An uncertain shadow outside pasted me to this spot hours ago. Mikhail warned I’d neglect my duty on my watch and my head did hit the floor waking me up. No pleasing him. Why an apparently huge perimeter is taking hours to search. Worse, I didn’t wake the least irritable from having slept at least a moment before my head smacked the floor. It’s just this awful awkward exhaustion that’s extreme torture.
Terry and Mr. Treynor are good people from Hank’s nice life in New York. However Moscow was odd letters, “goofy shirts” and receipts he gave curious parkers who’d stare at the artistically hand drawn sign on our door. That brought some business because a lot came through the Mezhdunarodnaya. But we weren’t making money. Bled and fed had been communism. While Hank’s general ethical attitude remained our stumbling block. On the phone he’d repeat his motto to never look in a package, then refuse mysterious blank envelopes that didn’t quite fit his grand plan. He let what happened be happenstance. Our initial business that found a following, of sorts, was queuing in line that developed from errands for my mother. Clients discovered us in lines that could last days. Then a pale, old desist order arrived deeming the activity anti-socialist. Lines were meant to spend free wasted time on when the country stole each other blind. Kicked our children. Everything was a kickback. But a stand had to be taken against exploitative capitalism, so Permits and Licenses banned us from doing that service and threatened to close us if we were ever seen in line again. Imagine paying to wait? Today we of course realize, duh, everything costs money. But back then socialism’s token façade was a shadow of doubt.
The problem with our waiting was being young, tall and handsome, we weren’t legitimate line standers ignoring stock that consistently left by the back door. Relieved of our competition, government stores continued as they always had catering to the elite
136until, as expected, a few months later down the road, 1991s fewer products meant the bottom dropped right out of anyone waiting in line. Still citizens waited, aware idle warehouses were full to achieve the most private gain while their outlet couldn’t get them to believe nothing would come.
A dismal economic climate at the level of enterprise Hank chose pursuing. Lines didn’t make money either and we were just doing something when there was nothing to do. Still, Hank said he didn’t want to “waste Gorbachev’s time with a personal problem.”
So I ripped the “bureaucratic speed-trap” from his passive hand. “Greenway,” I said. “Use this to our advantage.” I intimidated him with my size and backed him into the wall. “Sickle to Kremlin. Put name on list. You know how to wait,” I even said looking up at the pencils.
Hank made another speech. “It’s a mistake for government to be parents. You probably don’t understand what this means, but you don’t have to be a Heritage Foundation conservative to believe in individualism. It’s important we’re on our own. I don’t want the President coming to me for help. Why go to him when a few more customers is what would solve our problem?”
Hank took the desist notice to a magazine that saw a commercial angle for themselves that became my fond memento behind my computer now. Our small corner ad in the now-defunct Listening magazine reminding me there’s a straight story to tell, open 24 hours. So to try to continue somewhat seriously, business begins at its’ pinnacle’s opposite. While some restart again at absolute nadir where The Hammer and Cycle was December 10, 1990 when our disputed sponsor Dr. Armand Hammer died at ninety-two.
That Saturday night we surprised Hank in the driveway, on his way out, and made him return with us to the office where he paced the lot for twenty minutes while we drank without him. Each brainstorming the meaning of Hammer’s death in our own way. We sat on the office floor to have less far to fall laughing our heads off eulogizing the departed fart.
When Hank heard enough he came in and took Leonid’s bottle. “Crap doesn’t count,” he said and poured just for himself. Then said, “Until I hear something of value, only I drink because I thought of this.” He held up the glass and began. “I didn’t want to, but now realize it is my honor to commemorate Dr. Hammer’s commendable support of
137Culture Minister Yekaterina Furtseva, who before her own death was deposed from her prestigious office for accepting Hammer’s capitalist largesse. A bribe I know he would have hoped to share as generously with actual workers if nationalism and corporate evolution allowed. I think he at least said he thought his project’s Soviet workers received a living wage. Hey I’m bullshitting, who knows?”
Even when not drinking Hank provoked Sergei, who said, “Sham. Bribe KGB favor to polish old friend’s capitalist image. Da, everyone has enemies that let Furtseva take blame. But ask yourself why culture minister would need money? She had good career. Publicity served to preserve communist sympathizer’s cutthroat capitalist image.”
And Hank agreed. “Since Lenin’s autograph, Hammer’s life was a photo opportunity. Public life is image. The larger it is, the more it’s shaped.”
Hank refused to pour for Leonid and Sergei laughed and said, “Toast ruthless opportunist who stole our cultural heritage of paintings and relics for years, years before we were born. How was he not KGB hostage or friend?”
“Customer,” Hank burped having drank twice more in the meantime as his wobbly eyes now seemed set different from the rest of his head. Passing six swigs, Leonid reached for the bottle while the rest of us were amused Hank became vodka talking. Slurring his words under drinking’s full swing.
Hank started, “Hammer at heart was just connected biznezzman. Whoopee to capitalism anyway. I buy he was wishy-washy. But it doesn’t matter to me if his father made him sign his American Communist Party card. Information the former eighteen year old would want heard from other sources. I just don’t care what Hammer did. He thrived on deals. Working with, for and against anyone and everyone makes the most sense. How folks have always lived. Last week Mr. Treynor sent me Freedom of Information Act letters signed by America’s FBI czar, J. Edgar Hoover, that Hoover had sent Americans, senators and congressmen, etc., warning them not to associate with Dr. Hammer. Nothing is more effective than negative PR. Hammer probably wasn’t just a double agent but triple infinite agent man going for the one, out to prove himself worthily retired to sunny California, case closed. Even dead there’s half a chance Hammer works for a flipped coin. Big businessman satisfied little people are
138fooled. Hiccup. It’s not funny there’s no room for saints at the top. Hiccup.”
Then another “Big swig” swayed Hank more dramatically. He demanded, “Let’s all rise” and drank again refusing us. Insisting, “No. No. No not without a significant toast. Not you guys.” He threatened to kick Sergei and stopped Leonid by locking the bottle in the desk drawer. Then he reached under the desk for the hammer and sickle glued to the bicycle wheel and crawled out saying, “It’s said Hammer poured millions in this country he never got back. Maybe. But the story of the world is quid, pro and quo. Sure Hammer has background he can’t account for. So what.”
Sergei said, “End it. I want Leonid’s bottle.”
Hank took it out and another swig and put the bottle back and said, “No. Tonight honors his death. What is your reason to celebrate?”
Then after some silence Sergei sat up and propped himself against the wall smiling. He said, “O-kay toasted lightweight. Praise. Always full of it aren’t you? I will tell you. Dr. Hammer called me Daily because he phoned me every day. Let’s celebrate my deal with him. My verified Swiss account for taking over from you. But no matter, until I work that out, if you stay, you work. We are moving into Hammer’s building downtown. They won’t care if we take over mailroom from bottom up.” Sergei laughed. “You cannot possibly work for him now. He is dead. No, I see your eyes move away. You don’t accept. We made no money with you. The dead man offered. He thought he had the strength to take you down before hospital sent him home to die.”
Sitting on the floor, by the desk, Hank drank again holding the bottle tight. As usual thinking in his own world, looking at the pencils. Hank said, “The telephone chord was Hammer’s umbilical. That’s not worth a drink. I won’t toast his ego. I never wanted to memorialize Hammer’s name in a way Occidental can’t. We can’t separate our names but we can from the money.”
Then Hank’s backward gulp went in a long sweeping motion, such that now, up to that point, you could have thought no one died. No longer. A month earlier we got Hank to a party where he drank that time to fit in too. He pointed at the sky and screamed, “Pterodactyl!” But Greenway wasn’t a drinker. He was an exaggerator, this time imitating “Soviet-style drinking to forget feeling guilty for associating with the powerful.”
We should have left and let him walk and work it out on his own because drinking and sitting led to that last exaggerated gulp when the weight of his head and that bottle pushed him back so far that the base of his skull gashed precisely on the corner of the desk. He was too slow from the alcohol to panic and laughed at the absurdity. Then when the pain became bad enough to not refuse an available doctor, Joseph had coincidentally caught one when I called the Front Desk. Watching on his private screen he had a minute to prepare since both parking lot cameras were always on us with the door generally kept open for oxygen. Upon protest, Stalin’s namesake, Joseph, grinned that he never watched.
The doctor arrived briskly, patting his prop, and Hank’s babbled Russian wasn’t so bad, considering the doctor was supposedly English and in town for a symposium.
The doctor said, “I travel with my bag. Being late with a story will make me a celebrity at the auditorium. Right. Let’s solve this. Quite a hole you made for yourself. How did that happen?”
All of us laughed so the doctor said, “Don’t move” and held Hank’s head still. Your damage doesn’t seem as bad as the horror. Is this from a fight?
“Da, with himself,” Sergei said. “He is haunted by his American demons.” Then Sergei revealed the next bottle, from his backpack, that Hank hadn’t known about, causing hilarious laughter so the doctor told Hank not to speak.
I spoke for the bottle. “We drink to Hammer. He didn’t push you into desk.”
Unfolding his stethoscope, the doctor said, “I met Dr. Hammer at a London museum. Cocktails. Impossible to turn your head. You have to look at celebrities. In public the rich seem always on, more lit up than the rest of us. But I saw Dr. Hammer’s glass filled to nothing he didn’t sip from anyway. Must have done all his tying on later alone in the limo?”
“Or,” Hank said, “could have been on a perpetual internal chemical rush.” Then he screamed from the peroxide. “Aagh!”
Leonid asked, “You say Hammer was sober?”
The doctor ignored them both. “The bandage must be changed tomorrow. Joseph can”
And Hank immediately interrupted. “No.”
The doctor scowled, aware. “You know he’s dead? Don’t pretend.”
Sergei answered, “He knows. This is Hammer’s memorial.”
The doctor stopped Hank from touching his skull. “Excuse me?”
Hank frowned. “Ugh, sorry. Please tell your Hammer story for Dr. Hammer’s eulogy. I went too far drinking. I’m the joke. I thought they had one bottle. There’s probably four more. They’ll sleep on the floor and be in my way in the morning. And you’ll go back to England.”
“Very good. Please sir, your story and my wound.”
The doctor took the package off the bandage. “You’ve been to Scotland?”
Hank said, “No. But my name is from there and I seem to have stubborn habits.”
“Ah very good,” the doctor smiled, humored. “My patient, the one who roped my wife and I into filling the room, told Dr. Hammer I was a doctor. Doc-tor Hammer told a small group a tasteless joke about how if Americans only invested the attention in medicine they have doctoring finance, even the poor could afford to be sick. Everyone laughed so Dr. Hammer touched my arm and told me he knows and gives such and such to charity every year. Well.”
Hank said, “Yes, depending which directors’ votes need influenced.”
The doctor peered in Hank’s eyes again. “Tell me how you were in business with him?”
Hank started to leer but his head hurt. He said, “We’re not in business. This is his basement.”
“Uh huh,” the doctor replied, thinking with us what’s the difference. He tried explaining too. “Was. This was Dr. Hammer’s basement.”
Hank tried to stand but the doctor kept his hand on Hank’s shoulder. The doctor was firm as well as skeptical.
The Scottish doctor said, “I think you had a lot to drink. Lie down for me. Please? The desk is fine.”
Hank shoved things off and put his head on the notebook.
The doctor sat forward in the chair and cleared his throat. “Mr. Greenway. Usually I have patients sit up when I talk to them. But you are revved up, and your heart racing. Relax. I could give you”
“No more alcohol.”
“Why weren’t you careful the first time?”
Hank smiled. “Doctors coin slogans reminding us hindsight is too late. You guys sure are at the heart of the truth of the matter. That’s why disaster is when doctors aren’t really in charge of the medical enterprise system. Can you send me a bill?”
The doctor, packing, smiled. “Don’t involve me. I wasn’t billing the hotel and certainly not you. Hammer and Cycle. Think highly of yourself, don’t you? Your name spells money Hank Greenway. Where’s yours hidden? Everyone who travels through the Mezhdunarodnaya talks about the nut in the basement. Now that the old man kicked, you’ll have to make your claim. That’s how things usually go. First come, first serve. Largest bankroll laughs loudest.”
Hank said, “Amusing doctor. Paying rent here is my exclamation point.”
The doctor knew things. He said, “Petty cash. You can’t afford the actual cost of basement space in the Mezhdunarodnaya. Joseph said you need to make a deal.” Hank shook his head so the doctor said, “How else?”
What we wondered too.
But Hank had enough. “Joseph likes describing my inevitabilities. Screw him. Doctor, are you staying or going?”
The doctor closed his bag. “Joseph said you’ve never known what you’re doing. Now you hurt yourself trying to forget in a bottle. Mr. Greenway. The bottle is for sullen reflection, not making everything fuzzy. That’s nothing. There’s nothing in numbness. Joseph said there is money in a Moscow bank while you wait in line for vegetables.”
Hank said, “We’d gladly wait for vegetables.”
The doctor didn’t care. He said, “Joseph laughs about you. Called you, ‘little simplistic capitalist.’”
Hank said, “I know” and crossed his arms looking at the ceiling.
Then the doctor looked over his glasses as if sizing up a mental state. Then us the same and said, “Mr. Greenway. How long have you been drinking?”
Hank turned toward the pencils and said, “Since my teenage realization being drunk is pointless.”
The doctor stayed.
Hank continued. “Then a couple years later alcohol entered my early university years. I tried experiencing some key to the Soviet mindset in Florida by driving to the large bar that at least in my time was that area’s crossroads, highways 436 and 17-92. It was always virtually deserted late Sunday nights when I went to stretch what was left of the weekend. There were two long rectangular bars that easily kept six tenders busy on those kinds of nights. Wall to wall al-co-hol. But different when I went, late and empty, for my ceremonial Sunday night vodka and orange juice Screwdriver. Over the year I worked my way up to two glasses per Sunday and made it safely back down to one by the time I stopped. I never had that drinking to forget problem like tonight. Though I did go out to a bar after John Lennon was shot. Anyway, those were somber reflective nights that ended sometime after my first and second year American History professor and I stared at each other in the dark from across opposite ends of the bar. Quite a distance for indoors but we were the only ones there except for the lone woman bartender. I sent the message back through her that the low grades he’d given me were just the incentive I needed. He was the first historian to draw a line I had to get over because until him I’d never gotten less than an A in any history course. But for his Western Civilization class, if you didn’t get eighty percent correct on the first part of the test, he wouldn’t grade your essay so you couldn’t score better than a C for the exam. I made the final B from the next three tests but I couldn’t get the average up to A which never happened to me before in history. I was a shy punk and got the hell out of the bar telling her to tell him I thought he was one of my most important instructors. He was sloshed and I was lucky his career had been part of my life. Two Ds in U.S. History I didn’t study for and a push. He gave me the lower grade because though I heard every lecture, I wasn’t applying myself. I couldn’t believe it happened and let him give me a D the second time too. Whew school. It’s like magic you know? This whole idea everything can be taught when everything can’t possibly be known.”
Shaking his head the doctor repeated the light in the eyes thing again and said, “Did you eat?”
Hank said, “No probably not. Tonight my nourishment was as it was back then in Florida. Marketed as alcohol sophistication where its all there is to do besides the movies you can’t afford more than once or twice, especially if you drink. I adapted to the drinking culture round midnight Sundays until I wasn’t interested anymore. I suppose. An under two-year process I compressed into tonight, because I have to drink pure vodka so Leonid might consume less. Then over dramatize myself into a desk that’s where it should be when a head comes toward it from where it shouldn’t.”
The doctor told us to stay with him. That there was probably nothing to calm Hank except sending him back to the environment he was raised in. Hank thought that was funny too and left after the doctor used the elevator. He took the stairs and brought back two colas as a chaser, he said he “read about how undercover cops wake their spirits when drinking undercover in bars. Artificial pep.”
The doctor asked us to keep track of Hank though all our effort was necessary to hold onto the floor itself. So by no means had our company’s brainstorming over Hammer’s death caused a blizzard. We were just ordinary people surviving on vodka. Suffering our ancestor’s legacy, in the far gone throes of where laughter at oneself is the most fun of all.
Sergei started up again. “Greenway. Toast Dr. Armand Hammer, Socialism’s capitalist demise.”
Well before either crippled head could prove anything, Plekhanov intervened. What? Who’s Plekhanov? I must be so inebriated on this intoxicated memory of being that drunk, I made the name up? No. Plekhanov’s real name is Irving Meyrovovich. But we called him Plekhanov because he was a founder of Russian Marxism in the 1890s when Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky were just young punks in school. Having carried crap in Afghanistan, our Plekhanov started Moscow’s first doomed courier service, Корзина Все. Cart Everything.
Plekhanov said, “Sergei is angry his Swiss account is probably gone. But money is not in Greenway’s eyes. Look at him. He fears Sergei’s deal. He accepts failure as fate because of what success means. He can’t compromise, but we have to. Everything comes in time. His way eventually, but we have to take advantage of our opportunity now. I have to say I vote with Sergei.”
Hank’s style was to wait and listen while Sergei’s was to never shut down at all.
Sergei said, “For once Plekhanov, the old name has wisdom. Time is now. Be honest with him. You encouraged his ignoring authorization. The American game, getting away with it.”
Hank grinned. “Has that ring of antiauthoritarianism, huh?”
Sergei ignored him and told me in Russian I was more foolish than Hank. That Gorbachev’s diluted power would be no help either, and though Hank was right wanting to do everything ourselves, it was especially true because Greenway was no help.
Hank always knew what Sergei said. He mostly spoke English so the group would reveal themselves in Russian. Hank stretched, groaned and pretended to jump for the pencils screaming, “Permit! We don’t need no stinking permit. A business license shouldn’t require separate permission for everything. Queuing isn’t illegal. Loitering in line is a government sanctioned custom. See how government’s logic is balanced, teetering on a needle’s head, dooming us when its’ weight falls behind anything?”
Sergei said, “Hammer paid for your pro-business eulogy, and you sold us cheap.”
