Игорь ДЯДЧЕНКО | Проза



His gun was entwined with wire.
It seemed a mixture of unfitting parts.
“Fellow, can your shotgun fire?”
“Its firing range is seventy yards.”

Nikolai Nekrasov, “Korobeiniki.”*

Chapter 1

Vitya Orekhov was the oldest among the kids of our neighborhood. Everyone around knew and loved him, because he was friendly and ready to help everyone. Vitya’s family was poor, and, as far as I remember, he never had really good toys. In spite of this, we boys who lived in the neighborhood knew that if Vitya suddenly got something like a clockwork car or tank, we could play with his new toy as long as we wanted until his mother called him home in the evening.

As is well known, poverty is not a vice, and Vitya was a case in point. In order to keep up with kids from more affluent families, he began to make toys with his own hands. Vitya’s childish hands were small, but they were already clever. So, even the first toy cars and locomotives made by him were so good that many kids were glad to exchange them “right away and forever” for the most expensive store-bought toys.

However, Vitya soon lost his interest in making toys. His aspirations became directed to some other things. When Vitya was just in the third grade, he made his first “Finnish knife.”** It was a small, beautiful looking knife with a varicolored composite plastic handle. Of course, all of us, his friends from the neighborhood and school, gasped admiringly when we saw this new work of his talented hands. But as you know, immoderate praises spoil people. Vitya was inspired by our approval and continued to think in that direction. We, with our boyish enthusiasm and admiration, provoked him to make steps further, not anticipating, of course, all the difficulties and problems of that path. What a pity that our friend didn’t have a serious-minded and intelligent mentor who could point Vitya’s efforts in the right direction! It’s wrong when parents don’t pay much attention to their children.

Some time passed, and in the sixth grade Vitya has at home a fully equipped locksmith’s workshop. His old writing desk was turned into a workbench with firmly attached different size vises. All the drawers and the room’s corner near the desk were filled with different tools, such as pliers, files, hacksaws, and so on. However, all the tools were kept in order. Vitya’s parents didn’t take an interest in his hobby. It was enough for them that he didn’t hang around the streets and busied himself with something at home. But they didn’t tolerate any mess in their apartment and demanded to keep everything in order.

Vitya’s father Mikhail Aleksandrovich, as it seemed to us boys, was the one who especially loved order and cleanliness. He was a gloomy, always a little tipsy and taciturn man with wide-set and colorless eyes. We had an impression that his favorite activity in his spare time was removing of dust from carpets, mats, and so forth by beating them in our yard. Mikhail Aleksandrovich usually did it for a long time with thoroughness and concentration. It was clear that this work gave him a real pleasure. But perhaps he has also some other motivation. When Mikhail Aleksandrovich finished his carpet-beating ritual about five o’clock on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, he proudly left the house and then came back late in the evening not tipsy, but, as we called it in the neighborhood, “in a state of shyness” – that is to say, he was so drunk that he had to walk holding onto something steady in order not to fall down. On Monday mornings, after such hikes, Mikhail Aleksandrovich was especially gloomy, pale and taciturn.

One day, it ended up tragically. On frosty morning (winter frosts sometimes happen even in the south of Russia), he was found extremely drunk, frostbitten and almost frozen to death at the long-delayed construction site. Medicine was powerless in his case, and Vitya became a half-orphan at the age of fourteen. Of course, he was overwhelmed with grief at the death of his father, who was a drunkard, but also his closest relative. Furthermore, soon rumors began to spread around the town (if you lived in a small town for some time, you’d know the power and influence of rumors there) that drunk Vitya’s father was robbed at the construction site by criminals. It could be truth because he was found without any money or identity papers. But in his drunken state he could just as easily lose all of it along the way. So, it was impossible to find out whether the rumors were true. But Vitya, of course, knew the rumors and had food for thought.

All these disasters didn’t really embitter him, but directed his activity further into the wrong direction. At the age of fifteen Vitya made his first self-made revolver. It was loaded with small-caliber cartridges, which, in those distant years of the Soviet era, could be easily bought at the flea market. And despite the fact that the revolver was slightly too heavy and slightly too big (it barely fit in the school satchel), we, Vitya’s coevals, were very impressed with the cleverness of his hands and his engineering skills. Considering his young age, he did a really fantastic job. Vitya designed the mechanism of his revolver (for some reason, he named his pistol the “System”) and made all the parts of it manually on his small workbench without any help from anybody. Looking at his drawings of the revolver (the top view, side view, and section) and then at the real pistol he made, we thought that he was a genius!

