I'm running. The lungs are about to explode. I'm deadly out of breath. I have to run a zigzag, in our brigade we call it to run "a screw".
Lord, help... Help me. Help me keep this furious tempo. That's it, if I get out of here, -- certainly give up smoking. Flick, flick. Is it really sniper? I'm getting down and crawlling, crawlling out of the firing limits.
I'm lying. The danger seems to be over: it is no sniper, but probably just "randomy" (original Russian word is a kind of such slang, meaning the stray bullets -- O.B.A.).
So, now recover my breath, orient myself and move on - to look for the command center (hereafter also the abbreviation "CC" is used to name it -- O.B.A.) of our brigade's first battalion. Just a couple of hours ago a report from them was received informing they had caught a sniper. It was clear from the report that he was Russian and, in his own words, came even from Novosibirsk. Fucking home boy. I together with the recons set off on two APCs to get "the clapper" (a kind of the Russian military slang word to name a POW that can tell some important information - O.B.A.), my yokemate had stayed in the brigade's head shack.
When approaching the central train station, the burnt and maimed tech (hereafter technique, armored vehicles, the other words, analogues to the Russian slang to name the tanks and APCs are also "box", "armor", there is a slang word "fist" for the tank also - O.B.A.) and many dead bodies are turning up. The bodies of ours, of our brothers-Slavs, all the remains of the Maikop brigade (the 131st brigade -- one of the first units entered Grozny -- O.B.A.), the one that spooks (hereafter the name of the Chechen militants, original Russian slang word sounds as "dukh" and comes from the time of the war in Afganistan, the Afgan militants were named by the Russians "dushman", the same meaning as "mujahideen", the soldiers made the shortening with the first two letters of it and transformed into "dukh", meaning in Russian "spirit" - O.B.A.) had scorched and shot down on the New Year's Eve 94-95. God, help me break out... They told, that, when the first battalion had fought the "demons" out of the station building, as a respite happened, one of the fighters, having attentively watched the environs, started howling like a wolf. Since that moment, everybody has been keeping aside form him -- a rabid one. Now he charges regardless of obstacles like a bewiched one, there are nothing terrible for him and nothing scaring him. And there are enough daredevils like that one in every unit, both of the enemy and of ours. Eh, Russia, what're you making with your sons?! We wanted to send the fellow to a hospital, but no way - we can't even take out the wounded ones, and that one, though being a crank, can still fight. On "The Continent" he would definitely flip his lid.
Literally in a couple of blocks we came under furious firing. The spooks were pounding from above, madly - about 20 guns - but disorderly. With a couple of fighters I had to leave the APC and force our way through to ours. OK, the men had already got accustomed a bit, had been under fire. And at first I could howl as a wolf, just like that fighter. The soldiers were not mature: some ones rushed forwards, but I had to take the others out of the tech and from the trenches only with the kicks and cursing. As for me, it was no problem, all that is behind me, in Baku and Kutaisi - 90th, Ts'hinvali -91st, Moldova - 92nd(the nations' conflicts on the former USSR territory -- O.B.A.) and now again Chechnya - 95th. We'll sort the things out, just let me get out of this hell. But only sound. If I'm a disabled person, I've got a nice toy in my pocket - RGD-5 (a type of the Russian hand grenade -- O.B.A.). That's enough for me. I've seen enough what kind of civilian life is provided for our crippled heroes of the past wars having obeyed the orders of Motherland, Party, Government and of devil knows whom else yet during the "reinstating of the constitutional order" on the territory of the former Soviet Union. And now again, we are hammering our own Russian land on somebody's routine secret order...
All this sped through my mind in a few seconds. I looked back - all my fightes are lying not far away, looking around. Their mugs are all black, only the eyeballs and the teeth are shining. And I'm surely looking no better. I nod my head to one of them and indicate another one the advancing direction - forwards, in zigzags, "screw" and rolling. But our jackets are designed not for somersaulting. The sweat is streaming over my eyes, the clothing is steaming, I've the bloody smack in my mouth and feel the pulse in my temples. I've devilish plenty of adrenalin in the blood. Now the short bounds stepping on the fragments of bricks, concrete and broken glass. We carefully avoid the open street areas. 're still alive, gloria Tibi.
Zapp... Zapp... again! Fuck, is it really a sniper? We're ducking into the nearest basement. The grenades are on stand-by - who or what is waiting for us in there? A pair of dead bodies. The uniforms seem to be like ours - Slavs. I motion, that one watches the window, and I myself stand close to the doorframe. The second fighter kneels down near one of the fallen soldiers, unbuttons his jacket and vest, takes off the identity card and tears off the cord with the personal number from the neck. The same is made about the second one. It's indifferent for the lads, but their families must be notified. Otherwise smart alecs in the government won't pay them their pensions, reasoning that fighters have been missed in action and who knows, maybe have even went over to the enemy side.
- Now, via this basement, we're getting to the next street, and then to the first batt (battalion -- O.B.A.). D'we have radio contact with them? - I'm asking my radiop, private Harlamov. His nickname is "Glue". His arms are long, sticking out of his sleeves, like sticks, no any uniform size fits. His hands are disproportionately huge. As you see the guy at the first time, you get impression that torn off gorilla's arms were sewn on to a man's body. And nobody can rememer why he was named "Glue".
Our soldiers are Siberians. And all together we are "makhra", formed from the word "makhorka" (the name of cheap tobacco -- O.B.A.). In the books about Great Patriotic War (22.06.1941-09.05.1945, Hitler Germany against USSR -- O.B.A.) and in the movies, infantry is called "the battle fields queen ". In real life, however, just "makhra". And one individual infantryman is a "makhor". That's just it.
- Contact the boxes too, - that's me about the left behind at the railway station APCs, - ask how they're hanging.
Glue steps back from the window and starts buzzing into his handset, calling for the first battalion's CC and then for our APCs.
- Everything's OK, comrade captain, - radiop reports. - "Mound" is waiting for us, "boxes" were fired upon and rolled back for a block distance.
- Fine, let's go, or we'll frost down here, - I wheese clearing my throat. At last my normal breathing is recovered, I spit with green and yellow slime - consequence of my many years smoking. - Eh, mamma told me: "learn English"
- And my mamma told me: "Do not clamber into wells, sonny". - Semeon continues.
There are no signs of the enemy's activity in the window at the other side of the house, and we run in short rushes, stooping down for almost four times of our normal height, in direction of the train station. The aircrafts are flying over the city casting the bombs and shooting at somebody's positions from an unreachable height. There is no single front line. The combats are as the hotbeds here and there and sometimes turn into some kind of cheesecake: spooks, ours, spooks again and so on. In one word, there is a madhouse, almost no any unit co-operation. It's especially difficult to work with the internal forces. In the end, all this is their operation, but we - "makhra" - are doing their job for them. Oftenly it happens that we storm the same objects, having completely no idea of each other. Sometimes we even point the air force or artillery onto IF-men and they - onto us. In the darkness we make shooting at each other and capture our soldiers.
Now we are going to the train station, where about the Maikop Brigade in almost full complement was wiped out. Vanished into the night, with no reconnaissance about the approaches and about the spooks' complement and number. No artillery runs. When after the battle maikopians relaxed and began to fall asleep - that was not joke, no any sleep for a week and only adrenalin and vodka as the supporting remedies - the spooks came up and shot them down point-blank. All as it was by Chapaev (Vasily Chapayev/Chapaev/, 1887-1919, a very popular Soviet commander in the time of the Civil War in Russia, 1918-1922 who died during an unexpected night attack of the white forces -- O.B.A.), who had set no guards. And here either the sentries fell asleep or spooks quietly slaughtered them. Everything was on fire, all that could burn and even all that couldn't. It seemed like the earth, asphalt and the houses' walls were ablaze due to the spilt fuel. The people were rushing about in the firey inferno, some ones tried to fire back, the others helped the wounded. Some ones shot themselves not to get into the spooks' hands. Few ones tried to flee - no one of them must be blamed for that. What would you, my reader, do in that hell on the earth? No answer. That's it, then do not you dare to blame them.
No one exactly knows how they were dying. Com-brig (commander of the brigade, colonel Ivan Savin -- O.B.A.) with both his legs broken made commanding up to the end, although he could have retreated to the rear. He stayed on the post. Lord, guard their souls and our lives...
When our brigade fought its way through fighting hardly to help maikopians, our tanks had to huck through piles of our Slavs-brothers' dead bodies... And when you see as the tracks of the tanks and APCs chop and hummer the human flesh, how the leading wheels coil intestines of the ones just like you; when a head pops open with a crunch under a steel caterpillar and all around it is sprayed with a grey and red mass of brain - the brain of maybe unaccomplished genius, poet, scientist or of just a good lad, father, brother, son, friend, who hadn't chickened out and had come there in that shitty Chechnya and, maybe, up to his last moment, didn't realize at all what had happened; when your boots are slipping on the bloody mucus - then the important thing is to think of nothing, and to concentrate on the only one: forwards and survive, onwards and survive, save your men, because the fighters, whom you lost, would come to you in your night dreams. And you'd have to write up their death notices and body identification reports.
