It all went down on a warm November night, at Lake Lanier. I had been employed by a private Marina as a security guard, charged with the responsibility of keeping the wealthy, weird, and perpetually drunk yacht residents from descending into chaos.
I was the Overnight Patrolman of the Holloway Marina.
Chaos usually manifested itself in the form of people trespassing on other folks’ yachts, smoking weed at the Marina Restaurant (the real crime was the nightly karaoke), or drunk rich folks attempting to fight each other. Most of this action took place on the docks.
There were 35 docks, and I was ordered to walk 18 of them during my shift, shining my baseball bat- sized flashlight at the boats and keeping an eye out for any suspicious situations. It was a 3-hour drive for me to get to work each night, and I didn’t get much sleep at all, in those days. I was on edge. But my mind was quiet. The quietness was an echo of the dark, but serene lake. The ominous, chattering woods surrounding the Marina, were full of mystery.
This was the kind of place that takes hold of you, and exchanges one invisible, personal thing for another. For me, the trade was an atmosphere of nature’s peace, for a few drops of sanity.
After a while, I’d gotten familiar with most of the Marina residents, and I learned to recognize the unique vibe that each dock had to offer.
Dock “J” was where the local Weedman sold mid from his luxury boat. He’d swing open the doors leading below deck, and the freezing night air carried sweet relief to me.
Dock “D” was full of happy rich folks, partying every Saturday, especially when there was a football game to watch. I also didn’t mind the attention from the pilot’s young, beautiful, tipsy wife. She was always smiling and offering me cookies, even when she twisted her ankle. I swear, Dock “D” was paradise on those long nights alone.
On the night in question, I had parked the security truck near the rusty steps leading down a muddy hill, to Dock #4. It was a Saturday around 8:00, and this spot was close to the Holloway Marina Restaurant, so I figured I could park, chill, and be close by if anything went down.
I spent a few minutes zoning into my phone, texting and reading edu-tainment articles. I had allowed my mind to rest.
As my conscious mind was fading into deep blues, a forceful knock against the truck door shook me awake. I gripped the heavy flashlight, and threw open the door, but it was caught by the hand of a very muscular, equally intoxicated young man. Waves of sticky sweat beaded up on his bald head, and rolled down to his chest, saturating his white(ish) undershirt. His eyes were so bulged, you could have scooped them out with a spoon.
“Aye, my bad dude I’m tryna- Man you gotta cigarette, I’m dying out here man, it’s Saturday I’m tryna see how y’all get down in Howell County, my dude.”
I can’t lie, he caught me off-guard, and I don’t remember my exact response, but I did know he was more than just drunk. He was vascular; I could see every vein trickling purple blood beneath the man’s damp skin. After I finally convinced him I don’t smoke, I drove off, deep into the woods. I left the restaurant, the sweaty, geeked-out bald dude, and Dock #4 in my dust.
The woods that bordered that lake were teeming with deer and the occasional beaver. I would cut the headlights, turn down the walkie-talkie, and drift away as the darkness and the sounds of nature enveloped my heart. And I napped there in the little truck, in the dark woods, beside the still lake.
I jumped to the noise of my walkie-talkie, vibrating on my hip. “Officer Doucette, COME IN.” “Yes Sir, I’m here.” “Where the absolute HELL have you been? Get down to Dock #4, now! We’ve had a call about property damage and yelling.” I tore myself away from this coveted serenity, and headed for the scene.
OVERNIGHTS PART 2: THE LEGEND OF DOCK #4
The parking lot where you find the entrance to docks #3, #4, and #5 was dead silent. I pulled back into the exact spot where I’d been about an hour earlier, and I radioed to the Captain that all was clear. That’s when she came running.
She was almost beyond description, but I’ll try for you. Her voice and hands were all over the place, the woman was frantic.
“BLAAAKE, OH MY GOD BLAAAKE”, she projected her voice over the parking lot, toward the docks. Her face was worn, and her terrified howls had contorted her face into a tortured expression.
She was draped in a huge, faded pink t-shirt, that almost reached her knees. The sleeves dangled from her arms like a monk’s robe. She was sobbing and yelling for Blake, waving her arms and generally just causing a scene. Obviously, this had something to do with the call the Captain had received.
She stumble-ran up to my spot, and grabbed the tailgate of the truck, shaking it, and leaning all her weight against the bumper. I was in the driver’s seat, with the windows rolled up. My steel flashlight was in my left hand, pressed into the plastic lining of the door.
The woman grabbed at the handle of my door, and I stepped out, as she backed away, still flailing. Before I could say anything, she began asking me if I’d seen her boyfriend, and if I knew where he’d gone. She was crying and screaming, and looking helpless. I felt a lot less annoyed at her, but the feeling had been replaced with some intense curiosity.
