Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

The Valley of Shadows: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Sunday, November 18, 2018 16:02 EST



    “No, Mr. Mayor,” Joanna said, smiling calmly at the crystal clear image of her titular boss. “There is no danger that Bank of the Americas can conceal their preparations indefinitely. They have several long-term fallback points in development. The agreement requires them, in the event of catastrophic emergency, to share them with us.”

    She carefully omitted details on what, exactly, constituted “us.”

    “How the hell can you ensure that they don’t betray the agreement that you agreed to without my permission, Kohn!” Hizzoner didn’t quite snarl. “You said that you’d consult with me on anything that was serious, and this is damned well serious! You can’t trust those fucking bastards–doing so is fucking stupid.”

    Joanna was affected by his famous temper just as much as she was by the sharp, persistent scent of chemical disinfectant, which was used daily to wipe down every surface in the OEM offices.

    That is to say, not at all.

    “Sir, conditions are increasingly perilous,” she said. “We are still losing ground to H7D3, despite all of our efforts.” She gestured to Gauge, who spoke up.

    “Mr. Mayor, on your orders we immediately instituted the vaccination program and it’s ongoing. We continue to suppress the worst reporting about the disease, and the state legislature backed the suspension, sorry, the realignment of some civil rights. We’re continuing the program of compartmentalizating blocks with severe rates of infection and lastly, we are getting more National Guard presence.”

    “None of that excuses your freelancing, Joanna!” the major retorted, ignoring her underling.

    “Sir, I am supporting your agenda, as agreed, but there is not time any longer to run every late breaking decision through you, unless you can return to the City.”

    “Out of the question!” the mayor snapped, though more calmly this time. “My family’s here, and we have on-island redundant communications links to every relevant capital and government department. I can run the City fine from here, and I can sure enough bury you if you disobey me again, Joanna, no matter where I am.”

    “Of course sir,” she answered. “But Mr. Mayor, on a different topic, we sent the first course of human sourced attenuated vaccine via your courier team last week, as authorized per your signed finding. Did you complete the round of primer injections for all the adults? Precise timing is required for the application of the booster injections.”

    There was a brief pause as the mayor adjusted to her not so subtle reminder about the source of the vaccine. And who authorized it.

    “Yes, yes, of course,” he replied. “Look, I have to go. Keep me informed and don’t sign anymore agreements with any fucking gangsters unless you consult with me, understood?”

    “Yes, sir,” Joanna replied, almost demurely.

    The screen went dead in the secure OEM conference room and Schweizer moved to unplug the system, doubly ensuring that they had complete privacy.

    “That could have gone better,” offered Gauge, stacking the unneeded briefing folders on the table.

    “‘If the population knew with what idiocy they were ruled, they would revolt,'” stated Joanna.


    “Tell me again, what did you study for your master’s degree, Sarissa?” the director of the OEM inquired. “Any history, or the classics?”

    “No, Ms. Kohn,” replied Gauge. “Women’s Studies at Berkeley, and an MBA from Brown.”

    Joanna flicked her eyes over to her second associate.

    “Poli-sci at George Washington,” Schweizer said, correctly interpreting her glance as a question.

    “Charlemagne, Sarissa,” Joanna explained. “The quote is from Charlemagne, the first emperor in the west after the fall of the Romans. He owed his position to his father, Charles Martel, better known as Charles the Great.”

    “Battle of Tours,” offered Schweizer, with a snide look at his competitor. “Charles the Hammer, first of the Frankish kings, filled the power vacuum during the Muslim invasion of Europe.”

    “Better, Ken, but not quite accurate,” Joanna said reprovingly. She like her people to practice their competitive skills on each other, but it wouldn’t do to let one or the other too far ahead. “Charles Martel wasn’t the king, his title was Mayor of the Palace for the last of the Merovingians, the line of kings that ruled a dwindling European kingdom. The mayor of the palace was the true power behind the throne of the Merovingians, and set policy and led the army, which Charles used to reclaim central Europe from the Turks. Then he consolidated the petty dukes, thereby reestablishing Francia and starting his own royal line.”

    “Um, yes ma’am?” Gauge wasn’t certain where her boss was going with all this.

    “My point, Sarrissa,” Joanna said patiently. “Is that Martel’s grandson was Charlemagne–Charles the Great–and he climbed great heights, eventually rising to be the Holy Roman Emperor. He shaped the future of Western Civilization for ten generations. Like any competent ruler, he appreciated that bad rulers didn’t last long, especially when those ruled became aware of their leaders’ incompetence.”

    Joanna saw Schweizer’s eyes glittering appreciatively.

    She went on.

    “Crises come and go, and the City persists. Our mayor has chosen to absent himself during this crisis. A great crisis which we are managing, ably and quite visibly. When the dust clears, who will be leading the entire city? Who will be new king, Sarissa?”

    Gauge and Schweizer shared a bright look, as each calculated their own trajectory, while Joanna continued.

    “So, I would say that our meeting went quite well.”



    “Right, right.” Tom was clearly impatient. “Yes, Brad. Got it. If you’re confident that this is the guy, then you have the authority to make the deal.”

    Depine was getting twitchy as the meet with independent vaccine manufacturers drew near. Rune could only hear Smith’s side of the conversation, which continued.

    “The amounts involved will be high, but not impossible.” Tom went on with his half of the call. “You’ve got the testing kits to verify quality and you also have the liquid assets for the first shipment. Get. It. Done.”

