David Morley
February 2010

Natasha brought me tea and sat down at my desk. As usual, she filed her nails and regaled me with tales of her clever shopping in the new economy. Competition ran riot. One market had best prices in this thing, another market in that thing. Natasha was an eager expert.

She rose to answer the doorbell. Our bullet-proof steel door was always locked, but for no purpose because whenever anybody rang the bell, we just opened it without looking through the peephole or shouting "Who's there?" This time, when Natasha turned the deadbolt she was thrown back against the coat-rack by a stampede of burley Russian Mafiosi who quickly fanned out through the office. Their Chief strode in behind them and shouted out, "Director! Where's the Director?!"

Everyone froze in their work and looked up. Vlad, our Director, turned white.

Meekly, Vlad stood up. The Chief grabbed him by the arm, pushed him into the storeroom, and slammed the door behind them.

The other thugs swaggered among us. One guy inspected a floppy disk with thick calloused fingers that could barely navigate the thing. Another guy poked at the buttons on the printer, and joked over his shoulder in a loud guttural voice. Others looked into closets and drawers. Tiny Natasha walked around to each of them, shouted insults in their faces, and hit at them. We menfolk sat glumly silent.

Suddenly the Chief charged out from the storeroom and briskly led his thugs out and away in their several Mercedes. Slowly Vlad emerged, still white as death and breathless. His hands were shaking. He gathered his things, and left.

The rest of us gathered around the kitchen table. Oleg speculated that Vlad would pay "protection" of $500 per month. When Natasha heard this price she dropped her nail file, looked up, and banged the table, clattering the teacups. "That's too much!" she shouted. "I'm sure we can find cheaper mafia!"

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