John drove the Ford slowly down the rickety cobblestone street. An unlit cigarette hung out of his mouth, the bitter taste of finely ground tobacco leaves on the tip of his tongue. He fumbled around in his pocket for his lighter, maintaining his keen concentration on the road, making subtle observations as he did so.

Marlon was unusually quiet, his hands folded in his lap. Both were wearing double-breasted suits; John, black, Marlon, blue. They dressed conservatively. No dazzling colors, no conspicuous lapels or jewelry, and their presentation was to be subtle, toned down. They were nobody.

A police patrol car drove by. John kept his speed constant. No sudden drop in speed. No jerky maneuvers. He didn’t fear them. If they pulled him over, he was safe. If the officers were dubious, they had their papers all in order.

Weeks of tedious copying and precise manipulation had yielded their newly-found freedom of travel; identity papers, driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, passports, and other miscellaneous documents now rested comfortably in their pockets.

John turned the corner at an easy pace. He found the cigarette lighter, pushed it in, and lit his cigarette, lowering the window partially to bring in fresh air.

“John?” Marlon asked.


“We’re almost there. You want to go through it one more time?”

John nodded, cleared his throat.

“Alright. Go.”

Marlon expression changed. He smiled congenially, cocking his head to the side as he gestured in a friendly manner. “My name is Ernest Brooks, and this is my personal assistant, Mark Allen. We’re representative of Tyler and Pyle Inc. We’re here for an appointment with the chairmen and CEO of ISA Investments.”

“What does your company do?”

“It is in the business of shipping nonperishable products both overseas and through the continental United States in accordance with the Smoot-Hawley Act.”

“And what are we going to say to the chairman when he meets us?” John asked.

“We would like to interest him in making an investment in our company. As a relatively new corporation, we are somewhat in need of capital and financial backing. Our expectation, however, is to see an annual gross profit of thirty four million dollars. If he were to agree to make an investment, he would see a thirty percent return on every dollar.”

John smiled, smoke creeping out between his teeth. “What’s your address?”

“43564 Helms Street.”


“May 29, 1895.”


Marlon produced a doctored photo of him standing next to a woman and two children. “My wife’s name is Melanie. I have two children, a son, Tony, who is twelve, and a daughter, Jenny, who is fifteen. Both are currently enrolled in the private Catholic school.”

John nodded.

“Nervous?” Marlon asked.

“Of course not.”

“You look nervous.”

John rolled his eyes as he tapped ash from his cigarette. “I always smoke.”

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“Since what?”

Marlon gave him a serious look. “The last time we did something like this.”

They turned onto Cleveland Avenue. The two men lifted their heads as they gazed up at the ISA Investments building. It was 20 stories high, with the facade inspired by classical Greek architecture. Black glass windows, set between a gray brick foundation, gave off a reflection of its surroundings. At the top, the roof was lined with finely carved cornice molding.

The exterior wall was covered with a large American flag draped over the side. On the left side, a poster covered the center ten stories. It depicted a symbolic handshake between a docile-looking businessman and a government official. In the background, a capitol building and a skyscraper blended together.



John furrowed his eyebrows as he chuckled under his breath. A smile appeared in the corner of his mouth. Somewhere up there perched in his lofty office was their target, Chairman Hopkins.

He mentally ran through their plan as they parked the Ford a block away and walked up to the building. Outside was a portico-styled courtyard where guards had a security checkpoint set up, searching everyone before they could go through the two translucent revolving doors leading into the lobby.

The first part of the plan was carried out, according to the schedule.

Marlon took the lead. John fell behind, scanning the vicinity. Ahead of them in line were six people.

John scrutinized them, determined their status by their posture and facial expression; two were civilians with complaints, three representatives from nonprofit organizations, and one who was physically involved with one of the guards—her discreet leer gave it away—who insisted on being the one to search her.

Then came their turn.

“Come on!” a guard said.

Marlon approached him and set down his attaché case as he put his arms up. The guard bent down to pick up the attaché case. He stood up, fumbling with the locks.

John looked out onto the road. Subtly, he touched the tip of his nose, a gesture no one seemed to notice.

It was the start of the short timer.

Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

A black McLaughlin came down the street, pulling up in front of the nearby bank. A group of men emerged from the car and ran inside; a minute later, gunshots rang out as the men rushed out the entrance with bags slung over their shoulders. Drawing the attention of the guards near Marlon, the men fired pistols as they threw the bags into the back of the vehicle and then sped away.

Marlon and John became invisible to the guards they rushed onto the sidewalk. The two men then got up, retrieved their attaché cases, and entered the revolving doors.


In the lobby restroom, John disabled the door’s mechanism. He then straightened out his clothes in front of the mirror by the sink, pleased to see no blood on his suit. While he finished wiping dust from his arms, Marlon set his attaché case on the sink and opened it using a hidden latch on the back. He ignored all items inside except for a small portable radio. He took out the receiver and adjusted it to fit his ear. He then turned on the radio, adjusted the frequency, and quietly spoke into the transmitter.

“Come in, Meusel, come in. This is Gehrig. I repeat, this is Gehrig.”

