Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 11

* * *

Paul Rune was back in the zone. The upside of a zombie apocalypse was that his boss, the entirely “too fast to be that big, and too smart to be that intimidating” “Train” Smith appeared to be dwelling on matters other than the short notice that Rune’s expensive intelligence team provided on what was shaping up to be the crisis of the year.

After getting a starter pack of popcorn for their resident virologist he had called an intel team meeting to share the new information priorities.

He looked around at his small local team clustered in his office, and mentally counted the dial-in participants. Twelve wasn’t really too many to provide the geographic coverage for which government agencies hired hundreds. His acting deputy was another refugee from what was obliquely referred to as the IC, or Intelligence Community. Kendra Jones, or Jonesy to her friends, was an athletic late twenties something blonde who had been hired as part of last year’s intel team overhaul.

When Smith promoted Rune, he’d offered carte blanche to build the team that Rune thought was best suited to the mission. The quid pro quo to that complete authority was complete responsibility for any failure. Since the bank mostly targeted economic, business and political data and since those data were in fields largely dominated by men, Rune hired the smartest, hungriest and most attractive women that he could, easing out some of the traditional and longer-in-the-tooth hires.

Fair? Not particularly.

But sweet Jesus did the new analysts deliver.

The combination of mostly female talent was absolutely shredding the backlog of traders’ requests for essential elements of information. Rune had fueled the fierce internal competition by holding open the deputy position. A few burned out, uncomfortable with the work pace. Some wanted a better work-life balance.

Paul Rune loved his job, and expected his team to feel the same way. Complaints were addressed by Rune with one of Smith’s favorite sayings: “This is an investment bank, not a ‘lifestyle’ bank. You want a life? Get a different job–there are ten hungry applicants for every seat on the Street.”

And there were. Wall Street still offered a path to accumulating wealth and extinguishing student debt in a few short years and everyone wanted a piece. But no one came to the Street for the relaxed lifestyle.

His new team composition continued to prove its worth externally, using a combination of intelligence, drive and guile that befuddled male counterparts and intelligence sources equally. The benefits inside the bank were useful too. Most banks skewed hiring towards men, and the emphasis on female hires in this team bought the Security and Emergency Response team some respite from the periodic EEO Human Resource inquisitions.

Jones was aware of that, and Rune could sense that she resented it. However, like him she could also look at the productivity stats, which had climbed sharply in every category. Yes, the intel team was predominantly women. However, they happened to be damned good at their jobs. It wasn’t her fault that most men seemed to lose about fifteen percent of their functional IQ when dealing with her and her attractive female teammates.

That was on them.

However, the entire team was caught on the back foot by the current emergency, and the small team of analysts and collectors was still in scramble mode. Rune couldn’t be everywhere, and Jones was going to have to fill that gap as well as cover her own “beat.” By keeping her hand in nearly everything, she avoided surprises.

After Rune wrapped up the meeting, he had a surprise for her.

“We’re going to be working with Dr. Curry for the duration of this crisis,” Paul said. “We need to understand the business and operational impact of every detail that he notes. Nothing is too small to be relevant. Since he isn’t a banking expert, he may not recognize the impact of a datum which is trivial in his world, but deadly in ours.”

He paused, but Jones wasn’t drawn in. She waited for the other shoe.

“To that end, I am detailing you to accompany him everywhere short of the bathroom,” Rune continued. “Every phone call, every internal meeting, every e-mail exchange–you are to be his ‘finance’ translator and ‘go-fer’ not to mention ensuring all data stays internal. Whatever he needs, he gets. You have direct access to the ‘Overhead’ charge string up to a hundred large, anything larger than that ping me personally.”

“The rest of my work?” she asked angrily. “We have to finish…”

“Kendra, this is the number one issue for the foreseeable future,” Rune said, cutting her off. “If I wasn’t filling in for the boss at some events, I would take this and have you run the rest of the team. However, I don’t have that luxury. I need someone that I don’t have to babysit to, well, babysit this guy.”

If working for the bank had taught her anything, it was to negotiate.

“And afterward?” Jones eyed him evenly. “How does this stack up for bonus season? And for that matter, what does Curry think about this?”

Rune was already looking down at his smartphone, scrolling through messages. He squinted at the screen.

“Well, that is interesting.” He looked up. “But since you asked, if there is an ‘afterward,’ I’ll take care of you. For now, you share the same risks and uncertainties that I do, but I need you glued to Curry, and now I have to take this.”

He dialed a number on the phone as he waved Jones out of the office.

* * *

In order to balance risks with opportunities, Smith relied on information and relationships with other players that touched the financial services world: insurance underwriters, other banks, local law enforcement, city government, the local field office of the FBI and some “other governmental agencies” who found it convenient to maintain offices in New York City. However, the bank did have to maintain a certain distance, or at least deniability, from having direct relationships with…extralegal entities. His reporting chain was direct to the chairman, on occasion, so there were limits to how close to the gray zone of legality he could tread.

Paul Rune had his own sources of information and coordination. Some of the best information didn’t come from places where the street lights shone brightly.

The text that he received was from a former personal friend, an MBA school acquaintance in fact. Joey Tradittore was a good-looking, smooth-talking, morally flexible man with a grudge and a grad school degree.

Tradittore had left the government during a purge following some sticky Congressional testimony. Just prior to 9/11, the Bush administration had sold advanced weapons systems to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern governments. Israel squawked, AIPAC yanked the leashes on their pet congresspersons and suddenly most of the intermediate level “worker bees” who had made the deals happen operationally were persona non grata anywhere in government service or contracting. The suddenly unemployable intelligence staffer and “fixer” initially scraped by on some under-the-table consulting jobs. Since he retained his basic competence, albeit leavened with a heavy dose of cynicism, he ended up where the money was–New York–working for a large import-export firm.

The “firm” was mostly a cash business, but the volume of money, the popularity of its “goods and services” and the increasing sophistication of what was, let’s face it, a more modern version of the Mob, benefited from his logistics know-how and foreign contacts.

A resurgence of the traditional Sicilian-led “firm” was underway, mostly in New Jersey. When Paul moved from northern Virginia to Manhattan, Tradittore had gotten back in touch. He worked both sides of the Hudson River, and had started sharing information with Rune on a limited basis. If you wanted to know how things sat in the city, and you needed information from the dark corners where even cops didn’t go in groups of fewer than four, then you needed to talk to the people who worked “in the dark.”

And now Tradittore’s boss wanted a meet.