Misha had run most of the way to the police station. He was out of breath and spoke between gasps through the small hole in the Plexiglas stretching across the main desk. Looking bored, the round desk sergeant cupped his hand behind his ear.

“What was that? I didn’t quite catch that.”

Misha gulped in a breath and raised his voice, nearly yelling. “Hanah Garin. You’re holding her on charges of… I don’t know, but is she here?”

The sergeant nodded and held up his hand as he leafed through reams of paper on a two-punch clipboard with the big steel U’s at the top. He was half way through the ream, pages hanging from the rails like dead bodies when he finally stopped.

“Ah. Yes, here it is. Hanah Garin. Violation of Part 5, Article 20.2 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses.” He looked up at Misha as if that explained everything.

“What does that mean?” Misha asked, exasperated. “Can I see her?”

The sergeant turned back to the page in front of him, running his finger down its middle as he read. “Ah!,” he said, poking the paper with his finger. Looking back up at Misha, he said, “You are to proceed to room 12. Please have a seat while I make sure everything is in order.”

Misha craned his head as the sergeant walked away more briskly than his demeanor seemed to allow. “What does that mean? Are you going to let me see her?”

Misha sat down on a sad pea-green plastic chair. What was in room 12? Was he going to see Hanah? Or was he going to be arrested for aiding and abetting a criminal? Misha’s head swam as he tried to anticipate what would happen next. If they were going to arrest him, wouldn’t they have done that already? Why lure him into the back? Surely, that must mean they were bringing her out to see him.

Just as he was trying to decide whether to stay or bolt through the heavy double glass and steel doors, the sergeant appeared from a doorway in the lobby and beckoned Misha to follow him.

Stepping through the door behind the sergeant, Misha cringed when he heard the latch close behind him, it’s metallic click echoing slightly against the white cinder block walls.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“Room 12,” the sergeant said.

Misha glanced behind him and realized there was no way for him to leave except the door he had just come through.

Turning back around, he saw the sergeant had opened a door and gestured for Misha to enter. Misha stopped in his tracks, weighing his options. He could outrun the sergeant. But would the door at the end of the hallway be locked?

Gingerly, Misha poked his nose around the corner to see a stiff-backed man in his mid-thirties wearing a formal police uniform with shoulder epaulets. He was sitting at a steel table with his hands clasped over a thick file folder.

Misha spun on one heel and started to run, but the sergeant reached out with a surprisingly strong hand and stopped him in his tracks.

Smiling, he said, “Please, this is how you will learn more about your sister.” Then he gently shoved Misha through the door and closed it behind him. Misha turned around and tried the round brushed-steel knob, but it was firmly locked.

Misha slowly turned around and looked at the man sitting on the other side of the small table. His hands were still clasped, his face expressionless. Without any hint of what he was thinking, the man said, “Sit down.”

Misha slowly lowered himself into the only other chair in the room, directly across from the man.

Once he was seated, the man said, “I am Captain Valentin Sokolov -“

“Is that my sister’s file?” Misha asked, nodding at the file folder.

Captain Sokolov didn’t respond for a full thirty seconds. Nor did his expression change. Nor did his hands move. Misha felt a trickle of sweat down the side of his face and wondered if the man was even breathing.

Finally, the man said, “No, Misha.” He tapped the file three times with his index finger. “this is your file.”

Misha’s eyes widened. He hadn’t even known that there was such a file about him. And one so thick.

Captain Sokolov opened the file and plucked a page from the top. He held it in the air and studied it intently as if he had never seen it before. “Says here that you like to talk.” He put the page down on the desk and held it down with his palm, as if it might somehow escape. “Is that true, Misha. Do you like to say things about your government that we might consider unpatriotic?” He paused for a moment and added, “In these times, when patriotic duty is so important.”

Misha felt his throat constrict, not from fear, but from anger. Captain Sokolov was exactly the kind of Russian that Misha wished he could take into an alley and beat to death with a golf club. Misha knew his constitutional rights. But he also knew they weren’t worth the paper they had been printed on.

Nearly seething, and not caring if the Captain saw how angry he was, Misha asked, “What does this have to do with my sister?”

Captain Sokolov shifted his head slightly and stared straight into Misha’s eyes. His gaze not wavering an inch, the Captain opened the file, carefully slid the page inside, squared it with the others and closed the file. Clasping his hands on top of the file, he smiled. For several moments, he showed Misha a waxy grin.

And then he said, “Now that is an interesting question, isn’t it?”

“Where is she?” Misha asked, his voice edged with impatience.

“Well, that depends on you, Misha.” Captain Sokolov leaned forward. “Perhaps you’ve heard of our special military operation in Ukraine?”

