©2005 Author Leonid Kaganov, original russian text here
©2007 Translated by Dmitri Fomin
My Karmic Ancestor Don Ramirez Gallego
In Liz everything is beautiful. Granted, not everyone will agree; after all, tastes do differ. One likes ski-long legs, another likes pillow-like ass, and some prefer crooked necks... But I know there is no one better than Liz in the whole wide world. Never were and never will be. I am so goddamn lucky we were born the same year and in the same city! And it is simply a miracle we have met and now live together. Honestly, when she sent me her photo, I didn't see anything special - she looked like a regular girl. But that's until we have met - it turned out that a picture cannot really tell you anything about a living human being.
- So who is this? - asked me Genka, when he saw Liz's portrait on my office desk.
- Elizaveta Dubrova - I said with a smirk - My girlfriend. Didn't you know?
- Well... and for how long?
- More than a month. She is awesome!
His brows went up with genuine surprise.
- I think you could find somebody better, Andryukha! This broad has only one upside... she's not going to cheat on you.
- Why not?
- 'Cause nobody would want her...
And he calls himself my friend! But I already knew what kind of person my Liz is so I just guffawed in reply. So what? Later, during Christmas party when Genka saw Liz for the first time he sat in his chair completely stupefied, staring at her like a damn fool.
I have no idea if she's cheating on me and I don't want to know. Our life together is fine as it is. First, we are finally doing OK financially. If it weren't for her I'd still be working at that lousy branch next to the projects going "Do you need any help? Oh, you need a model with videoconferencing?". Blecchh, holy shit! It was Liz who came up with the idea of me taking the college courses, and she fed me for the two months while I was out of money, sat with me going through the notes, taught me how to do my ties... not to mention that my resume is entirely her creation. It will leave you certain that the applicant singlehandedly created all communication networks in this country. But if you re-read it carefully and decide to check the facts... they are all correct... it's just that that the resume is composed in such a way that it leaves a kind of subconscious impression...
Going for karmic test - that was her idea, too.
* * *
Lately, karmic tests became cheap - the price is now less than a third of what it used to be. Testing centers are everywhere, too. Still it is rather pricey. And most importantly, what are they charging for? For a piece of paper. Fill out some forms, sit still in bioregistry chamber for three hours and get this tiny strip of paper. So and so, in his previous life lived from... through... died... location, occupation,... And what are you supposed to do with it but laminate and put it up on the wall? Or you can go web searching for the relatives and friends of your dearly departed. And what are you going to talk to them about? Some say that if you really decide to get deep into yourself then eventually your karmic memory may reawaken. First it will be some vague recollections, then possibly some details. Liz told me that.
- Andreische - she says - there was this broad in New Zealand who had learned she used to be this sheik and then remembered where he stashed a truckload of money! Remember that magazine with her photo next to the trasure chest?
- Yeah, honey, I do - I say - I remember that one. But she didn't get the money, right?
- That's details - tells me Liz - who's to blame that islam doesn't recognize karmic resurrection. But the fact is the fact! What if we remember something? You can't let a chance like that to slip away!
- No - I say - just no and basta. We saved these money to go on vacation. You said yourself, beautiful islands, blue ocean...
- Yes, I did - agrees Liz. - but this is not a goal unto itself. There are things more important than that. What if I come from some super-rich family? Won't the living relatives take their newfound kin to the ocean?
This was something that I really didn't like. So now somebody else is taking her to the ocean. What about me?
- Love - I say. - this is kinda dangerous, too! Do you really want to know how you died in your previous life?
- We all died somehow, so what?
- Not just that! It can really influence your current life. Remember that student from Italy who crashed his car after he learned that his previous life ended in a car crash?
- What student?
- I've sent you that link... "Timestream" magazine announced they were trying to revive their editor, he was this famous reporter. When they found him in that italian guy, they invited him to the States, bought him his old cottage, got his furniture etc. And on his way to the airport - bang! - he crashes again. Isn't it a pretty strange coincidence?
- Seems to be - says Liz, and I cannot understand if she is serious or just teases me.
- All because - I say. - that he thought his fate was predetermined. So he got nervous when he drove there...
- He drove his own car to the airport? - her brows go up.
