I arrived at the meeting place in an old, rattling bus. I saw Vovka through the window, walking clumsily along the sidewalk, scratching the back of his head.
“Whassup!” he barked, and with all his might he put his fives in my palm, squeezing it tight.
“Hey, you blockhead! How’s it going!?” I replied.
“You know, all day long at fucking work thinking about how to coin some money!” Vovka ruffled his hair. “Fucked my head off! No fucking clue!”
I laughed, and we wandered across the street at the green light. It was a beautiful, warm evening, already dark, and young people were actively flocking to the nightclubs. Everything was familiar and habitual, and it was this habitualness that made me happy. Habitually, Edik’s white “seventh” was on the other side of the street. We crossed the street and Vovka habitually inquired about our progress with my father, once again calling us “bigwigs”. For the umpteenth time I disagreed with him. We passed another traffic light, and Vovka started babbling again – he told me that “daddy” had bought a new jeep for two million. I was surprised, and Vovka, ruffling his hair again, said he wanted one for himself.
“Sure you do!” I laughed and patted my friend on the back.
“Oh-ho-ho!” Vovka exclaimed as he saw the crowd in front of him, eager to get into the club.
The guard I knew immediately took us inside, and in a few minutes we were drinking and smoking under the arch of the grotto. Vovka began to complain about “Petrovich,” who quietly put money in his pocket without sharing it with Vovka.
“I’ll give that dumbass the fuck up!” he continued, hurt. “Have you seen the chick that comes to Daddy in the big blue Peugeot?”
I have. The night went on as usual – we made our way to the dance floor, pumped full of alcohol, went outside a few times to get some fresh air, then hung out at the bar again. At the end of the night I was drunk. Vovka seemed to be as well. At three o’clock in the morning the music stopped and the silence immediately became oppressive. We went out and crossed the street. Edik was waiting for us at the hotel, as usual.
“That waitress was staring at you!” Vovka said unexpectedly and immediately started to nudge me, trying to encourage me to get to know her as soon as possible. I didn’t deny it, I liked the girl and I wanted to meet her. Vovka was on a roll and continued to push.
So, am I staying with you?” I changed the subject.
“Fuck, Ramses, sure thing!” Vovka shrugged, took his hands out of his pockets and spread them apart. “I don’t mind, the red couch is yours!”
We turned the corner. Edik’s “seventh” was in the middle of a line of five cars. A minute later it started, and to the roar of the music it drove us through the city at night. I stayed at Vovka’s; Saturday was coming, and I could sleep in until noon.
“Do you have any Citramon?” I said in the morning, without opening my eyes.
Vovka was already fumbling around in the kitchen, rattling the dishes. I opened my eyes with difficulty and looked around.
“Headache or what!?” there was a rumble from the kitchen in reply.
“Yeah, terribly splintering… What time is it?”
“Half past ten already!” Vovka barked in a military manner. “Get up now!”
The sun flooded the room with light and enveloping warmth through the windows. I got up and the sun-kissed carpet warmed my feet. I took a pill and went to the bathroom, and from there to the kitchen, where Vovka was having breakfast. I joined him. A day off. It’s spring outside. There was no hurry. My headache had eased noticeably, and I didn’t feel like going home at all.
“How is your old man?” Vovka asked suddenly. “Still scolding you?”
“Yeah, fucking fighting on a regular basis,” I said sluggishly. “He pisses me off. Always picking on all kinds of shit, this and that. I can’t work with him anymore. I wish I could go somewhere else, but I can’t give it all up. It’s a good thing we quit retail. Did I tell you we quit retail?”
“Yeah, you said something like that,” Vovka interjected between chewing sounds. “You mean, quit for good? Where will you put the goods then?”
“I don’t know, we just sold the kiosk yesterday,” I shrugged and told the whole story of the sale, which caused Vovka to burst out laughing with satisfaction.
Tea is a good thing! I used to cure myself with it all the time after drinking too much alcohol and smoking cigarettes. And this time, while sipping sweet tea, I gradually came to my senses.
