West Berlin


Vasily had a toothache and Ilya wasn’t helping at all.

“You need to see a dentist,” he sniggered at him. Vasily decided to ignore this. One day, he promised himself, he would blow Ilya’s brains out. That day wasn’t today.

A shadow moved against the window, and Vasily straightened up. High time. They had been sitting in the car for over two hours. He looked through the binoculars but the figure had already moved out of sight. This was the worst bit of the job. All the sitting and waiting around, particularly with retards like Ilya.

“Vodka?” Ilya offered his hip flask.

Vasily shook his head sharply. He never drank on the job. It just made one sloppy. Ilya was proving to be a liability. He’d have to get rid of him soon.

He knew why Ilya had been ordered to accompany him. The bosses thought Vasily was becoming too big for his boots. That his 100% success rate meant he knew too much. Ilya was the watchdog. Keeping tabs on what Vasily did and how he did it. Not for long though.

The figure re appeared at the window. This time Vasily got a good look at him. Bingo! He motioned to Ilya and they slipped out of the car noiselessly.

They crossed the tree lined street one behind the other. For  passers by, they seemed like any other suburban commuters returning home: shoulders hunched, trench coat and hat protecting them from the mild drizzle. No one could make out the bulge of the holsters under their coats. Just as well. No witnesses.

Ilya knocked on the door. A gruff voice answered, “Yes?”


“I haven’t ordered anything.”

Vasily had already broken in soundlessly from the rear door.

Anton turned around, gun in hand. There was a weary look in his eyes. As though he’d been expecting this for a while. As though, all the running and hiding had been leading up to this very moment.

“The Dentist! Ah, I should have known they would send you.”

He lowered his gun. Vasily’s reputation preceded him. Besides, he was tired and ready.

“Make it quick, will you?”

Vasily did.

When Ilya walked in on them ten minutes later, Vasily was unscrewing the silencer off his gun.

“So, it’s done.”

Vasily ignored him, and pulled out his extraction forceps.

“It’s a bit psychopathic, isn’t it? This extracting of a tooth from a dead man. What purpose does it serve? He’s dead. He doesn’t care if you take his tooth. Aside of it being your signature, what does it matter?”

Oh, it mattered alright. Vasily hadn’t risen through the ranks of the KGB on the merit of his good deeds alone. He knew the psychological impact that a well thought out name, and a signature move had. It was not for nothing he was known as the best assassin in the world.


Anatoli leaned back in his chair, the cigarette dangling loosely between his lips. The file had ELIMINATED stamped in red on the front page.

“Such a shame. Anton was a good man. But when spies go rogue, they have to be…” he drew his finger across his throat.

“So, Vasily, another job well done. You got his tooth, I’m guessing?”

He didn’t wait for Vasily to confirm this.

“Third molar from the left, hey? What if they don’t have one? What if they have rotten teeth? Those Englishmen normally do. No, no. Don’t answer that. I don’t really care.”

“I have another job for you.”

He passed a file over to him.

“It’s Top Secret of course, and the material is sensitive as always.”

“No killing involved this time, unless absolutely necessary.”

Vasily skimmed over the information, and looked up at his superior in surprise. This was not within his usual remit.

Anatoli nodded. “Yes, I know it’s strange. But you were specifically asked for.”

When Vasily spoke, which was very rarely, people had to lean in to listen. His voice was no more than a whisper.

“I kill people. I don’t kidnap little girls.”

“She’s not a little girl Vasily. She’s eighteen and our top gymnast. She is also planning to defect to the West during the games.”

Vasily looked at the photograph in the file. She looked twelve.

He shook his head.

“Not for me. Give this one to someone else.”

Anatoli stubbed his cigarette out leisurely.

“You don’t get a choice Vasily. The job needs to be done, and it needs to be done by you. And Ilya will help.”


“What I can’t understand is why we are bloody kidnapping one of our own athletes? And asking for a ransom? Whose dumb idea was this?”

Vasily wished Ilya would shut up. He didn’t like the plan himself, but if the powers that be had decided this was the way to stop the defection and make the West look bad, then so be it.

They were booked on the morning’s Aeroflot flight to Montreal via Paris, and Vasily wanted a good night’s rest before they embarked on this hair brained scheme.


It was easy enough to identify the Soviet team in their blue jackets. They were all crowded together at the airport, talking excitedly amongst themselves.

Not so easy to locate a slight figure with blonde hair and blue eyes. Ilya spotted her first. He nudged Vasily in the ribs. Vasily moved away casually and looked in her general direction.

