Changing masks

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Common sense in dealing with people is based on fraud.

The more civilized a society is, the greater are the lies and deception.

These maxims are discovered, oddly enough, in ancient Chinese manuscripts

Part one

When a man is torn off the wings he feels so much pain that he can only crawl in order to live and to move somewhere.

The author is not known

We flip over everything in our head, but we are afraid to change anything in our life.

The author is not known

Chapter 1

Friday night was extremely disgusting. Small wet snow was drizzling from the morning. The roads were promised to turn into frozen crust by night. It was time to think about how I can make it home. Instead, I wandered back and forth in the office of the board of directors and listened unpleasant monologue that company, in which I invested a “small” fortune will soon cease to be mine.

“Are you out of your mind?” — I asked with anger.

My eyes were flashing not really friendly at man who was quietly sitting in an office chair. This man’s name was Maxim. He was a short man with a small tummy. He drove a budget luxury car. Was married but recently divorced. Had no children. He had few pleasures in his life. There were few things to which he drew attention, except of work. He was Chairman of the board of directors and in the moment asked me to sign the documents for the sale of my shares, and therefore our company. I was one of the shareholders.

“Where did you get all the signatures?” I asked, once again puzzled looking at the paper.

The document was really adorned with signatures of all the members of the Board of Directors. Carefully written by hand full names of all participants with their autographs across the sheet were drawn on the last page. All fourteen.

Only fifteenth was missing.


“It’s a formality, Christina” Max said carelessly.

“Wow, a formality. You’re asking me to sell…” — I picked up the paper to check the numbers, — “fourteen percent of the shares. My entire package” — I threw the paper back. — “And it does not say to whom. It smells of financial fraud. Considering the presence of all signatures — a big fat fraud.”

Maxim winced with annoyance

Knowing his manner to bring everything to the end, I had no doubt that his decision on the sale is final. But he had completely forgotten about the “minor” factor. About my opinion on the matter. Max dared to send me a letter with the conditions and requirements. To me, as if I was a member of the board of directors of the company. Our company.

“Christina, calm down” — softly said the man with blond hair and gray eyes that watched my nervous movements in the office.

“I’m calm” — I said through clenched teeth, swallowing. — But… how could I say… softer… outraged to the depths! You deprive me of my share of the stock, and, as a consequence, dividends, and, as a result, a constant additional income. Significant, I dare say. And you do it, without even consulting me. You decided to write me a letter, not to talk about the true reasons in face.”

“And what I am doing now?”

“Come on!” — I winced. — “You know perfectly well what I mean,” — I stopped for a moment throwing a withering look at Max. — “How about my name also mentioned in the documents?”

“It is mentioned. No doubt. That is why without your signature I won’t be able to do anything.”

“My God!” — I stopped again and made a hole in the ceiling with my glance. — “Your ego!..” — I didn’t have the words to express my outrage.

Max said nothing.

“You sell a company that means more than money to me. I gave it my energy, nerves, heart. ‘Maxichris’ took the best years of my life.”

“Have mercy on me” — a man conciliatory shrug and smiled, — “I have heard enough of this during divorce.”

“You are just…” — I grimaced — “just… impossible. I can’t find words to describe your behavior, which by the way has no excuses. How dare you ask me to sign all these…” — I grimaced contemptuously and made a contemptuous gesture to the papers — “documents!”

“It’s very simple, Christina” — Maxim put his hands on the table, clasped his fingers in lock. — “I told you that this is a formality. You sign the documents, then another, and your valuable shares return to you in greater numbers and with greater dividends.”

“Something I do not see another set of documents…” — I said skeptically.

“It will be a little later.”

“Yeah. In business there are no promises. You know that.”

“Listen to me, please” — absolutely calmly continued Max.

“It stinks” — I threw at him an angry glance, understanding that he was quite expecting such a stormy reaction and thought over his answers to all of my angry remarks.

“Impossible to talk to you…” — Max acknowledged crossly.

“Because you have done everything possible for that” — I said, at the same time I knew that the decision of the financial Manager of the company as well as Chairman of the Board of Directors is final.

What was I supposed to do? To be angry and quiet. Actually, even more. Rage is the most adequate word. And Max gave me time to overboil.

“Do not exaggerate. Think of it as a rebranding of the company. I explained everything to you.”

“Yes. The Golden share goes from point A to point X. I think I deserve a more detailed explanation.”

“To begin with, you have your own company, which is doing well. By the way, you are rolling in money.”

“So what?!” — I shouted more loudly than I wanted at first feeling that irritation arises with a new vigor again. — “I request you to explain me from the first to the last point why you started all this, how you collected signatures and who gets the controlling stake. Ah, and one more. Why do you deprive me of all the shares? The half would not be enough?”

“First of all, it is not so simple.”

“What is not so simple?” — I was surprised. — “To explain me everything?”

“And secondly, there are a lot of legal delays.”

“You can omit it” — I bent over the table and drilled the man with glance. — “But believe me, I will not leave it this way.”

“Are you threatening me?” Max skeptically raised an eyebrow, allowing himself a slight smirk.

“Yes,” — I nodded. — “I’m threatening you.”

“As far as I remember,” — the man continued, — “before you only cared about money regularly coming to your account.”

I frowned, thinking about his words, and again began to pace around the room. He was right, but only partly.

“Don’t do this, okay?” — I said sarcastically. — “Because you know very well how much I invested in our company.”

“But you should admit it, it is about money.”

I wanted to say that it is not the case, and it was about principles, own business, etc. But, recalling the statement of the famous American economist Frank Hubbard, I said nothing. He said something like: “If they say you that it is not about money, but about principle, than it is about money.” Max knew that phrase and brought the conversation to such logical ending. Degree in psychology allowed him to manipulate me in some ways over the last few years. May be, to some extent, this phrase was true; I didn’t want to argue because I was short in the arguments.

“Okay, let it be” — I subsided, saying to myself that it is only for a while. — “Can you at least say who you sell our creation?”

“Christopher.” — Max said it calmly as if he was ordering tea for breakfast.

I drowned in a sudden outbreak of emotions. I felt like poured with cold water.


“You heard right. Christopher Logner.”

“You’re completely sick!” — I touched my temple to show with my posture that I in no way doubt in my words.

I vigorously kicked the pot with a large flower, standing on the floor near the window. It lamentably trembled but did not fall. Running my fingers through my hair to the back of my head, as if trying to get rid of delusions. Then I fell on a chair for visitors, standing near the table of Maxim, helplessly dropping my head on my palm.

I imagined forthcoming future in the company that was yet ours. No, Chris was not a tyrant or a despot. Communicating to him was pleasant, but to do business… I avoided it very thoroughly all these long years that I knew this man. Even in a nightmare I could not have dreamed that Chris may be my boss. Why will he be my boss? Because… I quickly figured the prospects of further turn of events. And this nightmare that I never have had was to become a reality.

“Don’t worry that much, Christina,” — I heard Maxim’s voice. — I made an agreement. He’ll hire you. And you will get your shares the same day.

That would prove it.

My forecasts are true sometimes. But I was not going to surrender without a fight.

I stared at Maxim.

“Did I hear right? You want me to abandon my job to start working for Chris? You want to buy me off in this way? Or what?”

“No, I just need someone to care for our…” — he stopped short. — “For the company. It seemed to me that you are a great option.”

Great! I’m just an option!

Yes, he mocks or gloats.

“You probably don’t know” — I sucked on words. — “What were you thinking when assumed such complex reasoning on my part?”

“And you’re not happy working for him?” — Max grinned sarcastically — “And yet, let’s leave the elucidation of the causes of the deal to better times.”

“No, Max. We will not leave. I want to know everything here and now. Or I…”

“What?” — Max interrupted me wearily, logically assuming that I will not tell him what I can do with him, because of his fatigue and the icy calm.

“I’ll just kill you!” — I glared at him, deceiving all his expectations.

At the moment it was very hard to control myself. Anger, resentment, irritation — all mixed up inside, ready to spill out a big scandal, or God knows what. I could not decide because I didn’t understand why Max is doing this to me.

“Okay, enough is enough” — the man said calmly. — “There’s nothing you can change, Christina.”

“I can not to sign the papers” — I chuckled and said categorically, leaning back in my chair.

Maxim looked at me like I was a little capricious girl.

“You will sign it.”

“No. I will not sign,” — Chairman of the Board of Directors is not the only one who could have the last word. — “Either you offer me something very serious in return, or I stand by my opinion and your company’s sales will cry.”

Maxim grinned.

“Do you think that I cannot offer you an alternative?”

I shrugged, waiting for him to continue his story.

“First of all, you’ll still earn dividends until the signing of the new documents. But the sum will change; it is going to be not fourteen percent, but six.”

“Trying to buy me?” — I snorted.

“Come on. You know better than me that everyone has the price. But,” –Maxim continued — “Maxichris” will benefit from it in the future, because the active circulation of shares on the market will raise their price. Besides, you can always buy back what you need.”

“Did you know that with the change of the owner the share price will fall?” — I asked casually.

“It isn’t that bad, Tin. We are not Microsoft. I don’t think you will notice significant differences.”

“You know, fourteen percent is essentially different from six.” — My remark sounded mercantile.

“Okay, let’s stop this bickering,” — Maxim shrug casually. — Secondly, Chris promised not to offend you with wages. And then, the company is not going anywhere. Our head branch is still in Spain. Of course, there are some hitches, but I’ll take care of these things soon.”

“Is there anything that forced you to abandon control over “Maxichris?” — I did not yield.

“Well,” — he was slightly embarrassed. — “Here, too, there are some problems.”

“For example.”

“Tomorrow, when signing papers, you can get acquainted with more detailed information.”

“Do you give me time to think? How noble of you.”

“Yes. Juliana will bring you originals tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow is Saturday, Max” — I whined, shoing with all my appearance that I was not going to engage in this nonsense in my weekend.

“Christopher insisted that the signing was done seeing Strauss concert in the Palace of the Republic. At the same time, you can rest and relax.”

“Fine,” — I remarked skeptically.

Scenes of tomorrow’s cultural events flashed inside my mind. The orchestra playing great music on a big stage, a concert hall full of people, a cozy green chairs. Actually, it would be nice to visit long-forgotten concert hall it’s splendor was overshadowed for me with forthcoming conclusion of weird deal.

“Well, I don’t know, Max,” — I had doubts still.

“Don’t worry, Tin. Everything is under control.”

I grunted:

“Oh, sure.”

“Go home. Everything will be fine. Trust me,” — Max smiled.

This situation seemed absolutely ridiculous to me. Considering the perspectives, I was strongly disagrees with the decision of the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the company. I didn’t like everything. Though, my situation might be not that bad. Dividends have to still come to my account regularly. After all, I had as much as fourteen per cent of the shares. It is still six, even though officially I was not a shareholder. Even though this was still up in the air, which confused me; the situation was similar to those where you are a rich man according to papers, but have not a coin in reality. However, for the same reason, I could not deny Maxim’s statement about the price of securities in the market. The firm was successful, and I periodically made successful deals at the stock market that gave me a good extra income. If to consider it just a deal, the overall picture is not sad. I have to wait for the second package of documents with the official restoration of my board membership. As for the change of ownership, in addition to the fall in the price of our shares, I could expect a few more minor troubles. And, as far as I knew Maxim, he was not going to step back, even if I was not entirely pleased with future collaboration with Christopher.

“Well, okay,” — I almost resigned. — “But if you’re trying to get rid of me…” — I stopped, assuming that a hidden in my voice threat was quite expressive.

Maxim grinned.

“Well, Tin. Tomorrow Juliana will bring you all the necessary paperwork. I rely on you.”

“Maybe I’ll do what you want, boss,” — I had no choice but to mock. — “I will try to do everything in my power,” — I gave a strained smile and left the office, pressing the remote start button of my car engine.”

The light corridor did a little turn to the right and abuts a small exit door. There, in the stairwell of the second floor, close to the director, staffs are permitted to smoke.

I ignored this turn and went straight. Left and right doors housed all sorts of agents, managers, accountants, economists and translators. The door to the office where I was asked to leave my coat was the last on my way. The corridor ended with desk of office assistant.

I went into the office. A small table of the chief economist stood to the right of the window. The daylight lamp, stationery set, monitors, keyboard, mouse, shelves for paper were lying on the table — things that were common in any office. Several pens and pencils were scattered on the desk.

Glancing at another table, which stood near the opposite wall, I noted that the papers on it were in complete disarray. The owner of this mess, must’ve been at home by now.

Trying not to be distracted by extraneous and unpleasant to me things, I put a coat on. I went out the door and closed the office. For the time of negotiations I was given a key, which I always left on the desk of office assistant. After that I went down the spiral staircase to the first floor and went outside.

Squally cold winter wind made me hold my breath. I hurried to the car, feeling glad that I figured to turn on the engine in advance. My car should already be warmed to the required temperature.

And so it was. The climate control worked properly and quickly, despite the recent switching on.

I waited until my car became a bit warmer, and hit the gas. The snow creaked with protest under winter tires and my silver Mazda 3 went on clean road.

Friday night gave me a big surprise. Nothing remained but to prepare for tomorrow night, because there was nothing else I could come up with.

Chapter 2

The wind threw prickly snowflakes in my face. They fell by the bench where I was sitting. The yard was cold and quiet…

Day after day I had the feeling that something is changing around… inside… I could not understand, was it good or bad. It didn’t matter. Anyway, that change was inevitable.

Cold crept into the folds of warm clothes, tangled in my hair and pinching my cheeks.

I smiled.

Maybe it is about winter coming? The tough year was about to end. The nature fell asleep. Was I falling asleep with it? No.

The last time when I came home and cried for no reason about an hour — at that moment I knew that I was losing my friends. Life was about to break us apart. As now I remember the feeling of inevitability, surging at me… However, there was understanding that we had nothing in common. I was hurt, but there was nothing I could do about it. It was a fact — an undeniable and unchangeable. This was five years ago…

Something very similar was happening to me today: something was changing around.

Oh yes! The day before yesterday my partner told me one very “pleasant” news. Not surprisingly, I was overwhelmed by those premonitions.

“Well, okay. Enough is enough.” — I said to myself and looked at the clock.

The hour and minute hands of the clock stopped at half-past six, while the second continued to run forward.

Yeah, no way to stop.

I got up and looked around. Lights were lit up for quite a long, cutting the cold night with a cold yellow light. It was broken into small particles and reflected in fragments of snowflakes on the cold asphalt.

I headed toward the Palace of the Republic.

Christopher — the old friend of ours — had some weakness for music. And he couldn’t miss this great concert. But why would he want to think about work after such an inspiring action was beyond my understanding. I had to accept this fact as a whim.

The evening promised to be intriguing.

As Max said me before, immediately after the concert, interested persons (me and Christopher) should go to the restaurant to discuss the nuances of interest. I still couldn’t accept the fact that Maxim sells the firm, and just decided to raise my price. After all, would this deal happen or not depends on me so they have to propose me something really exciting to get my signature. I barely understood this theme. It was to be clarified by documents that Juliana has to bring, she was our company’s office-assistant. To say the truth, I would call her a secretary. She was not that a really office-assistant.

As always, I have to clear up the numbers and papers and to sign it as a member of the board of directors. Actually, Max was great with numbers and I didn’t understand why was this circus with Strauss. Why not to solve all the issues yesterday, at the board? I would tame my temper, if I was told all perspectives and nuances. Then, if new conditions were ok I would restrain from making threats and sign the necessary papers. Max would give it to Christopher today.

I sighed.

Nevertheless, I’m here now — a few steps from the Palace of the Republic, determinate the destiny of our company.

Juliana, who was to bring me the papers, did not understand numbers. She got her position of office assistant in a well-known manner. She was not particularly knowledgeable, financial issues were Chinese characters for her, and the jurisprudence… this word she did not know. Pretty face with blue eyes, accurately outlined cheekbones, broad face, white hair, big breasts, long legs, glamorous clothing. On the whole, everything that typical men like. And I couldn’t stand blondes. Needless to say, I’m a brunette. Not that I hated and considered myself smarter than everyone else… just…

Phone ring distracted me from malevolent thoughts.

“Are you there?” — asked Maxim.

“Almost,” — I replied.

“Well then, Christina, listen to me. Our Juliana had already arrived. She transferred the money to your account. This is the last large amount of your fourteen percent of the shares.”