Plekhanov nodded yes and said, “Hammer said we’d be millionaires.”
Hank frowned. “You should have hung up.”
Sergei rocked to his feet and touched the wall. Ha! Now two doctors. Hammer and the one who just left. Both called you ‘peculiar.’ We are forbidden to look in envelopes. And toolboxes are problem. Of course carpenters work on smugglers’ homes. ‘Who else has money,’ Hammer laughed. ‘What kinds of businesses does he think can afford to pay you?’ Hammer said Mikhail was right hiding carpenter from you. Plus Hammer gave me another number.” Sergei looked at the phone. “This man is rich. Connected. Hammer said to not trouble you. He said he couldn’t believe he fell for your scam in hospital. I think complaining about you made him weaker and hastened his death. Once he said, ‘Any slogan would have gotten further than bottom up’ and coughed forever. We finally just hung up. Your involvement made it impossible for anyone else. He was right, ‘Opportunity leads to others. Not extra time in basement.’”
Hank looked at the wall. “I always hung up the phone.”
Sergei said, “Hammer talked. I listened. Last month, medication made it possible for him to repeat all of it, all over again. It was difficult for him to speak, but I could feel how much he hated you. And he wasn’t your enemy while you made him ours. At least he didn’t die thinking that was true. He had fixed everything. This idea was a dream come true for him. That first-floor Messenger Service money was ours. Hammer said in all his years impressing people with less money at the opera, he’d never seen a bigger prima Donna than you. Instead of planning retirement funds, Greenway refused a multi-million dollar advertising campaign. So. We are being clear tonight. This is not your decision now. Monday morning we start managing Occidental mailroom downtown. Employees left intact will do the work while we take turns observing periodically. Instead of our barely received daily bread, Dr. Hammer offered me your job. Said rich men don’t live with regret, they die with them. I don’t plan to regret. Making money is not dishonest.”
Pretending concern, Hank said, “You took my job?”
Sergei smiled. “Curious? Hammer offered all of us money. Me, Mikhail, Leonid, Nikita, Plekhanov. All of us when any of us took over. You are stubborn you told doctor. Corrupt opportunists would not matter if you gave up on your own.”
Hank looked at the floor.
Sergei slapped the wall. “Nothing. You have nothing. We have nothing. Seriously. You know what Hammer complained about most? People don’t know your beloved Hammer and Cycle exists. He would repeat and mumble, household name, household name, over and over. You should be household name. Huh? To make your success official he said he put your name next to nothing in his will for spite.”
Hank smiled and pushed the desk to the doorway to get close and smell the lowest pencil. “This lead and wooden sculpture are enough for me from him. Benign history.”
Sergei sighed as Hank sat back down cross-legged on the desk with his head against the doorframe, staring up at the pencils.
Hank said, “My bond with pencils is from childhood. Once, scribbling with an ink pen on the TV room floor, it occurred to my father to stop on his way in from outside on his way to and through the dining room. He sat on the couch and leaned in toward what I was drawing and made sure he had my attention. My father told me his generation grew up with the pencil and how he was more comfortable
146with one despite the rapidly changing world’s requiring the smoothly faster pen. But the pencil had the eraser’s magic and felt more agile in his hand when thoughts had to be words on the page. Of course even pens have erasers and Liquid Paper is common now. But what my father left me feeling was the sensation of civilization advancing in trends. Discerned from the pencil’s example as evolution in communication. Hey. Now I remember asking my mother why he always used a pencil. She told him. Do I cling to the past too much? No, don’t answer that. It’s good to have memories you want to remember. My mother even had me learn the magic of thought translated through your fingers playing the typewriter’s keys. But we’re just toasting the pencil now. Fitting Dr. Hammer did something he owned in this country. These pencils. Those factories. Too bad the Bolsheviks couldn’t respect individuals. Their only incentive was competition within The Communist Party. The largest commercial monopoly ever invented.”
Sergei looked straight at Hank. “Hank,” he said. “What could be different? What is honest? Change just brings more of same. What is, is. Hammer said your principles are nuts. We could have already been paid without working. And those tools Mikhail carried were not used in any crime.”
Hank stood on the desk, turning to peer out the doorway, then stepped down and out leaving what Plekhanov described as “Dr. Hammer’s jargon in loops eulogy of withered reasoning and regurgitated explanation,” after Hank popped his head back in the doorway reminding us, “Calls behind my back. Conspiracy under my nose. Thank you for making me want to walk.”
Which was how Hank generally ended meetings. Off in a huff. He cut off the first carpenter discussion with, “Logic is like whittling. Carving till something’s not useful doesn’t mean it wasn’t thought about a lot.” And it was also Hank’s technique to wear the group down, gnawing on each of us, individually, to get his votes back to remain technically in charge. “Interrupting” his “nightly sojourn to take one of us along.” Exercising futility because we remained in Hank’s den because he sabotaged the Occidental Mailroom takeover. Executives took immediate control of the company all over the world and Hank refused to talk with anyone. Even a grunt from him and Hank could have been given a token of service. Something. But Hank just grinned all the way through, believing “the value of what we’d get is nowhere
147near what we’d give up.” The executives battened down the hatches and every secondary acquaintance got less than Hammer promised. Those who received something had a lot more influence than us, thanks to Hank. Hank didn’t care shady connections would have meant nothing to us when shade was all there was. The reality was Greenway’s big dream was pie in the sky gravity always splatters to earth. Passive nice guy capitalism has a track record for finishing last. When Messenger Service was backed up with packages at Christmas, Hank treated us to an afternoon in a restaurant, “because unless Joseph works, he doesn’t really need us.”
We were never ahead to rent anywhere else because Hank turned down the only commodity worth a dime to carry, money. Even rogue KGB carried money. Contraband made millions while we weren’t worth the proverbial taste Hank claimed everyone was due. Except for the money, Messenger Service was a nuisance for Joseph while we were in business to take those problems on. Even Hank knew enough to eat wasn’t getting ahead when payday packed truckloads of icons crossed the border daily bringing back special things bought with real dollars like whiskey. There were conveyor belts of finance in the Soviet Union, while Hank promised something would come when, “We’re the most trusted.” But we couldn’t help wanting money for under the mattress now.
I was caught once covering some smuggled freight’s vaguely legitimate leg from the airport and we just ceremonially shrugged in the office, without a walk, since Hank didn’t “care to sweat the small stuff.” No matter how often he said no, no one was fired for initiative so it was as amusement center that Hank stayed nominally in charge. But things had to turn around, despite Hank’s ignoring people doing things for Sergei on the side and that we all had enterprises because we would make more organized.
On our own we voted Hank had to always have his beeper whenever he left and even while in the office, just in case. Sergei seconded Hank’s appeal against the motion, but since no one complained, Hank had to accept the losing end of that by-law. Raised to think politically active is automatic and pointless, having our votes actually count was heaven. So though Hank’s idealism was amusing, there wasn’t enough business.
When real money was made in dollars, Hank accepted rubles no one wanted. Hammer wouldn’t have let that happen nor stood any
148nonsense that wasn’t business. Such as the extraordinary cost of the beepers. The day after their delivery, short a confiscated pair, another player, a salesman, Hammer probably sent, from a European team, slipped through and mistook our marginal enterprise for one to skulk around. Sergei coincidentally confronted him first so he was already suspicious even without the name Henri. Henri asked us to equate his “business with food since everyone communicates. No?” Then he acted as if he failed to see Hank disbelieved a salesman starting from the basement wasn’t a cheap alibi.
Amusement could not replace money that wasn’t in our pockets so by Spring I was nominated to interrupt Hank’s walk and alert him to coming changes. I caught him leaving the parking lot and he turned to me saying he wanted to “feel how it feels without it” and he was “tired of the lecherous device” and insisted I take his beeper.
But I said, “I cannot violate company trust. I can duct tape it to you so you’re not tempted?”
Hank said, “It disgusts me stuck to it.” And he picked up our pace along the river in the direction of Red Square. “It bee-eeps and interrupts trains of thought making the last one hard to keep. Know what I mean? They go off in the office because everyone has other people beep them. It’s infuriating hearing beeps when nothing’s going on. So they don’t wait in the office and take too long to respond. They call someone else first while I wait. Where do they get money to call someone before me? I’d rather messenger than be in the office.”
I said, “Thank you. Company has no complaint. Take summer off. We decided that no matter how conflicted our noble leader is, our differences of opinion came together for the sake of the company. Now it’s your turn. We want you to ride your bike. Ride all day if you want. Face it. We voted. This is not a coup. You will remain monarch. But Sergei negotiated closet space, larger than the one now. With new bank on ground floor that wants our logo in their billboard’s corner to advertise their following Dr. Hammer’s wishes that we make money, Hank. I am sorry they are dumping that clunky Duchamp design and just going with the hammer and sickle wheel. But there’s nothing on paper says you own us. We should have made money all along. That is what concerns us. Did you know the hotel’s doormen are paid just to watch briefcases? Who cares why guests hide them as long as it’s for money?”
Though Hank’s eyes had followed mine, listening, his mood darkened at just the thought of discarding his useless DuChamp ready-made. That got him. Otherwise he’d have shut up if it was just about bankers. Using his accent, Hank said, “Hammer’s party really came together after Sergei revealed I turned down millions in advertising. I left and ya’ll stayed passed out in the morning on my return. I faced the rebellion then by taking Sergei for the first walk and he gloated how I unanimously lost the vote. He didn’t care that was why I brought him to walk. He loves political victory and had to savor it.”
“So this is official now,” I said.
And Hank grinned. “I’m still happy without Hammer’s influence. I declined the bank’s offer.”
I raised my voice. “Please? Incredulous. We are still in basement?”
He said, “I know. Hardly a treat. But we’re genuine.”
I flipped my hand in the fed up gesture and said, “Stop rationalizing. We have no business.”
Hank said, “I was voted out already. Remember?”
I said, “Good. No succession crisis.”
Then a dog across the river caught his attention and he laughed and said, “No. I won’t physically fight. But you want something from me? Demoting me again is hardly a reason to interrupt my walk.”
I didn’t say anything.
Hank shrugged, and stopped to hold the river railing, then said, “Hammer couldn’t protect Sergei from the grave. But he inspired an entrepreneur. I would have liked to have heard their calls.
I said, “Don’t wander off.”
But looking at the dark sky, Hank said, “The salesman Hammer could offer anything. Anyway. All of you have outside interests. I preferred not to interfere. But people could someday be fond of that name. I’m only protecting a legacy.”
“Hank,” I said. “You are bragging as you have since before the Eulogy when you said Hammer folded, bent and mutilated words. But we never met him and will still make more money from him than you. You are riding bike Monday, and walking up stairs.”
Hank smiled. “Sergei said that too when we walked in the January blizzard. Wanna hear what I said?”
“I have a choice?”
Hank giggled. “I told Sergei I saw your consensus form before I left the party euphorically under the influence of the pencils. I wanted the group to formalize right then. I knew there was enough to drink. Ya know America began in the saloons? Plus as I confirmed to Sergei in January, I believe in your rights to independence. But as Sergei could have told you and I told him. ‘Call yourselves Courier Maintenance, the hammer and cycle stays with me.’”
Then Hank threw a rock in the Moscow River. “That Monday Sergei was delivering fresh milk. How could I stand in the way of that? How much corruption would I uncover before giving up? Sergei didn’t lose a beat. I guess I don’t like it, but I’m proud. In Hammer’s case, though, he was in love with the sons-a-bitches game, power. Peculiar negotiating your life by the concerns of dead men?”
Hank liked looking over the river and skipped another rock and said, “Power repulses me. The glistening ruthless texture of the modern world that has evolved. What’s evil is so refined. Time theoretically smoothed the seismic historical shift rocking Hammer’s youth, that we’ve supposedly grew up foreign to because that’s how history changes when new people see things entirely different. I wasn’t born at the bottom below Pitt Street. I was sheltered and narrowly raised in my small hometown under my parents’ tutelage. Early century events taught one young man to exploit all the opportunity he could. While this product of the mid-century learned to wait, watch, and wonder how we’ll face this conundrum of plenty not being enough. This great complication, the distribution of wealth, beyond the abilities of human mathematical genius?”
What political ideology had to do with his losing control of the company couldn’t stop another rock or his explanation. I threw a rock too, and listened.
Hank gave a short snort after mathematical genius and continued. “I caught snippets of the broader cultural revolution being smoothed over by America’s national news reader uncle Walter Cronkite. See, the thing is, even as a kid, it was obvious the authorities smoothed out the news for public consumption. Propaganda, advertising, there are no lines. We’re lucky there’s room for any independent thought at all between dissent and submission. Yet I think it’s hard to know when we’re actually having fun so our being entertained is easiest to understand and grasp with a price tag on.”
The next rock was slung with some oomph and Hank said, “Hammer grew up without radio when I didn’t have to, but I didn’t listen to where the revolution was on the radio during that time. The music that made it to television was sanitized so bands could get the gig. Or it was just too late at night for me to watch in the beginning. I was so young and naïve I asked my first friend in life if his older brothers knew what the generation gap was and their reply was it was about boyfriends and girlfriends instead of indentured marriage. Of course he didn’t say indentured, I think. But I debated the point and admitted my parents weren’t everyone. Marriage is a fascinating pact. Some commitment agreeing to be miserable together, when just breaking up is hard married or not. All divorce is emotional and we’re definitely too rough on ourselves.”
Then Hank stopped, in his delivery, from throwing the next rock and said, “Ya know. I think we’re missing something seeing two people’s experience as a barometer of moral decline. Casting stones was supposed to be the dark ages we’re climbing out of. It’s offensive that anyone on this planet is so self-righteous to condemn anyone else for anything.” Hank smiled. “Ah well calamity falls forward. We learn from our mistakes. Hammer’s generation bore the brunt of the Twentieth Century’s seismic grating as it shifted against the Nineteenth when commercial notoriety cultivated the entertainment of our time so that now notorious behavior is ordinary life in the modern world.
“I remember when my father wanted to see my reaction to all the screaming girls he expected for The Beatles screaming appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. He’d seen commercial promotions before and knew what would happen. For some reason, like probably my extreme youth, I wasn’t habitually perusing the local Orlando Slantinel then. I can’t remember what if anything our local paper of record said, but I can speculate it called them ‘The Four Elvises.’ A simple staged event of such potency, even a sheltered six-year-old imagination was lit by the value of The Beatles in public awareness. Even recluses learn to advertise they want to be left alone.’
Hank didn’t listen. He said, “At age six with the rest of the world, I thought up a band with two friends and mulled over the name, The Scavengers. But I couldn’t handle the pain of practicing on guitar strings. Later I figured out a Ringo doll disappeared after John Lennon said they’d become bigger than God.” Pause. “Which isn’t what
152Lennon said, but my father probably didn’t have time to sort that out. John was referring to mass communication’s influence and the magnitude of commercial acceptance.”
I said, “Hank” louder.
Greenway said, “I personally feel Jesus performed less of a mind twist than advertising has on his behalf. When God’s name is used, the defensively religious don’t bother understanding points of view. Irrelevant praise they can get behind, but the larger point we’re all under God, in disarray or not, ah, most can’t be bothered. Team spirit without compassion is just manmade. What does God have to do with human vengeance?”
What a rebel. But it was still obvious the reigns of our corporation should no longer be in the hands of a dream. Hank’s other ambition set in motion before hitting his head at Hammer’s Eulogy, is in his telling of the story behind his short music career. How the world went hippie and Hank’s parents channeled his musical interest to their liking by taking him up the street to see the high school’s concert band which was why he took up the trombone in 1967.
Hank winked at the pencils and said, “1967. Thirteen years after school desegregation began, school integration of the races finally arrived in my rurally populated Florida county. And the trombone came to symbolize my good concert experience with my parents. Our side of the audience faced the trombone section’s middle-left portion of the stage where the concert band’s second trombone was the elder African-American brother of the one girl in my fifth grade class in my whole elementary school. To my mind their family were the epitome of courage with unbalance all around us. If anything I’m still trying to live up to my admiration for them.”
Then the way Hank continued, his parents die and he’s forced to live in a larger town whose predominantly black band was smaller than the smaller town’s band he had to leave. So the life of the party, bottle monopolizer Hank spouts, “That’s it! I know what’s to be done” and he jumped to the floor and leapt back on the desk. “Definitely lay on your backs. Motionlessness on the floor. Me too. Somebody shut the door, turn out the lights. Be still. Feel the dark fall night with me in 1972 Central Florida. The Seminoles high school football team wasn’t winning and marching bands either fill a sizable portion of the field or look small as ours did when competing with larger bands. Universities fill the field. But we were high school and you get what you got.”
Plekhanov said, “Philosophers are killjoys. Flags, marching music. Parading is boring drudgery. What our backward revolution did best. You volunteered?”
Hank smiled. “Yes cornier than Broadway. The Seminoles band had very talented individuals because what the new band did not comprise in numbers they made up for in loving to jam. Great musicians except for that time at a pep rally when we massacred the Theme From Superfly in the gym. Half the band ended in the middle while the stunned rest trickled on. Afterwards we scattered to the band room for our instrument cases and the director, Roland Castro hustled and caught us. He said, ‘Everyone wait,’ and stepped to his podium. “No one leaves until you hear what I have to say.’ Then he disappointedly took responsibility because we hadn’t known the song in one rehearsal. The held back look on his face was something. Summed up by, ‘If any band could, I thought you guys.’
“Definitely good individuals and some toured professionally. Now here’s the story I’m getting to. The idea of a spectacle has occurred to me to make our point.” Hank was smiling too much. “It was a late October Friday night. The fourth game from the end of the ten game 1972 high school football season. While our band did the traditional home-team wait behind the goalposts for our opponents’ half-time performance, something felt different. That moment immediately stood out in my mind because Cleve never came that close to my face before. My fellow trombonist Cleveland was always gruff with the new sophomore, but that was his personality. A few years later, before I left Florida, I saw Cleve playing in a bar and he was nice and said I could have made a living myself. He told me it wasn’t such a great deal but he was doing it.
