John threw himself onto the floor. His spare sidearm came out of his holster as he crept up to the cockpit. The door opened suddenly as a foot narrowly missed his face but knocked his gun out from his hand. He jumped back and held his fists up, seeking to end the fight quickly. The person came out of the cockpit, revealing his face.

It was Peter Herzen. He stared at him with cold eyes.

“Surrender or I will kill you,” John said to him. “I’m only giving you one opportunity.”

“Consider it rejected,” Herzen replied, closing the door behind him. “You can join us in our glorious deaths.”

The man then threw a roundhouse punch at John, who blocked it with a bent arm and struck Herzen’s side; the Russian grimaced, but didn’t waver. He kicked again, this time striking John in the gut; the wind got knocked out of him for a few seconds as he staggered back. Herzen took the opportunity to throw another punch that left his face numb for a moment.

The Russian tried another high kick, but John anticipated it. Seizing the leg, he sent Herzen to the back of the plane with a powerful throw. Before he could recover, John struck him with several light blows and then aimed for Herzen’s throat with a knife-like thrust from his edge of his palm. Herzen somehow blocked the hand and shoved John up against the exit door.

As they struggled, Herzen noticed the gun lying on the ground where it had fallen. Letting go for an instant, he dove for it. John trailed after him, clawing onto Herzen’s hand as he wrapped his fingers around the gun.

The brawl reached a stalemate. Herzen attempted to turn the barrel towards John’s face, while John used all his strength to keep it pointed away. They swayed back and forth as their energy drained.

“Time to die,” Herzen said.

John shoved the communist next to the exit door, then elbowed him in the abdomen. Suddenly, he felt the plane begin to dip down.

Herzen smiled. “This is the end! Long live the Revolution!”

Before he finished speaking, John seized his hand and broke his wrist with a violent snap. While the man writhed in pain, John pushed the exit door open. A harsh, cold wind blew into his face as he shoved Herzen towards it. Outside, he could see the dimmed lights of the city down below.

“You can’t win!” Herzen said. As a last resort, he threw the gun to the side, using both his hands to grip onto John. “If I go, you go!”

John head-butted Herzen, nearly sending him unconscious. The blow loosened his grip on John. A kick from the hip then forced him out of the plane. Herzen screamed in horror, flinging his hands wildly. His silhouetted body quickly disappeared into the black clouds.

Catching his breath, John grabbed his Colt lying on the floor and approached the cockpit. While he tried to open the door he sensed their speed picking up. There was no point trying to reason with Malchev; like Herzen, he would kill them both to achieve his mission.

He brought his Colt up, aiming it at the door lock. He would have to make it quick; Malchev would immediately try to crash it rather than risk capture.

Then the last thing he expected to happen happened: a man appeared from the back of the plane wearing the same clothes as other NPSU members.

John aimed his gun at him. “You move, you die!”

The man answered in English but with a Russian accent. “Hurry! We must get ourselves out of this plane. Do not worry about Alexander Shukhov. He will never make it to his target.”

A wave of questions flooded John’s brain, but for some reason, he trusted the man. “Where’re the parachutes?”

“They are under the seat to your right.”

John reached under the seat and pulled them out. The man approached him with demanding hands.

“Give one to me!”

John didn’t think twice about it. He ran over to him, handed him one, and then ran to the exit door. Fastening it to his back, he jumped, pulling the chute out as soon as he was clear of the plane. He looked up and saw the other man drop out as well.

His attention soon turned to the Junkers as it continued its angled nosedive below them, diving down with a loud buzz.

20 seconds later, John gasped softly as a huge explosion occurred in the tail of the plane. It quickly overtook the rest of the aircraft, causing it to lose its intended course. Like a boulder, it dropped straight down into the Potomac. A large ball of fire flashed, lighting up the tranquil water.

John landed a few minutes later in a field, having stored up a thousand questions in his mind during the descent. He then looked up to watch the mysterious person land a few hundred feet away from him. He ran over to the man’s location, found him attempting to put away his chute.

“Who are you?” John insisted, his gun pointed at him.

The man said nothing, barely visible.

John retrieved fired a small flare up into the air. It lit the sky above them with a hazy green hue. There was a long period of silence between them.

“You’ll talk,” John said. “Either right now or later. Trust me. Everyone talks eventually.”


They were easily found by a team of STIGMA members and brought back to the hanger, where the federal agents had finished mopping up the remaining NPSU members. The man remained silent. He wasn’t handcuffed, but John kept him under close surveillance. He had no identity papers, no wallet, no means of recognition.

