Road To Riches by Sylvia Nickels

Sharp edges of sawgrass raked my fingers as I parted the long

fronds. A brightness winked in the center of the clump. My breath

caught on the sudden lump in my throat as I reached for it. My

finger tip had almost touched the shiny thing when a half-second

burst of police siren split the humid air and I jerked back. I leaned back over the grass, but the glint of metal had disappeared. I leaped to my feet and shook my fist at the blue and white cruiser. The driver’s side door was open and Detective Sloan’s long frame unfolded as he stepped to the ground. He stood with arms folded across his chest.


“Find something, Cora?”


“Why’d you blow that damn siren? You made me lose it.” I didn’t

give him time to answer, just stooped back down, yanking at the



“Give it up, Cora, you won’t find that key.”


“What else do I have to do? I’ll find it.” I kept pulling grass

clumps apart. Something in there had reflected the hot Florida

sunlight. But a dark bank of clouds had moved over the sun and a

stiff breeze was beginning to whip the grass and palmetto fronds.

Damn Sloan and his siren.


“Come on, Cora. I’ll give you a lift back to the trailer park. A

downpour’s coming.”


I looked up at the sky again. The stacked storm clouds in the

western sky bore out his words. I pulled a green painted dowel

from my backpack and stuck it in the sand next to the clump of

grass where I’d seen something shining. When I walked toward

the police car, Sloan was staring across the canal, like he

hadn’t seen me put the dowel in the ground. Illegal to put

anything in the median, but Sloan always looked the other way.

The downpour started before he dropped me at the Golden Years

Mobile Home Park, a tacky mid‑Florida retirement community. My

double‑wide occupied a narrow, noisy lot on the street side. The

place was a far cry from the neat frame bungalow I’d shared with

Duke back in Stonesboro, Tennessee. God, was it just over a year

ago Duke died? The truck motor he was working on fell and crushed


his chest when the hoist failed. Left me nothin but the bungalow,

a beat up Honda, and his antique ’57 Chevy.


I hung my wet clothes over the shower curtain in the bath room

and pulled on a blue flower print cotton muu muu. On the coffee

table in the living room, my unfinished Solitaire game waited. I

sat on the couch and turned over a card. Queen of Diamonds, yeah,

that’s me. Till I sold my five carat diamond ring to buy this

dump. Jack of Clubs. That’d be Kinny, stole my fortune, slitherin

snake in the grass. Shoulda been more careful. Shoulda suspected

he was up to something. Watchin, pretendin to be glad for me. I

coulda been sittin pretty if I used a little common sense.


It started in South Carolina, first time I entered the ’57 Chevy

in a show. I’d tracked down Kinny Loest, Duke’s old mechanic and

rollback driver, to transport the Chevy. Didn’t even place, but

it was fun. Leaving Columbia I stopped in a convenience store for

a beer. When I saw the lottery logo, I thought what the heck, why

not contribute a few bucks to South Carolina kids’ education.

Needed some more numbers, already done anniversaries, phone

numbers, birthdays. I happened to have the paper I wrote the

Chevy’s mileage on after the show, used those numbers.


Damn if that ticket didn’t win me two hundred grand a couple

nights later. I was sittin on the sofa back home when them

numbers come down and I about peed my pants. Next day I

hightailed it over the mountain on I‑26 and back down to Columbia

to pick up the check.


With that windfall I figured maybe I should enter the car in

another show or two. So I hired Kinny to take the ’57 to Little

Rock to the Razorback Road Show.


I followed the rollback west along I‑40, catching glimpses of

country roads between wide green horse pastures. The white paint

on their connecting fences glowed in the sunlight. Between

Nashville and Memphis, my Honda began running a little hot, so I

signaled Kinny and pulled off at the next exit. Paying for the

antifreeze, I picked up a few lottery tickets, using the same

odometer numbers I’d used before for one of them. That damn

ticket didn’t win a dime. Of course, none of the others I bought

at the same time did either.