“Of course. Who hasn’t?”

The Captain smiled dismissively. “Right. Well, as you may know, we can only send volunteers across the border. And, well, we need more.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

The Captain slid Misha’s file aside to reveal a thin, crisp new file underneath. He slowly opened it and slid the small sheaf of papers towards Misha. Placing a black ballpoint pen on the papers, he said, “Your sister is facing grave charges. Article 20.2 is just the beginning. She is also facing assault against a police officer, a very serious offense, and thus, of course, resisting arrest and obstruction of justice. All in all, I’d say she could be in prison for as many as fifteen years.”

Misha’s mouth fell agape. “How is that possible? She is the most gentle person I know.”

“These challenging times bring out things in people you wouldn’t normally expect,” Captain Sokolov said. He glanced at the papers in front of Misha. “Now, I can’t make any explicit promises, but I can tell you that a member of her family honoring his patriotic duty by volunteering to serve in the Russian Army on a three-year contract will allow the court to look favorably on her case.”

Misha reached for the papers, as if they might leap into the air, wrap around his throat and choke him to death. “I need something better than that,” he said.

Captain Sokolov reached for his belt and then lay a pair of handcuffs on top of the thick file. “This,” he said, pointing at the handcuffs, “is option A.” Pointing at the contract in front of Misha, he said, “And that is option B.”

Misha almost laughed. He knew that the file may have been a prop to scare him. It might not have said anything at all about him. He knew for sure he had not broken the law, except for his illegal access to certain things on the Internet, which they could neither detect nor prove. If that were the case, he would have been picked up long before.

“Captain Sokolov, the only thing I care about out of any of this is what happens to Hanah. What can you do for her? What can you promise me as a man, not a Captain?”

Captain Sokolov pursed his lips and rocked his head from side to side, thinking. “Between you and me, Misha, I can tell you that I will personally argue for leniency. I can probably get her eventual sentence knocked down to five years.”

Misha suddenly felt nauseated. He couldn’t imagine Hanah surviving a month in prison, let alone five years.

As if he could read Misha’s thoughts, Captain Sokolov said, “It’s better than fifteen. She’ll still have a full life in front of her.”

Misha knew something was missing. There was plenty of paperwork that would force him to keep his end of the bargain – it was right in front of him. But all he had to assure him they would keep their side of it was the word of a man in a room where nobody could hear what he said. Misha scooted his chair back, folded his arms and said, “I need something in writing.” Captain Sokolov tapped the hand cuffs. “Go ahead,” Misha said. “You can tell whoever you’re working for at the recruitment office that you arrested a young white Russian who would make for glorious propaganda – Look here, a son of Moscow himself has taken up arms in service of Russia’s crusade for de-Nazifying Ukraine. Or you can arrest me on – what charges exactly?”

Captain Sokolov stared at Misha for a moment and then a smile crept onto his face. “You’re right. But there is still the matter of your sister.”

“I need something in writing.”

Captain Sokolov bowed his head for a moment, apparently defeated. Then he sighed and pulled another paper from the thin file. He slid it over to Misha. “Your copy.”

Misha pulled back to the table and read. Essentially, it declared that in consideration of the loyalty and patriotism demonstrated by Hanah’s family, especially her brother who has volunteered to serve in the army, that the prosecutor’s office would recommend leniency in the case of Hanah Garin. It had both Captain Sokolov’s signature, and another by somebody claiming to be from the prosecutor’s office. More importantly, it had an official looking stamp from the court. Misha didn’t know if it was legitimate, but he did have a copy of the agreement.

Maybe that mattered. Maybe it didn’t. All Misha could know for sure was that if he did as the Captain asked, there might be a chance that it would help Hanah. If he didn’t, Hanah had no chance at all.

As he was mulling it over, the Captain slid Hanah’s charge sheet across the table, showing every crime he had mentioned, along with his signature at the bottom.

“And if I’m killed in action?” Misha asked, lifting a brow. “What will that do for her?”

“It will prove you’re not a traitor,” Captain Sokolov said. “Which reminds me. If you are captured or go missing in action, the deal is off. You really are going to have to serve your country, Misha.” Knowing that he was twisting the knife in Misha’s gut, the Captain smiled. Misha really wished he could have had a golf club at that moment.

“Can I see Hanah?” Misha asked.

The Captain smiled even wider, his victory now complete. “As soon as you sign.”

“Can I think about it?”

“I’ll give you 24 hours, Misha. After that, you will be arrested. I promise.” Captain Sokolov tapped the thick file three times with his index finger. Again, Misha wondered if it was just a bluff. But there was no way for him to know for sure.

©2022 Michael J Lawrence

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