Chapter 020

From the next day, my work consumed me, and I returned to my father’s situation only when something reminded me of him. My habits had changed – riding in the comfortable seat of the “GAZelle” had been replaced by jolting around in the uncomfortable and rude “Pazik” buses.

“Man, how do people ride these buses to work every day?” I said in amazement to Sergey and Vera in the first days of our work together.

The topic was lively. Sergey said that my half-hour commute was bearable, but he and his wife buckled across town in a shared taxi for at least an hour.

“Yeah, it takes us about an hour or an hour and ten to get there,” Vera confirmed.

“Why did you sell your ‘Toyota’?” I asked Sergey.

“You know!” he sighed. “I had to sell it to buy back the goods from Davidych, and basically to start my own business. I don’t know yet, it seems like I need a car, but you know, it’s not quite clear what’s what yet. What if I need money?”

“You won’t need money, you’ll see!” I brushed it off confidently as I stood in the office with my back to the wall next to the front door. The lack of furniture showed. The same day my father left, we found a second desk – we brought it with Sergey from one of the rooms in the building and put it across from the first one. Vera sat at the computer, and Sergey and I took turns sitting on a stool at the second desk. The third table didn’t fit into the room, so we settled for a chair, which we later placed against the wall by the door.

“You think?” Sergey said with interest in his eyes.

“Of course I do!” I said beyond a shadow of a doubt. “We have a big deferral on the contracts, we easily make a profit with other people’s money without investing our own, you’ll see! So you can buy a car and not bother!”

“Well, I can buy a car,” Sergey chewed his lip. “There’s money left over, just in case. What if it doesn’t work out, like you said. If anything, you have money, right?”

“Of course I do!” I nodded. “You don’t have to worry about that. You don’t need it. Well, if you really need it, well, we’ll add half! No problem.”

“Well, how much do you have? What if you don’t have enough?” he continued.

“I have enough, believe me!” I brushed him off and grinned. “Don’t worry.”

“I don’t… It’s just, what if you say you have money and it’s not there? That’s what I mean, okay?”

“I have money,” I nodded. “I do.”

It became quiet. Vera clicked the mouse. Sergey crossed his arms over his chest and put them on his stomach, crumpled his lips with trembling fingers.

“We should probably buy some chairs after all, shouldn’t we, guys?” said Vera.

“Yes, Vera,” I nodded and said that as soon as we get the first money we will buy chairs and replace the computer because this one is terribly old and slow and a piece of shit.

“Well,” Sergey sniffed his nose. “I don’t know much about computers. But if you do and you say this one is a piece of shof, we’ll buy a new one.”

It made me cringe. But not at the deliberate distortion of the word, but at the tone of the sentence. It was as if Sergey took my assessment of the computer personally – with resentment and dissatisfaction. These feelings flew through me and were forgotten, my head was fully occupied with the work.

“Did you advertise for a driver?” I remembered.

“Yes, he called me at home yesterday, he will start work tomorrow morning,” Sergey said, spreading his hands. “As we agreed, fifteen thousand a month… Right?”

“Yes, that’s right,” I let out a lump in my chest, feeling anger towards my father.

The day passed in the warehouse inventory. Communication with the storekeeper Arseny immediately and easily turned to a first-name basis. He became Senya to us, and we changed from Roman Anatolievich and Sergey Mikhailovich to Roma and Sergey. The official tension was gone, giving way to a pure working mood. When we finished with the warehouse and let Senya go, the three of us walked to the bus stop and went home. The day passed so positively in the company of Sergey and Vera that I remembered the peculiarities of my relationship with my parents only after I crossed the threshold of the apartment and immediately turned sullen.

The next morning at 8:10 a.m. I was awakened from my sleep by a phone call. A man had called to apply for a job as a driver. After making an appointment with him for ten, I went to take a shower.

“Son, would you like some fried eggs?” my mother suddenly suggested.

