Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 12


Phil Skorpio stood outside Bank of the Americas’ Wall Street tower and craned backwards to look as high up the building face as he could. He smiled at the perfectly reflective glass that sheathed the huge tower, ignoring the crick in his neck. His team protected the largest trading floor in Bank of the Americas’ considerable portfolio. That didn’t even take into account the bullion repository and the third of the board that operated from this location. In the years that he had run the New York City Building Security and Executive Protection team for BotA, there had never been a security failure.

The wind whipped along the street, channeled by the tall buildings that lined every block, like canyons of man-made stone. Skorpio laid a proprietary hand on the building wall for balance as he straightened, then checked to make certain that his jacket wasn’t hiked up over his concealed pistol. Selected staff were trained and city licensed to carry firearms as a product of the increase in threat to banking operations. But only a small handful. New York was generally death on guns.

He hadn’t left work since the Friday brief called by his boss. While they waited for some kind of screening test, Skorpio had doubled up on the number of security staff in order to visually check each employee for flulike symptoms. Sniffles, red eyes, sneezing–any of that was enough of a reason to peremptorily deny employees entrance and send them to work from home instead. In addition to the white N95 breathing masks and dark, biteproof gloves, each team member was equipped with a Taser. Each entry hall included at least one person with a discreetly carried hand gun as well.

The sounds of a scuffle caught his attention.

A food cart piled high with bananas, breakfast pastries and coffee served hungry commuters their last-minute breakfasts. However, one of the customers, a BotA employee judging from logos on his colorful badge lanyard, was having a fit and tearing at his suit. He had managed to knock over a display.

Skorpio yelled for his team, and drew his Taser as he closed the distance. The wild-eyed man had kicked off his shoes, pants and was tearing his shirt off, revealing a well-muscled physique.

“Sir!” Skorpio yelled. “SIR! Hey you!”

The panting man, surrounded by a circle of onlookers who were jostling as they snapped photos with smartphones, lunged clumsily and fell, provoking nervous laughter. A few of the more thoughtful onlookers rapidly moved away as their coworker writhed, pulling at his remaining clothes.

Skorpio’s shift lead and several BotA guards began shoving the gawking crowd farther back as the man, now fully nude, swayed unsteadily back to his feet.

“Jenkins and Cordova, get ready to tase this guy,” Skorpio ordered. Without taking his eyes from the rapidly steadying man he added, “The rest of you watch the crowd in case there is another one.” He addressed the growling man.

“Sir, last chance. Get down, stay down!”

The new zombie looked straight at Skorpio and, faster than Skorpio anticipated, dove into him, covering the ten feet between them in an eyeblink.

Even as the afflicted man moved, Skorpio and two others fired their Tasers, hitting their target but once. The zombie’s muscles immediately spasmed, but his momentum knocked Skorpio down. The Taser’s electrical charge transmitted to the chief, leaving Skorpio and the infected shuddering on the ground. The guard who had hit the zombie immediately let up on the juice, leaving the security chief to try to shove the shuddering zombie off himself.

“Get this asshole off me!” Skorpio was as disturbed by the idea of a naked man lying on top of him as he was by danger of the virus. “NOW!”

The zombie immediately began to revive, and clutched at Skorpio as it started snapping. A wrestling match ensued as the zombie rapidly regained strength. Skorpio kicked and fought in an effort to open the distance and rammed a forearm under the zombie’s chin until he could raise his legs and kick the zombie away. However, the zombie grabbed his trouser leg in a painful grip. Another Taser fired, causing the zombie to lock up again.

Ignoring screams from the crowd, Skorpio yanked his leg away.

“Jenkins, keep the goddam Taser on this time,” Skorpio yelled. “Cordova, stop spectating and get some flex cuffs on this guy. As soon as the flex cuffs are on his hands and feet, Jenkins gets a bite sack over his head and then we can cut the current.”

Additional staff came forward and helped in the procedure. As soon as the zombie’s head was covered, it quieted considerably, but the keening and growling kept the attention of the now respectfully distant crowd.

“Why didn’t you shoot this guy, Phil?” asked the shift lead.

Panting, Skorpio looked at his subordinate with a Really? expression on his face.

“Like I briefed all of you,” Skorpio said, still trying to shake off the Taser’s effect, “NYC hasn’t authorized deadly force unless everything else fails to stop an infected person. You want a manslaughter charge…I’d say go for it but be ready to enjoy your trip downtown.”

He gestured around the busy street, where foot traffic was still flowing around the cordon of security staff and gawking smartphone wielders.

“Also, not exactly an opportune backstop anywhere, right? Once you shoot, the bullets tend to keep going until they find something to hit.”

