By the end of the month, I had managed to raise some more money, and there was an entry in my notebook: “30.08.06 15.120 1m2 49m2“
We never received any dichlorvos in August. Their leftovers went to customers the first week, and for the next three weeks we sat without the main seasonal product at the peak of sales. I was nervous and angry, while Sergey was surprisingly complacent and didn’t seem to care about the lost profits.
“Next year we’ll be stocking up on dichlorvos!” I said at the end of the month. “So we have enough for the whole season and even the winter!”
“Gah-gah-gah!” Sergey laughed his intentionally rude laugh and threw his head up. “Roman’s going hyphy!”
And this laughter started to get on my nerves.
On the first day of fall, the railroad crossing that led to our factory was closed for two weeks for repairs. We were expecting a car full of late dichlorvos any day now, so we were worried. But, as Petya said, there was another road, also dirt, that led from the factory in the opposite direction, to the other end of town. And on that road there was a bridge, a small one. “Very flimsy, and a truck can’t go over it, a car can, but not a truck,” Petya added, chewing seeds and spitting carelessly so that the husks didn’t fly off at once, but stuck to his chin and fell off later. Sergey would leave the “Mazda” at the crossing for the time of repairs, and Petya would drive on the spare road. But what about the truck? I suggested that Sergey and I go and check the bridge. The bridge was indeed flimsy – it was shaking slightly under the weight of the loaded “GAZelle”.
“Roman, what are we going to do with the truck?” said my partner, puzzled.
“Nothing, Seryoga!” I said and made a decision. “We will overload it here! It will reach the bridge, and here we’ll reload the goods to Petya’s ‘GAZelle’ and he’ll take them to the warehouse. There is no other way!”
“But we have three tons in there!” Sergey looked at me helplessly.
“Then we’ll make two trips or ask my father to help us!” I added, irritated not so much by the flimsiness of the bridge as by my partner’s attitude.
The truck arrived on September 4th. We were lucky with the weather – the temperature was above twenty-five and there was no sign of rain. My father agreed to help us. Sergey and I drove the “Mazda” to meet the truck and bring it to the bridge. Both “GAZelles” came from the factory. We reloaded the goods in the middle of the street – a large private sector on the outskirts of the city. Sergey and I, dressed in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, handed over the goods from the back. Petya, Senya and the loader took boxes from outside. It took us about two hours. We were sweaty, tired, and covered in fine, disgusting dust.
“Fuck, uh…” Sergey said, slowly straightening up and climbing out of the truck onto the ground.
“What, your back?” I guessed.
“Yeah… Fucking hell!” He wrinkled his nose and wiped small beads of sweat from his face with the back of his hand. “I have a bad back… uh…”
“Mine hurts too, we worked hard today…” I said, catching my breath and feeling the T-shirt stick uncomfortably to my back.
When Sergey and I arrived at the warehouse in the “Mazda”, Senya and the loader who had unloaded Petya had already half emptied my father’s “GAZelle”.
“Dad, come on, get out!” I said, and I climbed into the back of the “GAZelle” and started handing out boxes instead of my father. My father had already helped us, and I was embarrassed that he was carrying our goods as well.
It was almost six o’clock when Sergey and I went to the water faucet at the gatehouse. There, having stripped to the waist, we washed our faces, washed off the sweat and dirt, and went back. A hard, nervous Monday was coming to an end.
“Do you want a ride?” Sergey looked at me.
“Huh? No… I’ll go with my father,” I waved him away. “No need for you to circle around because of me…”
“Roman, but I don’t mind!” Sergey waved his hands. “Why don’t I drive you?”
“I’ll go with my old man,” I waved my hand again. “He’s here, he’s going home anyway…”
After drying off, Sergey and I put our T-shirts back on. There was a common tiredness in the air. Petya left. Senya closed the warehouse and went to his kennel, followed by the loader. Sergey got into the “Mazda” and drove to the office.
“Shall we go?” My father looked at me and finished his cigarette greedily.
“Yes, let’s go,” I nodded and got into the “GAZelle”. I didn’t think about anything. I wanted to get home and shower as soon as possible. So we drove off. We left the “Mazda” at the office, passed the gatehouse and made an unusual right turn – we took a detour over the flimsy bridge. The shower was postponed for at least an hour. The “Mazda” appeared in the mirror behind us and followed.
