Chapter 036

My mood for most of the rest of the holiday was ruined. I was in a deep emotional hole and all alone. In the family, relationships had reached the stage of complete idiocy. Mother, father, and son lived together and barely spoke to each other. It was the weekend and I didn’t know how to get out of this trap. My business partner? He has his own family, his own worries. Vovka? The same thing. He was going to make it official in a couple of months. Natasha? We were seeing each other. But it was weird. So calm and measured that I began to wonder if I was really interested in our relationship. It felt like a formality. I liked Natasha, but without admiration or inner fire. Our behavior was so similar that I began to suspect she had the same condition. Natasha’s work schedule was also not conducive to our relationship. She worked all the holidays without rest in different locations, substituting for her colleagues. Our communication during these days was reduced to two fleeting meetings. Half an hour together after ten at night, and she would go home to sleep, only to be back at work at eight the next morning.


Finally, the working days began. The weather was warm and dry, and the dichlorvos were selling like hotcakes. I regularly studied the electronic report and noted with satisfaction the growth of the number in the “profit” column. Sergey quickly became addicted to this activity as well.

“What’s the number?” He would ask me, nodding at the monitor.

I or Vera would press the buttons and the result would appear on the monitor. The “number” would grow for the whole current month, and then the peculiar game would start again. We had already gotten used to the fact that the monthly profit exceeded two hundred with a turnover of one million. Salaries and expenses – about eighty thousand. In total, we had a net profit of more than one hundred thousand.

I became addicted to reading newspapers. Sergey would bring a new one every week, and we would take turns reading it for a few days. Every day my father would literally cobble together a box for the “GAZelle” at the warehouse. Sergey and I would pass my father several times a day, and neither of us would say hello. My father would give me an icy, accusing look. I would look back at him with defiance, anger, pity, hatred, and even a little gloating. I felt pity – my father had literally been thrown overboard in a business we had worked hard to build together. Anger – for my father’s innate stubbornness, which sometimes turned into obsession. Hatred – because my father caused trouble for everyone for no reason. Defiance was in response to my father’s rebuke. I felt that my father cherished the thought of going back, of us asking him to come back because we were afraid to go on without him. Gloating because we went on without my father, business was booming, and my father was riveting plywood to the frame of the box.

“Roma!” my father said as Sergey and I passed the “GAZelle” again, coughing a few times, worried. “Could you come over, help me, hold it here?”

My father said it so humbly, and his look was so battered, that my pity grew stronger and drowned out all other feelings. I wanted to go to him and say, “Why are you suffering with this box? Why didn’t you work with us? Now you’re poking around in your dirty overalls and you don’t even know why.”

I climbed into the half-paneled box and forced myself to say:

“All right, what do I hold?”

“Press this sheet,” my father said, rubbing his nose, another gesture of embarrassment.

I pressed a sheet of plywood against the metal frame of the box. My father took a rivet gun, tacked the sheet in several places, and said discreetly: “That’s it, thank you…”

“You’re welcome,” I said dryly, jumping off the back of the truck, hiding behind it and beginning to catch up with Sergey at a slow pace. After he had passed behind the cabin of the “GAZelle”, he stopped ten meters away and waited for me with a mischievous grin. When I noticed this look, I lowered my eyes, my chest tightened – my father and I had never looked at each other during our brief conversation.

“So… that’s it? You helped?” Sergey said as soon as I got close to him.

“Yes, I did…” I nodded and kept walking, looking under my feet. I sighed, invisible hoops squeezing my chest, and exhaled. Sergey walked beside me and asked:

“So Anatoly Vasilievich would make a box and go for tomatoes or something?”

“Well, yeah, I think he said that…” I nodded.

“But how is he going to do that…? He’s never been in the business before… Does he know where to get them… prices…? And where will he sell them? He’s just gonna stand on the market and sell them or what!?”

“No, a ton and a half at the market is a week, or even two weeks. And the tomatoes will be dead in a week… He wants to sell them wholesale! He’s going to sell them at the ‘water market.'”

“Alone or what?” Sergey didn’t let up.

“No…” the crooked image of our parking lot neighbor popped into my head. “There’s this guy my father knows, Vasya. I think they’re going to buy and sell together. Let him do it, no use sitting at home. At least he’ll earn some money! A car makes at least a ten a week, one trip a week, that’s forty thousand! Otherwise, he’d be working here for fifteen thousand. Yes, he was right to leave. We’ll be comfortable without him, he won’t bore us with his tediousness, and he’ll earn more without us! It’s better for everyone!”

