In mid-October, someone sent me a listing for a condominium in a cushy Houston high-rise that was for sale at the reduced price of $6.9 million, a full 20 percent off. At more than 12,000 square feet, the condo was, according to the description, a “magnificent Italian Renaissance–inspired” residence with four bedrooms, four full and five half baths, Houston views “in all directions,” and “ten privately owned underground parking spaces in premier locations” (this in addition to valets at the ready 24/7). Fountains flowed on balconies planted with caladiums. There was a billiards room, a separate family room with a marble fireplace surround, and much, much more. “This unrivaled masterpiece exemplifies artisan craftsmanship throughout,” the listing continued, and, indeed, the vaulted brick ceiling in the kitchen, the rough-hewn, possibly hand-carved beams in the family room, and the abundant brocade evoked Renaissance royalty, or at least people who yearned to be viewed as such. This was, after all, a place with nine toilets. The owners, despite their obvious wealth and power, seemed to require constant reminders of both.
The finicky former king and queen of this palazzo in the air were none other than the late Ken Lay and his wife, Linda, who actually had been Houston royalty during the city’s Enron era, when Ken was CEO. The real estate photos of their home inspired me to imagine Lay, sometime just before the guilty verdict in his 2006 securities fraud trial, standing on one of his four prohibitively expensive balconies, alone. The fountains would be burbling hundreds of feet above the traffic dancing in and out of River Oaks while he gazed at the city below, knowing, because even someone as optimistic as he was would have known, that he was a goner. Born into a poor family, Lay became the kind of CEO who insisted on drinking his daily coffee from fine china and who once sent his corporate jet to fetch his daughter’s furniture home—from the South of France. But then the entire world Lay had built—from the seemingly thriving