In the middle of April I changed my mobile phone. A friend from another part of our huge country sent me a new one. The phone had a large screen, a stylus, slots for two SIM cards, and was quite heavy. It looked respectable and its two speakers screamed at full volume like a tape recorder. I opened the package at home, turned the phone in my hands, was impressed by its parameters and decided to keep it. I gave the old one to my father.
“Did you buy a new cell phone?” Sergey spotted it as soon as I took it out of my pocket and sat down in the chair by the door.
“Nah! I mean, almost… A friend from the Far East sent it to me,” I said, sensing a hint of jealousy and competition in my partner’s intonation. “How much do you think it costs?”
“How should I know!” He splashed his hands.
“Well, roughly, Seryoga… Just tell me at a glance – how much does such a phone cost?”
My partner crossed his arms over his chest, leaned back in his chair, exhaled noisily, and reached for the phone: “Let me see!”
I handed him the phone. Sergey began to turn the device in his hand, pulled out a stylus.
“This is for the screen, the touch screen,” I explained.
“Yeah, I know,” Sergey muttered, weighing the phone in his hand. “It’s heavy.”
“Yeah, it is,” I hummed.
“Whose is it?” Sergey sniffed, shoved the stylus into the socket and handed the phone back.
“No kidding, how much do you think it could cost?” I insisted.
My partner wrinkled his nose and exclaimed discontentedly: “How the hell should I know!?”
“Approximately, Seryoga! Try to estimate,” I pressed out of curiosity.
“Ten or twelve thousand…” He waved his hands and gave up.
“Right, I would say the same amount… about a tenner,” I nodded, smiling at my own thoughts – I intuitively knew that Sergey would say an amount less than the cost of his phone. At that time, large touchscreens were just starting to be sold, and phones with two SIM cards were unusual. And such a phone was well into the thirteen or fifteen thousand range. I knew the competitive side of Sergey’s nature and smiled at this knowledge. I immediately made a plan in my head – I decided to tease my partner.
“Do you know how much I really paid for this, Seryoga?” I said, narrowing my eyes, tilting my head to the side, and throwing the phone in my hands a few times.
“How much?” He exhaled heavily and folded his arms across his chest again.
“Just two and a half thousand!” I said, watching his reaction. “Nice, huh?”
“Yeah, not bad,” Sergey nodded calmly, looking at me carefully.
“Not bad, you say! Of course it is! A tenner to save!” I said, keeping an eye on my partner. He blinked, sighed, turned his head towards his wife and said:
“Vera, did the pharmacies send us their applications?”
“Yes, Seryozha, they did,” she nodded and waved. “I’ve already prepared the waybills.”
I silently watched Sergey’s reactions, only to be confirmed in my observation – he was really competing with me. At one point I had spent about seven thousand on my previous phone, and Sergey had bought a cheaper one. The phone annoyed him constantly and was replaced at the first opportunity with another one for thirteen thousand. And Sergey’s soul returned satisfaction and peace of mind – his phone is more expensive than mine. And then I took the next step – I got a new phone. Sergey grabbed the only “straw” – said the amount below the cost of his phone, wanted to hear from my lips confirmation. And he did. But disappointment was waiting for him on the other side – I did not deal for a rise, but for a fall, saying that I saved a lot of money on the purchase. And Sergey’s reaction was the same as if I had bought a phone more expensive than his last one – his mood turned bad and Sergey defiantly lost interest in the conversation. Economy, as well as boasting, although they are diametrically opposite values, were equivalent in the mind of my partner. I, having switched from raising the rates on the economy, downgrade, changed the direction of our “competition”, which drove Sergey into a dead end. I stopped the game of raising and won the game of lowering. Checkmate.
“Whose phone is it?” After a minute, Sergey couldn’t help himself and asked with feigned indifference. “Is it Chinese?”
“Yes, Chinese,” I nodded indifferently. “Imagine, everything in the Far East costs a penny. I bought one for so much money, but if you buy a batch, such a phone will cost a thousand, maybe even less.”
