Chapter 024

“Let’s go to ‘Pelican’!” Sergey suddenly jumped out of his chair.

I agreed. All the work was done, no new things were expected that day, and it didn’t seem interesting to the three of us to sit in a small room for a few hours.

“If anything, we’ll be in touch!” Sergey looked at his wife. “Call Romka.”

As he got behind the wheel of the “Mazda,” he put on his glasses with a practiced move, deftly slipped the key into the ignition, theatrically turned his head and looked at me through the glasses, his lips barely twitching in a smile, and said: “Let’s go!?”

“Yes!” I nodded, feeling that Sergey’s joy at owning a car had not yet dissolved into the routine of life, but continued to invigorate him, manifesting itself in every movement. It gave his posture and gait a serene importance and displaced his restlessness. I could feel Sergey’s state of mind. He wanted my participation in his joy. I didn’t refuse, and from time to time I admired the car sincerely. Sergey would immerse himself in bliss and beam with satisfaction. I felt that participatory admiration was in demand, like oxygen, in all quantities. And this need drove him to make spontaneous trips with me everywhere on unimportant occasions. A week earlier, Sergey had encouraged me to come to my house to pick up a document that was not urgent. I could have brought it the next day. But Sergey insisted. And while I was going to the apartment, he started pacing near the “Mazda” that was parked in the driveway, waiting for me. My father saw us arrive and I found him smoking on the balcony. After asking, “Is this the car Sergey bought?” and getting an answer, he stood up straight and froze, looking at the “Mazda”. As if sensing his interest, Sergey turned around, glanced at the balcony through his glasses, and continued walking around the site. On his way back, his face lit up, his lips twitched contentedly. I suddenly had a hunch that the real purpose of the trip was just to show off.

“I’m going to say hello to Vovka!” I said when we arrived at “Pelican”.

“All right!” Sergey said admonishingly, opened his door, stretched out his leg, put his hands behind his head and relaxed.

After getting a few sheets of paper from the sales room and studying the sales, I staggered toward the office building. Vovka’s yelling could be heard in the hallway. I looked into the office – several people were discussing the trade in a lively manner. I went outside and a minute later Vovka jumped out.

“What’s up, bigwig, sales are booming, money is flowing?” he barked, staring at me.

Tearing myself away from the papers, I looked at my friend and smiled.

“I knooow!” Vovka said. “They are flowing! I saw your leftovers! You bring us more and more goods, you get fat! Make money, bigwigs!”

The blue “Peugeot” appeared at the entrance to the depot, drove half the distance to us, and froze. Staring at the car, we froze as well. A brunette got out.

“Wow!” I put all my thoughts into one sound.

“Wooow!!!” Vovka roared. “A juicy broad! Daddy knows who to credit!”

The brunette entered the building of the old depot office and our brains came to their senses.

“Do you think he’s… crediting her?” I giggled.

“Hee-hee-hee!!!” Vovka smacked his lips. “I’d credit a woman like that a few times myself!”

Still staring at the car, I remained silent.

“Well, where did you park!?” said Vovka impatiently. “You came with that, what’s his name… Seryoga!? What were you driving!? Your father is not with you now, is he?”

“No, he’s not,” I said, feeling a pang of conscience. “Seryoga’s ‘Mazda’. There it is, where we used to park…”

I stumbled over the word “we,” which reminded me of “us,” me and my father. Already in the past.

“Come on, let’s go see what kind of ‘Mazda’ you bought!” Vovka barked.

We went. We passed the “Peugeot” and turned into a narrow entrance. A car came towards us. We stopped and leaned against the wall. The car slowed down as we approached the entrance. The driver was Vovka’s former boss.

Bzzz – the driver’s door window slid down.

“Hi,” he said to me, leaning back on the headrest with confidence.

“Hello,” I said, a little taken aback.

“How are you? Is everything all right?” He added friendly and obviously formal.

“Yes, everything is fine,” I blurted out confusedly, thinking of Vovka.

“Well, okay,” Petrovich said, looking at Vovka and adding, “All right, bye.”

While I was muttering back either “bye” or “goodbye,” the “Alfa Romeo” drove away.

