“Yes, sir?”

“There’s a spill over on the 11th floor, northeast corner of hallway A. Get over there and clean it up, will you?”

“Yes, sir!”

The security guard gave John a distrustful look before walking away.

Holding his head low, John smiled. Dressed in his pale blue janitor’s uniform, he pushed his wheeled bucket of soapy water and the mop with fast-paced swagger that was almost like a walking dance.

A team of security guards surrounded the nearby elevator. Before John was permitted to pass them, he was searched meticulously. When he was asked for his papers, he pulled out a thin wallet and produced an identity card, driver’s license, and proof of his employment at Bailey Associates.

Satisfied, the guard returned his papers and waved him through. Pushing his bucket through, John ran into woman. She instantly smiled and waved at him.

“Hello, Mr. Cunningham,” she said. “How are you today?”

John’s response was smooth and natural. “I’m doing fine, Mrs. Reed,” he said. “Just fine. Sorry to go; I got to clean up a spill on the 11th floor.”

“Oh, that sounds awful.”

He laughed heartily. “I don’t like to complain. If people didn’t make spills, I wouldn’t have a job, would I?”

At the elevator, he pulled back the first door, then the second door. He pushed the bucket in, closed the interior door, and pressed for the 11th floor. Mrs. Reed waited outside, still conversing with him.

“And how is your little girl getting along?” she asked.

“She is wonderful. Her birthday went well last week.”

“Oh? I’m so glad to hear that. Last you mentioned, she was ill.”

“She got better right after we took her to the doctor.”

Mrs. Reed waved goodbye as the elevator descended. John’s smile fell away. His stoic expression returned. He glanced at his watch. Six minutes and twenty seconds before his next objective.

He let go of the handle, rubbing his hands together.

Mr. Cunningham the janitor existed. Currently, he was asleep inside of a back room in a barbershop. When he woke up, he would find a note informing him that he could never return to his job at Bailey Associates. As compensation, he would be able to work as a shoe shiner at the barbershop in Brooklyn and be given a 50 percent raise over his prior wages. His little girl would also be transferred from her current school and have enough money to attend a private school if she wished, paid for by an anonymous private donor.

But for now, John was Mr. Cunningham. The two men’s facial features were uncannily similar, down to the same chin and eye color. But there were enough differences for someone acquainted with him to notice. A 48-hour period of uninterrupted surveillance had provided John with everything to assume his identity. To complete the ruse, he had given himself a small cut along the neck to match Mr. Cunningham’s. His hair had also been trimmed to the same length and style.

The mission was straightforward enough. McCoy had notified John about a meeting planned at Bailey Associates that involved Dr. Archon, a name he remembered well.

Operation Helheim: enter Bailey Associates building without detection. Locate Archon and. exfiltrate him without any disturbances. Take him to fallback house and apply the necessary pressure to obtain desired information. The committee was split on whether they would kill him afterwards or keep him alive.

When the elevator came to the 11th floor, he exited and moved through a hallway toward the CEO’s office where Archon would be located. Around the corner, he found the “spill” situated right outside of a storage closet. A small sign had been posted to alert people to its presence.

Taking the mop, he began soaking the water, then squeezing it into the bucket. He whistled a favorite song of Mr. Cunningham’s, “My Dancing Lady,” by Rudy Vallee. He stopped as a laugh came from behind. Marlon was grinning from ear-to-ear, dressed in his black double-breasted suit, carrying his attaché case like a foreign diplomat.

“Well done,” he said. “You sing as badly as him.”

While John continued cleaning up the floor, Marlon approached the door to the committee member’s office. The STIGMA engineers from years before had designed it well. It was made of solid oak, thickness exactly three and a half inches. It was installed with a sheet of half–inch steel inside. In most instances, it was impervious to both most cartridges smaller than a .50 caliber, as well as any explosives smaller than Composition B.

There was a windowpane to the left of the door. Marlon approached it and melted the ice with the warmth of his bare palms. He then placed his hands on the sill, gazing at a particular window in an apartment complex on the opposite side of the street.