“Anyway. Cleve asks what I know, which he believes is nothing that I apparently corroborate because I remember his laughing with the percussion section who’d half mooned to separate us from the rest of the band. The sky was so dark. No visible moon or stars making the stadium seem huge and overwhelming. Cleve was telling both Brian, the other white trombonist, and I but details are smudged it happened so fast. Oh yeah our high school football field felt bigger because it was laid out inside the former spring training facility of the New York Giants professional baseball team. It was a stadium when I’d usually marched between bleachers on both sides of the gridiron. Everything felt strange because I’d only lived months in that town and
154floated past most experiences. I think if I’d been a talker instead of listener they’d have done it without me. The group was anxious and itching to go. I’m really privileged to have been asked along. It was something to be a part of. So while the other band finished Cleve still wanted me to know where their idea came from but before telling us what it was, Cleve said, ‘We’re gonna be a hit,’ and ‘This will be the time of your life.’ But now we were what was going on in the back and the Drum Major strode over in his broad stride across the middle of the end zone to tell us to reform but it was my nod he took the okay from to go back up front. Even though Cleve had said, ‘Man he’s not gonna get it’ or something like that, I understood. Waiting until the last second to tell us they sure knew at least one white guy wasn’t good at keeping secrets. Someone said Cleve was taking too long and Cleve snapped at the drummers, ‘I’m doing this. I know what I’m doing.” Remembering can still make me cry. Cleve said, ‘I need you to know we’re carrying on a legacy.’ Then he got to the point and said, ‘Have you heard of FAMU?’
“So I guess as expected my ‘huh’ was hilarious. Cleve waived his arm to hush the others and said, ‘Florida A and M University you little cracker’ then more laughter. I knew. Of course I followed sports. But what Cleve said was more important than what I knew. He said, ‘Look Greenway. White people enforced separate cultures so we developed our own. But you couldn’t treat separate people fair so we had to fix you bigots.’
Hank smiled. “And look who spoke up. I told Cleve, ‘Not me’ and he smiled, ‘Maybe.’ Then told us we didn’t have to do this and they’d do it anyway. But they knew they might get in less trouble if Brian and I participated. The suspense gripped me and you guys might already know what I didn’t then in the fall of ‘72.’ I said, ‘Tell me please?’ Today everyone knows the FAMU marching band’s wild halftime dance. We, oh I’m so sorry I wish I remembered every individual name in the conspiracy. But when our half time show finished, and I have no idea what we played, percussion tapped the rest of the band off the field and somehow the tapping hadn’t removed the tappers, a few others and three trombones. Our new line was screamed at for our bizarre insubordination and then we did it. I was told if I didn’t understand just watch and I would, but once begun you’re completely involved in your own dance. Spinning the trombone was always fun and dangerous and not like dropping a baton because a
155flipped bone hitting the ground would most likely never play again. The crowd went nuts at our wild dancing and our waiting-for-the-football-field team saw the performance and came miraculously close to winning by catching the spirit for the second half against a team that should have had it in the bag.
“We got in trouble, kind of, because Monday in the band room at 2:00 PM our director told us he had been mad but punishment wouldn’t make sense when we were expected to keep doing it. There were three more games and Cleve himself told Brian and I the African-Americans wanted to do it alone the last night. For them Brian and I were satisfied to remain out, but they ended up apologizing to us and we all learned feeling separate is a punishment unto itself.”
Then Hank looked at each of our group and said, “We need some bands.”
As head of the class I said, “Beatles sure.”
But Hank said, “No we’re not beginning. We’re ending a ruthless era with an exclamation point. A Woodstock!”
Even drunk I understood this much. “Woodstock is not universal hit.
Hank said, “No trademark goes untarnished.”
I said, “You cannot invite hippies to overrun Moscow. And Woodstock is myth.”
Hank said, “Who doesn’t have critics?”
So Plekhanov and I look at each other and I say, “Band might work. We can play indoors during winter you don’t like anyway. Rent bar. Practice. Pass hat and collect donations and see if Hammer and Cycle name can bring in money. That might have mileage as Americans say.”
Hank said, “It will be a festival.”
Sergei laughed. “Without permission, permits or partners. Again.”
Hank laughed. “A free economy just isn’t understood.”
That’s what Hank dreamed or liked to think. That with principles our business would do whatever it had to succeed. What’s the difference? His music festival required my secretly calling that Hammer number Sir Principled-a-lot refused, explaining, “Especially dead Hammer’s not a partner. Just a cute marketing gimmick for the marquee.” Hank didn’t want the baggage and told us specifically not to call.
At the eulogy he also told us, “You don’t really know what’s at the other end of gifts from Dr. Hammer. You don’t know. What’s apparent isn’t necessarily true. Just this morning the lawyer for the family of Hammer’s deceased wife Francis called expecting money from us. As aristocrats have through the centuries, it seems Hammer hid Frances’ money too. And it’s not to her family’s benefit to understand our token relationship with the empire. The lawyer is having the Russian Detective Agency check us out. Apparently, as expected, he robbed her blind too. So what I mean is that phone number is connected to a financial pyramid I want nothing from. Your turn.”
None of us said anything, nor the phone that rarely rang from the short list of customers.
So Hank said, “To be friendly I told the lawyer the truth. I paid nothing for the name. He repeated ‘nothing’ like nothing meant more. Then went on to tell me how her estate will proceed with collecting a determined percentage of our revenue, unless I had a written contract drawn up by a you-know-what verifying our alleged independence. Anyway not the lawyer’s fault. Hammer no doubt contested his wife as well as his adversaries.” Hank got more excited. “Ooo, here’s a great visual that could represent Hammer and his wife. Has anyone seen Citizen Kane? You will. Everyone likes movies and you’ll sit through this film. Kane is a newspaper industrialist whose first marriage is described in a collage of scenes where his wife sits ignored across from him at the breakfast table while he’s behind his newspaper. And that’s how I used to think of Hammer before I saw that photograph of him alone with his newspaper having breakfast in bed with the phone. Plus, to seal the gossip, you guys drank with the chauffeur with that story of the state dinner when Hammer ignored falling Frances to get to the passing by Gorbachev. Helping Frances up would have scored more points, but he was so lost compelled to touch the top. And you want our success associated with his connections?”
I said, “We’re in his hotel.”
That Hank ignored, but I made the call from my parent’s apartment. Networking permission for Hank’s concert. Picked up on the third ring, a cultured Russian voice spoke perfect English after I said I was Hank. An unheard of house-call bureaucrat stopped by our office with an application for an end of the year concert that Hank planned for the heart of August, when the man just needed his form filled out and signed.
Hank said, “Your face shows you’re a good man Elmer Fudd.”
No one laughed as the name just confused us then.
Hank said, “Back home everyone likes Elmer for his perseverance chasing a wabbit. Elmer is a focused hunter, pointed at his goal, resolute. You say I must fill in concert name? How about Beethoven’s First?”
The apparat’s lips repeated Beethoven’s First as if translating. Then disregarding the American joker, he revealed a phenomenal ability to believe what he’d been told and said, “Follow procedure.”
Then, as if he was the logically designated confused person, Hank took a walk in the garage and left us with the apparat. So Elmer asked us in Russian if Hank was coming back. But actually relishing my role in business, by this time I’d had a stamp made of Hank’s signature. I filled blanks with nothing and scratched out the date they’d change anyway. They could have even filled in the end of time itself, for all it mattered. But the bureaucrat left cradling his briefcase and Hank ran after him.
Hank returned enraged I’d made some kind of deal. But we were already jamming using two metal chairs, desk and floor for our drum and cymbal set. Hank rang his liberty bell cup because, I’m not kidding, it cracked and he continued to “play, as has America.” With or without permission, Hank had planned ahead and if that rehearsal’s energy were harnessed, the whole world would know about “A Concert With No Name.” Hank secretly had posters made and hid in the bike box so he pasted one up while we played. The names of the bands spiraled up from the bottom in surrealistically arranged colors. Bottom center, The Abacus Pickers swirled into The Seminoles connecting with The Least Righteous Brother and Peace Love And Understanding.
Hank said he “needed to plan posters now so the bands will have to fit their names to the concert.” The Working Class were ten year olds he unstalked from following the strange American living in the expensive garage. Good thing a concert turned up to prepare for because industrious kids can evolve into deviously loyal gangs. Comrad-erie breeds in every environment,” Hank said after lending them the money for their amplifiers. Emptying the treasury again.
So that’s where we were come summer. Hank still in charge. Waiting for this plan to fizzle because our complaints weren’t being solved. While a Woodstock could secure futures as entrepreneurs, Hank hadn’t expected permission. He hadn’t counted on the approval to make
158money. He saw it as the more we could make, the more people that would be kept away.
Hank started a rumor that the band Profit From The Experience that would open the show, was really Leningrad’s Aquarium disguised as businessmen in tune with their opening song, “It’s All Business In A Yellow Submarine.” Followed by “Secrets Sung In The Ukraine.” Profit were to wear glimmering copper shells that lowered from the ceiling while the lead singer’s head inflated into a silver kopeck. Then from behind the curtain, Hank, holding a landlord’s clipboard, would saunter across the stage taunting each player to cough up a dime. Till the crowd got the point and booed him off the stage after he collected all his kopeks. While every band’s lead singer was supposed to be last to give up theirs. Hank didn’t want to mess with the bands’ internal politics. Candy would be thrown out at intermission to cheers. So many little details were planned. The refrain of the Barometers’ eighteen minute opus, Opus, encouraged the bourgeoisie to stay exactly where they were so the proletariat knew where we’re all supposed to be. Posters were to be taken home all over the country, to at least a thousand places. At the top was Capitalism, Rain On Me. Now who could this tomfoolery upset? No wonder concerts are a gazillion dollar business, because an audience is such a responsibility. Young people congregating is what haunted nations fear. Exactly, no limit to what we could charge.
At The Eulogy, I pointed out, “People will pay to stand in front of those in back for free.”
Greenway wouldn’t hear of it, arguing, “Poster says Priceless.”
Hank planned a uniformed litter collectors parade that would break out in a special wild dance in the aisles. The screen behind the bands would show the complete Notes From Underground on a continuous legible loop.
Even though we’d been upset about money, Hank had led my remembering how the idea of a concert was exciting and we’d give him time for that to work, again. Walking, we were dreaming in full color all along Kalinin Prospekt that late summer night. Until, from a doorway, Srilenko appeared so uncomfortably close to us we hustled ahead till we reached St. Basil’s in Red Square where Hank mumbled, “As if this might make him open and honest.”
The colonel approached as cold, distant, and hostile as when he introduced himself in the office. This night though, His Arrogance wore a light socialist costume of flimsy bad-suit slacks and a few years old white short sleeve shirt. Just like Hank, portraying a relic from the dead pursuit of egalitarianism. A throwback to an age we were officially running from culturally.
Finally, after what seemed like, looking around everywhere, the colonel said, “Evening. Unusual to see you both. But lovely weather, yes?”
Hank ignored him at the office so I was surprised he answered. “Comrade. Sorry no, only party members are comrades. We can assume this is not our party. Can’t we Colonel?”
The colonel smacked his lips.
Hank said, “You remember Mikhail? It was his honor to toss you out, your only time in our office with us there. Undeservedly courteous I recall.”
Srilenko said, “Remind me. I am busy. Irrelevant as you are, things between us should be clear. I know Mikhail was protecting his older sister who arrived after you thought I’d left.”
We were silent.
Srilenko said, “So, may I ask how our offices are conducting business together?”
Hank snarled. “Barely a customer.”
Srilenko said, “What?” As if it mattered.
Hank said, “You never pay on time. Your one run a day costs me.”
“Tch tch,” Srilenko noised and paced first. “Capitalists account for cost. We pay according to your contract. You should value all clients.”
Hank said, “I do. Your check is poison I throw away.”
Maybe that made Srilenko laugh. He said, “I noticed they are never drawn on bank” and he turned to St. Basil’s. “Surely our envelope makes us your best customer?”
Hank said, “As you like it.”
Then Srilenko smiled at me. “I may call you Mikhail?”
I said, “Nyet.”
He said, “Nor does your boss appreciate my calling him Hank. But we can address each other civilly. Your boss”
“Partner,” Hank said.
Srilenko raised his head. “Boss Greenway says we are not friends. I harass him contradicting my obligation to the people. Tell him Mr. Greenway how you’re my victim.”
Hank turned his back on him. “I am a worm in a hungry nest.”
“Useless remark,” Srilenko said. “Good Greenway. Representing deluded common man. We will talk this over. But not here. Come, you like to listen. There’s something I want to show you, corporate climber. We’re going to be open about what Mikhail wants tonight. He wants more business rather than your three-ring circus. Representing the little man does not confuse the rest of your company. Has it Mikhail? Mikhail knows who our country’s successful are. He knows envelopes could come in thousands tomorrow. Day after that, who knows? You know, you lived in America.”
Hank said, “No.”
Srilenko held his hands out implying he wasn’t being rude.
So Hank told him. “You lied about yourself. I think your parents feared you. Raised by the state, born in conflict. You’re a mess.”
The colonel jutted out his chin, and I also hate willful liars so Hank and I began leaving. But Srilenko insisted that was futile and we were easily reeled in. His voice didn’t rise as we got further away, but everyone near us was silent so we clearly heard Srilenko say, “Better we talk than I track you down. If I work up less adrenalin, you may get better deal. Come, you like listening.” Then, passing us, to wound Hank’s pride, the colonel snickered, “Let’s leave this tourist trap.”
Under his breath Hank said, “He doesn’t realize a lot for a wiseass.”
We stretched the walk out as long as we could by contradicting his directions. But eventually Srilenko nodded down a curved street creating a shadow at its’ end. “Games conclude” he said, emphasizing we’d stay by blocking our turning around. He said, “This street” and “dirty little capitalist” as if they were the world’s most deliberately hostile words.
Understand Gorbachev wanted impenetrable government finished so citizens no longer lived under the whims and thumbs of Srilenkos. But instinct prevailed. I remembered once before when Hank let that phrase slip. “Dirty little capitalist.” So from Srilenko’s lips, I’d had it.
I said, “Why are we talking to you? Who are you?” And in Russian, “Understand?”
Hank said, “He’s brought us to the Ministry of Finance.”
I was startled, but Srilenko’s smile was touched with humility Stanislavski would be forced to approve. Then our secret policeman spoke nice to us, telling us to “Relax, and listen.” Then he unpersuasively flipped a hand for us to sit on the curb to hear what we didn’t want. Which is almost impossible.
Srilenko looked up and said, “I am glad you noticed this building. But staring at the ground as you have for most of our walk, you completely missed that exceptional row of Nineteenth Century homes. Like your capitalism, tuned out of touch with the planet you profess to care so deeply about.”
Hank said, “Sounds sordid when you say it.”
Srilenko laughed. “Greenway, your ideals are nothing. The bad ideas pour out his ears, don’t they Mikhail? Wealth does not spread from your bottom up nonsense. That is bike messenger interpretation at best. There is no other way to operate a country than top down. Mikhail, your obstinate American friend doesn’t realize. I am not a contract shuffler small entrepreneurs blame for defeat. To be fair Mr. Greenway, you should admit you have privileges others do not. Is that free enterprise?”
Looking right at him, Hank said, “Takes an actual idiot not to understand capitalism is socialism.”
Srilenko said, “Why pretend either? But let’s discuss your future in real terms, Mr. Greenway. Not some abstract political regeneration. Every member of your Hammer and Cycle has family of Soviet stature. Socialist elite. So you’re not even bottom up yourself.”
Hank said, “Leonid slept in my doorway after crawling from Siberia.”
Srilenko raised a brow. “Yes, not your fault he is alcoholic, but he goes in happy state.”
“I understand your protective concern.”
“Colonel, I don’t have a real home and my business is built from scratch. Leave us alone. The toughest don’t always have to survive shrewdest to win.”
Again Srilenko laughed, certain he was funny. I looked at Hank.
Srilenko said, “Greenway” as if Hank was naïve.
Pissed Hank said, “You can be formal without using any name. You’re so used to filling in the lie, rehearsed formula is your real conversation. I don’t care about your plans. Leave me alone. You make me feel as if I’m under Native Americans’ white man law. Patiently waiting for courts to mature so my descendants can own casinos too late to actually give victims back their personal dignity. Leave me alone now so I can benefit now.”
Srilenko said, “Capitalism pretends to share, dirty little capitalist.”
Hank said, “Yes. Martyr this country’s liberty. Choose their prison yourself. Did you go to the beach today? Ah your choice, not my fault.”
Srilenko smirked. “I know judges who would smile listening to you. But know in your heart as I do, nothing will replace socialism. You Mr. Greenway are an excuse for collectors of rent to own this planet. Real Socialism would own the whole planet and give it away for free.”
Hank said, “Make fun of me. Real estate already owns the world and it only costs money.”
Srilenko nodded. “But not here. Have you seen where I live? Do you know what I need? Life does not need to cost so much. It is clear from what has already happened to our economy. A reasonable state is necessary. Not government that pretends to be tolerant. Citizens need structure. This country will return to an ordered way of life. Mark my words, as you Americans say.”
Hank spit remembering his mother wouldn’t like that, and Srilenko pretended to step back, when what he really wanted was to draw our attention to the building. He raised his hand while scanning the front door, as if praising all the possibilities. He motioned us closer, but we wouldn’t step closer, which just prolonged his enjoyment.
Srilenko said, “I have information.”
Hank said, “Why we can’t go?”
“Nyet. This time you cannot hide on plane. You should know.”
Hank turned to leave, but said, “I’ll ask, so we can go?”
And Srilenko said, “Ministry of Finance is investigating your income.”
“And yours?” Hank thought to ask.
So Srilenko laughed again. “No not mine. My records are in order. However yours are not organized. A privilege law abiding Soviets do not have. You too must be honest about where your money goes.”
Hank said, “I make less than you.”
“Not true. Your company’s figures”
“Don’t even say hello to my pocket.”
