Finance: The Trader: Stalked by those sinister `prankster' e-threats

`People who send hate mail are cowards, unlikely to fulfil their threats'

THE FIRST message arrived early last week. At first, I thought it was just a bit of junk mail, that plague of the capitalist world. That's why it didn't bother me that the subject line read: "I know where you live." After all, I've been sent pornography with innocuous little titles like: "Hi there", or: "Where have you been?", and been offered the dullest merchandise under cover of: "You can't miss this", or: "UNBEATABLE OFFER". Those subject lines tell you nothing. So I hit "Delete" without even reading them, and go on pricing up some dreary deal or other.

When the next one arrived with the same subject line, and from the same anonymous free e-mail address, it seemed to confirm my first impression of someone desperate in the Midwest trying to sell me a mortgage or something. But when I opened it, all it said was: "I know where you live and I'm coming to get you, The Tagman." Not junk mail, then.

"Oh, how horrid," Laura said when I showed it to her. "I suppose it's one of your contacts at another bank trying to be funny and clever and post-post-modern, and falling flat on their face. Never mind; if you don't react they'll get bored." The next one had the subject: "And I know where you work, too". I didn't want to read it, but some awful compulsion made me glance down at the body of the message. "Yes, pretty one, I know where you work and I'm coming to get you, the Tagman," it said.

I tried to tell myself that Laura was right, that it was just someone being silly. "Perhaps it's an e-mail variation of The Blair Witch Project," I told Laura, laughing unconvincingly. "Or maybe it's Sash doing a weird and wacky art project and forgetting she hasn't mentioned it to me. You know what creative types are like these days." But there's something in the tone of the message that has me worried. Perhaps it's that "pretty one", too. Either way, I'm uncomfortable enough to mention it later to Jaap as we lie on his sofa watching Ally McBeal. "Is that why you're only laughing at half the jokes?" he asks, stroking my hair. "Do you want me to have a look at the messages tomorrow? I don't know what else I can do."

But by morning there's another one for Jaap to see, and it's nasty. "I know where you live and I know where you work, pretty one, and I can get you any time I want, you're mine, The Tagman," it reads, and Jaap is frowning. One thing is clear: this is definitely not a joke.

The policeman I speak to does his best to reassure me. "I know it's hard," he says, "but try not to worry. The chances are if you keep on ignoring the messages, whoever it is will get bored. It's unlikely they'll carry out their threats; people who send hate mail are cowards and they don't go further than writing."

I try, then, not to be alarmed when the next e-mail arrives. "Better leave that handsome boyfriend of yours alone, pretty one," I read, "unless you want me to harm him, The Tagman." I feel sick and afraid, and when Mrs Hughes clanks into view with her coffee-and-cake trolley I know only a truly vast piece of her home-made chocolate cake will soothe my jangling nerves.

I bite at it savagely, spilling lumps everywhere, so at first I barely register that another piece of mail has arrived. But when I read it my blood goes cold. "Careful, pretty one," it says, "you wouldn't want to get chocolate stains on your nice red dress, would you, The Tagman." I freeze. My stalker. My stalker is in this room.

thetrader@hotmail.com

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