(Broken) Vows

Darcy Sowecki and Barton Winston Biggs II.

By Jennifer Foote Sweeney
Published June 21, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

When she first began to contemplate divorce, Darcy Sowecki kept her plans to herself, much as she did three years ago when she boldly set her sights on diminutive cough-drop heir Barton Winston Biggs II. It took the plucky cocktail waitress several months to plot the fender bender that would land her in Biggs' arms, recalled her friends. "Not to mention $1,500 in cashmere camisoles to lock in a ring without a prenup," remembered Candy Buntz, a former roommate. But the green-eyed dynamo's penchant for heartless conniving -- and take-no-prisoners lingerie -- brought untold riches. And Darcy's split -- a classic ambush executed with military precision -- would be no different.

"We knew the instant we met her that Darcy was going to crush him like a bug," said trust funder Cal Rumpmead, Barton's childhood nemesis. "We took bets on when it would happen." Added Rumpmead's wife, Tracie, a stay-at-home fashion muse, "The whole thing renewed my faith in juicy, mean-spirited gossip."

In the weeks before the bust-up, Mrs. Biggs, as she liked to be called, carried on as she always had, shopping, entertaining and surreptitiously playing the horses. "My son thought she was volunteering at Harlem Hospital," reported bemused mother-in-law Dorothea Biggs. "He was so proud of her work on the neonatal ward, I didn't have the heart to tell him the truth." The young Mrs. Biggs also found the time to clean out the couple's bank accounts and acquire a new set of credit cards -- never losing sight of her dream dissolution. "My daughter is a dervish when she wants something," said her mother, Shelly Sowecki, a psychic in Queens. "She was the same way with shoplifting."

Barton, a judgmental fussbudget with a fondness for bathroom humor, traveled quite a bit, often on Indonesian sex tours. At home, the balding Yahtzee addict could be found rolling dice with indulgent house staff, or upgrading his stereo. A passion for Handel consumed Barton, who spent hours in earphones with Brett, his King Charles spaniel, by his side. "He was happy as long as he had the dog, lots of iced Pepsi and handmade shirts," said best friend Randall Tweedish. "I don't think he saw it coming. Either that, or the old chap was looking forward to it."

Ironically, it was Tweedish who introduced Darcy to the man who would become her divorce attorney. The financially ailing barrister had given up hope of finding a rich client when the buxom Biggs wobbled into his life on four-inch heels. "She giggled and dragged me into the library at a dinner party," recalled Milton Brinks. "When she asked if I could get her the Aspen house and $12,000 a month for fresh flowers, I nearly swooned."

Secret court filings and enormous fund transfers proceeded apace despite the odd close call in the final days: The soon-to-be exes bumped into each other one sparkling fall day in the lobby of the San Remo Towers, each in the company of real estate agents. Barton wanted a flat near the park to surprise his spaniel. Darcy was lining up post-divorce digs. Later the same day, the pair made bids on the same apartment. "Talk about star-crossed!" gushed Rick Spatz, Barton's still-breathless broker.

On the big day, when Barton was finally served the papers, every detail had been attended to. For Darcy, an aspiring actress with a gift for casual cruelty, it was a chance not just to act, but to direct. Earlier in the week, she arranged for her husband to receive the dissolution documents from an usher at the symphony. At intermission that evening, Barton perused what he thought was the program, while gorging on Junior Mints.

Darcy, ensconced in a gauze graffiti backless pantsuit by Versace, watched from the bar with several raucous friends from her barmaid days. "I didn't know whether to laugh or cry," said one onlooker. "It was like watching a car accident, only bizarrely poignant. Believe me, Scorsese's got nothing on this girl."

As expected, Mr. Biggs looked up to spy the divorce party lifting champagne glasses in a piteous toast. At that exact moment, the lights blinked on and off. Even in the darkness, recalled guests and witnesses deposed by the couple's lawyers, it was impossible to miss the emotion in the faces of both blubbering Biggs: Unmitigated relief.

"Everybody got lucky that night," said Lincoln Center bartender Woody Reardon, a 19-year-old student currently dating the former Mrs. Biggs. "I thought stuff like this only happened on TV."

Jennifer Foote Sweeney

Jennifer Foote Sweeney, CMT, formerly a Salon editor, is a massage therapist in northern California, practicing on staff at the Institutes for Health and Healing in San Francisco and Larkspur, and on the campuses of the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.

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