“Fuuuck!!! What time is it!!???” I almost screamed all of a sudden.
Vovka stared at me in surprise, then turned and looked over his shoulder at the clock built into the gas boiler: “Half past eleven, why?”
“Damn it, I forgot!” I jumped up and immediately sat down. “We have to be at ‘Sasha’ at three today! ‘Sasha’ is closing up! We have to pick up the goods and pay them off!”
“‘Sasha’ is closing up!?” Vovka was even more surprised. “And why is that!?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged and began to chew my sandwich anxiously and drink my tea greedily. “I was surprised too. Sergey called and said they were closing.”
“Is he the swarthy, handsome one?”
“Well, yeah, the stocky, swarthy one! Wait, do you know him!?”
“We bought goods from him once, I have been to his office a few times. He’s all right, polite.”
“Yeah, he seems like a nice guy,” I finished my sandwich and put the cup down. “I’m going to get dressed. I have to call ‘Sasha’!”
I rushed into the room, got dressed, grabbed my cell phone, and dialed the number from memory.
“Seryozha, hi, it’s Roma!” I sat down on the couch. “We’ll come over today, but closer to three o’clock, okay? We’ll definitely be there! Yes, have the storekeepers prepare a return for us. Yes, I’ll bring you some returns as well. Okay, bye, see you later!”
“Strange, why would ‘Sasha’ close up?” came from the kitchen.
“Yeah, I was surprised too, so unexpected, nice business, worked for so long, and then suddenly blam!” I said, returned to the kitchen, finished my tea in a few sips and added, “Okay, I’m out! Going out tonight!?”
“Damn it, Ramses, you bet!”
“Okay, I’ll call you when I’m done, bye!”
I shoved my feet into my shoes and ran out the door.
An hour later, my father and I drove the “GAZelle” out of the parking lot.
“Oh, Vasily’s here!” my father exclaimed.
“Who’s Vasily?” I asked, pushing my thoughts aside.
“There he is!” my father nodded in the direction of the man walking toward the parking lot. I took a closer look. As far as I could tell, he was about medium height, stooped, with a mustache, a face like a baked apple, about sixty years old.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, we joined the flowing Saturday traffic and headed for the warehouse.
“So who’s Vasily?” I asked again.
“That’s the one I told you about, we served together.”
“Maybe, I don’t remember, you told me about a lot of people.”
“He used to have a white ‘Ford Transit’. He sold it and bought a ‘GAZelle’ too.”
“What does he do anyway?”
“Freight transport. He used to haul other people’s goods, now he hauls his own, fruits and vegetables.”
“Ah-ha, he’s the one who made money with the flowers last year, isn’t he?” I vaguely remembered my father’s story.
“Yes, that’s him,” my father grimaced. “He bragged to me back then that he made a thousand bucks on one trip. That’s the way to do business, he said. He told me he had a friend who owned a flower shop, and she hired him to deliver flowers. And then he himself invested in flowers just before the holiday, bought them, brought them here, and sold them at three times the price.”
“Cool! That’s pretty good, thirty thousand rubles from one trip,” I thought. “And what did you say he does now?”
“Fruits, vegetables. The early ones are coming now. Prices for early vegetables are always high, then they fall, when instead of greenhouse vegetables ordinary vegetables from the ground will go.”
“Where does he sell them?”
“At the ‘Water’ market. That’s where he stands and sells them from his car.”
My father was talking about the city’s main wholesale market, located near the reservoir in the center of town. Fruits and vegetables were brought there by trucks and sold from there to small wholesalers and retailers from the city markets.
“And how drastically do prices change?” I asked.
“Every day, and sometimes several times a day. One in the morning, another in the evening. If there are not enough tomatoes, for example, the price is high, and when a truckload of them arrives, that’s it, the price drops.”
“Well, yes, the truck has to sell out quickly.”
“Yeah, the goods are perishable. Three days and it goes bad.”
“Wow, that’s fast. If you don’t sell it, you end up with rotten tomatoes. Beautiful.”
