At Any Cost by Rebecca Rosenberg and Selim Algar: New Excerpt

Read a new excerpt from At Any Cost, which unravels the twisted story of Rod Covlin, whose unrepentant greed drove him to an unspeakable act of murder and betrayal that rocked New York City.

Chapter 5: Sheep’s Clothing

While Shele financed the family, Rod’s enthusiasm for work continued to dissipate. Rose assumed most of the child-rearing duties for Anna and Myles while Shele kept long hours at the office. Liberated from both fatherly and professional obligations, Rod found himself with a surfeit of idle time.

Instead of blanketing the internet with his résumé, Rod was plastering his romantic qualifications across dating websites and other portals of infidelity. He set up new email accounts in order to correspond with women—including prostitutes.

Rod’s intensifying zest for novel sexual encounters was rivaled only by his deepening obsession with backgammon. With no other demands on his time, he was constantly traveling to national tournaments, defending them to Shele as essential to his dream of boardgame stardom.

He would often intermingle these twin lusts, setting up trysts with women at tournament locations. One week after establishing an email account under the handle 9grainsofsand, Rod feverishly searched for potential partners in Pittsburgh, Charlotte and Toledo, where his upcoming tournaments were located. In front of the blue-tinged glow of his computer, he searched for Brazilian and Polish escorts. But Rod’s sprawling sexual appetite was also satisfied closer to home. He opened an account on Jdate, a popular dating site catering to Jewish singles. Rod used the alias James Early, in a likely nod to the American engineer who was considered a pioneer in the field of transistors.

Increasingly addicted to online prowls, Rod enhanced his adventures with marijuana and amphetamines. The latter would allow him to engage in marathon computer sessions while Shele and his two children slumbered nearby. On a typical night, Rod would engage in backgammon and cyber flirting from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. He often clambered into bed just as Shele was rising to get the kids ready for school and prepare for work.

When she challenged his nighttime habits, Rod argued that backgammon wasn’t just a casual hobby and that he would soon make a career of it. Although Shele disapproved, she generally swallowed her misgivings for the sake of domestic calm. She still loved Rod and made every effort to keep him content. Her raw physical attraction to him remained intact, and his biting wit kept her engaged. But Rod’s behavior was now alarming her relatives. He was often dour and caustic at family functions, but he had graduated to open disrespect of Shele in front of her parents and siblings.

On one Jewish holiday, Rod and Shele joined Eve and Marc for a dinner at their synagogue along with other members of the congregation. Marc recalled Rod gratuitously demeaning Shele in front of horrified guests. “He was insulting her and thought it was funny,” Marc said. “He was calling her ugly, fat, dirty, in front of us and other people.” Rod worsened the spectacle by pouring salt and pepper into a water glass like a toddler. “There were strangers from the synagogue that we didn’t even know and acquaintances that happened to be placed at our table, and he’s behaving like this,” Eve said.

Shele was becoming inured to the verbal abuse. While inwardly mortified, she once again brushed off Rod’s adolescent and embarrassing behavior at the gathering. “She tried to make a joke of it,” Eve recalled. “She said something like, ‘Oh, there goes Rod again.’ ” 

But her rationalizations would finally collapse one afternoon in 2008, as the couple approached their 10-year wedding anniversary. Rod was normally careful to shield his online activities, logging out of his accounts and maintaining rotating passwords. On this occasion, however, Shele noticed that his email account was fully exposed on his computer. She saw an opened correspondence: a sexually suggestive exchange with one of Rod’s backgammon belles. Shele ingested the horror line by line, struggling to fully absorb the reality of Rod’s betrayal. But her priority was to maintain their marital mirage for the sake of Anna and Myles, both of whom were still young and vulnerable. As a deeply religious woman, she viewed divorce as near taboo.

But the revelation began to burrow through Shele’s brain like a virus, and, despite wanting to keep up appearances, she revealed the wretched truth to Eve.

The sisters were accompanying their mother to a doctor’s appointment in Manhattan. While Jaelene was being X-rayed in another room, Shele relayed what had happened, her voice coated in bitterness. “What in the world do I get him for a 10-year anniversary gift knowing that he’s cheating on me?” she asked. Eve was shocked.

