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Near Zero

by Natan Dubovitsky

translated by Bill Bowler

Near Zero: synopsis

Yegor Samokhodov was happy as a youth in the Russian heartland but now, in Moscow, in middle age, he is estranged from his wife and daughter, and his low-paying job as an assistant editor is going nowhere. Looking for a way out, he joins a criminal gang, the Brotherhood of the Black Book. The Brotherhood is involved in forgery, theft of intellectual property, black-marketeering, intimidation, extortion, bribery, murder, etc.

Yegor’s girlfriend, Crybaby, invites him to a private screening of her new film, although she cannot attend. Yegor goes, hoping she may show up, and is horrified to discover he is watching a snuff movie where Crybaby is slowly murdered. After the screening, Yegor finds that Crybaby has disappeared. He sets out to Kazakhstan, to find and kill her murderer, the film director Albert Mamaev.

The story is set against a panoramic backdrop of Russia during and after the collapse of the USSR. Yegor’s quest brings him into contact with a cast of characters from a broad spectrum of Russian life, culture, history, politics and government.

Near Zero header links
Translator’s Foreword Cast of Characters Table of Contents

Chapter 11: Odinnadtsat’

Yegor woke up in the same room, in the same armchair. All the furniture, except for the armchair, had disappeared. The Chief was gone. A black book now lay on the spot where Fedor Ivanovich had died. On an open page, a phrase was highlighted with a faded violet marker: “I have cause, and will, and strength, and means to do’t.

Yegor felt unbearably dry and hot inside. He made his way to the kitchen, swallowed from the faucet, sucked all the cold water from it and then, still thirsty, he sucked the hot water, too. One floor up, in the bad apartment, there was no water that morning, and the criminal element had no way to wash themselves. Cursing pitifully, they went about their business with unbrushed teeth.

Yegor understood that now he was an organized criminal but did not know where gangsters went to work. Therefore, he set off for the publishing house.

He heard the word “Comrade” from somewhere when he went out to the street. And after walking about forty-five steps: “Comrade, hey, comrade.” And then again, this time partly mocking and annoyed, “You, Comrade, in the bloody Keds!”

In Keds? But that’s me, Yegor guessed, and stopped. Are they really bloody? They are!

He wanted to take them off, but the one who had called to him, a kind of little gnome or maybe a child, beckoned for Yegor to follow him. The gnome led Yegor to an Audi parked near the drugstore. The Audi was surrounded by pharmacists entranced by bottles with foreign labels they had not seen before. Also present: buyers of Validol, half-dead, with stupid faces. The Chief was sitting in the car.

“She’s six years old. She’ll run another six months. And if after six months you don’t have a new one, you can consider me a Communist,” said the Chief. “Where are you going?”

“To the publishing house.”

“What for? You’re in the Brotherhood now.”

“Well, I wanted to say goodbye to Yvetta.”

“What for?”

“Well, we spent so many years together...”

“If you’re so sentimental, you’d better go say goodbye to Fedor Ivanovich. He’s in the morgue.”

“OK. I won’t go to the office.”

“By the way,” declared the Chief, after a pause dedicated to the smoking of his cigarette, “Fedor Ivanovich was my father. Until you killed him.”

“Then why did we..?” Yegor whispered heartrendingly.

“Not us, you. I asked you to do it,” explained Igor Fedorovich, completely calm, “so that I would have something on you if I needed it. Look, I’m an open-minded man, educated... something of a philosopher. I couldn’t bring myself to kill a person for denouncing me, for breaking under interrogation or selling me out for a million or two in greenbacks. But now I have a serious reason to kill you, serious even for a hippy like me.

“No matter how you handle yourself, you can’t get involved in ticklish business like this without guarantees and determination to see it through to the end. So, if you sell me out now, I’ll kill you. And I’ll know that I didn’t do it for a paltry million, but for the sake of a son’s love for his father, for honor. So I won’t lose my self-respect and betray the ideals of youth.”

“And if I kill you?” clarified Yegor.

“The possibility cannot be ruled out. There is some risk. Nothing can be done about it. It will go into the contract... However, it’s time for me to go. Today you rest. And tomorrow, my people will call you and take you where you need to go. Until we meet... brother...”

“But Fedor Ivanovich? Your own father?”

“What, feeling a little ill? Not used to it? Don’t kill yourself when you’re killing. Anyway, to make it easier for you: he had cancer. He had three or four months left, nothing but agony. And he’s not my father. He’s my stepfather.” The Chief got out of the car.

“I don’t know how to drive.” Yegor stuck his head in the window.

“You’ll learn.” The Chief did not turn around. “Wipe off your Keds. He raised me since I was three. But I never once called him ‘Papa’. And you and I need not be so formal.”

Proceed to Chapter 12...

translation © 2019 by Bill Bowler

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