“Seryoga, draw the order for the toilet water, and I’ll draw for Krasnodar!” I said on Monday, February 12th. By that day our stock had dried up and it was time to bring a new batch of perfume for the upcoming holidays.
“What if the frost comes again?” he looked at me.
“It won’t!” I said. “And nothing will happen to the toilet water, there is alcohol in it.”
The printer produced two sheets of leftovers, and we got to work.
“Roman, I made a million here!” Sergey said, taking his stunned eyes off the paper on the table and turning them to me. “Look at this!”
“Well, good!” I nodded. “Cool, Seryoga!”
“Roman…” he paused dramatically and held up a finger. “A million!”
“So?” I was surprised. “A million, what’s the big deal?”
“What’s the big deal!?” Sergey was indignant. “We never ordered a million! The maximum was eight hundred thousand! Do you think they’ll just send us goods for a million!?”
“They did it for eight hundred, didn’t they? Why not a million?” I said calmly.
“Are you sure?” Sergey pressed with his voice.
“What’s there to be sure about – send the order and we’ll find out!” I said, but Sergey still looked confused, I continued. “We pay properly, there are no debts, we can even throw more money at them that they’ll realize that everything is okay with us… Send the order and we’ll know…”
“Vera, here… send it…” Sergey handed the paper to his wife, obviously overcoming his doubts, shook his head and added: “Shit, Roman, we are getting into some kind of ass…”
“What ass!? Seryoga!” I was surprised. “There’s an order for a million, well bring for a million, what’s the big deal!”
“Well, I’d reduce the order!” he said immediately.
“Why reduce it when we can sell for a million!?” I stared.
“Because it’s a lot of money!” he shouted almost desperate.
“So what???” I didn’t understand, I even wanted to say – chickened out? but I didn’t, I just added: “What does it matter how much it is? We’ll order as much as we need, we know how much we sell… Don’t sweat it!”
“I don’t sweat it!” Sergey snapped at me.
“Then what are we talking about?” I spread my hands.
“Okay…” Sergey waved away, giving up.
The same day our order was accepted and the waybills were emailed to us.
“The whole order has been processed,” Vera looked at us. “A total of one million eighty-three thousand two hundred and twenty rubles…”
“Well, what did I tell you?” I smiled at Sergey’s pensive look. “They’ll send it… The bigger the order, the bigger the client, the higher its value and they’re more willing to send it… By a reversal of logic, Seryoga, you have to raise the rates, not lower them, got it?”
As I watched my partner’s confusion, I laughed silently. Vera understood my mood, looked at me with flashing eyes and watched the events with interest.
“A fucking million!!! Holy moly!” Senya said, seeing the amount on the waybill through the frosted glasses and staggering out of the cold into the warehouse. The temperature was frozen at about twenty below zero and would not rise.
“Yep, Senya, a million!” I said cheerfully, turning away so as not to give myself away with a smile, looking at Sergey, nodding at the car that had pulled up to the warehouse, and suggesting to my partner: “Why don’t we help them? We’ll warm up too…”
“Nah, let’s go!” He waved me off. “They’ll manage on their own!”
Sergey turned around, found the storekeeper with his eyes and said without further appeal:
“Senya, go ahead, unload! Check the goods, bring the waybills to the office afterwards!”
“Okay, Seryozha!” Senya said, wiping the snot from his nose.
“Let’s go!” Sergey punched me in the arm and jumped out of the warehouse. I followed.
On the twentieth, Tuesday, a truck arrived from Krasnodar – in the afternoon, shortly after two o’clock, a “MAZ” with a trailer brought us fifteen tons of goods. The truck drove through the loose snow along the slope of the warehouse, and when it started to back up to the warehouse gate, it got stuck in the snow.
“Fucking hell! It’s stuck!” I said, spitting angrily.
Sergey silently stepped aside. I went to the cabin of the “MAZ”. The driver opened the door and, hanging on his arm, pressed the pedal and looked at the wheels turning in place.
“Try to go forward a little and then backward…” I suggested.
“I wish I had some sand,” the driver said.
“We have some sand,” I said, remembering that I had seen a pile of sand on the corner in the summer.
I went back to the warehouse, found two shovels, handed one to Sergey, and walked to the corner. For the next ten minutes we carried the frozen sand under the wheels of the truck. Soon the hired loaders arrived – students, four of them. I immediately told them the reality of the situation:
“Guys, we have to carry it from there to the warehouse! The car is completely stuck there…”
Half past three. We started with the trailer. The loaders picked up the boxes and carried the goods into the warehouse. They formed a lively, ant-like line.
