“You look a little weary, don’t you?” I smiled as Sergey and Vera entered the office and I noticed my partner’s swollen face. He sluggishly said hello, sat down sleepily in the chair by the door and began to yawn, then, with difficulty pulling back the protruding lips, said unhappily:
“Roman, I’m just exhausted. All because of the preparations for my birthday…”
“Oh, it’s your birthday!” I exclaimed, looked at the calendar hanging on the wall, found the month of December and the number “1”, and added, “Tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah…” Sergey muttered.
“So where and how are you going to celebrate?” I shifted my eyes from Sergey to Vera.
“We just…” she brushed it off. “Stay at home… just spend some time with our relatives…”
“Yes, we decided not to throw parties for ten thousand this year!” Sergey splashed his hands, perked up, sniffed his nose. “We’ll get together at home… join us if you want!”
“Nah, you better celebrate with your relatives…” I waved away, remembering that I always felt awkward and superfluous at such celebrations in someone’s family circle. “I’ll just congratulate you, give you some money… Vera, write off the five thousand bonus for me and Seryoga! Seryoga…”
I reached into my pocket, counted the money and handed it to my partner:
“Here! Happy birthday… Buy yourself something, treat yourself!”
Sergey said “thank you” with satisfaction, shook my hand, and tucked the money into his thick wallet, which seemed to swell more and more every day.
“It’s right to celebrate at home,” I said. “Why waste money?”
“Romych, it’s not even about the money,” Sergey said, leaning back in his chair and putting his clasped hands on the back of his head. “I just don’t want it to be like that time – we’re relaxing in a cafe, we go out on the street, and some drunks drive onto the sidewalk and almost knock you down! Then you have to punch these assholes in the face… chicks squealing! It all gets on your nerves and you can’t have a good time!”
“Come on, nothing much happened there…” I waved complacently and was immediately jolted out of my memories. “But yeah, that asshole almost ran us over with the car! Twenty centimeters more and he would have slammed my legs into the wall! Fuck, he was really shit faced! I don’t know how he drove the car! He could barely stand on his feet when he got out. He couldn’t even talk, man! You ask him something and he just mumbles back! Then you walked with him for another half hour, hugging him, I was freezing standing there… Ugh!”
“What do you mean, hugging!?” Sergey stared at me excitedly and threw his hands down from his head. “I had to throw punches there, and the next day my arms were swollen and sore!”
I was stunned for a second, because I had definitely heard something new.
“Seryoga, come on, throw punches!?” I stared at him in bewilderment, fighting back a smile. “You just walked there for half an hour, holding each other by the lapels, trying to prove something to him! And he couldn’t even answer – he just mooed drunkenly, that’s all!”
“What do you mean, walked!!!?” Sergey jumped up from his chair and stood in the middle of the room, nostrils flared, sniffing noisily and giving me an indignant look. “Don’t say what you don’t know! I fucking hit him all the time, he was covered in blood, my fists were covered in blood, he was bleeding all over me when he fell on me on the stairs.”
“Seryoga!?” I was almost speechless as I listened to the blatant bull story. “What blood!?? From whom did it bleed!?? What are you talking about? No one hit anyone! I was standing ten meters away from you, I saw everything! You just walked for twenty minutes holding each other, then you tripped on the stairs, you fell, he fell on you, then you pushed him off you, he grabbed your chain, I thought he was gonna break it… then you grabbed him, pulled him up, he got up, you started stomping again, holding each other’s lapels… then you went to the street, you fell on him, you lay there for about five minutes, then everyone got tired of it, everyone was freezing, we separated you and went down to the cafe – that’s it!”
“Why are you lying!!!” Sergey hovered over the tables and looked at Vera. “Don’t say what you don’t know!!! I went to the cafe later, my clothes were covered in blood!”
Sergey gestured, imagining bloodstains on his chest and shoulders. His speech was confused. Sergey’s pauses were punctuated by anger, and he looked at Vera and me.
“What blood, Seryoga!?” I stopped being angry at such a blatant lie and began to enjoy the circus that was taking place. “You came back completely clean, you didn’t have a drop of blood on you! Your clothes weren’t even torn! Stop making things up.”
“Who’s making things up!!!??” Sergey almost shouted. “If you didn’t see it, don’t say anything!!!”
