Chapter 049

Every Thursday I loved this day of the week more and more. The sums of money in the cashier’s office of the “Fort” grew and beckoned magnetically. The bundles of money that went from the cashier’s window to Sergey’s “suitcase” became a measure of our good mood. Just as the summer reaches its zenith in July, our company reached its highest point of development.

“So, Seryoga, shall we go to ‘Fort’?” I said impatiently as soon as the clock on my phone read “11:30”. My partner relaxedly took his cell phone from the table, wiped the outer screen with his finger, yawned and mumbled: “Yeah, let’s go…”

We got into the “Mazda” and drove past the gatehouse.

“Roman, look at my CDs in the glove box!” Sergey stretched his hand to the right.

I opened the glove box, a dozen CDs and the broken glasses looked at me.

“You haven’t fixed the glasses yet, have you?” I pulled them out.

“No,” Sergey grimaced. “Give me those, by the way!”

My partner took the glasses from my hands and placed them on the dashboard in front of me.

“When did you manage to buy all this?” I was surprised, I raked and took out all the disks and began to go through them in my hands, reading the names of the artists.

“I decided to buy a few disks from what I listened to in my youth,” Sergey said, seeing one of the CDs in my hand, and added. “Yes, let’s have this one, aha!”

I opened the case and put the disk into the slot of the stereo – floating sounds came from the speakers, the intro, the music started abruptly, beating the rhythm with drums.


If I were born in North Korea’s land,

I’d likely join the police band,

Or maybe drive a rickshaw, true,

Or even be Kim Il Sung, too.


The rhythm of the music was reckless, vibrant. I started tapping my hands on my knees to the beat. Sergey looked at me with a satisfied look and said cheerfully:

“Yes, Roman, that’s how we were in our youth!”

The man’s voice began to blast the second verse, and I smiled at Sergey’s words, which immediately refreshed my memory of all the stories he told me about his youth – how he used to hang around the streets of their neighborhood with a group of boxer friends; how he used to travel back and forth to Bulgaria with goods in the early “nineties,” sitting in a compartment with a lot of money, trembling for them and the goods, while racketeers and border guards walked around the cars and collected the bribe; how he burned down the kiosk of a businessman who didn’t want to pay the tribute; how he cut the throats of stray dogs, putting one hand under their jaws and swinging a knife from underneath with the other; how he fought with guys from other districts; how he ran away from a police raid in the backyards; how he flew in a plane with a bag full of money; how he and his friends beat up seven men in threes; how he was beaten by five men, lying on the ground and curled up.

The razzle-dazzle of the song played in my head over these stories and automatically caused a fit of euphoria and admiration for Sergey. “What an interesting, dangerous and bright youth he had, the complete opposite of mine – the youth of a model child,” I thought bitterly, nodded, smiled and said: “Yeah, nice song! Tough…”

If I become a star of rock,

I’d shine so bright, I’d never stop.

Escaping loneliness that takes its toll,

I’d find three ways to feed my soul:

Sloth, boozing and debauch, you see,

Rock ‘n’ roll will set me free!


I kept the rhythm until we rolled off the dirt road and onto the asphalt. Sergey pulled his glasses over his eyes and stepped on the gas. The glasses looked at me with the disabled side without the wishbone, and Sergey’s face almost returned to its former image.

At “Fort” we got over three hundred again – dichlorvos sales had passed their peak, and it was time to prepare for their decline. Back at the office, the three of us went to lunch.

“Seryozha, let’s go to the dacha and pick up Vanya at the circuit,” Vera reminded him in the evening.

My partner grimaced and nodded weakly. We left work early, at five. Vanya was standing on the side of the circuit. We drove up to him. Vera’s brother climbed into the empty back seat and immediately filled the car with the smell of alcohol. Being drunk, he smiled stupidly with faded eyes, said “Hello!” and slammed the door. The “Mazda” jerked back into the stream of cars. I looked at Vanya – light summer pants, ironed to the pleats; a light shirt with an unobtrusive pattern, tucked evenly under the belt; short blond hair combed neatly to the side; a plastic bag in his hand. The images of the alcoholics who walked past my house every morning to get a fresh dose – well pressed, well slept, neatly combed – flashed before my eyes. The whole time Vanyok turned his head and smiled stupidly, answering Vera’s questions. Only his sister spoke to him.