“Right,” Sergey replied thoughtfully, sniffing his nose. “Look, I think we could sell these Chinese phones…”
“I guess we could… I was thinking about that too,” I nodded.
“What do you think… this buddy of yours can organize all these deliveries from China?”
“I think he can… I’ll ask him…”
“Yes! Ask him! It’s an interesting idea. Maybe we can invest in it!”
“Okay, I will.”
In the middle of the penultimate week of April, I found myself in the center of the city in the afternoon. The weather was glorious, the sun shining brightly, warming the walls of the buildings, the asphalt, and the patterned and sometimes scratched tiles of the sidewalks. All the snow had already melted, and the last drifts had left only dirty, shriveled piles of garbage that spread in streams along the sidewalks. The avenue was teeming with people, all in a hurry to get somewhere, dodging puddles and jumping streams. Remembering that I didn’t have much money in my cell phone account, I jumped over one and walked a few steps to the cell phone salon. The door of the salon swung open and Natasha and Polinka came out to meet me. We greeted each other.
“Are you that way?” Natasha said, giving way.
“Yes, to put money on my phone,” I nodded, overcoming my confusion.
“Where are you going after that?” Polinka chimed in, revealing her darkened teeth in a smile.
“Home,” I said, glancing at Natasha, who was nervous but hiding it well.
“We’ll wait for you here!” Polinka said suddenly.
I nodded, went into the salon, and while I was there I remembered everything Polinka had obligingly told me and wrinkled my nose. Soon I was back on the street.
Natasha squinted one eye against the bright sun and looked at me mischievously with the other. She looked gorgeous – a fresh, makeup-free, clean face, her white wavy hair pulled back in a bun. Sneakers, blue jeans, short black jacket. Natasha had that rare beauty that was self-sufficient. She didn’t need all those frills, rings, necklaces and tons of cosmetics. The girl was formed by nature with true love.
I smiled at Natasha, she at me. Could we start over with her? Easily! I was sure of it. But there was a “but”. I would have to betray myself. Life often gives us this choice. If you step over yourself once, it’s easier to do it again, and it’s no effort at all to do it a third time. If you don’t step over yourself once, you won’t be able to do it again, and the decision will be easier. And the third time there will be almost no doubt. And so on, until the state of not overstepping becomes a principle. Each person decides for himself which way to go. There was a beautiful girl in front of me. The kind of girl that makes people turn around. But Natasha didn’t love me. My brain was working coolly and rationally at that moment. I imagined our future together – we were husband and wife, after a while Natasha had a lover, I found out, we divorced. We’ll probably have a child by then. “No, thank you!” I almost said out loud.
“Are you ready?” Polinka said, already smoking a thin cigarette.
“Yes, I’m done,” I nodded and looked at Natasha. “Where are you going now?”
“Home,” she said.
“Uh-huh…” I replied, noticing that we were going in the same direction, and took a few steps forward, leaving Polinka a step behind, and coming close to Natasha.
“What are you doing tonight?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “No idea…”
“Maybe we could go to the movies?” Natasha suggested.
“To the movies? No, I don’t feel like it, thanks…” I didn’t step over myself again, added a nonchalant “bye” and walked forward without turning around.
The situation with the excise tax on alcohol did not change. By the end of April, everyone had run out of last year’s leftover dichlorvos, and the city was in a bit of a frenzy. Sales of “kerosene” tripled, everyone was buying it, even our direct competitors. The blueprint season was also in full swing, and other items were selling like hotcakes. The warehouse was overflowing with inventory.
“Vera, look how much stock we have left?” Sergey said at the end of the month.
“Four thousand eight hundred,” she said nonchalantly, having quickly made a report.
“Is that in purchase prices or sales prices?” I clarified.
“Sales. Purchase – three and a half,” Vera smiled, her cheeks flushing. The money fever that had seized me and Sergey had also taken hold of her.
