Putting the squeeze on Tiggy Wiggle on a tigerskin rug

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THE story so far. Mick and Polly Morrish have acquired the entire mailing list of all the people who have paid for Valentine's Day messages in a serious newspaper. They are convinced it is gold dust. Unfortunately, they can't think what to do with it.

'Look,' said Mick, 'this isn't like any normal subscription list, where you have a list of roughly middle-class or roughly business people, with no guarantee of a focused profile. This is a guaranteed list of very similar people]'

'Rubbish,' said Polly. 'All they have in common is the money to pay for a Valentine's Day insert. Big deal] You wouldn't say everyone who went into a phone box and made a call had a similar profile, would you?'

'This is different,' said Mick. 'All the people on this list read a posh paper. They may not use the word 'posh', but they think of themselves as posh. At the same time they are prepared to pay good money to talk baby talk in public to their loved ones. We have here intelligent, upper-income people who are prepared to pay good money to behave like babies. What we have here is a bunch of well-to-do exhibitionists with infantile tendencies.'

'Oh, I don't know,' said Polly. 'To be an exhibitionist, people have to know who you are. These people are all anonymous. Or wearing masks, at least. When you go to a masked ball you can do what you like because people don't know who you are. It's quite innocent.'

'I disagree. Anyone who pays a few bob to tell his Ipsy Dipsy that her Lump o' Lard really loves her and wants to steal away with her at dead of night - well, I think he is the sort of person who might well in his time have done something really indiscreet.'

'And so?'

'So I think that if we were to write to all these people on the list saying that we know their dread secret but that a few thousand quid would keep us quiet, we might rake it in . . .'

The problem Mick and Polly faced was quite different from the normal business problem. Usually, you devise a product, and then buy the mailing list most suited to it. But Mick and Polly had acquired a mailing list and now had to decide which product was most suited to it. The product they decided on was blackmail. Using a PO Box as an address, they sent out a carefully worded letter hinting that if money was not forthcoming, they would have to go to the police.

In business terms this was not client-targeted blackmail. It was random mailshot blackmail in a specified customer orbit. The results were correspondingly random. Many people did not answer. Some assumed it was all part of the jokey Valentine's Day procedure and wrote back jokey, sentimental answers, saying PO Box 145 could go to the police for all that her Tiggy Wiggle cared, but that Tiggy Wiggle would like to do something wicked first before the police were involved, preferably on a tigerskin rug in front of an open fire one evening.

These answers Mick and Polly threw away as being unproductive. They also threw away the answers from those who assumed this was all part of some competition and that they had won a free prize. Sometimes, though, the replies contained quantities of used banknotes and these Mick and Polly carefully kept for further use, noting which names and addresses were responsive to blackmail. But this left a good many names and addresses that seemed quite unresponsive, and to these they wrote again.

'Not much to show for our second round of mailshots,' said Polly one day at breakfast, as she disconsolately opened their meagre postbag.

'Give it time, give it time,' said Mick, as he ploughed through the morning papers. Goodness, there seemed to be a lot of Conservative MPs resigning, or committing suicide or getting into disgrace. Not long after, the doorbell rang and two burly policemen requested admission.

'Yes,' said Mick and Polly, 'yes, we have been sending out letters to people but there's no law against that.'

'That's as may be,' said the policemen, 'but every time we investigate the death of a Tory MP, we always find one of your letters on the premises.'

'How dreadful,' said Polly. 'So you'd like us to stop?'

'Not exactly,' said one policeman. 'The thing is that police pay has never been that good, and one of the useful ways in which we can augment our income is to tip off the media about a murder before we tell the relatives or the authorities. See what I mean?'

'What he means,' said the other policeman, 'is that if you give us a list of all the other people you've written to, we would be a bit more forewarned . . .'

I regret to say the rest of this story has been seized in an unexpected police raid on my premises. Sorry about that. Back to normal tomorrow.