After killing twenty minutes in another traffic jam on the ring road, we got out and arrived at the construction company’s office at a quarter to six.

“We’ll be back soon, Vera!” Sergey said, sighed heavily, took off his glasses, put them on the dashboard and got out of the car with me.

“9.08.07 38.000*2” – I made an entry in my planner that evening.


It was not the first time I had the idea of practicing martial arts. And if before it was weak and inarticulate, now it became obsessive and I saw it as true. I realized that barbells and dumbbells only gave me strength. I was restless because of all the skirmishes in which I participated and did not show myself in the best way. These cases ate my consciousness and did not want to be forgotten. It’s foolish to keep silent about something that bothers you. It is useless to lie to yourself. I decided to start training at the end of the summer.


“Seryoga, what else made you want to marry Vera?” I continued my interrogation. On Friday, August 10, we were alone in the office. Vera had been staying at the dacha with the children and her mother since Thursday. Sergey had asked me the day before to give his wife the day off, and I agreed. We had prepared the waybills for both runs in the morning and were basically idling in pleasant relaxation. Time seemed to stand still and we enjoyed every minute of the day before the weekend.

“Roman, different things!” Sergey exhaled, leaning back in Vera’s chair, we were sitting at the tables opposite each other. “It’s just that we were together all the time… We went through everything together, experienced everything… I’ve been watching her for a long time. Verok, she’s always been like that. She graduated from trade school with honors and was a dancer… And she started touring Europe with her company…”

“Really???” I was surprised.

“Yes! She danced professionally! She’s been to Spain and France! Verok – she’s good!” Sergey nodded.

“Wow! Why didn’t she keep dancing!?”

“Roman, she has a family. She had to choose between family and career. Verok chose family. She told me the other day that she wants to focus on home, on her family, and get away from the business, and that I’ll manage here myself… Family is more important to her. And someone like your Lilya would choose a career. Everyone’s different.”

“Right,” I nodded, remembering Lilya’s icy eyes.

“Well, you see…” Sergey waved his hands, picking up a pen from the table and twisting it between his fingers. “She gave up dancing because of me…”

“Man, seriously…” I nodded, filled with more respect for Vera.

“Yeah, seriously! Roman, family is serious!” Sergey nodded. “It’s just that you’re not married yet, your own master… And family means duties… You have to endure, adapt…”

I was silent for a few seconds, organizing and digesting the new information.

“Seryoga, but what other things happened that affected you?”

“Roman, I don’t really remember. There were many things. One time we went on a camping trip… you know, tents and all… stuff like that. And… do you remember they used to sell alcohol in these big liter bottles?”

“Oh yeah, I remember!” I nodded. “But it didn’t last very long…”

“I’m not sure!” Sergey demurred and smiled. “And then we got drunk there with my buddies and fell asleep in the tent… And woke up in the morning… We went on a two-day trip! Well, for the weekend… So we woke up and there was no vodka! We searched and searched… Vera said we drank it all in the night… We had to spend the second day sober…”

Sergey was silent for a moment.

“And then it turned out that while we were sleeping, Vera had quietly poured all the alcohol into the fire!” he smiled.

“Huh, well done!” I exclaimed, not realizing the depth of such an act at first, but feeling its significance. “Clever idea…”

“Yes,” Sergey continued, playing with a pen between his fingers. “And there have been many such cases. I once sold cassettes on the market… Well, from such a high stall, you know?”

Sergey traced the outline of what looked like a door in the air with his hands.

“Aha!” I nodded, having vividly recalled in my memory the kind of stalls with audio and video cassettes, and later CDs, that once flooded the city. “I remember those.”

