Chairman Hopkins leaned back in his chair behind a large cedar desk, sipping on bourbon with reddened cheeks.

John shifted in his chair. It felt uncomfortable. He assumed the chairs were intended to be. It was designed to make the person fidget, come off as uneasy.

Though John had a glass of bourbon in his hand, he hadn’t touched a drop of it. He was too preoccupied with Hopkins, who had no way of knowing that John was more familiar with him than most of his friends were. He had done his homework.

Elliot Christopher Hopkins, age 49; born August 15, 1885, Manchester, New Hampshire; father, Christopher Hopkins, city mayor and politician; mother, Nancy Hopkins, maiden name, Edelman; attended Harvard, studied business, graduated 1907; law degree, Yale, 1909; membership in the Freemasons, 1910; moved to Concord in 1911, where he became acquainted with current wife, Gertrude Klasan, through a business mentor, Luke Goodman; moved to Manhattan in 1915 to work for a bank on Wall Street, eventually forming ISA Investments in 1919. Note: his federal income tax returns showed he had made few significant business investments and bond purchases.

The details went on for pages and pages of information their analysts had obtained. John had studied them, obsessed over them into the late hours of the night. It had given him an idea of the kind of men they dealt with, the kind of men who had bankrolled STIGMA activities for all those years. Hopkins’ involvement had ended in 1930, when suddenly he had sold all his shares in a private company known as Alternative Solutions.

John’s thorough studies had told him nothing he hadn’t already deduced; Hopkins was like all ruthlessly ambitious men; he would abandon all loyalties, all pretenses, and all responsibilities to protect his personal interests.

John came back into the conversation. It hadn’t gone very far. Small talk seemed to its language.

Hopkins poured himself more bourbon, then offered Marlon a refill. “I appreciate your interest in obtaining our financial backing. I have to say your business model is one of the best I’ve seen in years. Of course, I will have to speak with other members of the board before we can make such an investment.”

“Of course,” Marlon said.

“What sort of investment do you propose?”

“Does two million seem alright?”

“That is quite a large amount.”

“Your return would be 30 percent, though. Something to think about.”

Hopkins pressed his hands together, mulling quietly. John recognized the expression; Hopkins gained pleasure from dominance and intimidation. Such men would crack under pressure.

“This is what we will do,” Hopkins said as he stiffened his posture. “I’ll discuss the matter with the board as soon as we meet again. How soon do you need an answer?”

“Within a week. We are currently seeking other investors.”

“Excellent. I’ll relay this information to them.”

John’s gaze slid toward his watch. 20 minutes had expired.

Time to act.

He snatched his Remington and held it inches away from Hopkins’ wrinkled nose. “In the meantime, we would like to discuss another investment of yours.

Hopkins’ reaction was entirely predictable. He gasped, initially bewildered. His eyes bulged out, his pudgy lips dragging down the side of his chin. His mind was slow to acknowledge what was happening.

Marlon ran over to the door and locked it. “Room secure. We have ten minutes.”

“Ten minutes, confirmed.”

Hopkins exchanged a look with John. The horror in his face revealed his awareness of the situation; they were no terrorists or anarchists. John and Marlon were too focused, too dispassionate.

Hopkins hadn’t been a STIGMA field operative; but he knew enough about the organization to recognize its members.

He offered little resistance as John bound his hands and legs together, pulling him away from the large windowpane behind his desk. They dragged him over to the wall on the right side of the room, where a framed, autographed picture of Hopkins and President Hoover hung. John ripped the picture down, revealing a safe behind it.

“What’s the combination?” John asked.

Hopkins stammered. The shock hadn’t worn off. A thick vein in his neck throbbed.

John slipped a silencer onto the end of his pistol. “The combination?”

Hopkins stared into the gun barrel now aimed at him. He stammered severely and then gave the combination with trembling lips.

“Hurry,” Marlon said.

John turned the knob and opened the safe. A neat stack of files was arranged inside. The phrase “TOP SECRET” was stamped across one of the manila folders. John took it and opened it up. He had to fight to hide his satisfaction as he read the first file.

“Did you find it?” Marlon asked.

John nodded. He was about to close the safe when he stopped to examine the other folders. He grabbed one stack, his eyes widening as he realized what he held. The names were unfamiliar, but the title at the top of the file in a dark red ink told him precisely what he needed to know.

