Alexander Shukhov stared at John Savage, wondering what thoughts now tormented his mind. Savage carefully masked his emotions, as was expected.

He had to be in denial, for Alexander Shukhov bore little semblance to his former self. His once powerful body had been reduced to a thin, nimble frame. His rough face was now gaunt and freshly shaved.

John Savage’s eye movements betrayed his thoughts. He was beginning to note the finer details. The surname Kessler did not match with Alexander Shukhov’s wide forehead, round head, and prominent cheekbones.

Alexander Shukhov’s old NKVD ways fell back into place. John Savage was no different than the counterrevolutionaries and foreign interventionists who had failed to stop the Revolution. However, in one regard, he deserved credit. So many of the prisoners Alexander Shukhov had shot proved themselves to be cowards at the last, begging and pleading for mercy.

John Savage was above that. He would not pretend there was hope. He would not try to prolong his life at the expense of his manhood. In a way, that pleased Alexander Shukhov. For once, his enemies were worthy of respect.

He checked his watch. He turned to the opaque glass on his left. Unbeknownst to Savage, no one was on the other side. He had dismissed them all. This was to be a tête-à-tête between them, and them alone.

“So, comrade,” he said as he relaxed in his chair, “what do you wish to talk about?”


John struggled to keep his face expressionless as he formulated a plan. The interrogation was a sham. Malchev wouldn’t ask questions. It was designed to humiliate him, to break his spirit. Malchev would take his time enjoying it. He wasn’t in a hurry. He had the time.

“You have nothing to say?” Malchev asked. “Now that you have a chance to finally speak to me, you say nothing? Or do you not remember me well enough?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” John said as he slowly rubbed his wrists against the chair. The friction burned his skin, but he resisted the temptation to stop. He continued rubbing and twisting, a faint hope was that either the chair or the cuffs had a weak spot.

“Yes?” Malchev asked. “What is it?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to waste your time with it. It’s boring, and I’m sure you have much more important matters to attend to pertaining to the country other than me.”

“Nothing is more important that watching you suffer.”

“Unless you plan on torturing me, I do not suffer.”

“Ah, but you are. You failed to kill me on orders from your organization. Now, I control your organization and you are the fugitive to be killed by me. How strange our fortunes should reverse like this. Everything you fought for is gone.”

“As long as you are my prisoner, I haven’t failed.”

Malchev laughed in confusion. Good. The remark had caught him unprepared, just as John had intended. “A prisoner? I’m a prisoner?”

John nodded. “Yes. You are my prisoner.”

He watched Malchev react; first, his chest rose higher and higher as his face contorted. Then he took a long breath and exhaled softly. He had learned to control himself. But more prodding would push his mind over. Sooner or later, he would make a mistake. It would also distract from any other plans he had in mind for John.

“I hope you get comfortable,” John said. “I plan to keep you here for a long time.”

Malchev sprang out of his chair and slapped John across the face. “If there’s anyone who doesn’t understand his position, it’s you. Trust me: the only reason you are alive right now is so that your friend will come to get you out, along with anyone else who remains from your pathetic organization.”

Malchev then returned to his chair. He took out a revolver from his coat and set it on the table. A Nagant revolver. John remembered the dossier again; one of Malchev’s prized possessions, a family heirloom; it had belonged to his father.

“I am curious,” Malchev said. “How am I your prisoner?”

“May I have a cigarette?”

Malchev took a pack from his pocket, pulled one out, and brought it up to John’s lips. John opened them slightly. No fear of humiliation at this point. Malchev had assumed his “gentleman” demeanor, the pretense of civility.

Pressing the cigarette between his lips, Malchev flicked open a lighter and held it underneath the cigarette. John took a deep breath in, sighing in relief as the smooth sensation of Turkish tobacco filled his throat and nostrils.

His wrists burned against the cuffs. He had to look for any potential means of escape. But he had to free his hands.

“You may think of me, in a physical sense, as a prisoner,” he said. “My hands and feet are bound to this chair. I have no mobility. I have no freedom of movement. Yet my freedom of thought is still fully intact. It is this which makes a man free or not. You can chain him to the ground. You can beat him, imprison him in a camp, take away every possession he has, but if he still has that unconstrained ability to think, then he is still free.”

“I know what it is like to have chains on my body and still think freely. I fail to see how this changes anything.”

“Ah, but you are my prisoner because I control what you do. You could have killed me, and you can kill me right now. You have the freedom to do so. But you can’t, because your mind is not free to do so. You could leave the room if you wish, but you won’t, because your will does not permit it. You have spent too many years hunting me down to simply walk out the door and hand me over to some guard who might accidentally assist me in escaping or shoot me in an act of rashness. You are very interested in what I have to say, because you want to get inside my head, as I have evidently gotten inside yours. You want to break my will. But it is I who will break yours. If I speak, you will listen. If I am here, you are here.”