“Well, of course, not everything is so perishable. Potatoes, onions, they can last a long time.”
“There’s probably less of a markup, too.”
I thought about it and summarized: “It’s risky. You can get into a lot of trouble.
“Of course you can. But you can also make money.”
“I don’t understand that kind of business, I couldn’t stand the tension. You bring in the tomatoes and you have to sit there and clutch at your heart to see if someone will lower the price. Bullshit! I wouldn’t do that. It’s better to be like us, stable, without all these wild swings.
“I would do it! I suggested to Vasily, when we stopped selling beer, that we do it together, but he didn’t want to. He turned up his nose and didn’t say anything.”
“You suggested it to him!?” I was surprised. “I don’t remember that, you didn’t tell me.”
“I told you!” my father brushed me off. “But you won’t listen, you’re only interested in what you suggest, and you don’t listen to others.”
“Sure,” I grimaced, not wanting to respond to the outburst.
“What, sure!? That’s true!”
“Well, Vasya didn’t listen to you much either…”
“Yes, that’s exactly what you and Vasya are,” my father strained to reply.
“Yeah, yeah…” I exhaled and turned to the window. The constant bickering with my mom and dad was already driving me crazy. I wanted to go somewhere else, do something different, see my parents once in a while, smile at them happily for a short while and then say goodbye. We spend too much time together.
After unloading the rest of the retail stuff in the warehouse and throwing the returnables in the back of the truck, we arrived at “Sasha” around two o’clock. The doors of the building were wide open. A small number of the company’s employees were walking around in a pre-holiday mood. I didn’t see any sadness on people’s faces because of the closure, but everyone was chatting and laughing. A bonfire was burning on the lawn in front of the building, meat was being grilled, and chairs were arranged in a semicircle. I went into the office, did all the business things, and came back out and looked around. My father was smoking near the “GAZelle”, and a guy and two girls were sitting by the fire. When I heard footsteps behind me, I turned around. The manager, Sergey, in a dark blue velour jacket over a dark t-shirt, black pants and black shoes, came out.
“That’s it?” he said, chest out. “Are we square?”
“Yes, we are…” I nodded and said. “Is today the last day?”
“Well, yes,” he muttered, putting his hands in his pockets and standing with his legs spread wide. “Monumental,” I thought and continued the conversation that seemed to have started:
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t even know what to do. Davidych is closing the company, dissolving everyone, leaving only one store. That’s it. He’ll rent out the rest,” Sergey spread his hands, stroked his short-cropped head, and added with a confused voice, “I might as well go back to the highway…”
“Like the wild ’90s?” I grinned, figuring out the manager’s age.
“Well, yeah,” he put his hands back in his pockets and stared off into the distance with a sad look on his face.
“What year were you born?”
“Don’t mind me…” Sergey said. “Nineteen seventy-two. I just drank fifty grams of cognac to relax, because the last few days have been so stressful. I’m washed out now.”
“Five years older than me, I guess.”
“Yeah, nineteen seventy-nine…”
“Seryozha!” one of the girls by the bonfire called to him. “Come to us!”
“Just a minute, Vera, I’m coming!” he brushed her off.
“Listen, you were the exclusive representative of ‘Aerosib’ in our city, right?” I carefully began to probe the topic that interested me.
“Why in the city!?” Sergey pouted like a child. “In the whole region!”
“Of course! We had a good contract with the factory! We still have it!”
“What do you mean you still have it?”
“Well, the contract is with my company,” Sergey spread his elbows and got even wider. “I have my own company, I made the contract for it, and ‘Sasha’ bought the goods from me.”
“Wow! Cool!” I admired sincerely. “Well, and what now? If ‘Sasha’ closes down, who will sell ‘Aerosib’ in the city?”
“I don’t know, it’s all kind of vague,” Sergey began to rub his face. “I’m taking two hundred and fifty boxes from ‘Sasha’, the other half was bought by ‘Fluffy’.”
I thought about it and said: “And why did they buy the other half?”