I looked at Vovka, he was standing there with his face red to the roots of his hair.

“Hey, what is he doing here!? Didn’t you say he got kicked out of ‘Pelican’!?”

“Petrovich works for that chick at the ‘Peugeot’, she’s in charge of frozen chicken legs!” Vovka said irritated and went quickly to the gates of the depot.

“Reeeally!?” I caught up with him and pulled his elbow. “Wow! I didn’t know! How did he get there!?”

“She has branches all over town, and Petrovich works as a wholesale manager at one of them.”

“Wow! I wonder if he’s mad at you, if he knows you got him kicked out.”

“I don’t give a fuck, Ramses! Whether he knows it or not! He’s a fuckin’ faggot who takes money all by himself and doesn’t share it with anyone!”

We walked out of the gate. Sergey strutted around the “Mazda” with his hands behind his back.

“Did you buy this!?” Vovka barked when we were a few meters away.

Sergey turned and walked slowly towards us, around the hood.

“Hiya!” Vovka said in response to Sergey’s greeting, shaking his hand vigorously, glancing at him and staring at the car. “Well, not bad! She’s all right!”

As if offering to take a look at the car, Sergey gently stepped aside, and Vovka’s cell phone on his belt rang. After a short conversation on the phone, he turned somber and said: “Okay, Ramses, I’m leaving! Work’s fucked me up! It’s a nice car! I’ll call you later,” he said and staggered back to the depot.


Rita was going to the sea on Friday. Wanting to dissolve the residue of the previous events, I called her and arranged to meet her on Thursday evening. Guilty as I was, I bought a heavy bouquet of flowers from the florist and went to the summer café, accompanied by Vovka. Rita was already sitting at one of the tables with two of her friends. The meeting was quick and uneventful. Rita responded to my “hi” with a sly grin, a raised eyebrow, and a sarcastic look at the bouquet I immediately handed her. The girl twirled it in her hand and put it carelessly on the table. My spirits fell, Vovka frowned, and Rita’s friends giggled. There was no trace of the desire to make things work. Resisting the urge not to leave immediately, I treated Rita to a cocktail and ordered the same for myself and Vovka. The conversation didn’t work. Rita kept a cool distance with a bored look on her face. After I finished my cocktail, I wished her a nice vacation and told her I would call her.

“Okay,” the girl said wearily, raising her eyebrows again.

I said goodbye in a hurry, and Vovka followed me out.

“Fuck, Ritka is so grumpy…” he said.

“We’re not going to make it,” I said, calm on the outside but seething on the inside. “Let her go, I’ll call her a few times and that’s it. She doesn’t care, and I’m not a horse to pull us forward on my own.”

Vovka was silent and I burst out.

“She’s fucking twisting her face! Fucking sitting there!” I said angrily.

“Come on, Ramses… She’s young, that’s why she’s acting…”

“I don’t give a fuck! That’s her problem!” I cut him off and came back to reality – we were on our way to the club – my mood lifted. “We’re going to the ‘Skies’ tonight, right, Vovan?”

“Fuck, Ramses! Of course we are!” He grinned at me. “What the fuck kind of question is that? I’m going on vacation tomorrow! When if not today?”


“You’re going out with Vovan tonight as usual, aren’t you?” Sergey said towards the end of Friday as he sat at his office desk aimlessly flipping through papers.

I shook my head negatively and added sourly that Vovka was going on vacation.

“Go out with a girl,” Vera suggested, looking away from the monitor.

I shook my head again – the girl had gone south.

“We had a fight with her anyway!” I added, chuckling.

“Nice one, Roman!” Sergey giggled after me.

Vera was sympathetically silent.

“I’ll meet someone else,” I brushed it off. “There are other fish in the sea.”

“Why can’t you go out without Vovan?” Sergey said. “You might as well meet the new broad!”

Vera gave her husband a displeased look, the word “broad” clearly hurt her ears.

“Of course I can! He and I ain’t one-egg brothers! It’s just kind of boring on my own…” I thought about it and decided, “I’ll probably go alone tonight… I don’t want to stay at home!”

“Exactly!” Vera supported me. “Go as long as you’re not married, otherwise it’s over.”