“What do you mean I didn’t see it?!?!” I stared at him, stunned. “The three of us were standing there – me, your brother and that, what-d’ye-call-him… your buddy! That’s why we were standing still, because there was no fight! There was a guy standing next to us who came with this drunk guy. He wanted to get in, I told him not to, and he stayed next to us…”
“Look, if you don’t know how it was, don’t say that!!!” Sergey continued to press, moving his eyebrows.
And I stopped talking – I didn’t want to argue. After the surprise came confusion and not understanding what to do with this argument. It came to a dead end, to a point after which it threatened to turn into a fight. Sergey lied through his teeth and in spite of everything. And that confused me. Realizing that I would not be able to convey the obvious, I decided that it would be better to leave the situation as it was, smiled, spread my hands and said:
“Well, okay… If you think you hit the big guy, then so be it.”
Sergey looked at me angrily, took a few steps around the room, returned to his chair, folded his arms across his chest, pouted, and, glaring at me, added:
“I know what happened and how! So don’t say what you didn’t see!”
My partner sniffed his nose and turned away nervously. The office became tense and quiet. After about ten minutes, we turned a new page in our communication, and the work day came to an unnoticed end. Perhaps it was because of our quarrel that Sergey did not go home through my street and, after explaining the reason, took me only to the “Foster Home”. There I waited for a shared taxi, squeezed into an overcrowded “Pazik” and, as it shook along the congested ring road, thought about the day’s quarrel with Sergey. I found the situation amusing. I twisted it in different ways, but I still didn’t understand if Sergey was lying consciously or if he was telling the story because he sincerely believed in his own view of what had happened. I replayed the argument in my head over and over again – it didn’t get any clearer. At first I understood that Sergey was lying, and he was lying on purpose. The reason I saw was simple: he was holding up his brand of “real man” in front of his wife. But the emotion and pressure with which he defended his version of events confused me more and more. The version that Sergey himself believed was slowly winning out. But after reaching a certain point, the process of analysis stopped, leaving me in confusion – I still did not understand what was the main motive of this total lie. Lying to a witness of the events. Without solving the puzzle, I pushed it to the back of my mind and fell asleep.
The next morning I was the first to arrive at the office. The “Mazda” arrived at the beginning of ten. Vera came into the office, dressed in her thick, but not yet winter coat, followed by Sergey, his eyes shining. The coat suited Vera very well – soft pink color, it fit her figure, emphasized slenderness and grace. “And this in spite of having two children,” I thought, slapping Vera’s palm in our traditional greeting. Sergey put his briefcase on the chair by the door, took off his parka, hung it on the hanger, and began to work on the kettle. Vera, who had taken off her coat, turned on her computer and touched the battery pipe under the window with her hand. I touched the pipe from my side.
“It’s not very good, is it?” Vera smiled, rubbing her hands together from the cold.
“Right, not so good…” I nodded, keeping my hand on the warm pipe. “Okay, but not hot…”
“A heater would be nice!” added Vera, shivering in her chair.
“You’re right, Verok!” Sergey nodded vigorously, looking at me.
“I don’t mind…” I shrugged. “We’ll see… If we freeze with such batteries, we’ll buy a heater…”
The kettle boiled lazily.
“All right, Verok, what about the e-mail?” Sergey began to work vigorously. “Are there any orders from pharmacies? Did ‘Fort’ send the leftovers?”
“Let me check, Seryozha…” she said.
Sergey just as energetically opened the briefcase, rustled around with his hands, closed it, went into the pocket of the parka. I was still in a half-sleep state, from which I was awakened by a sharp crack of some mechanism. I shuddered and raised my head at the sound. Sergey was standing in the middle of the room, holding a cell phone – an open Nokia clamshell.
“Did you buy it?” I asked.
“Yes!” Sergey exhaled with a satisfied look. “I decided to treat myself for my birthday! I am sick of walking around with that stupid phone!”
“Ah! And rightly so! How much is it?”
“Thirteen thousand seven hundred!” Sergey said and plunged into studying the phone’s menu.
I suddenly thought that all the fiddling with the briefcase, the vigorous rummaging in his jacket pockets and, as a final flourish, the demonstratively loud opening the phone – Sergey had orchestrated all this as a prelude to the presentation of an expensive purchase. I even smiled, but immediately restrained myself mentally, deciding that with such a perception of Sergey’s actions, it was not far to paranoia.
