A BEVERAGE FOR INTEL
Hiding behind the field barracks, Borisych and Fedyunia were smoking and talking over their current problem.
“You know, he is ratting me – me – out!” Borisych waved his hands in a gesture of surprise. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!”
“What is going on?” Fedyunia asked, goggle-eyed. “Well, there are stupid, low down youngsters that want to kiss up, so they tattle to the brass. But to come after you personally like that. What the… ?”
“A week ago the tankers came up here, and asked for some oil. You were on a raid. I gave them a little extra oil and a few mouthfuls of Kishmishevs* fell my way. And that little stool pigeon Blyudov was sneaking around. I didn’t pay him any mind.”
Borisych was so upset that he lit another cigarette from the embers of his last one, spit, and only then was able to continue on.
“So yesterday that youngster came up to me and said: ‘Thursday, you, comrade Sergeant, pumped some oil for the tankers. And they gave you some homebrew.’”
“Well, what then?” Fedyunia’s jaw dropped at such a strange and insolent performance from a first year conscript. “What did you do?”
“What could I do? I was just shocked, and I didn’t know what to do.”
“Smack him upside the head – teach him not to come sniffing around and stick his nose in your business.” said Fedyunia, burning with righteous indignation.
“Yeah, so they’ll delay my discharge?” The thought of that terrible possibility impacting his future made Borisych’s heart sink.
“Yeah, right, boot!” asked the dumbfounded Fedyunia. “That’s really going to happen… ? That will never happen.… Suppose he went to the first sergeant or the LT… ? Then it would make sense, other people have snitched on you, he’s not the first.… But… whaa… ? To come to you himself to rat you out, I don’t understand it.”
“What do you think I’m asking you for?” at last Borisych burst out. “You think I understand it?”
“The situaaaaation… “ absentmindedly drawled Fedyunia.
“This isn’t the first time he’d done this!” Borisych smoked his third cigarette.
“And why’d you keep quiet?”
“Well, it was so stupid I just couldn’t talk about it.” Borisych shook his head. “I just couldn’t figure out what he wanted from me. What’s he getting at? Does he want me to punish myself for the offence? That’s nuts!”
“What’s he getting at? He wants one upside his nasty head! It would’ve been better if you’d come with us on the raid, dude. Look, he can’t be allowed to act like he’s run into the supply battalion, what the hell do we have that he could want? Well, I’ll go pay him a visit.” Fedyunia was a big proponent of simple decisions and quick action.
“Discharge… “Borisych intoned the magical word.
“Well, you… “ burst out Fedyunia “How did you explain it to him? How’d you break off the conversation?”
“Yeah, well, I told him a story. He doesn’t understand – it wasn’t homebrew.”
“Spinning yarns!” grinned Fedyunia “Uh huh! Not homebrew, lemonade.”
“You laugh! But I didn’t know what to do. What if he’s working for the brass? How would I know?”
“Well, OK” Fedyunia cooled down, “that could be.… Well, what then?”
“Well, I laid it on thick. I told him this was a special beverage. It looks like perfectly ordinary water – no smell, taste, or color. It’s a secret recipe for Intelligence. But once it’s down your throat you get as drunk as if it were 120 proof homebrew.”
“You ought to be writing science fiction.” Fedyunya retorted to his friend with admiration.
“You understand,” Borisych rolled his eyes, “I lost my nerve for some reason. It was such a strange situation, and that stoolie is so weird. So… “
“Well, he stuck to me like glue, and made me promise to get him some of this stuff to keep his tongue from wagging. And then we’d see. We left it at that.”
“Hee hee hee. And now what?”
“And now I’m asking you what to do.”
“All right. So, a beverage for the Intel agents, huh? I’ll make him a drink… “ said Fedyunia thoughtfully. “Never fear, bro, I’ll think of something.” he cheerfully told Borisych.
Fyodyunya didn’t like when soldiers hurt their own. But for Borisych he could make an exception, sacrifice a lot. But… this was really strange and complicated. He needed to think this through, and he wandered off to grab a bite to eat, since it was dinnertime.
It turned out that he hadn’t thought of anything by the time dinner was over, so he dragged himself over to see what Farukh was doing.
Private Farukh Aliev was famous for his gold teeth far beyond the unit. He had no equal in hunting, trapping, and tanning hides from any vermin in the desert. He was always in an area specially set aside for him in the supply depot, working on the skins of snakes, lizards, and fur clothes made of who-knows-what kind of animals.
Farukh worked his magic on these skins, cleaned, straightened, and stretched them. He sprinkled something on them, coated them with something, sewed them together, punched holes in them.
His hands then worked these things into remarkably beautiful belts for men and women, hilts for knives, exquisite cases for flasks.
Few knew about Farukh himself, but souvenirs flew through the hands of officers of various ranks, they were passed on, delivered, and presented; and cheerful, gold-toothed Farukh was never without work.
Seeing Fedyunia, he inclined his head in invitation:
“Cam an in, cam an in, Fyodur. Watch and larn, Ahm meiking a praysent fur a gurl back home.”