    A pause.

    “Right. Smith clear.” The head for Security and Emergency Response snorted and didn’t quite slam the receiver into the cradle.

    “What an asshole,” Tom said, sighing. “The thought of having to deal with him for possibly years in a fallback shelter just does not please.”

    He glanced up and frowned. “You look way too happy. Whatcha got?”

    “Just some routine updates–so you first, Boss,” Rune replied, trying manfully to erase his smile. “Do we need to backstop Depine and Durante? Judging from what I heard…”

    “No, we’re good, I think,” Smith said. “Seems that this is Depine’s version of the usual pre-mission jitters. Durante’s last e-mail states that other than sweating through his suits faster than usual, Depine seems ready to go for the face-to-face with the vaccine outfit later today. The samples that they have tested all check out. Your turn.”

    “Cosa Nova’s representative just got badged up and is heading to orientation,” Rune said, willing his cheek muscles into immobility. “Since you made the deal with her boss, she’ll be at the first team status meeting.”

    This was going to be good.

    “Okay, fine, ho…wait,” Tom said, squinting suspiciously. “She?”

    “Oh, didn’t I say?” Paul studiously looked at his Moleskine for the notes as though he hadn’t already memorized the name. “Matricardi’s liaison is that hot brunette from the restaurant. Same one as went to the last chat before you bosses kicked everyone out of the room. A Ms. Oldryskya Khabayeva.”

    “Of course.” Smith sighed.

    Matricardi didn’t miss much.

    “All right, as soon as we get the other two in today, set up a welcome aboard chit chat with the department heads and myself,” the tall Aussie went on. “Oh, and if you haven’t already…”

    Rune finished for him, “…get a complete ‘go-to’ for each primary. Got them here, Boss.”

    He laid the relevant intelligence summaries for each liaison on the desk.

    “I’m also doing a deeper dive on the principals,” he added. “When I develop anything useful I’ll let you know.”



    “Hey Tom,” Kaplan whispered as the cargo van turned a corner. “I heard that Matricardi is lending you a real hottie for a liaison. That true?”

    There were many vaccine producing entrepreneurs outside the sanctioned list of proposed members for the City-wide H7D3 cartel. This was the result, in part, of the easy availability of incomplete information: the basics of making an attenuated vaccine were but a few Internet clicks and a complete disregard for the law away. Most of the street-level operations were little more than a small crew running a single truck, processing in a cobbled together lab using an old X-ray machine and repurposed sweat shop labor for packaging and “enhancements.” If the X-ray machine was on the blink–oh well. A little food dye and a few micrograms of methamphetamine provided enough authenticity to assure low information or desperate buyers that their “medicine” was genuine.

    While a few of the most careful players also made or bought some higher quality vaccine for themselves, these teams were niche players without top cover. The larger criminal elements had no objection to clearing the playing field of riff raff, especially if there was some profit on the table for them.

    The first tentative cartel operation between the City, organized crime, and what Matricardi liked to call “really organized crime”–the banks–was to destroy the independent chop shops in Manhattan.

    The normal circadian rhythm of a healthy person reaches its ebb, measured in alertness and capacity for work, between two and three a.m. Since time immemorial, humans planning to wreak mayhem upon other humans have taken advantage of this rhythm to initiate hostilities at that time, striking while their targets were unfocused or asleep. Modern western militaries and nearly all special operations types had extensive experience in planning and executing successful surprise attacks in the wee hours of the morning. Conversely, they tended to buttress their own protection in the form of additional sentries and cameras during that time of day. You could say that these units had written the “book” on surprise attacks.

    The franchise of Mara Salvatrucha 13 or MS13 as it was popularly known, that was running zombie collection and vaccine production near Canal Street had modern weaponry, surprisingly adequate lab facilities and two collection vehicles.

    Unfortunately for them, they didn’t have the “book.” Or maybe they simply neglected to read it.

    Smith was standing crouched in the darkened cargo space of an ad hoc BERT truck. Adapted from a Hyundai panel van and seized from its operators a short time previously, the vehicle had clearly been used to transport zombies for processing. The sweet and sour smell from the rotting blood and accumulated filth was enough to make his eyes water. Holding on to the internal ribs of the shell, the rest of a combined assault team composed of Cosa Nova shooters, Kaplan and himself swayed with the motion of the truck as it passed over a speed bump before turning into the alley leading to the clandestine production facility.

    Launching operations during the early morning hours was a habit for the “spec-ops” crowd. Another habit of operators was to take advantage of stressful situations to have a little fun at their buddies’ expense.

    Parachute rigged just before the drop? Check. “That rig looks a little screwy to me, wouldn’t jump it if I were you.”

    Four-hour pressure-chamber ride? Check. “Man, have I got to take a dump. You mind? Pass the bucket.”

    Getting ready to spring an ambush? Check.

    Kaplan had chosen a common wrinkle. Needle the boss over his potential love life, or lack thereof.

    “Loved those red-soled high heels at the meeting,” he added to his first statement. “What’s your play?”

    “Meh,” Smith replied, a little too tonelessly. “It’s all the same to me.” Of course a real veteran knew that the closer to the mark that any joke might be, the more critical it was to give nothing up.

    “Suuuuure. So, you’re okay if I take a shot…”

    Smith’s eyes glinted dangerously.