“Well, its owner, he and Davidych used to work together, and then he split off.”
“Ah-ha, so that’s it! I didn’t know that. I worked there with the manager, but I haven’t seen the owner.”
“Why did you stop working?” Sergey looked at me and chewed his lip.
“No reason!” I brushed him off. “The manager turned out to be a jerk!”
“Seryozha!” cried the girl again in a shrill falsetto. “Are you coming or what!?”
“Yes, Vera!” he snapped, carelessly brushing her off.
“And, what, you took these two hundred and fifty boxes of dichlorvos, and where and what?”
“Well, there are other little things besides dichlorvos. Davidych and I agreed that I would take the goods with a deferment for the summer. I’ll sell the dichlorvos, and make some money for myself.”
“And then what?”
“I’m telling you, I don’t know!” Sergey jerked nervously. “Everything happened unexpectedly. Davidych didn’t warn anyone that he was going to close ‘Sasha’! He decided it himself. And he told us only shortly before the closure! Nobody expected it! Bam – we’re closing!”
“Wow! I was surprised when I found out, too. And it turns out like this. Did the profits drop or were you working at a loss? Why did Davidych decide to close in such a hurry?”
“No, we worked well and the profits were regular. Davidych had his own thoughts, he said he was tired of it all, tired of watching everyone,” Sergey lowered his voice, looked around. “The storekeepers have shortages, or the drunken loaders steal something.”
“Oh, yeah,” I agreed. “But why didn’t he tell you?”
“Huh,” Sergey brushed me off. “We’ve been having some problems lately. We used to be fine, but then things got tense. He told me to get my stuff out of the warehouse over the holidays, too.”
“Where are you taking them?”
“I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll give the dichlorvos to the customers right away for the money.”
“And then, when you sell the goods, what?” I continued to question him.
“I don’t know yet,” Sergey rubbed his face with his hands again. “So tired these days. Everything was normal, and suddenly, bang, here you are. Think about what to do now.”
“Look, we can work together. We can team up and keep selling. You have ‘Aerosib’, I have ‘Luxchem’, let’s team up and go!” I said spontaneously.
Sergey looked at me and immediately looked off into the distance.
“You think?” he said after a barely noticeable pause and began to chew his lower lip.
“Well, what’s there to think about?” I said, the thought growing in my head. “Everything’s already taken care of. We have a warehouse, we have customers, we have sales, we have good products.”
“Do you have your own retail outlet?”
“No, we closed the last two outlets in the market yesterday, we sold the kiosk,” I said, and immediately began to develop the idea further. “What do we need retail for?”
“I mean, what will you do with the barter goods?” Sergey was surprised. “We used to sell it in our stores and from the depot in bulk. How do you do that?”
“Oh, that makes sense. Classic scheme, all wholesalers work this way. And we came up with a no retail scheme, we sell to customers and that’s it. No muss, no fuss with retail.”
“Not bad,” Sergey said, his lips drawn forward and the corners of his mouth turned down, not even trying to hide the admiration that permeated his astonishment. “What’s the scheme?”
“Well, when we start working together, you’ll find out.”
“Come on, what kind of secret is that?”
“Well, you’ll find out. Later.”
Sergey was silent for a few moments, chewing his lower lip thoughtfully.
“You’re pretty sure, aren’t you?” he said.
“You mean work together? Yes! What’s the big deal? We’re already working, the sales are all set, and if we add goods like ‘Aerosib’, the volume will only increase. I don’t see any obstacles. What are your doubts?”
“No, no!” Sergey brushed me off. “I’m just that kind of person, I need a little push, a little persuasion, and then I’ll get to work.”
My father got tired of smoking and pacing around the perimeter of the “GAZelle” and came over to us.
“Here, Dad, I suggested that Sergey work with us!” I nodded at the manager.
“Sergey,” he held out his hand to my father.
“Anatoly Vasilievich,” my father said with a handshake. Then I realized that during our work with “Sasha” Sergey had only glimpsed my father and they had never communicated, I was involved in everything. It was only now that they really got to know each other.
