Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 09


Tom reminded himself that politics in the bank was the art of the possible. You got a little of what you wanted, you resigned yourself to getting the rest when you could and you smiled as though you liked it.

You also remembered who you needed to bury in the future.

If the bank didn’t sort itself out, it could come to that, literally.

The next Gold call had gone better than the first. Bateman took control early, and apart from some preliminary questions right at the start, the meeting had been limited to an update on the disease, led by Dr. Curry.

Plan Zeus wasn’t going to happen, not yet. At least no one had objected to the implementation of full social distancing rules, including deployment of some of the work force to the nearest alternate trading sites, as well as IT preparing for a work-from-home regime for fifty percent of those who stayed. The executives were nervous enough that they also approved the Executive and Special Personnel Evacuation exercise, or ESP-E. A subset of Zeus, it was better than nothing, but still amounted to half measures.

Smiling wryly, Smith could see the typical banker logic at work. I’ll hedge my bets just enough to cover myself, but let us see if someone else makes a mistake first…

Still, with a little luck, he could pad the preparations here and there and buy a little more time.

He enjoyed watching Fat-Ass Depine start to sweat. That one was already thinking evacuation. Bateman and Smith still saw eye to eye on that. It was much too premature for a full-blown evacuation, so they would keep playing this by ear.

After the meeting, he waved Rune over to huddle with Curry.

“Paul, Dr. Curry will be working with us for the duration,” Tom said. “He is going to need the ongoing full support of your team. Executive hires, travel security research, regional intelligence updates–everything is secondary. Move people as necessary to access what he says he needs. That includes someone to type his notes and provide updates to me every six hours, or more often as the doctor recommends.”

Rune was scribbling notes.

“Boss, what about the deal books we have underway now?”

Deal books were large projects for the intel team. Drawing their name from the traditional oversize folios used to organize all the papers associated with a major acquisition, the “books” now digitally stored and indexed all the critical information for large-scale bond issues. More to the point, the bank made a lot of its profit on large deals that provided exclusive underwriting access to companies about to go public.

A successful stock launch for a firm like Twitter could be worth billions. Reducing effort there would paint a neon target on his back. Smith knew that the success of his plans would depend on retaining a measure of support among the influential managing directors who held those deals close.

“Nope, keep those moving, but slow roll ’em,” Smith said, flexing his shoulder. “Carefully, mind you. Retask half the staff to cover this virus. I’ll contact M and A to explain. I think that the bottom is about to drop out of all our pricing confidence, anyhow.”

He turned to Curry.

“I know that you need to get back on the CDC call,” Tom said. “Anything you need, anything at all–tell Paul.”

Curry nodded thoughtfully as Smith strode off.

Rune spoke up.

“Okay, Doc. What’s first?”

“Popcorn,” Curry said. “Microwave popcorn. None of the weird flavored stuff either. Just butter.”

“No problem, Doc.” Rune scribbled in his ever present notepad. “How much?

“All of it.”

* * *

Dominguez knew about favors. Second only to information, favors were the currency of the bureaucratic tangle that was City Hall. The size of the city and scope of the financial activities that it hosted conferred power upon the mayor and his staff far out of proportion to what most expected of a major U.S. metroplex or even a small country. The staff that ostensibly served the city was thousands strong, and numbered among them were a first deputy mayor, several additional deputy mayors, assorted directors and commissioners and even a chancellor. Of course, these were all before one counted the city council and its staff.

However, Orwell had the right of it. Some animals were more equal than others. One such was the director of the Office of Emergency Management.

Doing a favor for the director of OEM rarely failed to pay dividends, eventually. Juicing her with a little nonpublic information might pay off sooner.

Joanna Philip Kohn–“That’s Ms. Kohn to you”–had moved into city government after a brief flirtation with the financial services sector. In her early twenties the financial analyst had stood in lower Manhattan the day that the towers fell, and she never forgot her feeling at the sight. Not rage. Not anger.


Then she had remained frozen as the sensation washed over her, and her mind raced at the possibilities.

The implications.

The cloud that obscured the skyline somehow opened a new vista for her.

Her coworkers had walked her stiffly back indoors, presuming a case of shock. Instead, she was still thinking through all of the new ideas.

Prior years of expensive therapy, courtesy of her parents’ financial wherewithal to meet the terms of the juvenile parole board, equipped her with mannerisms that she could employ to rapidly simulate a profound spiritual injury. She instinctively knew that she had an opportunity to dramatically change her strategy. She wouldn’t participate in the banking lottery in order to earn the financial freedom to act and remake her world. That was too uncertain, would take too long.


Instead, she would use the City’s response to the changed world to catapult ahead. It would help if she appeared to respond to the “grief” that had consumed her by dedicating herself to public service. She crafted a narrative that she slowly revealed to a few colleagues. She told them that sooner or later she would have her revenge, if not upon the dead already beyond her reach, then upon a system that had made the attack possible.

They said that they understood.

The first step is often simply finding an activity to fit your narrative. The Vassar graduate turned her hand to serving her city. Emergency Management, a city function long underfunded but suddenly thrust into the limelight, fit her mood. Even as the city survived further bomb attacks, Nor’easters and catastrophic hurricanes, she realized how broken the system was. It continued to fail, not just once, but in a string of catastrophes and policy disasters. Where bureaucratic incompetence and laziness was the norm, even a modicum of intelligent hard work is a distinguishing feature.

Kohn worked hard.

It was a good start, but rapid advancement and accumulating real power required more. Over several years she had risen far and fast, promoted over superiors a decade older. Her secret was neither an IQ a couple of standard deviations to the right of the mean, nor dedication and cunning.

Those were the ante.

It wasn’t even her wide and still growing network of the rich, the semifamous and her fellow travelers in power. She had built her foundation by judiciously and selectively prioritizing information, critical assistance and recovery funding to ensure that those possessed of valuable resources were first put at the head of the queue and then made aware of her help and planning. Oh, everyone got assistance, eventually. She just chose who received it first.

That, however, was just the strategy.

Kohn’s secret was her resentment at being anywhere but the very top, in control. Deep inside, where she hid her heart, she knew that she was destined to bring…a change. Her first effort at change, long since past, had been childishly premature. She didn’t quite know what the final form the change would take, but she would know it when she saw it.

In the meantime, she fed her network and looked to the future.

Her staff had brought her the CDC precis on the virus on Friday morning. Heavily redacted, it was still alarming. Still, the city was practically a nation state in its own right, and in short order NYC OEM staff epidemiologists were participating in what amounted to a global conference call attended by experts who then briefed the policy makers. Considerable resources were being marshaled to meet the still unknown challenge.