“That’s right, Roman, go! Otherwise you’ll end up with two kids like me and that’s it, finished…”

Vera glanced at her husband petulantly again. I got up and went to the bathroom, and when I came back, I found Sergey doing the usual thing – poking his fingers into the fax buttons, dialing a number.

“Who are you calling?” I asked with a hidden thought swirling in my head.

“‘WholeSale,'” he muttered.

I remembered Sergey’s wish – to enter frequent numbers into the fax memory, and smiled to myself – he never did. Sergey kept poking at the fax machine, but he still didn’t make his job any easier. Why not?

“Seryoga, just put the numbers in the memory!” I said. “Why suffer every time?”

“Yes, Roman, I’m gonna have to,” he exhaled heavily and picked up the phone.

“Let me, I’ll set it up!” I said as soon as Sergey was done talking on the phone.

“Yes, Roman, please!” He immediately jumped up from his chair in relief.

We swapped places. Holding back a smile, I entered a dozen numbers into the memory of the speed dial buttons in a few minutes using the manual.


“Go ahead, take your furniture and get the fuck out of here, asshole!” My mother’s words hit my ears as I crossed the threshold of the apartment. “How you’ve fucked me up already, if you only knew! You and your son, two assholes! Running around with your money! Fucking businessmen! Others have already bought cars and done a hundred renovations in their apartments, but we’re still living in cowsheds! Sleeping on junk! Miser!”

I froze at the entrance. My mother was pacing from room to room, and my father was on the balcony.

“Why are you fighting?” I said as my mother passed by.

“Oh, you weren’t asked, for fuck’s sake! Shut the fuck up!” She waved me off and said over her shoulder, “As much of an asshole as your daddy!”

I clenched my teeth, boiling inside, and went to the bathroom in silence.

“Right…” I said there, shaking my head.

I couldn’t remember any other life. I guess we must have lived differently once. And then all this started: yelling, cursing, insulting, swearing. And what was frightening was that there was no end in sight for such a life. “I have to get out of this house or I’ll rot here,” I thought, and I went out of the bathroom. My mother was approaching my father for another attack. I cautiously went into the kitchen and started to heat soup on the stove. My mother’s voice came from the balcony. The same. I sat down at the table to eat.

“Fucking asshole!” my mother came into the kitchen, her face twisted in anger. “You nagged the life out of me, bitch! Why the fuck did I marry you!? We broke up twice! But yes, the devil dared me to come back to you! I thought, well, he’s good, he’s decent, he doesn’t drink, he’s smart!”

My mother fell silent and rummaged mechanically and aimlessly through the kitchen drawers, slamming each one with hatred, then picked up matches from the windowsill and glared at me.

“What are you looking at!?” She barked and walked out of the kitchen. “I’m so fucking sick of both of you! I wish I’d never seen you again! You sucked the life out of me!”

My mother rummaged through my father’s clothes in the hallway, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, took two, shoved the pack back, and went into her room, slamming the door loudly.

After I ate, I went to see my father. If you hit a spot long enough, it becomes numb and insensitive. After worrying about it at first, I became more relaxed about my mother’s behavior and accepted it as a given. “When I buy an apartment, I’ll move out of here and forget all this and be the happiest person in the world,” I thought, imagining myself lying on the couch in an empty new apartment, listening to the endless silence. Only a miracle could save me. “I’ll have my own place when I’m thirty!” I repeated to myself, gritting my teeth and stepping out onto the balcony.

My father sat with his chest on the windowsill, watching the summer life of the yard.

“Hey, have you collected all our money yet?” I said, sitting down on the couch at the edge.

“Yes, almost all of it,” my father said, turning to me and rubbing his face with his hands as if he were sleepy. “Twenty thousand left in a few depots, and that’s it.”

“Do you keep it in your savings book at the bank?”

My father nodded and yawned.

“How much is there now?”

“Six hundred and twenty or thirty or so, I’ll have to look it up…”

“Never mind… It’s already clear,” I waved my hand. “Well, not bad!”

We fell silent. My mother walked out onto the balcony, turned around, glared at both of us, and then, gritting her teeth, walked out belligerently.

