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The Valley of Shadows: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Sunday, November 18, 2018 16:03 EST



    Kaplan’s nose itched. He wasn’t certain which of Smith’s guests wore the offending scent–it seemed to be more sandalwood than floral, but that didn’t really refine the possible suspects. The OEM director wore a uniform every bit as formal as the visiting cops’ blues or his own boss’s tailored suit. It certainly was less colorful than the Cosa Nova boss’s white lapel carnation. The former operator carefully refrained from scratching his nose and concentrated on the principals while still keeping a careful eye cocked at their security.

    The visitors had arrived in three parties. The NYPD contingent included several plainclothes cops, two of whom had rather obvious and unnecessary briefcases which they carefully sat down to the right of their respective chairs. A suspicious mind might note that they were the right size and shape for a shortened carbine or subgun. A second group consisted of only two gray-suited OEM functionaries, a bearded man and a hatchet-faced woman, each carrying a leather folio and multiple phones. The last group included a squad of what looked like private military contractors, albeit ones with an excess of spray tan and styling gel. Their equipment included double pistol rigs, hung low on the same thigh. That didn’t count the knockout of a brunette who sat behind the head gangster.

    The tone of the meeting wasn’t…warm. Both Dominguez, now informally representing the entire Department, and Kohn, providing the same service for the remaining city government, were unhappy that they were sharing a room with a known criminal like Matricardi.

    It had taken fifteen minutes to get past the obligatory pleasantries and onto the real business. Smith wanted everyone to turn their cards face up before he popped the question.

    “You may need thirty-six thousand doses for the bank, but the department numbers twice that, plus dependents.” Dominguez’s voice was even but intense. “At the rate we are manufacturing, we might have full coverage for the officers in two more months. Probably three. But only if we don’t have to constantly referee the banks, the criminals and independents who are, incidentally, going after the same raw materials that we are. And this asshole”–he jerked his chin towards the Sicilian–“is selling to whoever can meet the price, even as we protect him.”

    Matricardi smiled but refrained from comment.

    Tom Smith didn’t rise to the bait, but he still replied.

    “I’ve got a couple of informal ways to determine how bad things are outside,” Tom said, gesturing to the broad window overlooking the East River. “I measure how long it takes our trucks to fill up every day. Takes rather less nowadays.”

    Bank of the Americas, like other interested parties, had been collecting zombies for vaccines for weeks. Smith had labeled the units Biological Emergency Response Teams, or BERTs for short. The name stuck, and the various competing BERTs patrolled, ready to tase and bag zombies for use in vaccine manufacture. That the official PD policy appeared to be “live and let live” strongly suggested that they needed the teams collecting infected rather more than they needed to assert their own primacy.

    “But I have been looking out this window since the Fourth of July,” Tom continued. “I check to see how many smoke columns there are, which corresponds to the number of fires not being promptly contained by FDNY. I check the number of reported arrests and detentions, which apart from infected, are way, way down. I look at the amount of traffic on the FDR Parkway. It’s getting a lot lighter. All those things correspond to how many LEO and emergency services we have left. And I can tell that the number is going down, fast. You don’t have fifty thousand cops anymore. After your precinct consolidation, you might have half of that, optimistically.”

    The top cop was getting visibly agitated.

    “Understand, Captain Dominguez, I intend no disrespect, but I can’t bring you options if we don’t share the same set of facts,” Tom added placatingly. “And the fact is that the police department is fading.”

    “There are plenty of cops,” Dominguez said, standing up abruptly. “Enough to lock the city down. If we get turned loose, we can clear out the five boroughs of the criminals that are profiting from this disease, instead of getting bled dry while they turn a buck.”

    He pointed at the New Jersey leader.

    “If that happens, then your organization is next. I know that after Overture, you are the second largest illegal vaccine operation in the City.”

    “News to me, Captain,” Matricardi said, spreading his hands disarmingly. “But I’m interested in finding more vaccine.”

    “We are the NYPD, and you think that you can dictate terms to us?” Dominguez looked angrily towards Smith. “If I think that you’re holding back vaccine that we need, I’ll arrest you here and now. I’m refraining from shooting this asshole,” he added, flinging a hand at the Sicilian, “out of hand only because we have an arrangement with Bank of the Americas–but only with you!”

    The tension in the room, which had been inching upwards, shot up several notches.

    Tom looked around the room. Three different groups of security guards had gone from tying to out-bland each other to being fully alert, weight on the balls of their feet and hands close to their weapons.

    The banker looked to the head of OEM.