Of course, we, Vitya’s faithful friends and huge fans of his talent, begged him to test the “System” in action as quickly as possible. Since his childhood, Vitya was deservedly considered as a good soul and kindest kid in our neighborhood. So, he didn’t refuse us; and on the next Sunday, we four together walked out of town, glancing proudly at people we passed, and glancing excitedly at Vitya’s satchel, which bulged with the “System” wrapped in a towel.

When we were far enough away from the town, we began to look for something that we could use as a shooting target. Soon we found an old shabby cooking pot in the small ravine.

One of us, a thin, shaggy-haired kid, whose nickname was Tall Boy, put the pot on the hillock and intently paced out the distance to the place from which we would fire.

Vitya opened his satchel, looking at us proudly. He took out the revolver, wrapped in the towel, and a box of cartridges. The three of us – me, Tall Boy, and short, dark-haired Zhora – that is to say the three huge fans of Vitya’s talent – carefully opened the box and began to take turns to give him small dark-gray cartridges. Vitya loaded them into the cylinder of his revolver. It took a considerable amount of time, because of imperfection of the homemade pistol. So, Vitya found some disadvantages in the design of his “System” even before firing a shot. These disadvantages needed to be corrected later. Oh, it’s not for nothing that any weapon requires field tests!

Finally, Vitya stood on the tussock and picturesquely stretched out his hand with the heavy revolver. Just to be on the safe side, we three together took a few steps back from him. We understood that Vitya’s homemade pistol could explode in his hand. Boys generally aren’t as stupid as some adults think. It’s a pity that most of us don’t pay much attention to their activities.

The first shot rang out, and then the second, third, etc. The bullets hit the ground near the cooking pot, but didn’t hit the target. Only the last shot was successful, and the old pot rolled down the hill, clanging and banging. We rushed to it. It turned out that the bullet pierced the one side of the pot and flattened on the other. Our delight was incredible.

“You see,” he explained, critically examining the damaged pot, “a copper barrel isn’t good enough. It’s slightly too crooked. A barrel and cylinder should be made at the factory. Then the revolver would be more accurate. And with a rifled barrel it would pierce both sides of the pot. It would be much better than now.”

We admired him, “How much he knows, how clever he is. He is indeed a genius!”

Tall Boy even wanted to take home the damaged cooking pot, but Vitya didn’t allow him to do it. Vitya demanded that all the three of us should take a solemn oath not to tell anybody about his revolver. In exchange, he promised to take us soon to the field tests of his next model of the pistol, the “System 2,” as we called it in advance.

Chapter 2

In the following months, Vitya undertook a flurry of activity. There was a big factory in our town, and many young men from our neighborhood worked there. Vitya tried to make friends with some of them and ventured to ask them to manufacture some parts of his new “System” for a bottle of vodka or some other consideration. But as far as I knew from conversations with him, his efforts failed. Vitya couldn’t find anybody who would agree to help him.

It was too risky to manufacture a pistol’s barrel in the full view of everyone in the workshop. Even drunkards, who could work overtime nearly half of the shift for a bottle of vodka, decided that the game isn’t worth the candle. They didn’t want to go to jail for it. And of course, it was impossible to persuade any of serious-minded, non-drinking guys to help Vitya for a small fee. His only chance was to strike a bargain with any real alcoholic. But it was useless and dangerous. There was no reason to think that a usually drunk turner can make anything of good quality. Furthermore, alcoholics can’t keep their mouths shut. In small towns in the old days, rumors carried news faster than newspapers. So, Vitya could be sure that the entire town would know about his weapon-making ambitions, if he asked any of such persons to help him.

In short, all Vitya’s efforts came to nothing. There was nobody who wanted to risk his freedom for a small charge. But Vitya couldn’t pay much. As a half-orphan, he hadn’t enough money to pay a big fee. However, Vitya was not only extremely talented, but also persistent. If he decided to do something, he would do it, no matter how much effort it took. In addition, he promised to us, his friends, that he would make new revolver. How could he retreat in the face of difficulties? So a year later, after finishing the eighth grade, Vitya decided not to continue his education and then got a job as a turner at the factory.

