Here is the first winner of The Herald/Mighty Pens short story contest. We hope you enjoy it.

It was a fine summer’s day when George’s front doorbell rang in the middle of the afternoon. He had just enjoyed a refreshing glass of Chardonnay to celebrate his 55th birthday and, as he headed towards the vestibule, was in excellent fettle. That was about to change, very dramatically.

Standing a couple of paces back from his doorstep was a young man with a mop of long black hair.

“Good afternoon” said George to the stranger. “Can I help you?”

“Oh, you most definitely can, Mr Gardiner” he replied, smiling. He then pulled out a copy of the local paper from his jacket. “I’ve been reading about you and we have something to discuss. The theft of my property, to be exact.”

George was stunned. It was as if he had been clubbed with a sledge hammer….


Six months earlier – on Monday, April 7 - an event was to transform George’s boring, mundane life as an unimpressive chartered accountant going nowhere.

The grimness of George’s professional prospects was mirrored in all other aspects of his life. He had married Wendy when he was 20 and she had bossed him around ever since.

On Monday, April 7 the Gardiners had breakfasted in total silence, as usual. George’s car was in for a service so they headed together for a Number 4 bus.

It was on time for a change and they sat at the front. As the bus was about to pull away, George spotted a National Lottery ticket, wedged into the chrome rim of the seat in front of him.

“It’s a ticket for this week; that’s a good start to a Monday! ” said George happily, slipping it into his wallet.

Seven days later George Gardiner walked purposefully into his boss’s office and told him to stuff his job. George’s ticket had netted him a little over £9m but the bonanza was a something he and Wendy decided to keep to themselves. No publicity meant no tricky questions about how and where he “bought” his ticket and as the Gardiners were literally friendless, they didn’t have to explain why they were taking early retirement.

However, news of their good fortune did filter out. Wendy was certain their solicitor’s glamorous receptionist – “ a yappy, stuck up bitch” – was the culprit. The evening paper then got wind of it and a clever reporter door-stepped a surprised Wendy into confirming they had won big in the Lottery.

Other than the unwelcome newspaper publicity, all was good with the Gardiners. The windfall had transformed their lives and re-ignited a spark in their relationship that had been extinguished for years. For them every day was wonderful until the dark-haired young man arrived on their doorstep….


“What theft? No idea what you are on about” George blurted, having recovered some composure.

“Well, I’ve read all about your big win but we both know that it wasn’t your ticket Mr Gardiner, don’t we?”

“Are you mad? I’m sorry, I’ve nothing to say to you” said George and slammed the door shut.

The young man then popped open the letterbox and shouted, “I’ll come back tomorrow once you’ve had time to consider this” and posted through an envelope.

George shouted on Wendy and watched the man walk calmly down the garden.

The secret was out! But how on earth had this lad uncovered it. They had told no one?

George babbled out details of the encounter to Wendy.

“What’s in the envelope?” she asked. George tore it open and started to read the letter inside.

“My name is Alfie Franks and I bought the Lottery ticket that won you £9, 847, 637. I left it on a Number 4 bus and you stole it and claimed my money.

“I do not want to make trouble for you but I want what is rightfully mine. On the other hand, if you refuse to cooperate, I will expose you as a cheat.”

The Gardiners were dumbfounded and sat around the dining room table until after midnight discussing how this man knew so much and what options were open to them. They concluded that they were completely cornered.

They decided they would speak to the man the following day and test the veracity of his story. Deep down, they both knew that this “Alfie” held all the cards. Probably the best they could do was broker some kind of deal or cover up. Alfie came across as an educated, pragmatic character. He had expressed no anger at their deception and was may be open to reason.

They both had a sleepless night but their strategy was agreed.

Right on time, the door bell sounded.

“You had better come in” said George, without any greeting. He introduced Alfie to Wendy and they sat formally around a table.

“Your claim seems extraordinary to us and, without any sort of evidence, is groundless” said George, sounding out the young man.

“I hope you are not going to be difficult, Mr Gardiner. We both know the truth.

“Let me take you through it. I shoved the ticket into the back of the bus seat while I chatted to my pal. It was only after I stepped off that I realised I had left it. Luckily for me, I saw you and your wife take the seat – and the ticket - as the bus left the stop.

“I didn’t give it any further thought but when I saw your picture in The Herald it was pretty clear to me that you had cashed in my ticket. I couldn’t remember all the numbers I had chosen but enough to know it was my ticket.”

“I repeat, you have no evidence” replied George calmly.

“Not on me” stated Alfie confidently, “but it is my face – not yours – on the newsagent’s CCTV buying the ticket and I know when and where I bought it. That’s your evidence. It is irrefutable”. He smiled smugly.

The Gardiners were silent. The real owner of the Lottery ticket was sitting opposite them. There seemed to be no doubt about it.

“We need time to consider what you’ve said” George requested. “Can you come back in an hour?”

Alfie agreed and returned 60 minutes later.

“We would like to negotiate” said George.

“You have nothing to negotiate”.

But after some persuasion and to the Gardiners’ relief, Alfie became less inflexible and began to talk and compromise.

Two weeks later Alfie gazed contentedly at his laptop screen, where the RBS website displayed his current account details. “Seven million smackeroos!” he muttered to himself. He regarded himself as both lucky and smart.

Lucky to have been seated behind the Gardiners when they discovered and pocketed the lottery ticket on the Number 4 bus. Lucky to have spotted their picture in the paper. And smart enough to execute a plan to dupe them.

Meanwhile, Tony Gillespie clocked off his eight-hour shift at the tyre replacement depot as an apprentice fitter on the minimum wage.

Tony had long forgotten about the Lottery ticket he had left on the Number 4 bus on Monday, April 7.

THE JUDGES SAID: We like this very much, well written and constructed and a very clever inter-weaving.

James Miller is a semi retired Orcadian who spends half his time living in the west end of Glasgow, where his very young grandchildren stay.

He is a former editor of The Orcadian newspaper and still has an interest in the business, editing the firm's local interest books.

Married to Christine, James (63) is keen on sport but unfortunately no longer participates as he suffers from MS.

"I'm chuffed to bits to be a winner of The Herald / Mighty Pens competition" he said. "Having written hard news stories all my life it was refreshing to get into fiction. Not sure where The Lottery Winner came from but this will encourage me to put a few of my story ideas down on paper."