He’d proved it. He now knew just how easy it was to be successful. Success, of course, can mean very different things form one person to another; money, celebrity, cultural, academic or social achievement. All are variously deemed markers of success. Luke could now be deemed a success - and one which gave him a most intense pleasure; he’d beaten them all.
When he first saw the list he hardly gave it notice. The four crumpled sheets of white A4 sat messily on the District Line seat next to him; he’d seen the owner who’d sat the other side of the paper leave them there as he hurriedly exited the tube at Hammersmith and had initially thought it had been a deliberate act of littering. Glancing at the top sheet he could make out three vertical lists in boxes. They were headed ‘name, email and mobile’. Oh dear, it looked as if another civil servant might be leaving more of our personal data on public transport – but it was a very late train; so almost excusable.
The next thing he saw made him start. The first name at the top of the list was Alfred Christie – surely he was the man who had set up the Bendo’s chain of coffee stores? The next was Benedict O’Connor – the new American owner of Arsenal football club. Grabbing the top sheet and peering down the page, Luke realised that this was a list of a hundred or so of the most successful people of the time with their email addresses and mobile numbers. Quickly scanning the other three pages, Luke folded the bundle and tucked it into the inside pocket of his jacket. His mind was racing. His drinks after work with his school friend Andy who worked, like him, for a boring Bank in the City, had turned out to have an unexpected bonus; and the courage to pocket the papers.
That was six months ago. Luke had decided that the value of this information was far, far greater than any finders’ fee. Besides, whoever had left it there was hardly going to go public with his mistake. No, Luke had discovered something that could be the key to him finding his way in life – something to get him off the bottom rung he believed that he occupied. These were all successful people and Luke had to find a way of extracting some of that success for himself.
For nearly two months, the list had sat in the bottom of his sock draw during the day whilst he worked, only to become the focus for all his attention in the evenings as he researched the knowledge required for his plan to succeed. His stolen laptop – well, not exactly stolen but taken from outside the IT office as it waited for them to bin it; someone ‘higher up’ had wanted to be upgraded – worked fine once he’d deleted company specific programmes and found out how to log onto next doors’ wi-fi account – they should have made it secure! Luke had never gone out much and his new project curtailed his outings even more. Even his mother was starting to worry why it was that he was always home whenever she called.
‘Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.‘ Doug Larson
Luke had no real dislike of the ninety-two intended victims on the four sheets of A4. OK, so his bedsit in Acton wasn’t exactly plush and his meagre accounts department salary didn’t go very far for the entertainment side of his life, he wasn’t unhappy with his lot. To call someone an intended victim might have sounded a little dramatic but it suited Luke for his plan. The people on the list in his room were just there because someone – perhaps an agent or a journalist or something - had compiled it and then left it on the tube at Hammersmith. It wasn’t his fault they were on it. Besides, the more he researched their backgrounds, the more he realised that they were all just like him. They’d all had moments of good fortune interspersed with a desire to win that had set them apart from their peers and they’d all made a conscious decision to change their lives even though every one of them had a totally distorted view as to the reasons for their various successes. OK, so Luke had had to make his tube discovery to realise that success could be his if he wanted it, but then none of the ninety-two had been born successful. Using hindsight to its ultimate advantage, they were all quoted by various sources who’d enquired as to how their success had been achieved, as claiming success had been down to either working harder than everyone else or by just employing dogged determination. None of them, not a single one ever admitted to cheating or taking advantage of someone else or just simply being in the right place at the right time; none of them were apparently given any advantage which might put them above their peers. Some of those born with more money than most people could ever earn in a lifetime even suggested that they had to work harder than most to achieve success because ‘so much more was expected of them’! Even the successful sports people boasted of having worked harder than any of their competitors – there was no suggestion that they’d just been born with bigger lungs or longer legs. No, they all truly believed that their success had come about because they’d either wanted it more or they’d fought harder for it. Luke knew it wasn’t true. Now it was his chance. He wanted this.
