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Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday 9

“That’s not what I was saying,” Kovalyov protested feebly. “All I meant was that there could be more than one five-kopeck piece . . .”

  Modest opened the door and we all went into a large hall.

  It was a perfectly respectable museum, with stands, diagrams, display cases, models, and plaster casts. The general impression was similar to a museum of crime detection, with lots of photographs and rather off-putting exhibits. Modest immediately dragged the sergeant off somewhere behind the stands, where the two of them started droning away: “There’s our five-kopeck piece . . .”

  “I’m not saying anything about that . . .”

  “Comrade Gorynych . . .”

  “But I’ve got my orders!”

  “Now that’s enough of that!”

  “Take a poke around, Sasha,” said Roman with a sweeping gesture, and sat down in an armchair by the door.

  I began walking along the wall. I wasn’t surprised by anything, I just found it all very interesting. “Living water. Efficiency 52%. Permissible sedimentation 0.3” (an old square bottle containing water, the cork sealed with colored wax). “A diagram of the process of industrial extraction of living water.” “A model of a living water still.” “Veshkovsky-Traubenbach love potion” (a small chemist’s jar containing a poisonous-yellow ointment). “Ordinary bad blood” (a sealed ampoule containing a black liquid) . . . Hanging above this stand was a plaque that read, “Active chemical substances. 12th–17th centuries.” There were a lot more bottles, jars, retorts, ampoules, flasks, and working and nonworking models of apparatuses for sublimation, distillation, and condensation, but I moved on.

  “Magic Sword” (a very rusty two-handed sword with a wavy blade, attached with a chain to an iron pillar inside a tightly sealed display case). “The right canine (working) tooth of Count Dracula of Transylvania” (I am no Cuvier, but to judge from this tooth, Count Dracula of Transylvania was a very unusual and unpleasant individual). “A mortar on its launching pad. 9th century” (a massive assemblage of gray, porous cast iron) . . . “Gorynych Wyrm, skeleton. 1/25 natural size” (it looked like the skeleton of a diplodocus with three necks) . . . “Diagram of the operation of the fire-breathing gland of the middle head” . . . “Seven-league boots, gravitational, working model” (very large rubber boots) . . . “Flying carpet, antigravitational. Working model” (a carpet about one and a half meters square, showing a Circassian man embracing a young Circassian woman against a background of mountains, also Circassian) . . .

  I got as far as the stand “Development of the Idea of the Philosopher’s Stone” when Sergeant Kovalyov and Modest Matveevich came back into the hall. As far as I could tell, they hadn’t made any progress at all.

  “That’s enough of that, now,” Modest said wearily.

  “I’ve got my orders,” Kovalyov responded just as wearily.

  “Our five-kopeck piece is in its proper place . . .”

  “Then let the old woman come in and make a statement . . .”

  “What do you think we are, counterfeiters?”

  “I didn’t say that . . .”

  “A slur on the name of the entire collective . . .”

  “We’ll get to the bottom of this . . .”

  Kovalyov didn’t notice me, but Modest stopped, ran his lackluster gaze over me, then raised his eyes and pronounced wearily, “Laboratory ham-munculus, generic view,” and went on.

  I followed him, with a strange feeling that something bad was about to happen. Roman was waiting for us by the door.

  “Well?” he asked.

  “Outrageous bureaucracy,” Modest said wearily.

  “I have my orders,” Sergeant Kovalyov repeated stubbornly from the hallway.

  “Come on out then, Roman Petrovich, come on,” said Modest, jangling the keys.

  Roman went out. I was about to dart through after him, but Modest stopped me.

  “I beg your pardon,” he said. “Where do you think you’re going?”

  “What do you mean?” I asked, crestfallen.

  “You go back to your place.”

  “What place?”

  “Well, where is it you stand? You’re one of those . . . ham-munculuses, aren’t you? Go and stand where you’re supposed to.”