“Not bad!” I whistled and looked into my partner’s surprised and impressed eyes. “Seryoga, a nickel in the warehouse, come to think of it! If we sell it all, we’ll make a million three hundred!”
In the middle of the month there was a rumor that the factory had been sold to a construction company. As if to confirm the rumor, the owners suddenly developed a flurry of activity and began appearing almost daily in its territory, running back and forth with papers.
On the last day of April, we were sitting in the office as usual. Lunch time was approaching. All the work was done, the May holidays were just around the corner, and everyone in the company was in a great mood. My cell phone rang.
“Yes, hello!” I said.
The conversation was brief and seriously alarmed me. When it was over, I disconnected and froze in the chair by the door, thinking about the new information and looking at Sergey. He was sitting in the chair across from me with his arms crossed over his chest, looking at me expectantly.
“The secretary from ‘Luxchem’ called,” I began, still in an anxious reverie, “she said that their new commercial director was traveling in our direction and would be visiting us after the May holidays… and ‘Arbalest’. She said that he was going to a local friend of his who knows our household chemicals market well, and that he would take him around our big commercial companies to get acquainted with their management…”
I stopped talking. Sergey didn’t answer anything, just started chewing his lower lip.
“Fuck… what is he going to do here!?” I added. “Why the fuck is he going to a friend who will take him to ‘Arbalest’!?”
My partner was silent.
“That’s so fucked up, Seryoga… They’re going to take him to ‘Arbalest’ and make a quick deal for direct shipments. Fuck, they’re just trying to outmaneuver us! Fucking assholes! They tried to get into ‘Homeland’, then they went quiet! I thought they calmed down! No, they’re fucking coming back! Fucking hell, a new commercial director too!”
“Who was the previous one?” Vera looked at me perplexedly.
“They didn’t have a fucking commercial director!” I snapped, feeling my thoughts, excited by the news, racing in my head at full speed, calculating all possible combinations. And no matter how fast my thoughts raced, the only realistic combination I could draw was that the employee was traveling to expand the sales market, traveling purposefully, wanting to get a second dealer in our city.
“Fuck, Seryoga, if they make a deal and there’s a second seller in town, our monopoly is fucked! And our markup is fucked too! They’ll break our prices, and we’ll be using ‘Luxchem’ at fifteen or even ten percent!”
Sergey was silent, chewing his lip, looking at me with faded eyes and blinking.
“Fuck!” I cursed and put my hands behind my head, then threw them on the armrests.
“Yeah,” Sergey broke his silence, “it sucks…”
“Of course it sucks!” I jumped up from the chair. “Let’s go for a walk to the warehouse, think and get some air!”
We left the building, walked around the corner, and headed for the transformer box. I looked to the right – “Passionate about Dostoevsky” was standing at the gatehouse, smoking. The janitor, barely noticing us out of the corner of her eye, immediately turned away.
“What a cunt!” I hissed.
“Roman’s still mad at that broad!” Sergey shook his head and held back a laugh.
“Fuck, I don’t understand people like that, Seryoga!” I got angry. “They’re made of shit! A normal person can’t act like that! It’s not normal, Seryoga!”
“Romych, do you know how many of these people I have seen? I grew up among them! You just lived a different life then – you went to school in your special class, then to a military institute, people there were normal! But I spent all my youth like that, at my place on the left bank… there are only such people there! When I was young, no one told me about any “Divine Comedy” or talked about art and movies. Even among my relatives – one brother was in prison, and the second, a cousin, is now in prison nearby… He’s got about five years left. I even brought him a parcel once. And where I lived, they’re all like that. As soon as you get there, they start telling you how to live, not according to the law, but according to the criminal code. You know that according to the rules of thieves, you can screw over anyone but your mother!”
“What, your father and brother are allowed!?” I even stopped and stared at Sergey.
“Everyone! Except your mother… You can’t screw over your mother,” Sergey said.
“Some strange ideas, mother – well, it’s understandable… But why are the others allowed? Would you be able to screw over your father or your brother?” I said, honestly trying to understand the rule, to find something reasonable in it.
