Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 03

A potentially global issue such as a pandemic was a case where Bateman would expect to exercise his “Right of First Refusal”–electing to learn first and monitor closely. He would also react “unhelpfully” if he was being disturbed for something below his pay grade.

That was the understood cost of access at the highest levels.

“Train–sort of early, isn’t it?” the CEO joked. “Where do I send the lawyers and how much cash do you need?”

“Sorry to disturb you, Rich–but remember the swine flu in Mexico City?”

“Oh Christ, another bug hunt?”

Bateman was also a secret science fiction geek. It made him easier to work for.

“The intel team handed me a hot one.” Tom paused almost imperceptibly. “We’re not sure–but the reports suggest an avian flu variant, only a handful of cases, some fatal, unknown parameters–first reports in Shanghai, maybe two more cities. Nothing publicly released yet, but I’ve authorized antiviral dispersion throughout the Asia Pacific offices. I’m monitoring closely, but if it ticks up even a little bit, we’ll need to move to a Gold response. This will be in the morning papers before the markets open in Tokyo and Hong Kong.”

BotA had elected to copy the framework for emergency response management originated by Scotland Yard and later adopted by the U.K.’s Metropolitan Police Department. “Gold-Silver-Bronze,” or GSB, corresponded to the levels of authority and control that an organization delegated during a crisis. Tom’s team could run local, minor issues to ground by invoking the Bronze team, confining issues to a single city and local management. If the calamity escalated up to Gold, Tom would integrate the executive board of the bank and all regional managing directors and would set the most alert posture for all Security and Emergency Response related staff. The board would choose when to integrate law enforcement and other governmental agencies. Initiating the GSB process officially acknowledged that there was an “issue.” The existence of Plan Zeus was only known to a subset of bank staff–not even the entire security team was aware, but all the players on a Gold call would.

Bateman understood risk–but he also understood markets.

“The reference to avian flu is going to make headlines.” The CEO’s tone was serious. “If you get anything solid, start the Gold call straightaway and don’t wait for my approval. Before we get to that I’ll send a note to Global Markets. They can turn a buck on anything. Also, if you get an inkling that this is going bigger–let me know right away. I’ll tell my admin to let you break in.”

“Thanks Rich–more as I get it.”

* * *

The bank usually over air conditioned its offices to the point where many of the female staff routinely complained. Ordinarily, Paul was sympathetic; he hated being unnecessarily cold too. However, as he liked to helpfully point out, they could always add a sweater but anyone who was too warm was constrained from taking off their shirt.

The cool air wasn’t helping. Paul was sweating through his expensive, formerly crisp dress shirt. Once his PI staff knew what to look for, the count of “potential” cases of the new flu strain had increased, and the number of affected cities grew. There were reports of an anomalous, unseasonal flu and…unusual symptoms. His second report to Smith included two more cities, both in Asia. Within another hour, the news became alarming.

There were three more “possibles,” all in Europe or the Mediterranean by the next time he reached Smith on the phone. His boss picked up before the end of the first ring.


“It’s Paul.” The head of intel kept his tone level, but it took effort. “I’ve got six more cities with possibles: Tokyo and Freemantle make sense since they’re both Pacific Rim cities, but now we also have Athens, Cairo, Barcelona and maybe L.A. If these originate from the same pathogen, it’s less than likely this is a natural event. And by ‘less,’ I mean no damned way.”

“Shit.” Paul’s deadpan delivery didn’t fool Smith.

“Tom, another thing,” Paul added. “We’ve done some digging, and some medical staff are reporting that the families of the sick people report a severe flu preceding the current symptoms by as much as a week or so. The onset of the second set of symptoms includes”–Tom could hear the rustling of paper from Paul’s end of the line–“spontaneous sociopathy, severe anhedonia, aggression and instantaneous aphasia.”

“‘Aggression’ I got.” Smith was in no mood for biotech-babble. “As for the rest, congratulations on winning this round of ‘stumping your boss,’ Paul. English please.”

The intel chief paused, and then took the plunge. His boss wasn’t noted for asking twice.

“In a word, zombies.”

“Bloody hell, Paul,” Tom said wearily. “Are you tired of working for me?”

“I swear I’m not making this up,” Paul replied. “The people that aren’t dying straightaway from the disease stop talking and start trying to bite everyone else.”

“Right,” Tom said. It came out as “Royt,” the boss’s normally unnoticeable Australian accent kicking in a bit. There was a brief pause as his boss digested the analysis. “I am initiating the Gold call right now. Pull a short deck together with the confirmed and potentials plotted on a map, and get me the historical summaries for both H5N1 and the swine flu. Also, get the first three people on our bio-attack and pandemic expert list here, yesterday.”

Tom hung up, externally as calm as his intel manager had sounded. His left hand hurt a little and he looked down to see that he was gripping the chair arm hard enough to stretch the thick leather to the point of tearing. With a deliberate effort, he relaxed his hand, but he couldn’t fight off the queasy feeling in his gut.

Zombies? There was no way that he could initiate a Gold call with a zombie warning. The number of cities with the virus was bad enough. Also, an artificial event?


He reached over to his second desk phone, hardwired only to interior numbers, took a breath and for only the second time in his career pressed the Executive Committee call line for a Gold call.

The line was reserved exclusively for emergencies that required the immediate attention of the executive board and all five regional chairs. Upon activation, a specialized ring tone and text message would sound on every device belonging to each committee member, beginning with their personal devices, escalating through their immediate staff and ending with their private residences.

Tom pressed the speaker phone button and leaned back in his seat. He had a moment until the senior most people in his bank joined the call and demanded just what the hell was important enough to disrupt all of the schedules for the bank’s top executives.

The last time that he had employed this line he’d used the brief wait to rehearse his answers in order to have quick, confident replies on tap explaining the need to interrupt their routine.

This time he had not a bloody clue what to say.