Dear Mr Nichols,
I hope my letter finds you well and in good spirits, although by my estimates, it undoubtedly will. First of all let me wish you congratulations! I know you will have received all manner of unsolicited correspondence since the event (and might I say what a life-changing event it must have been for you!) and the arrival of this one must seem like yet another trivial impediment to the goings on in what must now be a frightfully busy schedule. But I assure you that this is not one of those letters and I pray that you read on.
I too am a member of a community neighbourhood watch, probably not dissimilar to yours, (just how I know this fact about your life, I will come to later) and you would therefore understand how they like to keep abreast of the goings on of the town and relish every detail like it were an onion on a stick. Well, since last Monday all the talk has been about you and that prize – the biggest, they say, in the entire history of prize-giving anywhere. What a lot to draw! We, mainly the others, took to speculating about the advantages of such a sum and the implications it would have for our own situations, for instance, Joanie Updike said she would buy a whole stable of Arabian horses, stallions no doubt, Dr Lance, who, as you are probably aware, is not short of a crust himself, regaled us with his dream of owning twelve acres on the eastern coast and fishing the rest of his days out, after which he said rather seriously too, that his patients could go to you know where. We all laughed but you never know with that man. I said I didn’t know, which sounds rather odd, but it’s true. Anyhoo, as the meeting drew to a close some of them, whose names I don’t care to betray, began to remonstrate and protest against the disproportion of it all (do you also have such gossipers at your meetings?) but not me, no, I declare to you, Mr Nichols that I took no part in that discussion. What a hideous faction indeed, that they may sully the name of a man for a fortune he had no part in procuring. I believe what’s his is his and be done with it and the chattering nancies who want to snide and sneak and speak ill-favoured of those of good standing, just because life has thrown them a rope, can, as far as I’m concerned, go pitch a tent in a swamp. I can only imagine what the natterers in your district must be saying. My advice is to ignore them.
Well, you may be wondering about the nature of my letter and how it came to be that I received your mailing address. I happened upon it quite by chance in a meeting with our liaison officer, Constable Perkins, who you may have met at one of the district gatherings or perhaps just on the beat? Who knows. If not then I would heartily recommend that you introduce yourself to him one day for he is without question one of the most agreeable establishment fellows that one could ever hope to meet and a real asset to the community. We were taking tea and discussing a plan to improve lighting along the high street in an effort to dissuade the more unsavoury elements, primarily the high school students, if I am forced to be specific (although that would be nothing novel to you, Mr Nichols, and I mean no insinuation, just that you live near the area) from loitering about after school and causing disturbances to the local commercial activities. Do you also discuss such issues at your meetings? If so, it’d be awfully interesting to learn the outcomes. Constable Perkins thinks most of them come from bad homes and only require a slice of discipline to get them back on the straight and narrow. He’s probably right on that aspect, as he is on most things, but I can’t help but wonder – these young minds, they can be nothing but overstimulated these days, saturated by the media and what not. You can’t just hand them a book and spade and expect them to come up with a a jolly story and a hole off their own bat these days, I mean, they’ve got this internet and the iStations and lapstops and other curiosities, all of which were simply unimaginable in our day and surely it must affect them in ways that we don’t understand. Anyhoo, back to my meeting with Constable Perkins, the subject of the grand prize was raised, the context in which it arose I cannot remember, however Constable Perkins intimated that you were now worth more than the entire street of New Coventry Road, which itself is a well-to-do strip of tar I hear, and that he said he wouldn’t be surprised if several of your neighbours became so pickled over the affair (I can only assume with envy, since this is the term he used) that they packed it all up and left the neighbourhood entirely. I don’t know your neighbours, Mr Nichols (and now I don’t think I wish to!), yet such people don’t deserve even to be bystanders to good fortune. Nor do I know you, just as you don’t know me, however I like to think that we have something in common, you and I. We are not like those hopeless sycophants, corrupted by greed and the vices of modern consumption. Did you hear about that fellow at that bank the other day who, in the space of an afternoon, lost millions with just the click of a button of his computer? Simply erased, like chalk numbers from a blackboard. Some people are just not to be counted on, especially these bankers. I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw a crate of lead sinkers. Would you, Mr Nichols? If I was given that kind of responsibility, and by no means would I ask for it, I would make sure it was distributed with more care than that which he exercised. I’ve held the books for several businesses over the years, Moore’s butchers (the biggest here in the South) and the local newspaper (in which a photo of you appeared on the front page just last week. You were standing on your front lawn holding Denton, your pet terrier) and I know a thing or three about balancing the books I can tell you and I swear that such a royal sum would never have gone astray under during my watch. Just by the photo in the newspaper I can tell that you understand what I am saying. You would never squander such an important opportunity either. You said in the interview that you were going to help your ageing mother find a new home and maybe give some money to charity. May I ask which one? There are several worthy charities here in the South that have been struggling and could truly use a small helping of financial assistance, but you probably have your own ideas.
