The captain of the National Emblem stood proudly at the head of the gangplank as the harsh wind blew violent in his face. On his right, tourists and observers walked up the gangplank and into the gondola of the massive airship. Decorated with wreaths and holly, the airship swayed warily in the air, but strong steel cables installed on the mast held it in place. The ship’s crew watched for any sign of weakness in the docking process. The sky was now a pitiless black, dotted with grayish clouds responsible for the heavy snowfall.

They waited until the last person came at exactly 7:30 p.m. and the crew was beginning the initial stages of disconnecting the airship from the mast.

Cloaked by the snow, John approached a businesslike manner, carrying a large chestnut brown case. Behind him were three additional men.

“Hurry up now,” the captain said. “We’re got to get going. Tell your friends to move along.”

John dropped the brown case gently onto the snow-covered rooftop and drew a silenced pistol from his pocket. The captain remained calm as he threw his hands up. John’s comrades him moved past him and up the gangplank, their faces concealed by their tall fedoras and black scarves.

“What are you going to do with this ship?” the captain demanded. “My crew and I won’t work it for you.”

“I didn’t presume you would. That’s why I brought my three associates with me. They’ll handle the navigation controls. None of you will be harmed. Once we are done, we will return it to you.”

“I want your strict assurances that this ship will not be destroyed, nor the people injured.”

“Trust me. Our target will not be aboard this vessel.”

“That is good enough for me. At least as long as that pistol is pointed at me.”

John waved it at the gangplank. “Excellent. You may begin boarding.”

The last steel cable was removed with a snap. Like a boat untethered from the dock, the National Emblem floated steadily away from the mast, fighting against the wind as the rudder turned sharply. The powerful engines on the underbelly roared as it began pushing it through the skyline. Heading into south, it slowly disappeared behind the murky shroud of silhouetted buildings and clouds.

In the airship, John opened the brown case on a bench right above the entrance to the gondola. Inside, firmly pushed into a cushioned lining, was a polished Mauser bolt action rifle. A prized possession, it had been one of the weapons John had taken from his home. It was effective up to 1,100 yards and superbly accurate. He had to hit his target the first time. There could be no slipups.

One of his associates stood guard, having already dressed in one of the crew’s black uniforms. The other two operatives were at the helm, navigating the airship to the square as they adhered to the previously established coordinates on the large map of the city the captain had by the wheel. They would continue with the original tour route, unless it needed changing.

The crew had all been moved into the bottom of the airship and handcuffed them to one of the metal rods. If there were any mechanical failures, the appropriate crewmen would be released and escorted to the area to perform repairs, then promptly returned.

Taking the rifle by its leather strap, John slung it around his shoulder and grabbed a box of cartridges. As he moved along the metal skeletal interior of the airship, he pushed a five-round stripper clip into the rifle, snapping the bolt action into place.

He didn’t have a lot of time; the tree lighting would commence at 8:45 p.m. He had a hunch the assassin would take his shot then.

A crumpled city map came out of his back pocket, his personal notes and annotations written on the sides. He studied them for a moment, deciding whether to accept Cowen or McCoy’s story.

Wrinkling his forehead, he tugged his Mauser up against his shoulder. Holding the telescopic sight up to his right eye, he scanned the square again. The airship had by then completed its tour of the harbor and was now entering the Center’s airspace. Underneath him, the loud buzz of the twin engines sent a continuous vibration up into his stomach as he lay prone. Yet the noise of the crowds was loud enough to be heard, their thousands of tiny candlelight giving the appearance of a vigil.

Snatching the phone at his feet connected to another one at the helm, John called up the operative manning the wheel. “Move closer into the center. I can’t make out anything from here.”

“We won’t be able to descend any further.”

“Do what you can.”

He felt a sense of weightlessness as the airship rapidly dropped altitude. He looked out of the small window and used his telescopic sight to search for the defector. Using the map coordinates, he turned his head southwest, seeing the faint form of the old stone wall. While the crowds recited the final stanza of “Silent Night,” he finally spotted the defector precisely where he had been expected to near the middle the wall. He was surrounded by two men who did very little to disguise their protectiveness.