But Shele decided not to immediately confront her husband, and Rod took her out for an anniversary dinner in September 2008. Rather than perpetuate the ruse of faithfulness or present his wife with a gift, Rod instead proposed an open marriage. He calmly discussed the plan as if proposing a kitchen renovation. “You could be with other people,” he suggested. “I would no longer have to hide.”

Shele had endured many indignities during their decade together, but Rod had outdone himself this time. “I can’t believe you’d consider this,” she said. The proposal left her reeling for days—and she would later realize that Rod had likely intended for her to discover his offending email to prepare her for the blow.

Still prioritizing the children, she insisted on trying to rescue the capsizing marriage. A few months after their anniversary, on New Year’s Day, 2009, Rod arrived home after 6 a.m., reeking of an unfamiliar perfume. Rod, who had been hired at a financial-analysis firm in May 2008, claimed to have been at work all night and into the morning hours. Unwilling to dignify the charade, Shele scoffed. “Do you think I’m a fool?” she asked. She finally told Rod that she had seen his emails. In a sad formality, he confirmed the obvious, admitting to a series of lurid, fleeting affairs—but insisted that he still loved her.

They began to discuss divorce on a regular basis. Rod resented her refusal to let him pursue other sexual partners and she became a constant target of his spiraling furies. The mildest transgression would set Rod off. On a visit to a casual falafel restaurant, she accidentally poured tahini on her dish instead of yogurt sauce. She apologized to an employee and asked if she could replace the entree.

The condiment crime infuriated Rod. “What’s the problem!” he barked in front of other patrons.

“He confronted me and said he was embarrassed and to explain right then and there why it was wrong,” Shele later told her sister. “I didn’t answer because we were in public. At the end of the day, I just anger and irritate him more than I’m able to make him happy.”

Having abandoned any pretense of a healthy relationship with Rod, Shele now openly discussed her troubles with Eve. “He constantly picks fights and flies off the handle very easily, and when he does, his anger is out of control,” she told her sister. “He is a highly critical and overanalytical person. That’s just who he is. Frankly, I doubt he is capable of having a long-term relationship with anyone, because he finds fault with anyone who he’s with.”

Despite her misery, Shele continued to resist divorce. A separation could result in shared custody and less time with the children. “I haven’t spent one night away from Myles since he was born,” she told Eve. Anna, old enough to sense the acrimony between her parents, voiced her opposition to a split. “Anna said a week ago she doesn’t want to be the daughter of divorced parents. I’m completely stuck and have no idea how to handle this,” Shele said.

She was becoming hopeless. No matter what she did to sate Rod’s needs or soothe his moods, his hatred of her was intensifying. “I feel like I am at my wits’ end,” she texted a friend a few days after Rod’s admissions of cheating. “Scared if I stay with a person with this kind of temper then something very bad cud happen in the future 2 my kids or me.”

Shele’s texts and emails to friends revealed how quickly her marital goals shifted from satisfaction to survival. “I am concerned and very scared that at some point in the future all his anger and rage may result in something bad happening,” she texted Eve. “Also with Rod’s temper I am uneasy about leaving him with the kids . . .  at least now when he goes crazy with anger I’m there for them and i comfort them or i’ll tell anna that she really didn’t do anything wrong (if that’s the case) when he scolds her for stupidity. If we’re not together and he blows up there will be no one there to protect them.”

Though her home life was disintegrating, Shele still managed to shine professionally. Perhaps sensing that a split with Rod or some other calamity would drain her resources, she stiffened her resolve at the office and kept the revenue rushing. The partnership with her father and brother at Merrill had proven lucrative. Attracted by their consistent profitability and impeccable reputation, banking giant UBS coaxed the Danishefskys away from Merrill Lynch in early 2009, where they had managed nearly $600 million in client funds.

Rod, meanwhile, was barely clinging to his $93,000-a-year position with a Manhattan company called Pragma Securities as its vice president of operations. He would frequently vanish from the office for hours at a time, and, when he was present, supervisors would often notice him toggling between his official tasks and another on-line backgammon game.

Despite being married, Rod openly boasted about his extramarital conquests to friend and colleague Marshall Baron. They had met in 1999 while working at a financial-services company and would meet up with other staffers for drinks from time to time. When Baron had been looking for work, Rod helped him land a position at Pragma. He had met Shele more than a dozen times and had been in their home for social occasions.

