KERRI'S WAR (Volume 3 of The King Trilogy)

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Chapter 10

New York. Tuesday, 9:00 A.M.

Kerri welcomed Peter Tavaris, Walter Deaks, and Billie Dukes to her Tribeca apartment. The atmosphere was tense, as if the four were attending a funeral. Fate had spared the three men, among the most capable in Iacardi’s New York division, and critical to its revival. As she had requested, the dress code was casual. Kerri wore her grey track suit. The men wore sweaters and slacks. She planned not to say anything to provoke an argument with Tavaris. She knew she was not his favorite person, and that he would not be disappointed if she failed. There was no time for arguments. She had an agenda, a mission. If an argument arose over an idea, so be it. That was healthy.

She served coffee, then started the discussion. “From all of the information I’ve been able to gather, gentlemen, it appears certain that the four of us are the only survivors. In other words, we’re all that’s left of Iacardi’s New York division. Everyone else is gone and won’t be back. So from this point forward, we have two choices: one is to quit and go our separate ways, the other is to save the company. If we take the first choice, this meeting is over. If we take the second choice, we’ll have to work harder and smarter than any of us have ever experienced.”

She paused to sip her coffee, then continued. “I’m going to ask each of you what your choice is, but before I do that, I’ll tell you mine. I’ve already made it and acted on it...I chose to fight for survival. I made that choice because I believe in our company. I believe it’s worth saving. Also, I made that choice because a lot of people died for our company, and their families and loved ones are going to need the income our company can provide. I couldn’t live with myself if I made any other choice.”

She turned to Billie Dukes. “Billie, let’s start with you. Before you answer, just know that I won’t disrespect you if you quit. I know it’s a tough decision. There’s no guarantee we’ll make it. We could all end up broke. I’m also aware that you, Walter, and Peter are very experienced, capable, and talented. All of you could find better paying jobs in a heart beat.”

Billie didn’t hesitate. He would follow Kerri to the end of the earth. He couldn’t help himself. From the moment he saw her he wanted her. He tightened his lips and nodded. “I’m in,” he said.

Kerri smiled. “Thanks, Billie. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support.”

She faced Walter Deaks. “Walter, you’re next.”

He gave her an expressionless stare. “I took the opportunity to review my employment contract last night. My conclusion is that neither I nor my employer have done anything to compromise or breach a single clause of that document. Hence, I am still in the employ of Iacardi and Sons.”

“Thank you, Walter,” she said, then turned to Peter Tavaris. “Peter, the floor is yours.”

Tavaris stroked his stubble and scowled. “You say you’re going to salvage the company. That’s wonderful, but I have some concerns. First of all, I think you’re living in a dream world. What are you going to use for money? Both of the majority shareholders are dead. It was their money that kept the company going. You’re blowin’ smoke if you think their widows are going to pony up any cash. In addition, you’re going to have to deal with the lawyers representing their estates. Those bastards will rip your heart out. Their clients aren’t going to be the slightest bit interested in some etherial promise of a beautiful future, they’re going to want and need cash, as soon as they can get it.”

Kerri resisted an urge to advise Tavaris of the sizable loan she was about to make to the company. She wanted his decision to be made without that knowledge. “So far, you haven’t told me anything I don’t already know. I’m still asking you for a commitment.”

Tavaris realized that Kerri wasn’t about to capitulate. He needed to soften her resolve, so he pressed on. “Almost a week ago, Iacardi & Sons lost three hundred and thirty-eight employees, its office, and all of its New York electronic infrastructure. You and whose army are going to replace that?”

“Peter, I don’t profess to have all of the answers. What I’m asking for is yours.”

“There’s another course of action that you may not have considered,” Tavaris said, convinced it was time to play his ace.

“What’s that?”

“Find a buyer.”

“You’re right. It’s an option. As far as I’m concerned, everything’s on the table. If you, or any of us can find a buyer, or a merger candidate, terrific. We’ll certainly consider it. I should have told you that from this point forward, I want no hard policies, no rules. If any of you have an idea about how to get things done, say it. I don’t care how insane it is, we’ll all consider it. If we all agree with it, we’ll do it... That’s later. This is now. I still don’t have your answer.”

Kerri had opened the door for Tavaris. He had what he needed. “Then let’s get on with this. I’m in,” he said with an evil smile.

Both Tavaris and Deaks left Kerri’s apartment together. Billie stayed. It was a glorious opportunity. Kerri was vulnerable and alone. “You mind if I have another coffee?” he asked. “There’s something I want to say to you.”

“Not at all. Go ahead.”

Billie poured himself another coffee, then approached Kerri, his eyes fixed on hers. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m there for you. If there’s anything, I mean anything you want me to do, just name it.”

Kerri smiled. “Thanks, Billie. I really appreciate that.”

“What are your plans for dinner tonight?”

“None. I don’t have any,” Kerri replied, aware that Billie was hitting on her. She had no interest in having dinner with him, but was unwilling to lie to thwart his invitation. She had to admit that his dark brown eyes appealed to her, and that she was lonely, but that was all there was. Anything more than a business relationship with Billie Dukes was out of the question. Even if there was a question, now was the wrong time.

“Then join me. I’ll pick you up here at seven. Please don’t say ‘no.’”

With a lie as her only alternative, she reluctantly agreed. “I can be talked into a pizza, but let’s dress down.”

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