- Who cares? That's not what matters! He subsonsciously looked for the same death as in his last life! Expected it! And found it!
- Subconsciously - says she. - Subconsciously is suspicious. What did he do in that previous life, that reporter?
- What are you, paranoid? - I feel my temper rising. - I told you, he was this famous reporter. Some politics. Investigative reports, interesting stuff. Got some award for the last one.
- Which one?
- Something like Order Of Golden Quill... or was it Golden Lion?
- Not award! The report! What was it about?
- How would I know? Why are you stuck on this? Something about nails... and about coffins...
- Nails and coffins?
- Yeah... something like Three Nails From Kennedy's Coffin or perhaps... - I haven't finished yet when she started to laugh and kissed me on my cheek as if I was some geek and went to the kitchen to make us some coffee. I couldn't even respond with anything. Sometimes I cannot stand how she is, but I still love her more than life itself.
- No - I say, banging my fist on the table. - No karmic junk! I said so and that's it!
- Of course, honey - says Liz from the kitchen. - whatever you say.
* * *
The procedure turned out to be much simpler than we imagined although it took all day. Liz works at home but I had to officially take a day off and let everybody know the reason. So all the colleagues got together and wished me luck and then kept asking me about the results the whole week after. Of course, the results will only be known in a week or so - 'cause they need to process stuff, calculate the dates, push it through all the international databases, find out who was born when and so on. Sometimes they find nothing... but naturally, no refund then, they have all that fine print in the contract. So, in any case, I have spent the entire seven days fretting and sweating.
- Why are you all jittery? - Lizzy is wondering.
- 'Cause shit happens - I grumble.
- Interesting, interesting - says Lizzy and her eyes glisten. - Are you hiding something from me?
- Come on... - I am hurt. - I never hid anything from you, like ever... you know that. But still, what if...
- Interesting, interesting... - says she, and climbs under the sheets on top of me putting her hands on my chest. - Tell me, are you afraid of something?
- Uh-huh... I can see something.
- Well... what if it turns out that...
- I don't wanna say.
- Come on, come on - says Lizzy and tickles my cheek. - Give.
- Well... what if... what if I were a woman. That happens, you know...
And I look at her. And she is laughing like mad! Her eyes glisten in the dark and she sticks her tongue out at me.
- Since when - she asks. - you hate women?
- Shit... are you crazy? It's not about that! But what if it turns out I have had this feminine soul...stop laughing at me!
- So what's the difference? Feminine, before that maybe masculine again. Me, I don't care!
- The one before, they can't calculate that yet - I grumble. - I don't know about you but I will feel uncomfortable if I used to be a woman. Don't laugh please!
- Oh my little fool - she says calming down. - What kind of woman you'd be? Even all your complexes are regular guy's. You men are all like that - whatever happens, lose your arms and legs just let me be a man, not a gay not a chick! You just look at yourself, two meters tall, roman nose, all muscles... Give me your arm! I tell you, give me your arm, don't fight! Show me your bicep! Here, look at your muscle, I can't even encircle it with both my hands. Stud! And your abs! Look at it... where's your washboard? Come on, let's show it! Here it is...
- Well I did do all that fitness training for eight years - I say proudly.
- I know, love, I know. And what is this, I ask? - says Lizzy - What, huh? Hey, just lie down quietly! I said, quietly or I am going to bite! Come on, relax... I am just kidding... and who's here is afraid of becoming a woman with a device like this... huh?
* * *
During my lunch break as always I called Lizzy.
- Hi honey, what's up?
- Tonight come home right away, don't stop anywhere - she answers. - We need to talk.
My heart sank right down to my knees.
- What's going on?
- It's ok. Come home and we'll talk.
But I can hear her voice being a bit strange. I got intuition with things like that.
- Lizzy! - I said. - Tell me what's going on! Or I am quitting it all and getting to where you are right now!
- Relax, be quiet. I just got our results.
- Well, then?
- What are you, my dove, more interested in? My results or yours?
At that I felt a bit ashamed about my selfishness.
- Well, you, of course...
- Here I am - says she. - The now late previous refuge of my soul was called Dolly Chicken. Miss Dolly Chicken. British woman. My husband, sir Samuel Chicken was just a farmer. Not a big or a rich one, too. Loved him.
