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Ken Bowers cant escape this dream
- Phil Stanford
- Portland Tribune - News
It's the Fourth of July 1970, and he, Mike Gaskell and Roger Adams have been out and about. You know, drinking a little Boone's Farm wine. Cruising Broadway, back when it was the cool thing to do.
Around midnight, however, this starts to get boring. So they decide to go up to the zoo. Of course the zoo is closed, but that's never been a problem before. They jump the fence on the Washington Park side and proceed to check out the animals.
At the bear pit, Roger, who is 19 and the youngest of the three, does something very stupid, obviously trying to impress them. He lowers himself over the edge of the pit and hangs there by his fingers.
'Don't do that stuff, man,' they tell him. 'It's crazy.'
Roger smiles and pulls himself out of the pit.
Next stop is the penguin pool, where they talk Roger into trying to catch one of the penguins. He never does, but it's funnier than you-know-what to see them running all over the place, trying to get away from him.
When they get tired of that, they just sort of wander around the empty zoo. Mike is off doing something. Ken doesn't know where Roger is, either Ñ but he must have heard something, because when he turns around, there's Roger lowering himself over the lion pit. Below, a female lion watches intently.
As Roger straightens his arms, she springs, missing him with her big paw by about a foot and a half.
'Get outta there!' screams Ken.
And Roger's head is actually above the ledge when she springs again, catching him just under the knee and pulling him down into the pit, where she begins to toy with him the way a cat toys with a mouse it's just caught.
• • •
At almost the same time, Ken and Mike spot one of those 50-gallon garbage cans. All they have to do is throw it down to Roger and he can crawl in it Ñ but it's chained and locked to a bench.
Ken runs for the security guard. The guard takes one look and says, 'Oh, my God.' Then he runs back to his office and locks the door behind him, looking away as Ken pleads for the keys to the garbage cans.
When Ken returns, Mike is throwing anything he can get at the cat, trying to distract it. If a bottle breaks nearby, she stops for a few seconds, then goes back to toying with her prey.
'Play dead!' Ken yells Ñ but Roger can't. Every time the cat hits him, he moans.
Then Ken sees the male lion, which had been resting at the far end of the pit, rise to his feet. He'd heard it somewhere: Females do the hunting, but the males do the killing.
'Roger!' he yells. 'If he gets any closer, get up and start fighting.'
Roger can't help but see the lion as it slowly walks toward him. He's lying on his back, facing in that direction. But he can't get up.
'Bye, Kenny,' he says. Those are his last words.
The male lion walks up, grabs him by the neck and twists. Then, nonchalantly as before, he walks back and sits down.
• • •
When the police finally arrive, they ask Mike and Ken some questions, then give them a ride home. The next morning, Ken calls the zoo and speaks to someone in the head office.
He asks the man if they're going to put down the lions. A few years earlier, a bear had mauled one of the zookeepers, and they'd put down the bear.
'No,' says the person on the phone.
'Well, if you're not, then I am,' says Ken.
'Yeah, right,' says the man.
That night, accompanied by a friend, Ken jumps the fence and shoots both lions with a hunting rifle.
Of course the cops know who did it, but they don't have any witnesses. Ken doesn't go to jail, at least not yet.
The nightmares are worse, anyway. They won't let him sleep. He tries drugs, hard liquor. Nothing works.
A year goes by. The friend who went with him the night of the shooting gets picked up on a couple of burglaries. In exchange for leniency, he gives the DA Ken. Ken pleads guilty to one count of destruction of an animal, serves seven months in jail and pays $1,200 in restitution.
And of course, if he didn't have to go to sleep at night, that might be the end of it. But you know it isn't.
On the good nights, Ken, who's 54 now and has a sheet metal business in east Portland, catches himself before they get to the lion pit. Then he goes out into the living room and watches TV till dawn.
Most nights, though, it's just like this.