I shook off my heavy thoughts with a sigh of relief, feeling that I had found exactly the words I wanted to say to myself. My desire not to offend or hurt anyone in any situation was finally satisfied.

We passed the transformer box and approached the front yard before I snapped out of my thoughts and noticed that Sergey was also thoughtfully silent. It was as if he was trying to comprehend the new human construct changing around him.

I opened the creaking door of the building and ducked into the chill. Sergey followed.


“Wow!” I stared at the newspaper in amazement, unable to believe what I was reading.

It was a normal working day in the middle of May, and the three of us were sitting in the office.

“Hey, Seryoga!!” I tore myself away from the newspaper, looked at him, then at Vera, and read a fragment of the article. “According to analysts, in the summer of 2006 is expected to increase housing prices by fifty percent! And here’s the graph… 2005 – 20%, 2006 – 50%, 2007 – 20%, 2008 – 20%… Go figure!!??”

I froze and looked at my partner, and he looked at me.

“That means apartments will double in price in three years! That’s fucked up!” I said.

Sergey blinked a few times, exhaled, brushed it off, and, looking back at his papers, muttered: “There won’t be anything like that. It’ll be the usual, this… twenty percent, and that’s it.”

“I don’t really care!” I waved away, too. “I managed to buy an apartment! But just think, what if it really happens? Prices will skyrocket, and you won’t be able to buy those damn apartments! Mine is worth about nine hundred… and it’s going to be one million eight hundred… Hell of a price!”

I looked from Sergey to Vera and back again.

“Nah!” Sergey brushed it off again. “Apartments will go up in price the usual way, and that’s it…”

“Hmm, we’ll see!” I scratched the back of my head. “I’m curious myself…”


“We should definitely stop by the ‘Homeland’ and nail that dichlorvos crook!” I said, sitting with Sergey in the Mazda. In the morning we left the office for “Fort”. On the calendar it was May 22, Monday. We had stocked up on dichlorvos for our customers, and the sales weren’t long in coming. The supplies of dichlorvos were rapidly dwindling, and by the end of June we would need another batch. Sergey and I were gripped by business fever – a clear sense that things were looking up and we had to keep up the pace.

“Yeah,” Sergey said, “we should. Right, let’s take the leftovers from ‘Fort’ and stop by on the way back!”

Having received four sheets of leftovers, we returned to the car and began to study them.

“Oh, fuck me!” I exclaimed, looking at the last sheet. “Amount due: 112580.80!”

I stared at Sergey. My partner’s face became playfully serious, moved his eyebrows, then relaxed and smiled.

“Really!?” He reacted. “Come on, give it to me! Wow… One hundred and twelve thousand…”

“Seryoga, and it’s only Monday! That’s less than a week! Thursday is still three days away. At this rate, they’ll sell another fifty for sure!” I ran my eyes over the columns of sales and residuals – two-thirds of the numbers were transferred to the “sold” column.

“Man… how well things have progressed,” Sergey nodded, putting on his glasses and puckered his lips.

“We have to load Petya here today!” I got excited.

“Right, we can send him fully loaded…” Sergey said.

We passed the barrier and drove out of “Fort” and into “Homeland”.

“Come to think of it!” I was excited. “This is the first time we’ll get more than a hundred here! What was our maximum before? In February from the perfumery, how much did we get? Eighty!?”

“Then I got eighty-six thousand four hundred,” Sergey said the exact number.

“Well, you see!” I rubbed my hands together. “And now we’ll get about one hundred and fifty thousand! Great!”

“Right, our cash is really flowing…” Sergey said, maneuvering on the winding dirt road, raised his index finger, froze, reached for the phone in the niche by the gear knob, froze again. “Romych, remind me to call Tambov! Just this week a customer from there promised to pick up dichlorvos for the season… and he always takes a lot…”

We finally got onto a normal road and took the ring road.

“Listen, what do you think…” Sergey went on, “Maybe we could lower the price for Tambov, sell it like we did at ‘Sasha’, in seven or eight percent, and we’d be okay, huh?”

“Seryoga, what’s the point?” I was surprised. “You said yourself, he takes once a year at the beginning of the season and that’s all… he doesn’t show up until the next season… So why should we break the prices?”

“Yeah, right… I’m just saying… it’s just that we raised the prices so much!” Sergey grinned and shook his head. “I’m just not used to selling at such a markup…”

“Seryoga, people are just stupid! They could sell with a good markup, but they only make ten or twelve percent! And then they realize that they are really working for nothing! There is volume, but no profit. The warehouse eats up their five percent, two percent goes around, and what’s left is five percent! Who the fuck needs a business like that!?”