How frustrating was so to hear the proof of my venality.

“She? Made a transfer of money?” — I winced.

In our age of information technology to make a transaction was a matter of seconds, but today stock market does not work as well as most of banks. So Max did this all yesterday. I’d have to timely check my account.

“Do not carp at my words.” — He told.

“No, I’m just worried that she might get lost in the terminal. The tricky thing, you know.”

“Don’t get back on Julia because of your resentment. It has nothing to do with it. I made a transfer of money. She made a confirmation of the transfer, that’s it.”

“Damn, Max. You know Chris personally. How can you ask me to participate in this?”

“Enough of it, Tin,” — the man said sharply. — “Have some shame. Your job is to check the numbers and to make a few signatures. That is what I paid you money for and mind it, I will continue to do so.”

“Okay, boss,” — I hissed through clenched teeth, stood on the neck of my pride, and hung up.

I frowned again. My stubbornness (or it was pride) told me to immediately change my mind and not to dare to sign papers. However, yesterday I they bought me and I had to accept this fact. A few years ago when I just met Maxim, we have established a strong superior-subordinate relationship. Max gave the order, and I executed. No, it was not like in any other company. I was considered a full-fledged companion, but Maxim he clearly gave me to understand where my powers end and his begin. This boundary was never violated. But recently, I became the founder of the company “Maxichris” investing a large sum of money in it.


I turned around. Juliana hasted to me. Her long white hair was flying in the cold winter wind, falling on collar of luxury fur winter coat. Her long legs were seen from under the coat.

I shivered. I do not dare to go out in skirt in this weather.

To complete the picture, she wore a pair of boots with high heels. She held her purse and briefcase in her arms.

“Here,” — she handed me the bag, “there are all the necessary papers. I think you need to watch it before the transaction. Let’s go to the cafeteria. I’ll show you everything…”

She kept talking, but I didn’t listen. I looked at the black Mercedes entering the parking lot. I glanced at the number.

It was Christopher.

Lots of thoughts and suspicions distracted me from reality. Christopher undoubtedly should be satisfied with the future deal, but why Julia knows more details than I do? I knew that she was a secretary at the company, and I was “just” an investor. Yes, I worked in a different place, but it was not the reason for Maxim to do confidant an ordinary secretary.

“Your king has arrived,” Julia said sarcastically and brought me back to reality.

“What?” — I frowned.

“Come on, everybody knows that something happens between you for several years,” — woman said in arrogant manner.

“How about this girl that came along with him?” — I pointed out the opening car door, — “Does it say anything to you? How about these year, as you say, full of girls hovering around — brunettes, blondes, brown-hairs, all the sorts of the ‘ladies’, as he prefers to call them?”

“Don’t be vexed.” — Julia grew serious. — It happens that the hero-lover has a lot of women, and women like you lose.”

“Did you sleep with him?” — I smiled at her smug. — “Where did you get such a deep awareness of tastes of men?”

Julia’s blue eyes narrowed. She was like a snake, ready to jump.

“Oh!” — I was surprised by unpleasant feelings moving deep inside me.

“Don’t use your psychological stuff on me,” — pouted the blonde. — “A broken heart is painful, I know…”

I snorted and decided not to listen to this nonsense, headed towards the café.

Julia chattered still. I interpreted her thought as “unattainable ideals, a desperate concubines, arrogant men and unworthy woman.” I hardly listened to her, sincerely wishing for concert to begin soon.

No such luck.

I spent some time studying the papers that made me completely confused. Unable to withstand verbal diarrhea of incomparable Juliana about Christopher, I “asked” her to shut up and made a more detailed review.

Max must be gone mad. I was convinced of it when I started to understand the documents. He really was going to sell Christopher a controlling stake. Thus he gave into the ownership all our tourist company. And even if I was to some extent reconciled with this fact, I became speechless when I saw the price our company. Maxim asked a peanut for “Maxichris”.

Any tax inspector will rejects the legality of this transaction!

Nevertheless, further study of the papers made me even more confused. All documents were all right. The evaluation of property did not arouse doubts. Audit report told (between the lines, of course) that our company was almost a bankrupt and was not able to cover debts, it could not attract funds, and to contract it was completely not profitable, because nobody would want to cooperate with us. No Bank would give us a loan, since we will have nothing to give as a deposit.

Unable to believe my eyes, I dialed Mux’s phone number.

“Can you explain this to me?” — I said him with malice, when he picked up at last.

“Christina, take it easy,” — Max immediately realized what I was talking about, and was not surprised absolutely.

“I’m calm” — I replied in the same tone. — “How long ago have you decided not to send me truthful quarterly financial reports? Who was that Pushkareva who made it? I don’t even know if I should ask Chris to fire her or to promote? It’s my firm, Max!” — I raised my tone. — “Have you just asked me to come back, there would not be such a situation. My job is to prevent this!”

Maxim was silent, apparently letting me to speak.

“Is this why you overpaid me my dividends?” — I asked. — “So I would not ask questions about this?”


“What?! I sell myself, but there are limits”, — I muttered.

My patience came to an end.

Not only you sold our creation but you also don’t have courage to say why you did it! Now I have to work in “Maxichris” to fix this… absurd. And do you know what I’ll do in the first place? I will insist that Chris has fired our chief accountant and replaced our state managers and economists. They are completely worthless specialists.

“Tin, not to exaggerate, we can…”

“We can?” — I interrupted the boss. — As far as I know, no such thing as “we” anymore. This is not your and not my firm.”

A short pause.

“Listen, don’t do this to me. At first, Christopher could raise a company and he decided to hire you.”

I chuckled. It was not surprising, because Chris had long wanted to be closer to me.

“You should have not brought the situation to the point,” — in the same tone I replied. — Since when did you become illiterate in financial matters? The man, who transmuted my investment into profit on a company picnic, fucked up in issues of his own economy.

“...Second,” — as if nothing had happened he continued, — “your dividends will continue to be regularly delivered to your account.”

“You only talk about my dividends!”

“Do you refuse it?”

This question chilled my enthusiasm.

This question chilled my enthusiasm.

“No, well…”

“That’s nice. And third, go enjoy the concert and make this fucking deal. And we will discuss the details later in my office. Ok?”

“What is there to discuss, Max? Now even I tam agree with this selling. I’m afraid, only Christopher can pull the firm from such a miserable condition. Even though I don’t trust him to the end, he knows his job. In a year or two he will increase income.” — I thought a little, — “five, and maybe even six times.”

“I don’t think he is so good.” — I almost saw this skeptical look of Maxim.

“Of course,” — I said. — “You’re used to measure everybody by your standards.”

“You are insulting me, Tin!”

I smiled bitterly.

“Just as you say. If you want to talk, on Monday, maybe I’ll listen to you.”

“Okay,” — he replied and hung up.

I looked up with anger. It was impossible and unbearable. They cheated me and hid it in a clumsy way. Yeah, Max had rarely been done beautiful gestures.

How to name this?

It have not stand in my mind how could a company with such amount of debt to maintain unchanged the amount of the dividend. It has not diminished not by a penny. Of course, the documents listed the credits, but they did not cover payments to shareholders. Although the transactions made on the stock market could make such sums, but in order to figure it out, I needed a bit more time than fifteen minutes. Still, it became clear that the company had not any profit. There is nothing to think about. I closed my eyes. Long time since I felt myself so much broken and drained!

A prostitute! They fucked me and thrown money to my face.

And I took it.

And no way to wash off the dirt.

And who is to blame? Only I myself ' cause I honestly believed in the decency of Maxim and its reports.

My self-esteem was still trying to scream that it’s not my fault that the money had closed my eyes and that the situation sometimes may get out of control…

But no. Self-criticism came soon after self-pity. I was “smart” enough to invest my money in the enterprise, not keep track of the funds spending and trust Maxim. As a result, we sell a company where I was not last person. I had remember that there is no a full control in business. And yet I had to remember as old as the hills telling: “If you want to have something done right, do it yourself”. No wonder my parents carved it in my head for many years.

I sighed. The decision came instantly. I will sign all necessary documents. But I will find the truth before this, whatever it will cost to me.

I raised my eyes to the ceiling and saw that Julia was still smiling and watching me with anticipation. Now more than ever, I wanted to hit her silicone lips.

She handed me a ticket.

“The loggia?” — I was surprised when read.

“Well, Chris is generous giving gifts to his mistresses,” — Julia smiled.

Apparently, she timely noticed malevolent sparkle in my eyes, so she very quickly retreated.

And I was so hoping to pull her by hair. This would help me to blow off steam.


I was incredibly excited giving clothing in the wardrobe. In addition to the myriad thoughts in my head, I could expect a few more surprises. What this bright brunette prepared for me? Not much understanding theatrical procedures, I suspected that no one else but us will be in the lodge. Or I hoped for this?

Business in the first place. Everything else goes later. Knowing Christopher’s habits there was not doubt in “everything else”.

Shaking my head, I banished unwanted thoughts.

Passing broken escalators, I began to climb up little strange steps. If I remembered right, lodge that I needed was on the floor of the amphitheater. Or is it the balcony floor?

The second or the third floor?

The second stairs span greeted me with a wonderful panoramic view of the glass window in the height of the room. I was always fascinated with the splendor of the halls. These highly polished tiles, the handrails shiny as well, neat stairs, elegant doors… It is beautiful for common man. It would be perfect if there was not glamour of the soviet time on it: broken escalators and something else that I could not explain myself. Maybe I remembered those old concert halls, and maybe, just heard about the back side of such places from a friend who worked in the theater. Or from friend who was a carpenter and made a door for this place. Such places are all the same. If they belong to state.

Yet the Palace of the Republic was a beautiful shell, concealing a lot of flaws. It was like a ripe apple with a worm inside. Not evident until you bite it. Thank God, I did not come here to bite.

After wandering the back streets and ran floors several times, I finally found the place.

Christopher met me at the entrance to the guest lodge. He slowly glanced at my sunday costume: light black polo with the right depth of cut, silvered by small silver rhinestones, black pants, its decoration merged into a single picture with decoration of the top, boots on a small heel. Briefly gazed up at my bare neck, adorned with the pendant with a silver flower on a silver chain, and then his eyes went a little lower, apparently assessing the depth of the neckline. No doubts, Chris already stripped me in his mind. And he was not going to hide a devious twinkle in his green eyes.

I responded with the same, paying attention to his appearance. Tempting unbuttoned top button of black satin shirt, that conceals the temptations of strong tanned body, black pants without creases, well-polished shoes. All the clothes was high-quality, probably made to order, and cost a lot of money. It looked expensive and “delicious”.

Chris opened the door and, like a true gentleman, kissed my hand and skipped forward.

“Begins”, — I thought.

There were few others people in the lodge. There were no a girl that Chris helped to come out of Mercedes. For some reason I felt better.

Christopher made an inviting gesture, pointing me at my place. It was third from the wall. His place, as I supposed, was the last. So it was, the man sat down, immediately preventing me from chance to flee, because the fat woman was on the other side.

“I am pleased to welcome you at the concert of Vienna Strauss orchestra named “King of waltz,” — said Chris in a tone as if showed me the Pope. — “Long time have not seen you, Tin.” — Slight sincere smile touched the lips of Christopher, transforming his face.

“Thank you. I’m glad to see you. Where’s your new girlfriend?” — I smiled.

“Are you jealous?” — The man dazzling smiled, showing two rows of white teeth.

I sighed.

The next second the lights on the ceiling began to fade.

“We’re almost late,” — Chris said.

Kapellmeister came on the stage; he had a bow instead of wand in one hand and a violin in another. He greeted us in bad Russian with a terrible accent. Public reacted with a standing ovation on it.

Christopher leaned toward me and whispered.

“It is Peter Guth. He maintains the tradition of the Strauss family, he will play the violin and direct with the bow.”

“And you personally know him, don’t you?” — I squinted.

“Everything is possible,” — the man slyly smile and answered mysteriously.

Peter Gut told us how happy he was to see us in this concert hall. His quite a long story slightly touched the biography of the wonderful Strauss family. During a monologue musicians appeared on the stage and sat in their places. Then the Kapellmeister announced the first piece, and quiet music sounded in the large hall. Gentle sound of music spread the stage, turning into a fast polka.

“Chris,” — I whispered to his ear. — “What is the name of this melody? Honestly, I do not quite understand what the Kapellmeister said.”

“Polka ‘Trictrac’ he replied and handed me a program.”

So I heard correctly.

“And, by the way, Natalie is not my girlfriend.”

Probably he meant the girl that came with him. He had the manner to alter all the names in the European manner. That is why we say Max instead of Maxim, and everybody calls me Tin.

“How come?” — I was surprised, raising my eyes from the programs, which I tried to learn in vain. — “She rides your Mercedes, and you…” — I hesitated.

“Well? What you wanted to say?” — He asked, placing his hand on the chair behind my head, leaning closer to me.

I also had to move very close to Christopher, because the neighbors shushed at us.

“You know perfect what I mean.”

“Do I sleep with her?” — Chris grinned. — “Since when do you care?”

I was confused; fortunately the darkness in the lodge did not allow him to see it.

We did not return to the discussion about his girlfriend, and did not start other conversations, wisely deciding that it is worth to listen to a concert.

The music changer the rhythm from waltz to polka then evolved to a melody that can turn the whole inner world, not for a moment never leaving me indifferent. Some funny situations have diluted the seriousness of the concert. At first I didn’t like it. After all, I thought, all we were here to enjoy the music, not to laugh as if it was an evening of humor. But then I ceased to be annoyed and start to really enjoy. Several times the guy and the girl went on stage, they merged with the melody, floated in the rhythm, dissolving in the diversity of the notes. Then came the woman in the gorgeous gown with a strong Opera voice and sang with such enthusiasm that I caught myself with a tear rolling down my cheek. But next moment she came on stage again dressed as a peasant, pretending drunk, and laughed so much that the walls shook! The public was delighted with her alteration! The lady had a bottle of beer in her hand. She adhered the Kapellmeister, then went into the concert hall, flirting with the first line of chairs. Along the way she lost her shoes and completely barefoot, climbed up on the stage, without stairs.

We have long applauded her.

Then Peter Guth spoke again and told us about next part of the program.

I enthusiastically listened to the music.

Pretty soon the intermission began. It is true about time: when you enjoy, really enjoy, the time flies. This happened when I was with Christopher talking to him.

Chris brought two coffees and we talked about the concert, sharing experiences and discussing dancers, musicians and acoustic features of the hall.

In the second act there were some more funny situations. For example, I was amused that the illuminator directed spotlight on a utility worker who came on stage only to pick up a microphone stand. The awkward situation lasted for a few seconds. The worker froze, realizing that eyes of all the concert hall audience were on him.

At the end they played famous “The Blue Danube”. The audience applauded so much after they heard the first chords that the orchestra had to play it twice.

Probably I did not hear such delicate sounds since childhood. Music played inside me throwing and lifting. It was in me. It could not exist without me as well as I couldn’t exist without it.

When the music stopped, the public did not allow orchestra to leave. The applause did not abate. People gave a standing ovation. We could not let the musicians go, because we have become a part of this big, grand sound. It turned us up-side-down. It brought up the most hidden feelings of ours. We did not want to resign ourselves to the fact that the concert ended.

And the orchestra played. They performed a fragment from the operetta “die Fledermaus”. We all became a part of this. We stomped and clapped our hands following the rhythm, as children, yielding to the guidance of Peter Guth. We felt such aching delight, and they played two more pieces. Then children from the audience came on stage. One little boy had a birthday, and he had the honor to conduct the orchestra. He diligently beat four quarters with bow. The Kapellmeister formed a group of the youngest, and they walked down the lines by cheerful dancing procession.

But everything ends. No matter how much I wanted to continue, the concert was completed. It seemed that I tirelessly could listen again and again to these magical sounds. I did not want this miracle to end. I and Christopher clapped our hands until they ached. No one left in the lodge except of us by that time.

“We’re not in a hurry,” — Chris looked around and said.

I slightly hesitated. The mischievous glint in his eyes warned me that I had to be careful.

“Do we have business to do?” — I asked.

“How can you think about business now, Tin?” — The man was surprised. — “After such a wonderful concert.”

“Note,” — I smiled. — “It is not my whim.”