    “Ms. Kohn, before you allow this to escalate unhelpfully, perhaps you want to hear the entire proposal?”

    Ding began to reply but Kohn forestalled him with a raised hand.

    “Just before Independence Day weekend, we were running at half the pre-Plague numbers,” she replied. “Last Monday, the number of sworn officers reporting for duty was at thirty-nine percent of pre-Plague levels and dropping.”

    The bright light filtering through the skyscraper’s tinted windows drew her face into sharp relief, severe but determined. She regarded Smith steadily.

    “So yes, your information is correct.” Her glance took in Smith and Dominguez. “Before we proceed further, why don’t we speak privately, we three?”

    Tom Smith looked over at Matricardi.

    “We four, you mean. I invited Mr. Matricardi for a purpose. And I need the good doctor for a bit longer, as well.”

    Ding gritted his teeth and shook his head.

    Kohn smiled and replied smoothly.

    “We accept.”



    “What do you mean, ‘You can’t do this’?” Rune didn’t often raise his voice, but when he did, he didn’t hold back. Despite that, he wasn’t in danger of being overheard. Jones had requested a private meeting with her boss in the secure conference room. “Can’t do what, exactly?”

    Kendra Jones was scared, but she stood her ground.

    “I don’t think I can be part of a plan, an operation, that is violating the rights of the people sick with the flu by murdering them for their spines.”

    Rune’s deputy was clearly miserable, but she didn’t try to sugarcoat it.

    “I don’t think that this is moral, I know that it isn’t legal, and it feels like we are tearing down our own civilization in order to find a quick solution,” she went on miserably. “There has got to be a different answer.”

    Rune let her have her personal space.

    “I never took you as the conscientious objector type, Kendra,” Paul said. “And understand that I mean that as a compliment. Unlike most of your cohort, or at least the ironic part, you have always had an edge…and you have busted your ass here. That’s why you are my deputy as well as the handler for the scientist that is the best hope of saving our collective ass. What changed?”

    “I, I knew what the bank and Dr. Curry were doing, even before the team meeting,” Jones said, meeting his blue eyes without flinching, much. “Maybe it has to be done, maybe…But I can’t do it. I know that the numbers are pretty bad for us–I can read a trend line like anyone else. Paul…We are probably going to lose. It’s moderately bad already, and we haven’t hit the take-off point on the curve.” At this point there’s no way to make enough vaccine to hold things together forever. I’ve seen the reports out of China. They’re mass-producing like mad, ring-immunizing, everything, and they’re still losing. If we’re going to lose, anyway, why sacrifice our soul first?”

    “And what do you plan to do?” Paul asked, trying to contain his impatience. “Walk away? Escape the city on your own while promising never to tell anyone what we did here? You think that CLD is all it’ll cost you?”

    Jones was pale, and held her hands together tightly. She nodded.

    He shook his head and turned to stare at the dark wood paneling, visible between the regularly spaced blocks of anechoic foam that drank in their words, giving their conversation a flat quality.

    “I like you, Jonesy,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s part of my problem. I don’t just think that you a crackerjack deputy–I also think that you are a decent human being in a shitty industry in an even shittier spot. But no. You don’t understand. Insiders that leave now know enough to put the plan at risk, to put everything at risk. You were in the meetings. You agreed to turn your hand and will to the bank’s purpose. You took the money, the vaccine, the whole deal. No one gets to walk. Leaving, at this point, is not an option.”



    He turned back and looked directly into her eyes, focusing first on one and then the other. She hadn’t moved from where she initially stood.

    “The only way out is through. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to do what we’re doing. Well, maybe the criminals, hell maybe even the NYPD, have found some psychos who like chopping people up. But I don’t like it. Tom doesn’t like it. Mr. Bateman, who knows damned well where the vaccine is coming from, doesn’t like it. Nobody likes it. Everyone is horrified and disgusted. But. We’re all in this together. Mutual assured destruction. You try to resign now and the best that you can hope for is a permanent inside job until the crisis is over, one way or the other. I don’t think that I have to tell you what your other options are.”

    “What do you mean?” Kendra asked quietly.

    “Recall what Smith’s oldest niece is doing?” Rune asked with a humorless chuckle. “A fifteen-year-old Smith is taking human spinal cords and loading them in a fucking Cuisinart to make people paste. The thirteen-year-old? She beat a fucking zombie to death with a stick in our own basement. My boss–your boss–has sworn to uphold the security of this bank and the production plan above all other things, including the safety of his only family. His life, his fortune and his sacred honor. We’re all putting that on the table so that, maybe, some of us survive. Maybe we can actually win, unlikely though it looks at present. So that maybe, even if we lose, we have a chance to rebuild and not go into a thousand-year night.”