We rolled down the ring road and I went into monologue mode. Sergey didn’t interrupt, just bit his lips nervously. His eyes were hidden by the mirrors of his glasses, but his hands gripped the steering wheel tightly, betraying my partner’s excitement.

“I’ve said it before, Seryoga, and I’ll say it again… You and I have a unique situation. A rather large company closed down, and after it was left a good product… And we quickly realized that we should, well, sort of call ourselves the successors of ‘Sasha’. Especially since you worked there, everyone fell for it… And nobody started to claim this product…”

I shut up and turned to the window, diving into myself, trying to see the future.

“But I think this is a temporary situation…” I continued. “I think in a year or two, when they realize it, they will start checking us for a markup. There will just be more competition! And yes! You’re right – we could set a standard markup right now and work with it… But, Seryoga… we won’t make shit. We’re going to waste these two years, and then we’re going to wish we’d priced it higher. So I suggest we do what we are doing now – not stick to some mythical standard markup! That way we won’t make shit and, what’s worse, we won’t grow! If we run at the same speed as the bigger companies, we will only fall behind… It’s simple math – a big company with big sales will earn more on the shaft, and a small company will earn less… We’re a small company… and we have to work either faster or at a higher markup… That’s the only way, Seryoga…”

The car turned right off the ring road onto the road to “Homeland”.

“So, personally, I think we should be found guilty of excessive markups in two years and start whining… We can get out of this easily – we will reduce the markups to standard ones, and everyone will shut up and continue to take goods from us. Yes, maybe someone will fall off, but it won’t matter… At standard markups, we don’t give a fuck! But we will make our money, you know? And we’ll have our money right here.”  I pat myself on the pocket of my pants. “And fuck the rest of them! We’re not a charitable organization, we’re all here for one thing, to make money. So I suggest we earn the money we can earn… and we have that chance!”

Sergey was quiet. I finished, even exhausted, silent. We’re almost there.

“And what makes you think that someone will snoop around our goods, calculating markups?” Sergey said confused after a long thought. “Why would they do that?”

We rolled into the yard of “Homeland”, the picture was the same as before – two new red trucks stood in the corner of the yard, a truck was being unloaded in the warehouses, a five-ton truck was being loaded next to it, and two “GAZelles” were waiting for their turn. The increased activity in “Homeland” immediately caught my eye – in addition to the main part of the building, an unfinished part was functioning. Inside we could see stacks of goods. We drove up to the red trucks.

“Seryoga, they will, definitely, you’ll see…” I said, examining the yard and noting all the visible changes. “Everyone is looking for new goods to develop. The big ones are unlikely to come, although, of course, not a fact! But the small ones, like you and me, someone will definitely come… calculate the markup, get fucked up, and want a fat piece of it. That’s it.”

We got out of the car. I stretched out, giving my spine a nice workout.

“Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen…” Sergey’s lips curled unhappily, as if he was curling them from the unpleasant phrases that spoiled his good mood from the trip to “Fort”. “No one at ‘Sasha’ did that…”

“That’s right, Seryoga…” I nodded and walked towards the “Homeland” office. “We judge others by ourselves. I have always calculated the prices of competitors in search of a good product.”

Sergey, walking at the same leisurely pace, was a few steps behind me, and so he kept walking, catching up with me only in the middle of the courtyard. He was silent, and our dialog broke off of its own accord.

We passed the director’s car and ducked into the building. In the sales area, I immediately started scanning the merchandise. The prices were surprising. I started comparing them from memory with what other companies were offering and calculating the markup from “Homeland”. I thought about it – nothing matched! I looked at Sergey – he was hanging around the hall, obviously bored, with his hands in his pockets, absent-mindedly looking at everything from the floor to the ceiling. I went back to the prices and checked my calculations; they were correct. But the result was strange – it seemed that the company was either operating at a small loss, or at zero, or at a paltry profit.

“Hm!” I paused in thought at another shelf.

“What’s up?” Sergey came over and stood half sideways behind my right shoulder.

“Strange shit!” I shrugged. “I don’t understand how he can trade at such prices! It’s bullshit! He doesn’t make any money… or I don’t know anything about trading…”

Sergey was silent. He stood next to me, staring uninterestedly at the same place I was staring, and remained silent.

“All right, let’s go see him!” I decided and turned around to go to the office.

We agreed surprisingly quickly. The decisive moment was our agreement to barter goods of “Homeland’s” own production.

“Fuck, he’s already in production… fast…” Sergey said thoughtfully as we got back into the “Mazda”.

