The Customer is always Right. (In Baku) 

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My telephone vibrated in my shirt pocket and buzzed against my left nipple. I smiled internally, savouring the private moment and unseen by the cab driver.

It stopped buzzing.

Probably best it stopped, didn’t want numb nipple syndrome (NNS). I discovered it, Russell Jenkins, whilst carrying out research into mobile phone sexual stimulation (MPSS). Just another paper to add to my various publications in the Lancet Medical Journal I thought. Could be as good as.. I thought hard for a moment. As good as…., TVCS. Train Vibration Cock Stimulation. That was a real one, of sorts. I discovered that condition last week when I fell asleep on the airport transfer bus. You know, that dreamy feeling you get as you slip into unconsciousness with a growing erection.

God, I hated these taxi rides across Baku this time of day. Nothing to do but think up nonsensical crap. My phone vibrated again. It would be my 9am calendar reminder to meet a fast new rising star in town.  This wasn’t helping my NNS.

Pressing the flesh was an occupational hazard. The staff turnaround in this place was hard to keep up with at times. An example: “Hello, this is Russell Jenkins from Mercury Data could I speak with…………..Oh! I see, he’s left. And his replacement? Could I schedule a meeting to introduce myself? I can! Oh that’s very nice of you.” I should record the words and play them over the phone each time I make a business call. It would save me getting Repetitive Word Syndrome. (RWS)

The cab pulled up with a small squeal of brakes and a bump against the curb. The driver seemed not to notice, he just looked ahead and waited. I pressed my weight against the door and pulled the handle. The small effort was enough for me to generate sufficient inertia to make a greasy mark on the glass window with my forehead. The door remained purposely closed. I turned my head to look at the driver’s reflection in his review mirror. He still stared ahead. “Can you please unlock the door.” I said with exaggeration just to aid translation. It was a rhetorical question as I know he has the skill to unlock it. His eyes moved to mine and he squints. Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard the theme tune to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. (doodle doodle do, wah wah wah) This dude considers himself a bandit I thought. Well, he’s met his match with this gunslinger!

“The cab is prepaid by my company.” I said, irritated. He is unwavering in his standoff. I’m impressed. “Did you hear me my good man?” Oh what did I just say? ‘My good man!’  What- a- complete- tosser!!  If the driver can speak English he must now be itching to get home and tell his family about the guy in his cab suffering from Twee Word Associated Twaddle (TWAT)

I’m getting hot now. “Open the door please if you can?” The driver can see I’m distressed and I think he knows I’m avoiding paying him a tip. I have this attitude based on principle. If I get a taxi from the street and travel the same distance as today, it will cost me X. If I get a taxi booked through corporate account, it’s charged at Y. Being the Accountant Director, I know from simple observation that Y is 15% more that X. Therefore, a tip is not required and this Eli Wallach wannabe ain’t getting a penny more.

I tap on the glass partition between me and El Bandido. He turns slowly in his seat and shrugs his shoulders. I want to cast aside my poncho and show him my six shooter, throw a steely stare and make him sweat. Unfortunately, it’s just me sweating in a light blue shirt which is now, ironically, looking like a multi coloured dirty poncho. “OH, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE MAN, WHAT DO YOU WANT?” I shout.  He points to the back of the chair in front of me. It’s covered in call girl business cards and Kazakhstani mail order brides. I can’t help noticing that one looks like Barbara Streisand, which is nice.  I look back at him and shrug my shoulders in mock defeat. He jabs his finger harder at it, under the impression that looking like a mad monkey behind glass will help!

My eyes train back to the seat and there, not far from Barbara, in bold red ink, are the words, PLEASE USE OTHER DOOR – BROKEN SORRY.

I find myself pushing my wallet back into my pocket as I approach the client’s office doors. The driver probably has a large family anyway and the extra money will come in handy.

Vladimir McDonald cannot be his real name. He looks like a stereotypical Cossack and is hugging me like a bear. My arms are pined to my side and I look scared. I know this because I can see our reflection in large mirror in his reception area. Both his receptionists, who for a Wednesday, are dressed like it’s happy hour in a Baku night club. They are smiling at me, they are saying telepathically to me, “You look stupid Russell, but we want take you to bed so that you can watch the two of us make lesbian love.”

Before I can get my neurones aligned to reply and give them my address, I am half carried, half pushed into Vladimir’s office. “You will have a drink with me Wussell?” He says, pouring a large amount of golden liquid from a decanter into a glass.

“So,” he says, “What was your delay in getting out of the cab this morning?” I swallow my whiskey badly and it burns sufficiently for tears to form. Quick Russell, think of an answer, anything! “The cab driver was trying to rip me off so I told what would happen if he continued.” I croaked. “They should cut their balls off and hang them from their rear view mirror as a sign to all how greedy they are,” Vladimir explodes. Not the kind of thing I expect a CFO to say to me, then again, I don’t usually get hugged and force fed expensive malt whiskey at 9am usually. However, my job is to develop relationships with customers so that when my company messes up big time we can settle things privately and quietly, Kazakh style.  Go, with, the, flow I keep telling myself; but how did he know about he cab driver?

I smile back and nod. Vladimir gestures towards the decanter and I quickly place my hand over the top of the glass. I’ve had one fifth of the contents and already there is a slight buzzing in my head. Vladimir is extremely attentive, offers of breakfast, a better seat and a invitation to share an evening with him. I am quite overwhelmed and unable to accept before the next offer is directed at me. It’s a verbal machine gun with ribbon tied bullets.