At first, Malchev offered no response. However, his hand slid across the table. His fingers wrapped around the revolver. With an unsteady gaze, he aimed it at John. A clicking sound resonated in the room as his thumb pulled the hammer back.

John was calm. He knew the outcomes of every possible choice. If he lived, Marlon would come get him. If he died, Marlon would simply level the building to the ground with Malchev still inside. At worst, Malchev would not get any opportunity to kill them both.

The Russian deliberately lowered the revolver from John’s face to his chest. It remained there for a while. His hand was perfectly still.

Then the revolver vanished as he shoved it back in its holster. Without a word, he got up and went to the door. As it slid open, he stepped out of the room, turning back to John. “You couldn’t kill me. And now it seems I can’t kill you. Not yet. But I know this: No one else will kill you. I’d rather you kill me.”

“The former sounds more probable.”

“But you’ve already been proven wrong.”

“How so?”

“You said I couldn’t leave, but that is what I do now.”

He closed the door. John felt his footsteps across the floor. It was no ruse.

John chuckled. The plan had worked.


Alexander Shukhov examined three rows of security personnel standing at attention inside the lobby. They did their best to impress him, but he offered no hint that he had faith in their abilities.

“I want snipers on the rooftops of this building and the buildings on the other side of the street,” he told their commander. “I want plain-clothed men on the street. I also want 30 men to defend the inside of this building.”

“Yes, sir.”

“They are to report anything they see out of the ordinary.”

“Yes, sir.”

After dispersing the guards, Alexander Shukhov was left in the anteroom by himself. He looked at his wristwatch. Trent would come soon. There would not be much of a delay.

An urgent call came from Villard. His voice on the phone was hasty and nervous.

“How could they kill Scott?” he demanded. “How could you let them?”

Alexander Shukhov rolled his eyes. Villard wasn’t boisterous, but he was easily rattled. He also was at heart a soldier, not a strategist.

“Scott was an unfortunate loss, but ultimately an expendable one,” he replied.

“How are we going to handle it? How is it going to look publicly?”

“I’m already working with newspapermen on payroll. Scott will be reported dead of a heart attack. Thankfully, he updated his will recently making one of our cover organizations a beneficiary. Nothing has changed for us.”

Villard was quiet for a moment. “Rumor has it that Unit 18 members are there with you.”

Alexander Shukhov was irritated. Nothing could be done discreetly. “I have some of them, yes.”

“I was hoping to test them first.”

“Soon. I may need them sooner.”

Villard paused again. “If you need any of my men, they’re available.”

“Thank you, but I prefer we keep military operations separate.”

Alexander Shukhov hung up and looked at his watch a second time, then went to the phone and made another call. “This is Senator Kessler. Instruct Unit 18 to meet me here.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And make sure they bring their equipment with them.”

“Absolutely, sir.”

Alexander Shukhov forced himself to smile. He knew Dr. Archon would insist they weren’t ready for actual use, but his opinion would do nothing to stop it. After years of research and millions of dollars spent, it was time to use it.


Alexander Shukhov turned to find the security commander running back toward him.

“What is it?”

“One of my men is missing!”


A small explosion knocked the door to the interrogation room off its hinges. Unprepared, John turned his head away for a moment. He then looked back to see Marlon emerging from the dust and smoke wearing a security guard’s uniform.

“That didn’t take too long,” John said.

“I never left. I took out the guard, and Perry was able to resupply me at one of the side doors.”

“That’s good, but we have a problem.”

“What is that?”

“Senator Kessler is actually Alexander Malchev—remember him?”

Marlon’s memory was good; he recalled the name immediately. His reaction was remarkably collected. “That explains a lot.”

He broke the cuffs tying John to the chair and handed him a rifle and a small throwing knife. Placing the knife in his boot, John scrutinized the strange weapon. It was unlike any he had used in the past. The butt shoved into his shoulder, while his finger was inserted into a tiny opening for him to place it around the trigger. He felt as though it consumed his entire arm.

“Where’s the backup?” John asked.

“No such thing. They can’t risk it. We’re on our own.”

“Then we need to get out now.”

“What about Malchev?”

Theirs old order kept repeating itself in John’s head: Terminate by any means at your disposal.

Holding his gun up against the side of his head, he breathed forcefully. If they eliminated Malchev, many of their troubles would be over. But not all of them.

“To hell with him,” John said. “Let’s get the hell out of here first. He’s lost the best thing he had going for him.”

“What’s that?”

“His anonymity. Now we know he’s alive and who he is.”