And on Monday, December 4, Sergey showed up at the office with a swollen face, uttering the hackneyed phrase that he felt “like a squeezed lemon after those celebrations”. He had a strong smell of sour breath – the stench of alcohol. I realized that a lot of it had been consumed, and Sergey spent the day sluggishly, taking a pill of Citramonum to soothe his aching head.
The next day, Sergey and I received copies of Vera’s monthly reports. With my usual meticulousness, I began to study each figure.
“Aren’t you going to look at them?” I was surprised to see Sergey get rid of his copy of the reports without looking at them, shoving the papers into his briefcase.
“I’ll look at them at home tonight,” he waved and sat back in his chair.
I suddenly realized that Sergey would not look at the reports on principle. “If he does, it’s just for a glimpse,” I thought, and I discovered another peculiarity of Sergey: he was not goal-oriented. This discovery explained a lot about his way of doing things, his way of living. I realized that the meticulous zeal for work that I showed was not typical of Sergey. His attitude was superficial. From the category – the goods are sold, profits are growing, well, what else do you need, why sit and pick at some figures, if everything is good! And suddenly, for a moment, I imagined two trotters in a harness, pulling a cart, but one pulls as hard as he can, and the other pulls too, but just enough to keep in line, and just enough so that the harness does not tell the other that he is not working hard enough. And all these thoughts in a tangle of feelings and sensations swept through my consciousness and sowed confusion there. With an effort I returned to the reports and continued to study the rows, columns and numbers in them.
“Vera, why does it say ‘Lobov S.M.’ in the ‘Suppliers’ column?” I tore myself away from the papers and looked over at my partner. “Seryoga, we haven’t owed you or me anything for a long time, have we? Some twelve thousand here… Do we owe you anything?”
“I don’t think so…” He perked up, looked at me in surprise, then at his wife. “Vera, what is this debt the company owes me?”
“What debt?” Vera was also alarmed, frowning and tapping on the keyboard. “Oh, yes, there is… strange… The company doesn’t owe you anything, right?”
Sergey’s wife stared at both of us.
“No,” I shook my head. “Everything was paid a year ago.”
“Vera, fix it!” Sergey splashed his hands. “Romka says it right, everything was paid to him and me long ago. Make normal reports!”
“Oh, okay… I’ll redo everything!” She fussed, and soon the printer whistled and issued new copies of the reports. “There you go, boys! Now everything is correct!”
On December 12, while Petya was loading for the first run in the morning, I spent an hour alone in the office, during which I had time to think about various things. I thought about how the apartment I had bought had turned from a shared success with my father into a stone of discord. My father’s assumption that I could, in Sergey’s words, “screw over” my father, made me resentful, and grievance seethed inside me. And that is why I was determined to prove to my father that he was wrong about me and to return the money to him in the agreed amount as soon as possible. And as soon as I had made up my mind, the image of Moscow, which was so close to me, receded from my mind.
“Well, I’ll have to wait a few years,” I decided.
The door to the room opened and Sergey rushed in, theatrically throwing a pile of papers on the table, making sure I noticed the move, smiling and extending his hand to say hello. Vera came in next.
“What’s this?” I reached for the papers.
“Bank statements,” Vera said, unbuttoning her coat.
“We barely got the statements, you know!” Sergey said and started to pour water into the kettle and pressed the button. “Who wants tea?”
“I do!” Vera squeaked.
“Everyone does,” I added. “Why?”
“But our general director’s term ended on December 10th, and no new one has been appointed!” Vera was ahead of her husband with an explanation that caused him to look at her with displeasure.
“And we have December 10th, right?” I said, digging into my memory.
“Yes, December 10, 2003, I was appointed for three years, and now I have to write a new resolution…” Sergey said, sniffing his nose. “Who wants sugar?”
“I don’t…” Vera waved and started the computer. “I’ll drink without sugar…”
“And you… deputy director!?” Sergey smiled.
“Give me five, I’ll have some!” I smiled back. “I learned to drink it like that from you!”
“You will learn much more from me! Gah-gah-gah!” Sergey laughed and threw his head back.
After a few minutes, the cups were in our hands and the room was silent. The only sounds were the measured sips as all three of us carefully took in the hot water.
“So, Romych, we need to reappoint the general director and take this paper to the bank, because we can no longer work with the account,” said Sergey, sitting in the chair by the door, holding a cup in one hand and a lump of sugar in the other.
“Let’s do it…” I chewed off a corner of my sugar lump and took a sip.