The car placed 2nd in the Razorback though, with a $1000 prize,

so I got my expenses back. By now, I was kinda hooked on car

shows. So I signed up for the West Virginia Mountain Vintage Show

scheduled for the next month.


I used the next four weeks to clean and rub ten coats of high

gloss on that old car and polished the chrome till it gleamed

like lights was glowing through it. Even found an original rear

view mirror to replace the reproduction piece Duke had put on



My Honda’s engine blew a gasket the day before the Mountain

Vintage so I rode up with Kinny in the cab of the rollback. US 23

took us through the mountainous corner of Kentucky this time,

then we hit the West Virginia Turnpike. Whoever dreamed up the

idea of running a freeway along the tops of mountains must’ve

been crazy. But the view over treetops and ridges folded against

each other was spectacular.


After we exited the turnpike it was a different story. The last

few miles was on a curving state road with some mean switchbacks.

I was scared the ’57 was gonna come right off that rollback.


“Just think, Kinny. That turnpike didn’t exist when the Chevy was

built and folks drove ’em in these mountains. Reckon it would

still do it?”


“Hell, yeah. You gonna let me drive her this time, Cora?”


“No way. In these shows I’m Cinderella and that sharp, black ’57

is my coach with silver triangles on the sides.”


“Antique cars is a man’s game.”


“Says who? This baby belongs to me now. I’m drivin her.”


Men. Duke Muler never let me even ride with him in the ’57. After all the mending and gluing I done, not to mention calling all over the country to find original parts.


Kinny scowled at the steering wheel and jerked us around a

vicious zigzag in the road. Was the damn fool trying to lose my

Chevy? He moped along for the next twenty miles without a word.


“Okay.” I finally told him. “You can ride with me down the

winner’s strip. If I win anything.”


“You will.” He brightened a little.


Next morning we settled in them original leather seats I’d

sweated over with special cleaners and softeners. I’d put a big

towel on the passenger side to make sure Kinny didn’t get no


grease stain on the leather. We tooled along that hilly

Parkersburg street after taking second place again. The judges

claimed the tires wasn’t just right. I wrote the specs down after

I collected my prize money and left the show office.


Noticing a State Lottery billboard, I remembered I hadn’t bought

any tickets. I walked across the street to where the rollback was

parked at a Shell service center/food shop. I climbed up to get

the mileage off the ’57’s odometer. Kinny came around the end of

the rollback bed as I stepped down to the asphalt.


“Just checkin the chains.” I waved and went on to the store

entrance and inside.


We didn’t plan on going back to Tennessee til next day, so I

watched the balls drop on the TV in my motel room. At midnight, I

became a millionairess. My ticket with the odometer numbers took

the three million dollar West Virginia State Lottery jackpot. I

beat my pillow and put my face in it and whooped and hollered. I

didn’t get much sleep.


After that win I had my sights set on some really big money, the

Southeast MultiCombo. Ten southern states participated in it and

the pot was up to 30 million dollars. If nobody hit it this week

or next it would probably hit 50 million. I’d just have to cross

my fingers and hope nobody took that pile of dough in the next

fourteen days. I’d entered the ’57 in the Suwanee River Classic

in Florida two weeks after the Mountain Vintage.


I was beginning to get an idea how this odometer deal worked.

When I used the numbers before a show, the ticket didn’t win. But

when I used the reading after I drove the ’57 in a winners’

rally, the ticket won. Only trouble was, the MultiCombo drawing

was the same day as the car show. And the show organizers didn’t

announce the show winners until late in the afternoon. I’d have

to hustle to buy my ticket before ticket sales were closed.

Assuming, of course, that my car would be in the winners’ parade

on that palm lined Suwanee Main Street.


Next morning, Sunday, we sailed through the clouds along the

Turnpike again, but I was flying even higher. Kinny looked over

at me. “Man, Cora. Taking second place again was good, but you’re

acting plumb intense. What’s going on?”


“Winning even second place excites me, Kinny.”


