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The Valley of Shadows: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2018 20:12 EDT



    Tom Smith strode into the CEO’s office, barely preceded by the startled admin’s announcement.

    Bateman looked up from his desk and then did a double take. The bright morning sunlight streaming through the windows didn’t do Smith’s features any favors. He was clearly fatigued. Something else played across Smith’s face, as well.

    “Well, you are already here, or I’d invite you in Tom. Why don’t you take a seat?” The CEO’s tone was wry.

    Smith nodded, and sat. He leaned forward in his seat and placed a small glass vial on the large desk.

    “Is that what I think it is?” Bateman asked.

    “The pure quill,” Tom said, exhaling. “Ten doses of primer. The vaccine is administered in a two-part series. First, the primer, which dramatically increases resistance to the neurological pathogen. That’s followed by the booster, two weeks later. This is a quarter of our first production run. We acquired the raw materials yesterday afternoon.”

    Bateman picked up the vial, turning it over in his hands. “Does it work?”

    “I’ll know soon enough,” Smith said. “I had the primer already during a delightful session with our now resident mad scientist. I’ve also authorized the first course for the other two members of my asset acquisition team and for our physical security details that are maintaining perimeter security. But we’re going to need more. A lot more, I should think.”

    Bateman carefully set the vial down, making a slight tapping sound.

    “Is it safe?”

    “Again, I’ll know soon enough,” Tom said with a shrug. “Curry’s already inoculated me. There are various possible sideeffects. Autoimmune reactions, immunological reactions including allergic reactions…all unknown. The live attenuated vaccine made by the big pharmaceutical companies under ideal and controlled conditions has an incidental infection rate well under one percent. You can’t, well, shouldn’t give it to kids though.”

    “Why not?” The CEO looked up. “Dependent children are on the evac plan.”

    “Attenuated virus vaccines aren’t approved for kids; different vaccines have different age limits,” Tom explained. “HPV vaccine is limited to nine-year-olds and up, for example. WHO and CDC recommend that kids under ten get inactivated virus vaccines until their immune systems are challenged enough to have a robust, adult style response. Curry also has the idea that since H7D3 attacks brain tissue, the fact that younger children and even young adults are still increasing the density of the myelin coat on their neurons is a risk factor. If or when the CDC gets inactivated virus vaccine to use we can protect the youngest evacuees. But as for adults, it’s safe. Mostly. It isn’t like we are spoiled for choice, Rich.”

    Tom’s level look communicated fatalism, determination, but there was still something else.

    “Who are you working with to get this?” It was plain that Bateman was thinking though the actual process.

    “I’ve some trusted teammates,” Tom stated flatly. “Besides Curry, only two others who perform the actual collection are all the way in the know. They get vaccine and two seats out, plus hazardous duty pay. I hope that you’re comfortable with this arrangement because we’re behind the curve, and we’re going to need more help, soon.”

    Smith wouldn’t ordinarily present his CEO with that many details in something like this, but Bateman didn’t seem offended. Just…tired. Tom felt the same way. He knew exactly what he was doing and did not care for it one bit. Needs must when the devil drives.

    “I know that we didn’t move on Plan Zeus right away,” Bateman said. “However, in order to assure the number of staff that we must have to evacuate to even a single refuge, the early estimates on evacuees quintupled. I won’t be surprised if they go up again, which means more vaccine.”

    “I know, Rich,” Smith said. He rolled his shoulder and grimaced. “I ran the numbers myself. How do you trust a pilot with an expensive and scarce helicopter if he’s worrying about his family? Even harder, how do you trust any critical staff person who has no familial anchor and effectively has nothing to lose? What keeps him from taking a better offer? We need support staff with something to live for–which means locating that ‘perfect pilot’ with a small family. We’ll host the dependents in the refuge and make the pilot’s best option the one where they keep flying in order to guarantee their share of vaccine. And…we very subtly keep the family under our thumb by ‘ensuring their protection.'”

    He looked out the window.

    “A little polite extortion isn’t new to this job,” Tom said. “But just because it works, doesn’t mean I have to like it any more than I have to like stripping spines out of infected people. But, we all took the money.”

    Bateman tried to reassure Smith.

    “Tom, I know tha–”

    “No,” Smith said, cutting him off. “You don’t know, Boss. You can’t know. You’ve never even taken a life much less cut the head off of some poor woman just to strip out her spine. It’s horrific. And it’s necessary. Our only chance to survive is to dramatically accelerate collection and endure the horror now. It’s the only way we can avoid an even worse outcome. I’ll do it, and I’ll push the security staff to do it–and it will get done. Which brings me to why I am here.”

