PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 12:00am

THERE WAS AN extra little chill of horror running down my spine on Tuesday night while watching the calamity unfold at the World Trade Centre in New York.

If I still had my previous job as a portfolio strategist, I could have been there. Mid-September for most years was the time for a roadshow to brief clients on events in Asia. New York was at least a three-day stop, with several meetings scheduled in those twin towers.

They were mostly morning meetings too, often a breakfast meeting in the Vista Hotel, and then up either of the towers to see clients we had not met earlier.

It seems strange now to remember how tight the security was there. Since the 1993 bombing of the Vista Hotel, which seems to have been aimed at bringing at least one of the towers down, the World Trade Centre has had the tightest security in New York.

To see someone, you first had to stand in line at a long security desk where you had to turn over at least one piece of photo identification and have your name checked against a list of visitors, or have security phone upstairs to check with the people you were seeing.

There was nothing routine about this. The security guards were grim and determined. You made no jokes about it in front of them. This sort of thing you frequently encountered in London when IRA-bombing campaigns were at their height, but it was unusual in the United States.

And then you went up in the lift and changed to another if you were going near the top. One client's office was a few floors from the top of the South Tower and the receptionist there was accustomed to people gazing over her shoulder to the windows facing south, high over the other buildings of downtown Manhattan.

That was where you waited for the people you were seeing. They did not take you into a conference room. They just left you looking out of those windows and had a big telescope placed there. Invariably, I would be gazing out through the telescope when they tapped me on my shoulder to tell me it was time.

Every time I did it those questions would go through my head: what if the bombers of the Vista Hotel had succeeded? What if the tower in which I was standing had gone toppling down over the rest of those high office blocks beneath me? It did not seem imaginable and then again it was. It made me grateful for the security below. I never considered the threat from above.

The people who worked in those offices did not seem to feel that horror. Then again, perhaps they did when they first arrived there, but they no longer let it occupy their minds. We talked investment, not the World Trade Centre except perhaps for a remark about what a long trip it was to get a cup of coffee from below.

Do I call them friends? They were business clients, people I did not meet as often as I do friends, people who had to keep some distance from me because occasionally trades went sour and recriminations could follow.

Yet they were also people with common interests, people who could share a laugh about happenings in the investment trade and with whom I could quickly find myself in deep discussion on matters that absorbed us all. From that sort of shared interest friendship quickly grows.

I do not want to name those people or even their firms. I cannot be sure if some of them had not moved elsewhere or if they were at work when the aircraft hit. Most of all, no one yet has a list of names and I shall have to wait along with many others who are dreading the news more than I am.

Some of them are surely dead in the horror that crossed my mind when I visited them. Why say it's a shock. You know it is.