“I mean, as agreed, we’ll appoint me again, right?” Sergey nodded.
“Well, yes…” I repeated the bite and took a sip. “We agreed, didn’t we…”
“Ah, all right!” Sergey leaned back in his chair. “I was just checking…”
I silently put the rest of the first lump of sugar into my mouth and drank it down.
“Vera, type the same kind of paper on the computer as we did back then…” Sergey looked at his wife.
“What kind of paper was it? I don’t know, I don’t have it!” she waved her hands.
“I’ll give it to you!” Sergey reluctantly frowned, put the cup on the shelf of the cupboard, put the sugar next to it, took a sheet of paper from his briefcase and handed it to his wife. “Here, make exactly the same ‘resolution’, only number two… two copies… one for the bank, the other for us.”
The keyboard rattled. Sergey and I finished our tea, and the document was ready. According to it, Sergey Mikhailovich Lobov was reappointed as the general director of the company for the next three years. I, as co-founder, signed the document, Sergey put his signature under mine, stamped both copies, and put them in his briefcase.
“Roman, are you okay with the appointment of the general director?” he said in a sympathetic tone.
“I’m okay with it…” I smiled.
“Well, you never know!” Sergey was overly tactful, which made his concern seem unnatural. After all, he was the one who had initiated the extension of his powers, in violation of our rotation agreement. So I cloaked my dissatisfaction in sarcasm:
“Well, I hope I can be the general director next time!”
“Roman, what do you need it for? You’re already the gray cardinal here. Not a single decision is made without your approval anyway!” Sergey immediately covered my question with flattery and left it unanswered.
“Ha! Gray cardinal, you say? Interesting comparison,” I smirked, looking away. “All right then, what can I do, I’ll have to be the gray cardinal!”
I took Sergey’s wish to be the director for the next three years in stride. It seemed to me frivolous and even childish, I did not attach importance to this fuss of my partner and therefore decided to give in and please his ego. “After all, not a single action can be taken in the bank without me, this is enough for me, if anything…” I summarized.
“We need to meet tomorrow morning at the bank, Romych…” Sergey continued the conversation after a pause. “We’ll have to sign some papers about it, and about our signatures… we have two signatures… right, Vera?”
“Yes, Seryozha…” Vera said, not taking her eyes off the monitor, busy with her work. “And the signatures also need to be re-certified.”
“Ah… signatures… right…” I nodded. “Well, then, tomorrow morning at the bank…”
“Listen, Romych, maybe we should register one signature at the bank, too?” Sergey straightened up in his chair, crossed his arms over his chest and looked at me. “Because why do you have to go to the bank every time for this second signature?”
“What’s the difference?” I looked at my partner and shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t go there so often because of it… sometimes it happens… No, let it be two!”
I waved him off and leaned back in my chair.
Sergey looked at me thoughtfully for a moment, sniffed his nose and said:
“Look, we’ll be there tomorrow and we can register the signature at the same time, and then you won’t have to go to the bank at all, Verok and I will do everything there ourselves!”
“No,” I shook my head, “let it be two.”
“Well, suit yourself…” Sergey pursed his lips. “I mean well, to make it easier for you, because you are without a car and run from one bank to another for the sake of some signature…”
“I understand, Seryoga, let there be two…” I nodded and looked at Vera, already used to the fact that clear answers to any questions could only be obtained from her. “We can always make one, right?”
“Yes, Roma, you can make one anytime,” she said.
“Ah, well, if that’s the case!” Sergey splashed his hands. “Okay, then tomorrow at the bank!”
Sales of perfume had already increased in the run-up to the New Year, and we were preparing to make a good profit. Sergey drew up the order and when he saw the amount, he gasped.
“Roman, the order is for eight hundred thousand,” he stared at me confusedly, sitting at the table. Sergey’s one hand held a pen, the fingers of the other hovered over the calculator, trembling. My partner stared at me for a second and started chewing his lip.
“So?” I shrugged. “Eight hundred it is! Will Moscow deliver it?”
“I think so,” Sergey nodded.
“That’s it!” I smiled. “They’ll deliver it and we’ll sell it and make a lot of money!”
“Everything’s always easy for you, Roman!” Sergey looked at his wife and put a thick cocktail of emotions into the sentence. In it I caught indignation, admiration and envy of the ease of decision-making and confidence in success.
“Why complicate it?” I added. “We brought it, sold it, got the money – that’s it!”
