Summer at the King Ko Inn was in high gear. We were running full and with all the hours I worked between waiting tables and bookkeeping, I began to squirrel away a decent pile of cash. With room and board provided and my shopping fetish forced into a holding pattern (the nearest Macy’s sat a thousand miles away, give or take), I did what everyone else there did. Work, read, play pool at the bar, and when you could stand the craziness no longer, consume copious amounts of alcohol.
Now, let me say for the record, the crew at the King Ko were pretty well-behaved. We were all there for the same reason and that was to work hard and make money. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t have a little fun once in awhile. And that same motto held true for the transient fishing industry workers.
I’ll be honest here and tell you there were a few bar fights. After being cooped up on a fishing boat for weeks, a body tended to get a little rowdy with a need to let off steam. Most of them were harmless enough, but once in a while you’d get a baddy that pulled a knife. Enter Dan, our resident maintenance man and self-appointed protector of all King Ko beaver girls. He had an impressive steely disposition and a mean right-hook. To watch him disarm and disable anyone foolish enough to brandish a weapon, well, it was a sight to behold.
Under Dan’s watch nothing ever got out of hand. That is, until the day big trouble checked into the King Ko. It came in the form of a twenty-something man with a leather briefcase and a clean-cut appearance. Not an image normally associated with trouble, but what we didn’t know at the time was that his briefcase held enough cocaine to light up a city the size of Anchorage. Worse than that, he’d been helping himself to liberal amounts of the pulse-popping drug.
So the guy stayed in his room a full day and no one saw him. When he emerged just before noon the next day, Jenny, the little maid from Guatemala, was the first to encounter the cammo-wearing higher-than-a-kite drug runner. She said he looked like he’d spent more than one day blowing through his cache. His hair stuck out at odd angles, his eyes were wide and dilated, but it was the mega-sized pistol he carried in his jittery hand that alarmed her the most.
She was walking down the hallway with an armload of towels when he met her at a corner and their conversation went something like this –
“You work here?” he asked her.
“This place sucks,” he sneered. “The room sucks. The curtains are ugly. Someone’s gonna pay.”
Excuse me? The curtains are ugly? I later took offense to that remark. After all, I spent many a long hour cutting up old bedspreads to make those snazzy curtains and they certainly were NOT ugly. But I stray from my tale.
Jenny beat a hasty retreat straight for manager’s office where I and a few others were working. We immediately called the local sheriff, but what were we to do in the meantime? This wasn’t a scenario ever played out in the small town of King Salmon. No one wanted to meet up with this guy, but for the safety of all word needed to get out. So we deputized a tag team. Fortunately luck was with me and I managed to avoid Trouble, and the Inn quickly became a ghost town as people scattered. Eventually I ran into Jenny again and together we raced outside and around the building toward the back, running into Dan along the way. He yelled for us to get to the safety of the Beaver Hut and we didn’t slow down until we got there.
Three more joined us in the dubious safety of the Hut. Clueless to the danger we gathered around the lone window in my room, one that directly faced the laundry room door of the Inn. When Dan and John, the Inn’s manager, burst out of that door, we stared as they ran down the side of the King Ko toward the front.
And Dan had a gun.
Strangely enough, that’s when fear hit me. The danger just went from surreal to very, very, tangible, and as we stood at that window and watched I again wondered at my sanity for coming to Alaska. But the minutes ticked by and nothing happened, then both of the town’s police cars arrived. Next thing I knew, the grounds were crawling with armed men and they were positioning to surround all the exits.
By this time Mr. Drug Runner had worked up a head of steam at his lack of success in finding anyone who claimed to work at the Inn. He was prowling the halls and made his way toward the back, where Murphy’s Law had him exit the building from…the laundry room door.
He spotted the police and in a last-ditch defiant stand he raised his gun, only he aimed it right at the Beaver Hut!
I expected a barrage of gunfire any second. “Hit the floor!” I yelled.
The meaty thud of five people slamming to the trailer floor probably distracted him, along with the foghorn police were using to inform him that he was surrounded, to give up and drop the gun to the ground.
The sight of so many guns pointed his direction must have pierced his cocaine induced haze for he gave up without a fight. After a few seconds of quiet, we jumped up to the window again and watched as the drug runner was handcuffed and hauled off. When the coast was clear we emerged from the Hut, shaken but pumped with adrenaline.
Which served us well that evening, because the entire town turned out at the Inn wanting to hear details of the arrest. Both the restaurant and bar were crazy busy and we told the story over and over. Jenny was heralded a hero, for keeping her cool and getting away to call for help. Dan was applauded for keeping the drug runner moving in circles until the police got there, and we all were congratulated on our role in the drama.
Me, well I learned something valuable that day. Adventure is not without risk, but the reward is so incredibly awesome. Whether you’re merely going someplace you’ve never been before, or facing the wrong end of a gun-toting felon, the feeling of being really alive is amazing. The world seems brighter, the air more potent. And though I’ve never desired to face down lethal criminals since that day, I do still crave adventure and actively seek it out.
So the moral of this story is – be careful what you wish for. Or, choose your adventures wisely because you never know what fate has in store.
But that’s the fun of it, right?