New York. Friday. 2:00 P.M.
Kerri took a taxi back to her Park Street office. She entered the building and was traversing the newly furnished lobby when a tall man she didn’t recognize approached her. He was neatly dressed in a black pin-striped suit and black tie. His black hair was cut short. He wore dark sun glasses and carried a legal sized manila envelope.
“Excuse me,” he said, causing Kerri to turn and face him. “Are you Kerri King?”
Kerri nodded. “Who are you?”
“My name is Matthew Klein. I’m a process server for New York County.” He handed the envelope to Kerri. “This is for you. You’ve been served,” he said, then hurried from the building.
She glanced at the envelope and saw that the sender was Madison, Bolt & Stortz, LLP, Barristers and Solicitors. Her heart sank. She knew she was holding the lawsuit to which Andrea had referred, and which Peter Tavaris had promised. To confirm it, she opened the envelope, removed the contents and scanned the first page. She saw herself listed as The Defendant, the Iacardi Shareholders listed as The Plaintiffs. Willful Negligence and Breach of Duty was specified as The Cause of Action. One Billion Dollars was listed in The Statement of Claim.
Even though she expected the lawsuit, the disappointing reality of it hit her like a freight train. She was being sued by the people she had committed her life to help. The words blurred as a cold sweat bathed her body. The implications shook her to the core of her existence. She removed her cell phone from her coat pocket and dialed Marsha Cooper’s private number. Marsha answered before the second ring.
“I need to see you, now. It’s urgent,” Kerri said.
“I can’t. I’m with clients. Just tell me what it’s about.”
“I’m being sued.”
“I’ll see you in thirty minutes.”
Kerri hurried upstairs and told Louise Markel-Townes where she was going and not to expect her for the remainder of the afternoon.
Marsha took several minutes to examine the document, then peered at Kerri over her reading glasses. “I presume this didn’t make your day,” she said with a sympathetic smile.
“It hurts, Marsha. I knew it was coming, but it still hurts like hell. I’m killing myself trying to do the right thing, and I feel like the whole world is lining up to stop me.”
“Obviously the Iacardi shareholders are. Just a quick look at this suit tells me they have a pretty good case. You’re standing between these people and an awful lot of money.” She squinted at Kerri. “Work with me. Why are you doing this? You’re already a very wealthy woman. By my calculations you could walk away from the Enerco sale with ninety million. Why wouldn’t you just take the money and get on with your life?”
“I agree. The shareholders do have a good case. If I don’t sign the Enerco offer, they don’t make a lot of money, and they can correctly say that I’ve neglected my duty to them. If that was the only part of my duty that mattered, I’d sign that offer in a heart beat. Unfortunately, it isn’t. I also have a duty to the employees, and that matters to me. Three hundred and thirty-eight of them died on September eleventh. Their families lost their breadwinners. One hundred and seventeen of those employees didn’t own a single share of Iacardi stock. If I sign the Enerco offer, their families will end up with nothing...I can’t and I won’t let that happen.”
Marsha gave Kerri an approving smile. “You’re a hell of a gal. I’d go to war with you anytime...I presume you want me to do that.”
Kerri nodded. “I do, but it’s not the only war. There’s another one, and it could be nastier than the lawsuit. It’s a long story. Before I give it to you, I need to know that I enjoy lawyer-client privilege.”
“Of course you do.”
“Good. Do you remember preparing a list of the names and addresses for service of the estates of the Iacardi employees who were killed?”
“Yup. You told me you wanted to distribute a very large amount of money to them. You also said you could tell me where you got the money, but then you’d have to kill me.”
Ever since her confrontation with Jeffery Wheeler, it was obvious to Kerri that her secret Swiss bank account was no longer a secret. Somehow he had discovered it. She knew she would likely never be able to prove it, but she was convinced that he was in some way responsible for the disappearance of Wilhelm Lentz. If he would go to that extreme to accomplish his goals, there was no question he would follow through on his threat to disclose her secret to the Feds. “Well I’m going to tell you because now you have to know. I’m not only being sued, I’m being blackmailed. You’ll understand when I tell you the whole story.”