I agreed. As I ate the eggs, my mother sat across the table trying to communicate. Why had she suddenly changed after years of boycotting me and my father? How was I supposed to communicate with my father now? Time saved me from suddenly arising questions – I had no time to think about it all – the prospect of the new business gave me new strength. After a quick breakfast, I left the apartment in a T-shirt, shorts, and a bag on my shoulder.

A blue “GAZelle” with a cover stood at the entrance to the factory, visible from afar.

“Hello! Are you here for the ad?” I said as I jerked the door open.

The driver – a man in his forties, stocky with a round belly and the eyes of a pug – perked up, wiped his face with his rough palm from the morning slumber, and said: “Yes.”

We chatted on the spot. I heard confused answers to the standard questions. Peter Ivanovich had a wife and two children. He lived in a village on the left bank of the city, even farther away than Sergey and Vera. I wondered aloud if he could commute so far every day to work for us. The man nodded excitedly and waved his hands. “What an old car,” I remarked, glancing at the painted rusty seams of the body, the worn canvas and the greasy interior of the “GAZelle”. I looked at the driver again – old sandals, socks, brown pants with a ripped seam at the bottom of the pocket – the clothes looked cheap and worn. Only the light pinstriped shirt was obviously fresh and pressed.

“Can you start tomorrow?”

“No problem!” the driver threw up his hands and hunched his shoulders against his already short neck.

“Good, we already have orders, we have to deliver the goods, be here tomorrow at nine o’clock.”

We shook hands and parted.

Ten minutes later Sergey and Vera arrived at the office. I told them the news, that the problem with the driver was solved and that he would come to work tomorrow. “Uh-huh!” said Sergey, looked at the stool – it was occupied, stood with his back to the wall and kicked his leg.

“Vera, we have to do a waybill now,” I added. “The order came.”

Vera rushed to the computer, turned it on, and stared at me in executive expectation. After dictating the order, I turned back to Sergey:

“Senya won’t be at work today, but tomorrow he’ll start loading Petya. And we will have to call everyone and tell them that we are now working from the new company. And we need new price lists.”

“I’ll make the price lists!” said Vera, and, remembering, she added, “Oh, Roma! You two have to decide about the signatures in the bank!”

“What about them?” I said.

“Oh, yes! Well done, Verok, for reminding me!” Sergey was excited. “We have to go there and write a statement – whether we will have two signatures on the documents or one. And we even have to find out who you and Vera will be assigned to in the company!”

“Are you the only one registered in the company now? No one else?” I clarified.

“Yes, I am,” Sergey looked at his wife. “The accountant hasn’t registered anyone else?”

“I don’t know, Seryozha,” Vera shook her head.

“All right, we’ll take care of it! We have to call her, Vera, don’t forget!” Sergey mumbled and said to me: “In short, we have to decide what positions you two will be appointed to, got it?”

“Yes, I got it,” I nodded and thought about it. “I don’t know. You’re listed as director…”

“General director,” Sergey corrected.

“What difference does it make?” I smiled.

“Well, if there is a general director, then there may be other directors as well! And if there is only one director, then there is only one deputy director.”

“Then I’ll be a deputy director general, okay?”

“And Vera?”

“Well, Vera is a manager!” I blurted out the simplest thing.

“Well, okay,” Sergey mumbled and looked at his wife. She agreed with a modest and barely visible movement of her eyebrows.

“And according to the charter, the general director is elected every three years, right?” I said.

“Well, yes,” Sergey replied.

I started to look at the dates and found out that the company was started in December 2002, which meant that the term of the general director would end in six months. A thought occurred to me, and I suggested that we change positions every three years.

“So you’re going to be the general director in December, right?” he said.

“Not necessarily,” I said, suggesting that we not count Sergey’s current term, but start with the next one; it turned out that my turn was three and a half years away.

“Well… Let’s do it that way,” Sergey agreed.

