Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

The Valley of Shadows: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2018 19:10 EDT



    Tom reminded himself that politics in the bank was the art of the possible. You got a little of what you wanted, you resigned yourself to getting the rest when you could and you smiled as though you liked it.

    You also remembered who you needed to bury in the future.

    If the bank didn’t sort itself out, it could come to that, literally.

    The next Gold call had gone better than the first. Bateman took control early, and apart from some preliminary questions right at the start, the meeting had been limited to an update on the disease, led by Dr. Curry.

    Plan Zeus wasn’t going to happen, not yet. At least no one had objected to the implementation of full social distancing rules, including deployment of some of the work force to the nearest alternate trading sites, as well as IT preparing for a work-from-home regime for fifty percent of those who stayed. The executives were nervous enough that they also approved the Executive and Special Personnel Evacuation exercise, or ESP-E. A subset of Zeus, it was better than nothing, but still amounted to half measures.

    Smiling wryly, Smith could see the typical banker logic at work. I’ll hedge my bets just enough to cover myself, but let us see if someone else makes a mistake first…

    Still, with a little luck, he could pad the preparations here and there and buy a little more time.

    He enjoyed watching Fat-Ass Depine start to sweat. That one was already thinking evacuation. Bateman and Smith still saw eye to eye on that. It was much too premature for a full-blown evacuation, so they would keep playing this by ear.

    After the meeting, he waved Rune over to huddle with Curry.

    “Paul, Dr. Curry will be working with us for the duration,” Tom said. “He is going to need the ongoing full support of your team. Executive hires, travel security research, regional intelligence updates–everything is secondary. Move people as necessary to access what he says he needs. That includes someone to type his notes and provide updates to me every six hours, or more often as the doctor recommends.”

    Rune was scribbling notes.

    “Boss, what about the deal books we have underway now?”

    Deal books were large projects for the intel team. Drawing their name from the traditional oversize folios used to organize all the papers associated with a major acquisition, the “books” now digitally stored and indexed all the critical information for large-scale bond issues. More to the point, the bank made a lot of its profit on large deals that provided exclusive underwriting access to companies about to go public.

    A successful stock launch for a firm like Twitter could be worth billions. Reducing effort there would paint a neon target on his back. Smith knew that the success of his plans would depend on retaining a measure of support among the influential managing directors who held those deals close.

    “Nope, keep those moving, but slow roll ’em,” Smith said, flexing his shoulder. “Carefully, mind you. Retask half the staff to cover this virus. I’ll contact M and A to explain. I think that the bottom is about to drop out of all our pricing confidence, anyhow.”

    He turned to Curry.

    “I know that you need to get back on the CDC call,” Tom said. “Anything you need, anything at all–tell Paul.”

    Curry nodded thoughtfully as Smith strode off.

    Rune spoke up.

    “Okay, Doc. What’s first?”

    “Popcorn,” Curry said. “Microwave popcorn. None of the weird flavored stuff either. Just butter.”

    “No problem, Doc.” Rune scribbled in his ever present notepad. “How much?

    “All of it.”



    Dominguez knew about favors. Second only to information, favors were the currency of the bureaucratic tangle that was City Hall. The size of the city and scope of the financial activities that it hosted conferred power upon the mayor and his staff far out of proportion to what most expected of a major U.S. metroplex or even a small country. The staff that ostensibly served the city was thousands strong, and numbered among them were a first deputy mayor, several additional deputy mayors, assorted directors and commissioners and even a chancellor. Of course, these were all before one counted the city council and its staff.

    However, Orwell had the right of it. Some animals were more equal than others. One such was the director of the Office of Emergency Management.

    Doing a favor for the director of OEM rarely failed to pay dividends, eventually. Juicing her with a little nonpublic information might pay off sooner.

    Joanna Philip Kohn–“That’s Ms. Kohn to you”–had moved into city government after a brief flirtation with the financial services sector. In her early twenties the financial analyst had stood in lower Manhattan the day that the towers fell, and she never forgot her feeling at the sight. Not rage. Not anger.


    Then she had remained frozen as the sensation washed over her, and her mind raced at the possibilities.