“So how are things with you and Sergey, is everything okay?” my father said.
“Yes, everything is fine,” I nodded. “We worked well during the summer, the quantities are growing. Now we’ll bring poison in the fall, salts in October… We’ll have to bring in more of it… We’ll probably bring in a truckload at a time… and then in December perfume will come… Actually, we’re lucky to have a good selection of goods! Everything Seryoga gave us from ‘Sasha’ went into business and sold well! Sales are already under a million a month! Our ‘Luxchem’ doesn’t even make half of that… about the same sales we had before. We had a hundred and fifty, a hundred and eighty a month at the most, and here it’s a little over two hundred. All in all, this merger can be considered a success… I’m not saying that, of course, but I’m kind of freaking out, Dad, to be honest…”
For some reason, I even lowered my voice to a half-whisper.
“To have such a product and join forces with us! Why? If I were Seryoga, I wouldn’t have teamed up with anyone, I would have rented a warehouse and done the same thing myself and taken all the money for myself! Nonsense… I don’t understand him… but it’s good that he didn’t…”
“Why are you surprised?” My father said grudgingly. “Seryoga couldn’t do anything on his own in the first place, he never had that experience before!”
“So what!?” I was surprised. “What experience did you and I have when we started delivering beer? We had none! We just started doing it! And we had an even worse situation – we had no insight and understanding of what and how to do it… We just knew that we had to get the goods to the wholesalers and that’s it… And he, I beg to differ, worked for several years as a manager in a wholesale depot, yes, a small one, but still… they had five stores of their own, or how many… six? Doesn’t matter! He had time to practice on someone else’s example. And then just rent a warehouse, renegotiate all the contracts for himself, for his own company, by the way! He already had a company! What’s the problem? Transfer your suppliers to it, inform your customers that it is no longer ‘Sasha’, but another company, and go ahead!”
“You’re a strange man,” my father said with a grin.
“Why should I be strange?” I said. “It’s as clear as day!”
“It’s clear to YOU!” my father almost shouted, emphasizing the word “you”. “You already have experience working independently! That’s what counts! Not how big a company you work for! Do you understand? And he hadn’t worked alone for a day. He sat behind Davidych’s back in a warm office and just pretended to be important and pouted his lips!”
“Well… I don’t know…” I shrugged, glancing in the mirror – the “Mazda” was swaying along the dirt road behind us. “He was in business before ‘Sasha’ too…”
“WHO!??? SERYOGA!???” My father stared at me, putting all his surprise and disdain into both words. “Oh, come on! Who told you that, he!?”
“Yeah… I was talking to him the other day, and he said he used to do all kinds of things… he used to sell ‘Pepsi-Cola’ with some friends… they used to bring a carload of it… I don’t know, he said they used to get it by the carload…or was it just one car…”
“By the carload!???” my father continued with the same intonation. “Do you know how much a carload of this stuff costs? It’s not even our shitty household chemicals! It’s millions! Two, maybe three-I don’t know! But it’s a lot! Where did Seryoga, who just the other day was working as a driver on a construction site, get the money to bring a carload of ‘Pepsi’? Think about it!”
“Well, he said they were unloading railroad cars… the goods were coming in…” I continued sluggishly, already sensing inconsistencies in the logic that I hadn’t noticed before.
“Maybe he unloaded it! Like a loader!” said my father. “Maybe he and his friends unloaded SOMEONE’S carload of ‘Pepsi,’ and they weren’t paid with money, but with these very cans of drink… and they got a few packages… and then they drove them to the kiosks and sold them to get their money… That’s right! Where else would you put them? Drink them yourself?”
My father blew out his breath. I remained stunned and silent.
“That’s all!” My father nailed me with iron logic.
My brain began to process his emotional monologue. We passed the bridge and entered a wide sandy area. The “Mazda” caught up with us, raced to the left and, accelerating, insulted, as if Sergey had heard the conversation and wanted to object, broke in front of us.
“Seryoga lies to you, and you let yourself be duped,” my father added, slowing down a bit, lighting a cigarette, and rolling down his window all the way.
“What’s the point of him lying?” I looked at my father, confused.
