This is the twenty-fifth part of a fiction serial, in 810 words.
When the older men with the dog had left, Anton opened his shop. Calling me over, he checked his notebook. “Okay, Ricky. You good worker, now you get paid. Less your food and rent, the water and clothing, I owe you forty pounds, okay?” He gave me four ten-pound notes, and turned back to his line of cutomers. I had worked for four days, and forty pounds was an insult of course. I said nothing, and put the money in my pocket. When my turn in the queue came, I told him I didn’t want anything from his shop, and he looked angry. “You should buy something. Here, how about vodka? I like vodka, Ricky. You will too. Make you relaxed.” I agreed to buy the half-bottle of vodka at his inflated price of ten pounds, and walked back with Marta to her place.
It wasn’t difficult to get Marta into conversation about Anton. She had worked for him for years, and knew all about him. When I tentatively suggested it might be possible for us to collude in her escape, she jumped at the idea. Taking me into the room at the back, she asked the woman she shared with to give us some privacy. The woman smirked as she left, saying something to Marta in her own language. Marta grinned, and when the woman had left, she leaned in and spoke quietly. “They think we are going to have sex, but don’t worry, I will let them think what they want”.
She was very keen on my suggestion that I could employ her as a housekeeper, though obviously confused why I would be working picking cucumbers when I had a big house all to myself. I told her it was because I had led a sheltered life as a child, and wanted to get out in the world to meet people, but I had no idea whether or not she believed that story as her face seemed to hold the same expression whatever she was saying. “He used to rape me you know, Ricky. Some years ago, when I was still good-looking. That’s why I stopped trying to look nice, so he would choose someone else. He is a bad man, and deserves a bad fate”. I put my arm around her in a consoling gesture, and said that a bad fate for Anton could be arranged, if we planned carefully. At that her eyes lit up, and she kissed me softly on the cheek.
“Then we will plan carefully, sweet Ricky”.
After that conversation, we were more careful not to be seen together that much. Though Anton didn’t seem to be that interested in any of us, it was wise to take precautions. Marta deliberately contrived to appear to be generally happier, and I was always very friendly to Anton whenever I saw him around. Roman noticed that Marta was in a better mood, and teased me relentlessly. “So you make the old lady very happy, Ricky. I think you and her do boom-boom a lot, and she feels she is young again”. I didn’t rise to his jibes, though they became tiresome after a week of them.
Marta and I decided that a simple plan would be best. No need to over-complicate things. She told me that he was not paying his bosses the full amount he should, and that was why the older men had come to humiliate him in front of everyone. She was sure that if he disappeared one day, nobody would be looking for him. And if we both left at the same time, it was likely they would think he had taken us to work elsewhere. One good thing about the black economy that was becoming clear to me was that when you are cheating illegal workers and not paying any taxes, there is no chance of resorting to the authorities for those involved. The police would not be informed, and nobody would be listed as a missing person.
Anton’s love of vodka was legendary, and Marta told me that he got drunk on his own almost every night. She thought it would be easy to suggest a small party in his motorhome, if we supplied the vodka. So for the next two Sundays, we both bought vodka from his shop. He noticed that I was spending all my pittance of wages on it, and winked at me. “So, you like your vodka now, Ricky? I told you it was good, didn’t I? Don’t let it affect your work now.” For her part, Marta had bought various foodstuffs from him, and stored them away. He smiled at her one Sunday as she bought more. “Looks like you are going to cook something good, Marta. You make sure to save some for Anton, okay?”
The scene was set, and we picked the time and place.