Gemini Magazine
_______________
The bars slid open.  In walked a prisoner
flanked by two guards.

“New cellmate,” a guard said.

Brad pointed to the upper bunk.  The new guy
climbed up and flopped.

Silence.

Brad didn’t mind the quiet.  The last guy
muttered to himself all day long.  Damn near
drove him nuts.

After a while, Brad decided to break the ice.  
“Brad Barlow,” he said.

“Harold Lucky,” the new guy mumbled.

“You gotta be kidding me.  Your last name is
Lucky?”

“Since I was born.”

“Well, you ain’t so damn lucky now, are you?”
Brad chuckled.

“Guess I ain’t.  I would’ve been, though, if I
hadn’t met that gal.”

“Hey, ain’t one of us in here that don’t have
regrets about a woman or two.  They’re a
different race.”

“That’s for sure,” Lucky said.  

“Who needs to go to Mars when we got plenty
of weird right here on good old Earth?”

“Ain’t it the truth?”

“So why are you vacationing at federal
prison?” Brad asked.

“For defrauding Uncle Sam. I’m a very
creative accountant.  Took them for ten
million on a helicopter contract.  Man, it was
beautiful.  Would still be tapping Uncle if it
hadn’t been for a woman I met in the
Bahamas.  Whatta babe.  How was I to know
she worked undercover for the Feds?  What
about you?”

“I stole a nickel,” Brad said.

“You’re kiddin’ me. A nickel plus how much?”

“That’s it.  A lousy nickel ruined my life.”   

“That’s the craziest thing I ever heard,” Lucky
said, climbing down.  “What the hell was that
nickel made of?  Uranium?”

“Might just as well’ve been.  How was I to
know it came from Moscow?”

“Moscow?  Are the Russians counterfeiting
nickels?”

“Wish it was that simple.  Seems they  
tampered with the one I stole.”

“Oh man,” Lucky said, “this sounds like one
hell of a story.”

“It sure the hell is.”     

Lucky offered a cigarette.  “Hey, man.  I’m all
ears.  So what happened?”

Brad lit up and took a long drag.  “Well, back
in ’55, I was down on my luck.  Got laid off my
factory job.  Decided to head to New York.  
Heard they were hiring.  My dough ran out
pretty fast, and I ended up panhandling.  
Pickins weren’t too good.  Everybody’s always
in a hurry in New York City.  It’s hard to
hustle them.”

“Yeah, I know,” Lucky said.

“So, I was broke and needed some nickels for
the automat.  The place where you put nickels
in a slot on the wall, and out comes a piece of
pie, or hotdog, or bowl of chili.”

“Yeah, I’ve been there.  They’re all closed
now.”

Brad took another drag on the cigarette.  
“Well, I figured I’d try to come up with twenty
five cents, somehow.  Fifteen for a piece of
apple pie, and the other ten for coffee.  It was
a bad day, though.  Everybody passing by was
grouchy as hell.”

“I’ve had days like that myself,” Lucky said.  
“Ask me for a handout, and I’ll take your head
off.”

“Well, I got so desperate I actually robbed a
paperboy.  Yeah, pretty rotten, I know.  The
kid was in a candy store, and left his bike out
front.  The basket was full of newspapers.  On
top was one of those little plastic coin
holders.  The kind that opens when you
squeeze both ends."  

“I know the kind. I used to keep one in my T-
Bird.  Kept quarters in it to pay tolls on the
Garden State Parkway.”

“Nobody was looking, so I grabbed it.   Well,
the kid must’ve realized he forgot his coin
holder, and he comes out just as I’m grabbing
it.  He starts yelling.  I run like hell.  I pop it
open while I’m running, and all the change
falls out, except for a nickel.  I put the nickel
in my pocket, toss the holder, and duck down
some alleys.”

Lucky laughed like hell.  “I can just picture
that.  A guy your size getting chased by a kid.”

“Well, it sounds funny now, but it wasn’t so
funny then, let me tell you.  So, there I am
with a lousy stolen nickel running here and
there.  The kid never finds me, so everything’s
okay.  Well, I thought it was until I turned the
corner and ran right into a cop.”