Baron was fond of Rod’s wife and found his infidelity distasteful. “There were times when we were discussing going out and he had explained that he was seeing other people,” Baron recalled. “We were supposed to go to Atlantic City with a group of people we worked with, and he was talking about meeting women on a dating page, Backpage or something.” The site was the largest on-line prostitution marketplace until federal authorities shut it down in 2018. “It’s one of the points I have very little tolerance for, so I really didn’t get into conversations,” he said. The disclosures gave him pause. “If your wife and family can’t trust you, why should I?” he would wonder.

One of Rod’s preferred rendezvous spots was Lure Fishbar in Manhattan’s fashionable SoHo district. The venue’s interior is designed to resemble the inside of a luxury yacht, complete with porthole windows and gray leather booths.

Between 2008 and 2009, Rod met at least 14 different women at Lure, assuring several of them that the restaurant served “yummy” drinks to secure dates. Spending with abandon, Rod lavished them with neon cocktails until the wee hours, dropping $16 apiece on concoctions with campy names like Life Boat and Aperitif for Destruction. Thanks to Shele’s income, the arrival of the bill was of little consequence.

Rather than hinder his conquests, Rod’s marital strife only drove him out of the home and onto a barstool with increasing frequency. He coupled these local jaunts with backgammon tournaments across the map. During a three-month stretch beginning in March 2009, his itinerary included Chicago, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. In an email message to himself, Rod enumerated the various women he would meet at each stop. Elly was booked for Chicago, Sari for Las Vegas, Kim in Atlanta. The note included a reminder that he still had to fill empty dating slots in Cleveland and D.C.

At a subsequent tournament in Los Angeles, Rod’s black book referenced meetings with Maha and Christina. A later Maryland event slotted “Alycia for Wednesday, Stacee for Thursday, Beth for Friday, Kim for Saturday.” In an April 26 entry, Rod listed an additional 13 women he planned to meet.

Rather than bristle at Rod’s weekend trips, Shele now looked forward to them. The respites from his oppressive presence allowed Shele and the kids to sample normalcy for a few days. Once an unthinkable scenario, Shele began warming to the idea of a trial separation. She treasured these furloughs, even taking the time to note her happiness in a day planner, which she used as a diary.

“Been great without him—kids very happy!” she wrote during one of his trips.

The more forbidden fruit Rod gorged on, the less tolerance he had for the blander flavors of domestic life. When Rod returned to the apartment from his latest jaunt, he erupted at the dinner table. Enraged over some minor offense, he began screaming with the children looking on. “I’m so angry I have to put down my fork, because I feel like jamming it down your throat!” he ranted at Shele.

While her husband had always been prone to tantrums, Shele felt that his outbursts were becoming unhinged. She had long served as his primary target, but now many of Rod’s rages were being directed at the children, and he would berate Anna for the slightest misdeed. One night in March, Shele returned home to find her daughter, then 8, visibly distraught. Normally hesitant to disparage her father, Anna confided that he had been on a shouting binge prior to her arrival. “She said Rod had been yelling at her & Myles,” Shele wrote in her day planner. “I feel like I can’t leave my children with their father b/c of his violent temper.”

A few days later, Rod boiled over again while waiting for Anna to finish using the bathroom. “Anna taking too long in bathroom—Rod opened door grabbed her arm pulled her out of shower yelling at her,” Shele wrote. “I came home later that night & she told me he yelled at her and slapped her shoulder.”

The situation had become unbearable. Other than their cohabitation, Rod and Shele’s union bore little resemblance to a marriage. His philandering and absences had become the norm—and Shele’s capacity to care had been all but extinguished. While a public admission of marital defeat would be difficult, staying tethered to Rod seemed untenable.

Rod and Shele finally agreed that he would move out of the apartment and into a studio directly across the hall. The arrangement would perhaps minimize the disruption and trauma to the kids. He could come and go at his leisure, while Shele would no longer be captive to his abuse. Despite his flaws, Rod was often a doting father and always made time to help Anna with her homework or class projects. With Shele often stuck at work late, Rod could assist with the kids at a moment’s notice. It was an imperfect stopgap.