“Yeah, good for him, such a money grubber…” I hummed, remembering the director’s appearance – short, bald, stooped, always with his head buried in his shoulders, with shifting eyes and inarticulate, quiet diction.

Sergey stared thoughtfully ahead without even trying to start the car.

“Who would have thought it, right, Roman…!?” he looked at me, slapping his palm hard on the gear knob. “Three years ago, I remember, he went to all the companies and offered these fucking pads… Everybody told him where to get off, and he was still begging… And they didn’t fucking sell. No, they sold, but they didn’t sell very fucking well. You know, like the stuff you used to bring me to sell… shit like that… No offense.”

“Seryoga!” I grinned merrily. “None taken! I know myself that I brought you shit! Well, there was this situation – I traded what they gave me without money, and it’s always shit!”

I spread my hands and made it clear that I understood everything then and have no complaints now.

“You pushed me that ‘Stove Cleaner’ too!” I suddenly remembered. “It’s the same fucking shit! I had a fucking hard time with it! No fucking chance to sell it, I had to give it back to you!”

“Gah-gah-gah!” Sergey burst into a deliberately guttural laugh. “Yeah, I did!”

“I went to pick up the goods and saw ‘Stove Cleaner’, two boxes on the waybill. What ‘Stove Cleaner’, for fuck’s sake??? I didn’t order it! While I was thinking, the storekeeper had already put them in my hands.”

“And you took it, didn’t you? Gah-gah-gah!” Sergey threw his head back and laughed even more rudely, looking at me with the eyes of a crook who had managed to cheat a simpleton.

“Well, yes… I did!” I shrugged, feeling again the uncertainty I had felt when I had received the unwanted boxes, and that incident immediately came to mind, along with the unresolved question – why did he have to do that, to cheat in such a primitive way? “But I still don’t understand, why did you do that in the first place?”

“We had a distribution agreement with the manufacturer at the time, and they were producing this new product. Well, we had to order, we took twenty boxes, and they didn’t sell at all, you know!” Sergey clapped his hand on the steering wheel and began to stroke it. “And Davidych said, ‘Go ahead, push this hanging stock somewhere…’ so I pushed you two boxes, gah-gah-gah… I thought, if you notice them, we’ll take them back, if not, you’ll sell them, gah-gah-gah… Well, you didn’t notice them. Yes, we pushed those two boxes to you… so funny!”

“No, I noticed it right away!” I objected. “What I didn’t understand at the time was why the fuck you slipped it to me like that… on the sly… it turns out you just fucked me over.”

“No, I mean, I didn’t fuck you over!” Sergey objected, getting a little serious at once. “I just had to do something with this stuff…”

“Yes, you did fuck me over! You slipped them to me on the sly, and I don’t know why. You could have just said to me, ‘Roma, I’ve got some goods, they’re not selling well, let me give you a few boxes, and you try to sell as much as you can, if you don’t sell, I’ll take it back…’ Could you do that? And I would have helped you. It wasn’t nice, you slipped it to me quietly, and I gave you the fucking ‘Stove Cleaner’ back anyway. I only sold, like, eight or something. I don’t remember.”

“See, you sold it!” Sergey seized on the sentence.

“I would have sold it anyway, if you’d asked me properly and not pushed it in secret!” I said with pressure, wanting to emphasize this phrase so that my partner would understand the difference, which was quite obvious to me.”

“Well, I don’t know…” he shrugged and put the key in the ignition. “Shall we go?”

“Yeah, let’s go…” I nodded tiredly and turned to the window. A casual discussion about an episode from the past had stirred up the questions that had been slumbering in my soul and had emerged in a new capacity, with new food for thought. It seemed to me that Sergey did not see anything shameful in what he had done then, although he found the subject of conversation uncomfortable and hastily ended it.


“Fuck…” Sergey muttered, poking at the keys of his phone and getting angry.

“What’s the matter?” I said, walking next to him and following his clumsy fingers with my eyes.

“I want to see the time! I press buttons, but they don’t work, or they work, but not right away… It’s a shitty phone! I have to buy a new one!”

“Eleven thirty,” I said, just looking at my watch. “Why don’t you buy a watch? Although nowadays you can look at the time on your cell phone…”

We staggered into the warehouse. The summer heat had been brewing since mid-May. I changed from jeans to light pants and from long sleeves to tank tops. Sergey started coming to work in light cotton summer pants and shirts over them, unbuttoned almost to the navel. Our style of dressing was diametrically different: I wore figure-hugging clothes, which only emphasized my height and vigor, and Sergey wore everything loose and baggy, which hid the flaws of his figure and excess weight, but gave him solidity and importance.

