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The Valley of Shadows: Chapter Three

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



    Tom Smith did enjoy the panorama. One of his perks was a corner office view from the fortieth floor. In clear weather it afforded him a view from Governor’s Island to the Verranazo Bridge and across to North Jersey. The air was clear enough that green mountains were visible in the distant Hudson Valley.

    The new, creepy sensation crawling up Smith’s spine had him mortally convinced that any view of the city was best taken from a great distance.

    Orbital distance sounded about right.

    The meeting with their tame virologist had broken up in order to allow Curry to try to weasel some more information out of the Centers for Disease Control, the Army’s Medical Research Unit for Infectious Disease and the other the usual suspects.

    Smith looked down at the data accumulating on the disease, which still lacked a name. The numbers of suspected cases was growing. He was still a little shaken from Curry’s preliminary report on the spread of the disease.

    He tried to remind himself that initial reports during a crisis are rarely as bad or as good as they are first reported.

    There is an exception to every rule. His gut was telling him that this might be the one.

    Throughout Friday, he had updated Bateman on the new estimates for the spread of the disease, but the CEO was unwilling to make any profound moves prior to an official announcement from the government.

    At which time the bank would be in “reaction mode” and not out in front of the market.

    Tom looked over at the flat screen on his notebook PC where he had paused the Thursday night video from Osaka. In the HD security cam image, the emergency room staff was lying across a gurney to restrain a naked man, who had his teeth buried in the arm of one of the paramedics, judging by the uniform.

    Blood spatter was visible on the pale floor.

    Everything that he did, all the information that his organization generated, from daily intelligence and security briefs for the management group to the annual risk assessment that was included in the firm’s stock filings for the SEC, was covered by an iron-clad nondisclosure agreement. Legions of hungry attorneys had battled over that NDA across the years, resulting in a strong, refined and in legal terms, lethal document.

    Getting caught sharing “inside” or nonpublic information wouldn’t merely be a Career Limiting Decision, or as the street liked to joke, a CLD. It could rapidly lead to a lawsuit that pitched him against the bank, or worse.

    Usually, worse.

    Tom well understood his obligation to the bank. Like any of the former military who were sprinkled around the financial services industry, he still held strongly to the concepts of loyalty and personal honor. He “got it”–that in return for a hefty check he had sold his best efforts and his pledged his personal word. He’d stand by that. If he were inclined to make an exception, well, he knew the penalties for violating the employment NDA with BotA, and he would accept the consequences.

    After all, he valued the team that he had built, and currently led, and wasn’t about to walk away from them, even if things went for a ball of chalk.

    But damnit…there was family to consider.

    He numbered among his “chosen” family a few very close friends, mostly from his service days with the international special operations community, including a few Ami friends from the ‘Stans. In addition to this group, there was the regular sort of family too.

    His brother Steve, a former Aussie paratrooper, had “married into America.” Now he was a pleasantly domesticated, naturalized U.S. citizen teaching high school history, of all things. Stacey, his brilliant American wife, had tutored Tom as he “upped his game” in the banking world, coaching him on the mysteries of the bespoke suit and the designer ties from houses like Zegna and Armani. With their daughters, they lived in Richmond.

    A highly communicable, airborne pandemic would sweep through the heavily populated cities like a flame through tinder. The I-95 corridor where the Smiths lived would go up like a powder train.

    He and his brother, and others in their circle, didn’t live for the end of the world despite the negative connotations about preppers in what passed for Western pop culture. All things considered, Tom Smith rather enjoyed living with the “rule of law.” It made available much of what made life worth living.

    The occasional kite surfing trip out to Sandy Hook, driving up to wine country, the alternative club scene in the City and the women he met there, all of it was made possible by a very complex system whose rules were understood and largely backed by an overwhelming proportion of the population.

    No rules? No system.

    But the system worked. Always had.

    Still, that hadn’t kept the Smith brothers and their friends from playing a slow motion game of “what if?” over the years, often fueled by beer. All right, and some really decent bourbon, the quintessential American whiskey.

    Even sober, buying a little insurance for emergencies had made sense. To that end, a small circle of like-minded friends had invested in a generous but remotely situated parcel of land in the Appalachian Mountains, balancing the need for distance with a decent growing season and accessibility from their metro lifestyles, given enough warning time.

