January 1930

John Savage crept down the darkened hallway, one foot carefully in front of the next. Certain sections of the floor contained depressions or uneven surfaces. He sidestepped each spot without losing his balance.

He held a new pistol with outstretched arms. Unaccustomed to its feel, he readjusted his grip subtly. His large palms did not fit around it the same as his Remington.

Looking down the hallway, he spotted the rusty light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. Then a soft breeze blew through the hallway.

As he turned left, a dark figure appeared at the end of the hall.

He hastily fired off three shots. Without waiting to see if he had hit his target, he pulled back around the corner. A moment later, he looked back to see figure down. Further down the hallway were three doors on both sides, all closed.

He reloaded the pistol with some difficulty, then proceeded forward. As he was about to pass by the first door, a small, tight smile appeared on his face. The door opened, with another figure appearing.

John pulled back and dropped to his knees before firing twice. He then turned to the second door while it was still opening. Instead of firing, he knocked the figure inside down with a precise kick with his steel-tipped shoes.

Two more doors opened. He ran to the left and fired at the door across from him. Pausing to catch his breath, he looked to see the last two doors opening. He approached at an angle, shooting diagonally at the first door, then turned to kick the door opening in front of him; it slammed shut. He then struck right above the doorknob, knocking the entire door down.

As it fell, he fired twice, then stepped back.

John waited for a moment before he lowered his pistol. Smoke rose from the figures lying on the ground.

Suddenly, a figure appeared from a trapdoor in the floor.

As if anticipating it, John dropped down to one knee and fired. The figure fell back down underneath the floor, trapdoor collapsing on top of it.

John then called out casually as he unloaded his gun. “Clear.”

The rusted light fixtures suddenly returned to life. At the end of the hallway, several men appeared, half of them in their forties and the other in their early twenties.

Fellow operative and long-time friend Blake Perry walked past John and looked into one of the rooms, where a wax figure lay fallen on the ground. Attached to it was a set of mechanical devices on its arms and legs.

The training exercise was a new addition to their headquarters in New York City, the set designs akin to a theater with doors and wax figures controlled by several concealed operatives who employed pulleys and mechanical devices to help create a quasi-realistic mission scenario.

“Nicely done,” Perry said. “Almost getting too old for you, isn’t it?”

John grinned to hide some aches and pains in his joints. “Not yet.”

Perry clearly noticed his discomfort, but said nothing. They had both joined the organization around the same time, and eventually operatives got to know the others intimately whether they were directly acquainted or not. Living the same life for years made it easy to spot similar traits and emotions.

Munitions overseer Douglas McFreely broke from the group and approached John. He took the pistol and disassembled it, then examined the various pieces.

“What do you think of the Sauer?” he asked.

“It’s good, for a German. I still prefer the Remington. I’ve been using it for the past several years and never had any trouble. The Sauer’s grip feels too awkward for my hand.”

“I understand, but you do know they both use the .32.”

“True, but the Remington can also use the .380. From what I’ve read of your initial analysis, the Sauer can only use one. I like to be able to use a slighter more powerful cartridge when the occasion calls for it. I also like the hesitation lock on the Remington. I’ve used every other pistol in our arsenal, and it’s the only one that has that for its blowback system.”

Doug put the pistol back together and gave it to John. “Be sure to return it to the armory. I only have a few of them for now. I want to run more tests in the training facility before I make my report.”

“Are we going be using them from now on?” Perry asked.

Doug shrugged. “We’ll see. They just requested that we upgrade our armory, starting with the small arms. The pistol is first. After that, I get to move onto rifles, then submachine guns.”

“Don’t tell me that we’re going to stop using the Beretta. I’ve loved it.”

“I’ll certainly make a note of that opinion.”

“Sometimes, there’s no need to do upgrades,” John offered.

An operative called to John from the end of the hallway. “They’re calling for you on the phone.”

The two both exited the training area and entered the communications room, where a series of telephones were installed. On the opposite side, several operators handled calls made to and from the location. Some of the calls came from STIGMA members. Other inquired about the clothing department which acted as their front.

On the phone, Ewen demanded to see him and Marlon immediately. John left the section of the building and returned to his desk. Marlon approached John from behind and gave him a violent slap on the back. “I got to tell you about something you’re not going to believe.”

John jabbed his friend in the side. “Wish I could chat mindlessly with you, but Ewen wants us at his office in five. He said it was urgent.”

“Urgent, you say? Could it be something besides acting as test dummies for new weapons? Something like that?”

John threw Marlon his coat. “Put that on and let’s find out. We can speculate all we want while we head over there.”

“How was training today?” Marlon asked as they walked through the hallway. “Did you finally get that wet nurse merit badge you always wanted?”

“Actually, I was testing out the new Sauer,” John replied. “I told them to stick with the Remington. Not sure if that’s what they wanted to hear.”