“I traded on the left bank, and she lived on the other!” Sergey raised the pen in his hand to emphasize the distance. “And back then there were no shared taxis… there were only buses, trams and trolleybuses… and Vera would go to the market every day, bring me lunch, feed me… I would stand at the stall and eat, and Verok would stand next to me and wait for me to eat…”

Sergey started to use an invisible spoon, said something else, but at that moment his voice was drowned in my inner exclamation. I was almost stunned and visualized the described picture very clearly. A resentment stirred in me. I tried Vera’s act on myself and suddenly realized that nothing like it had ever happened in my life. “And if it had happened, maybe I would have been married long ago…” I ended the thought with bitterness, did not develop it and returned to the dialogue.

Our leisurely conversation went on all day, interspersed with visits to the warehouse and a lunch break. We talked like old friends, with nothing to hide from each other, just reminiscing about the past as if to make sense of it. But Sergey was just killing time before the end of the work week. I, on the other hand, was doggedly digging into his past, trying to put Sergey’s personality into my head, trying to understand the part of my life that had left me with more questions than answers.


“Roman, do you wanna know how much we made on the sticky tape?” Sergey said on Monday, sitting in his wife’s chair after lunch and poking his fingers into the keyboard.

“Did you make a report?” I looked at him from across the table.

“Aha! So you want to know?”

“How much?”

“Three hundred thousand!” Sergey said, nibbling his lips excitedly and happily.

I thought about it.

“We sold a thousand packages!” Sergey sniffed his nose. “Imagine that!”

“How many did you sell in ‘Sasha’?”

“No, we didn’t sell that much!” Sergey turned down the corners of his lips. “Three hundred! Well… three hundred and fifty is the maximum! And here – a thousand… Nice…”

“Hey, Seryoga…” I formulated my thought. “We made three hundred thousand on some shit this summer! Tell anyone, they won’t believe it.”

“Why shit?” he frowned. “Good product.”

“The product is good, yes! I’m not arguing! That’s not what I’m saying. It’s a little thing, this tape. It’s worth a penny. A ten kopecks here and there on it, no one will notice… But it has an immediate effect on profits! We did the right thing, remember, I told you not to be petty, but to make a big markup… And we did the right thing, otherwise it would not be three hundred thousand profit now, but one hundred and fifty, we made money out of nothing,” I said, leaning back in my chair with satisfaction.

“Roman, what are you trying to say?” Sergey grinned reluctantly, “That you knew we’d sell so much of this tape?”

“What’s that got to do with it, Seryoga?” I was surprised. “I didn’t know how much we’d sell, I just said that we should mark it up properly to make money on the product, not sell it for three kopecks, so that the work is for the work’s sake!”

“Come on, Roman!” Sergey brushed it off. “You and Anatoly Vasilievich always know everything and have an answer for everything!”

I was stunned and, not understanding the reason for such a verbal outburst and rebuke, stared at my partner in surprise for a few seconds. “Why distort everything?” I thought, painfully feeling the reproach.

“Seryoga, you’re talking nonsense. What does that have to do with anything? I don’t understand you…” I shrugged my shoulders and looked at Vera, who was sitting in the chair by the door with a cup of tea in her hands, listening attentively to the dialog. Sergey’s wife smiled tactfully and immediately looked down.

“I just wanted to say – it’s nice that the decision we made was the right one, it worked and made the company money… that’s all…” I said.

“I see!” Sergey replied irritably, chewing his lip and jerking his knees under the table.

The room grew awkward and quiet.

“How many dichlorvos did we sell?” I said, not wanting to prolong the uncomfortable silence. “The ones on kerosene… and in general…”

“I don’t know!” Sergey twitched, but then, as if overcoming his irritation, he added, “Shall I check?”

“Let me see!” Vera’s voice rang out, she got up and came to her husband. “Come, Seryozha, I’ll have a quick look…”

My partner stood up and sank into the chair by the door with a disgruntled face and pouting lips. Vera crept to her desk and fluttered her fingers on the keyboard.

The preliminary results of our daring adventure were as follows: out of nearly ten thousand boxes of kerosene-based dichlorvos, a quarter of them were in our warehouse.

“What are we going to do with such leftovers?” Sergey looked at me unhappily and muttered smugly.

“We’ll sell some by the end of September, the rest will be stored…” I shrugged, not wanting to react to my partner’s mood.

