scraped off the ice from the car’s windshield with his one good arm. Then he drove down to the Union Street Saloon, which wasn’t far from their apartment. Parking the car behind a red brick building, he got out and walked through the blowing ice storm to the bar. He soon got cold from the frigid temperatures. The wind chill made it worse on Mason.

Once he got inside his good friend Jeff Saxton, a.k.a. Wolf, greeted him warmly. Wolf was an electrician and had a good-paying job. He often hung out at the saloon. The bartender named Vince came up to them behind the bar and asked what Mason wanted to drink.

“It’s my birthday. I’m twenty-two years old. I get a free birthday drink, don’t I?” asked Mason.

“Yes, you do get a complimentary cocktail, what will you have?” Vince wanted to know.

“A Jack and Coke on ice,” answered Mason.

Vince walked behind the bar and poured a shot of Jack Daniels into a glass and filled it with ice and Coke. “Happy birthday,” said Vince, putting the drink in front of Mason.

“Let’s all sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to my friend Mason,” shouted Wolf to all the customers in the saloon.

Mason was a little embarrassed by all the attention, as Wolf, Vince, and a few customers sang him the birthday song. Wolf slapped him hard on the back. He was a good friend of Mason’s and always ready for a party. The birthday boy drank freely from the glass of whiskey and Coke. After finishing the drink Wolf bought him another round. Then another customer bought Mason a drink. Again, he drank the strong Jack Daniels and Coke down quickly.

“I’ve got to get going,” Mason told Wolf and Vince.

“What’s the hurry?” asked Wolf. “You just got here. It’s your birthday so let’s celebrate tonight. Don’t be a party pooper.”

“Okay,” said Mason, agreeing reluctantly to celebrate his birthday with some more alcohol.

Vince poured Mason a fourth glass of whiskey and Coke. He drank it down. Then he had a fifth drink and started to get a buzz on from the hard liquor.

“I’m going home,” said Mason, slightly drunk.

“Just one more for the road,” said Wolf, who ordered Mason a sixth cocktail.

“Okay, one for the road,” agreed Mason, whose head was spinning.

Wolf paid Vince, and Mason had his sixth cocktail of whiskey and Coke. He tried to pace himself but found he could swallow it down swiftly. He was getting drunk from all the whiskey in his stomach.

            “I’m out of here,” Mason told Wolf and all the customers, waving good-bye. Zipping up his coat, Mason walked out the saloon door. He almost slipped and fell down on the icy sidewalk. Regaining his balance, he went around the back of the building and started his beat-up car. The battery was low, but finally the engine cranked over. The windshield was covered with ice again. Mason got back outside and scraped it off with his one good arm. It took great effort to scrape the ice off. Then he went back inside the car and pulled out of the parking lot.

It was cold inside the car and Mason couldn’t get the heater to work. Driving east down Union Street he couldn’t see that well at all out the frost-covered windows. He felt tipsy coming to a stop sign. A taxicab was parked at the intersection. Mason didn’t realize the icy road was slippery and might cause an accident when he tried to stop. With a crashing thud, he rear-ended the taxi. Damage to both vehicles occurred. Getting out of the taxi, the driver was quite mad. Mason rolled down the driver’s side window of his damaged car.

“What the hell are you doing?” asked the hot-headed taxi driver, putting his head into Mason’s open car window. He was hot.

“I’m just trying to get home. I didn’t see you in time to stop on the slick road. I’m sorry,” said Mason, shaking off the soreness in the arm that had the cast on it.

“Well, you damaged my taxi, you dumb fuck. I count on it for my income,” said the driver, smelling alcohol coming from Mason’s car. “I’m going to call the police and report this accident. You’ll get a ticket for rear-ending me. Plus, I think you’re a drunk driver.”

Oh great, thought Mason. All I need is to talk with a cop. I hope I don’t get busted for drunk driving tonight. Samantha will have a fit when she finds out I was driving impaired.

While the taxi driver used his cell phone to make the call, Mason staggered out of his car to inspect the damage. The hood was crunched in and the driver’s side headlight had been broken, but Mason thought he could drive the wreck home. He waited for the police to arrive, standing by the accident as the cold wind and driving ice storm came down around him. Finally, he saw the flashing lights of a police car traveling east on Union Street toward them.

The cop car pulled up behind the damaged cars. The police officer got outside the patrol car with a notebook and pen. “What happened?” he asked the two men standing by the car accident.

“That dumb ass drunk rear-ended me,” explained the taxi driver, pointing at Mason, upset with the car accident that had ruined the back of his taxi.

