Born to Overcome

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I was surprised to hear from the old man. For one thing, anyone with the money for a personal trainer will generally use some of it to leave Miami in the summer, a fact that had left me time for some casual fishing. I had just come back from the pier at Haulover with my catch of the day—a pair of yellowtails—when the phone rang.

Me and My Motor: John Illsley, musician and Dire Straits bass guitarist

The plan had been to fry them up in a little olive oil with a few slices of lemon for company. But after my conversation with Colonel Patterson, I put the fish into hibernation, took a quick shower, and then drove out to Sunset Beach.

After all, that was where the money lived. Strange, now, that I used to call the Colonel's place "the house of light," but light was so much a part of the architecture it was as though it had been written into the plans.

Golden Fortune @ The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

The mansion was all mirrors and white steel and the audacity that comes with great fortune. It was all about math and money and inhuman precision, and at night it was magnificent, especially when the moon was full. But at the same time there was something about the place that worried you. Funny, though, that with all that glass it was impossible to see inside. By the time the diamond mansion was halfway built,property values within a quarter of mile on either side of the inlet where it sat had tripled and the movie stars had begun showing up with their eyes and wallets open.

So, all in all, Sunset Beach had been a good place to have a client, and I liked the Colonel well enough. If anyone asks me if I'd ever met anyone of true genius in my life, then I would certainly offer up Colonel Andrew Patterson as my contribution to the conversation. He had been a Green Beret who served in Vietnam in the days before anybody had ever heard of them, but that was only the soldier part of the story.

Then there were his years as a military scientist and the top-secret experiments for the government.

Soldier Of Fortune

There was also Professor Patterson, the West Point graduate with the doctorate in chemistry who later started his own biotech company, Pellucid Labs, which is where he had made his fortune. You can imagine that the Colonel was a very interesting man to spend an hour with. But as great as it had been to have a wealthy client with a beautiful mind, it was even better to have such a client with a beautiful daughter—a rich girl I had ended up training for free. And why not?

Who's to say the rich have no need of charity? So as I drove out there that hot day in late August, it was neither the mind nor the money I was really thinking about. Though if the truth be told, when it came to Vivian Patterson, thinking wasn't something I usually brought along with me, but I'm not ashamed to admit that. You can't stay tied to the mast of reason all your life, and Vivian was as good a reason to become untied as any other woman I had ever met. You just had to know how to survive her company.

With Vivian you rode an unsteady wave of excitement, always in imminent danger of crashing, but it was a wave you rode with a smile on your face, although maybe it was a stupid smile. The guard at the gatehouse took one look at my car, realized I didn't live anywhere near Sunset Beach, and so came out with his clipboard and wrote down my name and license number along with the time of day.

That way if any Picassos went missing, they'd know where to start looking. I glanced past the guardhouse and up the lane that led to the Colonel's house, its slanted roof leaning in the heat as though it had melted down from a previous altitude. When the guard was done checking me in, I drove very slowly past the corridor of super-tall California palms that flanked the hard-packed road of white gravel, then on through the second gate.

As I drove, the car kicked up a cloud of dust that hung in the air for a moment before the breeze pulled it apart, and beyond that the man-made brightness of the Colonel's mansion.

Restaurant Review: Straits Cafe

I parked the car and walked past the flagpole that didn't have a flag that day and up to the door and rang the buzzer and waited. The black Bentley was parked slantwise on the grass, but even though the red Porsche I remembered so well was nowhere in sight, my heart beat harder in anticipation. Waiting there at the door, then ringing again, I felt a sense of trespass, as though I weren't supposed to be there, like I had gone back on my word in returning here and was in violation of something sacred, something personal, a promise I had made to myself.

I half wanted to leave, but when you're that close, it's already too late. Telegraph Money Fame and fortune. How did your childhood influence your attitude to money? To continue reading this article. Start your free trial of Premium. Try Premium. Access one Premium article per week.

John Illsley: my life in cars

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