“I don’t know…” he said and blew the smoke of the first puff out the window. “Ask him…”
The batch of dichlorvos arrived and almost all of it was sold to “Homeland” the next day – three hundred boxes. We partially sold the remaining fifty boxes by the end of the month.
“Roman, you registered the apartment for yourself, right?” Sergey asked suddenly as we drove the “Mazda” away from the stall – I’d bought a bunch of bananas and took a bite, peeling one.
“Uh-huh,” I mumbled, mouth full.
“But there’s Anatoly Vasilievich’s money in there too, isn’t there?” Sergey looked at me.
“Well, yes,” I chewed.
“And how are you…? Will you give it to your father later?”
“Yeah,” I shrugged. “What’s the big deal? I’ll make money and pay it back… In fact, we haven’t even talked about it yet, we bought an apartment and that’s it! Seryoga, I don’t think he needs it, this apartment. So I think I’ll keep it. I don’t know about the money… But of course I’ll give him his money. I’m not going to leave my father without money. Like, the son took money from his father, bought a house, and waved to him like, ‘Thanks, Dad, for the apartment, and now you can be free!’ Is that it? I’m not an asshole to do that to my own father! I think I’ll just give him his money, that’s all…”
“But your apartment there has gone up in price…” Sergey said. “How are you going to repay your debt? Just the amount you borrowed, or at the new price, the value of his share?”
I stopped chewing the banana and was puzzled. It’s true! My father and I hadn’t agreed on anything. We just bought the apartment and put it in my name. And it’s gone up in price! What should we do now? What do I owe him? “If the amount of money I borrowed alone is three hundred thousand, and if I assume that my father didn’t give me a loan and just invested his money in real estate, then it’s…” I thought about it and counted the new amount of debt on my cell phone.
“What are you calculating? The new prices?” Sergey looked at me out of the corner of his eye.
“Yes… I did the math… fucking lot of money…” I said, staring at the screen of my cell phone. “Four hundred and fifty thousand it turns out… plus fifty percent Seryoga, can you believe that?”
I looked at my partner and started to eat the banana automatically.
“Gah-gah-gah!” Sergey threw his head back and laughed contentedly. “You borrowed money from your father! Now you’ll need three years to pay it back!”
“So what!?” I objected, mentally searching for the positive side of the situation. “The apartment is still increasing in value! Well, I’ll pay back more, I didn’t borrow the whole amount, only a third… But the whole apartment is going up in price… No matter how you look at it, it’s a win-win for everyone! Me and my dad… He will earn some money and I managed to buy the apartment, in fact, for pocket change… It turns out we were just helping each other out… If my father hadn’t agreed to take the money for the apartment, what would we be doing? We’d be sitting there like idiots with the money… he’d have three hundred and I’d have three hundred… Fucking great! And what would we do with it? Yes, we could put it into business and make money, and then buy the same apartment, only not for nine hundred thousand, but for… how much is it at today’s prices? over one million two hundred! What’s the point? You still have to earn the difference… And housing prices are still rising… By the end of the year, they promised thirty for a meter! At this rate, you’ll never be able to keep up with these fucking prices, Seryoga! No… I’d rather do it this way! I’d rather give more to my father, but I’d have an apartment, than both of us being afraid of losing our dough, and neither of us getting a damn thing!”
“Actually, yes, you’re right,” Sergey said thoughtfully, and after a moment’s reflection he suddenly said: “Give your father only what you have borrowed!”
“What do you mean?” I raised my eyebrows and took the second banana.
“Well, you did not agree on what terms he gives you the money! So just give him what you borrowed… Just say thank you and that’s it.”
My brain ran the proposal through the sieve of morality and issued a rejection.
“No, Seryoga, this is bullshit…” I muttered and ate the banana thoughtfully.
“Why bullshit!!?” my partner flared up, even jumping up behind the wheel, splashing his free right hand, throwing it up from the gear knob.
“Seryoga, what the fuck would you call it!?” I was also indignant now. “Like, thank you, Dad, for helping me earn money with the apartment, you get your money back and goodbye!??”
“What do you mean, earn money with the apartment!?” Sergey threw an angry, argumentative look at me, not wanting to give in. “You’re not going to sell it, are you!?”
“Well…” I thought about the new question. “No, I’m not. Not yet… no!”