    He reached out and clumsily if earnestly patted Jones on the shoulder. She barely avoided flinching again.

    “So, knowing what the kids in the family are like, what do you think Thomas ‘the fucking Train Engine’ Smith will do to you if he thinks that his sacrifices, his honor, his family–hell, the entire plan–are about to be at risk as a result of your attempt to back out of this agreement?”

    His deputy looked away and started to tremble.



    Apart from the four principals eyeing each other across the gleaming table, only Curry remained in the conference room.

    “You wanted the meeting private, Smith. Now it’s private, including this…person.”

    Dominguez wasn’t happy about Matricardi remaining, but the cop’s ire seemed to amuse the gangster.

    “First some news,” Smith said. “Dr. Curry turned up something interesting.”

    “‘Interesting’ interesting or ‘bad’ interesting?” interjected Matricardi. Clearly he wasn’t prebriefed on whatever the development might be.

    Curry stood at his place, but didn’t approach the head of the table. Instead, he watched the outsiders like a cat aware that there were large dogs just outside his yard.

    “Although the citywide attempts at ring vaccination have bought us more time than we had hoped, the rate of infection is up,” the scientist said, referring to the strategy of firewalling outbreaks with circles of vaccinated persons. “That’s the ‘bad interesting’ bit. The proportion of infections due to bites, or blood contamination of some sort is now greater than that of the airborne virus. That is the ‘even worse’ interesting bit, if you will.”

    Kohn looked at Curry for more amplification and then turned to Smith, who took up the narrative.

    “I can see you thinking ‘why does this matter?'” Tom said. “First, it means that the number of already infected people is sufficient to spread the disease by contact faster than even the initial airborne attack, which was already a high speed vector. Second, the propagation models we are using, from the CDC’s to the ones we built in house, are all using the previously observed infection rate. Third, and this is the kicker, the change to the disease propagation rate blows our plan to use vaccination to contain the disease out of the water. This means that we’ll not hold the entire city. The bite propagation rate has thrown that out as a possibility.”

    Dead silence persisted for several moments as everyone digested that happy news.

    Matricardi wasn’t shy.


    “The only way we’ll gain enough time to inoculate the largest number of people and get them to safe areas is to work together, organize the city, coordinate the efforts of the various city actors and accelerate vaccine production.” The banker slowed his rapid fire delivery. “We hold the line for as long as we can. Maybe the CDC and the government will pull a miracle out of their hat. Maybe the Plague will burn itself out.”

    Curry snorted.

    “Is there seriously a chance that could happen?” Kohn looked intrigued. “I have been told it may just go away, that the virus is breaking down.”

    Tom slurped some more coffee and waved at Curry, who stood back up.

    “In genetic engineering terms, this virus is made of spit and bailing wire,” Curry said. “The rate of transcription errors for the secondary expressor, which is the actual modified rabies virus, is creating some variants that are not viable in any host. However, others are, and those are enough to keep the transmission going long enough to infect the planet, unless the devolution of the dominant H7D3 strain accelerates unexpectedly.”

    “Thank you, Dr. Curry,” Tom said, nodding at the scientist. “I think probably Sophia needs your guidance at this point.”

    “Out of the room for the rest of it?” Curry asked curiously.

    “Out of the room for the rest of it,” Tom said, nodding.

    “So, the virus is dying, but probably not fast enough to save us,” Kohn said, after the microbiologist had left the room. “Why would we cooperate to hold the line only in order to afford your bank enough time to escape? I find that unacceptable.”

    “Because the bank is constructing and outfitting long-term refuges for critical personnel.” It was Tom’s turn to play his final ace. “In exchange for working with me, I’m going to make room for all three of you.”

    “And our families?” Dominguez asked.

    “And a select number of critical staff as well,” Tom said with a nod. “I’m letting you buy into our plan. Break security? You get left behind. Fail to deliver on cooperation? Same thing.”

    “Where are these safe areas?” Kohn said thoughtfully. “How large are they?”

    “Madame Director, that’s ‘need to know.'” Tom leaned back. “And you don’t yet need to know. However, consider my actual job here at the Bank. It’s to ensure that the Bank continues. Period. Dot. And I was given quite a nice budget to ensure just that prior to the Plague and more funding since. Before I read you in, and before you think about forcing the issue, allow me to share that the one certain way to cut yourselves off from this parachute is to try to strong arm us. The first question that matters is, ‘what do we need from each other?'”



