Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 26


“No, Mr. Mayor,” Joanna said, smiling calmly at the crystal clear image of her titular boss. “There is no danger that Bank of the Americas can conceal their preparations indefinitely. They have several long-term fallback points in development. The agreement requires them, in the event of catastrophic emergency, to share them with us.”

She carefully omitted details on what, exactly, constituted “us.”

“How the hell can you ensure that they don’t betray the agreement that you agreed to without my permission, Kohn!” Hizzoner didn’t quite snarl. “You said that you’d consult with me on anything that was serious, and this is damned well serious! You can’t trust those fucking bastards–doing so is fucking stupid.”

Joanna was affected by his famous temper just as much as she was by the sharp, persistent scent of chemical disinfectant, which was used daily to wipe down every surface in the OEM offices.

That is to say, not at all.

“Sir, conditions are increasingly perilous,” she said. “We are still losing ground to H7D3, despite all of our efforts.” She gestured to Gauge, who spoke up.

“Mr. Mayor, on your orders we immediately instituted the vaccination program and it’s ongoing. We continue to suppress the worst reporting about the disease, and the state legislature backed the suspension, sorry, the realignment of some civil rights. We’re continuing the program of compartmentalizating blocks with severe rates of infection and lastly, we are getting more National Guard presence.”

“None of that excuses your freelancing, Joanna!” the major retorted, ignoring her underling.

“Sir, I am supporting your agenda, as agreed, but there is not time any longer to run every late breaking decision through you, unless you can return to the City.”

“Out of the question!” the mayor snapped, though more calmly this time. “My family’s here, and we have on-island redundant communications links to every relevant capital and government department. I can run the City fine from here, and I can sure enough bury you if you disobey me again, Joanna, no matter where I am.”

“Of course sir,” she answered. “But Mr. Mayor, on a different topic, we sent the first course of human sourced attenuated vaccine via your courier team last week, as authorized per your signed finding. Did you complete the round of primer injections for all the adults? Precise timing is required for the application of the booster injections.”

There was a brief pause as the mayor adjusted to her not so subtle reminder about the source of the vaccine. And who authorized it.

“Yes, yes, of course,” he replied. “Look, I have to go. Keep me informed and don’t sign anymore agreements with any fucking gangsters unless you consult with me, understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Joanna replied, almost demurely.

The screen went dead in the secure OEM conference room and Schweizer moved to unplug the system, doubly ensuring that they had complete privacy.

“That could have gone better,” offered Gauge, stacking the unneeded briefing folders on the table.

“‘If the population knew with what idiocy they were ruled, they would revolt,'” stated Joanna.


“Tell me again, what did you study for your master’s degree, Sarissa?” the director of the OEM inquired. “Any history, or the classics?”

“No, Ms. Kohn,” replied Gauge. “Women’s Studies at Berkeley, and an MBA from Brown.”

Joanna flicked her eyes over to her second associate.

“Poli-sci at George Washington,” Schweizer said, correctly interpreting her glance as a question.

“Charlemagne, Sarissa,” Joanna explained. “The quote is from Charlemagne, the first emperor in the west after the fall of the Romans. He owed his position to his father, Charles Martel, better known as Charles the Great.”

“Battle of Tours,” offered Schweizer, with a snide look at his competitor. “Charles the Hammer, first of the Frankish kings, filled the power vacuum during the Muslim invasion of Europe.”

“Better, Ken, but not quite accurate,” Joanna said reprovingly. She like her people to practice their competitive skills on each other, but it wouldn’t do to let one or the other too far ahead. “Charles Martel wasn’t the king, his title was Mayor of the Palace for the last of the Merovingians, the line of kings that ruled a dwindling European kingdom. The mayor of the palace was the true power behind the throne of the Merovingians, and set policy and led the army, which Charles used to reclaim central Europe from the Turks. Then he consolidated the petty dukes, thereby reestablishing Francia and starting his own royal line.”

“Um, yes ma’am?” Gauge wasn’t certain where her boss was going with all this.

“My point, Sarrissa,” Joanna said patiently. “Is that Martel’s grandson was Charlemagne–Charles the Great–and he climbed great heights, eventually rising to be the Holy Roman Emperor. He shaped the future of Western Civilization for ten generations. Like any competent ruler, he appreciated that bad rulers didn’t last long, especially when those ruled became aware of their leaders’ incompetence.”

Joanna saw Schweizer’s eyes glittering appreciatively.

She went on.

“Crises come and go, and the City persists. Our mayor has chosen to absent himself during this crisis. A great crisis which we are managing, ably and quite visibly. When the dust clears, who will be leading the entire city? Who will be new king, Sarissa?”

Gauge and Schweizer shared a bright look, as each calculated their own trajectory, while Joanna continued.

“So, I would say that our meeting went quite well.”

* * *

“Right, right.” Tom was clearly impatient. “Yes, Brad. Got it. If you’re confident that this is the guy, then you have the authority to make the deal.”

Depine was getting twitchy as the meet with independent vaccine manufacturers drew near. Rune could only hear Smith’s side of the conversation, which continued.

“The amounts involved will be high, but not impossible.” Tom went on with his half of the call. “You’ve got the testing kits to verify quality and you also have the liquid assets for the first shipment. Get. It. Done.”

A pause.

“Right. Smith clear.” The head for Security and Emergency Response snorted and didn’t quite slam the receiver into the cradle.

