Barbershop otto, p.1
Copyright 2013 Yuri Vinokurov
Vasya and Dima were friends since high school. Unlike their more fortunate classmates they didn’t get into the university and instead went to do small menial jobs. On the other hand, they were luckier than those from the neighbourhood who ended up in jail. Dima did a two-year stint in the army which “had a few bright spots” as he put it. He got back leaner and skinnier than ever, looking like a Timon from the cartoons against Vasya the Pumba, who was already over ninety kilos in high school. Even as he was in the grade school, few seniors would dare challenge him.
Vasya didn’t quite waste the time after the graduation; he took a year off to prep, got into a small technical college and was now in his third year of Co-Op, taking the evening classes and working in the daytime. At this rate, he reckoned, it would take him another two years to graduate, and then he’d look for an electrical apprenticeship. Till then, it would still be the same old grind for both of them: part-time security jobs, loading-unloading cargo planes at the airport, occasionally fixing old computers, sometime an odd retail job. Vasya had even sold ladies lingerie once in the winter market, - just one of the more bizarre gigs.
“Man, you should try going back to school again”, said Vasya. That was the same thing he’d been telling Dima ever since his buddy demobbed and was eligible for the ex-military preferential admission. He was interested in going to the local university at first, but failed in the first round of application and didn’t have much confidence since. “No, man, I’m dumb. As dumb as a boot”, replied Dima melancholically, “I was never too smart, and the army thing made me even dumber. Or maybe smarter in a way”. “Like what?” asked Vasya. They were sitting in the little shack Dima was guarding with his rubber baton and random uniform, and Vasya dropped by after his late-night class. “Like you know, I have seen things, know something about life, not much, just a little bit”, he continued, “and all I can say to me this whole thing makes no difference. I make enough to survive today, and if I can’t make enough, then why live?” That was also a familiar discourse to Vasya. He thought Dima was actually sliding into a clinical depression.
“But you should keep trying”, said Dima, “you’re a smart guy, still have a chance”.
“I am trying”, said Vasya, “I am working my ass off studying. Haven’t had a beer in a long time”.
“Let’s have a little one or two when my shift is over”, said Dima.
“Yeah, why not”, said Vasya, “it’s been a while ”.
The store was a 24-hour one and the most widely represented product category in it was Booze. There was every imaginable kind of vodka, beers from the god-awful local beer in plastic bottles to some half-decent Euro brands, mostly bottled in Russia, and even a few bottles of Asahi and Sapporo brands. There were brandies and whiskeys as well, but more for display rather than for actual customers, - it was not a very upscale neighbourhood. Aside from the ninety-odd kinds of alcohol, there were two kinds of bread: “black” and “white”, several cheap brands of chocolates and some packaged food in the fridge. There was no self-service; everything was sold over the counter. The security guy was mainly to thwart potential robbers and troublemakers rather than shoplifters. Once a week there would be a drunken customer demanding more booze he wouldn’t pay for, - then Dima would get up from his chair and swing the baton. Usually that was enough.
Sayeed, Dima’s replacement, arrived at eleven and took the strategic position on the folding vinyl chair. Sayeed wasn’t a very diligent guard, he had a daytime work in a construction crew and then spent most of his watch sleeping, but Dima covered him up. “That doesn’t hurt me”, he would say, “I won’t be staying in this job anyway”.
It was cold outside, the winter came early. They got two six-packs of small Tuborgs and some potato chips from Dima’s work and walked to Vasya’s apartment in the crumbling old Khruschev-style building not too far away. The friendly cashier didn’t charge them the full markup. It was a good deal.
They spent the rest of the night chatting quietly, careful not to wake Vasya’s mom. Neither of them had a shift next day, and Vasya’s school was late enough in the evening. “You’re right, man, I gotta do something about myself”, said Dima, “get a trade before am too old”. “Welder’s good”, said Vasya, “don’t become an electrician though, we’ll be competing, hehe”. “Sounds good, welder it is then, let me just make some money for tuition first”, said Dima, “damn it must be a shitty job in the winter, eh?” “Pays well”, said Vasya, “you’ll get a car, get a driver’s license, will drive around like a man, start dating again”. They talked a bit about the girls they knew back in school; most were married by now, some for the second time.
“Well, I get to go”, said Dima. It was almost three a.m. He called up a taxi and a beaten up white Toyota sedan arrived in fifteen minutes, they could see it through the frosty window. “Take care, man”, said Vasya, “see you in the next few days”.
