The Last Frontier

by Nancy Kane

Edward Hopper, 1947

"Two drafts and two cokes," I gave Mark my order, put down my cocktail tray, and looked out the window. Once again, it was snowing. Large billowy white flakes swirled down from the gray sky, blanketing the parking lot. It was May. However, this was not like any May Iíd ever known. This was Alaska.

In the three months since Iíd moved from San Francisco, Iíd seen a lot of weather, and I was sick of it. I arrived in March, not wanting to be here for the real winter, the short days with no sunlight. March was supposed to be the beginning of the "break-up season," the time when all the ice and snow melted and gave way to breath-taking vistas, blue skies, and endless daylight.

I have to admit, I didn't actually come for the long days; I came for the money and the men. So far, neither had worked out as Iíd hoped. Good jobs were hard to come by if you were new in town, so I got stuck working as a cocktail waitress in a bowling alley. The job, however, wasnít nearly as bad as the men. Anchorage was a virtual wasteland of losers. Iíd had it. All I needed was eight hundred dollars for my last monthís rent and an airline ticket; I was headed back to California.

As if on cue, Tony Bennettís "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" came on the juke box. Although the heat was turned up, I still shivered in my uniform, a thin white polyester shirt and black mini skirt. The din of crashing bowling pins brought me back to reality. I loaded my tray and brought it over to lane five.

"Thatíll be twelve dollars, please," I said to the two lumberjacks bowling with their wives. Maybe they were lumberjacks and maybe they werenít. Here every guy looked like one with their flannel shirts, worn jeans, big boots, and rough hands.

"Here you go, Terry," the older guy said, giving me a two-dollar tip and a big wink. He downed the rest of his last beer and set the empty on my tray. People here were good tippers, but I needed money faster than I could make it at this place. I needed a gold mine.

I went back to the waitress station for a cigarette. Jackie was already there, smoking and complaining about how slow it was for a Friday night. She ordered us Diet Cokes.

"You makiníā any money tonight?" she asked as she blew a stream of smoke at the ceiling.

I nodded. "Doing all right. The guy on fiveís cool. Every round he gives me two bucks." I rolled my eyes. "And a wink. He thinks heís getting over on his wife. Please!"

Jackie laughed along with me. She was used to the attention from these men. She'd been in Alaska for five years, but sheíd only been in Anchorage for six months. She used to be a stripper in Kodiak, but sheíd left all that behind to give her daughter a more stable life. Now she was just like me, another waitress in a bowling alley. Neither one of us knew how to bowl, or work the scoring system, but it didn't matter, we weren't there to play.

"Ladies, enough with the chit-chat," Mark interrupted us. "Weíre getting busy."

Jackie smiled sugar-sweet at Mark and muttered "Asshole" under her breath as she walked away with her tray. I laughed and Mark glared at me. I shrugged, it wasnít that busy to me. Maybe Mark was just high on his authority over us, he the all-powerful bartender, us, the lowly cocktail waitresses.

I kept trying to remember why I left San Francisco. Iíll admit I was a little burned out, but it seemed so slow here, I could die of boredom. And no one told me that it took a long time to land a really good bar job because Anchorage is so transient. People were always coming for the money and when they made it, they took off. Or like me, they never made it at all. I couldnít wait to get back home. Sighing, I picked up my tray and went over to lane five again.

"Another round, Terry," said the lumberjack, avoiding my eyes. No winking this time. I guess his wife mustíve told him to cut it out or he wouldn't get any that night. In Alaska, women have the upper hand. There are so many men, around twenty for every woman. At first, Iíd liked those odds. But, after dating the men there, I could tell they were no different than men anywhere elseóexcept for those flannel shirts, that is.

Just as I was leaving lane five, I noticed a new party in lane one. Mmm, two cute guys. Well, this could liven things up. Too bad, Jackie, I silently mouthed as I saw her look at them, theyíre mine.

"Hi, what can I get for you, tonight?" I asked them both, but my eyes locked on the one with the blue eyes.

"What do you have on tap?" he asked me, staring back into my eyes. I started to rattle off the names, but I faltered from his penetrating gaze.

"Make it two Buds. Iím John and this is Frank. You must be new here." Man, this guy was gorgeous. About six foot two, dark hair, light blue eyes. I think I'm in love, I thought. "Yeah, I havenít been here too long. My nameís Terry." Where had they been hiding this hunk? And no, he didnít have a flannel shirt on. In a daze, I went to the waitress station and ordered their beers.

"Bitch!" Jackie hissed and poked me in the back with her long cherry-red nails.

I laughed. "Allís fair, you know itís my lane." I felt warmer now, maybe not so anxious to go home. While Mark poured their drafts, I ran into the restroom for a quick second to make sure I looked good. I fluffed my blond curls, reapplied some lipstick, and smiled in the mirror.