“You act like you won the lottery.” I could tell he didn’t


believe that, but his forehead was all screwed up like he was

trying to figure something out. “You did have a hand full of

tickets when you come out of the store last night.”


“Easy come, easy go.” I decided I better try to come down to

earth a little. Kinny’d probably claim he deserved a part of my

winnings since he brought me and the car to West Virginia.


Monday I rented a car, drove myself back to Parkersburg, and

presented my winning ticket. The TV and other reporters was

covering it, of course, so I knew Kinny would know about my

riches before long.


Afterward I went on a shopping spree. First stop was the best

jewelry store in town. Duke never even bought me a gold wedding

band when I married him. The owner pulled out an estate five

carat marquise diamond ring and I had to have it. Then to the

local BMW dealership. I bought a sporty red convertible on the

spot. Kinny’s rollback cruised across them Turnpike mountain

tops, but that little red car soared all the way back to



Satellites beam electrons even faster and news of my good fortune

got home before I did. Cops, Kinny, and about half the population

of Stonesboro was in front of my house when I drove up.


Kinny and the cops helped me push through and get one of the

double garage doors up and the BMW inside. The ’57 Chevy, canvas

covered, occupied half of the garage, good thing the Honda was in

the shop. We went in the kitchen. I dropped in a chair, laid my

hands on the table, and tried to catch my breath.


Kinny leaned against the door, arms folded, glaring at me. “You

coulda told me.”


I ignored his tone. “There’s a bottle of Jack in the car. If

you’ll get it, we’ll celebrate.”


“Liquor, cars, and rings. You tryin to spend it all at once?”


“Mine to spend. Okay, I’ll get the Jack.” I started to get up,

but he pushed away from the door and opened it.


I hadn’t eat anything since breakfast and I don’t drink much plus

I’d just driven four hundred miles so the Jack hit me good.

Either Kinny could hold his liquor, or he wasn’t matching my

shots. He seemed cold sober as we toasted my luck and I gabbed


about what I could do with all that money.


“Gone win that Su‑Suwaneeeee car show in Florida.” I raised my

glass again.


“God, Cora. You must be drunk. Thinkin about enterin more car



“Got ta win ‑ ” My words trailed off and my memory with them.

He must have guided me to the couch when I passed out. When I

woke up, fully clothed, thank God, he was gone and my head felt

like maybe my new convertible was sitting on top of it. What had

I told him? I knew I talked about the car show in Suwanee. Did I

tell him how I got the winning numbers? About the MultiCombo? Why

did I have to act like a damn fool?


I managed to get to the bathroom before my stomach decided it

didn’t want the Jack anymore. I laid on the bed for hours with a

wet washrag on my head. When the phone wouldn’t stop, I cut the

ringer off. Late in the afternoon as I was finally gettin some

tomato juice to stay down, somebody banged on the door.


“Cora? Cora? You all right?” Kinny hollered through the little



I opened the door. People were still hanging around outside so I

pulled him inside and closed it. “Yeah. Am I supposed to thank

you for not taking advantage of me when I was drunk?”


The look on his face before he turned away didn’t flatter me, but

I let it pass. I needed to know what I’d told him last night.


I led the way to the kitchen. “Coffee?”




I got down a mug. “So what did I babble about while I was in my



“Ah, you said something about you was still gonna drive the ’57

in the Suwanee show. I figured it was the Jack.”


“Nope. I am goin’ down for the show. Can’t let a little money

change my life.” I tried for a real serious look.


“Guess you’ll be gettin’ somebody with a fancy car hauler to take

the car down though.” He gave me a hard look, then seemed to


remember he ought to look disappointed and his expression



“I said I couldn’t let a little money change my life. Sure I

still want you to haul my car, Kinny.” If I’d been half smart I

would have done just what he said.


We touched up and polished every inch of the ’57, including

underneath, for the next couple of weeks. I held my breath each

time the MultiCombo numbers were drawn. Nobody won. The week of

the show, it had reached sixty‑six million dollars.