“Roman, those are the rules!” Sergey splashed his hands. “This is what they taught me! That was my school of life! I changed later, with the birth of Lilka… Do you swear that you will never screw over your father or your friend Vovan!?”
“What does ‘swear’ have to do with it!?” I was completely stunned and confused. “Real mature, swear or not swear! If a person is good, he does not have such thoughts at all, and he will not screw over anyone, no oaths needed!”
“That’s right, Roman, never swear!” Sergey smiled mischievously.
“Why is that!?” I wondered, staring at my partner.
“It’s one of the rules – never swear,” he said, smiling and squinting at me.
“Fucking bullshit, stupid rules for imbeciles! I don’t know who lives by them, but this is bullshit! You and I work together and what, you can screw me over!?” I said.
Sergey’s brow furrowed dramatically, and he held back a smile, giving me a practiced, theatrical look of bewilderment. We approached the open gate of the warehouse. Petya’s “GAZelle” was also standing there, its back half a meter inside the warehouse. The driver and the storekeeper, standing near the hood of the car, were smoking.
“What’s up, Petya? Everything okay?” Sergey said cheerfully.
“Yes…” he replied, holding out the waybills. “All done… no cancellations…”
I took the papers and followed Sergey into the warehouse. The walls of the warehouse were still cool. As soon as I hid from the warmth of the sun’s rays, it enveloped me, immediately creeping under my open denim jacket and sweatshirt, making my skin goosebumps and shiver. Sergey, with one leg slightly to the side and his knee tucked in in a feminine way, stood on the other, looking at the cube of dichlorvos. By the end of April, the figure had lost its contours, as if the edge closest to the entrance had been eaten away.
“We’ve already sold a thousand and a half boxes! Not bad, huh?” I said.
“One and a half!?” Sergey looked at me a little surprised and curled his lips, dropping their corners, which meant a significant impression of what he had heard.
“Yes, already one and a half… I checked the leftovers this morning… So we’re doing pretty well so far…”
I looked to my left at the two blue pallets and immediately remembered the news.
“Damn, that fucking ‘Luxchem’… pissed in our cornflakes!” I swore.
“Come on, Romych, maybe nothing will happen,” Sergey sniffed.
“Even if nothing happens and they don’t come to an agreement with ‘Arbalest’, it’s only a matter of time… people will find out they’re looking for dealers, and some jackass will call them anyway, and they’ll bring the goods right away…” I brushed it off, resigned to the inevitable. “Douche bags!”
“Who are you talking about so nicely, Roman Anatolievich?” Petya’s voice came from behind me.
“Petya, there are some… assholes,” I smiled in response to the gap-toothed wide smile. “They decided to cheat us… We have an agreement with them that only we represent their products here, and they decided to send a stool pigeon here to look for other partners…”
“Oh!” Petya made a long face, behind which Senya shuffled from foot to foot, listening to the conversation and blinking his mischievous eyes. “Not good!”
“Yes, Petya, you understand everything right!” Sergey chimed in, putting his hands behind his back and pacing up and down the aisle with a smug air.
Concern flashed in the driver’s eyes, and I decided to answer it by saying:
“It’s all nonsense, Petya! People who do that don’t know a single rule…”
I kept up the suspense.
“What kind of rule is that?” The man was puzzled, and interest flashed in his eyes.
“You can only play a game with two people!” I said, raising my hand, making a “V” gesture with my fingers, and wiggling them like a cockroach with a mustache for good measure.
“Ahahahah! Hehehe!” the driver burst into childish laughter and covered his mouth with his hand.
“Roman Anatolievich, isn’t that something?” Senya grinned.
“That’s the rule, Senya,” I nodded and looked at Sergey. “So, Seryoga, let’s go?”
“Let’s go!” He nodded, coming out of a melancholy reverie.
We walked around the “GAZelle”, then Sergey turned and asked: “Senya, where’s your son?”
