The letter is addressed to "Peter Roberts, The Wrench Man, Red Bank, Tenn." It is from an Illinois woman who writes: "I heard you were going to share all that money you got with folks like me, on welfare. Would appreciate any consideration you can give me."
Another writes from California: Two sisters and a cousin have been kidnapped and she is running out of ransom money. Could Roberts lend a helping hand?
Peter Robert's favorite is from a man, return address unknown, who blithely asks for $40,000 so he can buy a new house.
"That's a good one," Roberts chuckles, sitting barefoot on the floor of his apartment. "Very short and to the point - you know?"
Other multimillionaires probably wouldn't be amused by such letters, but Roberts is different. A year ago, he was holding down three jobs just to make ends meet.
But for the past week, Robert's smiling face and the story of how he won $60 million from Sears, Roebuck & Co., is known across the country. Now everybody, it seems, wants a piece of the action.
"I feel sorry for these people," Roberts says as he regards a letter from a land salesman in Maine. "But for the grace of God, we could be in their situation, trying to pay all the bills, struggling to make it."
Roberts sprawls easily in his turquoise gym shorts. The TV in his modest, two-bedroom apartment is tuned to "Angie." He glances over at his wife, Maxine. "I guess some of them, though, are obviously trying to get something for nothing."
The prospect of becoming one of the wealthiest men in the state hasn't changed Roberts, 35, owner and operator of the Mr. Express convenience store and El Matador apartment complex in Redbank, population: 14,677.
There are no plans to build a huge mansion or acquire fancy cars. Roberts says he will still drive his 1978 compact Mercury Zephyr. His wife will keep her 1974 Chevrolet.
"But I do want to travel," Roberts offers. "I think we'll go to Canada and fish a little. Of course, if I cath 'em, I like to eat them. I really don't like to just sit there all that time, then catch something that's not of any use to anybody."
But patience is one of Pete Roberts' virtues. He waited 10 years to get his money from Sears, which sold his invention, the quick-release socket wrench, for the past decade. It is a useful and popular tool, especially for race-car drivers.
He invented it while a teen-ager working for a Sears store in Massachusetts. He had always loved to tinker with things. One day, while working on his car with a standard wrench Roberts figured there had to be a better way to get the job done.
With only a high school education and little experience in the business world, he took his invention to the Sears store manager.
"I trusted them, I worked for them," Roberts says now, remembering the story. "Myself, being a clerk there, I had a lot of trust in them. I thought if anybody would know about how the wrench would do and all, the would."
By 1965, it was apparent that the tool would do very well, but a Sears lawyer wrote Roberts, telling him that his invention wasn't really all that new and that the wrench would sell only to the extent that Sears would promote it.
Sears offered to pay Roberts $10,000 for all domestic and foreign rights. Roberts, who had a patent on the wrench, accepted the company's offer, took the money and enlisted in the Air Force.
Later, while overseas, he realized that Sears was making millions from his invention. When he returned to the U.S., he sued Sears in District Court in Chicago for misrepresentation and fraud. Last October, a trial jury awarded him $1 million in damages.
Last week, the same court awarded Roberts and additional $60 million, the jury's rough estimation of what Sears has made from the sale of the Roberts wrench. Sears immediately announced that it would appeal.
It could take from a month to a year, Roberts figures, before he ever actually sees the money. But he is confident he will get it eventually.
While they wait, Roberts, his wife and his 5-year-old German shepherd, Dusty, are reluctant celebrities in Red Bank.
Plunked astride the Tennessee River, just three miles from Chattanooga, Red Bank is a community of modest red brick and frame houses, dominated by Dayton Boulevard, a thoroughfare lined with used car lots, neon signs and apartment complexes styled in what the natives call "Mediterranean" motif.
The colonial-style Red Bank Baptist church is the largest and most imposing edifice in town, far larger then the city hall, recently the scene of a Ku Klux Klan meeting which city fathers insist was "unauthorized."
Roberts likes the town. A quiet, down-to-earth man, he isn't impressed with his own good fortune. He really doesn't want to leave his apartment at El Matador, where a cement bullfighter twirls a cape to hail the building's entrance.
But security is a problem for an instant millionaire, and Roberts plans to build his family a "nice" home on a few acres of land he bought just outside Red Bank.
"We just want a nice house with some creature comforts, but no White House or San Clemente," Roberts says, sipping a glass of Coke and Seagram's VO. "We're just little people and we don't take up much room."
"I've got some ideas on what to do with the money," he says, scratching his T-shirt clad belly. "There are really two ways you can go.
"You can go conservative and invest in tax-free bonds or something like that, or you can invest it, wheel and deal. I'm going to go conservative. I want to put it in some place where it'll grow for me."
He will, he says, indulge in a few luxury items: a workshop where he can tinker with things, a welder, a video cassette recorder, improvements to his stereo system.
"And I bought a new pair of blue jeans," he adds.
Maxine Roberts, who won't reveal her age, is equaly nonplussed by her fortune. She smiles and says. "It's fun, but it's really been sort of a hassle." She is pregnant now, but has no intention of hiring servants to help around the house.
"She wouldn't let them in the kitchen, anyway" Roberts says.
"I don't know," he says. "I don't like to plan too far in advance. I've always felt you live one day at a time. i'm just grateful to be able to sit down and relax and not have to worry about things right now.
"Maybe one day I'll go into politics - but on the local level, where I'd have a small job, something I wouldn't be paid to do, I wouldn't want to go into the big time - that would seem like the last thing anybody would want to do."
"This really hasn't changed anything much. But I guess the price of gas doesn't worry me as much as it used to."
Until the new house is built, the couple will stay in the apartment, but Roberts figures he'll have to quit his job as manager and sell the Mr. Express, again for security reasons.
The one-room, cement-block store, specializing in deli sandwiches, stands only a few feet from Roberts' front door. Although Mr. Express employes do their best to keep reporters and the curious at bay, Roberts says that frankly he doesn't feel quite safe any more.
But in the meantime, Pete Roberts waits for the millions to roll in, and reads the mail which arrives twice daily from the needy and the hopeful.
"I know him pretty well," says Red Bank police chief Ron Schroyer. "He's your everyday, very likeable gentleman. He'd bend over backwards to help you in any way he could." CAPTION: Picture 1, Inventor Peter Roberts, by AP; Picture 2, Quick-released wrench; by Gerald Martineau