The time from November 2001 to the end of February 2002 can be described with one word: routine. A plain and dreary period of life. Chips compensated only half of the producers’ losses. The only household chemical that sold well was laundry blue. Our net profits were close to zero. The state of things was reflected in our mood; my father and I looked gloomy. My parents still had occasional but regular scandals. To save money on parking, we rolled the “second” into the warehouse. There was plenty of room; all of our goods fit on four pallets. My father decided to take care of the chassis, and the two of us put the car on its side in the warehouse. It looked a little weird to onlookers. My father in his overalls tightened the nuts and I helped. The temperature in the warehouse was street level, but the four walls made it comfortable. Boxes of chips still occupied the next room. The lousy and dreary time, we counted the days until spring, which promised the first seasonal piece of jack on the blue. Easter 2002 was supposed to be late, which promised a long “season” of sales. It always started with spring and ended with Easter. We calculated the amount of blue we needed: eight hundred packages. A ten-ton truck could hold one thousand two hundred. Ordering a full car, we were promised delivery within a week, otherwise we would have to wait indefinitely for the connecting trip. Spring had already begun and time was running out, so I suggested we take a chance. My father agreed and we ordered a car full of the laundry blue. We had to scrape together the money again, we were late paying for the chips, and this was the only way we could get the amount we needed.
This year the spring was early and dry, and the weather favored us. At ten o’clock on Friday morning, March 8, the “MAZ” truck was already parked in front of our warehouse, loaded to the cover with goods. We had never received so many goods at one time. I looked at the blue spot all over the car body and realized that this shipment was something more than we were used to. For four and a half hours, my father and I unloaded the goods, pallets of which took up the entire warehouse. Tired but happy, we drove home. The feeling of accomplishing something meaningful never left me. No sooner had I eaten dinner than I was lulled to sleep. I woke up at eight o’clock in the evening, lying uncomfortably on the couch in my clothes. I remembered that March 8th was on the calendar, and it was Friday, so I took a quick shower, and an hour later, I made my way to the bar through a thick cloud of tobacco smoke and women’s perfume at the “Clear Skies”.
It was a hot time in the business and sales of the blue soared, doubling by April for all of our customers. Just before the season, we added two new wholesalers, “Sasha” and “Fluffy,” located at opposite ends of the city. The first rented a one-story building on the left bank for a warehouse. The second was located in the basement of a two-story building in the southwest part of the city.
“Sasha” looked modest: two cramped rooms and a long corridor leading into the darkness of the storerooms. Three girls were sitting in the first room. In the second we met two young men. One was a swarthy, broad-shouldered fellow in a black jacket, sitting at a desk with his hands on his head. The other was tall and blond, hanging around another table, and as soon as I knocked on the door and entered, he left the room.
“Hello,” I said.
“Good afternoon,” my father added.
“Good afternoon,” the swarthy fellow exhaled loudly, removed his hands from his close-cropped head, and leaned back in his chair. Then he blinked his eyes, wiggled them, looked at both of us in turn, and rubbed his eyes with the knuckles of his slightly chubby fingers.
“Who can I talk to about the business proposal?” I started with an already hackneyed phrase.
The guy removed his fingers from his eyes, blinked again, and sniffed his nose.
“You can talk to me,” he said.
I gave the standard speech about our product, pulled out the price list and handed it to the guy, who went into a deep study of the piece of paper. The second one came back into the room.
“What is this?” he said, also staring at the price list.
“Well… they offer…” said the swarthy one.
“What would we need it for!?” the blond guy blurted out. “We already have all this.”
“Quick fella, the second one is softer, we better communicate with him, we can’t negotiate with this one,” I concluded right away.
“No, I think the blue is an interesting item… It sells well here…” the swarthy guy said thoughtfully.
“Well, it’s up to you, I have to dash, I’ll be back in an hour!” the blond guy snapped and went out.
We made a quick deal with Sergey, that was the swarthy guy’s name. He turned out to be favorably disposed and immediately ordered ten packs to try out.
The manager of “Fluffy” was a tall brunette, about six feet tall, athletic, wiry, with stiff features. “Dishonest, secretive, we have to be careful with him,” I gave my inner verdict during the first contact.