“Your corporation’s politics are not my problem. You may not touch money, but it is yours. You may not bind it underground, where it rots hiding from Soviet society. But it is yours. Bragging about financial circulation is just another money laundering scheme.”
“American flippancy, endearing.”
“In addition Mr. Greenway, you are hiding here. You neglected to file tax returns with your American Internal Revenue Service.”
Hank said, “The government’s representatives and I differ over charging interest on my debt. It’s a protest. I pay my taxes, but I object to profit counted in interest on wealth that often doesn’t exist. We manufacture make-believe finance by inflating money that doesn’t exist. The government, our social company should stop encouraging the deflation of value, because inflation can’t keep up with deflation. The lead needs to be taken.”
Srilenko said, “David and Goliath all over again. Deja pooh-pooh. What next? Tax return postcards? Yes I read American newspapers. Talk about delusional. Not my jurisdiction either. Our problem however, concerns your planned visits to exchange computer discs in Eastern Europe. How you are financing this, when you supposedly have no capital?”
Explaining to the wall, Hank wouldn’t look at either of us. He said, “Our customer is paying for our first trip. We’re discounting their rate for the contract’s first year. My question is, how does government gain if real business falls on its’ face? The current cooperative fraud system is from medieval times.”
Srilenko frowned, insinuating Greenway didn’t think straight. He said, “Soviet industry is necessary here. Smuggling is exploitive, and our authorities find it suspicious a simple bike messenger wants to fly in planes and travel in cars.”
“You see Mikhail, Mr. Greenway is controversial.”
I said, “Don’t call me that.”
So Srilenko said, “Of course. Your name, do as you please. But Mr. Greenway, you won’t play cowboy at our culture’s expense.”
Still facing the wall Hank said, “The wall is down. East Europe is not your burden anymore.”
Srilenko said, “What they want, they can get from us. In this case you compete with Soviet State enterprise.”
Hank smirked. “Our negotiated price requires shipping without a loss. Soviet capitalism cannot guarantee that. You should offer bonuses for complete shipments. Then couriers can buy the crap themselves instead of steal.”
The colonel narrow his eyes and said, “There is never enough for the corrupt. People steal each other blind when they can. That is what is wrong with capitalism, dirty little one.”
Hank said, “Legitimate profit?”
“Soviet Freight’s purpose.”
“Late from every hand that touches it.”
“Corruption,” Srilenko nodded. “Yes. We follow shipments, and criminals such as you are taken care of. It is your hands that won’t touch product.”
Hank said, “Come on.”
Srilenko smiled. “You jump back and forth behind separate truths. Tickets were bought on your passport. We know you were traveling.”
Hank said, “Our whole team in turn.”
But Srilenko thought, “No Hammer cyclist is approved for travel abroad.”
That visibly upset Hank who said, “Though the rest of the country is supposedly free from your interference, we’re not. Our application’s ink must have disappeared with the communist ideal that everyone would share risk and reward equally in the name of hounding out the bitter elements of the commercial system. It was silly they thought they were doing that, the way they were. Stop pretending you can save the past.”
Srilenko grumbled. “Don’t play me like commercial tricks are my fault. I never wanted anyone else’s money either, dirty little capitalist prick.”
Hank said, “Leave me alone.”
“Excuse me?” Srilenko asked and offered, “At worst I am friendly supervisor.”
Hank said, “But your excuse corporate greed isn’t necessary. Think anyone in Rupert Murdoch’s financial machine is terribly upset and underpaid? If that were so, we’d hear more complaints that his capitalist social cell doesn’t operate well enough.”
Then as he had the whole night, Srilenko looked at me. I thought, digging in, pretending to be under Hank’s skin already and now working on mine.
Srilenko asked, “See Mikhail? He’ll work for anyone.”
“Or everyone,” Hank said.
Srilenko shrugged. “Let’s not waste our focus.”
Hank kicked the curb and looked at the dark end and said, “Who stops you?” Then went to the street’s other side.
Srilenko raised his voice. “Investigation does not concern former communist states’ convenience. Soviet enterprise is open with precise tracking of who and how much. You might not be as trustworthy as you sell yourself.”
Hank said, “My profit shattered. I bet you already know your split on the new deal.”
Smug Srilenko said, “You know better. My Communist Party won’t be the result of American fads. Government will be trusted. Greenway your monster profit is wrong.”
Why hadn’t I heard any of this before? I paid glued attention like a swatted fly to the wall.
Hank said, “If this were America, Srilenko? I could say you watch too much television and your confused mind is programmed to mirror a façade.”
Srilenko’s eyes bugged out daring Hank to produce another cut.
And Hank said, “The reason I’m not in prison is I uncover opportunity. What next? Only more will satisfy you but the rules have changed because you can’t just lock me up and trade for one of yours. Washington would tell you, ‘Piss on him, he won’t kneel to us either.’”
Srilenko clapped. “Bravo Greenway. You really believe in your heritage of unrealistic independence.” Then the colonel went to the other side to get in Hank’s face. “Did you ask The Party if you could promote arrogant economics? A simple small company would not
166matter. But your planned expansion requires more thorough investigation. Your insistence on personally working makes you controversial. Why are you always roaming our city? Distorting government’s role by refusing to communicate through appropriate channels. Choosing to be a renegade in the wrong place. Well? You see what I’m saying? Your new client was cooperative and everything taken care of.”
Not really asking, Hank said, “Without talking to me.”
“And as for Soviet goods in Eastern Europe,” Srilenko said.
Hank interrupted. “They’ll remain here as companions to what was kept from them from before.”
Srilenko made a square of his hands in Hank’s face saying, “You missed your calling adman. But our country will not lose our character as yours has. I supported Gorbachev’s clear goal of capitalist initiative to improve Socialism. But your state of independence is another matter.”
Hank was sarcastic. “Couldn’t we learn this lesson in an office interview, or artificial letter?”
The colonel kept lecturing and crossed back, so I went to Hank’s side after Srilenko winked at me. He said, “Individual enterprise will not make this country progressive any more than capitalism liberated your financially and morally strapped country. Tell him Mikhail. Tell him how shallow it was reducing our country to failed slogans. How his toothpaste commercial country ridiculed our advertising as propaganda. Making words in our language dirty for no other reason than outsmarting us with sales pitches. Greenway’s ‘Capitalism is Socialism’ already corrupted this country. Their americanism versus communism campaign destroyed our economic dream.”
Srilenko paced. “Mikhail. Our hero is wrong. Nothing is changing. Capitalism is not better. Pure socialism is the only answer. What should bow out is Greenway’s weapon of unshared private property used against the proletariat.”
Hank said, “You said that, not me.”
Then, though I wasn’t completely confident interrupting, I at least knew what I said and said, “Yeah well, I don’t care. Old jargon is all I hear from both of you. What are you selling? We want money.”
Srilenko said, “State is agreeable.”
Srilenko said, “State is agreeable.”
Hank said, “Which state?”
Srilenko said, “Our government that responds to injustice.”
Hank laughed. “As everywhere, the nation will be told they’re strong again.”
Then Srilenko turned to look closer at the financial agency’s plaque by their door and said, “You are done. Your propaganda is not wanted.”
“But,” Hank said, “even though I don’t matter. Why bother me? What gives? As Mikhail pointed out, jargon. Both our egalitarian self-images are impossible. But you won’t acknowledge how your life parallels capitalism’s upper rungs. You can get what you want when you want. That is successful capitalism. Opportunity. You remind me of desperate bottom rung drug dealers near their distribution point, who are disassociated from their hidden product they’ll get whenever they want. KGB sanctioning you may be much worse than the way IBM destroys competitors. It’s a vast gang war of many levels and this world needs out from under all of them.”
Srilenko said, “Power is unequal.”
Hank said, “We know better. You know where power lies.” Then Hank looked at the sky over Srilenko’s head. “Imagine no proletariat, it isn’t hard to do. The world has income now that at one time would have meant capitalism was pervasive. The economic plant has roots, because what’s necessary to deal with the homeless and lost and mistakenly miserable is already in place. Srilenko. This is utopia and you’re just another complainer from the comfortable bourgeoisie.”
Srilenko ignored that and asked me, “Want business badly?”
Hank ignored my giving a short nod while still leaning against the wall, pointlessly watching Hank notice Srilenko smile. Then Hank went somewhere else in his head to think, possibly feeling the August warmth on his cheeks. Squinting his eyes to perform like telescopes picking out stars to gaze at to get away.
Then Srilenko turned toward me and Hank instinctually stepped in between us into the middle of the street.
Srilenko said, “Good, reject me. Keep playing proletarian when management decisions are required. You are just eccentric.” Then he winked at me as he had the last hour. “Gangster paradise will be stopped. You are not change. Not different. Not bottom up.”
Hank said, “You are jerk.”
Srilenko smiled. “The most private gain will not jerk down equal distribution. This country will regain stability. We won’t remain the animal farm your country made out of us.”
Hank said, “I’m not guilty.”
Srilenko looked at me, telling Hank, “You are wrong Greenway. You favor corruption. You talk to criminals.”
“I favor rinsing off paradise.”
Srilenko said, “Your syrupy philosophy is sickening.”
Hank said, “The corrupt aren’t the horror, corruption is.”
“And why,” Srilenko said nodding, satisfied, “Soviet life become unstructured just like America’s personal legacies strangled the poor. Reagan turned your country away from the socialist future, deciding the rich kept their wealth. Shrewd, huh Greenway? Since everyone has the opportunity, no one’s stopping the agreement to be satisfied that any capitalist can become rich winning a lottery. I studied your culture. I know you. Citizens learn education works their way into the middle class. Then,” he huffed, “some are peddled out through destructive behavior such as drugs, gambling and financial debt competitors pick apart. People who then, still have to pick themselves up and hobble on a crutch for the rest of their lives. Mr. Greenway, Socialism solves problems. You must be proud? Worshiping money as shared wealth is not a solution.” His head went up prouder. “Yes, I think Mr. Greenway,” he chuckled, “work makes better people. But the competitive economy has not been best for all of you. You can’t even do what you want for all of you and it’s called ‘falling between the cracks.’”
Hank smiled at a star and said, “We’re more flexible than yesterday.”
Srilenko insisted, “Flawed.”
Hank avoided us both staring at the wall again. He said, “I’m still not in jail and don’t want to listen anymore.” Then he started pacing and said, “I’ve played possum long enough. I will take center stage.”
Smug, Srilenko nodded at me again and said, “Eastern Bloc won’t show.”
Then by accident Hank said, “Oh,” because he’d have rather heard more from an unprovoked source.
But the colonel pretended not to care either way and turned from the sky, as if nothing out there had anything to do with him. Then
169stepped in the street to see Hank’s reaction to two fingers snapped in his face. Then Srilenko said, “No band can come. We began picking them up when you left the office. Touring under their own name, Czech This Out, Eastern Bloc Savings and Loan were very amusing in interrogation. I wanted to hear a little before I left the office. None were the band’s quiet one. All five were theatrically demonstrative describing their roles in your production. You think you’re amusing, don’t you? Making fun of history with gimmicks.” Then Srilenko just walked off as if we just parted casual acquaintances, on the way home from the theater. But behind his own back he said, “We’ll finish another night.”
I was not amused and just said, “Start. Tonight’s spontaneous celebration is missing your fabulous spontaneity.”
But Hank ignored me and walked to the closed end of the street. So at the other end, I checked out the shadows in the avenue. Then we both came back to Financial Revenue.
Hank said, “I deceived you. I’m sorry he’s still not a secret.”
Perfect except I didn’t get to talk while he explained.
Hank said, “You heard him. The vigilante for the Soviet experiment. He’s driven by very special memories of communism as a stabilizing formula. Egalitarianism never let anyone starve. He told me it offends him using the hammer and sickle when ‘the mad dash for money hasn’t proven anything.’”
So I told Hank, “Guess what? No more utopian rigmarole. Your Board of Directors voted that down. Let’s approach this from what I know. I saw Srilenko at Sheremetyevo.”
And when Hank said, “Before.”
I was set off yelling in English, “The plane!” Then half in Russian, “I caught that in his conversation. But you talk too much without telling us anything.”
Hank just shrugged, agreeing, and sat on the curb. “It’s worse. I don’t know when he started following? I never saw that Times Square chauffeur. I don’t know it wasn’t him.”
I said, “Sure Hank. It’s late, let’s go. But while we walk, tell me concisely about the plane. Be concise. I like that word.”
Hank didn’t look at me and talked with his head between his knees. “From the beginning I wished those eyes stayed in first class Aeroflot is reduced to selling. But next thing I know, he’s hovering. Introducing himself. ‘Capitalist fool,’ he says. ‘I am Colonel Anton Srilenko.’
He made certain I knew he was shredding me with his eyes. I look sliced up, don’t I?” Then Hank closed his. “The stewardesses were afraid and kept an open eye so he’d never wait. Not now, but back then I hoped his opening threat was just a misunderstanding or bad joke like the Cold War. It was so tense, I laughed and told him I understood Dr. Hammer might have been loose with Soviet profit. I wouldn’t know. But Srilenko’s idealism has clogged his brain into believing law and order substitutes for all the little communist children thing.”
Now I’d had enough. That was it. “Enough Hank,” I said. “We joined to make money so what does he want?”
I said, “If he’s who we’re supposed to work with. Otherwise, what do you want? The Elders help?”
Hank finally smiled. “Motorcycle gang or progressive rock band?”
I said, “They protected our name from the Shylocks.”
Hank said, “I oppose force and The Elders can’t promise nonviolence. Srilenko is too calculatedly explosive. Reminds me of the inevitability of the United States and Soviet Union’s testing weapons in Afghanistan and Vietnam. Got `em, ya use `em. Each generation pragmatically victim to the delusion power is everything.” He got up. “Ruthlessness for its’ own sake tears my heart apart. The colonel is sanctioned. Hounding me since nations also costume dissent as terrorism. It’s power’s illusions that are so explosive.”
Pure Hank Greenway a few years before Nigeria removed the noble Ken Saro-Wiwa costumed as a thorn in their nation state’s business side. But dealing with then, Srilenko was our thorn.
I looked at Greenway and said, “If you don’t use power, it uses you. He is right you are too American. We’re not walking golf links here. You have to fight back. The Elders are just leverage.”
Hank said, “What will they do? Stop wearing leather? What about our family image?” That made us both smile.
But I said, “Let’s be realistic.”
Hank raised his eyebrows asking, “I’m not?”
I said, “You’re always somewhere else. Now staring at the ground.”
Hank said, “No. I’ve pled with him. Nothing knocks his kind off their axis.”
I said. “Forget him then. But to make progress we have to eliminate this waste of time. I will call number that got us concert permit.”
Hank said, “No.”
So I told him. “Remember the resolution passed. You did not have to be there. There’s no quorum requirement in our by-laws. Majority rules. Plus I heard that man guarantee work that didn’t sound like a choice.”
Then Greenway spoke as if in his staring off the event on the plane ran his mind. Hank said, “He called America ‘superfluous public engineering. Toothpaste commercials competing for money. Certainly humans can be more advanced than bargaining for people’s time and attention,’ he said and, ‘Capitalism is nonsense, not structure.’
“Still Mikhail, his face showed a fascination for the marketplace of ideas. He criticized everything on the plane coming here. I even think he was behind that rumor labeling the Gorbachevs’ bourgeoisie for expensive wardrobes. Srilenko said, ‘Memories still hold true for Egalitarianism’s old warriors.’ Except he knows. He knows it’s not been about which system is right all along, but whichever ruthlessness rules.”
I stopped him. “Hank. Look. Look up at me. Up. You are mumbling to the ground. Let’s solve a person. Nothing can be done about Gorbachev’s legacy running its’ course. Yes their clothes weren’t distributed to the nation and their accents meant they were from the sticks like your President Carter’s trouble with the entrenched elite of Washington D.C. But we are not social politicians. Business people. Ideological squabbles are not our affair.”
Hank asked, “How do you know about Carter’s Dilemma?”
I said, “School assignment,” coughing. “Oo-kay. Forget politics, if you can? Listen while I am you. Watch me. Big deal Hank Greenway. Fabulous. I preach adaptation but won’t when this country’s financial networks aren’t that intricate. Weak are prey and powerful destroy. Now how is the world really completely open and honest anywhere? Hank. That man winked at me whenever he said, ‘America.’ He knows I was there.”
“Ah, the secret.” Hank smiled.
I said, “Mine isn’t really a mystery. My American English came from somewhere.”
Hank still watched the ground but said, “I’ll listen.”
So I sat on the curb for my own tale. “Summer of ‘78’ I disappeared from my Soviet bus tour of America. The chaperones didn’t even report me to each other. But my first responsibility was to my family, or rather father’s job, so I turned up at New York Port Authority for the bus to the plane to Moscow. I knew I was going through with turning myself in, but I remember peering with second thoughts from Port Authority’s second floor. Wondering if there was a way out. How Srilenko was watching you at Sheremetyevo from a distance. My group was cornered and huddled together to curtail final escapes. But having survived six weeks on my own, it was hard to act dumb as hell. Acquaintances, for attention, all said I was a loser for missing the conference. My friends that I shouldn’t have risked their careers and everyone was jealous. Escaping with nothing I did odd chores for a week that paid for the rest of my stay. It was dangerous. But my punishment was based on my report that said I was gone just that last half day. A severe interrogation would have meant someone’s job was in jeopardy. Fact of life Hank. I survived by protect your ass political compromise. Our options are negotiate or beg Gorbachev to nudge this freak off us.”
Hank said, “I want to hear about your trip.”
I said, “I hopped trains with other bums traveling free in your country. You could survive on crumbs.”
“That inflation ruined,” Hank said.
“Money can’t go backwards Hank,” I said.
But Hank as usual hoped, “Money will Mikhail. Otherwise we’re perpetually stuck with no incentive to solve inflation itself. Wealth incessantly deflating the bottom’s range, leaving everyone just about stealing to get people to part with their money. Do you know what the profit margin for American supermarkets is?”