    “Anything you need, we’ll get for you Tom–you know that.”

    “Glad to hear it, sir,” Tom said, turning back to his boss with a slight, humorless grin. “The first thing is that Curry is going to need an assistant. For obvious reasons, it needs to be someone that we trust, can control, needs the vaccine and ultimately will agree with what we are doing.”

    “I leave it to you, just make damned sure it’s someone we can trust,” Bateman replied.

    Smith grinned for what felt like the first time in days. It felt good.

    “Oh, I think I can promise that much,” Tom said. “We are also going to need more and heavier armament. I have a way to procure it, deniably. However, I’ll be breaking several state and fed–”

    “Didn’t hear that one,” Bateman said, interrupting and waving his hands. “Keep it on a cash basis.”

    Smith nodded again, this time with the ghost of a smile. New York had notoriously over the top antigun laws, at least for those below the millionaire class.

    “The next thing is harder,” Tom said. He inclined his head at the shining vial that Bateman had set back on his desk. “That’s the most valuable substance in the city, maybe the entire country. We’re going to have to look ahead on how we organize and regulate the collection, processing and distribution or we are going to have anarchy. Every organization that hasn’t figured it out yet will do so in short order and start competing for, well, let’s call them, viral assets. Anarchy equals less time to make the vaccine, and maybe a cure. We are going to need help and regulation.”

    “Who would have thought it–a banker calling for oversight and cooperation?” The CEO looked thoughtful. “Who do you have in mind to bring in?”

    “We start with a few other banks,” Smith said. He smiled again, but this time it didn’t warm him. Quite. “Then we’re going to get unconventional.”



    Tradittore looked composed. The unfiltered Camel that he smoked irritated Paul Rune.

    “Joey, do you really have to blow that in my face?”

    Tradittore, unruffled, turned his head and exhaled in the opposite direction, sending the smoke across Washington Square Park. An organic fruit vendor jerked his head up, annoyed.

    “Sorry man. But it’s your dime. What do you need?”

    Rune passed over a paper list, which Tradittore began to read.

    “You guys certainly love your acronyms,” the Sicilian said, tapping his ash. “Okay, most of this I recognize and we can get pretty quickly. Rifles, shotguns and pistols are easy. Ammunition, same thing. The explosives and the suppressors are quite a bit harder, as you know. That kind of merchandise attracts an entirely different level of heat.”

    He kept reading.

    “Pneumatic auto-injector, reuseable?” he said, looking up. “What do you want that f– never mind. Don’t want to know. Let’s see. You also want eight sets of something called an A/N GP-NVG-18? That’s a new one.”



    “NODs,” Paul replied. “Sorry, night observation device. My boss says that this model preserves depth perception. Currently Mil/Law enforcement only. We’ve tried to get them through our own channels. No dice. If you can’t get those, we’ll consider other models, at a reduced cost of course. Probably going to end up buying even more.”

    Tradittore whistled.

    “Well, in addition to your love of acronyms, you banks also don’t appear to be scared of big numbers, which is what this is going to cost. I can set up a demo and a pickup for all of it in a week, maybe three.” He refolded the list and tucked it away. “How are you going to pay?”

    “Cash, naturally.” Paul was confident on how the conversation would go next.

    “No can do, roomie,” Joey replied instantly. “Cash isn’t what it used to be. Nope–you are going to have to do better.”

    The banker smiled.


    “Keep talking.” Tradittore answered, with a wave of one hand.

    “Figured as much,” Paul said. He pulled a small rubber-topped vial from his own pocket. He carefully did not hand it over, but turned it back and forth in his hand, the sun striking highlights from the glass.

    “Vaccine. First part of a two part series. We’ll add ten complete series of vaccine to sweeten the vig.”

    Matricardi’s man looked…amenable. But he was the mobster’s man, after all. You never took the first offer, or the second.


    “And we’ll teach you how to make more.”



    “How much more can you tell us about Smith, Ms. Kohn?” asked Sarissa Gauge.

    “He’s hardly remarkable,” replied Joanna, giving Gauge’s outfit a critical glance. The female half of her personal staff was wearing a severely cut suit close enough in style and color to Joanna’s that it constituted a uniform. Gauge had deferentially chosen heeled ankle boots from Yves St. Laurent that were just one notch less fashionable than those of her director.

    Joanna approved. Detailed oriented subordinates were less likely to make an error when it counted.