I would not wish my worst enemy to do that work. I'd rather choke in an attack, blasting from my beloved AKS (sub-machine gun of Kalashnikov, hereafter also "subgun" - O.B.A.) left and right opening my eyes wide, than write those horrible papers in a mud hut. Why are all these wars? Although, honestly, no one of us has so far really understood what has been occuring there and what has transpired there. The only goal is to survive and complete the task saving as many of your men as possible. If you don't do that, they'll send the others, who, maybe, because of your inexperiency, cowardice and desire to go home, will drop under machine-subguns' fire and will be ripped up to the pieces by the frags of the grenades, mines, or be captured. That's all because of you. Do you feel a kind of madness due to such a responsibility? I do also.
Glue noticed some moving in a window of the five-story building, next to the station plaza, succeeded to yell out: "Spooks!" and rolled back. Semeon and I too took cover behind the nearest heap of the broken concret. From behind of his corner, Glue opened up shooting with his subgun at the window, and we began to prepare feverishly the launchers for shooting.
Ah, what a wonderful device is this underbarrel launcher, called lovingly: "launcher", "launchy". Although, weight of the device is a bit too much - about five hundred grams. It is mounted under the subgun's barrel. You can fire straight into the target or launch in an overhead trajectory. It's actually a small tube with a trigger and a safety pin. There is also a back sight, but during the first days' combats we became adept at it so much that now easily can do without it. A standard launcher marked GP-25 lets you easily throw a grenade into the smallest window or send it over any building when necessary. In a straight line it throws to about 400 meters, its frags' hitting area is of about 14 meters. A real fairy-tale. It saved countless number of lives in Grozny. How would you drive out the riflemen, snipers from the upper floors during a quick combat in town? No way. You could try to call for an air strike, artillery and then you must pull out, or try to contact your own "boxes", which, by the way, can be easily scorched by the antitank gunners... And so, every soldier has his personal launchy and he can drive out the ugly foe by himself. The launcher's grenades possess one other incontestable advantage, namely: they explode on impact. Imagine a combat inside a house when an enemy is situated above you on the upper floors and you throw the usual hand grenade with a time-delay of about 3-4 seconds after releasing of the cotter-pin. Now, count - you break loose the cotter-pin, throw it upwards, but this bitch meets some obstacle and falls right back to you. Only later on about January, 15-17, they delivered for us the "mountains" grenades, or as we called them, "afgan" grenades. This thing explodes only when it meets something hard. Before that moment, some local Kulibin (Ivan Kulibin, 1735-1818, Russian inventor of the 18th century -- O.B.A.) created the next thing: if to bang the launcher grenade at the heel, then it activates to be ready, and then you throw the darling far away. And, meeting an obstacle, it explodes mowing down everything alive in the closed room.
Then Semeon and I began throwing our grenades into the window where Glue spotted motion. Semeon was able to hit the target at his first attempt, I made it with my second one. The first damned one met the wall and exploded, causing collapsing of a large plastering piece and making a huge cloud of dust.
Making use of this, all three of us, looking sideways at the five-storey house, crossed running the open area, then, sprinting and crawling, in two blocks distance, were able at last to reach ours.
The dupes being frightened imagined we were the spooks and nearly shot us down.
They lead us to the battalion CC where at we found our com-batt (battalion commander -- O.B.A.).
Mature is our com-batt. He is not a very huge man, but as commander and personality is great. I won't hide the fact that our brigade is lucky about the com-batts. I will not describe the merits and deficiencies of every one, to say shorter - all are the real men. Who was on the service, was in combats, would understand what I mean.
The first battalion's command center was situated in the railway station's basement. As we entered, com-batt was desperately cursing somebody on the field phone.
- Fucking hell, where are you charging, idiot? You, schmuck, they are enticnig you out there, and you boldly buy it with your nestlings. Make cleansing up, cleanse up all the area around you! To have no any spook in zone of your responsibility! - Com-batt was yelling into the receiver. - Pull the "boxes" out of there, let "makhra" work! You yourself - stay on the observation post (hereafter also "OP" - O.B.A.) and don't stick your head out of there.
He hung up the receiver of the phone apparatus and saw me.
- Good-oh, - he smiled.
- God bless you, - I said shaking his hand.
- What's new in the HQ? Let's go eat, - he offered, merrily looking at me. To see a familiar face during a war is always a delight. That means not only you're lucky, but your comrades are also.
Being still in the heat of the fight, racing and shooting, I knew: if I didn't have a drink at that moment, didn't calm down, the slight nervous trembling would shake me. Or vice versa the half-hysterical condition would catch with the wish to gabble endlessly... So I accepted his offer with gratitude.
Com-batt set on the shell-box and softly called: "Ivan, we've got guests, come on for a lunch". Then the first battalion's executive officer captain Il'in appeared form the next cellar room. Thin and lean fellow, the mainest volleyball player in our brigade, although at his job pedant and perfectionist. In peaceful life always smart, wearing perfectly ironed and shiny uniform, now he looked barely any different than any other one. The same sooty, unshaven, having slept not enough.
- Good-oh, Slava, - he said and his eyes shined a little. We were almost of the same age, only I was a senior officer of the brigade's HQ and he was an executive officer of the battalion. Both of us were captains. We had already had frendship relations since a long while, our wives and kids were friends.
I didn't conceal my emotions and went straight for a hug. Slowly, my nerves were playing off and I was turning a bit hysterical after my short journey.
I didn't worry about my fighters, they were situated amoung ours, thus would be wormed and fed.
- You've come to take the sniper, Slava? - Com-batt asked me.
- Precisely, who else, - I replied. - How did you manage to grab that s.o.b.?
- This dork has been making troubles for us since three days, - Ivan turned grim. - He made up a nest near the station and showered on us over the plaza, knocked down three fighters and wounded our first company's into his leg. We had no possibility to evacuate. We fetched the medics over here, they operated here.
- And how is he? - I asked. - I've already heard that story about the medics, well done, no comments, but what about the company's: will he live'n'walk?
- Yes, he will, surely, - com-batt merrily confirmed, - I let him rest for now, the only problem is about the platoons officers, you yourself know it well, so the commanders are too-yearnies (such unflattering word was to name the institute graduates on the two-years service as the officers; in Russian that slang word is a funny word play about maybe "two-yeary", absolutely nontranslatable, some unprestige name of the institute graduates on the obligatory two years military service, in the officers ranks -- O.B.A.). But this lad is clear head. A bit ardour though, like Chapaev on his horse (Chapaev was a cavalryman -- O.B.A.), wishes to liberate all Chechnya alone.
- What did the sniper have? - I asked. - Maybe, he wasn't even a sniper after all, you know, could've been some daunted unclear local, a great deal of them're wandering about in the city in these days.
Com-batt and the executy seemed just almost upset. Ivan leapt to his feet, raced to his niche and carried out our, native-produced, SKS rifle. Only the scope was foreign with the untypical bracket, I instantly noticed that, I'd seen such ones before, most probably Japanese. A fine toy.
Pal Palych - com-batt - while Ivan and I were inspecting the carabine, was telling that the detainee had two packs of the rounds in his pockets and they found a case of beer and two blocks of cigarettes in his nest, where he made his ambush. While recounting this, Palych was laying the table: carving bread, opening stewed meat cans and condensed milk containers, salads, heaven knows where those came from, pickles and marinated tomatoes. And, at last, he positioned a bottle of vodka on that improvised table.
Meanwhile I counted all notches on the carbine's butt: equalled thirty-two. Thirty-two lives of ours cut down. The way the snipers worked we all knew not by hearsay. They met us while we were entering the city, at night, using the old maps, maybe of the 1930-40-s. Though we raced, crushing our heads against the walls inside our APCs, breaking up our teeth due to the furious riding and damning everyone and everything, the snipers managed to shoot off the passing armored vehicles' antennas dangling about, and it was made at night and in the clouds of dust. Having no radiocontact ours stopped and the officers sent the fighters to check out what was the problem, - at that very moment sniper killed them. The spooks' shooters have also another ruse: they don't kill a man, but wound him, shooting at his legs, not to let him crawl away, and wait. The downed men shout and the snipers shoot the speeding rescuers, just like the ducks. Our brigade has lost about thirty men in such way due to snipers, thus we have our special account to them. Amazing circumstance is that the fighters took this viper alive.
A few days ago, the fighters of the second battalion discovered a nest, by all clues - the one of a female. All was like always: a sofa or a chair, soft, that's untypical for the men-snipers, drinks, a soft toy. Rifle was put close by. The fighters spent concealed all the day stalking her, completely motionless. No WC and no smoking. Finally they succeeded. What happened next - no one knows, but the Chechen woman took a flight off from the roof of a nine-storey building, but half way down her body was broken from a grenade explosion. Afterwards, the fighters solemnly swore that the woman felt the smell of their unwashed bodies and sprinted onto the roof, and from up there, dived by herself. Everyone, of course, showed compassion, but still regretted that they themselves couldn't speed her flying. Nobody believed that she went by herself for her last dive with grenade. Chechens, as I remember, have never committed suicides, that is in our character - fear of captivity, dishonour and tortures. After that instance, the com-batt of the second battalion declared a phrase, which had become our brigade's motto: "Siberians are not to be captured and do not capture the captives".
Com-batt had meanwile poured out vodka and Ivan and I sat down too. If anybody tells you that we fought there drunken, - spit him in his mug. During a war a man drinks for disinfection, not always one can boil water or properly wash his hands. The front docs' motto is: "The red eyes never go jaundice". We had to take the drinking water from the Sunzha river - a tiny river that flows through the whole Chechnya and also through Grozny. There were so many human and animal corpses drifting in there, that we could forget about any hygiene. No anybody will get drunk in war - that means a certain death. And your comrades never let you do that - what is in the drunken one's mind with a firearm?