I said, “What?”
Hank said, “Pennies. You look shocked. Soviets have a hard time with commercialism, don’t you?”
I said, “I saw Graceland. Elvis was that talented?”
Hank said, “Elvis’ conspiracy was. Backs rubbed all the way to the President’s, with screaming girls enjoying the exhilaration, while brokers delivered the goods sharing cuts from the slice. Elvis even said he felt like a piece of meat between the associations of distinguishable friends and trusted rivals, covering each other’s back with whatever story shadows the virtual truth from trickling out. That the share of the
173profits is fine as long as enough are satisfied with their taste. I love that taxes evolved to extend our ability to share and not just fund fiefdoms.” Hank crossed his right hand’s fingers.
I raised my voice. “Hank? That was cute. You agree capitalism’s key is trickling finance and our company needs a taste. You can’t condemn industriousness. It is time for this decision to work with him.”
Squinting, Hank asked, “You’re telling me?”
I said, “No. No one has to tell you our whole country is running errands. From miners delivering product to the state, we’re all consumed by dealing our daily soap for a book the farmer’s literate child needs so there’s milk to feed the baby. Till winter crowds us together wishing we had more soap. You’ve explained capitalism as sacrifice too, while we’re no better off for our journey. Because no matter how resourceful our ordeal made us, we feel as if we’re typewritten on old machines while the rest of the world was processed by computers. I agree we can’t trust this man. But we can be paid. Hank? What does he want? Your concert was a great idea, but evenings end. Business has a much longer fate. Get a grip. Make a deal.”
Hank sighed. “You met him?”
I answered, “The ruthless do what they want regardless. We voted pro-business.”
“But based on principles,” Hank asked?
And I answered, “We can’t afford.”
“To not have,” Hank said and, “Since it matters we’re going with principles.”
So as the debate warranted, I said, “No. I’m representing our position.”
Hank said, “Good no,” but meant, “Guess we’re not full partners.”
I was pissed and said, “What? Now you are boss because of him? He proves you’re incompetent.”
Hank vetoed. “Debate over, I have principles.”
I said, “Failure is not a principle.”
He said, “I recognize the order and flow of things, but can’t compromise. I want The Hammer and Cycle honestly remembered.”
I said, “Nice. Now please be realistic. You think my mother needs us to shop?”
Hank said, “We mean more than money. He can’t take our message.”
I said, “We are just messengers. What does he want?”
“Should I say what louder?”
“Ah, finally light,” I said, knowing he couldn’t change this battle anyway. “Well?” I asked, “What’s the difference? We’re manipulated either way. Let’s get paid. Listen. We don’t care how business is done. You tell us to do whatever it takes, but nothing results without the colonel’s support. That’s clear. We don’t care. If not controlled by him then ask Gorbachev to quash this lunatic. He needs the publicity to get out from under the socialist farce too. Hank, this is just unreal. Really, convince Gorbachev. He needs to reestablish his authority. Yesterday you complained Soyuz has him surrounded. All he gets are whiffs of trade agreements that shift billions among illionaires using his picture to shine over details.’ You even said, ‘His innocent moves evaporate because power is a pedestal one up from everyone to attack.’ Now Hank. Please. The game is power and influence. Care more for yourself and us.”
Hank just said, “No” and dropped his head lower.
I snapped, but composed, said, “Listen. This moral gibberish is fun between us. But from what that nut just said about reviving communism nonsense, that compromises Gorbachev. His dangerousness is not just in your head Hank. The President is speaking from both sides of his mouth to appeal to other Srilenkos. While our problem is just one. Making money, and we’ve been offered a deal. None of this is our responsibility though. Let’s do some work then decide. Because for him not to matter, you have to make that happen. What is he shipping? Illegal drugs aren’t business. As you said, ‘It’s pigeons sent to slaughter and an insulting use of nature against ourselves.’”
Hank said, “He might not be stoppable. A year later we’re still in the basement. He still sends same daily package.”
I said, “No.”
I said, “Another destination Tuesday. You were out. But since we can’t look inside, what’s different other than color and size?”
Hank said, “Knowledge can be dangerous.”
So I said, “You’ve also said, ‘freedom is a business deal going down.’ Hank, glasnost and perestroika deserve better by our name.”
That twisted Hank’s face. “Better is what he wants.”
What? I thought, but really said, “Damn confusing listening to you. Better what?”
“He is reviving communism. We can call it nonsense of course. But there walks another opinion. You heard him. Bad advertising distorted his world into unrecognizable propaganda. He takes the Cold War personally.”
I said, “No more metaphors. Please. Results.”
Hank said, “Humpf.”
But I said, “Whatever. Forget resisting him, if you really tried? Except for naive you, this whole country wishes it were watched over by their very own personal KGB colonel. On a capable colonel’s right side is as good as president or prime minister who don’t generally move pawns anyway. With no care for consequences, anyone would jump on this. Remember our first day? You said, ‘Procrastinate and you’ll surely wait for something that never comes.’ Hank, an ideal alliance may never exist. What is purity? Does it not entail enduring others’ faults? We will work with him or Gorbachev because you both need out from under things.”
Hank said, “Enough victims. I’d preferred this not spread further than him and me.”
I said, “Uh huh. I think your poor victim’s disease rivals the colossal size of the military industrial martyr’s complex.”
“Partner, psychiatrist or friend,” Hank said. “You can’t be all three.”
I said, “I’d have to hear more” and, grinning, reached for an invisible notebook and pen. But having neither, I still said, “Schedule next session now?”
Hank raised his head and said, “Doctor. Watch his head quiver? How his thoughts race back and forth shaking his interior cranium’s walls.”
I said, “You’re exasperating. So what, he’s off in the head. Everyone is in the right circumstances. How about you? Okay, okay. I saw it shake at Sheremetyevo and tonight. What’s going on? Seriously. This secret is a lapse in judgment. Leadership judgment.”
“And still kept secret if I could,” Hank said, but his confession instinctively came like the needle touching the record as he took a step and said, “On the plane he talked mostly. His spin never lapsed, describing how he was born of impeccable character, within Party parametered ambition to socially satisfied factory worker parents. Schooled in the noble battle cry of Egalitarianism. Conceitedly void of an elitist push only the talented receive. The Communist Party’s good fortune cookies. Of course Srilenko didn’t describe himself exactly this way.”
Then Hank just sat ironically undisturbed on the curb. Used to dejection.
He said, “I hope it rains and cleans the air. That first night over the Atlantic, Srilenko said he’s not angry. Just wants what’s best for his country, not what’s left by the rest of me and other capitalists. He pointed at the window seat and I moved, not liking to argue. I stayed up the whole night before to fall asleep on the plane hearing a little Russian. Instead I learn our socialist teenage worker hero befriends a general in the large courtyard that connected their apartment buildings. For a year he said he watched the retired general watch him carry books past their proletarian bench. He said the general said books were what the revolution was fought for. To free the mind from capitalism’s dollar figure restraint. Srilenko compared their utilitarian bench to being completely opposite that of Krushchev’s forced private retirement garden lounge chair. Supposedly General Bozenikov passed on real pride to Srilenko in true Socialist Man’s contempt for self-interest. Its easy to read between the lines of that madman’s vision that the entire complex where they lived would have been on the general’s good side if he let them. So to excel, devious little Srilenko knew how older people talked to the young, when adults are corrupt, and there’s no one else to talk with. So one day the general finally waved, signaling Srilenko’s new future. That at the heart of their story is the general was one of those behind the rise to the top of KGB law and order figurehead, General Secretary Yuri Andropov. That was the General Secretaryship that was supposed to have been the real step back to enforcing real communism. Just as Andropov had done, Srilenko’s General Bozenikov kept the same apartment throughout their climb up Mount Moscow. And so in Srilenko’s scarred mind, Yuri Andropov left Gorbachev to carry on while Bozenikov knighted him. Then he laid his hand on my armrest, so I told him to back off. But his nose came so
177close it was like a snarling marine sergeant giving me hell in my face. ‘What happened to working class, little bicycle man?’ He said, ‘Stretch your imagination. Have you ever wondered if communism isn’t the commandments Moses threw away because he didn’t understand them? Karl Marx wrote a lot. He could have replicated that tablet. From each to each what is wrong with that?’
“So I stood straight up, but he said, ‘Stay here’ and went to the back of the plane. Crap,” Hank said at the sky. “When I thought about hiding I was afraid to turn around and then when I looked his return scared me. It was weird. The thought flashed through my head to do what claustrophobics do and lash out. I made things up. I told Srilenko his exemplary socialist icon Bozenikov was probably on retreat in Cuba taking the Mexican fishing trips clandestine folks enjoyed, before being brought back to handle him. There wasn’t a corrupt bone in Bozenikov, Srilenko said. His idol is why he can’t be stopped. He’s executing a dream. I didn’t realize how mean a face could look. I called his mentor a socialist façade.”
His head dropped again and Hank looked caved in and shriveled on the curb. “I was bitter,” he said. “This guy was the opposite of sleep. A really bad dream I didn’t need. I joked that if he had ‘pictures of Stalin in Hawaii I’d like to see that poor overworked humble pose on the beach. The one that woke in the afternoon to pulled drapes after drinking all night to the gory details his henchmen could safely tell him about. The dictator of the proletariat’s tales from drunken puppets. I told him the future will laugh in retrospect at our delay climbing from Stalin’s crevice. Yep, he didn’t like that.
“The colonel said, ‘Already one of Red Square’s deranged on soapbox. You are star.’
“He wasn’t leaving so I just went on and made up that ‘Stalin’s proletarian suited image toured Potsdam and Lot-a-Istanbul. Why not Zurich, like modern day dictators who know who to trust with their money while soaking up the world’s beaches? Either Stalin hid some, or since it was all his anyway it didn’t matter. Did it? Egalitarianism’s poster child could make withdrawals any time he wanted. Fly to Hawaii, if he wanted? A powerful man, rich one might say and I am.’
“Then Srilenko’s finger brought a stewardess and his voice rose so others could hear him say, ‘That’s enough. Why should Stalin deny himself?’
“And I should have let that put me in my place. I got it. His stage, he controlled the wings. But the arrogance. I said, ‘Right Stalin was a regular Rockefeller. So rich he owned a whole country with apparats near him, similarly rich and, therefore easily expendable at his whim for not being pure proletarians, infected by the bourgeois virus.’ I laughed and said, ‘For example Molotov survived on cocktails, but to outlast Stalin had to wear funny hats to insure he wasn’t competing with the image of one boss. I said rich as Rockefeller, was Stalin’s monopolistic blueprint without Supreme Court interference. Standard Oil’s king retired to Ormond Beach, Florida, while even the tiniest little pieces couldn’t be broken from Stalin’s Trust until he died. Then the transition team removes Khrushchev, because power does what it must to remain in power.’ I threw more words. Said, ‘Remember his nice white suits those last years? Stalin probably had the tailor shot or blinded, like Ivan the Terrible did to the Kremlin’s draftsman so duplicates couldn’t be reproduced.’
Hank had talked without stopping, so I said, “May I interrupt?”
Hank stared at the pavement.
I said, “This means?”
“I am just a pawn,” Hank said. “The pecking order dictates power and he’s more powerful. If Bozenikov’s KGB groomed Andropov to be king, Prince Srilenko could have anything. He’s programmed to get upset because Andropov was too old to last, and when Yuri finally ascended the throne, his administration’s trials against commercial corruption in The Party had none of Bozenikov’s influence. Those prosecutions were just symptoms. The Andropov trials sacrificed corruption’s weak expendable parts without any of Bozenikov’s planned reforms. Srilenko said it that way. ‘None of Bozenikov’s influence, none of his reforms.’
“He’s convinced. He bragged he and Bozenikov rehearsed counterintelligence, before defending Sakharov became a popular sport by sending untraceable letters supporting the scientist’s release. He laughed that authority could store Nobel scientists where they wanted, but why create martyrs? The state just needed encouraging and wa-lah. Later Gorbachev sets Sakharov and his wife Elena Bonner free, but also too late to discourage discord with the state. Things fall apart and Srilenko’s bitterness festers over Bozenikov’s prediction the state would politically deteriorate, unless something was done to reform
179economic inequality. Even dead, in Srilenko’s mind, there’s no reason Bozenikov shouldn’t rule. He’s that devoted.”
Then Hank crossed to the other side of the street and knelt by the sidewalk’s missing square and took an unsharpened Hammer pencil from his pocket to carve sixty-four connected squares in the dirt. Hank said, “There are no dachas in Bozenikov’s vision of the egalitarian dream. No extra homes until everyone has their own. On their proletarian bench, the two inspired the other in their conspiracy and as one body shut down, one suited up.”
I couldn’t help snickering.
Hank shook his head and said, “Why not? I attacked his saint. Said even he could have hidden anything in Swizzle-stickerland with his power and position. Bozenikov certainly had clandestine access. I rubbed my hands and said, ‘Why are you bothering me? Mountains would have to move to save communism now anyway. He didn’t like that.”
Meanwhile while talking Hank found sticks and stones and made the four tallest into two Kings and Queens and took care their coloring essentially looked black or white. Then he sat at the dirt board and said, “Their willful Russian temperament fueled their passionate desire for shared prosperity. Yeah. I know this sounds dreamy, what I’m telling you. But tonight, it’s clear he’s ready to perform some peculiar mind twist on the population. I felt something excited his eyes tonight. The Party collapsed, but he’s not giving up. I wonder what the plan is? My last week in America, every walk I walked out, I knew I was in over my head. But never expected anything as elaborate as my own personal spy.”
Hank’s black pebbles and white concrete chips were found at the end of the street and he tossed a “too small” aside and said, “Mikhail you’re right. I’m too idealistic. We should deal with more criminals. But not him. The word is ironic that their vision mirrors mine. Bozenikov calculated homes for everyone, including kicking people out of their extra ones until everyone could have two. They’d have filled the suburban dacha wonderland with families who’d never had their own homes. And the colonel agreed it sounded outlandish, but real results require ambition. He said they even realized more trains were necessary to the suburbs. They even knew it’s embarrassing their countryside isn’t more accessible by anything other than an elitist car. Bozenikov was clear to point out lapses in socialism to the child
180Srilenko. New realities can’t erase Srilenko the true believer. Then a stewardess gave him water and he told her I didn’t want any.”
Now I started pacing just to not look at Hank either. I’d never seen him this sad, brutal to watch. Just a concert? Big deal?
Hank said, “Bozenikov’s last winter they spent in discussion over a map on his kitchen table. Mathematically calculating housing for everyone split and equally shared without privilege factored in. Communism’s promised land.”
I laughed. “Mini-mansions for everyone.”
Hank said, “Before the plane, I thought people just got by here in their jobs like anywhere else. Hell, that’s capitalism too. People shouldn’t have to care further than a paycheck. I didn’t think anyone could be so deluded by communism. But in Srilenko’s mind, Bozenikov’s divinity precludes thought in stocks and shares as innovative motivation. He just blinked when I said, ‘corporations might not be inherently evil.’ He is in fact offended by the hammer and sickle’s use as a marketing tool.”
“Da,” I said, “More symbolism. So what? There was a vote, Hank. We don’t care. All that matters is money. We’ll take your banner down.”
Hank sighed and juggled three pebbles and said, “Al-right. On the surface Srilenko really couldn’t be this country’s shattered contradictions, crazy glued back together? And surely how could his patriotism do any harm? But no, this is no joke. He called charity a balancing act, and said where’s the dignity in that? Said a system would include everyone as Communism had. Forgiving our own sins, my country embellished Communism’s failures. Leaving no space for their attempting tangible ideals. Détente propped up the Soviet aristocracy, and even Reagan got that right but piled on condemning egalitarianism to collapse. Srilenko blames the west’s standard of living for the privileged, as a fraud, that should by no means stand victorious over communism. I know he never wanted this country to divorce the Communist Party. But you saw how satisfied he looked tonight? He’s calm before the storm to have that confidence facing this new Union Treaty. My head’s doing loop-de-loops. My own private spy’s religious zeal whipped up by Cold War hysteria. The nightmare mesmerized him and he can’t quit. His idealism is more stenciled in than mine. Why not castles for everyone, when a chicken in every pot should mean every pot. Why not by manipulating me be after an ideal that’s become
181revenge against the global anti-Communist enterprise? He called us patri-psychotic and said commercialism kept the Soviet Union from starting. Born in the First World War after which devastating reparations caused resentful military tyrannies to plunge socialism deeper into inauthentic sacrifice. ‘Sparing shallow America so that it could flaunt an unshared prosperous victory over the rest of the world.’
“And he repeated ‘Sparing shallow America?’ but as a question in my face. Then sitting back said, ‘You know foreigner. America had troops in Siberia in 1917. Never far from pillage and destruction, and it never stopped.’
Man how he went on. I had to interrupt to stop him and said, ‘Conspiracies of individual enterprises,’ but Srilenko didn’t notice. He cut me with a compliment. About how though I’m a failure, writers live on the turns of phrases’ meaning and sound. That I’m ‘destined for the funny papers of the leisure class.’”
That was enough and I told Hank to “Stop. I’m sure what the colonel said next was meant to hurt. But let’s bring this bad plane trip down. Let’s go sleep closer in line at the Kremlin. The board authorized me to make you do things.”
But Hank waved a finger, focused on a thought, with no sign of stopping. Then, “Responsibly,” he says, “Andropov dies. Slipping away without admitting anything. General Secretary Law and Order took credit for ideals that were not only not achieved, but disregarded as history remembers Yuri Andropov for his pro-to-gé Moses Mikhail Gorbachev. Now. See what’s critical to Srilenko’s confusion is labeling the Communist Party, Mafiosi. For him a worthless legacy if bureaucracy is to ever rule fairly with the proper respect for authority. He said independence misses the point. And when he said that, my jaw dropped and rested open after ‘huh’ came out. I closed my eyes too, then said, ‘You’ve made me miserable. Please leave me alone.’