I told my father a few words about the company and the contract Sergey had.
“Hello,” came the girl who had called Sergey to the bonfire, squeaking in a falsetto.
“My wife Vera,” he introduced her.
A pretty, slender blonde in her thirties, about one hundred and seventy centimeters tall, with smooth features, a lively look, a small, neat mouth, and a little snub nose.
“Here, Vera, they offer to work together,” Sergey said.
“And how exactly are we going to work together?” she wrinkled her forehead with curiosity in her eyes.
“Well, interesting!” Vera said thoughtfully and a little stretched. “Right, Seryozha?”
“And how exactly do you want to legally incorporate?” my father looked at me.
“How?” I was a little taken aback and immediately thought of a solution. “Let’s start a company – fifty-fifty, we’ll rewrite our contracts to it – they’ll do theirs, we’ll do ours, and go on.”
“What’s the point of starting a company!?” the manager shrugged. “I already have one, we can work with it!”
“We can do that,” I agreed.
“We can do that,” my father echoed at the same time.
“And you are the sole founder of your company?” I looked at Sergey.
“Yes, I am the sole founder, the general director and the chief accountant.”
“General director, wow!” I smiled. “That sounds solid. Then, if we don’t start a new company, we’ll register half of yours in our name and we can start working together.”
“What is the point of this? You know me, I’m an honest man, you seem to be too. I’m so used to it – we’ve agreed in half, clapped hands, and we can start working.”
“Seryozha, no, the documents must be properly executed!” said my father categorically. “You know, today we have one kind of relationship, tomorrow we’ll have another. Everything must be legally secured.”
“Anyway,” the manager’s face twitched. “We don’t need to discuss it yet. I have to look at all the options and choose the most interesting one.”
“What do you mean?” I was surprised. “Has anyone else offered you a joint venture?”
“I have a partner now, we do some operations with him,” he confirmed, relaxed. “One of the directors of ‘Arbalest’ made an offer. There’s also a friend there. I’ve got about five options right now.”
“Ah-ha,” I said, a little confused. “I didn’t know.”
“Seryozha, think about it and let us know! Yes or no!” my father said with a little pressure in his voice.
“Well, I’ll consider your offer!” Sergey immediately softened his tone. “It’s interesting, I just need time to think about it.”
“The May holidays are coming, the best time to think,” my father said dryly.
I became a little nervous. The metallic tones in my father’s voice made me tense, as if they would scare Sergey away, and the lucrative “Aerosib” contract would slip from our grasp. I said hastily: “Come on, Dad, what’s this got to do with deadlines? Let Sergey think, there is time, we are not rushing him! He’s got our phone number, he’ll call us if anything. Isn’t that right?”
I asked Sergey the last question. But his wife answered quickly and resonantly: “Well, yes, I think it’s okay, right, Seryozha? We’ll think about it and call you if anything!”
“Yes,” he breathed out heavily and spread his hands. “Let’s do it that way.”
We said goodbye to the couple and left.
Once we were in the car, I told my father about the beginning of my conversation with Sergey. A patchwork of thoughts swirled in my head. As I shared them with him, I began to babble almost nonstop.
“Listen, this is where it’s at! Come to think of it, ‘Sasha’ is closed, but Sergey has a contract with ‘Aerosib’! We don’t have to change anything, just order the goods and sell them! Just awesome! They don’t even realize at the factory that they are shipping to new people because the contract is the same! There’s a 60 day grace period! That’s more than we have, and the goods are better advertised and more profitable!”
My father listened intently and steered.
“The main thing is that Sergey accepts the offer and doesn’t go to someone else! Wow, several people have already made him an offer! Yeah, I hope that ‘Aerosib’ won’t be snatched away from us. It’s perfect for us, isn’t it? It’s exactly the kind of product we need. Aerosols! Super! This will at least double our volume, and I even think it’ll definitely triple it. That’s great! And if he doesn’t agree to fifty-fifty, what are we going to do!?”
“Why wouldn’t he?” my father said dryly.