    Tom couldn’t live there year-round, but he paid into the share system every quarter. His background was intrinsically useful and his money was welcome, but his global network of information was an order of magnitude more important. The families took turns staffing the property to keep it up, letting the capital improvements accumulate without the perils of renting the property to outsiders. In a few more years there was even a chance that the property, which now included a walnut orchard, some hay fields and an increasingly productive truck garden, might begin to meaningfully contribute to the mortgage.

    The real intent had been to have a fallback location to ride out periods of civil unrest, if such became likely. An economic collapse would do for that. However, it was also a great place for large-scale weekend BBQs and unregulated fireworks. Nice shooting range too.

    The circle of friends had even rehearsed a small list of codes for passing information across unsecure networks, even though Smith always felt more than a bit melodramatic when he participated.

    He brought a small file up on his personal notebook PC, and decrypted it. A list of contingencies and corresponding codes scrolled down his page.

    If he sent this and he was wrong, he was going to fuck up a lot of lives. His red-headed sister-in-law would kill him, for one. His nieces would help. Teenage girls and their tempers.

    Tom winced.

    On the other hand, if he didn’t send it and the pandemic was as lethal and fast moving as they believed, the big cities could become impossible to escape very, very quickly. If he waited until there were publicly confirmed reports in the east coast mega cities, it might be too late to avoid infection.

    Unconsciously, he rolled his shoulder. The rotator cuff had been rebuilt after a last second canopy collapse on a HALO jump, but it still seemed to be the first place that he could feel stress building up.

    In the end, it amounted to this: how much potentially lethal risk to his family was he prepared accept as the price of waiting for more information in order to “play it safe”? If he was wrong, it would cost money, in fact, a lot of money. However, money was a resource that one could renew. If his gut feeling was right, then earlier was better, and he would save lives–things of infinite, unreplaceable value.

    He picked up his cell, and consulting the list of brevity codes on the screen, tapped out a text message.

    “Alas Babylon, Q4E9.”

    If it all came apart at high speed, at least some one was going to get out. Hell, he might even be one of them.

    He chuckled once, mirthlessly.


    He turned back to his e-mail and prepped a weekend schedule for his global team.



    Dave Curry plugged himself into Bank of the Americas’ intelligence department. He supposed that he was naive to continue to be surprised at the extent of the banking intelligence network that spanned the world. Telecommunications, foreign affairs, manufacturing, agronomy…the bank had its fingers in everything, nearly everywhere.

    Over an early Saturday morning breakfast in the bank’s canteen he complimented Smith.

    “I knew that you bankers were connected, but ah’ve to give it to your man Rune.” Even through his thicker than average Southern accent, Curry’s tone was equal parts admiration and wonder.

    A newly pressed suit and fresh haircut struggled to mask Smith’s fatigue as he squinted across his first coffee of the day, eyeing the medico.



    “Thanks,” Tom said without inflection. “Let’s keep that to ourselves for the time being. I need him hungry just now. Speaking of which, what new info–if any–have you heard on the lashup?”

    Smith referred to the continuous global conference call that had grown out of an international circle of Curry’s peers. It hadn’t been cheap, exactly, to buy a way into the conference, but information on the disease was literally priceless at this point. Results would justify the expenditure of hard cash that was beginning to add up, even by bank standards.

    The scientists had been on the phone since the crisis was recognized, alternating between being glued to the emerging analysis and the resulting reports on one hand and mercilessly whipping their research and lab teams to greater efforts on the other. Late on Friday night, or maybe it was Saturday morning, someone had a rush of blood to the head and suggested that they securely combine all of the similar calls then underway between big pharma companies, within the European version of the CDC and most especially across the universities in Asia and the Pacific. Members of the intelligence community also sat in, albeit very discreetly.

    That’s when Bank of the Americas bought in, courtesy of a heads up from a niche biotech in which they had a controlling interest. Once the disparate teams started talking to each other in a structured way, the spread of the infection had become apparent.

    The virus was pretty much everywhere. Including on the Internet, which was just starting to go nuts, mostly over handheld shaky phonecam video of crazy, naked bloody people fighting, biting and being restrained.

    Practically effervescent, the virologist was happily submerged in his element.

    “Well, we have a name–for now,” Curry said, burbling contentedly. “We’re calling it the Pacific flu. CDC and USAMRIID isolated it first, but their work has already been duplicated. Looks like a variation on the influenza type A virus subtype. Think of the H in avian influenza, thus H5N1. Confirmed to be highly pathogenic, which we already strongly suspected. Affects multiple organs in the body. So far symptoms only manifest in people, but we are still checking if animals, birds in particular, can be carriers.”