“WHAT IF HE FELL IN?” she suggested, gasping through tight, purple lips.
It finally set in that Blake must be the same crazy dude I had encountered earlier. He clearly didn’t need to be out walking around lost, but I had just driven off to take a nap. They were relying on me to keep them safe, and I wasn’t paying attention. I literally drove into the woods and took a nap. I had to do better, and I was going to start by helping this poor lady find her missing boyfriend, Blake.
And then I remembered the Captain’s call. “Property Damage”. I came to the realization that Blake wasn’t just lost, but he was possibly trespassing on folk’s yachts, geeked out and breaking or stealing people’s belongings. At this moment, caught between feeling nervous and excited, I heard a shout ring out in the distance. It was Blake. And his voice sounded like it was coming from somewhere on Dock #4. So I asked the crying woman if her boat was docked at #4, but she admitted that she and her boyfriend were just in the Marina visiting friends who were over on Dock “N”.
Dock #4 is a long way from Dock “N”. But the restaurant had people coming in from every corner of the Holloway Marina. Harmless. He got lost, and now he was stumbling around drunk on Dock #4. So I head down the stairs, toward the deck, as Blake’s girlfriend slid past me, racing. I hit the deck, and before me, I saw a long line of boats on either side, stretching down for what looked like a mile.
I also saw a lawn chair go flying into the air. Blake was all the way down at the end of the dock, but he was running toward us like a crazed, hungry demon. He was also somehow managing to tear up everything he passed by. Shirtless now, screaming at the top of his lungs, there was no more question in my mind; Blake was going to hurt somebody tonight.
Residents on the docks in the Marina decorate the area of the dock around their boats the way most people would decorate their lawn. All kinds of ornaments and even grills, and coolers are scattered around. Blake was just trashing everything he touched. It seemed so pointless, but also he did it so deliberately and clearly was taking the time to smash strangers’ belongings.
The woman was now standing off to the side with another tenant (turns out, he made the complaint call). She was begging me to help calm Blake down, and to tell everybody that it would be okay, but I was just watching this big, enraged dude running at full speed in my direction.
I tightened my grip around my heavy flashlight. I thought to myself, if I can just catch him under his neck, I can push him into the shallow water on this side of the dock. I was thinking maybe hitting him was a bad idea though. His demeanor was so different from our first meeting, I knew he was unpredictable. I was emotionally prepared to catch Blake in the neck with my flashlight.
OVERNIGHTS PART 3: THE LEGEND OF DOCK #4
I could feel the impact of his steps now, as he got closer. This was the time, I had to be ready to hit this dude hard enough to knock him in the water, or be prepared to take the chase to the parking lot. I couldn’t let this thing get to the restaurant. I began to step forward. He was maybe 20 feet away.
Rage. His face was red and his eyes were now bloodshot and swollen. No slowing down. At full speed, Blake’s foot touched down, his knee bent in an unnatural direction, and he went face first into the salty deckboards of Dock #4.
In this moment, so much was on my mind. Relief didn’t even come into play. I was entranced. Fear had nothing to do with this. This grown man. This entire situation was ridiculous, and Blake had just faceplanted harder than I’d ever seen personally. In this split second of disbelief, I considered what incredible, invisible force must have led me to the Holloway Marina. Was it the same power that brought Blake and his ladyfriend into my world tonight? What brought me here? What brought his face to the deckboards? It felt like the quiet darkness of my naps in the woods. It must be the same.
The moment was abruptly ended, as the man sprang back to his feet like nothing had just happened. But his run had become a jog. Straight up to me.
I barely managed- “Man, are you alright?” “Man I’m out here it’s Saturday night I’m doing a little drinking, having fun just come down here this old dude tryna tell me get off his dock, it’s like his dock, I’m out here with my girl Saturday night tryna have a good time, I asked my man down there if he had a cigarette, he came across so disrespectful man, and look I’m sorry for my reaction, that’s unacceptable look man I’m about to leave right now man, my ride’s here and everything please don’t call the police if you can dude I’m about to leave, that’s my ride. ” “That’s his ride, we’re about to go right now.” his girlfriend added. I loosened my grip on the flashlight.
I stepped to the side, and told them it was okay. Everything had just flipped around so quickly, I really just needed a second to process. What’s an Overnight Watchman supposed to do in a situation like this?
I didn’t file a report that night. I figured things kinda worked themselves out, this time around. Walking back to the pick-up, my mind was once again drifting over the shining lake. My thoughts were weaving through the trees.
I sat down in the driver’s seat, and thought of the journey home I’d be making in a few hour’s time. Yeah, this was enough action for one shift. I rolled back up into the woods, cut the engine and closed my eyes. Silence surrounded, but I couldn’t fall back to sleep.