Yuri is a strange boy.
He sits in the cold room at the back of his father's Moscow strip club
, working on a computer he built from bits he paid to have smuggled in from West Germany
. He has been to all the best Soviet Institutes
in the city, but always left them to pursue his own mysterious goals. His father, having grown rich from selling Western booze
and rock and roll
to the hungry masses, bankrolls his eccentricity, determined that his son be a self made man
like himself. Each time Yuri left a school to return to his hermitage
in the storage room, Daddy always made sure he had all he needed. He tried to understand the tangents that his boy went off, with limited success. Vice
was his business, and business was good.
I work for Radosav Oblak, Yuri's father. I waitress at his club, the TOCHKA
, down on Zvenigorodskoe Street, 4 blocks down from the river. He ships in Ukrainian girls from Kiev
to writhe on the brass poles and Polish girls from Warsaw
to serve Ukrainian vodka
. He also tells that joke to every sloppy drunk suit that wanders in here. I'm sure that the Mafia
is in business with Old Rado, because he would have been shutdown ages ago left to his own devices. It takes a lot of money to get the Party
to turn a blind eye
your way, especially with Gorbachev
I went to the club that day, to listen to the Stone's "Their Satanic Majesties Request
" play end to end for the hundredth time. The tips from two shifts pays the rent on my rundown apartment
for a month. I was hanging up my coat in the rear hallway when I heard Yuri's fevered typing chatter
to a stop. "Ludmilla?" he asked tentatively, with a voice that sounded unused for days. I stuck my head in past the blue painted steel door. "Are you still alive in here hermit
?" I ask him in return. Yuri sat at a rough pine desk in a nest of black wires. His crouched up silhouette with lit from behind by a little white monitor, covered in tight white script on black
. He hadn't turned around when he called me in. "Come back when your shift is over. We have.. things to discuss. Please."
"Oh, so very mysterious." I tease.
Yuri started typing again, signaling that the conversation, such as it was, was over. The mystery would have to wait until the end of hours of ass pinching
and spilled drinks
. I tie my black serving apron around my back, a prisoner's shackles.
When I return, hours later, I can't be sure that Yuri has moved at all. The screen is still full of tiny white text, and the praying mantis
Yuri is still perched on top of his barstool
, long arms folded up like a Swiss army knife
. No, wait. One difference. A bottle of Stolichnaya
sits open on the table beside a pile of disks. The glass accompanying it is half full
. Yuri has been drinking. I don't think I have ever seen that before.
"Hello Ludmilla" comes quietly from his throat, as though it was packed with cotton
"What's the big mystery? Have you finally destroyed the dreaded Americans and cleared the world for the glorious Revolution?". The joke is lost on him, his limited social skills having withered during his sabbatical from humanity
"No no, nothing like that. Do you see this?"
He gestured to the screen, which was filling with his furious typing. With a satisfied twack
he ran his program. It was a game, with tinny music and falling colored blocks.
and I made this game while we were at the Academy of Science
together. Somebody sent a copy to some kids in Hungary
and they ported it to a Commodore
. It was all over Europe
in a month! Last month, they sent a contract to Alexy. This game, it could be worth millions
. He thinks they are trying to steal it from him. Him. I helped and I get no mention
! Well, I am
"What's it called?" I ask, lost in the machinations
of his private world of betrayals and business
. It's a stupid name. I wanted to call it Blocks
called it Tetris when he redid it in DOS... It is Tetris now, forever.
Yuri shifts in seat and looks at me, deadly serious behind his thick black framed glasses. The screen reflects blue
in his eyes. "He wants to cut me out of what is half mine. I cannot let that happen! That's why I need you Ludmilla. I need your help."
"I don't know anything about computers." It's true. I have trouble with the cash register
at the bar.
Yuri stiffens, and looks down at his feet, as if suddenly embarrassed. I only notice then how drunk
he is. He is swaying on his seat like a mast in a storm
. He turns back to his keyboard and runs another program. It looks identical to the first one to me.
"I want you to be my business partner
Ludmilla. I know how bad you need the money and how working here makes you sad. You see this?" he says as he gestures to a flat white box covered in green lights. It says US Robotics
"It's a modem
! Can you believe it?"
The spectacular relevance of this escapes me. "What does it do?" I ask, oblivious
"I can hook up this computer to another using a phone
! It is incredible! Dad had to pull some strings to get this here. So, I used it to connect to a BBS
in Los Angeles. In America
! I have made all the arrangements! I'm going to beat Pajitnov to America
! HA!". He pounds his fist on the desk to emphasize his point.
"Why do you need me Yuri? I don't understand.". His drunken rage quickly leaves him, and he gets red-faced
again. Something he wants to say is deathly embarrassing
to him. Something to do with me.
"They are mad for it, Milla. They will send me 5 American dollars
for each copy they play. They call it Shareswares
. When I am rich, I will go to live in California
and learn to surf
He is nervous and fretting.
I move to put on my jacket. "Good luck in California, Yuri. Send me your first Hollywood movie
." I say with a smile. Poor crazy Yuri it says.
"Please Ludmilla, stay a moment. Please."
I stop in the doorway.
"I changed the program from Alexy's. When you start to win in my Tetris, it reveals a picture
. It is my hook
! The Americans, they are all about the pretty girls
. I... I want to add your picture to the game. Please.". He turned a brilliant shade of red
and hung his head in his hands.
"All this for a picture? Why would you want to add a picture of me
to your game?"
"Well, you are very beautiful
. And you have the nicest body of all the girls. Your chest
"You mean a naked picture
"Ye..eess" he stutters
I slap him across the face with the back of my hand
. "How DARE
you! I am not one of your fathers whores
!" I thunder.
" he manages, holding his hand printed face.
California is lovely this time of year.
For my good friend