    She resumed.

    “Average intelligence, a conventional thinker, the physical type,” Joanna said, continuing to tick off points. “In short, a typical example of the former military banker club, with all the downside that entails.”

    “Downside, ma’am?” asked Ken Schweizer. The formerly junior OEM analyst had taken a chance and hitched his star to Kohn during the 2010 hurricane season and had jumped several levels as a result. His attempt at a neatly trimmed beard, intended to convey maturity, was defeated by his narrow features, reducing the effect to that of a rat with patchy fur.

    “He will be predictably loyal to Bank of the Americas,” she replied. “He will be singularly focused on a clear mission and therefore easy to manipulate. By now, like some of the other banks, insurers and multinationals that are headquartered in the City, he is weighing the likelihood that this disease is an inflection point. He will be planning on how to keep the bank operating while being ready to respond if the disease has more impact than expected.”

    “Can we use that?” asked Gauge.

    “Smith and his bank, as well as a few others, not to mention the NYPD, will be important components of the City’s response to this crisis. Now that we have vaccine production underway, the next step will be to consolidate production. The problem is that the projected vaccine demand exceeds the source of raw materials.”

    “We have a fairly broad mandate,” offered Schweizer. “And the continued absence of the mayor means that we can continue to work through the first deputy mayor’s staff…

    “The secret finding gives us near carte blanche, Ken,” interrupted Gauge. “And we control the daily brief to the mayor, the deputy and the council. What we need is to adjust the crisis further in our favor.”

    Joanna favored Gauge with another look before turning to Schweizer.

    “We may need to accelerate the processes,” she said. “I am aware that Smith is developing contacts in Cosa Nova. I want you to do the same, and also consider some of the other organized crime factions.”

    Joanna watched Gauge hiding her disappointment, resuming her customary businesslike mask.

    “Sarissa, I am keenly aware of your contribution, but your efforts to deepen our network in the city council are vital,” she stated, narrowing her eyes. “Further, I want you closer to the district attorney. We must deter premature reconsideration of our new powers until the situation is sufficiently dire that the evolution of OEM can not be rolled back. We need the City to sample a little of Hell.”



    This is what Hell must sound like, Dominguez had thought to himself upon entering the Afflicted Temporary Holding Facility for the first time. Initially the building had been labeled “Secure Infected Temporary Holding” by some dim bulb that hadn’t ever seen the movies, so Dominguez had rapidly changed the name from SITH to its current title.

    The volume of the screaming, howling and moaning from the infected rendered normal speech impossible. Efforts had been taken to visually isolate the infected from each other, which seemed to reduce the amount of sound that each zombie made, but the overall volume remained shocking. Worse was the reek–the smell of rot and excrement was a palpable miasma that saturated one’s clothing, even if a visitor didn’t touch anything.

    The top cop in One was fairly inured to the aroma now, but the noise level was still stunning. At least it wasn’t feeding time. Ding didn’t like to think about their source of zombie-chow.

    One of two facilities, the large Queens warehouse had a small set of offices that was segregated from the honeycomb of hundreds of small chain-link mini cells, each intended to hold one infected. Two of the offices retained ad hoc Visiting Family Room signs from a more optimistic time. There was even a small children’s play area, filled with bright plastic furniture in cheerful primary colors. Those rooms had remained unused for their original purpose, nearly from the start.

    The days when a cure was merely a statistical improbability instead of a forlorn hope were already far behind them. Initially, the number of infected held in the ATHF had been low, but once hospitals filled up, there was nowhere else to hold them. Moving the infected was a traumatic and potentially dangerous process. In the interest of simplicity, Ding had decided that rather than move the infected to another location, it was simpler to “process” the vaccine materials onsite.

    Therefore, one of the visitor rooms had been adapted into a processing center. Another was a training room.

    At the moment, senior police officers were attending mandatory training. That, in and of itself, wasn’t unusual. However, even during a lethal pandemic, Ding still noted the bizarre situation that he found himself in. To be specific, helping to teach Zombie Spine Stripping 101 was still damned disturbing, and the subject matter mandated extreme safety precautions.

    Despite the discomfort of their current rig, Dominguez and his students would have happily traded up to the even more uncomfortable environmental suits, but they could no longer be had for love or money.

    Dominguez wasn’t particularly unacquainted with human blood. He was not, however, accustomed to seeing so much it. The hooded 3M exposure suit he wore was liberally dappled with red above the waist, and completely red below the knee. The floor wasn’t just tacky with blood; the plastic sheeting lining the warehouse office floor was half a centimeter deep in carmine for a meter in all directions outwards from his feet.