“Yes,” — Chris thoughtfully bowed. — “Can we go to Byblos now but not for the paper verification, we could just sit, have some drinks, smoke hookah, as in the good old days. Continue to relax. Why to rush? Besides, imagine this crowd near the wardrobe now.”

I carefully avoided his gaze.

“If you want to leave the parking lot in the near future, we have to go.” — I bypassed the man and headed for the exit.

“Am I mistaken, or you are afraid to be alone with me?” — Gently drawing me by the hand, asked Chris.

I wanted to say something, but he was quick.

“What is it?” — He moved very close to my face. — “Are you crying?”

Sometimes music affected me so much. Especially today. These melodic sounds, these children, these miracles, which may immerse me into the world of childhood. Moreover, I did not socialize for quite a long time. No need to hide what I was deep in work, very deep… over the last few years.

“No, this is…” — I tried to argue, but I didn’t find what to say.

The man pulled out a handkerchief and began to gently wipe away my tears.

“Chris,” — I recoiled.

“You’re so tense,” — his voice sounded soft and comforting. — “Uncomfortable with men? How long since you had…” — he smiled, knowing my aversion to direct designations juicy-sexy things. — “Had a relationship?”

“I have a fairly strong relationship.”

“Yeah, I see,” — he didn’t believe it. — “You shy away from me as from a leper.”

“It is worth noting, Chris, I know you a little better than your temporary girlfriends. I should shy away from you.”

Chris laughed. Softly, from the heart.

“Do I bite so much?” — He smiled.

His smile was magical, bewitching. I always found it difficult to control my emotions when he sincerely smiled. And he knew it. And always used it.

I also could not help but smile.

“Let’s go. We should complete the transaction,” — I said.

“If you want,” — shrugged Chris.

The twinkle in his eye testified that he thinks not about the deal.


We got stuck in crowd on the stairs. It slowly crawled down the stairs, reluctantly moving towards the closet.

“I did not like these dancers a lot,” — said one woman to another walking right ahead of us.

“Why?” — Asked her companion.

“It was an awful choreography. Who created a dance routine? They don’t feel the rhythm and move… Pfff.”

I delicately smiled. There are people who just have to criticize, rather than enjoy. Although, if you understand dances, it’s hard not to see flaws.

Upon reaching the wardrobe, we could not take our clothes for quite a time. When we finally got dressed and stepped out into the cold evening air, frost immediately took us into prickly embrace. Glancing at another jam at the exit of the Parking lot, Chris suggested walking to the restaurant which was only half a block from us. I didn’t mind.

Maneuvering among cars, we quickly got to a warm room.

Getting in, we ignored the hookah lounge and headed to the smoking room, and settled at a table. A large room was quite cozy, but the chairs on iron legs squeaked on the tile so loud, the sound cut my ears, and I should not have to move in order not to create unnecessary noise. In this peaceful place I wanted to be quiet, especially considering that the music still sounded in my memory.

“Would you like champagne or wine?” — Chris asked when we sat down at the table.

I remembered very well that we have to discuss the deal, and I didn’t want to dim my mind by alcohol. But despite the important matter to discuss, I still agreed on the wine, promising myself I wouldn’t get drunk. Although I wanted it very much because of Max’s actions caused all this. This kind of contradictions overcame me for a few minutes and the memories of the wonderful concert soon faded away in anticipation of the upcoming negotiations.

Chris ordered white wine and I got the paper from a briefcase which gave me Julia.

“Maybe you’re hungry?” — The man asked compassionate in a tone that reminded me anything but burgers.

“No, thank you.”

We could not talk about business for quite a time. Remembering the concert, we discussed our feeling about it, and Christopher said many hidden sophisticated compliments in my address. Only after some time, half an hour before closing, our conversation eventually touched the deal.

After some time after checking documents grew tired of argue, we got to some point. I was hot because of alcohol. Chris undid one more button on her shirt, and looked a little tired, and I periodically went to the ladies room to wash my face. The head, however, was still trying to figure out. I blamed Christopher that he bought the company, using its weakness. I was hurt and I wanted to play someone’s nerves. It did not work with Max, so I decided to drink the blood of Christopher. However, I knew that Chris was the last hope of our company.

“When will you get it?” — Christopher persuaded me. — “Anyone could buy the company. I’m just watching the market. I saw the chance and I took it. You haven’t lost anything.”

“I lost my eight percent of the shares. You threw me out of the Board of Directors.”

“So this is the matter?” — Chris grinned.

“Exactly. It’s not fair. I invested in “Maxichris” all of myself, — I was stubbornly repeating my arguments. — “The company’s name has part of my name. And now I’m nobody.”

“Why? Tomorrow you will get a new position in my company with the opportunity of free visits to…”

“You know well what I mean, Chris.”

“Well, it’s not so bad. From now on the company name means not “Maxim-Christina” but “Maximum of Christopher”.

“Your addiction for perfectionism makes me think that you have a midlife crisis,” — I smiled warily. — “It’s a bit early. And yet, Chris, why you?”

The man stared at me.

“I’ve already told you.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You’re so meticulous, Tin. How can you be this way in business?”

“As far as I know, only French, who are your ancestors, can behave so much easygoing in business and to conclude the most important financial deals between talk about the weather.”

Christopher nodded enthusiastically, appreciating a compliment.

“It’s not bad,” — he said. — “Just a masterful combining business with pleasure.”

I pretended to smile. He continued.

“Look, let’s sign these papers. And if you’re going to sit there and check those numbers up to the morning, I suggest moving to a more comfortable environment. Otherwise this lovely but tired lady will ask us out,” — he nodded to the girl who looked at us then at clock for some time already.”

“For example, to your place.” — I said sarcastically.

“Note, it was your idea.” — Chris raised her eyebrows and I had to restrain myself.

I always loved when he did this. The gesture of connoisseur, skeptic, cynic, and refined aristocrat at the same time.

“Dream on,” — I said skeptically. — “Let’s do it here. We still have a couple of minutes. Maxim manipulating me like a puppet. And that’s the problem. And you’re all about the same. Stop thinking about sex for a minute.”

“I can and two, if you please,” — Chris smiled. — “Have you noticed that I did not mention unpleasant to you subject already,” — he’s theatrical and glanced at his watch — “about an hour? Or two? Is it not important?”

“Okay, let’s sign it,” — I said. — “I’m fed of it!”

“Christopher!” — Someone shouted very close to my ear.

I winced.

“Mark!” — Chris stood up and gave his hand to the man who stopped near me. — “Let me introduce you. Mark, this gorgeous brunette’s name is Christina… Christina, this fool is my former companion Mark.”

“What a contrast!” — I said and gave him my usual smile. — “Nice to meet you!”

“Nice to meet you too,” — Mark leaned over and kissed back of my hand.

“Lord, so many foreigner gentlemen around,” — I thought and made the last signature.

“I see you’re busy. I guess, I disturb you,” — man hesitated a little.

“No. Not at all,” — I reassured the new acquaintance and looked at him with interest. — “And why you decided to visit our little town? Is it for business or just passing through?”

“Passing through for business,” — he bowed respectfully and sat down at our table, following the inviting gesture of Christopher and ignoring the annoyed look of the waitress.

“Mark is in eco-jewelry tourism,” — said Chris.

“What is it?” — I did not understand.

“Christopher exaggerates,” — man smiled. — “To put it simple way, I am archaeologist appraiser.”

“How interesting,” — I felt agitated. — “What are you researching now? Here? As far as I know, there is not much of valuable things in our country.”

“What a mistake. You, for example.”

What a cheap trick!

“Be careful, Tin,” — we heard Christopher’s voice. — “He lures girls.”

“I will keep it in my mind, thank you.” — I nodded, smiling. — “Well, how’s business?” — I turned to Mark again. — “Surely this is quite a profitable business.”

“You bet,” — Mark laughed.

“Okay. I will leave you guys,” — I put the signed paper into a briefcase and handed it to Christopher and stood up.

“Christina, you don’t disturb us,” — Chris said.

“Still, I don’t want to distract you,” — I smiled and walked behind the bar, because began to feel myself no less than uncomfortable.

I wondered why Max decided to sell the company. Why he has not undertaken to save “Maxichris” himself? Suppose he was not a great economist and a Finance guru, it was worthwhile to try. Moreover, I had known Maxim for a long time and with confidence could say that his only passion was his job. It was the only thing he lived for and there was nothing else to take his heart. But today he sold our company. And to whom?

The thoughts flowed sluggishly. Wine that I drank prevented concentration. I knew it would be treacherous, as any alcohol in principle.

Maybe it is time to finally relax? Few years I worked in big business really hard without a break, and kept myself in iron grip. Could I at least one night stay tipsy?

“However, the company is dangerous today,” I turned to glance at Christopher.

I thought and pretended looking at the bar.

Thoughts gradually switched to on the “dangerous object”. He will approach me again. To miss such an opportunity could either a coward or a fool. Chris was neither the one nor the other.

Another reason was my presence here with him now.

Trying to read the tea map, standing on the bar in front of me, I lost the moment when a familiar aroma of expensive toilet water pleasantly tickled my nose.

“Need a ride?” — asked Chris.

“Are you going to drive?” — I was surprised.

“I’m not drunk enough.” — Chris pouted. — “But of course, I can call us a taxi if you’re afraid to sit with me in my car.”

I stared at Chris.

“For us? Will you drive me home?” — I asked innocently.

He threw up his hands.

“Not quite. You want to know what is this all about, don’t you? I thought you were not satisfied with Max’s explanation. And we didn’t smoke the hookah.”

I smiled.

“Are you sure this is not another trick just to get me into bed?”

“I’m sure. But if you want it, I don’t mind.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“I have to go home.”

“This Saturday night is not yet over. And something tells me it will bring more surprises. We can go to my place and…” — he thought for a moment, smiled with one corner of her mouth, — “I’ll show you what will become Max’s possession from tomorrow.”

He paused while I looked at him.

“You want to know what Max will get for his dear company?

“I knew that you knew something about it!”

He chuckled.

“Let’s go?”

The curiosity beat the danger to be seduced, and I at your own risk sat in his black Mercedes CLK 230.

Chapter 3

Christopher’s apartment was on the outskirts of the city in a nice colored high-rise building. Apartments, not to call it “flat”, was a corner, and, entering the hall, I realized that there should be a semi-circular balcony somewhere around. A big room was straight ahead. From the corridor I could see cream interior, soft furniture and a coffee table made of black glass. A little to the left in the hall there was a large sound system. Plasma TV was located on the wall between the two doors, one of which opened into a bedroom, second to the office. Many different paintings hung on the walls, in the corners there were large vases, and panels with fancy plants and palm trees. The sound of footsteps was buried in a thick pile of beige Persian carpet. The light in the room was organized in such a way that there was an impression of glowing walls, the whole room seemed ethereal. But there was not any lamp seen. Directly across the corridor there was a huge window on the wall covered with beige satin curtains. A dim light spread from under the eaves. To the right of the corridor there was a large kitchen and a door to the bathroom.

This apartment impressed me with taste and precise arrangement of things. Yes, Chris indulged in anything. Everything was convenient and everything was at hand, all beautiful and stylish.

“So where the big black leather couch?” — I smiled, masking my surprise.

Christopher smiled.

“Tin, what would a black sofa do here! Look around you!”

“I thought, a ladies man like must have it.”


I smiled, nodded and slipped into the bedroom, the only room with the door open.

“So soon?” — Chris wondered falsely.

The bedroom was like a football arena. The large window was draped with curtains of light tulle, framed by light maroon curtains. Another Persian carpet of the same color was on the floor. Coffee-colored walls with milk strips. Near the wall there was a large bed with shawl the color of ripe cherries, and not far from it there was a chair without armrests. That was all. There was nothing else on the floor. No tables, no flowers, only a pair of bedside tables and built-in wardrobe, which I would not risk to call furniture.

Yes, the bedroom also was stylish and looked like a room for lovemaking, rather than a place for sleeping.

I turned around to leave the room.

“Leaving already?” — Chris asked disappointedly, blocking me out. — “Will you not check the mattress for softness, not touch to linen, not climb your hands under the pillow?”

In the eyes of Chris danced mischief.

“Oh no! Do you think that I want to know all about Christopher Lagnier?” — I asked, but have already made my mind about his nest.

“And aren’t you curious?” — His arms wrapped around my waist.

“Chris, I’m not here for this.”

“Mmm,” — he pondered a second, then licked his lips.” — “The result of the deal.”

“Right,” — I nodded, returning him to earth.

“Ok, wait for me in the kitchen.”

He pulled away, releasing me from the bedroom, and from his embrace.

I went to the big room connected with a hall by a big arch. I was surprised with warm tiled floors of the kitchen. Right in front the entrance there was the soft seat and a table of lacquered beech. All the kitchen furniture set was made of the same tree. The standard set of household appliances was there: gas stove, refrigerator, sink. But another thing took my attention… Highly polished bar stood on the right to the entrance. Near the wall it ended with a slim built-in refrigerator with glass doors hiding all kinds of alcoholic and soft drinks.

From the window of this room I could see beautiful views of the quiet park. We were on the twenty first floor. The cold air was shaking, distorting the distant lights of the ring highway. The yard was quiet. No noisy machines under the window, no plants, producing a stinking smoke. However I could see some factory that completed a picture behind the window as a small industrial touch far away. A long pipe spit out a strip of smoke which slowly moved from North to South

I didn’t turn on the light in the kitchen so the darkness allowed me to see the reflection of Chris in the window. He stopped, leaning against the arch with his shoulder.

Chris has already changed to the conqueror mood. No fatigue. Now he looked elegant and a bit cheeky. Chris went on the hunt.

Of course!

It was his territory and he felt confident.

He had a small bundle in one hand and a quarter full glass in the other. His drink was definitely stronger than wine. Apparently, brandy or whiskey.

“Why didn’t you turn the lights on?” — I heard the quiet voice of Chris.

“I want to see the view behind the window.”

“Beautiful, isn’t it? Would you like more wine? Or this lady wants something stronger?”

“Lady,” — I said to myself. He was still not in the mood for a serious conversation.

I turned to Christopher.

“The lady would love to drink coffee and get back to work.”

“Not going to sleep tonight?” — The man raised an eyebrow.

I sighed.

“I still I have to get home somehow.”

“I do not ask you to leave,” — he said, his eyes still on my face.

“Where do you get the energy to flirt?” — I looked away unable to withstand his frank gaze. — “It is one a.m. I’m ready to drop.”

Chris smiled and started making coffee.

“What’s in the package?” — I asked.

“The thing you wanted to know.”

He handed me the package.

I sat down back to the window. The ark to the hall was in front of me. My eyes could see bedroom with open door and the edge of the black glass coffee table in the big room.

I tore off the paper, and my eyes saw a silly statuette. Touching it was rather pleasant; probably it was made of clay. But further study was not so pleasant. It was the head cracked because of time or fall, or made for purpose. The color of old stone, it looked completely phantasmagoric considering the details. It had headwear on top, like those used by the Indians who carry stuff at their head, but considering the cultural peculiarities I concluded that this was probably a helmet or hat. And, as Indians usually did, it had ears with earrings that would cause an unhealthy increase in ear lobe would it be a living person. As they did in ancient Egypt, there was something resembling the beak of god Horus on the forehead. It had narrow-set eyes, a broad nose and a mouth that contained something inside. This could be a tongue and this could be a stone (if to judge by color). But why is it black? In general, it looked disgusting.

“Is this a joke?” — I asked, looking at Chris.

“This is not joke, this is the statuette.” — He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and put a cup of hot coffee beside me.

“No, Chris, tell me this is a joke. You or Max made fun of me?”

“I see the same thing you do. And believe me, I am confused as well.”

“I had not idea of your inclination to archaeology. But from what cave did you get it? India?”

“Someone gave it to me.”


“I don’t know her. She came in and said that I can get the goods in a certain cell of a certain store. Then I should verify the papers and sign them. For that, I get “Maxichris”.

“Bullshit! And you, of course, believed her words. You did not enquire about the goods, who were those people, why they wanted to do this way?”

“Sure, Tin!” I’m a trustful person and I could not resist the good fortune that came to my hands.”

I gave Chris a withering look:

“Don’t be so nasty!”

“And you do not forget about the coffee.”

“Are you going to tell me what the matter is today? I came to you not to for you to abuse me.”

