September 1931

The broadcaster’s voice came through clearly from the oak brown Atwater Kent radio sitting in the corner of John’s house. Marlon had a cigarette in hand, an ashtray sitting on the coffee table in front of them. In the other hand, he gripped a beer from the fridge.

John was standing near the radio, his hands empty. On the coffee table was an empty cup with a teapot sitting beside it.

“Five bucks says the Yanks win it in the ninth inning,” Marlon said, tossing the bill on the table.

John considered it, then tossed five dollars from his wallet onto the table. “Done. Another five says Gomez strikes the next two batters out.”

“Yeah, I’m not taking that.”

Marlon got up to retrieve another beer form the fridge. John watched with a disapproving frown.

“Haven’t you had enough for today?”

“I went for a run this morning and did pushups; leave me alone. Besides, you’re still sneaking extra cigarettes on the side. At least I’m honest about my vices.”

John stared at his empty cup for a long time before refilling it from the teapot on the table. As he put the pot down, he shook his hands anxiously. Another cigarette craving. But he fought past the urge; a smoke would only calm him for an hour or two before that restless feeling would return.

Retirement had come too soon.

Following Barrett’s departure, the two had driven two hundred miles away to a small coastal town. Using funds he had stashed away in local banks, John had quietly purchased a home just outside of the town, while Marlon lived along the main street. They both worked bit jobs here and there. Nothing substantial; a part of that was intentional, to keep a low profile.

It seemed to have worked, for better and worse. Nary a word from a single old associate. No secret messages or discreet visits from Ewen. The old man had completely vanished.

A lot of unfinished business remained. Yet John had no idea where to start. While Marlon had found contentment in distractions, he felt like a tool that had been left to hang in the shed until an unfinished project was finally completed.

A mild breeze blew in through the open window behind him, brushing across his neck. Then the lights to the house flickered for several seconds before going out completely.

John made his way to the kitchen to check the electricity; the French door window to the backyard shattered as a man jumped through with a tommy gun. He aimed the muzzle up towards John, who had his back turned.

John’s reflexes were precise. His pistol was already drawn as he turned. But Marlon was faster, killing the man with a throwing knife before he could get off a shot.

For a moment, the two men were still, staring at the corpse as blood trickled onto the floor. John scanned the backyard; no sign of trouble. His pulse started to climb. He instinctively used a breathing technique to calm his nerves.

It was all coming back.

John dropped to a knee and studied the man’s face; the olive oil skin and dark hair was Italian; potentially Sicilian, definitely southern Italy; two knife scars on the left cheek indicated he had survived many encounters with other criminals, knew how to handle himself. The man had meticulous timing; he would have gotten the drop on John. He must have assumed Marlon was elsewhere in the house.

John found a wallet in the man’s coat. Nothing but a wad of dollar bills.

“Who was he?” Marlon asked as watched the windows.

“Mafioso. But not from here.”

As his search continued, he found a small piece of paper in the man’s front pocket. The deep creases indicated it had been read many times. John’s eyes widened as he read the content.

“What it?” Marlon asked.

They both ducked as several bullets zipped right through the wall, barely missing their heads. On his haunches, John signaled to Marlon hiding behind a desk.

They both got up and ran to the second floor, hurrying into John’s bedroom. They approached the narrow closet, where John pulled back a thick row of suits and tore off a faux wall panel, revealing a hidden safe. Turning the combination speedily, he yanked the handle down and opened it. Inside was a small cache of submachine guns, rifles, explosives, and other specialized equipment.

John snatched the BAR, while Marlon pulled out a Pedersen rifle. With extra magazines stuffed in their pockets, they went to the sash window overlooking the front of the house and took up a defensive position, tossing up furniture near the window to serve as cover. John snapped out the BAR’s bipod and placed it on the windowsill.

Six men approached their vicinity from the north, carrying German and Italian submachine guns.

John felt unexpectedly relaxed. All those early morning drills and exercises to keep his skills honed had paid off.