She was tiny. A miniature human being who could perform magical things on the uneven bars. He had been reading up on her. She was the Soviet’s brightest hope at the Olympics. Just then she looked up and caught his eye. There was a quizzical look in hers, and he looked away uninterestedly.

They were five rows behind the team on the plane. Ilya was snoring loudly next to him. Vasily looked at him disgustedly and went back to reading Pravda.

At Montreal when her luggage went missing, she was accompanied by her coach to the Lost Luggage counter, while the rest of the team made their way out. They stood at the counter pretending their bags had not arrived either. Ilya filled out his form alongside her coach Yuri. She stood to a side, nervously rocking on her feet. The Aeroflot employee had been paid well, and disappeared long enough for an uneasy silence to descend on the group. Ilya with his customary garrulousness decided to cuss out his national airline.

“Cannot believe how incompetent they are. Losing our bags is one thing. But to lose a team member’s bag!”

The coach clucked in sympathetic annoyance. Soon Ilya and he were engaged in an in depth conversation.

“Is he your son?” she asked suddenly.

“Ilya?” Vasily was startled. Ilya was young, but he wasn’t young enough to be his son.”No, just a business associate.”

Vasily examined Ilya with fresh eyes. He supposed to an eighteen year old girl who didn’t see any of his flaws, he might appear quite handsome.

As for himself, he knew he was so ordinary looking that it made him instantly forgettable. A huge asset in his line of work.

“Which sport do you do?” he asked, feigning ignorance.

“Gymnastics,” the pride in her voice was evident.

“Looking forward to the competition then?”

“Yes, of course! It’s what I’ve spent my entire life preparing for.”

The cynic within him applauded her performance. She seemed every inch a naive, eager sports girl determined to find her place in the spotlight. Not a cold, calculating turncoat, ready to abandon her country for a cushier existence in the West.

The bags finally made an appearance. By which time the Soviet team had already departed for their accommodation.It wasn’t hard for Ilya to persuade Yuri to share a taxi with them.


She was spitting nails the next morning. He’d tied her hands and feet together, but left her lying in bed so that she was, at the very least, partially comfortable.

“You bastards! Why the hell have you kidnapped me?! Where is Yuri?”

Poor Yuri would soon be found wandering the streets of Montreal, with a killer hangover and no recollection of where he’d misplaced his star gymnast.

“He’s safe,” Ilya spoke from the couch munching on his potato chips.

“Why? Why…” she spluttered incoherently.

Vasily opened the file in front of him.

“Your father is Boris Petrov?”

“Why am I here? You know I’m representing my country in the games. How can you do this? You will pay for this!”

Vasily looked at her patiently till she calmed down.

“Your father is Boris Petrov?”

“Yes,” she muttered, sullenly.

“Related to David Petrov, or David Peters as he is known these days?”

She looked confused.

“Are you telling me that you don’t know that your father’s cousin is a Canadian citizen? Or that he’s a multi-millionaire?”

She shook her head. “I have no idea what you are talking about! Please release me so that I can participate in the games. My team, my family and my friends must be so worried.”

“Nice try sweetheart, but you’re going to stay with us just a bit longer,” chuckled Ilya.


There was an International outcry. For a sportswoman to be kidnapped on the eve of the Olympics for no good reason made headlines everywhere.

They stayed holed up in the Motel where no questions were asked as long as cash was provided upfront.

The girl grew more and more uncommunicative. She ate at regular intervals as if to keep her strength up. The rest of the time, she retreated within herself. Vasily admired this trait. He knew how much self discipline it took to keep only one’s own company.

Ilya, on the other hand, had no concept of self discipline. He ate, he drank, he snored and he farted with impunity. The rest of the time he regaled them with stories from his childhood. When he ran out of those, he started to sing tunelessly.

Many a time Vasily wished it was Ilya tied up on the bed, and the girl his companion.


The ransom demanded was a mere 2 million Canadian dollars. Not too much for a multi-millionaire uncle to dole out for the safe return of his celebrity niece.

They turned the television on to listen to the news.

Tearful appeals from her parents, from her team mates, from her coaches. Nothing from David Peters.

“Is this plan actually going to work?” asked Ilya on the fourth day.

Vasily shrugged. 

“What plan?” her ears perked up.

Vasily changed the channel to the games. He saw her sit up straighter. A part of him felt bad that she couldn’t fulfil her dream, but at least she’d live. None of his previous hostages had.

On the seventh day, they had a breakthrough. David Peters agreed to pay the ransom.


“It’s a simple matter. We collect the ransom and hand the girl over to the authorities. At that point, her profile is so high that she cannot simply melt away and defect as she was planning to do. She will be surrounded by the highest level of security. Russia will get her athlete and her ransom back.”

