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When you're destined to be the best, 

The Gutter guarantees the hardest of falls.

Snowmen by Jay Butkowski

Vasily popped two little white pills in his mouth and swallowed them with a swig of Moskovskaya Vodka.

The screaming in his head had started again.

The pills didn’t make the screams go away. If they did anything at all – and Vasily had his doubts – the pills only made him not care. For whatever brief effective period that the pills worked, Vasily didn’t care about the dead: the slumped over bodies, the pieces of skull and brain matter pink and red against freshly-painted white walls, the wisps of blue-gray smoke dissipating in the air from where the bullet had torn through the body. He didn’t care about the wails and whines of the loved ones who found the corpses, their anguished sobs and hysterics.

With the pills, Vasily was a stoic grim reaper: the efficient killing machine that the MVD relied on to silence enemies of the state. Without them, his hand shook so bad, he could barely aim downrange. Without the pills, the ghosts of the dead and the living overwhelmed him.

The assassin stepped out of his rented Honda Civic and walked to the trunk of the car. Inside the trunk, his trusted rifle was broken down into its component pieces. He opened the trunk and began putting the gun together like so many times before.

His mission was simple: eliminate the traitor Grigori Bellakovich, world-famous Russian ballet dancer and recent defector to the United States. Bellakovich was a bit of a dandy, with no strategic importance to the United States government. His value as an asset was pure propaganda, nothing more. He was such a low priority that when he did warrant a security detail, it was usually a State department cultural attaché that followed close behind.

Grigori Bellakovich was nothing more than a nuisance, but his open defiance and degradation of the Soviet way of life had to be answered. Vasily’s mission was to silence the big mouth in such a way as to send an unambiguous message to others who would consider defecting, but with just enough wiggle room to let both countries continue their Cold War stalemate.

Luckily for Vasily, an opportunity to quietly deal with Bellakovich had presented itself.

Perhaps trying to overcompensate for those rumors that he had to stuff his ballet tights just to make a good showing on-stage, Grigori Bellakovich was a red-meat-eating macho man off-stage who liked to prove just how much of a man he was whenever he had the chance. He’d bragged about this hunting trip for a long time, told anyone who would listen how he was going to, “bring down a ten-point buck” in his best Russian John Wayne impression. It had never occurred to him who might be listening in on the conversation.

There were times when Vasily had to pull off the impossible. This mission was something other than impossible. This was going to be as easy as removing the head from a child’s snowman. A slight breeze could do the job for you; minimal effort, maximum reward.

Vasily propped his rifle on the trunk lid of his rented vehicle and trained his sights on a nearby brook. 

Three figures were making their way across the small stream. There was Bellakovich’s State Department liaison, Bellakovich himself, and…

Vasily cursed in Russian under his breath.

The intelligence reports out of Moscow had said nothing about Bellakovich’s son accompanying him on this trip.

Vasily had never known his own parents. They had been agitators, removed from their home when he was just a child. Vasily had been raised by the State to be cold, uncaring, calculated. Only one time in his life was someone able to penetrate his icy armor.

Her name was Marya.

They had been expecting a son when she disappeared in the middle of the night.

His handlers in the government had explained to him that Marya was a dissident who had seduced Vasily to make an example of him. That she had lied about being pregnant and fled before the government could catch her and expose the truth.

Vasily didn’t know whether Marya had truly loved him, or if his government handlers were telling the truth. Vasily knew only one thing with certainty: he would have made a great father.

Vasily let out a long slow breath. He aimed wide and let loose a round nowhere near his intended target. He couldn’t kill Bellakovich with his son as a witness.

Down at the brook, Grigori Bellakovich and his small party were crossing on wet rocks which had been coated with wet, slippery leaves. In the distance, the ballet dancer heard the crack and retort of Vasily’s intentionally-missed round ricochet off a large tree in the woods. The distraction caused the sure-footed dancer to lose his footing.

Grigori Bellakovich fell hard, his temple glancing off a rock in the middle of the stream. The water started to cloud over with crimson blood. 

Vasily looked on in horror at the scene unfolding before him.

Bellakovich’s son screamed for help and tried to revive his father, who was unconscious, bleeding out from his head wound. They were too far away from civilization for any help to come. Grigori Bellakovich would die in the woods, the victim of a freak accident. Bellakovich’s son would live out the rest of his childhood without a father.

Vasily wiped a tear from his cheek. The pills were already wearing off. He silently packed away his gun, got into his rental car, and drove off.

Vasily would likely receive a commendation. That the whole thing looked like an accident would be seen as a feather in his cap. Only Vasily knew the truth: the warm wind had blown and Grigori Bellakovich had been a poorly constructed snowman. Vasily had only been in the right place at the right time, to bear witness to his fall.

Jay Butkowski is a writer of fiction and an eater of tacos who hails from New Jersey. You can find his writing online at or