“Yet or not yet! What you do with it is another matter!” Sergey didn’t stop. “You didn’t buy it to sell, did you!? You bought it for yourself!”
“Seryoga… damn it…” I agreed and disagreed with my partner. And all because the purchase of the apartment was not negotiated by me and my father. And now, after the price increase, I didn’t know how to value the money we had spent. Like investments? Then, logically, I should at least give my father his share back at the current market value, i.e. buy it out. Like money borrowed from my father? I could do that. And this way is of course easier and more profitable for me. But first, and for the umpteenth time, we haven’t discussed the status of my father’s money. Secondly, profit is not a word that should appear between close relatives. Can you imagine me, a son, making money from my father? I didn’t even understand the meaning of such a phrase. It didn’t fit into my head at all. My sense of justice said only one thing: I should consider the best option for my father, which is to pay him the actual value. And if my father himself says, “Son, I don’t need this profit, as a father I can’t take more money than I gave you, I helped you as a father to his son,” that’s another thing! Then I could say to my father, “Thank you, you helped me a lot,” and later thank him in a sonly way. But to look for an advantage… no… not my thing. So I said: “No, I can’t do that!”
“Roman!” Sergey grimaced immediately. “You and Anatoly Vasilievich are so complicated! Both of you are fiddly! Like father, like son… so rectitudinous…”
“Damn it, Seryoga, you’re interesting!” I got angry. “My father and I started and worked together, we made money, and then I, a handsome guy, made a fortune with his money, and I dump my dad, right!?”
“Roman, I’m not telling you to dump him!” Sergey was angry and gritted his teeth. “I’m saying don’t give him more than you borrowed! Nobody knew that the prices would rise so much!”
“No, no one knew!” I parried and was silent, but immediately added, not wanting to put up with such a dishonest thought that only seemed decent. “But I didn’t borrow from my father either! We took the money together, so we get the income together!”
“All right, suit yourself!” Sergey waved away irritably.
We arrived at “Fort”. And just in time. Our conversation had gotten a little heated, and a break in communication came in handy. We entered the sales room. Sergey went to the cash desk, I ducked between the shelves of the display cases and started to study the goods. Sergey came back.
“Did you get it?” I muttered.
“Yes,” he muttered, the remnants of irritation still running across my partner’s face.
“How much?” I said dryly.
“Here, you want to see the leftovers?” Sergey pushed four sheets of paper into my hands.
“Total payable: 72600.00” I looked at the last sheet and said:
“Without dichlorvos, the payouts dropped immediately…”
“Yes, that’s true,” Sergey sighed and looked at me. “Let’s go?”
“Yes, let’s go,” I nodded, uncomfortable with the tension that had arisen between us, and added frustratedly: “A whole month without dichlorvos, we would have sold for half a million… Fuck, we would have made a hundred!”
Sergey pushed open the front door, winced at the brightness of the sunlight, walked down the porch steps, and without turning around, said irritably: “Roman, what’s the use of talking about it now? We didn’t do a good job! Who knew they’d have such a pickle with the goods?”
“Seryoga, next year we’ll have to order a lot of them all at once,” I got angry inside. “Right before the season starts, so we don’t have any of these screw-ups!”
“We will, Roman, we will!” My partner was also angry.
We got into the car like two electrified balls. The tension between us was palpable. I decided to defuse the situation and resumed the conversation about apartments:
“Seryoga, do you have an apartment in your name or in the name of you and Vera?”
The car started and drove to the exit of the depot.
“Vera and me,” he said as soon as we left the area.
“Ah, well, that’s good!” I nodded, “You were married before you bought the apartment, so everything is fair – jointly acquired property!”
“That fucking mother-in-law…” Sergey said in a fit of anger. “With you and Anatoly Vasilievich, you see, everything goes well – everything is based on trust… He trusts you, you trust him… That’s why you’re doing so well! But I’m in shit here and there. I have to fight all the time. Roman, you won’t believe it!”
“Come on, who do you have to fight with?” I was really surprised.
“Roman, with my own mother-in-law!” Sergey blurted out. “When I bought the apartment, do you know what a fight she and I had? I bought the apartment, started to register it for myself, she said – no, register it for you and Vera! I told her, what’s the difference? We are a family, Vera and I don’t divide anything, we share everything! She said no, do it for two and that’s it!”