Lucky’s eyes widened.  “Talk about rotten
luck.  Did you knock him over?”

“Yep.  Flat on his ass.”

Lucky’s guffaws got Brad going, until both
were laughing to the point of tears.

“This sounds like a Three Stooges movie,”
Lucky said.

“Yeah, maybe I should sell my story to
Hollywood.”

“Have another cigarette.”

They lit up again.

“C’mon, I can’t wait to hear the rest.”

”OK.  So the cop’s flat on his back, but jumps
right up.  Grabs me and pushes me against a
building.  ‘What’s the big rush?’ he yells.  I
say, ‘Sorry, Officer.  I was just getting some
exercise.  It’s good for my heart.’”

“And he bought your explanation?”

“No such luck.  He acts like I robbed a bank.  
Asks for identification.  When I take out my
wallet, out comes the nickel.  It drops on the
ground.”   

“The nickel you stole?”

“Well, yeah.  Remember, it was the only
money I had.”

“Right,” Lucky said.

“So the cop sees the nickel fall.  Back in 1955,
all our coins were still made of silver, copper
and such.  And when they fell on the ground,
they made a different sound than the junky
coins do today.  Back then, a nickel made a
ringing sound when it fell.  But the one I had
fell with a thud.  The cop noticed.  He picked it
up and looked at it very closely.  ‘Well, well,’
he says.  ‘What do we have here?’”

“What did you say?”

“‘It’s just a nickel, officer.  My last one.’  But
he doesn’t answer.   He just keeps staring at
my nickel.  Has it all the way up to the tip of
his nose.  Then he says, ‘Well I’ll be damned!’”

“What did he see?” Lucky asked.

“I didn’t know then, but I soon found out.  
Meanwhile, the sonovabitch cuffs me.”

“Did he read you your rights?”

“They didn’t do that back then.  All he said
was ‘you’re under arrest for vagrancy.’  He
takes me to the station, and they book me.  
But what the hell, at least they give me a hot
lunch.  Then, next thing I know, I’m in a room
with a bunch of nasty-looking guys in dark
suits.”

“Just because you looked like a bum?”

“No, because of the nickel.  One of them says,
‘I’m Frank Goodman.  Federal Bureau of
Investigation.’  Then he pushes me in a chair,
and puts a lamp on me, just like they do in
gangster movies.”

“Oh, I know what that’s like.  They sweated
me a few hours before I confessed,” Lucky
said.  

“Well,” Brad said, “I tell them I didn’t know
that being down on my luck is now a federal
offense.  They say it has nothing to do with
my looking like a bum. They think the way I
look is a disguise to fool everybody.  Then
they say I’m there because of the nickel.”

“Sounds bad.  Hey, want another cigarette?”

“Sure.  So the guy shows me the nickel.  Only
now it’s split open, like one of those lockets
that have pictures inside.  It’s got two
compartments inside.  A damn hollow nickel.  
Can you picture that?”

“Yeah,” Lucky said.  “Like somebody cut that
nickel in half, drilled out the inside, then
welded it together in a way that it could be
opened to put something inside.”

“Bingo!  Never saw anything like it.  So,
they’re asking me who I really am, and to tell
them what’s inside the nickel.  Now go figure—
what the hell could be inside a stupid hollow
nickel?”

“Damned if I know,” Lucky said.

“They show me.  It’s a bunch of microdots.”

“What the hell’s a microdot?”

“Something German Intelligence invented
before World War II to protect their secrets.  
They’d photograph secret documents, then
with special machines they’d reduce the
photos to the size of a period at the end of a
sentence.  With the right equipment, they
could project on a wall whatever was on the
microdots.  Smart, those Germans.  They
actually stored eight pages of secret
information on each microdot.”

“Wow,” Lucky said.  “Great idea.”

“Must have worked real good, because the
Russians learned how to make them too.  And
the FBI guy says my hollow nickel was full of
microdots.  Dozens of them.”

“Geez,” Lucky said, shaking his head. “The
paperboy was a damn Russian spy?”

“Not hardly.  The FBI says
I’m the damn
Russian spy.  And they’re gonna make sure I
get the electric chair.  Like those American
spies who gave our atomic secrets to the
Russians.”