    The implications.

    The cloud that obscured the skyline somehow opened a new vista for her.

    Her coworkers had walked her stiffly back indoors, presuming a case of shock. Instead, she was still thinking through all of the new ideas.

    Prior years of expensive therapy, courtesy of her parents’ financial wherewithal to meet the terms of the juvenile parole board, equipped her with mannerisms that she could employ to rapidly simulate a profound spiritual injury. She instinctively knew that she had an opportunity to dramatically change her strategy. She wouldn’t participate in the banking lottery in order to earn the financial freedom to act and remake her world. That was too uncertain, would take too long.


    Instead, she would use the City’s response to the changed world to catapult ahead. It would help if she appeared to respond to the “grief” that had consumed her by dedicating herself to public service. She crafted a narrative that she slowly revealed to a few colleagues. She told them that sooner or later she would have her revenge, if not upon the dead already beyond her reach, then upon a system that had made the attack possible.

    They said that they understood.

    The first step is often simply finding an activity to fit your narrative. The Vassar graduate turned her hand to serving her city. Emergency Management, a city function long underfunded but suddenly thrust into the limelight, fit her mood. Even as the city survived further bomb attacks, Nor’easters and catastrophic hurricanes, she realized how broken the system was. It continued to fail, not just once, but in a string of catastrophes and policy disasters. Where bureaucratic incompetence and laziness was the norm, even a modicum of intelligent hard work is a distinguishing feature.

    Kohn worked hard.

    It was a good start, but rapid advancement and accumulating real power required more. Over several years she had risen far and fast, promoted over superiors a decade older. Her secret was neither an IQ a couple of standard deviations to the right of the mean, nor dedication and cunning.

    Those were the ante.

    It wasn’t even her wide and still growing network of the rich, the semifamous and her fellow travelers in power. She had built her foundation by judiciously and selectively prioritizing information, critical assistance and recovery funding to ensure that those possessed of valuable resources were first put at the head of the queue and then made aware of her help and planning. Oh, everyone got assistance, eventually. She just chose who received it first.

    That, however, was just the strategy.

    Kohn’s secret was her resentment at being anywhere but the very top, in control. Deep inside, where she hid her heart, she knew that she was destined to bring…a change. Her first effort at change, long since past, had been childishly premature. She didn’t quite know what the final form the change would take, but she would know it when she saw it.

    In the meantime, she fed her network and looked to the future.

    Her staff had brought her the CDC precis on the virus on Friday morning. Heavily redacted, it was still alarming. Still, the city was practically a nation state in its own right, and in short order NYC OEM staff epidemiologists were participating in what amounted to a global conference call attended by experts who then briefed the policy makers. Considerable resources were being marshaled to meet the still unknown challenge.



    Saturday found her, like many in New York, working from the office. Her assistant buzzed in that she had a call from NYPD and Joanna picked up.

    “Ms. Kohn, this is Captain Dominguez at One.” Dominguez’s tone was respectful. “Sorry to disturb you on a Saturday.”

    Kohn tapped her fingers on her desk in a staccato rhythm. The silly self-reference to what was clearly the First Police Precinct of the NYPD was a typical affectation of the sort that cops, soldiers and other members of the patriarchy used to show their status. Yet, Dominguez was one of her more useful contacts in the police department. Best to see what he had to offer.

    “Hello, Captain, it is always nice to hear from you, even on a Saturday,” she said, tapping her fingers on the desktop expectantly. “What can the OEM do for you?”



    Intelligence was just one important part of his organization. Smith called a department head meeting spanning all the components of his Security and Emergency Response team.

    One by one he received the updates from his lead sled dogs. Anti-Fraud was quiet. Per Bateman’s early direction, the Disaster Recovery plan for all trading operations had been flexed and critical connectivity double-checked. Crisis Management had updated all the nontrading communications information and run a test that measured the response time of every member of the bank to a simulated emergency message. Special Projects was tracking the costs of properties and assets comparable to the ones that comprised Plan Zeus. As expected, there was a significant uptick. The meeting moved along briskly until the last team reported in.