His mother, as far as I remember, was very angry at him for this decision. Vitya finished the eighth grade with good marks. She expected that he would continue his education, but he became a worker like some half-educated young men. However, in those times such things were considered by society to be good, because there was a shortage of workers. So, Vitya finished the courses that lasted several months, and became the youngest turner in our neighborhood. Even the factory newspaper published an article about him.

Vitya’s elderly neighbors felt pity for him. They said that poverty forced the boy to work and earn his daily bread, although he could go to school like his peers. They blamed Vitya’s mother for not being able to give her son an opportunity to finish the school. I can’t say whether she knew about the true motives of his decision, but we, Vitya’s best friends and fans of his engineering talent, didn’t know anything. He didn’t tell us the truth for a long time. When we met him, he always just smiled absently and winked at us with one or other of his colorless eyes.

Chapter 3

Vitya worked well. He didn’t drink or smoke, and brought all his wages to his mother, who now boasted to neighbors how good her serious-minded son was. Vitya was even going to attend a night school, although then he delayed his joining to the school again and again. But anyway, he always did his job with diligence. However, he preferred to work on evening or night shifts. There weren’t too many men who wished to work at night. So, it was easy to find some unoccupied lathes or other machine tools with those you could make something for your own needs at the end of the shift. In addition, as a rule, there were no supervisors in the workshop at the end of the night shift.

Chapter 4

Every man who has been interested in weapons since his childhood, as it seems to me, can’t pass up the opportunity to buy a hunting shotgun, when he becomes adult***. Especially if he was lucky enough to meet early on his life’s journey any real and serious-minded hunter who would infect him with his passion for hunting. In this case, after buying a shotgun, the majority of men lose the most part of their previous teenagers’ enthusiasm for different weapons, because their dreams come true.

By the way, I see it as a great achievement of our Russian hunting. It’s commonly known that hunting heals spiritual wounds (I can confirm this by my own experience), but it’s equally important that hunting heals young guys of excess passion for guns. Contrary to the opinion of a number of educators, I believe that the enthusiasm for weapons (within reasonable limits, of course) is perfectly normal for teenagers. But they must know and respect the law of their country. It isn’t a secret that many of our famous armorers (for example, Mikhail Kalashnikov****) were attracted to all kinds of weapons since their childhood. Some of them even had troubles with the authorities because of it. But then, thanks to good and clever people they met on their life’s journey, their passion for weapon-making was aimed in the right direction and became useful for society. In short, the destiny of a talented young man is largely determined by those who would be his mentors in his early years – serious-minded persons, fools, or even scoundrels. God forbid anyone would meet the last-mentioned ones in his youth!

Chapter 5

When Vitya became eighteen, he bought a double-barrel “TOZ-BM” shotgun legally and, as it seemed, was at peace with himself at last. Throughout the fall, winter and ten days of the spring hunting season, Vitya went out of town with his new shotgun every weekend. He liked his simple gun so much that it seemed as if even his weapon-making plans were put on a back burner for a while. We, teenagers who were five, six years younger than Vitya, often went hunting with him in any kind of weather and always marveled at his marksmanship. He shot really well with his shotgun. Especially if we take into account how poor his hunting experience was. I think that his earlier shooting exercises with different homemade guns played a role in it. The saying is right that every cloud has a silver lining.

In late March, the spring hunting season was closed in our area until fall. We could only go fishing. There were swarms of fishermen in our seaside town in those years. Perhaps one in two of them regularly hung out some new bundles of salt-dried fish on his balcony.

We boys were most attracted by night fishing. It’s so enjoyable for youngsters to spend a warm summer night sitting near a large and hot campfire, when the sky is black and full of stars, the surf swishes in the darkness, and the flames illuminate the tired, but happy faces of your friends. But I want to tell you about some things that were forbidden to discuss in the Soviet era. If you made a fishing trip with an overnight stay, it was desirable to have any kind of weapon with you. Although it was believed that law and order reigned in the USSR, but in fact, you might encounter completely unpredictable people and animals. During the night, your campfire could attract the attention of ruffians, drug addicts (both these categories of people were officially considered non-existent), poachers (their existence wasn’t refuted, but there was no much talk about them), or even a pack of stray dogs (it wasn’t customary to be afraid of them, but they were dangerous). So, it was reasonable to prepare for such meetings beforehand.

