That march along the river lasted for two more days before I heard a word out of any of my men. Even at night, they just put their heads down and didn’t speak to each other. Morale was non-existent. I had to do something. When we all sat down to have chow on the afternoon of the third evening I sat right in the middle of them and began.
“L2, Pretty Boy, you’re both finished your nosh, come here.”
“There’s a town called Baikonur a few miles north of here, right on Syr Darya. Now, as you know Kazakhstan is not a dry country, so there’s bound to be at least one bar up there somewhere. You get me?”
“Sir, Yes, SIR!” they grinned back at me.
“Good. Empty your packs out first and bring back water too. Go.”
And with that they upped and began jogging towards the river. The entire mood shifted up in an instant. Consuming alcohol would dehydrate us more quickly, but there was desperate need for a lift. And so, we waited. By the time L2 and Pretty Boy were due back it would be time to march on, but with a beer to look forward to the end of the next nights haul we’d have motivation and a reward worth its weight in gold. We ate and watched the horizon turn deep purple and then fade into black, anticipating the return of L2 and Pretty Boy. We could almost taste the hops as we sat around. Fuck, they were beautiful dreams.
After two or so hours our heroes returned with their bounty. It was like Paris returning with the head of Achilles. Even I was taken in. With the help of his brothers, Pretty Boy placed his pack down onto the sand between us all and upturned it with care. He had done well, almost two dozen bottles of water. Even in the cold night air we were always thirsty, I damn near opened one myself and chugged the lot, but needs must. Next, and foremost, L2 stepped forward. Christ Almighty, it was like the heavens themselves opened up and the elixir of the gods poured down upon us. We couldn’t read the labels with our military-manual-level Kazakh, but by God it got us excited!
That night’s march passed without incident or delay with the beers, all two each that we had, burning holes in our packs. I know every man was desperate to hear me halt that march at dawn. God, that last mile was torture. So, after the longest half an hour of our lives, with our beers in the sand to cool them down, we began. I don’t think even one of us spoke a single word until the first cap was popped. Needless to say, the second the first beer was opened a flurry of popping spread across the unit and then that sweet pleasure was ours.
We were like children on Christmas morning. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such actual joy other than the birth of my son. There, in a hole in the desert, we reminisced of nights back at the barracks before we had deployed. Of nights back in our hometowns. Of weddings and birthdays attended. We allowed ourselves to indulge, and it was glorious. Then something happened that none of us expected.
There amid the crowd Longshot hadn’t been drinking. Even though he was sitting right next to me I hadn’t noticed he wasn’t drinking until he stood up and took his second beer and just walked off without saying a word. If he hadn’t have grabbed his other beer I’d have assumed he gone to answer the call of nature, so I glanced around and saw him walking towards Glynn, who sat about thirty yards away. Anyone could be pushed beyond their limits and end up doing something out of character, even Tony, so I watched him, readied to intercede if he went for the hapless fool. But he didn’t. No. He dropped his two beers at Glynn’s feet and walked away before Glynn could say a word.
“You see that?”
“Oh Fuck, what did he do?”
“No, he just gave him his two beers!”
“What the fuck?! Why?”
“The fuck if I know.”
“Jesus. He didn’t take a sip out of either, he gave them both!”
“To fucking Glynn?!”
“Yeah. What the fuck is that about?!”
“Lads,” I said. “Do you not see why he did that?”
“Why would give that traitor anything, let alone these beauties, Sir?”
“Just watch. And say nothing.”
And with that Tony came back and sat down amongst us as the conversation continued.
“So her father was chasing me with my clothes in my arms and my bare ass on show, when didn’t I trip and fall headlong into a ditch! He still gives me shit about that!”
Even I joined in the laughter.
“You fucking tit, Murphy! Jesus! How did he ever let you marry his daughter!?”
“Well it wasn’t my charm, you can all attest to…”
Murphy stopped as he saw Glynn step into the group holding the two beers. Everyone fell silent. Glynn didn’t even look Longshot in the eye, or anyone else for that matter. He just placed the two beers back on ground at Tony’s feet and turned and walked away. I leaned over to Tony and grabbed his shoulder, gave him a slight shake and a pat. Staring at the beers, he just nodded without saying a word as the rest of the men looked on.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey