John peered out the window directly on his right. Their plane had been in the air for about two hours, and yet he was already getting bored by the mundane vibration of the propellers continuously humming in his ears that felt like a car running over a never-ending road of potholes.  Thousands of feet above the Atlantic Ocean, he could see nothing but the endless, glassy surface in every direction.

Marlon leaned back in his seat, his pale face beginning to regain color after he had filled several air sickness bags during the initial part of their flight. “I’m beginning to think this was a sick joke—pardon the expression. Flying is worse than a boat.”

“Be careful what you wish for, eh?”

“Yeah, yeah. Next time, I’ll bring a good bottle of bourbon and we can doze through the trip.”

“I’ll pass. You know the rules.”

“Have it your way,” Marlon said as he opened his dossier, wary of growing sick again. “According to the ‘boss,’ Malchev and his cronies are going to rendezvous with several of his men at the Grand Hotel and Casino.”

“Interesting place to meet up with revolutionists.”

“My guess is he’s not there for the festivities; it’s where his contact there launders the money to finance their organization. With so much cash changing hands, it’s almost impossible to trace it once it gets in there. However, there’s something I don’t understand.”


“If this Malchev wanted to start a revolution in America, how is this explosive or weapon going to make it any easier for him? Unless it was the size of that explosion in Halifax during the war, and it happened to occurred in the middle of Wall Street, I can’t imagine why it would be worth the trouble he’s going through.”

It was a question John had quietly asked himself since leaving New York. Dissatisfied with prior explanations, he opened his dossier and once again read the biography.

Name: Alexander Shukhov Malchev. Referred to inside the NKVD as “Shukhov.” British and French intelligence refer to him as “The Scimitar.”

Background Information: Born 1888 in Ukraine to Slavic parents. Spent his childhood working in the fields until he was sent to a school in Smolensk. His education was financed by a local parish that hoped he would become a priest. He excelled in history, literature, and language. Attended Moscow University under a scholarship to study political science and journalism. Was expelled en masse in 1911 along with thousands of other students, scientists, and professors during a protest over troops being placed on campus.

Joined with the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution. Worked for a year as a journalist for the Pravda, the state-controlled newspaper. His articles supporting the abolishment of the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP) in favor of the Union of Soviet Writers allowed him to meet and work with high ranking government officials during his tenure in the capital. Proved to be a superb strategic military and political mind while fighting during the Russian Civil War in the Urals. Recruited in 1919 from the Red Army by the Russian secret police, the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, aka the NKVD. Nothing is known about his activities, other than he married the daughter of one of his former professors and a year later had a son, Vladimir. Both died under unknown circumstances. At that time, he joined with the League of Militant Atheists, demanding the liquidation of the churches in Russia.

Believed to be one of the NKVD spies behind a counterespionage operation setting up fake anti-Bolshevik underground organizations to expose and capture true anti-Bolsheviks in Eastern Europe. In January of 1921, when he was discharged from the NKVD for several statements made to the Central Committee, he attempted to join with the criminal underworld that operated in St. Petersburg, but they considered him to be a liability and unstable. There are also unconfirmed allegations that many of criminal leaders were former members of the NKVD ousted by Malchev. He later gathered other ex-government operatives and disgruntled soldiers to form the National Party of the Soviet Union, a rogue militant group dedicated to using irregular and unconventional methods to bring about revolutions throughout the world. Officially, the USSR Central Committee and Premier Lenin have denounced him.

Physical Description: Height six feet two inches. Weight around 240 pounds. Race Russian Slavic. Eyes one brown, one hazel (subject suffers from heterochromia). Hair short, coal black. Build large and muscular. Voice gruff and deep. Three scars on the upper left side of the back, the result of a knife fight. Birthmark on the right side of the lower torso.

Personal Information: Speaks Russian, English, Italian, Polish, and French fluently. Left-handed. Expert with knives, considered moderately experienced with rifles. Well learned in world history. Prefers distilled wine over vodka. Smokes cheroots and self-rolled cigarettes. Considers his father’s Nagant revolver to be his most prized possession.

Current Status: Operates from headquarters located in Moscow. Has suspected bank accounts in Russia, Switzerland, Germany, and America, as well as contacts within stated countries. Recommended for “coping.”

John put the file back into the folder and placed his head against the seat as he closed his eyes, forming a mental picture of the man. When the image formed, it wasn’t pleasant, but exactly the kind of person who would become a communist: a cold-blooded killer with “the end justifies the means” mentality, a soul lacking a moral compass.

Unbeknownst to Ewen, John had obtained several dispatches sent to them from their Russian contact, as well as information from a fellow STIGMA operative who had fought as a Polar Bear in northern Russia during the civil war. His vivid accounts of the enemy’s resolve during a Soviet offensive at some wintery hellhole called Ninji Gora had left a strong impression on John. However grotesque their ideology was, their dedication and zealotry were not to be underestimated, as the White Army had learned.

“Our contact there says that he will meet us at the casino,” Marlon said, breaking John’s concentration.”

“This isn’t going to be just a handoff?”

“No, Ewen wants us to have him along in case we need his help. He’s from the police department, so he can handle anything if things get ugly.”