“And you are sure that they will allow us to leave such a quantity in the warehouse and not force us to buy it out?” Sergey continued.

“We have to negotiate… If they don’t allow it, we’ll send it back… But I think they will!”

Sergey frowned silently, studying my face with his eyes.

“We’ll sell something for August and September, we can sell a thousand and a half. We can even buy the rest, if anything…” I brushed it off and smiled.

“And in October there will still be sales,” Sergey murmured after a short pause, as if he was expressing the results of his thoughts.

“Even more so…” I nodded conciliatory.

There was a knock on the door.

“Yes!” Sergey barked.

Senya came in, shuffling from foot to foot, and said that his son would only work for us until the end of the summer, and then leave with the start of the school year.

“Okay!” Sergey grumbled with an angry face. “I see, Senya…”

Sergey was silent and remained sitting as he was, not turning his head even a centimeter towards the storekeeper, making it clear with his whole appearance that the conversation was over.

“Seryozha…” he began to shuffle from foot to foot again, wiping his lower lip with his fingers. “I was wondering… are we going to hire a new loader or what?”

Senya spread his hands, and his unclenched fingers trembled. “I wonder if they’re trembling because Senya used to drink a lot, or because he hasn’t drunk for a while?” I was puzzled, distracted by Sergey’s ugly farce.

“We are, Senya, we are!” he said, locking his fingers.

The storekeeper hesitated, did not go away.

“Anything else, Senya?” Sergey murmured, turning his head slightly, looking at the storekeeper from under a raised eyebrow.

“Not really,” he said uncertainly, looking at me confusedly.

“We’ll find someone, Senya, of course!” I nodded and made my words firm. The storekeeper calmed down immediately and went out. I thought about it and looked at my partner:

“Listen, Seryoga, we should look for a loader… It’s just that when it rains, it pours…”

“We’re not going to look for anyone, Roman, calm down, don’t make a fuss!” he brushed it off and wrinkled his nose as if I had suggested something stupid.

“What do you mean, we’re not?” I was stunned and stared at Sergey. “Is Senya going to carry and load everything alone??”

“What is there to carry? Twice a day to load Petya and once to unload Alexey Semyonovich!?”

“Fuck, Seryoga, that’s a lot! You go and try!” I started to get angry.

“Roman, I’ve carried no less than you and I know what it’s like!” my partner bombarded me with negativity. “I’ve unloaded trucks in ‘Sasha’ too! You’re not the only one who’s done it!”

“Then you should know that it’s a fucking lot! And Senya can’t do it alone! He’ll quit after three days of such work, and he won’t work alone! I wouldn’t!”

“You wouldn’t, but I think Senya can work alone. We can go and help him if anything!”

“Fuck, Seryoga, what’s the point of this?!?” I didn’t understand. “Why for God’s sake should we work without a loader and carry the goods for him??? Let a new loader come and work!”

“Roman, why give five thousand every month to some loader when we sit here on our ass all day and can go and help unload one load a day… not even every day!”

“Seryoga, it’s not about sitting, it’s about degrading! It’s a step backward! Why are we doing this? We can afford a loader. We make enough money. Why are we downsizing? Just because we’re sitting on our ass doesn’t change anything. If you think we have a lot of free time, let’s make the most of it by looking for customers, new sales… not running around in a warehouse carrying boxes. That’s the wrong choice, Seryoga. We’re managers of a business, no matter how small. And we have different functions than the movers and the storekeepers. We have to do our jobs.”

“Roman, you can say whatever you want, but I think we can do without a loader!” Sergey cut me off.

As if I had stumbled over his sentence, I hesitated for a few seconds and added one last thing:

“What if Senya leaves? Doesn’t want to work alone and leaves… Our actions?”

“Roman, Senya isn’t going anywhere!” Sergey said irritably and brushed it off.

“Where would he go?” Vera said, I looked at her in surprise, Vera continued, “Who needs him? As a loader, if only. He won’t be hired as a storekeeper. At least I wouldn’t take him…”

Perhaps Vera’s words were decisive, because I stopped my efforts.