“If you stop interrupting me, then maybe I can try. I suggest you finally try the coffee. It’s delicious. Drink and enjoy your story.”


However, Christopher still thoroughly stirred sugar in the cup and obviously not hurried. I patiently waited, tried coffee. It really was just great.

“Enough sugar?” — Chris asked.

“Yes, thank you.”

“This affair began a long time ago,” — he started telling. — “Put it this way, many years ago. That time Max just attempted to open his own business. And I was not complaining about the lack of money. Max got big troubles, he owed to some not the most respectable people considerable sum of money.”

I snorted.

“There are people less respectable people than you, there are not?”

Chris grimaced annoyingly.

“I helped him a bit then, and Max owed this considerable sum of money to me. He honestly had paid it over the past years. But apparently, he grew tired of the boring rhythm of his worthless life. You know, Max’s hobby is to periodically dig his own grave. And again he decided to get new troubles.”

“I never thought that Max might be in trouble. He was always careful.”

“You never knew this side of him? Weird. So you hardly know him.”

“I know Max better than you think.”

This phrase caused an interested look Christopher.

“Okay! What’s next? What does this…” — I waved in the direction of the torn paper. — “This absurdity?”

“The statuette is an ancient Mayan artifact, not India, as you suggested. These items have become quite valuable on the eve of 2012.”

“Oh, please, Chris! Do you mean to say that Max is involved in this nonsense about the end of the world making people crazy?”

“Not quite. He too is just a puppet.”

“Wait,” — I thought. — “You mean to say that Max is heavily in debt, so he sells you company to buy this statuette, which you received from a beautiful stranger? Then, upon receiving the statuette, he will sell it, he will get money and… Oh my God!” — I pretended surprised. — “He will not be able to buy the company back because he owes you money. And he will pay you. And you’ll accept it. Say me if something is wrong.”

“Not exactly, but I like the way you’re thinking.”

“How you are connected to the beautiful stranger and why did she give you this statuette?” — I continued reasoning. — “You paid her, and to reduce the price you certainly slept with her.”

“Why, if it comes to women, I have to sleep with them?” — Christopher asked rather disdainfully.

“That’s who you are,” — I shrugged.

“And if they are not so beautiful?”

“Well, you slept with Juliana.”

“Oooh,” — Chris sad slowly staring at me. — “You are getting personal. Actually she is not that bad.”

“Oh! I do not argue, probably she is a real wonder in bed,” — I began to get irritated because our discussion was absolutely pointless at the moment (and am I jealous?).

“Tin,” — he said quietly, but sternly. — “You cross the line.”

“Tabooed theme, isn’t it? So I’ll tell you what, Christopher. I don’t believe not a word you said. Nor about the statue, nor about the debt. In 2010, of course, many want to earn money on popular theme of the end of the world. And I have no doubt that you’re no exception. But I will not let you hold me for the fool.”

“Have I ever humiliated you?”

“Then why you lie so boldly?! The last few hours your arguments contradict each other. Moreover, you decided to blacken Max.”

“Aren’t you hurt that he decided to say Julia about this business more than you?”

I looked away. He got to the point. It really hurt me. I just don’t understand why Chris adds fuel to the flame. He could how I felt. Recent conversation to Max depressed me. I felt myself like a pawn in a very big game. Besides, my intuition insistently whispered to me that Christopher was aware of what was really going on. I had the feeling that they cheated me. This feeling of helplessness made me devastated and angry.

“Maybe he just does not need you as a woman?” — Chris continued. — “And he decided to replace you by Juliana?”

“Christopher, your quips are absolutely not appropriate,” — I said coldly. — Because, at first, there is nothing between me and Max…”

“Even not a shirt?” — He muttered.

“...and cannot be.”

“And there was anything?” — Christopher raised an eyebrow.

“Enough!” — I allowed myself to raise my voice and took a pause. — “Secondly, Julia is a secretary. She can easily spread her legs to get promotion or a job. Thirdly, she has absolutely no brains. Don’t you understand?”

“Why do you hate her so much?”

“Oh yeah, I forgot. You respect all of your former mistresses.”

“Christina!” — Chris snapped. — “Did it ever come to your mind that there is something but sex between me and Julia?”

I opened my mouth, but had nothing to say. The irritation vanished in an instant, replaced by surprise and possibly even contempt. Is Chris in love with her?

In love?


“Business, Tin,” — he gently reached across the table and touched my chin, pressed, calling to close the mouth. — She’s my informant.

“And you can do… for the sake of information? Although…”

Chris smiled. And I had pretty mixed feelings. I felt like a lab rat drugged with psychotropic drugs and put into a maze where it has to find way out. If this is possible.

“You’re a dangerous man, Christopher Lagnier.”

“Didn’t you know?” — He grinned and leaned towards me. — “Let me ask you, did you sleep with Max for fun or for more material reasons?”

I slapped Christopher in the face. Not for hurting me, but rather because I grew eared of his mocking.

“A-Ah! This is the relationship you told me about.”

“Are you trying to irritate me?” — I said surprisingly calmly. — “May you know, you have done it already.”

“Is cold fury?” — he grinned.

“Stop it, ok?” — Anger raised inside me again as I stood up from the table and began to nervously pace around the kitchen. — “Don’t I have enough of Max who annoys me last time. Now you, too, behave like a mad dog. You tell my bullshit about statuettes and debts, mocking me all the time. Is it some kind of conspiracy, you all?” — I stopped, touching my head with the palm. — “Incidentally, I also have feelings, and my nerves are not iron. I was deprived of my company, which I created. Not even giving me a chance for objection. Two days make an idiot of me,” — I swallowed my anger that stuck in my throat.

Chris stood up from his seat and took me in his arms. There was nothing sexual in it. At least I wanted to believe it at the moment. He pressed me against himself. I froze. He stroked my hair. I felt a little calmer. It seemed that his strong hands could protect me. But it was only an illusion. And I suddenly felt ashamed. I insulted him all night just because last days were tough. It was not Chris’s guilt that I had a bad mood.

“Calm Down, Tin. We’ll get through it,” — Christopher said.

“We?” — I rebelled again. — “Don’t tell me that he is interested in helping me!” — I tried to break free from his embrace, but he did not let me go.

“I’m always interested in you,” — He replied, and the next moment he did something I was completely not ready to.

Christopher leaned over to my lips.

“What are you doing?” — I turned away, although it was not easy.

Memories of a distant kiss flashed persistently in my memory. I tried to push him away, but his soft, insistent embrace still kept me.

“Chris, stop it!”

Chris looked to my eyes again. His lips were almost touching mine.

“Let me go,” — I said more calmly.

“I thought you wanted it now,” — His voice was quiet.

Why to do everything so vulgar?

Now I was angry, ready to forget about feelings guilt and pushing Chris away. His heavy, hot breath burned my skin. My heart was ready to jump out of my chest from the growing anger.

“No, that’s what you want.” — I told sharply.

“You hurt me today,” — he said very quietly in my ear.

“I hurt you?!” — I was surprised.

He pressed me against the bar. I shuddered.

“So what? Are you going to sue me for moral damage?” — I asked him angrily.

“Is that what do you think of me?” — He looked into my eyes.

I withstood his gaze.

“I don’t demanding anything from you,” — he continued. — “But imagine what a sex could we have now?”

“Don’t dream! Even if I did it whenever, not after today’s events. I hate your touch.”

“Your body tells me otherwise.”

My breath caught.

“Let me go!” — I shouted, feeling how flushed my cheeks.

Christopher looked me in the eye. His lips were almost touching mine.

“Let go,” — I said more relaxed.

“You want me,” — he said. — “You just admitted it.”

He kissed my lips. I turned away again.

“I have to go.” — I said briefly.

A few seconds he looked at me, and then released, stepping back.

“I am sorry,” — Christopher admitted.

“I am not.” — I replied.

“Thus, don’t you want to know the truth?”

I looked at him wearily.

“Today I’ve had enough of the truth.”

“Well,” — he took his seat. — “What if I will not lie anymore?”

“Well,” — I supported his game. — “What if I hate your company?”

Chris lowered his eyes, clearly regretting something.

“Will you finish your coffee?”

“No, thank you. I had enough. I need to go home. It is late.”

“May I give you a ride?”

“No, don’t.”.

“And you don’t want me to walk you.” — He said as continuing my words.

“You bet. Well, Christopher,” — I quickly tied my scarf, put on winter coat and boots — “I hope, I see you not soon.”

“Not a chance, Tin. I’m your new boss.”

I slammed the door and almost saw in my head his prey, satisfied smile.

My indignation knew no bounds. I knew that Christopher was a playboy, but his behavior was not acceptable. Besides that I felt myself a complete idiot few hours ago, he also considered me a cheap whore. I never thought that someone could think this of me.

I should not deceive myself — I allowed them to do it.

I caught a taxi at the corner. I silently resented all the time while the car was driving me home. That moment I hated Chris with all my heart, but this attitude could easily change. I didn’t know that I felt when I was looking at him. He had many faces. Sometimes Chris was elegant and nice. Sure, I had hard time to remember it after his last escapade. And sometimes he was rude and cruel. Sometimes he changed into a hunter, and then a lot of female prey got into nets of his charm.

I had great difficulty to turn my thoughts to another direction. They slowly flowed in my tired mind. I’ve been thinking about the current situation, trying to get out of my head people’s opinion about me. I came to the conclusion that Christopher did not tell me truth. Max wouldn’t sell the company because of some trinket, but he easily would because of debts. Especially considering the amount of today’s report. But why Chris? Was it really impossible to sell the company to someone else? Why can’t he owe to someone else? Whoever else but Christopher.

I wearily dropped my head on the soft headrest of the seat. Monday I definitely should speak with Maxim to confirm the details of the debt.

And hows Christopher bought it about me and Max! Maxim is a Chairman of the Board of Directors, but I became a member of its Council not by demonstration of my bed skills. Maxim preferred blondes. Christopher just loved women. All, without exception. They were exquisite delicacies for him and, like a true hunter, he was very delicate luring each of them into his arms. At first I thought he was a maniac, but lately I got used to it. What happened between us in his kitchen was another scene of the play “to Seduce Christina.” He tried to do it for quite a long time. When it happened first time he did not dare to undertake bold actions and I gave up on the possibility of romance with him. Later it became not interesting to me, so when I refused him, he quickly consoled with a brief love affair with leggy redhead. A detailed report about all the virtues of his new lover and casual relationships without commitment, I received the next day. I didn’t care. At that time a young vigorous man gallantly courted me. The second time, when I refused to Christopher, he started drinking, but not for long. Apparently, I hurt his male pride. Maybe he was just not used to be denied. After this he again had an affair with someone else and decided to become my good friend. Quite a long time he succeeded. Over time my cold indifference cracked down. I became closer to him, and understood him better. Perhaps there was some deep psychological problem was behind this mask of Lovelace.

In business, Christopher was straightforward and uncompromising. If he had to make a deal — he made it, using any available means and contriving to make good money. His apartment, car and passion to waste money illustrated this.

I reined myself again. My mind was still occupied by Christopher. There was nothing I could do with it. He was interesting to me.

At moments I was amused by his attempts to get me into bed, sometimes it annoyed me, and sometimes I wanted it to happen. But I knew that as soon as he gets what he wants, I will no longer be interesting to him. He did so with all his “ladies”, and I didn’t want to be a girl for one night. Not with him. I had several good reasons not to have an affair with him. One of them was my inability to combine work and feelings. When there is attachment, it is very difficult to do… what has to be done. Besides, I liked to maintain some kind of friendship. The intrigue spiced up any relationship.

When I arrived home, my head ached.

Reined myself, I quickly took a shower, as if it could wash away the events of the day and other troubles. Then I dropped into my bed, lost in a restless sleep.

The introspection procedure was cancelled.

Chapter 4

Morning broke into my consciousness with the sharp ring of the alarm clock.

I slammed the annoying rattling thing and headed to the bathroom. A cold shower brought me back to reality; cup of coffee with milk shook my sluggish thoughts. I woke up slowly and lazily, and this happened every morning, no matter what time it began.

I chose clothing quickly and made a casual makeup. Having overcome the track with endless traffic jams, I finally got to my new job. Actually, it was not so new.

In the Parking lot near our office — a large building with blue mirrored glass there was a black “Mercedes” of Chris. Thoughts sadly stopped on the owner of the car. Now he was my boss, and this implied a lot of surprises…

The first of it expected me on the Desk of the Secretary — in the form of the order appointing me to the position of Deputy Director for commercial Affairs. I read it twice; I dropped into a chair and stared at the sheet. Then I dialed the number of Maxim.

Nobody picked it the tube.

“Hey!” — I heard a familiar voice.

“Hello, Julia”, — I said recognizing her voice and not looking up.

“Would you like some coffee?”

I looked at the woman in amazement.

“The Director’s order” — She threw up her hands and smiled.

I was not sure about the meaning of her smile — was it a mockery or malice. Perhaps it was the first.

“I will bring you coffee too,” — Julia bend her lips contemptuously. — “By the way, he gave you your own room. Strange enough that he did not tell you to stay in his room.”

“Julia, where is Max?” — I let this mockery go.

“I do not know.”

Did he not come?”

“What would he do here? He doesn’t owe you anything.”

I looked at Julia, trying to understand what she was feeling. She looked like a cat who has just received a full bowl of thick cream.

“What?” — I asked.

“You said you were not like me”, — Julia smiled. — On Saturday you went out with Christopher”, — she smiled. — “And today you’re already working with us as Deputy Director.”

Her smile became even wider. She stared at me. I held her gaze, wondering what I can do about it.

“He got you laid down.” — Julia continued. — “So, how he was? Great, right?”

“I don’t know,” — I shrugged. — “I thought you would tell me. Anyway, why would you not go to perform your responsibilities, before I wrote a memo.”

I got up from the table, taking this disgusting order. Julia wisely stepped aside, letting me to the principal’s office.

“So who’s the whore?” — She sang to my back.

I did not reply, deciding not to humble myself for the Secretary. I decided to make Julia regret her words as soon as possible. Then I opened the door of the new Cabinet of Chris without knocking.

He greeted me calmly, gave an interested look and leaned back in his chair.

“Good morning”, — he said. — “Ah! I see you got acquainted with my orders.”

His calm tone angered me even more.

“Do you understand what you’ve done?!” — I was indignant and slammed the door to his office.

“Assigned you to the position of Deputy Director for commercial Affairs”, — he replied calmly.

“No,” — I said slowly. — “You’ve compromised me. Couldn’t wait a couple of days? You made it clear throughout the firm that I slept with you last night!”

“But you did not.”

I frowned and suppressed my desire to throw really heavy to Christopher’s face.

“Julia will give you all the necessary documents”, — Chris continued as if not noticing my rage. — “Sign it and you can move. Your new office is next to mine. The entrance both from my office and from the corridor.”

“Do you behave this way because I haven’t been aid?” — I asked about point that made me worried since I reviewed the order.

“Don’t flatter yourself”, — chuckled Chris. — “I just need a good Vice. As much as I know your records, you are suitable for this position.”

“And what if I don’t sign the order?” — I started to struggle again realizing that my whims control me lately and I look at least silly.

“I daresay, this would look like a pathetic attempt to defend yourself,” — Christopher was triumphant.

“Why?” — I asked, with contempt on my face. — “Why are you doing this?”

Christopher said nothing.

“I will not let this stand,” — I said, turned around and headed for the door.

“Christina,” — he called me when I opened the door.

I turned around.

“You thought about me that night, did you not?”

I slammed the door in anger.

To move in did not take much time, but was quite painful. Julia did not mince words and constantly teased me. For her it would be better not to do this because my head developed a serious and insidious plan. There was not possible to explain her that there was nothing happened between me and Chris. She saw what she wanted.

The new room was more spacious than the previous one. A large table made of red oak, soft high office chair, a large bookshelf for papers and the same large wardrobe next to it. To the right of the entrance there was a leather sofa (damn it), and to the left — a large window. The monitor, speakers, keyboard, mouse, and standard stationery set was places on the table, all the same as you could see in any office. On the locker beside the table there was a HP printer.

When my things were set in place, I have settled on a new office chair and asked Julia to make me a coffee. She resentfully went to execute the order.

I again tried to call Maxim. It was pointless. There was no answer. The Secretary brought me coffee and set it in front of me.