But, as with any pursuit that required money, Rod needed Shele’s assistance, and she cosigned the lease for apartment no. 510 at $2,200 a month. “She said it was for the benefit of the children,” Eve recounted.

A few days after Rod’s relocation, Shele decided to permanently split from Rod and met with divorce lawyer Lance Meyer inside the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South.

“We sat down for an hour or two,” Meyer recalled. “She was sure she wanted to do it, but she just wasn’t sure how.” He said that Shele struck him as a late bloomer whose beauty and confidence didn’t develop fully until her 40s. Considering her assets and earning power, Shele knew that she needed pugnacious counsel to combat Rod in divorce court. Shele had served as his de facto ATM for years, funding everything from his Manhattan apartment to his extramarital dates. Rod knew that being financially cleaved from Shele would endanger his life of indolent decadence. “She wanted to move forward but was concerned about how Rod would react,” Meyer said. “She was hesitant and scared.”

After the meeting, Shele did not immediately follow up with Meyer and tried to maintain a veneer of family unity to ease the transition for Myles and Anna. That April she scheduled a Passover vacation with Rod and the kids to Princeton, New Jersey. They stayed in the same hotel but slept in separate rooms. “Two rooms at some Passover program at some hotel,” he groused to a girlfriend at the time.

After a few excruciating days of family captivity, Rod had had enough and hopped on a flight to Las Vegas with a mistress to attend a backgammon tournament. When he returned to New York, Rod entered Shele’s apartment as though it were still his own. He saw that Shele had not unpacked his suitcase or done his laundry after the Passover debacle. Seething, he grabbed Shele by her arms and threw her to the floor as Anna and Myles cowered tearfully nearby.

The episode erupted just as Rose was walking in at about 8 a.m. to begin her nannying shift. She saw Shele on the floor of the living room, distraught. “What happened?” she asked worriedly. Rod emerged from another room and demanded that Shele talk to him privately—out of Rose’s earshot.

Shele resisted the order. “Rod, if you have something to say to me, you can say it in front of Rose,” she hissed. Not wanting to become entangled in their dispute, Rose excused herself and went down to the building’s laundry room. She told Shele to call her once she and Rod were done talking.

Roughly 15 minutes later, Shele summoned Rose back up to the apartment. When she entered, Rod immediately excoriated her for supposedly breaking a vase he had bought for Shele’s birthday. The nanny denied the accusation and Rod left. Shele told Rose how sorry she was for his behavior.

“Stop apologizing for him. He’s a grown man!” the nanny exclaimed.

Shele tried to stifle her emotions in front of Rose but finally surrendered, emitting loud, heaving sobs as tears streamed down her face. She remained crumpled on the floor, making no effort to rise. She told her that Rod had thrown her to the ground minutes before her arrival.

Engulfed in despair, Shele wrote an email to Rod pleading with him to control his temper— especially in front of the kids. “You came over after having left us during our family holiday vacation,” she wrote. “You were full of anger. You crossed boundaries by grabbing and pushing me to the floor. It was not okay for our kids to witness that kind of behavior. Roderick, they see your behavior and they think it’s okay to treat people like that or that it’s ok to BE treated that way. They must not think that physical abuse is an option for handling anger! How would you feel if Anna was with a man who was physically abusive to her???”

But Rod was unmoved. Days later, he stopped by the apartment. Shele told him that she had put his remaining belongings in a plastic bag. Rod was irate, yelling and cursing at her while the kids quivered. He marched into her room and ransacked it like a home invader, ripping her clothes from hangers and throwing them to the ground. He then targeted her shoes, gathering them in armfuls from a closet and flinging them angrily to the floor. He repeated the destruction in the kitchen and the bathroom.

Later, Rod would deny ever physically abusing his wife. “I mean there was, you know, the two times that I put holes in the door, there was the time that, you know, Shele and I got into a heated argument/fight and she grabbed me and like bloodied my arm by grabbing it, but I mean I never—I never struck Shele, okay, I never—I mean, you know, one time we got into a tussle right before the divorce and you know, wound up on the floor,” he said. “But I never beat Shele.”

Read More: The Writing Duo Behind At Any Cost

Copyright © 2021 by Rebecca Rosenberg and Selim Algar. All rights reserved.

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