    “Easy, easy, just tug steadily.” Another suited figure spoke, the voice somewhat muffled. “If you pull too hard the cord tears and then we can’t get it out.”

    The senior cop listened to their trainer, another suited figure. The third participant was his deputy precinct commander, who was struggling to gently pull on the shoulders of the naked corpse of their “subject.” Despite the hip-high gurney that had been placed in the center of the space, the cops struggled to manipulate the uncooperative corpse. Blood and lymph made a firm grip impossible, and the dead weight of the body worked against the team. Ding had recruited, well, extorted a compromised medical examiner to teach his cadre how to strip the spine from a dead zombie. Ding firmly believed that rank had its privileges, including going first and setting the example for the more junior officers whom he had selected.



    However, cleanly severing a human neck while keeping the spinal cord intact and connected to the brainstem was surprisingly difficult. They had wasted one “asset” already and their co-opted medical examiner was getting frustrated.

    Just getting this far was a technical process that could not be approached in a slapdash fashion. The human neck is packed with a remarkable amount of gristly connective tissue, and it had to be carefully dissected without damaging the all important trophy.

    “Look, if you yank too sharply, you’ll just shear the cord–it doesn’t have shit for tensile strength,” the shanghaied medical examiner said, irritated. “Do that and you waste the sample–might as well start over with the next one. What you want to do is sever the connective tissue between the head and the trunk just above the shoulders, leaving a few cervical vertebrae as an anchor point. Once you have it all separated, you can carefully slide the tissue out of the spinal column.”

    When the deputy returned to probing the gaping neck wound on the corpse with a large serrated knife, one the cops watching the demonstration turned his head, his stomach spasming.

    “For chrissakes, don’t puke on the assets!” the medical examiner said, scolding the cop who had moved too close to the four additional corpses stacked in pairs on the side tables.

    Noting the watchers’ discomfort, Dominguez added to the instructor’s comments.

    “Also, the other thing is that once you are in this suit, you really, really don’t want to upchuck.” He spoke slowly for clarity and emphasis. “These masks will protect you from the droplet borne virus, but you have to maintain a perfect seal. Puke will clog the intake, it will almost certainly make you choke and it could cause a suit failure if you tear at your own protective equipment in order to try to catch a breath.”

    The NIOSH certified full face respirators had been a godsend. When he tried to procure the necessary amount via the department there were already none to be had, but the bank had stockpiled an impressive amount. Now, he owed Smith a rather large favor. These even had two-stage filters, which added only incrementally to the protection but looked impressive as hell and bolstered the confidence of his harvest team.

    “As soon as we have the first batch of effective vaccine, you’ll all get the primer,” Dominguez said, trying to reassure his team of students by repeating the terms of their additional duty. “That’ll give you some protection. But for now, you must be very, very careful!”

    Ding continued to maintain his hold on the shaggy black hair of the corpse as his partner finished cutting the last bit of connective tissue holding the head to the trunk. His gloves prevented him feeling the hair itself, which was probably for the best. Judging from the condition and smell of the body, this zombie had been a homeless man before H7D3 turned him into another lethal carnivore.

    The spinal cord finally slid smoothly free in a rush of fluid, the yellow tissue visibly flecked with red.

    “That’s the stuff!” the examiner said, pointing with one gloved finger at the just barely visible red flecks on the neural tissue. “That discoloration is the pay dirt. Handle it carefully to avoid contaminating the specimen.”

    “Or yourself,” Ding added. As he stepped to one side to afford the audience a better view, his booted feet squelched. “Lose your breathing protection seal around this much aerosolized blood and you’ll contaminate yourself, earning a one way ticket to becoming the next contestant in a game of…”

    The police captain held up the severed head, trailing the all important viral sample.

    “…’Organ Donor Card Bingo!'”

    While the examiner watched, Ding gestured to his assistant who picked up a specimen bag into which Dominguez slowly lowered the sample, finally snipping the cord free at the base of the skull. He casually dropped the head onto the chest of the corpse while the assistant carefully placed the sealed bag on a bed of ice inside a cooler.

    “Good job,” Ding said. His grim smile was plainly visible through the faceplate of his mask. “Got it done. First two volunteers, jock up. Don’t forget the Kevlar gloves–you will want maximum sharps protection. Second pair, move these processed remains into that bin.”

    He gestured to a large open wheeled stainless steel bin labeled recycling. “Then we’ll work through the next four stiffs, one per student pair, and then go wrangle some more.”



