On Sunday I went on vacation to my relatives in the country and spent the whole week at the river, sunbathing and idling. It took me a while to free my mind from thoughts of work. I closed my eyes, lay down on the sandy beach and continued to collect orders and order goods. It was not until the third day that I could break away from work. My head immediately felt lighter, the heaviness of my thoughts disappeared, and I stopped counting the days.
“So, how are you doing here, tell me!” I said impatiently and happily, after showing up in our small, uncomfortable office on Monday, July 23rd.
“Oh, Roman got a tan! Rested!” Vera smiled and immediately slapped my hand.
“Hi, Seryoga!” I held out my hand cheerfully.
“Hi,” he murmured, coming out of his thoughts, no longer wrapping his arms around his head, looking at me absent-mindedly, and responding sluggishly to my handshake.
“Why are you so grumpy?” I said cheerfully, sitting down in the chair by the door.
“Why… It’s a screw job! Those intercity salt guys are not going to work with us anymore. The network where they pushed our salt is selling their stores… so they’re done with the salt.”
“Shit, that sucks!” I said, and thoughts of work immediately took over my brain.
“Temp’s is about to close too. The owner said they’ll work until the end of the summer and that’s it,” Sergey added, leaning back in his chair and staring at me with a distracted look.
“Well,” I spread my hands. “Actually, he had said before that he would close down. It’s a pity, of course, he used to take goods from us quite well at the beginning… But not now… But the news about the salt is really bad! We made good money with it, didn’t we?”
I looked at Vera, who was clicking her mouse.
“Seventy percent,” she said.
I turned my eyes to Sergey, who remained frozen, staring at me in confusion. It was as if an unsolvable question had arisen in his head, causing confusion and stupor.
“Come on, Seryoga, we’ll find more clients,” I said optimistically, trying to cheer him up. He blinked, looked away, then looked at me again.
“Aha, my ass…” Sergey muttered and sighed.
In the last week of July we signed a new lease with the new owner of the factory, a construction company. The conditions remained the same – we had to pay fifteen thousand a month to rent 242 m2 of warehouse space. At the end of the week, a black “BMW X5” rolled into the factory in the morning. The car stopped in the front yard and the former owners of the factory got out. An hour later the car left and almost immediately the “Mazda” came to the front yard. Sergey took his briefcase from the trunk, entered the office and put it on the chair by the door. Vera came in next, holding a pile of papers in her hands.
“Did you see those guys?” I smiled after the greeting. “The former owners…”
“No, why, did they come here or what?” Sergey smiled.
“No… They came on ‘X5’!” I said and then paused. “They bought it!”
“Well… They sold the factory and bought a ‘BMW’! Everything as it should be!” Sergey waved his hands, cackled, put his hands in his pockets, spread his legs like a divider, stood in the middle of the office, sniffed his nose, stuck out his lower lip. “That’s good! They didn’t even surprise me…”
“Who was surprised?” said Vera.
All three of us laughed.
“What’s in the bank?” I looked at Vera and squinted at the papers in her hands.
“We took the statements and put the money in the account!” she said and sat down in the chair. “Oh, and here! You have to fill out a paper, they have some changes in the bank, you just have to fill it out, confirm your details and account information and that’s it…”
Vera held out a two-sheet form, glanced from Sergey to me and back again.
“Let Romka fill it out!” Sergey said, sniffing his nose. “He has a beautiful handwriting, not like me, I write like chicken scratch…”
“Come on, Seryoga!” I was surprised. “Your handwriting is good!”
“No, Roman,” he said. “You have beautiful handwriting.
I shook my head, surprised at the argument, took the form and began to fill it out.
“We have to go to ‘Fort’ today to get the money…” I remembered and looked at Sergey. “We also have to take the money to the apartment… because we promised to pay up to half of it… and we haven’t even been there yet…”
“Roman, we also have to pay our debt for the dichlorvos!” Sergey got serious.
“We’ll cover that too… You put the money in the bank, so we’ll make the payment… We planned it that way, didn’t we?” I said inwardly tense.