“As for the bank, Vera, – let’s pick a day and meet there. It won’t take long, will it?”

“No, it won’t take long,” she said. “You both just write a statement, that’s all.”

“Agreed,” I nodded and went into my bag. “I’m going for a smoke!”

“You smoke!?” Vera was surprised.

“You know,” I said. “I do. I have to quit. And you, like Seryoga, don’t smoke, do you?”

“No, she doesn’t,” he answered for his wife.

“I don’t,” said Vera, wrinkling her nose and adding, “Well… Sometimes!”

When I got outside, I sat down on a two-finger-thick pipe that fenced off the front yard and immediately sagged under me like a rope. Sergey came out next.

“It’s nice here, quiet!” he looked around, stretched and yawned. “Just like the dacha. I don’t smoke, but when I’m at the dacha or on vacation, I can treat myself to a cigar with a glass of brandy. It’s so relaxing! Sitting in a chair in the evening before sunset, in the fresh air, sipping a brandy and a cigar!”

“Cigars?” I was surprised. “No way!? Really!?”

“Yeah, what’s the big deal!? Do you know how nice it is to smoke a good cigar?” Sergey said and clasped his hands behind his head. “I have to offer it to you sometime.”

“I don’t know, I’ve never smoked cigars,” I shrugged and listened to the silence around me.

“Do you work with ‘Fort’?” Sergey brought me out of my trance.

Giving a shake to my memory, I remembered a retail store with that name. Sergey told me that the owner of that store had opened a wholesale depot, and that he, Sergey, was his friend – they drank together at company events. I nodded respectfully. Sergey added that he even danced with “Katyukha,” the depot manager, so he was her friend, too.

“I thought you were working with ‘Fort’,” Sergey said when he heard my answer. “We have to go there for sure. It’s a good depot.”

I agreed, and immediately, feeling a growing respect for Sergey, I said that it was good that he knew the owner of the depot, with him we would quickly solve problems with supplies.

“Oh! I know everyone in town who does chemistry!” Sergey stuck out his chest. Actually, he always walked like that, cockerel-like, chest out, shoulders back, unlike me, who always slouched. “I know all the directors at ‘Arbalest’!”

Sergey brushed me off carelessly, as if the conversation was not worth discussing – everything had been taken care of long ago. My commercial instinct reacted immediately, I nodded excitedly and said that getting a protégé in the person of one of the directors of “Arbalest” is a strong move, because Ilyukha takes only three items from us, but if he takes more…

“Who’s Ilyukha?”

“The manager we worked with. A slime ball. At first we seemed to work well, but now the volumes are slowly decreasing, or so it seems to me, but they are not growing. He doesn’t take new things and turns up his nose at them. There’s another manager there, he doesn’t care about anything. We should communicate with him, we would have reached an agreement. But this Ilyusha, he always gets in the way more than anyone else, there’s no fucking way to talk to his neighbor! He’s all hustler now. When I came to ‘Arbalest’, I remember he was a nerd who sat on a chair and kept his mouth shut. And now – he’s a bit above himself.”

“Gah-gah-gah!” Sergey laughed loudly, his hands at his sides and his head thrown back. “I’ll talk to the right people there, we don’t need this Ilyukha, we’ll solve it without him. Who else did you work with?”

We started going through all the more or less prominent wholesalers in town.

“‘Temp’? No, I don’t know them, we haven’t worked with them,” I said, “‘Sphere’? Near ‘Peresvet’!? Wow! That’s not far… No, we didn’t, we’ll have to go there too… ‘Sphere’ is as big as ‘Arbalest’!? Wow! We’ll definitely have to go there!”

“At ‘Pelican’ you say your friend Vovka works in procurement? And Senya at ‘Mercury’?” it was Sergey’s turn to get previously unavailable information and to be surprised. “Vovka gets five percent and Senya three? Isn’t that too much? How much!? Did you add twenty-five percent to ‘Luxchem’!? … How’s that!? And everyone bought? It used to be forty!? Wow, you made a lot of money. Well, you had it all worked out pretty well.”

