N.B. A note to any of our American cousins who may be following this outlandish fantasy tale. In some of the following chapters there may appear to be a negative attitude to some US institutions, or cultural icons. It's a story - get over it. This is just illustrating a reflection of how the attitudes and world media coverage in some countries portray the USA. On a personal note I get along fine with most folk, but in general I have no interest in local political machinations, and even less interest in world politics (or sport) - my only fervent hope would be for less conflict in the world - as young girls might get hurt.
Copyright (c) 2012, Slow Quill
For Marta and Anna their first abbreviated week at school had gone well, they had made a few new friends outside the studio network, and found their classes more demanding, but both girls were bright, and rose to the challenge. Marta had the greater number of text books for her classes, and both of them liked to read ahead, in order they were prepared for the work in class.
The school timetables they had been issued with on Wednesday were already revised with new ones that would commence on Monday, that included two English lessons a week.
When they had the chance to talk to Svetlana in private after school, she said in the first lesson she would 'discover' that each sister had already taken English lessons before, and would promote them to teacher's assistant. This would help re-enforce their own lessons by helping to bring on others in the class, and raise the overall pace that the classes could progress, and she would also find them additional tasks that would stretch their abilities.
On Saturday Anna wanted to read well ahead on some of her school subjects, also she had promised her mum she would look after the boys for a couple of hours, then there was her 'FAQ for new models' which she wanted to work on.
Marta had arranged for a computer lesson with Karl, she set up her new laptop for school work in the study, thinking that to work in her bedroom might give off the wrong signals, and of course her parents wouldn't like it. When he arrived she offered him a drink and some of her mum's medivnyk (a Ukrainian honey cake), then they sat close together as Karl answered many of her questions.
Eventually he showed her how to see some of the information on or about a web page that wasn't immediately apparent to someone viewing the page. Marta proved an avid pupil, finding each new discovery leading to more questions, as she made page after page of notes, knowing Anna would want to learn about the how and why of the web based world in which they now worked. As they sat there Marta reciprocated by teaching Karl English words relevant to the things they were working on, having him write them down.
Karl was invited to stay for lunch, just some tasty home-made soup and bread, which meant he had a little more time with Marta, he had already told them how he needed to study that after-noon for an upcoming test on the course he was taking.
The thought of leftovers would be an anathema to Ella, any odd vegetable or scrap of meat not served at one meal went into a stockpot, stew or soup, that would sit at the back of the stove, that was the way it had always been since she was a little girl.
Maintenance work by it's very nature was not nine to five, there was planned preventative work, but the breakdowns always seemed to happen at the most inconvenient times, and Igor, being the new man was supervising an emergency, once the job was under-way he could get home, but the crew would have a long tough weekend ahead of them.
Packing up in the study, Marta thanked Karl for his help then she kissed him and then they lost track of time for a while, when he got round to leaving they were both a bit flushed, and Marta couldn't help but notice Karl's condition, fortunately he walked out carrying his book bag to the front hoping to avoid embarrassment.
With help from both Dmitri and Alina they now had a database set up on their original laptop, to which they had transferred information about some of the other web sites that they had on the disks they had been given. They wanted to hit as many other disks as they could this weekend to increase the data set, and learn more about these other operations.
Marta had a growing list of questions, but between them they felt they had worked out some of the answers. At their studio each image was branded with the studio logo, which would be placed in the corner that had the least affect on the composition, but others just slapped it in the same place on every shot regardless of whether it messed up the image.
One of their new discoveries had been a company that appeared to be stealing image sets from other studios by blotting out the original logo with their own larger logo, literally like cowboys re-branding stolen cattle. In some cases it had been done in such a crude way the original marking could be seen poking out from behind the false stamp.
Another find was a girl who appeared to be working for two studios, but using a different model name at each one, after this they checked back and found a second girl doing the same thing. Not knowing how to cross reference this on the database, Marta just noted it down for later inclusion when they could modify the database.
Over the course of the weekend the stack of un-viewed disks diminished, as they learned more about each of their rival operators, and one of their main conclusions was there were very few good ideas they could learn from, but there were plenty of negative examples. They began to summarize the main faults as, unhappy or disinterested models, dirty or scruffy girls, and those who were badly dressed, and then they went on to list the various technical or aesthetic failings that they had found in their research.
During a break in their labours, they checked through the text books that had been issued to those taking English classes, which made them realise how far they had progressed in this subject. The the back of the book gave details of a second and third book in the series, so they decided to see if they could buy themselves a copy of each, as it was an approved school text, and they wanted to take the standard, and then advanced exams.