We exchanged a firm handshake. The dialog was short and to the point: I showed him the price list, the manager evaluated it in a second, said that he was interested in the blue and not in the rest, and ordered ten packs. The manager, an experienced businessman, immediately rejected the terms of sale, said that payment would be made on delivery of each batch, and got us an additional discount on the spot.
The next day “Sasha” and “Fluffy” received the goods.
Our cell phone came to life, incoming calls started pouring in: the manager of “Arbalest” called asking for the blue; “Mongoose” called asking for the blue; everyone called. As soon as a new order came in, my father would start writing bills: he would sit down at the table, take two forms, put a copy sheet between them, and painstakingly draw a single line in his ministerial handwriting. I watched my father’s hand movements, his gaze, his facial expressions, and I found myself thinking that he enjoyed the ritual, as if he was even swelling with pride.
As expected, the two major clients absorbed four-fifths of the blue, while sales at other firms lagged far behind. New customers behaved differently during the season. Sergey from “Sasha” used to place an order once a week. The initiative did not come from him, I called him. And I did not get used to his work schedule right away: if I called before eleven in the morning, a girl from “Sasha” answered the phone and said, “Sergey is not here yet”; if I called after an hour or two, the girl’s voice told me, “Sergey has already left”. That’s how I learned that Sergey could only be found in the office between eleven and one.
The “Fluffy” manager, on the other hand, would call himself, and when I called, he was always there and answered the phone right away. I was quickly imbued with his business acumen. But there are two sides to every coin. And the other side of the manager of the “Fluffy” soon appeared. Three days after the first test batch, our cell phone rang.
“Yes, hello!?” I picked up the phone.
“Hey, Roma!” he said in a crisp, cheerful voice. “You brought us ten packs of blueish the other day, but we’re already out. Could you bring us some more!?”
“You ran out of it so fast!” I was glad and said hello in return. “That’s good news! Yes, I can bring you some more, of course, how much!?”
“Thirty boxes if you have them!”
“Of course, I have it!” I said and promised to bring it the same day.
“Blueish ,” was my thought at the end of the conversation. I tensed subtly, listening to the fleeting emotion. We delivered the goods to them.
“Hey, Roma, bring us seventy more packlings of blueish, please!” a week later, at the end of March, the cheerful voice of the “Fluffy” manager was on the phone again.
We carried out the order the next day. “Blueish, packling,” the words whirled in my head. Just words. But they clung to my consciousness, as if scratching with their softness. Another week later, we drove seventy packages to “Fluffy” again. The goods were taken in two trips, thirty-five packages was the maximum the “second” could hold.
The blue season flew by. The May holidays were approaching and they came just in time because we were exhausted after two months of hard work and had sold almost everything. We had just over a hundred packages left in the warehouse. The “second” could hardly cope with the increased volume of transportation, so we thought about buying a “GAZelle”. We did not have enough money for a new one, only for a used one, two or three years old. We could spare a hundred or a hundred and ten thousand to buy it, the whole seasonal income.
During the May holidays, we received the unpleasant news that the chips manufacturer would no longer be working with us as of June, the start of the season for their product, and production capacity was low. Our business was again dependent on a single strong product position, so I got into the habit of looking for new suppliers.
In Rostov-on-Don there was a small company that produced various things that were not commercially interesting at all, but one thing interested me: a cleaning paste. In our city this product was sold in large quantities. The working conditions were quickly agreed. But there was a problem: the manufacturer didn’t have his own transport, and it was expensive to rent a car. We thought about it and realized that we were at a dead end, but the problem was solved: we bought a “GAZelle”!
Joy was overflowing. A milestone had been reached for my father and me. We had been working toward it for more than four years. The purchase itself was mundane. In the third week of May, my father found an acceptable option in a newspaper ad for an almost two-year-old car for one hundred and fifteen thousand rubles. We had planned to go as low as one hundred and five, but there were cars a year or two older for that money. We tried to lower the price. It didn’t work. In addition to the eighty thousand in hand, my father had to withdraw all the pension money he had saved, thirty thousand, from his savings book. We scraped together another five at the very last moment. It was a Friday, sunny and warm, just like my mood on the day of the purchase. Summer was fast approaching. By noon we were the proud owners of a “GAZelle”. I did the same thing I did when I bought the cell phone: while my father drove the “GAZelle” home, I looked around the interior. We have a practically new car. Comfortable chairs, high clearance. It was unusual and pleasant to look out the window at passing cars. After the “second” the cabin of the “GAZelle” seemed huge and spacious. The car had two external peculiarities. The first was a cover that could be lowered by a third of a meter to fit into a standard garage. The second was a steering wheel from a “BMW”.