We lifted up our plastic glasses - we got a lot of those ones at the "North" airport - and moved them together. There was no clinking, just rustle, "so that our polit-officer wouldn't hear", as officers jested (hereafter polit-officer, in Russian "zampolit", or the mate of the commander for the political work, in the Soviet time the one who conducted political control according to the Soviet principles, later in the army of RF this post was kept, but already without any ideological function -- O.B.A.).
- To the good luck, men, - com-batt uttered, and, having exhaled the air from his lungs, bottomed up half glass of vodka in himself.
- To her, the damned one, - I continued and drank also. The heat flooded my throat, a worm wave started rolling inside and halted somewhere in the stomach. Languor spread in my body. All of us attacked the food, it was a rare possibility to eat undesturbed. Bread, stewed meat, pickles, tomatoes, eveything was flying into the stomch. As next one, Ivan poured out vodka and we drank, having silently rustled with the glasses. Lit up smokes. I just took out mine, brought from home yet "TU-134", but noted Ivan's and com-batt's "Marlboro" and put mine back.
- Sniper's? - I was interested, entertaining myself from one of the packs, held out by both of them.
- Yep, - com-batt replied.
- How is the second battalion hanging? - Ivan asked, taking a deep puff at his cigarette.
- Storming the hotel "Caucasus", now we're going to send the third batt and the tanks to help them. Spooks stick up for there and are holding it so far. Ul'yanovtsy and marines assault Minutka Square and Dudaev's Palace (Dzhokhar Dudaev, 1944-1996, -- former Soviet general of the air forces, the first leader of the Chechen terrorists in 1991-1996, organized the nationalistic mutiny in 1991, as well as the civil war - 1992-1994 - against the other Chechen political forces - "opposition", allowed and assisted the terror actions against the nonchechen population in Chechnya, was killed in the year 1996 -- O.B.A.). But they've no luck there, just losing men.
- That means that we'll be sent in to help them soon - com-batt broke in our conversation. - You must not make here any show with bottles broken against the head, but must think how to save the men and complete the task. I've never understood the paratroopers, they being absolutely sober voluntarily jump from an aircraft, huh? - Palych angrilessly joked.
- And I never understood the frontier guard, - Ivan continued, - they are tought to watch into binoculars and follow a dog during all four years in college. My heart can feel: we'll crunch asphalt over there at that fucking Square.
In my mind I'd already made a decision that the captured sniper wouldn't reach the brigade's HQ. This s.o.b. would die due to some randomy or "when attempting to escape". He, damn him, had already told everything he knew.
In movies agents working with a "clapper" try to formulate the necessity to give up the information he possesses, as well as break his ideology. Real life, however, is a simple thing. Everything depends on your imagination, rancour and time on hands. If you have enough time and desire, you can try to scrape off enamel from his teeth with a rasping file or convince by the field phone. Such a brown box with a side-handle. Cling to your interlocutor two stripped wires of it and spin the handle, having asked him a few questions beforehand. But all this is fine if you're comfortably housed and he ought to be given into clutches of justice afterwards. There are no any marks on the body. It's advisable to soak him in water first. You start up the engine of a heavy armored truck nearby not to let the shouts be heard. But this is for aesthetic persons.
It's simple on the combat positions - you shoot off with your subgun the toes, one by one. There is no one human being who could bear that. He'll tell you everything he knows and all the other things also. Do you feel a seekness, my reader? Just during that time, you, my reader, celebrated the New Year Eve, visited your friends, sleighed being half drunk from a hilltop with your kids, but you didn't come out on the square demanding to save our soldiers, you didn't collect the worm clothes or money for those Russians who fled Chechnya, didn't give some of the money spent on alcohol to buy cigarettes for the soldiers. Therefore, do not look away, but listen to this rough truth of the war.
- OK, let's get the third one over and go to take a look at your shooter, - I said pouring out the remains of vodka.
We stood up, took the glasses, kept silence for a few seconds and quietly drank without clinking glasses. The third toast - is the most important for the servicemen. If the civilians drink it "for love" and students do it for something else, then the military men always drink it "for the died", always standing up and in silence, without clinking. Every one mentally sees before him those he has lost. It is a terrible toast, but on the other hand, you know for sure, that if you are perished, then in five and in twenty five years both some snotty lieutenant, in a God forsaken Fareastern garrison, and a flabby colonel in the most prestigious military district's headquarters, will raise their third glass and drink it for you.
We drank, I cast in my mouth a piece of stew, a couple of cloves of garlic and "the officers` lemon" - onion. You get no any vitamins during war, although your body constantly demands them, that's why we called onion the officers` lemon. It is should be eaten during war always and everywhere, the smell is horrible though, but we've no women here, so we're accustomed to it and don't even notice anymore, moreover, it fights against the following us everywhere nauseating, turning the stomachs inside out, odour of the decaying human flesh. I'd finished the hors-d'oeuvre, took it with condensed milk right out of its container, fished a smoke out of the com-batt's packet and went as the first to the exit.
Com-bat and Ivan Il'in followed me. In about 30 yards from the basement's entrance, fighters encircled as a thick wall a tank and were having a loud discoursing. I also noted that the tank's gun was somehow unnaturally cocked upwards. As we walked closer, we saw that a stretched rope was hanging from the barrel.
The fighters saw us and made way. The view was, of course, colorful, but terrible: a man was hanging on the end of that rope, his face was swollen from beatings, his eyes half shut up, his tongue hanging out and his hands tied up behind his back. Although, I'd already seen the corpses often enough in the while before that, but I didn't like them and nothing coudld be done about that.
Com-batt began yelling at the grunts:
- Who has made that?! You, sons of bitches, slaughtered, stomachs?! (I do not refer to the other epithets. Ask any line officer, who has served in the army for 10 years or more, to curse a little and you'll significantly increase your vocabulary with the different idiomatic expressions).
Com-batt kept storming, trying hard to beat the truth out of them, although I understood, judging from his sly mug, that he didn't condemn his fighters. He might've felt a bit regretful that he personally hadn't hang the bastard, but he had "to play a movie" before the HQ officer. Both the fighters and I, perfectly read it. We also realized that no one commander would ever make a report to the military public prosecutor about anything of that kind. All this breezed through my mind while I was giving a light to the com-batt's cigarette. It's funny, but this cigarette belonged to this hangman, whose legs are now dangling near my face, then to the shouting com-bat and now I am smoking it while observing this spectacle.
Tired of this too long circus, I asked the fighters surrounding us, amongst whome I saw Semeon and Glue:
- What had he said, before he died?
Out of the clear blue sky the fighters exploded. They told, interrupting one another, that the son of a bitch (the most delicate epithet) squalled he was regretting he had managed to knock out only thirty-two of "yours".
The fighters especially emphasized the word "yours". I gathered they were telling the truth and if he hadn't said his historical phrase, he might've lived a little longer.
Then one of the fighters announced, amusing everyone:
- He strangled himself, comrade captain.
- With his hands trussed up, he fixed the loop on the raised barrel and leaped down from the armor (a Russian slang, meaning tank or APC -- O.B.A.), all by himself, right? - I asked choking with laughing.
Then I turned to the com-batt:
- All right, take your hangman down, let's write in the combat report that he couldn't bear the torture of his guilty conscience anymore and thus ended his life with suiside. - I spat out the cigarette's butt and pressed it with my heel into the mud. - His rifle, however, I'll take with me.
- Nickolaich, - first time com-batt called me by my full name (in Russian it is a manner to name somebody with more respect using the second name, not only the first one -- O.B.A.), - leave the rifle, every time I look at it, my body breaks upside down.
I glanced into his praying eyes and understood it would be of no use to take away the rifle.
- OK, you owe me, and you, - I turned to Ivan, - be a witness.
- Many thanks, Nikolaich, - Palych was violently shaking my hand.
- Because of this idiot I had to drag myself under fire. And now I have to hoof it back.
- So, take him with you, tell them he was shot during attack, - Ivan made a joke.
- Go to hell, - I angrilessly jested back. - Take this deady yourself and drag back. And if you ever have a carelessness to capture a captive, then either drag him to the HQ yourselves or noislessly finish him off at place. And encourage somehow the fighters who had grabbed him. That's it, we're off. Give us some escort for a few blocks.
We shook hands and com-batt, sniffing, pulled out a brand new Marlboro packet from his inner pocket. I thanked him and called for my fighters:
- Semeon, Glue, we're off.
They came up, fixing their weaponry.
- Ready? Did they feed you?
- Yep. And poured out a hundred grams, - Semeon said. - Also restocked on ammo and grenades for launchers.
- OK, men, let's go, we have to get to the HQ before the nightfall, - I muttered, buttoning my jacket on the move and attached a new magazine to my subgun.
I had a splendid magazine: I took off two machine-gun Kalashnikov magazines. The capacity of the ervry one is fifteen rounds more than the usual stnandart for subgun - every one contains 45 cartridges. I clipped them head-to-toe with an electric tape - this gives you 90 rounds always at hand. It's a pity only that the subgun's calibre is 5.45, not 7.62, like before. The 5.45 bullet has a large ricochet and the bullet "steps aside" and the 7.62 round does properly apply force. There is such a fairy story - as if during the Vietnam War Americans had complained their gunsmiths about their M-16s wounding too oftenly, but killing very few (the same thing is about our AK-47 and AKM, however). Then, the gunsmiths came to the troops right to the trenches, watched'n'examined the problem and began experimenting on the site: they drilled a hole through the bullet's tip and soldered a needle inside the hole. These operations resulted in less stability when flying and in more ricochet than the old one, but also in shifting of the bullet's gravity center and when it hit a man, it reeled on itself almost all of his guts too. So, there were less wounded ones and more fatalities by the enemy.