I told the secrets of my father’s and my business like a magician, pulling rabbits out of a hat, and Sergey marveled. I could see him trying to hold back, but he couldn’t. Emotions overwhelmed him and betrayed him. And I liked that.

“Let’s go to the office!” I broke into a smile. “I’ll tell you much more! You see, how interesting, and you had doubts whether to merge or not!”

“No, I had no doubts, especially about you…”

I pushed open the door to the office.

“Seryozha!” Vera’s falsetto cut through the air, something I was still getting used to. “There’s this guy who called you… you know, with whom you… Well, about breath fresheners… you know.”

“Uh-huh…” Sergey said, wiping his forehead and exhaling heavily. “I got it. He called, right?”

The monochrome flip phone lay on the table. Vera silently moved it away from her to the edge of the table in the direction of her husband.

“There’s an acquaintance here,” Sergey began, looking at me, choosing his words, “He and I did some business together before we merged. We bought another batch of breath fresheners in April, you know, the kind you spray in your mouth…”

“Oh, I see,” I nodded.

“And now we’ve teamed up with you, and he’s calling me, and now we have to do something about these fresheners…”

“Well, call him, settle the question,” I simply suggested.

“You think?” Sergey chewed his lip.

“What’s there to think?” I was surprised. “There’s a case you started, you have to finish it, that’s all.”

“Well, yes… I’d better,” Sergey said, took the phone with visibly trembling fingers and called. “Hello! You called?… Uh-huh, hi, yes… Well, I don’t know, yes, we have to decide somehow, uh-huh… You want to meet? Do you have a car?… He wants to meet, is it okay if he comes here?”

Sergey looked at me.

“Let him come, what’s the problem?” I shrugged and spread my hands.

Half an hour later the caller arrived at the factory entrance.

“Let’s go together,” Sergey suggested.

A bespectacled man in his thirties, about my height, paced nervously by the gatehouse.

“Hi,” he said, running his eyes through the thick dioptres of his glasses.

“Minus three or so,” I estimated, and followed Sergey to shake the guest’s wet, big, but unwillingly soft hand. Such a handshake always disgusted me. Flaccid hands belong to inactive people. Too strong a handshake belongs either to people who are stupid and energetic, or to authoritarian people, which indicates the inflexibility of the mind. I remembered my father, who always shook hands strongly, which made me feel uncomfortable with the handshake, reflexively I always wanted to get out my hand immediately. Sergey’s handshake was normal.

“I can’t reach you, you’re not answering your phone,” the four-eyed continued. “The goods are in my garage, I have to do something with them. There’s money invested.”

“My wife has been keeping the phone lately, she hasn’t told me about your calls,” Sergey said. “I can’t seem to get a new one. I have a business with my partner, we started a wholesale business. We decided to work for ourselves. We’ll get a little more established, and then I’ll buy myself a phone.”

The guy gave me a quick glance. I studied him – tall, broad in the shoulders, but slouchy and sluggish. The four-eyed was clearly anything but athletic. He had a large head with a bald spot in the middle. Light, sparse, soft hair, sticky with sweat, sprawled all over it. The clothes were cheap, the pants didn’t fit well, and the white shirt had a ridiculous ornament on it. The guy had no taste in clothes, and probably no taste in anything.

“Jerk,” I decided, feeling disgust for the four-eyed.

“What are we going to do about the breath fresheners?” he asked, not missing the point. “How are we going to sell them? We could just divide it up and each of us could sell half of it.”

“No, why? We agreed to do it together, we have to sell everything in one batch. Otherwise, we’ll start pushing our halves on the market. What’s the point of that?”

“Well, how then!?” the four-eyed got nervous. “I call you, you don’t answer, you disappear somewhere! Come on, let’s think about how to sell the goods.”

