Inside their room at Silversmith Hotel, John picked up the phone and dialed for room service, ordering orange juice and fresh fruit. His diet had become more spartan lately. During his last medical examination, the doctor had recommended as much fruit as he could tolerate. Like everything else, he had been trained to tolerate much.

After the orange juice and fruit had arrived, John enjoyed it near his bed while Marlon contacted Ewen with a brief update. With his tie unloosened and his jacket slouched over the sofa, he smoked through several cigarettes, his head thrown back on the pillow as he stared up at the ceiling. Like John, he had aged somewhat, but he seemed more energetic.

“Something’s not right,” he said.

“Care to elaborate?”

“While you were speaking to the receptionist, I checked the guest list. Barrett’s name is on it, his real name. No alias.”

Marlon brought his head up and frowned. “Either the man is truly out of his mind, or he’s insanely clever.”

“He might not even be in the hotel anymore.”

“Or he still is.”

“Did you get the name of the room?”

“No. The receptionist blocked my view just before I saw it.”

John joined Marlon with a cigarette of his own, his second for the day. The airplane had left his nerves tense.

“I’m thinking the same thing,” Marlon said.

“What is that?”

“That Ewen got strong-armed into ordering this mission by those men inside his office, and they were there to ensure he issued it correctly.”

John kept a neutral expression. Ten years ago, he would never questioned an order. But experience had worn away at his trust, though it didn’t apply to Ewen. He had long suspected the orders did not originate with him. The men in the conference room have confirmed it.

“If those gentlemen run our organization, I’m not impressed,” John said.

“What about Barrett?”

“Not sure. You?”

“They’re just words on a piece of paper. How do we know any of it is true?”

John chuckled as he took a bite out of an apple from the fruit basket as he looked over at the window. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of a reflection coming from a window across the road. It blinded him temporarily. Had to be a mirror.

Rather than duck or move out of its way, he walked to the corner of the room, away from the window. As discreetly as he could, he moved the curtains so only a sliver of sunlight could enter.

“Being watched, are we?” Marlon said. “Like we’re motion picture stars or something.”

John nodded. “The question is, who’s watching us?”

“You know who.”

John reached into his jacket, pulling out his Remington. Doug had yet to decide the fate of the Sauer M30. As backup, John had his Colt Pocket Hammerless placed neatly inside his suitcase. Even though they had gone through several new standard issue pistols, he refused to turn it in. Thinking of Barrett, he recalled the information from the dossier. Ultimately, he was unsatisfied.

“Maybe we should just shoot him and make inquiries later,” Marlon said.

“If we shoot him, we won’t be able to make any inquiries. I think that’s why they want him dead.”

“Then why does he announce to the whole world he’s here?”

“He wants to be found. He must assume he won’t be killed outright.”

Marlon raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps you prefer caution once again. How well did it work out last time?”

The reference was clear. John thought again of Wayne; the situation sounded too similar. He had tried to talk to Wayne before carrying out his orders. His old mentor had responded like a wild animal, without reason or rationale. He just kept repeating the same three names: Kessler. Villard. Archon. That part of their encounter had been left out of his official report. John had also never bothered to investigate. At the time he had been too overwhelmed, but even long after he did nothing. He didn’t want to find out.

Then he remembered a part of Barrett’s dossier: Wayne had personally trained him.

It seemed coincidental. But John’s instincts said otherwise.

“Uh oh,” Marlon said.


“You got that look on your face.”

“Yeah? Which one?”

“The kind where we run out of ammo before we run out of targets.”


The soft sound of a piano resonated through the hallway as the head waiter escorted John and Marlon to their table inside the restaurant. Per their request, it was situated against the wall. When they had been seated, a waiter returned shortly after, asking them for their meals. As Marlon ordered, John looked down at the table. He took out his silver cigarette case from his enamel white jacket, placing it neatly on the table.

Marlon broke John’s concentration as he pointed towards a restaurant entrance. “Here comes the main attraction, right on time.”

John stood still, his eyes turning to see the man on the left approaching the main waiter. He was dressed in a navy blue single-breasted suit and tie. John studied his face, comparing the features to the Photostatic picture from the dossier.

Identity confirmed: it was Barrett.

They watched him as the waiter led him to the middle of the room. He was given a seat by himself at one of the smaller squared tables. John shot discreet glances while studying his menu. Barrett had an unusual posture, much too relaxed for an operative.

The waiter arrived at their table with cider. They drank quietly, avoiding conversation as they exchanged glances. John wanted another look at Barrett. He opened his cigarette case, revealing a small mirror inside. Angling it at Barrett, he studied the man’s face as he sipped more cider.

Barrett’s dossier photo did not do him justice. His skin had been tanned from years under the Mason-Dixon sun. A cowlick curled the front of his brown hair, the rest of it greased and teased to perfection. The rest of his features befit a Hollywood star; thin lips, a narrow forehead, a sharp nose, and a rigid chin added to the visual concept of a romantic, dashing scoundrel. His broad shoulders indicated hard labor on a Mississippi farm.

Then Barrett flashed a smile. Charming, suave, and devoid of empathy.

A born killer.

“When do we make our move?” Marlon asked.

They had already discussed their course of action: observe Barrett at a close distance, but avoid contact. Monitor him until his true motives were discovered. If all else failed, direct confrontation would be employed in an appropriate setting. It was a textbook STIGMA strategy. But John decided he was done following the rules. Time to do the unexpected.

