From each according to his ability
“As a citizen of this grotesquely capitalist country, Napoleon, you don’t seem to have invested any of your income for the purposes of augmenting what is really a quite adequate remuneration.”
Illya’s ability to speak perfect prose in a foreign language was quite startling, sometimes. Napoleon wondered if he practised.
“I only asked for a loan of twenty dollars.”
“And you haven’t repaid me for the last twenty dollars I loaned you.”
“It’s payday soon – then I will.”
Illya grunted, prose turned off.
“So, the answer’s no?”
Illya took out his wallet and handed over two ten-dollar bills. “I should charge you interest.”
“But you’re not a capitalist running dog, are you, my friend?”
Illya didn’t answer that. Instead, he said, “So, who is the lucky female tonight?”
“Twenty dollars isn’t enough for that kind of evening. I thought I’d ask you. We could go out together, just you and me.”
Illya’s blue eyes turned menacing. “Thank you. How generous.” Then, seeing the funny side, he laughed suddenly. “And, of course, you don’t need me to bring my wallet.”
Napoleon, said nothing, just looked quizzical; Illya stopped laughing and said, “Just a minute, who do you expect will be paying? You with my twenty – or, rather, forty – dollars, or me with yet more?”
“Either way, it’s you at the moment.”
“Forget it. I’m trying to save my money.”
“Capitalist running dog – I knew it!”
“No, for it’s a purpose.”
“Am I allowed to know for what purpose?”
“Oh. Well, perhaps we should get a take-out. I’ve got wine.”
“Actually, I have made other plans for tonight,” said Illya, coolly, and returned to his typewriter.
A day or two later, Napoleon entered their office to find it deserted. Illya had certainly been in, there was a newspaper lying open on his desk.
He sat down and pulled out a drawer to find paper and started looking for a pen. His partner always had some, so he rummaged in Illya’s desk and came upon a magazine, Autoweek. So, that was it. The speed king was saving up for something of his own. Where on earth did he expect to keep one in New York?
He was sitting flicking through the magazine when Illya returned. “Is it an Alfa Romeo you’re after?” He asked before Illya could say anything.
“Corvette Stingray.” He might have known Napoleon would find him out. That’s what came of sharing an office with a spy.
“Very nice. Cheaper, too. Are you planning on renting a garage, or something?”
“There’s a space going free here, so I’m told.”
“I thought you’d fallen out with the mechanics.”
“Not at all. I have gained kudos for making them a sensor for the little box they sit in, and I plan to profit by it.”
“What does this sensor do?”
“It raises or locks the barrier.”
“They think so.”
How did he do it? Illya had annoyed nearly everyone in the garage workshop at one time or another, and now, apparently, they were letting him have a free parking space. But he didn’t have the car yet.
“So, when you go to buy your Stingray, can I come and help you choose the colour?”
Illya looked suspiciously at him. “No. You’d want bright red, I know you.”
“Not at all. I know you – you’ll insist on cream, with a red interior. Am I right, or am I right?”
Illya sniffed, “I was thinking a light-blue interior would be more stylish.” Which was quite untrue, but he saw no reason to encourage Napoleon in his complacent self-belief.
“It’ll show the bloodstains,” Napoleon remarked sagely, “stick with red.”
Illya looked thoughtful (seemingly) and ceded the point. Not that Napoleon was deceived.
“Leatherette,” he said dispassionately, “– so whatever you’ve been up to, it’ll wipe clean.”
Knowing what kind of thing Napoleon might get up to, Illya looked slightly disgusted, and Napoleon added, “Apart from bloodstains, there’s all the spilt take-outs…”
“Which reminds me,” interrupted his partner, “– you still owe me forty dollars.”
“What happened to the spirit of communism – “to each according to his need?”
“From the beginning of that quotation – “From each according to his ability” – that’s where. And you are well able, my friend, so pay up. I want that car.”
“Forty dollars won’t take you far if you’re still saving up. Why not take out a bank loan? Banks are better able to pay.” Napoleon kept well behind his desk as a rolled-up newspaper flew unerringly towards him.
“And I’ll have my magazine back, too, if you please.”