Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 24
He turned back and looked directly into her eyes, focusing first on one and then the other. She hadn’t moved from where she initially stood.
“The only way out is through. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to do what we’re doing. Well, maybe the criminals, hell maybe even the NYPD, have found some psychos who like chopping people up. But I don’t like it. Tom doesn’t like it. Mr. Bateman, who knows damned well where the vaccine is coming from, doesn’t like it. Nobody likes it. Everyone is horrified and disgusted. But. We’re all in this together. Mutual assured destruction. You try to resign now and the best that you can hope for is a permanent inside job until the crisis is over, one way or the other. I don’t think that I have to tell you what your other options are.”
“What do you mean?” Kendra asked quietly.
“Recall what Smith’s oldest niece is doing?” Rune asked with a humorless chuckle. “A fifteen-year-old Smith is taking human spinal cords and loading them in a fucking Cuisinart to make people paste. The thirteen-year-old? She beat a fucking zombie to death with a stick in our own basement. My boss–your boss–has sworn to uphold the security of this bank and the production plan above all other things, including the safety of his only family. His life, his fortune and his sacred honor. We’re all putting that on the table so that, maybe, some of us survive. Maybe we can actually win, unlikely though it looks at present. So that maybe, even if we lose, we have a chance to rebuild and not go into a thousand-year night.”
He reached out and clumsily if earnestly patted Jones on the shoulder. She barely avoided flinching again.
“So, knowing what the kids in the family are like, what do you think Thomas ‘the fucking Train Engine’ Smith will do to you if he thinks that his sacrifices, his honor, his family–hell, the entire plan–are about to be at risk as a result of your attempt to back out of this agreement?”
His deputy looked away and started to tremble.
* * *
Apart from the four principals eyeing each other across the gleaming table, only Curry remained in the conference room.
“You wanted the meeting private, Smith. Now it’s private, including this…person.”
Dominguez wasn’t happy about Matricardi remaining, but the cop’s ire seemed to amuse the gangster.
“First some news,” Smith said. “Dr. Curry turned up something interesting.”
“‘Interesting’ interesting or ‘bad’ interesting?” interjected Matricardi. Clearly he wasn’t prebriefed on whatever the development might be.
Curry stood at his place, but didn’t approach the head of the table. Instead, he watched the outsiders like a cat aware that there were large dogs just outside his yard.
“Although the citywide attempts at ring vaccination have bought us more time than we had hoped, the rate of infection is up,” the scientist said, referring to the strategy of firewalling outbreaks with circles of vaccinated persons. “That’s the ‘bad interesting’ bit. The proportion of infections due to bites, or blood contamination of some sort is now greater than that of the airborne virus. That is the ‘even worse’ interesting bit, if you will.”
Kohn looked at Curry for more amplification and then turned to Smith, who took up the narrative.
“I can see you thinking ‘why does this matter?'” Tom said. “First, it means that the number of already infected people is sufficient to spread the disease by contact faster than even the initial airborne attack, which was already a high speed vector. Second, the propagation models we are using, from the CDC’s to the ones we built in house, are all using the previously observed infection rate. Third, and this is the kicker, the change to the disease propagation rate blows our plan to use vaccination to contain the disease out of the water. This means that we’ll not hold the entire city. The bite propagation rate has thrown that out as a possibility.”
Dead silence persisted for several moments as everyone digested that happy news.
Matricardi wasn’t shy.
“The only way we’ll gain enough time to inoculate the largest number of people and get them to safe areas is to work together, organize the city, coordinate the efforts of the various city actors and accelerate vaccine production.” The banker slowed his rapid fire delivery. “We hold the line for as long as we can. Maybe the CDC and the government will pull a miracle out of their hat. Maybe the Plague will burn itself out.”
“Is there seriously a chance that could happen?” Kohn looked intrigued. “I have been told it may just go away, that the virus is breaking down.”
Tom slurped some more coffee and waved at Curry, who stood back up.
“In genetic engineering terms, this virus is made of spit and bailing wire,” Curry said. “The rate of transcription errors for the secondary expressor, which is the actual modified rabies virus, is creating some variants that are not viable in any host. However, others are, and those are enough to keep the transmission going long enough to infect the planet, unless the devolution of the dominant H7D3 strain accelerates unexpectedly.”
“Thank you, Dr. Curry,” Tom said, nodding at the scientist. “I think probably Sophia needs your guidance at this point.”
“Out of the room for the rest of it?” Curry asked curiously.
“Out of the room for the rest of it,” Tom said, nodding.
“So, the virus is dying, but probably not fast enough to save us,” Kohn said, after the microbiologist had left the room. “Why would we cooperate to hold the line only in order to afford your bank enough time to escape? I find that unacceptable.”
“Because the bank is constructing and outfitting long-term refuges for critical personnel.” It was Tom’s turn to play his final ace. “In exchange for working with me, I’m going to make room for all three of you.”
“And our families?” Dominguez asked.
“And a select number of critical staff as well,” Tom said with a nod. “I’m letting you buy into our plan. Break security? You get left behind. Fail to deliver on cooperation? Same thing.”
“Where are these safe areas?” Kohn said thoughtfully. “How large are they?”
“Madame Director, that’s ‘need to know.'” Tom leaned back. “And you don’t yet need to know. However, consider my actual job here at the Bank. It’s to ensure that the Bank continues. Period. Dot. And I was given quite a nice budget to ensure just that prior to the Plague and more funding since. Before I read you in, and before you think about forcing the issue, allow me to share that the one certain way to cut yourselves off from this parachute is to try to strong arm us. The first question that matters is, ‘what do we need from each other?'”
* * *
The three groups of security specialists were in the large foyer outside the bank’s executive conference room. Groups of chairs, a light buffet and windows provided natural places for them to gather separately. Kaplan noticed that the Cosa Nova woman was by herself, looking out a window.
Her conservatively cut, dark business suit didn’t hide her knockout figure. It was complemented by tall heels, whose soles flashed red when she walked back from the coffee urn to her window perch. They might as well have been a spinner lure in front of a lunging bass.
Kaplan decided that as long as no one was making her acquaintance, there was no reason that he shouldn’t be an attentive host. He stopped by the OEM staffers and cops first, inquiring if they needed anything. The Jersey boys were next, and despite some flexing, which might have been an involuntary reflex upon the approach of any other male, they too needed nothing.
As Kaplan strode confidently to the woman, he noted that her right hand never strayed more than a finger’s width from her cream clutch, which seemed to have rich leather and deep, hand-sewn seams.
“Miss Khabayeva, my name is Jim Kaplan.” Kap was all professionalism and charm. “I run security for the building. Is there anything that I can get you?”
She held out her hand.
“Oldryskya Khabayeva, ‘Risky’ to my friends.”
Kaplan enjoyed the benefits of a great poker face, but this woman was giving nothing away. As he shook her hand, he noted the perfect manicure, a pleasant floral scent and startling violet eyes. Had to be contacts. He took her extended hand and enjoyed her firm hand shake. No limp-wristed, damp-palmed ingénue here.
“My friends call me Kapman. Nice to meet you.”