Devil is the father of lies; thou shalt not converse with him.
History is written by the victors.
— You know everything about me, and I know nothing about you, — Chugunkov did not like people, but he knew how to seduce them. — I have read your report. It was obviously written by a highly intelligent person. — Tony knew the soft points and was hitting them without hesitation. The torrent of flattery went into Nick's head like a bottle of vodka.
— But I should like to know – what is it exactly that you want? — Chugunkov set the hook.
— I want to point out that we have only tested the functioning of your security service, — Nick was choosing his words carefully. The price of a wrong move was his life, or so it seemed to him. He did not yet understand that the unknown was for study, not for killing. — The text of the report is confidential. That does not depend on whether you choose to work with us or not. What I did want to offer is an op-timisation of your security service. Here's a contract proposal.
Nick shifted the proposal towards Chugunkov. Tony took it, and the first thing he saw was the price: one million dollars. Striving towards that sum was how his own business had been born.
Chapter 1: Nick
It all started with a CD and an unfortunate piss-up. That was the first link in the chain of events that had brought Nick, eight years later, to Chugunkov.
Nick grew up in a wacky family. As the common wisdom has it, every family is wacky in its own way. Nick had a painter for a brother and a linguist / screenwriter for a sister. As a result, the siblings were in a permanent state of financial distress. During the nineties, all of them were supported, in one way or another, by their dad. The dad was an alcoholic, an engineer, an MG cars aficionado, and a small busi-ness owner. To each of those roles he devoted himself wholeheartedly, with the result that he passed away in 2000 – taken by a stroke that got him while he was changing the cambelt in his MGTF.
It was then that the family myth had emerged about Nick's predestination to be either a programmer, or an engineer, or a small business owner. That is to say, not a creative type – for the masters of penni-less trades were in ample supply, but bread had to be won somehow. Nick had a kind of business tal-ent. He was in high school when his dad passed away, and living with his mom whose financial sense was better described as a nonsense. Being dependent on that nonsense did not appeal to Nick; some-thing had to be done.
His very first steps in that direction bore fruit. Nick was writing essays for his classmates. Some days, five of Nick's essays got submitted to the same teacher. The price was determined by the mark. It was then that Nick discovered that it was not the work that was getting marked, but the personality of whoever produced it. Still, he was taking in around 50 pounds per essay that got submitted.
His second income source were girls. Or rather girls' love of shiny pens and notebooks. Uddingston had a traditional books and crafts fair every fortnight on a Saturday – it was there that our hero was stock-ing up on Hello Kitty pens and rulers, and then peddling those to the girls at his school.
The third income source was miscellaneous printouts. Nick had a laser printer at home, not a common thing at the time. He used that printer to produce copies of past GCSE exams. His classmates told their parents a printout was twenty quid, Nick was printing them for ten. Everyone was getting a cut.
As a result of all those manoeuvres, Nick came into a small fortune of 500 pounds, a part of which he was lending out to his sister, and investing the other part further. One of his investments were CDs. He fell in love with music. Nick could spend hours listening to Paganini and Sting. The new wave of British rock, in the form of The Stone Roses and the rest of Madchester, washed over him too. But the real kick was coming from his namesake Paganini. It was good old Niccolo that inspired the next set of his business heroics.
The local CD salesman – a kindly alcoholic by the name of Craig – became friends with Nick. By an irony of fate, Craig was a crafts course teacher by education, and crafts was the only subject that Nick was having trouble with at school. As a result, he hated craftoes as a species, but he did get along with Craig – he was the only person that Nick had confided his love of music to. To the rest of his friends, our hero professed an undying love for Elton John and Madonna, to which in reality he was absolutely indifferent. And then, of course, he did know Billy Connolly off by heart – for such were the times, he had to know.
It was Craig that he could discuss all of that with while he was choosing his next CD and parting with ten or even twenty pounds. And so Craig asked him one day to replace him during his vacation. And so, at the age of fifteen, Nick made an acquaintance with the owner of a CD rental chain and started on his path to big money. He could earn between 30 and 40 pounds a day!
— How old are you? — Pritpaul Singh, the owner of the chain, asked sternly.
— Sixteen, — Nick promptly lied. He was actually fifteen, but he had been ghost-writing a few sociolo-gy essays recently and remembered some messy articles about child labour and the hassle of employ-ing someone under the statutory age.
— I can show you my passport, — our hero flashed the cover of his child passport and even put it on the table. But then stuffed it safely back into a pocket.
After that brief, and his first ever, job interview, Nick was hired. His job was to man a CD booth in a 24-hour supermarket, which meant that the booth could have been open 24 hours. The hours were de-termined by the person manning the till – Pritpaul Singh was paying his workers 10% of the turnaround and giving them complete liberty in matters relating to their work: what was to be stocked, how it was to be arranged in the shop windows, etc. Every other day or so, Pritpaul was passing by – to check the intake, hand the tithe over to the staffer and to leave some brown envelope money. Peddling pirated music, films and porn was not entirely legal, and so payments had to be made, and so Pritpaul was duly making the payments; Nick was passing those on.
After Nick's first day at the job, Pritpaul couldn't balance the books. Nick was very upset about the matter and spent two hours figuring out where a whole £150 had gone. He then realised it was a calcu-lation error and explained the shortfall, demonstrating a certain mathematical talent in the process. He was very careful with financial reporting after that, particularly so with a simple notebook that he was recording his sales in.
It was in that same job that Nick decided to try some techniques from the NLP books that were littering his flat. He was practicing mirroring and matching on his customers: you must first match a person's appearance and behaviour, and then you can lead them by giving desirable suggestions that lead to better sales and larger turnaround. Our hero really got into the process. He had to start throwing his trainers away every week — that was the only thing one could do with the footwear soaked in sweat to that kind of extent. That was the sweat of a true salesman. Nick had no knowledge of the product he was selling. He had no time to listen to the latest pop or watch blockbusters. But Nick knew his cli-ents. He knew them inside and out. From teenagers hiding their money in shoes — so they don't get mugged — and buying video games and house disco that was fashionable at the time, all the way to old grannies shopping for presents for their grandchildren. But none of those made his profits. The profits came from families.
Every evening, at about 5 pm, a small queue was forming in the supermarket. Fathers were coming back from work and taking their wives and children shopping. They were buying food and getting something to watch. Grotesque pudgy men, shrieking women and hyperactive children were making Nick a small fortune. The principal task consisted in serving five families at the same time. The trick was to initiate conversations within the queue.
— Got a comedy or something?
— Actually, the gentleman right behind you took "Father Ted" last time, did you like it, sir? — Nick was becoming the discussion moderator for the queue.
Having taken in 1500 pounds in one day, Nick became the best salesman that Pritpaul ever had. Singh did not hesitate in his praise for Nick – he was allowed to play classical music in his booth, notwith-standing the grumbles from the security, the cashiers and the rest of the supermarket plankton. Our hero refreshed his wardrobe, was buying rounds for his friends, got an entertainment centre and up-dated his PC.
That idyllic career was destined for a tragic end right there and then. Nick was about to finish school when he got invited to a piss-up by his friend Millie. Millie was a first year sociology student at Glasgow Polytechnic, and the piss-up was for her friend Vicky who was doing media studies. Vicky was hot and Nick was very keen on fucking her, and so he proceeded to get her drunk. They were drinking till dawn. He did not fuck her, but she did fuck up his brain...
Continued in part 2