Toronto, Wednesday. 3:00 P.M.
The memorial service for Peter Monteith was held at Grace Church on the Hill, a stately old grey stone edifice on Lonsdale Road in the upscale Forest Hills area of the city. Cool damp weather was in sync with the mood of all who attended.
Mike, Karen and Kerri King, all dressed in black and seated on the aisle close to the rear of the congregation, watched in sadness as Peter’s widow, also in black, head down and covered with a black hat and veil, was escorted to the front row by her son Steve. Under the veil and black dress was an extremely attractive woman, Alberta’s candidate for Miss Canada in her early twenties. From the day she agreed to marry him, Peter Monteith had considered himself unworthy.
Thirty-five years of age, born and raised in Thornhill, a Toronto suburb, Steve was the eldest of three sons of Peter and Helen Monteith. Much of his happy life was spent as the son of upper middle class parents. That status changed when his father became president of Seismic Oil, one of the most successful oil and gas exploration companies in the world. Armed with a degree in civil engineering from the university of Toronto and an M.B.A. from The University of Western Ontario, Steve accepted a lucrative job offer as construction manager with Paracon S.A., a very large and well respected international construction company. Following years of interesting, but less than satisfying work in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Korea, and Vietnam, he lost interest. It hit him like a thunderbolt. He saw a world going to hell in a hand basket, awash in debt, pollution, and corruption. To the surprise of his employers and everyone who knew him, he resigned, packed his bags, and spent the following two years circling the globe, searching for answers, attempting to understand his disenchantment. Escaping the claws of glitz, hype, dishonesty, and insincerity was only part of the equation, the part he knew. What he didn’t know was where he belonged. The experience was therapeutic, instilling in him a deep and abiding passion for solitude, obscurity and tranquility.
He returned to Canada in 1996, bought a modest lakeside home near Port Carling, Ontario, and started his own construction company: Monteith Homes. He was singularly blessed with striking good looks, intelligence, and the physique of a decathlete. He was everyone’s favorite to make it anywhere he wanted to go. There were girls in his life, but until he met Christine, none had made the cut. Until then, he had been too busy to commit to a deeper relationship. Sure, marriage and kids had always been within his contemplation, but that would be later. Aside from work, his only other passion was coaching. With ruthless precision he carved sufficient time from his business schedule to coach boys baseball, soccer and hockey teams in his beloved Port Carling.
Still holding his mother’s arm, he helped her lower herself into a seat beside Christine Stewart. Thirty-two years of age and very attractive, Christine, a brunette with a smile qualifying for an orthodontist’s dream, personified the cream of Toronto’s elite. Born with a platinum spoon in her mouth, she had been chauffeured to and from Branksome Hall, a Toronto private school for the daughters of wealth, from K to thirteen. Following a full ticket, summer long holiday in Europe, she was flown, first class, to Wellesley for an undergraduate degree. She returned to Toronto in 1995 carrying a law degree from Harvard. A very competitive and ambitious woman, she was now working obscene hours and fighting to become a full partner in Anderson, McPherson and White, one of the city’s most prestigious law firms. To enhance her status, she hurried to join the the clubs only wealth could afford, and would accept. She had rejected too many marriage offers to count.
Sitting beside Christine was Jamie Stewart, her father. With mansions in Toronto, Florida, and Muskoka, he came into wealth the old fashioned way: he inherited it. Helen Stewart, her mother and fugitive from Jamie’s outrageous lifestyle, lived in luxurious exile in the south of France with nothing but bad memories and a generous settlement. Christine’s late grandfather, also a Torontonian, had spearheaded the family wealth. He had a very large interest in the Canadian Copper Company when it made a gigantic copper/nickel discovery near Sudbury, Ontario. The company was renamed INCO, or International Nickel Company, in 1903. In 1928 it became a Dow component. He held, and the rest became history. His wife, Jamie’s mother, passed away in 1967, two years after her husband’s death. With the passing of his parents, obscene wealth had accrued to Jamie, their only child.
A dilettante from birth, Jamie still looked and played the part. He was still a very good looking man. His once long wavy black hair had turned grey, but he kept it neat and well groomed. His sharp facial features and large brown eyes were enhanced by a perpetual tan, the result of frequent trips to his Florida home. As with most men in their early sixties, gravity and lack of exercise had taken their toll on his body. Twice divorced, he had given up on any thought of marrying again, but vowed to go to his death with Vicky Anschutz, a former European bar fly, and a woman he affectionately referred to as his ‘squeeze du jour’. He had warned her that his vow was valid for so long as she never, ever asked him to marry.