- So what - I say. - whatever. Go love your Samuel...
- Gosh - she sputters. - He is long dead, even before me. I found his picture on the Internet, you'll be laughing, Othello the Jealous Moor you.
- I don't know - I am confused. - Sorry. I just didn't expect you'd have some husband...
- I can be jealous too, you know - she replied sarcastically.
- What is there to be jealous about? Who was I?
- O-ho-ho! - she laughs. - Come here and I will tell you. Supermodels and elite escorts all around you.
- Oops... so who was I?
- This is not a telephone conversation, my dear, sorry.
- Give me a hint, at least! A spy? An actor? A Kennedy?
- Not now. Tonight. Don't even think about coming home now - I am going out and will be back around ten. Chiao!
* * *
So here goes. In my previous life my soul's name was Don Ramirez Gallego. Juan Mario Ramirez Gallego. Born in Equador. Mother a whore, father unknown. Grown up in utter poverty so he started to work early. Paper route, pizza parlor and so on, but at the same time he managed to stay in school. At fourteen together with a rich investor friend opened their own bakery. Him being very energetic, business went well but he noticed soon that he worked for two but the spoils went to someone else. So he disappeared with several months worth of proceeds after signing on to be a cabin boy on a cargo ship. He ended up in Columbia where he bought a small house and started attending a medical college. This got boring really fast and so young Ramirez ran to the hills and became a guerilla. For three years nobody heard anything about him but then he appeared in the capital, all grown up and matured. He hired himself to a local drug runner and soon his boss was shot under suspicious circumstances, and then 18-year old Ramirez took over his outfit. His career took off and he became one of the smartest and successful cocaine barons, and eventually came to control most of the Columbian drug trade. He spends the following years living mostly in L.A. where he insinuated himself into the higher society being especially popular with the women. As years flew by he started to expand into other parts of Latin America as well as the United States. He was getting too big so a few other syndicates decided to get rid of him. However, the arrogant latino managed to outsmart them there once again. It is still unknown how he did it but it turned out that the contract on him was arranged through his own people, so when the killers hit the motorcade he was supposed to be in they actually killed two drug kingpins from the North. The people who ran the business in the States were extremely unhappy about that and the manhunt started in earnest. For the next five years he was nowhere to be seen despite his cartel's continuing rule over Latin America. Rumors were that he was preparing the counterstrike. But a tragic accident got in the way. On a sunny July day he was crossing the Atlantic on his private jet when his pilot had a heart attack (it turned out that he had been having that problem for quite some time but successfully kept it hidden from his boss). Ramirez who never before even set foot into a cockpit took over the controls, sent out S.O.S. and almost leveled out the plane but it was too late and the plane crashed into the ocean. If the online translation was correct this was the only publicly available information on Don Ramirez Gallego.
- My god, - I said. - that's horrible...
- Like it? - she smiled and waved the printout in the air, enjoying the effect.
- Lizzy... - I stepped closer. - Are you going to leave me now?
- You can't possibly love such an abomination...
- Look here - she extended her arm with another sheet of paper.
It was a picture with deep blue background of cloudless sky (as blue as our depleted printer cartridge allowed) where on the deck of a yacht a puny middle-aged man with a goatee and sly smile was pictured with two supermodel-looking girls. Each one of them had long shapely legs, big round eyes and mouths like a fish. The man was very matter of factly grabbing onto the one of the girls' waist and another one's breast.
- Look how they love this scoundrel! - chortled Liz.
- And look how stupid they are! - I said. - Just look, they are dumb as a rock!
Lizzy guffawed and said:
- You must have loved stupid girls, my dear Juan Mario Ramirez!
* * *
- Why wouldn't you want me to tell anybody about this? - I asked her.
- Darling - she answered. - Do you recall where you hid the money?
- What money?
- This coming from a druglord who robbed half of the American wiseguys! You think you didn't have money in that life of yours?
- I really don't remember...
- For now. But do you understand there are people who want that money? And that they would want you to remember?
- Well... aren't they all dead?
- After twenty-five years? I don't think so. Not to mention their heirs or successors. In any case there is somebody who wants revenge.
