John Savage and Marlon Trent walked in perfect syncopation as they made their way through the conical hallway. When they finally reached the end, they came to an abrupt halt a few feet away from a large, metallic door. They waited patiently for it to be opened on the other side by the guards who would be monitoring them at each stage of the process.

With a loud screeching noise, the metal door opened. John walked through into a small room. The door then shut with a loud slam. The room was empty apart from a small typewriter keyboard hanging from the wall in front of him. He approached it and begam typing in his personal code.

It was a lengthy password; ten numbers, ten letters. All had to be entered in a rapid succession. If an incorrect password was sent more than three times, the guard in the other room receiving the code through the roll feeder would instantly flip a switch, causing the room to fill with carbon monoxide gas. An individual’s code was changed every 48 hours by a confirmation call. If an operative should fail to respond or later give an incorrect password, then every single one of their previous and current codes would be discarded and any would-be users of those codes eliminated.

John breathed slowly as the keypad printed his code to the guard on the other side. He could hear the processor feeding it, then the guard taking it out and comparing it to what he had on record.

The door opened to reveal yet another room, this time with two guards flanking a petite, elderly lady sitting at a desk. Both sentries wore military-issue helmets and body armor, wielding submachine guns.

John stepped into the room as the door behind him was closed by one of the guards and approached the lady, who looked up from her chair with a look of distrust. A guard took his briefcase and searched meticulously as she rapidly threw questions at him.


“John Dwight Savage.”



She looked at a list of personnel, a razor-sharp pencil in hand. When she came down to the bottom, her keen eyes stopped; she marked it with a lead checkmark.

“Name and number accepted.”

After that, the guards led him over to the door behind her. Each of them took out a key, inserting it into one of the two dual locks that were on the far left and right side of the door. The locks resounded vociferously as the keys turned. The guards took their keys out and then opened the door with great effort, allowing John to enter.

He grinned as he finally made his way out of the security area. In front of him now was a split in the hallway, with three individual corridors to choose from, the name of the destination posted above.

“Spy Tracking — Intelligence Gathering — Military Action”

Without pausing, John proceeded to make his way down the path furthest to the left. After walking for about a hundred feet, he came upon a large office room bustling with staff, personnel, and field operatives like himself.

John stopped short of entering, waiting a few moments for Marlon to go through security. Two minutes later he finally arrived, and they continued to a series of end rooms.

“What do you think he will have us do this time?” Marlon asked.

“To be honest, I have no idea,”

“I wish for once we could get leave time before going out again. All this travel is giving me all kinds of illnesses. I’m pretty sure I got sick three times on that boat over to England.”

John smiled amusingly. “You would be in the wrong business for that.”

He waved to a few field operatives he recognized but said nothing. They finally came upon a room with a small plaque above it titled “Executive 1.” As they waited outside of the door to be allowed in, John turned to Marlon. “You let me do the talking this time.”

“I’m the one who always gets him in a good mood.”

“You mean like the time you mentioned your distaste for our ‘means of transportation,’ and he had us conduct a full research study on vehicles used during the Great War?”

“That was just bad timing. Another one of those communist anarchists set off a bomb that day and he was looking to take it out on someone.”


A full minute passed. When the door finally opened, they entered a closet sized room and were frisked by pair of armed guards who then double-checked their suitcases.

Satisfied, the guards opened the last door and let them in.


“Good work on Operation Magnus, gentlemen. I’m glad to have you both back alive, though I didn’t expect otherwise.”

Ewen eased up in his chair, holding a cup of freshly brewed tea in his hand. He was a thin but sturdy man even for his age; John put him around 65. He always wore a brown suit and a striped white shirt that seemed to complement his short but plentiful white hair well. His face was narrow, with brown eyes and a jaw of steel. When he spoke, it was like a firm whisper.

His official codename or title was Executive 1. To the pair and all other operatives, he was only addressed as “sir.” However, elsewhere he was informally referred to as Ewen, though some had more creative nicknames.

Ewen eyed John. “You saw the strength capabilities of Anderson’s organization. Was our intelligence correct about it?”

John and Marlon sat beside one another behind the long conference table that took up most of the room where they both assumed Ewen had larger summits with the committee rumored to control the organization. Whoever they were was anybody’s guess.

“I’d say that their call was right,” John said. “Had we not intercepted Brandenburg, it is likely they would have succeeded in their plans, albeit temporarily.”