    “Christ,” Smith said staring balefully into his mug. “That is all we need–birds carrying this around even faster.”

    “Any additional carriers would actually be redundant, at this point,” Curry replied. “The disease is actually quite elegant.”

    Smith’s eyes snapped back.

    “Elegant how, exactly?”

    “Well, a few places are still sequencing the complete genome and we’ll have that data shortly,” Curry explained patiently. “But it’s apparent that this H7 variant is engineered. Ah’ll start with the flu piece. It’s pretty straightforward and very aggressive. Carriers are infectious at least four days prior to developing stage one symptoms, might be as much as a week.”

    He glanced around and sobered, noting that several members of Smith’s team had drifted into range.

    “Do y’all want to go to that fancy room of yours?”

    “Horse, barn door,” Smith said with a shake of his head. “If the information that you have is already out to the participants of your call, there isn’t a point in compartmentalizing. We’ll confine use of the deal rooms to our internal preparations. Please continue.”

    “Well, like I said, up to a week-long window of communicability before you know that you are sick.” Curry took a bite of coffeecake and washed it down with coffee. “And this thing is transmissible as hell. Air borne, droplet borne and blood borne. Trying to narrow down if it can be transmitted purely by sexual contact, but that is harder to prove, since any, uh, romantic contact usually includes the exchange of, uh, more than…”

    Curry looked helplessly around at the growing crowd, including many women, that now entirely surrounded their table.

    “We get it, Doc,” Smith was in no mood to spare Curry’s southern sensibilities now. “People kiss when they root. Keep it moving.”

    “Root?” Curry asked, confused.

    “Australian for ‘have intimate relations,'” Rune offered helpfully as Smith slightly narrowed his eyes.

    “Right,” the virologist said nervously. “Well, then there are up to three days of misery as the flu tears you up–worse than the seasonal, but not nearly as hard hitting as SARS. The prompt mortality rate from the flu symptoms is at least five percent–might go as high as ten. We are still firming that up.”

    Someone in the ad hoc audience exhaled audibly.

    Rune was listening in.

    “How about the Tamiflu?”

    “This critter laughs at every antiviral we have tried so far,” Curry said dismissing the query. “Tamiflu doesn’t really ‘kill’ viruses, you understand. It binds to the neuraminidase receptors that virii use to dissolve the coatings on uninfected cells. No neuraminidase, no way to infiltrate a healthy cell and hijack its genetic machinery. We still don’t know which protein the new virus is using, so no antiviral remedy is even on the radar. But if I may…” Curry said, vaguely waving at the intel leader.

    Smith looked over at Rune.

    “Let him get to the end, then we’ll get a proper brief upstairs ASAP. Cut to the last bit, Doctor. Tell me about zombie part.”

    “Ah yes, well that is one of the elegant bits, really, if it is intentional,” Curry smiled again, back in his element. “I rather think it is.”

    “Intentional. You mean that you have confirmation that someone made this…virus?”

    “It’s definitely a virus and I don’t have any doubt that it’s a synthetic pathogen. The virus is behaving strangely, for a virus that is. Let me stress that this is a very preliminary opinion, and not everyone agrees, but its behavior, the actual virus’s behavior is atypical. Somehow, it’s creating dual symptoms, and further, symptoms are varying by transmission method. This is a first, in my experience.”

    Smith stared at him for a moment, and then made little “go on” hand motions.

    “Recall that the reports states that most afflicted patients often strip off their clothes?” Curry continued. “Well, a few days after the flu symptoms wear off, the virus starts Act Two. Patients remain infectious as hell, by the way, but the virus generates neurological symptoms, starting with parasthesia…”

    Smith’s eyes narrowed.

    The academic went on hurriedly. “…which is to say, the feeling of itching or tingling, like there are ants under your clothes, you understand? It’s perfectly hideous, actually. One of the big problem with the zombie plague myth is that a mindless human predator wouldn’t bother with the social niceties of removing and replacing clothing to eliminate waste. Shortly, they would suffer from impaction, infection and death. In my opinion, this is a little bit of deliberate forethought which sidesteps that issue. The infected persons react to the itching by stripping off their garments. Problem solved.”

    Curry beamed at his attentive, if horrified, audience.

