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

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Chapter 30

Houston. Monday, December 17.

Ken Layton, perhaps appropriately dressed in a black suit, sat at his massive glass and stainless steel desk. He frowned and shook his head as he examined the results of Enerco’s offer to purchase one hundred percent of the common stock of Iacardi and Sons. The good news was that ninety-seven percent of the stock had been tendered. The bad news was, just as Walter Deeks had predicted, Kerri King, the president of Iacardi and owner of three percent of Iacardi stock, had rejected the offer, rendering it invalid. The Iacardi Shareholders’ Agreement was very clear on the subject of takeover offers: to validate such an offer, one hundred percent of the shares must be tendered.

He had two choices: abandon the offer, which he had no intention of doing, or find a way to get Kerri King to sign. With respect to Kerri King, he had two choices: accede to her demands, which he had no intention of doing, or force her to sign, which was precisely what he planned to do.

He turned to face Jeffery Wheeler. “We’re going to phase two, Jeff,” he said, expressionless. “I’ve already spoken to Peter Tavaris. He’s getting things lined up to hit Miss King with a class action suit. That, by itself, might be enough to change her mind. I like our chances. He’s using a great law firm, all of the players have been financially aggrieved, and they’re with him, one hundred percent.”

Wheeler wasn’t convinced. “Let’s make sure, take the gloves off, hit her with both barrels, then kick her when she’s down.”

“That’s why I wanted to talk to you. Who’s going to be the hit man?”

Wheeler pointed his index finger at his chest. “Me. It gives me pleasure to watch people squirm.”

“Okay, you’ve got it, but be careful. She’s smart. She could play hard ball. By now, I’m sure she knows Wilhelm Lentz is missing. She’s probably concluded that his disappearance had something to do with her visit. Now if you show up with information about her private banking activities, she’ll make the connection in a heart beat.”

“I don’t give a shit what she does. She can can look until hell freezes over, she’ll never find the boys from Belarus, Lentz, his car, or his briefcase. She won’t even get the law involved. She knows they’ll ask questions, and those questions will ultimately lead to all that money she’s been hiding in Lentz’s bank.”

Layton smiled. “I like the way you think. Do a good job on this. I want that woman on her knees, begging to sign.”

Wheeler, energized and motivated, returned to his office and dialed the New York number of Iacardi & Sons. He asked to speak to Kerri King, and his call was transferred.

Kerri pushed her hair back and lifted the receiver to her ear. “Kerri King,” she said.

“Miss King, my name is Jeffery Wheeler. I’m the chief operating officer of Enerco Inc., in Houston. I was wondering if you would be kind enough to spare me some of your valuable time. I have something very important I’d like to discuss with you. I’m prepared to fly to New York at a time that’s convenient for you.”

Kerri moved directly to what she assumed was Wheeler’s point. “I assume you want to talk about Enerco’s offer to purchase Iacardi, and if you do, you’re wasting your time. I thought I made my position perfectly clear on...”

“Please listen to me,” Wheeler interrupted. “You’re making the biggest mistake of your life.”

“Why?”

“I’d much prefer to discuss this with you in person, and I really think you owe it to yourself to listen to what I have to say.”

“If you think threatening to sue me is going to change my mind, you’re wrong.”

Wheeler had hoped he wouldn’t have to play his trump card over the telephone, but realized he had no alternative. “What I have to say to you has nothing to do with litigation. It has everything to do with your personal financial activities. I’m sure you’ll agree that there are aspects of your banking history that could best be described as sensitive. Out of consideration for you and your position, I had no intention of discussing it over the telephone, but if you insist, I will.”

A jolt of adrenalin shot through Kerri’s body. There was only one aspect of her banking activity that could be described as sensitive. She was shocked that Wheeler would have any knowledge of it, and extremely curious to know how he obtained it. First, she had to confirm that he was referring to her Swiss account. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Mister Wheeler.”