“Well, I can’t give you an answer right now, I have to think,” Sergey chewed his lip, “let’s talk on the phone tonight and decide, okay?”

“Well, let’s do it tonight,” he hesitated. “Shall I call you or shall you?”

“It makes no difference! I can do it, you can do it! Let’s talk at eight, okay?”

The four-eyed understood everything, looked again at my clearly disinclined expression, and hurriedly said goodbye. After ducking into the cool shade of the building, Sergey and I went to the office.

“Are you going to sell those fresheners with him?” I was surprised and added that I would take my half and sell it myself, it’s better that way. Sergey thought about it and said:

“Well, let’s say I take my half, and then what? How will I sell it?”

It turned out to be the sum of eight thousand and the volume of goods the size of a washing machine. I opened the office door, stepped inside, and brushed it off:

“Seryoga, there’s nothing to talk about! We have a half-empty warehouse of two hundred and fifty meters, bring your fresheners and put them there, and don’t rack your brains! We’ll sell them through our company, you can keep the money, and that’s all!”

“Hmm, well, you’re probably right,” Sergey said, sat down on the stool, took a pen from the table and began to squeeze and twist it, taking the cap off and putting it on again and again. In the moment of relaxation, his fingers trembled. “I’ll call him tonight and tell him I’m taking my half?”

“Sure! Don’t worry about it! We’ll sell it!” I brushed him off again.

“Roma, I’ve already made a preliminary price list,” Vera said, looking at me, then at Sergey, choosing, but not being able to choose. “Seryozha, here, look.”

She handed several sheets to her husband, who turned them in his hands and sniffed his nose.

“I used Roma’s leftovers to set the buying and selling prices,” Vera added, looking at me questioningly, and I blinked in agreement. Noticing my reaction, Sergey said: “Well, if that’s the case, we need to price our goods now.” I blinked again. After some hesitation, Sergey announced the markups and discounts that “Sasha” was selling and offered to do the same. Fifteen percent? “Not enough,” I said. Sergey suggested twenty.

“Not like that,” I shook my head, “it’s not about the markup. We need to get into the market.”

Sergey and Vera looked at me questioningly.

“For example, what is the price of dichlorvos at ‘Arbalest’?” I said.

“Well, I don’t know off the top of my head, I’d have to look at their price lists,” Sergey shrugged.

“We don’t need price lists!” I waved him off and, after listing the prices of the most sellable items, said: “Vera, what’s the percentage markup of our dichlorvos on these prices?”

Sergey’s wife’s fingers tapped the calculator buttons and froze.

“Forty-seven percent!” Vera said.

“There!” I raised my index finger.

“Is that the kind of markup we’re going to make!?” Sergey stared at me dazedly. “Then we won’t sell anything!”

“Wait, don’t make a fuss!” I smiled. “What’s the maximum discount ‘Arbalest’ has?”

“Well, seven percent, I guess,” Sergey blinked often and began to squeeze his pen harder.

“Exactly, seven!” I nodded. “Vera, deduct seven percent! How much is it?”

She immediately said the number with excitement.

“There! And we’ll make the maximum discount…” I narrowed my eyes for a second. “Let’s say eight percent. We’ll give one percent more. Everything should look realistic.”

Sergey looked at me and remained silent. Vera was obviously waiting for an order.

“Vera, count!” I nodded, and her fingers tapped the buttons again.

“Before the sale, the markup was 36.71%, and with a maximum discount of 8% – 25.78%!”

“There, fucking great!” I concluded. “I think we should sell dichlorvos that way.”

I fell silent. Sergey chewed his lip.

“Well, I don’t know if we can sell at these prices…” he began carefully.

“We can! The main thing is to get into the market, the rest is easy as fucking pie. If the price is a little lower than the main competitor, then there’s nothing else to think about. Too low a price scares away customers, they think the product at that price is shit. Let’s try it that way. If it doesn’t work, we can always lower the price. It’s hard to lower the price, but you can always raise it.”