    The Physical Security and Executive Protection director had a lengthy report to deliver. Phil Skorpio was another former military officer who had turned his hand to commercial security. After a few years as a military policeman, he transitioned to civilian law enforcement with the NYPD, and then into financial services. His groups were split between visitor management and building-perimeter security, as well as controlling access to sensitive internal rooms like the high-value asset vault.

    Skyscraper office buildings are big. Even a medium sized building of fifty or fewer floors might still hold twenty thousand people. A really big office building, like the One World Trade building still under construction, might hold three or four times that number. In normal operation the bank’s security had to screen and pass those thousands through a perimeter security system at the rate of under one per second per entry and yet filter out one hundred percent of potential nonemployees. This was normally a simple matter of scanning bank issued credentials and maintaining a guard presence at the entry halls. Following the discovery of flu virus, that was clearly insufficient.

    “Tom, it’s pretty straightforward,” Skorpio said. “Even if we keep half the staff at home, we’ve got to be up and running at the start of the market. That means screening twelve thousand people an hour, two hundred a minute and maintaining a zero error rate. My team is good, but they’re not doctors. Apart from obvious zombie symptoms, what do we look for?”

    “Doctor, what does it take to develop a test or some sort?” Tom turned to Curry. “What does your conference hive mind have to say?”

    Curry had been on the conference call nearly continuously since the emergency began. The bright conference room lights weren’t doing Curry’s now sallow complexion any favors.

    “We’ve already established an initial RNA fingerprint for the virus, but it isn’t stable,” Curry replied thickly. “There is a fair bit of disagreement on why we can’t perform what should be a established procedure. However, eventually we’ll have it, and we can use a polymerase chain reaction to detect the viral DNA. Under ideal circumstances, that test can require hours, not minutes or seconds. Likewise, culturing a sample of possible virus would confirm its presence, but that method requires days. The best we can hope for is rapid antigen detection, but it will detect all of the members of the H7 family, not just our prime suspect. Since that would detect many ordinary flus, you are just as well off if you simply look for cold symptoms.”

    “What about a thermal testing system?” one of the junior aides asked. “They used that for SARS.”

    “This ain’t SARS, kid,” Curry said grumpily. “SARS was thermal specific from first period of infectivity. A-series influenza is asymptomatic infective for nearly a week, as I already told you…”

    “Got it, Doc,” Smith said, sending a quelling look down the table. “But thermal will pick up those who are potentially infectious. That have gone beyond the asymptomatic period, right?”

    “Yeah,” Curry said. “It will. Also it will tell you who in your building has been exposed to something that gives you a fever. Which amounts to just about every condition on earth including bacterial infections, nonepidemiological viral infections, autoimmune conditions, strep throat, the common cold and cancer. But go set up your thermal cameras if it makes you feel better.”

    “When can we hope for an antigen-specific test, then?” Smith said delicately.

    “I don’t know,” the virologist admitted tiredly. “We could just start testing for simple flu, but even though we can use a nasal swab for each specimen, each test requires a few moments. You aren’t going to get it to under a minute per person.”

    The head of security for the bank glanced at his head of intel, sitting behind the virologist. Rune met his eyes but didn’t add anything. Tom looked back to Curry.

    “Doctor, a lot of people have colds. Give me some options.”

    “There isn’t anything yet,” the doctor responded. “I can start working on an antigen test right away, if you have the equipment. Might need help, though.”

    “Everything stays in house.” Tom insisted. “Give Paul a list of what you need. We need a test as soon as possible.” Smith turned his attention back to Skorpio.

    “Phil, in the meantime, anyone with obvious cold symptoms doesn’t come inside.” Tom went on firmly. “Anyone who recovers from flu symptoms stays at home for two weeks. If you need more people, tell me. We can temporarily move people from other teams.”

    Smith held of a hand to forestall a caw of protest from his chief of Anti-Fraud.

    “Keep going, Phil.”

    “What about weapons, Tom?” Skorpio wasn’t done. “I saw the videos and I don’t want to tell my team that they have to arm wrestle with insensate cannibals who also have a high pain tolerance.”

    The entire team had been watching videos drawn from security cam footage and bystanders at several dozen attacks. There was a real lack of enthusiasm to handle zombies hand-to-hand.