Even as he mouthed these words, Vasily felt discomfited. Could it really be as easy as they had made it sound? There were risks. But then, there were always risks. He had been in stickier situations before, and each time, managed to walk away unscathed. What he relied on every single time was not just preparation and nerve, but his gut.

His gut was telling him something wasn’t right.

From the doe eyed girl on the bed, to his bumbling companion, to this entire kidnapping/ransom scenario he was trapped in, something felt amiss.

Maybe it was time to retire. Time to spend those millions squirrelled way in that numbered account in Geneva. Maybe it was time for him to melt away just like the girl had planned to.


Notre-Dame church was crowded with tourists. Vasily moved along with the tour group half listening to the guide describing the stained glass history of the city. Pew 11 wasn’t hard to find. He sat in pew 12, discreetly observing all that were looking for him. The money had been placed in a hassock of his choosing. Now they were waiting to arrest whoever picked it up. As if.

He closed his eyes and let his head drop, looking for all intents and purposes, a man engaged in prayer. He had decided that this would be his last job. He would mail his collection of molars- 38 in all- to Anatoli anonymously. A novel resignation even if he thought so himself.

The minor explosion outside the church created exactly the sort of panic he had envisaged. He walked out with the hassock in his rucksack, with no one the wiser for it.

The Motel room smelled stale. Food, cigarettes and body odour mingled together in an odorous union.

“Did you get it?” Ilya asked eagerly.

Vasily nodded.”Check it.”

He looked at the girl on the bed. “We turn her over to the authorities tomorrow.”

“I’ll tell them it was fellow Russians. I’ll tell them everything,” she declared.

“My dear,” he whispered, “By the time they recover you safe and well, no one will care. By the time they care, you will be back in the Motherland.”

She hissed at him then. “You’ve taken everything away from me!”

“Cheer up, there’s always 1980 to aim for. And no sly defection ideas the next time around, you hear?”

“I’m afraid that’s not really the plan Vasily,” Ilya spoke softly behind him. He had the gun pointed at Vasily’s head.


The crowds were cheering on television as Nadia Comaneci got the first ten ever achieved on the uneven bars.

On the floor of the Motel room there was a different kind of ten. The man’s figure lay stretched out straight and the girl was curled up like a ball next to him. Their bodies were stiffening up with rigor mortis.

The television flickered in the background, noise fading in and out. They wouldn’t be discovered for another week. At which point their bodies would be sent for autopsies.

The man would have the third molar on the left missing. A fact that would go unnoticed in Montreal.    



©Poornima Manco 2018






Love and Loss

I trace the network of lines on my stomach. A grid of loss. The lives this womb has held and squandered. Each time, unable to fulfil its biological vocation. Layers upon layers of hope and despair that show up on my face, in my hair, in my eyes… The first one came unbidden, unwanted, and was rid off just as quickly. Youth and drugs and unprotected mating. Then, years of trying and failing, and trying again. Too old to try now. Yet. An instinct to love, to cherish, to protect and to nourish finds no outlet. I swim in a morass of anguish and melancholy.

Till, like a sliver of sunshine, you enter my life.You are not of my womb. You are not of my culture. You are not of my colour. Yet. My life is coloured with the joy of your dimples and my heart overflows with the milk of love that my bosom could not offer.

You are you. And you are mine.




Description of the work:

Oil on canvas
30″ x 40″
Copyright – Preeti Varma.

This painting is an original work of art by Preeti Varma who is a New York based visual artist. Preeti explores inter-disciplinary genres like painting, mixed-media, photography and installations in her art practice. To see more of her works, please visit her website at




The scratching started again last night. Just behind the wall, behind the sideboard I’d pushed there to keep it from getting inside. I didn’t dare mention it to Andy.

The last time he’d turned the house upside down for me. Then, with an irritated shrug, left for the pub.

Between the scratching and Andy’s snoring, I’d gotten little sleep. This morning I’d looked for the sleeping pills and found none. He’d gotten rid of them again.

I put my duffel coat over my pyjamas and walked to the neighbourhood pharmacy.

Rina looked up from the prescription she was filling out for the old man.

“Chloe! It’s been months. Are you okay?”

“I think there’s a rat in the loft. A big one. Those super rats they are talking about on the news.”

“What…? Have you been taking something Chloe? What rats…what are you on about?”

“Super rats! BIG ones. 2 feet long and immune to everything. We have one living in the loft. I hear it, scurrying about, scratching, sniffing”

Rina sighed. “Come on, let’s go grab a coffee. Julie, take over from me for a bit.”