“Well, okay, let’s do it like you said,” Sergey said.

“Then I’ll bring the price of ‘Arbalest’ tomorrow and we’ll do everything, right, Vera?” I smiled.

“Yes, Roma,” she said and added, “but we still have salts…”

“Salts, salts…” I turned the word around in my head. “Look, I haven’t worked with them at all, what kind of product is this? Who buys it? How did you sell it?”

Sergey was about to open his mouth when Vera said that the salts were bought by pharmacies.

“Vera, will you slow up a bit?” Sergey snapped at her and looked at me. “Mostly pharmacies take the salts, but we also had a retail chain for intercity sales.”

“How do they sell in general? When is the season?” I said.

“In the summer they hardly sell, almost none,” Vera wrinkled her nose, “and when it’s cold…”

“Vera, why do you always interfere!?” Sergey angrily threw his pen on the table.

“Seryozha, I’m not allowed to say a word now, or what!?” she squeaked thinner than usual, blushing.

“Honey, would you sit down and take care of the prices?” Sergey changed his tone to conciliatory and waved his hand in the direction of the printed papers. “Romka and I will discuss everything ourselves.”

“Maybe I want to discuss it too!” Vera stared at her husband from under her eyebrows.

“Well, discuss it if you want!” Sergey lowered his intensity and smiled at her. “Discuss.”

“I will!” Vera laughed, and her anger disappeared with it.

“Okay,” I said. “The salts are not very current, as I understand it. We’ll deal with them later. Let’s figure out what to do this week first.”


At nine o’clock the next morning I handed the storekeeper the first waybill.

“Here, Senya, take it! Load Petya. And then there will be a second run today. If it’s hard, Sergey and I can help you load it.”

The storekeeper categorically waved his hands, said that he and the driver will load everything themselves. Petya supported him. Sergey, wrinkling, brushed my words aside, said:

“They’ll load it themselves! We have work to do at the office, let’s go!”

On the way to the office, I found myself thinking that only the protests of three people could stop me from my reflex to load the goods! And yet my status had changed. Later, with the passage of time, that reflex came back to me less and less. And each time I forced myself not to do it. “Everyone has to do his work,” I told myself. Sergey, on the other hand, after his initial bursts of physical activity, quickly settled into the role of a manager. He no longer showed any desire for physical work, and when he did participate in it, again on my initiative, he tried to finish it as soon as possible under various pretexts. In a way I envied this quality of Sergey’s, and I even thanked him mentally for suppressing my impulses to do everything with my own hands.


I arrived at work on Friday at nine o’clock. I put the key in the lock of the door – it was open. I went into the office. Vera was gone. Sergey was sitting at the other desk, reading the newspaper.

“Vera will be here later today,” he said. “We had no one to entrust the children to, she will wait for my father from the night shift, leave them with him and come. She’ll also stop by the pharmacies about the salts.”

“Oh! That’s a good one!” I was glad and stayed on my feet, putting my back against the wall by the door out of habit.

“I stopped by ‘Fort’ yesterday, as we had planned,” Sergey sniffed his nose again, rolled up the newspaper and crossed his arms over his chest. “You know. I talked to Katyukha. They’ve made quite a splash there! New warehouses, a big sales hall, a two-story office building! I talked to her, she said she agreed to take our goods for sale, showed our price list, said we could basically bring everything, payments they make once a week, on Thursdays.”

“Great! Let’s make the waybill, Petya will be here at ten, we’ll load him up and go!”

“Yes, we can make the waybill,” Sergey nodded.

“Fuck, the computer’s not on yet!” I stared at the dead screen.

“Yes, we should turn it on and do the waybill,” Sergey sighed.

“Why didn’t you turn on the computer!?” I was surprised. “You should have done it a long time ago!”

