I looked at the bowl of rice. “I can eat kasha,” I said.
Kola waved his kasha at me and roared, “This is Ukraine! You think we don’t know how to treat Chinese?” He gave the kidneys a stir. “And anyway, the last time I served kasha to a Chinese I found him hiding in the bathroom, cooking rice in a tin cup over a Zippo lighter. He must have had the rice in his pockets!”
“My family is from the West,” I said. “We eat bread.”
He banged his fist on the counter. “Tonight, you eat rice!”
I raised my horilka and blinked at him through the glass.
“Chop me a pickle!” He dumped the kidneys from the skillet into the soup pot.
I pulled a reeking pickle from the jar and looked around for a knife.
“Anyway,” he said. “What makes you think it’s in Sumy?”
“I’m not paid to think,” I said. “I go where I’m sent.”
He laughed and handed me a bayonet. “You’re a liar,” he said. “Tell me another.”
I chopped pickle. “Ivaniak,” I said. “He keeps it at his girlfriend’s house.”
“Ivaniak,” he grunted. “You’re a better liar than I thought.” He swept pickle slices from the counter and tossed them into the pot. “You want Ivaniak, and you come to me?”
“You have friends,” I said. “Call them. Offer them soup and kasha. I’m sure they’ll do it out of friendship.”
“They might,” he said. “But I won’t.” He took the bayonet back and used it to stir the soup. “What are you offering?”
I shook my head. “Not me,” I said. “My boss.”
“Rolling stock,” I said. “Twenty spine cars.”
“Condition?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Five to ten years old. Completely serviceable.”
“Fifty cars,” he said.
“Twenty-five,” I said.
“Eat your rice and get out,” he said.
“Thirty,” I said. “And a ’47 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead, freshly restored, in a garage fifteen kilometers out the Sudzha road.” I tossed a ring of keys onto the counter. Pickle juice splashed up onto my shirt.
“Fuck your mother,” he said, reaching for the keys. “Sit down and eat some soup.”