by MyKA Mckinney

When he revealed himself to be a billionaire, I was certainly impressed but otherwise unintimidated, as most of my patrons are of substantial means. My wealth of artistic talent has always given me the feeling of being equal, if not superior in most ways. Having proven my worth with the work I did in his home on the Mandalay Bay in Southern California, I was invited to accompany him, along with his third wife, and if I remember correctly—fifth baby to their 300 acre estate on the Puget Sound in Washington.

I won’t elaborate our adventurous caravan up the west coast other than to mention—he drove the Cornish Rolls with wife and child while I followed in his customized Land Rover unwittingly carrying 600 pounds of silver bouillon hidden beneath the floor.

After traveling three and a half days on Highway1, staying in the best hotels and eating at the finest restaurants along the way, we stop to load-up on groceries and liquor, just before arriving at our destination. It was a brisk day in June, the blue sky felt more crisp than I was used to and I was eager to explore this strange and curious place. He casually mentions—he owns all the land visible to the eye, from the forested mountains high above… to the steep cliffs of the Puget Sound below.

The first thing anyone would notice is a public easement traversing his property lined with 40 ft tall trolls, each carved from a single massive tree trunk, each bearing a hideous expression, seeming to imply bitter resentment toward anyone daring to use the road.

It’s hard to miss the purple, castle-styled gatehouse adjacent to fierce-looking copper dragon gates finished in patina green. Across from the would-be castle stands the reproduction of a 17th century grange, flanked by torrented towers on each of the four corners. Opposite the gates, stands the main house; an adjacent pair of steep A-frame homes painted an Indian-red replete with native northwest totem poles. Behind it, manicured gardens lead to a classic New Hampshire style covered bridge, and beyond—an open-air hay barn featuring a pyramidal roof supported at each corner on the shoulders of a sturdy troll, each masterfully carved from a solid block of wood. Standing in the field, casually munching on mowed-meadow grass—a single white horse, posing as to inspire mystic childhood fantasies.

We spend several weeks together viewing various houses, deer paddocks, barns and out-buildings. He expresses extreme confidence in my ability and authorizes me to have my way with the entire estate, to build, design, decorate, or demolish at my discretion. To symbolize my high-status, he presents me with a sterling, jewel-encrusted scepter. It was obvious to all we got along quite well, certainly better than he did with his young bride. At times, he would even tell me—I loves you, though I never took it in a way he didn’t mean.

I ask—why a purple castle? He explains—the towns-people filed suit against his construction of an ostentatious castle in their otherwise modest neighborhood but were unsuccessful in court. Out of pure spite, he says, he painted the castle purple just to make it all the more obnoxious, in the same way the aggressive-looking trolls manning it’s towers were intended to aggravate them all the more.

He relates the story of his one-time good friend who lives a short distance down the street in his generations-old family cottage, the one with the big picture-window gazing-out through the forest to the sunset-sea beyond. Something went awry in their relationship, he doesn’t say what, but apparently it was sufficient justification for him to purchase and consolidate the two lots directly across the street from the cottage and build the biggest, boxiest 10,000 sq ft house the code would allow, for no other reason that to forever block this man’s view of the ocean.

Retuning to the main house, he pauses at the gates and points-out the barred windows atop the turrets on the corners of the grange. Behind the bars…..portraits of his previous wives. He chuckles with self-satisfaction. I couldn’t help but wonder how his current wife felt about the remaining empty windows.

June is an especially beautiful time to be in Washington. Clear, sunny days are less frequent and more greatly appreciated than in souther California. One pristine morning, I venture alone, barefoot through the garden, across the covered bridge, under the hay-barn and tip-toe through clods of turned-soil to the white horse standing solemnly in the field. He exhibits no reaction to my stroking it’s long mane, and seems to appreciate my kind words.

Not athletic by nature, nor particularly familiar with horses, with the naiveté of a six-year old and all the strength I can muster, and I grab a fist-full of the horses mane and hoist myself in a single leap onto its broad, muscular back.

Unfortunately, my client, confident as he may have been, has one problem I am unable to fix. I could have done anything with his properties, mansions are second nature to me, but his relationship with alcohol ignites a brooding, oft-threatening monster, not unlike like the dragons on his gate. By now, his wife feels much the same as I. One day, in a fit of anger and frustration, she grabs her baby, a bag, and abandons him once and for all. This leaves me to wipe the drool from his sloppy chin whilst spot-cleaning his silk shirt in a vain effort to maintain appearances at any cost.

I manage the situation as well as anyone could but I too begin to feel under-appreciated. Ensuing days of drunken madness is certainly more than I was bargaining-for, so despite a ten-year, ten-million dollar contract, despite receiving checks every week that I never needed to cash because I never had a need that wasn’t met, I felt it was time to reassess my value. I demanded he double my salary.

Having calmed-down after a few days of reassessing her own situation, the wife surprisingly returns through a side-door just as I’m putting my demands forward. One of her painted eyebrows with the sternness of a schoolmarm rises higher than the other. She pulls me aside and asks—is my husband gay?

Meaning only to dissuade her apprehension with simple open-mindedness, never intending to arm her with fonder, I say—all men are a little gay. It was one of those peculiar occasions when I may have said more than needed to be heard.

That’s all she needs.

It’s decided we should all go into Seattle to sober-up and cool our nerves. We get rooms in a nice hotel. This gives me time to shop for fall clothes, but for them…time to make-up, as apparently this behavioral pattern is not new to either of them. Only I was sucked-in. Only I must now be spit-out. Only my breathing stands between him and public humiliation, not to mention inevitable charges of marital fraud.

The ride back to the haven is conducted in total silence. He offers me no eye contact, no reassuring smile. Upon returning, I discover my office has been ransacked, my stack of uncashed checks is missing. The page in my address book with his name and number has been torn-out. The film in my camera has been removed. My symbolic scepter has disappeared. Any trace of my having been at this place has been systematically removed.

It doesn’t take a prophet of God to read the writing on the wall. I quickly pack what clothes I can carry and head-out on foot hoping to escape his inevitable rage. I knock on the door of the first neighbor. I beg— can I use your phone?! I should have known—they fear him too. Next thing I knew—one of his groundsman is pounding at their door, demanding I return with him.

That night, the longest in my life, I lie sleepless beneath the fussy moon veiled in thick ocean air wondering…. will he drop my body from his private plane over the ocean, or from the yacht he has moored in the harbor, or possibly buried beneath the thousand feet of his deer trampling the paddocks.

The white horse reared-up, bolted, then stoped-short, casting my body javelin-like over its head, recklessly crashing me onto mine; fantasy instantly dispelled. Though seriously disappointed, I was able to gather my wits about me, stand, and dust myself off, fully aware I was lucky to be alive to tell the story. I eventually escaped with the helpful intervention of wealthy friends.

Later I would learn, the horse had never been ridden, nor would it ever be. Indeed, one day it would come to represent the inherent dangers of mistaking illusion for reality.

As for the billionaire, repeated run-ins with police and charges of spousal abuse would eventually end in multiple court appearances, complete lose of public-image, the dissolution of another marriage, a huge settlement, child-support payments, and one more portrait behind-bars in a grange turret’s window.

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