            The cop asked Mason to tell him what had happened as he struggled to stand straight after drinking all that hard liquor.

            Mason said, “The road is icy and I didn’t see him in time to enough to stop.”

“I smell alcohol. Sir, have you been drinking tonight?” asked the cop.

“A little bit, but I’m not drunk,” Mason told him trying to sound sober as he tried to answer the cop’s question.

“Okay, I’m going to give you a sobriety test. Please recite the alphabet,” ordered the police officer.

Mason managed to stumble through the alphabet, missing some letters. The cop wasn’t impressed. Then he had him walk a straight line. Mason staggered along, trying to keep his balance.

“I have a question for you. Were you driving east or west?” asked the police officer.

“West,” answered Mason incorrectly.

“Wrong. You were eastbound,” said the cop. “I’m going to have to give you a breath-analyzer test.”

Damn it, thought Mason, knowing he wouldn’t pass the test. Now I’m in big trouble with the law. I’ll never pass a breath-analyzer test after drinking so much. I know Samantha is going to kill me for driving our car drunk.

People stopped their cars and looked at Mason, who had a problem standing up straight. The cop went back to his patrol car and retrieved a breath-analyzer kit. When he returned, he made Mason blow into a straw and watched the handheld machine calibrate his alcohol level. The police officer looked at the results, shaking his head with displeasure.

“You tested 1.8 and that’s over the limit. You’re within the range of being super drunk, which carries more penalties. I’m going to have to arrest you,” the cop told Mason.

The officer read Mason his rights and handcuffed both hands behind his back, then led him to the patrol car. People were now outside their cars watching him get arrested. They stared at Mason intently. Opening the door, the cop made him sit down on the back seat. Tears started to roll down Mason’s face, for he knew it would be expensive and a big hassle to be charged with drunk driving. Mason felt depressed and knew he would probably lose his driver’s license maybe for up to six months or even year. He was only hopeful the judge would go easy on him given that this was his first drunk-driving offense.

            The cop spent several minutes writing down notes and talking to the taxi driver. A tow truck arrived and took Mason’s car down to the police station. Finally, the police officer returned to the patrol car and slowly drove across town to the Traverse City Law Enforcement Center with his drunk driver in the back seat.

            Going inside the police station, the cop booked Mason for driving while intoxicated and made him empty his pockets. He had a grand total of $3.55, which the cop put in a sealed envelope. Then the police officer had Mason take out his driver’s license from his wallet. With a pair of scissors, the cop cut the license in half, throwing it away in the trash. Mason was shocked by his action. Damn. Now I lost my driver’s license. He cut it up and threw the pieces away in the garbage can, he thought to himself. It will cost me a fortune to get it back.

“Your drunk-driving bail is $250. You get one telephone call,” said the officer, handing Mason a cell phone.

Reluctantly, he called Samantha and said, “Hello honey. I’m in jail for drunk driving. Would you please bring down $250 for my bail and get me out of here?”

“But we don’t have $250 to our name even if I go to the credit union tomorrow morning,” she told her husband, upset by his poor behavior.

Mason asked, “Will you go to your mother’s house and ask her for the bail money?”

“Mason, you are in trouble up to your ears. You shouldn’t have been drinking in the first place,” Samantha shouted over the phone at him.

“I know. I know. Please help me out and go see your mother,” said Mason, feeling concerned she wouldn’t do it and he would have to serve a jail sentence.

            A police officer commanded “Mason take off your belt and turn it over to me.”          Mason had to take off his belt and give it to the policeman. He was locked into a jail cell with Randy Hudson. Randy was the driver of the Chevy Nova that had slammed into the front window of the 7-Eleven.

            He asked Mason, “What kind of trouble are you in?”

“Drunk driving,” answered Mason, feeling depressed.

Randy said, “Well they do call it Tragic City . . .”

The cell had hard cots to rest on. Mason sat down on one of them, feeling awful. His head was spinning from all the whiskey he had consumed. He felt the urge to throw up. While he waited, Samantha telephoned for a taxicab to take her to her mother’s house across town. The ice storm continued unabated. The west wind howled.

Once she had arrived at her mother’s home there was a light in the living room even though it was late in the evening. She asked the taxicab driver to wait outside for her to return. Samantha ran up to the front door and knocked on it. She yelled, “Mom! Mom! It’s me, Samantha.”

A moment later her mother, Alice Ridgeway, opened the front door of the home. She was dressed in a faded green nightgown. She was sickly as a result of her lung cancer, and had been treated with chemotherapy a few days ago. Letting Samantha in the house she was surprised her daughter had arrived so late on such a stormy night.