Marlon chuckled as he stepped across the vacated room. “You think he could have picked a more unassuming cover. I mean, politics—really?”

“He’s a communist. What do you expect?”

Ahead of them, a group of men arrived. They were dressed in unusual uniforms; deep red infantry jackets with heavy black trousers and tall black leather boots. Their hair was shaved to the scalp. But there was something about their eyes that wasn’t right, as bright as the headlights of a tank column.

None of them spoke, but the leader pointed at John and Marlon. The two men kept low and fired. John anticipated a slaughter; the group was packed tightly together, and there was no room to maneuver in the narrow corridor.

But as they continued shooting, a cold shiver ran up his spine. Their aim was straight and true. Blood splattered the walls as they achieved hit after hit. Yet none of the men fell. Ignoring their wounds and the blood trickling down their jackets, they pressed forward and fired back. A stray bullet seared the side of John’s face.

“Fall back!” he said.

Hurrying around the corner, Marlon covered him as he searched for new cover. He hardly had time to think when the men reappeared and unleashed another burst of gunfire. Still calm but visibly shaken, Marlon scored another series of hits that should have dropped his foe. When he saw they were unaffected, he rushed to John and grabbed him by the shoulder.

“I don’t know what the hell is going on, but they’re going to kill us if we don’t keep moving!”

“You got any explosives left?” John asked.

Marlon handed him a small satchel charge from his pocket. John immediately slapped it onto the wall where the corridor took another turn. Setting the timer to ten seconds, they raced toward the stairway door. As they were about to open it, they heard footsteps approaching.

The men marched around the corner just as the explosive charge went off. A cloud of debris shrouded the area for a moment before quickly settling.

John couldn’t believe his eyes.

All the men still stood tall. The explosion had torn apart their flesh and left their faces disfigured, but they remained upright. Clutching their weapons with mangled arms, they continued moving forward.

This time, John aimed at the head.

The hollow tipped bullet blew apart the man’s face. He dropped like a toy figure. His comrades paid no attention as they kept firing.

A bullet struck John. He hit the floor as Marlon pulled him through the stairway door. The wound was superficial, but painful.

“You’ll live,” Marlon said.

“What are they?”

“No idea, but I’d rather put some distance between us and them.”

Destroying the door handle to block off their advance, he and John moved to the next floor. There, Marlon set another charge near a smoke detector and led John over to the elevator door. Prying open the door, he took out a metal clip and attached it to John’s trousers, then to the heavy metal cable.

“What’s the plan now?” John asked.

“We’re heading to the lobby. If there’s more of these guys, we’re not going to last long.”

Attaching himself to the cable as well, he and John slid down in a fast but controlled manner. As they descended, John fought to contain the questions now flooding his head. Whoever and whatever those men were, he knew Malchev was behind it.


Alexander Shukhov smoked fretfully as he waited for the news to come. Unit 18 was not his last resort. He had sent one of the squads to confront Savage and Trent, but he wasn’t relying on them to complete the job. It was a test to see if Dr. Archon was making progress with his experiments.

Things had not gone as planned. Savage had escaped, and it seemed only Trent had bothered with a rescue attempt. The building’s smoke detectors had been activated. The rest of the building personnel were evacuating. Firefighters would arrive soon. As a senator, he would have to maintain a low profile. No one could know he was there.

Nevertheless, he felt no regret sparing Savage’s life. It wasn’t the right time.

There was an erratic pound on the doorway. He turned to find a member of Unit 18 standing there. His arms were limp, his shoulders hanging flaccidly. His body was riddled with bullet wounds. His expression was a strange combination of stoicism and dread. The effects were beginning to wear off.

Alexander Shukhov snatched another syringe from the counter and administered it to the man as he questioned him. “Did you find Trent or Savage?”

The man shook his head. The drug gave its users almost supernatural strength and endurance. At the same time, it reduced them to a catatonic-like state. A side effect Dr. Archon had yet to remedy.

“Did you search all the floors?” he asked.

The man nodded.

“All of them?”

Another nod.

The drug’s effect returned quickly. Within seconds, the man’s eyes glowed once more. His wounds clotted instantly.

Grabbing a trench gun from the wall, Alexander Shukhov loaded it as he escorted the man out of the room. “Rally with the rest of the men at the lobby. I’ll join you shortly. That’s where Trent and Savage are headed. They won’t try to escape through the windows. We still have snipers outside.”

Bobbing his head obediently, the man took off. Alexander Shukhov stepped into the hallway, venturing into a barren area that had been entirely evacuated. As he walked, he sensed the ghost of Peter Nikolayevich. 13 years, and still he had yet to find a man worthy to replace him.

“The time is here, my dearest friend,” he whispered. “I shall finally avenge your death.”


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
  18. Part 6: Excerpt 1