  I thought I was done for. And I probably would have been, because Roman was obviously dismayed as well, but just at that moment Naina Kievna burst into the hall, clattering and stamping and leading a huge black goat on a rope. At the sight of the militia sergeant the goat gave a discordant bleat and made a dash for it. Naina Kievna fell over. Modest dashed out into the hallway and there was an almighty racket as the empty water tub was sent tumbling. Roman grabbed me by the arm, whispered, “Move it! Move it!” and ran for my room. We slammed the door shut behind us and leaned back against it, gasping for breath. We heard voices shouting in the hallway: “Let me see your papers!”

  “Good grief, what’s going on?”

  “Why’s that goat here? What’s a goat doing on the premises?”

  “Me-e-e-eh . . .”

  “That’s enough of that, you’re not in a beer hall now!”

  “I don’t know anything about any five-kopeck pieces!”

  “Me-e-e-eh . . .”

  “Citizeness, take the goat outside!”

  “That’s enough of that, that goat’s been properly inventoried!”

  “A goat, inventoried?”

  “It’s not a goat! It’s one of our employees!”

  “Then let it show me its papers!”

  “Out of the window and into the car!” Roman ordered.

  I grabbed my jacket and jumped through the window. The cat Vasily darted out from under my feet with a loud meow. I crouched over and ran to the car, swung open the door, and jumped into the driver’s seat. Roman was already pushing back the massive main gates.

  The engine wouldn’t start. As I struggled with the ignition I saw the door of the house swing open and the black goat come darting out of the hallway and away around the corner in massive bounds. The engine roared into life. I turned the car around and hurtled out into the street. The oak gates slammed shut with a crash. Roman appeared through the wicket gate and threw himself in beside me.

  “Now step on it!” he said cheerfully. “Into the center!”

  As we were turning onto Peace Prospect, he asked, “Well, how do you like it round these parts?”

  “I like it,” I said. “Only it’s almost too lively.”

  “It’s always lively at Naina’s place,” said Roman. “She’s a cantankerous old woman. Didn’t upset you, did she?”

  “No,” I said. “We hardly even spoke.”

  “Hang on,” said Roman. “Slow down.”

  “Why?”

  “There’s Vladimir. Remember Volodya?”

  I stopped the car. The bearded Volodya got into the backseat and shook our hands with a beaming smile. “That’s great!” he said. “I was just on my way to see you!”

  “That would have just made our day,” said Roman.

  “So what happened in the end?”

  “Nothing,” said Roman.

  “Then where are you going now?”

  “To the Institute,” said Roman.

  “What for?” I asked.

  “To work,” said Roman.

  “I’m on vacation.”

  “Makes no difference,” said Roman. “Monday starts on Saturday, and this year August starts in July!”

  “But the guys are expecting me,” I pleaded.

  “We can handle that,” said Roman. “The guys won’t notice a thing.”

  “I don’t believe this,” I said.

  We drove between shop number 2 and cafeteria number 11. “He already knows the way,” remarked Volodya.

  “He’s a great guy,” said Roman, “a colossus!”

  “I took a liking to him straightaway,” said Volodya.

  “You obviously do need a programmer very badly,” I said.

  “But we don’t need just any old programmer,” Roman
retorted.

  I stopped the car in front of the strange building with the sign saying “NITWiT” between the windows. “What does that mean?” I asked. “Am I at least allowed to know where I’m being press-ganged into working?”

  “Yes, you are,” said Roman. “You’re allowed to know everything now. It’s the National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy . . . Well, what are you waiting for? Drive in!”

  “In where?” I asked.

  “You mean you can’t see it?” And then I did see it.

  But that’s an entirely different story.

  STORY No. 2

  Vanity of

  Vanities

  1

  Of all the characters in a story, one or two central heroes stand out, and all the others are regarded as secondary.

  —The Methodology of Teaching Literature

  About two o’clock in the afternoon, when the Aldan’s input device blew its fuse again, the phone started to ring. It was the deputy director for the administration of buildings and contents, Modest Matveevich Kamnoedov.

  “Privalov,” he said sternly, “why aren’t you where you’re supposed to be again?”

