Sunday, July 27, 2008
The plan was foolproof, the route rehearsed, the cast of characters in place, the itinerary perfectly organized. Outwardly calm but with his heart racing, he was at last ready to accomplish what he had been so meticulously planning for months.
He had come a long way to land in this privileged place, a fifth-floor room in Boston's Algonquin Club, a venerable bastion of the most blue-blooded city in America, a preferred meeting place since 1886 for U.S. presidents, heads of state, and local and national aristocrats. He belonged here; he was a member of the board and a familiar presence in the club's impossibly grand rooms, with their tall ceilings, museum-quality paintings, and uniformed staff, all of whom he had come to know and rely upon. His name was James Frederick Mills Clark Rockefeller - Clark to his friends but Mr. Rockefeller to everyone else.
"Good day, Mr. Rockefeller," the waiters would say as he sat for breakfast or lunch in the dining room, with its four fireplaces and a magnificent view of Commonwealth Avenue. Or "Good evening, Mr. Rockefeller," as they fetched him his evening sherry in the book-lined library, surrounded by the portraits of past members, whose ranks included President Calvin Coolidge and a Who's Who of American dignitaries. At forty-seven, he was well entrenched as a link in the country's most fabled family, which traced its lineage back to John D. Rockefeller, who founded Standard Oil and created a dynasty of philanthropists.
Lately, a cloud had darkened Clark Rockefeller's usually sunny façade. This explained why he was living, instead of merely lunching, in the Algonquin, which served its members as a haven not only from the unruliness of the outside world but also from temporarily painful and unfortunate events such as marital separation and, as in Rockefeller's case, divorce. Today, however, he had reason to rejoice. He was going to spend it with his adorable little daughter, Reigh, a precious, precocious seven-year-old he called Snooks.
It was a bright Sunday morning, and he put on his customary uniform: well-worn khakis, a sky blue Lacoste shirt with the crocodile embroidered over the heart, Top-Sider boat shoes (as always, without socks), and a red baseball cap emblazoned with the word yale. He adjusted his heavy black-framed glasses, which some people thought brought Nelson Rockefeller to mind, and proceeded from his room down the wide wooden stairway. After passing through the club's hallway, redolent of polish and leather, he entered the imposing front lobby, where Snooks was waiting for him, along with the clinical social worker who was to chaperone their eight-hour visit. Even though Rockefeller's ex-wife, Sandra, was just a few blocks away, she had followed a court order to ferry the child through the social worker.
"Hi, Daddy!" Snooks exclaimed, rushing over to hug him. She was small for seven, with a blond pageboy haircut and a crooked smile, wearing a sundress. Around noon, Rockefeller hoisted her on his shoulders and started walking toward Boston Common, where they had talked about riding the swan boats in the Public Garden. "Good morning, Mr. Rockefeller," people said as he passed, for he was well known in this Beacon Hill neighborhood, having lived here for years in a four-story, ivy-covered $2.7 million town house on one of the best streets in the city. That was before Sandra dragged him through a painful and humiliating divorce, taking not only the Beacon Hill house but also their second home, in New Hampshire. She had also won custody of Snooks and moved her all the way to London, where she now worked, leaving him with only three court-supervised eight-hour visits per year. Today was the first, and his daughter had to be accompanied by Howard Yaffe, the social worker who was tagging behind them like a creaky third wheel.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal. Copyright © 2011 by Mark Seal
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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