“Only twenty meters and already two more hours of work,” I thought angrily.
The day began to pass quickly.
The trailer was finished in two and a half hours. The sun had set and it was completely dark. Not a single light was burning, only the light from inside the warehouse shone out onto the trampled ground, and the street lamp above the warehouse helped as much as it could through a blurred holder.
“Try it, maybe you can get going now,” I suggested to the driver.
No use, the wheels were sliding helplessly on the ice. Besides, the batteries were dead.
“They should be recharged, at least for a few hours,” the driver said. “Otherwise, I’m afraid they won’t work next time…”
The nearest outlets were in the office building. The batteries are heavy blocks with handles on the sides, and carrying them a hundred meters in the snow to the office would be a challenge.
“We need a sled or we’ll never make it!” I said and went to the gatehouse. I was lucky. Soon I returned with an ordinary child’s sled. We put the two batteries in it and pulled it to the office. Me and Sergey. One pulled, the other pushed from behind. The thin rope cut my hands unpleasantly through my gloves. The sled, wobbling, slipped off the track and got stuck in the snow. Tired, we changed every ten meters. Suddenly I thought about how the first polar explorers must have felt, dragging their sleds with provisions up the hills. And not a hundred meters. And not in twenty degrees. The temperature dropped. “Twenty-five, I guess,” I estimated. We pulled the sleds to the door of the building, brought in the batteries, and plugged them in. Back to the warehouse. The unloading continued. In an hour and a half we unloaded five tons from the “MAZ”. I looked at the faces of the loaders, Senya, his son. Everyone was freezing, but the job was coming to an end, and they tried to be cheerful.
We brought the batteries from the office and installed them.
“If it doesn’t work the first time, it won’t work the second time,” said the driver and got into the cabin. Sergey went to the warehouse. Up to my ankles in snow, I stayed near the truck, and then I felt how cold and tired I was. Seven hours in the cold. I was exhausted. The driver turned on the ignition. The starter cranked the engine pretty fast, two or three cylinders fired, the exhaust pipe blew a black cloud and… and that was it. The starter cranked for another five seconds and then gave up. The driver turned off the ignition. Silence.
“That’s it, dead!” the driver said desperately as he approached me. “I have to sleep here in the cabin, charge the batteries and sleep overnight!”
“We’ll try again!” I said determinedly. “Let’s wait a while, let the batteries rest a bit, charge them, but not for a long time, so that the engine does not freeze, and try again, okay?”
“Okay,” the driver nodded.
“Try it!” I said, feeling my own body, frozen to the bone, beginning to fall asleep from cold and fatigue.
The driver climbed into the cabin.
“God help me!” went through my mind in absolute desperation.
Ignition. The starter started. “Vzh-zh-zh!” it cranked the cold engine. Five seconds… silence… seven, the starter began to slow down, the cylinders were silent… vzh-zh-zh… nine… zh-zh… ten… the starter became exhausted, stopped. “Fuck, that’s it!” I realized, doomed.
One second… two… total silence.
“Doo-doo-doo!” the diesel engine roared.
“Yes!!! We did it!!!” I shouted and jumped on the spot.
Sergey came running.
“What, started?” he said.
“Yes, it started! Fucking great! It works! Fucking A, Seryoga!” I kicked my partner happily. “Let’s add more sand and make a better rut so he can get out!”
For the next few minutes we swung our shovels hard. When we were done, we walked wearily toward the warehouse. The “MAZ” roared. I turned around and stopped. The truck pulled the trailer, froze for a second, then slowly rolled forward at a slight angle and turned the corner. The trailer disappeared behind the truck in the shadow of the factory building, and all I had to do was follow the movement by sound. The car roared, the sound going off to the left. “Passed the second curve, now up through the snow,” I thought, remembering how my father and I had spent the whole day clearing the snow from the road, shoveling a rut all the way to the gatehouse. The engine tensed, slowed, and continued to pull along the building to the end, where the snow was already smooth. Suddenly, the engine seemed to exhale after a long load and began to thump briskly and easily – the truck had broken through to the gatehouse. “That’s it,” I thought with relief and walked into the warehouse. Darkness all around. And silence. The rest was like a dream. I was tired and cold. We paid the loaders, closed the warehouse and went to the office with Sergey.