“Do what you want,” it went through my head, leaving a residue of bitterness.

“All right, so be it…” I nodded and pointed my index finger in Sergey’s direction. “Then explain to Senya yourself why we didn’t hire a loader as promised…”

Sergey looked at me intently, but said nothing.


“Listen, uh, I have an indiscreet question, Seryoga… have you ever cheated on your wife?” I asked the question, knowing the answer in advance and not caring about the fact of the answer, namely the reasons. We were driving the “Mazda” through the city center in the heavy midday traffic.

“Roman, there is no way not to cheat!” Sergey said, relaxedly driving the car with one hand. “It’s just physiology… I remember once I came to work on Monday… It was at Davidych’s place, when we had not yet moved to the garden! I came in and I felt like I wanted to fuck so bad. And I had sex with my wife just before I went to bed… literally just now… So I’m sitting there, I can’t think of anything, I have a boner and that’s it.”

Sergey imitated an erection by raising his clenched hand into a fist. I laughed, Sergey laughed too, and continued: “Yeah… and I’m sitting there in agony, and this buddy of mine who works with me, also the same… So he and I waited until lunchtime, got in the car and drove to the monument… You know, there are always broads standing at the Monument…”

“Yeah, I know,” I nodded, having heard about that place as one of the places where prostitutes work. “They stand there, I saw some of them a couple of times… walking around.”

“Yes! They walk along the street or sit on the benches!” Sergey nodded. “So we drove up, there was one… We agreed on a price, she sat down with us, and we drove on… towards the park, where there is a forest by the road… We arrived. So it’s time to start. And she goes, ‘Do you have any drinks and snacks?’ We rummaged around in the car, found a piece of lard, but there was no drink… We went and bought some cheap vodka at a kiosk, came back, drove off the road into the woods… Fuck, I cringe at the memories – she’s sitting there, holding a full glass of vodka in one hand and a piece of lard in the other! Ugh!”

I imagined the picture – I also got a twitch, I smiled and shivered.

“And she drinks this glass…” Sergey continued, widening his eyes in surprise.

“All of it!?” I grimaced.

“Yes… all of it! Imagine that! All of it! One hundred and fifty or two hundred grams of vodka was there! She drinks it and takes a bite of this piece of lard!” Sergey grinned and imitated a bite with his jaw, which made me cringe again. Lard… greasy white mass. Ugh!

“So she’s drunk on this glass of vodka, she’s lying on the back seat on her side, mumbling something like – come on, guys…”

“And you?”

“We pulled her pants down and went ahead… one after another.” The car stopped in traffic, Sergey slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand, shook his head, burst out laughing. “Fuck, I shudder to remember it! And we, fools, were running after her in the woods, trying to catch her… with these… uh… with our dicks sticking out! With condoms on them!”

Sergey laughed even harder, put his hand to his crotch and moved his finger, imagining his dick dangling as he ran. I blushed and laughed. The story seemed so stupid and ridiculous that it was definitely real.

“How many times did you cheat on your wife?” I calmed down and said.

“Roman, I haven’t done it in two years. It used to happen. Not now…” Sergey hesitated. “I just know that I have a body that does everything I need! But sometimes I want something else… It’s just that after someone else you get on your own more cheerfully!”

“I have a body that does everything I need… A body… I have a body that… Vera… A body that does everything I need,” floated through my head and registered in my memory. The phrase cut into my ears, but I remained silent, turning over my past relationships and realizing that I had no such desires – the girls I dated I genuinely liked, and I didn’t think about sex with others. On the other hand, all my relationships didn’t last long… I kept thinking, “I have a body that does everything I need.” We drove over the bridge over the railroad tracks and ducked into more traffic.


In the second half of August, sales of dichlorvos decreased and even stopped for a whole week, only to resume towards the end of the month.

And what I had feared happened – “Arbalest” started offering “Luxchem” products to other companies in the city, our customers.

