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.”

He frowned.

“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.”

Image CC-BY-NC-SA by avlxyz

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