“Go up and introduce yourself,” John said. “Ask him to join us.”

“Wait, why?”

“I have a hunch.”

Marlon frowned. “Sounds like a terrible hunch to me. Let’s stick with the plan.”

“A plan that Barrett would anticipate,” John said. “This will be unexpected.”

Marlon seemed doubtful but shrugged as he prepared to stand. A cleared throat caught their attention. In front of them, Barrett had suddenly appeared.

“Micah Emmerson, at your service,” he said, addressing John. “I don’t mean to intrude, but I couldn’t help but note you appear to be businessmen.”

Barrett’s voice caught them off guard. His naturally thick Deep South accent had been smoothed out. He had a glimmer in his eye, the subtlest grin that revealed he knew their identity.

John nodded. He’d play along. “Correct. We’re from New York.”

“I’m a businessman myself. Used to work out of New York until recently.”

Barrett then offered a bright grin. “Mind if I join you both? I find solitary meals rather depressing, especially when there’s opportunities to make new acquaintances.”

John eyed his friend, who reacted with a casual shrug. “Figure the conversation won’t get dull.”

Barrett informed the waiter of the table switch, while Marlon helped him bring his food over to their table. He moved his meal over to John’s side, giving Barrett the entire seat on the opposite end.

“What brings you two here to Chicago?” Barrett asked.

John kept a neutral face. “We’re both part of an investment firm.”

“Looking for fresh recruits?”

“More like handling a disgruntled former employee,” Marlon said.

Barrett chuckled as he sipped his drink. “That’s a shame. Why did he leave?”

“Our superiors didn’t give us those details, other than to say he’s working for a rival firm.”

“Trying to entice him back with a higher salary? A bigger office with a better view of the city, perhaps? Maybe a new automobile?”

“Unfortunately for him, our supervisors aren’t exactly looking to rehire him. He wasn’t an ideal worker as they view it.”

“Ah, they’d just prefer he not take company secrets with him to his new employer?”

“I would imagine.”

John picked up his napkin to wipe his mouth. As he did, he looked over to his left. Two men at one booth seemed anxious, restless. Rather than let the waiter take their jackets, they had left them on. One of them hesitated before taking off his fedora and placing it on the seat next to him.

He had a hard time thinking they were STIGMA. Neither John nor Marlon had requested further backup, and if Ewen had decided to send additional operatives, he would have informed them prior. They had to be working with Barrett, his security guarantee.

Or “they” had sent them.

Regardless, they had to get out of the restaurant and find a secluded place. From there, they could evade or dispose of anyone trailing them.

“What about you?” John asked Barrett. “What brings you to Chicago?”

“Business, like you, but it’s also a personal matter.”

“Ideally your boss won’t mind you mixing the two.”

“I am self-employed, for now.”

“Looking to get hired on somewhere?”

“Sadly, my experience working for a New York company left me disillusioned with the notion of working for others.”

“I’d be curious to hear more about it.”

Barrett coughed and blinked rapidly. “After we finish our meals, we can discuss that further.”

He then looked at the bottle of Martinelli’s, noticing it was empty. As the head waiter walked by, he called to him and asked him to bring another one. When the waiter returned with the bottle, Barrett offered them both cigarettes from his case.

“Tennessee tobacco,” he said. “The best I’ve ever smoked. I highly recommend it.”

John was reluctant. Cigarettes were a perfect way to kill a man if the right chemicals were present; yet, he had noticed prior Barrett had smoked cigarettes from the same case. When Barrett didn’t choose the cigarettes for them, John took one, then handed another to Marlon. Covering his actions with his napkin, John switched the cigarette with one from his own case. At the same time, he looked at Barrett out of the corner of his eye to judge his reaction. Barrett didn’t seem interested.

The waiter refilled John and Marlon’s glasses with sparkling cider. With his own glass raised, Barrett raised a toast. “To enjoying good company, eh?”

John turned his head to the side as he drank the cider. It tasted sweet and strong. As he licked his lips, however, he detected an acidic sensation as he finished the last of it. He brushed his tongue against the roof of his mouth, trying to determine what it was. It was a very foreign taste, maybe from the food.

Barrett reached into his wallet, pulling out several dollars as he placed them on the table.

“It’s quite alright,” John protested. “We’d rather pay.”

“Nonsense, old boy. I don’t mind, really. Where should we continue this discussion?”

“If you wouldn’t mind, we’d prefer our suite,” John replied. “We have an unusually large one. Our company spared no expense.”

With Marlon in the lead, they left the restaurant and headed upstairs. By the time they reached their suite, John realized he had been drugged. The sparkling cider had to be the culprit.

Estimated time before total unconsciousness: ten seconds.

Best course of action: eliminate Barrett while his guard was down.

His Remington felt as heavy as a boulder as he tried to pull it from his holster. His arm strength seemed to have vanished, his body stubbornly resisting his commands. He labored furiously to get his finger around the trigger.

Without looking, Barrett spun around and kicked the gun out from John’s hand, then struck him in the chest, sending him to the floor. With his head thrown back on the carpet, John clenched his fists as he struggled helplessly to stand.

Ahead of him, Marlon was slumped against the sofa. Barrett stood over him with his Remington cradled in his hand. Before John lost consciousness, he heard Barrett murmur as if speaking to himself.

“Welcome to the rebellion.”


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
  7. Part 2: Excerpt 1