“And I don’t think he even smirked. No nothing. Just cold. Then he whispered irritable breath in my ear and said, ‘When the cards are finally revealed everyone’s will be different from what they thought we were dealt.’ The gist is his country will be strong again when everyone understands history’s adolescence, and that profit is corrupt.
“See Mikhail, I did figure him out. I told him, ‘I don’t represent Dr. Hammer. How am I privileged in raggedy jeans?’
“He made a nasal noise and said, ‘Capitalism has produced children running criminal in the street that can’t understand organized
182crime is not stable. Socialism’s fall resulted from financial schemes that benefit a pleasure caste manipulating lower classes. Nothing has changed,’ he said and smiled. Oh, and he asked if it’s true I told Dr. Hammer I thought the Communist Manifesto was capitalism’s classless challenge. Said his ‘country’s propaganda was nothing compared to my country’s haze of slogans. And he said, ‘I do not take enemies lightly.’
“Man. He stood up to stand over me to let me know he’s above me telling me where our relationship stood. I wished at least Kissinger and Nixon were uncomfortably there sitting through it with me. I think he thinks he could take them on too and settled for me.
“Because,’ he said he, ‘had history all thought out. Americans needed Russian Bear to appear too aggressive.’ Then he lowered to a soft dove’s voice. “To only understand us as adversary, American marketed us as hawk. Crammed patriotism down throats chased with alcohol and cigarettes to relieve the burden of blame. ‘Narcotized Americans,’ he called us. ‘Johnny brought marching home to war-envy heathen America where profiteering is the obsession.’
“Then Srilenko dropped four little vodka bottles, I saw him take from first-class, in the magazine holder, ching-a-ling. Grinning as if pitying me, he said, ‘Unfortunately our leadership proved as imperfect as yours. Politburo executives backslapped each other into believing in our own prohibition failure.’ Shaking his head he asked if I knew ‘how many deaths there’d been from alcoholics consuming antifreeze? People were told they will die and drink it anyway. But Union needs antifreeze and country has to survive statistically acceptable death. Now about you selfish imperialist.’
“‘Whew’ came out of my mouth and I said, ‘I never joined any conspiracy.’
“Srilenko said, ‘Seriously’ he ‘didn’t care.’ Said with a straight face he wasn’t ‘a spy.’ Then put his foot on the seat and leaned closer as if just being mean would teach me the shrewd facts of life. But in talking to get me to say things to use against me, in time he explained himself expressing everything could be open between us. ‘Glasnosty,’ if I preferred. I’d never heard the word sound offensive before. In fact he was far ahead of me in what I represented to him. He had a draft of a new book by the journalist Arkady Vaksberg, in which Vaksberg describes personal profit’s criminal evolution in the Soviet Union.
“Fine on the surface, Srilenko agreed. But he thinks Vaksberg is wrong that the party is the compromising agent. ‘Opportunists,’ he says and grinned when I answered, ‘Trotskyites.’
“He didn’t like Vaksberg’s book, The Soviet Mafia, dragging the Party through the mud. ‘Opportunists,’ he said again. ‘They pay and take bribes. Corrupt capitalists are not socialists. Vaksberg is wrong.’ Srilenko said he’d had enough of who’s the criminal now. Greed he knows, since Andropov’s underlings exposed petty commercial competition’s political flaw. But Vaksberg exposing corruption, shouldn’t help bury the proletarian revolution. Enter the class struggle surgeon, who knew Vaksberg before Vaksberg at Bozenikov’s knee.
“Humpf. We thought I jousted windmills? Srilenko said the rich could never control themselves and they’re not a barometer for knowing when we’re no longer poor. ‘Because,’ he said, ‘brass ring economics failed. Where’s America’s conscience? Income disparity is wrong. Stalin’s ruthlessness made our sacrifice for socialism more special. Our system is valuable too.’
“Then he took that halfback, admitting a half-wit betrayed Socialism. ‘But,’ he said, ‘mediocrity occurs in every system. Communism is special, noble and correctable.’ He thinks the future will hold his view more sacred than any present-day commercial smoke screen. Then he blocked the aisle again and put his hands in my face gesturing the snapping of an invisible stick that cracked with a jolt from his reverberating shoulders. I could see the energy move from his clenched jaw down through his biceps to shaking fists holding separate, transparent broken ‘capitalism’ sticks. Jutting his jaw with satisfaction, and impressed by his good job, he tossed the not yet quite solid enough sticks aside.
“Then actually said, ‘The rich will be broken. They belong in the dustbin of history.’”
“Wo Hank,” I said. “He said that? But he promised work tomorrow? Money? What has this to do with work?”
Hank looked like he didn’t understand how I couldn’t know. Then just shrugged both shoulders and said, “When Socialist Hero was still coin of the realm, General Bozenikov buttered the kid up for bigger things. As his world collapses, Srilenko sees a generous debt repaid by eliminating ‘the dirty little capitalist.’”
I asked. “Really?”
Hank said, “Still?” And shook his head. “There’s not time to locate his other strings and deflecting responsibility is the political art. I doubt it matters if we can pin him to anyone else.” Hank looked at the moon. “The dark side of this is, I believe, with years as a major spy, he no longer needs the reassurance of rank. Colonel is something he can comfortably seem in between. I doubt everything about him. In a country where everyone from drunkard to General Secretary has a designated status, someone would finally remove themselves from the illusion. We have no idea what he is. There’s no such thing as being far enough from the smell. I’m not kidding. We’re stuck. Srilenko’s guru died believing in his protégé. I was so scared this was their country and know it is.
“Mikahil, do you remember when I didn’t show for our incorporation ceremony at the Kremlin? We were a tie-in with Shatalin’s 500 Day Plan and in the hallway the press could ignore us anyway.”
I said, “You weren’t there.”
But Hank said, “No I left. Of all people, out of the blue, Gorbachev pisses in the public latrine instead of his private one. The gossip is he never does that. But he was so lost in thought I was no one standing next to him. I read the problem written across his worried face. Distracted, I sprinkled down my leg. Politician man, not the job I want. I was intimidated there, that close to the world on someone’s shoulders. I got the hell out. I was scared that no matter what I did was Srilenko’s trap. Tonight for example, you see it, right? Whatever I do, his next move is more right than mine.”
Then Hank pretended to throw himself away with the rock he held onto and said, “Srilenko can’t conceive control is the illusion. Blames me for business’ glad-handing poison. Capitalism destroying his proletarian revolution and that’s that.”
Hank crossed back to press a finger against the Financial Ministry’s wall and said, “I’m Frankenstein’s amusement. His Party should have called itself Paradise and lived up to a better failure. Anyway, he tells me, ‘Capitalism scores more for some than others, and that’s not equality.’ Had I, Mr. Greenway, seen charity mean a kitchen, living room and bed for everyone? How could I believe free enterprise’s destruction of cooperative business is not wrong. Look what opportunist speculators have already done to Moscow? American money shouldn’t be buying up Soviet resources. Did I know what
185speculation has done?’ Thoroughly convinced, Srilenko says all this. That as Vaksberg’s book points out, black market capitalism had already commercially corrupted the nomenklatura all along as they removed the country’s wealth right off the top. ‘Capitalism is corrupt.’
“He’s telling me? I guess there aren’t many people he can tell about himself and he doesn’t plan on my surviving.”
Hank found the perfect last stick and came back saying, “Right after Bozenikov’s funeral, an official car took Srilenko directly from the cemetery to a special training camp inside Moscow itself. I asked if it was underneath Lubyanka and he said I could think whatever I wanted without facts, because he ignored ‘free speech polluted air.’
“His full disclosure went on to describe mastering weapons on his own time. His eyes lit up, recalling his affinity for the hobby that gives absolute control over the victim. Then bam Siberian duty toughened him up. He described how things just happened for him through impersonal favors bureaucrats ritually exchange to protect their jobs. Though I doubt his version a favor does the trick. Coincidence is neither luck nor accident. He’s risen far. But studying the tough exiled Siberian crowd is another gaping hole through which his whole story falls.”
I said, “Whatever Hank. I understand you are his target. So we need a defense. Remember Star Wars? Strategic Defense Initiative? Cut off his advantage with something more powerful. It’s not happening from this gutter where he left us. Capitalism is about defeating competition. Let’s turn the tables on him with his money.”
Hank blinked and said, “When did he approach you?”
I laughed, but Hank kept serious.
So I answered. “You are right. It is backwards Hank. I am the nut case because you won’t outmaneuver him and make the right deal. Think of Gorbachev’s position. Timid does not help him now. You’re are letting everyone down. We’re not Srilenko’s amusement. At least the self-advertisement Dr. Armand Hammer never gave up making deals.”
Hank, now seated, looked up, finally ready with all the pieces on their squares. He said, “True” then with certitude, hid his face as if something could be studied on a dirtboard that hadn’t gone anywhere yet.
“Convince me,” I said, “Why isn’t there a deal?”
Hank said, “It’s not a deal. So in Siberia he tracked luxury cargo, unloaded from covert ships in Vladivostok moving goods across the apparat chain. What Vaksberg called mafia, Srilenko knows are capitalists. Corrupt capitalists used socialism as a cloak, and the KGB knew everything. There was pride in his eyes as he told me what the KGB knew. He couldn’t help bragging, his self-worth is so wrapped up in authority. He told me about spending time in jail cells, lighting his cigarettes for prisoners. He’d wink and apologize other officials took their tobacco when it was him. Of course inmates were suspicious, but their confined interests required alliances in a survivors’ system where you barely trust yourself. So they work ambivalently hard, on whatever contact they have, because convicts know the protection of allies is more important than protecting yourself. Wrong on your own behalf, you have to forgive.”
I was experiencing some disbelief over the mirage Hank’s conjecture had become. Just a door to the future still barred by more money we couldn’t touch?
Hank raised his brows at my inner turmoil and said, “Srilenko went down into those prison pits as a tactical enterprise to learn more about perfect control. Bozenikov’s missile aimed at the dream as the Soviet system plopped down its’ last wobbly steps. He showed me on the plane a copy of that 1987 Sovetskaya Rossiya magazine essay by Our Lady of Leningrad, Nina Andreyeva. In case I hadn’t heard of the event, he said, he thought, I should know about her letter’s defense of communist principles that should have been the Communist Party’s principles. How the real country still believed. His fundamentalism intact, he’s confused himself with communism’s destiny to destroy capitalism, me.
“Or at least he pretends I’m for some use. Srilenko asked if I’d noticed America’s parking ticket culture. How in my country no one expects to be completely innocent. He said the fault is with capital, whereas what should be done, not be contrived from the need for profit. Rather than solutions, our government is financed by criminality.”
“I told him, ‘Sounds less true when I hear it as gibberish from you. Yet profit can still include a smile.’
“Srilenko imitated a laugh and said, ‘Ha, salesman. You can guess where the biggest smiles are from. Big Business Hollywood cultivated Ronald Reagan’s turf marketing the Soviet Union as criminal. American propaganda condemned my country for what our
187citizens had not done. Stalin wasn’t the entire country’s fault.’ To be funny he said, ‘Is the United States responsible for everything California does?’”
Then as if looking up for that plane, Hank said, “Damn Bozenikov, and Srilenko. He said Bozenikov said free enterprise and advertising rhetoric isn’t fair and only for the winners’ sakes. I guess neither of them watched much hopeful American television. Sigh. I wish Bozenikov were alive to turn his fool’s mission off.
“On the plane I stood up and yelled at him. ‘Stop telling me what to think!’ But he wouldn’t let me past.
“Then calm, but firm, says, ‘Sit down. Even organized criminals from their prison thrones agree Karl Marx was right. People were exploited, and freedom is a fraud not producing Utopia either.”
Hank looked for something else to do, and gave up and stared at the opposite row of stone pawns. Then another sigh came and, “His madness is rooted in Bozenikov.”
Understanding what he was saying didn’t make sense, so I made the plain obvious and said, “Hank, you’re both arrogant pompousnesses excusing and canceling each other out. But you are the fish out of water here Greenway. Knowing your hook was set, before you landed, won’t change our vote. Why fight? KGB has foot in every commercial door. There’s no side of principle to be on. Let’s go to work.”
“You’re in cahoots aren’t you? There’s no other way out, you say?”
“Hank, I’m on my side. We are partners. But tomorrow our answer will be the same. Every neck is under a foot. That’s it. This is it. Whatever else you say is beside the point. KGB is protection.”
Hank said, “Yep. The only corporation with the self-approval to be flexible.”
I said, “Hank, let it sleep. We need some too.”
Hank asked, “I need to?”
So I suggested, “Maybe you need medical attention?”
I said, “We have to do something whether you’re professionally examined or not. I’m convinced Srilenko is not benign. Where they’re concerned, there’s no such thing as mind your own
188business. He is our watchdog. Perhaps I’m more comfortable with that because I was born here. But there is no other option except cooperate.” Then I slid into the spot opposite him, by the game and said, “Perhaps we’re luckier than you realize. Someone this ruthless could get us a piece of every package in the world. The big four, UPS, Fedex, the other guy and us. Seriously. Hammer’s lesson is use opportunity. You said yourself there’s a financial flow. Let’s go with it.”
Hank said, “I’m not Srilenko’s hammer” and laughed, slightly entertained.
I said, “Point though is we have to act. Hammer’s story is he had to corner the world ginger market first before selling to make his first million. Steps. You love this word. Let’s take one and calculate our way out of this. I vote do his work, or put him in a comfortable cell where we can get some peace. He can recant as revolutionaries have long before him. Let him wave his communist laurel from there. With time, he can read about the big entrepreneur spreading the actual antidote to resentment of wealth. He should be solved.”
Hank said, “Why?”
I shook my head. “Because when your plane landed you should have immediately told me that man harassed you. This with him isn’t reality. I will talk to him from now on.”
Hank frowned. “Okay,” then went temporarily off in the stars before eventually restarting. “At first I thought Srilenko was just rude. The attitude was his formal way of doing his job. I was a foreign cell with no right to infect the body. He just met me early on the plane to save a simple mind’s time processing clues.
“Then the colonel curled his finger for me to come closer, but I wouldn’t and he cadenced his speech in a military chant. He said, ‘Things’ were ‘in store just for’ me ‘that would make my ‘new career a total surprise.’
“I said, ‘No one will believe you. I am an innocent man.’ And he was just smug. You see Mikhail? I don’t know. I don’t know if any idea’s actually ours. He said we will only make a little money, and we have.”
“Not much.” I agreed.
“Exactly what he said,” Hank said. “Then he walked back and forth in the aisle, working his jaw so his victory tongue could be seen rubbing his top teeth. Portraying himself nodding inwardly. Convinced he was making his points. I recognized the mimicking right away. He
189was doing my Russian and Soviet History professor’s physical business from the lecture podium. Then Srilenko eyes me as if an insight occurred to him as the professor would and I think it was never total victory tongue for Dr. Evans. Though in Srilenko’s mouth it was. But no flash, just fact, Dr. Evans would reload his jaws and plant his hands on the podium, maybe shrug a shoulder and grimace that’s just how things were. What Srilenko was saying and you too. That I have to accept facts is the line you’re giving me, Mikhail?
We both shrugged and Hank continued. “I don’t remember a Srilenko in class, or visitors really until that last week of spring. I remember professor, lecture and what I got from both more than any extra attendees. On the plane though, Srilenko acted as if he was there. But why would he? Florida Technological University wasn’t Harvard, or even a Georgetown in Washington, D.C. It was the middle of the sticks where Florida hicks live in the vacationing capital of America. Unless it was some curiosity because Dr. Evans is the liberal brother of half that famous pair of conservative political gossip journalists, Evans and Novak, making our history class worth a look to a spy.
“Srilenko pretended to watch me think, then clinched all my assumptions by holding the back of his chair with both arms stretched out full in front of him as if the seat was the lecturer’s podium Dr. Evans used. He raised his shoulders, as the professor might, then aimed this question at me, ‘What then?’ Then he chuckled as the professor had when he realized without his life experiences, we kids might not get his joke the same as him.
“Then Srilenko’s shoulders poofed again, this time chorus style for a refrain. ‘What then’ he taunted as he has ever since. ‘What then dirty little capitalist? What, then?’
“If I were a drinker, to get away from him, I’d cloud his memory from my life every hour every day. But there were reasons not to feel defeatist on the plane. We were just talking and it still seemed possible to stand up for myself. I told him I wouldn’t interfere with his plans. Accept defeat when that time came. As resolved to my imminent failure as any Shakespearian victim. I asked if I could please read and sleep and receive a tad of kindness. He warned me against manipulating him and said my captivity could be made worse. I felt criminal without any defense.
“Srilenko was lecturing. He thinks not to face its own sins, ‘America crucified Communism. No one applied more effort toward
190how to pay for capitalism than America’s depression era socialists. They created your idea of Child Daycare and food subsidies for the poor before anti-communism forced them to scatter. Doomed because Stalin was the most exploitive self-serving capitalist tyrant of them all,’ Srilenko said. ‘America found it convenient to blame the whole Soviet Union. Anti-communism succeeded simply and effectively as a business. Making actual communists the world over into an ineffective inbred political war mostly with themselves. Only crazy people want life without bread man. Right Greenway? Modern America was born portraying unsuccessful socialists who raisied red diaper babies for leadership in the next wave of protest called the 1960s. And because Nixon still wanted to get away from those people, he had no real idea what the generation gap was. Funny no?’
“Mikhail, Srilenko’s problem is he makes half-sense. Remember the first office phone call? I said, ‘You must be my handler.’ I took it for granted I was under state control or a facsimile thereof. I figured he’d eventually convince himself where nonsense lies but underestimated his meanness. Usually mean is just business. His state immunity has me in love with our Constitution. If only my country wanted the document to be completely true, and not just advertising elites hide behind. Hooray team.”
I said, “Hank, our problem is here in Moscow. Could you have explained yourself to him better?”