Fyodyunya came closer to look at Farukh’s work and, captivated, watched how those skilled and talented hands stretched a beautifully made, beaded, hide cover over a metal flask. Fedyunia admired Farukh’s work, but his mind was far away.
Fedyunia did not intend to delight a “gurl” with a snakeskin-covered flask, but somehow he had drifted from a reverie about “gurls” to memories of home, of his room. He remembered a bookshelf bolted over the bed, and the very books that he’d collected in 10th grade when he’d decided to become a Secret Service Agent and had studied all kinds of books about the subject.
Especially interesting was a book that went by the title “Your Human Potential!” And then Fedyunia saw it. The Beverage of the Intelligence Agent! There it was! He’d found it!
Fedyunia asked Farukh if he could borrow a just-finished flask for a couple of days. After a couple of hours he pulled Borisych behind the field barracks.
“Borisych! OK, can I drop you on your ass without even touching you?”
“Up yours!” said Borisych, warily stooping to his friend’s side. “Are you dicking with me?”
“It’s all part of the plan! A test run. Well, I’m not going to grab you and throw you like that, just stagger you a bit.”
“Uh huh. You’re not going to touch me with your hands, but you’re going to bring your leg up. I know that trick.”
“I’m not screwing with you. I’m not going to touch you.”
“Really? How are you going to drop me without touching me?”
Fedyunia stood right in front of Borisych, put the palms of his hands on either side of the head of his friend, and looked Borisych in the eye for about a minute. And suddenly his body began to tip backwards, as if he was going to fall on his back. Borisych, against his will, followed Fedyunia’s backwards motion, then broke away, shaking himself. He exclaimed in amazement:
“Day-um. What was that shit?”
“That, Borisych, was not shit, but – the instrument of your revenge. If you want to get that young-un off your back, get his ass kicked by the first sergeant, and get him to stop sneaking and peeking around, this is what you’ve got to do.”
And Fedyunia whispered instructions into Borisych’s ear, slipping the flask into his hand.
“What? This is going to work?” said Borisych doubtfully.
“Didn’t you almost fall just now?” replied Fedyunia with another question.
On the evening of the next day, Borisych, catching the short, bowlegged figure of Blyudov out of the corner of his eye, took off as stealthily as he could, looking around furtively, giving all the world the impression that he was trying to hide something. He ended up behind the field barracks.
Sitting on the crumpled box from under the oil, he twisted off the cap of the decorated flask, and with visible delight, Borisych took a couple of gulps. The strange private appeared like a summoned demon.
Borisych feigned the delight of a tipsy man at meeting an acquaintance:
“Oh! You got here just in time.”
Borisych, blinking and giggling, with a slight slur, cheerfully told Blyudov that the special Intelligence brew had come in.
Transmitting that vital news evidently set off Borisych’s wild thirst, and he took of huge gulp with such relish, that the curious private copied that motion, and craning his neck, and thrusting his entire body forward, swallowed hard.
“Ohhhh” he started, “whoooaaaa.”
“I’m not going to give you this flask; it would be too much for you. These flasks are made specially to trick the Afghans. Mohammed forbids them to drink wine, but this – it’s water, pure and simple. But then their tongues begin to wag! Here, I made something for you… “
Borisych rooted around behind himself and dragged out into God’s own sunlight an ordinary soldier’s canteen and gave it to the private.
“Take it son, and remember how good I am to you!”
Not wasting any time, Blyudov unscrewed the top of the full canteen smelled the contents, and took two huge gulps.
“Water… “ he said with disappointment, “just water… “
“You dipshit!” muttered Borisych in a drunken, thick voice. “Didn’t you understand what I told you? You’ve done gone out of your mind, drinking it like that. In two hours you’re going to be falling down drunk – you won’t even be able to call out for Mama. Don’t you let them catch you here! Get back to your bunk!”
The strange little soldier took hold of the canteen, screwed the lid on tight and, looking at Borisych (who had apparently gone completely limp) with disbelief, tramped back to his bunk.
After two hours, Fedyunia explained to the stone cold sober Borisych what kind of spell it is possible to cast on a human being:
“I look over, and he’s going to his bunk and his legs are wobbling. The First Sergeant starts to ask him what he drank and where he got it, but Blyudov’s eyes are glazed – he’s drunk as a skunk, it’s clear he doesn’t even know what’s going on. And so, brother, such are the miracles that can be worked on the human organism – a man can get drunk from ordinary water. You didn’t believe me! But you programmed him yourself. You’ve got him so spooked he’ll walk a mile out of his way to avoid you.
In fact, Fedyunia, watching this little drama from the sidelines, laughed good and hard the next morning when the hung-over Blyudov, with great bags under his eyes, caught sight of Borisych from afar, jumped sideways and hid himself behind some of his comrades. He had been cured of idle curiosity for good.
©Copyright by Serguei Skripal
(Translated by Jay Wood)