“I was thinking about waiting for you to make a decision together, and I was absorbed in the newspaper,” Sergey stood up and began to go through the sheets of paper lying on Vera’s table.

“Ah,” I nodded. “Well, come on, turn on the computer, Seryoga, let’s do the waybill quickly!”

“Maybe you type and I’ll dictate?” he froze.

“I’ve never worked in your program!” I threw up my hands, walked over to the stool and sat down. “You’re the one who knows it well. Go ahead, turn it on!”

“Uh-huh…” Sergey said hesitantly. “Well, okay.”

When he sat down at the computer, he looked absent-mindedly at the monitor, the keyboard, and touched the mouse. I picked up the newspaper and stared at it. Sergey leaned under the table and started fiddling with the system unit with his fingers. Impatiently I put the newspaper aside, jumped up and in two steps was beside Sergey, looked under the desk and said: “What are you doing there!?”

“Just a moment, uh-huh,” he said in a squeaky voice.

Sergey’s fingers crawled around the system unit, pressing every place that looked like a button, all the way past the standard power button.

“Doesn’t he know how to turn on a computer or what?” I wondered, immediately dismissing the thought as absurd and saying impatiently: “Seryoga, what are you doing in there!?”

“How… how does it turn on?” he panted, still fumbling. “I think I forgot.”

“Let me turn it on!” I said, and as Sergey straightened up, I quickly reached down and poked my finger where it should be. The computer came to life. Then I pressed the button on the screen.

“Can you take it from here?” I said.

“Yes, I can,” he sniffed his nose in confusion. “I just forgot how it’s turned on.”

This incident aroused my curiosity, and I decided to continue watching Sergey. All the time, while the computer was making senile electronic noises while booting up, he had his hand on the mouse, moving it with trembling fingers, pretending to be busy.

“Looks like he really knows nothing about computers,” I thought to myself, seeing the confused look on my partner’s face and remembering how inept Sergey had been with it back at “Sasha”.

“Did you start the waybill?” I said as soon as the computer stopped rattling and creaking.

“Not yet… Here…” Sergey jerked the mouse. “Yes, a really slow computer.”

The storekeeper came in. He opened the office door a little, looked through the crack, said hello.

“Hi, Senya!” I said cheerfully.

“Yes, Senya, hi,” Sergey murmured without taking his eyes off the monitor.

“Well, if you need me, I’ll be at my place,” the storekeeper said and went to his “kennel”.

“What is it now?” I looked at Sergey.

“Well, I can’t find where Vera’s program is.”

My cell phone rang. Petya. He said he was going to be late because of a small breakdown. The call had barely ended when Senya’s head popped back into the office: “What, did Petya have a breakdown?”

“He did, but he said he’d be here at noon. So there will still be loading today, Senya,” I nodded at the head, which said, “Uh-huh, I see,” and disappeared again.

“Damned audibility here,” I said in a half-whisper to Sergey.

“Yeah, he can hear everything,” he pursed his lips. “The walls are thin.”

I tapped the wall behind me with my knuckles.

“You called me?” the head immediately poked through the door.

“No, Senya. I just wanted to know what the wall between us is made of,” I said.

As soon as the head said “Uh-huh, I see” again and disappeared, Sergey and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. We began to choke, which only made us laugh harder.

“So what’s up with the program?” I said, barely out of the fun.

“Yeah, just a minute!” Sergey forced himself out, wiping the corners of his eyes. “Tears came out. Do tears come out when you laugh?”

“Nope,” I shook my head, grinning from ear to ear.

“And I have them all the time, especially when I laugh a lot,” Sergey said, blinking and sniffing a few times, he calmed down, exhaled. “Oh man, Senya!”

I couldn’t stand it any longer, got up from my stool and walked over to Sergey: “What’s up with the program!?”

He immediately grabbed the mouse and focused on the monitor.

“Well, it looks like this one!?” I said from memory. “Click it.”