She ushered me out. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, all wild hair and crazy eyes.

“How’s the book coming along?”

“I’m not writing anymore. That stopped after… after…”

She put a hand over mine. Her beautiful scarlet tipped nails in stark contrast to my filthy, bitten ones.

“We don’t need to talk about it. I’ve been worried about you. Andy said you didn’t want to see anyone, so I didn’t call.”

“I need to get some poison. Strong stuff. Something that will kill it. I can’t concentrate. I keep thinking about it. It’s eyes peering at me through cracks in the wall. It’s teeth waiting to gnaw off my finger…”

She laughed. “No wonder you’re a writer. Such an imagination!”

“Andy doesn’t believe me. He can’t hear anything. He thinks it’s one of my episodes.”

“Is it?”, she peered at me concerned.

“No. I’ve put all that behind me.”

“Okay. Let me see what I can find. I’ll bring it over when I’m free. Try and get some sleep darling. You look like Hell.”

I perched myself precariously on the top step of the ladder leading to the loft. Poison in one hand, torch in other. This time I would find and kill the rodent. I started to place the poison around the edges at first, side stepping the insulation. Then I threw it like grain, all around me. Blue flecks that rained like toxic snow.

That won’t kill me. You know it won’t.

He sat in front of me. Grey and large and smelly. His black, beady eyes, staring straight into my hazel ones.

I’ll still be scratching and sniffing and waiting for you.

“No, you won’t!”, I shouted, “You won’t control me again!”

We stared at one another for what seemed like an eternity. Then slowly, deliberately, I placed the pellets inside my mouth. The End.


Conflict of interest?

I was asked recently why my stories have petered off. I seem to be blogging more about random things, than posting that which I am “specialised” in – short stories. Well, there are a couple of reasons for this. One, quite simply, the store has diminished. What I mean is, that when I began blogging about a year ago, I had a good stock of stories that I had built up over the last 4 odd years. Some that had placed in competitions, and some that hadn’t. Seeing as I was not planning to re use them (as in, submit them any further), I was quite happy posting them on here.

Now, I have a concurrent problem. The ones that I do have in stock are ones that I plan to polish, tweak, re do and submit. And a lot of competitions these days, state quite clearly in their T&C’s that prior published material, regardless of it being print or digital, will not be entertained. So, there you have it! The old supply and demand problem. The supply, unfortunately, has dwindled.

I’m hoping that the blog in itself, is fairly thought provoking, and topical. If it isn’t, do not hesitate to complain! I was accused by a friend, of treading way too softly, and tackling subjects way too tame. That maybe. However, as a blogger, I merely put my thoughts out there to you. Sometimes I tackle my personal demons on here. This is not an incendiary blog. It’s merely a little nudge from time to time.

In the meantime, I keep reminding myself to knuckle down and write. Solitary, painful and largely without recompense, writing is still something I love. So, back to the drawing board it is. Time to produce, birth, create my fledglings…..


Gatsby-love thwarted (Spoilers)

Saw the movie ‘The Great Gatsby’ today. Baz Luhrmann kept it quite true to the book, while adding his unique flair to it.
But it got me thinking about who or what Gatsby stands for. Here is a man who has a vision of himself. He has come up the hard way and through dubious means acquired immense wealth. His driving force is his love for Daisy Buchanan.
In his vision, he gets the girl, and they live happily ever after in his enormous mansion. That this vision comes to naught is a moot point.
Had the vision come true, would he have been happy? Probably not. Even as he holds Daisy in his arms, he starts to realise that the green light on Daisy’s dock is starting to lose its significance.

That green light symbolises hope & ambition. Is there not something that each of us aspires to? What happens when we fulfil that ambition? Do we not find that the goal post has moved again?
Gatsby never fulfils his dream, and therefore he becomes a tragic character. Yet the true tragedy of life is,that sometimes holding your dream in your arms is also not enough.
Are human beings by our very nature condemned to certain unhappiness? Is there a little bit of Gatsby in all of us?

Short stories: Yay or Nay?

The Short story seems to be having a revival of sorts. I, for one, have always leaned towards this genre, simply because I am most comfortable with it. There is a certain beauty in brevity. I like the fact that something has gone on before this story unfolded, and something else will happen, after I have concluded it. Whatever that maybe is left to the reader’s imagination.

Despite, my love for it, I often wonder, if the short story is regarded as a poor second cousin to its grander rival, the novel? Invariably I get asked, “Are you working on a novel?” as though I need to move on, to graduate in a sense, to better things. The long and the short of it is: No. I love what I do, and intend to carry on for a while yet.

My question to you however is: What do you prefer?