“What an asshole,” Tom said, sighing. “The thought of having to deal with him for possibly years in a fallback shelter just does not please.”

He glanced up and frowned. “You look way too happy. Whatcha got?”

“Just some routine updates–so you first, Boss,” Rune replied, trying manfully to erase his smile. “Do we need to backstop Depine and Durante? Judging from what I heard…”

“No, we’re good, I think,” Smith said. “Seems that this is Depine’s version of the usual pre-mission jitters. Durante’s last e-mail states that other than sweating through his suits faster than usual, Depine seems ready to go for the face-to-face with the vaccine outfit later today. The samples that they have tested all check out. Your turn.”

“Cosa Nova’s representative just got badged up and is heading to orientation,” Rune said, willing his cheek muscles into immobility. “Since you made the deal with her boss, she’ll be at the first team status meeting.”

This was going to be good.

“Okay, fine, ho…wait,” Tom said, squinting suspiciously. “She?”

“Oh, didn’t I say?” Paul studiously looked at his Moleskine for the notes as though he hadn’t already memorized the name. “Matricardi’s liaison is that hot brunette from the restaurant. Same one as went to the last chat before you bosses kicked everyone out of the room. A Ms. Oldryskya Khabayeva.”

“Of course.” Smith sighed.

Matricardi didn’t miss much.

“All right, as soon as we get the other two in today, set up a welcome aboard chit chat with the department heads and myself,” the tall Aussie went on. “Oh, and if you haven’t already…”

Rune finished for him, “…get a complete ‘go-to’ for each primary. Got them here, Boss.”

He laid the relevant intelligence summaries for each liaison on the desk.

“I’m also doing a deeper dive on the principals,” he added. “When I develop anything useful I’ll let you know.”

* * *

“Hey Tom,” Kaplan whispered as the cargo van turned a corner. “I heard that Matricardi is lending you a real hottie for a liaison. That true?”

There were many vaccine producing entrepreneurs outside the sanctioned list of proposed members for the City-wide H7D3 cartel. This was the result, in part, of the easy availability of incomplete information: the basics of making an attenuated vaccine were but a few Internet clicks and a complete disregard for the law away. Most of the street-level operations were little more than a small crew running a single truck, processing in a cobbled together lab using an old X-ray machine and repurposed sweat shop labor for packaging and “enhancements.” If the X-ray machine was on the blink–oh well. A little food dye and a few micrograms of methamphetamine provided enough authenticity to assure low information or desperate buyers that their “medicine” was genuine.

While a few of the most careful players also made or bought some higher quality vaccine for themselves, these teams were niche players without top cover. The larger criminal elements had no objection to clearing the playing field of riff raff, especially if there was some profit on the table for them.

The first tentative cartel operation between the City, organized crime, and what Matricardi liked to call “really organized crime”–the banks–was to destroy the independent chop shops in Manhattan.

The normal circadian rhythm of a healthy person reaches its ebb, measured in alertness and capacity for work, between two and three a.m. Since time immemorial, humans planning to wreak mayhem upon other humans have taken advantage of this rhythm to initiate hostilities at that time, striking while their targets were unfocused or asleep. Modern western militaries and nearly all special operations types had extensive experience in planning and executing successful surprise attacks in the wee hours of the morning. Conversely, they tended to buttress their own protection in the form of additional sentries and cameras during that time of day. You could say that these units had written the “book” on surprise attacks.

The franchise of Mara Salvatrucha 13 or MS13 as it was popularly known, that was running zombie collection and vaccine production near Canal Street had modern weaponry, surprisingly adequate lab facilities and two collection vehicles.

Unfortunately for them, they didn’t have the “book.” Or maybe they simply neglected to read it.

Smith was standing crouched in the darkened cargo space of an ad hoc BERT truck. Adapted from a Hyundai panel van and seized from its operators a short time previously, the vehicle had clearly been used to transport zombies for processing. The sweet and sour smell from the rotting blood and accumulated filth was enough to make his eyes water. Holding on to the internal ribs of the shell, the rest of a combined assault team composed of Cosa Nova shooters, Kaplan and himself swayed with the motion of the truck as it passed over a speed bump before turning into the alley leading to the clandestine production facility.

Launching operations during the early morning hours was a habit for the “spec-ops” crowd. Another habit of operators was to take advantage of stressful situations to have a little fun at their buddies’ expense.

Parachute rigged just before the drop? Check. “That rig looks a little screwy to me, wouldn’t jump it if I were you.”

Four-hour pressure-chamber ride? Check. “Man, have I got to take a dump. You mind? Pass the bucket.”

Getting ready to spring an ambush? Check.

Kaplan had chosen a common wrinkle. Needle the boss over his potential love life, or lack thereof.

“Loved those red-soled high heels at the meeting,” he added to his first statement. “What’s your play?”

“Meh,” Smith replied, a little too tonelessly. “It’s all the same to me.” Of course a real veteran knew that the closer to the mark that any joke might be, the more critical it was to give nothing up.

“Suuuuure. So, you’re okay if I take a shot…”

Smith’s eyes glinted dangerously.

“Shut it,” Tradittore grated, his hand covering the side of his head with an earpiece as he tried to monitor the communications for the operations. Tom couldn’t make out the popping of the enamel as Tradittore ground his molars, but he could imagine it just the same. Between the intel summary and Tradittore’s clear interest in Matricardi’s “assistant,” it was likely that the Cosa Nova lieutenant’s agitation was only partially from the stress of the op. Which was considerable.