    “Shut it,” Tradittore grated, his hand covering the side of his head with an earpiece as he tried to monitor the communications for the operations. Tom couldn’t make out the popping of the enamel as Tradittore ground his molars, but he could imagine it just the same. Between the intel summary and Tradittore’s clear interest in Matricardi’s “assistant,” it was likely that the Cosa Nova lieutenant’s agitation was only partially from the stress of the op. Which was considerable.



    The former government political analyst and fixer turned mob wise guy had grown in influence within the Cosa Nova since the crisis had progressed. It was his idea to try to close out the niche players. The smaller groups were very difficult to infiltrate, but the NYPD, Rune’s team and Matricardi’s group had independently corroborated information that they were feeding the black market for vaccine outside the City, benefiting from a considerable markup exceeding what the “Gang” had negotiated with each other. They’d also violated boundaries and aggressively operated in Matricardi’s territory. Worse, the information from the consolidated police precincts was that they had swept up civilians who appeared to have stage one symptoms, and then skipped the confirmation blood tests before adding them to the pool of “raw materials.”

    A day ago Tradittore had proposed to his boss that they simply terminate all the noncartel operations inside the five boroughs. Once Matricardi had approved the notion, he briefed the smaller inner circle of BotA collaborators. From there, the results would be presented to the still dithering much larger cartel, and perhaps drive a decision that it was time to move. The first four players would present the end of the independents as a step towards enhancing safety and policing in the city.

    The surprise twist was that Matricardi had directed his deputy to run the operation himself.

    In person.

    The mob winnowed its ranks of the less capable somewhat differently than a bank. The best sharks tended to rise to the top, regardless. Matricardi appreciated the metaphor.

    In addition to the joint Jersey and BotA team assaulting the Canal Street site, there were two other operations starting simultaneously, mostly run from the Hercules and Ajax units fielded by the Emergency Services Unit of the NYPD, now openly controlled by OEM and led by Dominguez. Previously used to maintain a rapidly deployable and up-gunned presence near high-value targets in Manhattan, these armored trucks and more heavily armed officers had been used to collect the police department’s share of zombies. They might also eventually enforce the terms of agreement between all players.

    Tom had decided to tag along. He had a feeling that they might find a considerable stock of vaccine on site and he wanted to ensure that product of questionable quality was put to the torch. He didn’t really expect that Matricardi would so obviously screw him by under reporting and reusing the material, but he did elect to help Matricardi by keeping “honest men honest.”

    For values of the word honest.

    If it annoyed the Cosa Nova lieutenant, that was pure bonus.

    Tradittore had been more than a little apprehensive–he was no operator–and timing was going to be tricky. Over the radio he heard the cops prepare to launch their assaults.

    Outside, Spanish could be heard over the truck’s diesel engine, which in turn was almost drowned out by the shriek of a rusty garage door being rolled up. The truck lurched forward.

    Tradittore raised his hand as the trucked began to brake to stop.


    The modified roll up door on the truck fell away, revealing three surprised gang members standing in a courtyard lit by a fire in a fifty-five-gallon drum as well as the interior flood light that lit the open garage beyond. Despite being armed, they didn’t get off a single shot as the first two Cosa Nova shooters serviced their targets with easy central nervous system hits.

    Tom and Kaplan followed the Sicilians out of the truck, jumping down last. Their AR carbines were legally short-barreled rifles, or SBRs, courtesy of Rune’s shopping trip earlier. The decreased overall length and pistol caliber weapons permitted the handier use of the suppressors, which kept the sounds of the first shots to a loud clapping sound, similar to a chair falling over on a hard surface.

    The use of similar weapons by the first shooters out had kept the reports down, and no obvious response to their presence had started yet.

    The Cosa Nova crew split into three teams as Tradittore directed them toward the priority targets, including the suspected upstairs lab and the bunk area. As the Jersey shooters went upstairs, Tom and Kaplan soft footed up to an exterior door. Tom twisted the door handle and found it unlocked. The second man placed his right hand on Tom’s shoulder and squeezed, indicating his readiness. Tom swiftly opened the door and followed it all the way around, ensuring that no one was standing behind it. As he cleared from the wall towards the center of the room, he saw a man in a loose business suit look up from his desk. Demonstrating excellent reflexes, the seated man darted a hand at a pistol on the desktop.

    Kaplan had already entered behind him. His suppressed weapon coughed simultaneously with Tom’s, their combined efforts dropping the now limp body across the desk as the dead man’s hand covered the gun.

    A fusillade of shots rang out upstairs, then tailed off. Tom cocked an ear for a moment, but there were no other sounds so he scanned the room more completely.

    A large stainless-steel refrigerator was set into the next room. Opened, it revealed several Styrofoam racks of the now familiar vaccine ampoules. Manufacturing dates were scribbled on the stickers decorating each rack.

    “How much is that worth?” Kaplan whispered.

    “Don’t matter,” Tom replied. “We’re gonna burn it. Hold open your ruck.”

    Kaplan knew that he was looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars but letting his carbine dangle from its friction strap he shrugged out of his pack and held it open as Smith dumped the vials in, two racks at a time. The chore was completed in less than a minute and they started up the stairs.

    Behind a door, they could hear Tradittore’s distinctive voice. Knocking on the door very loudly, Tom yelled: “It’s Smith, I’m opening the door.”

    He waited a moment, and slowly opened the door, giving the Sicilians time to see him. All were aiming towards him, but dropped their muzzles as soon as they saw Smith. Tradittore lowered his last.