Ours didn't produce anything more original, but to follow the Americans and, during the Afghan campaign, swapped 7.62 calibre Kalashnikovs for the 5.45 ones. Maybe some one likes it, but I don't.
We buttoned up, took the weapons, jumped up a few times and looked round each other.
- God speed us, - I said, turned around, and saw five fighters who were busy carrying out the same manipulations, they were ready to escort us.
I looked again at the strangled sniper, but the tank's gun was back to its normal level and the rope with the dead man were already taken off.
- All right, let's go, - I ordered and indicated the first battalion's escorting fighters to go first.
Being aware of the surrounding terrain, they didn't select the path over ground as we had chosen, but dived into some basement first and lead us through the heaps and breaches. Once we even went down to sewerage and afterwards had to climb up somewhere. I completely lost orientation and checked our itinerary with my wrist compass. It confirmed the correct direction. In about 30 minutes, the sergeant, who lead us, halted and searched for a cigarette. All of us lit up cigarettes. Then he said:
- That's it. Now, from here, the distance of about five-seven blocks, no more, to reach your boxes, but no more underground way. You have to go further overground without us.
I finished off my cigarette and shook the sergeant's hand, then I said goodbye to every escorting fighter and added:
- Good luck! We all need it.
- You, guys, move on and we'll stay here for 10 more minutes for any case, - the sergeant said.
- Let's go, - I ordered, turning to Semeon and Glue, pointing them at the direction. As a first one, I popped out from the ruined basement, took a tumble, rolled and began scanning the surroundings moving my subgun's muzzle. There was nothing suspicious there and I waved to the guys. First, Semeon quickly jumped out and then Glue with his radio transmitter.
Moving on in the same this way during the next forty minutes, we finally met with our "boxes". As soon as we started for the home base, we were attacked with the furious fire from the upper floors.
The heading APC by which I rode, took a spin to the left and broke into the corner, then slowed down and finally came to a complete halt. All of us, riding on the armor, were cursing and firing.
- Mechanic, you, banged at head, motherfucker, quickly get out'f here, - I yelled into the hatch hollow. Then ordered the fighters sitting next to me:
- Set up the smoke diversion!
- Caterpillar's torn down! - The driver shouted popping out from the APC.
- Fuck a duck, everyone off the armor! Four'f you're pulling caterpillar back on, the rest's defending. Get two launchers ready, others - subguns, second vehicle - cannon. That's all, guys, com'n!
I was seized with the heat of the battle again. The first feeling is fear, but after overcoming it, you begin to taste blood flavour in your mouth and suddenly find yourself feeling cool and mighty, all your senses sharp. You note everything, your brain works like a good computer, instantly gives out a correct decision, as well as lots of other possible options and combinations. I rolled down from the armor in a flash, one more rolling aside and I was behind a fragment of the concrete wall. I'm convulsively trying to find the target, but can't find where from are they hammering on us. OK, now breathe in, breathe out, once more, that's all, I'm ready, come on, Slavs, let's pull their eyes on the black asses! Adrenalin is storming in my blood again and the jolly passion is boiling anew inside of me.
The fighters should not be ordered twice. They promptly and knackily pulled out the pins from the boxes of the smoke makers and our APC was wrapped up with the colorful clouds. Russian soldier is thrifty and, just for any case, nicks off everything that lies around uncared. So, when taking the airport "North", the lads collected all kinds of these smoke makers. The fellows in the second APC echoed our trick with the smokes. And they did it just in time, as the spooks, obviously, realized that they could not mow off the infantry from the armor at random and started pownding on us with RPG.
What is RPG? It is a standard rocket grenade launcher, a nicest toy, that has a sister too, called "fly" ("Muha" in Russian spelling -- O.B.A.), a tube-like devise, the first modifications were telescopic. Both ones can be used against armors and infantry. When a rocket-propelled grenade hits an obstacle (on the rule, an armored plate), it blasts off thin, needle-thick spurt that burns through the steel and creates a surplus pressure and a jolly temperature of about three thousand degrees Celsius inside the vehicle. Of course, the tank's ammo detonates. Such a horrible explosion rips off the tank's multi-ton turret, tosses it off at about 30 meters distance and tears to the pieces bodies of the crew and landing force. So many infantrymen died as they were still confined inside their mobile steel traps. It happened sometimes, that mechanic or the spotter had the open hatches and were only cast out by the explosion, a bit broken and shocked a little, but they were alive and no invalides.
Now, these sons of bitches - the spooks - started hammering on us with their RPG and additionally with the "bumblebees" ("Shmel'" in Russian spelling, a type of the shoulder-fired flamethrower -- O.B.A.), but neither they could clearly see us, nor we could see them. It can be noted, the whole scene looked pretty comical. Wrapped up with the heavy, standard black smoke, from which the colored aircraft smokes were jollily raising, like geysers into the sky: blue, red, yellow. They tangled in the air, mixing up and coming apart again, diverting the enemy's attention.
Our second APC's cannon made also a speech, firing at random in the direction of the dispensers' salvos resounding. And then, something blew up in the direction of their firing positions. Maybe we were able to hit something, or the antitank gunner made a mistake in the heat of the combat. "Bumblebee", same as "fly", is just a tube and only for the total idiots, there is a note with an arrow "shooting direction". No one knew what had happened over there, but God was on our side that day. As there was no more gunfire coming from the spooks' positions, the fighters jollily howled, mostly they yelled out curses and interjections which were clear for the warriors all over the world.
- Shut up! - I bellowed at them. - Keep pulling the track on. Second APC -- on guard.
I stood up and started to limber up carefully my numb back and feet, letting myself no any second of relaxation and scrutinizing the building in smoke cloud clearing where the shooting came from.
Judging from the firing angle it was the second floor. In the combat's turmoil and due to the smokes, I could not clearly see where from they had fired upon us. Then I could see through the smoke a huge hole gapping in the second floor, blasted by the explosion, the black smoke was coming out of there.
Semeon who stayed next to me during the whole combat joyfully declared, pointing at the hole in the wall:
- Cooked, the s.o.b.-s! Vyacheslav Nikolaevich, can we go to check up?
There was an entreaty in his eyes as if his fiance was awaiting for him over there. I was itching myself to do that.
- Wait a second, - I told him and asked the mechanics, pottering about the armored car, - How long will you deal with that caterpillar yet?
- Any time now, comrade captain, maybe 5 more minutes, - wheezed one of the fighters, assisting to pull on the caterpillar onto the leading cogwheel.
- Semeon, Glue, Mazur, American, Picasso - follow me. The rest on the repairing of the wheels and watching our backs. If we're not back in half an hour, you move two blocks to the north. Over there, you wait for another half an hour and then ride back to the brigade's HQ. Sergeant Sergeev takes over from me for the time of absence. Call signs are the same. That's all.
And now to the fighters who'd go with me:
- OK, devil's children, let's move it. Picasso forward, Glue - rear, Semeon - right flank, Mazur - left flank. Grenades on stand-by.
- And me? - the puny but having an external charming fighter, a first class qualified rock climber, put up his voice, he was nicknamed American, as, when he was joined up, he was wearing American flag shorts just visiting the office.
- And you'll go close by and watch your ass, - I replied in jest. - Let's go to cleanse the spooks.
Everyone perfectly realized that the words "to cleanse up" meant to take no prisoners. "Good apache - dead apache", - conquistadors' motto matched our case best of all. What could some spook, especially some infantryman, impart to us? Simply nothing: no maps, no caches, no communication systems -- no any thing. Moreover, a wounded s.o.b. would demand taking troubles over, you'd have to set men to guard him. And he could play some kind of dirty trick, sabotage, for example. No exchange could be dealt about him. Finish him off and that's all. It would be better for him also, as we would not torture him at least.
-- Chapter 2
We climbed the second floor keeping all precautions. In two neighboring flats the firing positions were made. There were the antitank gunner lying in one flat and two shooters with machine guns Kalashnikov in the other one. The most astonishing thing was that they were boyos of about 13-15 years old. One of the shooters was still alive and being unconscious was quietly groaning. He wouldn't survive judging from his profusely bleeding stump instead of the torn off leg. Our cannon shell had hit the room of the antitank gunner and seemingly destroyed his ammunition store. I looked around once more, my good mood was instantly gone away. Of course, those were the spooks and they had shot at us and they had thirsted for our deaths, but... But they were boyos. Greldge! I spat aside and ordered the fighters standing by: "Finish him off and then sweep the block, someone might've crawled away". However I was not sure of that.
The bursts of three subguns resounded - these were Semeon, Glue and Picasso, every one making a short burst at the wounded body. The whole boyo's body flexed out, the bullets ripped his chest open, some one hit the head, it cracked spraying the floor... I was calmly watching that murder. After that I turned away form the corpse, no, I still do not like the deceased ones, but maybe that was a natural reaction of the normal healthy organism? Who knows. I took the pack of the sniper's "Marlboro" and offered my fighters cigarettes.
- I've told in the clear Russian: "Sweep the block". Who has not understood? - I uttered, taking a puff. The fighters left, mumbling something, to obey the order. Meantime I groped about the pockets of the died ones, hardly stopping the vomiting and fumigating myself with the cigarette's smoke.
