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

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Chapter 22

New York, Friday, October 12.

Kerri had recaptured the excitement of a teenager about to attend her first high school prom. She made reservations for two for seven P.M., at Beppe, a cozy new trattoria on 22nd Street, one of New York’s best Italian restaurants. She chose it because she loved Italian food and because newspapers had given it rave reviews. She chastised herself for feeling compelled to dress to kill for a date with a man she hardly knew, but on went her most expensive white silk blouse and her black leather Pierotucci skirt and jacket.

Steve, equally excited and dressed in the only decent suit remaining from his corporate days, took a cab from the Javits Center to Kerri’s apartment. The sight of Kerri for the first time since his father’s memorial service was not disappointing. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. It troubled him, yet intoxicated him.

“Hi,” she said, her heart racing and defeating her efforts to slow it. “Welcome to New York and my humble home.”

Steve tore his eyes from Kerri and scanned her apartment. “Humble? I don’t think so. It’s sensational. Next time you’re in Muskoka I’ll show you a humble home...It’s good to see you again. I’m glad you agreed to do it.”

Kerri smiled, also happy she had agreed to the meeting, but not knowing how to respond. “We have time for a drink. Would you like one?”

“Sure. A cold beer would be great.”

Kerri fetched a Heineken and a glass of white wine, then invited Steve to sit with her at her elegant glass topped kitchen table. She clinked his glass with hers. “Here’s to continuing our conversation,” she said, sensing guilt over her compulsion to stare into Steve’s eyes. Sharing a common and unique bond with him afforded her a measure of relief from that guilt.

“I’ve been looking forward to it. This time we won’t have any interruptions...The first thing I want to do is apologize for going on about myself and not asking any questions about you. I was so busy talking about my own personal grief that I didn’t give you a chance to talk about yours. I had no idea that...”

“There’s no way you could have known,” she interrupted. “Besides, my father and Karen didn’t give you a chance.”

“How are you coping?” he asked.

Kerri frowned. “I’m in the fight of my life. That’s the short answer. The long one would take all night.”

“I don’t care how long it takes. I’d like know about it.”

“Then let’s go to dinner. I’ll get started there.”

It was no surprise to Steve when they entered the restaurant and everyone turned to stare at the blond beauty accompanying him. He knew she had become a celebrity, but still sensed that Kerri’s beauty was the real attraction. They were led to a secluded corner table, and after they were seated, Steve ordered a liter of Malbec, the house red wine. Again they clinked glasses.

“Are you Canadian?” Steve asked.

Kerri nodded. “I was born in Toronto. Then my parents split before I was old enough to know what was going on. My mother was awarded custody and moved to San Diego soon after the split. Her relationship with the man she followed there didn’t work out, so she moved to Vancouver. That’s where I grew up.”

“I’ve been there. It’s an incredibly beautiful city...How does a Vancouver girl end up in New York?”

“I married an athlete. He was very good at playing football. He was so good he became the quarterback for the New York Jets.”

“Brian Pyper?”

Kerri nodded. “How did you know?”

“I didn’t. I just guessed...Mind if I ask what happened?”

“He was injured in a game against the Buffalo Bills. Football was out for the rest of his season, so he replaced it with booze. We laughed about it at first, but eventually it became a big problem, for his career and our marriage... We were divorced eleven years ago.”

Kerri’s expression made it obvious to Steve that it was time to change the subject. “Okay, now for the big question. How does a Canadian girl from Vancouver become the president of Iacardi & Sons?”

“I’ll give you an abbreviated answer...I took a commodities course on Long Island. The lecturer happened to be a trader with Iacardi, and looking for an assistant. He picked me and taught me everything I know. His name was Miles Dennis. He was the kindest, most caring individual I’ve ever known.” Tears appeared in her eyes. “In many ways, he was the father I didn’t have.”

“I don’t understand. Isn’t Mike King your father?”

“He is, but he wasn’t part of my life until much later. My mother made sure of that. He tried to preserve the relationship, but she made it impossible for him. That’s another very long story, but it had a happy ending. Dad and I eventually found each other and we’ve had a very special relationship, ever since.”

“What about Miles Dennis? You spoke in the past tense. Did he...”

“He didn’t make it out,” Kerri said, tears now flowing. “It broke my heart.”

Steve reached for Kerri’s right hand. “Then you lost a father too,” he said, wishing he could take her in his arms and hug her.

He had not only made an observation with which Kerri agreed, his touch was comforting, therapeutic. Part of her wished it was more than that. “I did. I adored that man. The hell of it is that I adored his wife, too. Now she’s alone, with no income. She, and hundreds of people in the same position, are the reasons I’m in the fight of my life. I want those people to have a continuing source of income, and I think reviving Iacardi is the only way to make that happen. I’m doing everything I can, but there are people who are making it difficult.”

“Who?”

“Two of the company’s surviving employees want to sell the company. They claim they have a verbal offer from Enerco, a Houston based multinational. I’m not objecting to the sale. I’m objecting to the terms. The price is reasonable, but the buyers aren’t interested in helping the people who’ve lost their breadwinners. If that sale happens, too many estates will end up with nothing.”

Steve stared at Kerri with an expression of unconditional reverence. “You are an amazing woman. I had a feeling when I first met you. Now I’m certain.”

Kerri blushed. “You give me too much credit...Enough about me. Tell me about Steve Montieth. Who is he?”

“I’m still looking for the answer to that question. I’ve made a lot of progress, but I’m still not sure. Compared to yours, my history is fairly mundane. I was born and raised in Thornhill, a suburb of Toronto. Happily married middle class parents. Educated in Ontario. Got a job with an international construction company. Travelled and worked all over the world. Then I quit, came back to Canada, and started a small time construction company in Muskoka. The bad news; I’m struggling financially. The good news; I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life.”

“Why did you quit?”

“I got tired of debt, pollution, and corruption. Almost everywhere I travelled, I saw governments piling up debt, then asking their taxpayers to service it. I saw people, companies and governments polluting their environments without any consideration for the consequences. Finally, and this is the straw that broke my back, everywhere my company went, it had to pay some government official under the table before it could put a shovel in the ground.”

Kerri was impressed and amazed. Steve Montieth was not only a ten, he had the courage to act on his convictions. Unfortunately, he was engaged to be married. She smiled. “Would you do me the honor of allowing me to call you my friend?” she asked.

“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.”

Dinner consisted of Capelli D’Angelo Alla Mediterranea, angel hair pasta with sea scallops and shrimp, simmered in a light garlic sauce, basil, fresh tomatoes, and white wine. Over Steve’s objections, Kerri paid, as promised. The evening ended with a hand shake at the door to Kerri’s apartment. Both wanted a much more intimate ending, but knew it was impossible. Both also knew that further dating would be a giant step over an invisible and very dangerous line.

“Thanks for a wonderful evening,” Kerri said.

“It was my pleasure,” Steve replied with his irresistible smile. “I have a new friend. That’s very important to me...Will you stay in touch?”

Kerri nodded. “You too.”

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