John nodded his head anxiously and went back to reading How to Analyze People on Sight, which had just come out that year. He had found the subject both fascinating and relevant to their work.

His eyes lingered on the page earnestly, hoping to finish it before they landed. He glanced at his watch. Plenty of time.

Marlon’s groans shattered John’s thinking.

“You’re not getting sick again,” John said.

Marlon sighed. “You remember what happened when we were crossing the Baltic Sea? I didn’t quite make it to the railing in time. That was a mess to clean up.”

“Good thing we have those bags this time.”

“Yeah, about those…I just hope for your sake that these windows can be opened at this altitude.”


When they arrived in Geneva, John and Marlon left the airfield in a taxi. From there, it was a short trip through the city to their hotel, where Malchev was confirmed to be staying. The details had been taken care of. They had rented out three different rooms in advance, all of them located on three different levels of the hotel, each under separate aliases.

When they found themselves in the lobby, they spoke to the receptionist, who promptly gave them the two-bedroom suite on the top floor. Once there, Marlon immediately searched the room for listening devices or peep holes for spying while John read his cover again.

It seemed fitting: Carl Hardin, a 29-year-old pilot for the Lawson Air Line Company. Wife was Julie, 28. Two sons; five-year-old Jim and nine-year-old Kyle. He had already done some extensive research on his background. After finishing reading his latest book, he had plunged into a file on Lawson’s financial state, recent planes and their capabilities.

For anyone who asked, he flew a Lawson L-2 with a wingspan of 91 feet, a weight of 13,000 pounds, powered by two 400 horsepower Liberty L-12 piston engines capable of flying 100 miles per hour and carrying 26 passengers.

Marlon’s cover: Marc Padovani, a 30-year-old foreign-born U.S. citizen and banker for Wells Fargo. No wife or children. Traveling on vacation. Corsican descent. The education fit; he had studied business in college before STIGMA had recruited him.

Feeling tense, John went into his bedroom and threw his suit off. He then opened his suitcase and threw on a black shirt with loose trousers. Marlon was already in casual clothes: white cotton shirt, black pants, and short black jacket.

They left the room and shocked the bartender downstairs by ordering tea in glasses; STIGMA operatives followed a strict diet that permitted only five cigarettes a day, no unapproved foods, and no liquor. Female companionship was tolerated, but forbidden during assignments and quietly discouraged among the executives as security risks. Married men were rare in the organization.

“Our contact said that Malchev will be in the casino with his associates tonight,” John said. “We’re going to arrive early. I asked him where we will find him, and all he said was not to worry.”

Marlon noticed a small book in John’s pocket. “What are you studying now?”

“The local language.”

“You already know it.”

“Now I’ll know it better.”

Marlon smirked. “You never know when to relax.”

“Says the man who studied Latin in college.”

“I like my languages like my enemies: dead.”

John chuckled quietly. Both men were considered well educated, but he was the more studious of the two. He had joined STIGMA straight from college after undercover recruiters had approached him with the offer; one of his essays had somehow caught the attention of Anthony Wayne, a veteran STIGMA operative and their mentor.

As far as they were concerned, John had joined for the adventurous life, though privately the organization’s purpose struck a patriotic nerve in him. It also gave him the opportunity to prove himself. The men surrounding him were similar in nature, and Marlon was no exception. His peculiar humor and theatricalities were superficial and misleading, perhaps intentionally so. When it came down to business, he would kill as effectively and ruthlessly as any mafia hitman. But communism was to him merely an enemy to oppose as much as the next. John had been exposed to enough of it at his university to sufficiently convince him it must be destroyed.

In his mind, their cause was akin to a crusade. Communism was more than a political system; it was a hostile, foreign religion that demanded total submission from the entire world. It required as sacrifice a man’s individual ambition. No one could ever achieve greatness. Even that wouldn’t be enough. Eventually, a man would have to give up all things that gave meaning to life, lest he become “better” than another.

At his desk, John had an engraved quote from a Brothers Grimm tale: “I am Death, who makes everyone equal.” There was no better way to describe the fate of any country that embraced Marx’s wretched ideology.

Like Ewen, John was resolved to never live in such a system, or let it take hold of America.


Hidden behind clouds of bluish smoke, John held his cigarette with a bent elbow. Sitting at a table with a glass of tea masquerading as whiskey, he smiled quietly to himself. The room was inundated with noise; conversations were picked up and lost like radio frequencies. Glasses of wine and champagne clinked together, the sound of scooting chairs and thin cards sliding across smooth surfaces mixing in his ear.

As he panned across the breadth of the room, he observed dozens of vignettes; a mustached man in a double-breasted suit sharing a tender moment with his mistress, as he addressed her as “darling” and not “dear”; a darkly-toned woman of Spanish blood subtly strutting her sapphire jewelry and curvaceous body in front of the morally-loose gentlemen in the right hand corner; a left-hand dominant man with his right hand tucked in his pocket protesting the outcome of a craps game, clearly drunk by the uneven state of his bow tie and his unusual choice of word—“foppish”—to describe the hotel staffer who passed by him.

