Week 39

The animals were thrilled with their new team name, and returned to work with even more enthusiasm than before.

With the help of Peaches and Herb, construction progressed faster than ever and the Putin Pals began to cohere as a synchronized unit.

All of this should have pleased Putin considerably, but each time he visited his mood was a bit darker, his praise a bit more sparing.

One day while Murder Cat was tiling the bathhouse, Putin found a hair in the grout and demanded that the whole room be redone.

Snowy took the worst abuse. Putin criticized everything, harping on trivial flaws in her work. She bore it all with longsuffering silence.

This treatment went on for weeks, and the Pals began to despair: Was their leader becoming a despot? They came to dread his visits.

Seated on the bridge, Black Ops watched a sonar screen. “The Commander’s ship approaches,” he said. “Prepare for arrival,” responded Snowy.

“Aye aye, Captain,” replied Black Ops, reaching under his desk to retrieve a pair of earplugs he theatrically placed in his ears.

Murder Cat scooped up an empty cardboard box and put it over his head, pretending to hide. Snowy smiled at their jokes and shook her head.

“Careful there, comrades. The boss isn’t into comedy.” She sighed, remembering the practical jokes Putin used to play during her training.

“You two straighten up. I’ll go see what we’ve done wrong now.” Snowy rose from her chair and left the bridge to meet Putin at the airlock.

She padded down the hall to the base’s dock. There she saw a shocking sight: Putin holding C-4 by the scruff of the neck and shouting.

Snowy was appalled! Never had Putin raised his voice to the gentle little pup. It was too much: Outrage overwhelmed obedience.

“Stop it!” roared Snowy. Putin froze at the deafening cry and turned. The war bear’s eyes blazed with fury. “Put. Her. Down.”

“You are my Master, but to the others you are a Commander. Behave as an officer, or relieve yourself of duty. We’ve work to do here.”

There was silence, and for a moment Snowy wondered if she was about to die. She knew Putin could crush the whole fortress like a tuna can.

Without a word, Putin lowered the little dog. The tiny apricot puff stood trembling for a second, then yapped happily and sprang away.

Putin watched C-4 scamper off and then looked up toward Snowy, his face unreadable. Snowy braced herself.

Instead of shouting, he walked toward her, then reached out to grasp the thick white fur on her shoulder. The great war bear flinched.

Putin froze at her reaction. At last he spoke. “You are very brave, Bear, and you are right: I’ve been much too harsh with you all.

I owe you an explanation. Come.” But as they turned to walk from the dock, Putin wondered how much he would be able to tell her.