Anna had her first 'official' English lesson on Monday morning, Eve and one other girl who was not associated with the studio were able to claim a slight knowledge of the language and then it was 'discovered' that Anna was quite advanced, and as per plan, became a class-room assistant. The pupils of course, all respectfully called their teachers by their surnames, so neither Anna nor Eve let on they knew their teacher by her first name, as that was the norm with everyone at the studio, in fact other than Svetlana she couldn't recall the surname of anyone else working there.
Later when the group Marta was in had their first English lesson, several pupils were found to have a limited grasp of the language from an interest in pop culture, but Marta's greater ability was the reason for her to be selected as an assistant. This caused a rise in the new girl's popularity, and the respect of those in the class with more academic aspirations.
Ella had discovered that in this upmarket neighbourhood some of the local shops were willing to make deliveries, and what with Igor promising that they could visit a large super-market weekly using the new car, she now had more free time.
As they were getting settled in, one of the things they had discussed was a treat for their old friends, Olga & Gramps. Having been to several travel agents, Ella had arranged an itinerary for the couple to come and visit for a few days, for she knew how much they missed the children and vice-versa, and they could do some site-seeing around the city.
Then she had looked into booking a modest hotel at a coastal resort popular with more elderly patrons, to run over several days, before a return train journey with a second stop over in Kiev so they could relate the tale of their trip to the children.
The problem that now faced Ella was to arrange it with the couple and confirm the dates, with the travel company, as their friends didn't have a phone. After their evening meal the boys were sent off to read while Ella discussed the dilemma of trying to organise this trip via the postal system.
Marta said she might have a solution, and ran upstairs to find her cell phone, a few minutes later she returned smiling. She had called Svetlana, and she would speak to her neighbour, who was looking after her apartment, a few calls later the neighbour had agreed to pop round in the morning to collect Nana Olga asking her to come round so she could talk with Ella, and they could sort out the details.
In their old home town few public phones were not vandalised, and this roundabout solution would mean the old lady would be able to sit comfortably and note down the details, so dates could be settled. A phone call the next day, and they were able to agree on a timetable, it's just that the old folks didn't realise they would also be enjoying a surprise visit to the coast. All they were aware of, is their much missed friends would be sending them the train tickets for the trip, and had promised to pay for the return journey as well.
With the details resolved Ella with the girls help got the study ready for their guests, pulling out the new sofa-bed for the first time, noting how comfortable it was before making up the bed with fresh sheets and duvet. All the new furniture in the room was brought with it's multi-purpose roll in mind, with both wardrobe and drawer space for their visitors who were due early on Friday afternoon.
Both girls realised how much so many aspects of their lives had improved, their new school was well maintained, with staff who seemed to care, and focused pupils who were neither troublesome or disruptive. The place was clean and bright, conveying a sense of both pride and hope, whereas before they appeared to be swimming against a tide of despair and apathy among both teachers and students. Each day was interesting and challenging, as they were encouraged to push themselves academically, but they rose to the task with the help and support of new friends, and of course each other.
The 'game' with the boys that had started earlier that summer of learning a new language had taken hold, and the youngsters now had their own growing collection of books and games in English. At school it was a fine game, their own private code, where few others were able to catch more than the odd word, but soon their friends wanted to join in, making them both popular in their new setting.
Kat a girl the sisters had met just over a month ago, when she was doing an outdoor photo shoot was in the year group at school between the two girls, but was placed in the same English classes as Marta. After their first lesson together Kat asked if they could exchange phone numbers as there was something she would like to discuss, Marta agreed realising the subject must be something related to their studio work. When they spoke on the phone that evening Kat wanted to thank Marta and Anna for their help during the shoot, saying how she thought it was her best yet, and how well the shots had come out using Marta's rainbow idea. One of the rainbow shots had been one of the three full size promotional pictures to launch the set, and sales had been going very well.
Regardless of all the other things happening in the family's interesting and hectic new lives, they were all looking forward to the imminent arrival of Nana Olga and Gramps.
Their room had been adorned with some of the boys drawings, they had planned to arrange vases of fresh flowers, and even some of Gramps favourite pipe tobacco had been laid on, along with some hastily purchased ash trays. Previously with money always so tight neither Igor or Ella smoked although it was common among many of their generation and among older folk.
On Thursday Valya phoned Ella to see how the girls were getting on at their new school, and the subject came up of the visitors they were expecting the next day. Valya made a suggestion that Ella thought was great providing it wasn't too much trouble, so as soon as the girls returned from school, they were told to swap backpacks and head straight over to the studio.
Smiling Ella gave the girls no clue what this sudden visit was about. Valya met them in reception and lead them off to one of the studios where various plain coloured back drops had been placed in front of a blank wall obviously awaiting a new scenic background. Hanging rails held a selection of good quality adolescent winter clothing, unlike the normal hand made fantasy garments usually worn in these studios.