“Why!?” I was taken aback. “He can decide that the offer is unequal, for example, offer sixty to forty in his favor!”
“Let him decide all he wants, we don’t need it.”
“And!? We’ll refuse him!?”
“Well, what do you suggest? Agree?” my father said irritably. “Would you agree to work when he has sixty and you have forty?”
“No, I won’t, of course not… It’s either half or nothing.”
“You see! Then why do you ask?”
“No reason, I’m just talking to you…”
We drove in silence for a minute.
“He has no offers,” my father said calmly as he lit a cigarette. “He’s lying.”
“What makes you think that!?” I was surprised.
“If he had any offers, he would have told you right away. Not after you told him yours. Well, and the phrase about the highway indicates that he doesn’t know what to do.”
I digested my father’s argument and thought about it.
“And he didn’t drink cognac for nothing, but for the same reason,” my father added.
“Maybe you’re right… Interesting. Well, then he’ll agree. It would be cool!”
“Shall we go to the warehouse?” my father brought me out of my thoughts and into reality.
“Huh? No,” I brushed it off. “Leave it in the back, we’ll park the ‘GAZelle’ as it is.”
“Will it stay like that for all the holidays?” my father was puzzled.
“Yes! What can possibly happen to this junk? We’ll just cover it better, that’s all.”
Vovka and I spent all the holidays at the club. In the evenings, after the club, we would have tea and cheese at his house, and each time my mind would fall asleep in an alcoholic oblivion, but neither nicotine nor alcohol would take a tiny part of it. The beacon in the back of my brain had been pulsing in a steady rhythm since my last visit to “Sasha”. Even when I was drunk, I knew exactly what that pulsing meant. A gut feeling. The beacon was working, pointing me in the right direction. I also dreamt of a shark. As a kid, I read that a shark can sense a drop of blood in a cubic kilometer of water. And my gut, catching a drop of commercial bait, gave the signal. I was sleeping drunk on the red broken couch at Vovka’s, my brain had fallen into an abyss, but the beacon was pulsing, I felt like a great white shark slithering leisurely through the ocean. When I smelled the drop of blood, I turned and went for it.
“What do you think, will Sergey accept our offer?” I said in the morning on the balcony, sitting on the couch with a cup of tea. My father sat at the window and smoked. It was the middle of May. The sun filled the balcony with the warmth of summer, making me squint like a happy cat.
“He will,” my father said, taking a drag. “Does he have a choice?”
“Well, I mean, he has other offers…”
“I told you, if they were better than ours, he wouldn’t talk to us like this.”
“Interested,” my father stubbed out the cigarette butt on the wall outside and flicked it down. “He was interested, I could see it in his eyes.”
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
“Well, yeah,” my father scratched his nose, the back of his head, and sat down next to me, but on the other side of the couch, in the shade. “His products are good, not like ours.”
“That’s true,” I hummed.
“We basically have ‘Luxchem’ and that’s it,” my father said with a wave of his hand. “The way we sell it is not enough. It’s enough to live on, but it’s hard to develop with that kind of income. But ‘Aerosib’ is something! The volume can be very significant!”
There was a pause. I tried to mentally look into the future and see a large company whose starting point would be this possible merger.
“I wonder when he will call? Why don’t we call ourselves?” I said.
“Don’t do that! Why are you making a fuss again?” my father got a little irritated. “Always in a hurry to go somewhere! Let him think! If he calls, he calls! And if he doesn’t, fine! Come on, finish your tea and let’s go! We’ve got goods to move today, remember?”
“Yes, we have to go,” I exhaled. “This damn move, but it has to be done.”
The question of renting the warehouse across from ours, which we had been denied at first, was suddenly resolved in a casual and mundane way. After the holidays, my father and I met the owners at the factory. I expressed my desire to move into the warehouse across the street and pay more money than we were paying. The word “money” turned out to be magic, and we immediately got the key.
