Was Danny getting punked? Or getting lucky?
Danny walked around the park, taking in the early spring day. The leaves were just starting to bud and the air smelled of fresh dirt. He’s had his head in his books so much lately that it felt like he was just coming out of a cave. It was good to be outside. After completing the loop around the pond, he sat on his favorite bench, the one that overlooked the water. He felt something underneath him and stood up again. A small black notebook, the kind he always imagined writers carried with them everywhere, sat on the bench.
He picked it up and flipped through the pages. It was empty except for a brief note on the first page:
This is your lucky day! I am a wealthy man nearing the end of my life. I want to give $20,000 to whoever finds this book. All you have to do is follow the clues and the cash is yours! Help bring an old man joy and play along!
Danny looked around to see if anyone was watching him but saw no one. Was he being punked? This was the kind of thing that happened on those practical-joke TV shows that used to be popular. He peeked around a couple of nearby trees but didn’t see anyone hiding with a camera. Maybe it was real. It couldn’t hurt to find out, right? What else did he have to do? He looked back at the page to read the first clue.
Don’t burn me. You might need me someday.
That one was easy. It must be referring to the bridge on the north end of the pond. Danny jogged over and walked around the bridge. Taped to the underside was a Ziploc bag with a piece of paper inside. Danny tucked the black notebook into his jacket pocket. He held on to one of the bridge posts and leaned out to grab the bag. There was a note inside written in the same handwriting as that in the notebook.
This seven-letter word has hundreds of letters in it. Come find yours.
Hmm, that one was a little harder. How could it have seven letters and also hundreds of letters? Danny figured that, wherever this clue was leading, it probably wasn’t far. The bridge hadn’t been far from the bench, so this was probably nearby as well. He began walking the trail that led away from the bridge. He’d follow it to the edge of the park and then take the perimeter trail until he figured it out.
He could just see the entrance to the park when he realized what the clue was referring to. A mailbox! He counted out the letters on his fingers to make sure there were seven. Yup, that had to be it! There was a blue USPS box just up the block from the park gate. He picked up his pace and walked to the mailbox. He didn’t see anything on the outside of the box that looked like a note. He opened the mail chute, but there was nothing attached to that, either. He was getting concerned he’d gotten it wrong, but when he ran his hand along the underside of the box, he felt the plastic bag. With a grin, he ripped it off, standing up quickly before anyone could see him and wonder if he was planting a bomb. With his round glasses and skinny frame, he wasn’t anyone’s idea of a terrorist, but these days…. He opened the bag and tore out the note.
I’m full of stories. I’d love to give you a few. Wrapped in a jacket.
What the heck did that mean? The person writing the notes was full of stories? That wouldn’t be surprising. You had to be pretty creative to give away your money this way. Not that Danny was one-hundred-percent convinced that there would really be money at the end of this rainbow. It would probably turn out to be some bored high school kid looking for a laugh.
He thought about the clue. The rich guy couldn’t be talking about himself. Being full of stories wasn’t something Danny could see. As for wearing a coat, that applied to everyone on this early-April day. So where else did you find stories, if not in someone’s mind? A book, obviously, but what did that have to do with coats? He looked back at the clue. Wrapped in a jacket, it said, not a coat. Of course! A book jacket! Danny shook his head at his denseness. So were there any bookstores around here? The only one he could think of was the one at the mall, but that was too far away. He mentally walked through town, trying to remember if there were other bookstores, but he couldn’t think of any. So what was nearby that would have a bunch of books. The elementary school wasn’t far, but he couldn’t just waltz in there and ask to see their library. Library! Of course, the public library. It was only a couple of blocks away. Farther than the other clues had been, but Mr. Money seemed to be stretching them a little each time.
Danny walked quickly to the library, chastising himself for having to think so hard about where to find books in his town and vowing to read more fiction this year. He got to the library in under five minutes but wasn’t sure what to do now. Where in the library would he find this clue? It was a big place. He walked inside to see if anything obvious would strike him.
Just inside the door was a big bulletin board where people could post flyers about upcoming community activities. Danny broke out in a smile. At the far end of the bulletin board was a display of the librarians’ favorite book jackets. He went over and perused them, looking for the now-familiar plastic bag. He saw it peeking out of an ornate green cover for a novel called The Inheritance Games. Danny chuckled at the choice as he pulled it out. Mr. Money had a sense of humor in addition to a creative mind. He unfolded the piece of paper and read the next clue.