    “Tasers, impact weapons, then pistols,” Smith said firmly. “Prep doubled up flex cuffs and some kind of antibiting masks and have them at the entry halls. In fact, you get to draft a proposed Rules of Engagement and a protocol for how we are going to deal with zombies. Bring me a draft by close of business. I’m staying late.”

    Tom noted the skeptical look on Skorpio’s face but couldn’t muster any managerial outrage at the minor show of recalcitrance.

    “Anything else? Right. Lets get to work.”



    Smith’s next call was to his brother. Reaching his sister-in-law Stacey, he confirmed that they were executing a complete bug-out from Richmond to the Virginia coast and were attempting to purchase a motor-sailer. Remaining at sea would decrease the level of social interaction which could potentially expose the family to the as yet dimly understood but absurdly virulent disease.

    Tom Smith had established a convenient and perfectly legal shell corporation. Based in the Caymans, the corporation was the parent of several smaller firms, including one that invested and managed real estate, another that brokered farm equipment and fertilizer and a third that ran a curio and relic firearms business. Provided that the firearms in question met certain age limits, they weren’t even legally classified as arms and could be imported and sold with more no more documentation than furniture.

    The partnership also had set up “throw-away” or single use storefronts for future use. One such was the Aurelius Corporation. Smith planned to use it now to facilitate the acquisition of the boat. In the long run, say six months, it might prove sticky considering that they weren’t really in a cash position to buy a boat outright.

    Still it got his brother’s family in the clear. What was it that his old sailing master Tris used to say, back when they were banging charter boats around the Solomons?

    “Once the boat clears the dock, all debts are paid.”




    Paul Rune was back in the zone. The upside of a zombie apocalypse was that his boss, the entirely “too fast to be that big, and too smart to be that intimidating” “Train” Smith appeared to be dwelling on matters other than the short notice that Rune’s expensive intelligence team provided on what was shaping up to be the crisis of the year.

    After getting a starter pack of popcorn for their resident virologist he had called an intel team meeting to share the new information priorities.

    He looked around at his small local team clustered in his office, and mentally counted the dial-in participants. Twelve wasn’t really too many to provide the geographic coverage for which government agencies hired hundreds. His acting deputy was another refugee from what was obliquely referred to as the IC, or Intelligence Community. Kendra Jones, or Jonesy to her friends, was an athletic late twenties something blonde who had been hired as part of last year’s intel team overhaul.

    When Smith promoted Rune, he’d offered carte blanche to build the team that Rune thought was best suited to the mission. The quid pro quo to that complete authority was complete responsibility for any failure. Since the bank mostly targeted economic, business and political data and since those data were in fields largely dominated by men, Rune hired the smartest, hungriest and most attractive women that he could, easing out some of the traditional and longer-in-the-tooth hires.

    Fair? Not particularly.

    But sweet Jesus did the new analysts deliver.

    The combination of mostly female talent was absolutely shredding the backlog of traders’ requests for essential elements of information. Rune had fueled the fierce internal competition by holding open the deputy position. A few burned out, uncomfortable with the work pace. Some wanted a better work-life balance.

    Paul Rune loved his job, and expected his team to feel the same way. Complaints were addressed by Rune with one of Smith’s favorite sayings: “This is an investment bank, not a ‘lifestyle’ bank. You want a life? Get a different job–there are ten hungry applicants for every seat on the Street.”

    And there were. Wall Street still offered a path to accumulating wealth and extinguishing student debt in a few short years and everyone wanted a piece. But no one came to the Street for the relaxed lifestyle.

    His new team composition continued to prove its worth externally, using a combination of intelligence, drive and guile that befuddled male counterparts and intelligence sources equally. The benefits inside the bank were useful too. Most banks skewed hiring towards men, and the emphasis on female hires in this team bought the Security and Emergency Response team some respite from the periodic EEO Human Resource inquisitions.

    Jones was aware of that, and Rune could sense that she resented it. However, like him she could also look at the productivity stats, which had climbed sharply in every category. Yes, the intel team was predominantly women. However, they happened to be damned good at their jobs. It wasn’t her fault that most men seemed to lose about fifteen percent of their functional IQ when dealing with her and her attractive female teammates.

