Sitting behind a folding table with a plastic cup full of steaming bitter coffee, the lieutenant eyed Misha in silence. Then he asked, “Have you discussed this with your squad leader?”

“No sir,” Misha said matter-of-factly. “I know this is beyond his paygrade.”

“And yours,” the lieutenant added quickly.

“Sir, I just want to know why we’re sitting here, doing nothing when our comrades in Ukraine need our help.”

“What makes you think they need our help? Everything is going according to plan. Besides, why are you so anxious to leave? While you don’t have fuel, you can sit in the rear and have a hot meal while the Buryats die at the front.”

Misha’s shoulder’s slumped. “Sir, we all know that’s not the case. I know we’ve met more resistance than expected. Hostomel didn’t go well. Crossroads ambushes. We have a perfectly good BTR with two good riflemen, a gunner and the best squad leader in the regiment. We can help. All we need is fuel.”

The lieutenant froze for a moment, slowly set down the cup. He folded his hands on the table and looked sideways at Misha. “What do you know about the fuel situation?” he asked.

Sensing the lieutenant’s tone, Misha responded more formally. “Nothing sir, just that we don’t have any.”

The lieutenant’s voice was frosty now. “Has anybody told you why?”

“No sir. I heard there were problems with some of the rail workers.”

“That’s right,” the lieutenant said, picking up his cup. “Fuel is on its way. It’s just going to take a little longer.”

“How long, sir?”

The lieutenant narrowed his gaze and took a long sip of coffee. “Soon.” He set the cup down deliberately. “Now listen here, Private -” The lieutenant drew a blank and glanced at Misha’s name patch above his left breast pocket ” -Garin. This is the sort of thing that is best left in the hands of your squad leader. Alexeyev is a good man. Do you have a problem with him?”

“No sir. Sgt. Alexeyev is a good man. He takes care of us.”

“That’s right. And he’s been in two wars already. He doesn’t need a squirrel like you dragging him into a third. Don’t come to me with any more problems unless it’s about him personally. You understand?”

Disappointed, Misha mumbled, “Yes sir.”

The lieutenant jumped to his feet, planted both fists on the table, leaned forward and yelled, “Do you understand?”

Misha flinched at the sudden outburst. As loud as he could, he shouted back, “Yes sir.”

“Now get the hell out of my sight.”

Misha saluted, turned around and started walking back to his squad.

“Getting the hell out of my sight means hauling ass, private,” the lieutenant yelled from behind. Without looking back, Misha broke into a dead run for his squad’s BTR.

©2022 Michael J Lawrence

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