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Authors: Drew Chapman

The King of Fear

BOOK: The King of Fear
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, A
17, 9:52 P.M.

lan Daniels knocked twice on the door to his boss's West Wing office, waited a moment for a response—but didn't get one—then pushed the door open. “You got two minutes?”

The national security adviser already had her purse slung over her shoulder. She let out a long, overly dramatic sigh, then smiled brightly and nodded yes. Julie Fiore liked Daniels. He was her deputy adviser and was loyal and smart. She wanted to get home—her husband was cooking grilled salmon with a honey-mustard glaze, her favorite—but she had two minutes for Daniels. She motioned him across the room.

He laid a thin file folder on her desk. “Elections. Belarus. Early results just came in.”

“They have elections in Belarus?” She grinned mischievously.

“Apparently they do. And as of this morning”—Daniels checked the world clock on his smartphone—“one fifty-three a.m., GMT, they seem to matter.”

Fiore pulled her reading glasses out of her purse, opened the file folder, scanned the single sheet of paper inside, and frowned. “Not possible.”

“And yet”—Daniels thrust two open hands in the air as if to signify that this was something only God could fathom—“there you have it.”

“He's been reelected four times. They believe in democracy like I believe in unicorns.” She pulled the glasses from the bridge of her nose and rubbed briefly at her eyes with her other hand. She was
tired. “How could this happen?”

“Fairy dust?”

Fiore shot Daniels a grim look.

He straightened up immediately, wiping the smile from his face. “I checked with CIA five minutes ago. They were blindsided as well. Analysis is going to work on it overnight, lay out scenarios.”

“Good Lord. After Ukraine, this is . . . this is a disaster. . . .” Her voice trailed off as she turned away from her deputy and looked out her window to the darkened North Lawn. She tried to imagine a faraway place, halfway around the world, a building larger than the White House but just as well guarded, bathed in morning sunlight, full of ministers and generals and their counselors, all simultaneously spitting out their coffee in horror. “Over there. You know where.” She pointed up and into the darkness, as if picking a spot on an invisible map that only she and Daniels could see. “They're having heart attacks right now. Emergency staff meetings and collective heart attacks.”

“Yes, they are. And when they recover from their heart attacks . . .” Daniels paused to consider his words. He might have couched the idea in a diplomatic euphemism, something vague and less threatening, but alone, with his boss, at the end of the day, weary and ever so slightly jumpy from monitoring the globe's seemingly endless crises, that just didn't seem appropriate. “They're going to start killing people. A lot of people.”

, J
14, 2:17 A.M.

arrett Reilly was good with numbers. He was good at seeing crests in interest rates, downward trends in commodity prices, and convergences in muni bond yields. But he was equally adept at counting the percentage of men wearing Birkenstocks versus Nikes on a summer's day on West Broadway, or the ratio of car-to-beer commercials in an hour's worth of prime-time television. Seeing patterns came naturally to him; he felt them as much as he saw them. If asked, he'd say patterns started on the outer layer of his skin, a tingling that began at his fingertips—as the descending sine wave of jets on final approach to LaGuardia began to match phase with the frequency of helicopters over the Hudson River—then ran up through his central nervous system, to finally burst into glorious view in a cascade of numbers in his head.

Patterns were the air Garrett breathed. They were how he made his money trading bonds on Wall Street, and they were how he organized his life. He was a natural processor of data, and he was comfortable in that role.

What he was less comfortable with, lately, was distinguishing the real from the unreal.

For instance, a middle-aged man was sitting across from Garrett in the living room of his fourth-floor walk-up on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Garrett knew the man well—balding, avuncular, mild mannered. Garrett loved the man and knew that the man loved him back; the man thought of Garrett as the son he'd never had and had looked after him through much of Garrett's short, tumultuous life. It brought Garrett intense joy to have the man sitting with him,
at two in the morning, sharing beers, the only family he had left in the world, talking about this and that, life and love, and nothing at all. Garrett Reilly could not have been happier.

The problem was, the man was dead. Twelve months dead, and Garrett knew it.