“It’s not much! Only one hundred and twenty thousand! And we have until the end of the month… let’s pay at least two hundred thousand!” Sergey stared at me.
“Today we’ll get some money from ‘Fort’, we’ll add it… we’ll pay everyone we need to pay, and the rest we’ll take to the apartment…” I said, catching my partner’s mood.
“Roman, we have big debts!” he was indignant. “We have to pay them off!”
“Seryoga, what has that got to do with it??? We pay our debts properly, the goods sell well, no one keeps money, everyone pays… I don’t understand why we shouldn’t bring the money for the apartment, especially since we promised to pay up to 500,000 as soon as possible… within a month or two!” I was surprised and outraged.
Sergey sat down in his chair, leaned forward, rested his elbows on the armrests, stared at me with an attentive gaze, and began to chew his lips through clenched teeth.
“Seryoga, this woman was only willing to help us because I’ve never let her down before,” I continued. “Since I have made such an agreement with her, and you and I have decided to sign the contract under this condition, it is necessary, Seryoga, to keep our promise… I don’t want to disappoint her, because the next time we ask her for something, she will refuse…”
“Okay, I get it!” Sergey grimaced unhappily and jerked his foot. “We’ll see what we get at ‘Fort’ and then we’ll decide!”
“But we have to bring her some money by the end of the month!” I specified.
“We’ll see,” Sergey mumbled, barely hiding his irritation, and looked down at the floor.
The tension that had arisen between us hung in the room and imperceptibly dissolved into work. At half past eleven, Sergey and I left the office, got into the “Mazda”, and drove to the “Fort” to get the money. Sales in this company went so well that the weekly receipts from May confidently exceeded two hundred. In June they reached two hundred and fifty thousand, and in July they approached three hundred. The most important three weeks for dichlorvos were coming up – the last week of July and the first two weeks of August – the peak of the season.
“So you and Vera never had a fight when you were together?” I asked, the first of a thousand questions running through my head. “How long did you two date before you got married?”
“We got married quite early, Roman!” Sergey said as if he had jogged a memory. “I was what? twenty-three… Verok was twenty… We did not hesitate! Sometimes it happens – you meet for a long time and then you part! I had such acquaintances, even a buddy of mine – he and his girl dated for five years, didn’t get married… And then they had a fight and broke up. They looked like a good couple though – loved each other, but… Who knows, Roman. Marriage is such a thing. Verok and I were separated too, I let her go out for a year to see how she’d behave. Then I asked my friends if she’d been out with anyone… They said no, she stayed at home, didn’t go anywhere with anyone…”
“And then you two started dating again?” I asked.
“Yes, we started dating again and then got married after a year or two… I don’t remember exactly… but we got married quickly. I had known Verok for a long time! We started dating when she was eighteen, but I’d known her since she was sixteen.”
We drove in silence for a while, I was thinking my own thoughts and analyzing what Sergey had said, trying to understand where I had gone wrong in my relationship. After all, the result spoke for itself – there was Sergey sitting next to me, who had a relationship and a family and children, and there was me – the polar opposite of him.
“So you didn’t fight with Vera?” I continued my self-exploration aloud. “When you were together. She seemed to have a good temper… not quarrelsome.”
“Romych, all sorts of things happened!” Sergey sighed loudly. “Don’t be fooled, Vera is no gift either! I suffered enough with her… What do you think, I boned her right away?”
Sergey again made a gesture with his right hand, as if he was piercing something with his index finger from bottom to top, and added:
“We dated for six months before I could put a finger in her! And only halfway…”
I was embarrassed, my ears flaring with shame. I realized that there is such a thing as “locker room talk.” And it is often cynical and direct. But I couldn’t say “boned” about my wife if I were Sergey, after all, I see Vera every day. “Too much,” I decided and shook my head, pushing away such unpleasant thoughts.
“But… why did you wait so long?” I pushed out my embarrassment with a new question.