It was a dead giveaway. Bickford would be able to make him out in the crowd when he had people like that standing beside him. He couldn’t imagine they would be so foolish.

“Go lower,” John ordered again on the phone.

“This is as far we can go without risking an accident.”

He kept scanning the area through his scope. “Where are you, you bastard?”

He kept searching. No shooter. No suspicious person in the crowd. Everyone stared at the tree. In a few minutes, hundreds of tiny lights would illuminate the entire city block and temporarily blind everyone looking at it until their eyes could adjust. It would only be an instant, a short moment. Perhaps less than that.

But it was all a man needed to make a shot.

There was only one damn place in that center where a man wouldn’t be staring at the lights.

John kept his voice calm as he phoned the helm. “Take us down to the nearest skyscraper.”


“Give me just enough clearance to jump. As soon as you see me on the roof, get the hell out of here!”

“Yes, sir!”

Jumping to his feet, John grabbed his rifle and threw it over his shoulder as he ran across the bottom of the gondola to the main door. Opening it, he felt the icy wind smack him in the face as he looked down at the rooftop of the 40-foot building.

Without a pause to think, he leapt out. As he neared the roof, he dropped his rifle in a smooth motion so that it slid against the hard surface. When he touched the ground, he slapped his hands down to offset the energy and rolled until he reached the edge.

Retrieving his rifle, John anxiously placed it on the tall ledge and immediately focused on the Christmas tree. Moving from left to right, he searched every inch of the needles, branches, and limbs. He wouldn’t have to inspect the north side of it; Bickford would have to be on the southern half in order to hit his target.

One of the workers near the tree prepared to turn the power on.

As he was scanning the rest of the tree, he saw the quick flash of a polished barrel nestled in the tree. As he strained his eye further, he made out more physical features.

It was the assassin.

John took aim, accounting for the bullet drop and the wind element. He had made more difficult shots in the past.

His finger began to curl as it touched the thin metal trigger. But then, he paused when he realized the “assassin” had his barrel was pointed away from the defector and toward one of the smaller, partially constructed buildings overlooking the center.

John’s eyes widened. The “assassin” was targeting the defector’s would-be assassin.

McCoy had been right.

The crowd cheered as one of the workers waved at them with anticipation. Just seconds left.

He turned his rifle away from the tree. Uncertain of where to aim, he looked down and spotted Cowen’s operative sent to retrieve the defector. Now able to scrutinize their faces better, he noticed the defector had a terrified look on his face. Cowen’s man had a very unfriendly expression as he stood at an unusual distance. Far enough away that the operative didn’t risk getting struck by a stray bullet, but close enough to identify the defector.

Cowen’s man had his hand raised into the air, under the pretext of protecting his eyes from the imminent lights. In his other hand, he held a carefully concealed pistol near his hip aimed at the defector.

That was the signal.

Steadying his hand, John inhaled sharply and zeroed his sights on Cowen’s man. As the lights on the Christmas tree flickered to life, he pulled back the trigger. The rifle butt slammed into his upper arm as it fired.

By the time the Christmas tree blazed with a glorious multicolored splendor, the target had fallen. The defector’s response was telling; he hadn’t been expecting it. Frantic, he vanished in the crowd. No one but John had noticed the second shot as the electric buzz of the Christmas lights sparkling to life overcame the sound.

He smiled as he lowered his rifle and headed down the building. The night’s killing wasn’t over yet.


Cowen held the candlestick phone tightly, speaking into it as he paced up and down the area in front of his desk. His voice sounded pleased, but his posture was tense.

“So, our man has been taken to one of our hideouts?…Good, very good. I’m glad to hear it…what? No, I didn’t think so. Yes, we were very lucky. Oh, we lost Benson? I see…no, no, no, I think our man was the intended target, no question there. We just got lucky.”

