Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 28
“Little late for that, Tradittore.” Tom tilted his head sideways even as he continued to dump the last ampoules into the barrel, the merry tinkle of glass a counterpoint to the grimness of the scene. To one side Kapman had a perfect sight picture centered on the Sicilian’s face. “He saved your ass back there,” Tom added lightly. “Be a real shame if he had to ruin his hard work, don’t you think?”
Tradittore’s man returned and immediately shouldered his weapon, training it first on Kapman, then Tom.
“Fuck it and fuck you, pretty boy,” Tradittore said, disgusted. He let his rifle hang once more. “Do you know how much money you’re burning?”
Tom looked back after the last good shake consigned a final ampoule to the flames.
“You can’t spend it if you’re dead,” Tom said, meeting Tradittore’s eyes. “This is dirty vaccine of shit quality. All it’s good for is taking money from desperate people in exchange for making a considerable number of them into zombies. It burns.”
The red flames continued to reflect in Tradittore’s eyes after Tom turned away.
* * *
“Ken Schweizer, OEM.” Schweizer introduced himself to the neatly dressed black-haired man across the table.
“Ramon Gutierrez,” came the answer from behind a pair of five-hundred-dollar sunglasses. “I represent the business interests of Mr. Overture.”
Gutierrez’s suit looked loose and comfortable. He had eschewed a traditional suit and tie in favor of a open-necked guayabera, the traditional lightweight linen shirt of Central America and the Carib. It was as much a symbol of his role as the subdued NYC OEM logo on Schweizer’s binder.
“Thank you for making time for me despite your busy schedule,” Schweizer said, glancing around. Although Schweizer was alone, his counterpart had brought along additional trappings to highlight his place in Big Mac Overture’s enterprise in the form of two looming, dreadlocked bodyguards.
Gutierrez tipped the neck of his beer towards Schweizer, acknowledging his statement, before taking a healthy pull.
The hustle and bustle of the Crown Heights bodega provided enough background noise to afford them some privacy, so Schweizer proceeded.
“We have an interest in maintaining a good relationship with all of the important city departments, Ken,” he said. “NYPD, FDNY, sanitation–so I’m glad to hear that you want to talk. OEM has an important job, but it usually takes a while for you to get around to the little people in Queens, man.”
Queens, and to some extent Brooklyn, had become a home to successive waves of immigration from the Gulf of Mexico and places south. Trinidad, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Barbados, Puerto Rico–all had contributed to the melting pot in New York City. The intelligence that OEM had from the police and the FBI revealed that Overture had made his bones by consolidating power in his borough, much as Matricardi had done in Jersey.
Like Matricardi, he also appeared to have leaned into the H7D3 crisis instead of running away from it.
“I assume that you are aware that the City is contemplating a partnership with certain business elements to regularize the production of vaccine,” Schweizer said. “An important component of that is cooperation.”
“Well, the term ‘City’ is a pretty big stretch, wouldn’t you say, Ken?” Gutierrez said, smiling. “I mean, if you’d said you were working within Manhattan, or North Jersey, or even Staten Island, I’d probably agree. But Brooklyn and Queens already belong to my boss. And he’s moving in the other boroughs too. We know that you are rolling up MS13 and the Triads. Like my boss always says, gives us something in common.”
Schweizer sipped his water before replying.
“We have a working relationship with banks and other…irregular business interests. As well as the NYPD,” he said. “I see some value in maintaining a channel between us, to avoid potential conflicts of interest and to share breaking information.”
“Everything is negotiable,” Overture’s man said, drinking more beer. “So let me show you ’round. Give you a sense of what we have to offer.” He stood up.
“C’mon, it’s just around the corner.”
Schweizer paid attention to the way that Gutierrez’s eyes glinted.
That couldn’t be good.
* * *
“You take the good with the bad,” Tom Smith thought aloud, feet propped up on his desk during a rare moment of reflection. Summer had nearly gone. The fireworks, the parties and the drunks all proceeded as normal, or near enough.
How New Yorkers managed to just…keep going was a matter of wonder for the tall Australian import.
The previously concluded city wide meeting had taken most of the two days to negotiate, but finally the City, the police, OEM, many of the banks and insurance firms and most critically, the…entrepreneurial groups had finally met. Encouraged by the success of the first efforts to consolidate the market, some actual progress had been made towards establishing the rules of the road for how the various groups would cooperate, or more properly, compete civilly.
The cartel was in business.
It appeared to Smith that the salubrious effect upon the leadership of the “Gangs of New York” of watching a zombie turn from inside a sealed room while most of their security was disarmed was a dramatic acceleration of their decision-making. The agitation of watching security literally bludgeon to death what had only moments previously been an attractive secretary probably added to their sense of urgency.
Hey, whatever it took.
Not only the bank but the entire cartel was slowly gaining on the critical vaccination curve, although BotA was still under-producing if they wanted to meet the magic thirty thousand courses of vaccine mark, covering the currently projected number of staff and dependents.
But they were gaining. The new equipment, the shared intelligence, the updated firearms, it was all working. The city truce was holding. The rate of infection had stabilized even.
Rune walked in and did a double take. His boss, who had been brooding for weeks, was actually smiling. Paul thought that Smith looked happier than Dita von Teese’s pasties.
“How are you doing this fine morning, Paul?” Tom called out.