  “Why, where am I supposed to be?” I asked petulantly. That day had been just full of hassle, and I’d forgotten everything.

  “Now, that’s enough of that,” said Modest Matveevich. “You were supposed to report to me for instructions five minutes ago.”

  “Holy cow,” I said, and put down the phone.

  I turned off the computer, took off my lab coat, and told the girls not to forget to shut off the power. The big corridor was empty, the windows were half frozen over, and there was a blizzard raging outside. I put my jacket on as I walked along, then set off at a run to the Department of Buildings and Contents.

  Modest Matveevich, wearing his shiny suit, was waiting imperiously for me in his own waiting room. Behind him a little gnome with hairy ears was running his fingers over a massive register with despondent diligence.

  “You, Privalov, are like some kind of ham-munculus,” said Modest, “never where you’re supposed to be.”

  Everyone tried to keep on the right side of Modest Matveevich, because he was a powerful man, absolutely intransigent and quite incredibly ignorant. So I roared out, “Yes, sir!” and clicked my heels.

  “You’ve always got to be where you’re supposed to be,” Modest Matveevich continued. “Always. You’ve got a university education, and glasses, and you’ve grown that fine beard, but you still can’t even grasp a simple theorem like that.”

  “It won’t happen again,” I said, opening my eyes wide.

  “That’s quite enough of that,” said Modest Matveevich, softening. He took a sheet of paper out of his pocket and looked at it for a moment. “Right, then, Privalov,” he said eventually, “today it’s your turn to stand watch. Night watch in an institution over a holiday is a serious responsibility. Not as simple as pressing those buttons of yours.

  “First, there’s fire safety. That’s the first thing, to forestall any occurrences of spontaneous combustion. Ensure that the production facilities entrusted to your care are disconnected from the power supply. And do it in person—none of that doubling-up or tripling-up trickery. None of those doubles of yours. If you discover an incident of combustion, call 01 immediately and start taking measures. For this eventuality you are provided with an alarm whistle to summon the emergency team.” He handed me a platinum whistle with an inventory number on it.

  “And don’t you let anyone in. This is the list of individuals who have permission to use the laboratories at night, but don’t you let them in either, because it’s a holiday. Not a single living soul in the entire Institute. All those other souls and spirits—that’s all right, but not a single living one. Put a spell on the demons at the entrance and the exit. You understand the situation. Not a single living soul must get in, and none of the others must get out. Because we’ve already had a press-eedent: when a devil got out and stole the moon. A very famous press-eedent it was too—they even made it into a film.” He gave me a meaningful look and suddenly asked to see my papers.

  I showed them to him. He examined my pass closely, gave it back to me, and said, “All in order. Just for a moment there I suspected you were a double after all. All right, then. At fifteen hundred hours in accordance with the currently applicable labor regulations, the working day will end and everyone will hand in the keys to their production premises. Following which you will personally inspect all the Institute’s premises. After that you make your rounds every three hours for purposes of spontaneous combustion. During your period of duty you will visit the vivarium at least twice. If the supervisor is drinking tea, stop him. We’ve had reports it’s not tea he’s drinking. That’s the way of things. Your post is in the director’s waiting room. You can rest on the sofa. Tomorrow at sixteen hundred hours you will be relieved by Vladimir Pochkin from comrade Oira-Oira’s laboratory. Is that clear?”

  “Absolutely,” I said.

  “I’ll call you during the night and tomorrow afternoon. You may also be checked by comrade head of the Personnel Department.”

  “I understand,” I said, and ran my eye down the list. The first name on the list was the Institute’s director, Janus Polyeuctovich Nevstruev, with a penciled note: “Two-off.” Second came Modest Matveevich himself, and third was comrade head of the Personnel Department citizen Cerberus Psoevich Demin. They were followed by names I’d never come across anywhere before.

  “Is anything unclear?” inquired Modest Matveevich, who had been following my movements suspiciously.

