FOR THE LOVE OF RICHES, PART 4

 

Two weeks later, the store was re-opened under new management.

For a few weeks, while the previous owner was still involved in the transition, the store ran smoothly. Then the complications began. The store’s longtime clients were used to excellent service and started to become upset when their customary weekly orders had not been ready on time, or when their orders had been misunderstood and not filled properly.

The two couples were trying their best to make a ‘go’ of their new business venture. Olga, with her poor English and her provocative attire, could not be allowed at the front counter, so she was helping with the cleaning and packaging the orders in the back of the store. Fannie spent every evening attending to the store’s books but there were still many operating difficulties. The business was new for them and there were many aspects that they still had to learn.

It was a busy time of the year too in advance of High Holidays, and they desperately needed experienced help. The previous owner had warned them about it and suggested they hire an additional butcher for a month. He had always had an extra helper at this time of the year. But then again, he didn’t owe anything to the bank and could afford it. The money that Sam and Fannie had been saving for their house was matched by Igor’s and Olga’s funds and had made for a reasonable down-payment. But they still had to take on a large mortgage to finance the acquisition of the shop. They simply couldn’t manage to pay for any extra help.

And maybe, given time, Sam and Igor would have learned the required skills and things would have gotten better, if not for one most unfortunate episode…

Olga was frustrated. She was slaving away in the rear of the store from morning until late evening. Money was still as tight as ever. She was hot and uncomfortable with that ridiculous scarf that she always had to wrap around the top of her dress whenever she worked in the store, yet she refused to change her workday attire for something more conservative. She insisted on wearing the large cross on a chain too, despite constant pleading from Igor that she dispense with the cross while working in the store. What’s more, Olga was fed up with seeing her husband always overworked, stressed-out and perpetually in a gloomy mood.

On one especially busy day when there were numerous customers in the store and things were hectic (why are they all coming on Friday morning? Couldn’t they wait until the evening or do their shopping some other day?), Olga stared at the mashgiach sitting in his chair and engrossed in a prayer book, seemingly oblivious to the chaos all around him. Here was a perfectly healthy young man sitting around and doing absolutely nothing!

“Get up!” Olga instructed him sternly, “and help to cut the meat.”

“I can’t do that,” was the predictable calm reply.

“Oh yes, you can! I’m paying you good money so I can tell you what to do!”

The astonished mashgiach shook his head and smiled benevolently at Olga. He was about to explain to her his singular role and the importance of supervision but she had had enough of his apparent laziness and showed no interest in an explanation.

Olga whipped off her scarf, grasped a large knife laying nearby, seemingly with the intent of handing it over to the mashgiach, but he evidently misunderstood the meaning of her gesture … and then the traditional old, quiet Jewish neighborhood witnessed a scene that people would talk about for years.

A heavy-set, blond Russian woman with a large golden cross bouncing prominently on her chest and with a bloody butcher knife being held in a threatening fashion in her hand, was seen chasing after a bearded young man in traditional black suit and black hat who had run out of the store and down the street, all the while screaming, “Gevalt! She’s going to kill me! Help!”

The Jewish Congress promptly ordered the store to be closed forthwith. The four friends were out of business. Period.

The scandalous story was told and retold in various versions in every Russian immigrant store, café and restaurant.

Igor and Olga had no children, no commitments. They packed their belongings and moved to Vancouver to start a new life.

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