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president! It’s only important that elections be in winter, otherwise these haters of Colorado beetles would slip off to their vegetable gardens!” This was already the third time he explained it to his spouse.

      Madame Durneva mumbled agreement. She could only mumble because she was devouring smoked turkey and pineapple slices. Someone had told her that it would be possible to loss weight eating turkey together with pineapple. Aunt Ninel approached the matter responsibly. She stocked a whole freezer full of turkeys and stuffed the refrigerator with pineapples. True, for the time being she had continued to grow fat, but comforted herself with the thought that not all natural medicines work immediately.

      Pipa was also not lounging. With her feet tucked under her, she was sitting on the sofa and thoughtfully contemplating with a magnifier the three in her diary, evaluating how to improve it more skilfully to a five. The three was very promising – with a small upper tail. Pipa had already tried using a blade on the three, when suddenly beside her appeared her papa, tired of amusing his brain with pensioner-gardeners.

      “Here, let me!” the best deputy demanded decisively. Pipa anxiously looked sideways at her papa and bunched up her eyes, ready to start wailing if necessary. However, the best deputy had other plans. He confiscated his daughter’s blade, skilfully reproduced a suitable trace of a handle, and, after a minute, an exceptionally credible five began to shine in the diary. “Here, daughter! Live and learn!” he said edifyingly, kissing Pipa on the head. Having displayed a dose of tenderness, Durnev turned and again trudged to his gardeners.

      “Stop! Hands up!” Pipa ordered, aiming an index finger at her papa’s back. The best deputy stopped and obediently lifted his carrot colour palms up to the ceiling. “We agreed: for each five I get fifty roubles! Forgetting something?” Pipa demanded.

      A moved Uncle Herman shoved his hand into his pocket and, after taking out his wallet, started to rummage in it. Not waiting for him to find fifty roubles, Pipa pulled the wallet out of her papa’s fingers and insolently took possession immediately of several hundred-rouble notes. “Why so much?” the best deputy was astonished.

      “What why? What about buying a DVD? A new film about G.P. has just come out recently! He’s so darling in it! The eyes are nice and kind, and not a single pimple!” Uncle Herman yawned. He was uninterested in listening about G.P., especially as his daughter had already been blabbering on about G.P. these past two years. Posters with G.P. were glued along the hallway; G.P. was also on dishes in the kitchen. Moreover, the clever thin-nosed face in round glasses looked out even from the bathroom towel, with which Pipa wiped her hands. “Well done, daughter! Never let slip your advantage! But enough about G.P., else I’ll howl!”

      After putting away the wallet a good deal lighter, Uncle Herman drew Pipa to himself and took aim for a new kiss on the head of his beloved offspring, but at this moment, the bell in the hallway was roused from a dream and produced something between the Funeral March and Dance of the Small Swans. Uncle Herman missed from surprise and painfully bumped his nose against Pipa’s head.

      “Ninnie, my sunshine, will you not take a look at what blockhead is ringing our doorbell? What fad is it to come without an invitation?” he frowned.

      “Right away, pumpkin! Your little dove will only have a small piece of pineapple! Otherwise the small pile of turkey will be so lonely in her stomach!” Aunt Ninel responded.

      “Don’t believe her, Pop! She already ate ten yogurts and fish steaks during the day! On top of that, my box of chocolates disappeared somewhere…” Pipa ratted on her dear mommy. She was always more daddy’s girl.

      Aunt Ninel clicked the TV’s remote. On its twentieth channel appeared an image from the camera recently installed on the landing. At the present moment, the camera was obediently taking a picture of the large grey tile and General Cutletkin’s iron door. “I see no one! There’s no one, Herman!” Aunt Ninel said in amazement.

      “What, no one? Then who rang?” the best deputy frowned. He rushed to the phone and dialled the concierge’s number. The concierge confirmed that no one went up to them. Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel exchanged glances. Both simultaneously thought of one and the same thing. Or, more precisely, of one and the same person. The idyllic family scene was destroyed.

      “Really Grotter again? I’ve only just begun to recover! Indeed only two years has passed since she was here last!” Aunt Ninel groaned.

      “Ha! Tanya is not so bad! The main thing is that they don’t leave us a new orphan! Mom, see if there is a case or at least a garbage can?” Pipa snorted.

      “Stay here! I’ll go look!” Uncle Herman decisively ordered. He tiptoed to the door and, not trusting the video camera, looked into the peephole. Then Durnev carefully turned the lock, removed the chain, and abruptly jerked open the door. He vaguely hoped to catch someone unawares, but there was nobody to catch. The landing was actually empty.

      Uncle Herman shrugged his shoulders, and was already about to shut the door, when suddenly he noticed a long envelope on the mat. The Durnevs’ Moscow address was carefully written accurately in the top right-hand corner of the envelope. There was no stamp. This meant that the envelope could in no way have been delivered in the usual manner, through the mail.

      “Herman, what’s there?” Aunt Ninel fearfully shouted, running up to her husband.

      “Here,” answered the best deputy.

      “What a strange envelope! Not from America? I hope there’s no anthrax inside?” Aunt Ninel cautiously said.

      “Nonsense! I was already sick with anthrax in childhood. It seems, soon after mumps. Or after meningitis? Well, unimportant. In any event, this was before the rabid dog bit me,” Uncle Herman dismissed it and courageously unsealed the envelope.

      Inside turned out to be a dense sheet of paper. In the centre, written in large golden letters:

      “Dear Mr. Herman Durnev,

      We report to you with satisfaction the end of the lawsuit that began in 1632. The final physical and astral death of the second contender for the inheritance – Empress C.A. Ligula – served as the reason for the termination of the lawsuit.

      According to the resolution of the supreme board of Transylvania, you have been declared the sole heir of your ancestor. Furthermore, in accordance with point 13.13/666 of our code you are automatically designated as the lifelong honourable chair of V.A.M.P.I.R.

      After taking into consideration all the facts, the main consultative board of V.A.M.P.I.R. unanimously considered that the close relationship and the natural qualities of your character compensate for the absence of magic abilities in you.

      In the case of your agreement, the regalia inherited by you will be sent to your home soon.

      Yours truly,

      Malyuta Skuratoff,

      Supreme Judge

      Transylvania, Anaemia Valley,

      12 May 20…”

      Uncle Herman read the letter three times. Even – according to his habit of seeing a false bottom in everything – brought it to the light. However, this revealed nothing. Perhaps only that the paper was heraldic. A gloomy castle on a cliff was used as the heraldic element. Durnev shrugged his shoulders. “I understand nothing. Supreme board!” he said.

      “Excuse me, Herman! Don’t turn it down! What if they’ll even give us a blinker? The fact of the matter is that I drive to the supermarket without a blinker! I’m already ashamed to show myself in front of Isadora Cutletkina! Imagine, besides a blinker, this guttersnipe has a true IFV as an escort!” Aunt Ninel was angry.

      Uncle Herman with unease looked sideways at the neighbour’s door and dived into his apartment. “Shush! What are you, nuts? How often have I told you not to swear at Isadora! Maybe not today, but tomorrow they’ll give a star to Cutletkin yet! Just consider what he will be then! And afterwards, he’ll be useful to me! Yesterday he promised to purchase from me two hundred railroad carloads of old woman’s stockings!” he whispered to his wife.

      “Stockings in the army? Why?” Aunt Ninel was astonished.

      Uncle Herman mysteriously brought a finger to his lips. “Shush! State secret. Even I’m not let in. Perhaps they stretch them

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