Foreign business affairs

A fable by Bruny Hudson

The more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is.
Vladimir Nabokov

​​​​Hobo's Blog

Part 21

I sat down and shook my head. This all had to be a bad dream, stuck in Russia with a lunatic pulling my strings. Or maybe I was hallucinating from lack of food.

To test my state of mind, I stretched out my rear leg, clutched the paw with my mouth and dug my teeth into the pads, and I choked back a yelp. Yes, I was awake all right, and sober, too, and now, I was on the warpath.

“What the hell does your stupid question have to do with your holding me prisoner in this place?” I jumped up, spitting into Olaf’s face.

Olaf licked up my dribble and smirked again. “Just answer my question.”

“If you want me to say I’ll come back, straighten out everything and run the business as usual, you’re out of your mind. Despite all the precautions I took, your government was still able to get involved, and it’s too close for comfort for me to stay in business.”

“Aha, just what I thought.” Olaf’s voice took on a higher pitch. “That’s why I took my own precautions and didn’t tell you about our government’s involvement. I knew you would want to bail out the moment you hear that government security is snooping around this place. But I couldn’t prevent your finding out about the missing orders of caviar, so I blamed it on the cats. I was sure I could keep your friend you sent over here kind of under control.”

“You knew all along then that the last shooters had been some of the local customers?”

“No, no. ‘Till the last minute, when the overseer came running into the warehouse telling everybody what was going on, I was hoping the shooting was about something else. But when I heard what happened, I knew I had to stay ahead of the game somehow.”  

“So, you started lying to me … and what else?”

“Well, as I’ve said earlier, I want you to carry on with your caviar business, and I have to make sure of it. If you give it up, I’ll be out of a job and lose my comfortable lifestyle, or even end up on the streets.”

I bored my eyes into Olaf’s. “What is it you’re trying to do? Blackmail me?”

Without flinching, Olaf held eye contact. “No, no, it’s not that at all. I have to keep you here in Russia, at least for a while. You need to reconsider giving up your business. I assure you, it’ll be safe now. Those customers who went berserk won’t be eating caviar for a long while.”

I frowned. “And as I told you before, this is too close for comfort. I don’t want to be a part of this whole mess or become the prey the next time.”

“But don’t you see it?” Olaf towered over me. “There won’t be a next time. This is really in our favor. Once word gets around what happened to those people who were protesting, no customer will ever complain again about a missing order.”

Olaf’s breath blowing down on me had started to suffocate me. I squirmed out of its reach and said, “Just run the business as your own. You’re shrewd enough to do it. You even don’t shy back from chewing out others who want to be helpful, like you did with the little dog who offered to help find Ludwig.”

To be continued

Part 19

I checked the browser history, beginning at the most recent address. It was a jumble of letters, ending in: .in. What? India? No, Ludwig couldn’t have gone to India. What in the world would he want to do there?

But .in was the Internet country code for India. I looked at the previous URL. It was a place somewhere in the United States, and the one prior to that was a local address, probably entered by a warehouse employee for record keeping.

I quickly copied the India URL and emailed it home with a short encoded note for Wylie, hoping he would intercept and save it for me before Dad deleted it.

Then, I turned to Sergi. “Are you sure this is the computer you saw the dog coming out of?”

“Hundred percent. Look at all the other computers. There’s no way I would have seen someone exiting from one of them while I was in the process of connecting with the USB port from this computer here.”

I let my eyes wander around the room. “Yeah, you’re right. And you’re absolutely certain you left from this computer?”

Elena nudged me. “If you have doubts, check the last URL on the computer Sergi used. No one else would have used the computer with the shooting in full blast, and Olaf said that everything closed down afterward.”

“Do you remember the address of your last delivery run?” I asked Sergi.

“Oh dog, do I remember all of them. Those people in the fancy outfits, in the kitchens, big as a whole apartment here in Russia, with sparkling pots, pans, appliances, you name it. You wouldn’t believe the last address, there were even professional cooks and waiters, all dressed up in white jackets, aprons, tall round hats, or in shiny black vests and white shirts. And the smell! Heavenly, like …”

“Hey, Sergi, slow down.” Elena gave him a shove while she eyed my sharp teeth. “Your boss isn’t interested in the high life of his rich American customers—I am the one who wants to know all the details about it. He wants to know what address you punched into the computer for your last delivery run.”

“Oh …” Sergi, unfazed by my teeth gnashing, smiled. “Of course, I always keep the last one in my mind,” and he recited a string of letters and numbers.

Still livid by his endless prattle about people’s kitchens, wasting my time, I had to use all my concentration to keep the URL in my mind for just the few minutes it took to check it on the other computer. It always mystified me how some of my fellow dogs, Ludwig included, could have a memory like an elephant.