“Um…” the storekeeper hesitated, blushed and lowered his voice, “there he is…”
Senya waved over his shoulder in the direction of the bushes at the back wall of the warehouse.
“His stomach hurts…” Senya explained with an apologetic smile. “Sitting there…”
“Is he shitting or what!?” Sergey blurted out.
“Aha…” Senya was confused and blushed even more.
I smirked, catching myself being embarrassed for my partner in front of these two simple people. We turned the corner of the warehouse and walked towards the office.
“Seryoga, are you seriously going to follow these rules you told me about?” I continued the interrupted conversation, wanting to find out everything to the end.
“Roman, I’m telling you, I’m a completely different person now than I was before! I used to be like everyone else there, and now… I have a family, kids, business…” Sergey said.
We walked a few steps in silence. The answer suited me, I heard in it a man who had grown up in a semi-criminal environment, but had rejected it and become wise in time.
“Do you swear not to screw me over?” I suddenly said jokingly, remembering the ban on oaths and wanting to tease my partner, so I laughed.
Sergey gave me the same playfully theatrical frown, caught the tone of the question, smiled, shook his head reproachfully, sighed and said ironically:
“Oh, Roman… oh, Roman…”
“Come on, I’m kidding!” I hummed cheerfully and patted Sergey on the shoulder. “You don’t have to swear. It’s all nonsense. Oaths are worthless, Seryoga! A man either has morals or he doesn’t! If he doesn’t, no oaths will help…”
The “Luxchem” delegation arrived on May 3. That day I was the first to arrive at work at nine o’clock. I went into the office, put the kettle on and then my cell phone rang. An unknown voice introduced himself as the commercial director of “Luxchem” and informed me that he was on the territory of the factory. I looked out the window – there was an unfamiliar car in the front yard and two men looking around. I went out to them. One of them came up to me. A tall brunette in his forties, he introduced himself again and struck up a conversation. The dialogue was cautious – we both felt each other out. The guest spoke in generalities and tried to get specifics from me in return. I paid him in his own coin. The conversation confirmed my fears – the new employee had been sent to expand the sales market and bypass us. But in such a way that our company would not be offended and would continue to cooperate. I didn’t care about that, the important thing was something else – Aslanbek decided that we, as pioneers, had fulfilled our mission and could be neglected. Inwardly indignant, I began to get angry. The guest had already moved on to the hackneyed phrases about the development and success of his company. With my own thoughts in mind, I listened half-heartedly.
“Do you have any other large companies in your city besides ‘Arbalest’?” the man asked tactfully. “I’ve heard there are other places… I could visit…”
“Let things be as they are… Since Aslanbek sent the commercial here and decided to look for more customers for his goods, nothing can be changed… After all, we’ve been earning good money with them for a long time… I guess it’s time for this freebie to end… I should just mentally thank them for everything and keep working… Then again, they’re not giving up on us… Well, yeah, the markup will go down, it will not be as profitable anymore… So what… Let it be… We’d found a replacement for their predecessors, we will find a replacement for “Luxchem” as well. About that…” I pondered, still looking past my interlocutor. The boldness with which the guest asked me to help him find a competitor for me irritated me; angry at the situation, I said reservedly:
“The secretary called me before you arrived and told me you were going to see a friend of yours who knows all the companies here… I take it that’s him?”
I nodded at the other man.
“Yes, this is a friend of mine, we are old pals…” the guest started.
“Well, since he knows our market of household chemicals, I think he will show and tell you everything…” I interrupted and looked him in the eye.
The guest understood everything, was embarrassed and his face fell. We said goodbye and the commercial director of “Luxchem” left. As soon as I returned to the office and poured some tea, the “Mazda” pulled up under the window. Sergey got out of the car, looked at the window through his sunglasses, noticed me in the office, went to the trunk, pulled out his briefcase, slammed the trunk shut, and walked into the building. Vera followed him.
“So, Roman, how’s it going?” my partner barged into the office.
“Hi,” Vera slapped her palm on mine.
“Fine, Seryoga,” I mumbled, thinking about the meeting.