I’m next in line. The green awaits. But the blue comes first. 232. 126.
This time Danny was really stumped. The green was obviously the money, but what was the blue? And what were those numbers? Not enough to be a phone number. A P.O. box? Those usually weren’t two numbers, though. Some type of address? He opened Google Maps on his phone. He typed 126 in the search box and a couple of local street addresses popped up, a sushi restaurant and a dry cleaner. That didn’t seem right. He backspaced and typed in 232. This time, three locations came up. The first was a coffee shop, but when he saw the second one, he gasped. It was an apartment building at 232 Oak Street. And the exterior bricks were painted blue. He remembered now having driven past it once, but he’d forgotten all about it. The 126 was probably the person’s apartment number.
He quickly called an Uber and in a couple of minutes he was on his way to Mr. Money. Maybe. What did he really think was going to happen? Hopefully, he wouldn’t end up on that TV show that tracked down missing persons. He’d come this far, though, so he was going to see it through. The chances of it being a serial killer had to be pretty low, right? There were much easier ways to find victims.
The Uber dropped Danny off at 232 Oak Street. He walked inside and headed down the first hallway to the right, checking out the numbers on the doors. The first was #120, a good sign. He kept walking, past #122 and #124, and then he was standing in front of apartment #126. Danny stood there for a minute, fighting the urge to run. Then he reached a shaky hand up to knock on the door.
He heard a shuffling, and then an older gentleman peeked out.
“Yes, can I help you?” he asked.
Danny didn’t know what to say, so he fumbled in his jacket pocket and pulled out the black notebook. The man broke into a huge smile. He opened the door wide and reached out to drag Danny into the apartment.
“Oh my, I’m so excited!” he said. “I didn’t think anyone would actually play my game. This is fantastic. Fantastic!”
Danny was a little hesitant to go into a stranger’s apartment, but the man seemed so genuinely pleased that he felt safe. He followed the man down the hall to the living room.
“I’m Sebastian Marks,” he told Danny. He reached up to his bookshelf and pulled down a silver urn. He stuck his hand in, coming back out with a black bag. He opened it and pulled out a stack of bills. He let Danny peer into the bag, where he saw many more stacks just like that one.
“But, why?” Danny asked. He couldn’t believe this was really happening.
Sebastian shrugged. “I’m old. I don’t have children. And truth be told, I’m bored. I thought this would be a fun way to do some good and meet some new people. Maybe I’ll do it again!” He chuckled at Danny. “You can only win once, though!”
Danny spent the next half hour chatting with Sebastian Marks about his life—his career, the places he’d lived. His cancer. Then Sebastian yawned and handed him the bag.
“I’m sorry, son. All this excitement has worn me out. I’m afraid I need a nap. Have fun with the money. Don’t be too practical!”
Danny said his goodbyes and left. He called another Uber and headed home, clutching the black bag to his chest. When he got back to his apartment building, he subtly peeled a bill from the topmost stack and ran into the nearby pizza place to buy a celebratory pie. It was the best pizza he’d ever had, and he ate it while staring at the stacks of cash in front of him. What a crazy day. Even he was tired. He hid the money inside one of his bongos and went to bed.
The next morning, he woke to the sound of banging on his front door. He stumbled to the door in his underwear. He opened the door and several policemen forced their way in.
“Hands up, hands up!” they yelled.
Danny threw his hands in the air, though he had no idea what was going on.
“Are you Danny Waters,” they asked.
“Yes,” he replied shakily. “What’s going on? What did I do?”
“You’re under arrest for the robbery of the Union Bank last week.” The police officer cuffed him and began to Mirandize him, but he was too shocked to really hear what he was saying.
“What?! I didn’t rob a bank! I’m a student!” What that had to do with anything, not even Danny knew.
“Okay, son, but you paid for that pizza last night”—he pointed to the empty cardboard box on the couch—“with marked bills. Not too smart to spend the bait money, buddy. Especially in a place with video cameras.”
“No, no, you don’t understand! I got that money from an old man. It was a treasure hunt! He gave it to me!” Danny realized how ridiculous it sounded, and he saw the two cops look at each other knowingly.
“Okay, buddy,” one of them said, a little gentler now. “Where’s the cash?”
Danny showed them and they took the money and then led Danny down to the police car.
What was he going to do? They were never going to believe him. He wouldn’t either. Danny felt like throwing up.
He was muttering, “Mr. Money. The blue before the green,” when they put him in the back and drove away.