Soon we were on our way home in the “Mazda”. The drive seemed endless. All I could think of was a hot bath. When I got out of the “Mazda” at the usual place, I went into the apartment, undressed and went straight to the bathroom. I turned on the hot water and the bathtub began to fill. I immediately climbed in, lay down with my back in a thin layer of hot water and closed my eyes. My heart was beating loudly and rhythmically. The heat didn’t help. Even when my body was completely in the water, I was still cold. The bathtub filled. I turned off the water and lay still for about ten minutes until I felt the water get cold and I still wasn’t warm. I turned the water back on. After about twenty minutes, the cold left my body and I became warm and languid. I could barely keep my eyes open, my body was sluggish, and I desperately wanted to sleep. I got to the bed, half asleep, lay down on it, pulled the blanket over me with the last of my strength, and passed out.
The next day the frost had thawed, and by noon it was already nine degrees below zero. “Just one day… Why couldn’t they bring the goods a day later or the warming a day earlier?” I thought angrily, remembering with a shudder the day before. After the frost, it was as if a different reality had set in, as if winter had suddenly become not real, but something childish. It was no longer necessary to run down the street, thinking only of how to get inside as quickly as possible. And everyone felt that the city was suddenly softer and more relaxed, as if after a long siege there was a moment of silence and rest. And on February 22, Sergey returned from “Fort” with feverishly shining eyes.
“How much!?” I realized the reason for the glare.
Without saying a word, he handed me four sheets with the rest of our goods, the first one with “280000” written on the top.
“Two hundred and eighty!??” I lowered my voice to a whisper and stared at my partner.
Just as silently, Sergey placed the swollen briefcase on the table and began to take out the wads of money, laying them out in front of me.
“Not bad!” I shook my head. “Seryoga, this is a record!”
Sergey looked at me, chewing his lip, his nostrils flared like a stallion who had just finished first. In a moment he put the briefcase aside, shoved his hands into his pockets, spread his elbows wide and stopped in the middle of the room.
“Vera, write it down!” Sergey ordered his wife, who went to the table to get a notebook and immediately wrote down the number, pedantically asking to repeat it.
I stared at the wads of money for a while until I realized and said:
“Seryoga, put the money away! Senya or Petya will come in, see it, and go fucking nuts!”
“What should we do with it? Stab fund!?” Sergey said matter-of-factly, and began to shove the bundles back in with deliberately careless movements. “Or should we take it to the apartment?”
“To the apartment,” I nodded. “No need for it to just sit there…”
“Well, let’s not take it yet, there will be more payments! Next week too… Let me put this money into the stab fund for a month, and then we’ll take it all at once in the same amount?” Sergey suggested.
“Okay, let’s do it that way…” I shrugged, one month wouldn’t change anything. “It’s unlikely that the price of a meter will increase, usually the price goes up in April, before the summer,” I thought and agreed.
This amount impressed me for another three days. I had the feeling that Sergey, too, had exceeded his financial expectations of our association. I remembered the feverish glow in his eyes, which only confirmed my hunch.
February was over, and during the winter “campaign” we sold the maximum amount of perfumes. We were also right about the salts – in March the remainder was as much as we had predicted. “Everything will be sold in March and April,” the three of us estimated with satisfaction.
“Have you heard anything about excise taxes on household chemicals?” Sergey said as he walked into the office one morning in early March. The sun had already started to warm up noticeably, the daylight hours had increased, and I wanted to get rid of my winter clothes and get back into the hot summer. Sergey took off his jacket, hung it on a hook, and plumped down in the chair by the door.
I haven’t heard anything about excise taxes.
“They said they would introduce some kind of system, like with alcohol, for example, if you sell household chemicals and there is alcohol in them, you have to work through this system somehow, pay some kind of excise tax…” Sergey filled me in as vaguely as he could.
“Really!?” I was surprised. “What kind of bullshit is that!? What for!?”
“How should I know! I just found out myself today!” Sergey chewed his lip in confusion.
We spent the whole day discussing the news, asking everyone we called for details. No one knew anything. We had big plans for the upcoming dichlorvos season, and our goal was to sell more of it than ever before. That summer, we managed to sell two and a half thousand boxes. Which, according to Sergey, repeated the maximum sales of “Sasha”. I mentally wished that we had sold three or three and a half thousand. And then such news!
During the week the details became clear – it turned out that a special program would be created to record the movement of goods containing alcohol, and it would cost a lot of money and work in a complicated way. It would be created, because by mid-March it was not yet available. All over the country there was a stupid situation – there are goods containing alcohol, but trading companies and manufacturing plants do not have the program, it is impossible to sell such goods without it.
“So what do we get…” I said. “We’ll only be able to sell kerosene-based dichlorvos without this program, and that’s it!”
“Well, it turns out that way,” Sergey waved his hands.
“And ‘Arbalest’ has all the dichlorvos on alcohol, right!?” It dawned on me.