The next few days happened to be quite busy and Vasya had no time to check on his buddy. Work, school, home, work, school, home. He was now part-timing in the cable TV company and without a car that was a hell of a job taking him to some of the creepiest neighbourhoods, right out of horror movies. At home Mom was starting her same old song again: “Whenareyougoingtogetmarried Vasya, Whenareyougoingtogetmarried Vasya”. “Agghrrr”, Vasily would usually reply, “not in this life”.
He was hoping to get a little more sleep on the weekend, but on Saturday morning an acquaintance called and asked if Vasily could show up at the airport cargo facility on Sunday night, preferably with one or two friends. “Good money, pay on spot”, was the message, so Vasily set about calling everyone. Dima was very high up on the list, but he wouldn’t take the phone. Vasya ended up going with two classmates from his electricians’ courses, and they made some cash. On Monday he dropped by the 24-hours store as Dima’s mobile was still dead.
“Haven’t seen him lately”, said Sayeed, “I am working an extra shift now, until they find a replacement”. “How come, just disappeared?” asked Vasya, baffled. “Yeah, tried calling, the mobile is off”, replied Sayeed, “The boss is quite pissed off too”.
“Hmm, weird”, Vasya was thinking on his way to the school, “that’s not like him”. Dima was not a drunkard; he would drink a little now and then, but would never get too drunk, or even worse, skip a gig. He decided to pay him a visit at the tiny apartment that Dima was renting cheaply from some friends while there were out in Moscow, but he just ended up wasting half-an-hour banging on the door. There was nobody in.
Back home he went through his old records and found Dima’s old phone number, his mother probably still lived at that address. He dialed the half-forgotten number that brought memories of their school years. They didn’t have cell phones back then and Vasya would dial his buddy from the grey boxy set that used to be hanging in the hallway, now long stowed away.
“Hello, who is it?” answered a female voice. Then he remembered that Dima’s mother died a while ago, shortly before he left for military. Still, he said “Hi this is Vasya, Dima’s friend”.
“You’re probably dialling a wrong number”, said the young woman. “Oh, sorry about that”, said Vasily and hung up. He looked at the number, he was pretty sure he dialled the right one.
Dima’s own mobile was still not answering. Vasya tried calling the few friends they had in common – nobody had heard anything, and some sounded genuinely surprised at their, Vasya’s and Dima’s very existence. Like they were some old ghosts from the past.
Next day was Tuesday, he had no school. Vasya had a few work calls and then headed to the old neighbourhood where they used to live. He took a b
“Man, this bloody place hasn’t changed one bit”, said Vasya when he got off. The area hadn’t seen any new development ever since they graduated and moved. Everything that was old and ugly looked only older and uglier. He easily found the still existing path in the snow, from the bus stop to the mishmash small of wooden huts and concrete blocks, and walked into the hood. It wasn’t long before he found Dima’s old place, still with their childhood “graffiti” on the hallway walls. “Dimon – condom”, said one of them, barely readable, but Vasya would be damned if he remembered who wrote it, probably over fifteen years ago. Surely not Dima himself.
Finding the building was a lot easier than the door, the doors had all changed several times since, everyone had installed the second steel door, and he wasn’t sure which floor Dima’s apartment was. Still, he found what he thought was the right door and pressed to buzzer button. There was no sound, but some of those new double doors were quite thick, for sound and heat insulation.
Someone unlocked the inner insulated door and asked through the exterior armoured one: “Who is there?”
“Vasily”, said Vasya, although that wouldn’t explain anything.
“Which one Vasily?” asked the voice.
“Vasily, friend of Dima’s”, replied Vasya. He decided to feed the info in smaller pieces this time.
“Which Dima?” asked the voice, slightly annoyed.
“Dima, the son of Lyudmila Petrovna”, said Vasya.
“One sec”, said the voice. The door opened. There was a petite young woman standing inside looking at Vasya with interest.
“Hello”, said Vasya, “Dima’s been missing for a few days now”.
“We don’t know him, really”, said the woman. Footsteps were heard and a man slightly older than Vasya appeared in the hallway, and said “They don’t live here anymore. We bought the apartment”.
“I see”, said Vasya, “are you relatives though?”
“Yeah, but we never kept in touch”, said the woman.
“I see”, said Vasya.
Barbershop Otto by Yuri Vinokurov / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes