NEW YORK – The view from Chris Pepe's desk is forever changed.
Pepe, head of New York sales for the bond firm Cantor Fitzgerald, once saw a roomful of friends and a postcard view of New York Harbor from atop the World Trade Center. On Thursday, in a temporary midtown Manhattan office, he reflected on a life turned upside down by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 700 Cantor Fitzgerald co-workers.
"The view was beautiful," said Pepe, 38. "But what made the place great was the people. This wasn't like losing colleagues, it was like losing family."
The sentiment was shared by other Cantor Fitzgerald survivors now working alongside him on Park Avenue, crammed shoulder to shoulder in a temporary office where computer terminals are dotted with small American flags.
About 80 employees took over the 29th floor two weeks ago. The phones ring nonstop, and the 10- to 12-hour work days are back.
Their view of lower Manhattan, where fires still burn at the site of their old office, is mercifully blocked by the Met Life Building. The company's Trade Center survivors are also operating from offices in Weehawken, N.J., and Rochelle Park, N.J.
Cantor Fitzgerald suffered mind-boggling losses in the terrorist attack, with 657 of its nearly 1,000 employees killed on the 101st, 103rd, 104th and 105th floors.
When they refer to the attack, workers use a simple two-word euphemism: "The Eleventh."
"The guy sitting behind me now was on vacation on `The Eleventh,"' said David Kravette, a managing director at the firm. "The guy in front of me was playing golf with customers. We wouldn't be alive if we weren't doing something else."
Kravette, a 10-year company veteran, was in the lobby of the Trade Center's north tower with customers when the first plane hit below his 105th-floor office. He chokes up when discussing his near-death experience, and remembering those who weren't as lucky.
"I've had nightmares for the first time since I was 10," said Kravette, who watched in disbelief as an enormous fireball shot from the elevator bank in the building's lobby.
The 56-year-old company made some missteps after the tragedy. Chief executive Howard Lutnick, who lost his brother in the attack, cut off paychecks for the dead and missing on Sept. 14 -- a move that hurt the victims' devastated families.
Lutnick has since reversed field. On Thursday, he announced that $45 million in bonus payments are on their way to the families.
The company also will provide the families with 25 percent of its profits for the next five years and guaranteed health care for the next decade. Each family will receive a minimum of $100,000, Lutnick said.
Kent Karosen, a managing director at the firm, said Cantor Fitzgerald's commitment is an incentive for its remaining workers to keep the business thriving.
"You want to help Joe's family, and George's family -- it's personal," said Karosen, who helped arrange a huge Central Park memorial for his co-workers. "I could sit here and name 250 people right off the top of my head."
Initially, the surviving workers struggled to straighten out their lives and the company. Pepe recalled going to the Rochelle Park office.
"It was emotional seeing people face to face," he said. "When the door opened, each face that you saw was a victory."
In the foyer of his New Jersey home, Pepe recently hung a keepsake of Sept. 11: a building pass that he used to enter the offices of Goldman Sachs that morning. If he hadn't been summoned to a surprise meeting at the investment bank's offices by an 8:10 a.m. phone call, Pepe would have been at his old desk when the plane hit.
"It's a reminder of my good fortune, how lucky I am," Pepe said. "I won the $100 million lottery, 10 times over."