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Wednesday came as slowly as a slug moving across an open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (You don’t want to know how I know about that.)
Wednesday was the day when Mrs. Fordgythe was supposed to tell me how she was going to get me my lottery winnings. Or, as I thought, Wednesday was the day when I would know for sure that Mrs. Fordgythe had done what any normal person would have done: cashed in my lottery ticket and moved to Disneyland.
I was coming home from school when Mrs. Fordgythe suddenly was next to me. I didn’t see her coming, but somehow she had glided into place and was saying my name, asking me to walk more slowly.
“Mrs. Fordgythe!” I said in surprise, almost shock.
“Good day,” she said.
For a moment I almost expected her to start to gloat: “I have a hundred and eleven million dollars and you don’t.”
But instead she said, “I have splendid news!”
“What is it?”
“I’ve found a way to give you your money without anyone knowing about it. Well, hardly anyone.”
“How?” I asked.
“Come with me,” she replied, taking me by the elbow and steering me towards the center of town.
Ahead of us was the First Dominion Trust. Some of the newer banks in town looked like motels or drive-through fast food joints. But not the old First Dominion. It was made of gray concrete and marble, with front doors so large that you could fit an elephant through them, which would be useful because it probably took an elephant to pull the doors closed every night. As Mrs. Fordgythe and I mounted the steps, I could feel the warm smell of the bank – like the scent of a desk drawer you haven’t opened in a couple of years – wrap around me.
Our steps echoed behind us all the way inside until we reached a wooden desk with a sign that said “Julia Minder.” Ms. Minder looked up and seemed pleased. “Mrs. Fordgythe! We’ve been looking forward to your visit. I’ll go get Ms. Harrigan.”
In all my years of coming to the First Dominion – usually accompanying my mother on an errand – I had never made it to a desk, only to the counter where tellers stand behind bars and count out cash. Now Ms. Minder was taking us beyond the desks, all the way to a private office. She knocked on the door and swung it open. As soon as she saw us, Ms. Harrigan was on her feet and coming towards us, with her right hand in front of her, ready for a shake.
“Come in, come in,” said Ms. Harrigan. “Mrs. Fordgythe, Mrs. Fordgythe! This must be Jacob Richter.” She shook both our hands. She was older than my mother but younger than Mrs. Fordgythe, and was dressed in a gray skirt with a gray jacket and some type of white scarf that entirely covered her neck and almost reached past her chin. “Have a seat, have a seat.” Apparently she was the type of person who likes to say things twice just to convince you she meant it the first time. She had us sit in the red leather chairs in front of her desk.
We were apparently very popular at this bank.
“Well, well,” said Ms. Harrigan. “So this is our new depositor.”
"Actually," said Mrs. Fordgythe, "he's not a new depositor at all."
"No, not at all, not at all," said Ms. Harrigan, "But he's about to become our largest."
"What do you mean?" I asked. I didn’t want to admit that I knew what was going on until I knew it for a fact.
Ms. Harrigan smiled and said "Mrs. Fordgythe is about to make a little gift to you, a little gift." She nodded to Mrs. Fordgythe who rummaged in her enormous pocket book for what seemed like three days.
"Oh my, where is it? I know I had it this morning," she said as we listened to the rustlings and clankings of her bag as she fished around. I practically expected her to dive headfirst into it and emerge wearing scuba gear. "Oh, yes, here it is," she said at last, holding a light blue rectangular piece of paper in her hand.
She gave it to me.
I looked at it. It was a check. It was made out to me.
The amount was $110,999,997.46.
My hand began to shake so I rested it on the desk.
"For me?" I finally said.
Mrs. Fordgythe nodded.
I must have been in shock because the first thing I thought of wasn't what I could do with so much money. It was instead why it wasn't an even $111,000,000. It's not that I cared about the missing couple of dollars. I was just curious. But I didn't want to look like the stingiest person in history by asking.
Instead, I dug deep inside my soul to find the exact words to express my feelings. I think I came up with something pretty poetic. "Holy cow!” I said.