“I wasn’t in a hurry! I knew that everything was fine between us and that we would fuck sooner or later! Roman, the main thing is to relax a broad, you’ll always manage to bone her!” Sergey waved it off carelessly.
My brain froze, trying to make sense of that last sentence. Some words like that, spoken in between, actually have great significance in life. I grasped the importance, but I didn’t fully grasp the meaning. I understood it, but I didn’t realize it. Much later I figured out the meaning of the phrase, but at that moment I turned it around in my head for a few minutes and forgot about it – we hit a dirt road and the car started shaking, forcing me to forget our conversations.
As soon as Sergey came out of the “Fort” cashier, I realized that he had received quite a lot. My partner’s face was burning with adrenaline, his eyes were shining with money fever.
“Well, how much?” I lowered my voice as we headed for the exit of the sales room.
“Let’s go,” Sergey hissed excitedly, the swollen briefcase in his hand.
We got into the car.
“How much did you get?” I repeated impatiently.
“Three hundred and sixty!” Sergey whispered conspiratorially.
“Fucking hell!” I said. “Three hundred and sixty!?? Let me see the leftovers!”
I took the sheets from my partner’s hand and ran my eyes over them feverishly – sales were huge, everything was sold. And the dichlorvos and especially the kerosene sales were off the charts.
“We dropped off three hundred boxes of kerosene here last week, and they’re all gone. And next week should be the same…” I said. “It’s selling great! Here’s the money for the apartment! We can take it right now and close the deal!”
“Roman, we need the money to pay for the goods!” Sergey was stubborn.
The bickering began. Sergey wanted to pay as little as possible for the apartment under construction, while I offered to pay the maximum. We had the money, and I didn’t understand why Sergey was so stingy.
“Come on, that chick can wait! Nothing will happen if we pay her next week! You agreed with her that we would buy half of the apartment by the end of the summer, right?” Sergey said irritably.
“Fuck, Seryoga, I promised her we would get the money as soon as possible!” I started to get annoyed, feeling the resistance again. “And if I promised, I have to keep it! She only signed the contract with us because we have a good relationship and she knows I’m no shit! So why ruin it?! What if we have to ask her again? That’s not even the point, she’s a nice woman, so why shit on her?!”
“Who shits on her? Roman, you always say things like that.”
“Seryoga, if a person trusts us, it means that trust should be justified, not taken advantage of! If we screw up the situation, we won’t go near her again…” I tried to keep my anger down, but I couldn’t. My instincts suggested a bad explanation for Sergey’s typical behavior – he didn’t consider my obligations as ours and tried to avoid his half of the responsibility. It looked like a set-up. If I didn’t fulfill the promises I had made for both of us, only my reputation would suffer. And Sergey understood that very well. A cocktail of feelings boiled up inside me: regret that I had dragged Sergey with me again; disappointment at his behavior; anger at someone, more at myself, at my softness. Suddenly I felt that the burden we were carrying was getting heavier and heavier. Again, I felt physically that I was the one pulling it with more effort. I was taking on more and more obligations, which entangled me, while Sergey treated his share of obligations superficially, often trying to escape from them. And I had to constantly remind him of them, almost force him to fulfill them, admonish him about the need for mutual decency. I was like a babysitter, spending a lot of energy just to keep a troubled teenager on the right path, who was eager to dive into the darkness of bad deeds. And this man is five years older than me. The disappointment took away my strength and enveloped me more and more. The conflict of two states, two realities of life, became apparent in my soul. One – the business we had together – it was working at full speed, giving me a lot of money every month. The other was my feeling and understanding of Sergey. The man with whom I was united changed before my eyes, revealing to me new facets of his essence. And these facets disappointed me more and more and forced me to think seriously about the future.
We argued for a few more minutes, and I partially succeeded – we decided to pay the forty thousand for the apartment. We immediately went to the construction company and got stuck in a huge traffic jam on the ring road for an hour. We arrived at the construction company’s office completely exhausted and angry.
July was over. After receiving my copy of the reports, I began to calculate the profits.