Wow! A military ID and many of them. OK, let's see: Semeonov Aleksei Pavlovich, born 1975. Semeonov, Semeonov, Semeonov. Something was stirring in my memeory. Was it that Semeonov from the engineering-mining battalion, who went missing after we had stormed the airport "North"? They had sent the fellow for some mine sweeping fire-cord and the boyo vanished. Could it be he, shooting at us? I attentively studied the spooks' faces, matching them to the badly preserved photo on the military ID, looked in the breach at the wall and looked at the antitank gunner. No, thank God, no. Came back to leafing through the pages in his ID. Sod it! Our unit, our Semeonov. Your deaths saved you from a lot of troubles, assholes, otherwise you'd have gotten a ferocious decease. I would've dealt with you myself, during all the wars on the territory of the former Soviet Union, I learnt well how to make clapper ring, so that the one would stay alive for a long while and not mad at all.
In an instance my sadness about the boyos, as well as about their wasted down souls was gone, and I felt only spite, so deep one, that my teeth were cramped. If it's necessary, I shatter many ones with my own hand and do not grudge my own life for our fighter, for the Russian, just only to give this booby alive and unharmed back home.
The shouts of my fighters were resouning at that moment from the ladder:
- Comrade captain, comrade captain, they found some our guy up there on the roof. - American shouted choking.
I flew headlong up the stairs and felt no shortness of breath. A dead soldier's body was lying nailed like Jesus on the cross, just on the roof. His own cut off penis was stuck into his mouth. Even meaning that his covered with the dirty crust face was smashed, I was able to identify him owe to the photo: he, he - Semeonov. And although I had probably seen him about ten times before and had never even spoken to him, a lump rolled up in my throat, the tears welled up and something was pinching in my nose. I regretted that I had never got to know him before: in my opinion, he was attached to our brigade from Abakan (a town in Siberia -- O.B.A.) just before sending to Chechnya.
- They had nailed him to the cross and put it up on the roof, seemingly the cross collapsed due to the explosion, therefore we hadn't notice it before. - Picasso began to explain, feeling a little awkward that we hadn't discover the lad at once.
- That's our soldier. - I articulated as cool as possible, hardly breaking the lump in my throat, stopping shouting and cursing, - Semeonov, of the sappers. Was missed in the "North" while minesweeping. I found his military ID on one of the shooters.
The fighters were like current-stricken, they started to fuss about Semeonov, carefully removing him from the cross, while doing that, they tried not to hurt him, handling his body, as if it was still alive, whispering, as if not to wake him up, and the tears were dropping from their eyes complicating that work. I looked away, pulled out a smoke and lit it up, thirstily inhaling and pushing down the lump in my throat. I was glancing sidelong to see how things were going on. When Semeonov's body was at last removed from the cross and some kind of stretcher was made of the lying about boards and rags, and the body of the martyr was laid on it, I said:
- Glue, get on the "boxes", ask them to come closer, say that we are carrying "cargo 200"... Our "cargo 200" (In Russian military slang that means "the dead body" - O.B.A.).
I went as the first one checking the way. The fighters carefully carried the stretcher as if Semenov were wounded. Glue brought up the rear, being loaded with the transmitter and the remains of the weaponry, that we had discovered by the spooks.
Having left from the house we loaded the body into the landing force compartment inside our APC and started our way. I felt the real woe would betide any spook who tried to poke his nose into our way. To confirm my thoughts I looked back, and saw the same empty and terrifying eyes of my fighters, the same as my ones, with the only revenge fire blazing inside and nothing more - no any thought, emptiness. I craved for blood, blood and blood to vent my fury, to break a skull with my subgun's butt, to crush ribs under my boot. To pierce and tear their arteries with my knuckles and ask before their deaths looking in his, her, their eyes: "Why did you, carrion, shoot at the Russians?"
Well, steer clear, s.o.b.-s, no mercy to you, neither to anyone, nor to the elderly, nor to the children, nor to the women - no anybody will be spared. Both Ermolov (Alexei Ermolov, 1777-1861,Russian general, hero of the wars against Napoleon, lead the actions of the Russian troops during the Caucasian war - O.B.A.) and Stalin (Stalin and KGB Chief Beria organized deportation of the Chechens and Ingushes in 1944 reasoning as if they massivly collaborated with Hitler - O.B.A. ) were right - this folk is not to be reeducated, only exterminated.
Our APCs were both speeding ahead as if they were able to feel our mood with their engines running absolutely fine, without any breaks, they periodically puffed at us with their oily exhaust fumes of unburnt fuel, adding some kind of foppish gloss to our black appearance. But our eyeballs were ablaze with mad fire, demanding vengeance and there was no place for cowardice in our souls, there was no wish to flee. Probably, in this state of mind, a man covers with his body a machine-gun's loophole to save other lives with his own one. Desire for vengeance transforms into the care of the neighbors and self-sacrificing for the others.
Looking with one eye sideways at the surroundings I was able to feel with my skin any movement in the houses ruins. Resting subgun on my elbow, having fumbled in my pocket, I pulled out other military IDs taken from the dead spook and began reading. Petrov Andrey Aleksandrovich, well - Maikop Brigade. Elizar'ev Eewgene Anatolievich - internal forces (they and the frontier guards have their unit numbers marked with four digits and the army has theirs marked with five ones). Altogether, eight IDs. Altogether, eight lives. Where are you lads? Seemingly, no one will ever know and your mothers will be crying up to the ends of their lives, there're no graves of the sons, they can't visit them. All this is awful.
I had looked through all the IDs and made certain there were no more fighters from our brigade and no one homeboys in there. I hid them back, looked at my scamps and shook my head, assuring them that none of the remaining IDs belonged to anyone of ours. They again turned their concentrated faces away, watching the fleeting viewes of the recent combats.
Demolished buildings and houses, trees tornblasted out with the roots. The burnt and given up tech was seen here and there. There were mostly the bunt tanks with caterpillars broken off and their turrets ripped off and tossed away for many meters. APCs, armored trucks with their thinner armor plates and being lighter, were just blasted to pieces - all depended on where on the gunner hit and what kind of ammo was situated inside. Some mechanics were lucky, the others - not so much.
It was painful for me to look at the broken trees as I liked nature. A man has to make a choice. He can refuse to come here and go to jail for desertion or to inflict himself an injury, to buy "the white" ticket (a Russian slang word to name the situation, when the youngsters do not want /their parents do not want them/ to go on the military service and organize with the bribes or personal connections the formal document that the one has legal reason not to go to the army - some illness for example, but that is not any real situation about the guy - O.B.A.), there are almost no things which the cunning brain of the Russian citizen could not manage. And the trees and the animals are quite another thing. They are not guilty. A men had planted or tamed them due to his whim or need, and the others have come and maimed, broken them, and they can do nothing in response. Neither trees, nor animals can flee or defend themselves. Thus many have met the death together with their owners on their homes porches. The ones, that have survived, will be eaten later by the people from the famine in a little while. I frequently saw in these days humans, tottering about with the swaying gait like shadows amongst the ruins. Mostly these were elderly men or middle-aged women. Everyone, who could hold the weapons and think more or less sober, went to be guerillas to vengeance on us. No problem, we, in turn, will take revenge on them. Thus, this vicious circle is closed up. Every one of us thinks he's fighting for the right, holy aim. We all believe in our own gods, praying them to help us and demanding retribution for deaths of our friends, swearing the adversary. But Lord sends the spoils and the losses equally for everyone. OK, so we'll fight. Although, it is pretty hard to wage war against the whole nation, it's much easier and plainer to wage war against a regular army of one particular state, that's what we'd been taught to do. In an open field, you knocked out your opponent, then occupied a town, picked up the spoils and went back, again to the field.
It's here like in Afghanistan, fight all the folk and fuck knows how long time, and the whole action is not even a war, according to the law, this is a trivial police operation to reinstate the constitutional order, but no one had ever known and no one will get to know what is this order. OK, while the spooks and we are mincing each other dead, someone in first capital city has hit the jackpot. I've seen a lot of such things. At war some ones' failure is health, but the others bail the wealth. No even one son of a bitch is judged for all the blood they've spilt over the spaces of the former USSR. I don't mean the Baltic States (author makes hint at the actions in Lithuania in January 1991 - O.B.A.) - a couple of yard geese and OMON (the special police detachment in the USSR and Russian Federation - O.B.A.) guys were sent to jail, so what? They've got nothing but avenge for the deaths of their friends, but what about those who gave them orders and commands to make such actions? It would be interesting to dig with a bayonet into their navels and look in their wide open in pain and fear eyes listening to their deafening screams and breathing in the smell of their blood with the fly open nostrils. That would be real fun, but not that other thing...
And there, the people have lived by the criminal laws for four years, we sent them a lot of money, supplied with weaponry, trained them in our GRU camps (GRU, in Russian, abbreviation to name the Main Reconnaissance department of the Defense ministry, author makes a hint that the secet services of RF assisted the Chechen militants - O.B.A.). We wanted them fight instead of us in Osetia and Abhazia, - as if we were not even aware of what's going on. And when we were no longer in need of them, they should've been eliminated, but no, - we tried to domesticate the Chechen, a thick fuck to you, moscow softbrothers, he changed against you. But why, however, should the whole country have been suffering due to your sorting out and why have we rushed to here from Siberia, only to break up you, the sluts? China is closer to us than Chechnya, and the men from ZabVO (Zabaykalye military district, in southern Siberia - O.B.A.), DalVO (Far eastern military district - O.B.A.) and TOF (the Pacific navy, based in Vladivostok - O.B.A) are brought here too, and they have the States and Japan just close by. One thing isn't clear for me, why have the spooks left the oil refinery undamaged and it is strictly forbidden for us to use any heavy weaponry over there. Here is our Air Force, jollily bombing the city's living quarters, but neither the Staropromyslovsky (district where at the refinary was situated -- O.B.A.) district of Grozny at all.
