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

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Chapter 14

New York. Friday, noon.

F.T.D. delivered two dozen red roses to Kerri’s apartment, sharp at noon. She hurried to open the small attached envelope, and remove the enclosed card. She read,

“Dear Kerri;

The roses are to thank you for your kindness and sympathy. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that you took the time to attend dad’s service. I appreciated it more than you can imagine. I hope some day we can continue our conversation, uninterrupted.

Fondly, Steve Monteith.”

She placed the flowers in a crystal vase, filled it with water, then set it on her kitchen counter. She asked herself if the note was just Steve’s way of returning her kindness, or if there was something more. She closed her eyes and wondered how she would behave if Steve wasn’t engaged to be married. There was something about him that excited her, moved her in a way she had not experienced since she met Louis Visconti. Memories of the consequences of that meeting ignited old and persistent fears. She had vowed never to put herself in a position to be hurt again. The wounds had healed, but the scars were still embedded deep in her heart.

She took a long time to compose a reply to a man who was engaged to another woman, a man who had captured something in her and would not let go.

For days she had been pestered and hounded by members of the media. Any time she left the confines of her apartment she faced an endless and shameless barrage of confrontations and solicitations. Much as she wanted to, she could not turn her cell phone or answering machine off because of her crucial need for constant two way communications. She could have switched to an unlisted number, but that would be hiding, something she did not want to be accused of doing. In the frequent event a reporter succeeded in getting her on the receiving end of a telephone call, she would end it summarily by saying, “I have no comment at this time.”

Compounding her communication problems by orders of magnitude were the hundreds of calls she received from family members of deceased employees, attorneys representing their estates, and clients seeking answers to too many questions. While she hated to go public for any reason, she had concluded it was necessary. Doing so would provide her with an opportunity to convey her messages to a large number of people, to answer their questions, and to tell the world of her plan to return Iacardi to its former health.

After weeks of agonizing over how to go public and with whom, she accepted an invitation for an exclusive live television interview from Cathy Simmonds, a close friend and revered in the industry for both accuracy and integrity. Simmonds, an attractive thirty-nine year old redhead, had met Kerri four years earlier at a high profile New York charity function. They discovered that they had a lot in common and liked each other. Lunch or dinner together, at least once a month, was an event both cherished. The interview was set to take place at the Manhattan studio of WKTV, a local broadcaster.

New York. 5:00 P.M.

Dressed in her most conservative black business suit, combined with a white silk blouse and no jewelry, Kerri took a seat facing Simmonds. Both occupied matching white French Provincial chairs. The make up crew had done a superb job of hiding the signs of worry and stress showing on Kerri’s face. The lights were painfully bright.

The count down ended and Simmonds, facing the camera with a commercial smile, began, “I’m honored to have with me today, Kerri King, the president of Iacardi & Sons, a company virtually decimated by the terrorist attacks of September eleventh.” She turned to face Kerri. “Thank you for agreeing to spend some of your valuable time with us today, Kerri. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for you in the days following that unspeakable disaster.”

Kerri forced a smile and responded, “You’re welcome, Kathy, and thank you for inviting me...Yes, it’s been a nightmare, an experience I hope nobody has to endure, ever...I have no right to be here. I should have been in that building with my co-workers that day. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I can’t escape the guilt. It won’t let go...Far worse, however, has been the pain I feel for the families and loved ones of the people who didn’t make it out of those buildings. There are no words...” She paused to wipe tears from her eyes. “Only they can describe the horror they witnessed, and the hardship they’re facing as a result of their loss.”

“Very well said. To tell you that we mourn your loss seems inadequate, in the extreme.” Cathy interjected. “We can only imagine your pain.”

“Thank you.”

“What about the future? Have you made any plans?”

“We have. Before September eleventh, Iacardi’s New York office had three hundred and forty-two employees. There are only four of us left. By the grace of God, three of our traders were attending a conference in London at the time of the attacks. I’ve just met with them and asked them the same question. I’m happy to report that, selflessly, all three have agreed to remain with the company. They are extremely talented individuals. They could find higher paying jobs in a heart beat. I’m pleased to tell you that all four of us have agreed not only to stay with the company, but to work very hard, and not to stop until we’ve restored Iacardi to its former health.”

“How on earth are you going to do that? I’m not a business person, but it appears to me to be an almost impossible task.”