- On me? What the hell for? I am not Ramirez anymore!
- Yes, for the police. - Liz was very patient.
- And for me - she promptly added. - But for those guys you are just Ramirez's insidious soul in a new body.
- Are you saying I am an insidious kinda guy? You really think so?
- Not with me... but who really knows you Ramirez fellows? - Lizzy chortled. - You are cunning, that's a fact.
- I am?
- I hope so. And try to recall all your cunning and street smarts or else we are done - she said with all seriousness.
- You think they will be looking for me here, in Russia?
- I am pretty sure they are looking for you everywhere already. They'll find you eventually.
- So what are we to do? What? - I pressed my palms into the temples. - Where is that paper? Let's burn it right now!
- Done that. But you are already in the database of the karmic center.
- They say it's confidential - I raised my voice indignantly. - There is an item on the contract form...
- I wouldn't be so sure - she replied. - They are selling these databases all the time. Well maybe that will hold for a month or two but then... they'll get to you.
- My god, so what do we do?
- Ramirez - she said strictly. - Shut up and stop your tantrum!
- Don't call me that! - I shouted as loudly as I could. - Don't call me Ramirez!
- Shush - she said. - now you want to let all the neighbors know? They will start knocking down the walls.
Right at that moment somebody started banging on the heating pipes and I dropped into the chair and covered my face with my hands.
- Let's run - I whispered. - I have an aunt in Crimea, she has this little house and a wineyard... and rabbits. Remember I told you? We will live there, I will tend the grapevines, you will hug the rabbits. Let's go, Lizzy? That's beautiful! We will go and...
- Hug the rabbits!? - she shook her head with evident loathing.
- Lizzy! Come on! - then I stopped. - My god, I am so selfish! I will go alone! Let them look for me! Let them find me! They won't touch you, right?
- Probably not - she sighed. - But I can't leave you.
- I say you will!
- Nuh, I can't.
- I said you will - I yelled. - Right this moment!
The pipes exploded in the cacophony.
- That's it - she said. - Everybody goes to sleep. Shower. Quick sex. And sleep.
- Hold on.. - I said slowly. - What about work? They will ask me about the results...
- I took care of that - and she gave me another paper.
- What is it?
- I scanned my output into the computer, typed in your name and printed it out again. So if you show that from some distance nobody will notice anything, I guarantee it.
- What? - I exclaimed. - Me, Dolly Chicken? Never!
- Stupid guy complex - she said, obviously taking offense and tearing the paper. - I wanted what's best. Then you think of something. Say your name is Johnny Walker and you were a Canadian tennis player.
- Who was that?
- No idea. Let them find you on the web.
- What if they don't find him?
- Well, you likely haven't been famous anywhere but in your local fitness club... go try and disprove that. Main thing is that you don't tell a living soul who you really were. Got it, comrade Ramirez?
- Yeah, I got it. This is not a rocket science. - I grumbled and started for the shower.
* * *
I couldn't sleep. Absent-mindedly I looked at the clock and turned to the other side. Then I realized that the time didn't register at all so I had to turn again. Work in three hours! Then it hit me!
- Lizzy! - I whispered. - Lizzy! Are you asleep?
- Mmmm... not anymore, I'm not - she replied slowly and moved in bed.
- Lizzy, I am sorry. I said this stupid thing and offended you...
- What thing? - she sounded surprised.
- When I said that girls loved me... I mean, Ramirez... that stupid girls loved him. Lizzy, I didn't mean it like that... like you were... that you think I meant... I really didn't mean you were stupid!
- I really didn't think you meant that.
- But I saw that you took offense and said that I loved bimbos...
- Calm down... nobody is upset, OK? Are you taking me for a fool?
- No, of course, not!
- So go to sleep, sunny...
- No buts...
- I just wanted to say that...
- Stop it! Why do you argue with me all the time?
- I am not...
- Yes you are!
- No, I am not!
- I say you are!
- No, no and no!
- And what are you doing right now?
- I love you - she said and yawned. - Sleep, you. Kisses.
And I went to sleep.
* * *
Genka looked at me quite suspiciously once again, broke another toothpick in his fingers and took the next one. Lunch was coming to an end, coworkers were moving their chairs and returning back to their cubicles.