My host launches into a monologue relating to his vision for the company and his thoughts on its competitors. Occasionally he seeks confirmation that I agree, and I politely nod. I note he does not ask whether I disagree or have further comment. He is in charge of the moment and after all, he is the client. He moves on to family and tells me of his wife, I am shown a picture, and of his kids, more pictures. His wife was a former beauty queen he tells me. “I had to break a few knees to get her family to like me,” he says. It must be a Russian comical turn of phrase I conclude, although he didn’t laugh.

He turns his attention to the view from his office on the upper floor over looking Fountain Square. “I love this place, don’t you Wussel? (I try to respond) Of course you do Wussel, it’s a wonderful place to start new opportunities. When I was a boy…….”

My eyes had been scanning the roof tops from where I was sitting and relaxing as the whiskey slowly seeped into my blood.  As my eyes refocused, I noticed a small cross no bigger than a match box drawn on the window pane. Vladimir had his back to me, still talking. The cross had been applied with thin black marker or was it  tape? I looked at the panes of glass either side to see any similarity. Nothing, just this pane and just this cross. I concluded it was left by glaziers as the offices hadn’t been long refurbished judging by the condition. I looked down to examine the remaining contents in my glass and saw what I thought was a shadow of the cross on the carpet. I placed my foot on the cross and it disappeared. I took away my shoe, and there it was again. A second cross had been drawn on the carpet!  Being slightly affected with alcohol, I found this quite interesting.

As I stood looking at the mark on the floor I became aware that the room was silent. I turned in the direction of Vladimir’s desk to see him watching me. “I like you Wussell, you’re a polite man, a good listener. Is they anything you would like to ask me?” There were a number of business topics I should pursue, however, the flamboyant character before me and the early morning shot of alcohol gave me false priorities. “Actually, there is one thing I’m curious about Vladimir,” I very slightly slurred. “Anything, anything, my friend,” he laughed. I took two paces towards the glass and tapped the cross with my finger nail. The noise was louder than I expected, and gave off a hollow report that made me start.

Vladimir stood, placed both hands behind his back and walked over to where I was standing. “Before I became a wealthy business man, I had many jobs. I was a soldier after leaving school, a baker like my father later on and also a keen hunter. I could make bread and kill people. I had many jobs Wussell, none of which paid well. Then one day I was asked by rich local trader to kill a fox that had slaughtered his daughter’s pet ducks. He said he would pay $50 to produce the dead fox. I agreed of course, $50 was a lot of money and it was American money. I learnt my first lesson in business that day; never agree on a price when you haven’t thought about all the angles. You know, it took me 5 long, cold sleepless nights before I finally saw that fox. You would think that I would be excited to see the fox, well I wasn’t Wussell. I hated that fox and all I wanted was it to be dead and for me to be in warm bed dreaming of the $50 and the pleasures it might bring. The next day I went to see the business man in his shop and told him I had shot the fox and produced the animal’s tail as proof. He paid me the money he owed me, happy with just the tail, and offered me a job on the spot. Remember I said about knowing all the angles Wussle? Well, one angle I didn’t see was that shooting foxes was just the beginning. Within 3 years I had shot 6 men and 1 woman. After that I stopped counting.” I went from $50 to $5000 a head just by changing species.

I was aware that my mouth was open. Vladimir placed his hand under mine holding the glass and gently raised it to my mouth. I drank deeply. The liquid hit my stomach like acid and jolted me back to an office, in Baku, with a killer. My shirt started to change colour once again. “Are you okay Wussell?” He said. I pulled on my best cowboy face and said casually, “That’s very interesting Vladimir (shirt changing colour by the second) but what does that have to do with the mark on the window?

He stood in front of the window where the mark was drawn and took a pace back to align it with the one on the floor. He closed one eye slowly. Carefully lowered his chin to align his view with the people walking about the square and then gradually let all the air from his lungs escape. He paused for a second before saying, “BANG.” Looking at me directly with an expression of coldness I’ll never forget, he said in perfect English, “Old habits die hard Russell, and I just like to keep my eye in. Remember that for the future won’t you?

In the cab back to my office I drifted off in an adrenaline depleted, whiskey fuelled sleep. Clint Eastwood stood before me, cheroot in his mouth and stubble about his chin.

“You see Wussell, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.”

I wonder if Vladamir gets TVCS? I wouldn’t be asking him, that’s for sure.

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5 thoughts on “The Customer is always Right. (In Baku) 

    1. What do you think of it as a piece of writing? I started after breakfast this morning and it was done an hour and half later. It’s based on a true story if you can believe that! Just wanted to get it down on tablet.

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      1. I can believe anything about Azerbaijan. I think it’s good, it has that hazy terror that has mostly vanished from the West so unless the reader has been to an area like that, it’s in the imagination. Most Americans couldn’t find Baku on a map if you spotted them three goals and a tenner.

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  1. Your way of writing is very unique and enjoyable. I was wondering if you could give me any advice on living in Baku. Been thinking about moving there to work and I would appreciate it. Thanks for the post!

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    1. Hi Eykeo,

      Thank you for commenting on my story. Although it was just a bit of fun writing, it was based on a true story. A friend of mine worked in Baku for a number of years and based on his unusual tale, I put this together.
      As for living in Baku, I’m afraid I haven’t personally. I have deployed a number of staff to work there for short periods of time and the feedback was very good. The region is developing and modernising at a fast rate and I wouldn’t be surprised if Baku became what Beirut used to be like in the 1970s; Clubs, casinos and nice apartments for tourists. Happy travels!

      Liked by 1 person

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