“Look, maybe we really should get new beds?” I said. “Mom’s right, you know. She sleeps on a piece of junk, and we have old stuff, too. Let’s get new ones?”

“Maybe we will,” my father replied.

There was a pause and I was about to leave when my father said: “I saw Vasily today…”

I didn’t immediately realize who he was talking about. My father reminded me, adding that when they met, he bragged to him that he had bought his son an apartment. Not just bought, but cleverly sold a forty-forty-meter one-bedroom apartment and bought a sixty-meter two-bedroom apartment. The house where he bought the apartment was being built at the end of our street by an unknown company, it was their first construction site. It was still under construction.

“It’s like a miracle,” I reacted to the news.

“He’s greedy, that Vasya!” my father said.

“It’s suspicious. He can get into trouble with his greed. He gives away money like that and he won’t even see the apartment! Well, that’s his problem…”

It could happen. New companies would often appear, start building apartment buildings, build two or three stories to be safe, collect money during that time, and disappear. The duped buyers were left to walk along the fence of the empty site and stare dejectedly at the unfinished hulk of the building.


“Were you in the army?” Sergey asked as we walked out of the warehouse on another day. It was a pleasant early-August heat. We waddled lazily toward the office, me in rubber flip-flops and Sergey in sandals. We were both wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts.

“Of course I was!” I was surprised by the question. There were a lot of guys who dodged the draft, but I never asked myself that question. A healthy guy who hadn’t been in the army wasn’t a man to me. The weak and sickly were another matter.

“Everything as it should be – boots, machine gun, guard duty, forced marches!” I added cheerfully.

“I was on guard duty too,” Sergey said immediately.

“Where? In the army?”

“No, not in the army. We had special courses at school that selected the best before the draft who would like to serve, I immediately enrolled in the paratroopers.”

“Wow!” I was amazed. “Seryoga, the paratrooper!”

“You shouldn’t laugh!” He pouted a little. “We got serious training there. I even have a certificate that says I did three parachute jumps!”

“Wow!” I was more surprised, struck by another fact of my partner’s life. “You were a parachutist! Really cool!”

“It was serious!” Sergey chuckled contentedly.

“Yeah, cool!” I shook my head, feeling even more respect for him. “No, I didn’t have that kind of training. Well, I worked out for a few years before the army, that’s all.”

“Yeah, I went to the gym too,” Sergey added. “When I was in boxing class.”

“How much did you bench press?” I asked, then answered myself: “At eighteen I did one hundred and five. I took third place in my troop’s competition…”

“Well, I did about the same, maybe a little more,” Sergey said carelessly. “About a hundred and ten or a hundred and fifteen, that’s about it.”

“Did they teach you how to disassemble a machine gun?”

“I’m telling you, we had everything there!” Sergey said, a little irritated. “Well, what do you think, if you’re a paratrooper!”

I burst into a nagging nerd and started asking questions: “How long did it take you to disassemble and assemble it? What was your standard? Actually, what was the standard, do you know?”

“Well, I don’t really remember…” Sergey started. “We didn’t do it against the clock…”

“Not against the clock is not interesting!” I brushed off. “Forty seconds is the standard! I disassembled and assembled it in twenty seconds! And without any fuss! You just have to know the little tricks… For example, you know how to get a ramrod fast!?”

I looked at Sergey, who was listening to my speech with a sour face and obvious disinterest.

“How did you take the ramrod out?” without getting an answer, I couldn’t stop myself.

“How did I take it out?” Sergey twitched nervously. “I just took it out! And that’s all!”

“Nah, too long!” I smiled smugly, getting a chance to trump knowledge. “You hit it with the palm of your hand from the bottom up! And the ramrod jumps out of the holder, then you just take it out and that’s it… If you pull it like you did, it’ll take at least three seconds, or even five seconds, and you’ll tear your fingers off… but like this! It just pops out! It takes one second…”

We walked up to the office building and dove into its coolness.


I called Rita twice. And on the first call I understood everything. The girl communicated dryly, her one-word sentences sounded reluctant. I wished her a good rest and said goodbye. The second time, a week later and for nothing, the conversation was even shorter. “Hello-Bye.” There were touches of happiness in Rita’s voice that I didn’t attach any significance to at the time.