    “Took your sweet time.”

    Tom glanced around the room. In the corner of the lab area, one of the Cosa Nova shooters had returned to bandaging a second. Two more Mara Salvatruchas lay on the floor, unmoving. The shorty version of a Kalashnikov protruded from under one body. Broken glassware and debris from medical devices crunched underfoot.

    “What’s the hold up?” Tom asked.

    Tradittore gestured at a wide but shut door at the other end of the room. The surface was bullet scarred but intact.

    “Third door.” He smacked it with a palm. “The hinges are internal and there are least two more inside. I think it’s a safe room. Our rounds bounced.”

    “What’s your plan?” Tom asked.

    “We blow it, then shoot what’s left.”

    “Works for me,” the banker replied. “We’ll go back down.”

    Before he could step back, the locked door began to open, prompting the assaulting team to hastily raise their weapons.

    The door finished swinging open. A pair of very young women, clearly not yet eighteen, were revealed. Behind them was a sleeping area.

    “Manos arriba!” Tradittore jerked his carbine up, and the clearly scared girls raised their hands up, revealing that their midriff-length shirts were not cut with modesty in mind.

    One of the Jersey boys whistled.

    Kaplan and Smith didn’t react as Tradittore sent the two remaining shooters into the room to clear it. Finding nothing, their shouts of “Clear left, clear right” lowered some of the tension in the room.

    One of the women stepped a little closer to Tradittore, sizing him up.

    “You aren’t going to hurt us, yes?” She had survived with one ruthless gang and seemed to understand which currency might buy her security for a time with a second. She lowered her hands, one resting on her hip and another tugging her shirt downwards, ostensibly for modesty’s sake but serving to tighten the thin fabric across her chest. “We can be friends.”

    “Sure, we can be friends,” Tradittore said with an easy smile. “You two just stand there for now.”

    He gestured the two teenagers towards the wall, where they obediently shuffled while carefully not looking at the two bodies leaking on the floor.

    Letting his weapon aim back towards the floor, Tradittore turned to address his men and organize the withdrawal.

    “Sacks, get Little Mike down the stairs if he can walk. Let the other two know that you are coming so you don’t eat a bullet. Sammie, you and I’ll search these two, then the lab. You banker boys can check the bunkroom. Priority to vaccine, documents, then cash.”

    Tradittore sounded confident. He clearly thought that the op was already over.

    The Bank of America pair looked at each other and watched as the injured man stumbled downstairs. Kapman’s eyes scanned the pair of women who stood, mostly still, against the wall. The hips of one girl tilted from side to side as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other and back again. Tom frowned a bit as he noticed his partner’s eyes lingering.

    It was neither the time nor place for eyeball liberty.

    They crossed towards the bunkroom as the Cosa Nova pair approached the women, grinning in anticipation of the “search.” Tom entered and began to yank open drawers. Kapman paused just the other side of the door, keeping an angle on the activity in the lab.

    The women smiled back at the Sicilians, sharing a knowing look between themselves. The one closer to Tradittore ran a hand up her leg, raising the hem provocatively.

    Tradittore chuckled throatily as stepped closer, blocking most of the view from the bunkroom. He ran his hands around the woman’s waist, and addressed his partner.

    “Sammie, what do you think? Any contraband?”

    Sammie had leaned in to sniff the hair of his “target” but his reply was interrupted by a needle-sharp ice-pick that the teen rammed into his right eye. He froze and made a glurk sound just as Tradittore’s searchee produced a black compact pistol from under her skirt and pressed it into her target’s side, pulling the trigger as fast as she could.

    Kapman took a single sideways step back into the room and serviced both targets, dropping each woman with a pair of rapid shots. Tradittore stumbled back, cursing, and emptied his magazine into the corpse at his feet as Sammie finished falling to the floor. His fresh corpse drummed its heels against the industrial tile floor.

    From start to finish the action had lasted under three seconds.

    Kapman added one more headshot to each body as Tom exited the room and scanned the scene. He looked at Tradittore who was pressing his hand to his ribs, but was still on his feet.

    “How bad?” he asked the Cosa Nova.

    “I don’t know,” Joey wheezed. “Motherfucker hurts. That fucking bitch–”

    “Shut it. Let me see.”

    Tom brushed the injured man’s hands away and opened the velcro on the plate carrier as Tradittore kept up a steady torrent of profanity. The shirt under the armor was unpunctured and unbloodied. Tom looked under the cloth and observed a large bruise already blooming.

    “You got lucky. The armor kept it out.”

    He looked down at the brass on the floor and picked up a case ejected from the dead teen’s pistol.

    “A twenty-five,” Tom said. “That wouldn’t even penetrate the soft-armor. Like I said, lucky.”

    “Lucky,” wheezed the mobster, drawing the word out.

    “How did you know?” Tom asked Kaplan.

    “The girls weren’t scared enough,” Kapman said, his right hand still on his AR grip. “They had a plan. The one with the gun kept rubbing her thighs together, like she was horny. I don’t care how seductive you are, you watch your man get shot, you don’t feel sexy. She was moving her legs together to check that the pistol she grabbed while she was behind the door wasn’t about to fall out of her underwear.”

    “I thought for a second you were distracted by the jailbait,” Tom said. “Shoulda known better, Kapman.”

    “It’s all good, Boss.” Kaplan turned to hold security, facing the two doors leading out of the room. “I like a piece as much as the next guy, but no matter how good they look, somewhere, some dude learned the hard way that she was too far to the right on the crazy-hot matrix. I just read the signs.”