"Holy cow, holy cow," repeated Ms. Harrigan. She seemed like a nice woman, but I was suddenly glad she wasn't my mother. It would have driven me nuts, driven me nuts.
She continued, "Mrs. Fordgythe used your lottery ticket to pick up the money from the Lottery Commission, and then came here to make sure that we could put it into your account without having to tell anyone else. Which, of course, we can do."
"Holy cow," I said again, brilliantly.
"Yes, it was quite a little adventure going to the Lottery Commission," said Mrs. Fordgythe. "They were very nice about it. They didn't seem very excited, but I suppose giving out millions of dollars becomes just part of a day's work after a while."
"Aren’t you going to be in the newspapers because you won?"
"No. They passed a law a few months ago. Winners were getting so pestered by people asking for money that the lottery officials aren’t allowed to give out the name of the winner, unless the winner wants."
"Even if the winner is a kid?"
"Well, I don't know about that. But officially, a kid didn't win it. An old lady did."
"Aw, you're not so old, Mrs. Fordgythe."
"That's very polite of you, Jake, but I know exactly how old I am, and I'm an old lady. In any case, let's get this check deposited to your account."
Ms. Harrigan leaned over and pointed to the back of the check. "Just sign your name here, here."
I took the pen Ms. Harrigan offered. I was so nervous that I made the "J" in "Jake" especially large and wondered if that would mean the check wouldn't count. But Ms. Harrigan didn't seem to care. She took the check back from me, held it up admiringly, and said, "Very good, very good. Congratulations, Jake, we'll put this in your account as of this afternoon, this very afternoon."
"Great," I said. "But there's something else I have to do."
"You'd like to withdraw some money? No problem, no problem."
"How much?" asked Ms. Harrigan.
"Eleven million dollars, please."
This took the wind out of Ms. Harrigan’s sails. "Eleven, um, eleven, um, eleven, um..."
"I promised to split the winnings with my sister. Ten percent. She has an account here, too."
"Then it shouldn't be any problem at all, at all."
"Very good of you to keep your promise, Jake," said Mrs. Fordgythe.
I didn't know what to say because it hadn't occurred to me that I might not keep my promise: the curse of being a nice boy.
"So," said Ms. Harrigan, “Would you like to withdraw a little pocket money for you to have to spend? Might be useful, be useful."
"Well, sure, I guess."
"I don't know. How about ten dollars?"
Mrs. Fordgythe responded, "Well, Jake, you don't want to have to keep coming back to the bank. It might make people suspicious. I think you ought to withdraw a little more than that."
"Fifteen?" Mrs. Fordgythe shook her head. "Twenty? Fifty? A hundred dollars??!" Mrs. Fordgythe finally nodded. "A hundred dollars seems like an awful lot."
Ms. Harrigan smiled. "Jake, we’re going to invest your money so that you're going to be earning ten percent on your 100 million dollars. That means that if you don't spend any of it, in a year, the 100 million dollars in your bank account will earn ten million dollars. Just by not spending it. And later we need to talk about ways to invest the money so you can make more than that. I really think we'd need to have your parents involved in any discussion of investments." Mrs. Fordgythe nodded.
"But my parents don't have to know about this, right?"
"Absolutely not. I've checked with our tax lawyers, and this prize is tax free. Of course, you'll have to fill out some tax forms at the end of the year, but we can help you with those."
"Ten million dollars a year!" The fact that I'd get this for not doing anything except letting the money sit in the bank made it feel like I had won not a hundred and eleven million dollars but a magic purse that always filled itself up again no matter how much you spent.
"Ok,” I said, “I’ll withdraw a hundred dollars."
Ms. Harrigan filled out a slip and stood up, indicating that our meeting was just about over.
"One more question, though," I said. "Mrs. Fordgythe, why did you deposit $110,999,997.46 instead of a hundred and eleven million?"
"Oh, my dear boy," she said, "Remember, you said that the ice cream float was on you."