Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 22

“Assets,” Tradittore volunteered, his eyes narrowing almost imperceptibly.

“Assets.” If the topic made Khabayeva queasy, it certainly didn’t show. “We need to utilize them efficiently–no waste. Also, we need stop wasting collection opportunities by competing with cops and other organizations. The first one is simple. The second one is harder. Who can talk to cops, to other competitors and be believed by all? The bankers.”

Tradittore leaned forward.

“Wait a second: Simple?” he asked with a smirk. “This I got to hear. You know a better way to cut off some poor stiff’s head and pull his spinal cord out without snapping it or getting infected yourself?”

Matricardi eyed them both.

Khabayeva first met his glance and then looked back to the younger man.

“Is simple,” she said, waving a hand dismissively. “Find butcher. A doctor. A coroner. A funeral home director. All of them would have a better understanding of how to extract the spinal cord. So, hire them, or bribe them, or…encourage them some other way.”

“I like the funeral home director idea the best.” She tapped the table with a long burgundy nail. “They have ways to dispose of the bodies–is one less thing.”

Tradittore sat back slightly, deflated.

His boss looked first at his deputy and then at Oldryskya.

“That’s not half bad,” Matricardi said with a grunt. “Okay–Tradittore, set it up. I’ll call Smith and see about the second thing.”

He looked appraisingly at the woman again.

“Not half bad at all.”

Without moving his eyes away from her he addressed the rest of the room.

“Meetings over. Beat it.”

Khabayeva stayed seated.

* * *

“If this works, then perimeter security issue gets much easier!” Durante exclaimed, examining his new toy.

The patch test kit resembled a single use diabetes monitor. Blood from a fine catheter passed through a membrane and then was introduced to a color sensitive paper patch. If the antibodies for H7 were present, it turned red. The failure rate was unhelpfully high–it would have never passed FDA testing–but it was better than nothing. Different models of varying degrees of accuracy were proliferating across the country.

“Will it get so much easier that you’ll catch the next infected employee that wanders into the HVAC room,” Smith asked, barely bothering to coat the steel in his words with a bare minimum of humor. “And thereby prevent my niece from having to beat it to death with a K-11?”

Faith Smith, having been thoroughly disarmed–who gives a Saiga to a thirteen-year-old, really!–and a building engineer named Schmidt who had been assigned as tour guide tasked to give her a familiarization tour of the skyscraper’s infrastructure had found a zombie feeding on a recent kill. Inside his bank. She’d brained the afflicted former bank employee with a security baton that she’d been surreptitiously lent by a sympathetic guard. Then she had to deal with the emotional consequences of her first kill–not to mention, her uncle then had the pleasure of explaining the event to her parents.

Tom Smith wasn’t going to let his new head of building security forget it.

Dr. Curry was demonstrating the kit and testing everyone present at the daily Plan Zeus team meeting. He moved to Tom Smith’s side.

Wincing, the tall Australian held out a hand and looked in the other direction while Curry wielded the test.

He couldn’t see Durante from this angle, but he could hear the grin.

“Boss, are you still scared of an itsy-bitsy needle?”

“Answer in the first part,” Tom said, looking across the table. “It’s a well-known fact that needles are the source of all that is evil in the world. So, yes. Answer in the second part. Find something else for Faith do. Something safe. Filing. Hand folding pull-outs. Temp admin work. Something that keeps her in secure areas. Hell, spin it off to Rune.”

At the end of the table, Rune winced. He had heard about the…challenges of reining in the younger Smith girl.

“Also, answer in the third part,” Tom continued. “Gravy, thank you for volunteering to escort Brad on a little trip! You must remember to send us a postcard from picturesque Eastern Europe.” Smith dabbed at his finger with a Betadine patch, his eyes glinting.

“And…this one is negative too.” Curry was personally reading each kit and then dropping them into a bin proffered by Sophia Smith, before the pair moved onto the next person.

“Eastern Europe?” Durante looked over to their financier, who was looking unhappy but no real help, then returned his gaze to Tom. “How far east? Belgrade, Budapest…?”

Mostly blank looks answered his sally. However, Tom made a little “come on” gesture.

“Sofia…Kiev…” Durante continued, “Tbilisi…”

“Warmer…” Tom said, holding up his palm. “Your job, once you have read the packet is to figure out the details.”

He slid a thick folder down the table.

“If we don’t either dramatically increase asset collection, or per-asset realization, we aren’t going to make our numbers for the planned courses of H7D3 vaccine,” Tom said, turning serious. “I’ve no desire to buy from Overture or Matricardi–their Q and A isn’t anything like ours. For that matter, Overture is starting to run his own coordination with some of the police precincts. If he gets tight with them, he can squeeze the banks. I’m going to try to head that off, but you and Brad are going to see if we can buy what we need.”

Durante was still grinning. Big adventure! His erstwhile travel partner wasn’t happy.

“Are we certain that the samples we collected from the London office came from this group?” Depine asked, reading an e-mail on his tablet.

“Not sure,” Tom shrugged but stabbed a map of eastern Europe with his finger. “We know that there is a large-scale production center of pharmaceutical grade vaccine at least as good as the best we are manufacturing. We are confident that it is originating in Eastern Europe, but not Russia or Belarus. Current intel points to a semiautonomous region of the country of Georgia…And we think that the actual producers didn’t start out as a pharmaceutical operation…”

“The beer company?” Durante asked. “Didn’t they mix it up with the Chechens a while back…?”

“The same,” Tom said. “Also mercenaries for hire according to our NatSec intel group. And now believed to be producing high-quality vaccine in saleable quantities. Part of the background data on them is they have a long-term relationship with a former Russian/Soviet bioweapons expert. Presumably he’s the one in charge of vaccine production. Fly to Tblisi, make delicate inquiries, find the wholesalers, get us that vaccine.”

“Why send me?” Depine didn’t quite whine. “I’m not a biologist. Besides, air travel right now isn’t safe!”

“Simple math,” Smith replied, his tone hardening even further. “The board approved a global vaccination plan that will support up to thirty-thousand staff and dependents. We aren’t confident that we’re going to get to that number–so we need to buy more. If we buy from Overture or one of the others we run the risk of subpar quality as well as giving up leverage that we can’t afford to sacrifice just yet. So, it’s the two of you against potentially another few thousand courses of vaccine. I’ll take that bet. You’re a deal maker. Durante finds the wholesale source, you make the deal. Cause, admittedly, Gravy can’t negotiate for shit.”

Durante looked hurt. Depine opened his mouth but Tom cut him off.

“Lastly–you started off weeks ago by bitching about the costs when I wanted to initiate Zeus,” Tom said, his eyes cold behind his smile. “So, while all your fat-ass buddies stay here nice and safe in New York, you get to go haring off into the wilds to be the bag man and negotiator. The G6 is over at FBO. Three pilots, all vaccinated, just like yourself. Mr. Bateman has authorized five hundred kilos of bullion and another twenty million in specie. We need that vaccine. Make the best deal you can make, Brad. You screwed up my well-laid plans for just such an emergency once. Do it again, you won’t like the consequences.”