“I hope you aren’t trying to cover the faults of our other sectors out of a sense of duty to your colleagues,” Ewen observed as he slowly sipped on his tea. “We can’t afford to waste our funds on unnecessary operations outside our own borders.”

“Not at all.”

Ewen looked at Marlon. “I trust you had a pleasant trip back.”

Marlon suppressed a smirk and shrugged. “Just glad to be back home, sir.”

Ewen shrugged with a half grin. “Unfortunately, I’m afraid I’m sending you both out of the country on another assignment, though this time it concerns our own national security.”

He then called the head of the IG sector on his private line. “This is Executive 1. Please send Mr. Correl over to my office, will you?”

“Yes, sir. He’s on his way.”

In less than a minute, a tall, lanky man stepped through the door. At his side was a medium-sized pale black briefcase. He stopped next to Ewen’s desk.

“Mr. Correl has prepared the dossiers for you,” Ewen said. “He will explain this in more detail.”

The man opened his briefcase on top of the desk. He pulled out several files and handed them to John and Marlon. “We’ve just received a message from our contact inside the Kremlin. Apparently, last week, their military scientists had an item of theirs stolen while it was being transported from one of their laboratories. We have reason to believe it to be a newly developed weapon. It’s an explosive, to be specific, whose new owner intends to use here in the United States.”

Mr. Correl took one of the files from the briefcase and handed it to John. It was a list of bank financial records. One of the account numbers had a circle of red ink circle drawn around it.

“The same day that the weapon was stolen while in transport, a transfer of several thousand in Russian currency was made from one account to another, both in the same Swiss bank,” Mr. Correl said. “We have linked the account it was transferred from to a rogue communist group responsible for acts of sabotage and bombings in Europe. We believe it belongs to one of their supporters, who uses the account to help finance their activities. Another possibility is that it was one of their informants, who they use as spies for counterespionage programs.”

“Who’s the leader?” Marlon asked.

Mr. Correl gestured at their folders. Among the papers was an enlarged photograph of a large, muscular man in the process of shooting at someone with a Nagant revolver. “His name is Alexander Shukhov Malchev, a former high-ranking member of the NKVD, the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs. He was thrown out for insubordinate speeches made to the Central Committee earlier this year. He’s now the leader of the National Party of the Soviet Union, comprised of former NKVD and Cheka agents and disgruntled Secret Police members.”

“Why do we believe he’s a threat to us?” John asked.

“He’s hated the United States ever since he studied at Moscow University, and that hate only increased during his tenure in the NKVD. Among your documents is a long-hand transcript of his last speech to the Central Committee before he was removed. He called for a small unit of highly trained soldiers, posing as civilians, to stir up riots and insurrections in major American cities until the entire country was thrown into a revolution. This went too far for the Central Committee. They panicked and threw him out, afraid that it would lead to a war if his plans were implemented.

“Our contact says Malchev is meeting the members of his organization in Geneva, where the explosive might possibly be brought to as well,” Ewen said. “From that point, he could go anywhere undetected. Operation Markdown, gentlemen. Your objectives are quite simple: intercept Malchev in Geneva, retrieve this explosive, and ‘cope’ with him by any means at your disposal. I have informed our ally in Geneva. He will be working surveillance on Malchev when he arrives.”

“What about Malchev’s associates?” Marlon asked.

“Consider them expendable. They are not your main target, but if they get in the way of your mission, dispose of them as you please.”

“Makes things easier.”

“You leave tomorrow for Switzerland,” Ewen said, eyeing Marlon. “It appears your continual complaints about the use of ships for transportation caught the ears of the right individuals, so you will be using one of our recently acquired airplanes to fly to Geneva.”

Marlon fought hard to contain his delight. “Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t thank me. I only agreed because we need to get you over to Europe as quickly as possible. Personally, I’d be satisfied with letting you sail your way there.”

Ewen took a piece of paper from his desk drawer and signed it. “Here’s your flight authorization. The rest is standard. Show your documents to the treasury, and he’ll draw some funds suitable for your anticipated expenses.”

He paused, growing somber. “I don’t have to tell you how important it is that this man be stopped, whatever his plans. There are still no official diplomatic relations between our country and the Soviet Union, but our man there has informed me of what’s happening; it’s beyond my worst fears. We couldn’t stop the communists from taking over Russia, but make no mistake: they cannot be allowed to ever gain a foothold here. Death is preferable to the world they will create.”

“Yes, sir,” the two operatives said.