All that means: the plant is the property of some person who can hush at our defense minister and tell him that he may not touch it, - you can level the whole town to the ground, but don't dare to make that about that refinary. Of course, when a Russian soldier flies into a rage, it's very difficult to hold him back, and not every spook is also aware that he may not poke his nose into it. He naively guesses they are actually fighting for their own fucking freedom and this idiot doesn't get any idea that we all are simple participants of an ordinary criminal quarrel, the usual gangs' sorting out as a matter of fact, but though very big one. One tiny baron decided to cheat the godfather and start his own business, then the godfather sent his own hood, the russian army, over, to sort the things out. But the tiny baron was a smart ass, he squealled about independence and his "bulls" got anxious too. That's how the quarrel had begun and no one can remember about why they stirred up trouble. The hoods are busy taking vengeance on each other, meanwhile their barons are making quick bucks. They expropriate benefits and pensions, explaining the problem comes from the war, and the little baron pulls in the islamic world now, using the worthless religious mottos. Lord, we beg Your pardon and assistance!
My APC took a sharp U-turn, and that nearly cast me off from the armor. That's right, idiot, your task is to keep always watching, but not to bill and coo, otherwise you are snapped down or can break your neck falling off the vehicle. Your commanders are the ones to think for you and give you a ready-made decision. Your objective is to survive and complete the task. All else is shit. Take Andrei Petrov, the former mortar platoon's commander, following some principles, before being sent he demanded that he should be given two weeks to train his subdivision, reasoning with the fact that the fighters had been joined up just in November and had touched a subgun only once before - during the oath. He got his discharge in order to teach the others not to do so, discharge with disgracing to be a coward, a deserter. They placed a raw lieutenant - two-yeary, institute graduate - on the post. Where is that lieutenant now with his mortar platoon? During storming the Airport he lost almost all of his men and perished himself too. That is just it. They take too many idiots to army, and you have to worry about some of them for two years, but about others for twenty-five years.
We tried to persuade our multi-star commanders that we were not ready for any war, neither technically, nor logistically. The men were not phisically prepared. In December, when the command came to take on the troop trains an go, it was awfully frosty. As it is the custom in our army, the summer type diesel fuel was filled in the APCs, and its consistency was like some tomato sauce. So, some clever persons from our District offered an idea to mix this "sauce" with kerosene for diluting this sause. They did dilute... One of the kangaroos blew up right in the depot with its full ammo load on board, nobody was hurt by some miracle, and the second one did it while loading onto cars, but God was again on our side. And, as it is the custom in the army, these explosions were used to write off lots of the property and weaponary just like the case described by Suvorov in his "Saviour" (Victor Suvorov, Vladimir Rezun, born 1947, a former soviet spy, fled to the West in the 1970-s, this his book is about entry in Czechoslovakia, 1968 - O.B.A.). According to the official documents, those vehicls had on board: not fewer than fifty uniform sheepskin coats, twenty-five night-vision devices, no fewer than a hundred pairs of the felt boots and camouflage uniforms. When the papers should have been signed by the corps's HQ representative, he read it and ordered: "One coat and one camouflage uniform are for me". Supplies officer added each one of them to the "lost" coats and camouflage uniforms in the report and gave it with the demanded ones to the general, he signed the papers without batting an eyelid.
Now this general is together with us, somewhere here. Thank God, he does not hinder the leading of the brigade, but just signs the papers to reason the "battle losses".
After that, I was thinking of convincing lies reasoning why sniper had died and was not brought alive to the brigade's HQ. I realized, of course, that no one would be breathing in my face with his honourable anger, but only with disappointment that he couldn't have personnaly reeled his guts on his elbow. The special officers and recon guys will be particularly upset. Both the ones and the others getting some enemy in the hands are craving to practice in the inhanced investigation techniques. We can do that too, the difference is they handle it graceful, but we make it simple, although we can make it quicker than some ones. Excessive drinking can't ruin the craftsmanship.
There was some motion in the ruins, something blinked in the rays of setting sun. My mind didn't even clearly react yet, but my hands quickly raised my subgun, the index finger clung to the trigger, taking off the looseness. And only after that my intellect switched on - I saw our brigade's anti-aircraft gunners, building their positions in ruins of some house. They met us with their subguns barrels too, but all of us had enough brains and coolness not to open fire. Moreover, they just began to turn their "Shilka" - a large calibre anti-aircraft gun, ZSU-23, with four doubled barrels - in our direction. By pounding with such a machine we would've been utterly chopped. All right, at least we identified each other on time. We merrily shouted something to each other as the greetings. So, that meant the CC of the brigade was at a stone's throw away. Aha, there is the fire-fountain blazing from the broken gas pipe. 200 yards further and we're at "home". Now we can already relax a little.
- Hey, radiop, - I said to Glue, - let them know we're coming, not to let'em start firing off.
Glue tattled something in his headset and motioned to me that we were welcomed. We had no wish to talk or even shout through roaring diesels and noise of fighting, and it was inappropriate as there was murdered friend aboard. Everybody felt guilty a bit, that guy had died, although, on the other hand, realized that he himself could've been lying there in the place of that boyo.
The vehicles retarded a bit and, manoeuvring with a slow speed, we passed an impovised labyrinth of the wall panels remains and bricks frags. Soldiers, with the dusty faces seeming due to that be made of stone, watched us through their subguns sights from behind every corner with their red eyes exhausted and tired from the shortness of sleeping. Having recognized us the lads let their weapons down and greeted us with smiles or gestures. I had a feeling our officers and privates had already been betting on me delivering the sniper alive or not. Personally, I wouldn't stake my money on his safe delivering. Being the same tired, we greeted the sentries.
Luckily, we had returned before the daybreak, as some smart-pants, I wish him get scrud under belly, in the Defense ministry invented a new passwords system for us. Everything was nice and simple before that, but after that, a man could understand it only having finished ten years of a school and drinking half a liter of vodka. For example, before, the password was "Saratov" and the reply to it was "Leningrad", it was as plain as could be. And there were some fighters who could barely read or write - outcomes of the "perestroika". The core of the new system was the number actual only for the next twenty four hours, let us assume thirteen. And the sentry, seeing a silhouette in the darkness, challenges: "Halt! Password - seven!" Now, you have instantly to take away seven out of thirteen and instantly yell in the darkness: "Reply - six!". After all this, the sentry must add seven and six, get thirteen and then let you pass. But, if any one of you can't count well enough or gets confused, then, according to the Statute of the garrison and armed guard service, especially during the combat operations, the fighter may and can shoot at you without any court decision or some investigation, and no one public prosecutor would move his finger to jail him. You are fool and should've learnt your maths at school. Fine, if you are not completely shell-shocked or deafened and the sentry can weigh, but some smart guys call out fractions or negative numbers, that's when you recall all of this fighter's relatives with some bad words and must remember school maths course. For all this, some moscow shithead got a gratitude, or maybe, even an iron on his chest. Those snakes are able to do that without ceremony.
Having such thoughts we drove up to the semidemolished kindergarten, where at our brigade's command center was located at that time. I jumped down from the APC, rubbed my numb cold legs and stepping with my stiff legs went to the executive officer lieutenant colonel, Alexandr Alexandrovich Bilich, nicknamed in the brigade San Sanych. On my way, I turned back and shouted to my fighters:
- Unload the hero, be careful.
Fighters understandingly nodded their heads.
San Sanych was about 1.75 m tall. The hair light brown, almost blond. Broad shoulders and constant laughing flashes in his blue eyes or maybe it only always seemed to the others? San Sanych was somehow an odd-ball amongst all the officers in our brigade - he was naturally well mannered. At first, it seemed be superficial, ostentatious, but the more you got to know him the more you were convinced that it was really in his nature. It seemed, he should've not been born in our mad century, but in the times of chivalry, balls and duels. Even now, when we are more or less bottled in OK, trained how to combat in the urban environment, started hammering our enemy and when the war, maybe only at some places, transformed into the trench warfare, lieutenant colonel Bilich was able to find some time for the brief morning exercises.
Every morning, if it was possible to catch any dozing during night at all, we hobbled out of our cellars shaking from the cold, because it was a winter, southern one, but still winter. As a rule, there was no water, and the bristle, grown up during some days, was no longer rough, but was laid rather fuzzy on the face. However, looking at your direct supervisor, you, unwillingly, pull yourself together and can find time and water for shaving. Although, many officers, being some superstitious, some just plain lazy, did not shave and grew beards and moustaches. By some ones it looked absolutely not bad. And our recon platoon chief, lieutenant Hlopov Roman having natural dark skin and having grown a dense beard, was the image of a Chechen. And during fighting for the station, he was shot upon by our fighters. He had a luck, having put on a helmet and his armor vest, otherwise our protectors would've definitely pop him. Since that time Hlopov - we nicknamed him Hlop -- had taken a habit to shave himself daily, no matter what were conditions and situation.