    “There is more, too. The initial presentation of neurological symptoms also features palsy, confusion, dizziness, reduced vision and, as I said, that itchy feeling of bugs under your clothes, formication. Speech centers and behavioral regulation are profoundly affected. As these symptoms intensify, the patients become wildly aggressive. If they survive the onset of the second symptom set, and now we’re finding that most don’t, they’ll attack anyone and anything on sight–including each other.”

    Smith rapped out, “Mortality rate on the second stage?”

    “Well, we have lots of reports of infected patients now, but none that document the progression of the disease while under constant surveillance from start to finish. Say, of the twenty-plus confirmed cases in Asia Pacific so far, maybe sixty percent went to stage two. Of those, perhaps another fifteen percent died intra-stage. That is a very rough estimate. Law of small statistical populations, you know. However, we are getting more data all the time.”

    Tom stood.

    “Doctor, I expect that we’ll be extending your retainer indefinitely.” He glanced around the table.

    “Everyone upstairs,” Tom gestured sharply to his team. “Paul, set up an updated brief for thirty minutes from now. Doctor, you are going to brief the CEO, personally. We might have time for Zeus, after all. I am going to try to squeeze a couple calls in first.”




    Officially named the City of New York Police Department, the NYPD was the largest municipal police force in the United States. The actual number of employees exceeded fifty thousand, though perhaps only two thirds of that number were sworn officers. Organized into more than a hundred precincts, it served all five boroughs of the City and included the waterways that had originally made New York a port hub long before banking, marketing or fashion began to contend as the driving heart of the city. Most precincts were referred to by the rank and file cops by their number–thus the Fifty-First Precinct became the “Five-One.” However, no precinct was more prestigious or had greater visibility to the police brass than the one that housed the headquarters and spanned downtown Manhattan from Battery Park to the Brooklyn Bridge and west to Greenwich.

    Rafe Dominguez ran “One” with a quiet authority and a certain elegance that belied his origins as a patrol officer in Flushing. You didn’t survive years of grinding work “in the trenches” if you stuck to the rules of the Marquess of Queensbury. One of his arrests had culminated in a court case downtown, and Dominguez had seen another side of policing. While most cops eschewed proximity to the flagpole, the wiry cop was inherently drawn to a different world, where power lay closer to the surface, within reach of someone who could bring street smarts into play, and still “clean up” right.

    Street smarts Dominguez had in plenty, and from that point forward he had shaped his ambition with an eye to becoming a Precinct commander, then an Inspector and ultimately the Chief of Department, if not in NYC then in another large metro area. His determination never wavered. His peers, who had hung the handle “Ding” on him, ribbed him when he spent extra time studying. They quieted a bit when he passed the exam for sergeant with the highest score ever recorded.

    One malcontent cop who thought Ding was aiming a little too high talked behind his back, attempting to tarnish Dominguez’s halo with lurid tales of his ruthless treatment of arrestees. As special treat, he described a lucky punch from a gang banger that had connected, briefly ringing Dominguez’s bell, and started calling him “Ding Dong.” Ding restrained his first impulse, which was to collapse the greasy vice detective’s trachea on the spot. He smiled a bit thinking about watching the loud mouth’s face turn purple as he choked to death. Using that smile, he just nodded and grinned for the audience of chuckling detectives, Good one, you got me! Big grin. Big.

    Not even six months later that cop was fighting a losing battle against Internal Affairs charges for extorting “personal favors” from suspects in a prostitution bust–one that had gone down in Dominguez’s last precinct.

    Purest coincidence. Check.

    Don’t cross Ding.

    When he dug in and completed a night school bachelor’s degree in Criminology, no one raised an eyebrow. His carefully selected wife, the daughter of a deputy commissioner, coached him on protocol among the higher ups. Approving nods were registered as the new “comer” made all the right moves. He carefully didn’t try to parlay his minority status into advantage, which appealed to the mostly white NYPD leadership even more. When he sat his lieutenant exam with results like unto the earlier tests, there was respectful applause.

    In short, he was utterly committed. His hard work, insider horse trading and strategic moves shaped the arc of his career steeply upwards. A chance to relax was a rare commodity.

    Saturday was typically a quiet time for a Manhattan cop, even a precinct captain. Nearing the top of his profession, Rafe Dominguez could actually get up at a reasonable hour and enjoy his coffee with his family before heading out the door for Rafe Jr’s Little League. Commanding the prestigious First Precinct was the highlight of his career to date and he understood that one didn’t risk the work invested to achieve that career merely in order to satisfy a passing urge.

