Spy novels have had lesser beginnings:
A 40ish mother of two who works for a stock brokerage is browsing in the library when an elderly stranger hands her a book, tells her softly, "I think you'll enjoy reading this," and walks away.
That's how Deborah Hubbard of Timonium almost became a millionaire this week.
The library was Baltimore County's Cockeysville branch, and the book a murder mystery, "Twilight at Mac's Place," by Ross Thomas. Mrs. Hubbard has no idea who the stranger was, but says she'd like to treat him to dinner.
Here the plots intertwine:
Mrs. Hubbard, an assistant at Legg Mason Wood Walker in Hunt Valley, turns to page 3 of "Twilight" and learns that the protagonist, Granville Haynes, quit his job as a Los Angeles homicide detective after sharing a California lottery jackpot with a journeyman pool cleaner in Santa Barbara, a dentist in Modesto and a waitress in Eureka, of all places.
The numbers were 3-11-13-19-32-45.
"I thought there's an omen here -- that a stranger recommended the book was an omen," Mrs. Hubbard said, recalling how that mysterious encounter and Wednesday's $14 million Maryland Lotto jackpot prompted her to stop at a Cockeysville 7-Eleven and play five bucks -- random numbers, except for the line carrying the fictional detective's winners.
Wednesday night, watching TV, she saw the winning numbers run across the screen.
The numbers were 3-11-13-19-32 . . . and 44.
One digit short of glory.
Mr. Thomas, the novelist, said yesterday from his home in Malibu, Calif., that he picked the numbers at random. "I think I closed my eyes and just hit the typewriter keys."
A Winter Park, Fla. reader, he noted, buys two tickets with those numbers each week and sends him one in the mail. A nice gesture. But they haven't hit -- at least not in Florida.
"It's a wonderful dream, but it's terrible when you get that close," Mrs. Hubbard said after picking up a consolation prize of $902 as the holder of one of 202 tickets with five of the six magic numbers.
There was no big winner, except the deficit-plagued state government, which reaps about 40 cents of every lottery dollar played. With no jackpot payout, the top prize is expected to reach $20 million by tomorrow night's drawing -- the largest since the Lotto game was launched in November 1983 -- fueling heavy sales.
Lottery spokesman Carroll H. Hynson Jr. said upward of $6 million worth of Lotto tickets is expected to be sold by tomorrow's 8 p.m. drawing.
The hours of ticket sales have been extended an hour, to 11 p.m. today. Tickets will also be on sale tomorrow, from 6 a.m. to 7:50 p.m.
Mrs. Hubbard said she'll try again -- with the same numbers -- "figuring if I could get this close once. . . ."