The apartment’s window curtain pulled back slightly. A series of flashes appeared momentarily. Marlon pulled out a mirror, flashed it back several times, and then turned to John.

“They’re here,” he said.

“How much time do they need?”

“Five minutes. They’ll have the car parked by the intersection. After we blow the windows, they’ll drive it up to the front, give us covering fire, and a squad will come escort us to the car.”

John nodded his head as he kept working. The puddle on the floor slowly diminished. Plunging the mop into the bucket one last time, John brought it with him over to the office door. Marlon handed him a suppressor-tipped Remington.

“You ready?” Marlon asked.

“I’ve been ready for more than a year.”

Marlon nodded as he lathered the wall with a handful of gelignite, then shoved a detonator into the jelly-like substance and set the timer.

“Ten seconds,” he said.

John took the mop over to the window and waved the handle carefully. The message: standby for extraction. A flash from the curtain: message received and acknowledged.

This was it.

His watch ticked the seconds away in his mind.


The two sections on the wall exploded simultaneously. A cloud of dust blew off into their faces as they watched the heavy door wobble and then fall forward into the office with a violent resonance.

Before the door had even completely collapsed, John leapt into the murky anteroom. The secretary had fallen out of her seat. John ran up to her and knocked her out with a smack in the back of her head. She lost consciousness and collapsed on the floor.

A guard opened the next door on the right, somewhat dazed. Marlon took him down with two shots, then scanned the room for any potential threats.

“Clear!” he stated as he covered the exposed doorway.

John rushed into the next room. At the desk was the aging CEO of Bailey Associates, Warner Scott. The decrepit man stared at them with an alarmed expression, though his frail body made him unable to do much.

There was another man beside Scott who faced the window. The first thing that struck John about him was his unusual height, at least six feet tall. The man turned around calmly. He wore a single-breasted brown suit, his fedora held in his hand. He had short black hair combed back over his head. It wasn’t Dr. Archon.

John raised his pistol at him. “Don’t move!”

The man held his hands up slowly. “Very well.”

“What’s this?” Scott wheezed as he struggled to get up from his desk. “Who are you?”

“Not your concern,” John said. “Where’s Dr. Archon?”

The unknown man smiled. “He’s not here. You didn’t go through all this trouble just to retrieve him, did you?”

“And who are you?”

“The man who has been waiting for this moment for quite some time.”

John paused, then turned to Marlon. “We’ve been compromised.”

Marlon came in and locked the door behind him. He left his attaché case on the floor and approached John.

He sized up the man, raising an eyebrow. “You look familiar; have we tried to kill you before?”


“We might have to rectify that.”

The man chuckled as he patted Scott on the back and whispered in his ear. The old man sat down at his desk. “Do you realize who you’re threatening right now?”

“No idea.”

“This is Senator Kessler.”

John glared at Kessler, recognizing his name from Barrett’s recovered memo. “At least this hasn’t been a total loss. We have some questions you should be able to answer for us.”

The door suddenly shook as several feet pounded the floor before stopping. On the other side of the door, voices cried out. “Security! Open up! Open up!”

“You can’t escape,” Kessler said. “Police are surrounding the building as we speak.”

Marlon was at the windowpane, giving discreet warning signals to Perry’s men. John watched and hoped that Kessler and Scott wouldn’t notice.

“And here I thought my work was underappreciated,” Marlon said. “It’s good to know that our tax dollars are being put to good use, senator.”

Kessler shook his head. “Stop trying to warn your friends. And please stop trying to stall the inevitable. They will be in this room in seconds. Would you like to live or not?”

“Is that a trick question?”

Kessler put his hands behind his back, totally relaxed, and chuckled heartily. “You haven’t changed one bit. Not one bit.”

John placed his gun near Kessler’s forehead. “Why don’t we just kill you now?”

“You don’t want to kill me. You want to know what I know. You won’t get it if I am dead, will you?”

John was quiet.

