A Different Kind Of Nirvana

by William Starr Moake

My boss, Richard Newberry, was a multi-millionaire oil man from California and he had a mansion on Maui. Dick called it the Big House to differentiate it from the other houses he owned on the island. It was big all right, six bedrooms and a dining room the size of an average restaurant, but the design was the ugliest thing I ever saw. The outside of the house was built to look like a sailing ship with a bow on one end and a mast sticking up from the roof. Each to his own, I guess, but the architect must have felt embarrassed. The house sat on several acres landscaped with exotic fruit trees and ornamentals from all over the world and I enjoyed wandering the grounds. I used to peel some bark off the cinnamon tree and chew it while I walked around. It tasted just like the spice you buy in a supermarket.

Dick was hardly ever at the Big House. He spent almost all of his time in California taking care of his oil business. That's what I don't understand about most rich people. They keep making more money, but they don't know how to take life easy and enjoy themselves.

The Big House was several miles from Hana, the only town in that part of the island. I lived in one of Dick's other houses on the opposite side of Hana. My place was no mansion, but it was good enough for a normal guy like me. When Dick wasn't around, I had the run of the Big House and the use of his Land Rover. This upset the estate manager, a cranky old bastard named Cornell. We were constantly bickering with each other like low-rent versions of Magnum and Higgins on the TV show "Magnum PI." He wasn't British and I wasn't a private investigator, but we had the same kind of relationship. In other words Cornell was a genuine pain in the ass. He liked to brag that he never had to pay employees in the old days.

"You mean they worked for free?"

"They were glad to help out in such a beautiful place," he said.

"They were suckers. You ever heard of the minimum-wage law?"

"Laws like that are exactly what's wrong with this country."

"Tell me something, Cornell. Do you work for free?"

"That's not the point."

"I didn't think so."

With an estate manager as cheap as Cornell, Dick probably wrote off the Big House as a charity and got a tax refund every year.

I didn't care as long as I could take a dip in the swimming pool and drink Dick's liquor when he was gone. He kept me on the payroll because he was paranoid. He wanted someone around who could handle a problem if it got out of control. Dick owned a small cattle ranch just for fun and the ranch hands were a rowdy bunch who couldn't be trusted. They smoked pot and drank on the job and Dick made a lot of enemies by firing them one after the other. Local people never forgot things like that and Dick was afraid someone would try to get even some day. Set fire to the Big House or catch him alone and bury him in the rainforest. I was his insurance policy. I used to be a cop and I know how to take care of trouble-makers without making waves. Dick is a very private man who hates any kind of publicity.

A few weeks ago Dick's two daughters came for a visit. Lynne was 19 and not much of a looker: short hair cut butch-style, glasses, bone skinny. But Christy was a real beauty. She had long blonde hair, a baby face and a body that was too perfect for a 16-year-old. San Quentin quail, as they say in California, and quite a tease to boot. She liked to sunbathe naked beside the pool while the gardener pulled weeds or mowed the lawn within easy eyeshot. She knew he was watching, but pretended she didn't notice. I called her on it one afternoon.

"You're driving the gardener crazy. Why don't you put on a bathing suit?"

She sat up in the chaise longue and covered herself with a large beach towel, lowering her sunglasses to squint at me. "Well, at least he's not a dirty old man."

"I'm not that old."

"Did you get a good look?"

"I've seen naked girls before, but I don't think your dad would approve."

She smiled. "He's in California."

"I'm supposed to keep an eye on you and your sister when he's not here."

"Are we in some sort of danger?"

"You could be if you don't start wearing clothes."

"Don't be a nag. This is paradise and I want to enjoy it au naturel."

"I don't speak frog."

"What a surprise for an educated man like you."

"You don't like me much, do you?"

"I never thought about it one way or the other."

"Let's make a deal. You start wearing a bathing suit and I won't tell your old man about you getting into his liquor cabinet."

She laughed. "The pot calling the kettle black!"

"Or the dope you smoke with the ranch hands."

"Have you been following me?"

"I didn't have to, they brag about it in Hana. You're getting too famous for your own good."

She stared at me, sulking.

"Do we have a deal?"

"All right."

"And stay away from the ranch. Your dad would kill both of us if you got pregnant."

"I'm on the pill."

"Does he know that?"

"Of course not."

"Then I guess it'll be our little secret."

"I just decided. I don't like you."

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

I ran into Lynne in the Big House. Apparently, she had been watching Christy and me from the veranda.

"What was that all about?"

"Your sister is trouble."

"Leave her alone."

I poured myself a drink. "Is that an order?"

"She's been depressed ever since mom died."

"She doesn't look depressed to me."

"You don't understand."

I took a seat in a rattan chair. "What happened to your mother?"