    The three groups of security specialists were in the large foyer outside the bank’s executive conference room. Groups of chairs, a light buffet and windows provided natural places for them to gather separately. Kaplan noticed that the Cosa Nova woman was by herself, looking out a window.

    Her conservatively cut, dark business suit didn’t hide her knockout figure. It was complemented by tall heels, whose soles flashed red when she walked back from the coffee urn to her window perch. They might as well have been a spinner lure in front of a lunging bass.


    Kaplan decided that as long as no one was making her acquaintance, there was no reason that he shouldn’t be an attentive host. He stopped by the OEM staffers and cops first, inquiring if they needed anything. The Jersey boys were next, and despite some flexing, which might have been an involuntary reflex upon the approach of any other male, they too needed nothing.

    As Kaplan strode confidently to the woman, he noted that her right hand never strayed more than a finger’s width from her cream clutch, which seemed to have rich leather and deep, hand-sewn seams.

    “Miss Khabayeva, my name is Jim Kaplan.” Kap was all professionalism and charm. “I run security for the building. Is there anything that I can get you?”

    She held out her hand.

    “Oldryskya Khabayeva, ‘Risky’ to my friends.”

    Kaplan enjoyed the benefits of a great poker face, but this woman was giving nothing away. As he shook her hand, he noted the perfect manicure, a pleasant floral scent and startling violet eyes. Had to be contacts. He took her extended hand and enjoyed her firm hand shake. No limp-wristed, damp-palmed ingénue here.

    “My friends call me Kapman. Nice to meet you.”



    She glanced at him, obviously considering something.

    “Our security people told us that you were recently promoted. Congratulations.”

    Kaplan figured that they had information that was probably almost as good as what the bank had on them.

    “It wasn’t how I would have chosen to get ahead,” Kaplan said. “But a zombie apocalypse is sort of like a war, am I right?”

    “Dark humor, yes, I understand that quite well.” She tilted her chin a bit. “I grew up in the wreckage of the former Soviet Union, so a touch of nihilism is quite familiar. Your Mr. Smith seemed to have the same sort of humor, when we last met. Have you worked with him long?”

    “Tom?” This was not going the way Kaplan envisioned. “Yeah, we’ve known each other, off and on for a pretty long time. Only just started to work together again recently.” He pointed towards the window and some of the smoke columns in view. “Pretty much since that started happening.”

    She followed the direction of his gesture.

    “Yes, the burning is more now. In New Jersey too. One wonders if the fire can be put out.”

    She looked back to Kaplan. He thought that she might be studying his face before she turned to look out the window again.

    “Do you think it can be put out? Do you believe in this plan of Mr. Smith’s?”

    She was definitely not into him, Kaplan decided. He could guess from her questions who had caught her fancy. Fucking SAS pretty boys.

    “Probably,” Kaplan said, shrugging. “Tom’s a planner. Long-term plans, short-term plans, mid-term plans, contingency plans woven in and out of each of them. He wants to keep the bank going, somehow, because we are going to need some kind of economy in order to recover from all this. The banks have the money and the incentive to make that happen. Plus, he took their salt. You know the term?”

    She glanced back sharply.

    “Yes. Where I grew up isn’t so far from…places where that matters still. Very much.”



    “So, what you want is for me to convince the chief of police and the mayor that we need to not only tolerate the gangs that are collecting infecteds and making vaccine, but actually cede effective police control of much of the City to them and endorse their activities?” Kohn’s fingers tapped the polished wooden table. “What makes you think that I can do that, Mr. Smith, even if I wanted to?”

    Kohn was conversational. Dominguez looked like he might do himself an injury throttling his barely controlled rage. Matricardi’s earlier smirks hadn’t helped.

    Tom understood negotiations and appreciated where his opposite numbers were, emotionally. Frankly, the cool response from Kohn concerned him more than the twitching in Dominguez’s right hand.

    “Ms. Kohn, I want rather more than that. I need you to help me organize a citywide agreement. The City and the police”–Smith carefully didn’t add “what remains of them,” but gestured to the captain instead–“the banks which have resources sufficient to contribute,” he tapped his own breast, “and the entrepreneurs who have already shown a degree of initiative,” he inclined his head towards the chair where Matricardi slumped cheerfully, “must work together to reduce the wasted competitive and policing effort in order to eliminate more infecteds, faster, and accelerate vaccine production. Competition is normally a good thing. Unrestrained violent competition, war if you will, means everyone loses.”