“Well, I guess so…” Sergey said after thinking about it.
“And if the program is not available by summer, then they will not be able to sell dichlorvos, right?”
“Theoretically, yes,” Vera said, and we both looked at her, then at each other.
“Interesting situation,” I said.
Polinka ratted out Natasha as soon as she saw me at “Clear Skies”. I went there less and less. Only when I felt nostalgic. I was standing at the bar in the grotto when she appeared behind me from the darkness of the dance floor.
“Alone? Hi!” Polinka said, playing with an empty tray in her hands.
I nodded. We exchanged a few banalities, and Polinka began to tell me the key thing – she said that as soon as we broke up, Natasha started seeing a guy, that he lived in the same neighborhood as me, and that after New Year’s, Natasha moved in with him, lived there for two months, and then he kicked her out. I listened half-heartedly, I wasn’t really interested. My head was spinning with thoughts about female friendship and friends like Polinka, who would give up a more attractive friend at the first opportunity and continue to convince her of their friendship and loyalty. “There’s a reason you’re pimply and no one wants you,” I thought, looking into Polinka’s shifty eyes. She stopped talking. I was silent. Polinka hesitated beside me, perked up, and ran off to fulfill another order. I went out and walked home. Listening to myself, I tried to understand my reaction to the news about Natasha. I wasn’t happy that she was free. I didn’t feel any desire to get back together. I remembered Polinka’s eyes, waiting for my reaction and never getting it. It is difficult to play indifference when it is not really there. But the turned page of life is easy to accept calmly.
“Look, Romych, why don’t we register one signature at the bank?” Sergey suggested again, grimacing in a begging and pitiful way. “Two makes no sense! We are not hiding anything from each other, are we? Anyone can look at the bank in the computer at any time – you or I – and see what is there and when and where it was paid. It’s just inconvenient to have to jerk you around every time they give us some papers to sign at the bank and you have to go from the right bank to the left bank to make some kind of scribble… What’s the point? Vera also has to sign the payment every time in this electronic bank, first she inserts a diskette – she signs the payment with my signature, then she inserts the second diskette – she signs it for you! She could sign it once and send it! It’s just that she has to insert these disks every time… I mean, if we have to, let’s keep it that way. But I just don’t see the point. Let’s register the general director’s signature, it will be valid for the accountant, and that’s it. One disk – convenient!”
Sergey spread his hands and waited for my answer. “Basically, Seryoga is right, there is no point in having two signatures, no one is going to transfer money from the account somewhere else, you have to be a complete fool, everything is transparent, every payment can be seen at any time. We can remove the second signature,” I thought and agreed. At the end of March we went to the bank and made the necessary changes. At the same time, Sergey withdrew the money from the stab fund from his personal account, and we transferred it to the account of the apartment we had bought.
“Nice!” I exclaimed with satisfaction as soon as Sergey and I returned to the “Mazda” from the construction company’s office. “We paid for more than half of it! Almost thirty-five meters! The summer will pass with dichlorvos, and we’ll have paid off the second half! And the apartment is ours, we’ll make an office there! Wonderful, Seryoga!”
“We don’t have to pay the rest yet, we could bring the money just before the apartment is ready,” Sergey said. “When will it be ready? At the end of the eighth year? Or the ninth?”
“At the end of the ninth…”
“All the more! There is no hurry now, Roman…” Sergey said thoughtfully.
“Seryoga, what’s the point of keeping the money if housing prices keep going up? And we don’t have a contract like I did. If the prices jump, we’ll go into hock.”
“No, I don’t think they’ll jump that much!” Sergey waved thoughtfully.
“I don’t think they’ll jump either! They will grow at the rate of inflation, no more, but still… why keep money if we are not going to use it anywhere else?”
“Why not? We are…”
“Well, we could certainly use it, get some good products… if that’s the case, sure! Let’s make more money!” I cheered.
“Yes, we’ll think of something!” Sergey came out of his reverie, revived, slammed his palm on the steering wheel. “That’s why I say, let’s get through the summer and then we’ll see…”
“All right, let’s!” I nodded. “We’ll see what’s what…”
The dichlorvos season was approaching, but there was still no special program to track the trade in alcohol products. It turned out that it was possible to sell dichlorvos from previously imported batches, but there was no point in bringing in new batches. Thinking about all this, I came up with an idea and decided to talk about it – I sat down in the chair by the door and said:
“Look… None of our competitors can sell dichlorvos because they’re all alcohol-based, right?”
“Well, I see what you’re saying! You’re suggesting that we bring in kerosene-based ones and sell them?” Sergey quickly interrupted me.