    Which was why he didn’t quite snarl into his personal cell phone when he answered it at 10:30 am that morning. You never knew if the commissioner was checking up on his star players.

    “Captain Dominguez.”

    “Captain, this is Tom Smith at Bank of the Americas.” Smith’s tone was polite, but firm. “I am very sorry to disturb you on a weekend. Believe me, I really wouldn’t waste your time unless it was an emerging issue. One that you are going to want to know about.”

    Dominguez knew Smith. He kept tabs on all the major players in his precinct. His principal connections to the multi-trillion-dollar banks that were in his precinct were through their various heads of security. A little quid pro quo here and there kept valuable bank employees from having arrest records, while the occasional bad apple was tossed over the transom for the police to publicly charge in high-profile fraud and drug cases. Everyone benefited.

    Mrs. Dominguez also enjoyed the mysteriously inexpensive tickets to popular Broadway shows, and advance invitations to sample sales at Michael Kohrs.

    “Emerging issue” was usually a code word for some serious banking faux pas, such as a senior bank officer getting caught with a dead hooker or a live boy. Neither of which was going to be a good enough justification for calling his personal cell on a Saturday, banking influence be damned.

    “Tom, I’m happy to pass you to the duty officer at the pre–”

    Ding’s voice didn’t betray his annoyance, but Smith didn’t need to hear it to know that it was there. His tone was brisk and all business.

    “Captain, I’m in receipt of nonpublic information that you need,” the banker cut in smoothly. “First reports are going to start hitting cable news right about now. I anticipate that you’re going to be getting a call very soon about an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control regarding a new virus. They aren’t going to tell you how bad it is yet. I most strongly recommend that you find a way to protect your officers from what are going to appear to be EDPs who are going to be incoherent, aggressive and try to bite them.”

    Emotionally Disturbed Persons, or EDPs in law enforcement-speak, were the most common of the calls that the NYPD dealt with. Ranging from a depressed trader considering a long fall via a short step off a tall building to the classic paranoid meth user, EDPs came in many flavors, few of which were the sort of dangerous that warranted a weekend interruption.

    Saturday beckoned.

    “Tom, I appreciate the heads up, but–wait.” Dominguez registered the words. “Did you say ‘bite them’?

    When bankers talked about disclosing “nonpublic” information, they were telling you that they were committing career suicide. It was very nearly an automatic SEC investigation and license suspension. Bankers never gave that kind of information away.


    Not unless they were a lot more concerned about something else besides their careers and their money.

    Dominguez blinked.

    All that bankers cared about were their careers and their money.

    “Bite them,” Smith replied. “Like a dog. Exactly like a rabid dog. The pathogen can be spread by vapor droplets, aerosolized blood and may even be airborne. Looks like a flu. Highly lethal. And it comes in two stages–after the flu symptoms, EDPs start stripping, fighting and attacking anyone they see.”

    Ding stood, knocking his hip against the kitchen table sharply enough that his wife looked up in equal parts reproof and alarm.

    “That sounds a lot like–”

    “Yeah. I know,” Tom said. “I know the word you’re going to use. I think that if you move quickly, you can brief your officers and start getting some Kevlar gloves and spray shields before they run out. And they are going to run out. I’m already stocked and now I’m buying all the extras that I can.”

    “Are you sure about this, Tom?” the captain worried. “It seems over the top. It’s not even good enough to be a bad joke. Remember when synthetic Cathinone was all the rage?”

    Dominguez recalled the initial impact of cheap designer meth substitutes which created…memorable overdose symptoms. A few high-profile “bath salts” cases had been caught on film, capturing the overdose victims practicing cannibalism.

    Dominguez could hear Smith clear his throat.

    One of police captain’s former cop friends had gone civilian and ran the physical security side for BotA under Smith, so Dominguez had heard a few stories and knew Smith’s professional bona fides. Clearing his throat was the equivalent of the former spec ops troop yelling at the top of his lungs in order to get attention. And he was sharing nonpublic data…

    Smith’s intel on the precinct captain was as good as Dominguez’s on his opposite numbers in the banks.

    “Ding, I tell you three times.” He deliberately used Dominguez’s handle in order to make his point. “This is legit. Were I in your shoes I would get it to your boss ASAP, but I would appreciate it if you didn’t attribute the source. The faster you move on this the better. Everything I’m seeing suggests that it’s going to be big.”

    “You got it.” Dominguez added it up. “And Tom?”


    “Thanks for the heads up.”

    “Scratch my back sometime, Captain.”

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