The day before the show, we left Stonesboro, cut across the

Carolinas and hit I‑95. I had the top down on my BMW, a silk

scarf holding my new frosted hair out of my eyes. I tried to

decide if I needed an Infiniti more than the most expensive

Winnebago. Ah, I’d just get both. Kinny was a few miles behind me

with the ’57 Chevy, my passport to any cars, condos, and cruises

I desired.


Signs beckoned as I passed exits to resort cities I’d never seen,

Charleston, Hilton Head, Kiowa Island. I could almost smell the

salt water breeze off the ocean and taste the shrimp cocktails. I

promised myself I’d return to sample all the delights each place

offered. Savannah I promised to come back to for a month or more.

Finally I crossed into Florida and then reached I‑10, turning

west. I checked with Kinny on the cell phone and he was still

close behind.


Traffic thickened as I‑10 approached the north‑south corridor of

I‑75. I hoped Kinny was taking no chances with the rollback and

my ’57. Finally reaching Suwanee I pulled into our motel parking

lot. The heat and humidity were fierce so I waited in the lobby

and watched the street.


Thirty minutes later, to my relief, Kinny pulled the rollback

through to the truck parking area. Several newer model trucks,

some with open rollback beds and some attached to closed

trailers, already occupied the lot.


I had to keep Kinny thinking the well‑being of the ’57 was my

main concern, so I walked out to check under its canvas cover.

“Any trouble?”


“We checked in yet? My damn air conditioner quit working a

hundred miles back.”



I handed him the key to his room. “I’m goin’ to the show office.

Call your room when I get back.”


I registered, signed the credit card slip for the entry fee, and

got the Chevy’s spot location for the show. For once I wished the

show was over so I could buy my MultiCombo ticket. Win, lose, or

draw in the car show, I knew I would soon possess more wealth

than I could ever have dreamed.


After we took the ’57 over to the show site, I took Kinny to

dinner in the motel restaurant, then both went to our rooms. A

long relaxing bath soaked out the muscle stiffness from my long

drive. I dried off, pulled on soft linen pajamas, and wandered to

the window. Kinny had moved the rollback to the space where he’d

first parked, right next to the exit. Another truck occupied it

when we came back from the show site and he swore. He must have

watched and when the other truck was moved, he went out and

shifted the rollback to the space again. Funny.


Fixated on the millions I already considered mine, I hardly heard

when the show MC announced my ’57 Chevy took the Suwanee Classic

Grand Prize next day. I drove it at the head of the parade of

winners and wondered why Kinny hadn’t insisted on being there.

Arriving back at the show grounds, the promoters posed with us

for pictures, then swept me into the office for more PR crap. A

little while later I caught sight of a clock, seven‑thirty.

MultiCombo ticket sales stopped at nine o’clock. I broke away and

hurried to my car’s show slot. It was empty.


“Where the hell is my car?” Participants and fans milling around

nearby cars jerked their heads up.


“I said, where the hell is my car?” I glared around the circle of

confused faces.


“Uh, uh. Your rollback driver just picked it up and drove off.” A

woman standing next to a purple ’49 Ford Coupe spoke up.


“Why didn’t somebody stop him?” I yelled.


“He was your driver. Figured you knew.” The woman seemed to be

the only one willing, or brave enough, to answer me.


By then more people were crowding around. A news photographer

came out of the office and started snapping more pictures.

Somebody drove me to the motel. Neither Kinny’s truck or my ’57

Chevy was in the parking lot. No one had seen him or the truck




“Guess you better call the police.” The young desk clerk didn’t

sound too happy about the prospect.


I looked at my watch. Nearly eight o’clock. What chance was there

the police could find my car before nine o’clock? Slim to none, I

figured. How could Kinny do this to me? Why? He couldn’t show the

car or sell it. Especially now, after it was the Grand Prize

winner in this show.


That fact also puzzled Police Detective Sloan, who had dark half

moons under his brown eyes. But he put out an APB on Kinny and

the car. “He won’t get far. Maybe he’s pulling a prank on you.”