“I see!” Sergey nodded and exhaled fatefully. “So, shall I place the order? For eight hundred thousand!?”
My partner put his hand on the order sheet and stared at me questioningly. Sergey looked at me as if he understood that the order should be made exactly as needed, but if not for my mood, he would have immediately halved the order to the amount psychologically comfortable for him.
“Yes!!!” I cut him off, placing my palms on the armrests like I was doing push-ups. “That’s the order we’re going to make!”
“Vera, here, place the order, send it…” Doomed, Sergey handed the sheet to his wife.
The perfume arrived on Monday, December 18, and we distributed it to customers in three days, selling three-quarters of what we brought in the first week and making over two hundred. There was nowhere to put the money. We paid for the batch and still had more than three hundred thousand rubles.
“Roman, what are we going to do with the cash?” Sergey said at the end of the same week, sitting at the table, holding the open briefcase on his knees and spreading wads of money on the table.
“Seryoga, fuck if I know!” I muttered, twisting in the chair by the door and laughing.
He stared at me, biting his lips to keep from smiling.
“It’s New Year’s Eve in a week… holidays,” I added. “So only after that…”
“Then we can put the money into the stab fund,” Sergey suggested.
“What the hell is a stab fund?” I couldn’t help myself and burst out laughing. “Seryoga, have you been watching too much economic news?”
In those days, the word was constantly on television and in the newspapers, accompanying almost all economic and political news.
“No,” he puffed up with indignation. “I’m just suggesting that the surplus cash be kept somewhere separate, so we don’t have to split it in two and each of us doesn’t have to keep two or three hundred thousand and carry it around with us all the time!”
“I don’t carry it around…” I shrugged. “I leave it at home, and that’s where it sits…”
“Well, you don’t carry it! I have to carry it! I’m constantly paying for this and that out of the common fund!” Sergey added even more resentfully.
“Well, let’s put it in the stab fund, it’ll be more convenient for you, I don’t care…” I agreed. “And where do you want to keep this stab fund?”
“We can open a bank account for one of us, or I can put the money in my account, I already have it in the same bank where our company account is…” Sergey said hurriedly. “If the company needs the money, I’ll just take it from one window to the other…”
“Well, you can do that. No need to carry such sums in a briefcase,” I nodded. “Better safe than sorry! All right, put the money on your account and then we’ll decide what to do with it…”
The last week of 2006 was hectic – goods were being shipped at full speed and Petya was making two runs a day. We had not planned to go to work on the 29th, thinking that there would be no orders on the last working day. We were wrong. Petya made two runs again. As soon as he left, Sergey immediately fidgeted in his chair at the table and said:
“Vera, tell me the number!”
“Three hundred and twenty thousand!” she leaned back in her chair with satisfaction.
“Oh wow!” I was impressed. “Two hundred and twenty thousand net profit! Not bad, huh?”
“Yeah… not bad!” Sergey sniffed his nose, put his ankle on the knee of the other leg and started to kick his shoe.
Suddenly I wanted to go home, I was tired. We had a long holiday ahead of us until January 9th. We packed up, walked out into the snowy darkness and silence of the factory, got into the “Mazda” and drove home. Sergey slowed down at my stop, I jumped out and ran home. Nothing could spoil my mood. Not even the lack of holiday spirit in the family. It had been several years since the Christmas tree had been decorated at home, and this year the lights were not blinking.
“Happy New Year, son,” my mother appeared in the doorway of my room, looking disheveled. She was swaying, either from not feeling well or from a cigarette. Everything about her was the same, only her eyes had subtly changed. My mother smiled at me.
“Happy New Year, Mom,” I said softly. “Should I buy some tangerines?”
“Do you want tangerines?” my mother smiled again.
“Yes! It wouldn’t be New Year’s without tangerines! Do you want some?” I offered.
“I do!” my mother said, squeezing her fingers together happily, her eyes sparkling.
“I’m going to the store!” I decided and hurried to get dressed. I wanted to believe that things would get better in the family. On New Year’s Eve, you believe in the best. The next night I went to “Clear Skies”. I took a chair on the dance floor in a cozy niche and watched the visitors for about five minutes, trying to catch that wave of mood, of feeling, that I sat in that place with just two or three years ago. No miracle happened – I did not step into the same river twice. None of the club regulars were there, there were other people around. I realized that very soon the moment would come when I would be here for the last time. And I might not even know that it would be the last time. I just won’t be here anymore. I felt sad. I finished my glass and went outside, trying not to look anyone in the eye.