    He pushed a carafe of sparkling water towards the cop. It slid easily in its puddle of condensation. Looking back to Kohn, he answered.

    “At least when it’s merely the four of us, can we use less formal address? Call me Tom. Why do I know that you can deliver? For a couple reasons. For example, I think that the mayor is out of the picture in his less than totally secret private estate on the east coast of Antigua, where he has been these last several weeks.”

    Both Kohn and Dominguez froze at that, but Dominguez flicked his eyes rapidly at both Smith and the gangster. His hand twitched a bit more.

    “The deputy mayor is, pardon me, your bitch,” Tom continued. “And I know that he has yielded operational control for the NYPD-led vaccine materials collection and infected control up to the OEM. I know that you and Rafe here go back a fair piece and I know that you are already closely coordinating with the police regardless of the mayor’s intentions. I know that you are covering for the dozen or so people who really run the City and have promised them your protection in exchange for ongoing and future considerations. I also know that Matricardi’s competition is already trying to cut a separate, if smaller deal, with some of Ding’s colleagues, though without his knowledge.”

    This time Matricardi reacted, adjusting his posture so that he was sitting, if not straight, then at least more attentively. Dominguez hadn’t yet unfrozen from the revelation that Smith knew about Antigua.

    “Hey, we’ve gotta protect our interests,” Matricardi said. “And it ain’t like we’re the only one. Seventeen is so far up Overture’s ass the precinct chief’s practically family. We’ve had people killed by cops working for them, direct. An’ worse than killed!”

    “Which is an example of the issues,” Tom said. “We’re trying to save our civilization, our respective organizations, our families and ourselves. We’re not going to succeed if we simultaneously have to fight what amounts to a civil war.

    “Mr. Matricardi’s organization and the banks can deal directly with the City through you and no one will itch, as long as the captain of the most prestigious precinct seems to be in agreement. You get to retain the trust of the power brokers who, incidentally, are all already largely absent–so I have to wonder…How will they compensate you, caught in a city overrun with infected?”

    He sat back.

    “Well, Tom, let us suppose that you are right?” she said, smiling thinly and effectively ceding the points that Smith had made. “How do we know that you can reciprocate?”

    “I give you the location of one of our refuges as a gesture of good will,” Tom said. “We exchange trusted subordinates to participate in our respective organizations. I guarantee your evacuation not later than the flight before my own extraction and that of my family. You keep the number of ‘insider’ personnel to our agreed upon limit. You go over, it’s on you.”

    He looked over at Matricardi, who still hadn’t spoken.

    “Cosa Nova gets the same payout,” Tom said. “In addition, they gain the benefit of our summed intelligence and use it to serve as a counterweight to Overture and the remaining Triads in lower Manhattan. Cosa Nova acts in our combined best interest and they contribute to the vaccine stockpile while endorsing the integrated approach to sharing infected territory. They also agree to a price structure that permits the city and the banks to buy what they need. In exchange, you don’t raid them. If you raid anyone, you raid those who are not party to the agreement.”

    Smith added one final point. The entire point.

    “The purpose of this agreement is to build a citywide cartel and give the whole system the longest possible interval to turn the situation around. If that fails, our group of four will have something and somewhere from which we can rebuild. I like to think that despite our differences, we can all agree on that.”

    “I like it,” Matricardi said. “Oh, there are details, but in general I like it.” He looked to Dominguez, and laid a hand on his own lapel. The carnation caught the pale light from the window. “Captain, with the deepest respect, I pledge to cooperate with you and your colleagues.”

    Dominguez met Matricardi’s look, his eyes narrowed.

    “If we can actually stop the Plague, or worst case–survive this for real, and get the family out, then I’m in.” Dominguez looked back over to Smith. “Secrecy is going to be hard though. How many people actually know about the whole plan?”

    “This part of it?” Tom relaxed a fraction. “We four. The refuge locations, disease forecasts and the long-term chances? Maybe thirty in North America. As we get closer to pulling the handle, to actually evacuating, the number will go up.”

    “I’m in.” Dominguez nodded. “Provisionally.”

    “I agree as well,” Kohn said decisively. “The Devil will be in the details. We will have to discuss quid pro quo’s of course, and select the liaison personnel…”

    At the head of the table Tom looked to the Cosa Nova chief.

    “Will you make it unanimous?”

    “I think we got a deal.” Matricardi stood and stretched. “I know just who to lend out for the bank team. Say, anyone else hungry? I could murder a lasagna.”

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