More Money Than God

Trouble is brewing at the Goodfriend estate in this latest installment of Lance Avery Morgan’s The Society Chronicles.

Women desire six things: They want their husbands to be brave, wise, rich, generous, obedient to their wife, and lively in bed.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Everyone could see that Aaron Goodfriend had been burning his own candle at both ends with a blowtorch searing it in the middle for good measure. He told me over a tennis game months before that almost everyone in the world knew he had worked his tail off for every single cent of the billions he had made, much like our friend and foe Zeke Medford, and he planned to bask in the international limelight of Sabrina’s gala weekend in Paris to show it off. Of that he was for sure. He was not officially invited, but he was not about to be out done in front of the A-list paparazzi by his wife, his former secretary whom he rescued from a potentially lifeless middle class in suburban Memorial Oaks, or even worse, Sugarland.

He was that kind of guy – always feeling like he was the gleaming knight on the white horse, even when his dark reputation cast a long shadow over his delusions of grandeur. It is a known fact that almost every strong man has a dark side when it came to his personal quests and Goodfriend was no different. His was an international playing field that was similar to the one in which his and Joshua’s polo ponies ran for exercise and profit;  a playing field superior than the one of the now-dead horses owned by his brother in law… and with fewer mob ties.

To use the vernacular of many bitter women through the ages, Aaron had given Sabrina what he felt were the best years of his life and the acidic divorce battle less than a year before left him feeling scarred and wounded, even though he coyly filed the papers the way that Sabrina masterminded.

He recalled it to me as if it were yesterday. After a brisk lunch at Nobu in Malibu, Aaron and Sabrina Goodfriend had parted ways following a long weekend at their newly completed beach house in nearby Point Dume where film heartthrob Brick Adams lived on one side and Bower and Maria Graham, of the hair care and liquor billions, lived on the other.

Between blowfish rolls and tuna tartar, talk of their teenagers’ school activities, as well as the installation of the new plate glass window-sized Rothko peppered the brief, hour-long meal with its usual aplomb of their lives’ details.

“If we hang it in the bedroom, I’ll feel like Ariel Pilsner is always in the room with us, too,” said Aaron.

He well knew that Mrs. Pilsner’s patronage of the artist for his infamous chapel influenced everything Rothko did afterward and he didn’t want to wake up with the old broad, who had been his mother’s closest friend, on his mind. It was the sweeping, lavish gesture that Texans love so much, like Goodfriend buying a $12 million dollar painting for his wife even if he had to see that first thing when he awoke every morning.

Aaron, it turns out, for all his passion in life and love, had a bit of mean streak and it was on full tilt overdrive with Sabrina after their lunch. As a little boy Aaron used to capture butterflies for their color, then would hold them preciously in his hand… slowly picking off their wings. Sabrina was no different. When the car service took Sabrina to the Santa Monica airport she boarded their jet to Houston where, after some turbulent weather, she landed, and was greeted by a process server handing her divorce papers on the tarmac.

“That son of a bitch,” uttered Sabrina disbelievingly. “He’s tooled me around for the last time. He doesn’t even know what will hit him when I get through.”

Tongues wagged across the international Smart Set at the callous gesture, knowing fully well that the voluptuous au pair with whom Goodfriend was carrying on behind his wife’s back was nothing but trouble in a G-string.

Well, that was that and the messy divorce took about a year to settle the possessions of not only the children, but also all their property. Some of that property settlement included the hotel in Oahu he bought for Sabrina’s triathlon training, which was right down the road from the one that high tech zillionaire Hart Hammersmith bought for his athletic wife, Campbell. Deep into the obsession of lusting eternal youth, Sabrina learned the Hammersmith place was also near the former Clare Booth Luce estate that Houston financier Didi Sargento, Allison Sargento’s father, had owned after his divorce from his second wife, another secretary on the make, Melora. It was a small world. Too small.

Then, there was also the company stock, which Sabrina had been locked out of it due to a crafty lawyer on the Goodly Media payroll that Aaron had maneuvered to work in his favor. The intellectual property of the media conglomerate included magazines, digital media properties whose biggest client was Apple, the entertainment websites, and a slew of radio, TV and technology applications with over 300 patents. The sale of the company, now being investigated by the FCC, FBI and the CIA due to its international stakes, seemed like a bargain at $8.5 billion, but now seemed like an expensive proposition to its new post-acquisition owners.