"I'm not supposed to talk about it."

"You want a drink?"

She grinned at me. "Are you trying to loosen my tongue?"

"You're old enough to drink in some states. I won't tell anyone."
"In that case I'll have a vodka and tonic."

"Good choice on a hot day like this," I said, mixing her drink. I handed her the glass. "When did your mother die?"

"Six years ago. My dad took her on a vacation to Mexico and left us girls in California. One night they both had too much to drink and dad tried to drive back to the hotel. The car hit a cactus or something and rolled over. Mom was --"

She took a big drink from her glass.

"I get the picture."

"Dad blamed himself."

"Sounds like he was right."

"You don't understand. He didn't mean to crash the car. It was just an accident."

"But I can see how Dick would feel responsible for what happened."

"I was afraid he might commit suicide after he returned from Mexico. He didn't get out of bed for a week."

"It must have been tough for you girls."

"I was all right, but Christy didn't understand why everything had changed. My dad made her go to a psychiatrist for years."

"Did it help?"

"Not really. She's still pretty messed up."

"I'm not a psychiatrist, but I don't think parading around in her birthday suit is the answer."

Lynne blushed. "It's her way of getting attention."

"It definitely worked with the gardener."

"Weren't you tempted?"

"I gave up on teenage girls when I turned twenty-one."

"You prefer older women?"

"Not too old."

"How old?"

I don't know if it was the vodka and tonic, but all at once Lynne seemed to be flirting with me.

"Older than nineteen," I said with a smile.

"Can I have another drink?" She held out her glass.

"It won't make you any older."

"I want to talk to you."

Dick wasn't paying me enough for this kind of work. What the hell was he doing in California while I was playing no-touch football with his young daughters?

I listened patiently while Lynne talked about college and how unhappy she was without a boyfriend like her sorority sisters. It was all Greek to me. I never went to college, but if I had gone, I sure as hell wouldn't have wasted my time worrying about whether my fraternity brothers were getting laid more often than I was. By the time she finished her third drink Lynne was slurring her words.

"You should take a nap," I suggested.

"I'm not tired."

"You will be when the booze wears off. I have to go to Hana anyway."

"I enjoyed talking with you," she said, batting her eyes. "Thanks for listening."

"Do me a favor a keep a lid on your sister."

"I always try." She wagged her head sadly. "I'm the watchdog daughter, in case you haven't noticed."

"You're all right," I said, grinning at her. "You just drink too much."

The next morning I woke up at four and I couldn't get back to sleep. I have insomnia regularly. When I was a cop, I worked the graveyard shift and it screwed up my body clock or whatever they call it. After I made breakfast and chased it down with two cups of coffee, I decided to drive over to the Big House and check on the inmates. Cornell wouldn't be awake that early and I could tiptoe past his cubbyhole apartment on the ground floor without him knowing I was there.

I left the Land Rover on the road and unlocked the gate with my key. The first streaks of light were in the sky as I strolled down the driveway. The first thing I noticed was the front door of the Big House stood open. I went directly to the living room and did a double-take in the doorway. Lynne and the gardener lay on a blanket on the floor near the sofa, both sound asleep and as naked as jaybirds. With one hand she gripped his erect member and he had a smile on his sleeping face.

I'll be damned, I thought, she stole the gardener from Crystal. He was only a kid himself, but I would have bet money he was gaga for the younger sister. Maybe there was more to Lynne than met the eye. While I was wondering why Crystal hadn't made it a three-some, I was suddenly struck by a feeling of panic. I hurried up the stairs to Crystal's bedroom and found it empty like I feared.

Cursing under my breath, I beat it back to the Land Rover and ground a few gears on my way to Hana. I had a good idea where Crystal would be. A ranch hand named Larry Acoba was a pakalolo dealer on the side and he lived in a run-down shack near Waianapanapa State Park. I arrived there just as the sun was peeking over the ocean horizon. I banged on the front door until I heard a commotion inside.

"Who the fuck is it?"


Acoba was pulling up his pants when he opened the door. "You tryin' to be funny?"

I caught him flush on the jaw and he fell backward.

"Where is she?"

As Acoba struggled to get to his feet, I kicked him in the chest.

"Stay on floor and tell me where she is."


Crystal came out of the back room wearing panties and covering her breasts with her arms. "Leave him alone."

"Get dressed. You're going home."

"I don't have to listen to you. You're not my goddamn father."

"If you don't get dressed right now, I'm going to hog tie you and parade your naked ass through Hana."

"Your old man would fire him," Acoba said.

"You know how old this girl is?"

"I didn't ask her to come here."

"The judge won't give a shit. It's called statutory rape and drugging a minor. You'll be lucky to see daylight for fifteen years."

"Maybe you better go with him," Acoba said.