- This is a brand of whiskey, you know... - he said thoughtfully.
- That's why I thought it sounded familiar - I said with pain in my voice.
- However, you do look like a sportsman - he continued.
- Of course - I added quickly. - Eight years of track and field. And I played soccer in the army.
- Canadian army? - Genka sounded surprised.
- I am talking about me! Me!
- Uh-huh! - he squinted at me. - In the army... of course. But I don't think you have a soul of a sportsman, you can't hide that. And I have known you forever. So... Johnny Walker, you said?
I cringed. Then I looked around us and whispered to him.
- Promise you won't tell anybody?
- Not a soul... - confirmed he.
- Yes! I am not a Johnny Walker! But this is a top secret! Life or death! I was this huge mafioso!
- Really? You should have told me right away! You had to invent some stupidity and you thought I'd believe you?
- Yes, I know. I was this Juan Mario Ramirez Gallego!
- OK, I'll look him up on the web - nodded Genka.
- But nobody could know, understand? - I looked around again and added. - Look it up but erase all the tracks after you, so that even links on your computer are gone, understood? No living soul can know!
- Goes without saying! - he nodded. - Who do you think I am... I understand perfectly.
* * *
On Friday, after the workday has ended, Viktor Nikolaevich himself suddenly called me to his office.
- Andrey, please have a seat. - he pointed me to one of the leather chairs. - Sit down. What's up? How is our deal with Globus? Everything alright?
- Absolutely, Viktor Nikolaevich. They gave us a receipt, Ramzaev signed it and customs cleared everything.
- That's goo-o-od - he drawled and looked at me searchingly. - And you, Andrey, I heard, went for a karmic test? And...?
I felt my spine going cold.
- Yee-e-s... right.
- So... who are you? - Viktor Nikolaevich kept looking at the tip of my nose.
- This Canadian tennis player... Walker.
- Huh... Walker, you say. - he fell silent. - Look, Andrey, here is what I want to tell you. You worked here for a year and a half now. And we didn't have any problems with you...
- Yes but...
- Wait. - he waved his hand. - I am not finished. I am very... and I want to empasize "very"... very hopeful that we will go on without any problems.
- But of course, Viktor Nikolaevich... - I raised my eyes and bumped into his still fixed stare.
- Yes. - Viktor Nikolaevich moved his lips silently as if getting them some necessary exercise. - Things like forged receipts... those provocations... intrigues... theft... lies... please, don't. We don't need that, Andrey. I ask you this nicely and I hope for the best. We don't need that.
- But why? - I jumped up. - But I never... I wouldn't...
- I know, I know. This is just in case. You are a nice guy, good coworker, correct? So let's keep it like that. This is all I wanted to tell you. You are free to go.
* * *
Ocean was particularly loud today. It was about the same strength as the day I found myself here for the first time. When I came to, I couldn't remember how I got here. The last thing my memory kept was the screech of the brakes behind my back and then some huge hand pressing very hard on my face. Then a room of white limestone with a tiny window, impossible to reach, and salty air filled with the sound of the ocean. So close, it seemed as if a wave was about to crash through that small window, breaking around bars that criss-crossed it. Limestone was pretty tough - during the first week I tried to pick at it but then gave that up.
Floorboards creaked on the other side of the steel door, key jingled and two black guys entered the room. They nodded silently and I stood up and left the room with them. In my second week here I tried to jump them and even managed to knock one of them down. But then I was hit on the head and when I regained consciousness they marched me out into the yard, questioned me and then for the first time I was beaten with a bamboo stick till I bled.
As always, I was led to this familiar backyard, where in chaise-lounge there was again this damned old man with red burnt skin, very unpleasant stare and a huge diamond on his chest. Next to him, as always, was the fat interpreter. But today there were also two other unfamiliar fat guys in very expensive suits, also sitting in lounge chairs next to the old man. They had fat bodyguards as well, and by this time I learned to distinguish between a boss and a muscle. The bosses looked at me with considerable interest, as the old man did on the first day. They all had really unpleasant faces - when somebody looks at you like that, you want to hide your eyes lest they get burned away.