Of course, I run the risk of being branded as a hopeless coward and pessimist, especially since in my youth there were a lot of books about extremely brave kids. But my own experience gained in those years convinced me that it’s really dangerous to make a night trip without any weapon. And excessive boldness can be costly for a fan of the overnight stays under the open sky. My personal sad experience proves it.

Chapter 6

However, I think that our older friend was the one who worried about that the most. Being not only a man responsive to workers’ wishes but a passionate hunter and fisherman, at the closing of the spring hunting he was ready, of course, for the fruitful summer night trips. We, by all means, were getting ready to come along too; we were fixing our spoon-baits, rods and other fishing gadgets. By morning, our very first night trip became an encounter with numerous boneheads who spoiled all the fun for us. That morning encounter ended up in a big fight (they wanted to requisition our catch). Thank goodness, it ended that way; things could have been a lot worse – despite the overall direction to the bright future at the time, one of our visitors (or maybe more than one, who knows) had a Finnish knife on him, which he did not hesitate to get out in the heat of the conflict. When Vitya saw this he, of course, grabbed his handmade knife off his belt. Those musketeer fights at dawn in the countryside are interesting in movies, perhaps, but in reality they can easily end in a tragedy. Although, fortunately things did not go as far as a real movie-like knife fights, as friends dragged the opponents away in two different directions when they were about to throw themselves on each other, (in such small towns everybody knows everybody more or less – the guy with a Finnish knife worked at the same factory as Vitya did, in a different department, if I am not mistaken), — the fishing mood was completely spoiled. When those brats got out of there, we could not fish; we picked our spoon baits, rods and sadly trudged home, sleepy, exhausted and frustrated. All the way back home we were silent and only near his entrance our protector Vitya, a good soul, promised:

— That’s OK, guys. I’ll think of something so we can go fishing safely in summer too.

We realized that he was thinking about a new “System”.

Chapter 7

That gun (we saw it somewhere in the end of July) was different from its predecessor. It was twice as small and light as the former one, all metal, made from duralumin, brilliant, with a blued barrel and drum cartridges for six rounds.

Again, like when we were kids, we had a testing hike to the suburbs, only that time we put an old bucket on a hill instead of a pan. The day before that we managed to get a whole package of cartridges – 50 for a rather big sum of money in Soviet times – 10 rubles. Things like that were easy in the South during socialism; the system was simple: you pay — you get what you want.

That day we opened an intense quick fire on the poor bucket. The new gun shot beautifully, very straight (Orekh’s faithful friend, the Tall Boy soon grew tired of running, picking up a piece of kitchenware that kept getting knocked down by the shooting); there were still some difficulties with reloading and artisanal assembly, but nothing was to be done with that…

Finishing up his ammunition, Vitya announced that he now got it all and we would soon boldly go on any trips without fearing anyone.

However, that was the end of it, because soon came August, the new hunting season was opened; and we were able to walk around with Vitya’s shotgun. Fixing errors in the construction of a new «System» was postponed, as we thought at the time, until the next year.

Chapter 8

However, Vitya, the good soul he was, was not satisfied. He still worked as a turner at the factory, still preferring evening and night shifts, and when we older teenagers, came to him, as before, he was always sawing or polished something on his workbench, too small now for its grown up owner. Next to the table, there now stood a narrow, tall, multistory cabinet rising almost up to the ceiling, with many small lockers to store cogs, screws, screw-nuts, all kinds of small parts necessary for the craft. When Tall Boy and Zhorik climbed up there once to look for something interesting and stumbled upon the locks, Vitya, although a good soul, stopped them short:

— Guys, there is nothing in there for you; everything in there is necessary and important.

And we immediately stopped, recognizing his superiority. Teenagers feel their older friends’ talents especially acutely.

Chapter 9

Thus the winter passed and the spring came. And in the spring, as soon as the spring hunting season ended (it only lasted ten days), Vitya announced to us that his new «System» was ready (we dropped our jaws like little kids), and we could go test it.

We planned to do it next Sunday, but then it turned out that we had no bullets. So, instead of performing the planned critical tests, we had to spend the weekend looking for cartridges for the new weapon at the flea market outside the town. The four of us went, but we had no success. Cartridges are not vegetables, you cannot approach just anyone asking for such a thing, you have to become familiar there, look at people closely, make sure the right people see you from the right angle. You need both time and luck to do that. The habit has it that you never find a thing you look for right away.