For some reason, the last conversation I had with Sergey had been running through my mind for a few days. It was as if my brain was looking for inconsistencies in his words. And it found one. A hunch flew through my brain, and when we walked from the warehouse to the office, I attacked Sergey with a lot of questions.

“So you were on guard duty before the loyalty oath?”

“Well, yes, I told you, we had pre-military training there, basic military training,” he answered carelessly, with the same slight irritation in his voice.

My partner’s nervousness surprised me, but I put it down to my meticulousness.

“Wait! Basic military training is before the oath, it’s already in the unit, but you haven’t taken the oath yet, but they’ve already given you the uniform and they’ve already started bullying you!?” I half-questioned, at the same time searching my memory and looking at Sergey intently.

“So,” he muttered expectantly.

“So it turns out you were not in the unit, but in the school, and already on guard with a machine gun or what?” I clarified.

“Well… Well, yes, with a machine gun,” Sergey muttered again.

“How could you go on guard duty with a machine gun before taking the oath!?” I stared at him. “They don’t let you hold a gun at all until you’ve taken the oath. Well, they might let you shoot with the instructor, but they wouldn’t let you take someone else’s machine gun!” I snapped.

“No, I mean, it wasn’t like a machine gun, it was like… like a real one… but made of wood…”

“A wooden one!?” I almost laughed.

“Well, yes, a wooden one…” Sergey said reluctantly.

“Why did you tell me it was real!?” I was surprised and threw up my hands. “It wasn’t the basic military training, but some childish outpost, like a pioneer camp! And I thought…”

We walked on in silence, fortunately the office was nearby. The pause was awkward, as if I had caught Sergey in a small lie. And I had caught him by accident, just wanting to get to the details of the vaguely described story. By the end of the day the embarrassment was gone, but it left a cloudy spot in my mind. And as is my nature, I began to rummage through it. The first thing that emerged from the blur was the scene of pouring cement into the hole in the warehouse. After turning it over in my mind, I suddenly realized that Sergey had done nothing during the work. Senya and I were responsible for the hole, Sergey was just present. The scene crept back to the spot and left me brooding.


“Did you sell all your goods or not?” I clarified, sitting in the office and looking at the sales. Sergey’s goods were gone from the warehouse, and since they were in the depots, they appeared in the company’s report as a debt to him. The amount was insignificant, and I decided to settle the matter immediately.

“Well, almost… A little leftover from air fresheners and such, a little something… Why?”

“Vera, write off the amount!” I said. “Seryoga will take it out of the common fund, and that’s it! Right, Seryoga?”

I looked at my partner. As if he couldn’t keep up with the thought, he said after a pause: “Well, we could do that…” Tapping the keys, Vera said: “That’s it, done!”

Sergey sluggishly reached into his briefcase, pulled out a bundle of money and looked at his wife:

“How much is there, Vera? Eight…?”

She said the amount again.

“Well, I have no change, how can I take these kopecks?” Sergey protested.

“Well, take eight seven hundred and fifty! Then return the difference!” I offered. “See how great it turned out – you got your goods through the company, took the money from the common fund, and that’s all! Otherwise, you would have had to suffer and deliver the goods yourself and then run to collect the money!”

Sergey listened to me carefully, counted the money, put it in the other pocket of his briefcase, zipped it up and said:

“Vera, I have to buy a purse, it’s already uncomfortable.”

After lunch, a car with a lot of barter goods rolled into the warehouse, and we decided to help Senya unload it. The three of us formed a living chain – Sergey near the car, me and Senya near the empty pallets. The driver handed over the boxes from the back of the car. We started quickly. Boxes flashed in my hands, piled up on the pallets. Sergey, standing under the morning and already hot sun, quickly began to sweat profusely and to limp.

“Wait, let’s slow down a little!” he said, out of breath.

“What is it, Seryoga? The leg?” I said.

“Yup… It hurts,” Sergey grimaced and looked down.

“If anything, we can switch places!” I suggested, not tired at all.

“Nah, that’s not necessary,” he brushed me off and added, “Senya, let’s swap with you!”

Senya rushed to the car, Sergey staggered into the warehouse.

