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Near Zero

by Natan Dubovitsky

translated by Bill Bowler

Near Zero: synopsis

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

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

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

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

Chapter 30: Tridtsat’

Two days passed.

“There are two kinds of people: users and losers,” thought Yegor. “Users take all, losers crawl. There are few users, loads of losers. Am I a lowlife loser, or a royal user? They killed Crybaby, or are killing her, holding her captive, or they made a whore out of her with her agreement. What difference does it make to me?!

“And maybe she is completely fine, and this was simply a modern contemporary film, with special effects and a marvelously gifted actress? Most likely, that’s it! Why dig deeper? Yes, that’s most likely it.

“I’ll look like an idiot when I show up to rescue her, out of breath and covered with dust after lengthy surveillance and pursuit; and she greets me, lying on top of her latest lover, flexible like a new wallet, in one piece, unharmed, nibbling on seared foie gras for two, laughing at my worry and care, and calling me a fool.

“But what if she’s really in trouble? Where’s my self-respect? In making an effort to help those who don’t appreciate it? In not loving those who don’t love you? In not humiliating myself in front of a broad who has humiliated me so many times, who has naive contempt for me, without malice? In not throwing myself into the fire for her? In walking past like a stranger, and letting others, who are not strangers to her, throw themselves in?

“Or is my self-respect in magnanimity, nobility of purpose, in repaying her for those hours of deception which were better than the purest love or the most honest fidelity. In admitting to myself that my love for her is boundless, unending, and full of life to the brim, from the beginning to the end of our time. I’m going into the fire not so much for Crybaby as for my love for her and for my own self, long inseparable from this love and dying together with it, crying for help...”

Yegor rolled onto his other side and continued thinking.

“And then you turn around and see: nonsense. Nonsense! And worse than that: traps, cleverly placed snares and ambushes.

“What do I need Crybaby for? So, I find her, round up her abusers. What do I do with them? Read them morally uplifting fables by S. Mikhalkov? Corinthians I:13? It will have no effect.

“Forgive them? And her? Then why search in the first place? You can forgive them in absentia. It doesn’t require you to figure it all out, investigate, kiss the Chief’s ass, get stressed out.

“And if I don’t forgive them, then what? Shoot them? I wouldn’t do more than that, but I wouldn’t do less.

“And for this I dropped everything, got involved, got myself into this mess. I thought about it, prepared for it, worked to get used to the idea.

“If you live life without death, you arrive at inception. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not kill. To embark on this magnificent undertaking, and all because of, strictly speaking, such a tramp...

“This magnificent undertaking, perhaps, begins with me, and perhaps, fails because of some, strictly speaking, bullshit... It is truly a failed undertaking, but even if I alone renounce death, it’s uneconomical for life? I rub out ten people a year. True, the kind of people who, if they lived, would themselves knock off fifteen others per year. So it’s not up to me, it’s above my paygrade. Let those higher up figure it out.

“No, it’s impossible for me to kill, impossible. And I would be killing for whom, for that bitch? I remember, we went to visit Chachav once. He’s dead now. And in front of everybody, she starts exchanging glances with him and dancing with him in an x-rated way.

“I was in a rage, and she was glad, and provoked me further. And then he kind of left, and she kind of went out, and they were both gone. And people said to me, ‘Go, they’re upstairs,’ and the two of them were in this kind of little bathroom, both at once, and I knocked down the door with one blow, and they were there...

“I should seek revenge for her sake? Take sin on my soul? No way! I need to get away, to rest.”

Yegor dialed the number of a travel agent he knew.

“Artur, it’s Yegor. I want to go to Norway tomorrow, to Bergen, to that same hotel as last time. The same room with the view of the fiord. And I need a boat. For ten days. The same boat. The same fishing. For the same cod... No, not literally, of course, we ate those fish then, as they were, raw, with aquavit. No, not the day after tomorrow. Tomorrow. Hurry, Arturushka, do what you can. I really need it. It’s time for me, truly...”

Yegor lay on his back and prepared to sleep. The phone rang.

“Artur? Hello. Is that you?” asked Yegor, half asleep. “Hello. What? Who is this? Chief? Ah, Chief, greetings, Chief.”

“Listen to me, Yegor,” said the Chief in a firm voice. “What are you doing? Sleeping?”

“Not any more,” answered Yegor. “You said you needed two weeks—”

“It all turned out simpler and worse than I thought,” interrupted the Chief. “Listen to me, Yegor. First, it’s better not to get involved in this. Second, if you decide to get involved anyway, then come by the Diamond restaurant tomorrow evening at seven sharp. A person will meet you there and will give you the necessary information, a person from the State Security Services. Don’t attempt bribery. You don’t owe anything. I’ll settle everything. Third, it’s better not to get involved in this.”

“But how will I recognize this person?”

“They’ll recognize you. Your job is to arrive on time and sit down. Go alone. And dress respectably, don’t just go like, you know who. So long...” Igor Fedorovich was saying goodbye.

“Wait!” shouted Yegor. “Igor, what can I do? How can I?.. What... I mean, I owe you!”

“So long,” the Chief repeated his goodbye.

Proceed to Chapter 31...

translation © 2019 by Bill Bowler

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