“Romych, as soon as I started boxing, I stopped wearing watches…” Sergey said, tucking the phone into the pouch under his shirt. “I broke one watch in a fight and never bought it again. They don’t stick to me. Besides, what if there was a fight?”

“Oh, come on!” I looked at him incredulously. “So what, you’re going to live your whole life without a watch, waiting for some mythical fight? Even though you don’t really need it now, you can just look at your cell phone and that’s it…”

“You’re so quiet, Roman!” Sergey, smelling disbelief, was indignant. “I fought a lot when I was young! Do you know what kind of character I had? I was in every fight, they barely had time to separate us! When I met Verok, I settled down… And then the children. Kids changed me a lot. I became a completely different person.”

I admired my partner’s words; the words “responsibility”, “maturity”, “thoroughness” passed through my mind. These changes seemed to me like in a movie with a quick montage – the young Sergey, fighting and reckless – holding the small newborn Lilka in his arms – and the current Sergey, a father of two children, building his own business and standing confidently on his feet. I liked the image he created.

“Well, yeah, I’m actually very calm…” I nodded. “You’d have to try very hard to get me to punch you in the face. But if you do, that’s it – my bar falls… ha! I’m like my father in this respect… He puts up with it for a long time, and then suddenly he flies off the handle and that’s it… fucked up.”

We came to the open gate of the warehouse. Senya was slumped against the wall on a makeshift chair, bare-chested and wearing a turban made from a T-shirt. The loader was sitting on a box of goods in the shade of the warehouse.

“Howdy, slackers!” I said cheerfully and stepped into the coolness of the warehouse.

Senya, sensing my mood, did not jump up, but just fixed his turban and smiled.

“Senya, a customer from out of town is coming tomorrow!” Sergey said and went into the warehouse.

“Who on earth is that?” Senya was already standing behind me, turning his head in confusion and shifting his gaze between Sergey and me.

“Senya!” Sergey gave the storekeeper a dismissive and stern look. “Not who on earth, a customer! And you’re lying here, spreading your frame and warming it in the sun!”

“And what shall we do, Seryozha? There are no arrivals yet, we don’t need to collect waybills.”

“I’ll get you a waybill!” Sergey said and fell silent, the sound of the engine growing behind the warehouse wall. Everyone listened. The sound reached the corner and stopped.

“Who’s that there?” Senya looked at me in confusion.

“Anatoly Vasilievich is here,” I said, often calling my father that for others.

“Aha…” said the storekeeper.

“Senya, listen to me!” Sergey shouted angrily, throwing lightning bolts out of his eyes at the storekeeper, who instantly shrank back reflexively and began to tremble.

Sergey put his hands behind his back, clasped his fingers, and walked through the warehouse in a measured, important manner. Everything he did – the movement of his fingers, the turn of his head, the tilt of his chin – told everyone who the boss was. I noted with irony that Sergey often behaved that way in small things that I didn’t pay much attention to. And to compete with the storekeeper in regalia – I considered such behavior pointless. I smiled. Senya trotted along, trying to keep up with Sergey. He stopped in the middle of the warehouse, with his feet wide apart.

“Look, Senya, we’ll give you the waybills, you prepare the goods for tomorrow…” my partner said after a pause.

“But…” Senya hesitated, stepping from foot to foot, rubbing his stubbly chin in confusion. “Petya hasn’t been loaded yet… the second run… As soon as we load him, I’ll…”

“Yes, Senya, you understand everything correctly!” Sergey turned his square shoulders and walked with short legs towards the exit.

I left the warehouse first. The reason for the storekeeper’s rebuke seemed far-fetched to me, and the scene itself unpleasant. Why? I don’t understand. Senya was a decent enough guy. His original cunning has long since disappeared. “Still, the environment changes a person,” I thought, noticing that Senya was changing, becoming more responsible and hardworking. He didn’t need to be told twice, the warehouse was always in order, and every remark Senya corrected immediately, qualitatively and without slackening. And I felt that such “disciplinary” pressure on the storekeeper was unnecessary and even harmful. But I didn’t point this out to my partner and started basking in the sun.

“Let’s go, shall we?” His voice sounded behind me.

“Yeah, let’s go,” I nodded and we walked towards the office.

My father’s “GAZelle” was indeed around the corner. With its new high box it looked almost like a real truck. My father was picking up tools in the cabin, saw us, said nothing, and continued working. My mood was immediately spoiled, I walked by silently. Sergey was silent, too. I turned around – the box was almost finished, only the doors were missing – they were in the back.

“So, Anatoly Vasilievich will get tomatoes?” Sergey said.