The next week, at six in the morning on Wednesday, May 29, we headed south. The day promised to be beautiful. The sun had risen an hour earlier, hovering in the east over the tops of the city’s high-rise buildings. The “GAZelle” moved briskly through the sleepy city, outpacing the half-empty trolleybuses. I looked through the window at the passing streets, still in the joy of buying a car. The city was quickly behind us and we headed down the wide highway. It was a rather rash decision to drive six hundred kilometers in a car we didn’t know, and the problems began after an hour of monotonous driving on the highway – the car began to warm up. The arrow on the engine temperature gauge crept into the red zone, and we were forced to stop. My father opened the hood and stared thoughtfully inside. I, being a complete ignoramus about cars, just stood aside. My father checked the oil and water level – everything was normal. We waited for half an hour, the engine cooled down, we drove on, and after half an hour we stopped again, the engine was almost boiling. My father went under the hood again, I, trying not to get nervous, got out of the car and stood nearby. Almost immediately, we were both smoking. Trucks rushed by, showering us with bouncing waves of warm air. The cause of the overheating could not be found. We waited half an hour, slowed down, and decided to stop at a nearby repair shop. The arrow on the water thermometer crept up.
After a while we finally crawled into the repair shop and the cause of the engine overheating was quickly found – the sensor. It was replaced and we drove on, well behind schedule. At half past three we were two thirds of the way there. There were about two hundred kilometers to go when the cell phone lost its signal. I started to get nervous – we were without communication, way behind schedule, and the work day was coming to an end. At twenty to six we drove into the city and stopped at the first phone booth. I called the company’s office and they promised to wait for us. An hour and a half later we were there, and then we found out that the goods were in the company’s production warehouse, which was on the left bank of the city. We drove there at dusk – the director’s car went first, and we followed. As soon as we were on the left bank, surrounded by depots and warehouses, an impenetrable darkness fell over the city. The road was terrible. We crawled forward behind the two headlights of the passenger car until we reached the right depot. My father drove the “GAZelle” to the loading ramp, I unfastened the cover and jumped into the back. Loading began. My father took the boxes to the ramp and handed them to me. Crouching down, I stacked them in the back. We quickly loaded a ton and a half. I got out of the back with sore back muscles and couldn’t straighten up for a while. “I’m going to have to crawl around in the back like this all the time,” I thought unflatteringly of the inconvenience of the low cover.
We were on our way back. We crossed the high bridge over the Don with the big ship passing underneath in bright lights, and about two in the morning we left the city and stopped by the side of the road. We were both tired and sleepy.
It was clear that only one of us would be able to sleep in the cabin.
“I’ll get in the back,” I said, and my father objected as a formality and immediately agreed. I grabbed my jacket and, trying not to crumple the boxes of goods, crawled on top of them into the back. My father closed the cover and I was left in complete darkness and silence. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep; first I lay down on my jacket and tossed and turned on it, protecting my sides from the sharp corners of the boxes. As soon as I found a comfortable position, I began to freeze. My shirt, after sweating in the hot sun during the day, quickly became cold. Suffering like this for a while, I grabbed my jacket and pulled it over me. The crumpled corners of the cardboard were digging into me again, but it was getting warmer. I curled up as tightly as I could and dozed off, trying not to think about the pain of the boxes here and there.
I woke up from the cold just before dawn. My back was completely frozen. I climbed out of the car and started doing whatever I could to warm up. “Six o’clock, I guess,” I decided, waving my arms harder. After about ten minutes, I had warmed up a bit. I didn’t feel like getting in the back, so I started walking back and forth behind the car in a half-asleep state, peeking into the cab for a change – my father was asleep, his legs tucked up and covered by his jacket. I looked around. A few cars were already rolling down the road, waitresses were bustling around the tables of roadside cafes, and somewhere the smoke from braziers was already rising into the sky. I wanted to sleep. I climbed into the back of the car and slept for a few hours. I got out at nine o’clock, approached the cabin, and my father, as if sensing it, immediately opened his eyes.
