Dear Office of the Clerk,

I was pleased to receive your gracious request for my presence at the small get-together to be held in your exalted halls on Thursday the 28th of July. Be assured that I was grateful for the warm tidings offered by you, the Wapello County Sheriff's Department, and please know I am fully aware of your overflowing social calendar. Therefore, it is with no small sense of remorse, particularly in light of the many previous engagements of ours that I have had cause to break, that I must regretfully decline your invitation.

Gentlemen and ladies, do not for one moment imagine that I am unaware of the lengths to which you have surely gone in this matter. I am humbled to think of the many uniformed servants you have sent zig-zagging back and forth over the tri-county area, merely to deliver my invitation—especially considering that I have relocated frequently in recent months, and have even been without a proper address for weeks at a time.

I would love to attend your criminal hearing! If not for several pressing personal matters, I would certainly join you in court.

The first of these matters is the distressing state in which I find my automobile. Were she only roadworthy, she would carry me to the scheduled proceedings with alacrity. Alas, her undercarriage blooms with cancerous expanses of rust. Her engine wheezes and coughs like an asthmatic hound. And from beneath her issues an ominous black puddle, which portends a failing transmission, a cracked block, or worse. I fear that to operate her would be to put my very life in peril!

The second personal matter precluding my acceptance of your kind invitation is, I am afraid, financial. Gentlemen, my monetary affairs are in an unfortunate state. Business responsibilities, as prominent men such as you must appreciate, must supersede all social niceties, and, to be perfectly frank, it is presently beyond my means to attend even to those. In fact, I believe my colleague, Mr. Dutch Haney, who by no small coincidence is mentioned prominently and repeatedly in the documents summoning my presence, is a mutual acquaintance of ours. Knowing, as you must, Mr. Haney's rather coarse fixation on compensation for damages to personal property, and my sensitivity to baseness of any sort, my reluctance to attend your gathering requires no further elucidation.

I feel an especial pang of regret that I will not be there to bask in the presence of the Hon. Claude Gerber, a man with whom I have passed many an engaging and stimulating afternoon—a true gentlemen, that one, a true character. I hoped with all my heart he did not mean it when he said he never wished for me to darken his door again, and I take this invitation as evidence my hopes were not in vain.

And Officer Schepke... Fair, fair Lilly Schepke. You were meant for gentler things than to stand to the right and chuckle over tired old anecdotes—as well as charges of grand larceny, grand theft auto, public drunkenness, domestic assault, and discharging a firearm within city limits.

No, perhaps it is for the best. How quickly you would grow tired of me, I'm sure, were I to surrender to self-indulgence and the court-appointed bailiff the morning of July 28. I would certainly bore you, or worse yet, etiquette would require that I remain in your company for not less than five nor more than seven years.

I will, therefore, take my leave; I assure you, gentles, that the disappointment is all mine.

Sincerely,

Shane M. Ridenhauer