John’s dark eyes narrowed as he read a financial statement; it was the sale of Hopkins’ shareholdings in Alternative Services to a man named Gregory Benson.

John closed the safe, then studied at Hopkins, who remained silent. He noted the flushed skin, lack of concentration in the eyes, dilated pupils, slight perspiration. The man’s blood alcohol had to be around .12 percent.

“Let’s go,” Marlon said.

John put the documents into his attaché case and snapped it shut. He then took out a small glass bottle from his pocket and approached Hopkins. He grabbed the man’s mouth and shoved the contents down his throat. Terrified of what it was, Hopkins thrashed like a fish on dry land.

“It’s Nembutal,” John said. “If I wanted to poison you, I would have added it into the seasoned chicken you intend to order tonight at seven o’clock at the Port-au-Palace with your mistress, Miss Cunningham.”

The Nembutal took effect quickly. Within seconds, Hopkins was slumped over in the chair, his head resting on his chest.

Suddenly, there was a loud thud. John turned around to find Marlon collapsed on the floor. Behind him was a large, dark-skinned man; Eastern European, potentially Mediterranean.

John quickly studied, struck by a sense of familiarity. Somewhere, he had seen him before.

He didn’t have time to think about it further. As the man tried to call for help, John struck him in the throat. The impact left him momentarily stunned, enough time for John to close the door. Now recovered, the man loomed over John; his green eyes conveyed an assassin’s cold-blooded resolve. He tried to speak; his accent was noticeably Bulgarian. John couldn’t translate fast enough, but the tone made it obvious he knew who John was, too.

John thrust out with the edge of his palm, hoping to end the fight quickly. When his hand was about to connect with the man’s neck, the man blocked it, grasping John’s hand. He squeezed hard with a vise-like grip.

John broke the man’s hold, then threw lightning fast punches. Every one of them connected, but their damage was minimal. The man swung a haymaker at John, who blocked it with his elbow and responded with a straight punch to his chest. The man staggered, offering two failed punches to John’s solar plexus.

Standing lightly on the tip of his toes, John drew away to catch his breath, then closed the distance as he ducked another haymaker. He struck hard with his foot, knocking man back.

The assassin attacked again, using his massive frame and weight to push him against the wall.

He spoke again. This time, his voice was clearer. And in English.

“John Savage. I didn’t think I would ever have the pleasure.”

A heavy strike to the chest left John reeling against Hopkins’ desk. Coming across a spare whiskey glass behind him, he smashed the top, leaving sharp edges. When the man went to attack again, he turned to the side, slashing at his throat with the glass. The edges tore through flesh. The man seized his bloodied throat as he collapsed to the floor. John retrieved his pistol and gave the man a merciful death with two shots to the head before rushing to Marlon’s side. His friend had recovered somewhat as he tried to stand up.

“Are you alright?” John asked.

Marlon touched his neck, grimacing. “I’m good. I’ll survive until we get out of here.”

“Are you sure?”


John snatched his attaché case and searched the dead man’s body, disappointed when he found no identification papers. However, he did come across a sealed white envelope in the front shirt pocket.

Without warning, the office door was opened. A security guard entered, his service pistol drawn out.

“Don’t move!” he ordered.

John quickly dispatched him with his Remington, then slipped the white envelope inside his jacket. The opened door and commotion alerted others in the hallway. A secretary walked by and screamed. She dropped her cup of coffee as she ran away.

“I think our appointment just ended,” Marlon said.

Three guards appeared at the security center. John wounded one of them in the leg, while Marlon ran up and kill them, point-blank.

“We need to radio Perry and have them set up a protective zone we can retreat to,” John said.

“I agree.”

He checked his watch. The 30 minutes were over.

Out in the hallway, the small device that John had planted underneath the drinking fountain began emitting a dark, ominous column smoke which billowed out into the hallway. At first, it seemed like the smoke of a cigarette, but within seconds, the smoke thickened. Shortly after, a shout was uttered.


Within seconds, the doors lining the hallway swung open as people fled their offices and headed for the stairs. The noise grew so loud it drowned out the gunfire now exchanged between the two operatives and the remaining security guards. After they had taken care of the rest, John directed Marlon down the hallway now filled with smoke. Crawling on their knees and using the wall to guide them, they came to a restroom on the right and opened the door.

After searching it and finding no one inside, John locked it. “Room’s secure.”

Marlon flung his attaché case open on the counter and quickly spoke into the radio.

