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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 33: Tridtsat’ Tri

The voice of Yegor’s grandmother, Antonina Pavlovna, swam forth from the depths of a swift, warm and not very dark darkness. In just such a voice, she had gossiped with her neighbor on summer evenings, forgetting to put Yegor to bed. When she blew out the stove and lamp, the delicious aroma of kerosene would overflow the room and the darkness. It was the blessed hour of rural silence, so pure that it hindered cityfolk not used to it from sleeping and drove them slightly crazy.

The voice, changing density and color, rose to the surface of the dream. Leaping forth from the darkness, it became strange and unrecognizable in the light. It turned out to be a bass, wafting of kolbasa and tobacco, not grandmother’s voice, understandably, but that of a monumental truck driver who didn’t fit into the heavy-duty truck cabin and whose left side, arm, shoulder and ear hung out through the window. His right hand held the wheel, his right shoulder screened Yegor from the frenzied sun pouring through the windshield.

The partisans of the full moon are riding.
My place is here.
The partisans of the full moon are riding
Let them...

The singing bass paused when Yegor awakened, inserted, “You’ve come to. That’s good,” and finished singing,

Let them go.

When he finished singing, the driver pulled a bottle of counterfeit kvass from the glove compartment, swallowed a gulp, and offered it to Yegor.

“Where? Who? Where am I? Who are you?” Yegor turned down the kvass.

“I’m Vasily. Freelance truck driver. But who the devil are you? Two girls in heavy makeup dragged you out of a roadside café near the Perm exit. They said you were pumped up on wine and drugs and had gotten into a fight. They asked me to take you to Moscow. They gave me money. And they gave me their bodies. They guaranteed you were the quiet type, had just overdone it a bit but were generally peaceful. And so I took you, you fool, and am driving you.”

“To where?”

“I told you, to Moscow. Where else? They gave me so much money, I would have taken you to Berlin if you had a passport. But it would be interesting to know who you are. Although they’ve given me so much money, I don’t give a damn. You don’t have to tell me.”


“Ah, Yegor. You should have told me from the first. Now everything’s clear. So much information, a smart guy like me could spend the whole day thinking about it.”

“Perm? You mean the city of Perm? The provincial center?”

“We have only one Perm. The one with the famous statue. Where the Permians live and croak.”

It was hot in the cabin, like a delirium. Yegor wiped the sweat from his brow and groaned from the pain. His hand was wrapped in two kilograms of red-brown bandage soaked in blood. In amazement, he looked at his other hand: the same thing. “What happened to me?”

“They said you overdid it, got into a fight. It’s nothing. You’ll live. It’s five more hours to Moscow. Hang in there.”

Yegor tried to remember what had happened. He peered into his memory, but his memory was also as if bandaged. It was obviously in pain, bleeding fear, but unseen, hidden beneath stale, useless thoughts.

Suddenly something flashed by the window, pumped adrenaline through his heart for an instant, and was lost to view behind the truck. It was something Yegor did not manage to see, but only to sense in some remote part of his soul, a part he thought had withered from long neglect. It was something that caused him to howl, “Stop! Stop! Hit the brakes—”

Vasily shuddered, lowered his head, and abruptly stopped the truck. He thought for a moment and was about to start moving again. “What are you yelling about? You’re not sober yet? You haven’t come to yet? Why should I be stopping?”

“You’ve already stopped. Help me open the door. My hands are bandaged. Thank you.” Yegor jumped down to the road. “I’m not going any farther. Thanks, Vas.”

“Why are you getting out here? They told me you need to get to Moscow, that you’re from Moscow. Why crawl out into an empty field with no money and no hands?”

“I don’t know yet. But I have to. I don’t know why, but it’s necessary.” Yegor strode off in the opposite direction, away from Moscow.

“Wait. Here’s a Twix. Here, your hands don’t work. I’ll put it into your jacket pocket. And this too, the same pocket. The broads asked me to give it to you when we reached Moscow. Though you’re not getting out in Moscow, take it anyway. It’s some kind of gadget. They gave me so much money, I don’t need other people’s stuff.”

Proceed to Chapter 34...

translation © 2019 by Bill Bowler

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