“Basically, yes, but not only… We sell a lot of dichlorvos for cash, we should calculate exactly and bring in alcoholic ones, but carefully… and basically yes, bring in kerosene ones and while everyone is stupid with this program, start pushing it to everyone… The demand for dichlorvos is not going anywhere!”
Sergey chewed his lip in his usual posture at the table – arms crossed over his chest and resting on his belly, bulging under his sweatshirt – thinking.
“Well…” he muttered. “And how many kerosene ones do you want to order?”
“I don’t know… I’d bring the maximum, see how much they can give us… Listen, can your buddy at the factory get us a whole truckload before the season?”
“A truckload?” Sergey stared at me, scared and surprised.
“Yeah… It would be cool if we could get a truckload of them shipped right away. It’s a confusing situation right now, and it’s going to be a few months for sure… And in those months, everyone will start stocking up on dichlorvos for the season… My point is, while everyone is slow, we can sell a lot of our own… Everyone needs to sell, no one is going to wait for these alcohol based dichlorvos, everyone is going to immediately rush to find a substitute and we have some – no alcohol and as much as you want…”
“But why take so many? Let’s take half, sell it, and then order more.”
“No, you don’t understand!” I added excitedly. “We can’t order half, we have to take a truckload at once… If we order half, then in the middle of summer, when we sell it and need the goods again, we will be asked to pay for it, and the money for it will not be returned, and our own will not be enough, and we will end up without goods in the middle of the season… We should order a full truckload and sell it quietly until the end of the summer, sell the maximum, and when the money comes back, we’ll start closing the debt! We will even begin to close it earlier, so that we can pay part of it in advance, then even if part of it is overdue, they will not blame us, they will wait…”
Sergey chewed his lip and looked at me with glassy eyes.
“The main thing is that we get this truck delivered, Seryoga! Everything else is a piece of cake! We need to call your buddy and talk to him, tell him we want to order for the whole season. By the way, since it’s such a mess, the kerosene in the factory might be sold out at once, and then there won’t be any more… That’s why we should get a truck right away! We’ll stockpile dichlorvos and sell it quietly this summer! There will be a lot of hype, Seryoga, you’ll see!”
Sergey stopped chewing his lip and mumbled after a few seconds: “Yeah…”
“Call your acquaintance today, say we want to order a whole truckload, probe him, see the reaction…” I nodded and pressed my partner’s indecision.
Having made up his mind, Sergey sighed loudly.
“Call him today, talk to him!” I pointed my partner to the phone.
“Right!” he nodded and turned sharply to the right in his chair, and there was a thud.
“Aaaaah!!!” Sergey screamed, grabbing his left knee and slamming his head into the table.
“Aaaah!!!” he screamed again, clenching his teeth and holding his hands on his knee. “Oh!”
“Aah!” Sergey rested his forehead on the table. “Aah! Mmm! Aah! Mmm!”
Everything happened too fast, and Vera and I sat there completely dazed.
“Aah, mmm…” Sergey mumbled, lifted his head, sat up in his chair and exhaled. “Whew!”
Tears streamed from the corners of his eyes. Sergey hastily wiped them and his forehead with his hand.
“Phew,” he said. “Even my eyes dimmed…”
“What is it?” I said. “Did you get hit or what? With what? Your knee?”
“Yes, my knee…” Sergey exhaled and wiped his wet forehead again.
“Yeah, it’s painful…” I frowned sympathetically. “You should be more careful…”
“My knee is broken… cup…” Sergey said, wrinkling his nose.
“Your kneecap is broken???” I was surprised, remembering the information I had read somewhere that a broken kneecap causes the most pain, on a par with a stomach wound.
“I broke it a long time ago…” Sergey continued to hold his leg with his hand, rubbing it where it had been hit. “I have splinters there… and they move around… But when I walk it seems okay… But when I hit it, it’s like this… everything goes black…”
“Ugh!” Vera shivered and looked at me.
“I don’t get it… How can you walk? You need an operation, Seryoga…”
“Just like that, Roman…” he leaned back in his chair. “Phew, feels better now…”
The uncomfortable silence hung in the room for a minute. Two contradictory feelings arose in me – on the one hand, complete sympathy for my partner, and on the other, the thought that, according to his stories, there was hardly a place on Sergey’s body without some kind of injury. Everything had been knocked out, dislocated, pulled or stretched, broken and burst.
“Hey. Wanna go to the movies?” I received a text message in early April. The number wasn’t in my contact list, but I remembered it. I smiled, almost not surprised. “Movies… why not?” I thought, knowing that I had a lot of free time at the moment.
