Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 23
Kaplan’s nose itched. He wasn’t certain which of Smith’s guests wore the offending scent–it seemed to be more sandalwood than floral, but that didn’t really refine the possible suspects. The OEM director wore a uniform every bit as formal as the visiting cops’ blues or his own boss’s tailored suit. It certainly was less colorful than the Cosa Nova boss’s white lapel carnation. The former operator carefully refrained from scratching his nose and concentrated on the principals while still keeping a careful eye cocked at their security.
The visitors had arrived in three parties. The NYPD contingent included several plainclothes cops, two of whom had rather obvious and unnecessary briefcases which they carefully sat down to the right of their respective chairs. A suspicious mind might note that they were the right size and shape for a shortened carbine or subgun. A second group consisted of only two gray-suited OEM functionaries, a bearded man and a hatchet-faced woman, each carrying a leather folio and multiple phones. The last group included a squad of what looked like private military contractors, albeit ones with an excess of spray tan and styling gel. Their equipment included double pistol rigs, hung low on the same thigh. That didn’t count the knockout of a brunette who sat behind the head gangster.
The tone of the meeting wasn’t…warm. Both Dominguez, now informally representing the entire Department, and Kohn, providing the same service for the remaining city government, were unhappy that they were sharing a room with a known criminal like Matricardi.
It had taken fifteen minutes to get past the obligatory pleasantries and onto the real business. Smith wanted everyone to turn their cards face up before he popped the question.
“You may need thirty-six thousand doses for the bank, but the department numbers twice that, plus dependents.” Dominguez’s voice was even but intense. “At the rate we are manufacturing, we might have full coverage for the officers in two more months. Probably three. But only if we don’t have to constantly referee the banks, the criminals and independents who are, incidentally, going after the same raw materials that we are. And this asshole”–he jerked his chin towards the Sicilian–“is selling to whoever can meet the price, even as we protect him.”
Matricardi smiled but refrained from comment.
Tom Smith didn’t rise to the bait, but he still replied.
“I’ve got a couple of informal ways to determine how bad things are outside,” Tom said, gesturing to the broad window overlooking the East River. “I measure how long it takes our trucks to fill up every day. Takes rather less nowadays.”
Bank of the Americas, like other interested parties, had been collecting zombies for vaccines for weeks. Smith had labeled the units Biological Emergency Response Teams, or BERTs for short. The name stuck, and the various competing BERTs patrolled, ready to tase and bag zombies for use in vaccine manufacture. That the official PD policy appeared to be “live and let live” strongly suggested that they needed the teams collecting infected rather more than they needed to assert their own primacy.
“But I have been looking out this window since the Fourth of July,” Tom continued. “I check to see how many smoke columns there are, which corresponds to the number of fires not being promptly contained by FDNY. I check the number of reported arrests and detentions, which apart from infected, are way, way down. I look at the amount of traffic on the FDR Parkway. It’s getting a lot lighter. All those things correspond to how many LEO and emergency services we have left. And I can tell that the number is going down, fast. You don’t have fifty thousand cops anymore. After your precinct consolidation, you might have half of that, optimistically.”
The top cop was getting visibly agitated.
“Understand, Captain Dominguez, I intend no disrespect, but I can’t bring you options if we don’t share the same set of facts,” Tom added placatingly. “And the fact is that the police department is fading.”
“There are plenty of cops,” Dominguez said, standing up abruptly. “Enough to lock the city down. If we get turned loose, we can clear out the five boroughs of the criminals that are profiting from this disease, instead of getting bled dry while they turn a buck.”
He pointed at the New Jersey leader.
“If that happens, then your organization is next. I know that after Overture, you are the second largest illegal vaccine operation in the City.”
“News to me, Captain,” Matricardi said, spreading his hands disarmingly. “But I’m interested in finding more vaccine.”