“Samantha, what in the world are you doing out in this ice storm in the dead of night? What do you want so badly dear?” asked her mother, concerned about her daughter’s welfare and somewhat confused.

Samantha sat down on a recliner in the middle-class home. “Mother,” she said, “I need $250 right away.”

“Why so much money?” asked her cancer-stricken mother.

“I need it to make bail for Mason,” explained Samantha. “He got in an accident and is sitting in jail tonight for drunk driving.”

“That no good bum of a husband. I don’t feel sorry for him one bit. He could have killed someone or himself in a bad car accident. If he drove drunk, he deserves to be in jail.

“Samantha you were always popular in high school, earned good grades, played on the successful volleyball team that went to state competition finals. You even had some minor roles in dramatic plays. But you always brought home losers to meet your parents. God only knows where you found them all. Mason was the worst boyfriend of yours we ever met. He will never be a bestselling author. Never.

“We wanted you to be a business entrepreneur like your father. Walter was so successful as a clothing store owner in downtown Traverse City when the small town wasn’t so big. We should have insisted you go to college. You shot too low in life, attending that vocational center beauty salon program during high school. Samantha, you have a poor-paying job and it isn’t even full-time work.

            “Your father, God bless his soul, warned you to never marry Mason. I guess love can be blind sometimes. Mason is the biggest disappointment in your parents’ lives. He’s a total loser,” said Alice, taking her thumb and index finger to make an L and placing it on her forehead. “Now I’ve said my piece and expressed my poor opinion of Mason. I’ve said enough tonight.”

“I know you don’t like Mason, but I love him dearly and he is in trouble. Can you please give me $250 to get him out of jail?” requested Samantha again, feeling ashamed for having to ask her dear mother for money.

Alice thought about her daughter’s request for nearly a full minute and then finally said, “Okay I’ll give you the money, but just this time, no more cash assistance for the bum. Understand?”

Samantha shook her head yes, agreeing to the ultimatum her mother had made about never borrowing more money for Mason.

Alice continued speaking in a strained voice and told her daughter, “The money is in the cookie jar on the shelf over the stove. Go to the kitchen and get $250 out of it for your drunk driver. I’m going back to bed.”

“Oh, thank you, Mother,” said Samantha, getting up from the recliner and going into the kitchen.

She took the lid off the cookie jar and helped herself to $250 with five, fifty-dollar bills.

Holding the money in her hand, Samantha thanked her mother again and said good-bye. Alice headed toward her bedroom, coughing hard from the cigarettes she had smoked that day. Samantha went back outside to the taxi. The driver drove the cab downtown to the Law Enforcement Center in the ice storm, going down the road slowly with care. Once they got to the jail, Samantha asked him to wait for her outside until she got her husband out of his jam.

Going inside the jailhouse, Samantha gave the police the $250 bail money. She asked the cop where their car had been taken to. He gave her the location in the police parking lot. Mason was released.

Hot with anger, Samantha went back to the taxi and paid the fare. Eventually, Samantha found their ice-covered wrecked car in the police parking lot. The damaged vehicle was barely in condition to make it home to their apartment. She started the engine which just barely turned over. The car’s heater didn’t work. It was a bitter cold night and the arctic vortex had swept across the Midwest. Mason lay down in the back seat, too drunk to sit up.

On the way home Samantha scolded Mason. She told him, “You were an idiot to drive drunk. It will cost us several thousand dollars to get you out of trouble and we don’t have that in the credit union. My mother gave us the bail money but isn’t going to provide us any more money in the future. She helped this time, but never again. Why doesn’t the heater work?”

“It’s been broken since yesterday,” slurred Mason, intoxicated from all the whiskey he had consumed at the Union Street Saloon.

“That’s just great,” said Samantha sarcastically. She felt upset with her drunk husband’s statement.

Mason knew it would be expensive to get his license restored and he didn’t have the money. Until then he couldn’t dare drive their wrecked car with no license.

When they got back to the apartment, Mason threw up in the toilet. At three o’clock in the morning Samantha and Mason went to bed. They did not make love. Even Samantha wasn’t in the mood for sex. She did worry about their lack of a physical relationship in the recent past. The young woman wondered if Mason still loved her as much as when they’d gotten married two years ago. Samantha thought maybe they were just going through a rough patch in their relationship and hoped that things would improve eventually.