“They threatened me too,” Lucky said.  “But
not with the electric chair.  Man, you must
have been crapping your pants.”

“You better believe it.  I was scared as hell.  I
mean one minute I steal a lousy nickel, and
the next I’m on my way to the electric chair.”

“So what kind of secrets was on those
microdots?”

“I don’t know.  Actually, nobody knew.  The
code was so good, nobody was able to break
it.”

“Geez,” said Lucky.  “You’d think that would
be enough to get you off the hook.  I mean,
maybe the damn microdots had Russian
recipes on them.  If nobody could tell for sure
what was on those microdots, sounds like
there wasn’t any solid evidence against you.”

“Yeah, you’d think so, but life don’t work out
the way you want.  I figured for sure I’d get
off the hook.  But they held me on some kind
of technicality.  I tell them I confess to
stealing a nickel from a paperboy, and that’s
all.  That makes them mad.  ‘What paperboy?’
they ask.  Hell, I didn’t know how to describe
the kid.  I was running the hell away from him
when he chased me, not toward him.  I just
remember a blue baseball cap.  And a white
tee shirt.”

“Did they find the kid?”

“I don’t think they bothered to look.  Do you
know how many kids run around New York
City in white tee shirts and blue baseball
caps?”

“So, they were gonna railroad you,” Lucky
said.  

“Yep.  They decide I’m a spy.  Then they
assign me a lawyer, because I don’t have a
cent to my name.  The lawyer thinks he sees
holes in their charges.  Well, that was until
the FBI catches a real Russian spy, and the
commie bastard implicates me.”

“Can’t trust them Russians no how.  How the
hell did the spy implicate you?”

“The spy must’ve read about me in the
papers.  When they arrested him, he gave
them some cock-and-bull story about me
being his secret courier.  That I worked for
him since he infiltrated the US through
Canada, back in 1942.  He was sent over from
Russia as one of them sleeper agents.  He was
supposed to act like a Canadian, then get to
the US and start acting like an ordinary
American.  Then one day he was supposed to
get some kind of signal from Moscow.  That’s
when he’d go into action.”  

“What was he supposed to do?” Lucky asked.

“Nobody ever found out.  They thought it
might all be written on the microdots.  But
remember, nobody was able to break the
Russian code to read the damn things.  Over
the years, I’ve read about his case where he
implicated me.  His false testimony got me
this thirty-year stretch for espionage.  He
made people believe I was a traitor.”

“I bet you wanna kill that bastard.”

“I sure did,” Brad said.  But not anymore.
He’s already dead.”

“Glad to hear somebody nailed him,” Lucky
said.

“He was some tough character, let me tell
you.  The FBI said every time they tried to
interrogate him about the microdots, he’d go
into a trance.  No matter what they did, they
couldn’t get him to talk, except for nursery
rhymes.”

“Nursery rhymes?  I don’t get it.”

“Seems he’d been so well trained in Russia,
that if somebody got into his brain, the spy
would start saying, ‘Mary had a little lamb,’ or
‘Bah-bah black sheep.’”

“Never heard anything like that.”

“Me either,” Brad said.  “That guy must have
been given one hell of a mission by the
Russians.  Glad they caught him.  But nobody
ever found out what he was supposed to do.   
And I think he distracted them by implicating
me, and saying I was his courier.  He talked
plenty about that.  Man, that guy could tell
lies better than anybody I ever heard.”

“Sounds like they believed him,” Lucky said.

“Yeah, they did.  They couldn’t pin things
down tight, so they got me on circumstantial
evidence.  They said I plotted to overthrow
the government of the United States.  Instead
of the chair, the judge gave me thirty years
and a big lecture.  Right after that, the
Russian was traded for an American spy the
Russians caught in Moscow.”  

“Did they ever try to trade you?”

“No, and I’m damn glad.  Who the hell would
wanna live in that hellhole?  Besides, I ain’t
Russian.”

“Is that the whole story?”

“Yeah.  Except for some strange things that
happened over the years.  Would you believe
somebody killed the paperboy?”

“But I thought they didn’t know who the kid
was,” Lucky said.