    “Yes, even during a slow-moving zombie apocalypse, we still have meetings.”

    A few tired smiles appeared around the table.

    Most of the North American security managers for the bank, as well as some additional hand picked staff, were back in the high-security conference room and the door was closed. One of the fluorescent bulbs flickered distractingly.

    Tom Smith was already standing at the head of the table.

    “This team, the people actually inside this room, represent the core of the bank security team that will continue to implement Plan Zeus. For those of you unaware of Zeus, we’ll unpack more details during this meeting as well as during subsequent get togethers. Most of you know each other already. As for the rest…”

    Tom indicated Brad Depine whose shirt sported dark crescents under his arms despite the air conditioning.

    “Mr. Depine has been hand selected by the CEO to provide financial oversight and liquidity as required.” If anything, Depine’s saturnine expression deepened.

    “This is Ms. Sophia Smith.” Sophia was a slightly built blonde wearing a cream business suit. She appeared to be ridiculously young to be in a meeting about zombies. “Yes, she is a relation, a niece. As such, she holds my unequivocal trust. She is Dr. Curry’s new assistant, augmenting Kendra.”

    Sophia looked tense, but controlled. A few people nodded to her. Next to her was another young woman, built considerably larger, though a family resemblance was evident. She wore utilities, a mostly empty equipment harness and a bored expression.

    “Next to Sophia is my second niece, Ms. Faith Smith. Faith will be…working on tasks as assigned.”

    The second Ms. Smith exhaled audibly and rolled her eyes.

    “Durante will now run the Building Protection team, replacing the late Mr. Skorpio,” Tom continued, picking up the pace. “Kaplan will run the Executive Protection team. We’re suspending most Anti-Fraud operations, all book running for deals in process and delegating foreign travel itinerary reviews to individual travelers. With the spreading nation-state quarantines there are fewer of those anyway. These changes are intended to free up staff for an operations center that will support the collection of raw vaccine ingredients and the manufacture of vaccine. Rune will continue in charge of intel and will manage the ops center.”

    Down the table an arm in a pale designer shirt went up.

    “No questions yet,” Tome said. “Each of you is a proven, reliable teammate, known to me personally or vouched for by someone I trust. During this meeting, you will be brought all the way in on critical actions needed to assure personal safety, the safety of our families and the survival of the banking system which is funding the efforts to mass produce vaccine and find a cure. The actions we must take are…”

    Tom paused and considered his next words carefully.

    “…discomforting and extralegal. Discomfort is to be expected. If you are entirely opposed to this course, this is your last chance to leave. Requests for reassignment or resignation made subsequent to this meeting won’t be honored until such time as our plan is ready to launch. This is your last opportunity to depart the platform without penalty. Staying may expose you to legal jeopardy and some personal risk.”

    He paused again and waited for several moments. No one moved. Rune, who had been read into the plan for a while, looked around the room as well, pausing briefly as he considered Jones.

    “All right,” Smith continued. “All NDAs remain in effect. I consider all you committed to our plan.”

    He slowly looked around the room, meeting the eyes of each team member in turn.

    “Next, some announcements. The Bank didn’t move fast enough at the start, so we didn’t get our first picks for refuge locations. Some are going to be little farther away than I like. Consequently, I am setting up a study group to identify SAFEs.”



    He saw Paul and few others nod, but also noted a several blank looks.

    “Not big metal boxes for money,” Tom said, folding his arms across his chest. “Selected Area For Evasion. A place that isn’t necessarily a long-term refuge, but which is situated away from the likely lanes of what I’ll politely term refugee drift will occur. If this all goes for a ball of chalk, the sudden breakdown in city and suburban infrastructure is going to generate a massive amount of refugees, which will promptly freeze every major highway.”

    “Travel during first day after an incipient society wide collapse will be very difficult,” Kendra said, earning a squint from her boss. “Day two, forget about it.” She steepled her fingers, the skin showing white at the knuckles. “The entire D.C.­–New York–Boston axis is going to be impassable. Anyone who isn’t already at one of the Sites is done.”

    A fraud analyst began to retort, but Tom cut him off.

    “She’s not wrong,” he said, favoring Kendra with an approving look. “I recognize there are those,” he gave Depine a less favorable look, “who without background in this field find Kendra’s analysis problematic. That’s a lack of both training and experience…on the part of the skeptics. My physical security specialists don’t tell you about anti-fraud or market making, so don’t question their competence about security issues. Stay in your lane. I’ll add that anyone stuck in the initial stampede is at high risk. So, Kendra’s team will identify potential SAFEs–way stations if you will.”