The warehouse was rectangular. Two rows of brick columns supported the wooden rafters of the roof, which was covered with slate on the outside and boards on the inside. The columns divided the warehouse into three equal sections. In the middle of the central section, a single track ran from the gate into the interior of the warehouse and on to subsequent sections of the building. The concrete floor was cracked and half broken in places. In the back corner of the warehouse, there were piles of dusty wooden crates full of empty jars. After the previous one, this warehouse seemed like heaven. Over the course of a week, we took time out of our work to fix it up. We took down the crooked gates and put up new ones. An electrician fixed the lights and installed a meter. The warehouse came to life.
We had barely finished the warehouse and even had time to unload another shipment from Krasnodar when Sergey called the next morning. My father answered the phone. Sergey asked if our offer was still on the table and got an affirmative answer. Everything inside me rejoiced.
“Are you driving?” my father clarified. “Oh, you sold your car. Good, then come to the ‘Foster Home’ stop, you know where that is? Great! Look, when you get there, cross the bridge to the other side. And stay there, we’ll go to the warehouse and pick you up. All right, be there in an hour and a half. All right, that’s it. It’s a deal. See you.”
When we turned onto the bridge, Sergey was already behind it, not alone, but with his wife.
I opened the door to the couple as soon as the car pulled to the side of the road.
“Good morning,” Sergey shook my hand politely and immediately extended it to my father. “Anatoly Vasilievich, hello.”
“Hi, Seryozha,” he said calmly, following my brisk “Howdy!”
“Hello,” the girl squeaked from behind her husband’s broad shoulders.
I moved. Sergey sat down heavily next to me, larger than the seat. His wife slipped nimbly into his lap. The car started.
“My wife Vera,” Sergey said.
“We already know each other, you introduced us!” I was overcome with euphoria.
“Really?” Sergey was surprised and sniffed his nose. “Wow, it must have slipped my mind. Well, that’s okay, I introduced you to my wife again. Right, Verok?”
“Right, Seryozha,” the ‘Verka’ was embarrassed, and laughed softly, with a lively and open laugh that revealed a row of perfectly straight teeth in a very charming smile.
The meeting left few memories. The gold chain around Sergey’s neck, half a finger thick, made an impression. On his chest, instead of a cross, it was crowned with a golden icon the size of a matchbox. The chain attracted attention and added to the solidity of its owner.
When we arrived at the factory, we left the car at the gatehouse and walked to the warehouses. My father led the conversation with the guests, while I, still floating in a haze of euphoria, added a few sentences now and then. At one point, my father’s raised tone brought me out of the rainbow state and I began to listen to the conversation.
“So how do you work?” Sergey said. “There is no office. Just a warehouse. You deliver goods to wholesalers and retailers, right?”
“Yes, like everyone else,” my father replied. “We have our own established customer base.”
“Well, that makes sense,” Sergey said. “This is your product, but you barter with wholesalers, you don’t have your own retailers, do you distribute it to other retailers?”
“Seryozha!” It was at this point my father raised his voice and looked at him sternly. “You’ve been told – when we merge, you’ll find out everything! Why do you ask again!?”
My father’s voice sounded with metallic tones of discontent.
“I was just asking,” Sergey said conciliatorily, with a hint of surprise. “Later it is. It makes no difference to me.”
“Well, if it doesn’t make any difference, why bother asking!?” my father snapped.
The awkward pause didn’t last long.
“Which of you two shall we register your share?” Sergey said.
My mind got stuck for a moment. The question caught me off guard. It also surprised my father, judging by the expression on his face. We looked at each other with open mouths and blinking eyes. My father nodded, “Who’s going to do it?” I shrugged and made a helpless gesture.
“Weeell… It doesn’t really matter who,” I finally said. “It could be him, it could be me. Who, Dad?”
“Do it in Romka’s name,” my father said with a wave of his hand. “You’re about the same age, and Vera and I will be on standby.”
“Okay. I don’t really care. If you want, we can register it in your name.”
“Don’t, register it for you!” my father brushed me off unequivocally.
Sergey was silent and waited.