“Julia,” — I said, smiling slyly.

My smile meant nothing good for her. I was going to execute my evil plan.

“I need financial reports regarding firms with which we collaborated this year. First, you have to check whether all papers are signed. If not — you should call customers. Secondly… why aren’t you writing this down? Having good memory?”

Julia blushed and ran for a notebook.

“Second,” — I continued, when she came back, — “I need a list of these firms, in alphabetical order. Thirdly, ask Irina Andreevna…”

“Who is it?” — Julia interrupted.

I gave her a disgruntled look.

“Our chief accountant. Let her give us balance and tax reporting for all months of the year. Ask auditors’ phone numbers. I need some advice. Next, print the judicial claims. We have a lot of creditors.”

“When this should be done?”

“Yesterday morning,” — in tone that brooked no objection, I replied. — “That’s not all.”

“Tin, I have enough work to do even without all of this.”

“I’m sure you do,” — I started to like my new position. — “But you are not paid money for chattering on the phone or painting nails.”

The blonde pouted.

“Next. Find all documents with the name of the previous Director. Dmitryy Valerevich Kuznetsov.


“Constituent documents, as you may guess. I want them now. We have to renew the owner of the company. Also we need a copy of the dismissal order of directior and order of appointing a new one. And don’t forget to answer the phone. Customers are already complaining that they cannot through to us. You are free.”

Julia shot out of my office like a scalded cat.

“And what are you going to do?” — Christopher asked me after the door closed behind the secretary.

“Certainly not to spy on you. Even though your room is next to mine.

“Working so fast you will not leave any work for me,” — he paused, naively waiting for my response. — “Julia made you angry?”

“No,” — I said indifferently. — “It’s her job.”

“Well,” — he thought for a moment. — “Why do you want to see the taxes for the entire year?”

“I want to compare it to the numbers of the annual report.”

Chris again did not answer, staring at me.

“Do you have work to do?” — I asked, pulling out a large folder from the bookshelf.

“Are you kicking me out?” — He was surprised.

“Well, I have a lot of work. As you know, this won’t get done by itself.”

“You’re upset with me,” — he muttered rather confirming his own fears.

I didn’t answer, pretending to be busy watching the papers but at the moment I understood nothing of its content.

“You’re completely different at work,” — light touch of bewilderment or resentment was in a meditative voice of Chris.

“You too,” — I made a sip of coffee.

He went out and closed the door of my office and did not bother me until the end of the day. I smiled to myself and went back to work…

Chapter 5

The next week passed in a normal pace. Christopher behaved decently and we had purely business relationships. Not surprisingly, because there was enough work for everyone. The end of the year has always been stressful enough. Lenders hurried to pay their debts, and we didn’t want to celebrate the year with debts. The contracts were signed; the analysis of financial indicators was conducted daily.

As I expected, Julia did not cope with a half of work that I’ve given her. This was what I wanted. I didn’t like her neither in life nor in work, and I needed a good reason to request for her dismissal. However, there was a serious obstacle — Chris. After finding out how much Julia did of work I asked her to do I came to a rather expected feigned rage and immediately went to Chris. About half an hour I had to convince him that Julia mismatched her position, but he firmly stood his ground. He didn’t plan to fire arguing that Julia was indispensable; to find and to train a new employee would be a complete headache, etc. I knew that the real reason was his sexual affair with Julia, but either he was shy to tell me, or deliberately didn’t want to say it out loud. In any case, Julia had to work in our company, and I left the office Chris getting nothing. A bad mood joined my quite expected anger… I knew that Chris was sleeping with Julia, but just as well I knew that she let down the whole company. I might exaggerated somewhat — perhaps we would not lose the company because of bad success of one secretary. I felt no sympathy for her, but she behaved as if nothing had happened and remained in her place under the protection of the chief. Yeah, Christopher was like a stone wall for her. The newly boss was willing to cover her work inconsistency and mistakes daily and closed his eyes to everything. Well, it was the same with Max <as I remember…

Maxim still did not answer my phone calls. I tried to call him for the rest of the day, but in vain. Puzzled by this fact, I knocked on the office of Christopher.

“Yes, my dear,” — I heard from behind the door. — “You know that you can always enter without knocking.”

Christopher, despite the workload in the work, was in a good mood. This did not mean anything good to me. I was almost used to the fact that he paid no attention to me and didn’t make any jokes to my address. Perhaps I missed it sometimes, but working was better without it.

“Christopher, do you know what happened to Max?”

“I thought you missed me,” — he smiled. — “But the Princess lost her Prince, yeah?”

“Chris, I’m serious. It is a week that he does not return calls.”

Chris stood up from the chair and walked around the office.

“Strange, I thought you, of all people should know where he’s at,” — he smiled radiantly. — “Well, you know what I mean.”

“Chris, I don’t think he is away on business.”

“He left you again, my dear,” — he approached me. — “No need to go anywhere in order not to answer calls. Sometimes people need to be alone, and sometimes, on the contrary, to be surrounded by friends or lovely ladies.”

I imagined Christopher alone “on his own” and grinned mischievously.

“I see you’re not much upset by this fact,” — he stated.

“Why would I be upset? I worry, that’s it.”

“Got it, Tin. What do you want from me?”

“You would be just precious if you could find out something. He does not answer the phone, and I’m really worried. He didn’t even show up for work. For more than a week.”

“If someone have bought your company with all its employees, would you come to your place, humiliated and insulted?”

“Of course. And you?”

Christopher thought.

“Okay, I’ll find out. But first of all I’d tell you to ask Julia.”

“She is your mistress. You ask.”

“And you need this information. Don’t you want to ask a question that bothers you so much? It’s so easy! Moreover, she was also seen in an intimate relationship with your former boss. I think you will find a common language.”

“Also.” — I noticed this little word.

Chris just smiled.

“I’m tired of repeating that there is nothing between us, never was and never will be,” — I said.

“Okay, okay. Do not boil.” — A man yielded. — “You are not at ease many days.”

I gave a strained smile.

“Is it my fault only? Find out about Max. I know you too can worry. There must be something human about you still…”

I opened the door to my room, went in, fell on the sofa and looked over the large pile of papers in a chaotic manner scattered on the table. It was all kinds of reports on income and expenses of our company. To get some of them was quite difficult — many were kept in the safe under lock and key, and I had to work hard to find the keys. I couldn’t say directly why I needed the papers from last year.

The first thing that caught my eye when I opened the carefully hidden safe was quite a strange and incomprehensible thing. I didn’t know how it could get in.

The thing resembled a cell from baggage storage. Of course, it was closed, and I could not find the key to it. Thought about its content, did not let me rest, came to my dreams at night and troubled my imagination. And regarding documentation, in general, it was conducted properly and, at first glance, did not cause any suspicion. But I strongly disliked some of the results on various indicators. In particular, I was concerned about the amount of advertising and representative expenses of our company. Their balance over the last couple of years was beyond my comprehension. Of course, it could be assumed that the cost of advertising, travel costs, various presentations and business trips could make a small fortune, but I instinctively felt that there was something wrong about it. Foreign advertising presentations were Chris’s field. At that time he was not our staff member, and worked under contract as a free mercenary. The fact that the indicated amounts were obviously fake, and the fact that Chris has taken our firm made me to think. There was some sophisticated and complex scam behind this.

Someone knocked to my door.

“Come in!”

Julia entered.

“Tin, I found one folder. Should I throw it out? It has a lot of such obscure papers,” — she said blithely.

“Do you work or clean up?” — I was indignant because of distraction by such nonsense. — “And anyway, what does this mean — ‘found’ and ‘throw it put’? Have you lost your mind?”

She grimaced.

“So what?” — She asked not much friendly.

“Give it to me”.

Julia handed me a thick folder.

“Something else?” — I asked the blonde who apparently was not going to leave.

“You and Max, did you have anything?” — She asked jealously, her whole appearance indicating neglect.

I was so tired of all this! Did I have it with one, did I have it with another. It is a workplace or hangout?

“If I were you I’d be interested in the work. But if you want to know, then no, I’m not snacking on your leftovers”.

“But you did not scruple to take Chris,” — Julia departed haughtily lifting her nose.

“Make me a coffee!” — I shouted to her back thinking that I have to take more drastic measures, rather than loading her with work.

I opened the folder. Inside, neatly sorted, were checks. It was the documents confirming cash withdrawal from the company’s account. I’ve read the text of some of them. Different individuals, — as a rule, they were contract workers — received different amounts of money for presentations, travel, advertising. The money was given to some M. Korhan and I. Orlova. I quickly looked through the entire folder. When I understood that these documents can be directly linked with those that were on my table, I picked up a calculator, a pencil and a blank sheet.

Don’t know how much time I spent studying the paper. Only after I understood that the numbers of Bank documents did not match with my records, I allowed myself to be distracted. I felt that I was missing something.


Outside the window it was already dark. I glanced at the clock — it was quarter to seven. In winter it gets dark utterly early. Forty minutes after the end of working, but Julia never brought me coffee.

I walked out of my office. Despite the late hour, the receptionist sat behind her Desk.

“Your diligence is astounding,” — I said in surprise.

“Chris said me that I can go home only after you let me go.”

“Is he gone already?”

“Everything has gone,” — she looked at me as if I was to blame for all her troubles.

“And why didn’t you come to my office?”

“He asked not to disturb you.”

What a rationale!

“Julia, where did you get this folder?”

“Which one?”

“The one you brought me today.”

“Ah, this one. It was behind the shelf,” — she answered in indifferent tone.

“What shelf?” — I asked although I guessed about shelf she was talking about.

“That one,” — she pointed to the opposite wall where there was a shelf with books and magazines.

Behind the wardrobe was the safe from which I got a big stack of papers a few days ago, and there was that cell disturbing my sleep last days so much. This unfortunate folder wasn’t there! This meant that someone knew that my getting the safe was a matter of time, and he put checks there after my “revision”… But why? Who did this? Who planted the folder after my “gutting” safe? Chris? Why? I could have at any time to return to this safe and to look inside… At any time…

“Illogical,” — I thought. I got more and more questions in my head.

Could I have dropped something?

No, I checked everything several times that morning, when I came to work earlier than others. So, someone else lost it. Maybe Max, when he was hiding the reports from prying eyes. But Max wasn’t in the office for a long time, and I haven’t seen this folder before.

“You said there were more papers. Where are they?”

“Ha, remembered! It is in the trash long ago.”

“Who gave you the orders to clean up?” — I sighed.

Julia thoughtfully chewed gum trying on an intelligent look and feeling that she did something wrong.

“So where are the papers?” — I repeated.

“Here is one of them,” — Julia handed me a check wrapping the apple stump.

“You’re…” — I stopped and winced.

“How should have I known what was there lying? Where is written that someone needed it?” — Julia grimaced as a small child about to cry. — “Anyway, enough of mocking me. I haven’t done anything wrong to you. If you don’t understand jokes, it does not mean that I am foo-oo-l!” — She started whining.

If Julia was an actress, I’d say she was overacting. Unfortunately, sometimes such behavior was the norm for our secretaries. I was disgusted and sorry for her. Even if I said something about forms of the strict accountability would not make sense because this person would never understand such things. Moreover, I’ll never understand what was going on in her head. She was a tyrant looking for a way to hook you, next time she was the cute fool whose grimaces made me sick. Then she turns into a wet hen, which now sits in front of me.

“Numbers, so what!” — I heard through sobbing. — “The name of Chris, yeah. Maybe he loo-oo-ves meee!”

“What did you say?”

“He loves me,” — Julia said in a hurt voice and clapped her eyes.

“No, before that?”

“I don’t know what kind of numbers it was?”

It’s amazing how quickly her tears can dry and her reasoning lose logic.

“No, you said that there was the name of Chris”.

“It was.” — Julia almost calmed down.

“Where are these documents?”

“I don’t know. I’ve thrown it. Don’t be mad at me.”

“I will not,” — I said wearily. — “Go home. You need to rest.”

Julia stood up and gratefully looked at me.

“Have you told anyone about these papers?” — I asked.

“No. I thought it was the waste, Tin.

“Okay, okay, okay.” — I nodded. — “And don’t tell anyone, okay?”

Julia nodded.

Not waiting until she’s gone, I went into my office. I sat there, waiting, when she slammed the front door. When Julia left, I tried the handle of the door leading to the office of Christopher — just in case. The office was locked. Only after that I started not very pleasant work. I began to examine the trash bags, pots and containers looking for papers similar to those that were in the folder. Finding them was not easy. I was lucky: the garbage disposal in our company occurs once a week on Tuesdays, and today was Monday. When I got every single paper that looked similar paper, I again went to my room to examine what I have got. A lot of it I threw out, because some checks were impossible to read, and some papers had no relationship to my issue. There was no sense to keep these checks, and even knowing about forms of the strict accountability I sent them into the trash.

I could always blame Julia in everything.

Perhaps, I could not find all the checks, but I have found that the amount listed in all the checks was gradually approaching the balance that interested me so much. And I also found that papers had no hints of the names of the people who spent such money on the so-called representation expenses. I recalculated the sum on checks again.

The next few hours passed quietly for me. I was surprised to find that it’s almost midnight, and I thought that it is time to stop and go home. And took the last stack of crumpled receipts…

Chapter 6

“Christina,” — someone was shaking my shoulder. — “Wake up, Christina!”

I opened my eyes and tried to move. I wish I didn’t. At this point I realized that I have a sore body, and half of it I didn’t feel.

“Wake up! Christopher came!”

I winced realizing that I had fallen asleep in the workplace on a pile of papers and documents that my boss is not supposed to see. At least he shouldn’t know that I found them.

Fending off the remnants of a heavy sleep, I blinked a few times. I saw Juliana leaning over in front of me with a cup of coffee.

“What are you doing here?” — I asked, trying to figure out why I was dressed up sitting in my office chair and the whole my body ached.

“I rescue you,” — she giggled. — “Good morning.”

I looked at her:

“What time is it?”

“Almost nine. The door to Chris’s closed. To the corridor too. He will not come in to you so far. But I advise you to clean up your table and refresh yourself now. You should have seen yourself. And they say, I look terrible in the morning!”

“Why are you helping me?” — I stared at the secretary not quite knowing what was happening.

“Well, you’re doing something to annoy Christopher. I don’t mind to help you.”

“Why do you think so?”

“You’re not going to say that staying up all night long with the mysterious papers was just a simple curiosity?”

I didn’t answer and pushed the offered up of coffee to myself. It seemed to me that our incomparable Julia had a split personality. She could even have multiple.

I folded the paper in a big stack.

“Will you not hide them?” — Julia asked in surprise.

“You’re so sharp. Not when you are around!”

The receptionist pouted.

“Then bring yourself up.”

I looked in the mirror and was about to fall. The smudged makeup, the traces of the printed sheets of paper and even the keyboard on my cheeks. In addition to it my eyes were surrounded by swelling and bruising. Not to forget my messy hair.

“A feeling that the bulldozer ran over me…” — I said terrified.

“Yeah, it looks bad.”

“Thanks, I’ve already heard it.”

I reached into my purse and removed the remnants of makeup with a damp cloth. Quickly made it of the necessary color, I put some makeup and, generally, was pleased with my look. I put my hair in order and checked the results of the morning refreshing, and realized that the consequences of spending the night out of the home can’t be removed completely.

Julia gave me a picky eye, grinned and inserted the key into the keyhole.

“The key to the door of Christopher’s room is in the keyhole,” — secretary whispered conspiratorially and departed, leaving me in front of a mirror in complete disarray.

“What were you doing there? The two of us?” — I heard a familiar sarcastic voice. — “Closed inside?”

“Good morning, Chris,” — Julia purred.

“Good morning, ladies.”

He gazed at the secretary and looked at me.

“You…” — his surprise told me a lot.

“Worked over night.” — I replied to his unasked question.

“Did you sleep in the office?”

I shrugged. His gaze slid to the stack of papers lying on my table.

“I see you have a lot of work. But how your ‘ongoing relationship’ survived the night without you?”

“Christopher, it was so good when refrained from commenting about me and my personal life for the whole week! If you have nothing urgent, can I go to work?!”

I walked over to the doorway and slammed the door right in front of my Director. Then I hid the paper in the safe, stretched my body enjoying myself, and began drinking the cooling coffee. After this procedure I felt starving.