Once the six men entered the kill zone, they calmly targeted the one in the rear before focusing on the survivors. The trick worked; shooting the men in the back of the group caused the others to panic and run forward as they were cut down.

“Check our rear and make sure we aren’t being flanked from behind,” John said to Marlon as he reloaded.

Marlon made his way into the other bedroom facing the back of the house. “I got 20 men approaching from the southwest. It doesn’t seem like they are intending to come here, but I wouldn’t give them the benefit of a doubt.”

John gave once last glance at the bodies before he joined his partner in the other room. Marlon had his rifle resting against the side of the wall, inspecting the surrounding area with a pair of field glasses.

“We need to abandon the house,” John said. “The two of us can’t hold it indefinitely.”


“Let’s unload my safe. Essentials are our first propriety. We’ll gather up food and water and load them up into my car.”

Marlon kept a watch from the upper porch on the second floor while John headed downstairs.

“What was on that paper you grabbed from the body?” Marlon asked. “It got a cute girl’s telephone number, or what?”

“We’ll talk about it later.”

Moments later, Marlon appeared in the kitchen doorway, unusually stern. “I want to know what the score is.”

“This isn’t the time. We can talk shortly. Right now, we need to get out of here.”

Marlon held back his questions as he grabbed several boxes of supplies and brought them to the garage where John’s car was parked. They filled the back, then placed the arms and munitions from his safe in the backseats where they would be easily accessible.

“Alright,” Marlon said as he hopped into the front passenger seat. “You can explain everything as we drive.”

“You want to know that badly?”

“No, I love being kept in the dark.”

John pulled out the piece of paper and dropped it in Marlon’s lap. “They found us.”

Marlon grabbed the paper; on it was a typed list of five names, all STIGMA operatives. Both their names were included, underlined in black ink.

“This doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Those men weren’t STIGMA; they were gangsters. Why would the organization send amateurs?”

“I don’t know. In the meantime, our old fallback house isn’t that far away. We can head there for the time being. It should be secure.”

“What if it isn’t?”

“Then we’ll make it that way.”

They pulled out of the garage and were turning around the corner when he looked in his rearview mirror and saw six men appear in the backyard with pump-action shotguns. John discreetly parked the car on the side of the road.

Marlon looked at him warily. “What are you doing?”

“We need the lead.”

“I say let’s get the hell out of here.”

“You think we can’t handle six? You getting soft on me.”

Marlon sighed as he grabbed a trench gun from the backseat and cocked it.

“Remember, we need one of them alive,” John said.

“I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

Exiting the car, they crept steadily along the foliage of trees and bushes running alongside the sidewalk. When they came within range of the house, John raised his hand and dropped to a knee. Marlon stopped behind him.

John then crawled through the bushes to a tall oak tree and stood behind it. He looked back at Marlon, explaining his plan with hand gestures. Marlon nodded slightly, making his way around their flank.

The six men were carefully approaching the house from the rear, aware the garage door was open and the vehicle gone.

John stood up and placed his Mauser’s barrel on one of the limbs. He eyed down the sights, selecting the nearest man and took him down with one clean shot. As he fell, his comrades recoiled in horror. They dropped to the ground and frantically looked for the shooter.

Marlon then popped out from a sea of green leaves, blasting away at them with his trench gun until the last survivor tried to run; he then clipped him in the ankle with a small sidearm. The man collapsed, screaming in pain as he grabbed his bleeding leg.

“Glad you remembered to save one,” John said to Marlon as he approached the wounded man. He wasn’t Italian, like the others had been. His paler skin and defined features made him seem more European, maybe Polish.

“You want him?” John asked. “He’s all yours.”

Marlon grabbed the man, forcing him to stand. “My friend and I are five seconds away from blowing your face out the back of your head, so I’m only asking you a question once, got it?”

The man coughed again and shook his head slightly.

“Good. Do you know who we are?”