We came home in the evening, discouraged and empty-handed. We were very disappointed – Tall Boy and Zhorik had already dug up some worms, doing their best to get ready for the night fishing, and now – it was over. We thought we could take a knife and go, but Orekh stopped us. He said, one week did not make any difference, and it was better to go later but under reliable protection than to risk another fight.

Last year’s conflict with strange hooligans at sea was still fresh in our memory, so we agreed. Besides, before we went fishing we really wanted to see Vitya’s latest creation, to assess it, as they say, from different points of view and without interruption. The major problem of adolescence is, in fact, that being fascinated by an interesting design or peculiarities of the exterior decoration, they cannot see the main function of a product. The thing is that however beautiful and attractive a firearm may appear its function is still murder…

Next Sunday we went to the flea market again. We stumbled through there until we almost got caught. Buying something necessary from under the counter at a flea market is a complex matter. During socialism, of course, they sold everything there, but sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you, one needed luck for every deal, even in those days. They try to get you to buy all kinds of trash except for what you need. Besides, you cannot expressively explain what you need, you have to use hints and learn diplomacy as you go. And what can you really learn on the run?

In short, we went to and fro and suddenly noticed that some very serious men started watching us carefully, too carefully. Uh, we thought, things are not looking good, we had to get out of there. We got on the bus quickly and left. We were glad on our way that we got away OK, but we still had no ammunition to try the product.

We were depressed indeed, only our senior fellow Vitya (a good soul never loses heart) says that there are no hopeless situations for a smart person (like himself, for instance). He turned out to be right, as always!

We did not have to go anywhere that time; he traded his little knife with a plastic inlaid handle that he had made in his childhood for a box of cartridges from an athlete shooter from our town. That guy stored his own small-bore rifle in his house; back then famous athletes were allowed to store their weaponry under lock and key, of course. Orekh got the ammunition the hard way that time – he had to give away his work, but he didn’t begrudge it at all, when it came to his friends; he was a kind person. When we found out about this heroic act we, his loyal friends, decided not to shoot too much and in vain to test the new «System» as we did the other times and save the expensive ammunition.

As I remember, we went on Sunday again. It was spring, the weather was wonderful, and flowers were blooming all around. The matured Orekh walked carelessly ahead, with his hands in his pockets and did not seem to have anything on him. His pockets did not bulge, nor did he take his vulgar briefcase, which he used to carry his first work when he was a teenager. The three of us walked slightly behind, kind of joking and talking about something, but really trying hard to understand where he put his latest work.

We walked for a long time. We wanted to get far from the town so that nobody could hear the gunshots and that citizens walking in the suburbs at the weekend would not disturb us. Finally, we got into the pit, where they used to get brick clay. We looked around and listened. It was quiet. Vitya, a good soul, smiled at us condescendingly and solemnly put his hand inside his jacket. He pulled it out. We gasped. It really was a work of art, a small, like a toy, duralumin revolver with a blued thick barrel and a tiny drum that easily fit in his hand. Orekh took the gun in his right hand, with his left hand he easily pushed the latch and a little blued drum silently jumped to the side as in the real “Nagan”. The sun was shining. The small shiny revolver on Vitya’s palm seemed to us an intricate, pretty Christmas decoration. Even nearly matured young men are a lot like children in their hearts.

When he fully enjoyed the effect produced on us, Vitya easily inserted cartridges into the drum, cocked the small blued trigger:

— There is one thing yet that does not work, — he sighed – I cannot make it automatic. All cowboys in the movies have automatic guns. — He paused and chuckled:

— OK, Tall, come on, put up the target!

That time our target was an old chamber pot thrown out by someone. Of the four shots Vitya never missed once. However, when we looked at the pot to evaluate the result of the firing we were very surprised, because none of the bullets pierced the wall of the pot — leaving deep dents, they bounced off. Our Edison was deeply puzzled by that fact. Examining his work from different sides, he concluded:

— Apparently, the trunk is a bit short. I wanted to make all the parts as small as possible, but apparently overdid it. But we’re not going to shoot someone with it, and this slapstick will do to scare off those jerk fishermen, because it looks quite militant. You wanna try it, guys?

Our joy, as I remember, had no boundaries.