He had flunked or been kicked out of the best private schools that money could buy. Undaunted, he spent the next segment of his life wasting money, throwing lavish parties, drinking excessively, and traveling in style to almost every country on the planet. For him, work was what other people do. “It takes too much time,” he told his friends. In spite of everything allegedly negative about the man, everyone loved him. He had an enormous sense of humor and a generosity second to none. His outrageous lifestyle was the primary reason he had burned through two wives, yet women were still attracted to him like moths to a flame. To enhance his daughter’s engagement to Steve Monteith, he loaned five million dollars to Monteith Homes Ltd., his future son in law’s company, to assist in the construction of a model cottage on Lake Joseph, one of the three largest lakes in Muskoka. To punctuate the gesture, he told Steve that as a wedding gift he would forgive the loan. With a chuckle, he added that he would call the loan if the marriage, for whatever reason, failed to materialize. The loan was secured by a first collateral mortgage on the cottage and property. The put and call feature was indeed a clause in the mortgage, a blue-cornered copy of which nestled comfortably in Jamie’s wall safe.
Christine’s mother, Helen, Jamie’s first wife, twelve years earlier had escaped his crazy world with her sanity and a huge settlement. Although Christine saw her only once or twice a year, she was delighted that her mother had remarried and was living happily with her second husband at their lovely rural home near Montpellier, in the south of France.
Christine had met Steve at a gala wedding held at Muskoka Lakes Golf and Country Club in the summer of 1998. Her dazzling brown eyes, vitality, and joie de vivre were irresistible to Steve, and to most men who saw her. She had the ability to walk into a room full of people and effortlessly command the attention of everyone. The timing was perfect. Christine was maid of honor, Steve was best man. The atmosphere was perfect: a warm summer night, the elegant clubhouse on the lake, booze flowing like Niagara Falls, and a guest-list including celebrities and Toronto’s glitteratti. Falling in love was easier than falling into the lake. It had the makings of a union made in heaven. Both were well educated, members of the lucky gene club, and only slightly beyond the right age. The two enjoyed an intense but protracted dating relationship until Christine’s full court press resulted in a ring on her finger in July, 2001. The events of September 11, 2001, resulted in a postponement of their wedding to a date yet to be determined.
Following prayers and the singing of ‘Nearer My God To Thee,’ Steve stood, moved to the pulpit, and delivered a stirring eulogy to his father. With tears in his eyes he thanked everyone for their generous display of respect, then wept when he spoke of the fateful decision of Seismic Oil to hold its board meeting on September 11, 2001. He cursed fate and terrorism for for taking his father’s life and those of so many other innocent people. He concluded his remarks by inviting everyone for refreshments at Christine’s father’s home on Toronto’s Bridle Path.
Minutes after arriving at Jamie Stewart’s mansion, Steve was only starting his first drink when he saw Mike, Karen, and Kerri. The three were standing alone on the far side of the massive atrium. His pulse quickened. The most beautiful woman he had ever seen had been kind enough to attend his father’s memorial service. He had to talk to her. He put his arm around Christine’s shoulder and kissed her cheek. “Would you excuse me for a few minutes?” he said, pointing to the Kings. “I didn’t get a chance to speak to the Kings at the church. I really should.”
Christine, sipping her red wine and engaged in another conversation, nodded, barely acknowledging his request.
He hurried to join the three. For the second time he thanked them for attending the service, then changed the subject. He smiled at Kerri, thrilled to see her again, to be close to her. “I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed talking to you last weekend. I was disappointed to see you leave. I was so busy talking about myself, I didn’t get a chance to learn anything about you...Do you live in Toronto?”
She shook her head. “New York,” she said.
“Do you work there?”
“I’m the president of Iacardi and Sons. It’s a commodities broker.”
Her reply hit Steve like an electric shock. The news of Iacardi’s near total decimation had gone viral, worldwide. Anyone who had watched television or read a newspaper in the previous four days knew of the horrible demise of most of the company’s New York employees in the collapse of the World Trade Center’s South Tower. His thoughts immediately reverted to his conversation with Kerri at The Health Club. He closed his eyes and covered his forehead with his right palm. “Oh my God! You didn’t say a thing!” he said, embarrassed. Kerri had been so sympathetic to him while simultaneously enduring an unfathomable hell. His respect for a woman he did not know, skyrocketed. His heart told him to hug her, to talk to her, to get to know her. His mind told him it was politically unacceptable.
He leveled his hazel eyes at her. “You have my deepest regrets, and please know that I have the utmost respect for you,” he said, then turned to Christine, who was now beside him. He flushed to crimson, then composed himself. Gesturing with his hands, he made the introductions. “Christine, I’d like you to meet Kerri, Karen, and Mike King. Mike is a fraternity brother of dad’s.” He placed his hand on Christine’s shoulder. “Christine is the daughter of our host.”
Christine graciously shook hands with each. “A pleasure to meet you, and welcome to our home,” she said, then hugged Steve. “I’m engaged to marry this hunk,” she boasted, flashing her million dollar smile. Her smile disappeared as quickly as it had appeared as she broke her hug and grasped Steve’s right hand. “Please excuse us. There are so many people I’d like Steve to meet.” She led him back to the far side of the atrium, then stopped and glared at him, anger clearly displayed. “I couldn’t help noticing how you looked at Kerri King. How well do you know her?”
“I don’t know her. I just met her at the Health Club last Saturday. Until then, I didn’t even know she existed.”
“Is she married?”
“I have no idea. That’s how well I know her.”
“You’re attracted to her, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am. I’m attracted to all beautiful women, particularly you.”