The return trip took eight hours and was uneventful. We put the “GAZelle” with the goods in the parking lot, left everything as it was, and wandered home tired. I took a shower, ate and fell asleep in a moment. We slept a long time and didn’t get to the warehouse until noon the next day. I looked in the back, opened the nearest package, pulled out a plastic bucket of paste, and took the lid off.
“What a load of crap they gave us,” I said, twisting the bucket in my hands.
My father was silent, looked into the container, almost sighed, and began to unload the car. I continued to stare at the white lumps floating in the oily yellow-green liquid. “What is this, how are we going to sell it?” I thought nervously, regretting the money I had paid in advance. It was comforting to know that the first batch would be sold anyway, and I wouldn’t have to deal with the next one. To distract myself from my gloomy thoughts, I also got to work.
Summer had begun. The heat flowed over the asphalt of the city, enveloping us in pleasant warmth. Now, whenever we found ourselves in a parking lot, we climbed into the “GAZelle”. The “second”, like an old horse after several years of hard work, stood in a nearby place, finally getting its well-deserved rest.
The business situation remained uncertain. After the great blue season, sales had fallen back, bringing us to a minimum income. We were stuck at a classic point – small profits did not allow us to take on a high turnover product, the lack of such a product did not give us a chance to make a good profit. I was constantly analyzing the situation, looking for the next unconventional move, but nothing came up. Then we decided that if we could not increase income, we would have to reduce expenses. It was possible to save money on the rent of the warehouse, half of which was empty. We went to the management of the depot and expressed our desire to have a subtenant in the warehouse. They promised to help us. I had little faith in the success of the venture, so I immediately forgot the fact of the conversation.
In June we pulled off an important deal. Remembering the successful experience of barter deliveries to Moscow, I thought about repeating it. My father supported the idea. After calling the big wholesalers in the capital, I made a deal with one of them. At the end of June, at five in the morning, the two of us drove to Moscow in the “GAZelle” with two hundred packages of the blue in the back. By noon we were there, unloaded and loaded, and at five o’clock we were on our way back. With only one stop for dinner at a roadside cafe, we headed to our city after midnight. The last hour of the trip was difficult, we were terribly sleepy, fought it and made it before it overcame us.
The next day we slept until noon, then went to the warehouse and unloaded. Everything went well, we negotiated a good price with the Moscow company, and we planned our next trip in a month. The goods we brought were immediately put on sale, scattered among the wholesale depots.
In the last days of June I met up with a former army acquaintance of mine. We went to the “Pelican” as usual with another load of goods. My father backed the “GAZelle” up to the conveyor belt in the basement, turned off the engine and reached for a cigarette. I went into the office building with the papers. When I finished the paperwork, I jumped out into the street and ran into Vovka. We both stared at each other, hesitated and froze.
“Hi!” we said almost simultaneously and shook hands.
There was an awkward moment. We knew each other and we didn’t. Something had to be said next. But what?
“You were in the second unit, right?” I started. “Sorry, I don’t know your name, I remember your face, but I don’t know your name…”
“Vladimir!” he introduced himself formally, adding his last name.
I also introduced myself.
“I saw your father here once, he was unloading there,” Vovka waved his hand behind him, in the direction of the household chemicals warehouse.
“Well, yeah, we work together, we bring you the goods!” I said.
“Ooh! You bring us goods?” Vovka was surprised and his eyes widened.
“Yes, we deliver goods to the depot, we’re your suppliers…” I smiled.
“I thought you were driving someone else’s stuff, and there you go, oooh!”
“Yeah, well, there you go,” I summarized, playing with the unloading permit in my hands.
“And this?” Vova snatched the paper out of my hands. “Did they sign it?”
“Ahh… Petrovich’s signature, I see…” Vovka shoved the piece of paper back into my hands without interest, shut up, I did not answer, and he added, “All right, then, go unload!”
“Okay, I’ll go unload and you come over if you want and we’ll talk!?” I suggested, spreading my arms.
“Yeah… All right!” Vovka waved vaguely and left for the office.
I went back to my father. The unloading was in full swing, and in five minutes it was over. The transporter pulled the last boxes down with a creak and a hiss and then went quiet. I entered the warehouse, marked the paperwork, and went back to the car. My father was already tying up the cover. Vovka was hanging around.
“Amazing, I say!” he turned to me. “It turns out that Anatoly Vasilievich says you’ve been supplying us with goods for a long time, but why have I never spotted you?”