Roma, “Arbalest” offers us “Luxchem” here,” Misha, the manager of “Mongoose”, said apologetically when I called him again, “and the prices are lower…”

A shiver ran down my spine and my brain immediately began to scramble to find the right solution. Over the years, I had developed an honest relationship of trust with the manager of “Mongoose”, and that helped. I found out the competitor’s price, calculated the markup, and told Misha that we would deliver the goods for a few percent less and fix such a discount for him for all future deliveries. I eagerly promised him the new terms and he kept us as their supplier. The situation was saved.

“It’s good that Misha is a good guy!” I said as soon as I hung up the phone and leaned back in my chair at the table, looking at Sergey, who was chewing his lip nervously. “Otherwise we would have lost ‘Mongoose’ right now! Such a piece would have fallen off…”

“Yes, you had a good talk…” he sniffed his nose and kicked his leg.

“Well, you heard Seryoga! From now on we’ll sell drain cleaner to ‘Mongoose’ at this price. The money will be less, but we’ve kept the market, so it’s okay. Let’s keep it that way. Vera, make a note of this markup on the drain cleaner for ‘Mongoose’.”

“Yes, Roma, I got it!” she snapped out of her stupor when I looked at her.

Sergey continued to jerk his leg and chew his lip. As if in a slight stupor, he looked at me with a blank stare.


“You bought a fishing rod!??” I was surprised, half-heartedly listening to my partner one day, but the word “rod” caught my attention; Sergey had never been a fisherman, I knew that for sure, and his choice surprised me very much. “What do you need a fishing rod for, Seryoga???”

“What do you mean, what for, Roman?” he was even a little offended. “To catch fish! I’m going fishing! You work out in the gym, you have a hobby! I’m going to have a hobby!”

“You wanted to work out too,” I smiled. “You bought a barbell for the dacha, you said so yourself… By the way, how is it, do you use it?”

“I do!” Sergey muttered sharply.

I looked at Vera, met her smiling eyes, noticed how she hid the sarcasm in her smile, and understood everything. We were sitting in the office as usual.

“Seryoga, you never cease to amaze me – you bought a fishing rod!” I hummed and shook my head. “How much did you pay?”

“Seventeen thousand!” he said immediately, cheerfully, as if the magnitude of the sum would eliminate all questions at once.

“Seventeen thousand!!!??” I rolled my eyes, my eyebrows creeping up almost to the back of my head in surprise. “Seryoga, that’s fucking crazy!!! Seventeen thousand!!! Why is it so expensive?!”

“Roman, maybe I’ll start fishing seriously. You always start with questions.”

“Seryoga, I’m just wondering… I think if I decided to go fishing, I’d buy a cheap fishing rod first, get my hands on it, gain experience, and then it would be clear which rod to buy better… You paid so much money, what if it’s not exactly what you need… there are different rods out there. I don’t know anything about it, though… All right, never mind!” I dismissed it.

“Roman, I bought a lot of things for that money!” he began to justify himself. “I also bought a special box where all the sinkers and hooks are, all different sizes, all in their places…”

Sergey began to explain the peculiarities of fishing, I listened without paying attention, just shaking my head, smiling and occasionally looking at Vera.

“Why, I’ll go fishing too!” she said suddenly, as if to support her husband’s decision. “You’ll take me with you, won’t you, boys?”

“Who is he going fishing with, Vera?” I nodded at Sergey.

“There’s this inveterate fisherman who lives next door,” Vera wrinkled her nose, brushed it off and smiled.

I tried to compare Sergey and fishing, but I couldn’t and shook my head again. The idea seemed so ridiculous that I didn’t even bother to look for an explanation.


Sergey and I added another seventy thousand to the payment for the apartment, and that was the end of it. We paid about half the price for both apartments under construction and, at Sergey’s insistence, froze the payments for a year.

“Roman, what’s the point of paying the full amount now if we can spin this money for another year and make money on it?” Sergey gave the strongest argument. “There are still two and a half years until the end of construction. I suggest that we don’t take the money there yet! Apartments are not rising in price so fast now, so there is no hurry. And somewhere in a year before the end of construction, we will start to carry money there and buy the apartments in full!”

Sergey insisted, but stopped talking and looked at me questioningly.

“Well, if apartment prices go up again, we’ll quickly bring in money and buy them out!” he added.

I agreed.

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