New York. Tuesday, Sept.11, 2001, 8:40 A.M.
She was stunning, alluring. Men weakened at the knees when they saw her perfect white smile, her perfectly proportioned body, her intoxicating blue eyes. Thirty-three year old Kerri King was still drop-dead gorgeous and without an obvious wrinkle to her name. She had achieved material and corporate success beyond her most optimistic expectations. Her dedication to the commodities business and tireless work ethic had taken her to the top. She got there by demonstrating, with predictable regularity, a relentless and successful pursuit of objectives. She was now the president and C.E.O. of Iacardi & Sons, Commodities Brokers, with offices still in the South Tower of The World Trade Center.
In less than ten years her capable leadership had lifted Iacardi from a relatively obscure boutique shop to number three in the world, with offices in New York, London, Toronto, Geneva, and Hong Kong. Wealthy individuals from all over the world stumbled over one another to become clients of Iacardi and to enjoy a piece of the enormous capital gains for which the company had now become famous.
A severe influenza attack had confined Kerri to her bed in her posh Tribeca apartment Monday, and now Tuesday. She hated to miss work, but was still unable to defeat the lethargy, coughing and nasal drip. Her career was her life, her salvation and escape from two utterly disastrous relationships: her marriage to Jet’s quarterback, Brian Pyper, and her rebound affair with Louis Visconti, the erstwhile Crown Prince of Wall Street. She had dated sporadically over the past ten years, but refused to allow herself to descend to the serious level. She kept telling others, and herself, that she was too busy to “get serious,” but her heart told her she was afraid to commit, terrified of being hurt again. It was too painful.
Her mentor, Miles Dennis, now sixty-seven, was still going strong and still her best friend. He could have used his enormous talent to rise through the Iacardi management ranks, but preferred instead to remain a broker, one of the best. A high-school dropout, Dennis was hired as an office boy by Iacardi in 1947, became a broker in 1960, and Kerri’s hero in early 1991. Armed with the $166 million remains of the King Trust, he had shorted crude oil at close to the top of the market and thanks to Desert Storm, nearly quadrupled its value. That bold move had freed Kerri’s father and saved him from an extended prison term. By convincing hundreds of investors to avoid being crushed in the Tech Wreck of 2000, Dennis had become a cult hero.
She downed two Ibuprofen, reached for the television remote on her night table, then tuned into CNBC to pick up some market gems from co-hosts, Mark Haines and Joe Kernan. Exploding from her screen was live video of the 103 floor North Tower of The World Trade Center. Haines speculated that a private aircraft had collided with the building, causing a gigantic gash near its top. Flames and huge clouds of black smoke billowed from the ‘accident’ scene. Skeptical, Kerri wondered why a pilot could make such a horrible mistake on a clear cloudless day.
She would soon learn that the collision was no accident, but a suicide mission of al-Qaeda’s Mohammed Atta, piloting hijacked American Airlines Boeing 767, Flight 11. At 9:03 A.M., she, and the rest of the world, were shocked into the seriousness and reality of what was unfolding. A second plane, United Airlines, Boeing 767, Flight 175, smashed into the South Tower and exploded in a massive orange and yellow fireball. Now there was no doubt. The World Trade Center, and God knows what else, was under attack. The horrifying reality of what Kerri had just witnessed was that a large airplane had just struck the South Tower in the general area of the offices of Iacardi & Sons. CNBC replayed the video again and again, causing the images and implications to explode in Kerri’s mind. She tried in vain to process her trauma.
She reached for her cell phone and speed-dialed her office. No answer. No service. She dialed Miles Dennis’s private line. Same result. Her next call was to Andrea Dennis, Miles’s wife in Glen Cove, Long Island. Confirming her fears, Andrea told her that Miles had gone to work that morning, that she too was watching the nightmare on TV, and that she was scared. She was scared because Miles had phoned her earlier to tell her that a plane had hit the North Tower. She had no way of knowing that it was to be the final conversation of their forty-eight year marriage.
There was no good news. Worse, Kerri’s nightmare had just begun. The collapse of both towers was a vision that would live in her memory, forever.