Their fallback house stood like a lone pillar among the grove of trees that surrounded it. After seeing no signs of ambush, John drove into the garage and pulled Marlon from his seat. Marlon was still unconscious and ghostly pale, but John could feel his chest move.

Entering one of the empty rooms, he put Marlon on the bed and checked the bandage; the wound had finally clotted. Sterilizing a scalpel, he took off the bandage and prodded into the entry wound; the slug hadn’t gone out his back.

Digging around, he eventually discovered the slug wholly intact. With a pair of sterilized tweezers, he removed the slug, then rebandaged the wound. As he did so, Marlon made several groans and rolled his head around, but remained unconscious. John made no attempt to wake him.

Leaving Marlon in the room, he walked into the small kitchen and poured himself a glass of water. He drained it, then tossed it aside as he grabbed a bottle of brandy from the car and filled the glass to the brim. After inspecting the damage to his car, he refilled two more times.

He was reclining in one of the spare rooms waiting to sober up when the seemingly dormant box wall telephone began to ring. Checking the outside again for trouble, he answered the phone in a neutral voice. He almost dropped his glass when he heard Blake Perry’s voice on the other side.

“I take it someone tried to kill you, too?” he said. “You get a name?”

Perry laughed. “Wasn’t thinking of that at the time. You?”

“A man named ‘Watkins.’”

“Watkins? He was an operative in the Spy Tracking sector. Never spoke to him directly, but from what I heard he worked closely with ‘them.’”

“Something is finally starting to make sense.”

“Is Marlon there with you?”

“He’s wounded. He was lucky.”

“Luck is his favorite mistress. We’ll need him. It’s risky for us to physically meet, but we’ll have better odds if we work together on this. I’ve managed to round up about 15 old colleagues in an old distillery. We’re headed for New York City from here.”

“Into the lion’s den?”

“Where better place to go than where you’re least expected to go…wait a second.”

John then heard glass breaking on the other end. Perry’s voice appeared again, erratic and panicky. Gunshots blared through phone. Men were shouting in an enclosed space, their feet stomping violently on wood floors.

“Head to New York! We’ll see you—”

John left the phone dangling as he checked on Marlon, finding him awake. His friend’s condition seemed to have improved. Marlon groaned as John picked him up and carried him into the garage. Cautiously lowering Marlon into the Oldsmobile, he got in the driver’s seat and pulled onto the road.

“Where are we going?” Marlon whispered.

“New York. We’re going home.”

“Anybody going to join us?”

“Perry may be there. Or he could be dead right now.”

Marlon tried to bring his head up, but John put a hand on his chest. “Don’t move too much.”

Several minutes later they were back on the road headed north. Moving his head slightly, Marlon chuckled. “Admit it; you’ve been waiting for this to happen.”

“Civilian life wasn’t offering much.”

“Well, now you’ll never wonder if it would, will you?”

Marlon winced. “My side is killing me. I feel like I just gave birth; not that I’d know what that feels like. I got a broad to tell me once.”

John raised an eyebrow, followed by a burst of laughter.

“Was it that funny?” Marlon said.

“No, but things are so shot to hell right now I’d rather laugh than scream.”

“Don’t worry. Pretty soon we won’t be the ones doing the screaming.”


Madison Avenue, New York City.

John was motionless as he stood in front of a short marble stoup. He took his well-worn fedora off out of respect, but offered no reverence in his drowsy eyes. He yawned, made no effort to cover his mouth.

Unrolling a fist formed with his left hand, he took out a note from his grasp and unfolded it reading the message again.

Alive. Arrived a week ago. Reached fallback house. Unsafe to meet there. Be at St. Patrick’s Cathedral at two o’ clock.

A freckle-faced Irish woman with red hair entered through the doors, watching him as he stared blankly at the floor. She walked past him, dipped her tiny hands into the stoup, and sprinkled it on herself before entering the chapel.

John felt self-conscious. He hadn’t been to church in years. And the last time he had, it hadn’t been to worship, but to kill his former mentor and STIGMA legend, Anthony Wayne.

A disquieting shiver raced through his body as he remembered it. 1929, Vienna, Austria. St. Sebastian’s. The name of a martyr, the death of a martyr.

He ran his hand awkwardly in the fount of holy water, flicking it at himself. To him, it was all nonsensical, ritualistic dogma that had no influence on life, done solely for the purpose of ceremony, tradition.

Walking down the center aisle, he stopped midway to his destination, taking a moment to stare at the lofty ceiling. A man was sitting in the middle of a pew in the back. He was alone, save for two men on his far right and far left; protective flanks. John approached him, greeting the man at the edge. The man stirred, and then moved and offered him an open space to navigate.

Nestling in the pew next to the man, John studied the large wooden crucifix that hung on the back of the wall, crossing himself.

“You haven’t got a rosary,” the man said quietly.

“God forgive me.”

“Glad to see you got my message, my friend,” he said he shook John’s hand.

John then turned and smiled at Perry. He had a Gothic cross dangling from his neck, which he held with both hands. He mumbled through a prayer, ending it by crossing himself obsequiously.

“Thank you, St. Jude, for favors granted.” He tucked his necklace back underneath his plaid shirt.

“How did you survive?” John asked.

“I had 15 of the world’s best men with me. You really didn’t think a bunch of mobsters had a chance against us, did you?”

They were quiet as the service began. The priest and a young altar boy in his white surplice walked to the altar, drawing everyone’s attention.

“How does Marlon bode?” Perry asked.