Mason blacked out and snored, sleeping off the hard liquor cocktails he’d consumed. Samantha lay awake in bed thinking about their troubled marriage. She nudged Mason and told him to roll over. He did roll his fat body in the bed and finally stopped snoring.

Samantha thought about how disappointed she felt about Mason’s new negative attitude about having children. She wrestled with her emotions and felt betrayed.

Maybe my mother is right about Mason never becoming a bestselling author. I know his novel isn’t that good. He will never find an agent. I guess I did marry a loser, thought Samantha, crying herself to sleep with the lights turned off in their small dark bedroom. It had not been a good night for her marriage.

At five in the morning Mason had a vivid nightmare. A pale white ghost came to him from out of the woods while he was asleep and said, “Beware of sudden riches. They carry a death curse.”

Startled, Mason awoke and sat up in bed. He couldn’t understand the warning, but was alarmed by the nightmare. As the ceiling spun around above him from all the alcohol he’d had to drink, he finally fell back asleep, restless.

The next morning, Samantha got up and turned on the bedroom’s bright overhead light. Mason let out a groan and sat up in bed. His mouth was parched dry and he had a splitting headache. When Mason got out of bed in his pajamas, he went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. After cleaning up and taking a couple of aspirin he went into the kitchen and sat down at the table. Samantha was still mad at him. She served her hungover husband a cup of coffee and cold cereal with milk for breakfast. Mason complained again about the food, but she just ignored him. He’d had enough of cold cereal each morning and wanted eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast even though he was hung over.

Samantha telephoned her best friend, Pamela, catching her before she left for class. She told the college student that Mason had been arrested for drunk driving. Pamela was unhappy about the situation and didn’t particularly like Mason in the first place. She listened to her friend complain about her husband’s arrest in detail. They agreed to go out to lunch the day after tomorrow and discuss Mason’s drunk-driving charge if Samantha could afford it.

After breakfast, Mason got dressed in his work clothes. Samantha drove him to the 7-Eleven; he wasan hour late for his shift. Once in the parking lot, Samantha turned off the car engine and they went inside the convenience store where Mason was immediately confronted by the manager.

“Mason you look hung over. You’re my best employee but I have a mind to fire you this morning. I’m giving you one last chance as a cashier. No more coming in to work late or being hung over while you’re employed here. Now get behind the cash register and wait on these customers,” said the manager rudely.

Humbled, Mason took his position behind the counter and made a sale to his first customer.

“I want to check my Powerball ticket,” Samantha told Mason, getting the lottery ticket out of her purse and handing it to him.

“You’re wasting your time and can’t possibly have a winning ticket,” Mason told her.

“I won thirty dollars one time. All I want is for the lottery ticket to pay for itself,” said Samantha.

He took the lottery ticket over to the red machine scanner and checked it. The machine hummed and pumped out a message that read “Congratulations. You won big bucks!”

Mason thought the machine had made an error. He placed the ticket under the scanner a second time and the same winning message came up on the screen again.

“Samantha,” he said, “something is wrong here. The machine says you won some money.”

“Really?” Samantha asked, walking behind the counter and looking at the message board on the screen. “How much?”

“It doesn’t say how much but the lottery screen says you won big bucks,” Mason told his wife.

Samantha screamed out loud and kissed Mason. She said, “I wonder how much I won, maybe a $1,000. It’s too good to be true!”

Despite his hangover they both giggled and laughed. Mason checked scanned the winning ticket again to make sure it was a winner. The same message appeared on the screen a third time. Some of the morning customers were amazed by their reaction and stared in awe. Samantha and Mason hugged each other tightly and kissed.

“It’s too much to believe,” said Mason, “but it doesn’t say how much you won.”

“What should we do?” asked Samantha, giggling.

“There is a Michigan Lottery Office in Grand Rapids. We should take the ticket down there and see if it is valid. Maybe we won some money, I don’t know, but it’s worth the drive,” Mason said to Samantha and the manager of the store, Jim Chandler.

“I’ll cover your shift,” offered Jim, upset about the situation that required him to take over the cashier’s day shift position for Mason. The store manager only reluctantly offered to fill in for Mason.

Mason and Samantha both agreed that it would be a good idea to drive the 150 miles south to Grand Rapids. It was Samantha’s day off from the Walmart Hair Salon. They got back into the old car with poor tires and one headlight busted out. Samantha started driving on the icy roads along US-131 south to Grand Rapids. They were anxious to find out how much she had won. She tried to make the wrecked car go fast down the highway but every car passed them. The highway was icy and she had to be careful driving on the slick road.

“The heater is broken again,” Samantha complained. “I can’t get it to work.”

