Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 06


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.