    The security specialist jerked his head at the dead Cosa Nova shooter, whose face was still decorated with a knurled red ice-pick grip.

    “We taking that with us?”

    Tom looked over at Tradittore who had his kit back together and was fumbling with a cell phone.

    “Not our problem,” Tom said, jerking the stair door back open. “Let’s go downstairs to take care of that job.”

    In the courtyard, Tom relieved his teammate of the pack full of vaccine and began shaking it into the burning trash barrel. The chore took a minute.

    “What the fuck are you doing!”

    Looking up he saw Tradittore exit the door and start to raise his weapon.



    “Little late for that, Tradittore.” Tom tilted his head sideways even as he continued to dump the last ampoules into the barrel, the merry tinkle of glass a counterpoint to the grimness of the scene. To one side Kapman had a perfect sight picture centered on the Sicilian’s face. “He saved your ass back there,” Tom added lightly. “Be a real shame if he had to ruin his hard work, don’t you think?”

    Tradittore’s man returned and immediately shouldered his weapon, training it first on Kapman, then Tom.

    “Fuck it and fuck you, pretty boy,” Tradittore said, disgusted. He let his rifle hang once more. “Do you know how much money you’re burning?”

    Tom looked back after the last good shake consigned a final ampoule to the flames.

    “You can’t spend it if you’re dead,” Tom said, meeting Tradittore’s eyes. “This is dirty vaccine of shit quality. All it’s good for is taking money from desperate people in exchange for making a considerable number of them into zombies. It burns.”

    The red flames continued to reflect in Tradittore’s eyes after Tom turned away.



    “Ken Schweizer, OEM.” Schweizer introduced himself to the neatly dressed black-haired man across the table.

    “Ramon Gutierrez,” came the answer from behind a pair of five-hundred-dollar sunglasses. “I represent the business interests of Mr. Overture.”

    Gutierrez’s suit looked loose and comfortable. He had eschewed a traditional suit and tie in favor of a open-necked guayabera, the traditional lightweight linen shirt of Central America and the Carib. It was as much a symbol of his role as the subdued NYC OEM logo on Schweizer’s binder.

    “Thank you for making time for me despite your busy schedule,” Schweizer said, glancing around. Although Schweizer was alone, his counterpart had brought along additional trappings to highlight his place in Big Mac Overture’s enterprise in the form of two looming, dreadlocked bodyguards.

    Gutierrez tipped the neck of his beer towards Schweizer, acknowledging his statement, before taking a healthy pull.

    The hustle and bustle of the Crown Heights bodega provided enough background noise to afford them some privacy, so Schweizer proceeded.

    “We have an interest in maintaining a good relationship with all of the important city departments, Ken,” he said. “NYPD, FDNY, sanitation–so I’m glad to hear that you want to talk. OEM has an important job, but it usually takes a while for you to get around to the little people in Queens, man.”

    Queens, and to some extent Brooklyn, had become a home to successive waves of immigration from the Gulf of Mexico and places south. Trinidad, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Barbados, Puerto Rico–all had contributed to the melting pot in New York City. The intelligence that OEM had from the police and the FBI revealed that Overture had made his bones by consolidating power in his borough, much as Matricardi had done in Jersey.

    Like Matricardi, he also appeared to have leaned into the H7D3 crisis instead of running away from it.

    “I assume that you are aware that the City is contemplating a partnership with certain business elements to regularize the production of vaccine,” Schweizer said. “An important component of that is cooperation.”

    “Well, the term ‘City’ is a pretty big stretch, wouldn’t you say, Ken?” Gutierrez said, smiling. “I mean, if you’d said you were working within Manhattan, or North Jersey, or even Staten Island, I’d probably agree. But Brooklyn and Queens already belong to my boss. And he’s moving in the other boroughs too. We know that you are rolling up MS13 and the Triads. Like my boss always says, gives us something in common.”

    Schweizer sipped his water before replying.

    “We have a working relationship with banks and other…irregular business interests. As well as the NYPD,” he said. “I see some value in maintaining a channel between us, to avoid potential conflicts of interest and to share breaking information.”

    “Everything is negotiable,” Overture’s man said, drinking more beer. “So let me show you ’round. Give you a sense of what we have to offer.” He stood up.

    “C’mon, it’s just around the corner.”

    Schweizer paid attention to the way that Gutierrez’s eyes glinted.

    That couldn’t be good.



    “You take the good with the bad,” Tom Smith thought aloud, feet propped up on his desk during a rare moment of reflection. Summer had nearly gone. The fireworks, the parties and the drunks all proceeded as normal, or near enough.

    How New Yorkers managed to just…keep going was a matter of wonder for the tall Australian import.

    The previously concluded city wide meeting had taken most of the two days to negotiate, but finally the City, the police, OEM, many of the banks and insurance firms and most critically, the…entrepreneurial groups had finally met. Encouraged by the success of the first efforts to consolidate the market, some actual progress had been made towards establishing the rules of the road for how the various groups would cooperate, or more properly, compete civilly.

    The cartel was in business.

    It appeared to Smith that the salubrious effect upon the leadership of the “Gangs of New York” of watching a zombie turn from inside a sealed room while most of their security was disarmed was a dramatic acceleration of their decision-making. The agitation of watching security literally bludgeon to death what had only moments previously been an attractive secretary probably added to their sense of urgency.

