(From Chapter 15)

“Hello, everyone. I’m Jim Townsend,” He pointed to his family. “This is my wife Stef and our son Sam. We are here to claim our prize for the Lottery of America’s one point eight billion dollar ticket that I purchased. I bought it at a convenience store in the Government Center in Minneapolis. I understand that the store also gets a hundred thousand dollar prize. I know the owner of the store pretty well. If you’re watching, congratulations, Marcus, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

“My wife and I have been doing a lot of thinking since we discovered the winning ticket in my wallet. I didn’t realize I had the winning ticket until ten days after the drawing. I was a bit consumed with work, and I had simply forgotten I purchased it. Since we discovered we won, Stef and I have been planning, well, pretty much every part of our lives.

“To begin with, when we leave this press conference we’ll go straight to the airport. We’ll be getting out of town for a little while to figure things out.

“We will be getting in touch with family members after that to figure out how to plan a celebration with them and close friends.

“We also plan to give some money to charity. We haven’t decided how much at this point, but it will be substantial. If you work for a charity or a non-profit, and you’d like to ask for a donation, we certainly understand. I have given the folks here at the Lottery headquarters a P.O. Box that we will use for this purpose. We have also set up a website she can direct you to with specific instructions. Basically, we would like a one-page summary of what you would do with the money. Don’t call, don’t email or text us. All of our old email accounts are gone and we have changed our phone number. We also have purchased a new home in the metro area.

“With that, I’ll open it up to questions.”

Every reporter’s hand went up.

One of the reporters seemed to win the right to ask the first question by shouting the loudest, “Stef! What one thing did you want the minute you found out about winning the lottery?”

She smiled and pulled the microphone on the table too close. Her voice boomed, “a new hot water heater.”

The room filled with laughter. The reporters were scribbling each word.

“Jim, what was the first thing you did when you found out you won?”

“Truthfully . . . I threw up.” Again, the reporters laughed. “It’s not something you can possibly be physically prepared for.”

“Where are you going on vacation?”

“We’d rather not say,” Jim said, winking at Sam.

Sam spoke up, “We’re going on vacation?”

Again, laughter. Sam continued, “Can we go to Disney World? Some of my friends have gone to Disney World.”

Jim patted his head and messed up Sam’s hair a little. Stef gave Sam a quick kiss and whispered in his ear that it was a surprise.

“Are you going to keep working?”

Jim fielded this one, “We have both quit our jobs. We may work again, but not right now. We each need to figure out what we want to do with our time now.”

“Stef, how do you feel?”

Kradigan had briefed both of them on all the questions they were likely to get, and this was one of them. He wanted them to be spontaneous in answering questions, but he also wanted them to give the press what they needed. More than anything, he wanted their story to go away by the end of the weekend. That’s one of the reasons they had held the conference on Friday; people followed the news the least over the weekend.

“Thrilled, of course,” she replied, with a big smile.

Finally, a reporter with gold flecks in her hair stood up.

“Heléna Midas, Celebrity Bounty,” she began. She was the only reporter who had bothered to introduce herself before asking her question. As always, she was holding her gold microphone. “The whole world is fascinated with you. What can you tell us about yourselves that would be surprising?”

Jim glanced at Stef.

“Ms. Midas,” Jim’s voice had flipped a switch from “pleasant” to “professional.” He stood a bit straighter at the podium. “I appreciate that you and your publication have a job to do. However, we didn’t come forward until today for a reason. We were getting our new lives sorted out. Ultimately, on some level, you endangered my family by announcing our win early.”

“That being said, I’ll try to answer your question. Although I’m an attorney, we weren’t wealthy at all before winning this prize today. We had at least another ten years of student loan payments in front of us. We are thrilled, of course, to win the Lottery of America. We would ask, though, that this ends whatever fascination the public has with us. That’s why we brought Sam along—so the world doesn’t need to hunt for pictures of the ‘elusive kid.’ To be honest, we just aren’t that interesting.”

“Actually,” Heléna responded, “that’s up to us to decide.” She spread her arms when she said “us,” as if she were somehow the same type of reporter as all the others in the room.

Jim stared at Heléna . After a moment he whispered a question in the lottery official’s ear. She nodded.