Sergi had pointed out the right computer. Its Internet History matched the URL he had told me, and the timestamp matched more or less the moment the shooting had started.

“If you two want to leave, go ahead,” I said. “I can handle it from here. Thank you so much. You both have been a great help.”

“Any time,” Sergi answered. “We hope you’ll find your friend.”

“I have a chance now,” I said. “Without your help, I would be at a dead end.”

The moment Sergi and Elena had closed the door behind them, my skin started to crawl again. I thought of locking the door but hated to waste the extra minutes. Instead, I checked again the History of the computer next to the one from which Sergi had taken off.

The timestamp of the India URL showed that whoever had punched it in did it several minutes after Sergi’s departure. It all fit perfectly: Ludwig had arrived when Sergi took off, heard the gunshots, turned around and left again from the same computer. He must have been delayed a minute or two, perhaps too stunned to react quicker or stumbling to get back on his paws. Otherwise, he would have activated the return feature on the USB port, which would have sent him automatically to where he had come from, his home. There was no URL of it in the History records.

I scratched my head. Wow, India … I saw only more and more trouble brewing for my business here in Russia and knew there wasn’t any future in it. But India? Wasn’t that the country famous for spices humans love, and expensive spices for that matter?

But that couldn’t have been the reason why Ludwig went there. Like he always said, he was no business dog. However, the prospect of importing valuable spices sounded very intriguing to me.

Whatever I might come up with as to why Ludwig left for India wouldn’t help me. I had to get over there myself to find him, but I couldn’t do it alone. I first needed to go home and convince Wylie to come with me, and I had to do it now.

A cold breeze hit my fur as I typed my URL and ID code into the computer's address bar. I threw a glance at the door and noticed it a crack open but didn’t see anybody. Quickly, I stooped toward the USB port and held my neck close enough to it for my dog tag to make contact.

Nothing happened. I waited a few seconds longer. Still nothing. I twisted my neck, and the tag clinked against the USB port, but there was no reaction. My tag was completely unresponsive.

To be continued       

Hobo: ​Living forever through his adventures

To read the story from the beginning, click here or go to Fable on the menu.

Part 20

The computer was running. So, it was not a computer failure that my dog tag didn’t connect, but maybe something was wrong with the USB port. I searched for another port, but there was none.

I wiped the address bar clean and slid over to the computer Sergi had used for his delivery run. Again, I entered my URL and ID code.

Stretching my neck as close as I could to the USB port, I heard the click of my tag hitting it, and again, nothing happened. There was no connection at all, no spark hitting the fur around my collar, no humming of current. My tag acted as if it was a useless piece of cheap metal.

I stepped back and scrutinized the computer. Like the other one, it was an outdated model with only one USB port, but it was in good condition, and it didn’t show any bullet holes or scratches from a bullet having grazed it during the shooting.

Brushing off the suspicion that something could be wrong with my tag, I gave it another try. I threw my head up and down and from side to side, bending my neck against the USB port so that my tag hit it, over and over again. It made me dizzy, and I took a break.

A waft of hot, clammy air, brushing past the crisp, cool draft from the outside, drifted across my back. A second later, it turned into words. 

“Having problems?” The voice was toneless, yet unctuous. It threw me off for a second, but before my legs buckled, I slowly turned around. 

“In fact, I do,” I said, “and it’s you, Olaf. Why do you sneak up on me like this?”

“I was interested in what you were doing. Did you want to leave without saying goodbye to me?”

His voice and his blazing eyes I’d seen earlier made my blood run cold. I had to get away, without arguing with him. 

“Look, Olaf,” I said, “you know I have to find Ludwig, the faster the better. I’m just trying to find a USB port that works.”

I slipped by him and went to another computer several feet away.

“Don’t bother.” Olaf had followed on my heels. “It won’t work either.”

I spun around. “How do you …” My jaw went slack. “You tampered with the computers? Why?”

“No, no, I didn’t do anything to the computers. But … you won’t be going anywhere.”

Olaf smirked, the corners of his mouth twitching. Instead of cowing me with another one of his mind games, he tipped me off, and the truth hit me like a sledgehammer.

How could he do something like that to me? I had trusted him until he cast doubt on his integrity. And how did he do it? He couldn’t have fooled around with my tag without me having noticed it. He must have known a hacker who attacked my ID code. 

This time, my eyes were blazing as I barked, “Why in the hell do you want to stop me from leaving? What’s in it for you?”

“You cannot leave the country, it’s as simple as that.”

“What? Am I under some kind of arrest? Are you an informer for the Russian government or its security forces?”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that. I want you to continue your business the way it is. But before I go any further, I have a question for you. What do you plan to do here after you locate your friend?”                            

To be continued