“Come on, give it to me,” he said, wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.

We were done in about twenty minutes. Now there were columns of boxes to the right of the warehouse entrance. They were two meters high and stretched up to the wall.

“Done!?” said Sergey, holding his hand to his lower back.

“Yes!” shouted Senya. “That’s it, Seryozha!”

Limping, Sergey headed for the exit. When I caught up with him, I asked: “What’s wrong with your leg?”

“My heel broke,” he grimaced, waddling.

“What do you mean, broke?”

Sergey stood up and turned his foot around – there was a three-centimeter crack in the skin.

“Geez!” I was stunned, I had never seen anything like that before. “Does it hurt a lot?”

“Like hell,” Sergey grimaced and waddled off again. “You ain’t seen nothing yet. Last summer they both burst at the same time, one so bad that a pencil could fit in it a centimeter.”

I imagined the scene and shuddered.

“Yeah, Roman, this shit happens every summer! God put a pin in me! Here!” Sergey made a movement, poking the air upward with his index finger, as if he were putting an invisible knife under someone’s ribs. “And this ichthyosis too…”

“What ichthyosis???” I asked, hearing the word for the first time.

“There…” Sergey paused and pointed a finger down. “See the netting on the skin…”

I leaned forward and examined his foot. The fine combs that covered the skin above the arch made it look like the cracked surface of a waterless desert.

“Ah-ha…” I said, still not understanding. “And what is that?”

“The skin dries out quickly and becomes like this. It lacks water. I have to wash often to keep it moist. In the summer the dust gets in and it itches. I didn’t even get into the army because of ichthyosis…” Sergey explained.

“So you weren’t in the army!?” I stared at him in surprise, convinced from Sergey’s previous stories that he had served in the army.

“They wouldn’t let me, I tell you!” My partner grinned sacrificially. “You think I’m not upset!? I prepared so much and the doctors ruined it. I even begged them, but they wouldn’t let me.”

“Ah-ha…” I said confusedly and fell silent.


“We could also sell poisons!” Sergey said the next day, chewing his lip, sitting in a chair against the wall with his arms crossed and, as if on cue, kicking his legs.

“What poisons?” I broke off from the waybill.

“Well, poisons… From rats, mice, rodents of all kinds!” He explained, tensing and uttering: “Isect… isecti… isectin… isecticides!”

I smiled inwardly. Obviously not knowing how to pronounce the word, Sergey said it confusedly, as if he wanted to skip the word quickly to hide his ignorance.

“Insecticides?” I said.

“Yes, isecticides,” he glided over the word again and added, “There’s a manufacturer in the south, I worked with him at ‘Sasha’, delivered in spring and fall.”

We quickly discussed all the details of the prospectus and by the end of the day we had the manufacturer’s price list and the terms of cooperation in our hands. The last sheet of the price list, which was struggling to come out of the fax machine, got stuck in the middle due to a broken connection.

“We have to get the Internet, it’s retarded to get prices by fax!” I said.

Vera supported me and at the same time suggested installing an Internet bank where you could sign payments remotely and not have to go to the bank every time. She added:

“It’s also cheaper. Now we pay a thousand a month for the service, and it will be five hundred.”

“Oh! It’s cheaper!” Sergey perked up. “Of course, we have to get it.”


Sergey and I jumped out of the office in a cheerful mood and jumped into the “Mazda”.

“We’ve made a good start, haven’t we?” I blurted out excitedly.

“What do you mean?” Sergey put on his glasses and started the car.

“We started working without any money! We took goods from all the postponed orders and started spinning them, transferring money between suppliers!” I waved my hands emotionally.

“Aha, that…” Sergey looked down the road as we passed the factory gate and rolled toward the crossing. “Well, we didn’t start out of nowhere! We knew each other a little before, so we decided to team up. We chose each other, it’s not just a shot in the dark. I chose you, you chose me. What did you choose me for?”

“What do you mean?” I didn’t understand, looking out the window at the landscape of summer heat.

“What did you like about me?” Sergey exclaimed.

The question stuck in my mind. The word “like” and the image of Sergey, a man, didn’t stick, floating apart in my head. Perplexed, I turned to my partner and said:

“What do you mean, like!?”