“Our cops and the FBI didn’t know who he
was.  But the Russian KGB must have found
out.  I hear they’re nasty bastards with a
longer memory than the mafia.  Even if people
are remotely and accidentally involved in
messing up one of their operations, the KGB
takes revenge.  The price is death.”

“Sheeesh.  The bastards killed a kid.”

“Sure did,” Brad said.

“But how do you know they killed the kid you
stole the nickel from?”

“I’m guessing.  I saw something in the paper
that a kid over in the area where I stole the
money was found dead.  Shot in the head
twice.  The way I see it, only Russians would
shoot a paperboy for revenge.  The thing is,
the poor kid didn’t even know the nickel
passed through his hands.  Because I stole
that nickel from him”

“Poor kid,” Lucky said.

“And that ain’t all. A few years later, they
caught up with the sloppy KGB agent who had
the nickel to begin with.”

“You mean the FBI caught up with him?”

“No, my guess is the KGB.  They grabbed their
own stupid agent who slipped up and lost the
nickel, or maybe accidentally gave it to the
paperboy to buy a newspaper.  The same
paperboy I stole the nickel from.  Turned out
this KGB guy lived a few doors away from the
candy store—the same store the paperboy
went into the day I stole his nickel.  I figure
by losing or giving the nickel away, that agent
screwed up one hell of a big KGB operation.”  

“So I guess everybody who was involved is
dead, or back in Russia," Lucky said.

“Everybody.  Except me.”

“And for all this, you got a thirty-year stretch
even though you’re not really a spy.”

“Yep.  All because I stole a nickel from a kid.”

“Damn!” Lucky said.  “Talk about rotten luck.”

“You know what bothers me the most?”

“What?”

“I’m afraid that when I get out, the KGB is
gonna kill me too.”

“Why?” Lucky asked.  “They oughta give you a
medal and a pension for taking the rap.”

“Because I’m the last player still alive.  
Because of me, the FBI got the KGB’s nickel
and all those microdots.  And because of me,
some big plans they had probably fell apart.”

“I see what you mean.  What are you gonna
do when you get out?”

“I’m keeping it secret.  I wanna stay in one
piece and keep breathing.  Where I’m going,
I’ll get three squares plus a cot.  I won’t need
any money there.  I’m glad.  I don’t ever want
to touch another nickel for the rest of my life.”

“You mean one like this?” Lucky asked,
handing Brad a hollow nickel.

Brad was found dead in his cell.  Lucky
insisted he’d killed him in self-defense.  They
believed him.

                  *     *     *

Somewhere in Moscow, a KGB official stamped
CASE CLOSED on Brad Barlow’s dossier.  “Too
bad the stupid bastard robbed that nickel,” he
murmured.  “Sonovabitch set us back at least
five years.  Stupid Americans should give him
a dozen medals and declare him a national
hero.  Instead, he’ll be lucky to get a pine
box.”

He checked the American prison warden’s
dossier.  Money had been sent to a secret
Swiss account as a reward for his arranging to
place a KGB agent in Brad Barlow’s cell.

Moving to Lucky’s dossier, he wrote, “Comrade
Captain Pitinsky, aka Harold Lucky, is
promoted to major.  Plans for his return to
Motherland in progress.”
THE MAN
WHO STOLE
A NICKEL
by Michael A. Kechula
Michael A. Kechula's stories have been published in 134
magazines and 41 anthologies. He’s won first place in 12 contests
and placed second in eight others. His latest book, Writing Genre
Flash Fiction The Minimalist Way—A Self Study Book, will be
released in December 2010. He’s authored three books of flash
fiction, micro-fiction, and short stories: The Area 51 Option and
70 More Speculative Fiction Tales; A Full Deck of Zombies
61
Speculative Fiction Tales; I Never Kissed Judy Garland and Other
Tales of Romance. eBooks available at
www.BooksForABuck.com
and
www.fictionwise.com. Paperbacks at www.amazon.com.

Kechula's short story, "The Greatest Flamenco Dancer in All
Flydom," was published in the August 2009 issue of Gemini
Magazine, and his
review of Linda Courtland's flash fiction
collection, Somewhere to Turn, was published in the October
2010 issue of Gemini.