In the corner of the hanger, the surviving members of Malchev’s militia were held at gunpoint against the wall. Bound and on their knees, they hung their heads in humiliation.

Marlon was smoking a cigarette by one of the Lincolns, relaxed even when he spotted John hop off the jeep with his prisoner.

“I saw the fireworks display,” Marlon said. “Is it the Fourth of July yet or what?”

“I believe so,” John replied, sharing his enthusiasm.

He turned to the man next to him, waving at him. “We have this man to thank for that.”

The Russian smiled, but stayed silent.

“Thank you for saving my life as well,” John replied.

“You’re very welcome,” he said.

“Who is he?” Marlon asked.

“You don’t recognize him?” John said.

“Not really.”

“He was my waiter at the Geneva Hotel.”

Marlon studied the ma, who nodded as he chuckled. “How did you know it was me?”

“You said ‘grazcha’ to thank me, when you should have said ‘merci.’”

“Maybe I spoke Romansh.”

“Your accent didn’t match, either.”

“A man of small details.”

“Who are you?” Marlon asked.

The man bowed theatrically. “Andreev Martov of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs.”

“The NKVD,” John muttered. “You were onto Malchev as well?”

“He was—what do you Americans say—a ‘loose cannon’?”

“How did you know where Malchev was going?” Marlon asked.

“We were able to plant one of our men in his organization. Our man went with the Torpex, so it was easy to follow where it was going, but our informants had Malchev going elsewhere. My job was not to recover the explosive. My job was to terminate Alexander Shukhov with extreme prejudice. And pleasure.”

“So here is the big question; why did you save me?” John inquired. “Don’t tell me it was an act of friendship.”

Andreev laughed again. “My job was to kill Malchev, no more, no less. You were not on my list of targets, so you were given a chance to extricate yourself, even though my directorate will probably frown upon my decision. Call it ‘professional compassion’ if you will. Plus, I have a feeling I would have had trouble getting away from the Bureau of Investigation without you here to vouch for me.”

“Who said we were going to let you go?” Marlon asked. “You’re valuable property for us.”

Andreev shrugged. “You can hold me if you wish, but if it were not for me, your friend would have never gotten off that plane alive. I do not intend to stay in this country. My objective was completed. It is time for me to go home.”

Marlon looked to John to see his response. He crossed his arms, but avoided answering. “What about the Torpex? I doubt the Bureau is going to let you take it with you.”

“They don’t need to worry about it,” Andreev said. “While we have been talking here, my own team has been recovering it. I threw it out of the plane with its own parachute. A wonderful plan, no? A perfect present to the Central Committee when I return to Moscow.”

He grinned even more as he nodded at Marlon. “Just as you have stalled Alexander Shukhov, I have stalled you.”

Andreev gave them a wave of farewell, then began strolling out of the hanger before he stopped and called back to them over his shoulder. “If our countries don’t eventually blow each other into Armageddon, this will be a wonderful story for the grandchildren!”

“Are we going to let him go?” Marlon asked. “He is the enemy, you know.”

John shrugged. “So was I. He let me live. We’re even, I suppose.”

Marlon shrugged as he plugged a cigarette into his mouth. “Then that’s it. I’m done for tonight.”

“Mind if I have one?” John asked with an extended hand.


Enjoying their tobacco, they walked to the end of the hanger. They kept their distance as the Bureau agents led the captured men into darkened cars.

“I’m glad this is over,” Marlon said.

John didn’t speak. He wanted to agree, but he had a strange feeling the night’s events was just the beginning.


New York Tribune, June 1, 1921



Ewen put down their reports with a skeptical gaze. “I am not sure how to view this, gentlemen. While I am more or less satisfied with the way Malchev was taken care of, I am not happy to hear that you failed to retrieve the Torpex.”

They both sat in their chairs, somewhat timid to speak. Marlon eyed John, silently asking him to defend them both. John glared back at him, but chose to speak, addressing their superior humbly but resolutely. “I was certain it was destroyed when the plane crashed.”

Ewen tossed the folder down on his desk, rubbing his forehead with weariness. “I have ordered some compensation for Zwingli’s family. They deserve it. But it’s troubling to think the NKVD could sneak so easily in and out of our country…I wonder what they are going to say about it?”