“Maybe that’s what Ewen wants to chat about.”

“I sincerely hope not.”

Inside Ewen’s office, they were greeted by his secretary, Vicky; she was the third one since they had first joined. A 60-year-old spinster and former librarian from Yonkers, she was the preferred type for Ewen.

The two burly security guards next to her desk carried out their required procedures rapidly before they were then finally waved into Ewen’s office. As they stepped in, they both removed their fedoras and found a dozen or so unknown men sat at the table across from Ewen.

John looked over at Ewen for guidance. Though he had been an old man from the first day they had worked with him, Ewen had recently begun to show definitive signs of weariness and age in his face. His ghostly white hair was cut to short, razor sharp edges like a porcupine’s back. Still a very tall and lanky fellow, his weathered features conveyed a saddened, almost disheartened spirit.

He returned John’s gaze with a fatigued, yet relieved smile as he handed them both dossiers. “Tell me, have you ever heard of a man by the name of Seamus Barrett?”

Both men shook their heads.

“He’s one of ours, originally from Mississippi.” He paused for a moment. “I’m issuing an Executive Order 27 on him.”

John and Marlon leaned back in their chairs as they briefly exchanged glances. That specific order was a specialized assassination warrant for STIGMA operatives who had either gone rogue or turned traitor. Only the executive of a sector could issue one. It was to be carried out without mercy, compassion, or attempts at restoration. Once the order was given, it could not be rescinded.

There had only been one such order issued to them, against the last person they would have imagined: Anthony Wayne, their mentor and instructor.

“What has Barrett done to deserve the order?” John asked.

“You don’t need to know,” one of the unknown men replied. “It’s not your concern.”

“I’m going to ‘cope’ with this man. I believe that gives me the right to know why.”

“Your job is to follow orders.”

A growing impatience seeped into John’s voice. “Ewen has always given me the courtesy of explaining orders.”

The man’s face reddened as he went to speak again, but was restrained by the person sitting next to him. His comrade whispered quietly in his ear. Whatever he said seemed to placate the man as he eased back into his seat.

John grinned as he turned back to Ewen. “Please continue.”

“Barrett was assigned to a mission in Chicago. He helped operate our fallback house there. However, just recently, we got several disturbing messages from him. Our analysts have read them and have concluded he has gone insane.”

“What happened?”

“He’s always been unstable,” another man said. “Something likely made him snap. We think he is now working with an anarchist group in Chicago believed to have been behind several bombings in the city over the past three years.”

John remained silent as he looked down at the dossier in front of him. He had several questions to ask. It was yet another “internal” threat, as opposed to the external threats they had formerly pursued.

“Your plane tickets and hotel reservations are in the dossiers,” Ewen said. “You’re at the Silversmith, on South Wabash. I’ve been there before. Excellent place. Our last report indicated Barrett checked in at the hotel, though his actual room is a mystery, and he hasn’t been seen since. He might have moved, using it merely as a ruse, or he is still there. That’ll be the best place to start either way.”

“Does Barrett know of us?” Marlon inquired. “Would he recognize us if he saw us?”

“No. He had a habit of keeping himself isolated from everyone else. He knows someone will come after him, but not who. You both understand an Executive Order 27. You are to ‘cope’ with Barrett by whatever means at your disposal. Though I do hope you gentlemen will be discreet about it. I don’t want to wake up in a couple of days and find a photo of his body on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.”

“Will do, sir,” John said. “Any allies in the police department?”

“Not recently. One of Barrett’s jobs, I’m afraid. He never quite managed to find us a new contact.”

“Very good, sir.”

He and Marlon grabbed the dossiers, nodded, and walked out. During their walk down the corridor, they remained silent.

Once they reached the desks, Marlon whispered in John’s ear softly.

“That was certainly strange.”

John hid a frown as he opened the dossier. Inside, he found a detailed biography on Barrett, three photographs of him, and their plane tickers. He took out the photo-static picture of Barrett and studied it closely.

The picture didn’t help much. Barrett’s eyes were too blurred to get a read of him. Dissatisfied, he tossed it back in the folder and took out the biography before he slid it into his attaché case underneath his desk.

Anxious, he smoked on a cigarette, his first for the day, a withdrawn expression on his face while he filtered out Marlon’s rambling at the desk next to him.

As he burned through his cigarette, he took a brief scan of the biography.

Name: Seamus William Barrett, STIGMA codename “Hickory”

Background Information: Born April 16, 1900 in Jackson, Mississippi. His father, Joel was an Army surgeon during Spanish American War. His mother, Annabelle was originally from West Virginia. Barrett lived in Jackson until 1915, where he left home after he was mysteriously orphaned. He eventually settled in Atlanta, Georgia, reportedly working for various menial jobs. After a brief period of surveillance on him, STIGMA recruited him for the Spy Tracking sector in 1919. He operated in numerous areas of the country, providing foreign intelligence before infiltrating specific communist organizations from 1919-1926 in New York City. Served as a field operative from 1927 to 1930 [For more information, see additional self-filed reports on Operation Night Walk, and Operation Bagatelle]. He was assigned to a mission related to a fallback house when he went rogue in January of this year.