  “Just here,” I said gravely, jabbing my finger at the list, “I have identified a sequence of . . . twenty-two comrades with whom I am not personally acquainted. I would like to run through these names with you in person.” I looked him straight in the eye and said, “As a precautionary measure.”

  Modest Matveevich took the list and examined it, holding it at arm’s length. “All in order,” he said condescendingly. “It’s just that you, Privalov, are not up to speed. The individuals listed from number 4 to number 25 inclusive have been entered in the list of individuals allowed to work at night posthumously. In acknowledgment of services rendered previously. Is that clear now?”

  I felt a little bit freaked. After all, it was pretty hard to get used to all this stuff.

  “Take up your post,” Modest Matveevich said majestically. “Allow me, comrade Privalov, on behalf of the administration, to wish you every appropriate success in your professional and private life in the New Year.”

  I wished him appropriate success too and went out into the corridor.

  When I had learned the day before that I was going to be on duty, I’d been delighted: I was intending to finish off a calculation for Roman Oira-Oira. But now I realized that things weren’t quite that simple. The prospect of spending the night in the Institute suddenly appeared to me in an entirely different light. I’d stayed on to work late before, when the guys on watch had economized by switching off four lamps out of five in every corridor and I had to make my way to the exit past twitching masses of tangled shadows. At first I found this very disturbing, then I got used to it, but then I got unused to it again when one day I was walking down the wide corridor and I heard the regular clicking of claws on parquet flooring and glanced back to see some kind of phosphorescent beast running along behind me, clearly following my tracks. In actual fact, when they brought me down from the cornice, it turned out to have been an ordinary live dog that belonged to one of the staff. The staff member concerned came to apologize and Oira-Oira lectured me on the harmfulness of superstition, but even so it all left a pretty bitter aftertaste. The first thing I’ll do, I thought, is put the spell on the demons.

  At the entrance to the director’s waiting room I ran into the morose Vitka Korneev. He nodded gloomily and was about to walk by, but I caught hold of his sleeve.

  “What?” Korneev said rudely, stopping.

&n
bsp; “I’m on duty today,” I informed him.

  “More fool you,” said Korneev.

  “You’re so rude, Vitka,” I said. “I don’t think I’ll bother talking to you any more.”

  Vitka pulled down the collar of his sweater with one finger and looked at me curiously. “What are you going to do with me, then?”

  “I’ll think of something,” I said, rather uncertainly.

  Vitka suddenly livened up. “Hang on,” he said. “You mean this is the first time you’ve done the night watch?”

  “Yes.”

  “Aha,” said Vitka. “And just how do you intend to proceed?”

  “According to instructions,” I replied. “I’ll put a spell on the demons and go to sleep. For purposes of spontaneous combustion. Where are you going to be?”

  “Oh, there’s a few people getting together,” Vitka said vaguely. “At Vera’s place . . . what’s that you’ve got there?” He took my list. “Ah, the dead souls . . .”

  “I won’t let anyone in,” I said. “Dead or alive.”

  “A correct decision,” said Vitka. “Impeccably correct. Only keep an eye on my lab. There’ll be a double working in there.”

  “Whose double?”

  “My double, of course. Who else would give me theirs? I’ve locked him in there—here, take the key, since you’re on duty.”

  I took the key. “Listen, Vitka, he can work until about ten, but after that I’ll disconnect everything. In accordance with regulations.”

  “OK, we’ll sort that out somehow. Have you seen Edik anywhere around?”

  “No, I haven’t,” I said. “And don’t you go trying to pull a fast one. I’m disconnecting everything at ten o’clock.”

  “That’s just fine by me. Disconnect away. Disconnect the whole town if you like.”

  Then the door of the waiting room opened and Janus Polyeuctovich came out into the corridor. “I see,” he said when he saw us there.

  I bowed respectfully. I could tell from Janus Polyeuctovich’s face that he’d forgotten my name.

  “Here you are,” he said, handing me his keys. “You’re on duty, if I’m not mistaken . . . And by the way . . .” He hesitated. “Wasn’t I talking to you yesterday?”