“It’s a rather liberating thought to know an enemy won’t kill you, isn’t it?” Kessler said.

Lowering his gun, John put it away as he approached Marlon. “We’re leaving now.”

“What about this bastard?”

John shook his head. “We can’t take him. Either he intends for us to be captured now or he wants us to take him to where we are hiding so he can lead the rest of his goons to us. Also, he won’t talk.”

“How do you know?”

“Why would he be here instead of Archon? The doctor would talk, but not him.”

Kessler grinned, but said nothing.

Marlon picked up his attaché case and opened it as he went back to the window. He took out a metal pipe from the case and smashed the window with it. At the same time, John ordered Scott and Kessler over to the door, where the security guards were still trying to gain access.

Having removed the broken glass, Marlon took a long coil of rope from the case and threw it out the side of the building. Wrapping it around one of the legs of the desk, he tied a knot and tested it to make sure it was secure. He took two pairs of thick gloves from the case and handed one of them to John.

The door shook again. Three dents appeared as the security guards attempted to shoot their way through. John had already predicted they would fetch one of the skeleton keys from the front desk on the first floor. The elevator ride there and back, in addition to the time to locate the key, would take about eight minutes.

John stared at the door, then at the window. He judged the time it would take for them to abseil from the eleventh floor down to the ground. The agents would be through the door and able to gun them down while they were still holding onto the rope.

They could try jumping, but they would still be open targets if the fall didn’t injure them.

“You go first,” John said Marlon. “I’ll cover you from here.”

Marlon stared, but didn’t argue. “Don’t worry. You’ll make it.”

Kicking off the side of the building with his foot, Marlon began abseiling down the slick wall and vanished. Kessler watched skeptically. “You’re not going with him?”

“Nothing eludes you, does it?”

“Touching, but futile. If you think this is going to be a last stand, you’re wrong. The agents have been instructed to take you alive. No glorious death awaits you.”

Scott cackled, clapping Kessler on the shoulder. “This fellow doesn’t know what he got himself into!”

John listened to the voices grow louder and the door hinges slowly lose their attachment to the wall.

In a few moments, he would be in custody. From there, it was a prewritten script. The interrogation room, the physical pain, the mental torture, the emotional anguish introduced in a protracted fashion.

“So you’re saying that I’m to be taken alive?” John asked Kessler as he drew his pistol. “Under no circumstances am I to be killed?”

“Something like that.”

“Not even if I kill you?”

“The question is whether you will kill me or not. I know you won’t.”

Scott’s raspy inhale caught John’s glance. Without any hesitation, John shot him in the chest. For a second, the old man was aghast. He looked down at the wound.

Coughing up blood, he gazed at John and cried out “Long live the Revolution!” Clutching his stomach with both hands, he collapsed to the ground. Kessler observed casually the body at his feet. His icy eyes darkened.

“Very good,” he said. “You want answers, just as I do.”

“You won’t get them from me.”

“We’ll see.”

The door finally flew open as a swarm of security guards stormed into the room with submachine guns. They reacted in horror to Scott’s body on the floor, forming a protective circle around Kessler, stunned when the senator rebuffed their gestured and ordered them to maintain their distance.

“I’ll deal with this!” he snapped.

They reluctantly lowered their rifles and lined up behind him like dogs would their master. John started to notice things about Kessler. Throughout their interactions, he had continually rubbed left eye. The skin around it was reddened.

“What’s to stop me from killing all of them?” John asked.

Kessler drew close. “Me. Only me.”

Moving with seemingly superhuman speed, he lunged out toward John. He wedged his hand between the pistol’s hammer, prevented it from firing. In a seamless motion, he removed the slide from the grip and tore them out of John’s hand, tossing them on the ground.

John instinctively thrust his hand at Kessler’s throat, but the senator blocked the strike with his hand.

He then shoved John backwards before calling security guards broke from their line and aimed their weapons at John.

“Take him to the interrogation room,” Kessler ordered.

“What about the other?”

“Kill him!”