Part of Goodfriend’s platinum exit deal stipulated that he would no longer be in any position of power in the running of the operations, but there wasn’t the typical non-compete clause to stipulate he couldn’t do something similar again. He was a builder, and a magnate who called Wall Street financiers H.G. Farabee and Bud Dreiser best friends, and he told me he would dial them in for his newest venture. Along with, perhaps, Dazzle Media to help it blossom, but for now that was a dream away for me.

The divorce did not, as many may have surmised, come from left field. No, not really. I think Aaron had felt that he and Sabrina had a certain understanding as they traversed their marriage:  he played the field and she in turn understand that she would be taken care of in the manner to which she had become accustomed. In his mind, this was something every woman had tolerated for the previous 10,000 generations, nannies notwithstanding. Boy, did he underestimate the power of his secretary-turned-wife after knowing her now for almost over fifteen years.

The fact of the matter was that Aaron had really loved Sabrina when they were married. And, she loved him. Or, at least something very close to it. They had each told me that on numerous, separate occasions.

“Jake, I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have Sabrina as my wife,” he’d say to me.

“Look at him. Every time I look into his eyes I remember why I fell so hard when I fell in love with him,” Sabrina would state just as emphatically.

They kept saying these types of things, even to the embarrassment of those in their circle. Perhaps they meant it and perhaps by saying these things often enough, they felt it might all actually come true.

Like any dysfunctional marriage, the Goodfriend’s relationship had started with obsession. Aaron actually had a love and first sight moment when he first saw her reaching for a cone-shaped cup at that office water cooler. Her loved her cheerfully sweet disposition that she turned on whenever she was around. He loved the way she walked, and how the nape of her neck curved just so, and her gardenia scent, which reminded him of his kindly aunts he would run to as a child while his mother and father were away on their extensive business travels.

By her calculations, Sabrina told me way back when, Aaron Goodfriend was the ninth man she had ever been with, and she intended for him to be the final one. She liked that he came from a good family but that he never took anything for granted, as she also did not. Aaron had, to the eyes of many, grown up with a silver spoon. His father, J.T. Goodfriend, had learned the ropes from BT Knightly of the Knightly Ranch dynasty, on how to rope cattle, win women and seal the mineral rights while he was at it. He learned how to profit handsomely by always staying in the game, which meant the knowing the how the media works, too. He’d been lambasted as much as he was lauded while both he and Sabrina had their bouts and love fests with the press based on their marriage cycles and their high level philanthropy.

The younger Goodfriend grew up in an important John Staub-architected home on North Boulevard that was white-pillared, surrounded by Spanish moss and cost a whopping $700,000 to build in 1958, a king’s ransom at the time. Unlike the Goodfriend family, Staub’s homes tended to shun pretension and instead displayed the architect’s preference for quiet, understated elegance. The home was the only understated facet of the Goodfriend clan.

Aaron was shipped away to Exeter the age of 12, then Harvard, because his father wanted him to know kids beyond the sons and daughters of former oil field roughnecks who struck Texas gold. Whenever Aaron would come home on visits to the mahogany and chintz-laden mausoleum of a residence, he’d high tail it to Houston’s Riviera, as the infamous Shamrock Hotel was known at the time of its very last glory days, to see all the staff who had befriended his father as he played $5,000 poker hands and ate $11 filet mignons at the hostelry’s very private Clover Club with the venue’s entertainers like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Vic Damone.

It was said that if one could cap J.T. Goodfriend’s steely nerve-infused ego as if it were a gas well, you could heat the cities the size of Amarillo and Brownsville for a lifetime. Rumor was that J.T. had told all he knew to Edna Ferber when she was researching her book, Giant, and that she walked away with reams of insight on not only Texas, a state the size of twenty two Rhode Islands, but also of the people and land who had borne them in its shadowy mystique. It was that loud mouth that J.T. Goodfriend would pass down to his son, to the detriment of everyone who might come within contact of them.

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