The man hesitated. They couldn’t tell if he was gathering his thoughts or trying to breathe. The man eventually answered with a raspy voice. “Ya two goyim are Marlon Trent and John Savage.”

“Correct. How did you know who were are and why are you here to kill us?”

“Our big matcher ordered us to.”


“How should I know? I ain’t no big matcher. No genius here. All I know is that we were ordered to kill ya because ya worked for someone that my big matcher didn’t like.”

“Who do you work for?” John asked.

“Jacob Siegel.”

John frowned. Siegel was the Jewish mob boss who operated in a large metropolis a few miles away from their town. They hadn’t had any run-ins with him or any other mobster. In a sense, it didn’t matter who was carrying out the “cope” job. It was clear where the order had originated.

“Someone else ordered your boss to have us taken out,” Marlon said. “Who was it?”

“Well, we do sorta get money from an unknown fraynd. Other goyim who work for Siegel ain’t tellin’ us who we are gettin’ the gelt from, but I got a good idea who. He meets with Siegel and other big timers around the area. He could have been the one to order it.”

“We want a name.”

“They called him Watkins. I don’t know it’s him for sure, okay? They don’t talk much ‘bout him. They always sounded scared, like he was somebody ya didn’t want to make angry.”

“He a Jew, too?”

The man chuckled. “I wish, if ya know what I mean. He’s connected with some big timers in Washington. I swear to ya, that’s all I know!”

John smiled coldly. “Thank you.”

“So whadya gonna to do with me now? Ya said ya wouldn’t shoot me.”

“We won’t.”

John extended his index finger and struck the bottom of the man’s neck. The intense concentration of energy channeled through his finger broke the neck, killing the man instantly.

John promptly walked back to the car. “Let’s go.”

Marlon said nothing as he followed. They both got in and drove off, without a word spoken between the two. John reached for his cigarettes, but tossed them away when he finally opened the pack. He was too rattled to smoke.

As they turned the corner, a group of cars were huddle together in the middle of the road, blocking off access. The men gathered around it were armed with rifles, a machine gun nest set up outside a cafe.

“They’re sure going through a lot of trouble to get us,” Marlon said.

John slowed the car down as one of the men noticed the Oldsmobile approaching. He pointed at them as he turned and screamed at his comrades. A cluster of them ran forward, shouting orders that overlapped each other. A man on top of a Pierce-Arrow jumped off and opened the driver’s door, revving the engine.

Gunshots rattled the air. Three bullets cracked the Oldsmobile’s windshield. John ducked, putting his car in reverse. Marlon had his sidearm out and swiftly took out three men. The rest ran behind wrecked automobiles.

With the Oldsmobile turned around, John went to change gears. In his rearview mirror he saw a man arming a rifle grenade.

“We got trouble!”

He pressed down on the floorboard, watching as the man shrank in his mirror. The man tilted the end of his rifle up, made a rough estimate of the proper angle. He launched the grenade with a muffled burst.

The angle had been slightly off; the grenade took out the lower section of a ten-story building on their right.

John took another look in the mirror. There were now several cars chasing after them.

“Looks like they aren’t letting us go quietly,” he muttered.

Marlon turned around grabbed a Marlin repeating rifle and a Fedorov Avtomat. He put his head out and checked their rear. Five automobiles were roaring up the road towards them. Men with Tommy guns leaned out the passenger side windows.

Leading the pack was an old Lincoln that drove up alongside them and tried to ram the Oldsmobile off the road. John snatched his Mauser from its place on the floor, pushed Marlon aside, and fired three rounds into the driver’s face. Splashes of blood fell across the car as the Lincoln immediately began to swerve. As it headed for an electric pole, the passengers all jumped out just as it crashed.

Marlon was now in the back seat, firing control bursts at a white Ford. Its driver was clever, anticipating the gunshots as he swerved back and forth.