“Hey, let’s go,” I texted.
“Okay. See you this weekend then?”
“Yeah, see you this weekend.”
Natasha didn’t bother to call, and I didn’t care.
We met on Saturday. We texted without calling. At seven in the evening I was at the cinema and Natasha came next. The stiffness of her movements and the tension in her face revealed her inner state. I bought tickets, a glass of coke and popcorn for two. We communicated poorly, exchanging only the necessary words. Without them, we would have already switched to sign language. The theater was half empty, we took our seats, the lights dimmed, the show began. I started with popcorn and cola. Natasha, sitting tense, only touched her glass of coke, took a few sips. I drifted into the movie and sat like that for an hour and a half. The movie ended and the lights came back on. Without exchanging a single word during the movie, we both got up and headed for the exit. We went outside.
“So, bye, Natasha… thanks for the movie,” I said, waited for her one-syllable, blurry “bye,” and walked across the crosswalk into the park. I didn’t want to go back to her. “You have to respect yourself and not let them wipe their feet on you,” I thought, realizing that I had to develop a stiffness that was not typical of me, or I would pay for my softness forever.
“Call him, Seryoga!” I said, as soon as all three of us entered the office on Monday morning, April 9th, I looked at my watch and took a chair by the door, Sergey sat down at the table with a disgruntled face.
“Wait, Roman! Let me come to my senses after the weekend!” he said nervously.
“What could possibly happen to you last weekend?” I sneered.
“Two kids happened, Roman!” Sergey retorted.
“Ah… If that’s the case, then no argument here,” I retreated, giving him credit for the witty answer.
Sergey was busy with some unimportant and non-urgent matters. I watched him in silence, clearly realizing that Sergey was playing for time and was not very eager to make an important call. Ten minutes, twenty. I waited. The time difference between the cities was pressing. When noon comes, it will be the end of the working day in Novosibirsk.
“Seryoga, you gotta call… It’s almost noon…” I reminded him at eleven.
“Wait, Roman, wait, we’ll sort out the current situation, Vera will deal with the bank and then I’ll call him!” He pulled the hand supporting his head away from his forehead.
Half an hour later, with a heavy sigh, Sergey dialed the phone number of “Aerosib”.
“Yes, hi… aha, hi, yes… Seryoga, yeah… good, yeah, yeah… the season of dichlorvos has already started… yes… we’re going, aha… we’ve already sold everything left from the winter… yeah… we’re here thinking of placing an order for you… yes… aha…” Sergey was terribly worried, rubbing the wire of the telephone receiver with his free hand, then he stopped, put his trembling finger on the button of the speakerphone and pressed it. The voice of the commercial director of “Aerosib” with a typical Armenian accent entered the room through the loudspeaker:
“Seryoga, you take the dichlorvos, take it… Seryoga, do you hear me? When are you going to make an order?”
“Uh-huh, yes… I’m doing it now, aha!” Sergey said, gave me a conspiratorial smile and pressed the button again, bringing silence back into the room.
“Ask about the truck,” I said quietly but clearly.
“Uh-huh… yeah, yeah… look, I did the math here… aha… and I came up with fifteen tons… and I thought maybe we could order a full truckload… aha, yes, that’s what I’m saying… the full truck, yes!” Sergey’s index finger hovered over the speakerphone button, shaking, throughout the entire tirade.
“And ask about the price increase! The price increase!” I hissed, having remembered the important thing.
Sergey nodded automatically, not knowing who to listen to.
“Listen, when… when will you have the price increase?” he said, interrupting the flow of words from the tube. “Yes… price increase… when… end of April? Aha… Yes! Yes… here… yes… that’s right… that’s what I thought too, yes… aha, get dichlorvos for at the old price while it’s still… aha!”
Sergey looked at me and I nodded as hard as I could, making my neck hurt. My partner’s finger pressed the button – the voice said: “Seryoga, you do the right thing! Take a full truck right away, yes! The price is good! You’ll sell everything! You’ll pay us back later! Take it!”
“Aha, yes… I thought so too,” Sergey nodded, wiped the non-existent sweat from his forehead, fidgeted, not knowing where to put his hand, and pressed his finger on the same button – the background from the speaker disappeared. I leaned back in my chair, relaxed – the necessary information was received, the truck was promised to be sent to us. Sergey finished and hung up. His hand reflexively wiped his forehead again, his face looked tired and devastated.
“So they’re going to send us a truck, right?” I blurted out excitedly. “That’s fucking great, Seryoga! Fuck, there will be a price increase, that’s ten percent for sure! We have to hurry – we bring the goods and the price will go up immediately, you know! When do we send him the order, today or tomorrow?”