“Wow, she really had a go at you!” I shook my head and hummed.
“Yes! It got to the point of a fight! She even started telling Verok to divorce me!”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes! What do you think?” Sergey looked at me with the look of a righteous man suffering from the injustice of others. “Her mother – she’s one of those… vixens! Verok is nice! And this one…”
“Yes, Vera is very nice!” I nodded. “She has a golden character! That’s interesting… Mother and daughter, but how different they are! So what, you made the apartment for two?”
“Yes, I had to do it that way! Not to get divorced! We already had Lilka… I couldn’t leave the child without a father and ruin the family, could I?”
“Oh! No, of course not, Seryoga!” I eagerly supported him, found in my heart a sincere reaction to such a decent man’s position, and at once hardened against his mother-in-law, enlisting her in the camp of Sergey’s enemies, and thus in mine.
On Friday, September 8, it got much colder. On Thursday Sergey and I rode around town in shorts, but on Friday I had to put on pants. “This is the end of summer,” I thought and felt sad again. Autumn, short daylight hours and winter were ahead. Already on Friday afternoon I had an unbearable wish that summer would start again, that fall and winter would fly by in a second and that life would continue from April. The next day would be a holiday – another City Day. Sergey, referring to this, offered to take five thousand from the “common fund” for the celebration. I agreed.
The crossing didn’t work yet, the “Mazda” was parked near it on the side of the road. The three of us walked along the road to the car, got in and went home.
“Are you going to the dacha?” I asked, barely warming up in the back seat.
“Yes, Roma, we’ll live there for a long time, until October for sure,” Vera said, turning her head back to me. “If we’re lucky with the weather, of course, and it doesn’t rain…”
Overnight it got even colder, and on Saturday I had to put on a jacket. Vovka called me and screamed into the phone that he missed me and Lera missed me even more and that they were going for a walk in the center and that I should come to them as soon as possible. An hour later, at four, I was at the center. We met. Lera was shuffling from foot to foot like a goose, her bulging belly, eight months pregnant, no longer hidden by the folds of her clothes.
“Wow!” I blurted out and Lera immediately blushed. “Soon?”
“Yes!” Vovka nodded. “In a month we’ll have a baby! Another Romka will be born!”
We walked around all evening, in a good mood, fooling around with Vovka for every reason and no reason at all. Natasha worked that day. And something was wrong with our relationship. I felt them freeze. Natasha’s eyes were still smiling at me, as was her face, but there was a question in her look. It was as if Natasha was thinking about something. And it had to do with me.
I almost didn’t spend any money over the weekend and took the five grand bonus along with the money I had previously saved to pay for the apartment and made a note: “11.09.06 15.680 1m2 50m2“.
In the middle of the month, the janitor’s nephew quit, and we were left without a loader. But not for long. That very evening, the cunning Senya snuck into the office and offered to hire his son as a loader.
“Senya, is he strong?” I asked.
“Strong…? Well… I mean…” He hesitated, looking at me and Sergey. “Not like you or Sergey, of course! You guys are tough! You probably work out.”
“Roman does, yes!” Sergey said with a barely perceptible irony that I was beginning to catch after a year of working together. It was as if I had gotten used to my partner and began to distinguish many shades of his behavior and speech.
“Senya, can he lift a box of salt?” I smiled.
“He is!” Senya said embarrassed and blushed.
“Then bring him here, Senya!” Sergey summarized. “Let him come tomorrow…”
“Fuck!!!” I exploded, turning around in the “Mazda” and looking closely at the glasses-wearing janitor we had just passed as we left the factory grounds with Sergey. The broad was standing at the entrance gate, where she always was, smoking as usual.
“What a crooked cunt!!! She didn’t even say hello, Seryoga!!! Can you believe it???”
“Gah-gah-gah!” He threw his head back.
“Come to think of it!!! I nodded at her and she was just like… Fucking old cunt!!” I shook with hypocrisy. “She lifted her fucking mouth and didn’t even look at us, Seryoga!!! She fucking pretended she didn’t notice!! Why the fuck would she do that??”
“Gah-gah-gah, Roman, you’re so naive!” Sergey laughed, watching and enjoying my rising emotions with obvious pleasure.
