Why he bothers was easy to see when, as Sorokoletov sat sifting through the books at Store No. 57, an aged man hobbled into the director's office and begged to be sold a bottle of wine.
"I'm an invalid of the war and I just want a bottle for the holidays," he said. "I'm not a drunkard."
Popova went off to order the stock boys to unload more wine, and Sorokoletov said angrily: "They load things slowly on purpose so people will give up and leave. Then it will all go to the local council or the police or whoever they need it to go to. That's the mafia. How can the KGB and the police catch it when it feeds \o7 them?\f7 "
The common ruse among corrupt salespeople, he said, is to make sure goods remain unsold until they begin to rot. Then they write off double or triple the amount that actually went bad and sell the rest on the black market.
Moscow officials say the scale of the "retail mafia" has been greatly exaggerated, and that shortages stem mainly from panic buying.
"Don't believe the people who tell you that," Sorokoletov said.