“Um, decent?” Rune tried to echo his boss’s apparent upbeat mood. “I did some digging on our cartel partners. I have a hit on OEM that you should see. Summary on page one.”
He slid a red folder across Tom’s desk, retaining a copy.
“I did a routine credential check on everyone,” Paul said. “Kohn’s had an odd break in transcripts. I went a little further and from middle school through high school, she was in what amounted to a low- to medium-security residential program for juveniles.”
“What fo–” Tom’s eyebrows crawled up his forehead as he flipped ahead. “Well, that would do it.”
“She was tried as a juvenile,” Rune said. “Paragraph three. But, between the murder method and her counselor’s reports, she’s not what you call fully wrapped. You don’t just spring back from ‘extreme homicidal psychosis.'”
“Hmm…okay,” Tom said, leafing through the report. “I’ll have to parse the psychiatric diagnosis for longer than I have now. How did you get this? These records are supposed to be sealed.”
“Head of Global Intelligence for a top five investment bank versus podunk flyover state secure digital records system,” Paul said, miming typing on a computer. “Hardly fair. But the point is, what do we do now?”
“Do?” Smith asked, puzzled. “Why would we do anything? She’s clinically psychotic and appears to have limits different than the average civilian. In our current situation, that’s a feature, not a bug. She is entirely efficient in her job and we need her in that role.”
“But she used a c–” Paul said.
“Stop,” Tom said, closing the folder. “This world’s falling apart faster than any government can get ahead of the virus. The only way for any functional core of civilization to survive is to create vaccine from, I hate repeating this, human spinal cords. To do that, we need a city official who is willing to countenance and abet the murder of thousands of infected. Kohn is that person. Now we know why. Good job. That she wasn’t entirely wrapped was sort of obvious but with this we can plan more specifically. For now, tell me about the four main sites we got for Zeus.”
Rune had to recalibrate his headspace for a moment, then proceeded.
“It wasn’t cheap,” Rune said. “But Site Maple in Maine is nearly fully provisioned and we have a complete skeleton staff in place. Site Grape near Champlain is at sixty percent, more or less. Site Bugle is forty-plus. The bad news is that the Blue Ridge site is a problem. We have the title, a cover story and some contractors lined up but we’re way behind on most everything else.”
Smith declined to let a spot of bad news derail his outlook.
“That’s better than I hoped,” he answered, his tone reasonable. “We got a late start so we’re behind the ball. Okay, give me options, Paul.”
Rune was ahead of this question. Smith never accepted a situation report but that he asked for candidate options.
“The easiest thing to do is to pour everything into the first two and walk from the others. But at a guess, Bateman won’t go for that.”
“Got it in one,” Tom said. “You know the argument. What about…”
As Smith’s desk-phone rang he glanced at the number, then held up one finger towards Rune and punched a button on his handset.
“Durante’s satphone,” he said, putting it on speaker-phone. “This is Smith and Rune, you’re on speaker, Gravy.”
“Hey Tom, hey Paul.” The connection was pretty clear. “The good news is that the vaccine checks out and we can buy some, maybe a lot. The bad news–okay, the not so bad…okay, the “would be hilarious under other circumstances” news–is that Depine is dead. Apparent massive heart attack.”
“No shit?” Smith was surprised. “When?”
“Like half an hour ago,” Durante said, his voice artificially light. “He didn’t make it through the introductions. Grabbed his chest and went into Cheyne Stokes right in front of God and everybody. Two minutes later, doornail. These guys have a doctor and he’s already been pronounced. I’m negotiating for us now, right?”
“Got it, you’re not alone,” Smith replied. “Yeah, you’re empowered to act for the bank. Get the authorization letter out of Depine’s brief case, get familiar with the top line numbers. We need a minimum of another two thousand complete courses to make the trip worthwhile. Get more if they can spare it, especially the booster. Twice the base figure wouldn’t be too much. Three times might solve most of our problems.”
“Okay, I’m on it,” Durante said, his tone becoming cagey. “By the way, this guy seems to be from one of the outfits we used to run with. Remember Mr. Invisible who craves fish?”
There was a pause, then Smith’s eyes widened.
“Damnit,” Tom muttered, rolling his shoulder to relieve some stress. “If that’s who I think you mean, do not, repeat do not negotiate with the brew-mistress if you can help it. She’ll look like a creaky old lady that’s got the face of an angel. Do not trust that face. But we need that vaccine, copy?”
“Um, okay?” Durante said, puzzled. “Whatever it takes, roger.”
“Make the deal and get back, we need you, yesterday. Smith clear.”
“What was that about a mistress, Tom?” Rune asked when the connection was closed.
“Brew-mistress.” Smith leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling. “If Durante meant who I think he was referring to, well, remember your guesses on the rumor about a nuke in the Bahamas, or that nuke bluff that the tangos used in Paris maybe seven or so years back?”
The intel analyst nodded.
“There’s a decent chance that they’re more than just rumors,” Tom said with a frown. “But…suffice to say that his outfit has some very experienced older ladies who run the brewing business, and they are purely hell on wheels when it comes to bargaining. Durante is gonna get his clock cleaned.”
“Ask Bateman which he would rather have: another thousand kilograms of gold or another couple thousand courses of vaccine, right?”
“Rune, Rune, Rune,” Tom said, shaking his head. “Rich Bateman is first and foremost a banker. I don’t want to have to bring a comfortable chair and a packed lunch while I wait for that answer.”