“It’s been broken for a few days now. You know that,” said Mason. They shivered riding inside the cold car. Frost formed on the car windows.

“Now we are going to freeze all the way to Grand Rapids,” complained Samantha, upset about the frigid weather as they drove down the highway.

            Mason changed the subject by saying, “You know, Samantha, if we won just a little money, maybe just a thousand dollars, it would help pay for better groceries for a while and I could have real meals.”

“That would be wonderful,” said Samantha, hoping for the best. “And we could get the heater fixed in our car.”

“Look out!” shouted Mason as a large buck crossed the highway right in front of them. Samantha tried to swerve the car but didn’t have time to miss the deer. She screamed loudly. SMACK! The old clunker hit the deer on the front passenger’s side and it flew into the ditch, dead from the blow it had suffered.

“Pull over and let me inspect the damage,” Mason told Samantha.

Samantha slowed down to a stop. Mason got out and looked around to the front of the car in the area hit by the deer. Cars sped by the parked vehicle on the right shoulder of the highway. The passenger’s side headlight was broken and a clump of brown fur was wedged against the bumper. The buck lay in the nearby ditch, dead.

Damn it, we can’t drive in the dark without any lights, Mason thought to himself. We’re having a string of bad luck. This road trip better pay off or I’ll be mad as hell.

He got back inside the car and told Samantha the remaining headlight was broken and they could no longer drive at night. Then he motioned her to start the old car again. She barely managed get back on the highway. It turned out to be a long cold trip to the lottery headquarters, which remained miles away.

Once in Grand Rapids, Mason couldn’t find the Michigan lottery office. He stopped at a gas station and telephoned the office number on the back of the lottery ticket.  Mason got directions to the building. They had a hard time finding the headquarters of the Michigan lottery but Mason and Samantha eventually found its location in the downtown area of Grand Rapids.

Once they arrived at the lottery office, Mason parked their car on the street and put a quarter the coin machine, which was on the curb. Looking up at the building, Mason and Samantha thought it was quite impressive. They held each other’s hands. Samantha said a little prayer that the winning ticket would be worth at least a thousand dollars. Then they went inside and were greeted by an official-looking female state employee, in a navy-blue uniform, behind a counter.

“Can I help you two?” asked the lottery official.

“Ma’am we have a Powerball ticket for you to check. Please make it a winner. We need some money desperately,” said Mason, nervous it would be a losing ticket and the ride to Grand Rapids would have been in vain.

“Which one of you two bought the ticket?” she asked.

“I did,” said Samantha.

“You need to sign the back of the ticket and then I’ll check it in our lottery machine to see if it’s a winner,” she told Samantha.

After Samantha signed the back of the ticket, the uniformed lady took the lottery ticket over to the machine and put it into the scanner. Once she had scanned the ticket twice, she smiled and came back to the counter. She said, “I’m so happy for you two. You won the Powerball jackpot which is approximately $800,000,000. It’s one of the biggest jackpots in the history of the lottery. Congratulations.”

Mason and Samantha stood there dumbfounded. They just remained in front of the counter, shell-shocked and amazed, not moving. The news was too good to be true.

Unbelievable, Mason finally thought to himself, delighted by the news that Samantha had won the Powerballlottery prize.

The lady went on saying, “I have some forms for Samantha to fill out. I’m going to give you the name of a financial advisor who can help you two invest the money in the stock market or bonds. It will be at least three weeks until you officially get the prize money. There will be a press conference in this building at that time announcing Samantha as the winner of the large Powerball jackpot. You both will want to attend.”

“Three weeks? I can’t wait,” said Samantha, raising her hands up in the air, thanking the lord.

“Neither can I,” said Mason, amazed by their luck and that they’d won the Powerball jackpot.

They laughed together with overwhelming joy. Besides her wedding it was the best time of Samantha’s life. Now everything would now be okay for them.

Samantha filled out the paperwork, which took some time, and then they said good-bye to the lottery official. A parking ticket was placed on their windshield but they didn’t care. They no longer complained about the car heater being broken. All the way back to Traverse City they were thrilled at their good fortune.

Samantha used her cell phone and called her sickly mother with the news she had won the Powerball lottery. Surprisingly, Alice wasn’t particularly impressed. She thought Mason would blow all the money within a year. Despite her concerns, Samantha felt that for once everything seemed perfect in their lives. Winning the lottery had significant benefits for the young couple. Samantha and Mason felt great joy as they rode back to Traverse City without a car heater working in the wreck.

It can get damn cold in northern Michigan during the winter.