I gave him a picture of Kinny, the rollback, and my ’57 Chevy,

then went up to my room and sat cross‑legged on my bed. Night

darkened the window, then sporadic lightning flashes lit it. When

my bladder insisted on a trip to the bathroom I turned on the

bedside lamp. I saw the time on my travel clock, nearly midnight.

Picking up the remote, I turned on the television set as the

MultiCombo balls started dropping into their slots. I jabbed the

TV off and threw the remote across the room.


After a sleepless night, I called the police at six am. There was

no word on my car. All day I paced my room and called down

tribulation and torment on Kinny. Around noon the desk clerk, an

older graying woman, brought coffee and a stale cinnamon roll on

a paper plate. She also brought management’s regrets and hoped I

wouldn’t blame them, since my car had not been stolen while on

motel property.


A long day and night later, and still no sleep, I tripped over

the covers trailing on the floor as I left my bed . A

complimentary newspaper was halfway under the door. The picture

on the front page told me all I needed to know. It showed Kinny

standing with the Florida Lottery Commission Chairman. Each held

one end of a blown up image of a check in the amount of forty

million dollars. The s.o.b. took the cash option, just like I had

intended to do.


“I’ll find you, Kinny. I will find you.”


But he dropped out of sight, along with my ’57 Chevy, after

making financial arrangements with the lottery commission. A year

passed and the police didn’t find him. Neither did the army of

private detectives I hired using my West Virginia lottery


winnings, the five thousand dollar grand prize money, and finally

funds from the sale of my Stonesboro house.


I still had my diamond ring and BMW. I decided to sell them and

buy this double wide and stay in Florida. I had nothing left back

in Tennessee anyway.


My doorbell rang one day, interrupting my Solitaire game as I

laid down the Ace of Spades. I went to open the door. Detective

Sloan stood on my front step.


“Good to see you, Cora.” He stooped as he came through the



“Detective. Have you found my car? Chop shop?” I wasn’t about to

get my hopes up. I got over that sudden riches dream months ago.

Swore off buying lottery tickets forever.


“Not a chop shop.” He waited until I went back to the sofa before

he took a seat.


I picked up my Solitaire cards and shuffled. “Well?”


“We found Kinny. And your car.”


In spite of myself, my breathing quickened. “And?”


“He drove the ’57 down the Tamiani. Fast.”


“Fool. He knew it wasn’t built for turnpike speeds.” I slammed

the cards down on the table.


“Yes.” Sloan said. “He’s done other reckless things in the last

year, we learned. Bungee jumped into shark infested water. Drugs.

He lost control, crossed the median, car rolled several times.

Dead at the scene.”


I tried to find some regret, not much there. “My car?”


“Pretty much totaled. There was a letter to you in his pocket.”


He handed the envelope to me. It had a dark stain on one end. I

tried not to think what it might be. I pulled out a piece of

paper with Kinny’s all but illegible handwriting on one side.

With some effort I read it.


Cora, I’m sorry I took your car. The magic didn’t work for me.


I’ll give it back after this one ride down the Trail. I want you

to know I had a lawyer write me a will. There’s still a lot of

the money left. If anything happens to me, it goes to you. The

will and bank papers is in a safe deposit box. The box key will

be in the car. Kinny


My heart slammed against my chest wall. I raised my head and

looked a question at Sloan.


He shook his head. “We didn’t find the key.”


“You looked for it?” I could hardly get the words out.


“Yes. It must have fallen out of his pocket or the car when it

rolled. If it was really there. Probably never be found.”


“Tell me exactly where he rolled my car. I’ll find that key,

however long it takes.”


He told me it wasn’t possible, said the State Police would arrest

me if they caught me walking in the median. But I’ve been going

over that quarter mile of sand, sawgrass, and palmetto bushes for

two months now. In his spare time, Sloan checks out banks,

showing Kinny’s picture. I’ll find the key and Sloan will find

the right bank, then I’ll have the riches that Kinny stole from


The End