“How should I know?” I answered complacently, and to play along with Vovka, I asked my father seriously, “Dad, why didn’t he spot us? It’s not like we were hiding…”
“I don’t know,” my father joined in the prank, speaking indifferently. “Maybe he works here as a loader, and who would give such important information to a loader?”
Vovka’s eyes studied us for a few seconds, looking at my father, then at me. It took him a while to realize that we were joking, and then he relaxed and smiled.
“Well, the thing is, I work as, just think of it…!” Vovka held up his crooked little index finger, “Deputy Commercial Director for Household Chemicals and Housewares!”
“How did you manage to miss us then, Vova!?” I said reproachfully, with a hint of disappointment.
“Well, here we are!” he grinned.
We hit it off right away. That’s how it usually works between people – either you get close immediately or you don’t. In no time we made contact, relaxed, and in ten minutes we were standing at the “GAZelle” making chin music like old buddies.
“It’s Andrey Petrovich there, isn’t it?” I nodded toward the office.
“Oh, yeah, Petrovich, right!” Vovka rubbed his eye roughly with the palm of his hand until it turned red, adjusted the buckle on his belt – it was a military leather belt with a star on the buckle. Vovka poked his foot in the front wheel of the “GAZelle”, looked through the lowered window into the cabin, and continued. “Well, he’s just supposed to be my director, but he’s doing who knows what! Daddy brought him over from ‘Mercury’ for some reason!”
“Daddy? What Daddy?” I didn’t understand.
“Well, Daddy! The owner of the “Pelican”! Daddy’s got a shit-ton of money!” Vovka said, and at the word “money” his eyes flashed with excitement.
Vovka spiced his speech with a lot of profanity. He shouted curses loudly, and they flew like lumps of dirt from under the tractor wheels in all directions. I, who had long been used to swearing and was not ashamed to hear it, shuddered and felt ashamed because my father was here. I would look at him from time to time, and my father would openly grimace at Vovka’s cursing and, unable to bear it, would soon step aside and delicately do something in the cab of the “GAZelle”.
We had to go. We shook hands with Vovka firmly.
“All right, Roman, come by more often! Nice to meet you! Call me if there’s anything!” Vovka took his cell phone out of his back pocket and shook it. The phone was similar to ours, also black with a retractable antenna and bulky. After politely saying goodbye to my father, Vovka staggered to the office. The “GAZelle” overtook him, my father honked, I looked in the side mirror, Vovka raised his hand and we turned the corner.
The business situation became more or less stable. The only thing that puzzled me was the delay in the next order from the “Fluffy” manager. His scrupulousness and accuracy in his work had even become something of a benchmark for me among clients. By all accounts, the call should have been a week ago, but there’s nothing. We succeeded in selling the blue, filling nearly three-quarters of the market in and around the city. And sales continued to grow. We quickly became monopolists. This factor served its purpose – my father suggested that we raise the price. I hadn’t thought of such a move. We always sold the blue at a third of the price of our competitors. I was so used to the existing price that I was surprised when my father first expressed his idea. My father made his case, and it sounded reasonable. I listened to him and we argued for some time about the pros and cons of such a move. I said that the price was already set, that everyone was used to it, and that there was no point in “breaking” the market unnecessarily. My father talked about the possibility of additional profits. I insisted that such an increase would be difficult to explain because the manufacturer had not raised the selling price. We would have to make up a nice story, which I did not want to do. The idea of extra profits did not impress me very much; the long-term sustainability of our position was what I saw as important. Will the price increase have a negative impact? How could I foresee it? My father insisted and gave me feasible arguments. I began to hesitate, remembering the words of one of the managers of wholesale depots: if customers start to like the product, then the price does not play a big role, the product will be taken. There was a grain of truth in it. Only our competitors could create problems for us, but we had almost none. The only thing left to do was to find a plausible reason to raise the price.
My father insisted.
At the beginning of July the owner of the Krasnodar manufacturing company was passing through our city and decided to get to know each other personally. The meeting took place at a motel on the outskirts of the city. From the outside it looked like a meeting of contrasts: a respectable man in an expensive cream-colored suit and a snow-white shirt in a brand-new beige “Passat” and us, casually dressed for work in an old painted “second”. After greetings and handshakes, he invited us into his car. I almost didn’t participate in the conversation, only occasionally adding insignificant phrases – mostly I listened. The whole dialog was reduced to the usual verbal “swings”. The guest urged us to increase sales. My father replied that it was difficult to do without advertising. In response, we heard a story about how production costs were high, there was not enough money, and therefore the only advertising was booklets that should be distributed.