The roads’ lanes folded into one, forcing them into a single file. As they neared the highway entrance, John kept the car straight ahead until the last second. Then, he swerved, nearly putting the car on its side as it turned onto the road. The Ford’s driver slammed on the brakes and tried to make the turn, only to crash into a ditch between the highway and the street. The other cars had enough time to slow down and turn onto the highway.

The remaining pursuers were now in a Buick, a Cadillac, and a Pierce Arrow. The Buick roared up behind them, while the Cadillac went up along their right side. Both left a good amount of space between them. They had seen what had happened to the Lincoln when it had gotten too close.

Red hot shells flew around inside of the car as Marlon kept the gunfire steady. One swiped John’s face, burning his skin. He flinched, but kept a firm grip on the wheel.

Marlon finally hit his target, blasting away most of the men inside the Buick. Only the driver remained. The Cadillac’s driver signaled to the Buick, and they switched positions, the Buick playing a passive role in the rear of the attack. A man popped out of the top of the Caddy, concentrating his Thompson at Marlon.

A bullet struck Marlon’s gun, sending it right into John’s face. Once more, he maintained a steady hold on the steering wheel as he pushed beyond the pain in his cheek. Shortly, the wheel began rattling; a bullet must have hit the engine. Whitish grey smoke started to seep from the good.

John swerved and made a hard turn to the right, hitting the Cadillac. The two vehicles smashed together like stags locking horns. Marlon shot out the rear left tire, lack rubber exploded, sending bits of it into the air. Large sparks flew from the intense heat caused by the friction of the wheel axle burying itself into the road. Unable to maintain its speed, the Cadillac came to grinding halt.

Up until then, the Pierce Arrow had kept a generous distance. Seeing its chance, it accelerated closer to the Oldsmobile.

“We’re about ten miles from our fallback house,” John said. “If we can lose them before we get off the highway, we’re in the clear. Do we have any rifle grenades?”

“Only one,” he replied.

“That’ll have to do.’

“What’s the plan?” Marlon asked as he prepared the rifle.

“When I give you the word, you’re going to fire the grenade at them. Aim for the lower section of the engine or the tires. We have to be able to make a right turn when I say so.”

Marlon rolled down the window. “I just have one thing to say: if we encounter one more of these bastards, I’m officially resigning.”

John chuckled.

Marlon leaned over the roof. As they were about 400 meters away from the highway sign, John gave the command. “Now!”

Marlon brought the Pedersen to his chest. The men in the Pierce Arrow hastily shot at him, but seemingly missed. In a panic the driver hit the brakes, but an abrupt turn at the same time flipped the vehicle on its side.

The Buick didn’t have time to make the turn off the highway, but they continued to drive parallel. Marlon aimed carefully with the Pedersen and fired at its engine; a fire erupted, swallowing the heaped wrecks in a blended mushroom of orange and red flames.

John turned his head to watch the smoke, a tiny smile forming. He went to congratulate Marlon, but he was still standing out of the window.

John tugged at his trousers. “Something wrong?”

Marlon didn’t move.

John grabbed his waist and pulled him inside. He was unconscious, his eyes closed. The right side of his torso was covered with blood.

John held the driving wheel with a sturdy hand as he attempted to get Marlon upright against his seat. He put a finger up to his neck, uttering a rare prayer for his friend.

He found a weak pulse. He then opened the glove compartment, tearing out a first aid kit. Working with one hand, he managed to cover the wound and stop the bleeding. Keeping his eyes on the road, he glanced continually at his friend, watching his complexion grow paler with each passing minute.

Retrieving a cigarette, John stuck it firmly between his lips and lit it. The smoke covered his faced like a misty shroud. For the first time, he contemplated the possibility of life without his closest friend. He quickly turned his mind to something else.

“You’re not dying on me,” he said. “If it kills me and every bastard chasing us, you’re not dying on me.”


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
  8. Part 2: Excerpt 2
  9. Part 2: Excerpt 3
  10. Part 2: Excerpt 4