Sergey moved the arrow to the icon. He clicked once, his fingers trembled, he clicked again.

“No, Seryoga! Double click, two in a row!”

“Yeah, I know… Right…” he fussed and clicked it at the third try.

“Oh! Yes, that’s it! Come on, start a waybill!” I rejoiced, and as soon as the program ran, I sat down on the stool and picked up the price list.

Sergey huffed and puffed for another five minutes. I waited patiently.

“That’s it, come on, what shall we type?” he finally said.

The next half hour felt like a year – I called up the item, price and amount, while Sergey typed slowly and carefully, checking the monitor after each click. I watched his trembling fingers and managed to read half of the newspaper. Finally, I heard a woman’s footsteps in the corridor.

“Oh, Vera, hurray!” I burst out. “Come on in! We’re helpless here without you!”

“What? Did you miss me, boys?” The floral scent of perfume was followed by a whiff of the positive life in the office. “What happened here?”

“Vera, sit down,” Sergey muttered and made way for his wife.

She hung her bag on the chair, sat down, and immediately ran her eyes over the monitor.

“So, what’s this waybill? Oh, I see… No, it’s not like that… Seryozha, you could put a discount on it and that’s it… And you’ve got the wrong place for the contracting agent… Well, okay, I’ll fix it…”

Vera’s fingers fluttered over the keyboard, and in half a minute everything was done.

“Shall I print it?” she looked at me and her husband.

“Yes, Vera, print it,” Sergey sighed, standing against the wall and chewing his lip in confusion.

The printer whistled and produced a sheet. Sergey took it and stamped it.

“We should get a second seal,” I suggested.

“What for?” Sergey frowned.

“It’s for waybills and documents, we’ll write ‘for documents’ on it,” I said. “That’s handy. The main seal is for contracts, and the second one is for current papers.”

“Yeah, okay,” Sergey nodded. “Let’s do it.”

“Will there be more waybills?” Vera looked at both of us.

“Yes, Vera, ‘Mercury’ has to be done,” I said.

Poke, poke, poke – lightning movements of her fingers and the answer, “All right, I’m ready!”

Five minutes and the waybill is ready. Sergey picked up the seal again and said:

“We need to buy a stapler! By the way, I have a stationery set at home. Left over from my last job, I’ll bring it over.”

“Great,” I nodded. “I’m going for a smoke. So what’s with the pharmacies, Vera?”

Outside I sat down on the fence again. Vera and Sergey came out next.

“How quiet it is here!” exclaimed Vera.

“Yes, Verok, it’s a quiet place, and I’m beginning to like it, too,” Sergey said.

Vera made a deal with the largest pharmacy chain in town and said there were other smaller chains she would talk to next week. Sergey reminded her of the out-of-town client. He put his hands behind his back and paced the path.

“We need to make a contract with them,” I said.

“Just for the salts?” Sergey turned theatrically and looked at me playfully.

At times, he displayed a childlike and direct demeanor that I liked. Sergey casually explained that he was friends with a manager from another city, that “Sasha” bartered with this company, that they have a lot of goods and their prices are two or three percent better than “Arbalest”.

“Great! Well, you’ll call them then, won’t you?” I said.

“Yes, I will, no problem,” Sergey nodded as he continued down the path.

Petya arrived. He started to apologize, but after getting the waybills for loading, he left with Senya for the warehouse. All three of us returned to the office.

“What are you doing on Saturday?” Sergey said.

“Is that tomorrow? I don’t know, I’ll probably sleep it off after the party at the club!” I said, and when I realized that was exactly what was going to happen, I laughed.

“Why are you laughing all the time!?” Sergey was pretentiously indignant at my serenity, holding back a smile with his bitten lip. There was a hint of envy in his emotion.

“No reason,” I shrugged and continued to chuckle.

“You and Vovan are going there tonight, aren’t you?”

“Sure we are!” I said, laughing again.

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