“How did you spend the holidays? Did you hang out in clubs or probably work out?” Sergey said, smiling and playfully imitating a piercingly stern look – he moved his eyebrows, frowned and turned his head dramatically in my direction, freezing.
“Just resting…” I said, catching the slight teasing in my partner’s tone and the smell of alcohol, sour, pungent, and unpleasant. A smell that came from a man who had been drinking heavily in the past few days. It wasn’t the first time I’d smelled it on Sergey, but this time it was especially noticeable.
“Doesn’t sound like fun…” Vera smiled and settled into her chair.
The brakes squeaked softly outside the window.
“Petya’s here…” I looked out of the window, took the waybills from the table, looked at them briefly, and then at Sergey’s wife. “These are the waybills for the first run, aren’t they, Vera?”
There was a knock at the door.
“Yes, Petya, come in!” Sergey barked.
The driver came in, said hello, took the waybills, and left for the warehouse. The office was quiet again. I looked at Vera – she was buried in her computer.
“Let’s go outside, Seryoga, have a chat!” I said, jumping up vigorously and walking out into the corridor. Sergey followed. We stopped in the middle of the central path.
“While you were out, this commercial from ‘Luxchem’ came on…” I said, telling him the whole dialog. “So they will try to get into ‘Arbalest’…”
“Right, most likely they will,” Sergey nodded.
“Exactly,” I nodded.
“So what do you have in mind?” Sergey looked at me.
“Remember I told you about a similar situation with blueprint and ‘Fluffy’, when the manufacturer also started selling his product to others?”
“I think we should do what we did before – we should find another supplier of the same product and start selling it in parallel… we can’t let ‘Luxchem’ twist our arms. If they make a deal with someone here, they can tighten our shipping terms. We can prevent that.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because if they try, we will say we will refuse their goods…”
“But we won’t refuse, will we?” Sergey looked at me anxiously.
“No, of course not… why? But there is such a possibility, so we need a backup manufacturer so that ‘Luxchem’ does not relax,” I looked at my partner. “Seryoga, do you know such a manufacturer? Did you work with one in ‘Sasha’? We need a manufacturer of drain cleaner and blue! Everything else in ‘Luxchem’ is just shit!”
“We worked with a company from St. Petersburg at ‘Sasha’, we took drain cleaner from them…” Sergey suddenly perked up after a moment of thought.
“Oh! Great!” I grabbed the information. “We’ll have to contact them, get the price, see what else they make besides drain cleaner! What else do they make?”
“Oh, it’s all kinds of crap! I don’t remember!” Sergey brushed it off. “I just remember that we couldn’t sell their goods, and that’s why we stopped working with them!”
“All right, let’s call them!” I nodded to my partner and ducked into the building.
We called St. Petersburg, they promised to send us a price list soon.
“Oh, we have an answer!” Vera squeaked about five minutes later. “Shall I print it out?”
I blinked affirmatively and three sheets of paper came out of the printer.
“Hmm…” I said, studying the price list I had received. “There’s nothing to buy there except drain cleaner. The price is okay, but it’s expensive to bring it from St. Petersburg. We better figure it out…”
I pulled the calculator towards me, and Vera immediately put her fingers over hers and froze.
“Expensive…” I grimaced and calculated the shipping costs.
“To hell with it!” Sergey waved away, relieved. “Why the hell do we need such an expensive drain cleaner? We already have one, it will do… Don’t bother, Roman!”
“No, not to hell with it, Seryoga!” I parried after thinking for a second. “We just have to get a good price for it, that’s all… Vera, what kind of discount did they give us?”
“Nine percent!” Vera said, her eyes shining with excitement, she obviously liked my attitude. “But that’s their maximum discount, Roma.”
“Wait a minute,” I said and started pressing the buttons of the calculator, finished and said the result. “This should be the price for us, so that we have drain cleaners from St. Petersburg for the same price as from Krasnodar…”
“Why do we need it if it’s the same price?” Sergey pursed his lips in surprise. “We need it to be cheaper… What’s the point of getting it at the same price?”