“You take your booklets and distribute them yourself. Do we have nothing better to do?” I mentally objected with pleasure.
My father, on the other hand, responded in a measured, calm, thorough, and thoughtful way. He had true composure. I would have hit the ceiling long ago, and I would have shot my mouth off, speaking straight from the shoulder. Feeling such impulses within me, I was diligently silent and distracted myself by studying the car.
“Anyway, where were we, Anatoly Vasilievich?” said the guest. “You need to increase the volume of sales, and we’ll help you in any way we can.”
“Yes, and for our part, we promise to try to sell your products, to promote them as best we can. And you, for your part, should support us. If people from our region call you, please refer them to us. After all, we are your exclusive representatives,” my father said, giving a speech as if it were written, sighing loudly and hopelessly.
“It’s a deal, Anatoly Vasilievich,” he held out his hand to my father. “You are our representative here, we will cooperate.”
I also shook hands with the guest, got out of the “Passat” first, and wandered to the “second”.
“Pointless conversation! It’s all gibble and gabble,” I said on the way home, staring out the window of the car.
“Well, what did you expect us to talk about?” my father objected calmly. “He has his duties, we have ours. The main thing is that he confirmed that we are the only ones in our city, that’s important, and the rest is nothing.”
“Yeah, I get it,” I nodded, thinking and staring out the window.
A feeling of imbalance gnawed at me. I am against this feeling in everything. It sucks – the imbalance of effort and demands, rights and responsibilities. For example, they give you a product and tell you to sell it, do your best, sell it well and sell a lot. The more the better. And it will be good. It will be good for those who own the product. And you, well, you get the money you make and a “thank you”. Thanks do not fill a purse. And no help at all. Everything would look fair if it were not for the demands made on you in return. And the demands are such as if this help is being given. Opportunities are given for a penny, but they demand for a dollar. And they minimize their obligations. This one too, I felt it, he wriggled and made himself out to be our boss, on top of it. There was a feeling of unreliability. I chased away the thought that the guest from Krasnodar would immediately forget all our verbal agreements at the first favorable offer. I felt sorry for our hope. For some reason, it was this company that I hoped everything would turn out with as it should, not as it had before. I wanted it to work. I wanted it so badly that it burned inside me. And the more bitter was the feeling of disappointment and anxiety that had built up inside me. I chased those thoughts away, but they only went away for a while. There was no visible reason for such feelings, but my heart wasn’t at ease. The sense of reliability of the structure we had built melted away in the most important place for me – the source.
All the way home I had spiritual torments until I got tired. Self-chastisement turns out to be terribly tiring. More than work. It’s a stupid trait, it only gets in the way. “I have to get rid of it,” I thought and sighed heavily.
In mid-July, as planned, we decided to raise the price of the blue. Naturally, we started with the big customers and went to “Arbalest” first.
“Well, are we going together or am I alone?” I looked at my father as we parked the “GAZelle” on the depot grounds.
“Go alone, will you? No need for me to go there,” he said. “You seem to be friends there already. I’ll just sit here and have a smoke.”
I got out of the car and, escaping the intense heat, dove into the coolness of the building. On the second floor, the manager’s office struggled lazily against the stuffiness – in the middle of the room was a fan, shaking its head monotonously, blowing the hot air into the corners. I walked in, everyone froze, recognized me, and went back to their business. My manager was relaxing, clicking the mouse, attacking another enemy castle in a computer game. After saying hello, I sat down in a chair next to his desk. And, feeling my heart pounding unaccustomedly from the lies I had prepared, I informed the manager as casually as possible about the increase in the price of the blue.
“How much will it cost then?” he stopped playing.
I told him the price was ten percent more. The guy picked up the calculator, ran his fingers over it, and exclaimed: “A bit pricey.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, ‘Fluffy’ is offering your blue for less and in barter.”
The sentence hit me over the head with a sledgehammer. I staggered for a moment and immediately tried to remain calm on the outside. Microseconds passed. Time froze and then began to tick away at breakneck speed, as if in a countdown. Thoughts followed, “How is it that ‘Fluffy’ is offering this blue?? Where did they get it?? Maybe they bartered it from another city? They couldn’t have gotten it from the manufacturer, could they? Well, I never! There you are! How come?! Phew, I’ve got to think of something fast! We’ve got to hold on to ‘Arbalest’! If they hit us from such a fat place, we’ll lose almost half of our volume.” Another second. I think I’ve got it together.