“We are the NYPD, and you think that you can dictate terms to us?” Dominguez looked angrily towards Smith. “If I think that you’re holding back vaccine that we need, I’ll arrest you here and now. I’m refraining from shooting this asshole,” he added, flinging a hand at the Sicilian, “out of hand only because we have an arrangement with Bank of the Americas–but only with you!”
The tension in the room, which had been inching upwards, shot up several notches.
Tom looked around the room. Three different groups of security guards had gone from tying to out-bland each other to being fully alert, weight on the balls of their feet and hands close to their weapons.
The banker looked to the head of OEM.
“Ms. Kohn, before you allow this to escalate unhelpfully, perhaps you want to hear the entire proposal?”
Ding began to reply but Kohn forestalled him with a raised hand.
“Just before Independence Day weekend, we were running at half the pre-Plague numbers,” she replied. “Last Monday, the number of sworn officers reporting for duty was at thirty-nine percent of pre-Plague levels and dropping.”
The bright light filtering through the skyscraper’s tinted windows drew her face into sharp relief, severe but determined. She regarded Smith steadily.
“So yes, your information is correct.” Her glance took in Smith and Dominguez. “Before we proceed further, why don’t we speak privately, we three?”
Tom Smith looked over at Matricardi.
“We four, you mean. I invited Mr. Matricardi for a purpose. And I need the good doctor for a bit longer, as well.”
Ding gritted his teeth and shook his head.
Kohn smiled and replied smoothly.
* * *
“What do you mean, ‘You can’t do this’?” Rune didn’t often raise his voice, but when he did, he didn’t hold back. Despite that, he wasn’t in danger of being overheard. Jones had requested a private meeting with her boss in the secure conference room. “Can’t do what, exactly?”
Kendra Jones was scared, but she stood her ground.
“I don’t think I can be part of a plan, an operation, that is violating the rights of the people sick with the flu by murdering them for their spines.”
Rune’s deputy was clearly miserable, but she didn’t try to sugarcoat it.
“I don’t think that this is moral, I know that it isn’t legal, and it feels like we are tearing down our own civilization in order to find a quick solution,” she went on miserably. “There has got to be a different answer.”
Rune let her have her personal space.
“I never took you as the conscientious objector type, Kendra,” Paul said. “And understand that I mean that as a compliment. Unlike most of your cohort, or at least the ironic part, you have always had an edge…and you have busted your ass here. That’s why you are my deputy as well as the handler for the scientist that is the best hope of saving our collective ass. What changed?”
“I, I knew what the bank and Dr. Curry were doing, even before the team meeting,” Jones said, meeting his blue eyes without flinching, much. “Maybe it has to be done, maybe…But I can’t do it. I know that the numbers are pretty bad for us–I can read a trend line like anyone else. Paul…We are probably going to lose. It’s moderately bad already, and we haven’t hit the take-off point on the curve.” At this point there’s no way to make enough vaccine to hold things together forever. I’ve seen the reports out of China. They’re mass-producing like mad, ring-immunizing, everything, and they’re still losing. If we’re going to lose, anyway, why sacrifice our soul first?”
“And what do you plan to do?” Paul asked, trying to contain his impatience. “Walk away? Escape the city on your own while promising never to tell anyone what we did here? You think that CLD is all it’ll cost you?”
Jones was pale, and held her hands together tightly. She nodded.
He shook his head and turned to stare at the dark wood paneling, visible between the regularly spaced blocks of anechoic foam that drank in their words, giving their conversation a flat quality.
“I like you, Jonesy,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s part of my problem. I don’t just think that you a crackerjack deputy–I also think that you are a decent human being in a shitty industry in an even shittier spot. But no. You don’t understand. Insiders that leave now know enough to put the plan at risk, to put everything at risk. You were in the meetings. You agreed to turn your hand and will to the bank’s purpose. You took the money, the vaccine, the whole deal. No one gets to walk. Leaving, at this point, is not an option.”