“Son of a bitch, Seryoga, what the fuck is this?! How can she do that!? She didn’t say hello before, I thought, fuck it, maybe some people don’t get along with others right away… But then she started to say hello and now what? She’s turning up her fucking nose at us! How come???” I sat up straight as the car lurched down the dirt road to the newly renovated crossing. There was a storm of emotions so strong it gave me a headache.
“Roman, you keep asking yourself…” Sergey managed to say.
“Yes, Seryoga, I keep asking myself! How can I not? It’s fucking cynicism!!! Fuck, I can’t imagine how you can behave like this – to greet or not to greet a person just because it’s profitable for you to do so or not to do so!!!? How can you do that? Okay, I can understand – she didn’t say hello, and then she had to get her nephew settled, and she started saying hello to us! Okay, I can understand that. But how can she, literally the day after he quit, stop saying hello?!? How???”
I stopped talking to catch my breath. Sergey was silent, smiling, looking at me as if I were a comedian giving an amusing performance. Because of my restraint, I rarely showed strong emotions in front of him. And Sergey watched my hypostasis with pleasure and curiosity.
“Is it like she used us?! And now she doesn’t fucking need us and she doesn’t have to say hello and she just turns up her fucking nose again! Who the fuck does she think she is?! Some lonely old toad living in a fucking kennel! Working in the same stinking kennel in a run down factory with stinking bowls of dog food and she can’t even be bothered to say hello to us!?? She’s fucking crazy! Old cunt! Fuck her! Why are people so fucking shitty?! Is it so hard to be a normal person?!?”
“Roman, people are all like that… what did you expect?” Sergey said philosophically.
“I want people to be normal! If you say hello to them, you should hear hello back! Damn it, Seryoga, what did I do to her?!? Did I steal from her? Did I insult her? Humiliated her?”
“Roman, you see what her life is like and what your life is like. You are co-owner of a company, you have your own business, you bought an apartment, and she…?”
Sergey gave me a reassuring look, and it worked.
“I understand, Seryoga,” I exhaled, as if trying to breathe out the residue in my chest that had formed after the janitor’s behavior. “But that’s no reason to act like that… You have to remain human in every situation…”
“Well, you get back at her somehow, that’s all!” My partner smiled mischievously.
“Get back at her?” I was surprised.
“Yes. For example, she says something to you with that disgruntled mouth, and you tell her – and you smell like an old woman – and that’s all…” Sergey said.
My partner’s sentence startled me. As I thought about it, I fell silent. Slowly I began to understand – not the meaning of the phrase, but its subtle peculiarity. Sergey uttered a phrase that hit the broad at her weakest point. I replayed the situation in my head – a lonely forty-year-old unattractive woman, living in a slum, with no chance to meet a normal man, to somehow improve her life, realizing that her life as a woman is coming to an end… and it is coming to an end as ignominiously as in a garbage dump… and she hears this. I shuddered. Such a sentence would be a painful sting for her. Sergey suggested that a bad thing could be answered with a worse thing…
“Shit, Seryoga…” I turned to him. “Are you crazy? It’s fucking awful to tell her that! Seryoga, you’re such a… ha-ha! How the hell does your head work?! I can’t believe it. To think of such a thing! It’ll kill her right away!”
“Gah-gah-gah!” He threw his head back with glee. “So tell her that.”
“Fuck, Seryoga, I understand what you’re suggesting, but I can’t say that!”
“I would!” My partner curled his lips in surprise.
“No, Seryoga, you can’t say that. You must be a complete scumbag to say such a thing…”
The car rolled up to the crossing, and then the semaphore began to flash red, the bells began to ring, the barriers on both sides were lowered, and fences came out of the asphalt.
I was distracted by the innovations of the crossing, but as soon as the electric train rolled into town with its horns and whistles, the restless thoughts returned – everything boiled up inside again. The train crept to the right, the fences were lowered, the barrier was raised, and we were off.
“I still don’t understand this kind of behavior…” I exhaled heavily. “Even if you just think about it, it’s really stupid to act like this! I mean, we see her every day, what if she needs something else? What is she going to do? She can’t come to us and ask us! No, maybe she can, but we won’t be able to help her. What is she thinking, Seryoga? I mean, you have to think ahead somehow…”
“Roman, they’re broads! They’re all stupid!” he exclaimed. “They can’t calculate a day ahead, and you want them to strategize!”