“Today we probably won’t have time…” said Vera, looking at the clock on the monitor, then at me. “They close in an hour…”
“What did he say?” I looked at my partner. “When do we send him the order?”
“He said if we send it today, he will give it to the warehouse today and it will be loaded tomorrow, and if we send it tomorrow, it will be loaded the next day…” he said tiredly, as if being interrogated.
“We still have an hour!” I was soaked with adrenaline. “Seryoga, come on, make the request! How much can his car carry?”
“He said if we take a full truck, it’s twenty-eight tons!” Sergey said sluggishly, resigned to my pressure.
“Great! Okay, we’ll order an assortment for the summer and load the rest with kerosene!” I said, slapping my palm on the arm of the chair.
All the aerosols we needed for the summer were only three tons.
“Order kerosene for the rest of the weight, Seryoga!” I said firmly.
Vera’s fingers broke away from the keyboard and fluttered over the calculator keys, and she immediately said: “That’s four thousand nine hundred boxes!”
“What, are we going to order that much!?” Sergey almost shouted with a hint of panic, staring at me with round and confused eyes.
“Yes!” I nodded and smiled, the excitement of adventurism just flaring up in me. But it was a calculated move. In case of incomplete sale of goods during the postponement period, we lost nothing – the more you owe, the more willing they are to negotiate, to forgive late debts and to set new dates for their repayment. This is the law of large numbers. But if we were successful, we would make a decent profit. It was a calibrated cavalry charge.
“Who are we going to sell it all to?” Sergey said almost calmly, but there was panic in his eyes.
“Seryoga, don’t be a pussy, we’ll sell it, you’ll see!” I hummed with a smile.
“I’m not!” he was indignant, immediately stopped being stubborn and looked at me resolutely with a deliberately stern look. “So, shall we order?”
I blinked affirmatively.
“Four thousand nine hundred boxes!?” Sergey signaled the seriousness of the moment.
I blinked again and smiled excitedly.
“Vera, do it! Four thousand nine hundred!” Sergey said, almost jabbing his finger into the screen.
“Should I?” Vera looked at both of us confusedly and, realizing from my answering look that the question was unnecessary, tapped her fingers on the keyboard. “That’s it! Done! Should I send it?”
“Yes, Vera, send it, twenty minutes left! Tell them to load it tomorrow morning!” I said.
The car arrived a week later.
“Holy moly…” Senya scratched the back of his head in amazement, staring at the open back doors of the truck full of boxes. “Roma, Seryozha, is it true that the whole truck is for us?”
“Yes, Senya, it’s true,” I nodded and entered the warehouse. “Come here. Look, the assortment will go first, carry it to the end of the warehouse, and then – kerosene. Put it here, right on the square at the entrance in a solid pile, but put the rows evenly so you can count it, because if we put it crooked, then we will not be able to count it later. There’s a lot of money here!”
“Two million…” Senya muttered respectfully. “I’ve already looked at the waybill…”
“Yes, Senya, two million!” Sergey, who had come up, said boastfully with his hands at his sides. “You can see for yourself what volumes we already have! We’re growing!”
The situation with the excise tax and its accounting program did not change – nothing worked and none of the wholesalers installed it. Alcohol-based dichlorvos disappeared from the shelves, which immediately affected the sales of our “kerosene” – the winter leftovers were gone in no time. The truck arrived right on time. We started unloading at ten. Within an hour, all the goods were moved to the back of the warehouse. It was the turn of the literally stinking dichlorvos. The acrid smell permeated the truck’s trailer and flowed into the warehouse with the first boxes. Four hired loaders and Senya’s son carried them. I, Sergey and Senya stood up to stack the boxes. We stacked them in rows, forming a square on a solid platform of pallets that had been moved. The boxes were covered with the same subtle black soot, as if coal had been mixed with talcum powder. Gradually and imperceptibly, with each box, it passed through the hands of all of us, settling on them and on our clothes. Gradually our hands became gray-black, as if they were unloading coal. The suspension was in the air, sometimes making us sneeze and rub our faces with our hands, which became stained and streaked, making us look like chimney sweeps. After working for an hour in the warehouse and making sure that the foundation was laid evenly, Sergey and I went to the office. On the way we stopped at the gatehouse and washed ourselves at the faucet in the wall.
“Vera, have you done a product evaluation?” Sergey said as soon as we entered the room.
“Yes, Seryozha, I did,” she said and handed the report to her husband.
Sergey stared at the paper.