“I don’t know…” I shrugged. “I guess so… we don’t talk about it…”

“But… do you talk at home at all??”

“Yes, we do… only when we need to… about something we have to do.”

“What about your mother? Still not working? She stays at home?”

“Yes, it’s the same. It’s even worse. It’s fucked up. Nice fucking family, huh?

“Well, Romych, what did you expect? It wasn’t great for me at home either… We lived in two rooms at first…”

“What do you mean, two rooms?”

“They used to give four-room apartments for two military families. So we lived in ours with another family, us in two rooms and our neighbors in the other two. Then they moved out and we got the whole apartment for ourselves. Imagine: me, Romka – my brother, my mother, my father and my grandmother – my father’s mother… and all five of us in two rooms!”

“Yeah, that’s tough… two families in one apartment… ugh…” I shivered.

“Yeah, well… that’s how we lived, but then we each got a room. At least I could bring a broad into my room… Verok and I lived there first…”

We reached the door of the administration building and went inside.

“Why did you ask for the time?” I remembered.

“Oh! Right!” Sergey perked up. “That’s right, Romych! What time is it?”

“Twelve,” I looked at the clock again and sat down in the chair at the table.

“I have to go to ‘Fort’ for payments!” Sergey said, taking his “suitcase” from the shelf. I didn’t want to sit in the room on such a sunny spring day.

“We could go to ‘Fort’ together,” I suggested.

“Romych, why do you have to go with me?” Sergey looked at me cautiously. “I’ll be there and back in no time! You better supervise those guys to make sure everything is packed for tomorrow…”

“They won’t pack anything until we send Petya on the second run,” I said.

“Romych, I’ll be quick! Rest here… with Vera. Talk about your broads while I’m gone…”

“We don’t talk about my broads with Vera,” I replied insulted.

“Gah-gah-gah! I was joking, Romych!” Sergey played it back, extremely pleased with the effect. “That’s it, I’m off… I’ll be back soon!”

My partner left the office, appeared in the window, went to the “Mazda”, put his briefcase in the trunk and got behind the wheel. The car came to life, drove in a circle on the square, kicked up a cloud of dust, and drove off.

An hour later, the “Mazda” returned. Sergey got out, took his briefcase from the trunk, and walked back to the office with a satisfied look on his face. I looked at him. His eyes were hidden behind his glasses. But it was as if I could see them. I felt that Sergey could see me and Vera through the window, but he was looking at me. We looked into each other’s eyes through his glasses, and I felt that Sergey was getting high from that moment on. His gait changed under the sensation. Sergey walked importantly, as if carried by a sense of his own significance. A little more measured step, a little more chest out, a little more assertive chin. All “a little more”. And the briefcase in his hands bounced, as if it carried a pleasant weight.

“You brought it?” I smiled as Sergey opened the office door with a wide energetic movement and put his “suitcase” on the chair by the door. “How much!?”

“Vera, write it down!” Sergey said in a businesslike manner, pushed up his glasses, placed them cleverly on his forehead, put his hands at his sides and breathed like a locomotive, flaring his nostrils eagerly.

Vera reached into her desk, rustled, fumbled for a notebook, pulled it out onto the table, opened it.

“One hundred and forty-two thousand five hundred!” Sergey said and added to his wife, “Did you write it down?”

“Yes, Seryozha, I did…” she replied calmly, even nonchalantly.

“So how do we divide the common fund? Half as usual? Half for you and half for me?” Sergey looked at me and chewed his lower lip vigorously.

“Well, yes… as usual,” I nodded.

“Vera, look how much we have in the common fund with Romka!?” Sergey said, elbowing both hands into his briefcase, pulling out bundles of money and freezing with them.

“On you – ten thousand five hundred, on Roma – exactly twelve,” said Vera.

“Aha!” replied Sergey, throwing the bundles on the table and taking his wallet out of his briefcase. “How much did you say I had, Vera, ten thousand five hundred?”

“Yes, Seryozha, ten thousand five hundred…” she exhaled, already doing something in the computer, not taking her eyes off the screen and not stopping clicking the mouse.

“Aha! Okay…” Sergey opened his wallet, took out some bills and counted them. “I have nine and five hundred… Vera, don’t you remember if I dipped into the common fund recently or not?”

“Seryozha, we stopped at the store on the way…” Vera began.

“Oh, right! Exactly!” Sergey interrupted her, raised the index finger of his left hand, continued to hold the open wallet with his right, kicked his feet. “We stopped at the store and bought berries and fruit for the kids…”

“We bought a lot of things there…” Vera added, looking at her husband and staring at the monitor again. “Food for the dacha… and vodka for you…”.