About one and a half weeks ago, when he and the reconnaissance commander broke through to the Airport "North", the allied troops commander's HQ, on the way back they ran into an ambush, their APC was blasted by antitank gunners point blank. Hlop instantly died, the recons commander was badly shell-shocked, the fighters forced through to ours during the next two days. They brought back the Hlop's mutilated body and the concussed, almost deaf and blind, recons head, captain Stepchenko Sergey Stanislavovich. As they recounted afterwards, the days they spent in basements and by nights, running risks to get subguns bursts from enemy or from ours, they fought their way back to ours. They slept in turns, using parts of the poor Hlop's body as pillows.
Maybe after his shock or maybe after hiding in the basements with the dead body, Sereoga Stepchenko got the head problems. We were able to cure his eyesight and hearing with vodka, cognac and spirit, but he couldn't stand closed and tight spaces anymore. Mostly he was OK, working and fighting, but sometimes he nattered complete delirium. Our brigade's commander, colonel Bahel Alexandr Antonovich, made an order to dismiss Stepchenko from his post and watch him so he wouldn't do any trouble. There was no chance to evacuate him as even our wounded were lying in dug-outs, helicopters were not able to come. Recon-compony's commander senior lieutenant Krivosheev Stepan was appointed to act temporarily as the reconnaissance head. Bilich San Sanych took care of Stepchenko, not just of him though, but of everyone around him. He ordered that the fighters, who had brought Stepanchenko and the Hlop's remains back, would be awarded each one the Hero of Russia title. But all these papers were till that time kept in the exvecutive officer's mobile safe.
Bilich on principle recognize neither inhanced investigation techniques during conversations with the enemy, nor damning his own men. But the interesting thing is, that if you yell cursing at somebody, then everything is done more quickly and precisely. My experience prove that to be so.
And just at that time I had to explain that intellectual hussar that I failed delivering the sniper due to the only simple reason - the fighters got nervs broken down and they hung him up on the tank's barrel. Rolling over a few combinations in my mind that could more or less spare San Sanych delicate nature's thin strings and let the com-batt and Ivan off from the hook, I entered the HQ building.
On the way in I met our supplies officer, Kleymeonov Arkadiy Nikolaevich, everybody was describing him: "Suvorov (the most successful Russian general, lived in the XVIII century - O.B.A) told correct words that we can hang any quartermaster without any doubts just after one year of his service". Looking at plump face and fine figure of our "rear-deputy", you realizes that the Generalissimo was absolutely right: in his time, Kleimeonov would've dangled on some shaft. His personal luggage has been growing in size evry day, regardless of the fighting.
- Ah, Slava, how was the trip? Got the shooter?
- Allas, Arkadiy Nikolaeich, he kicked the bucket, - I made a mournful mien, my eyes were expressing a different feeling though, and the rear-deputy joined in my game.
- Really? - Kleymeonov wondered getting a perplexed face and asked me.
- Weak heart, - I grinned, - he was wounded in addition, so he didn't survive up to the departure. But I should somehow delicately explain that matter San Sanych. Not to make him upset.
- He's too busy for that sniper now and nobody believed you'd bring him. Moreover, Il'in and you could've organized for him harakiri over there on the spot. It is a pity though, that you have not brought him, we've people queuing up to interview him, - Kleymeonov grinned.
- Was there anybody betting on sniper be brought? - I asked.
- They did bet, but mostly on him not be brought.
- By the way, I also brought a soldier with me, Semeonov, disappeared during storming of the "North", my fighters now are unloading him. What else is new?
- But you were gone only for four hours. Oh, yeah, - voice of Arkadiy Nikolaevich turned to be gloomy, - executive officer of the second battalion was wounded.
It seemed for me that the walls around us swayed.
- You mean Sashka Pahomenko? - I asked.
- Himself. They tried to break through to the hotel "Caucasus". There are as many spooks over there as the demons in hell, so he was hit on his chest. Medics couldn't get to there. Medical orderly applied a dressing. Now we're making a storm group of the recons ready. They'll try to get him out of there under the cover of darkness, - I could see Kleymeonov was pretty upset, telling me all that.
Captain Pahomenko Alexandr Il'ich was a favourite in our brigade. Very tall fellow, open-minded, he loved jesting. He knew many anecdotes, funny stories and practical jokes, never malicious. The main things about him were his responsivity and sincerity always deeply winning over the people around him. While talking to him, in literally ten minutes you felt like you had known the man since your college years. Havimg all that, he was never any layabout or a sponger. He was always the first one where it was the hardest situation, always rushed in to help neighboring one, therefore our officers and soldiers doted on him.
He could help both with his words and deeds, he could also swear like devil - was a real virtuoso in cursing. He was able to steer the wheel of an APC as a mechanic-driver and fix an engine in freezing cold or give soldiers good lectures. In a word, the very type of the officer that our mass media were always drumming in us. Detesting the enemy, never hiding his feelings, never refusing to come helping out, a trouble-free one. A bit noisy at times, but you get used to it in a while. He was such a guy for us, Sashka Pahomenko, he always asked to call him "simple Il'ich" (a kind of ttpical Russian joke -- the full name of Lenin, 1870-1924, was Vladimir Il'ich Ul'yanov-lenin -- O.B.A.). It is strangeful, but in war, these little, long ago forgotten trifles about relations to people suddenly surface in your mind. And now this joker is lying in some semidestroyed house basement and has a hole in his chest. Lord, give him power.
- OK, Arkadiy Nikolaevich, I'm off to visit San Sanych, - I nodded my head and headed off along the corridor.
- He's in there with united command's representative. Bahel is out in the third battalion, meanwhile this clean-cut chap is rivetting Sanych's brain. They'll probably throw us in somewhere to break through, where other elite forces shat themselves. It's always the same, they have got to receive medals and firing at the parliament palace in Moscow (a hint at the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993 -- O.B.A.) and we, Siberian "makhra", have got to crunch asphalt in winter. But then, we are to go back and these s.o.b.-s will talk with beautiful girls about their feats posing for the cameras flashes, - he spat, gave up and went off.
The corridor was full of officers and soldiers, smoking, taking a snooze, leaning against walls riddled with the bullets and frags and raising their heads now and then when hearing close explosions or shots.
This kindergarten had cost us one dear. Somewhen Dudaev announced that Chechnya did not need scientists but did need warriors, therefore the boys should learn at school for three years and the girls - for only one. And as the women should stay at home all the time, the kindergartens became obsolete, therefore, some persons, close to his government, some ones paying bribes, others by force, seized the kindergartens. That one was rebuilt to be a privte residence too and was taken by one of the bandits. The owner and his gangs fought for it with ferocity.
We spent half a day driving these vipers out of there and when we finally had broke in, we saw that he had maintained a pretty good live style in there: carpets were everywhere, not of the cheap stuff but the handmade ones, expansive furniture, crystal, china, appliances, which we had seen only in commercials. We attentively watched the photoes with the owner of the residence and his inmates. We lacked women there, that was for sure, but I have never seen a Chechen beauty, neither on the pictures, nor in real life. All of them had small faces, small eyes, some hooklike noses and small mouths, just like rats, in my view. Everyone has different tastes, though, as it's spoken, - "there are no ugly women, but lack of vodka, however I couldn't drink so much..."
Occupied by this kind of thoughts I entered the room in the basement where at the brigade's HQ was made. I put aside a raincoat-tent covering the entrance, pushed the door and felt the hot warmth coming from the army camping heater-bourgeois (a Russian slang word for thepotbelly stove - O.B.A.) in the corner. I guess these heaters are still used only in the army, and as long as the Russian army exists, it will always be used there on manoeuvres and in war to offer soldiers warmth and comfort.
- Comrade lieutenant colonel, captain Mironov is back now, the order is obeyed, - I reported, looking at Bilich tearing himself from the map. Next to him, also leant over the map, there were my yokemate or, as we called each other, "accomplice", major Ryzhov Yuri Nikolaevich and some strange officer.
- We've been waiting for you, Vyachaslav Nikolaevich. Have you brought the sniper? - The executive officer asked me, inquisitively looking in my eyes. - Here is your friend, - he motioned to Ryzhov, - was betting a packingg-case of cognac on you don't bring him.
- If I had only known the question was about cognac, Alexandr Alexandrovich, I would've brought back at least his head. But that dog died due to his wounds and probably heart failure. This dog was, in his own words, our fellow-countryman, from Siberia. I found thirty-two notches on his rifle's butt and a fine Japanese scope too.
- Where is the rifle? - Ryzhov took interest.
- I left it back for com-batt and Il`in: as they show it the fighters, the latters get ferocity. And it's also not a bad supplying for them.
- Aha, don't pile it on, about "supplying". We all now need the only kind of supplying - the air support, approximate enemy's lines and base where from the sluts get their support. They were surely not ready for this war and therefore have prepared nothing. Neither armaments, nor ammunition, nor food.
- That's yet not all, - I interrupted Bilich, - on the way back we were fired upon, took the meeting engagement, counterattacked, annihilated our enemy and found these on a spook's corpse... - I held out my hand with the Semenov's military ID. - Our fighter. His name is Semeonov.
Again a lump got stuck in my throat, making it difficult to talk or breathe. I pulled out my cigarettes and Bilich didn't object, realizing what state I was in, although himself was a nonsmoker. After taking of a few deep puffs I felt the lump disappearing and continued:
- The sluts, probably, were torturing him for a long time, and while he was still alive, cut his penis off. Then nailed him to a cross, like Jesus. Penis stuck in his mouth. We brought him back, the fighters have probably already offloaded him. Here is some more, - I extended the rest of the IDs, - these ones I got off from the dead spook too. No more of ours though.