‘Sometimes the path you’re on is not as important as where you’re heading.’ Kevin Smith
Success for Luke, however, had to be secret, silent. No one was to know anything. He had no illusions about being owed something; he didn’t hate anyone; it was just his chance – and he knew that if he took it properly he would be able to walk away a rich man. Rich enough to walk away from accounts and into another world that people like him could only usually dream about.
To: Alfred Christie
From: Anjli Connor
Re: Y R U successful?
Alfred (he started at the top of the list), U dont know me i just wantd 2 tell U that I really want 2 lern more about u. Im 15 an im doin a project @ school for my gcse an I need 2 no y yer so successful.
The email was short and to the point. Luke had read enough about the unmarried 45 year old Alfred to know that an approach like this should work. It took two days for the reply;
To; Anjli Connor
From; Alfred Christie
I don’t know how you got my email address but I’d love to know more about your school project and what I can do to help you.
It was that easy. Over the coming weeks Anjli engaged Alfred Christie in long email conversations about her project and the life of Anjli; she lived in Penge and went to Langley Park School for Girls. Her English father had left her Indian Mother when she was seven she was trying to get her self the best education she could. Alfred obviously ‘warmed’ to the polite young fifteen year old and eventually asked to see a photograph of her – he said ‘he felt he knew her so well but a picture would be helpful’. Taking a Facebook image of his accounts colleague, Deepa Patel, who looked in it as if she could pass for fifteen when she was, in fact, nineteen, Luke forwarded it on. Deepa was pretty – but not too pretty. She also looked quiet and mouselike. All he needed now was for Alfred to start asking the wrong questions. It didn’t take long.
OK, so it was only £5,000; but it was paid in cash as requested. It had been left where he’d told Alfred to leave it in the front garden of the house opposite the entrance to Ravenscourt tube station near Hammersmith. He watched from the raised platform as Alfred had shuffled furtively across the road and gently placed the brown envelope into the bush. Waiting for him to return the station, Luke made his move. Picking up the package he disappeared into the dark and cycled home – not daring to open it until he was safely inside. £5,000. The first of many similar packages to be retrieved over the coming weeks and months from various bushes around Hammersmith.
‘Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings.’ CD Jackson
It was always the same. If they answered the first email and started to engage in a dialogue then they always paid up; well all except Andrew Nardel, the newspaper owner who smelt a rat early on and called Luke’s bluff. Luke just cut the communications and shut down the email address from an internet café near his work. He knew it could never be traced because even the ip address of his own computer didn’t belong to him. Any one who checked would have found that the computer had been disposed of months ago from a company in the City. But the rest paid up. And it wasn’t always Anjli, of course. Luke researched his targets properly and used a variety of names and characters – but Anjli proved the most successful with the forty-something entrepreneurs, the risk takers, the abusers of people.
The bottom of the sock drawer had become rather crowded with bundles of used notes – some of the victims had had £10,000 extracted from them when Luke was feeling greedy; or if he really didn’t like them. Whatever, he knew that the amounts he’d asked for had been paltry to these people. He also never made the mistake of contacting them again; too risky. Yes, it was very crowded, to tune of £155,000. Luke’s future was looking up. He’d buy himself a small flat with a decent deposit and look into investing the money somewhere it could grow to a nest egg for the future. He’d go out more, go on holiday, meet people, meet girls. The confidence his new-found wealth gave him was working like magic. He was feeling good.
Returning home on a Friday evening after eventually having worked out a way to put the cash in the bank without raising suspicion – he knew all the rules about money laundering – Luke was presented with a colder than usual blast of air when he opened the front door to his bedsit. He couldn’t remember having left any windows open; he rarely opened them. Walking toward the source of the blast - his bathroom, he saw the wide open window immediately. He’d certainly not left it like that. Walking back to the living area he saw the open drawer at the top of the chest of drawers – the sock drawer. The money was gone. He’d been burgled by a common burglar who’d not even bothered to steal the already stolen laptop – well, why would they? Luke sat on his bed with his head in his hands.
‘It is a most mortifying reflection for a man to consider what he has done, compared to what he might have done’. Samuel Johnson.