Atta's Fork

How Much Would You Pay for the Utensil That Fed the Devil?

The FBI stripped the place of documents and letters and took anything else that interested them. There was a straight chair from which they sawed a piece off the back, where apparently Atta had rested his hand. They burrowed into the walls and took down the window dressings. ("They had Venetian blinds, pulldown blinds, and drapes," DeLano says. "That was one dark apartment.") They told DeLano she'd have to take an anthrax antidote, just in case the place was infected.

By the time the FBI left, weeks later, there was just an assortment of banged-up furniture and some odds and ends scattered around the apartment. Not thinking of their potential value, DeLano gave much of the stuff away and packed the rest in boxes to store in her garage in Fort Lauderdale. "There was one of those novelty Coke bottles, with the neck stretched out," she says. "I gave it to one of the tenants, and I heard later that he sold it for a lot of money on eBay."

She gave a glasstop coffee table to a friend. "It's like a drug dealer's table, with the glass surface to cut the cocaine on," she says. In fact, FBI agents told DeLano that there was evidence of drug use in the apartment, with empty cocaine baggies under the furniture and jammed between couch cushions. The new owner of the table, she says, likes to boast that it's his "terrorist coffee table."

So what other Atta memorabilia does she have? DeLano sorts through the junk in her garage, and all she can come up with is a pair of bedroom table lamps. They have plaster bases in the shape of Grecian urns, and they're painted gold. "I used to use them in my guest room," she says. But the dark weight of Atta finally caused her to move them to the garage.

Tailpipe picks one up and looks at the bottom, which is covered with a felt pad. He taps it.

"It's hollow," he says. "I wonder if there's anything in there."

DeLano's eyes grow wide. "I never thought of that," she says. "Let's look."

As she works to peel away the felt, Tailpipe envisions a microfiche with stored information or maybe a letter of authorization from Osama himself. Tailpipe has seen all the old spy movies.

"If we find something," DeLano says, "we'll be in headlines all over the world tomorrow."

But there's nothing. Not in the lamp DeLano works on nor in the one Tailpipe holds. Just empty spaces where the form of the mold had stood while the plaster dried.

Back in Tailpipe's kitchen, Atta's fork still sits on the counter, encased in a clear plastic bag now, as appealing to the 'Pipe as a dead mouse or a cat's hairball. "Let's get rid of this thing," he says. Tailpipe considers dropping it into the trash.

But then he gets a better idea. If there's really a market for stuff like this, he thinks, he'll auction the fork on eBay and donate the proceeds to a worthy charity. How about the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, which is raising money to rebuild Ground Zero?

Want Atta's fork?

Real Estate Hail Mary

The Super Bowl has a lot in common with the South Florida housing market. Like being overhyped and oversold maybe? So it seemed only natural to apply the football theme to a sensaaaaational real estate auction at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood a few weeks ago.

The real estate agents at the "Florida Super Auction" came dressed in red football jerseys. Two young women were the cheerleaders — complete with sweaters, miniskirts, and pompoms, which they shook energetically during the auctioneer's marble-mouthed delivery. The auction's "spotters," whose job was to locate bidders among the crowd, were dressed like referees. To keep all those big-buck buyers from piling on like a bunch of rude defensive linemen, that is.

When the auction started, the referees — auction dealers call them "ring men" — dashed around the banquet room, pointing their hands, coaxing the spectators. "Is that a bid?" one demanded of some unsuspecting schmoe who had scratched his neck a little too vigorously. "Is that a bid? No? You sure?"

Yeah, we're sure. Like the Super Bowl itself, the auction turned out not nearly as competitive as its boosters would have hoped. Said auction organizer Nicole Hollander: "I would have loved to have had a fire marshal in there telling me there were too many people. But that didn't happen."

"I seem to be counting down a lot today," deadpanned one auctioneer. "Did you notice that?"

Tailpipe noticed. Bidding for most of the homes started around $300,000 — and in most of the cases, it either finished around $100,000 or failed to get a bid even at the suggested rate. An oceanfront condo in Naples couldn't find a taker at $75,000. A three-bedroom house in Punta Gorda went for just $125,000, as did a three-bedroom in Palm Coast (the seller reportedly said afterward, "No way at that price.")

The Super Bowl is just a fading memory now. Can you say the same for our state's ever-buoyant housing market?

— As told to Edmund Newton

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