    He glanced over at Rune and Jones. “Have a list ready for me to consider in three days. Next item.”

    Tom leaned forward, placing both hands on the table. He scanned the room again. Slowly. Deliberately.

    “We are making an effective vaccine.”

    A hand shot up.

    Tom shook his head, aggravated.

    “Not yet,” he repeated himself. “We now have an effective vaccine. In fact, we’ve got the first eighty doses. These doses are either being administered to personnel with the highest risk of exposure or to irreplaceable personnel in critical roles. Everyone in this room is eligible for the vaccine.”

    The same hand went up again.

    “Where’s the vaccine coming from?” the anti-fraud analyst asked. “How are we making it?”

    “Dr. Curry will describe the process in a moment,” Tom said, straightening. “I want to be clear on what you get in exchange for being part of this permanent team and maintaining absolute confidentiality. You’re placed on the priority list for the vaccine, which is a multipart course of injections. You’re guaranteed a seat for yourself and while you were selected in part because you have few or no nearby family, you will also be allotted up to three family member spaces at one of the bank’s safe havens, depending on your role and physical risk.”

    Exciting buzzing interrupted Smith, who let it run for a moment before continuing.

    “Next detail. We have sought and received permission to acquire and equip with much heavier weaponry than the limited number of pistols, Tasers and single use injectors now in our inventory. Kaplan will be scheduling in-house training. Wave to the crowd, Kapman.”

    Kaplan raised his hand and grinned. He had been lobbying for a while to buy some weapons with more authority than Tasers and pistols.

    “The training is mandatory,” Tom continued. “This means you too, Paul.”

    Good natured laughter sounded briefly. Rune’s single-minded focus on work, his guitar and more work–in that order–were well known among his staff.

    “For obvious reasons, it’s now profoundly in your own self-interest to keep all such details secure,” Tom continued, sounding more relaxed than he actually was. “For that reason, you aren’t allowed to divulge or discuss any further details of this plan or our preparations outside the people currently in this room. Finally, in exchange for the personal and legal risks that this will entail, we’ll place your family members on the secondary list for the vaccination schedule, making doses available after critical staff are all protected. Let me add: as NDAs go, ours has new teeth. If you break the NDA prior to completing the course of vaccinations, your protection is suspended. If you violate the NDA after vaccination is complete, your evacuation quota will be revoked and you will be indefinitely detained inside these premises.”

    Attentive silence met this statement.

    “Dr. Curry, over to you.”

    Curry was getting into the swing of things. His grin was equal parts enthusiasm and evil genius as he tapped a key on his notebook PC, starting a short clip of an infected secured to a hospital gurney. It couldn’t move, but the gurney shook from the zombie’s struggles. The video froze on a close up the snapping jaws.

    “Meet the source of our vaccine.”



    Below the conference room windows, Newark Penn Station provided a gemmed backdrop for the Cosa Nova evening meeting running into its third hour. Matricardi took a last drag and spoke as smoke filtered out from his nose, flavoring the air.

    “Joey,” the mob boss said, grinding out the cigarette. “Out of twelve bodies, we only got twenty doses. That’s less than a third of the rate that Bank of the Americas is getting. Or at least, telling us they’re getting.”

    Matricardi rolled a little vial around in his hand.

    “What’s the deal?”

    “It’s harder than the bank instructions made it sound,” Tradittore said, cautiously feeling out his boss. “Getting the spinal cords out without tearing ’em is a finicky job. The job itself, well it’s pretty horrible so our guys tend to hurry through it. Basically, what we’re doing is cutting up people. It takes a…certain kinda guy to be comfortable with that. We don’t got as many people with the right mindset as you’d think. Also, the metering of the radiation used to damage the viral DNA while leaving the virus itself sufficiently intact to provoke an immune response is…well, it’s finicky too. We’ve spoiled some batches because we don’t have a well-trained radiologist. The bank’s got a fuckin’ microbiologist doing this. We got Tony Too-Smart runnin’ our machine.”

    Tony, like the rest of the audience, wisely stayed silent.

    The gangster looked out the window, listening. Tradittore couldn’t clearly see Matricardi’s face, and paused until his boss waved on hand in a circular “keep going” motion.

    “Collecting the zombies ain’t a picnic, either. We lost two guys who got themselves bit during the first week.”

    Matricardi looked back.

    “What did you do with them?”

    “You’re holding it.”