“Godspeed, gentlemen.”


Alexander Shukhov entered the hotel lobby where Peter Nikolayevich waited for him with several compatriots at a table across from the receptionist’s counter. On the top of the table was a bottle of vodka they were enjoying, while an unopened bottle of Raynal Brandy was left for his use. He sat down at his seat and earnestly poured himself a glass.

Although he was loyal to his native culture down to the core of his soul, he preferred brandy to vodka. Despite his proletariat upbringing, his tastes were more refined. His education taught him that a lack of wealth did not forbid sophistication.

“Do we want to talk about this in public, comrade?” one of his men asked as he discreetly nodded over to a man reading at the other end of the lobby.

“Do not worry yourself. He cannot hear us from there. And besides, I have one of my men working in the hotel. He will see to it that we are not disturbed.”

Peter Nikolayevich leaned across the table and spoke close to his ear. “They will be here tomorrow. They said that they will meet us at the agreed upon location. Apologies had been made in advance; they said that they had problems getting it across the border. In return, they have found a plane and an isolated airstrip for us to fly it out with. The rest of the team will be getting to the target by other means. The plane leaves at two in the morning.”

“Very good.”

“I have already made the necessary preparations for our equipment. Most of it we can board in the plane. The rest they will have to smuggle through the borders.”

Alexander Shukhov smiled as he refilled his glass and sipped on it. His men waited patiently for him to speak further.

“Did they tell what they are bringing the item in, so we can recognize it when we see it?” he said.

“No,” Peter Nikolayevich answered. “They felt that the less people know about it, the more secure it will be. They are bringing it through…unusual means. Do not worry. It will be safe.”

Alexander Shukhov seemed satisfied by the answer. “Let us hope so.”

He leaned forward and filled his friend’s glass with brandy as well. Peter Nikolayevich also liked Raynal, one of the many things they shared with each other. They both hailed from poor families, and just as they had suffered under the czar’s regime, they had experienced the blessings a communist system offered. No aristocracy or nobility born into privilege while the common man was condemned to poverty.

“I want this to be flawless,” he said. “No mistakes. No traces.” He paused. “Except for the ones we want to leave.”

“There will be none. That I promise, comrade,” said Vasily Grigorevich, a young man sitting next to him.

Alexander Shukhov’s smile vanished, replaced by a frown. “Do not be so self-assured yet. If I held you to it in exchange for your life, would you still promise me this much?”

Vasily Grigorevich’s face turned grave and he shook his head in apology.

Alexander Shukhov didn’t give it any thought or care. He allowed himself little emotion. It led to irrational behavior. Emotion could not be a trusted guide.

If there was anything in the world Alexander Shukhov knew about, it was the value of trust. He had little in anything or anyone. Working in the counterespionage section of the GPU, as well as NKVD, he had learned quickly that anyone could be a possible double agent. In the world of spies, who spun webs of betrayal and deceit, crossing and double-crossings, he understood the importance of suspicion and distrust. They were allies, not vices. On many missions, he had posed as an anti-communist, seemingly befriending those whom he hated with all his soul. To stab a man in the back who believed you to be their colleague, who entrusted their life to you, only went to show what happened to those who trusted others. Trust was not an asset to have invested in someone else, but it was invaluable when someone else had invested theirs in you.

Only with Peter Nikolayevich was it different. Before Alexander Shukhov had risen to a high rank in the NKVD, Peter Nikolayevich had been given the opportunity to use falsified information to implicate Malchev as a traitor, who was at that time his superior. Even though goaded by several other envious colleagues, Peter Nikolayevich had not only refused, but he had mentioned it to Alexander Shukhov, who waited until he took charge of their sector. Then he had had the men who had tried to betray him eliminated and Peter Nikolayevich placed as his right-hand man. When the Central Committee had tossed Alexander Shukhov out, he had departed with full faith his companion would follow.

After leaving the NKVD, they found themselves hunted by members of the “vorovskoy mir,” the thief’s world. Having suffered at the hands of the NKVD, its remnants were by then as interested in revenge as they were profit. The experience had only reinforced Alexander Shukhov’s belief that an enemy must be destroyed completely.

After they had finished the wine and talked for a while, the gathering of Russians got up and left the lobby, returning to their suite. The man on the other side of the foyer closed his book, walked to a phone booth, and began to speak.

“C’est 314. Contactez confirmé.”


For all installments from The Shadow Men, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1: Excerpt 1