“How much is he offering?” I asked in the same casual manner, feeling my inner trembling and watching another dance of his fingers on the buttons of the calculator. The manager showed me a number on the screen.
“Our old price, a little cheaper, an understandable move, what a jerk,” I mentally scolded the “Fluffy” manager. “He knows we don’t barter, so he offered a lower price and bartered at the same time to make sure he could beat us out of the item.
One more second and I found a solution.
“Hmm, interesting, but if that’s the case, of course we won’t raise the price. Apparently ‘Fluffy’ bought it at the old price,” I lied, wriggling out, trying to save face. It came out crappy! From the beginning I had tried to build an honest and trusting relationship with all of our customers, and this was the first time I had lied outright, given in to my father’s persuasion, and I was immediately screwed. “Damn it, Dad, this price increase, I’m sitting here, getting out of it like a fool!” I got angry at him, imagining him sitting carefree in the “GAZelle”, smoking a cigarette under the warm rays of the sun. “He’s there and I’m here! He made it up, and I have to roll with the punches!” the anger burned in my mind.
“I’ll settle the issue of the price increase with the manufacturer, if that’s the situation,” I continued, understanding that the matter had to be settled and that I had to get the manager’s agreement and offer him the best possible working conditions right away. “So where do we stand? I’ll leave you with our old price, which is cheaper than ‘Fluffy’s’. And we can start bartering. Agreed?”
“Well, yeah, all right, keep it that way for now,” he said phlegmatically, turning to the monitor screen and continuing to click his mouse.
“How much do you want me to bring in, what are your leftovers?” I said in an even more casual tone, pushing the manager to the end, knowing I had to get the order right away.
“Well, thirty packs would be all right, I guess,” he said.
“Okay, I’ll drop it off tomorrow,” I nodded and walked out of the office at a leisurely pace down the long, rumbling hallway. As I turned onto the stairs, my pretended composure vanished and my heart thundered. The thoughts in my head immediately turned into a whirlwind, and I ran down the stairs as if following them.
My father was standing at the entrance of the building, smoking, relaxed.
“Let’s go to the car, we need to talk,” I slurred as I headed to the “GAZelle”. My father didn’t move. I turned and walked toward him.
My father took a leisurely drag on his cigarette, exhaled the smoke slowly, looked at me and calmly said, “What happened?”
“Let’s go to the car and talk!” I said again, my emotions boiling up inside me.
My father, as if on purpose, repeated the unhurried ritual one more time: he inhaled, exhaled, threw his cigarette in the trash, and walked to the car. And his every move was so slow, so measured. Nothing in the world could make my father do anything a little faster. Surely he could respond to my excitement in other ways – by being imbued with it, by being interested in the news, by smoking faster, by walking to the car more energetically. But no! It seemed to me that I had been jumping around the closed passenger door of the “GAZelle” for ages, waiting for my father, but he had only walked half of the twenty meters.
“Why on earth are you walking so slowly?” I mentally burst out.
At last we were in the cabin.
“Damn it, we’re screwed with the price increase!” I started where it all started, babbling about what had happened. “I told him about the price increase, and he said that ‘Fluffy’ had offered him cheaper blue by barter. Fancy that! I totally freaked out!”
My father stared at me without blinking. I spoke out, shut up, froze in a counter stare, waiting for his reaction. My father was silent and stared at me. I stared at him. I was waiting for a reaction! It didn’t come, I couldn’t stand it, I continued, feeling the uncontrollable release of adrenaline: “In short, I had to walk back with this price increase! Why did you even think of this stupid price increase!? We should have sold it as it was! No, you had to create a problem for yourself! I barely got out of it!”
My father’s gaze changed, becoming attentive and prickly.
“I said that we would keep the old price, but that we would also take goods from him by barter! There’s no other way out at all!” I summed up and took a breath. “You know how much blue he ordered?”
“How much?” my father said, reached for a cigarette, lit it – he was getting nervous.