Garrett Reilly, twenty-seven years old, a half-Mexican, half-Irish bond trader from Long Beach, California, had been taking a lot of prescription medication lately. Tramadol, Vicodin, meperidine, Percocet, to name a few. If he could convince a doctor to prescribe it, Garrett would swallow it. He'd fractured his skull in a bar fight a year ago, and while the crack in his head had healed, the lightning bolts of pain from the injury never quite seemed to go away. In fact, the trend line of the ache was upward, and accelerating. If his brain injury were a stock, Garrett would have taken out a long position on it and watched the bountiful returns pour in.

He used to carefully track the dosages he took, but the pain had morphed into something so persistent, so insidious, that lately he just downed whatever was at hand and tried not to think about the consequences. Of course, one of the consequences was the very deceased middle-aged man sitting in a La-Z-Boy in Garrett's living room.

“You need to take care of yourself, Garrett,” Avery Bernstein said, garish green-and-gold sweater vest open over a pressed white shirt. Avery had been Garrett's boss before he died, a math professor turned brokerage house CEO, one of the few people in the world who saw life much as Garrett saw it—as a series of beautiful equations, waiting to be solved. Avery shifted slightly in his chair, eyes scanning the room. “You need to get out more. Get some exercise. See people.”

Garrett knew that the thing across the room from him was a hallucination, brought on by a combination of too many meds, too much alcohol, and not enough sleep. But he also understood that whatever the hallucination was saying was some projection of his own unconscious. A message that he was sending himself. He did need to take better care of himself, and he should get out more. As for exercise . . .

“I hate exercise,” Garrett said to his empty living room. “I'm not going to join some stupid gym and run around in fucking yoga pants. I have some pride left.”

“That's my boy.” Avery smiled. “Never change. Why should you? You're perfect just the way you are.”

Garrett laughed, and it occurred to him that he was laughing at his own joke. He was going to have to watch that. “You are not here, Avery. I am imagining you.”

“Of course I'm not here. I died in a hit-and-run accident more than a year ago. An accident that you've never really gotten to the bottom of, by the way, the thing that might or might not be,” Avery said. “But you have a serious problem, Garrett, and you need to deal with it.”

“I know, I know, too many prescription drugs. Don't nag. You're not my mother, not that she would give a shit. I'm gonna cut down. It's just that—”

He let his jaw hang open, not bothering to finish the sentence. The truth was, his hallucinations had been, in general, benign: a dog leashed to a parking meter had quoted stock prices to him when he had walked past it on Broome Street; an old Carpenters' song—“Close to You”—had played, nonstop, from his wing-tip shoes last week at work; and now Avery Bernstein was visiting him in his apartment. He missed Avery horribly. Just seeing him there, overweight and kindly, made Garrett's heart sing. A thought came to his mind: perhaps he wasn't taking all that medication to deal with his head pain.

Perhaps he took it to deal with his grief.

“No,” Avery said, a hint of stern menace rising in his voice. “You know what the problem is, and you are ignoring it.”

Garrett's breath seemed to catch in his throat. He did know what the problem was. He'd felt the pattern growing over the last few weeks. He'd seen it hinted at on the Web and had begun to spot its earliest incarnations on the global equity markets. It was a tangle, complicated and dense, hiding something dark and terrifying. He had tried to ignore it because he didn't want to get involved. He wanted to stay apart from the wider world and its endless, myriad problems; he'd experienced enough of the globe's crises lately to last a lifetime. But if Avery Bernstein's ghost was a projection of Garrett's unconscious, then his deepest instinct was bubbling to the surface, trying to warn him.

“They're coming,” Garrett's beloved ex-mentor said, the edges of his lips curling down in a sudden, nightmarish scowl. “They're coming for you.”

Garrett's heart thudded alarmingly in his chest.

“They're coming to destroy everything.”

, J
14, 8:17 A.M.

he June weather was perfect: a cloudless blue sky, a light morning breeze blowing off the Hudson River. Because it was so nice, Phillip Steinkamp decided to get off the 4 train one stop early, at the Brooklyn Bridge station in lower Manhattan, and walk the last eight blocks to his office. Steinkamp did this as often as he could, to get a bit of exercise before his busy day, to clear his head, but mostly to grab a cup of coffee and say hello to the shopkeepers on Nassau Street.

