Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 21

He saw Paul and few others nod, but also noted a several blank looks.

“Not big metal boxes for money,” Tom said, folding his arms across his chest. “Selected Area For Evasion. A place that isn’t necessarily a long-term refuge, but which is situated away from the likely lanes of what I’ll politely term refugee drift will occur. If this all goes for a ball of chalk, the sudden breakdown in city and suburban infrastructure is going to generate a massive amount of refugees, which will promptly freeze every major highway.”

“Travel during first day after an incipient society wide collapse will be very difficult,” Kendra said, earning a squint from her boss. “Day two, forget about it.” She steepled her fingers, the skin showing white at the knuckles. “The entire D.C.­–New York–Boston axis is going to be impassable. Anyone who isn’t already at one of the Sites is done.”

A fraud analyst began to retort, but Tom cut him off.

“She’s not wrong,” he said, favoring Kendra with an approving look. “I recognize there are those,” he gave Depine a less favorable look, “who without background in this field find Kendra’s analysis problematic. That’s a lack of both training and experience…on the part of the skeptics. My physical security specialists don’t tell you about anti-fraud or market making, so don’t question their competence about security issues. Stay in your lane. I’ll add that anyone stuck in the initial stampede is at high risk. So, Kendra’s team will identify potential SAFEs–way stations if you will.”

He glanced over at Rune and Jones. “Have a list ready for me to consider in three days. Next item.”

Tom leaned forward, placing both hands on the table. He scanned the room again. Slowly. Deliberately.

“We are making an effective vaccine.”

A hand shot up.

Tom shook his head, aggravated.

“Not yet,” he repeated himself. “We now have an effective vaccine. In fact, we’ve got the first eighty doses. These doses are either being administered to personnel with the highest risk of exposure or to irreplaceable personnel in critical roles. Everyone in this room is eligible for the vaccine.”

The same hand went up again.

“Where’s the vaccine coming from?” the anti-fraud analyst asked. “How are we making it?”

“Dr. Curry will describe the process in a moment,” Tom said, straightening. “I want to be clear on what you get in exchange for being part of this permanent team and maintaining absolute confidentiality. You’re placed on the priority list for the vaccine, which is a multipart course of injections. You’re guaranteed a seat for yourself and while you were selected in part because you have few or no nearby family, you will also be allotted up to three family member spaces at one of the bank’s safe havens, depending on your role and physical risk.”

Exciting buzzing interrupted Smith, who let it run for a moment before continuing.

“Next detail. We have sought and received permission to acquire and equip with much heavier weaponry than the limited number of pistols, Tasers and single use injectors now in our inventory. Kaplan will be scheduling in-house training. Wave to the crowd, Kapman.”

Kaplan raised his hand and grinned. He had been lobbying for a while to buy some weapons with more authority than Tasers and pistols.

“The training is mandatory,” Tom continued. “This means you too, Paul.”

Good natured laughter sounded briefly. Rune’s single-minded focus on work, his guitar and more work–in that order–were well known among his staff.

“For obvious reasons, it’s now profoundly in your own self-interest to keep all such details secure,” Tom continued, sounding more relaxed than he actually was. “For that reason, you aren’t allowed to divulge or discuss any further details of this plan or our preparations outside the people currently in this room. Finally, in exchange for the personal and legal risks that this will entail, we’ll place your family members on the secondary list for the vaccination schedule, making doses available after critical staff are all protected. Let me add: as NDAs go, ours has new teeth. If you break the NDA prior to completing the course of vaccinations, your protection is suspended. If you violate the NDA after vaccination is complete, your evacuation quota will be revoked and you will be indefinitely detained inside these premises.”

Attentive silence met this statement.

“Dr. Curry, over to you.”

Curry was getting into the swing of things. His grin was equal parts enthusiasm and evil genius as he tapped a key on his notebook PC, starting a short clip of an infected secured to a hospital gurney. It couldn’t move, but the gurney shook from the zombie’s struggles. The video froze on a close up the snapping jaws.

“Meet the source of our vaccine.”

* * *

Below the conference room windows, Newark Penn Station provided a gemmed backdrop for the Cosa Nova evening meeting running into its third hour. Matricardi took a last drag and spoke as smoke filtered out from his nose, flavoring the air.

“Joey,” the mob boss said, grinding out the cigarette. “Out of twelve bodies, we only got twenty doses. That’s less than a third of the rate that Bank of the Americas is getting. Or at least, telling us they’re getting.”

Matricardi rolled a little vial around in his hand.

“What’s the deal?”

“It’s harder than the bank instructions made it sound,” Tradittore said, cautiously feeling out his boss. “Getting the spinal cords out without tearing ’em is a finicky job. The job itself, well it’s pretty horrible so our guys tend to hurry through it. Basically, what we’re doing is cutting up people. It takes a…certain kinda guy to be comfortable with that. We don’t got as many people with the right mindset as you’d think. Also, the metering of the radiation used to damage the viral DNA while leaving the virus itself sufficiently intact to provoke an immune response is…well, it’s finicky too. We’ve spoiled some batches because we don’t have a well-trained radiologist. The bank’s got a fuckin’ microbiologist doing this. We got Tony Too-Smart runnin’ our machine.”

Tony, like the rest of the audience, wisely stayed silent.

The gangster looked out the window, listening. Tradittore couldn’t clearly see Matricardi’s face, and paused until his boss waved on hand in a circular “keep going” motion.

“Collecting the zombies ain’t a picnic, either. We lost two guys who got themselves bit during the first week.”

Matricardi looked back.

“What did you do with them?”

“You’re holding it.”

The Aeron Miller clicked a bit as the taller Sicilian leaned back in his chair, contemplating the vial as the lights struck golden highlights from the vial.

“Well, waste not, want not, I suppose,” the mobster said.

He stretched an arm towards the buffet along the wall, and Khabayeva uncrossed her long legs and moved to open the humidor. She held up a Romeo Y Julieta and raised an eyebrow.

“No, no–something else. The Davidoff.”

As she clipped and lit the cigar Matricardi turned back to the table. He set the ampoule of vaccine down on the rich wood of the table with a slight tick.

“You mentioned that the competition is getting stiffer?”

Tradittore’s eyes followed the brunette’s motions as she rolled the cigar in her long fingers, evenly starting the ember and shaking the long wooden match out before handing the lit cigar to Matricardi.

“We gotta couple trucks that we roll after dark, looking for obviously infected people, but usually we listen to the Essex County scanner.” He looked back to his boss. “If we hear a 10-54, we try to beat the cops to the location. Sometimes we do, but even if the cops don’t get there first, there’s an even chance that Overture’s guys, a team from the Triads or some other freelancers are laying claim.”

Overture was the emerging power in New York. His Afro-Caribbean organization had consolidated power in Queens and Brooklyn and now vied for ascendancy with the Triads in Manhattan. The smart money seemed to be on Overture.

Matricardi blew smoke across the room and ruminated on the cigar.

“Nice.” He glanced at the only woman in the room. “What do you think, Risky? You always tell me that you’re more than a pretty face. So, fine, show me that I don’t keep you around just because you’re gorgeous.”

“What we need are some specialized skills and to tighten up the organization.” She recrossed her legs. “Reduce the wastage of, what did Joey call them?”