Emmet looks up. It’s Roger, the guy who lives next door. He’s an older guy, easily in his seventies, but he looks and acts a lot younger. Emmet smiles tiredly.
“Just another little fight with the missus,” he says, “You know how it goes.”
“Thankfully I don’t,” Roger says, looking Emmet up and down, “And if that’s a little fight I’d hate to see what she looks like. Or what you call a big fight.”
“Oh this,” Emmet says with a pained grin. “This is something else entirely. It’s what caused the fight actually.”
“Young man,” Roger says. “You look like a man with the weight of the world on your shoulders and a troubled mind. Why don’t you come in and share a bottle of brandy? I’ve found just talking about it can make all of the difference sometimes.”
Emmet looks at the old man then up and down the corridor. The flat is close by. He’ll still be away from Sam but he’ll be close enough to come running if anyone else tries to hassle the flat. He’s always wanted to hear what Roger has to say about his life. There isn’t really anything else that he wants to do either, Emmet realises, he just wants to be away from Sam. He shrugs and nods.
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, why not? Not got anywhere else to go anyway,”
“Good lad,” Roger says happily.
He steps to one side and leads Emmet inside. The flat is the exact mirror of Emmet’s but decorated in a completely different way. Everything is small and cosy, the space is clearly designed for just one. Pictures and photographs in frames line the walls. Roger leads him in to the kitchen and searches for the brandy.
“So Emmet,” Roger says, “What’s bothering you?”
“Nothing,” Emmet says quickly. Roger just looks at him. He sighs. “Everything. I’m trying to make some money, start a business all of my very own. I managed to make a bunch of money tonight but then I got jumped and it got stolen. Now all I’ve got to show for a night’s work is a bunch of bruises and a black eye.”
“Oh dear oh dear,” Roger says, pouring them a shot of the brandy. Emmet starts to sip it slowly. “I know that feeling, all too well. Back in my day you were even more likely to get the crap beat out of you if you go on someone else’s turf. I think you got off lightly.”
“Doesn’t feel that way,” Emmet says as he sips the brandy. He enjoys the slow warm burn of it as it goes down his throat. “I never even had to deal with this crap when I was just dealing. I try and go legit and the crap gets beaten out of me.”
“Emmet you remind me of me,” Roger says. He chuckles, “I know it’s hard to believe now but once upon a time I was a dealer too. In fact, I was a proper gangster. Imported heroin for most of the west coast of England.”
“What happened?” Emmet asks, a little surprised by the revelation. “Why did you stop?”
“I had a wake-up call,” Roger says. “A rude one at that. I got caught doing the importing. I ended up doing 20 years in prison. I had a lot of time to think in there, more than I’d ever had before. That was when I realised that I needed to get out of the dealing gig. I’d lost everything, hit rock bottom and there was nowhere else to go. I was wondering what would life have been like if I’d not become a gangster? Who would I be?”
“And?” Emmet asks, on the edge of his seat. “Who would you have been?”
“I’d still be me I reckon,” Roger says with a shrug. “I just started to think about what I’d do once I got out after that. I didn’t want to live my life the way I had been doing, going from day to day. I didn’t want to live life the way I was. I didn’t want to spend each day worrying about whether I’d be arrested again, injured or even killed. It just wasn’t right for me to do that anymore.”
“So what did you do?” Emmet asks.
“Nothing,” Roger says with a sly grin. “I decided to do absolutely nothing. And I don’t mean that I didn’t change. I decided to have no business, no work, nothing like that. I wanted to live my life without the worry and the fear and the stress. And that’s exactly what I did, what I’m still doing. I was sat there, in that cell, trying to work out where it had all gone wrong, what I was doing wrong and I decided that it was everything. So when I got out I stopped importing, stopped dealing. I moved away, cut everyone off and left it behind. I followed my plan. And do you know what?”
“What?” Emmet asks with a smile.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Roger says with a chuckle. “I wake up every morning with a smile on my face. Do whatever I want to do with my day and then I go to bed each night happy and content because I’ve done what I wanted to do. I sleep like a baby my boy. And all because I made a plan of nothing and I stick to it. Hell, getting the paper and doing the crossword is an accomplishment for me.”
“Oh,” Emmet says.
He sits there, drinking his brandy and listening to Roger rambling on about his life now compared to then. The guy has a plan, each and every day he sticks to the plan and he’s living the life that he wanted. Just like the Lettings Office, just like the CD said. Emmet settles back to listen to more stories and drink more brandy.
When Emmet finally lets himself back in to the flat, Sam is still in the bedroom, sulking or possibly even asleep. He doesn’t care. He’s got an idea and he knows that he needs to make a better plan. His last one was too vague after all, just a few notes. He needs a better one, a more detailed one that he can use as a step by step. He glances at the sofa, considers settling down to sleep there for a few hours. But the thoughts are racing through his brain, he’s all fired up and ready to get shaping his plan even though he doesn’t know what it is yet. So instead he gets a piece of paper and sits at the kitchen table.
He stares at the paper, trying to come up with something. He needs the money he owes, all £1,400 that he lost so that he can pay Johnny Boy back. But he wants to make money too, he doesn’t want to end up out of pocket. He needs to make sure that he doesn’t lose too much money at once and that he doesn’t get boxes that he can’t sell. Each box that he gets from Johnny Boy needs to be already headed to someone else, the money needs to be assured. Just like that it all comes together. He needs to set up a deposit system, to make sure that he’s selling boxes that will be paid for, that he’s getting the right number of boxes.
He starts scribbling on the paper, trying to come up with the best deposit amount to set right now so he can raise the £1,400. He decides on £50 deposits. He needs to know how many customers he should be selling to. It’s a simple enough sum, it’s one he knows he needs to work out instantly. After all, he has the amount he wants to get, the deposit amount decided on. He divides the one by the other. His figures tell him that he needs to pre-sell to 28 customers before he gets the boxes. He needs 28 people to hand over the £50 deposit before he goes any further. Finally, he’s actually getting somewhere. Even if time is running out.