“Four hundred thousand,” Vera said for some reason in a half-whisper, as if it were a secret.
“Four hundred!??” I was surprised, I was ready for two hundred.
Vera shook her head in satisfaction.
“Yes, Roman, four hundred thousand!” Sergey said, throwing the sheet carelessly on the table, looking at the water in the kettle, pressing a button on it, and plumping into the chair behind the table. “Come to think of it!”
“I did… but you were thinking about whether we should take the truck or not…” I said.
“I wasn’t thinking about whether to take it or not! I was thinking about who we’re going to sell all this stuff to!”
“Seryoga, we will sell it!” I said, not wanting to fall back into the viscous slime of my partner’s doubts. “And what we don’t sell will stay in the warehouse for the winter, and in the spring we’ll revalue the dichlorvos and make a hundred or two more! You’ll see!”
“What if they say – pay for the goods and we have half unsold!” Sergey still peppered me with his doubts.
“We will explain the situation, offer to mothball the unsold goods in our warehouse for the winter… Nobody will drag five or even ten tons back to Novosibirsk, it will cost a lot of money… Any normal person would think about it and agree,” I said.
“What if they don’t agree!?” Sergey started to annoy me with doubts again.
“If they don’t, we’ll send it to them! Wherever they say… But at their expense…” I spread my hands.
Sergey started chewing his lip, his face expressed confusion and indecision.
“Don’t be such a pussy, Seryoga! Everything will be fine!” I said encouragingly, humming.
“Fuck, Roman, you sound so confident! And I’m not a pussy, got it!?” he grinned.
Vera looked between us with worried eyes.
“Seryoga, we brought the truck, we’ll sell it and everything will be fine!” I said harshly. “We’ll sell it and order more! And if we don’t sell it, we’ll put it in storage and make money on the revaluation! And if they tell us to give it back, we’ll give it back! Nobody can make you pay for unsold goods! If they jump on us, we’ll return the goods and that’s it!”
I was angry, my face became stony. I noticed more and more that Sergey’s indecision wasn’t so harmless. He hesitated in every important matter. I had to persuade him, explain everything, spoon-feed him. Eventually he would agree, but it cost me energy. I felt that the only way to move forward in the business was to overcome Sergey’s doubts that had entangled me. And these invisible chains were getting heavier every day.
An hour later, we returned to the warehouse. Work was in full swing, the contours of the cube of boxes were already formed – with an eight-by-eight base, it rose a meter above the level of the pallets.
“Roma, Seryozha, how are we going to stack them now, on top?” said Senya.
“Yes, Senya, lift them up. And stack them like steps, it will be more comfortable,” I said. “When they’re up to your chest, put the sheets on top and keep lifting!”
Sergey and I joined the work. The farthest third of the cube near the wall grew to chest height, and a binding pad of cardboard sheets was laid on the formed platform. On the sheets we began to place the second level. We finished half of it and covered it with sheets. The last level was left at a height of one meter, thus forming three large steps.
After working for a couple of hours and getting covered in soot again, we went back to the office and the loaders took a break for lunch. When we returned to the warehouse an hour later, the work was already underway. The cube was two-thirds complete. The loaders worked automatically. I understood them well, I knew from my experience of unloading a truck – the first fatigue comes in the middle of the work. The second half is unloaded mechanically, and then comes a sharp fatigue literally fifteen minutes before the end. The last two pallets are always the hardest. I went to the warehouse. The picture was grotesque – under the gabled roof of the warehouse stood a cube of almost five thousand boxes. It was as if it had not been assembled on the spot, but dragged in all at once.
“Where shall we put it now?” Senya looked at me and pushed two boxes to the top, completing the corner of the figure.
“How many more are there?” I looked at the loader standing next to me. The others were a little further away. The work stopped.
“Two pallets,” he muttered.
“All right!” I shouted, feeling the fatigue in everyone. “Two pallets left! Let’s get them out and stack them right here at the entrance!”
The guy grabbed the penultimate pallet with a dolly and dragged it from inside to the edge of the truck.
“Come on, everyone, throw the boxes down!” I encouraged the loaders, Senya and his frail son, who was completely dazed from the physical exertion. Ten minutes for each pallet and the job was done. The loaders walked tiredly to the gatehouse to wash up. I looked around the warehouse, it was filled to capacity. Skyscrapers of boxes went under the ceiling and stood in straight rows. The warehouse looked like a miniature metropolis – between the skyscrapers were parallel and perpendicular passages – avenues and streets. And above it all was a huge cube. It was a symbol of our hope. The cube could be our jackpot, or it could be our failure. I was determined to open this Pandora’s box.
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