Cowen set the phone down on his desk, easing into his chair with a sigh. He grabbed a cigarette and slid it between his lips. He deliberated before he lit it. Throwing his head back, he pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and blew a tapered line of smoke from his lips.

A voice called out from the darkened corner of the dimly lit room. “Why don’t you have the defector join us for a drink?”

“Who’s there?”

A tall shadow leaned against the wall.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I’m the one responsible for the defector’s survival.”

Cowen abruptly smiled. “Ah, Mr. Savage. I’m so glad to hear from you so soon. Well done!”

John Savage walked out of the shadow, approaching Cowen’s desk with a pistol drawn. He pulled back the hammer before Cowen could protest. “I’m not interested in listening to whatever pathetic story you have to throw at me. Whatever lie you are currently making up in your head, I have heard better.”

Cowen’s mouth was wide open, but he said nothing.

“You’re wondering how it all fell apart, aren’t you?” John continued. “I have to confess, though, it was rather clever. You found out that one of your own was planning to defect. Not to our group, but perhaps another group of survivors. You also knew that the defector’s contact would be there to protect him. I am running under the assumption that you aren’t actually the former executive of the Intelligence Gathering sector, but merely one of the committee’s double agents. That’s why you sought me out; you didn’t want your own men, because they didn’t have the experience to take him down. And then you would have managed to secure my trust, perhaps sufficiently enough for me to reveal my whereabouts and that of the other survivors.”

John chuckled. “Brilliant. Almost. You made one tragic mistake, though.”

“What was that?” Cowen asked.

“You depended on someone like me to carry out the job. But I have long learned to question orders, no matter the source.”

“Apparently,” Cowen answered. He straightened himself out, rising in his seat. “It’s only a matter of time before they find you. Your type no longer belongs in the new world that we’re going to create. You’re an anachronism.”

The muzzle of John’s pistol flashed three times. Cowen fell back and out of his chair, landing lifelessly on the floor. John stepped around the desk, stared at Cowen for a thoughtful moment, and then fired another round into his head.

“It’s not your world yet,” he said as he slipped his pistol into his pea coat and left the room with the lights shining on the fresh corpse.


Within their hideout, John looked across the table at the other men that composed their de facto committee. In front of him smoke emanated from an ashtray filled with cigarettes, mostly John’s.

He had already explained to them the incident with Cowen. The cover house had been discreetly torched to throw off the police, as well as send the less-than subtle message.

Sipping on a freshly brewed cup of tea, John drummed the table with his fingers. “If we are contacted by someone claiming to be a former STIGMA operative, none of us will provide them with any information. And they are not to be brought here.”

“Agreed,” Perry said.

“We need to form a screening process.”

The room murmured in agreement while Marlon shifted uneasily in his chair. “What I don’t understand is who they were trying to kill in the first place. It wasn’t one of us. Who was it?”

The room was silent.

“Perhaps I can offer an appropriate explanation,” a voice spoke.

The entire committee stood up in unison as they drew their guns and turned to face their unknown intruder standing off in the darkened corner.

“Step into the light slowly,” John said. “Any sudden moves…you get the point.”

The man obeyed. He began walking carefully towards them as he raised his empty hands. He had his wide brimmed fedora pushed forward so that it covered most of his face. It wasn’t McCoy. That man had been taller.

“Who are you?” Perry said. “And how did you get into this place?”

The man shrugged. “You only have four sentries guarding the outside perimeter posing as vagabonds. I slipped past them without even having to try.”

“Very clever of you,” Perry said. “What did you come here for?”

“I came here to thank Savage for his assistance.”

Everyone looked at John curiously. He shrugged. “How did I help you?”

“If you hadn’t taken out Cowen’s operative when you did, I might have been a moment too late. The other shooter was just about to pull the trigger and take out my friend.”

“You’re welcome. I don’t suppose you could tell me what it was all about.”


The man reached into his coat, pausing when Perry put a gun to his back. After getting permission, he brought his hand out with a tattered envelope. He approached John and placed it in his hand.

“Take it,” he said. “I finally found it.”