    The Aeron Miller clicked a bit as the taller Sicilian leaned back in his chair, contemplating the vial as the lights struck golden highlights from the vial.

    “Well, waste not, want not, I suppose,” the mobster said.

    He stretched an arm towards the buffet along the wall, and Khabayeva uncrossed her long legs and moved to open the humidor. She held up a Romeo Y Julieta and raised an eyebrow.

    “No, no–something else. The Davidoff.”

    As she clipped and lit the cigar Matricardi turned back to the table. He set the ampoule of vaccine down on the rich wood of the table with a slight tick.

    “You mentioned that the competition is getting stiffer?”

    Tradittore’s eyes followed the brunette’s motions as she rolled the cigar in her long fingers, evenly starting the ember and shaking the long wooden match out before handing the lit cigar to Matricardi.

    “We gotta couple trucks that we roll after dark, looking for obviously infected people, but usually we listen to the Essex County scanner.” He looked back to his boss. “If we hear a 10-54, we try to beat the cops to the location. Sometimes we do, but even if the cops don’t get there first, there’s an even chance that Overture’s guys, a team from the Triads or some other freelancers are laying claim.”

    Overture was the emerging power in New York. His Afro-Caribbean organization had consolidated power in Queens and Brooklyn and now vied for ascendancy with the Triads in Manhattan. The smart money seemed to be on Overture.

    Matricardi blew smoke across the room and ruminated on the cigar.

    “Nice.” He glanced at the only woman in the room. “What do you think, Risky? You always tell me that you’re more than a pretty face. So, fine, show me that I don’t keep you around just because you’re gorgeous.”

    “What we need are some specialized skills and to tighten up the organization.” She recrossed her legs. “Reduce the wastage of, what did Joey call them?”



    “Assets,” Tradittore volunteered, his eyes narrowing almost imperceptibly.

    “Assets.” If the topic made Khabayeva queasy, it certainly didn’t show. “We need to utilize them efficiently–no waste. Also, we need stop wasting collection opportunities by competing with cops and other organizations. The first one is simple. The second one is harder. Who can talk to cops, to other competitors and be believed by all? The bankers.”

    Tradittore leaned forward.

    “Wait a second: Simple?” he asked with a smirk. “This I got to hear. You know a better way to cut off some poor stiff’s head and pull his spinal cord out without snapping it or getting infected yourself?”

    Matricardi eyed them both.

    Khabayeva first met his glance and then looked back to the younger man.

    “Is simple,” she said, waving a hand dismissively. “Find butcher. A doctor. A coroner. A funeral home director. All of them would have a better understanding of how to extract the spinal cord. So, hire them, or bribe them, or…encourage them some other way.”

    “I like the funeral home director idea the best.” She tapped the table with a long burgundy nail. “They have ways to dispose of the bodies–is one less thing.”

    Tradittore sat back slightly, deflated.

    His boss looked first at his deputy and then at Oldryskya.

    “That’s not half bad,” Matricardi said with a grunt. “Okay–Tradittore, set it up. I’ll call Smith and see about the second thing.”

    He looked appraisingly at the woman again.

    “Not half bad at all.”

    Without moving his eyes away from her he addressed the rest of the room.

    “Meetings over. Beat it.”

    Khabayeva stayed seated.



    “If this works, then perimeter security issue gets much easier!” Durante exclaimed, examining his new toy.

    The patch test kit resembled a single use diabetes monitor. Blood from a fine catheter passed through a membrane and then was introduced to a color sensitive paper patch. If the antibodies for H7 were present, it turned red. The failure rate was unhelpfully high–it would have never passed FDA testing–but it was better than nothing. Different models of varying degrees of accuracy were proliferating across the country.

    “Will it get so much easier that you’ll catch the next infected employee that wanders into the HVAC room,” Smith asked, barely bothering to coat the steel in his words with a bare minimum of humor. “And thereby prevent my niece from having to beat it to death with a K-11?”

    Faith Smith, having been thoroughly disarmed–who gives a Saiga to a thirteen-year-old, really!–and a building engineer named Schmidt who had been assigned as tour guide tasked to give her a familiarization tour of the skyscraper’s infrastructure had found a zombie feeding on a recent kill. Inside his bank. She’d brained the afflicted former bank employee with a security baton that she’d been surreptitiously lent by a sympathetic guard. Then she had to deal with the emotional consequences of her first kill–not to mention, her uncle then had the pleasure of explaining the event to her parents.

    Tom Smith wasn’t going to let his new head of building security forget it.