“Seryoga, it’s a record!” I said sitting at the table, and when I had finished writing my calculations on the top sheet, I looked at Vera. “Five hundred and eighty thousand rubles profit! Minus a hundred – expenses, the total – four hundred and eighty net profit! Half a million, Seryoga!”
He took my calculations to himself and began to copy them down diligently.
“Vera, how much kerosene did we sell in July?” I said.
“Two thousand two hundred!” she said at once, as if expecting my question, looked me in the eye with excitement, and added, “Two thousand seven hundred left! Will we make it?”
“I don’t know,” I smiled. “It would be cool…”
“We won’t have time to sell everything!” Sergey said, not taking his eyes off his writing. “We’re definitely screwed with the dichlorvos!”
“It doesn’t matter, even if we sell half of what’s left, it’ll be cool…” I waved him off, inwardly shuddering at yet another defeatist statement from Sergey. I suddenly realized that he and I looked at the world differently – he thought about having as few bad things happen in his life as possible, while I thought only about the best.
“I don’t know what to take from them in exchange!” Sergey said, throwing his pen down on the table and collapsing irritably in his chair. “We have enough of everything, we don’t need anything from them…”
It was a simple situation – we worked in barter with a company from Kursk, in the summer due to dichlorvos supplies has increased dramatically, and the goods that came in exchange, sold at the usual rate and accumulating it in the warehouse was not desirable.
“Seryozha, you also have to sign the waybills,” Vera reminded him. The printer had been whistling almost nonstop for the last hour, producing a decent pile of sheets.
“To sign all that!?” Sergey stared at the papers. “Again!?”
“Yes, again,” Vera said calmly, barely smiling.
“What a job I have!” Sergey was playfully indignant. “If I keep this up, I’ll soon be signing and stamping in my sleep!”
“No big deal,” Vera said.
Sergey sighed, lazily pulled the pile of waybills to himself and began to stamp and sign each one. He was done in about ten minutes.
“That’s it, Verok, here!” Sergey handed the papers to his wife.
“One more from the bank,” she slipped him a new one. “Just a signature and a number.”
Sergey lifted the paper over the table and said reluctantly:
“Where am I supposed to sign???”
“Seryoga is like a general,” I looked at Vera. “We have to tell him where to sign, he can’t find it himself…”
She smiled and reached for the paper.
“Ah! That’s it! Found it!” Sergey perked up, scribbled a signature, handed the paper to his wife. “Here! That’s it!?”
“That’s it, Seryozha,” Vera said calmly, took the paper, pedantically put it in the folder, and, having a habit of not missing anything in her head, looked at me and said, “So, what have you decided about Kursk?”
This ability of hers to steer things in the right direction, implicitly pushing Sergey and me to fulfill them, struck me every time. I realized that it had developed over many years of married life.
“Let them send us their whole price list, we’ll pick something out,” I said, and an hour later I was holding a thick stack of papers in my hand and scrutinizing them.
“We can take Gardie air fresheners,” I circled part of the sheet with a pencil. “The price is all right, the range too… Spread them around the depots, let them sell…”
“Let me see!” Sergey held out his hand and added a minute later, “Yes, we can take them! We’ll take some, see how they go…”
And so we did, we brought in the new products in a few days and put them on sale in three wholesalers. A week later, the result was surprising – the new goods sold well everywhere, but especially in “Fort”. We breathed a sigh of relief, the problem was solved.
On August 2, we paid another seventy thousand for the apartment.
“I’m coming to the warehouse…” Sergey began, entering the office and barely holding back his laughter. “I’m taking the waybills to Petya for the first run… I come out from around the corner, and Petya and Senya are smoking… Petya explains something to Senya and says… He shows two fingers like this…”
Sergey made a “V” with his fingers, pointing them at me, and continued:
“And he goes – you can always play in… two games! Just imagine! Hee-hee!”
Sergey burst out laughing. I laughed too. Vera stared at us incomprehensively.
“You got it!” Sergey laughed, wiping the corners of his eyes.