“Oh, and one more thing!” I said, quickly assessing the possible stumbling blocks to working together. “Seryoga, let’s agree that we will not bring any more relatives into the company besides the four of us! Everyone else is just an employee. And even if someone has a dispute with someone else’s relative, the other person will not interfere. For example, if I have a dispute with Vera, you don’t interfere. Or if you have a disagreement with my father, you solve it yourselves, and I don’t interfere. All right?”
After thinking about it, Sergey nodded, “Yeah, that’s fine.”
“It’s a deal,” I held out my hand, and Sergey shook it.
We said goodbye in good spirits and mutual assurance. Sergey and Vera left holding hands, while we had another order to load.
“Do you think he liked it?” I attacked my father immediately. “Would Sergey go along with the merger? And why are you so hard on him? He seems like a normal guy.”
“Why are you defending him!?” my father snapped.
“I’m not defending him. It’s just that he seems like a normal guy and you were a little hard on him.”
“Why was I hard on him?” my father retorted. “He is cunning, your Seryozha. He was told he’d find out when we merged, and he’s stubborn, he’s still trying to find out.”
“Well, maybe,” I spread my hands, shut up, and continued carrying boxes.
That day we took the goods to “Arbalest”. And there I got the feeling again, which I told my father after unloading, jumping into the cabin. I told him that Ilya’s behavior had changed, that he had become drier and harsher in his communication – he reacted evasively to offers of new goods at first, then refused them; that the guy seemed to be holding something back – he always communicated strictly on business, no jokes as before – he signed the papers, gave them to me, and that was it.
“Well, we helped him with retail, so now he dislikes us,” my father said calmly, throwing his cigarette out the window.
“How come???” I stared at him, not understanding the logic of what was being said.
“How come!?” my father grinned. “We helped him, didn’t we!? Right!”
“Well, yes, we did. That’s all right. In fact, he’s supposed to treat us better now. We helped him!” I threw up my hands.
“Uh, no!” my father laughed quietly. “On the contrary. We are the enemy now.”
“Why!???” My eyes popped out of their sockets, I even laughed. “Are you kidding me!??”
“I’m not, son,” my father continued in the same tone. “Ilyukha is behaving as a man of his character should. He screwed up with the store, didn’t he?”
My father looked at me with the satisfied look of someone who knew a simple truth and had the chance to explain it.
“Well, yes,” my surprise was replaced by interest. “And?”
“He tried to open a store, which means that he is not satisfied with the position of an ordinary manager. It means that he has ambition and would like to be higher, to have his own business. So he tried. That would have been fine, but we were unwilling witnesses to his failure. You know?”
“Okay, and?” I bit my lip, beginning to get a hazy understanding.
“If we hadn’t known about his failure, he would have treated us the same way. Even though he would have been jealous. But he would have continued to be jealous of all the owners and suppliers like us. And now we’re like a thorn in his side. Every time he sees you or me, we remind him of the time he asked for help, trembled with joy, and counted the money he received. We have witnessed his failure. It’s a big blow to Ilyukha’s ego. And he has an ego.”
“Well, I see what you mean! But why should he dislike us!? I don’t get it. For example, I’m an ambitious man. And if someone helped me, I would be grateful to that person… But to dislike him for helping me, hmm, no, that’s bullshit!”
“That’s not bullshit!” my father got a little angry. “You have to be a very strong man inside to be grateful to someone for helping you, and Ilyukha is not that kind of man. He is a quiet, cheapish crook. He sits at his desk in the office and thinks about how he can cheat the office and make money. But he won’t make it, so he’ll be a manager until he’s old. He just changes offices. Because he has a yellow streak in him.”
“Hmm!” I thought about it. “Maybe, maybe… You’re probably right, and not probably, but right. What will happen to us now?”
“Nothing, I think. He’ll just continue to play dirty tricks on us, that’s all. He won’t do anything serious. He doesn’t need to. But he’ll keep communication to a minimum, that’s for sure.”
I exhaled in disappointment. And the disappointment came from the realization that what my father had said was probably true. Just that simple, wrong fact of life.
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