San Sanych carefully listened to me, looking straight into my eyes, and after that took the IDs held out, briefly looked through them, noting only the units' numbers, added them up to a pile and handed it to the unfamiliar officer.
- By the way, let me introduce you, - he turned to the major, - Major Karpov Vyachaslav Viktorovich, united HQ representative, General Staff officer. And this is, - he said pointing at me, - captain Mironov, our HQ senior officer, an adventurer and a warrior and still can't get used to the fact that he is no a company's commander, but staffer now, - San Sanych somehow fatherly chided me.
I was taken aback a bit by such unexpectedly hearty recommendatnion of my chief about me. I held out my hand, the major held out his palm in return too.
- Vyachaslav, - he introduced himself.
Namesake. We'll see, what price the bird you are and why in hell you've flown here up. Evidently, one of the big shots, since he is sent to us. They might want to blandish us before giving some suicidal task or maybe to find out what is the atmosphere in the brigade and then to give the commander the sack. These moscow fat cats from love this kind of tricks.
I looked at him a bit more carefully that time. The mug looked familiar, but where I had seen him before, I couldn't recall at that time. OK, we would figure that out later. The fact he was from Moscow and from the General Staff, immediately made me, like any other line combat officer, contact warrior, feel an antipathy. All the disasters come from the moscowers and all of them are swines, graspers and grudges. Any soldier learnt that axiom, watching them come to control checks and do nothing but squiff. And after that they leave back for home with the large reach gifts. These moscowers are sooterkins, in a word. It's partly their fault that we're here. Moscow had planned the first storm of Grozny as well as this one. Both the 25th of November (25.11.1994 the Chechen political opposition forces with assistence of the Russian tanks unsuccessfully tried to battle Dudaev forces out fo Grosny -- O.B.A.) and the first of January will be the black days in the Russian army's chronicle.
I quickly thought about that while I was shaking the Moscow officer's hand and squeezing out of my face some kind of smile. Although, I think, my smoked mug reflected all my thoughts pretty well. But I wasn't able to send this fop to hell right there, in presence of San Sanych, whom I respected too much.
- Vyachalsav, - I introduced myself back to moscow fop.
- Major Karpov, take these IDs to the HQ, please, let them work out which regions the soldiers are from and notify their families, - San Sanych passed the books to him.
The moscower nodded his head agreeing, took the IDs and without even looking at them or counting, thrusted them into the outer pocket of his jacket hanging on the chair's back. Any normal officer having though respect to the died ones would've put them into the inner pocket.
I was hurt to the quick very much and asked the son of a bitch with almost unhidden irritation:
- My dear, aren't you going to loose the Ids? The human lives are still behind them, huh?
Spotting the rage in my voice, San Sanych and Ryzhov looked at the bird of passage as if he was a public enemy. He must've understood his lapse faltering out something and convulsively placing the IDs into his jacket's inner pocket. Meanwhile this filthy little toad gave me a very expressive look, as if he wanted to grind me into dust. Come on, boyo, look all you want, I can pacify a drunken soldier with my look, I can make you, smart alec, kneel down with my look and subgun. I calmly stood the look of his watery unexpressive eyes. He looked himself milksop. About a meter seventy in height or even less, lean and with a small head. All white-blond, like albino, except his eyes, they weren't red, but rather colorless. His appearance was just repulsive, and his long forelock, that he constantly put right, was even adding some subtle female feature to it. And maybe he was "gay", a mischievous thought flashed in my mind. The General Staff Officer is a pansy. That would produce a full unrest. Well, I heard it was very fashionable in Moscow already at that time - alternative sexual lifestyles. I'll keep aside from sleeping with him. Though, I think he's just lifeless, like a fish or jellyfish. I might offer this pansy boy to paint himself with some carrot color, that would be more funny. And that would be good mark for snipers.
I imagined just for a second the major painted in red color and a smile widely stretched my lips. Karpov nervously studied himself - was something wrong with his dress? Having ensured that his uniform was fine and realizing that I was just laughing at him, he angrily stared at me in response.
Knowing my explosive behavior and to relax the atmosphere, San Sanych declared, talking to everyone at the same time:
- Let's stop plotting against each other for now and go to see the Semeonov's body. We'll fill in the papers and you, Vyachaslav Viktorovich, - he looked at Karpov, - will have to take it with you to the airport for sending home.
We all moved for the exit. Officers and soldiers were already standing out in the yard. The body of Semeonov was carefully placed on the canvas rolled out, the hands were folded on the chest, the nails holes in the wrists were clearly seen, somebody thoughtfully covered his face with a soldiers' handkerchief. Hats off, all the present ones were just standing around in sorrowful silence. It could only be read on their tensed faces and figures what was in their minds. It was the sniper's luck that he had been finished off over there, otherwise he would've lived over here for a long time, to his chagrin.
Bilich came over to the diceased, took off the handkerchief, looked at his dirty face with the mask of horror frozen on it forever, sighed and, turning backward to the standing next to him Kleymeonov, gave him an order:
- Arkadiy Nikolaevich, fill in the corpse identification and prepare the body to be sent home. The HQ representative will take it with him, when leaving back.
- Precisely, Alexandr Alexandrovich, - and then to the surrounding him fighters, - Take the hero into the building. It's warmer in there, we'll lace up there and call for the clerk, tell him to prepare the corpse identification act, the death notice and everything that relies.
Everyone went fussy and active at once. Bilich announced, talking to Ryzhov, the moscow fop and me:
- Let's go eat.
I had, of course, nothing against a nosh and nipping up, but not in the company of that colorless mug, that's why I politely refused his offer:
- Thank you, comrade colonel, but I'd rather do it later. I have to wash off the dust first and make the reports about sniper and Semeonov. Other paperwork demands my attention.
- As you wish, but at 21.00, welcome to me with the report, com-brig should be back by then too, - San Sanych said attentively looking at me. It seemed that he realized what was the true reason for my refusal.
They went inside, I watched the fighters carrying all the remains of Semeonov into the building, then turned around and went to my truck.
Every HQ officer had his own truck. Yurka Ryzhov and I shared GAZ-66 with a plywood box van. Although, any officers preferred to spend the few minutes of rest in basements, Yurka and I liked more our box van. We also had a personal driver, Harin Pashka, stood one meter and seventy tall, with broad bone, large and almost always smiling mug, little tiny eyes, but red hair, according to soldiers' fashion, almost shaved hair at the nape and always waving forelock. Naturally, Pashka was crook, worm, and snoop, but I had repeatedly observed him in the combats, many times he pulled out the truck with us, from under the fire, therefore we liked him and trusted him. In the peacetime Pashka was a wilful, worst discipline offender, great fan of tanking up and a womaniser. His pregnant fiance was waiting for him back at where we had come from. He had another year to serve till army discharge. Pashka knew literally everything that was going on in the brigade keeping warm friendship with all the fighters from the HQ, communications hub and canteen. He supplied us with all the news, some things he got to know earlier than we did, receiving his informations from the comms operators. And this gave us more time to prepare and then to make good advices and initiatives during the meetings by Sanych or com-brig, while others were only digesting on the received information. For that our command highly regarded us as the excellent officers. Although, we were not born yesterday also, the head start was never a burden.
Walking up to our truck I noticed with satisfaction that Pashka managed to fill up the sandbags during the day passed and enclosed the truck with them. Now we can almost freely breathe. There is a plume of smoke rising from the chimney meaning that we'd got heat, hot water and dry cigarettes. I came up to the door and called up without opening:
- Pashka! Where are you?
- I'm here, comrade captain. Guarding.
Pashka's figure emerged from the darkness, I glanced at the position, he had chosen for his guard and noted to myself that he did it rather cleverly.
- All right, my my born under the rose son, what've you got to make your father happy? How did you behave yourself? - I jokingly asked him.
- Everything's fine, Vyachaslav Nikolaevich. Here, I enclosed the truck with sand, got some food too.
Food was a problem, the same was about mattresses, underclothes and uniform. Reinforcement columns fell behind at the "North" yet, it made no sense to pull them out following us under the numerous fires. Only the tankers, carefully guarded, brought up the fuel for vehicles and power generators. Of course, every officer and soldier had reserves in their trucks, APCs and tanks: canned stew and containers of kasha with meat, but was that real food, or a paved road to stomach ulcer? That's why all ranks were constantly busy hounding for nutrition.
And when storming this nice former kindergarten, we found a plenty of food supplies and alcohol beverages in its basements. Much of that we had already eaten and drunk, but we all knew who amassed most of it and using personal charm or Pahka's foxery and impudence, periodically expropriated something from the comms operators.
- Sonny, - talking to Pashka, I worked my way into the box van, - What kinds of picklings and oversees liqueuers do you plan to soften up your old and ill father?
- Dutch ham, smoked mutton, sardines, I think French, and two bottles of cognac, judging from the labels also French, - he reported.
- Got the hot water? - I inquired taking off my weapons, jacket and ammunition.
- Yep, full teapot, - reported Pashka, throwing the subgun behind his back.
- Let's go, flush some on me and then we've dinner, - I have already comfortably settled in the warm atmosphere of the box van and now unwillingly stepped out into the night cold, especially having to undress myself.