“I got it,” I waved my hands and burst into laughter again.
“Roman…” Sergey looked at his wife and started to explain. “We were in the warehouse once… And Roman said to Senya – you can only play a game with two people! And Petya didn’t remember the exact expression… and today he tells Senya something and adds – you can play any game… any… two games!”
Vera immediately burst out laughing, which made us laugh again.
“Man, Petya…” I laughed and started to wipe my eyes as well.
“Two games!” Sergey laughed again.
We laughed for about ten minutes until there was a knock on the door, the handle turned and a curly head looked in.
“Oh, Alexey Semyonovich! Come in!” I said happily, waving my hands.
“Hello, Roma!” he held out his strong, wiry hand, and I shook it.
“Hello, Seryozha!” the ritual was repeated.
“Did you bring something, Alexey Semyonovich?” Sergey said, putting his hands behind his head.
“Yes, I did! Is Senka in the warehouse?” he corrected his cap, pushing it further back on his head.
“He is,” I nodded. “Loading Petya.”
“Ah, well, shall I go then?” The driver hesitated at the door.
“Yes, of course, Alexey Semyonovich,” Sergey murmured, nodding.
The driver went out.
“Fuck, I have to call Ilyukha at ‘Arbalest’!” I got excited. “Get an order from him.”
I pressed one of the speed dial buttons.
“Yes, hello,” came the familiar voice of the manager.
“Ilyukha, hi!” I picked up the phone. “Do you have an order for tomorrow?”
There was silence in the receiver.
“Roma, we will no longer take goods from you, we have started working with ‘Luxchem’ ourselves, and they are now shipping directly to us…” came after a pause.
“Ah… I see…” I forced myself to say, stunned, desperately trying to find the right words. “So you won’t be working with us anymore or only regarding ‘Luxchem’?”
“Only ‘Luxchem’…” the manager said with a note of apology.
“So, if we have an interesting product, we can offer it to you?” I partially recovered from the news.
“Yes, of course, you can offer it,” the embarrassment left Ilya’s voice as well.
“Well, then, when we have something, I’ll call you?” I said neutrally.
“Yes, call me… of course…” the manager said dryly.
We said goodbye.
“Fuck!!!” I blurted out as soon as I hung up the phone, leaning back in my chair and looking at Sergey and Vera, who were frozen in alarm. “Arbalest will no longer take Luxchem products from us, they will take them directly!”
Sergey and Vera remained stunned and silent.
“Here we go again!” I added angrily. “Fucking A!”
Two pairs of worried eyes still stared at me in silence.
“This is fucked up! There’s three or four hundred sales there! And their goods for ‘Mercury’… fuck! And we have nothing to offer them… Listen, Seryoga, we’ll have to talk to your manager who took the dichlorvos from us, so we can give him the rest of ‘Aerosib’… okay?” I looked at my partner and tried to calm my inner anxiety.
There were many managers in “Arbalest”, and they all managed their own groups of goods. If you stopped working with one, you had a chance to strengthen or start working on other goods with another.
“We can talk to him, can’t we, Seryozha?” Vera looked at her husband timidly.
“Yes, we’re gonna have to, Vera!” he reacted irritably. “What else can we do? This Kazlabek has set us up in such a mess!”
I already understood the cause and effect of Sergey’s behavior. By deliberately misspelling the name of the owner of “Luxchem”, he showed maximum displeasure and contempt.
“Call this acquaintance of yours from ‘Arbalest’!” I said impatiently. “Just tell him we can offer the full range of ‘Aerosib’… what will he say?”
Sergey stared at me thoughtfully for a few seconds, the reluctance to call running through his face with barely perceptible spasms.
“All right!” He made up his mind, and with a jerk of his legs he rolled his chair up to the table, picked up the receiver of the fax machine, and dialed the number. Vera and I froze, our ears perked up.