- Buenos dias, senor Ramirez - hissed the old man.
- Good day, senor Ramirez - mumbled the interpreter.
I kept quiet, head down. Somewhere really close, behind that tall stone fence, there was the sound of the ocean. The old man started to mutter something else.
- So you not remember things, Ramirez - mumbled the interpreter. - You waste time two weeks, Ramirez?
- I don't remember anything - I said.
- You not want remember, Ramirez - hissed the interpreter. - We help you remember.
- Start beating me up, then - I said without any interest. - What's the point?
So far everything went as usual, not counting the newcomers. It was unclear why they actually came here.
- Marco! - yelled the old man to the direction of the house. - Ye! Ye!
- This help you remember - said the interpreter with a nasty smirk on his face showing that he knew what was to follow.
All of a sudden two bodyguards appeared from behind the bungalow with a struggling girl in their hands. I looked at them and almost fainted - that was my Lizzy!
- Let her go! - I cried and tried to jump up but they held me tight. - Let her go you creeps!
The old man started to talk and it lasted pretty long. The interpreter listened to him with an understanding smile, nodded and then told me:
- We beat your woman long if you not remember.
- No! - I cried again.
My voice flew into the empty air and faded away in the noise of the ocean.
- Keep down - all of sudden Lizzy said quietly and I lunged to the ground even before I understood her. There was an explosion and then several bursts of automatic rifle fire. I tried to bury myself in the dirt and covered my head with my hands. One of the black guys fell next to me wheezing, then another one toppled over and started to thrash around in agony. Slowly and carefully I raised my head. There were bodies and pieces of chairs all around me. Lizzy was not to be seen anywhere and two gorillas that brought her here were very busy shooting all around us from their sawed-off automatic rifles.
Then they finally stopped, turned around as if on command and I say my Lizzy - she was lying on the ground but the gorillas didn't shoot at her. At the same time they extended their hands to help her off the ground but she sat up herself and flicked her finger at them. Two short claps sounded from behind the stone fence and both guys fell down losing their grip on the rifles.
Now Lizzy stood up and smiled. But she didn't look at me at all and went to the fence opening her arms as if going to hug and hold somebody. And indeed, a skinny man with a sniper's rifle jumped down from the fence and ran to her.
- Mucho gracias! - whispered she with longing and they held each other right before the final shot has sounded and the skinny guy fell down at Lizzy's feet. And she kept shooting with her tiny little pistol until he stopped moving.
- Yuck.. - she said. - It's finally over. Hey, Andreische! Are you alive there? Come here already!
* * *
We were walking hurriedly along the ocean's shore. The ruins of the bungalo were burning behind the hill. Gulls were crying. Ocean was booming. I walked really fast, and Lizzy had to run to keep up and I still didn't think to take her up in my arms until she suggested it herself.
- That's our parking - she pointed and then asked me very seriously. - Are you coming with me?
- To Russia?
- No, not to Russia. Are you?
- With you, yes. Wherever you say.
- I thought so. Our flight is in two hours. Here is your passport, Johnny Walker. Sorry but that was your choice.
- Yes. Stop. This car. Let me down.
She opened the doors of a small Jeep, quickly started the engine and lit a cigar.
- What are you standing for like a tree? Get in, quickly!
- You never told me you could drive - I said amazed, sitting down next to her.
- I can now. This is my second time at the wheel. So don't distract me. Shut the door! Again!
- You saved me.
- Uh-huh. - Lizzy nodded and exhaled a cloud of aromatic smoke. - They wouldn't let you go even if they knew the real results of the test.
- Sunny, I simply didn't have another option. I had to draw attention away from myself and there were million things to prepare to get ahead of them. You see? You aren't mad at me, are you?
- No... - I said, completely dumbfounded.
- Perfect. Then shut up please, I need to drive and think. You cannot even imagine how many things we still need to do.
- They are going to try and catch me again?
Lizzy quickly turned to me.
- You really didn't get it yet? You are not Ramirez. I am. So please, honey, shut up. Or we will end up like that Italian student.
She tossed the cigar out the window and started to accelerate smoothly down the road.
© Autor Leonid Kaganov, original russian text here
© Translated by Dmitri Fomin