In front of him, Marlon pushed his way through the crowd. Beside him was man in a blue single-breasted suit who briefly glanced down at John’s drink. He was tall and slender, with curly blonde hair.

John ignored him as he turned to a casino employee, holding up his glass. “That will be all.”

“You pay cash?”

John paid, and the employee returned with change, which John insisted he keep.

“Grazcha,” the man said.

John shot him a curious glance, then got up and turned to the man behind him.

The man beside Marlon grinned. “You planning to take a chance at the card tables? I thought a person like you would want to play games with higher stakes.”

“Let’s get a drink.”

John and Marlon got up from the table and walked behind the man as he led them across the room, weaving in and out of the crowds.

“Welcome to Geneva,” the man said as they shook hands. “I can see you are already enjoying the pleasantries that my city has to offer here. My name is Christoph Zwingli.”

He waved them towards the end of the room. “Follow me; I’ll show you our man.”

He led them out through two wooden doors and into a dining room next to it. A pianist played gracefully in the corner of the room, while a male cellist accompanied. Their contact maneuvered them through the maze of tables until they came to the bar situated in the right-hand corner. He motioned them to both take a seat on the tall stools.

“See that man at the head of that table there?” he asked, pointing with his eyes. “That is Alexander Malchev.”

He motioned his head to the table that was over to their left. Marlon and John gave hardly a glimpse, but they got what they wanted out of it. Six men were seated around it, drinking and talking closely to each other. They both recognized Malchev from the photo in their dossier. John noticed one of them had a protective look about him that separated him from the other four.

“Who is the man on his left?” John asked.

“That is Peter Herzen,” Christoph answered. “He is Malchev’s right hand man and confidant. If you are going to get to Malchev, you will have to get past him first.”

“What about the others?” John asked.

“My guess is they are the ones who have the item in question. Or they are going to take Malchev to it. Where they are going from there, I do not know. I was not able to get any information beyond that.”

The bartender came up to them and asked if they wanted a drink. Christoph ordered Bourbon, while both Marlon and John ordered tea in whiskey glasses.

“Which room is Malchev staying at?” John asked.

Christoph pulled a small, crumpled piece of paper out of his back pocket and gave it to John. He opened it. On it was written “Room 245.”

“I have spoken to my captain,” he said. “I informed him about the seriousness of this matter. He will assist us if there are any complications in our assignment and provide sanction for us if the law happens to interfere. I informed him that he will be justly compensated if it negatively affects his career.”

“Good,” John said. “That’ll take care of our worst fears, for now.”

“What do we do?” Marlon asked. “We can always walk up to Malchev and ask him politely where it is and where he is taking it. He may be so caught off guard he might actually spill it out on accident.”

“We’ll wait here for a while,” John replied instead as he lit a cigarette and exhaled through clenched teeth. Prior to STIGMA, he had generally disliked smoking, even as a child when all the other kids on his block had taken puffs from their fathers’ stash. After his first mission, he had found tobacco settled the inevitable anxieties in a way nothing else did.

John turned over to where Malchev and his men sat. He put the matchbox on the bar table and slid the top over so that it faced Malchev. He then turned his back to them while putting a small mirror that he had taken out his jacket on the counter. He looked closer at Malchev through the mirror, making subtle observations.

What struck John at first was his appearance. Contrary to the photo that he and Marlon had received in their dossiers, Malchev was well versed in the latest fashion, especially compared to the other men at the table. While the rest appeared unkempt and possessed oddly-shaped muscular builds, Malchev was elegant looking. He was clean-shaven, his black hair was neatly combed, and he was dressed in a tailored Henry Poole black dinner jacket. A communist with a sense of class.

John continued to observe through the reflective glass as Malchev refilled his glass with wine.

Another observance: the other men sitting at the table shared a large bottle of vodka that sat in the middle, but Malchev was enjoying a bottle of Calvados. The former NKVD operative gracefully poured more of it into his nearly empty glass. His movements were all smooth, possessing neither the bluntness nor the violence that he was famous for, as if every single action he performed was carefully planned.

Malchev and his men eventually got up; he and his right-hand man Peter Herzen pushed their chairs up to the table while the rest simply left theirs standing where they had last placed them. A small, but telling habit: attention to detail and manners. He was meticulous.

“Are we going to be following them?” Marlon asked.

John shoved his cigarette into an ash tray on the counter. “No. They won’t be leaving anytime soon.”

“How do you know?” Christoph asked.

“I read their lips.”

“What did you hear—err, see?”

“They went back to Malchev’s room. Those men were messengers. The item is here, being kept in the wine cellar. They’re waiting for transportation to arrive. That should give us some time.”

“What’s our move, then? Are we going for Malchev or the explosive?”

“The explosive gets nabbed first,” John said. “They give the impression that they need it. We’ll use it to draw Malchev out into the open, away from this setting.”

“I’m fine with that,” Marlon said.

“I will give my contacts a call and inform them of the situation,” Christoph said, heading to the telephone booth.

John gave his plan a final thought, then put it to rest. They had the upper hand for the moment. They had to exploit it.


For all installments from The Shadow Men, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1: Excerpt 1
  2. Part 1: Excerpt 2