    Hey, whatever it took.

    Not only the bank but the entire cartel was slowly gaining on the critical vaccination curve, although BotA was still under-producing if they wanted to meet the magic thirty thousand courses of vaccine mark, covering the currently projected number of staff and dependents.

    But they were gaining. The new equipment, the shared intelligence, the updated firearms, it was all working. The city truce was holding. The rate of infection had stabilized even.

    Rune walked in and did a double take. His boss, who had been brooding for weeks, was actually smiling. Paul thought that Smith looked happier than Dita von Teese’s pasties.

    “How are you doing this fine morning, Paul?” Tom called out.

    “Um, decent?” Rune tried to echo his boss’s apparent upbeat mood. “I did some digging on our cartel partners. I have a hit on OEM that you should see. Summary on page one.”

    He slid a red folder across Tom’s desk, retaining a copy.

    “I did a routine credential check on everyone,” Paul said. “Kohn’s had an odd break in transcripts. I went a little further and from middle school through high school, she was in what amounted to a low- to medium-security residential program for juveniles.”

    “What fo–” Tom’s eyebrows crawled up his forehead as he flipped ahead. “Well, that would do it.”

    “She was tried as a juvenile,” Rune said. “Paragraph three. But, between the murder method and her counselor’s reports, she’s not what you call fully wrapped. You don’t just spring back from ‘extreme homicidal psychosis.'”

    “Hmm…okay,” Tom said, leafing through the report. “I’ll have to parse the psychiatric diagnosis for longer than I have now. How did you get this? These records are supposed to be sealed.”

    “Head of Global Intelligence for a top five investment bank versus podunk flyover state secure digital records system,” Paul said, miming typing on a computer. “Hardly fair. But the point is, what do we do now?”

    “Do?” Smith asked, puzzled. “Why would we do anything? She’s clinically psychotic and appears to have limits different than the average civilian. In our current situation, that’s a feature, not a bug. She is entirely efficient in her job and we need her in that role.”

    “But she used a c–” Paul said.

    “Stop,” Tom said, closing the folder. “This world’s falling apart faster than any government can get ahead of the virus. The only way for any functional core of civilization to survive is to create vaccine from, I hate repeating this, human spinal cords. To do that, we need a city official who is willing to countenance and abet the murder of thousands of infected. Kohn is that person. Now we know why. Good job. That she wasn’t entirely wrapped was sort of obvious but with this we can plan more specifically. For now, tell me about the four main sites we got for Zeus.”

    Rune had to recalibrate his headspace for a moment, then proceeded.

    “It wasn’t cheap,” Rune said. “But Site Maple in Maine is nearly fully provisioned and we have a complete skeleton staff in place. Site Grape near Champlain is at sixty percent, more or less. Site Bugle is forty-plus. The bad news is that the Blue Ridge site is a problem. We have the title, a cover story and some contractors lined up but we’re way behind on most everything else.”

    Smith declined to let a spot of bad news derail his outlook.

    “That’s better than I hoped,” he answered, his tone reasonable. “We got a late start so we’re behind the ball. Okay, give me options, Paul.”

    Rune was ahead of this question. Smith never accepted a situation report but that he asked for candidate options.

    “The easiest thing to do is to pour everything into the first two and walk from the others. But at a guess, Bateman won’t go for that.”

    “Got it in one,” Tom said. “You know the argument. What about…”

    As Smith’s desk-phone rang he glanced at the number, then held up one finger towards Rune and punched a button on his handset.

    “Durante’s satphone,” he said, putting it on speaker-phone. “This is Smith and Rune, you’re on speaker, Gravy.”

    “Hey Tom, hey Paul.” The connection was pretty clear. “The good news is that the vaccine checks out and we can buy some, maybe a lot. The bad news–okay, the not so bad…okay, the “would be hilarious under other circumstances” news–is that Depine is dead. Apparent massive heart attack.”

    “No shit?” Smith was surprised. “When?”

    “Like half an hour ago,” Durante said, his voice artificially light. “He didn’t make it through the introductions. Grabbed his chest and went into Cheyne Stokes right in front of God and everybody. Two minutes later, doornail. These guys have a doctor and he’s already been pronounced. I’m negotiating for us now, right?”

    “Got it, you’re not alone,” Smith replied. “Yeah, you’re empowered to act for the bank. Get the authorization letter out of Depine’s brief case, get familiar with the top line numbers. We need a minimum of another two thousand complete courses to make the trip worthwhile. Get more if they can spare it, especially the booster. Twice the base figure wouldn’t be too much. Three times might solve most of our problems.”

    “Okay, I’m on it,” Durante said, his tone becoming cagey. “By the way, this guy seems to be from one of the outfits we used to run with. Remember Mr. Invisible who craves fish?”

    There was a pause, then Smith’s eyes widened.

    “Damnit,” Tom muttered, rolling his shoulder to relieve some stress. “If that’s who I think you mean, do not, repeat do not negotiate with the brew-mistress if you can help it. She’ll look like a creaky old lady that’s got the face of an angel. Do not trust that face. But we need that vaccine, copy?”

    “Um, okay?” Durante said, puzzled. “Whatever it takes, roger.”

    “Make the deal and get back, we need you, yesterday. Smith clear.”

    “What was that about a mistress, Tom?” Rune asked when the connection was closed.

