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

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Chapter 11

New York, Tuesday, 7:00 P.M.

Kerri, dressed in jeans and a white turtle-neck sweater, climbed into Billie Dukes’ yellow Porsche. They headed for Angelo’s on Mulberry Street.

By mutual agreement, they shared the sixteen inch veggie pizza special. Double cheese. Over Kerri’s mild protest, Billie ordered a liter of the house merlot. The conversation, focused on the company, commodity markets, and memories, continued until the pizza was devoured.

Billie slurped the remains of his third glass of wine, then changed the subject. “Do you trust Peter Tavaris?” he asked.

“He hasn’t given me any reason to mistrust him. Why?”

“Peter, Walter and I were drinking at the Threadneedles Hotel last Tuesday, the big day. Everything got cancelled as soon as the news hit London, so we headed over there. Tavaris was really shaken up. The news hit him real hard. I’m not saying that Walter and I weren’t freaked out, because we were, but not even close to Peter... So he starts drinking martinis like they’re water, then he starts bitching and belly-aching about everything. Next he starts talking about you. He says you’re just a kid, and that you don’t know shit about running a company. He keeps on inhaling martinis and pissing and moaning about how his whole career went down with the World Trade Center. Then he says he should be president of Iacardi, not you.”

Kerri had known for some time that Tavaris didn’t like her, but was surprised to learn that he wanted to be president. She was also surprised that Dukes would share this information with her. “I appreciate you telling me that, Billie. Why are you doing it?”

“Because I think he’s giving you a bum rap, and because I think if he has a problem with you, he should tell you to your face... That’s not all he said. Here’s the biggie. He said he hoped everybody except you got out of the South Tower before it collapsed. Then he added that if you did get out, he was going to make sure you wished you didn’t.”

Billie’s revelation unnerved Kerri. In her quest to resuscitate Iacardi, she needed all the help she could get. The last thing she needed was a bad apple like Tavaris. Now she would have to deal with the constant preoccupation of looking over her shoulder. “That’s bad news,” she said. “Did he say anything else?”

Billie nodded. “He said he was going to do whatever it takes to get something on you. I guess he wants to dig up some dirt to use against you.”

“What would you suggest I do about him?”

“Nothing. If you do anything, he’ll know I told you. Then I’ve got big problems.”

“Then do me a favor. Keep your eyes on him and tell me what he’s doing.”

“You’ve got it. I told you I’m there for you.”

The two finished their pizza and wine, then headed for Kerri’s apartment. Billie was happy. In his mind he had maneuvered himself into Kerri’s heart at a time when she was lonely and vulnerable. The time was right to make his move. It was now or never.

He parked as close as possible to her building, then turned to face her. “Thanks for joining me,” he said, displaying his well rehearsed come hither smile. “I just had pizza with the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Kerri’s internal defenses flashed a warning. They told her that Billie wanted more than pleasant company. She smiled as warmly as she could. “Thanks, Billie. I enjoyed the evening and your company.”

He leaned to his right, attempting to kiss her, but she turned her head just enough to allow his lips to graze her cheek.

Undaunted, he used both of his arms to grasp her and pull her close to his upper body and force her to accept a very passionate kiss, something she had not had for a very long time. For one brief ecstatic moment she enjoyed what was happening, then everything changed. Summoning all of her strength, she managed to struggle free of his arms. “Please don’t, Billie. I can’t do this,” she said, relieved to be free, but hating herself for rejecting him.

“Come on, Kerri. I know you want me,” he pleaded.

She opened her door, exited quickly, then stooped to face him. “I’m sorry, Billie. I don’t want you, not in that way. Please understand that all we can ever be is friends. Thank you again for a very enjoyable evening.” She closed the door and headed for her building.

Billie jerked his gear shift into Drive, then slammed his foot on the accelerator, causing the rear wheels to screech in agony against the pavement. “Fucking bitch!” he muttered. “I’ll fix her ass!” He lifted his cell phone from his pocket and speed dialed Peter Tavaris. No answer. He left a message. “Hey, Peter. It’s Billie. Just took the bitch out for dinner tonight. She treated me like a piece of shit. If you need any help making her life miserable, let me know.”

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