We started work on January 9th. We had barely worked a few days when the real frost set in. I had not remembered such a drop in temperature in ten years. The mercury in the thermometer outside the apartment window dropped to thirty below zero and stayed there. Everyone tolerated it for the first week. The creak of snow underfoot became a squeak. The snow-covered trees stood in ridiculous, twisted poses, as if frozen through. It was as if nature was enduring the frost as well as people. We immediately bought a heater for the office – a good oil heater. The room got warmer and the frost that came through the cracks in the old window stopped. Senya and his son would only come to the warehouse to work, and when they were done, they would immediately run to their cramped kennel and drink tea endlessly. Senya’s glasses would become so covered with hoarfrost on his nose that the glasses would turn into two opaque white blobs, making Senya look like the cat Basilio, with white frosted hair under his nose instead of a mustache. Three times in a month Petya failed to start the “GAZelle” in the morning, which forced the company to take days off. My father waited out the frost at home, parking his “GAZelle” in the yard.
By the end of the month, the frost had thawed and the “stab fund” had accumulated a decent amount of money.
“Roman, what are we going to do with the money?”
“I don’t know, Seryoga, we can invest it in business, we can still try to buy an office somewhere, because it’s unrealistic to sit in this kennel forever…” I said.
“How are you going to buy an office?”
“I don’t know, we could buy some non-residential space and move there… but we don’t have that kind of money to put down the whole amount at once… it’s a lot to collect.” I thought out loud. “We could also invest money in the joint construction like I did, for example buy an apartment on the first floor and use it as an office…”
“Right, good idea…” Sergey thought and rubbed his lips with his fingers.
The three of us sat in the office and drank tea.
“To sign the contract, you only need thirty percent and that’s it, sign it…”
“And the price per meter is frozen, right? Like it was with you?” Sergey said thoughtfully.
“Well, it used to be like that, how it is now, I don’t know!” I waved my hands. “Seryoga, we could go there right now and find out about the conditions!”
“Yeah…” Sergey said, perked up. “So? Let’s go then!?”
We jumped into the “Mazda” and drove to the construction company’s office. We parked.
“Roman, I’m not going, you know everyone there…” Sergey said. “You’ll talk there, you’ll find out what’s what? And then we’ll decide what to do, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” I nodded and walked into the office, leaving my partner in the car.
After talking to the manager, I found out that the construction company had removed the clause from the contract that fixed the price per meter until the end of the construction project. It had become like everyone else’s – when the price went up, so did the price of the unbought meters. Price? Twenty-six and a half thousand rubles per meter. “I’ll be damned, six months ago it was half that much…” went through my head.
“Bring the third part!” the woman added. “And we’ll sign the contract with you!”
Having said that I wanted to buy the property not alone, but with a companion, and having taken time to “think”, I said goodbye and returned to the “Mazda”.
“Well?” Sergey looked at me impatiently.
“Well, a house is being built…” I said. “Here next door, right next to my house… a ten-story brick building… three floors are already standing. The house will be finished by the end of 2009.”
“And what, are there non-residential premises on the first floor?” Sergey sniffed his nose.
“There are non-residential premises, but all of them have already been bought out… We didn’t make it… There are three residential apartments…”
I unfolded the paper with the plan of the first floor of the house. It was built in the shape of the number 7. The inner sides of the house formed a courtyard. The sold non-residential units occupied the first floor of the outer side, the base of the “seven”. On the outside of the upper part of the “seven” on the first floor were residential apartments. And all of them were sold.
“There’s only one apartment left on the first floor,” I said, pointing to the corner of the “seven”. “Here it is… a two-room, sixty-two meters… One room overlooks the courtyard, right up to the entrance in the corner, and the kitchen and living room go out on the other side…”
“What’s on the other side?” Sergey looked at the plan.
“Well, there’s a house across from it, parallel… fifty-sixty meters to it…”
“And in between what?”
“Underground garages, I think… she said so… and that’s it.”
“Will it be possible to build an exit in their direction?” My partner expressed my thoughts.