You also mentioned that you would take a long holiday. Last year I went to the highlands and can testify to the bonny gorgeousness of the landscape. If you were looking for a peaceful retreat away from the city then I can thoroughly advise it. Even before you arrive, when you see those green mounds start to swell on the horizon you immediately feel better. It has done wonders for my back, something confirmed by Dr Lance. I was involved in a car accident last year you see. Don’t worry! It was nothing serious, but I did receive a nasty case of whiplash and a bruised wrist. I was waiting to turn left at a crossing on a winter’s afternoon, you know the type of day, dark and rainy (how many days like these have we seen in our lifetime already?) and I was wholly in the right, even Constable Perkins said so. I motioned to turn into my lane a red sedan slammed right into my rosy bonnet. Ruined the whole right side of the car. Heaven knows what Mr Armstrong would have said. I haven’t allowed a single scratch to that vehicle since his passing. Well, since then I’ve had a stretching pain in my neck and find myself always in a cramp, but I tell you again, the highland air worked a miracle. A pure wonder! Even if you have no complaints, and you do look very fit for your age, it’s worth the visit.
Now, I should be careful in the choice of my words for I must come (finally!) to the point. Firstly I should say at the outset that I am not writing to you to ask for money, no self-respecting and hard-working member of the Armstrong clan would ever bother you with such inquiries, no, I do but only petition your time, Mr Nichols, which I know is worth more than any sum a simple cheque could bear. I was while tarrying the while with Constable Perkins (as I mentioned we were taking tea, it was around four o’clock, which is only the start of the working day for our civil heroes) and I could not help but notice a manila folder which lay on his desk beside his Chinese lucky plant (do you have one of those by the way? They’re really such a fetching indoor species) and on that folder was a yellow label bearing your name, Mr Nichols. How peculiar, I thought to myself. It was perhaps wrong of me, but as Constable Perkins excused himself to “water the horses” as he likes to say, I could not help but steal a glance at what was inside. I anticipated a brief report on the security measures necessary to protect your person against the beggars and petty opportunists, but nothing could have prepared me for what I found inside. Just the photos were enough to make my stomach turn in acid twists and tumbles. Why, the thought that you were anything but a sincere and model member of our society, had, and I swear to you, never crossed my mind. Authentic slander! Why, I nearly broke into a sweat and probably did, which is very unladylike but some allegations must simply not be allowed to be brought against another human being. Naturally, I wanted to get to the meat of the matter and to expose the wicked actors behind this theatre, so I took the folder, unbeknownst to Constable Perkins, so that I may study it at home. It is still in my possession of course, but you mustn’t worry, Mr Nichols – as far as I am concerned, no-one need know about these awful accusations against you. No-one need know until we find the perpetrators. I mean, the things I have read in that report, they should be ashamed! It did mention that you were born in Sri Lanka. Is that true Mr Nichols? How fascinating that must have been for you as a child to grow up in an exotic land. Have you ever ridden an elephant?
We are both God-fearing citizens, Mr Nichols. Jesus taught us to give our money to the poor and we will find treasure in heaven, and I have lived by that message. He knows that I have tried to live by that messagebut I have been giving and giving my whole live. Oh, you don’t need to hear about my troubles and foul attitudes, do you? What’s more pressing is your good reputation and denying these baleful operators the satisfaction of seeing your name drawn further into the marsh. If everything that I’ve read about your rehabilitation is true then I understand that you are already well on your way along the path of righteousness and have chosen the light of God as your guide. And this on top of your dedication to community service. This I find admirable, so I beg you, not to misconstrue my intentions. Blackmail is such a horrid term. I cannot believe my own audacity that I would even write this word! I only want you to know that I am here for you should you need someone with whom you can talk. I hate to think what Mrs Nichols would think were she still in the country, the poor dear. I am so incensed I can barely hold my pen.
Please do write back and tell me how I may help unsully your name. I fear that I cannot bear the weight of this dreadful circumstance much longer.
Mrs Anne Lorraine Armstrong
Bank account number: 5505-9992
Southern Bank, New Coventry