There came a gentle tap from the office of Christopher.

“Pull him to the door, and he returns in window,” — I thought.

I reluctantly got up, turned the key and opened the door.

Chris stood in the doorway and looked at me.

“Can I invite you for breakfast?”

Ah mine, really never knew that Christopher had telepathic abilities.

“I’m not hungry,” — I lied.

Christopher eyebrow flew up.

“You woke up recently. All normal people eat breakfast in the morning.”

I shrugged.

“I promise not be vulgar,” — Chris said.

I was still confused and therefore not answered, heading to his table.

“It’s just a breakfast,” — made a helpless gesture Chris, walking behind me. — “It’s not even a date. A gesture of goodwill. Can I care for you?”

“Speaking of care. Did you find out about Maxim?” — sipping coffee, I asked.

“No, but I can offer an alternative.”

I questioningly raised an eyebrow.

“You’re coming with me to breakfast and in the evening we drive to his house. You see that he’s all right, give him… a slap in the face for the spent nerves. Then we…”

“Go home,” — I interrupted.

“That’s what I was about to say,” — Chris said discouraged.

I looked at him skeptically.

“We agreed — no vulgarity.”

“Okay, let’s go now,” — the hunger defeated me.

Christopher’s lips broke into a satisfied smile.


Cafes stayed many streets away from our office and didn’t look attractive. But they cooked well there. When alluring smell touched my nose, my stomach growled demanding food. As in many chap cafes we had to wait in line before getting the long-awaited food. People chose food as in a soviet period they chose sausage through showcase counter. Looking at the variety of dishes offered, the consumer asked to put any food he wanted and headed to the checkout. Next, he would to a cozy hall with many tables.

Christopher helped me to remove my coat when we were sitting at one of them.

“Where have you brought me? How can you eat?” — Je asked contemptuously looking around.

“I love how they cook here.”

“How sad it is!” — He frowned. — “Perhaps you never ate any delicious food. I have to cook something good for you sometime.”

“Do you cook?” — I was surprised, although I knew about his hobby.

“You should have tried my recent julienne…” — Chris closed his eyes, apparently remembering the taste of his latest masterpiece. — “Tasty chicken in cocotte with mushrooms and cheese. You have no idea what is a combination of Dutch cheese and mushrooms like. And when the dish is about to get rady the smell spread throughout the house. I am sure my neighbors never tried nothing like this. It is the chicken soaked in white wine what gives the dish a richness and fullness. And you should drink Australian Shiraz with it… Christina, you can not even imagine!”

I smiled: Christopher was a gourmet, and I realized that this place was clearly out of his league. He could never get how could someone not to care about food.

“Remind me to take you to one good restaurant. There are an excellent Japanese cuisine there.”

“Try what they make here, you’ll love it.”

“No, thank you, I’m not hungry,” — he said quickly. — “Where’s the waiter?” — He looked around the room.

I smiled genuinely. It was a pleasure to observe his behavior.

“Have you never been in this kind of canteen? You are so spoiled! Come on,” — I gave him a hand.

He looked scared at me.

“Don’t tell me that there is “self service”.

I smiled again and headed to the hall of selection. It was Christopher’s first time in this kind of institution and he continued look around in amazement.

“Oh, my God, we’re in the canteen!”

“Sort of,” — I shrugged.

“This is my deputy! She eats in the soviet eatery!”

I was beginning to chuckle, I was clearly amused at his behavior. He was like a cornered mouse that could undergo whatever. I knew him for a long time, but never expected to see such reaction to self-service canteen.

“Look, but there certainly must be cockroaches!” — Chris continued.

“As elsewhere,” — I confirmed. — “Shut up now!”

Under the watchful gaze of my companion, I took the tray and fork. Heading to the glass cases, I was thinking what to choose.

Christopher followed me, skeptically looking at meals.

“These chicken meatballs under imitation of a velvet sauce look quite appetizing,” — he said.

“And they are very tasty. I usually take them for lunch or dinner.”

“What are going to eat now?” — He asked in a hollow voice.

“I do not know. I’m ready to eat this all.”

“I advise to take a rice and…” — he thought for a moment. — “And meatballs under the imitation of a velvet sauce.”

I followed the advice Christopher, took the pancakes with cottage cheese and added a cup of cappuccino. The man also took coffee.

Christopher paid for my breakfast.

“Why is that?” — I asked.

“I use to pay for the woman in a cafe, restaurant or anywhere else.”

The cashier looked at Christopher and smiled. He smiled dazzling at her.

“You never do anything with no reason,” — I said thoughtfully.

Chris smiled again, apparently intending to say something, but then he changed his mind. I looked at him puzzled.

“Well, we’re agreed: no vulgarity,” — he replied to my silent question and helped me to carry the tray to our table. — “Bon appetite!”

“Thank you.”

“What are you working on?” — He asked, when I finished the meal and went for coffee.

“Financial reports,” — I answered vaguely. — “I try to understand some things to which I had not access when I was on the board of directors, as strange as it may sound.”

“You have a business of your own, and the board of directors is once a year, so this is understandable. What are these things?” — I thought, or Chris actually cringed.

I looked at him. He knew about the leakage of funds. It was clear from the check stubs with his name on it that I found yesterday.

“Yes,” — I shrugged. — “For example, I found out that periodically someone cashed money from our checking account on entertainment expenses. The amounts were small, but it affected the company’s profit for the year. And, oddly enough, there are no checks, confirming these costs.

“Weird,” — Chris lowered his eyes, thinking. — “How could Maxim not to know that confirmation is necessary? One audit — and we are closed down immediately!”

“That’s it. I don’t know how to explain it. I can’t understand why, Irina Andreevna didn’t say about that. She did not use balance in the accounts of working assets. Reports to investors would have reflected this.

“I may talk to her if you want/”

“No, don’t. It’s just my profitability indicators are in such poor condition that it is not surprising that you could buy our firm.”

Christopher stared at me. I waited his words.

“Do you blame me that Max had bad times recently?”

I studied him, wondering whether it was a good time to say that I knew whose name was on checks, or should I wait for more convenient opportunity?

“No,” — I looked away. — “I just wonder why he didn’t want to tell me about it.”

“Maybe you should ask him today”

“Of course,” — I nodded.

I knew that he won’t tell me anything, at least now.

We finished the coffee and got up from the table. Christopher took out his wallet with familiar gesture.

“Chris, we’ve already paid.”

“Don’t we leave tips here?” — He was surprised.

I shook my head.

“I can’t consider café decent if I don’t leave a generous tip after a delicious meal,” — Chris said giving me my coat. — “Was it delicious?”

“If you’re itching to do so,” — I smiled, — “put five hundred rubles to a glass. The dishwasher will be pleased.”

“Interesting idea.”

I smiled again, almost not realizing my environment. My mind went back to the world of numbers and reports. I thought about check stubs I found yesterday. Name of Longer appeared in almost all the papers found in the debris.

I wondered if he guessed that I might know something.

There was no doubt — he got rid of the evidence. But it was a very original way. He could just burn it. This would hide the traces and would not cause questions in those who could find it by chance. For example, I. So what could be in this cell? I thought about this yesterday until some moment my brain ceased to process the information. This why I spent two-three useless hours in the office. In addition, I fell asleep there.

On the way back we talked about some trivia. Near the office I thanked Chris for breakfast and went back to research paper.

A moment later I heard a faint melodious sound through the wall. It was Christopher’s cell phone. This was commonplace thing but for some reason it drew my attention at the moment. It broke my intense thinking for a few seconds. Then I went back to thoughts and study. Finally, fully convinced in my guesses, I decided to go to Christopher and talk to him. I had to learn something.

Armed with a small stack of checks, I went to the boss in anticipation of the confrontation.

I confidently opened the door of the Christopher’s room.

“Chris, guess what at night…” — I stopped and stood holding the handle of the door not finishing the phrase that was supposed to accuse him. The words stuck in my throat.

I was surprised. It was the first time I saw Christopher disheveled. Sitting in his chair he was pale as a sheet. The collar of his favorite shirt was bent clumsily and seemed torn out. The man rotated a pen in his shaking hand staring to the point somewhere in space and intensely thought about something.

He did not even hear me coming in. I didn’t recognize him because I have never seen him like this. Now in front of me there was a completely unknown man. Chris always looked after himself and had never allowed anyone to see him in sloppy. But now…

“What happened?” — I dared to ask finally.

He winced and looked at me. His green eyes were full of such pain that I automatically recoiled.

“Nothing, Ttin,” — his voice sounded muffled. — “Everything is okay.”

He tried to smile, but his face was like a mask of a tragedian.

“What’s the matter? What’s wrong with you? Can I help you?”

But he just shook his head blankly in response.

“Leave me alone,” — he swallowed. — “I want to be alone.”

I backed away. Before closing the door, I noticed that he dropped his head into his hands.


Something happened to him!

About half an hour I was walking forth and back my room with hasty steps and thought what could change Chris so much. My thoughts about checks and blaming vanished very quickly vanished… to be honest, recently I began believe that Chris only cared about himself and his success in bed and in business. But something happened today that proved otherwise.

Julia broke into the office without knocking.

“What happened to him?” — She asked from the doorstep.

I frowned at her. She looked as if she was ready to pull out my hair.

“What?” — I asked.

I didn’t really want to go into details of what I saw.

“He dumped me!” — Her eyes sparkled with evil.

“My condolences.”

“He just called a taxi and went somewhere. He was completely drunk and pale as paper. He told me to get lost somewhere far away. He explained nothing!”

“Where did he go?” — I asked worried.

“How do I know” — She told in a more calm tone.

Again I was puzzled by rapid mood swing of Julia. Now she was quite a decent, intelligent girl.

I sighed and fell on the sofa.

“Do you worry?” — Julia asked.

“And you’re not really upset.” — I said.

She shrugged her shoulders.

“I had many men. They often left me. One more, one less. It’s okay.”

My thoughts took me away from reality again. At first I thought about Christopher, then I remembered that we were supposed to go to Maxim home. Then again I thought of the cell in the safe, and then back about Christopher.

“Leave me alone,” — I said to Julia.

Perhaps she could read a lot from my face because Julia asked:

“Do you love him?”

I stared at the secretary, briefly noting that sometimes sparks of the mind glimpse in her head.

“No,” — I replied. — “He is just a good friend.”

“Who am I kidding? Myself or her?” — flashed unbidden thought.

Julia tried to smile and walked out the door.

I came back to mindless looking through papers that already annoyed me. Periodically getting distracted, I have called Maxim or had impulses to go for Christopher. The first answered me with a silence, the second I could not do because of pride. Besides, I didn’t know where he went. When considering both options, the imagination drew me a not very favorable perspective. I tried to concentrate on work, and after a while I did it.

The rest of the day passed without special shocks and events. Remembering Christopher’s desire to be alone, I didn’t bother him neither calls nor visits. But when the next day he did not showed up at work I still decided to dial his number.

My attempt has been ignored. No one was picking up. From now on, I rang to two my bosses: former and current. And both cases in vain. The decision came instantly. Again I put the paper in the safe, threw on my clothes and walked out of the office.

“Julia, I am on business.”

To some extent this was true. The secretary did not even look up from the computer. I had to hope that she was not chatting on ICQ or not playing at “Solitaire” during working hours.

It took an half of hour to get to the house of Christopher. I stood at the door, with my finger on the doorbell button. When I have already decided that the house was empty, the door opened and I saw heartbreaking picture. Christopher looked even worse than yesterday. Messy hair, two-day stubble. He smelled with sweat and booze. He was wearing the same clothes in which he left work yesterday. He did not even think to change clothes, although his shirt and pants were badly wrinkled. His half drunk, cold eyes looked on me.

“Did I interrupt something?” — hesitantly I asked.

He walked back a little, offering me to enter. I timidly crossed the doorstep of his apartment.

His hard gaze stopped on me again.

“How are you?” — I asked, hanging my coat in the closet.

“All right,” — he said, his gesture inviting me to go into hall.

The smell of alcohol seemed to have soaked into every corner of his apartment. Alcohol smelled from everywhere. The smell of cherry tobacco smoke was hanging In the kitchen. It’s long time since I noticed this habit in Christopher last.

“Why are you here?”

“Well,” — I hesitated. — “You didn’t answer my calls.”

Christopher chuckled and headed to the kitchen. There I heard the sound of clattering glasses.

I followed him and barely managed to snatch from his hands a bottle of whiskey.

“Stop,” — I said. — “You’re quite drunk.”

He obscenely swore and threw a glass on the floor. It broke into pieces on the hard tile.

“Don’t even think to pour it!” — He angrily pointed me with the finger, threatening notes in his voice.

“You’re crazy! It’s Silver Seal,” — I reassured him and put whiskey in the cupboard. — “Why would you not calm down, get yourself cleaned, rested a little, and when you get sober we could talk.”

Christopher turned away, his whole appearance indicating that he did not like that prospect.

“Relax,” — I said quietly to him.

“As I understand it, I have no choice?!” — He asked angily.

“No, why,” — I pushed him in the back, directing to the bathroom. — “You can get me out the door, continue drinking, to take the day off, looking disgusting and smelling bad. Then, for whatever reason you grieve, you will begin to feel sorry for yourself. Then there will be the stage of moral drop. And then you’ll remember yourself in the better days and either take yourself in your hands or continue to feel sorry for yourself. In the second case you’ll become alcoholic. And it seems more probably judging by your attitude towards drinking.”

“Come On, Christina! I’m not a child!” — He interrupted, turned around and looked at me severely.

“Whatever,” — I shrugged. — “But I would still advice you to go to the bathroom.”

“Don’t tell me what to do!”

“I can leave.”

“As you like.”

Words hung in the air. I looked down at the floor. Did he hurt me? Judging by the unpleasant feeling deep in my chest, yes, I felt hurt.

“Whatever,” — I repeated his words softly, nodded and resigned to the fact that I was practically kicked out the door. — “Okay,” — I sighed. — “You are a bad buddy today anyway.”

I went into the hallway and opened the closet.

Suddenly Christopher gently took me by the hand, thereby making it difficult to get my coat.

I winced, because I did not hear him approaching.

“Sorry, Christina,” — he said quietly. — “I’m a little out of humor.”

“I noticed. All right, Chris. Given that it’s for the first time in my life I see you in that condition, you are forgiven,” — I turned to him.

“Glad you came. Stay.”

I looked searchingly at Christopher, thinking over his words.

This tone of voice is used with lovers. This made me confused. Once more I was at Christopher’s territory. Here he felt more confident. On the other hand, I had come to him. But I came not in order to “stay”. In the end, I needed answers to many questions, the number of which continued to increase.

“Okay,” — I finally said.

“Would you wait a little? I need to take a shower. Make yourself at home. I’ll be back soon,” — he said but then he went not in the direction of the bathroom.

Chris slipped into the room and I heard him searching for something. I could hear from the open door sounds of rustling paper and the small objects movement.

The temptation to peep was struggling with the demands of morality. Morality won, and I went to the bathroom. I was wondering what’s out there. Especially because I had not chance to look inside when I was here last time.

I opened the door. There were two more doors to the left and right ahead. Behind the first of it there was a restroom with emerald-green tile, and the bathroom behind the second. It was made in white and blue tones. The floor tile was warm.

How they do it?

The shower stood right in front the entrance. Towels hang beside it on the wall. To the left of the shower there was chic, large, roomy Jacuzzi. Closer to me, against the wall a sink stood. Above it there was a locker, as I could assume it consisted toothbrushes, shampoos, razors and other bathroom supplies. And closer to the door stood a washing machine and an empty basket for dirty linen. Waterproof blue rugs on the floor near Jacuzzi, shower stall and sink.

“Want to join?” — Chris asked without a hint of humor when he silently emerged behind me again.

I shuddered again.

“Damn you, Chris! You’re like a Ghost! Don’t scare me!”

“So what?” — He asked again staring at me.

His eyes had a mischievous sparkle that I was used to see. There was only ice, which was almost touched with the hidden sadness and slight violence. Considering his current condition it was weird to hear such a proposal. I knew that his condition did not allow jokes.

“I think I will not.” — I walked out the door.

After a few moments the water rustled in the bathroom and I began wandering around the room. It’s time to check out his room. To my surprise, the door to this room was closed. I again pulled handle. To no avail.

