Adam Rybalko was in command of the last artillery cruiser in the Soviet Navy. The warship was a big beast, crewed by a thousand men. Alas, in the age of missiles and air carriers, those regal battleships with their mighty guns and sleek predatory forms had proven useful for parades and film-making industry only. In other words, their tactical worth was in putting on a show. Very similar to the British aristocracy in its role, and for the very same reasons, perhaps, the cruiser had not been discharged and continued active service. Good-mannered enemies would surrender on sight of the cruiser’s three turrets with three guns each, and with each gun having the muzzle of 1.5 metres in diametre… Many a prime minister would dream to sail such a creature to, say, Monaco, and ask some of the owners of the larger yachts anchored there about the accuracy of their tax returns, using the gun’s barrel for a loudspeaker.
Adam was the Captain of the 1st Rank, the naval equivalent of a colonel.
It has always puzzled me why naval ranks are more embellished with words than the army ones, but, again, maybe it is because the naval uniform is so much more nicer than the rather muddy-green or camouflage attires of the land-prodding officers. There’s no point in camouglaging the crew of a ship.
So, back to Adam, who desperately wanted to become a Rear Admiral. His position was an admiral’s one; he’d been with the ship for fifteen years, and by all accounts was not only eligable, but unconditionally deserving the quantum leap to admiralship.
Twice before the fleet command had had his promotion papers ready, and twice something extraordinary conspired against him. He would never talk of it afterwards, and so my story now is about the third time he was spurned, of which I happened to be a fortunate witness.
The cruiser was being propped for an official function due to take place in a large Crimean port. Come Day X, the battleship would gracefully enter the port, clean, shining, and as good as new. On Day X, Adam was scheduled to become a new Rear Admiral.
Presently, the cruiser was anchored about a mile away from the 2 mile stretch of city beaches, called the Strip. At this distance the intimate process of face-lifting (painting over rusty bits, washing away dirty leaks from a miriad of pipes and polishing the brass knobs and doorsteps) wouldn’t be seen, while the presence of the man-of-war would help to build public morale and expectations. Smart.
Officers enjoyed this prepping duty as it was not theirs to perform. They descended on the city en masse, being led by Adam-the-Captain himself.
There’s nothing more romantic and seductive than walking a lady along the seafront in view of a cruiser that is “yours”. Freud himself would marvel at the symbolism of its huge guns.
It was summer and the beaches were swarming with thousands of bikini-clad girls. It was summer and the beaches were swarming with bikini-clad girls.
Did I write it twice? Well, seamen left on board to face-lift the gray beast would write it zillion times because it was the only thought pulsating in their collective brain.
Bikini-clad girls a mile away. A whole mile away.
And then a brilliant thought shot through the head of a gunner. The telescopic sights. For the big guns. At a mere mile, skin pores could be counted.
And then a turret with its three guns (each at 1.5m in diametre) slowly turned towards the beach.
Panic hit the beachside as a lightning. Thousands of bikini-clad girls, their admirers in trunks and shorts, middle-aged women with kids and their middle-aged husbands with beer bellies all ran in different directions.
The rumour of the WW3 beginning there and then devastated the peaceful town and reached the Navy Command in Moscow in about ten minutes, which the gunner and his friends spent marvellously tracing the running girls all over the two miles of unturned umbrellas and abandoned towels. The fact that some girls were losing their loosely tied tops while running to and fro gave an extra credit to the Strip name of the place.
No admiral for Adam. No leaves for the crew for the next month. A lot of words that can’t be repeated even in a group of long-time beer buddies.
A year later I left the Navy, convinced by this and a few other accidents that no man should be allowed a gun unless he proved his sex life was regular.
I don’t know if Adam ever made it to admiralship. I hope he did.
P.S. Sometimes, in parallel to art appreciation posts, I try to entertain you with a short story of a funny nature. I suspect it may not be (i) a story (ii) funny (iii) entertaining. Let me know if so, I’ll stick to Art )