“Okay, okay… Man! Lyonka’s birthday is coming up!” He got excited.

“Oh! Cool!” I perked up too. “And how old will he be?”

“Two. Listen, Romych, let’s do a bonus – let’s each take a ten! I can’t keep up with all these birthdays…”

“All right, Seryoga,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest and shrugging my shoulders.

“Vera!” my partner said immediately, “write off a ten from me and from Romka…”

He deftly tossed me a bundle of hundreds, took one for himself, counted out ten banknotes, put them in the part of his wallet where his share of the “common fund” was missing, and said defiantly: “Here, Romych, see? I’m putting it into my common fund, I took from it, now I’m putting it back, so that you don’t think anything…”

“I wouldn’t think anything of it. Well, you took it, but you put it back. Vera keeps records anyway…”

“Yes, that’s what I wanted to tell you, I can dip into the common fund sometimes, but then I still put it back from my own money… And you see, I even have the money in different compartments… the common fund in this one and my own in this one!”

Sergey began to eagerly show me the sections of his enormous wallet.

“Seryoga, you can keep them any way you want… As long as you have the amount written down in this notebook at the right moment, and that’s it! And all these compartments are for your own convenience,” I dismissed the explanations, seeing them as unnecessary formalities.

“But I’m showing you that everything runs smoothly here!” he was offended.

“I get it,” I nodded.

“Vera, calculate how much of the rest I should give to Romka to make it equal?” Sergey said, exhaling as if he had done a titanic work and there was no less to do, and stared at the bundles of money on the table.

Vera’s fingers deftly tapped the buttons on the calculator, and she voiced the answer.

“Aha, I see! So this is for you and this is for me!” Sergey said, dividing the money, putting his part back into his briefcase and starting to put the bonus ten into his wallet. I watched the action – the bills went into the empty compartment and the wallet grew in size. It took on the finished look of a piece of paradise – swollen with money, weighty, its very appearance said more about its owner’s status than anything else. Sergey closed the wallet with a pleasant effort, weighed it in his hand, and put it into his briefcase.

“That’s a nice billfold you have!” I said, shaking my head.

“Indeed!” Sergey replied happily, adding a pinch of sadness to his joy at such a pleasant inconvenience, “I carry it everywhere!”

His partner finished fiddling, looked at the table and asked:

“Listen, how are you going to carry your own?”

He was right – I usually went to work empty-handed. I couldn’t even get used to having a wallet – I carried money in the pocket of my jeans or jacket.

“Right, there’s nowhere to put it, that’s for sure…” I muttered, looking at the cramped pockets of my pants. “I’ll just take a bag and put it in there… Vera, do you have a bag?”

“Let me have a look, Roma,” she rummaged in her bag.

“If you want, we can put it on me, that’s all!” Sergey suddenly suggested. “I have to hang around with this money anyway… By the way, maybe we could put the money in the bank tomorrow?”

Sergey froze and asked both of us with his eyes.

“Right, about that…” Vera said, looking at me. “We’re going to put the money in the bank anyway, so why should we pass it around a hundred times? Let him have it.”

“You want to put the money in the bank tomorrow morning?” I clarified, thinking it over.

“Well, why not,” Sergey shrugged. “I’ll go straight from the dacha to the bank tomorrow – I’ll deposit the money, I’ll stop by ‘Peresvet’ – I’ll take the leftovers for Monday and I’ll go to that, whatdoyoucallit, ‘Sphere’!”

We kept cherishing our plans for “Sphere”, a large wholesale company on the left bank of the city. The company dealt in building materials, but also sold household chemicals and had one of the best sales volumes in the area.

“That’s it, then it’s decided, you’ll do the left bank tomorrow morning…” I agreed. “And take the money, you’ll put it in the bank tomorrow… Vera, put my part on Seryoga…”

The notebook opened again, Vera made another entry, the notebook closed.

Petya arrived and drove directly to the warehouse. Soon he was on his way with a full load.

“I think we can go home early today…” Sergey said either to me or to his wife, but the words were clearly meant for me. “There will be no more deliveries today, Petya has left, the goods for the intercity are being assembled in the warehouse… why sit here?”

“Sure, we can,” I nodded.

“Seryozha, Vanya is also coming with us!” Vera reminded him, blushing.

“Oh, right! Vanyok is coming…” Sergey dropped his head on his chest, almost doomed.

“And where is he going? I mean… with you to the dacha?” I looked at both of them.