The conversation was short, but the result was even more puzzling. It turned out that a supplier of “Aerosib” products had appeared in a neighboring region, and “Arbalest” had started buying goods from this supplier. We requested and soon received a payment order for this supplier. We also found out their prices – the supplier was selling “Aerosib” goods at seven percent.
“Payment order number one…” Sergey muttered, looking at the sheet. “I’ve never heard of this company…”
Everything turned out to be simple: one of the managers of “Arbalest” decided to make money with the goods of “Aerosib”. Since our company had an exclusive contract with “Aerosib”, the clever people bypassed it by simply moving the goods to a shell company in another city.
“Well, that’s a good idea!” I said. “Tight as a fish asshole… Now the cheap dichlorvos will come out in all directions. That’s half the problem. The deep shit is that these fools will destroy our prices, we will have to lower our own… This season is unlikely, but next season we won’t have such a fat mark-up… What date is the payment?”
“The first of July,” Sergey mumbled, chewing his lip in silence the whole time.
“When was the last time they ordered dichlorvos from us?” I looked at Vera, who immediately tapped her fingers on the keyboard and clicked her mouse.
“They only took one batch… in May… a hundred boxes and that was it,” she said.
“That’s the answer! They ordered a test batch, found out the prices, calculated the difference, and were fucking shocked at our markup – forty-five percent in barter and thirty-five percent in cash! I would be shocked too… They collected the money, paid for the goods and brought them themselves… and like all idiot managers, they let the goods go through seven percent.”
Sergey was silent and looked at me confused.
“That’s why there were no more orders from them… Good that they just paid on July 1st, which means that they received the dichlorvos recently, somewhere in the middle of July… And most likely they will distribute it to their branches and not sell it to others…” I thought aloud and calmed down a bit. “So they won’t be an obstacle for us this year, but we’ll lose ‘Arbalest’ eventually, I think… That’s fucked up… such a fat piece…”
I took a few seconds to detach myself from reality and fall into my senses. Our business appeared to me as a rather spacious and bright room. Where we lived comfortably. And after a series of events – the arrival of the commercial director of “Luxchem” in our city, the arrival of their goods in “Arbalest”, the refusal of the latter to work with us on the goods of “Luxchem” and “Aerosib” – the walls of our room trembled and slightly compressed. This compression was so subtle and insignificant that I felt it at the level of my sixth sense. I realized that the process of compression of the common living space with Sergey had begun and was irreversible. I don’t know if Sergey felt something similar or not. I looked into his colorless eyes and saw only confusion and fear. Did Sergey realize that what had happened was not an isolated fact, but the beginning of a chain of inexorable events, and how did I know? I didn’t know the answer to either part of the question. I felt it intuitively. I wanted to awaken my partner, to spur him into action, but I restrained myself. Two years of business together led me to an unhappy conclusion – Sergey is not a locomotive, he is a trailing car. And he won’t pull it. I’ll have to pull for both of us. This thought, which I had realized much earlier, reappeared and extinguished the desire to begin the important and vital transformation of our company. Two people were fighting in me – a man of action and a man of experience. The first wanted to carry the burden, even if it was for two people, as long as the company did not disappear. The second one grinned and convinced the first one that it was unreasonable to work for two, because then you’d have to work like this forever or until you got bored… and sooner or later it’s bound to get boring. So why go down this dead-end road? And in the struggle, neither of them won. The struggle in the balance began to exhaust and irritate me. The worst choice is the illusion of choice, when in fact there is no choice. I mentally went back in time – for about six years we had built the business from scratch with my father. Over the next two years, with Sergey’s involvement, the business quickly grew to a mid-sized company. We were one step away from becoming a major wholesaler. And that step was blocked by Sergey’s laziness and self-indulgence. We didn’t take that step, and the consequences didn’t last long. The company froze at a point of illusory equilibrium and, lo and behold, the first signs of the forces of reverse growth appeared. We stood at a point of equilibrium, and we could have stood there for a year or two, who knows how long… but that’s the rest of the dead. The peace of the living is constant movement. “I don’t want to pull for two!” I made the hard decision, and the thought moved on, agonizingly searching for a way out. “What is left to do? There is only one thing left to do – to go on by the reel, by inertia, until the business meets such an obstacle that it can no longer overcome it. That would be its death. Business is like a child. You raise it long and hard. And to stop raising it, to stop taking care of it, means only one thing – its death in the future. To condemn your “child” to death, ugh… a terrible choice. The mechanism of fighting for the future of our business was reactivated in me.