Chapter 10

There was a short skinny guy Lyonya Malyshev living in the yard next to ours, whom we also all knew well. Some even respected him, but it was a strange kind of respect. You could hardly call him a guy, to be fair, — he was a mature married man in his late twenties. Although he looked a lot younger than he was — thin, slender like a boy, he had a child’s face and slightly curly fair hair. At first glance, nobody thought he was more than eighteen or twenty. His eyes made him look older though. The look in them, always suspicious, always expecting a trick or deception immediately revealed to an observant person Lyonya’s real age. He loved to argue, when he showed up near a large table, dug into the ground in our yard, where at the weekends when the weather was good people played dominoes or backgammon all day. I remember that we boys seeing Lyonya the Kid approaching tried to get closer. We knew that soon after his arrival there would be a conflict, probably followed by a quarrel. What more do boys need for fun? However, I must say that those quarrels sometimes developing into scandals and even into fights did not grow into something more serious, much to our yard’s benefit. Anyway, I do not remember a case that people who had quarreled almost to the point of fighting would not have said hello to each other the next day. In those years, the people in our yard were friendly and benevolent. And while everyone knew Lyonya’s kinks and realized that his arrival would surely bring an argument, they greeted him at our table with all friendliness, shaking his hand, and making room for him to sit down every time, even though they were sure that once he sat down he would pull a stunt.

Lyonya the Kid (as they called him behind his back) was known in our town as an excellent fisherman and a great poacher. However, during socialism fishery inspection often looked at  poaching through their fingers, because there was next to nothing in the stores other than herring, although we lived by the sea. That was why everybody in town knew our famous poachers without exception, but tried as much as possible not to disturb them, because you could easily buy caviar and salmon from them for holidays, since there was no other way of getting delicacies in those days.

The Kid was also good at catching the permitted kinds of fish; his whole balcony and apartment windows were covered with sprat hanging to dry. He always had some in his pockets offering it to every beer lover that he knew (as I mentioned before, in small towns everybody knew each other), and never took money for it. So, he too was a good-hearted man, somewhat like Vitya Orekh. Try and understand these good men.

By the way, they worked at the same factory, and even in the same department and both were considered proletarians. Lenya also preferred night shifts, however, not to earn extra money, but to leave daytime to fishing.

His wife Dusya, a slim, slightly plump blue-eyed blonde was once considered one of the greatest beauties of our town. I have no idea how a discreet unremarkable guy like Lyonya the Kid could win her favor. Actually, he almost did not drink (except beer with his sprat), did not smoke, perhaps earned extra during night shifts. In general, his hands were in place, their family had money, they were both well dressed, they had their clothes sewed by tailors. Again, they had fish – for the family, to have with beer and for sale. Almost everyday Lyonya dragged home full three-liter gallons of beer, having stood in a long line to the imported barrel in the square, fighting with somebody, of course, while at it.

They had no children and knowing the contentious Lyonya’s nature and his tendency to quarrels, we boys, did not especially envy Dusya, however dressed up and in gold, when we saw them on their balcony during long summer evenings hugging, having beer with vobla to the roaring of the tape recorder «Concertny» — a terrible rarity in those days.

Chapter 11

A good poacher is distinguished from other easy pickings fans in that he can get any fish at any time of the year, should there be a demand for it. And since during socialism our grocery stores were always half-empty, there was always a demand for underground fish and caviar. The Kid was never in want of a job, and therefore never lacked any money. You could always get some stellate sturgeon, sturgeon, and caviar from him in those years. He knew the good places and, of course, skillfully worked them. That was the reason why his poacher’s fame was great in our town. And though we boys asked him to take us fishing he never did. However hard we begged, whatever we promised it was all in vain. He did not trust teenagers, unlike our Edison. Yes, being colleagues from the same department with Orekh they took trips together. Those trips were not always successful. Vitya, a good soul, often treated us with sprat and a real sturgeon soup. It was indescribably delicious. After those treats, full and happy we respectfully watched the poacher Kid arguing as always, screaming loudly and gesturing violently at the dominoes table.

Chapter 12

Another year passed, we were probably finishing school when we started noticing that Lyonya and his beautiful Dusya somehow stopped understanding each other. Now they did not sit together during long summer evenings on the balcony eating Lyonya’s fish to music. Once or twice we heard them screaming at each other.

They said that Lyonya suspected his spouse, who, by the way, worked in the same department as her husband, to have a fling with some master. However, knowing Lyonya’s hot-tempered but easily appeased nature and harmless results of our yard quarrels with his participation, we did not pay much attention to those little scandals.