“Switzerland,” Wheeler said, triggering another jolt of adrenalin.

Wheeler’s one word response struck like a dagger in her heart. Under no circumstances did she want him to continue the conversation over the telephone. “When and where would you like to meet?” she asked.

“Tomorrow. Noon. Your office. I’ll buy lunch.”

“Fine!” Kerri said, terminating the call with her finger, then dialed Mark Friesen’s exchange. “Do you know anything about bugging telephones?’ she asked.

“Yup. Why”

“I think mine’s bugged. The person I just talked to has information I’ve considered very private. The only way he could have it is by listening to my telephone calls.”

“I’ll be right there,” Friesen said, then hurried into Kerri’s office. He dissembled her telephone handset and found nothing. He showed the opened handset to Kerri. “If this was bugged, there would be a quarter-sized electrical transistor in here. There isn’t.”

“Is there any other way?” she asked.

“Yup. If you think this is serious, I think I should have your office swept. I know a company that does that.”

“Do it. It’s serious,” Kerri said, even though she knew the effort would likely be futile. Wheeler would have removed his bug before confronting her with ‘sensitive‘ information.

New York. Tuesday, December 18. Noon.

Jeffery Wheeler, a Stanford graduate, was all business. He still looked young for his forty-four years. He was slightly over six feet and muscular. He had receding and thinning mousey brown hair, oil-slicked and parted on the left, slightly off center. His eyes were deep blue, his nose hawkish, his lips thin and sharp. He wore an immaculately tailored dark grey suit with a royal blue silk tie. His business philosophy: do unto others before they do unto you.

He hired a long black Lincoln limousine to transport them to The Plaza Hotel. He had reserved a table for two, near the windows, in The Palm Court, a timeless and elegant eatery in the famed old hotel.

“Would you like a drink of some kind?” he asked as they took their seats.

“Tea, please,” Kerri replied, not the slightest bit interested in drinking or eating. She glared at Wheeler with the intensity of a cornered tigress. “Just tell me what you know about my private banking activities. Please be very specific.”

Wheeler returned Kerri’s glare with his best gotcha smirk. “You’ve been a bad girl. I happen to know that you’ve been hiding a very large amount of money in a Swiss bank account... Sorry, you asked me to be very specific. The amount is four hundred and eighty-seven million, and the name of the bank is Liechtensteinische Comco. It’s in Geneva. I could be more specific, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Do you?”

Kerri shook her head with an expression of dismay. Wheeler had confirmed her worst fears. Questions and concerns swirled in her mind. She knew her situation was bad, but she didn’t know how bad it was. Stripping aside all of the smoke and mirrors, her obsession to rebuild Iacardi, and thereby help the families of the employees who had given their lives for the company, was what stood between her happiness and a world of trouble. She had to decide if that obsession was worth the hell she knew Wheeler and Enerco could foist upon her. Like her father before her, she wished she had never had anything to do with the fruits of Jim Servito’s crimes. “Where is Wilhelm Lentz?” she asked.

Wheeler did a credible job of faking ignorance. “Who’s he?” he asked.

“You really are a son of a bitch,” she said, consumed by rage, indignation and a deep sense of helplessness. “You’re lying through your teeth. You know who he is and where he is. So let’s just cut to the chase. What’s your plan, Jeffery?”

“Real simple. You sign the Enerco offer and I go away. I’ll even give you some time to think about it. You have until the end of the month. If we don’t have your signature by then, the I.R.S. is going to get a call. They won’t know who made the the call, but you’re going to be up to your cute ass in alligators. That’s my plan.”

“How do you plan to explain to the Swiss police what you did with Wilhelm Lentz?”

Wheeler chuckled. “How are you going to prove to the Swiss police that you and I have had this discussion?” He winked at Kerri. “You still want lunch?”

“I’ll show myself out,” she said, then stood and hurried from the hotel. While sitting in the cold and impersonal back seat of a taxi she worried about her very uncertain and troublesome future.

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