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

He sounded hasty.

“We hear you, Gehrig,” Perry replied. “This is Meusel. We’re seeing signs of unrest outside of the stadium. What is your current status?”

“Meusel, we have acquired the baseball and are about to enter the ninth inning. I repeat, we have acquired the baseball and are about to enter the ninth inning. We need the train to be at the station when the game’s over. Do you copy? Over.”

“Roger that. The rest of the team has assembled. The train will be waiting at the previously established coordinates. You cannot leave in the bus you arrived in. Over.”

“Roger that, Meusel. Good luck. The Babe is calling his shot. Over and out.”

Marlon threw his case on the counter. Inside was a can of boot polish, scissors, and a gray double-breasted suit. He hurriedly changed into the suit.

John looked at the door, grumbled to himself. The girl was late.

Marlon leaned over the sink, holding the boot polish in his hand as he lathered his hair, slowly turning it black. The mundane color of his suit blended in with the dull wall color. When he walked out into the hall, nobody would notice him.

Finished dying his hair, he took out a pair of scissors and began to cut it, taking care to make sure that it didn’t leave a mess. He held a bag out to catch the strands as they fell, snipping away rapidly.

They threw everything into their attaché cases. As he was closing his, John decided to take the envelope he had gotten from the Bulgarian and stuffed it in his jacket.

There was a knock at the door. Two minutes past due.

“She’s here,” John said as he opened the door.

A timid woman was standing outside, her arms shaking as she hung her head. Unlike the receptionist, she had an air of sensuality that had served her well in getting promoted by Hopkins. Her martial indiscretions had become a liability.

“Anybody follow you?” he asked.

She shook her head, looking over her shoulder. “Just give it to me. I don’t want to know anything.”

“You know what to do with them?” John asked her as he handed her the attaché cases.

“Yes. I am to take them to my office and leave them there until the evacuation has been completed and the fire department has performed its inspection and declared it safe to enter. I am to then take the contents and deliver them to someone at 8th Avenue at eight o’clock sharp near the Abingdon Square Memorial. I am to wear a headscarf to mark myself.”

“To signify your marital fidelity,” Marlon joked.

“Please, don’t do this….”

John pushed her into the hallway. “Do what we say, and we won’t say anything.”

“How can I trust you?” she asked.

John started to close the door. “You can trust us to hand over the photographs we have of you with Hopkins to your husband if you don’t show up tonight.”

After locking the door, he went to one of the bathroom stalls and pulled down the box. Behind it was the entrance to a narrow passageway he had come across during one of his prior visits. Although the passageway seemed small, he knew from rehearsals that he would fit.

The reason for the move was simple; the guards would be searching for two men matching descriptions given to them by witnesses. Marlon’s disguise would throw them off, while John’s route would keep them separated during the scape. John had long determined his facial features were too distinct to conceal with minor cosmetics, like Marlon.

Marlon stood at the door, adjusting his suit. “See you on the other side. Just don’t get stuck. I don’t want to find out that you got shot like a fish in a barrel because you couldn’t squeeze through. Hope you haven’t eaten like a pig in the last two days”

“With the food we’ve been eating lately, it’s enough to make a man go on a fast.”

Shoving himself into the passageway, John crawled forward. Having practiced it so many times before, it now felt relatively effortless. Measuring the distance between the bathroom and his destination, he stopped when he came to the mark and smashed through the rotting wood with a small tool.

Pushing himself forward, he dropped down feet first into a storage room in the floor below. He searched in the dark for the door, slowly opening it. There were no security guards or civilians in the hallway. He then took out a small mirror he had in his coat and brought it out, using it to look in all directions. The floors were dripping wet from the sprinkler system, which had been activated by the smoke, but the sprinklers were now dormant.

He placed his silencer back on his Remington pistol. Entering the hallway, John moved to the edge of the wall on the right. At the end the corridor, he stopped and pushed himself up against the wall, and peeked around to the next hallway. Two clearly inexperienced guards patrolled it.

John noted their soaked clothes while his suit was still dry. He patiently waited for them to move past him before he navigated a series of interconnecting rooms. Eventually, he found the women’s restroom. He ran inside and spray water on himself. Content with his appearance, he left the restroom and continued down the corridor until he reached the stairway.

As he headed down, one of the floor doors opened as guard stepped into the stairway. Only a few feet away, John pressed against the corner of the wall where the light was blocked.