One summer, in July, as I remember, we were going night fishing. Of course we could not do  without our adult friend and protector Vitya Orekh and his «System». We went and invited him, and he suddenly refused. We, of course, insisted, — Let’s go! – we did not want to go without him late into the night. At first he protested, then confessed that he gave his «System» to Lyonya the Kid for the night. He was some good-hearted man! It turned out the Kid was going to fish “the rubella” (that what we called the sturgeon). As the trip was at night, prohibited by law, and dangerous in terms of possible conflicts, Orekh’s revolver was not excessive. The Kid promised to share his catch with Orekh to keep him happy. Considering the Kid’s popularity in the fishing sphere and the fact that they worked in one department, sort of like friends, Vitya, a kind soul, said yes. What is that Russian kindness! It does not go well with militant weapons…

And yet, even though we were younger than Orekh, and were used to trusting him and knew that he was always right, that time, it seems, for the first time we failed to understand him. Nobody dismisses kindness and Vitya was the kindest man in the world, but still…

After all Lyonya could lose such a wonderful thing as the «System» on a fishing trip or say that he had lost it and take somebody else’s gun. Nobody would go to the police to complain about it. The peculiarity of adolescent psychology and thinking, its tragedy lies in the fact that adolescents usually cannot admit the idea that a person who suddenly gets a piece of weaponry in his hands would not admire its design characteristics or finishing quality; he could be stupid enough to use it according to its purpose. It seemed that Orekh, a mature, grown up man, the owner of a hunting rifle, obviously did not accept such a possibility himself due to his naivety or natural goodness. But what can you expect from a genius?

However, although we were young then, younger than Orekh, and, of course, could not know what he was thinking, lending his battle revolver, but we admitted another possibility amongst ourselves: what if the Kid were to be forced to use the gun? What if, God forbid, the circumstances were such that he would have to do it?  What then? Would he agree to take responsibility for his actions? Claim someone else’s gun as his own? Even if he did, in a small town everyone knows whose work it is. They are quiet for the time being, of course. But if anything serious happens it will all come out. Is our oh so smart Vitya not able to assume such simple things? No, excessive goodness is not always good. You may have to pay for your kindness.

Our shaggy-haired friend called Tall Boy got quite upset: he liked the revolver’s last model very much and could not imagine that our idol Vitya could part with such a treasure for some vulgar fish and caviar even for one night. He was the youngest of us all, but suffered most acutely. It was an unpleasant surprise for us all.

That night we sat for a long time on the bench near our entrance expressing different assumptions. We did it so long that we did not notice that the night came. Finally we got up and wistfully went home.

All that night I had nightmares. First I was chased by some huge dogs, I escaped from them onto a tree, but the last branch that seemed the most reliable which was very hard to climb on suddenly broke off. Then I had to run away from hooligans on the beach armed with big knives shining in the moonlight. While running I carefully probed my numerous pockets (for some reason there turned out to be an awful lot of them), searching for something similar to the last «System» for my defense and could not find it, and the damned hooligans were hard upon my heals. Then some other stuff…

A sudden doorbell ring instantly serked me out of bed. Why that time I rushed to open the door before my parents, sleeping in the other room – I do not know; it never happened before… I opened the door. Vitya was standing in the threshold. At first I thought that he was really drunk — a pale, wrinkled face, lost look.

— Come, — he whispered, — go out for a moment.- Suddenly, tears streamed from his watery eyes. Without waiting for my answer, he stepped into the corridor, grabbed me by the shoulders and rattled very quickly:

— He, that bastard, the Kid, it turns out he did not take my «System» for fishing, you know? Do you understand?! Vitya was shaking me by the shoulders and kept whispering in my ear, then in my other ear, touching me with his unshaven face wet with tears:

— You know, he, a bastard, took my gun to the factory and there, a jerk, right in the shop made a scene to his fat Dusya, damned Othello. And then he shot her, the idiot! And then himself ..

— And what? — I cried in fright. – How are they both?!

They are both alive, thank God !! — Vitya suddenly yelled at the top of his voice, and I ran to close the door to my parents’ room, so as not to wake them. Then I ran up to him again,

— Alive! Now, they say, they are both in the hospital, delirious. Thank God that gun was homemade, it had weak shots. Remember, when we tested it on the pot?

— So everything is good. – I blurted out unwillingly, — Everything is OK. It would be worse if you had a battle gun… Everything is OK.