"Larry!" she shouted.

"I thought you'd see it my way." I took a step toward Crystal. "How do you want to leave?"

"Don't you lay a hand on me."

She disappeared into the back room and returned fully dressed and clawing at her hair.

"By the way," I told Acoba,"you don't work at the ranch anymore."

On the drive back to the Big House Crystal started crying.

"Get it out of your system," I said.

"I hate you!" she blubbered.

"You broke your word. I can't ever trust you again."

"I swear I'll get my father to fire you."

"Then I'll have to tell him about all your shenanigans."

"He won't believe you."

"Yes he will. He's not as stupid as you think."

"I don't care if he believes you."

"You should care. With your history of psychiatric problems, he might decide you need a nice long rest in a peaceful sanitarium out in the country."

"He wouldn't do that to me."

"Are you sure?"

I was bluffing, but she didn't know that. The truth is Dick wouldn't commit his daughter if she murdered ten people. He was a member of a dying species called loving fathers. He would find excuses for whatever Crystal did and protect her at all costs. But I could tell she was too unsure of their relationship to realize she had carte blanche with him. Some day when she was older she would find out and then the serious trouble would begin.

When we got to the Big House, Lynne was awake and hung over and pretending that nothing had happened. The gardener was gone.

"Sleep well?" I teased.

Before she could answer, Crystal launched into her.

"You and your big fucking mouth. What did you tell him about me?"
Lynne looked at me and I shrugged innocently.

"He's not part of the family, he's an employee. You want me to tell him everything about you?"

"She already did that herself," I winked.

"From now on leave me out of your goddamn gossip with the help." Crystal stormed out of the living room.

"I guess she put me in my place."

"What's going on?" Lynne asked.

"She's mad because I pried her loose from a dope peddlar she was shacked up with last night."

"Oh my God."

"I asked you to keep track of her, but apparently you were busy last night."

Lynne stared at me and blushed.

"I understand. Even a watchdog has to have some fun once in awhile."

She grinned sheepishly at me. "You saw us, didn't you?"

"I didn't see anything. That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

"I feel very embarrassed."

"We're all human, even me."

"I would really appreciate it if you didn't tell my father about --"

"Nothing to tell."

"He wouldn't understand."

"I can see you're not going to let this rest, so let's make a deal. You keep Crystal out of trouble for the rest of the time she's here and I'll forget how I found out you have a birth mark on your right butt cheek."

Lynne rolled her eyes and cupped her hands over her nose like she was praying. "All right, it's a deal."

"One last thing."


"Lighten up, will you?"

She beamed her best smile at me. "I'll try."

The way I see it everyone is born into his own kind of hell and we're all looking for a way out. Rich people get jaded spending their money because they finally realize they can't buy what they really need -- peace of mind, nirvana, whatever you want to call it. Poor people think they would be happy if they only had more money, but they're fooling themselves, too. Then there's the rest of us who have enough money to pay the bills and take a vacation once in awhile, but we're not happy either. I can find nirvana in several stiff drinks, but it doesn't last and there's always a price to pay the next morning.

I don't think there's a way out for any of us. We just have to make do with whatever we've got and forget about happiness. Humans aren't capable of being happy for long. Even if we get what we want, we stop wanting it and start looking for something else to want. We're a bunch of scared animals clinging to a rock hurtling through space. The individual little hells we live in don't mean much compared to the big picture. All we can do is suck it up and try to grab some temporary relief wherever we can find it. I'll settle for a tall drink and a cool breeze on the Big House veranda because I know it's a waste of time to expect more.

Dick is a hard case. He still thinks his money will buy him a one-way ticket to a better place. I wouldn't try to change his mind because it wouldn't do any good. He's on his own path, which is different than mine, and he has to follow it until he reaches the end.

The view from the veranda was very pleasant. The sky was clear and the ocean looked churned up with waves crashing against the lava coastline a quarter-mile beneath the the estate grounds. Directly below me Cornell was grumbling to the pool man about the filter or something. I heard him say Dick was expected to arrive in a few days, which meant I would have to clear out of the Big House soon and drink my own liquor at home. But today I wanted to linger for awhile and take a walk along the cliffs to smell the sea spray. It opened my sinuses better than anti-hystamines.


William Starr Moake grew up in Michigan and worked as a journalist for several years in South Florida. After majoring in anthropology in college, he traveled extensively, freelancing as a travel writer/photographer. Moake is the author of three books of fiction, two novels and a short story collection all published since 1999. When he is not writing, Moake works as a freelance web designer and software programmer from his home in Hawaii, where he has lived since 1972. Website: http://www.stormpages.com/starrbooks.

email William Starr Moake

A Different Kind of Nirvana
© 2004 by William Starr Moake








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