“Hey, Collins, you see anything?” a colleague called out in the hallway.

The guard glanced around for a few more seconds and then walked back into the hall. John gave him another ten seconds, then continued downstairs and stopped just before reaching the lobby. He approached one of the small glass windows, taking out a mirror. He flashed it in sequence; five, pause, four, pause, five.

The reply came from the tall building across the street; three quick flashes, pause, two slow flashes, three fast, pause, then two more.

The message: Perry and five other snipers elsewhere on nearby rooftops now offered cover.

When he finally reached the lobby, John found it overrun with security personnel, policemen, and firemen. The firefighters argued with the police captain, demanding to search the building for fire. The police captain replied in an authoritative tone that they were still searching for the culprits had not yet been arrested.

That captain was one of Perry’s old contacts within the New York Police Department. He was putting up a good dramatic scene, but he wouldn’t be able to distract for long.

Tossing the magazine from his Remington, John disassembled the pistol. Tearing a section of his suit jacket, he wrapped it around his arm, slipping the pieces inside it. With a tiny blade concealed in his shirt cuff, he cut the top of his arm until the blood flowed liberally. He applied the blood to the bandage, wiping dirt on his face.

Feigning a stagger, he made his way to one of the rookie cops. “Help me, please!”

The young cop panicked, glancing at the bandage before pointing to the entrance. “There’s a medic outside.”

John and the police captain exchanged quick glances acknowledging the other as he left the lobby. Now on the outside steps, he saw a flash of light from the farthest window to the left on the fifth floor of the building.

Pushing past a row of ambulances, John stepped into a taxi as it stopped momentarily, then drove off.

The men sitting in the front him were stoic, but congratulatory. “Good work, Savage.”

“What is the status on the rest of the group?” John inquired as he reached for a cigarette.

“Perry and his team are pulling back as we speak.”

“What of Marlon?”

“He is en route to the coordinates we established for the rendezvous point.”

“And the information?”

“It will be recovered tonight, at eight o’clock. I will personally see to it that our contact delivers it without any undue trouble. If there is, she will find us to be men of our word.”

John nodded his head.

They know that we’re here,” the man said.

John raised an eyebrow. “They already did.”

“Did you encounter any of them in there?”

John blew out a cloud of cigarette smoke, thinking back to the Bulgarian. “I believe so.”

“Was he ‘coped’ with?”

“Of course.”

“They will send more.”

“Let them,” the second man said. “We’ll kill them, too.”

John suddenly remembered the envelope in his pocket. He took it out, holding it delicately. The assassin had carried it with him; it had to have been for Chairman Hopkins.

John tore up the envelope, pulled a small letter out, and read it.

It was a typed letter; the paper was thin. It hadn’t been dictated to a secretary. It had been penned personally, but there was no signature.

Elliot Hopkins,

Operation Venice Preserv’d mostly successful. Several potential problems remain. Former committee members are among potential targets for retribution. It is recommended you temporarily step down as chairman of your company and remain out of sight until the problem has been fully contained. The bearer of this letter, Todor Georgiev, has been assigned to guard you until you are brought to more secure premise.


John put the letter down, a nervous frown forming.

“What is it?” the driver asked.

“The name of the man who tried to kill Marlon and myself up there,” he stated.


John remained silent. Accessing the far corners of his memory, he revisited his recollections of the newly deceased man.

Todor Georgiev: born February 14, 1890 in the Rudopi mountain range of Bulgaria; family background hazy and inconsequential; a radical in his youth; joined the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1908; terrorist activities were copious; participated in the September Uprising of 1923; attempted to assassinate Czar Boris III in the Sofia bombings in 1925; led the attack on St. Nedelya Church; nicknamed “Bulgarian Butcher” by his comrades.

Georgiev’s connection to John was uncannily indirect; in 1928, Ewen had been contacted by his counterpart in the Bulgarian government; after strenuous mediation on the matter, he had ordered John to prepare for the task of “coping” with Georgiev. John had done his part, extensively studied his dossier, and made the necessary arrangements in Bulgaria.

But the mission had been called off at the last minute. Never an explanation from Ewen as to why.

Little by little, John put the picture together. It was still incomplete, but there was enough for him to realize the situation was even worse than they had thought.

Somehow, he knew it was only going to get uglier.


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
  13. Part 4: Excerpt 1