“Thirty packs! That means he’s already taken about that many from ‘Fluffy’! He halved the order! That ‘Fluffy’ asshole followed our trail, saw that the blue was selling well, and called Krasnodar! And they shipped it! How come!? We signed a contract with them after all! The owner himself came some time ago! He promised us! Sitting there in the car, nodding with an intelligent mug, saying that everything is fine and that they only work with us! And here he comes! How’s that!? I don’t get it!”
“How, how… That’s how,” my father said with the same nonchalance, hesitated for a few seconds, and then added, “Where are we going to put the barter goods now?”
“What difference does it make where!?” I stared at him, confused. “Won’t we find somewhere to put it!? We’ll find something! There’s ‘Peresvet’ after all, Vova in ‘Pelican’, I don’t know… These little wholesalers! We’ll figure it out! We’ll just have to bustle for a while!”
“What are we going to get here at ‘Arbalest’?” my father asked another question in the same measured tone that pissed me off even more.
“What does it matter what!?” I got angry, not understanding why he was asking questions we needed to find answers to. “We’ll figure out what to get! We’ll take the price list, check it out, choose what we need, and shovel it into the depots, that’s all! That’s not the point! The point is, that asshole at “Fluffy” is shitting on us. He secretly called Krasnodar behind our backs, and those bastards were so happy that they shipped it to him! Why would he do that!?”
“That’s just the way it is. That’s the kind of partner we have. What did you expect?”
“I expected to work properly!”
“They got an offer, so they agreed. Anyone would have, you would and I would…”
“Maybe I would, but I wouldn’t have made a vow of eternal friendship! Why would he do that!? Well, okay, if you decide to ship it, then call and warn us!”
“What do you mean, what for!? So that we may know, so that we may somehow be prepared! Rearrange our work! Or do they think our city is so big that they could ship it to somebody else and nobody would know? Every man and his dog knows each other here!”
“They didn’t think anything. They just want the money, that’s all. There is a customer, why not sell the product. It’s production, the product has to be sold.”
“All right, let’s go home,” my father exhaled loudly, took a drag, and threw his cigarette out the window.
I was in a lousy mood all the way home. I stared sullenly out the window and thought about what had happened, interrupting my thoughts periodically with emotional rants about “bastards” and “assholes”. It was the first time this had happened in our work, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
“So now this ‘Fluffy’ asshole is going to start offering everyone blue for barter!?”
“Naturally,” my father said.
“Awesome! Naturally,” I echoed his intonation, calming down and starting to think rationally. “He’s going to destroy our whole market… We’ll have to prepare for that. Well, we’ll have to barter with everyone, there’s no other way. Otherwise, everyone will give up on us and start working with ‘Fluffy’. He’ll be so happy. Unbelievable, we boosted the product and now everyone and their sister is looking for tidbits to grab a piece for themselves.”
“Well, what did you expect… of course,” said my father, pounding out dry phrases in a moralistic manner instead of support, and thus irritating me incessantly.
“What did you expect, of course!” I repeated after him in a deliberately grotesque manner. “I didn’t expect anything! I wanted to do it the normal way! We don’t pry into other people’s goods! I don’t give a damn who, where and what they sell! Let them do it! Why would they meddle with us!?”
“Did you really want everyone to be as honest and decent as you are?” my father didn’t respond to my outburst, adding even more dryly, “That’s not going to happen.”
“Yes, I did! What’s wrong with it!? Is it so hard!? If you want to trade, just find the goods, drive them around, and sell them at the depots! Why take it out of someone else’s mouth?”
The sounds of my indignation were drowned out by the clatter of the wheels on the concrete slabs as we pulled into the parking lot. We left the “GAZelle” and walked home. Emotions wouldn’t let me go, and I paced around the apartment, still being outraged. I was angry at everyone: at the owner of the production with his pathetic vanity and empty assurances; at the manager of “Fluffy” for his silky smile in my face and double-dealing behind my back; at the manager of “Arbalest” for his apathy and indifference; at my father for his reckless attempt to raise prices, in which he had involved me. My head was swirling with thoughts and my mind was restless. The thoughts were crushing my head from within and I desperately needed a distraction, an escape from the excitement, irritation and negativity. The decision came immediately, at ten o’clock in the evening I was already in the “Clear Skies”. I wanted a drink. I made my way to the bar. Salt, tequila and lemon – lick, drink, chew. “Fucking assholes!” it raged in my head. I was tipsy.
Share a book