“Well! Like! What did you like about me? What qualities!? Funny…”

“How can you start a business with a man because he’s funny!?” I interrupted. “I never thought of you in the like/dislike category! I was after the goods! My father and I were in desperate need of a new product. We wanted to get into the aerosol business. We didn’t just buy them from you. We tried them and decided to look for a manufacturer, and then ‘Sasha’ collapsed, and here it is – ‘Aerosib’! I immediately told my father, ‘We have to get ‘Aerosib’,’ and he agreed. Then I met you and talked to you. You happened to have this exclusive contract… We thought about it and decided that we could merge! ‘Aerosib’ is a big piece! We didn’t want to miss it…”

When I finished, I stared out the window again. We drove the remaining meters to the crossing in silence. Surprised by the silence, I looked at Sergey. He was driving and chewing his lip. His eyes were hidden behind his glasses. As soon as we reached the crossing, it rang its bells, flashed its red semaphores and lowered the barrier. We stopped. I hummed.

“What?” Sergey said.

“No reason… I just remembered…” I hummed again. “Women never cease to amaze me!”

The next minute Sergey heard the story of my trip to the market with Rita and the girl’s opinion that I was dressed wrong.

“Roman, well, she’s right,” he said. “Would you go out with a chick whose clothes suck?”

“Fuck, Seryoga, my clothes don’t suck! I just don’t dress the way she wants me to!”

“I mean, you’re right… I didn’t put it that way… She thinks so. You actually dress okay, you have taste, but it’s so, so special, and she likes that there were white pants, white shoes, not those pegs of yours. Well, she’s like that… chicks, who the hell knows what they want?!”

A shunting locomotive crawled across the crossing into the city.

“I used to try to look good before Verok,” my partner continued. “I always came to a date in a jacket with a flower and a choker!”

“What choker!?” I was surprised.

“Well, a tie!” Sergey imitated a tie worn from the neck down with his hand.

“It’s a funny name,” I chuckled, “I’ve never heard it before.”

The crossing opened. An elderly woman in a yellow vest came out of the cabin with a flag in her hand, held it up in front of her, and stood frozen. We passed by.

“I pictured you in a jacket with a flower on it…” I smiled.

“Why are you laughing?” Sergey smiled too. “What times we had in the past! The nineties! The devastation! I used to deliver concrete to construction sites in a ‘ZIL’ truck…”

It turned out that when he was eighteen, Sergey worked for about six months in a building and construction department, getting little pay, but moonlighting and managing to buy an imported jacket that cost…

“Like a mo-onth’s wa-age-es!” he spelled it out for effect, and after a pause he continued. “I remember the first time. I was driving the ‘ZIL’ to the mortar station for loading, it was filling up with concrete, I was standing on the side smoking… A woman came up, I knew she was a forewoman from the neighboring construction site… She said: ‘Would you like to make some money?’ I look around, I’m scared, it’s the first time I’ve been offered something like that. I don’t know anything, I’ve been working for about a week… I’m standing there shaking and I’m like, ‘Sure…’ She said, “Well, don’t take the mortar there, but here…’ She gave me the address… I went, dumped the concrete on some private property, they gave me the money… I counted it, almost a month’s salary… and I bought a jacket…then I drove a few more times – it was okay. I got money, bought sneakers, started smoking imported cigarettes… ‘Camel’, ‘Marlboro’…”

I looked out of the window and listened with interest, but Sergey suddenly stopped talking.

“Why did you leave?” I looked at him.

“I drove the ‘ZIL’ once, I don’t remember where, but with a full body, carrying concrete somewhere…” Sergey began, choosing his words carefully. “I stopped at a traffic light, turned off the engine and put on the handbrake, but it didn’t hold… and the road was going uphill… and the ‘ZIL’ rolled backwards… I heard some yelling behind me, started it, was about to put the first one in to move it forward… and there’s this hand in the window! Pop!”

Sergey acted out what he said, ducked his hand from the window to the keys in the ignition, said smiling: “And pulled the keys out of the ignition! I didn’t even have time to realize it…”

“Did you hit someone behind you!?” I guessed.