He make a circle gesture over his head, a forefinger extended.

“Okay, show’s over,” Skorpio said. “Cordova and Jenkins, get a tarp over this guy and sit on him till the cops come.” He looked ruefully at his torn suit leg. “Goddamit, this is a new suit!”

He didn’t notice the minor scrapes on his shin.

* * *

Paul accepted the restaurant recommendation from Tradittore, but eating in a darkened Italian trattoria was nearly too cliché to be borne. Officially, they were just on a lunch break, but their table at Fattore’s was covered with a checkered red and white cloth set for four. At this boss’s insistence, they arrived several minutes early to find Mr. Fattore himself waiting at the door to greet them.

“Ah, Mr. Smith!” The short, swarthy, dark-haired and rounded owner waved them into the restaurant. “Iva been expecting you, itsa so nice-a to meet you, please to follow me!”

The interior was dimly lit but nearly full of diners, most of which were dark suited men. Many glanced up to register the new arrivals. Most of those tracked them all the way to their table. It was a long walk to the back of the narrow, but deep restaurant.

Tom had read the intel team’s file on the Cosa Nova backwards and forwards. The Sicilian mob had slowly declined in significance into the new millennium while the Triads, the Central American narco gangs like Mara Salvatrucha Trece and a new Afro-Caribbean organization had supplanted them in all five of the boroughs.

There is a saying “Demographics is destiny.” While not always the case in the general populace, it certainly was the case in organized crime. The original Sicilian mobs had made their bones during Prohibition, a time when large numbers of Sicilians and Italians were emigrating to the United States. It was this continuous flow of immigrants, and large Catholic families, a trait shared with their primary competitors the Irish, which allowed the casualty attrition rates necessary to take over their somewhat violent business interests.

Many causes had been attributed to the downfall of the traditional Mob. But the reality was that when the Cubans and Colombians started flooding in during the 1980s the Sicilians, who by then were second and third generation, were either already living a mostly middle to upper class lifestyle or had suffered the loss of most of their leadership. Constantly surveilled by the FBI over the years, the Sicilians simply did not have the sheer mass of desperate soldiers willing to fight for their territory.

Thus, they dwindled in influence, got out of the most lucrative criminal enterprise, drugs, and generally faded into the background.

However, Frank Matricardi had methodically built an import business by leveraging key contacts at Port Elizabeth in New Jersey. Anything that he could buy cheaply and wholesale dearly inside the U.S. would do. Bulk marijuana and generic oxycodone were a staple, and there were enormous margins in “unsexy” materials such as nonquota seafood, counterfeit luxury goods and even counterfeit super cars. His growing team, styling themselves the “New Thing,” was interested in anything illegal that would turn sufficient profit. And the profits were good.

The New Jersey Sicilian community is quite close, and Matricardi’s business wasn’t exactly secret, even though proving something would be a challenge. His sons once chafed at being ribbed by their friends that their dad was a “fishmonger.” Before being sent off to college, they were allowed to see some of the books and realized that up to a third of the nearly five-billion-dollar-a-year U.S. seafood market was illegally imported goods, much of that controlled by dear old dad. It helped them settle right down.

It didn’t hurt that they eventually got around to remonstrating with anyone foolish enough to persist in grade school name calling.

Like any successful businessman, Matricardi took the long view. You do what you can with what you have and you don’t lie to yourself. He never tried to kid himself that he was anything other than a criminal businessman, but along the way he reveled in opportunities to retire some of the animals that sold heroin to kids, or traded kids. Yeah, he made a shady buck here and there. And yeah, he wasn’t going to change the world. Killing truly evil men was just a personally satisfying sideline.

A zombie plague was a real problem though. Bad for business. Banks were an important component of his business supply chain, even though their counter money-laundering efforts were stringent and effective. Frank didn’t take it personally; he was a pragmatist. He regarded the antilaundering operations as another way to weed out the less fit competitors. However, the information that he had on the plague really bothered him. His family advisers included economists, politicians and smart lads like Tradittore. They all said, effectively, the same thing.

“Find out what the really big money is doing, and copy that.”

When Matricardi strolled into Fattore’s, he was effusively greeted by the owner. From the back of the restaurant, Tom Smith noted that the trim Sicilian was wearing what seemed to be the de rigueur uniform: a very traditional dark suit, wing tips and a nice tie. A bright white carnation sat on his lapel. He was accompanied by Tradittore and a third person, a woman. She stole the show all by herself. The black Helmut Lang dress that the brunette wore was styled in anything but a conservative manner. Its form-fitting cut hugged her curves and accentuated all of her body’s subtle movements. Men surreptitiously watched her pass.