A Key to Destiny...

Copyright 1985, 1986 by Gregory S. Swann. All Rights Reserved.
Direct inquiries to CIS I.D. 75115,1341.

A Key to Destiny...

        I was to meet the Born Winner at ten at 101 Park Avenue. It
was five past and he still hadn't shown, but that was fine with me:
101 is my favorite building; I just can't see enough of it.
        The Born Winner isn't his real name. It's Tony, or Tommy, or
something like that. He told me when he came to my house, but that's
been a while ago. But we made a date to meet on the day the contest
prize was given out. I wanted to know if it was my key that won.
        And the key and the contest and the prize are all part of
another story, equally ridiculous; I'll just hit the high points: I
correctly answered a trivia question asked as part of a radio
promotion. I don't remember the question, but I'm certain it was as
important as any speck of dust that ever lounged gracefully on the
stem of a retired grape. But the radio station thought my feat
warranted potential possession of $50,000. Or, as the Born Winner
would say, 'fifty big ones'.
        Anyway, the Born Winner came into my life because of the key.
That was my 'prize' for proving that my brain is fully as organized as
any basement. It was one of those new optical types; really it was
just a piece of card stock cut to the size of a business card and
printed with a bar code. The key was one of 500, one of which was
encoded with the combination of a safe in the radio station's offices.

        And inside the safe was a check for $50,000.
        So... The Born Winner came to buy my key. He'd gotten
permission from the contest judges to buy as many keys as he could get
his hands on. By the time he got to me, he'd bought more than 300 at
$20 a pop.
        He offered me $20 for my key.
        Twenty clams in the mudbank... for a key that had potential
for being worth $50,000... but which had 499 times =more= potential
for being worth as much as a leg of lamb on an alfalfa sprout
        I took his money. I tried not to snicker too loudly; I didn't
want to spoil the deal. But we made a date to meet for the awarding of
the prize. I wanted to see if he'd win.
        And finally he popped out at me from the web of the crowd.
Just as forgetable as I didn't remember him. Maybe thirty five. Too
much paunch, not enough hair. The 'Born Winner' moniker is
        "Hey!," he called. "I wasn't sure if you'd come."
        "Wouldn't miss it."
        "Well, you're gonna see me win!"
        "I think we had a conversation about odds the last time we
        "Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I'm gonna win! Didn't I tell you? I'm
the Born Winner."
        "Yes," I drawled. "I think you did mention that..."
        "That's me." He poked at his chest with a thumb. "I win
everything. Anytime there's a contest, I win. I always bet, because I
always win. And today... Today, I'm gonna win fifty big ones!"
        "Perhaps nothing, I'm gonna win! And do you know what I'm
gonna do when I get that dough? I'm going to go home and shove it into
my wife's face--right up into her face, so she can't see nothing
else--and I'm gonna say 'Are you happy, Doris? Are you happy now? Now
that the louse you whine about has got dough by the pocketful? Well,
Doris... Up yours! 'Cause I've just had it!'"
        "Pretty fed up, are you?" As soon as he got into the imaginary
fight scene, I began to steer him through the crowd. By then we were
waiting for an elevator.
        "You bet I am! I'm gonna tell her, 'Goodbye, dull Doris, I'm
leaving for Vegas, where I can live the life God intended for winners
like me!'"
        "Speaking of which," I said, "how many keys did you end up
        "Four hundred ninety-eight!"
        "...?" I knew he was crazy. "Ten thousand dollars?"
        "Nine thousand nine hundred and sixty," he corrected.
        "What happened to the other two?"
        "One wouldn't sell, the little--" He said some things I won't
        "That one could be the winner. It's just as likely as any
        "Don't bother with all that. I'm gonna win! Anyway, the other
case is worse. The key was shredded--"
        "The guy was cleaning off his desk and the key got into the
paper shredder. You don't think that'll be the winner do you??"
        "As I say, there's no way of telling..."
        "Oh, boy. Wouldn't that just be my luck...?" He mopped at his
forehead with a greying handkerchief. "Doris told me I was making a
mistake... I shoulda listened. You really don't think that's the
winning key, do you...? Naw, I'm gonna win!"
        I ignored him. By that time we walking toward the door of the
radio station's general offices.
        As we entered the plush suite, a glad-hander came rushing over
to whisk the Winner away. I was left to my own devices.
        There was a pretty, young asian woman standing near the tinted
window. She was looking at the skyline.
        I said to her, "Would you be the other contestant?"
        "I am."
        "Aren't you going to tell me that you're going to win?"
        "How could I?"
        "Exactly. It's just that I'm too used to listening to a man
who bought 498 key to make sure he'd win."
        She smiled. "You should tell him he has not made sure."
        "I have. He hears only what he wants to."
        "Then he should clean out his ears." She leaned back, throwing
her luxurious black hair over her shoulders. "The performance of a
random number is such that every possible outcome is equally likely to
        "I told him all that..."
        "Did you tell him that his plan would be flawless if there
were to be an infinite number of tests. Then he would win 498 of every
500. But since there is only one test, my key is as likely as any of
his to open the lock."
        "I told him that, too. World's most selective ears."
        She grinned. "By the way... We're still short one key. Who's
the other contestant?"
        "There isn't one. That key was destroyed in a paper shredder."

        "It, too, could be the winner."
        "Don't tell him that. He'll just go to pieces." She giggled. I
went on,  "If you know this much about odds, why didn't you sell to
him when he offered?"
        "Well, I =could= win, you know. And if I do, I'll be better
off by fifty thousand dollars. And if I lose, I'll have had a fine
time on a gorgeous day with the most fabulous view imaginable. Either
way, I'm ahead."
        Just then one of the ubiquitous fat, suited men began to make
throat-clearing sounds into a microphone. We gave him our attention,
while he made a mercifully short speech about the fortune to be won.
At the end of it, he took the young woman's key, explaining that
they'd try all the Winner's keys if hers didn't work.
        But it did! She let out the tiniest yip when the key slid into
the lock and the safe popped open.
        The Born Winner was bug-eyed.
        One of the fat men was bouncing on the balls of his feet. The
room trembled.
        The Born Winner wrapped his face in his hands and began to
        The young woman reached into the safe and pulled out the check
for $50,000. She smiled politely for the asembled photographers. She
walked over to the corner where I was consoling the Born Winner.
        I said: "Well done."
        "What was done? I did nothing."
        The Winner said, "But you won!"
        "But =think= of all that money!"
        "Yes," she replied, "it's a lot of money."
        "But you should be =happy= about it!"
        "I'm happy."
        "I mean about the =mon=ey!" The Winner was looking less and
less like a winner. "Just think... Fifty big ones! I coulda won fifty
big ones!"
        "A piece of advice...?" She lifted her head. Her hair threw
back a reflection of the sun. "Don't put any faith in numbers. Numbers
don't give a =damn= about you." I was sorry to see her leave.
        The Born Winner was weepy again. "Ten thousands dollars," he
moaned. "Doris is gonna kill me."

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