— No, it is not, — he interrupted me. — It is not. They say that he, a jerk, screamed in delirium, who gave him the gun. I just saw our surgeon Ryaboy, he removed the bullets… I am done now, do you understand?

And he burst into tears again. For the first time in my life I, a teenager, saw a grown up man, owner of a hunting weapon, crying like a baby so inconsolably. Indeed, childhood leaves some men quite slowly.

Chapter 13

Vitya was arrested the next day. He did not conceal anything, he told everything in detail (as turned out in court), about his designer attempts and thus really helped the investigation, which was also, of course, taken into account in sentencing. However, due to the fact that both — the victim Dusya and her jealous Othello — «murderer-suicide» were alive, the process was not complicated.

Lyonya Malyshev was sentenced to about five years, I think. I never saw him in our town after prison. Where he is now, I do not know.

Dusya, his ex-wife also disappeared somewhere after the divorce shortly after she was released from the hospital. Her appearance, thanks to the efforts of our surgeon Ryaboy – a man with hands of gold, almost did not suffer. As I remember, she only had a small scar left on her forehead. Well, nobody could look inside a person’s soul …

Victor — a good soul, it seemed to me, worried more than anybody related to this case; his hair turned gray and he bent over. He received a suspended sentence (they took into account that he was an orphan since childhood; moreover, the department reviews on this proletariat directed to the court were simply brilliant — an excellent worker, shock worker of communist labor (there used to be such a title), inventor and innovator, and so on.

We, the boys, who attended the trial (the process was open), were especially concerned about the penultimate review – we thought it was not exaggerated at all. And we were sure that getting such a slap in the face as a reward for his years of work, he abandoned his designer’s efforts and the world will lose the next Edison (or Kalashnikov, Mauser, Colt — whoever).

He was ill for a long time after the process; he sold his rifle, he almost never left his house.

Soon due to my studies’ business, I had to leave my hometown for a few years. I happened to come back there in ten years, and I suddenly ran into a sad-looking, completely gray-haired man. It took me much effort to recognize the idol of our childhood, the kindest guy in the world, Vitya, a good soul. He too recognized me with difficulty, and though he was in a hurry, he dragged me to the bench (we all come from childhood) and we got to talking. We spent an hour, and then another at the mutual: «Well, how are you?», «How are you?» We sat and remembered the old days, the kids from our yard. Then we mentioned work.

— You know, — for the first time during the conversation he smiled with an open smile so familiar from the childhood, — I still work at the factory. Although I graduated college by long distance. And I have a few copyright certificates and patents for invention. Now I am thinking over one thing…

And I was heartily glad to see that finally his talent although with some delay and difficulties, began to work in a direction useful to people.

2005 – 2006.


* “Korobeiniki” is a poem by Nikolai Nekrasov, one of the most famous Russian poets of the 19th century. The poem was first published in the October 1861 issue of “Sovremennik” magazine. The old Russian word “Korobeiniki” can be approximately translated as “vagrant traders.”

** “Finnish knife” is a Russian term for a Russian version of the traditional Finnish Puukko knife. In the beginning of 20th century, Puukko knives started becoming popular with criminals in major cities of the Russian Empire. Local knife-makers then began modifying the Finnish woodsman’s tool to make it more useful for fighting; for example, making the blade longer, changing from a flat back to a clip point, and adding a large guard. Because of the criminal association, the “Finnish knife” was banned in the Soviet Russia in the 1930s.

*** Buying a hunting shotgun is nearly the only possibility of legal possession of firearms for ordinary people in Russia.

**** Mikhail Kalashnikov (1919 – 2013) was a Russian general, inventor, military engineer, writer and small arms designer. He is most famous for developing the “AK-47” assault rifle and its improvements, the “AKM” and “AK-74,” as well as the “PK” machine gun.

About the author:

Igor Dyadchenko was born in 1953 in Stavropol.

 He is a member of the Union of Russian Writers. Author of 166 (including 109 tales and short stories) publications. Co-author of 28 books and collections (stories on nature, hunting, sports; on life).  He has been awarded 2 honorable certificates of the Union of Russian Writers. In 2012, he was awarded an honorary diploma by Herzen University.  2nd category Judo and Sambo wrestling coach.  In 2009, co-authoring with another coach, he released two textbooks on self-defense.  Winner of the «Heirs of the Victory» Literary Award (2015).

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