“Well, not all of them are stupid… Your Vera is not stupid… She’s smart and thinks ahead…”
“Well, some of them can think a day ahead, I guess. But not two or three days ahead… She’s an ordinary hen, what’s there to love her for!?”
“Well, you’re right…” I nodded. “There’s nothing to love her for…”
The “Mazda” climbed from the dirt road onto the asphalt.
“I don’t love broads at all,” Sergey grinned and accelerated. “I don’t love Verok either…”
I didn’t say anything and Sergey sighed heavily.
“Listen, Romych, I need to consult with you…” he looked at me, met my questioning gaze, and continued. “Look… We’ve started to have extra money from the turnover, you know – the work is going on, we pay everything on time, but the earned money has nowhere to go, it just sits on the account and that’s it…”
“I see your point, Seryoga!” I nodded. “Money lying idle is an unacceptable folly. Let’s think about what to do with it! We could, for example, take a good distribution and increase sales…”
“No, Roman, I don’t think we need more goods! What for?” Sergey looked at me uncomprehendingly and grimaced. “We already have a full warehouse!”
“Seryoga, it’s full, so what?” I was surprised. “We can rent another one…”
“No, Roman, I don’t think that’s a good idea…” Sergey wrinkled his nose. “We could do something else. I don’t know, like you and Anatoly Vasilievich – invest in real estate, for example. Or buy land…”
We drove to the crossroads near the church and turned right along the central street of the village. On the right, an unfinished building caught my attention – a building made of white silicate bricks in the shape of a press iron. It was adjacent to a four-story house and was frozen in its construction – only the foundation and walls of the first floor protruded from the ground. The building was overgrown with weeds.
“That’s an interesting wreck, Seryoga!” I said, remembering a loophole in the law – if construction is underway on a plot of land, the owner of such construction has priority in taking ownership of the plot. A lawyer told me this from his practice. “You throw two building blocks on the land,” he said, “and then you register the land under the allegedly started construction as property.” I told Sergey about this trick.
“Look, it’s a good idea!” His eyes immediately lit up. “Let’s try it! Let’s start taking steps…”
“Aha, I like it too,” I nodded. “We could get a decent piece of land, and the building itself, if completed in line with the house, will definitely be three stories… the area there is about sixty or seventy meters, so the total will be about two hundred. That’s a big office! We’ll have a shop on the first floor, managers on the second floor, and on the third floor we’ll make an office for ourselves – we’ll have our control headquarters there!”
“Shit, Roman!” Sergey almost shrieked, his eyes sparkling with childish joy. “I love these military words of yours! Headquarters!”
“Well, that’s it!” I laughed. “If you like it, we’ll build a headquarters!”
We spent the second half of September dealing with this unfinished building. We made inquiries about the site, ordered a geodetic survey of the area. Sergey even changed a little in appearance – the self-assurance in his walk and look increased, which disappeared as soon as we entered the building with the sign “Regional Technical Inventory”. The mimicry of his behavior became amusing. Sergey was big and self-confident in unimportant and small situations, but he became modest in situations where he had to take active steps. The corridors of the institutions seemed to drain his strength. Sergey would wander confusedly through them, and when we were alone in front of the sacred door, he would knock shyly and timidly, asking, “May I?” So it was with the office, which we visited several times on the business of the unfinished building. Our inquiry was led by a quiet, intelligent woman of about forty. Soon important facts were revealed – the building under construction was de facto impossible to buy, the last owner of this building, a company, went bankrupt and closed down, the question of ownership was left in the air and could be solved only in very high offices. Sergey and I immediately became sad and said goodbye to the dream of our own “headquarters”.
“Please, just don’t forget to pay for the geodetic survey,” the woman said politely, handing us an official document with a scheme of land measurements – the result of her work. Earlier, the woman had done us a favor – she had ordered the survey without any advance payment from our side, which was a violation. Now she was worried and said that she would get a reprimand if we didn’t pay.
“How much is there to pay?” I clarified.
“A thousand rubles,” said the woman.
“Oh, that’s nothing!” I waved my hand and added reassuringly: “Don’t worry, we’ll pay it today or tomorrow. Thank you very much. It’s a shame it turned out like this. We wasted your time, eh!”