“Seryoga, let’s go to the warehouse!” I jumped to my feet and blurted out, unable to sit idly by. “Let’s take a walk, get some fresh air, and bring the waybills to the warehouse at the same time!
My partner stood up immediately, as if waiting for a command to act.”
“Fuck, I wish ‘Arbalest’ didn’t use this ‘Luxchem’ on the other companies!” I said, angrily pushing the door of the building and finding myself outside. “They’re going to start coming in everywhere and destroy all our prices!”
I followed the path along the wall, Sergey walking silently behind me.
“Listen, Seryoga,” I continued, seething inside and unable to hold back my emotions, “It turns out we lost ‘Arbalest’… And it’s unlikely that anything will work with them on this product… We have to figure out how to make up for what we’ve lost… Find additional sales or add new distribution like I told you before!”
“Roman, where are we going to find new sales?” he asked sharply. “Everyone is closing down now! ‘Temp’ is closing, ‘Fort’ is closing its shop, leaving only one depot…”
Sergey named a number of other small and medium-sized businesses that had already closed or were on the brink. He was right, the trend of the last two years was inexorable – the retail chains, growing like mushrooms after rain, were devouring the market, leaving smaller companies with less and less room to live. The laws of business were relentless – the weakest were the first to die.
“Well, that’s true…” I nodded. Trying to expand sales in a shrinking space would be a temporary success, but no more. Such a direction of effort was unpromising. Trying to enter the emerging market of chain stores? It was possible, but only as a temporary measure. Retail networks and manufacturers themselves would come together directly in a short time, eliminating all intermediaries. I had no desire to do the work of others. The only option left was to draw from the dwindling reservoir of the old market as quickly as possible, so that by the end I would have a decent reserve of cash for further action.
“Seryoga, the only thing left to do is to find some more goods!” I said, trying to corner my partner with obvious facts and force him to act.
“Roman, what goods can we find?! We’ve already tried everything! We even brought those canisters that are still in the warehouse, just wasted money!” he brushed it off.
I clenched my teeth as if I’d been punched in the guts, and I seethed with anger. It was a strange tendency – Sergey never missed an opportunity to tease me about the failed operation with the canisters, more than a dozen of which remained in the warehouse as dead weight. Nobody wanted to sell them. My father retreated. Sergey, as I suspected, thought it was my job. I didn’t mind his attitude, but there was an interesting peculiarity. Sergey considered my successful business moves as our joint success, and my unsuccessful ones as my mistakes. One thing I was glad about was that the operation was the only such mistake. It would not have happened if I had not wanted to somehow compensate my father for leaving the company. I took a conscious risk and did not absolve myself of responsibility. But Sergey’s periodic poking of my nose into the stuck goods began to irritate me. I had no desire to take any new steps. I swallowed Sergey’s next attack and said deliberately calmly:
“Seryoga, we can get some ‘Gardie’… These air fresheners sell well. “
“Roman, what the hell do you need those ‘Gardie’ for? If we bring them in, what’s the point? They’ll just cover the ‘Aerosib’ fresheners, that’s all. What’s the point!?”
I wanted to go on, but we approached the warehouse. Petya’s “GAZelle” was parked with its back to the warehouse. We squeezed between the side of the car and the wall. Petya, Senya and his son were sitting on boxes in the warehouse and talking. I looked into the back of the truck – empty.
“Roma, Seryozha, we’re about to start loading!” Senya immediately jumped up and galloped away.
“Two thousand two hundred sold, two thousand seven hundred left… a little less… will we make it or not? Probably not. But we still sold a lot. Great! Everything turned out just right,” I thought, standing in the middle of the warehouse and looking at the remaining half of the second cube.