I ran back to my station, and the Buds had disappeared, along with Jackie. She stood at lane one, flirting with John. I steeled myself and brought the next round over to the lumberjacks on five. I didn't look at Jackie. Iíd thought she was a friend, but now I saw her for what she was: a conniving bitch who couldnít take it when someone else got attention.

"Terry!" Johnís voice called to me. I paused and looked around as if I had no idea who had called me. I took my sweet time going over.

"You need something else?" I asked, looking at the two fresh beers.

"No, not another beer. Jackie brought íem over. Said you were on a break." John smiled at me. I looked at Jackie and noticed another open button on her shirt. The lacy edge of her bra was showing. Any minute now, sheíd start singing "Let Me Entertain You." John went on, "Me and Frank are going over to The Trap tonight, have a few drinks, maybe dance. What time do you get off?"

Even with all of Jackieís games, he asked me. "Sounds great." I looked at my watch. "I'm off in a half-hour." Turning to Jackie, I asked her sympathetically, "Are you sure you can get a baby-sitter tonight on such short notice, Hon?" She was not happy that Iíd blown her cover. What did she expect, turning on me like that? It might be unwritten, but girlfriends lived by a certain code: You do not steal their man.

Jackie scowled at me and said breezily that it wouldnít be a problem. Before we left Iíd have to make Jackie understand that she could have Frank if she wanted, but this stripper shit with John just wasn't going to cut it.

Back at the waitress station, I lit a cigarette, trying to figure out how to play Jackie. She came back all smiling and friendly, like nothing had happened, chattering about what a big tipper John was and waving a twenty at me. I was pissed. That twenty should have been mine. I smiled and said, "Frankís cute. I think he likes you."

Jackie gazed over at the guys bowling. "Hmm, do you really think so?" She looked pleased and quickly added, "Johnís cute, too. I think heís into you."

Nice of her to finally notice, I thought, but nodded anyway. "Yeah, I love those blue eyes." Our claims were staked. It felt like we were in the Old West. My, how things have changed, only men used to be able to stake a claim on a body. Perhaps I could get used to Alaska after all.

We finished last call and Jackie and I went to the Ladies room to change. John and Frank waited for us at the bar. I couldnít help but watch Jackie get ready. Flipping her dark brown hair over, she brushed until sparks practically flew from it. She reapplied her make-up: base, powder, blush, eye-shadow, liner, and mascara. The works. After spraying her hair, Jackie finished with a generous dose of perfume. I sneezed. She wriggled into a tiny black mini-skirt, low-cut blouse, and high heels. I had to hand it to her, she looked terrific, if a tad overdone. I slipped out of my uniform and changed into a tight black turtleneck, faded blue jeans and black cowboy boots. I noticed Jackie check me out in the mirror, so I knew I looked good. And Jackie may have been a stripper, but I could dance, too.

The guys whistled when we came out. John grabbed my coat and held it for me to put on. I liked this gentleman stuff. We bid Mark goodnight and left. It had stopped snowing and now, at 10:30, the sun had finally set.

We split up, John and I went in his car and Frank and Jackie went in hers. John opened my door and planted a warm kiss on my cold cheek. I shivered. The parking lot at The Trap was packed. The bouncers were big and beefy, wearing the requisite flannel shirts, of course. They looked bored and carded us all. We walked in to the biggest place I had seen since Iíd arrived. There were two floors with a bar on each floor and at least five bartenders behind each one. The strobe lights made me feel a little disoriented and I almost slipped. John took my hand and led me through the crowd to the bar.

"Wow!" I couldnít help but say it out loud. No one heard me anyway, the music was blasting. John elbowed his way to the front and shouted to the bartender, "Four shots of Cuervo." He pulled out his wallet, stuffed with new bills and laid out a pile of cash on the bar. Immediately there were four shots of tequila, lime and salt in front of us. I tipped my glass back and let the gold liquid slide down my throat. We got four more. I had a good buzz going. John and I were standing so close, I could smell the tequila on his breath. He leaned forward and slowly kissed me, tasting my tongue. I pulled him closer.

We ordered more shots, the pile of money disappearing fast, but John took out his wallet again and produced another huge wad of bills. The tequila went down easily and my brain started to fuzz. I wanted to dance. Hand in hand, John and I walked to the dance floor as the D.J. spun a slow tune.

Afterwards, we swayed back to the bar and ordered more shots. I was drunk. By that time, I couldnít believe I had even considered leaving Alaska. Clearly, I hadnít given it enough of a chance. I looked at John. Heís my type of man: a great kisser and generous with money. I had two rules about the men I dated: they had to know how to kiss and they couldnít be cheap. I thought that men who were cheap with money were always cheap with their feelings. John waved his money around, refusing to let me even buy one round. He obviously made good money, maybe he could help me figure out a way to make the big bucks, too. I looked over at Jackie and Frank; they were laughing. I smiled at John and kissed him. Things were working out just fine.