“Twenty-two percent discount!” said Vera, tapping her calculator.
“No one will give us such a discount!” Sergey waved away. “It’s useless, Roman!”
I looked at Vera. She was still looking at me with excitement. I suddenly realized that she and I were similar in many ways, especially in our approach to life – we were both open to new things, hungry for the unknown, willing to get carried away, to take risks. We understood each other. I looked at Sergey – his almost colorless eyes looked at me tiredly, indifferent to the things around him. Suddenly, I felt, almost physically, the weight that Sergey reluctantly carried, doing his half of the work in the company. For a moment, this impression thwarted my enthusiasm and almost forced me to give up. But the inner voice kept saying, “I have to finish the job, even if it seems useless, but I have to finish it, so that I can say with a clear conscience that the matter has been worked out and closed”.
“Vera, send them a message – we’re ready to sign a contract and sell their goods, we’re okay with a nine percent discount on the entire price list, but we need a twenty-two percent discount on drain cleaner!” I said, pointing my eyes at the keyboard.
Vera, as if she had been expecting this very sentence, immediately tapped excitedly on the keyboard.
“Roman,” Sergey grimaced in a lazy and martyr-like manner, “what’s the point of all this? We already have drain cleaners… ‘Luxchem’ is not going anywhere, it will continue to supply us…”
“Seryoga, we need an alternative manufacturer!” I was adamant. “Let’s work out the question to the end… To know for sure – yes or no!”
“Damn, Roman, okay, go ahead, do what you want,” he brushed it off, crossed his arms over his chest, laid them on his stomach, and sank into a half-slumber with his eyes open.
The office phone rang, Vera picked it up and spoke briefly.
“Will they consider the discount?” I asked Vera as soon as she hung up.
“Yes, they said the owner would decide the issue and they would give an answer after noon.”
Time passed quickly. When we returned from lunch an hour later, the phone rang.
“Okay, thank you!” Vera said in a ringing voice into the receiver at the end of the call, smiling conspiratorially at me. “Yes, I’ll tell him everything! I think, yes, we will! Okay, goodbye!”
“St. Pete?” I smiled at her, expecting good news.
“Yes, they said they could give us a twenty-two percent discount on drain cleaner!” Vera looked at me happily and glanced at her husband. “Are we going to work with them?”
“Wonderful!” I said and started to turn around in the chair, looking at my partner happily. “Seryoga! It worked out! They gave us the discount after all! How do you like the news?”
“Yeah, not bad,” he mumbled, blinking confusedly, sniffing his nose, thinking. “So, are you going to work with them? There’s nothing to sell there but drain cleaner…”
“We’ll see what we can get, Seryoga, but we have to work with them. We’ll try to sell the rest of their goods, too,” I said, feeling a surge of energy and strength.
“Shit, Roman!” Sergey snorted. “Now we’re going to sell all kinds of crap…”
“We are, we are, Seryoga! We will sell everything! As you say – little by little, a little becomes a lot!? That’s what we’ll do!” I said enthusiastically, anticipating new things. My dissatisfaction with Sergey’s sluggishness sank into the positivity that had taken hold of me.
The bet on kerosene-based dichlorvos was paying off more and more every day – the product was selling so fast that we barely had time to deliver it. By the end of the month, it turned out that there would be no program at all to track non-food alcohol sales. But the law was in force and supported our monopoly. By the end of May, we had sold another thousand eight hundred boxes. The poor remains of the cube stood against the wall.
“At this rate, Seryoga, it’s only enough for a month,” I said as soon as we entered the warehouse and stared in that direction.
“Yeah, well, we’re doing fine so far,” Sergey nodded smugly.
“So, when we sell the rest for June, will we bring another truck?” I said, smiling and looking into my partner’s eyes with a hint of adventurousness.
“We’ll see,” he exhaled.
