The Russian Riviera

“Some businessmen” was the way Skinny Zyama had described the two gangsters from New Jersey.

—You want me there for a meeting with businessmen? Kostya had asked.

—You have other plans on a Wednesday afternoon?


—Wear a jacket, Zyama had said.

Now, stationed as instructed beside Skinny Zyama’s mahogany desk, Kostya appraised the gangsters. Zyama had placed two leather armchairs in front of his desk—chairs calculated to diminish anyone who sat in them—but only the smaller of the two had consented to sit. The larger one, the one doing all of the talking, had turned his chair sideways and perched himself on its arm. Instinctively, Kostya gauged both men’s weights. They were both wearing suits, but that made no difference. Kostya had proven many times that he could guess a man’s weight within one kilo even if he was dressed in heavy winter clothing. It was one of his few demonstrable skills, which—like his other skills—had brought him little profit. In Siberia, his father would occasionally take him to the bar to amuse his friends and to wager skeptical strangers a bottle of vodka.

Published in TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Book 1. Purchase the book to read the full piece.