He knew that he shouldn't. He knew that he should instead ride the 4 train one more stop, to Fulton Street, and quickly walk the two blocks to his office—two blocks that were lined with policemen and barricades, plainclothes detectives and private security guards—but Steinkamp sometimes felt as if he lived in a bubble, and on a beautiful June morning, a bubble was the last place he wanted to be. He was still an American, after all, free to do as he pleased, even if he was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the largest and most important of the twelve district Fed banks.

Yes, nearly a trillion dollars in gold, deposits, and promissory notes were sitting underneath his office at 33 Liberty Street, and, yes, he was the second-most influential banker on the planet, but if he wanted to wave hello to Chanji at the electronics store and buy a coffee from Sal at the Greek diner, goddamn it, he would. Jeffries, his head of security, could yell all he wanted—Steinkamp would not let his job define him. He refused to shut out the real world.

Steinkamp breathed deep of the morning. He was a slight man, just under
five foot eight, with a former accountant's permanent stoop and a ring of thinning brown hair around his mostly bald head. He could smell a hint of salt water in the air, a taste of the New York harbor, as he turned left onto Nassau Street. He walked fast, but not too fast, waved to Chanji chattering on his cell in front of Value Village Electronics—or was it Ranjee, Steinkamp could never remember—and smiled at the other bankers and brokers striding their way to their myriad offices in lower Manhattan. They all looked so stern and preoccupied. Money on their minds, nothing but money.

Well, that was always on his mind too. Money and interest rates, and politics as well. His job produced a never-ending litany of worries. Head of the New York Fed was second-in-command to the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and if the chairman had been at her current job longer—and not been appointed a mere three months ago—then Steinkamp could breathe easier. But the truth was, the current Fed chair was something of an unknown entity, a former Cal-Berkeley professor, reclusive, and a bit of an egghead. Steinkamp had for a moment thought he might get the appointment, but the president went with Hummels, possibly to woo the female vote in the upcoming election, and possibly because Steinkamp sometimes did silly things, such as walk to his office instead of taking the car service that showed up in front of his Park Avenue lobby every morning at 8:00 a.m. sharp.

Steinkamp was impulsive, and known up and down Wall Street for that quality. He sighed. He could only be himself; that was, in his mind, the key to life. Be yourself. Have no regrets.

He stopped at Sal's and leaned in through the open service window that faced the street. Sal, an old-timer, a Greek immigrant with a potbelly bulging under his dirty white apron, beamed at the sight of Steinkamp. “One coffee, light and sweet, for the big shot of the big shots,” Sal said, filling a to-go cup and tossing two packets of sugar onto the service-window counter.

“Good morning, Sal,” Steinkamp said, topping off the coffee with a tankard of cream and waving to Sal Jr., who was cooking bacon at the diner griddle inside. Steinkamp loved Sal, Sal's son, and the entire Panagakos family. He loved their hard work. He loved their spirit. “And good morning to Sal Jr. as well.”

“Hey, boss.” Sal's son waved. “How's my money doing?”

“I wouldn't have the slightest,” Steinkamp said, and the guys in the diner all laughed. They had said some version of the same thing to him every morning
he stopped by, and he'd been doing it for ten years now, answering with pretty much the same line. But they all laughed nonetheless, bless their hearts.

Sal wiped the counter clean with a white rag. “Hey. Meant to tell you, boss. A lady asked for you. Asked when you'd be coming through again.”

“Oh, yeah.” Steinkamp smiled. “Was she pretty?”

Sal shrugged. “Maybe a little. Maybe she doesn't make your standards.” Sal still had a Greek accent, an inventive immigrant's grammar, and a singsong lilt to his English. “You can have any woman in the world, Mr. Big Shot. Why bother with some lady on Nassau Street.”

Steinkamp smiled. People asked for him all the time in lower Manhattan. Brokers, bankers, traders. They knew him by sight, or from the occasional newspaper article. The presidents of the district Fed banks were faceless bureaucrats mostly, but Steinkamp had been around long enough to be ever so slightly famous. They stopped him on the street, or at the deli on Chambers where he liked to grab a Reuben, to ask which way interest rates were going or if the Fed would taper its bond-buying activity. Or sometimes just to shake his hand.