I looked at the door surprised, turned, as if I could ask Christopher what was it about. And then decided that if he has secrets from me, I didn’t want to know what it was. I respect personal space, unlike someone.

I went to the bedroom. There was a new element of the interior in the room. A large monitor fifty-one inches in diagonal hung almost under the ceiling at an angle of 45 degrees. Probably it was very comfortable to watch lying in the bed. Speakers-satellites stayed at the corners of the bedroom. A sound system and DVD player stayed on a small table on the floor.

I went back into the living room and sat down on the sofa, standing in the center of the room. It had a cloak of some material very pleasant for touch. Leather upholstery was hidden under the cloak. I smiled. The sofa was not big black but big beige. Last time I couldn’t see these details. But I realized that laying there it would be convenient to watch TV which stood between the doors to the bedroom and office.

This once again confirmed my idea that Christopher loved the comfort.

On the coffee table I found some magazines in glossy covers. They were discussing music, computers, Internet, automobiles and other men’s topics. Scrolling through the pictures, I gave some time to the first not really interested in the contents of the others. With pleasure I read some articles.

Finally the bathroom door swung open and Christopher came from it. He was wearing only a towel knotted at the hips.

“My God!” — I turned away. — “Chris! Behave yourself!”

However the look of his wet, strong, tanned body strongly imprinted in my memory.

“Well, you know,” — he said. — “I’m used to, actually go from the bath naked. Say ‘thanx’ that I’m wearing this.”

I didn’t answer. Chris that came from the bath was very different. One that was more familiar to me.

He apparently kept looking at me.

“Shy?” — He asked puzzled after a moment’s pause.

I cleared my throat.

“No, I just… didn’t expect this from you. Rather, one could expect just about anything from you. But still you caught me off guard.”

“Long time without man, Tin, — Christopher made a conclusion and went to the bedroom.

I again plunged into reading the article, but I understood not much of what was written there.

Christopher got dressed. Now he was wearing a bright Polo and khaki pants. He sat next to me in the corner of the sofa. He smelled the freshness of the sea and a toilet water familiar to me already. I looked at him. There was almost nothing of a drunk man who met me today. Only his eyes were slightly clouded. However, I did not quite understand whether it was the pain that I saw yesterday, or the remnants of intoxication?

“Are your parents alive?” — He asked suddenly.

I put down the magazine and looked at him.

“Yes,” — I replied.

“Brothers or sisters?”

“No. I’m the only child in the family.”

“Do they live here in town?”

“Yes, at the Nemiga.”

“Probably, you see them often?”

“Almost not,” — I replied and for some reason I felt sad.

“Would you like to do it more often?”

“I don’t know, Chris. Why you ask?”

He didn’t answer. Just leaned back in the couch, threw an arm behind his head, stretched out his legs. He was half seated-half lying, thoughtfully looking somewhere into the ceiling.

“Are you all right?” — I asked, guessing what the matter it was, why these questions about my family.

“It’s just…” — he stopped.

I patiently waited.

“I…” — it was hard for him to speak. — “Well…” — he sighed, gathering his thoughts. — “I have no family anymore, Tin. They all — my sister and father — had an accident. The most important people to me disappeared in an instant. And I…”

I listened to him, afraid to move.

“I always thought I should feel if something happens with family. This should be like foresight, or concern, or a shot, like a light electric shock. After all, it’s your flesh and blood. It’s part of you. But in real everything goes as usual at that moment. What happens, happens away from you and does not intersect with your life feeling in this moment. It happens, that’s all.”

“I am sorry,” — I said softly.

I had no idea what would have become of me if my parents died. And how would I feel if I reported this to a stranger. One phone call may undo everything in your life in an instant. Surely at this moment you realize that you will never tell them what you were going to say. You will never see their loved faces and will not hear their voices.

“When’s the funeral?” — I asked carefully.

“There is nothing to bury, Tn. They crashed, flying on a plane to France. Everyone died. What irony!” — Chris chuckled bitterly. — “They died, flying to visit the grave of my grandmother with my grandfather. Life is still such a Joker. And I could go with them, but at the last moment I changed my mind.”

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Chris,” — I took his hand. — “I understand that the word can’t help you now. But,” — I sighed, — “you’re alive. Hold on. Life goes on. They are in a better world now,” — I stopped unable to say more.

I’ve never been able to express myself in such situations. To congratulate for birthday, to say beautiful toast, to wish someone all the best — it was easy. But to find the right words of comfort is quite different thing. I could only to be awkwardly silent.

“Do you really believe that?” — Chris, still reclining, stared at the ceiling.

“It is easier, this way,” — I replied still feeling embarrassed and shrugged. — “And… my mother told me this in childhood when my grandma died.”

“What she died of?”

“She was old,” — I grudgingly smiled.

“A grandfather?”

“I didn’t know him. He died in the war. And is your mother alive?” — I dared to ask this question at last.

He shook his head.

“She died in childbirth.”

“Sorry, “– I said again and took a pause. — “What are you going to do?”

“I will have to bury an empty coffin. Rather, the two empty coffins.”

“I am very sorry that I was not familiar with your loved ones.”

“I feel the same, Tin,” — he winced, touched his forehead with hand and stood up.

I let go of his hand. He carefully followed this gesture, but said nothing.

“I have aspirin,” — for some reason I smiled guiltily.

“Thank you,” — Christopher smiled, — “but I have it too. It is unlikely to help.”

He got up from the sofa.

“How can I help?” — I asked.

He again just shook his head, got up and headed to the kitchen.

When he returned and lay down on the sofa again, we began trivia chatting. I tried to distract him from the sad thoughts. We talked about everything and nothing in particular. When, finally, smile appeared at his lips, my phone rang.


“Hello, my little fox,” — Is heard familiar voice in a tube.

“Anton?” — I was surprised. — “So, you arrived?”

Christopher curiously looked at me and raised an eyebrow questioningly, while I went to the kitchen trying to be quiet.

“Yes, and I miss you terribly. Are you at work? I could pick you up in the evening, and we could go somewhere. I have a lot of interesting news. I have a lot of things to tell. How are you?”

“Look, I’m not at work,” — I replied, wincing.

To say that he was in a bad time was to say nothing.

“Where at? Home? Then I can go over to your house. It’s even better.”

“No,” — I grimaced, looked out from the kitchen, looked at Christopher who still was thoughtful, and quickly glanced at the place where I was. — “I am in the Director’s. There were some issues, and, well, it is a meeting.”

“What, are you at the house of the Director?” — Anton was quite sharp.

“Yes. I tell you, that there were some issues.”

“And you went to his house? Hope it’s your former boss, Maxim, not new one. Because the latter, as far as I know, is a total jerk and also quite a stallion.”

“I see that you know too much for a man who just returned from a business trip,” — I said austere and almost angrily, surprised by my own reaction to his remark.

“I have my channels. Okay, Christina, solve your issues. Call me when you are done, my offer stands.”

“Okay, I’ll call you tonight and we’ll figure something out.”

“Okay, little fox. Kiss you.”

“I also. Take care.”

I hung up and looked out the window. It began to get dark.

He was the last thing I need now!

No, if I said that Anton annoyed me I would lie, but it happened that his calls or visits were completely out of place. Despite this, he was very cute and interesting man. Grey eyes, blonde hair, trim figure. He was completely my type, but there were very many “but”. I didn’t know how to describe, just these little things annoyed me too much and as a temporary interest.

“At the meeting,” — smiled Christopher, when I re-entered the living room. — “Do you know that lying is bad?”

“And what was I supposed to say? I get my Director out of drinking bout?”

“By the way, why this sudden concern?” — His eyes almost became mischievous sparkling as before.

At lease it seemed to me so.

“You didn’t answer my calls.” — I repeated stubbornly the cause of my visit.

“Okay. So you wanted to talk to me?”

“Yes,” — I sat next to him. — I did. But I don’t think it’s the right time now.”

“Depending on the type of talk,” — pain slipped to the eyes of Christopher again.

“Let’s put it off for later. It may wait.”

Chris nodded.

In fact, I badly wanted to talk to him about those large sums of money specified in the checks. I also wanted to know where the reports on business trips and other representational costs were. And what was in the cell, finally? Perhaps it was foolish to ask these questions Chris, since he could be directly associated to the ruin “of Maxichris”. But he was the closest person to me among all my friends. I sincerely tried to trust him for many years. Of course I could talk with Irina Andreevna. Anyway, she is our chief accountant.

“Tin,” — I heard Christopher’s voice.

I blinked and looked at the man.

“Where are you?”

“I’m here,” — I sleepily smiled. — “I think I should go.”

“Where?” — Man was surprised.

“Home,” — I stood up from the couch.

“No,” — he gently took my hand. — “No, Tin. It is not even seven p.m.”

“Christopher, if you remember, yesterday I slept out of home, and today I have not had time to rest. In the end, can I take a shower and go to bed early?”

“Well, I proposed you my shower and you may go to sleep right now. I also do not mind to go to bed early.”

“Christopher, you were so nice until started these things of yours again,” — I gently released my wrist from his hand.

“Today I was miserable, among other things.”

“Not anymore?”

“Well, you helped me a lot.”

“You’re welcome,” — I smiled trying to outrun his gratitude.

“But if you leave I’ll be miserable again.”

“Chris,” — I said sternly. — “Do not ruin this evening. Don’t test my kindness.”

“We will not do anything,” — he said and added after short thinking. — “Of course, if you would not want.”

I said nothing and went into the hallway.

Christopher followed me.

“Tomorrow is Christmas eve,” — man said thoughtfully, successfully changing the topic.

“What? Is it twenty fourth already?” — I said with surprise, buttoning my winter boots.

Chris nodded.

“What are you planning to do?” — He asked.

“Except of waiting for the miracle? Probably nothing. I’m not used to celebrate catholic Christmas. Or and any other. For me, holiday is the New year. Santa Claus, gifts, you know.”

“How about that guy who called you today? Do you have serious relationships with him?”

I stared at Christopher, trying to understand why he asked me this question. I did not see anything in his eyes but interest.

“You men always know when another man is calls a woman,” — I said.

Chris smiled and continued echoing my intonation:

“In the same way as you ladies always know when we, men, call another woman.”

Grinning I tied a scarf.

“You did not answer,” — said Chris insistently.

“If I hadn’t known you so long, Christopher, I would think that you’re jealous.”

“Of course I’m jealous, Tin.”

Chris got one more studying glance from me.

“Well,” — I decided not to go into the details of his words. — “I am serious about Anton,” — I thought a little and added. — “Probably.”

“What do you mean ‘probably’? You either have the man or not.”

“Good night, Chris,” — I smiled and opened the door of the wardrobe.

“Wait!” — Chris gave me a coat. — “Are you planning to marry him, have many children and live to the rest of your days happily ever after?”

“Mmmmay be.”

“But I thought I was the only man in your life.”

“As a director, perhaps.”

“How! That is, you don’t see me as a man?” — He asked surprised and somewhat offended.

“Chris, I apologize, but, in my opinion, you had very heavy and not very pleasant day today. And I would advise you to have a good rest. Maybe you should take a vacation for a week or two? I’ll make vacation papers tomorrow if you want.”

“Make it,” — he agreed.

“And don’t drink anymore. Okay? I will not come get you out anymore. Good night.”

“Night,” — man sighed.

I said sorry again and walked out the door.

Chapter 7

On the way home I stopped by the “Capital”. This underground shopping Mall was one of the main avenues of our city. I was overjoyed by stacked Parking. I have always loved to go down to the lowest level, maneuvering through the narrow descent. The first time was quite scary for the casing of the machine, but later I got used to it.

Three floors of the Mall were filled with garlands and Christmas tinsel. The lights shimmered, the windows sparkled. The highly polished floor reflected all this diversity, there I wandered in thought. I had to buy Christmas gifts for myself, Anton and parents. The tragedy of Christopher made me think of different situations that happens in life that I have to be able to appreciate what I have at the moment.

After a few hours my eyes dazzled and the multi-ton structure over the head slightly pressed on my vision of reality. But I managed to acquire purely symbolic gifts. For parents I bought two sets: for knitting for mom, and tools for repair for dad. For myself I bought an autumn dress that I just could not miss. It caught my attention from the beginning; it had a white Bolero with elegant stand-up collar. Also I bought a full set: black and grey dress in ragged stripes. For Anton I bought an SD card of sixteen gigabytes. He worked as a journalist and occasionally complained to me that his memory cards do not work long enough. I could not resist and bought a present for Christopher. I hesitated between a Parker pen and drunken chess. I wasn’t going to support his love to drinking, but at the same time, I wanted to remind him of the times when we often communicated.

As now I remember the day when we met:

Frosty and snowy winter of 1999. The twentieth of December. Saturday. 23:13. I was twenty-three years.

I was driving home after a heavy quarrel with my boyfriend. I had the used car of my parents, Reno 1987 pink color (dad bought it for my mom). Lialechka, as we called it in our family, was hardly working, especially in winter, and I used it only in cases of extreme necessity.

I was completely unhappy and nervous because everything turned out to be unsatisfactory. And it was not only about relationships. I was loaded at work and dreamed of a brilliant career that will give me the opportunity to live, not counting the money. I almost lost a big bargain and possibility to purchase the apartment, not without the help of parents of course, who did not want to let me go living on my own.

I was driving on the Avenue Masherova (later renamed), the speakers played Enigma, the first and last album — The Cross of Changes. Songs perfectly reflected my current state: “Return to Innocence”, “I Love You… I’ll Kill You”, “Silent Warrior”, “Age of Loneliness” and, of course, “Out from the Deep”.

And suddenly at almost deserted road, leaving the rotation in a beautiful drift, there was a black BMW that stopped, almost touching the curb.

Naturally, I crashed into this car just because there was nothing I could do to prevent it. It not snow, the sound of the brakes squeal could complete the picture.

The driver’s door of my car opened at the same time as at BMW:

“What the hell!”

“What do you mean ‘what the hell’? ” — I resented getting opportunity to blow off steam for my failed evening. — “Mind your way! You are not alone on the road even at such later time.”

“Oh. A beautiful bitch here,” — replied me handsome brunette, who was the driver of the drifting vehicle. – “And she probably wants to say that’s not her fault that she squeezed my ass”

“I’ll squeeze more than just your ass, asshole.”

“May you be more specific here?” — The green-eyed boy grinned.

His eyes were clearly visible in the light of the roadside lantern, but instead of anger they irradiated… excitement?

“Are you flirting with me?” — I frowned. — “Got the time.”

“Lady, you smashed my car,” — guy falsely protested. — “Is that better?”

“Much better. I am aimed for a fight,” –I said honestly.

“Argue, I will listen”.

I looked at him puzzled.

“My name is Chris,” — he winked at me. — “And yet, how are we going to get out of this situation? You got into my rear bumper, squashed your front side. Or not yours? It’s even your car?”

“Yeah,” — I truly lied.

“A parent’s or friend’s?” — He smiled.

I wisely said nothing.

“No police,” — Chris took the initiative in his hands. — “I invite you for a Cup of coffee, as an excuse for my rash behavior. What night cafes are in the area?”

“And will you propose coffee to my parents or a friend too?”

“So, after all this is not your car.”

“No, I’m just saying that the coffee will not pay for repairs to the front bumper.”

Chris eyed me appraisingly:

“What mercantilism it is…”

“What were you thinking? If the car is not mine, as you suggested, I don’t want to blush talking to owner.”

“Then maybe we could go to my place and figure something out in the morning? Because no one service station will work before nine a.m. on Sunday morning.

“No way,” — I laughed. — “Either you give me,” — I looked at the dented bumper, assessing the damage, — “thirty bucks, or we call the police.”

“How?” — The guy smiled. — “Do you see a pay phone or a Bank?”

“Touché.” — I admitted and did not tell about the night café that we were not likely to find.

“So, maybe we’re going to my place? I make great coffee.” –Chris not retreated.

“Is it how you get acquainted with girls?” — I smiled. — “Beautiful drift, stopping the engine. And here you are talking to her. And now she’s coming to you? So simple? Does it not make you bankrupt?

“This is first time for me,” — it seemed, Chris admitted frankly.

“Oh, come on. Say, it is an “obsession”.

“No. I will not say. But you’re a beautiful… Stranger.”

“Thank you. But I’m not buying such things.”

“Why? What is wrong with you?”