“It’s a shame indeed,” the woman said sympathetically. “But you didn’t know it would be like this. Come back to us, we’ll find you another plot.”
Sergey silently took the document and put it in his briefcase. We said goodbye and left.
“We’ll have to remember to pay for the survey,” I said as soon as we were both in the “Mazda”.
“Fuck her!” Sergey blurted out, turning the key in the ignition irritably and jerking the gearshift nervously.
“Seryoga…???” I looked at my partner in surprise, numb for a few seconds. “What do you mean, fuck her? She did the work, we got the document, we have to pay for it!”
“What did she do? What good is this piece of paper? She said we can’t buy these ruins! That means she didn’t do anything!”
“Seryoga…” I sat there, stunned. “She doesn’t deal with such things, she deals with measurements. She’s done her job. We have to pay… Besides, she’s done us a favor, this company only works on a prepayment basis.”
“I still don’t think we should pay her!” Sergey said sharply and put the car in reverse.
I fell silent in a daze. We drove off, merged into the general flow, and Sergey’s attention was taken by the road. Something flashed in my brain, and I sat there for a few minutes, as if blinded, and came to my senses. I thought about what my partner had done. He had cynically, in his own words, screwed over a person. The deed did not fit in my head – the woman was willing to meet our needs and break the order, in fact, set herself up… and in return for her kindness got spit in the face.
I began to develop the thought. “She’ll probably get a reprimand and a fine, and the thousand she didn’t get from us will be deducted from her salary. What did she do to deserve that? Being nice?” Everything exploded inside me, I was on fire – I wanted to go to the office and make Sergey pay the thousand. I was sure that he would agree at once, and would only resent it for the hell of it. He would be sorry about the money, though. But I knew for sure that I could force him. “Yes, a conflict! So what? It’s more important to be honest! It’s important to save the company’s face! How can he not understand that this is not the way to behave!? The most important thing in business is reputation! How many times my father and I, when we were still doing business together, moved only on it, getting the most favorable terms of cooperation. Reputation is one of the pillars of success in business! Why create a negative reputation with such actions? It will be worse for us! Stop!”
My thoughts froze… “For us?” The flash again. “Us! Both of us!” I grinned bitterly and turned to the window. Neatly done – one guy shit on the company, but the stain was on both of us. “And you can’t prove to anyone that you had nothing to do with it. We work together! Like a team! Like two horses. One does something wrong and the burden falls on the other. What’s the solution?” I was talking to myself, the inner dialogue completely absorbed me. “What should I do? Fix it, wipe the stain after him? And if it happens again, what? Wipe it off for the rest of my life? For what purpose? Am I his babysitter? Should I let him keep doing this?” Again my mind flashed back to the past. “Has Sergey ever done this before? Has he, or did I not notice?” Like a fisherman pulling a bottom out of the water, I pulled other similar episodes from the past for the episode that had happened. Previous facts, like hooks with a catch, began to float out of my memory into the bright light of realization. “There had been incidents! Small, insignificant, but there were! Why small? Or am I misjudging them? Because they’re like drops – drip-drip-drip – eating away at everything. The company, the relationship.” Similar episodes flashed through my mind, the ones I remembered. And, amazingly, they were all somehow unimportant. Like little sources of bad smell, when it smells unpleasant nearby, but not enough to get out of the place – a place of comfort and coziness. And the person wrinkles his nose, but tolerates it. And my partner’s behavior in similar episodes was exactly like that – unpleasant and unacceptable, but so weak in effect that I always preferred to turn a blind eye. And as I realized at that moment, the decision to tolerate was made unconsciously, just to overcome a feeling of discomfort, nothing more. I sighed heavily, my thoughts began to lose the energy of emotional chaos, and as they cooled, they began to organize themselves. I realized that I had discovered a bad trait in Sergey’s character.
And one more thing… remembering the previous similar cases, I realized that until today I had done exactly that to eliminate the negative consequences of my partner’s behavior for our business. Sitting in the car and looking at Sergey’s resentful, pouting, hypertrophied lips and haughty expression, I made an incredible effort to restrain myself and decided not to “clean up” after him anymore. “Let the mistakes and negativity accumulate,” I decided, making my conscience about the piggishly unpaid thousand to shut up.
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