He went back to the podium. “Folks, I want to thank you all for your interest. Ms. Midas, if you don’t mind, I’d like a word alone with you.”

Sheila led Jim and Heléna to a small office and closed the door as she left. Once they were in the room, Jim extended his hand.

“I think we got off on the wrong foot somehow.”

She shook his hand, smiling the whole time. “Thanks for speaking with me,” she said.

“I want you to stop all of this,” Jim said.

“What do you mean?”

“Your coverage—I want it to stop. You got your scoop. You reported on who we were before anybody else. But this will be the end of it. Right?”

“Jim, we’ve invested a lot of money in you and your lovely family,” Heléna responded, laughing at him. “We’re not about to stop. You will be famous for the rest of your lives. It’s already been decided.”

“Decided?” he asked. “By who?”

Celebrity Bounty,” Heléna replied. “We decide who is famous and how long they’ll be famous.”

Jim studied her. She wasn’t insane, but she certainly had an impressive opinion of herself. She wasn’t just going to go away.

“What if we just gave you photos that you could use? Exclusives. Would that satisfy you?”

“It’s not me you need to satisfy, Jim,” she smiled again, but it wasn’t a happy smile. It was more of a “you can’t stop me” smile.

“It’s our readers. They don’t want to see you posing with Mickey Mouse or gathered around a Christmas tree. They want to see Sam throwing a tantrum at the grocery store. They want to know what you’re about to buy. They want to hear about how your family members are clawing at you to get all of your new money. And we’re going to get all of that for them.” She nodded at the end of her brief speech as if that cemented the issue.

“I’m not some clueless nineteen-year-old actor. Do you think I’m defenseless, Ms. Midas?”

“Would you like to sue us?” she batted her eyes at him, flirting with the idea of a lawsuit. “Best of luck. Our office is officially in Buenos Aires. Have you ever tried to sue a corporation based in Argentina? It’s not easy. And once you do sue us, you’ll find the First Amendment is a wonderful defense to pretty much anything.”

Jim knew nothing about suing Celebrity Bounty. “I have other options. I could supply pictures to your competitors.”

“They won’t care,” she said confidently. “You don’t seem to understand, Jim. We paid the first bounty. We are part of your story now. Any publicity for you is publicity for us too. You might not understand it, but as far as the world is concerned, Celebrity Bounty owns you and your family.” She got up and walked out of the room.

Stef was sitting outside the office with Sam. Heléna introduced herself to Stef, who said nothing in return. Jim stood in the office doorway, also saying nothing in an effort to avoid giving any more ammunition to Heléna . Heléna knelt down next to Sam.

“Hi, Sam, my name is Heléna.”

Sam just stared at her.

“Are you excited about your vacation?”

He nodded.

“I have something for you.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small shiny object and showed it to him. He nodded again as she knelt down to put it on his shirt.

“It’s just a little reminder, Sam, that I’m always around, looking out for you and listening to what you have to say.” She smiled and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

Stef looked down at his shirt and saw the present. It was a pin in the form of a gold microphone. She quickly stepped between Sam and Heléna.

Heléna pulled out her famous gold phone and dialed, maintaining eye contact with Stef. Jim stood next to Sam.

“Hey boss, I’ll be honest, I’m not that thrilled with Jim Townsend,” Heléna said into her phone. She wanted them to hear her half of the conversation. “He seems stiff and boring, but maybe we can bring out some defensiveness in him. I could definitely see him punching someone taking a picture with a cell phone someday.”

There was a brief silence.

“Stef Townsend, the wife. Yes, she’s hot!” Heléna’s voice was more animated now, as her eyes wandered up and down Stef. “She cleans up really well, and she looks like she is in good shape. We have got to prioritize shots of her wearing as little as possible for our buylist.” She gave Stef a quick wink.

Again, she paused. “Yeah, I think I would do her if I had the chance.” Heléna laughed into the phone. Although she spoke into the phone, the performance felt like it was directed at Jim and Stef.

“But Ken,” she continued, now looking at Sam. “The real winner here is the kid, Sam. He just seems so charming and cute and innocent. He’s the perfect age. We couldn’t have been any luckier. He’s our new lottery ticket.”