“My car is somehow broken if you haven’t noticed. This is a great addition to a bad evening.

“What happened?”

“Suppose, today I broke up with a guy,” –don’t know why I said this. –“Does this answer your question?”

“Why?” — He expressed a sincere interest and compassion.

“Why I left him or why this answers your question?”

“First one.”

“But isn’t it too straight questions for a first meeting?”

“Okay, if you want to play dark horse, I will not interfere, stranger,” — he got in his car.

“Hey!” — I was indignant when his silhouette disappeared into the car.

I hurried to my Renault and followed him. I’ve got nothing else to do, because I had intended to get from Chris these poor 30 bucks.

It was snowing. With large flakes it slowly fell on the windshield, and it would be kind of romantic if not for my desire to get home and fix the car.

I caught up with my new acquaintance and opened the side window.

“Chris!” — I shouted. –“What about compensation for the accident?”

“Ah the Beauty?” — He replied. — So you decided to follow me? Do you not find the snow romantic addition to our meeting? In some parts of Japan it’s pretty rare”.

“In Africa it never happens.” — I shouted. — “So did we become closer? If yes, then you will pay me or not?”

“Let me think. We’re almost there. Let’s decide at the place,” — and he closed its window.

“Good talk”, — I muttered.

His car soon turned into the yard, and I followed him.

“What do you want from me?” — Chris approached my car and asked.

“Thirty bucks” – I said, opening the window and unfastening the seat belt.

“I like women who know what they want. Money are at my house. Will you rise?”




Christopher grinned.

“Coffee?” — He asked again.


“The best in town.”

I smiled:

“Will you take it out?”

“It is quickly getting cold at frost. And if you want the money, I said you: ‘perhaps’. But, if you get tired to wait, I’m in thirty-sixth apartment.” — And Christopher was gone.

“Such a bullshit,” — I muttered.

The radio played the song of Metallica — “Nothing Else Matters”.

And I thought, maybe it is right? What matters now? The fact that I bury a previous relationship? Or what I need to withstand the distance between past and current? And now such a man like Chris — stylish, original, beautiful made clear hints to my address, Holy shit. What if there is something wrong about him or I don’t like something?

What do I lose? He does not even know my name. And I need to relieve tension. Even if that would be one-night stands that will make me regret later?

No. I will not regret. Nobody regrets about men like this one. Women keep memories of them in a storeroom of memories, savoring every detail. If only there was something to remember.

I took a deep breath, glancing at myself in the rearview mirror: makeup surprisingly lasts all day; the shade has worn off, but within reasonable limits, the lipstick… I corrected the omission in a quick, familiar movement. I touched my hair and turned off the engine.

And then there was a knock at the window.

“Stranger,” — I heard his voice. — “I brought you coffee because I was tired of waiting.”

I rolled down the window.

“It did not have time to get cold” — Chris said handing me a cup.

I took the cup from his outstretched hand.

“Thank you,” — I said stunned.

“Your thirty bucks,” — then he handed me money.

“Thank you,” — I answered with the same detachment feeling some disappointment.

“Good night…”

“Cristina,” — I replied. — “My name is Christina.”

“Nice to meet you. Good night, Christina,” — he kissed the back side of my hand, taking my hand in his.

“Good night… Christopher? Right?” — I replied.


We parted this evening.

“What a bullshit,” — was what I whispered to the closed window.


When few days later I brought him a cup, then we played drunken chess. I was a fairly mediocre player and he also, besides considering the amount of alcohol consumed we completely lost deduction and logic with time. And the game itself was more like a give-away checkers, just with other figures. How we did it I still can’t explain.

That night happened the first act of our Le ballet de la Merlaison, which became the beginning of the a few years-long game. He was courteous, very sweet, but I took the dialogue away from sexual themes that might concern us while continuing to flirt and wondering myself. Who of us started this game by spontaneously set rules of omissions? Mutual unspoken agreement produced an acute tension and excitement. To keep this feeling as long as possible, I was ready to play for many years.

He asked me: why I broke up with my boyfriend, with whom I live, what is my work, what are my hobbies, who are my friends. Chris joked softly, he did not offend anyone and not condemned. And for some reason I answered his questions truthfully and not sincere. Chris was likable from the first minute of communication.

That night when we sat on his couch and were quite drunk, to do all kinds of silly things, I caught some of his outright looks. And then suddenly he gently touched my chin and forcibly turned my head.

I succumbed to his touch, and in the next second his lips touched mine. I did not really understand what happened.

His soft lips caused a storm of emotions inside me. Soft, light pressure after a while, tantalizing, rarely was showing the tongue, leaving a sense of incompleteness kiss. And when I realized that my lips ready to erupt with a moan, it stopped.

I held my breath, relishing every detail in the memory. Then I have long lived with this memory, the next day I even wrote a poem about this kiss.

That night ended with nothing. I went home and thanked him for his company, surprised that he asked me no phone, no address. There was no proposition to meet again.

On the way home I really started thinking hard about what was wrong with me and as it possible that he did not like the way I kissed? At that time I desperately wanted to keep a new friend. Then my friend the psychologist told me about the effect of unfinished action. And then it became clear why this memory lasted so long. There was no a real kiss. He just teased me — and that’s all.

Imagine my surprise when we met at the gym that I attended.

“Are you following me?” — With a beaming smile he walked over to the stationary bike, on which I climbed the hill, putting nearly the maximum load.

“What a coincidence!” — Making a last round with pedals, I stopped and sighed. –“What are you doing here?” — I was pleasantly surprised.

“This is the gym where I go to for many years. And for you it is inconvenient to drive here from home.”

I smiled:

“Well, I kind of like it here.”

So we began to visit the same gym with him. Then the same English class. Periodically visiting each other’s houses, we talked a lot, and I began to learn what this man is like.

There was no another kiss, and no anything else. The time came when he decided to become a good friend of mine. And then I worried that he might think that I was a bad kisser. Yes, I had so many ideas. I knew that he liked me, but he did not take any steps from his side.

At that time each of us had a personal life that we, without a twinge of conscience, were periodically sharing with each other. I was interested in his jealousy, but why he told me everything, I didn’t know. My short-time lovers I wouldn’t call personal life. Same was true to the crowd of his girlfriends, replacing one another more often than normal people change gloves.

I understood that he probably needed an incentive: a reason to be jealous and do some actions. Not real and fictional guys who wanted me but a serious danger that I may get serious about someone. Lovers are temporary and not dangerous, but the guy with intentions…

Moreover, I noted, he repeatedly mentioned that he had to recapture all of his girls. I thought it made everything spicy for him. Why to go after girl, if nobody wants her? If she has no one, so maybe there something wrong with her? As nobody wants her, maybe there is no need to hunt for her?

This is a simple conclusion that I got after much analysis of the psychological portrait and motives of Chris.

But all this changed in some time, when I got a boyfriend. I thought Chris started to pull away from me. And I was really worried about it. Gorgeous, at first glance, the scheme started to come apart and has acquired a different meaning when I realized that to sacrifice the feelings of my new boyfriend was not as easy as it first seemed. Especially considering the rather strong sympathy I had for Egor.

We started to see each other less often with Chris, making excuses in business or just not having time that, in essence, was the same.

How much I missed him! At that time he was the only person I could trust and felt at ease being around.

And then Chris showed up drunk on my doorstep and after a brief conversation, gave me and Egor period of two months, after which Egor would leave me. I argued that he was wrong.

We had a bet.

If I lose, then Christopher fulfills my wish — a kiss, if he does — we have sex.

I really didn’t know what to do: win or lose. Our argument has no defeated.

And I really broke up with Egor a month later. In the appointed time Chris has fulfilled neither one nor the other obligations.

I thought even more, wondering what was wrong with us. The only thing came to my mind then — he felt too strong about me to put me in a row with other one-night girls. He did not want to lose relationship with me. Was he really afraid to fall in love? In the end, we tried to deny statement that there no friendship between a man and a woman. I knew that this was the case. There is no.

After an evening of shopping marathon and the memories I finally arrived home with the pack of drunken chess I bought.

I went up to the second floor, relaxed for a while in the bath full of fragrant foam. And then I went to sleep. I was simply not able to meet with Anton. And I forgot to call him.

Chapter 8

The next day Christopher, as I expected, did not show up for work. All morning I dealt with current affairs and explained Anton why I didn’t call last night. In the end, we agreed to meet after work. He promised to pick me up and made a surprise. I was looking forward to the evening. But first I had one more thing that I planned a day ago.

I went to Irina Andreevna. To get to her office one had to go through the office of accounting. There were few working place. There worked Eugene, Olga and Sergey — all of them were experts in their fields: salary, staff, and other accounting.

I knocked to the office of the chief accountant under the curious gaze of workers.

“Come in,” — was heard from behind the closed door.

“Am I interrupting?” — I asked politely.

“No, Christinochka, you aren’t!”

I winced. I can’t stand it when they call me this way.

Irina Andreevna was full aged lady. She loved her green sweater and almost never got out of it. To complete the portrait, she had short hair that, in my opinion, looked bad — dyed brown hair and gray colorless eyes. Irina was incredibly smart and very shrewd woman.

“How are you?” — I decided to start from afar.

“Well, thank you,” — she said irritably. — “A lot of work.”

“It’s always a lot.”

“May I help you?” — She decided to spare me unnecessary questions. — “Because if you came to drink tea and to talk heart to heart then you chose the wrong address.”

She was always in a hurry and was always busy so everybody got used to her somewhat rude manner of communication. Nevertheless, I said quite strictly:

“Irina Andreevna, if you think that this tone is appropriate to conversation to the Deputy Director, then I can assure you it is not.”

“Sorry, Christina Yurievna,” — however, I heard a sneer in her voice. — “I just have a lot of work to do. And I would love to figure out the upcoming issues as soon as possible. So what do you want?”

I stared at the woman. She did not consider me her chief, clearly assuming that I got the position through the bed. Julia must have told anyone she could that I was appointed after I left the theater with Christopher. How could a secretary know this was not clear to me.

“Being the new Deputy I must check some things in the affairs of our company.”

“I listen,” — Irina said and her tone emphasized impatience.

“Checking the papers for the current and previous years, I found severe mistakes. Let’s say they are simply impermissible. There were no reports for travel and representational expenses.”

Irina Andreevna listened carefully. I continued.

“Shall I tell you that the amounts for these items approached astronomical in the last years? You as the chief accountant should be aware of what is happening. Would you please to explain it to me.

“All documents you want has Maxim.”

“Maxim?” — I did not expect another answer. — “It is strange. It seemed to me that the chief accountant is still you. And as a good chief accountant, which I always thought of you,” — I specifically used the word in past tense — “you must keep records at the proper level with the proper responsibility.”

The woman was silent.

“Well, why don’t you tell something? Where are cash orders confirming withdrawal of funds from the account? Where are travel reports? Where are papers confirming the amount of entertainment expenses?”

“At our financial Manager. Maxim,” — Irina Andreevna repeated.

“Where exactly Maxim keeps it?”

“I can’t know,” — Irina said with undisguised pathos. — “He demanded these documents to his table.”

“How about the copies?”

“I did not make it.”

I questioningly raised an eyebrow.

“Look… I didn’t give documents to some people from outside. It was a Maxim. Okay? And at that time he was a financial Manager and Chairman of the Board of Directors. In fact, the boss. Not to trust him and worry for the safety of the documents was the last thing I could think of.”

“And what if there was an audit? You could get in trouble for the same amount and with awful consequences!”

“Do you threat me?” — Woman stiffened/

“Not at all! If you remember, this is my company too… it was.”

“It was,” — Irina repeated. — “See what happens. Christopher will get the most of it as the Director. I will have little less as the chief accountant. But if to consider that you are a former co-owner… resentful and angry former member of the Board of Directors, it is good for you to send inspectors to us. After this you may buy ‘Golden’ shares cheap. How much interest do you have left? Six?”

I shuddered. I thought this information was known only to me and Maxim.

“A lot. At the same time you could take back on Christopher for the attitude in the team. How convenient to you it is,” — Irina smiled. — “Be careful, something may happened…”

I was looking at the woman. Who would have thought that the latter events of my life could be explained in this way.

“Do you threat me?” — Now it was my time to ask.

“No,” — she said indifferently. — “Just reasoning. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to work.”

The woman opened the folder, forgetting about my existence.

I walked out the door understanding that it was possible to keep the situation under control. Everything collapsed and crumbled in my hands.

I drag myself to my office and sank onto the couch.

“On the way home,” — I remembered one of my favorite films “Mindhunters”. — “You only may control the situation on the way home.”

My cell phone rang and distracted me from looking for the answer to the rhetorical questions.

I sighed, realizing that the last time I could only dream about rest.

A familiar number occurred on the blue display.

“I listen you, Chris,” — I said. — “What is it?”

“Hey, Christina. Are you at work?” — The voice of my Director was o quite sober.

“Where else would I be?” — I replied with a question. — “Are you drunk?”

“A little. But not much enough to not come here not to accompany you to Maxim.”

“Why have you come?” — I asked. — “I made a vacation list for you for two weeks.”

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. I’m waiting for you in the Parking lot.”

“Chris, could we do it at evening?”

I glanced at the clock. They showed a quarter to the one p.m.

“Apparently, you’re not used to your new position in the company. You’re the Deputy Director, so you can leave at any time convenient for you.”

“I am not used to it,” — honestly I said. — “Unless, of course, I have no urgent case to do.”

“Is a trip to Maxim not urgent case?” –Chris was surprised Chris. — “You seemed worried.”

“This does not apply to our company.”

“How come does not apply?” — He paused. — “We have do something about your meticulousness,” — he paused again. — “Then as your boss I command you to go to the first floor and sit in my car.”

“Oh, well, if you command, this changes everything,” — I agreed playfully.

“Should I go upstairs and provide it in writing?”

“Okay, I come,” — I hung up and put on a coat.

I closed my room, then I went down to the Parking lot and got in the car to Chris. The signs of insomnia were at his face.

“Why are you drunk?” — I asked.

“I just got back from the funeral.”

I decided not to keep asking because that would be insensitive on my part. I could only assume that he was working on the organization of this sad event all night long. But it was a riddle for me when he managed to do that.

We turned back onto the Avenue and drove toward the Green Meadows. Maxim live there.

We got to the place pretty quickly. Christopher always was a wild driver, and today even more so. Apparently, the alcohol in his blood has deprived man of the brakes. I pressed into the seat in fear when we flew through the streets, overtaking cars and breaking the rules, or slipped on a red signal of a traffic light. When we arrived, I sighed with relief, giving myself a word that I will never sit Christopher’s car anymore. I love my life.

Maxim lived in a typical nine-floor building. We found the right entrance and went up to the desired level. After repeating familiar ritual of pressing doorbell button, Chris pulled out his key.

“Where did you get it from?”

Chris grinned.

“Let’s say, one of our common friend of was so nice…”

“Okay,” — I interrupted, knowing that he meant Julian.

He smiled. The key grated in the keyhole, and the door reluctantly opened. The next moment the nasty smell hit the nose.

“What is it?” — I pinched nose because it was impossible to endure such a sickening stench.

It seemed that Chris instantly sobered up. He gently but firmly moved me aside and went into the apartment. I followed him.

“Don’t follow me,” — he said.

I stopped, wisely heeding. A thousand unpleasant pictures rep second flashed in my head as I stayed there and worried. An inner voice told me what was this smell, and when Chris appeared in the doorway, pale as a sheet, I already knew what he found in the apartment.

“Let’s go,” — he said to me.

“Is it… Max?” — I tried to control myself.

Chris nodded breathlessly. My knees began to nervously tremble.

“What… what happened to him?”

“He was shot,” — Chris turned and headed for the exit. — “Too much blood,” — he said in a low voice, closing the door. — “Let’s get out of here, I don’t feel well,” — and he literally dragged me out…

The meaning of what have happened became to overflow me.

What happened next, I can hardly remember. It was — Christopher called an ambulance and the police. They arrived very quickly, asked a lot of questions about how we got to the house, what relationships we had with the deceased, where have we spent our time at the night of the twenty-first of December. The medical examiner said that it was the date of the murder. He said that it happened more than three days ago, therefore it needs time to determine the exact time of death. Presumably, this was the night.

Where have I spent the night of the twenty-first of December? I don’t remember even what I had for breakfast today!


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