She spent the next hour, and five hundred dollars of legal fees, telling Marsha the long and exciting story of how she came into the possession of a four hundred and eighty-seven million dollar Swiss bank account. She left nothing out, starting from the beginning: Jim Servito’s audacious theft of three hundred and twenty-five million dollars via the mechanism of gasoline tax evasion. She went on to describe the horrible death of Servito in Caracas, the marriage of Karen, Servito’s widow, to Mike King, Kerri’s father, the subsequent and improvident decision of Mike to keep Servito’s illicit fortune and to form the King Trust, under the care of Alfred Schnieder, the manager at the Banco International Venezolano. She continued, describing the amazing history of the King Trust: Alfred Schnieder’s original management of it, then of Schnieder’s successor, Louis Visconti, the Crown Prince of Wall Street, how his disastrous crude oil investments led to his theft of the funds in the King Trust, his murder of Phillip Servito, Kerri’s step brother, the imprisonment of her father, the murder of Alfred Schnieder in Monaco, Visconti’s attempted rape of Kerri in Monaco, and Visconti’s death, when, to save her own life, she drove an electric drill bit into his brain.
Kerri paused to take a sip of her coffee. “Now here’s where it gets interesting,” she said, then proceeded to tell Marsha the incredible story of how she recovered the funds in the King Trust and, with the enormous help of Miles Dennis, her mentor and brilliant Iacardi trader, used the money to free her father from prison and clear him of all charges against him.
“So after we paid off the Feds, and they signed off on my father’s charges, Miles astounded me when he told me there was a hundred and eighty-six million left over. I tried to give it to my father, but he said he didn’t want anything more to do with it. I didn’t blame him. That money put him in prison and nearly killed him. That was a problem. I had all that money and I didn’t know what to do with it. In the end I gave it to Miles and asked him to invest it. He deposited it in Liechtensteinische Comco and set up a trading account at Iacardi’s Geneva branch.”
She paused and displayed a forlorn grin. “Miles was a very good trader. Ten years later, I have a bank account with four hundred and eighty-seven million in it, and Miles is gone. I cry every time I think of him.”
“Holy shit! That’s incredible!” Marsha declared when Kerri finished her story. “I knew you must have had an interesting life, but that’s way over the top.”
“So now I’m going to tell you why I’m being blackmailed.”
Marsha leaned forward, fascinated. “Go ahead. This is the most amazing story I’ve ever heard.”
“I wanted to do something for Miles, something I knew he would do for me, if the situation was reversed... I took that list to my bank in Geneva. I gave it to Wilhelm Lentz, my contact there, and asked him to distribute every cent of the money in my account to the estates, in equal proportions. I signed all of the necessary directions, and left his office, assuming that I had finally done what I’ve wanted to do with that money for a very long time... I never heard from him again. He disappeared, and so did my list and the directions I signed. So last Monday I got a call from Jeffery Wheeler, the vice president of Enerco. He told me he wanted to meet me and talk about my banking activities in Switzerland. That got my attention.”
“Wait a minute,” Marsha interrupted. “How did Wheeler know about your banking activities in Switzerland?”
“The only conclusion I can come to is that he got to Wilhelm Lentz, made him talk, and then made him disappear. Somehow he knew exactly when and where I had a meeting with him, but the hell of it is that there’s no way I can prove it.”
“Wow!” Marsha said, writing as fast as she could. “What telephone did you use to call Lentz?”
“My office phone. I had it checked and it was clean. I think Wheeler had it tapped, then removed the tap as soon as he got the information he needed.”
“How did he get in? Didn’t you have any security?’
“We were just getting started with the new office. I didn’t even have a door on my office for a week. We had work crews coming and going, night and day. Any one of hundreds of those people could have done it.”
“I assume you agreed to see Wheeler.”
“Yup. He flew to New York, took me to lunch at The Plaza, and proceeded to tell me the name of my bank and exactly how much money was in it. At that point I knew he got to Lentz, but there was still no way I could prove it. I accused him of it and he laughed at me. Then he told me that if I didn’t sign the Enerco offer by the end of December, he would go straight to the I.R.S. and tell them everything he knows about my Swiss bank account... What do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think. The only thing that’s obvious is that you’re in big trouble, no matter what you do...Wrong. There is one way out.”
“You could sign the Enerco offer, leave your money in Switzerland, and sail off into blissful obscurity. I strongly advise you to do that.”
“Sure, and spend the rest of my life hating myself for taking the easy way out, for not doing what I knew I could do for so many people.”
“Then you need to take some time to think about this. Whatever you decide to do is going to have a big impact on your life. There’s no way I can predict the outcome of this lawsuit. Too many moving parts. If you win, you get to keep your job. If you lose, you’ll likely be bankrupt...With respect to the blackmail, worst case scenario, you could be assessed for back taxes, hit with some fairly hefty fines, and end up in prison. Other than those items, you don’t have a thing to worry about.”
Kerri left Marsha’s office and took a cab to her apartment. Questions swirled in her mind for the entire trip. She entered her building, keyed her mailbox, and removed the only piece of mail: a small white envelope with fancy printed script. The sender was Mr. Jamie Stewart. A box number in Toronto was the return address. Her first guess was that the envelope contained an invitation of some kind, but she wondered why Christine’s father would send her an invitation of any kind.