John shifted uncomfortably. Neither he, nor Marlon were quite sure what he meant by “they.” The two hadn’t been around long enough to feel comfortable asking.

Ewen brought himself up closer to them from his chair. “Either way, you won’t have to worry about that for a while, or anything else. I’m giving you both some leave time. I expect to see you both back here in a week. Don’t worry. There should be plenty of problems for you to take care of when you get back.”

“Yes, sir,” they sang.

“No trouble, please.”

“No, sir.”

As they went to leave, Ewen pointed at John. “Care to stay a minute?”

John glanced at Marlon, then worriedly sat back down as the door behind him closed. Ewen allowed some time to pass without comment as he sipped on his tea. John rubbed his hands anxiously, knowing in advance what their private meeting concerned.

“I wanted you to know you won’t be facing any disciplinary action for allowing the NKVD agent to leave,” Ewen said.

John let out a surprised breath. He hadn’t expected to hear this. A reproach, a punishment or reprimand of some kind. Not leniency.

“Thank you, sir,” he said.

“There are some who wanted to pursue this further, but I insisted the matter be dropped. Want to know why?”

John nodded.

“You were honest about it. Only you and Trent saw this man; you could have left the entire incident out. I’m sure you assumed there would likely be repercussions.”

“I didn’t think of it that way, sir. Do you think I did the right thing letting him go?”

“Frankly, I’m impressed that you didn’t kill him, even though he helped you get off the plane. I’m aware of your feelings on why we fight. One less communist is always preferred, you would think. But in our profession, a man who knows when not to kill is as invaluable as the one who kills well. A mindless killer is effective only as long as you’re away from his sights.”

“I’m glad to have your confidence, sir.”

“Don’t do anything to cause me to change that attitude in the future,” Ewen said with a reserved grin. “That will be all.”

When John left the building, he found Marlon standing near his Oldsmobile. “The old man chew you out?”

“Not quite.”

“I didn’t think he would. He’s as stiff as a Brit, but I get the feeling he was once in our shoes and knows how it works. Anyways, the Yankees are playing the White Sox tonight. They got beat yesterday two to seven. Today, we’re taking revenge. I can feel it.”

John chuckled. “As long as there’s Babe and Gehrig, how can we lose?”

“See you at the stadium.”

“Same row?”

“Of course.”

Marlon waved as he drove away in his car, leaving the single figure alone in the parking lot. John got into his Oldsmobile, lit a cigarette, and laughed quietly to himself as he drove off.


Alexander Shukhov lay shackled below deck aboard the ship. A blindfolded covered his eyes. He could feel his body sway as the ship rocked in the water, ominous gruff voices resonating through the metal hull.

Overriding any of his other senses was the tremendous pain from the burns on his entire chest and face. Though he had managed to clear the plane just before it had crashed, he had landed too close to the flames. Despite the horrific sensation crawling over his skin, he remained calm. He had endured worse far conditions in the Urals during the civil war.

It wasn’t the physical pain that brought a tear to his eye. Left only with darkness, he kept revisiting the moment he had looked out to see Peter Nikolayevich falling through the dark blanket of clouds and to his death. Now, with time to himself, he felt unable to mourn his friend.

The thick door to the room opened with a loud, rusty creak. Slow footsteps drew near to him, then ceased.

“When you recruited me, you told me the Revolution would require that we sometimes hunt our own. But I never thought I would be ordered to take you down.”

Alexander Shukhov growled with animosity. “You fool. We were so close. So very close.”

“No, you weren’t. You could have started yet another war.”

“The Revolution must spread to the whole world.”

“It will. Not that way.”

“What now?”

“We return to the Motherland, where you’ll await trial.”

Andreev Martov departed. There was another long period of silence.

Alexander Shukhov knew his fate very well, the same fate which had befallen those before him.

Nevertheless, a tiny spark flickered to life inside him, which slowly kindled into a flame. This flame, though founded on little hope, gradually developed into a fire of passionate vengeance. Underneath the blindfold, his eyes flared defiantly. He wouldn’t die. Not like all the cretins he had executed himself.

Not like them.

The lives of his slain comrades had to be avenged. Even though everything at that moment seemed destined against him, he had an unshakable faith would succeed, for he had one great advantage over the enemy: they were certain he was dead.


For all installments from The Shadow Men, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1: Excerpt 1
  2. Part 1: Excerpt 2
  3. Part 1: Excerpt 3
  4. Part 1: Excerpt 4
  5. Part 1: Excerpt 5