“Still recovering.”

Perry looked behind them at men by the chapel door. He signaled to him, tapping the side of his nose. The man nodded, then crossed the nave without disturbing those who were praying.

“We weren’t the only ones who thought to come back to New York,” Perry said. “On our way here, we encountered a handful of former analysts. They too were targeted by our former superiors.”

“Why are they after us?”

“Our mere existence is a threat to them.”

“A threat to what?”

“Whatever it is, we will be the only ones to stand in their way. If that weren’t the case, they would have left us alone.”

John folded his hands; he seemed as though he was praying, but he was too introspective to utter any words to God.

“You seem pleased,” Perry said under his breath. “Once more unto the breach and all that.”

“Except this time, we call the shots. They did us a favor. They purified us. Now, there’s no weaknesses. No traitors or turncoats.”

Perry nodded his headed approvingly.

“We will be even stronger than before,” John added. “This time, we’ll know who is giving the orders, and why.”

“Indeed? And what are those orders?”

“They brought the fight to our front doorsteps. It’s time we take the fight to theirs.”


Alexander Shukhov studied the restaurant menu intently as he sat at a table overlooking the Potomac River. It wasn’t the most beautiful river; not at all as gorgeous as parts of the Volga. But it was enough.

As he ordered foie gras and a bottle of wine to complement it, he ran his hand across his smooth face; in his previous life, he had shaved irregularly. The unkempt appearance had served him well when intimidation and fear were needed to complete a job. But the unwritten senatorial code of etiquette demanded he dress immaculately, and all those who knew Senator Theodore Kessler were fully aware of his superior tastes in fashion and fine dining.

Lighting a cheroot, he glanced over at the window overlooking the sidewalk and street; Watkins approached the restaurant with a slight briskness to his stride. He entered the restaurant; his nondescript attire did not impress the maître d’hôtel, who seemed determined to prevent his incursion. Watkins discreetly showed him a card, then gestured at Alexander Shukhov.

Realizing his faux paus, the maître d’hôtel apologized excessively to Watkins and offered him a complimentary glass of wine. Watkins turned it down; though many STIGMA dietary restrictions had been eased, some of the older operatives loyal to the new committee adhered to it.

Watkins took a seat, appearing somewhat pleased. Alexander Shukhov knew right away that most of the plan had been carried out successfully. Yet, there had been a few mistakes. Not all of them had been killed; not too many to pose a serious threat to their safety and warrant immediate isolation. But there were enough to give Watkins pause.

“Would you care to order anything?” Alexander Shukhov asked, gesturing at his plate of foie gras as the waiter placed it down on the table.

“No, thank you, sir.”

Watkins opened his coat and produced a paper with hand-written notes on it. The survivors.

“How many?” Alexander Shukhov asked.

Watkins looked at him nervously. “45 former operatives and analysts unaccounted for.”

Alexander Shukhov blew out a heavy cloud of smoke from his cheroot, then placed it in the ashtray as he proceeded to eat his meal. His silence left Watkins unnerved, and rightly so. He was known within the committee for his verbal skills, but also for his unpredictability. A smile from him could mean anything, and silence could indicate either indifference or quiet rage.

Peter Nikolayevich would have known, though. Only him. But he was dead.

Alexander Shukhov put the memory his fallen comrade and friend out of his mind, at least temporarily. He could mourn for him in private, as he did every so often when the emotions from the loss became acute once more.

“What about Executive 1?” he inquired.

“He was not included among the list of targets,” Watkins said. “If you recall, our analysts failed to locate any potential residences within a reasonable estimation. The committee decided it was too risky.”

“What about Seamus Barrett?”

Watkins lowered his head. “We haven’t heard a single word as to his whereabouts since STIGMA was deactivated.”

“Savage and Trent?” he asked.

“Unaccounted for.”

“What of the men we sent there to do it?”

“They suffered heavy casualties and had to flee once local police arrived.”

Alexander Shukhov’s eyebrows knitted as he looked at Watkins with displeasure. He had hoped Savage and Trent would be killed in the purging. But he had expected them to survive when the committee had moved to use outside muscle, dispatching Watkins to leverage mob connections. They had ignored Alexander Shukhov’s warning that common street criminals were no match for STIGMA training.

He looked back down at the Potomac, his eyes drifting away slowly as he considered what the committee’s position would be when they met later in the evening. A handful of members would panic when they heard how many had survived. Others would be arrogant, expecting to hunt the remaining operatives down with relative ease. Neither attitude could be allowed to dominate the conversation or steer their decisions.

After a few minutes, Villard arrived. He wasn’t wearing his uniform, but his mechanical demeanor drew too much notice from others. He seemed conspicuous in his untailored suit.

“I’ve received Watkins’ report,” he said to Alexander Shukhov. “All in all, an overall success, wouldn’t you say?”

“We’ll see.”

Villard shifted uncomfortably. He had little fondness for such operations. His interest concerned other matters. Though he lacked ideological purity that would otherwise guarantee loyalty, Alexander Shukhov knew he could be trusted for one reason: he was thoroughly focused on his ambitions. Anyone who could help him satisfy them earned his simplistic commitment.

“The project continues on schedule,” Villard said. “I am eager to continue more field tests. But the good doctor is unwilling to approve it.”

“Give him time.”

“We could use them against the survivors.”

“No. I think that will require my touch.”

Villard smiled nervously. “What will be their next move? Are they going to attack us?”

“Of course. The only question is where they will hit first.”


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
  11. Part 3: Excerpt 1