She opened the envelope and removed what was indeed an invitation, one that horrified her when she read that she had been invited to witness the marriage of Christine Ann Stewart to Stephen William Monteith. The ceremony was scheduled to take place at Jamie Stewart’s Port Royal beach front home in Naples, Florida, at four P.M., on Tuesday, December thirty-first. The reception was scheduled to be at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 280 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples.
A tidal wave of disappointment washed over her. She could not understand why she was disappointed. She had known for some time that Steve was engaged to Christine. It should not have surprised her that the two were going to be married. She admitted to herself that Steve had penetrated her heart, and that her disappointment was triggered by a sense of loss, the loss of a man she had allowed herself to consider more than a friend.
“Why didn’t he call?” she whispered to herself, tears flowing, brutally reminded that she had, for the third time in her life, been hurt because she cared for the wrong man. She admonished herself for thinking her relationship with Steve could have been more than a friendship. The invitation in her hand was proof that she had been wrong. She felt an overwhelming sense of rejection while simultaneously taking stock of her situation. By New Year’s Day, Steve Monteith would be enjoying a honeymoon in some exotic place, while she would be involved in a lawsuit that could bankrupt her. Even worse, she would be answering to an Internal Revenue Service inquiry that could put her in prison.
She removed her cell phone from her coat pocket and called Louise Markel-Townes. “I’m going for a long walk, Louise. Call me if you need me,” she said.
“Worse. Don’t get me started.”
“You go for it, girl. I’ll just file your unimportant two hundred and fifty phone messages for future reference.”
Louise’s sarcasm caused Kerri to smile. For the first time in her corporate life she didn’t care about phone messages. She just wanted to play hooky. She left the building and walked south, inhaling the cold December air through her nostrils and desperately trying to process the squall of bad news that had invaded her near perfect world since September eleventh. Passing pedestrians appeared only as a blur as she traversed the seven blocks to the massive clean-up site at Ground Zero. Visions of the United Airlines 767 hitting the South Tower in a gigantic orange fireball flashed through her mind as she approached the site of the devastation.
Her thoughts turned to Miles Dennis, the man who had changed her life, given her a job when she needed one, taken her into his home when she couldn’t afford one, taught her the commodities business, and always gave her a shoulder to cry on. She owed her success to that man, missed him desperately, and hated herself for not thanking him enough. Now he was gone, buried somewhere in the rubble on the other side of the barricades surrounding the site. He had given his life for the company that she now ran. If it had not been for his trading prowess, her father would still be in prison, and there would be no Swiss bank account.
“Yes!” she shouted as loud as she could, attracting the attention of hundreds of people around her. She had made her decision.
She pulled out her cell phone and dialed Marsha Cooper’s private number.
“You again.” Marsha said. “I thought I told you to go home and think about what I just told you.”
“I’ve already done that...I want you to go to war with me.”
“You’re sure about this? You didn’t think about it for very long.”
“I’ve never been more certain in my entire life.”
“You’re a tough lady, Kerri King. It’ll be my pleasure to represent you.”
“Thanks. It’ll be a pleasure to have you in my corner.”
Kerri returned to her apartment and dialed the private number of Julien Geisinger, president of Liechtensteinische Comco, in Geneva, unaware that it was nearly two A.M. in Geneva.
“Geisinger,” he answered hoarsely, awakened from a deep sleep.
“Julien, it’s Kerri King, I’m calling from New York. Please forgive me for calling at this hour. I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t important. I need you to do something for me, and it has to be done quickly.”
“I’m at your service,” Geisinger said, the consummate professional. “Please tell me what it is.”
“I want you to distribute every cent of the money in my account, and I want it done quickly. It has to be done before the end of this month. I’m prepared to fly to Geneva, but I would prefer not to. Can you do this?”
“Did I hear you correctly? You want to distribute all of it?”
“You heard correctly. I want the account closed as soon as it is emptied.”
“Very well. I can assure you that the distribution of your funds can be done according to your wishes, but first I will need a direction, prepared by your attorney, and detailing the time and manner in which you would like funds distributed. The direction must be signed by you and witnessed by your attorney. When the direction is completed, please have your attorney fax it to me. Once it is in my possession, I will act on it immediately.”
“Thank you, Julien. My attorney will be in touch with you. Her name is Marsha Cooper. Please telephone me the minute you have made the distribution...Have you heard anything about Wilhelm Lentz?”
“Sadly, the police have found nothing. It is as if he has vanished from the face of the earth.”