“Yes, Roma… We’re going there anyway, and we’ll pick him up, so he won’t be alone in the city,” Vera said in the tone of a caring older sister.

“Vera, call Vanyok, tell him to come here at five, and then we’ll go!” Sergey said impatiently, sighed, unclasped his hands and pushed his briefcase to the bottom shelf of the cupboard.

At half past four there was a tentative knock at the door. Vera’s brother entered. Their physical resemblance was obvious. About one hundred and eighty centimeters tall, a slender, slim, short-cropped blond with light blue eyes and a sly, shy look. Light pants, a white shirt with a thin dark stripe and sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Vanya looked neat, but his clothes were cheap, the kind you buy once and wear forever.

“Hello, Vanyok!” Sergey extended his hand carelessly and casually, not hiding the formality of the gesture, after which he lost all interest in the guest.

Vanya shook Sergey’s hand a little fussily and shyly, greeted me and Vera with a nod, and remained shuffling from foot to foot in the corner near the entrance. His awkward stance was saved by a plastic bag that Vanya passed from hand to hand to make it look like he was busy with something. Within a few minutes I had formed an opinion – a future alcoholic or a big drinker. They all dress like that. Always in clean, ironed clothes in the morning. Almost always in pants and shirts, and they wear jackets for extra respectability. They come home late at night drunk and in wrinkled, dirty clothes. The next morning they are clean again, someone takes care of them in the morning, ironing them, dressing them in everything fresh and sending them to the alcoholic front. On which many such ironed and combed fighters have fallen. If you do not know their nature, they make the most benign impression, especially on single women – quiet, do not interrupt, tactful and useless. And, as it turns out later, problematic. The women willingly pick them up and begin to take care of them like little children, washing, feeding and ironing them. The child humbly thanks for everything, puts on clean clothes and goes for a drink. Having been tortured enough with such a “suitcase without a handle,” the woman leaves him or returns him to his mother, who really has no choice. Vanya lived with his mom and went to his mom’s dacha. I looked into his almost transparent eyes and saw in them a cunning, shallow mind, laziness, shrewdness and lack of inner strength. The brother turned out to be the opposite of his sister – honest, intelligent, hard-working and responsible.

Soon we were driving out of the factory. Vanya sat in the back on the left, I on the right. The bespectacled janitor nodded first and said goodbye. She puffed on her cigarette as usual, holding it with two fingers and sticking her pinkie out pretentiously. All three of us nodded at her and left her in a cloud of dust. As we shook on the bumps, we sluggishly exchanged sentences about work. I glanced at Vanya a few times, but he was silent, smiling to himself. The “Mazda” climbed out of the gravel onto the asphalt and accelerated.

“Roman, what if they steal my briefcase with the money in it, what are we going to do?” Sergey said suddenly, looking at me through his glasses and the rear view mirror.

“Why ‘we’??” I was surprised. “You have the money…”

“There is also your half of the common fund in it…” Sergey continued to look at me in the mirror.

“What’s the difference? It’s registered to you, you have the money, you’re responsible for it…”

I fell silent, but the lenses of my partner’s glasses continued to stare at me intently.

“…if they steal, you’ll owe the company,” I finished, shrugging my shoulders and continuing to wonder inwardly about the strangeness of the question, the answer to which seemed obvious to me.

“Hmmm…” Sergey said, and the cabin fell silent.

After a minute, the silence was broken by Vera, who began to discuss with her husband the food supply at the dacha. Sergey stopped on my street. I said goodbye to everyone and went home. Later that evening, Sergey called me – he offered to dispatch the morning customer together and take the money to the bank all at once. I agreed.

The “GAZelle” with Tambov license plates arrived early in the morning, and I was literally five minutes ahead of it. Sergey arrived at the same time. The client – a short, close-cropped man in a light-colored Hawaiian shirt – entered the office with a plastic bag and dumped a pile of money on the table. The room was immediately filled with joyful excitement. Sergey began stuffing the money into his briefcase, making it swell and look like his wallet.

An hour later we filled the “GAZelle” to the brim as well, the car sagged on the springs almost to the bump stops and rolled away, squeaking pitifully with everything it could.

“So, Romych, I’m off to the bank…” Sergey shook the heavy briefcase in his hand.

“Yeah, go ahead, Seryoga,” I nodded and was left alone in the office.

Vera showed up an hour later, and Sergey came back at three, but with good news – “Sphere” had agreed to take dichlorvos from us and had placed the first order.

“Damn, Seryoga, that’s fucking great!” I said when I heard the news. “On Monday we’ll deliver it together with ‘Peresvet’, they’re right next door, almost over the fence!”

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