    Dr. Curry was demonstrating the kit and testing everyone present at the daily Plan Zeus team meeting. He moved to Tom Smith’s side.

    Wincing, the tall Australian held out a hand and looked in the other direction while Curry wielded the test.

    He couldn’t see Durante from this angle, but he could hear the grin.

    “Boss, are you still scared of an itsy-bitsy needle?”

    “Answer in the first part,” Tom said, looking across the table. “It’s a well-known fact that needles are the source of all that is evil in the world. So, yes. Answer in the second part. Find something else for Faith do. Something safe. Filing. Hand folding pull-outs. Temp admin work. Something that keeps her in secure areas. Hell, spin it off to Rune.”

    At the end of the table, Rune winced. He had heard about the…challenges of reining in the younger Smith girl.

    “Also, answer in the third part,” Tom continued. “Gravy, thank you for volunteering to escort Brad on a little trip! You must remember to send us a postcard from picturesque Eastern Europe.” Smith dabbed at his finger with a Betadine patch, his eyes glinting.

    “And…this one is negative too.” Curry was personally reading each kit and then dropping them into a bin proffered by Sophia Smith, before the pair moved onto the next person.

    “Eastern Europe?” Durante looked over to their financier, who was looking unhappy but no real help, then returned his gaze to Tom. “How far east? Belgrade, Budapest…?”

    Mostly blank looks answered his sally. However, Tom made a little “come on” gesture.

    “Sofia…Kiev…” Durante continued, “Tbilisi…”

    “Warmer…” Tom said, holding up his palm. “Your job, once you have read the packet is to figure out the details.”

    He slid a thick folder down the table.

    “If we don’t either dramatically increase asset collection, or per-asset realization, we aren’t going to make our numbers for the planned courses of H7D3 vaccine,” Tom said, turning serious. “I’ve no desire to buy from Overture or Matricardi–their Q and A isn’t anything like ours. For that matter, Overture is starting to run his own coordination with some of the police precincts. If he gets tight with them, he can squeeze the banks. I’m going to try to head that off, but you and Brad are going to see if we can buy what we need.”

    Durante was still grinning. Big adventure! His erstwhile travel partner wasn’t happy.

    “Are we certain that the samples we collected from the London office came from this group?” Depine asked, reading an e-mail on his tablet.

    “Not sure,” Tom shrugged but stabbed a map of eastern Europe with his finger. “We know that there is a large-scale production center of pharmaceutical grade vaccine at least as good as the best we are manufacturing. We are confident that it is originating in Eastern Europe, but not Russia or Belarus. Current intel points to a semiautonomous region of the country of Georgia…And we think that the actual producers didn’t start out as a pharmaceutical operation…”

    “The beer company?” Durante asked. “Didn’t they mix it up with the Chechens a while back…?”

    “The same,” Tom said. “Also mercenaries for hire according to our NatSec intel group. And now believed to be producing high-quality vaccine in saleable quantities. Part of the background data on them is they have a long-term relationship with a former Russian/Soviet bioweapons expert. Presumably he’s the one in charge of vaccine production. Fly to Tblisi, make delicate inquiries, find the wholesalers, get us that vaccine.”

    “Why send me?” Depine didn’t quite whine. “I’m not a biologist. Besides, air travel right now isn’t safe!”

    “Simple math,” Smith replied, his tone hardening even further. “The board approved a global vaccination plan that will support up to thirty-thousand staff and dependents. We aren’t confident that we’re going to get to that number–so we need to buy more. If we buy from Overture or one of the others we run the risk of subpar quality as well as giving up leverage that we can’t afford to sacrifice just yet. So, it’s the two of you against potentially another few thousand courses of vaccine. I’ll take that bet. You’re a deal maker. Durante finds the wholesale source, you make the deal. Cause, admittedly, Gravy can’t negotiate for shit.”

    Durante looked hurt. Depine opened his mouth but Tom cut him off.

    “Lastly–you started off weeks ago by bitching about the costs when I wanted to initiate Zeus,” Tom said, his eyes cold behind his smile. “So, while all your fat-ass buddies stay here nice and safe in New York, you get to go haring off into the wilds to be the bag man and negotiator. The G6 is over at FBO. Three pilots, all vaccinated, just like yourself. Mr. Bateman has authorized five hundred kilos of bullion and another twenty million in specie. We need that vaccine. Make the best deal you can make, Brad. You screwed up my well-laid plans for just such an emergency once. Do it again, you won’t like the consequences.”

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