Hank started to smile, but wasn’t, then said, “Nah. Convincing him of anything was mentally out the window after I began plotting to change the plane’s air pressure by bursting out the window to get away from his ultrasophisticated verbal violence. The stewardesses were very afraid. He lowered his armrest, apparently aware where he’d sit as his was the only seat that could. My mind launched another lousy escape idea. Celebritize myself, as was your earlier suggestion. Leverage him away by making a scene. But all six stewardesses and one pilot I saw were scared of him for a reason. Too soon, or late, to play the tantrum card. His methodical preciseness had me behind already. For all the talk I didn’t know anything really.”
Hank shook his shoulders and kept incessantly talking for Srilenko.
“His signaled stewardess arrived, with her cheek twitching also, and holding a really exquisite briefcase she laid across the armrests of the seat between us. Every step was ceremoniously
191executed. Like I was a kid and he the adult teaching me by keeping me in the dark and revealing information only when he was ready.
“She couldn’t smile and I watched her go back to the proletarian end of the plane and Srilenko just waited with his hands folded on the case I tried not to react to for his satisfaction. But it was a beautiful case with no sign of wear whatsoever. I don’t know what it was made of, or constructed to resemble. I don’t know enough to identify material. Because it might not have been a leather and looked very expensive. Imagine neon in a subtle brown. The hunter’s prey was hypnotized. Follow so far?”
“You are prey.”
“Yeah,” Hank said, “an acquaintance I’d never strike up on my own. Never. I hope you never see his work of art. The case was turned to open toward him and he snapped it open, pa pow, in a simultaneous double click salute. This was how little war games are won, devastating your opponent with symbolic lethal blows early on. Open, the case had that brand new smell and the aroma fought valiantly with the plane’s cycled oxygen for a while. Srilenko’s eyes twinkled with appreciation because he’d probably planned to make that little powerful impression. The obvious spoke for itself.
“When he pulled the chessboard from the case it unfolded into a full solid inch thick slice of mahogany chessboard he said made fun of ‘American measurement isolationism.’ The board wasn’t somewhere between two point five and two point six centimeters but an actual inch thick. I’m sure it was an actual inch. That board’s quality made the game feel as if it couldn’t possibly be played the same as on cardboard. He could never repay the dignity lent the game by that wood’s rainbows. Though I’d not seen any pieces, the board was obviously only within reach of the rich elite. It wasn’t just a board. It was a design and display of Srilenko’s own rules of order.
“He turned it over and clicked the underneath single hinge in place, carved from exactly where the hinge locked the halves. Such craftsmanship, clasped flush, perfectly flat, hardly a seam. It fit precisely on the two armrests and I thought dead Escher himself had revived and replaced my eyelids with a surface of opposites transfixing me in the maze of black and white amazement. All while aware he wasn’t my friend making me play when I didn’t want to.
“The board’s border was also a complete inch wide. Stunningly beautiful how that board opened. The way the black squares
192absorb and whites refracted light. Imbedded in the center of the outer inch, circumferencing the whole board was a thin silver line my mind conjured as the animated cowboy rope of American satirist Will Rogers. I was being trick lassoed same as he from the Ziegfeld Follies’ Broadway stage performing nightly enlightening, proverbial sarcasm. I remembered being impressed reading about Will Rogers seasoning as a traveling young man with the cowboy shows. Then it was just depressing thinking even Will’s point of view wasn’t helping then.
“The board’s game face was from seeped in dyes of granite white and normal black. Next from the case, came clips for attaching the four corners to the two armrests. The clips matched the corners exactly from that same original chunk of wood. The detail. He lowered his head making sure the board was lined up flat and lifted an eyebrow then removed two identical smaller cases from the larger one he put under the third middle seat. The small cases were exactly like caskets with handles pallbearers hold, making it clearer this was a three-ring circus. Opened both had entirely different original new fragrances. An extravagance only official Soviets can afford.
“I threw up my hands and loudly said, ‘Proletarian my eye. Don’t lie. This set is priceless. Whatever network you belong to, Colonel, I don’t care. I repeated, ‘It’s all right, I understand. I understand and don’t care. Just run your business without me.’ Where do Russians learn to speak like him?
“He just said, ‘Your country’s flag waving is wearying. Defenders of capitalism, hardly touches any truth. You should have proven that and left us alone. The cult of personality did make our culture crazy, but not that much madder than yours.’
“So I said, ‘I’m not to blame,’ but should have shut up.
“He leaned back in his seat meaning I’d humored him. Then said, ‘Soviets are more open to sharing fairly. This extravagance is for showing you, you can’t win.’ Then he peered in my eyes and said in a soft voice. ‘You do not have power to make people care. Authority is not by chance. If the weak were powerful would be a mess, and the powerful can’t be weak.’
“The two caskets had either S or G on top in the same silver embedded in the board’s wood.
“He asked me if I thought ‘an economic system should satisfy whimsy?’
“’Of course,’ I said, ‘Yes.’
“He said, ‘Profit squeezed from competition, makes deception a part of any negotiation. Salesmanship is a confidence game.’ Satisfied by his point of view, Srilenko said, ‘I am not hostile toward you. I brought the game as a token of friendship too.’
“I said, ‘Acquaintance.’
“He said, ‘You are hostile. I have nothing to sell, you do. Money does not appeal to me. You’re upset Mr. Greenway. Maybe you’re only comfortable with customers? The Soviet Union’s real mistake was involvement in your rat race. Appreciate the nobility of what our country tried to achieve without your spoils system. Some day enough for everyone will be politically stable.’
“Then he rubbed his S and said, ‘If income separation were more fair I’d have stayed longer in New York.’
“‘That was funny,’ I said and, ‘But the honest truth is there’s too many sharks just like you. Broadway survives selling tickets and begging for sponsorship. While state ownership guarantees subsidization but limits commercial variety too.’
“He held my opened coffin in front of his face playing magician’s eyes behind the lid. Peeking out to make sure there was nothing else the audience could think about and he relished tinging each step with anticipation.
“Then he started, saying, ‘Presenting, representing the black kingdom of Greenway.’ In deliberate slow motion, he put my first pawn from his cupped hand on my farthest right black square. My character’s back was to me, so the piece appeared to be a foot soldier holding a shield that I wouldn’t give Srilenko the satisfaction of my verifying. He lined up my entire row of pawns, and each time the curtain, his hand, rose another black duplicate appeared as if Walt Disney’s artists replicated the dramatic cartoon scheme themselves. Each time Srilenko’s eyes implied the expectation that there’d be some different version, but each pawn was the same as the previous. Then when his pawns appeared I saw their shields were large flat packages that are a nuisance to carry for any length of time in your hands on a bike. He just shrugged when all our pawns turned out to be almost exactly the same. After all what’s a pawn? Peons are frontline fodder by definition, and our replicas walked stooped in half steps. But mine though, had their left sleeves rolled further up. Plus every other shoe soul had the same hole while his were new, ‘provided by the state’ he said. Sixteen in all
194persevering and noble, older, retirement age men tightly gripping their packages with both hands.
“Then significantly out of turn came all four black and white knights, simultaneously dropped in the middle. And instead of knights on rearing horses, they’re padded-out warriors doing bicycle wheelies. Almost recognizable as bike couriers by the bags on their backs, but their expressions were too obsessed to be real bike messengers. I think he intentionally meant for them to look like rookies, or imitators. And I congratulated him for not abusing animals, without complimenting his having any insight into New York Street politics whatsoever.
“He asked, ‘Police on bicycles bother you?’
“I said, ‘Not lately no. Utilitarianism needs off the ground somehow. Humankind is just confused.’
“Srilenko raised an eyebrow. Amazing really, judged by someone who doesn’t understand you. In no way deliberated over by a peer. I pity the justice system’s huge responsibility to honor our differences that’s not taken seriously enough.
“Anyway. So my rooks were tilted like the Tower of Pisa but the castles came without introduction, coldly dropped in the middle too. I was expected to place my own, I left on their sides. They weren’t the usual tower rising from a rocky island, but modeled after the classic cartoon image of a pillared bank on a dream cloud. Financial heaven, so to speak. The castles were comically stretched out of proportion, may have been made from ivory. As expected, I suppose, I recognized them as the museum diagonally across from the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan. The Federal Building at Wall and Broad streets where George Washington was sworn inas the first president at the top of the steps. He picked up one of his castles and poked his right index finger at between the two center pillars. Then tells me, he’s telling me? ‘The doors shouldn’t have to be locked. What is the point financing crime? A world of trust would not make such a mockery of individuals’ fate through financial misery. Then he visionarily sniffs in arrogance as if executing me ‘Mr. Greenway’ with those reverberating lips. He said, ‘This medieval game illustrates even kings can survive with less property.’
“I said thanks, then he tells me the primitive game was invented around the year Five Hundred and based on war in India. Then Muslims evolved the game westward where European aristocrats absorbed it, as they were really the only ones with free time to play
195while everyone else was exploited. It was in Europe the queen was born centuries later, descended from the other cultures’ viziers, manipulators of the corporate crown. ‘A Capitalist Allegory,’ he called it.
“I said, ‘Nice to know’ hating that my head was around his class war. Srlilenko says my thinking could improve. Indoctrination ring a bell, Mikhail? He said whatever I had to learn about doing business in the Soviet Union, he’d explain during the game. Then he looks over the board as if he has to decide which piece to reveal next. Says Americans are confused about how much his country could be exploited. Too many capitalists were butting in. He doesn’t want his country disrespected and undermined anymore. The bleeding must stop, and my propaganda could only make things worse. Then he tilted his head for effect, as if it was natural saying to me, ‘You are dangerous, I am afraid.’
“I was scared. Dangerous? Says he’s patient like the bishops, willing to wait centuries. They looked so vainglorious I thought the Vatican itself sent them in such magnificent hats. Though in this case they were Eastern-Orthodox, each similar to a different St. Basil dome in the Kremlin. Then to upstage them, her highness, I didn’t expect so soon, appeared taller in her crown.
“He said, ‘The six, bishops, queens and kings, symbolize court alliances of the highest intrigue.’
“There was such attention to detail in the pieces. Even his opening ceremony. The bishops had envelopes sticking out from beneath their robes. I said, ‘Next.’
“Srilenko said, ‘Not next. Appreciate her highness.’
“Her gown was low-cut with jewels front and back. Srilenko blinked and said the jewels were the craftsman’s touch that he didn’t have time to change before the plane. The extravagance was not his idea and no doubt the modeler fell victim to female influence. ‘But,’ he added, ‘notice no one is costumed as well, demonstrating labor’s unchanged, undervalued role.’
“Chess is okay, but I don’t love it. As a kid I couldn’t get obsessed enough to want to win every time, so I don’t bother. Half-assed competition as a kid, and habits are hard to break. Chess and daydreaming don’t mix that well. I knew I wasn’t going to be good, but respected the game. The royalty, subjects and history. Just hated him.”
It was 4:00 AM. I said to Hank, “King?”
Hank said, “Yeah, fun dude. Still like ‘im.”
I said, “Still?”
Hank said, “He’s figuratively chased me all over Moscow to finish the game. He would have brought the set if you weren’t expected. He threatens he’ll force me to move. First time, to piss me off, was at my favorite clearing by the river. He drew the game in the sand with a stick boxing out these sixty-four squares. He brought rocks and broken sticks at designated lengths for the royalty as we’ve done here. Then after planting the final stick, he said I had, ‘no eye for art’ watching me walk away. Since he gets what he expects I’m sure he knew I’d leave.
“Tatyana thinks I avoid that spot now because of her. But we’d have gone back if Srilenko hadn’t spoiled the place. Where’s art in that? Spoiling a place he obviously knew meant something to me. He didn’t want to play on the ground anyway. I could tell from the way he flicked dirt from the hand he used. Cleaned with a handkerchief and so on, and no, he wouldn’t use the river water on his skin either.
“Srilenko has my imagination running wild with me linking him to any conspiracy. Being handled has driven me mad. I’m angry as hell. If the chess competition was still important to him, the game would still be in front of me now.”
I said, “The King.”
Hank said, “I can’t help it, he’s fun. The king is standing up straight, of course, holding his surfboard upright, on a smooth sandy beach, wearing baggies while gazing out to sea. His arm is around the board his goatee rubs against. He’s sea level, so the same height as the queen, who, Srilenko said, if we could see under her gown stands on a safety deposit box.
“Srilenko laughed. ‘Surfing beatnik dude,’ he said.
“I said, ‘Smorgasbording genres. But I like kings with better things to do.’
Then Hank looked at his “patch-a-dirt” and said, “In his egalitarian uniform the king also held a street sweeper broom like a scepter in his hand that held with the board. Then Srilenko placed his white pawn in his left bishop’s line, two spaces forward, here, on square c4. I let the show’s brilliance distract me, to be alone as long as I could get away with it. Eventually he secured his watch face up on the seat’s backrest, and told me when the second hand passed zero hundred hours I’d be penalized a pawn if I hadn’t moved.
“I said, ‘Military time is what in minutes, huh? Why does it sound more precise?
“Srilenko ignored me and said, ‘Capitalism applies the principal of time to money, critically improving your system. But America’s paranoid opinion of Soviet Union ignores your own ruthless roots.’
“I thought, at least I won’t repeat myself. I answered, ‘Time isn’t stationary. We become different not because people change but there are new people.’
Then instead of laughing at my muddling, he smirks like he understood, from behind a tall glass of water that just arrived in his hand. Socialist thinker huh? He’d arranged none for me again, as I’ve said, rich as Rockefeller, didn’t I? Anyway, inside I groaned in anguish, as people must when ignoring me. I wanted to get away.”
I said, “Hank. This mind game has my interest, and will probably be useful, but we could use sleep?”
He said, “Soon.”
I said, “You’re stressed. Take a break.”
He said, “I feel protected here in the embrace of my most lovable Ministry of Finance. The center of what socialism is, shared security. Will walking home get that for us? A nice rate of social-capital flow, without feeling fined for breathing. All participating because tax should be enjoyed and about feeling lucky to be alive.” Then Hank yelled, “I’m telling you people, it’s utopia already!”
Calmly I said, “Hank I know, mathematics. But no more circling dialogue. My head aches, my legs are tight and I want to go home.”
Hank didn’t lift his head from looking at the pieces, making me more afraid for us both. He said, “I think he telegraphed his next move in this game.” Hank patted the curb for me to sit again, or told me to take a few laps because we were staying.
So I lied down on the sidewalk on the white side of the board.
Hank said, “He repeated ‘your move’ at me a few times. Then when the ‘ten minute’ mark was achieved, I put my right bishop’s pawn on c5, in front of his, stalemating both pawns. Duplicating his move. Stalling, what else? I hadn’t played in years, and eventually the plane lands. Every move I stretched my ten-minute allotment keeping my fingers on my piece and eyes on the watch until his once shaken head meant I could at least look like competition. His intimidation resulted
198in my knocking my pawn over, and he snickered picking it up. As if I could expect his hands all over everything.
“Smiling, he said, ‘Take in whole board. Involve yourself from beginning with warming up your mind to recording all the possibilities in pictures. Be here now to be there for the middle and end.’
“I ignored him and noticed, immediately following my first move, his right knight was on Nf3 in his right bishop’s pawn line.
“Srilenko said, ‘To reacquaint you. Chess is not passive. No tougher sport without violence. Civilized war. Humility taught in defeat, and courage rewarded.’ My opponent thought he was hypnotizing his mark with professional gambler efficiency. It was working. I feared mistakes, too much.
“I raised my voice. ‘What’s in this for you,’ I asked? ‘I have no money or skill? Leave me alone.’
“Srilenko goes, ‘Ah da yes,’ like he’s luckily familiar with my personality. Then says, ‘First, money has point. Investment we can use. However your babbling is useless intrusion. Where Hammer is involved, there’s something under the sleeve.’
“So there I am flying to the Soviet Union, speaking with a Russian talking nearly as American as I. Telling me I’m unsound. It’s like a Twilight Zone episode only the monster is inside and I want out.
“Then Srilenko said, ‘Nevertheless inequality exists. America’s selfish evolution is not without fraud. Though personal enterprise will improve my country, you won’t.’ He said, ‘You, Mr. Greenway, just second-guess history. Absolutely, Comrade Stalin ignored the accomplishments of the exploiting classes. I agree, politically lazy. But Ideology was a fine business that made many careers on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific, eh? That there wasn’t enough to go around was not our fault. It was yours.’
“Whew. I didn’t even answer him and had more than forgot how to play adequate chess. It was as if all his pieces had the power of queens over me. I was purely undecided what to do. What I’d learned as a child wasn’t deep enough to develop my own offense. So I decided to keep mimicking him and did exactly as he’d done putting my left knight here in front of my left bishop’s pawn, Nf6. And his other knight immediately went two before his left bishop here, Nc3.
“Then he said, ‘The gladiators are prepared. Stop wishing the game was over. Work a little. Chess is strategy. I doubt you get anywhere copying mine.’
“I said, ‘I should care? I’d planned to enjoy this trip asleep. You are not my idea of a good time.’
“At ten minutes, as his had, my right side knight went to square Nc6 behind my pawn. Then his queen went here Qa4 and nothing occurred to me except I was rusty.
“He said, ‘Business and chess both develop losses and gains till breakthroughs occur.’
“My forehead felt feverish. Like there was a headline streaming across it about a madman across the water picking his clueless opponent apart for fun over the North Atlantic.
“Ten minutes later my queen goes to her farthest right diagonal, to face his at Qa5.”
It’s not the game’s fault Hank thought sense could be gotten from it. Pure KGB riddling minds with the terror.
Hank said, “Srilenko put his head near the board to look at my knight up close and pretend he was prepared to take it trading his queen.
Then eyeing me he said, ‘Pacifist Greenway. Knight will go first, no even trade. I will strike with a warrior’s strength. But, trade is basis of chess. All the elements held together by leveraging the pieces’ alliances.’