Lately though, they'd been asking about the president of the St. Louis Fed, Larry “Let 'Em Fail” Franklin. Franklin and Steinkamp had been at loggerheads—pretty nasty loggerheads. Franklin was a moralist and had been touring the country, speaking at college campuses and biz schools, making clear that if another Too Big to Fail bank started to totter in the United States, he would oppose any kind of bailout. “If banks get into trouble,” Franklin had told the
Chicago Tribune
, “then they need to get out of it themselves. Bankers need to be held responsible for what they do.”

Steinkamp thought this was ludicrous. Well, yes, bankers did need to be held responsible for their actions, but in 2008, the Federal Reserve had been the only thing left between a crapped-out world economy and financial Armageddon. The Fed had been heroic in keeping the credit markets working, and in propping up one sickened brokerage house after another. If any more banks had collapsed, there would have been riots in the streets. To Steinkamp's mind, “Let 'Em Fail” Franklin was a menace. A menace to the United States—hell, to the world. And he, Steinkamp, was the last man standing between Franklin and future financial chaos.

“Hey, speak of the devil.” Sal pointed across the street. “There she is.”

Steinkamp dropped a $5 bill on the counter, put a lid on his coffee, and
turned to see who wanted to meet him. He didn't mind. A little bit of celebrity made up for all those hours in committee meetings. He worked his lips into a wide smile.

But one glimpse of her face, and Steinkamp suddenly thought that maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to get off the train a stop early. She was young, but looked old, with pale skin and black hair. She wore a green trench coat, which was odd, as it was June and warm and would only get warmer through the day. Yet that wasn't what sent a shiver down Steinkamp's spine. There was something about the look on her face: not exactly aggrieved, like some of the people who accosted him, but not happy. Determined. That was what she was. Determined to do something.

Something bad.

“Phillip Steinkamp?” she asked as she crossed Nassau Street and stepped onto the sidewalk. She had a trace of an accent, from some place Steinkamp couldn't quite pin down. Spanish? Portuguese? No, that wasn't right. . . .

“That's him.” Sal grinned and pointed at Steinkamp. “The big boss.”

“I'm afraid I'm late for work.” Steinkamp's words came quickly. “If you need to contact me, you should call my office. You can look it up online. We'll be happy to schedule an appointment.” He was suddenly afraid, very afraid, and annoyed at Sal for confirming his identity. He took one long stride south, down Nassau, when the woman stepped in his path and pulled something from the pocket of her trench coat.

Steinkamp knew immediately that it was a gun.

“Mother of Jesus,” Sal said behind him, from the counter window. “She's got a gun!”

Steinkamp froze. His eyes locked on the weapon, a nasty, streamlined piece of gray metal. He could not look away. The woman raised the gun with one hand and aimed it at Steinkamp's chest.

“No, lady, don't. I don't know you. This is a mistake.”

Someone screamed from across the street. A taxi horn blew. The woman in the trench coat pulled the trigger three times in quick succession.

The first bullet winged Steinkamp in the shoulder. The next, coming a fraction of a second later, hit him in the right arm. But the third bullet ripped open his blue Brooks Brothers shirt and plunged into Steinkamp's heart, stopping it instantly. The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York let out a weak
gasp, then crumpled to the ground as pedestrians up and down the street dove for cover, screaming in terror. Only Sal, at the open service-counter window of his diner, didn't duck or flinch. He stared at the woman, stunned, as she prodded the lifeless body on the pavement with her scuffed high-heeled shoe.

“Is he dead?” Her voice was flat, emotionless.

“I—I think so,” Sal said, not really knowing why he said it. “You killed him.”

She turned to face Sal. She spoke calmly and clearly, as if to make sure that anyone listening would understand every word. “Garrett Reilly made me do this.”

Then the woman in the green trench coat stuck the pistol in her mouth and pulled the trigger one last time.

BOOK: The King of Fear
5.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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