Five guards approached the windowsill and began shooting. The other five men handcuffed John. He looked out the window, praying that Marlon had gotten away.

One of the guards at the window took a bullet in the neck. He dropped to the carpet, clutching at his throat as he thrashed around on the floor. The other four backed off, firing blindly as they retreated further into the room.

Kessler approached John, shaking his head. “I hope you’re ready for what’s about to happen.”

“I hope you are, too.”


John was chained to a metal, four-legged chair, his ankles shackled to the front legs. His hands were bound together and cuffed to the back. His janitor’s uniform had been torn from him. All that remain was his wool undergarments that went from his waist down to his ankles.

He held his head low, not in shame, but to converse his energy. He did not expect to be fed during his imprisonment.

Tilting his head up just for a moment, John glanced at the intense blaze of light coming from the ceiling. He squinted, concentrating on the opaque window to his right.

He breathed in the air deliberately. It tasted stale. He didn’t expect any sort of hallucinogenic. STIGMA had experimented with it several times, found it to be unreliable. A prisoner was only valuable if his statements could be trusted and verified. Narcotics negatively affected their ability to give honest testimonies. The truth couldn’t be torn out of their minds. It had to be lifted out with delicate handling.

The sliding door vanished into the wall as Kessler stepped inside. Now that they were a more sedated environment, John got a better look at him without distractions.

New information; estimated age, around 48. Wrinkles in facial features appeared to be premature. Bone structure not designed for his low weight. He had once been a larger man.

Kessler rubbed his left eye again.

Neither them spoke for over a minute.

“I must confess I am at a loss of how to say this,” Kessler stated. “You can forgive me for being somewhat tongue-tied.”

“For a politician, I can’t imagine it being hard to talk bullshit to someone. Explain to me how you got elected in the first place.”

“The same way you were recruited by STIGMA: someone else approached you. What was his name? Anthony Wayne, wasn’t it? You were ordered to kill him, weren’t you?”

“Don’t try to impress me with what you know.”

Kessler nodded as he lowered himself into the chair, unbuttoning the upper buttons of his suit jacket. “You are talking as one professional to another. I didn’t come here in some pretentious manner in the hopes of getting a confession out of you. No. That was not my intention at all.”

“No doubt I’ll be taken into custody by the police and charged with murder one for Scott’s death.”

“Of course not! I would never turn you over to the police. The last place I want you is in their custody.”

“Judging by your lack of concern for Scott when he died, that might make sense.”

“He was in poor health and would have died in a year or two, anyway. You may have given him a less painful death.”

John gave him an incredulous look. “Then why are you here? What do you want?”

Kessler leaned forward over the table, his hands clutching the edges. “To look into your eyes as you learn the truth.”

“What truth?”

Kessler’s voice changed dramatically. “Don’t you recognize this?” he asked with a mocking grin.

It was McCoy, the man who had provided him with “inside” information.

“Shame on me,” John said. “You fooled me good.”

Kessler grinned. “Not just once, but twice.”

“I don’t understand.”

Kessler stood up and slowly began unbuttoning his shirt. When he had reached the last button, he opened it wide. John turned away in disgust at the sight of Kessler’s scarred chest. His grin broadening, Kessler removed the cufflinks from his shirt collars, revealing the same scars on his wrist and arms. He then reached for his left eye and took out a small transparent contact. His brown eyes now had a strange hazel tint.

“Who are you?” John asked.

“Don’t you remember?”

No answer.

Kessler drew near to John and whispered in his ear. When he was finished, he returned to his chair.

His voice acquired a thick Slavic accent. “Now, what shall we discuss?”

John couldn’t hear. He was revisiting a memory. It flickered to life as though it was on a movie screen.

Theodore Kessler was one Alexander Shukhov Malchev, former member of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, leader of the now defunct National Party of the Soviet Union. “Confirmed” dead. Now active.

Mission incomplete.

John’s moist eyes glowed as a voice echoed in his mind.

Terminate by any means at your disposal.


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
  17. Part 5: Excerpt 2