Physical Description: Height 5 feet 11 inches. Weight 170 pounds. Race Scots-Irish. Eyes indigo blue. Hair short, oak brown. Build lean, muscular. Voice firm, forceful. Accent southern Mississippi, though he has the linguistic ability to speak in all major accents dominant of the foremost American regions. Has three knife scars on his upper back, two circular scars on the right hip.

Personal Information: Knowledgeable in covert operations, deception, and guerilla tactics. Suspected anarchist sympathies. Obsessive fixation on seashells and constellations. Expert with chemicals, small arms, and hand-to-hand combat. STIGMA medical aides initially reported reservations about Barrett after classifying him as borderline psychotic and highly narcissistic [see disclosed medical examiner’s report for more information]. During training, he exhibited “extreme anti-social behavior” and attempted to kill several other recruits as well as attack the instructors. He was spared by order of Anthony Wayne, who took over his training, and afterwards his behavior improved. Memos stated he insisted on working alone, without a customary partner; was granted a special exception to the Noah Protocol.

Current Status: Last seen in Chicago, Illinois. Is now under the category of Executive Order 27, ordering the assassination of rogue STIGMA personnel. Considered extremely dangerous.

John put the biography down on his desk, allowing his frown to show. On the surface, it appeared straightforward. Beck had all the signs of a psychotic monster. John had “coped” with plenty of them in his career. At the same time, something also bothered him. Normally, such men worked hard to conceal their true character. Barrett did not appear to have put much energy into that.

He was also skeptical of the other men in the conference room. Their unsavory presence indicated doubt the order would be carried out. What would give them such uncertainty?

Twelve years at STIGMA had helped John distinguish missions where the goal was clear, the purpose obvious. This one had neither.

He turned to Marlon, sensing his partner had similar reservations about the assignment.

“Come on,” he said. “We have a plane to catch.”


“Sir, this is Watkins. I’m at Chicago right now with Dr. Archon. The line’s broke, but we don’t have the time to clear all that. This is an emergency.”

“What is the dilemma?”

Watkins hesitated as he turned his face away from Dr. Archon, who watched him from his position on a nearby bench. “For some reason, Dr. Archon took the samples when he left the New York headquarters, afraid for their safety. He took his two assistants with him as well. While they were at the fallback house here, the two assistants stole the samples and fled.”

A long pause followed. The voice exhaled slowly. “I hope you understand the gravity of the situation.”

“I understand completely, sir. However, I find it convenient this happens at the exact same time Barrett goes rogue. Kind of makes the situation a little more interesting, doesn’t it?”

“What could he possibly have to do with it?”

“He might have convinced the assistants to take the samples, so he could turn them over to Hoover and expose us all.”

“Hoover wouldn’t allow a man like Barrett within five feet of him. He’s a maniac.”

“Hoover doesn’t mind maniacs, as long as they hate communists. You’ve read some of Barrett’s ramblings he sent along with the rest of his reports. He has no political convictions, but he hates communists purely out of spite.”

“Hasn’t someone been sent to hunt down Barrett?”

“That is correct, sir.”


“Two operatives; John Savage and his partner Marlon Trent. Both are veterans in the organization.”

“Wait, who did you say?”

The venom in the man’s tone frightened Watkins. He repeated the names quietly, only to hear silence in return. “You know them, sir?”

“Doesn’t matter. Do you think Ewen sent them to kill him or recruit him?”

“I doubt Ewen would do that, sir.”

“Don’t underestimate the old man. You don’t know who he is, or what he was.”

“I understand. Savage and Trent should be arriving tomorrow. What should we do?”

“Go after Dr. Archon’s assistants. I will have the committee send operatives to watch Savage and Trent. If they don’t kill Barrett, then we will know for sure.”

“What about Barrett?”

“They should have killed him when he sent out his first nonsensical statement on the matter. He’s a lunatic, a dangerous one at that.”

“Of course, sir. I’ll go after the assistants. I will also try to find out what I can about Savage and Trent’s habits.”

“Be careful. The other operatives are expendable. Let them deal with Savage and Trent. I need you alive.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Dr. Archon isn’t to leave your sight. Is this understood, Watkins?”

“Yes, sir.”

Watkins hung up the phone, exited the booth, and walked back over to Dr. Archon, who by then had put away his pipe. Watkins brushed aside the swirling tobacco smoke as he grabbed Dr. Archon’s arm.

“Let’s go. We have work to do.”


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
  6. Part 1: Excerpt 6