    “Brew-mistress.” Smith leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling. “If Durante meant who I think he was referring to, well, remember your guesses on the rumor about a nuke in the Bahamas, or that nuke bluff that the tangos used in Paris maybe seven or so years back?”

    The intel analyst nodded.


    “There’s a decent chance that they’re more than just rumors,” Tom said with a frown. “But…suffice to say that his outfit has some very experienced older ladies who run the brewing business, and they are purely hell on wheels when it comes to bargaining. Durante is gonna get his clock cleaned.”

    “Ask Bateman which he would rather have: another thousand kilograms of gold or another couple thousand courses of vaccine, right?”

    “Rune, Rune, Rune,” Tom said, shaking his head. “Rich Bateman is first and foremost a banker. I don’t want to have to bring a comfortable chair and a packed lunch while I wait for that answer.”




    Dominguez found his wife’s body before the kids saw her.

    Small mercies.

    He had rushed to her body, but the veteran cop had seen overdose deaths before. He didn’t need the empty bottles of Tramadol and oxy to diagram the story. Any cop will tell you that a body smells a certain way, even before decomposition is obvious. The careless arrangement of her limbs, the cyan tint to the skin around her lips and on her hands all screamed OD.

    He still checked her pulse and breathing because that’s what you do, and because he loved her. But his heart broke the moment he saw her from the bedroom door.

    He’d promised her that there was a way out, that he was working on a way to save their family.

    She had wanted to flee the city and go somewhere else, anywhere else, really. The problem was that there wasn’t anywhere much safer than the guarded neighborhoods where many senior city officials and cops were sheltering. He couldn’t tell her the details of the plan, not yet. One thing that his wife wasn’t was secretive. She would’ve wanted to find a place for her parents, the cousins, los abuelos…everyone.


    The rhythm of her life had changed. No more shopping–it wasn’t safe. No more shows–too many people. Fire the maid–she visited too many houses. And yet, life went on with a disturbing degree of normalcy. Ding went to work, the bills came in, the TV shows ran, though perhaps with a touch more reruns.

    And yet, behind every decision outside the house, death lay waiting. Perhaps she elected to find death on her own terms. Maybe she couldn’t bear the thought of watching her children turn. Ding would never know.

    For a short while he sat on the edge of the bed, not so close as to get the pooled vomit on his uniform, but close enough to touch her hair one more time. Spread in a semi circle, and somehow free of the ejecta, a partial lay of the tarot deck that she’d been using for weeks was arranged beyond arm’s reach of her body.

    She had tried to teach him the suits and the Arcana, but mostly he listened because it seemed to ease her mind for a time. She read a message in the cards, and had something tangible to explain the craziness and ever-present dissonance of life during a lethal but slow moving and inescapable pandemic.

    Dominguez looked at the cards.

    Ten of Cups. The cycle completed.

    The Lovers. Through love we see heaven.

    The Judgement.

    Dominguez swept the deck away and stood. He didn’t need the cards to tell him who was responsible. Swaying a little, he covered her with a bath sheet and carefully avoided looking at the tall dressing room mirror that he had to pass before he could exit and close the bedroom door.

    There were basic arrangements to make and he had to get the kids out of the house before he could tell them.



    The secure conference room was once again in use. Smith looked at his three new liaison officers. The cop, Detective “Call me Tango” Tangarelli, was in full LEO banking mufti, complete to the nineties-era Brooks Brothers’ suit and Bates all-leather “tactical” dress shoes. The city council liaison was Kohn’s man, an OEM analyst named Ken Schweizer. In a room noteworthy for its blend of opulence and functionality, his classically severe, dark gray two button suit and muted tie were distinctive by their very understatement, reflecting the nature of his true boss.

    The third liaison was Oldryskya. She at least looked as though she was ready to work. Her men’s cut business suit jacket was open enough to show an empty shoulder rig underneath. Her boots were the same brand that Smith had been purchasing for his team: Striker low rise. She noted his scan of her appearance and calmly returned his gaze.

    “My name is Tom Smith,” Tom said, all business. “I’m running the business continuity, disaster readiness and security team for Bank of the Americas. Your primary purpose, beside liaison, is to ensure that my pledges to your bosses are redeemed.

    “You’ll have complete access to critical parts of the plan, more than nearly anyone else in the bank. Only the people in this room right now have the same level of understanding. Each person is a trusted part of my inner team within the Security and Emergency Response department. If you discuss what we share inside this room with anyone not inside this room right now, you violate the agreement that your parent organization has signed with us. The only person that you may tell is your direct boss. If they leak the information that you learn, it’s on them, and the deal is off.

    “However, we maximize the tooth to tail ratio around here,” Tom continued, tapping his own security badge, which hung on a bright blue lanyard from his neck. “We’re in the middle of a crisis that has required tightening personnel access. As shorthanded as we are, I can’t afford any unproductive staff. So, you’re going to be directly supporting my team.

    “Step one, if you intend to carry a firearm or other weapon during your tenure here, you have to be cleared by our building protection team lead.” He looked down the table to Kaplan. “Kap, raise your hand. That is the person to talk to after the meeting. Once he clears you we’ll add another credential to your badge so you can carry concealed in any BotA controlled building.”

    Tangarelli started to raise his hand and Smith noticed.

    “Everyone, including me, has passed that training screen,” Tom said definitely. “No exceptions for anyone, not even law enforcement.”

    Kaplan had lowered his hand earlier, and now he displayed a toothy grin. Twitting cops was a hobby.