“Fuck, Seryoga, I don’t know!” I exclaimed. “We’ll have to ask her, and you and I better go to the construction site and see everything with our own eyes… I already have a rough idea of what’s there and how, but I’ll go anyway, I’ll take a closer look… And you should go there and see everything with your own eyes too…”
“Romych, what is there to see? Bare walls!? Just check it out and that’ll be enough…”
“Seryoga, we’re not buying a bag of sugar. If I were you, I’d still go and see everything in person,” I said, feeling a little irritated that I seemed to be dragging Sergey into the deal. A strange pattern was emerging: I offer, I go to negotiate, I go to see the object on the spot… and he doesn’t even want to make a move. And not for anyone else, but for himself. I didn’t understand that approach. “Fuck, what a slacker, get off your ass, look at the apartment!” I got angry looking at my partner’s bloated face.
“Seryoga, it’s one thing for me to look at it, but it’s another thing for both of us! We’re both going to invest money, so we should both look at it,” I said.
“All right, we’ll go together sometime,” he mumbled, getting annoyed.
“So what do we decide?” I said.
“Roman, let’s think about it for a few days, we’re not in a hurry, are we?” Sergey said.
On Saturday the 27th I went for a walk to a house under construction. It was conveniently located for me – right on the way from my parents’ house to my house under construction. From my apartment to the house was a five-minute walk along a path through a pine forest. From my parents’ house – a few stops, about twelve minutes on foot. There was a building boom in town. Houses in my neighborhood were springing up like mushrooms. I walked out into the street, past the hypermarket and along the road to the “seven” under construction. A large apartment complex was being built parallel to the road, surrounded by gray concrete slabs of a fence. Between the road and this fence was a temporary path of concrete slabs about a meter and a half wide. I followed it. The path was about three hundred meters long and took up almost half of the road. I passed it and stepped down onto the gravel. The house, shaped like a “seven”, was also surrounded by a fence, over which I could see the floors being built. I walked along the fence, reached the corner of the “seven” and looked around. Construction sites all around… It was a weekend, silence, nobody, only the wind licked relentlessly at the hull of the building and the fence. With my eyes I found the windows of the right apartment. The garages ran parallel to the house, judging by the contours of their roofs, which rose two meters above the ground. Two of the apartment’s windows faced them. The fence restricted the view. But I saw all I needed to see, and… I hesitated. “It’s unlikely that an exit to the roof of the underground garage is allowed, it’s probably forbidden by the building code…” I thought and walked back.
“So, Romych, are we going to buy the apartment or not?” Sergey said on Monday morning, when we had finished our current business and started drinking tea.
“What do you think?”
“I think we should do it,” Sergey sniffed his nose, chewed sugar and sipped loudly from his cup. “Especially since your apartment is already being built there, you know everyone there, the company seems to be okay… Of course I don’t know what’s what, so I trust you in this matter…”
“Seryoga, you can trust me or not!” I spread my hands. “But I’m not the one who builds houses, I myself have signed the same ordinary contract…”
“But still… You have already blazed the trail… We can follow it now.”
“By the way, I went to see the house this weekend…” I started, wanting to express my doubts so that we could make a well-considered decision afterwards.
“So what’s up?” Sergey was all ears.
I told him what I had seen and expressed my doubts.
“Well, we just have to ask them if we can build there or not, and that’s all,” Sergey said, smacking his tea loudly, the sugar melting in his mouth.
“Yes, that’s right,” I nodded.
“Stop by on your way home from work today and find out,” my partner suggested.
“Okay, will do,” I nodded again.
So I did. But my visit didn’t bring any clarity, and I was tired of all the fuss, so I agreed to buy the apartment and put off other matters for later.
“You said we only have five hundred thousand now?” Sergey asked me on Tuesday, January 30, when we decided to sign the contract for the apartment.
“Yes. At first the manager told me they needed thirty percent, I said we had five hundred and we would buy the apartment without any problems, and she agreed, she said, ‘I know you, you’re a careful investor, you paid for the previous apartment on time’. Anyway, we can go, she will sign us a contract with five hundred thousand down payment!”
After the phrase “you’re a careful investor” Sergey grimaced, but said nothing. He never went to see the house. Strange. The man was ready to sign a contract for almost a million of his financial obligations for an object he didn’t even want to see.
“So how are we going to draw up the contract, for two of us or one?” Sergey said as soon as we pulled up to the construction company’s office and turned off the engine.
“What do you mean? For two, of course! What do you mean, one?” I was surprised at the question.
