We were provided with a list of how people might behave if they are telling a lie. Then we were asked to write a story about a winner or a loser. The story had to contain at least one lie, flagged by one or of the characteristics on the list. My story was about a winner...
When Harry Arkwright came into money, it was the talk of the village. We first noticed that Harry's circumstances had changed when he bought a round of drinks in the pub. The buzz of conversation died away. The man who was playing darts was so shocked that he missed the board entirely and impaled a double five domino on the table by the scoreboard. One of the domino players pulled the dart out and handed it back. "That doesn't count towards your score," he said calmly.
Trevor Bishop was the first of our crowd to recover the use of his voice. "Mine's a pint," he said. He put down the newspaper he had been reading and quickly sank the dregs of his current drink.
I wasn't far behind him. "I'll have a pint as well, Harry," I said. "Has somebody died and left you a fortune?"
"That's right. That's right," said Harry, shuffling his feet as he gathered up the glasses. "Somebody died."
"I didn't know you had any rich relatives, Harry," Trevor said to Harry's retreating back. Harry didn't say a word.
A few minutes later, he was back with a tray full of brimming pints of best bitter. "Here you are," he said, handing them out. "I got some pork scratchings as well. Help yourselves."
"Thanks," said Trevor vaguely. He was buried in his newspaper again.
"Cheers, Harry" I said, clinking glasses with him. "Tell me about your inheritance."
Harry cleared his throat and stared unblinkingly at me. "Oh yes, that," he muttered and then he took a long swallow of beer. I began to wonder if he was deliberately avoiding the subject.
"Hey, look at this," said Trevor. He folded his newspaper so we could easily see the story that had caught his interest. The headline said: PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN MAGRITTE PAINTING SELLS FOR RECORD PRICE.
The story went on to explain that a painting someone had bought in a junkshop for next to nothing had been identified as being by René Magritte and it had sold at auction for untold millions. The person who discovered it had made a profit of more than ten million percent! What a stupendous return on investment that was.
"Hey, Harry," said Trevor. "You haven't been buying any paintings in junkshops lately have you?"
Harry put his pint down in front of him and seemed to cower behind it. "Oh, that," he said, pointing so wildly at the newspaper that I had to move my beer out of his way in case he knocked it over. "Yes, yes, that's right. A painting. Yes, yes."
I was starting to wonder about the different stories that Harry was telling us and so I decided to put him to the test. "What made you realise the painting was by Magritte?" I asked him. "Was it the way the paint looked like it had been thrown on the canvas from a great height by a drunken chimpanzee?"
"That's what it looked like," said Harry. "That's exactly what it looked like. Chimpanzees. Two of them at least. Yes, it looked just like that."
"No it didn't, Harry," I said. "Magritte's paintings were all photographically realistic. They just had a very odd juxtaposition of elements. My favourite is the picture of a formal dining room with a steam locomotive roaring out of the fireplace."
Harry's face drooped as he realised that he'd fallen into a trap. He quickly finished his beer. "I'll be going now," he said and he walked over to the door.
"Come on, Harry," said Trevor. "You can tell us. You've won the lottery haven't you?"
Harry turned and looked at us for a moment then he tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger and winked.
"What are you going to do about all the begging letters, Harry?" I asked.
"I'll keep sending them," he said. "Sometimes they really do work!" He opened the door and walked out into the night.