Kerri glared at her hostess, her eyes burning with resolve. “I’m absolutely convinced it can be done. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here... As I speak, we’re moving to establish a command and control center here in Manhattan. We’ve set a deadline to have it up and running before the end of next week. The center will have a toll free number and an email address, and that information will be advertised the minute we have it. The people we put in that center will be trained to answer any and all questions, or to refer the caller to an individual who is capable of answering their questions. In addition, these people will be empowered to dispense funds for funeral and emergency medical expenses. We will not forget the employees who worked so hard to make Iacardi a great company. We’ve made the necessary financial arrangements, we have the money, and we’re prepared to spend it so that the families and loved ones of the employees we’ve lost can continue to live in dignity.”

“You are to be commended, not only for what you’re doing, but for what you’ve said. I asked you for your plans for the future, and in your reply you showed me where your heart is...Please continue, Kerri. Tell the viewers about your plans for restoring the business. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would like to know.”

“Sure. I’ve asked our three remaining traders to live on their telephones, to contact each and every one of the clients we’ve been serving from our New York office, and to tell them we’re on our way back. In the meantime, those clients‘ trades will be processed by our Toronto, London, Geneva and Hong Cong offices. Obviously, we need a new office, and I’m prepared to promise everyone who’s interested that we’re going to have one, soon. I’m determined to have it up and running within a month. The people we’ve lost, and our clients, deserve nothing less.”

“Wow! That’s breathtaking! It looks like you’ve got your work cut out for you...Thank you once again, Kerri. I wish you nothing but success. You deserve it.”

“Thanks, Cathy. May I just say one more thing? It’s very important.”

“Certainly. Go ahead.”

“We haven’t cast this in stone yet, but our accountants have virtually assured me that once the company is back up to full speed, we will be able to dedicate twenty-five percent of its pre-tax profits to the payment of salary continuance and medical insurance premiums to the estates of each of our lost employees. I want to promise that for so long as I am president of Iacardi, I will not rest until this is a reality.”

Kerri paused to gather herself. “Now it is with sadness that I am compelled to announce the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life...There will be funerals, many of them, most of them occurring at the same times, and soon...It will be impossible for me to attend all of them, so to be fair to everyone, I must attend none. I know I will be criticized by some for this decision, but I promise I will be at each in mind and spirit. I hope someday my efforts to rebuild Iacardi will exonerate me. I dedicate these efforts to the people who died in the service of the company.”

Kerri hurried from the WKTV studio and took a cab to the law office of Kaplan, Mendoza and Cooper. The entire staff gave her a standing ovation as Marsha Cooper led her from the reception area to her office. In her late thirties and dressed a dark blue suit, Marsha was a cerebral type. Tall and lanky with short black hair, piercing brown eyes, and warm smile, she looked like everybody’s girl next door. Anyone who ever opposed her in a court of law learned quickly that the girl next door was anything but. She rarely lost a case. Her fanatical attention to detail and relentless cross examination tactics had made her one of the most respected corporate litigants in New York. She was a single mom with two very intelligent teen aged daughters, both enrolled in a very expensive Manhattan prep school.

“They all watched your interview, my dear,” Marsha said as she closed her door. “You’re a national hero.”

Kerri frowned. “I feel more like a national pariah, like people resent me for still being alive. I can’t shake it, Marsha. It’s like a cancer,” she said with tears flowing.

Marsha placed her hands on Kerri’s shoulders and smiled. “That, too will end. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and don’t give up. One day you’ll wake up and this thing will be nothing but a bad memory.”

“I wish I could share your optimism,” Kerri replied, wiping her tears.

“You will. Just stay busy. There won’t be enough time to feel sorry for yourself...Now we have business to do.” Marsha approached her desk and lifted a file which she handed to Kerri. “My staff have done a nice job of preparing this for you. Inside you’ll find the loan documents you requested.” She pointed to the green leather upholstered couch to the right of her desk. “Take a seat a read them. I need your signature wherever you see a tab.”

Kerri sat on the couch and began to examine the documents.

“You’re proposing to loan a hundred million dollars, on extremely generous terms, to a company that’s taken a near fatal body blow. Are you sure you still want to do this?”

Kerri looked up from her reading. “I have to. There’s only one way Iacardi is going to survive, and that takes money. Iacardi doesn’t have it.”

Marsha displayed a microscopic smile. “You’re one of a kind, Kerri King. I’m honored to call you my friend.”

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