John and I left Jackie and Frank at the bar around three a.m. The cold shocked me once we were outside. It was snowing again. Laughing, John and I wrapped our arms around each other and stumbled to his car. I tripped, and John fell on top of me. We lay there, together in the newly fallen snow and kissed. I closed my eyes. My head began to spin as I opened my eyes and saw twinkling lights in the sky. Red, green and white. I blinked, trying to clear my head. They didnít go away.

"What is it?" John asked me.

I sat up. "Look," I said, pointing to the sky.

John smiled and helped me up. "Terry, itís just the Northern Lights." I watched the lights swirling across the sky; colors blending, shimmering.

"Come on, letís go." John put his arm around me. I was still gazing at the sky. "Letís go. Youíll see it again." He pulled me close.

I looked up at the sky one last time. The lights were already beginning to dissipate. "Itís just so amazing, Iíve never seen anything like it." John opened my door. I glanced out the window one last time before we took off, but the Northern Lights were gone.

We went to my studio apartment. I lit some candles and we opened a bottle of wine. We hardly slept at all. My rule about kissing always worked, if a man knew how to kiss, then it followed he also knew how to please a woman. Maybe I should write a rule book, that could be big money, I thought before I drifted off in Johnís arms.

By early the next afternoon, we were starving and John took me out for brunch. The snow had stopped and the sun burned bright in a gorgeous blue sky. I could almost feel spring on the way.

The restaurant wasnít too crowded and we were seated quickly. Out our window we had a view of Mount McKinley. It looked so close, I felt I could walk there.

John asked me, "Champagne?"

I nodded. John looked even better in the daylight, although he did look a bit tired. Of course, I knew why. I smiled at him across the table. The waitress poured our champagne. It tasted nice and cold, the perfect antidote for my hangover.

We ordered a huge brunch and ate it all. John paid the check with a hundred-dollar bill and left a twenty as a tip for the waitress. Lucky girl, I thought. John interrupted my thoughts, "What are you doing tonight? Feel like checking out a movie?"

My blissful mood vanished. "I have to work." I felt like quitting, just so I could spend more time with him.

John grabbed my hand, "Couldnít you play hooky, call in sick?"

"Iíd love to, it's just that, well, I need the money." I paused. " My rent is late." It was embarrassing, but Iíd gone through all my savings, not realizing how expensive Anchorage would be. "I really canít afford to take a night off. Maybe we could get together after work."

"Why donít I help you out?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why donít I just lend you the money?"

I felt uncomfortable and shook my head. "No, I donít think so. It wouldnít be right. Besides, at the rate Iím going, it would take me forever to pay you back."

John said, "Why not? Itís just a loan. That way we would have the whole weekend. Come on, I have plenty of money. Itís nothing, really." He pulled out his wallet again and peeled off ten hundred-dollar bills and put them on the table.

I didnít know what to say. No one had ever helped me like this before. I didn't know what to do. John laughed, took the money, and put it in my hand.

"Honestly, itís no big deal. Pay me when you can." He stood up. "Come on, let me drive you home, I just have a few things to do first. Iíll be back later."

John dropped me off, refusing to take the money back. I had never met a more generous man. I floated into my apartment, feeling so free that I didnít have to worry about the rent. I might even forgive Jackie for taking that twenty. Maybe. I called in sick at work. What a great feeling. I sank into a hot bath and dozed, dreaming about the rest of the weekend. How did I find this guy? My luck had definitely changed.

I got out of the tub, dried off and put on my flannel robe. I turned on the television and went to get a bowl of chocolate-chocolate chip ice-cream. I took the comforter off my bed and wrapped it around me as I flipped the channels. I stopped at the local news. Just as I sat back to watch the weather report, Johnís face flashed on the screen. It was grainy, but it was him. I jumped up, but my feet got tangled in the comforter and I fell to the floor, my bowl of ice-cream dripping into the rug beside me.

Apparently I wasnít the only one who wanted John. He was wanted by the FBI. For counterfeiting. I sat on the floor, stunned. All that money John had lent me wasnít even real. His words echoed in my head, "I have plenty of money, itís nothing. He was right, it was nothing. A reward was offered for any information leading to his arrest and conviction. The phone number to call came across the screen.

Shaking, I shut off the television. What should I do? I paced. I couldnít believe it. He seemed so perfect. I felt like a fool. No wonder he was so generous, itís easy when you print your own hundred-dollar bills. John was as fake as his money. My body had lied to me after all, kisses didnít mean anything. Iíd been working my ass off for three months and all I had to show for it was ten phony hundred-dollar bills. I opened my wallet and yanked out the cash. Breathing hard, I ripped the bills into tiny pieces and flushed them down the toilet. I had to get out of here. Before he came back. I looked out the window, and it was snowing again.

I grabbed the telephone and called the FBI.

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