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"Have him shot!"

The morning finally crept through the window and woke up the trapped flies, fate was ticking off the days from its yellowed list, and the commandant of the town of N., a moss- covered mayor, felt strangely sad, perhaps the same as a salad might feel when it begins to wilt.

His hair, eyes, lips and cheeks, neck and ears, arms and legs, everything pointed to the fact that it was high time either to hang himself or to demobilize. But demobilization, though inevitable, like the collapse of capitalism, didn’t take a single step towards him and the days dragged on like the corridors of the guardhouse, and dripped and dripped onto the crown of his much-battered head.

The commandant had become a rotund creature long ago, but he still dreamed and all his dreams, as I already said, grasped pitifully at the sparkling hem of her Excellency Madame Demobilisation.

The door – there’d been someone knocking at it, obviously – opened just at that moment when all the commandant’s dreams were still on the hem, and the commandant, coming to his senses and looking around at his assistant, the young lieutenant, who was standing right here, sighed and braced himself for the predictable surprises. “Permission requested,” a worn-out senior lieutenant appeared in the door and, having shifted from one foot to the other, he dragged in a soldier by the scruff of his neck. “You see, comrade major, he drinks! Every day he drinks! And another thing, comrade major…”

The voice of the senior lieutenant would have lulled the commandant to sleep, had he carried on for more than five minutes.

“So you drink? Huh, hero-warrior?” The com mandant, with enduring melancholy, stared at the warrior’s forehead where some signs of secondary education should be, he reckoned.

“Rotten deal,” thought the commandant about the fact that he still hadn’t been demobilized, and – with a groan – grabbed the chewed-up telephone receiver: the ear and mouth “saucers” on the telephone were so washed-out that it looked as if the commandant had wooden ears.

“Moscow? Ministry of Defence? … I’ll wait…”

The commandant’s assistant – a young, freshly-minted lieutenant – felt a creeping fear, like someone who sits on a bench after lunch, hoping to belch, and thinks about politics when a lunatic sits down next to him on the edge of the bench. “Ministry of Defence? Comrade Marshal of the Armed Forces, Major Nosetickin reporting… Yes, comrade Marshal, yes! He drinks!... Yes… Every day… Permission requested…. We’ll do that… We can have him shot… We’ll inform his residence… Permission requested to start straight away… We’ll do that…”

The commandant put down the receiver.

“Assistant! Where is our journal of executions?... Ah, there it is… So… surname, name, patronymic, year and date of birth… home address… nationality… Now, where’s the executions schedule?”

The commandant produced some charts, then reached into the safe and pulled out a pistol, cocked it and put it down. The assistant, eyes jumping out of their sockets, his lower half shuddering, his upper half hypnotically staring at the commandant’s nape, at his very brain, was filling drop by drop with horror. Each new drop scorched him.

“So… the planned undertaking – the execution… the participants… now, the place – the parade ground, the obvious instrument – a Makarov pistol, sixteen rounds… the supervisor – me… executioner… My assistant! Listen, lieutenant, today it’s your turn. Get used to our daily battles! You’ll shoot this guy. I’ve already okayed it. Sign here. Please see it through. When you’ve whacked him…”

The commandant didn’t manage to finish: both bodies shuddered and collapsed, the impressionable lieutenant – just like that, and the soldier – with a smell.

The commandant spent a long time tipping out the water from the decanter with flies onto the men.

He was moved into the reserves a month later. The commandant strode into the guardhouse for the last time and declared that, if he’d known it could be so easy, he would have started shooting people ten years ago. Flocks of them.

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