“So, do you think we’ll manage to sell it?” Sergey said, coming over and looking at the same place.
“We will, we definitely will!” I replied, deliberately confident, actually I did not have this confidence, but I wished that our luck would not stop and everything would last.
“I don’t think we’ll sell it,” Sergey grinned and went out.
“How interesting a man’s gait changes,” I thought, smiling as I watched Sergey walking deliberately relaxed towards the “GAZelle”. His gait would be perfect for a millionaire – a man who had enough of everything, of money, power and other advantages of life, who had lost interest in the business that had grown to a huge size, who had seen everything, who was no longer happy about anything. That’s how Sergey behaved. I knew him well enough to feel the act. Sergey, with the face mask of a tired baron and his hands in the pockets of his shorts, staggered up to the rear wheels of the “GAZelle”, kicked the outer wheel with his foot and said carelessly:
“Hey, Petya, is your crooked-legged cielito still running?”
“Pha-ha-ha-ha-ha, he-he-he!” Petya burst out laughing, the way a subordinate laughs at every joke of his superior. Petya was also acting, I could feel it. If Senya sometimes allowed himself to be deceitful, thinking that his deception was harmless, and when he was caught in it he confessed his plan with good-natured honesty, Petya convincingly played the part of a kind of country bumpkin, simple, doing what he was bound to do by duty and asking no unnecessary questions. But Petya’s sharp eyes missed nothing, and he was no fool.
“Sergey Mikhailovich, what are you saying?” Petya reacted playfully. “Why do you insult my beautiful girl like that? What a thing to say!”
I grinned and smiled, a funny scene played out before my eyes. I wasn’t interested anymore. I squeezed back outside, the heat of the August sun splashing against me, stopped about five meters from the warehouse and drifted away, the sounds outside fading. I froze. A mixture of irritation, anger, and contempt bubbled up inside me. I tried to deal with it, feeling this concentration of negativity eating away at my strength. In an attempt to focus on the positive, I squeezed my eyes shut and raised my face to the sun.
“Why are people so inert? Why do you always have to overcome their resistance? Why do they have such a negative attitude towards new initiatives?” I asked myself these and similar questions, which went round and round in my head, remembering how I used to have to constantly nudge my father to encourage him to do something new in our work. Now I had to overcome the same pile of doubts and reluctance from Sergey. The more I dug into my memory and analyzed, the more irritated I became. My thoughts came to the conclusion that Sergey’s doubts were not only due to prudence, but also to simple laziness.
“So, shall we go?” his voice sounded behind me.
I turned, nodded, and followed Sergey, catching up with him, lazily walking, near the corner of the warehouse. We exchanged a few irrelevant sentences on the way back to the office. I sat down by the door and Sergey squeezed in behind the desk.
“Vera, nobody called, no news?” he exhaled loudly as he sat down.
“No, Seryozha, all quiet!” Vera reported.
My partner leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms over his chest, and looked at me intently like an important official. His nostrils flared like a horse’s before the start, his lips puckered in thought, his eyes played with a mischievous glint. I knew this state of Sergey: he had something in mind.
“Roman, what if I’m in another business at the same time, eh?” He fixed his curious gaze on my face, studying the slightest expression. “Well, apart from this… ours…”
“You can’t do anything like that!” I said flatly.
“Why not!?” Sergey’s face fell in surprise.
“You’re too lazy to do another business yourself!” I retorted, feeling the steam of irritation find an immediate outlet.
There was a heavy silence in the room. I was so relieved by what I had said that I didn’t even bother to sugarcoat the effect of my words – I didn’t care. I hit him again with what I thought of him. I understood why I’d done it – Sergey had wanted to plant doubts in my mind, to test me, and had been rebuffed. I could feel the air of silence thick with his resentment. I looked at my partner. His face was suddenly slack and weak, his eyes looked at me confused and uncertain. Sergey’s arrogance was gone all at once.
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