“But I saw change as the problem. It’s quite a game. Your turn is your turn, and nothing happens until that’s accomplished. Back and forth synchronicity. The democracy of war. But as pressure mounts that’s all the board becomes. Even before one piece was lost, I’d already visualized my grand slide down to defeat once he took the lead. He’d done it, I was involved, immersed, I wanted to make a good move. But copying his was easier with our queens stalemated anyway. He dared me to take her by putting his right knight here Nh4 when I let mine go.
“No trade hell. His left knight was a lure to tempt me. When all I wanted was for it to end and not feel stupid anymore. At ten my left side knight went here Nh5 anyway. Then his pawn here g4 in case my knight was that easy.
“He said, ‘Queen is greatest decoy. Take her. Maybe playing from similar weaknesses is your best move. There is no game without
200trades, and a draw when too many moves occur without a piece being taken.’ Hank looked lost at the sky and said, “I wasn’t up to competing against his advantages.
“He said, ‘Only fools refuse queens when an even exchange looks good for them.’
“I just didn’t want to feel stupid anymore. Losing on purpose shouldn’t cost me, but copping out failed to fly in my mind. I didn’t trade queens. Instead I preserved my knighthood here Nf4, and his queen’s pawn went to d3, opening his bishop’s bead on my knight. Then vanity got the best of me, because after the next ten, I chose to avenge his bishop’s threatened molestation of my knight with my pawn here, g5. Fourteen moves and it apparently didn’t matter how many moves were left till a draw. When I was a kid trading queens was the game’s least complicated part. Instead I told Srilenko, he should handicap his queen to me without retribution, if he likes challenges, since I wasn’t very good.”
I said, “Hank?”
“You remember this whole game?”
He said, “It’s not so hard. I was turned into a chess person for this one game. Most victims probably remember every moment of their torture too. After my move his knight retreated here, Ng2. Then he just grabbed my queen and rolled her in his left hand, while I calculated there must be a rule against that.
“He said, ‘She is most desirable piece. Her greatest of powers make her the most sought prey. Except for king, who can only be checked and extinguishing power to conclude the game. You are too weak, trade her,’ he said with a chin nod, like I was a taken for granted child. I couldn’t take his queen.
“He said, ‘Shakespeare devised intrigue from this example, Mr. Greenway. Life follows formulas. Your free enterprise molded gangsterism and mythologized the exploitation in DeNiros or Pacino-isms. Neither of whom appear for less than a good solid paycheck.’ Srilenko said my ‘society is built on having the upper hand because there’s never enough power to make everyone honest and fair. Why freedom is a fraud.’
Hank got up, following his feet, in a circle, listening to himself. Then, on the ground again, said, “Freedom is an evolution. Totalitarianism a cage. On Aeroflot, I thought at first having an adversary might get us notice in Moscow. After all it’s a very big
Hank got up, following his feet, in a circle, listening to himself. Then, on the ground again, said, “Freedom is an evolution. Totalitarianism a cage. On Aeroflot, I thought at first having an adversary might get us notice in Moscow. After all it’s a very big
201place you know. But Srilenko leans back, relaxed, sizing me up, says he ‘likes how chess does that.’
“I snap at him, ‘What? How chess does what?’ He loved that reaction.
“He said, ‘Game illustrates anxiety’s positive and negative effects. Anxious to win, or about losing. To play is to feel. You feel don’t you, Mr. Greenway?’ Then, ‘if’ I ‘just took’ his ‘queen anyway’ he’d ‘be less bored with’ me.
“I said, ‘You know my every move. I’m no surprise for you.’ My gut busted to trade, but my queen’s line pawn went here, d6, as I was convinced the freed bishop increased my strength. Then bam. His knight took mine here, Nf4, and the trades began. At ten my queen takes his Qa4, and he takes mine with his knight, Na4. Another ten and my pawn takes his knight at f4, whereupon his bishop removes my pawn Bf4 leaving me one pawn down.
“Smug Srilenko said, ‘At chess to lose entails the inability to think methodically ahead. Wishing for results is your mistake. I hope your business has a plan. May I see it?’
“Screw him pawn down. When we lost our standing in line business, that was symbolic for one pawn down. Because of him, I’ve been down so long, one pawn down looks like up to me.” Hank scuffed his foot. “He loves being irritating. Told me to be mature and apply myself more. I stood up finally insisting he let me go to the bathroom.
“He said, ‘Wait a while. You get just once till Moscow so a good strategy for you would be to wait till after my first to have a fighting chance. Hold it. First one will be good, make man out of you.’
“The privileges of power what they are, Srilenko didn’t explain how that made anyone more man, or how being mean serves a purpose. Manipulating others, as you would have them be manipulated by you. I didn’t want you to know any of this. But he’s not hiding anymore. Threatening our knighthood has been his game all along. We’re just pawns.”
Damn, I looked at the sky.
Hank said, “I realize it was wrong not telling you. You read about these control kinds of situations and think it couldn’t possibly happen to you. I was still standing, refusing to sit and Srilenko picked up my remaining knight in his left hand to represent what was left of me. Hefting it, feeling the piece’s weight, Srilenko said, ‘Sorry, you must accept my authority.’
“Now I’m telling you sorry Mikhail. My insistence on being independent was not just foolish but unrealistic. He plotted out our entire adventure for me on the plane. Told me in America you can’t fight city hall but we do anyway. While here you cannot fight KGB. So there’s just one question left. Which letters rule next? I expect C.O.I. Conspiracy Of Individuals.
“Srilenko said he had ‘no interest in my bishops’ because to criticize my allegiance to antiquated religion is a waste of time. There wasn’t a chance this game was random, or that his focus was just on knights or my lost pawn. Then I noticed my knights’ helmets were painted gold. My university’s nickname, Golden Knights. Damn.
“I jumped two rows of seats angling to the aisle and he grabbed for me but I slipped away. When he’d said I’d only go once, I’d not gone at all. I was busting and spent the next full ten minutes in the kitchen, covering the door, until he got up and I locked myself behind the bathroom door, permanently.
“How could I have been more careful to not be in that place? Be an idiot, and give up to his face? No, I’d already done that. It didn’t matter. I tried to accommodate. Eventually a couple hours later or so a stewardess knocked and recommended I should return to my seat because we were landing. But when the plane started dropping, I dug in on the floor holding the smooth metallic commode as solidly as I could. Because at least it was the prison I chose for myself. Anyone would have hidden from the monster. I had the entire plane’s pity.
“Then when we landed he spoke through the door that he wanted me to make another move. And laughed, leaving, saying I couldn’t have made it a happier flight for him.”
I asked, “Hank, why? You could have just gone back home.”
He said, “Ya think? Why anything? I can’t know anything for sure, such as who you are?”
“Apparently,” I said, “I’ll be your second executive in a Siberian camp.”
Hank giggled. “Yeah well, where Srilenko is concerned, humor doesn’t apply. The problem is reality is unforgiving without a sense of humor, and he has none. Maybe I’ve misled myself, confusing humankind’s hopeless dreams with my own. I should feel satisfied queued in line with everyone else under control. The plane was empty when I disembarked. No one was there to say anything, then Customs probing brought me down to earth.
I said, “Hank, retreat is a valid tactic.”
And Greenway smiled so broadly his skull could have cracked like an egg. He said, “Srilenko imprinted failure on my mind. He said, ‘No matter what events led’ me ‘to believe, nothing is wrong with sharing. Success is not the right to live so much better.’ Oh yeah, sorry, I skipped a beginning part, back before the game. When he stood up and clapped for the whole plane’s attention and said, ‘Look everyone. A celebrity bringing capitalism for everyone to our country.’ It was awful, his announcing we all know what cowboy capitalists do to our country. I hated his focusing on me.”
Then Hank snapped the white knight. See? Hank could only say he wanted to like everyone. Speaking of which, as depressed as he was, he still tried cheering me up.
Hank said, “Hey did you ever see the American television show McHale’s Navy, Mikhail?”
“McHale’s Navy,” Hank said. “On some walks lately I’ve been thinking about bringing this up. The television show McHale’s Navy was one among an eventual at least a thousand short less than half hour television plays, called sitcoms for situation comedy. And McHale’s Navy’s location was a patrol boat in the South Pacific during World War Too. The show was one of many spin-offs, from the idea of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 that made fun of the disparity between reality and authority. Hey if we’re being bugged now, Srilenko, I want you to look into that? What art has to say about your and everyone else’s diabolical customizing of the rule of law?”
I asked, “He has plan for country?”
Hank asked, “You were listening?
I asked, “You watch TV?”
Hank said, “Who hasn’t?”
I said, “That decadent medium copying novels is off subject again.”
Hank said, “The plane was an insult. Why would I want to stay on that subject? I’ve been wanting to bring up that show because of your names’ similarity, McHale, Mikhail.” Hank backed away from the board and stood up but kept his eyes on it. “The show’s scenario involves McHale’s gang of PT Boat shipmates having fun in spite of their base commander’s silly intrusions on their individuality. There’s also Hogan’s Heroes, where Nazi prisoners tunneled in the best food
204and women the restaurants of Europe had to offer. McHale’s Navy would put on entertainments on various islands of the Pacific, just like how Star Trek went to distant lands that central command couldn’t observe from behind their desks. And just because the military men couldn’t go home, they fell, as all of us fall, under Catch-22’s bottom line. We’re crazy to be there in war, and not crazy if we want to go home. The trap is, if the more powerful need you, you’re had. The hell with it. If we were to get enough apparats in the audience, Vanity Fair would have been Moscow’s capitalist equivalent of Woodstock and a tradition nothing can stop.”
I said, “Cool down. Power turns itself on, not off. There won’t be electricity for the bands? Hank.”
Then we just left and sat quietly on a few more gutters to get our tired legs home. Then split at the parking lot after Hank said, “Srilenko thinks ‘an honest business environment could change’ his ‘mind but no one’s interested.’”
Even though Hank was scared his life wasn’t his, he had a real one. The portion of text following is Hank’s e-mail correspondence with Mekka Restaurant Terry from between April and August of 1991.
Are you there? Phil said this is your e-mail address. How ya been redneck? Write soon, I want to hear from you.
How good could it be if I’m not there with you? Still, even this close is simultaneously Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwansaa, Ramadan, New Year’s, and my birthday for me. All I had till tonight was when you condescended to walk with me through Greenwich Village that evening I didn’t leave you alone when you wanted to be.
Wait a second, Phil? And you finally leave the creep when I’m out of town?
Not dear at all Hank,
You’re a creep now since I never mentioned that. Are your manners in some Moscow brothel? I hear your hotel has ladies of the evening? I thought you were trying to do something good over there. Great! Another Party bonehead.
Assume today’s ten runs completely corrupted me. I want to throw a party for the competition and come home. The hotel’s bellhops handle a hundred a day easy. Just as suspected, it was always capitalism here, and, I suppose, like everywhere else, cutthroat. The new revolution is just a revival of the elite. I, of course, no matter what I learn, remain gullibly naïve.
No idea though where you think I got money for prostitutes. You’re smokin?
Miss you, Hank
Let’s assume wanton women throw themselves prone under you for nothing, like that young girl at the Hellfire. How often were you going there? Just stay sweet Hank. Don’t lose yourself.
10 is decent business?
I am interrupting now to mention I, of course, knew all about those two as the reader knows from when Hank and I kissed by the Moscow River. I insisted to our co-authoring group that I should comment now before I’m the floozy not quite in tune with nature’s reality and blinded by the magic man.
I knew but what can you do? Hank couldn’t resist beautifully backgrounded picnics next to especially dear water attractions. Nothing average about a river, lake or spring, so to say I also tried to play chess with him is the truth.
Yet every night, Hank was glued to the screen. Remaining honest, what can I do?
Hank and Terry’s E-MAIL EXCHANGE RESUMED
>Hank - Hey Terry, I lived on virtually nothing to save for this computer to write to you. So I have to admit Mikhail’s sister, Tatyana fed us sometimes. Hey all this cyber electric-space is expensive to preserve with as little of my money as possible. Amazing to me that a
207decade and a half ago I was just punching cards in high school to understand the machine only processes what we enter. Infinite zero and one combinations, that if incorrect have to be reentered. But accepting the computer’s final call is the plot of The Terminator right, or at least close? Anyway, I hope real independence rather than dependence dawned in those young ladies’ minds at the Hellfire. We are all slaves to opportunity’s indifference. Why bother being criminal about it? Oops. I think the world of you Terry. I didn’t really hang out with them at all. Hank
>Terry - Hank. Wake-up call. Wake up! Dream over. Stop wishing so extra hard. It’s nice sending e-mail letters so frequently back and forth. We are ahead of the game just appreciating simple things. What time is it there? You sound sleepy when you write me. I’m tired and it’s only three in the afternoon here. I never had a job before where I sit and read against a background of light while typing all day long. Terry
>Hank - Eight hours difference. I read you mostly round midnight. 4:00 PM in your afternoon before you leave. Mr. Treynor could give us privacy and take a few laps around the block.
This is your job, talking to me? Hank
One night, secure in his correspondence with Terry, Hank went for a walk. Like all problems, women are only one you make for yourself. I suppose, while clearing his head of both of us, Hank was indeed fortunate one night to meet his new comrade Malcolm at Izmaylova Park’s southern tip. His “little Malcolm boy” was a cat so young, that Hank had to wait a week before fixing the kitten from the wandering into trouble instinct an animal’s competitive world is. Neutered. Wherever Hank was in the office, his buddy Malcolm made a bed, and his primary one was the storage box next to the computer where Hank put a blanket. There was also a bed by his chair, for when they slept near each other on the floor. However Malcolm was no Oblomov, and claimed the entire garage, so Hank made sure every day that the bell worked so his bright kitten knew when there were approaching cars.
Hank said, “Animals love learning. You can see cautious inquiry in their eyes. The kitten was following a person rummaging through garbage, and looked out of place high-stepping in his black tuxedo and all white paws. His noble appearance made it hard to realize his starving state.”
How Hank expected a cat to not be suffering like the rest of us, I don’t know.
Hank said, “The man tried to conduct his business away from Malcolm, and I was glad when two women friends burst on the scene to pick him up. You know how Russian women take charge, head down going through. It didn’t matter that the women didn’t ask me to take the cat first. Of all people, Yeltsin passing on his nightly walk turned down their offer but insisted he’d help them convince me to take him. Then, after Yeltsin went to face his own destiny, Malcolm and I were treated to a late supper at the women’s apartment where I was proud Malcolm ate most of my dinner too.”
They were inseparable. We all loved that cat. His meow made The Hammer And Cycle home. And not just for his being named after the capitalist tool Malcolm Forbes, and Hank’s father, but for being quite an individual. “Malcolm Malcolm.”
So Malcolm was there the next night Hank read and wrote.
Terry and Hank’s E-MAIL EXCHANGE RESUMED
>Terry - Hey you there, Greenway, know what a job is? Besides that we don’t need real-time. Write, receive and write back, Silly. Lunch hour is when I usually write you, when Moscow’s sirens start your feeding I presume.
You are not my job. I keep track of everything that isn’t personal and forward to Phil what’s important. I work here because he says there is no law that stops him from diversifying outside the firm. Capitalism is rampant despite what they like to think his contract reads. I classify each communication, either Personal, Extra Personal, Business or Extra Business, and finally the bad news Lack of Business. Te he. Phil is a very busy man. You should be grateful for his help. I know I am.
>Hank G. - Phil!
Malcolm, that other man’s name keeps popping up.
>T - Yes Hank, he prefers Phil which you won’t call him. Who is Malcolm?
>HG - Malcolm is my big hearted friend, with yellow-green eyes, who just woke and is studying me now between licks of his coat. He’s so alert to movement. A good sign for a cat growing wise. Today Tatyana wrestled with him with her hand above his head and when his paws clasped onto her hand tight he’d drop with the hand to the tabletop and continue battling with his hind legs. Going to town on her arm as his eyes were big, round and deliriously focused.
Today I searched everywhere for a nail-clipper so his back paws won’t scrape everyone to pieces. He doesn’t care whose arm is in his hold, everyone gets the same treatment. But Malcolm already knows no is significant, yet hard for him to hear when he’s in his aggressive trance. No punishment required, as weaponry trains cats to be aggressive back. I think maybe everyone is like Cats.
You should see Malcolm jump. I tell him, ‘Malcolm you’re such a great jumper.’ When he’s older our office, wherever it is, will need taller things for him to exercise over. Whether out at the sink, drinking his running drip of water or in his box, I love watching his efficient tongue. He’s a careful cat I can depend on. So calm when he’s relaxed, I can’t help looking to him for answers. He seems to say customers will come if I’m patient. I wish I knew where there was another cat for him to play with. He already made three friends for me. The two women who originally picked him up and an acquaintance, who walks alone at night by himself like me.
The garage is Malcolm’s big jungle gym and he flies between over and around the metal statues. Oh, and he’s not jealous of you. I told him all about you.
>T - Good Malcolm.
>HG - Very, very good Malcolm. Anyway, Mr. Treynor, not Phil. I didn’t call the other guy Armand either.
So you’re working out of that nice apartment? We’re moving from this basement to another closet soon.
Terry! Much more chit-chat and they’ll be tossing me in one of those asylums the authorities use to discard people straining to think for
210themselves. Only I’ll really belong there, and I haven’t prepared Malcolm for people thinking I’m crazy. We depend on each other and he doesn’t need the trouble.
Will you go out with me?
>T - For Malcolm. YES.
>HG - Besides Terry and Malcolm, YES is my favorite word. Did you hear the hippie propaganda that the word Yes brought John and Yoko Ono Lennon together? At an art installation of hers in London, he climbed a ladder and saw it through a peephole. I hope I see you soon.
>T - What’s wrong with NOW?
>HG - Geez, I don’t know if I like my women so aggressive?
>T - When did what you want matter? Second of all, I’m not your women. So far, you SEEM to be mine. But I don’t think it’s right at this time. Ha, ha. ‘Wouldn’t be prudent.’ I want to be fair.
>HG - Let’s go out tomorrow night. I’ll take a nap so I’m fresh for the big event.
Good night Beautiful.
>T - Good night formerly bashful. Miss you.
>HG - I MISS YOU!