    That was on them.

    However, the entire team was caught on the back foot by the current emergency, and the small team of analysts and collectors was still in scramble mode. Rune couldn’t be everywhere, and Jones was going to have to fill that gap as well as cover her own “beat.” By keeping her hand in nearly everything, she avoided surprises.

    After Rune wrapped up the meeting, he had a surprise for her.

    “We’re going to be working with Dr. Curry for the duration of this crisis,” Paul said. “We need to understand the business and operational impact of every detail that he notes. Nothing is too small to be relevant. Since he isn’t a banking expert, he may not recognize the impact of a datum which is trivial in his world, but deadly in ours.”

    He paused, but Jones wasn’t drawn in. She waited for the other shoe.

    “To that end, I am detailing you to accompany him everywhere short of the bathroom,” Rune continued. “Every phone call, every internal meeting, every e-mail exchange–you are to be his ‘finance’ translator and ‘go-fer’ not to mention ensuring all data stays internal. Whatever he needs, he gets. You have direct access to the ‘Overhead’ charge string up to a hundred large, anything larger than that ping me personally.”

    “The rest of my work?” she asked angrily. “We have to finish…”

    “Kendra, this is the number one issue for the foreseeable future,” Rune said, cutting her off. “If I wasn’t filling in for the boss at some events, I would take this and have you run the rest of the team. However, I don’t have that luxury. I need someone that I don’t have to babysit to, well, babysit this guy.”

    If working for the bank had taught her anything, it was to negotiate.

    “And afterward?” Jones eyed him evenly. “How does this stack up for bonus season? And for that matter, what does Curry think about this?”

    Rune was already looking down at his smartphone, scrolling through messages. He squinted at the screen.

    “Well, that is interesting.” He looked up. “But since you asked, if there is an ‘afterward,’ I’ll take care of you. For now, you share the same risks and uncertainties that I do, but I need you glued to Curry, and now I have to take this.”

    He dialed a number on the phone as he waved Jones out of the office.



    In order to balance risks with opportunities, Smith relied on information and relationships with other players that touched the financial services world: insurance underwriters, other banks, local law enforcement, city government, the local field office of the FBI and some “other governmental agencies” who found it convenient to maintain offices in New York City. However, the bank did have to maintain a certain distance, or at least deniability, from having direct relationships with…extralegal entities. His reporting chain was direct to the chairman, on occasion, so there were limits to how close to the gray zone of legality he could tread.

    Paul Rune had his own sources of information and coordination. Some of the best information didn’t come from places where the street lights shone brightly.

    The text that he received was from a former personal friend, an MBA school acquaintance in fact. Joey Tradittore was a good-looking, smooth-talking, morally flexible man with a grudge and a grad school degree.

    Tradittore had left the government during a purge following some sticky Congressional testimony. Just prior to 9/11, the Bush administration had sold advanced weapons systems to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern governments. Israel squawked, AIPAC yanked the leashes on their pet congresspersons and suddenly most of the intermediate level “worker bees” who had made the deals happen operationally were persona non grata anywhere in government service or contracting. The suddenly unemployable intelligence staffer and “fixer” initially scraped by on some under-the-table consulting jobs. Since he retained his basic competence, albeit leavened with a heavy dose of cynicism, he ended up where the money was–New York–working for a large import-export firm.

    The “firm” was mostly a cash business, but the volume of money, the popularity of its “goods and services” and the increasing sophistication of what was, let’s face it, a more modern version of the Mob, benefited from his logistics know-how and foreign contacts.

    A resurgence of the traditional Sicilian-led “firm” was underway, mostly in New Jersey. When Paul moved from northern Virginia to Manhattan, Tradittore had gotten back in touch. He worked both sides of the Hudson River, and had started sharing information with Rune on a limited basis. If you wanted to know how things sat in the city, and you needed information from the dark corners where even cops didn’t go in groups of fewer than four, then you needed to talk to the people who worked “in the dark.”

    And now Tradittore’s boss wanted a meet.


Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image