“Roger, Gehrig,” a voice answer. “This is Meusel. I repeat, this is Meusel. Over.”

Perry’s voice sounded reassuring. He and the other former members of STIGMA were in position outside, acting as invisible eyes in the sky.

“Meusel, Babe and I are inside of the stadium and are proceeding to the owner’s box,” Marlon stated. “I repeat, Babe and I are inside of the stadium and are proceeding to the owner’s box. Thank the boy’s in the outfield for providing cover. Over.”

“Roger, Gehrig. We copy you. The boys are returning to the dugout. They were happy to provide you with the talent. Over.”

John flicked off fine particles from his suit. He checked his shirt sleeve restlessly. He then stared at himself in the mirror, this time with greater scrutiny. “Tell him to have backup readied to come to our aid if things get out of hand.”

Marlon shook his head sadly. “We can’t afford to risk that.”

“We need this information.”

“John, we also need to keep our people alive.”

“Fine, but I want two men stationed outside, 50 yards apart. I’ve already sent them a route for their assigned paces from specific streets and what to do if we need them.”

Marlon repeated this to Perry.

“Roger, Gehrig,” Perry replied. “I’ll inform them, but this game could get ugly if we’re in the ninth inning and don’t have any runs. Over.”

John took the radio from Marlon. “Meusel, this is the Babe. Your concern is reasonable. However, if we don’t win this game, it’s going to be much more difficult to make it to the World Series. I strongly recommend we do this. Over.”

There was another long pause.

“Roger that. I’ll keep watch for you from here. Over and out.”

John put the transmitter down slowly. Marlon put away the radio, closed the attaché case, and stood upright with it by his side.

“Let’s go,” he said. “We don’t want to be late.”

They walked up to the receptionist desk. She was a tall, skinny lady, with a tightly bound ponytail and a neutral expression.

“Can I help you, sir?” she asked Marlon.

“Yes, I am Ernest Brook, and this is my personal assistant, Mark Allen. I represent Tyler and Pyle Inc. and have an appointment with Chairman Hopkins.”

“One moment, let me look it up.”

She quietly went through the schedule listing that lay sitting on the counter. No pleasantry, no small talk.

“It seems you do have an appointment at 4:15,” she said. “May I see your papers, please?”

Marlon held his chin high as he reached into his back pocket and handed her his identification papers. She took them and then cautiously peered at John. “I’ll need his, too.”

John complied. She meticulously examined every inch of their papers with an official copy they had on the counter. She looked up at them and returned their papers. “Mr. Hopkins is in his office waiting for you. His last appointment seemed to have ended early, so you can go in now. I’ll inform him of your arrival.”

“Thank you,” Marlon said.

The two walked past the desk and down the enlarged corridor. It led them to a row of elevator doors. John checked and found all of them were being used. As they waited, John scanned the hallway, recalling his previous visits.

There were several potential threats; two men casually talking approximately 20 feet away. One of them held a copy of the day’s newspaper, the other gestured theatrically with his hands; it was an act, done to convey the dialogue the audience couldn’t hear. It was good, but amateurish. John had seen better.

The flap of one of the men’s jacket flipped back, exposing their concealed weapon for a brief instant; the German Walter PP, 7.65 mm ammunition.

They were security personnel moderately trained, lightly equipped, but poorly fit for close combat. They wouldn’t be a problem individually. The problem lay were it always had: with their superior numbers.

One of the elevator doors opened. John and Marlon stepped inside and closed the door.

“I’d like to take this time to say that if we could find a better place to stay for the duration of our assignment, I wouldn’t be opposed to it,” Marlon said.

“It’s suitable for our uses. It does smell, I admit. But it is the safest location we have.”

Their elevator came to a sudden stop. John opened the door and walked into the hallway. The office personnel were distracted, uninterested in John or Marlon. They were harmless, pawns being moved across another board.

There was no need to count the number of guards on the floor. One of their own had done the job; six along the east corridor, four on the west, five on the north, ten on the south, where Chairman Hopkins’ office was located. 25 in all.

The odds weren’t so lopsided. Strict preparation, effective coordination, and attention to the minutiae gave one man had the advantage over ten, easily. Two made twenty, and John knew they were worth more than two dozen ordinary men.

They made their way south. The door to the security center was closed when they came to it. As Marlon kept a careful watch through the small window, John went over to the nearby drinking fountain. He bent down on one knee, opening up his attaché case, and out of it came a small, book-size device in the palm of his hand with three small holes in the side. In the center was a timer.

John inspected the time; 3:59.

He turned the timer on the device clockwise until the dial read 30 minutes. He then tore off a slab of paper covering the adhesive-coated bottom of the device. He slapped it underneath the fountain, noting it was vertically aligned with the smoke detector on the wall above.

“Is it in place?” Marlon asked.

“Yes,” John said, staring at his watch. “Time, 30 minutes.”

“That’s enough time for us, just as long as Hopkins doesn’t pose a problem.”

John looked stern as they headed to the Chairman’s door. “He won’t. I will see to it.”


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
  12. Part 3: Excerpt 2