“Yes. It was the hand of the ‘Zaporozhets’ driver who was behind me at the traffic light! He told me later that he was honking at me when the ‘ZIL’ moved, and when he understood that I couldn’t hear him, he ran towards the cabin… but he didn’t make it in time anyway.”

“So how badly did you hit the ‘Zaporozhets’?” I clarified, feeling the laughter coming on.

“Hit it… I ran over it and flattened its front half like a tin can… I was loaded with… c-o-n-c-r-e-t-e!!!”

We both laughed out loud. Sergey choked on his laughter, but it broke through. I choked in the same way and let out short chuckles. Almost calming down, Sergey looked at me and burst out laughing again. Thin trickles ran down his cheeks from under his glasses.

“Roman, damn it!” Sergey said after taking a breath, taking off his glasses and wiping away his tears.

“What Roman!? You crushed the ‘Zaporozhets’ like a can, not me!” I said, and Sergey immediately burst out laughing again. I followed him.

After about three minutes we got tired of laughing.

“Whew!” Sergey caught his breath and sniffed his nose.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” I exhaled. “‘ZIL’… with concrete… over ‘Zaporozhets’…”

And we started laughing again.

As we pulled up to the ‘Fort’ gatehouse, we barely had time to put on our serious expressions. The guard looked at the two stiff faces, made a note in the visitor’s book, gave us a pass, pushed a button, and the barrier went up.

“They’ve settled in nicely here!” I said as we parked and got out of the car. “It’s a big place! And the buildings are new…”

“Yeah,” Sergey said. “And three years ago they sat in a small shop…”

We split up – I went to the salesroom, and Sergey went to the office to get the money.

“Well, go and see Katyukha, then…” I adopted Sergey’s way of addressing the depot manager in a buddy-buddy way. “Talk about salts and poisons, okay?”

“Yes, I will!” Sergey waved the car keys carelessly and walked into the office.

I was in the salesroom for about twenty minutes before Sergey showed up and handed me two sheets of paper with our remaining goods from the depot. I quickly scanned the lines – sales were increasing week by week. The smell of money sent an endorphin rush through my brain.

“The dichlorvos are all sold!” Sergey said, breathing loudly. “We urgently need to get more while the weather is good! And we’re running out of dichlorvos, the cheapest! Fuck! What are we going to do?”

By that time, all manufacturers had switched to alcohol-filled cylinders, and only “Aerosib”, as an anachronism, produced a line of kerosene-based dichlorvos. It smelled terrible when sprayed, but because of the price, it sold five times more than all the other “Aerosib” dichlorvos combined. And we had the highest mark-up on it.

“Let’s order…” I answered my partner’s questioning look.

He stammered sluggishly – he said it might rain in a week, the fall would start, and then sales of dichlorvos would drop immediately.

“So? Do we stop working with ‘Aerosib’?” I smiled.

“Well, no, we don’t…”

I suggested not to take too much, to order carefully.

“What, we buy back the dichlorvos if there are any left over from the summer, right?”

I nodded and said that there would probably be a price increase at the factory by the new season. Sergey confirmed that there would be a ten percent increase.

“Well, you see, we’ll make another twenty percent just on the revaluation of the goods!”

“Yeah… Right,” Sergey exhaled. “So we decided, let’s order?”

“Sure!” I smiled and patted my partner on the shoulder. “Let’s go.”

On the way back, our conversation about women, the jacket and the choker resumed.

“So, Roman, you should always look good in front of chicks!” Sergey said.

“Otherwise, if I look like the driver of a ‘ZIL’, they won’t put it out,” I looked at him and grinned. “It’s just that I look norma…”

“You said it right! I always looked great! By the time the chicks found out I was working as a ‘ZIL’ driver, I had already managed to bone them,” Sergey said as if to sum it up.

I wondered. Well, I understood what was said, but the word “bone” made me shiver inside. It sounded cynical. Calculating.

“Weren’t you eighteen at the time?” I asked for some reason.

“Yeah, about that,” Sergey waved his hand and put it back on the lever.

“Eighteen years old,” I thought and remembered my adulthood, when I hadn’t even had my first sex yet.

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