Marta was the first to realise, "You're going to shoot some fake catalogue pictures!"
At that point Sandra arrived, and they hurriedly shot a few frames of several outfits in front of the plain backgrounds, with Sandra reminding Anna that for once she wasn't the star she was just a clothes horse, and to change her mind set accordingly.
After the flurry of activity Valya explained how she had phoned around that afternoon to get together the outfits, so they could fake a few photos, as it would seem odd to move to Kiev but have no record of the work she was doing. They went to the imaging department to find that Sandra had already chosen several pictures and she was waiting for them to slowly emerge from an expensive looking printer. Next they went to see Dmitri who had a page from an British clothing catalogue on his screen showing a girl wearing a winter coat, with a few mouse clicks her image was replaced by the one of Anna in the winter coat.
The girls read the English text about the coat, and the foreign UK sizes it was available in, and then asked Dmitri what their equivalent of £164.95 was in their own currency. It was an unbelievable shock to find out how much people could afford to pay for a child's coat, considering wages in their country for most people were about a tenth what people earned in the UK, and so with a few more clicks, a copy of the fake page was rolling off Dmitri's printer.
Sandra also produced a couple of shots from Ann's audition where she was innocently posing in her own Sunday best dress from that time, together all these photos were placed in a folder marked 'Anna clothing catalogue fashion model' which they gave her to take home, in order she had some safe pictures to show her visitors the next day.
After thanking Valya and the others for coming up with this little subterfuge the girls got back home to find their mum had delayed supper for a short while in order that the family could all eat together. Their mum discretely asked if the visit had been successful, and then said they could show her later, her eyes flicking towards the boys sitting at the table.
Talk that evening was all about their impending visitors, with Greg and Peter in such a high state of excitement, Igor had taken them across to the park earlier to tire them out in the hope they would sleep that evening.
That night the girls got their brothers off to bed, and read a story trading off between them the voices of the characters, until both boys started to fade, at which point they were both tucked into Greg's bed rather than risk waking Peter to put him in his own. It was not unusual for both the boys to be found in the same bed of a morning, for they had always shared up until the recent move, Marta and Anna also still slept together now and then.
Returning downstairs Anna showed her parents the 'fashion' portfolio of her work suitable for public consumption, including the mocked up catalogue page. Ella found the cost of the child's coat incredulous when Marta gave her the price conversion, but Igor said if she thought that was bad, in the USA their earnings were were half as much again as in the UK and that was sure to be reflected in the prices they paid in the shops.
They talked a while longer about the surprise arranged for their friends, then the girls went on to catch up with the homework they should have done before supper. When Anna had completed her work she went in to her sisters room to see how she was getting on, only to find her working on a new spread sheet on their studio laptop. Looking over the entries it was a summation to date of 'Natasha' sales data, Marta had included the current rate to convert US $ into their own currency, and from the studio web site they knew how much members paid to download a set, and the price for the super-set, and for the video.
If talk earlier about the price of a coat was cause for disbelief, the revenue generated by one ten year old model was astounding, and although Anna only received a small part of that she was more than content with her share, appreciating the efforts of all the other staff that were necessary to run the studio operation. Marta then went on to do some more speculative calculations, explaining to Anna what she was doing, adding together the estimated number of model web sites in the Ukraine, then an average number of models, and so on until she came up with with a possible range of foreign income for their country.
Marta said her results were really just a wild guess, but looking at a school text book on an introduction to economics it still made the web modelling business a small, but significant part of the of the nations income from abroad. Anna had left the door open and their father had come in and caught some of what Marta had said, and he asked her to walk him through the numbers and asked where they had come from, and how she had put down maximum and minimum values for each variable.
Igor said the total income didn't even look like the sums of money they spoke of on news programmes, seeing them on the screen they looked like telephone numbers, but now with all his talks with Ivan he was inclined to believe even the higher estimate could be too low. He wished the girls goodnight, without voicing his fears, that an industry couldn't raise that sort of revenue without someone somewhere taking note, he needed to make sure the money his girls had earned was safe for the children in case things turned sour.
In the coming days and weeks he would think long and hard as to how to keep their nest egg safe for his family, making discrete but hypothetical enquiries with those who dealt with financial matters, also looking to history, an interest Marta had picked up from him. When he was advised to invest in shares, his knowledge of the stock market crash back in the 1930's dissuaded him of that option, as the effects had been global, and gem stones were too variable in quality unless you knew what you were looking at, that just left owning property or gold.
Are Igor's fears well founded, will he go on to make wise decisions for his family?
To be continued in chapter 20
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