“I mean, not to deal with this division into halves, into quarters…” Sergey wrung his hands, “and to register the apartment for one of us and not worry! That it would be more convenient! We work together, Roman! We have everything on trust! That’s why I propose to register it for one of us, so it will be easier, less all this paperwork!”
Sergey spun a wheel in the air with his hands, imitating “paper fiddling”.
“I see what you mean…” I thought about it. “Only it is inconvenient…”
“Why inconvenient?” Sergey looked at me. “We know – the money is common and anyway neither you nor I will sell half of the apartment if someone wants to! We’ll sell it as a whole. That’s why I say, it’s easier for me to register it for one of us!”
“Well,” I said. “It’s a bit easier, yes. But, for example, God forbid, of course, something happens to the person to whom the apartment is registered… and what? And then run to prove to his relatives that this apartment is half of your money? It would be a pain in the ass!”
“Why? What pain in the ass!? You think Anatoly Vasilievich or my Vera will not give the money?” Sergey was indignant.
“Seryoga, I don’t know!” I began to get really worked up. “I can only speak for myself, and I can’t speak for anyone else! What’s the point of this coffee cup reading? Let’s make it for two and that’s it, let’s make an agreement with you, for example – if one of us offers to sell the apartment, the other one automatically agrees! So that neither you nor I will hinder each other in this matter, and without any screw-ups. Agreed?”
“Roman, why would I stand you up or make any screw-ups?” Sergey sulked and made an insulted face.
“Seryoga, I am not saying that you will screw up! I mean the documents need to be done right so we don’t think such shit about each other in the first place, get it?” I explained and found myself feeling guilty for suggesting such a thing, my tone was already apologetic, which only made me more irritated.
Sergey was silent and looked at me confused, as if he didn’t know how to avoid my arguments.
“That’s why it’s better to formalize everything properly…” I added, smiling.
“Okay!” Sergey perked up, gave up and waved me away. “For two, so be it…”
“Then here is the deal – if one decides to sell his part, the second automatically agrees and does not interfere?” I said and held out my hand to Sergey.
He looked at me for a second, looked down at my hand, and snorted: “Shit, Roman…”
“Seryoga,” I shook my hand in the air, calling for a handshake. “Deal?”
“Deal, deal…” he said, shaking my hand hastily, shaking his head and humming. “Roman, things are so complicated with you…”
“What’s so complicated?” I was surprised, and again I caught the notes of apology in myself, I got angry about them, not understanding why I was apologizing at all, because I only offered to draw up the documents correctly and fairly.
Sergey opened the door and got out of the car panting. I climbed out on my side. My winter clothes were in the way, so I rolled over on my side and threw my legs out into the snow, caught the inertia and jumped out, glanced at my partner’s angry face, and we entered the building.
“How much will you pay?” the manager said, putting her pen to the contract as we both sat in her office.
“Five hundred,” I said calmly.
“Or even five hundred and ten,” Sergey added hastily, taking the money out of his briefcase with shaky hands and looking at me. “I have a tenner in the common fund…”
“How much?” the woman said, looking between us.
“Five hundred and ten,” I decided, not without pleasure, watching Sergey tremble in his chair like a lowly official who had been received by a big shot.
The contract was ready, all that remained was to sign it. I began to run my pen over the pages of one copy of the contract, watching Sergey. His hands were trembling, which made the signature that my partner was diligently writing on the other copy come out neat and tidy, with little curls in the middle and a modest tail at the end.
When we finished signing and paid an advance to the cashier, we got a copy of the contract and a check for two hundred and fifty-five thousand and returned to the car.
“How are we going to keep these contracts and checks?” Sergey was still sulking and gave me an angry look. “Together, or on our own?”
“On our own, why together? You have your copy of the contract, I have mine, you have your checks, I have mine – it’s fine!” I said, putting the check and the contract in the file.
“And how are we going to pay for the meters in the apartment, together or separately!?” Sergey continued to radiate dissatisfaction.
“I mean, are we going to pay equally, or someone faster and someone slower?”
“Equally, of course!” I was surprised to hear such a thought from my partner.
“Well, you never know!” Sergey splashed his hands. “What if you say, ‘I’ll pay for my half now, and you’ll pay for yours later…”
“Seryoga, I won’t say such bullshit!” I hummed. “We bought the apartment together and we’ll pay for it equally!”
Sergey remained silent, threw his file of documents carelessly into the back seat and started the car. We went back to work.
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