    “Step two will be to get you sorted onto teams that can use your skills. Department heads, make it your business to talk to all three and figure out where they can best assist.”

    “Any questions on one and two?”

    Schweizer put his hand up.

    Smith looked at him and continued.

    “There being no questions for now, we’ll proceed to the regular agenda.”

    Oldryskya smiled.



    The trading recovery site dated back to the weeks after 9/11. When the towers were brought down, many other buildings were destroyed or damaged beyond immediate use, affecting not just Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank, but several other banks. BotA had previously optioned space across the river in Jersey City and had since developed it.

    Traders dislocated by any future disruptions to Manhattan proper were only a short ferry ride away from a second, complete office where they could keep their bank “in” the market. There were additional facilities farther away, both in northern New Jersey as well as in the other direction, in upstate New York.

    The days of paper slips recording transactions in the bidding pits of commodity floors and trading houses were long gone. Everything was electronic now, and all trades were transmitted between several points before they were sent to reconciliation houses for the end of the trading day. There were several little details, not well understood outside the financial services community, that profoundly affected world markets.

    First, banks had begun offshoring their data and reconciliation operations a decade earlier. A volume in the millions of trades per day meant that modest savings in transaction cost per trade added up in a hurry. There was a relatively bountiful supply of technically savvy, college educated hires in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. What’s more, they could be had for far lower salaries than the analysts and accountants in New York, London and Paris. Banking executives were happy to gobble up profit margin. The discarded staff? Pity, that.

    Second, and perhaps as important, was that although the Internet passed signals over fiber effectively at the speed of light, the physical distance that a server lay from a primary Internet trunk line created tiny delays, measured in milliseconds. However, this small drop in efficiency had become relevant in the world of high speed trading where tens of thousands of transactions might be executed every minute. Reducing even infinitesimal amounts of latency yielded significant advantages, so physical proximity to a primary Internet trunk line became very important in trading, especially in currency markets.

    As a result of these structural changes to bank operations, any changes to working schedules in Asia or even small changes in the speed of high-bandwidth Internet trunk lines used by banks meant big impacts for the sector as a whole.

    Virus ravaging Asia and driving people out of work, or into the morgue? Not good.

    Reduced high-tech workforce maintaining critical telecoms infrastructure? Even worse.

    Bateman and Smith stood side by side at a super trader position at the bank’s Jersey City recovery site. The specially telemetered work station showed the fluctuating amount of bandwidth and associated delay that affected this particular desk. A twin display showed the same values being recorded in an identical workstation in the home office across the river.

    “You can see that the delay between our buy order and the execution from this location is about eighty milliseconds slower than the same trade from our main floor back on the island.” Smith didn’t have to connect the lines for Bateman.

    “Well, shit,” the CEO said, running the numbers in his head. “What percentage of the main floor with the cleaner connection is manned? And what if we move folks back in?”

    “Twenty-five percent at each of our four locations, including Manhattan.” Smith’s tone wasn’t encouraging. “Piscataway’s latency is another ten percent worse than this, and Westchester is double that. If we bring people back to the main floor, we risk transmitting the virus. We have had only one employee turn since Skorpio, but still…”

    Smith was not anxious to increase employee density.

    The CEO stared hard at the monitor as the needles on the virtual dashboard wavered slightly to the right, and then returned to their original position.

    “How is this hitting Goldbloom, MetBank and Cities?” Bateman asked. “If we’re all affected equally then maybe it doesn’t matter.”

    “The bottleneck is actually reconciliation,” Tom said. Then the security executive dropped the other shoe, switching to a view of the latency issues across the world. “I’m putting boot to arse and we’re re-onshoring about eight percent of the book every night, and that proportion is rising. Staff are working much longer hours–pretty soon we won’t have time to finish the previous day’s trades before the market opens the next day. Asia is taking a hammering–the cities there are in turmoil, much worse than we have here. The entire forecast curve failed to allow for the faster spread of the disease in Asia. So, yeah, everyone is affected more or less equally. That isn’t the problem.”

    “You made me a believer, Tom,” Bateman said angrily. “We need to press as long as we can to save as much as we can. So, what is the problem?”

    Bateman squinted at the wide, tiered flatscreens dominating the trader’s desk, as though there was an answer to be found in the multicolored text that scrolled from top to bottom, like it could never end.

    “This is the critical employee graph for outside the main bank,” Tom said, bringing up a series of line graphs marked in red and blue. “The blue is no-shows. The red is turns. Both are increasing exponentially. New Jersey has had thirty-seven turns compared to our one. No-shows may be turns or may be…just gone off to wherever they think is safe. We don’t even have the people to try to find out what happened to our people. Chennai is shut down. Mumbai is at fifteen percent staffing and missing enough critical staff it may have to be shut down. Delhi’s much the same and as you already know Hong Kong is suspended. Internet bypass activity is also increasing at unsustainable rates. Major rings are out of contact already and are having to be bypassed. Singapore had nine rings and it’s dropped to four. Shanghai just had a power outage that hasn’t been rectified. Its ring is running on back-up generators and they’ll only last a few more days.”

    “We’re doing okay here in New York, for values of the word okay. It’s everywhere else that doesn’t have our resources that’s going. If the world can’t complete vaccine firebreaks around critical worker population, it’s over, Boss.”

    Bateman slowly turned to look him in the face. He didn’t have to ask.

    Smith answered anyway.

    “We are down to weeks.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image