John stared at it “What is it?”

“What we have been looking for.”

“And what is that?”

The man smiled as he raised his chin. “You’ll know when you see it.”

John had seen that same expression before. Only one person in the world had it.

“Seamus Barrett,” he said. “They didn’t kill you after all.”

The guns lowered as each man looked at Barrett as he took off his fedora. In a single year, he had aged greatly. There was now a sense of maturity to his face and less derision in his eyes.

“Where the hell have you come from?” Perry asked.

“From roaming throughout the Earth, going back and forth on it,” Barrett replied. “While doing that, I encountered a sympathetic operative still within the organization. He was able to obtain information I sought, but he was caught and had to run. That envelope is what he recovered.”

John looked down at his hand, tightening his grip on the envelope. Barrett’s reappearance explained much, but McCoy’s involvement was still a mystery.

“Well don’t tell us everything at once!” Marlon said to Barrett. “Anything else you’d care to share with us?”

Barrett chuckled as he placed his fedora back on his head, buttoning up his coat as he headed to the door. “I work alone. I will continue my investigation myself. However, I will stay in contact. You will need me sooner than you think.”

“How so?”

“Because whatever they’re planning will require every single one of us to stop. Even then, it may not be enough.”

As Barrett left John tore the envelope open. Inside was a single file. He didn’t have to read much of it. The look on Barrett’s face had already told him everything.


To: Committee Members

In draft

June 9th 1929



Project Hypnopædia is being set up as means to continue the previous work developing the drug codenamed “Zarastran.” We are currently searching for a test subject ALPHA, who shall be chosen based on appropriate psychological qualifications and background. The facility at STIGMA headquarters in New York City will be used until a more suitable testing laboratory is found. Any research and experiment results will be forwarded A.S.A.P.

This project will include a continuation of the study of the biochemical, psychological, and clinical aspects of “Zarastran,” as well as its potential for military, domestic, foreign, and medical purposes. The estimated budget of the project at our New York facility is $5,000,000. Half of these costs will be covered under a line item budget proviso given to Congress to furnish the above funds for medical research and field observation. The additional half will be covered by our own private investments as well as an approved outside investor who in return will retain all copyrights and patents in the event of mass production on an industrial scale.

Dr. Henry Archon will oversee the experimentation and observational stages of the project. All questions and requests for information shall be sent to him.

Senator Theodore Kessler



Alexander Shukhov approached the bench at the intersection of Forsyth and Delancey with a restrained, yet eager pace. Practically covered from head to toe, he breathed in the warm air filtered through his wool scarf. He always enjoyed walking at night, especially in the wintertime. It was never as cold in New York as in Russia. But when it was cold, he could close his eyes and relive some of his fondest memories, though he kept such nostalgic thoughts in check. The past was over. The future was what mattered.

Reaching the snow-covered bench, Alexander Shukhov inspected its belly. He smiled as he grabbed a folded paper taped to it. He read it underneath beneath pale light of the nearby lamppost.

My gratitude for tip. Any further assistance appreciated.


Alexander Shukhov concealed his pleasure as he took out a fountain pen and wrote an anxious, but predetermined reply. He didn’t feel much for the loss for Cowen. They had been trained to accept casualties to achieve their objectives, even if it meant sacrificing themselves.

It had been too easy. The rest of the committee had wanted to do things the orthodox manner, but he had understood early on the traditional approach would not suffice. It hadn’t worked during his time in the NKVD. There, he had learned counter-espionage was the most effective method of destroying the enemy. Rather than attack from without, he’d ruin them from within. His position within STIGMA’s “reformed” organization demonstrated that.

Not only would John Savage and his colleagues be far less inclined to receive any potential allies into their company, but they would trust “McCoy” with intelligence. At the least, they wouldn’t fail to act on it.

Alexander Shukhov had sacrificed a worthy, but expendable chess piece. His opponent’s next move would be his last.


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
  14. Part 4: Excerpt 2
  15. Part 4: Excerpt 3
  16. Part 5: Excerpt 1