I remembered Sergey’s offer to start trading with Chinese gadgets. In May, I got all the information on the range and prices, printed out a pile of sheets, handed them to Sergey in the office, and watched his reaction. My vague suspicion was justified – my partner twirled the papers in his hands, feigned a momentary interest, sighed, turned the conversation to another topic, and put the papers on the shelf. Sergey’s eyes betrayed him completely – they showed no interest, were colorless, joyless, and for the first time I clearly saw in them the boredom of life. Our eyes met.
“Roman, it’s an interesting idea with these phones, we could do it!” Sergey said, squirming in the chair by the door and crossing his arms over his chest.
“Yes, it is,” I nodded, already knowing the emptiness of his words. In my mind, in a vague jumble of facts, a short connection of several facts suddenly appeared – it strengthened my hunch that Sergey was avoiding active business development. I simply thought – if we get the profit equally, then we should share the burden in the joint business equally. And at first it seemed that way… but was it? I went back two years. I realized that at that time I was so full of enthusiasm that I did not think about it at all and went forward all those years without looking back. Now it was as if I had stumbled over a pebble that was inconspicuous at first. Out of natural curiosity I studied him and saw that Sergey avoided working in the harness. And he avoided it so implicitly that I felt only a vague suspicion. The strap at his side was sagging again. I decided to double-check the intuitive feeling that had arisen, and concentrated on monitoring my partner’s attitude. “Let these papers lie on the shelf, if Seryoga bugs me in any way about this matter, then we’ll start working. And if he lets it go, so be it,” I decided and smiled at him.
“Romych, what would you say if we raised salaries in our company?” Sergey suggested at the end of May, breaking away from the papers on the table and staring at me.
“I don’t know…” I shrugged, looked at Vera, then back at Sergey. “What should I say? Do we need it? Don’t you have enough money?”
“Well, I mean, I just thought that since we have such income, we could raise the salaries of our office a little!” Sergey splashed his hands and leaned back in his chair, sniffing his nose and crossing his arms over his chest.
“Seryoga, fuck knows. You’ve got me stumped. I have enough money… although we could raise it a little… How much do you want to raise salaries? And to whom? Me and you or all three of us? Vera too? What do you think?”
“We have seventeen and Verok has eight! We could add a nickel each and give her two thousand!” Sergey juggled his hands.
“Two and five… that makes seven thousand plus for your family budget, would that be okay?”
“Yes!” my partner reacted vividly. “You’re alone, no family, no kids… And I have two! It would be a lot easier for me!”
“Seryoga, I don’t mind,” I said, thinking the suggestion feasible; after all, we were really beginning to earn more – our monthly profit was well over two hundred, and it would be quite easy and insensible for us to pluck even a tenth of that. “Let’s just add eight thousand each for you and me, and make the salary equal – twenty-five! How about that? You and I, as founders, have added to ourselves equally, and it makes no difference to you and Vera – you have plus eight thousand for the family!”
Pause. Sergey blinked a few times, a shadow of confusion and surprise seemed to flicker in his eyes, but after a second he exhaled an answer: “Well… let’s do it…”
“Agreed then – starting in June we’ll get twenty-five thousand each!”
The rapid growth of the company also accelerated my life. I didn’t notice much of what was going on around me. My typical day at that time – work until six, dinner at home, work out at the gym (every other day), a few hours on the internet, and sleep. On Fridays and Saturdays I would go to the club out of habit, but I was not having as much fun as I used to. I just didn’t know where to spend my weekends. Everyone I knew had families and kids. I was the only one who hung around like a lost soul. My relationship with my father seemed to have normalized. I almost forgot his unkind words and, realizing the increase in income, rushed to pay off my father’s debt for the apartment as soon as possible. My father received regular orders for transportation from a manufacturer and was engaged in the delivery business. Thus he reached a certain state of inner peace, which was regularly disturbed only by my mother. A new wave swept over her – my mother became aggressive again, withdrew into herself. I gave up all attempts to get in touch with her and became an unwilling spectator of the parental quarrels.
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