ALASKA-CANADA BOARDER, OCT. 2013 — I kneel in my driver seat with my feet out the door and lean into the back so I can scrape with a file at my candy-cane-painted, Remington 870, pump-action, 12 gauge shotgun. On a clipboard in the passenger seat sits a Royal Canadian Mounted Police form. I need the gun’s 8-digit code to pass into Canada. But I don’t know the code because it was hidden behind red, white and blue acrylic stripes.

Three minutes pass.

The file snaps.

Behind me on the building are dark double doors. I want to look at them to know when the two officers inside will walk through. But looking would be suspicious, and my suspicion would be seen in the black-hooded cameras on the grey wall above my car.

According to the Canadian Border Services Agency’s website, safely transported shotguns and rifles no shorter than 18.5 inches are non-restricted. The restricted firearms are most pistols, revolvers, short-barreled shotguns and semi-automatic rifles. Assault weapons, and others, are prohibited. I told my friends this back in Kenai, Alaska, but they looked dubious. Some said they didn’t think so. Others asked if I was certain. One told me “safely transported” means the shotgun needs to unloaded and locked in a case. But I didn’t own a case and, besides, I wasn’t worried, I told them. Another friend said her dad crosses the boarder often with his big pistol. He just rolls up, answers the questions and drives off without declaring anything but his freedom.

Ten minutes had pass.

My ears are hot, my armpits wet. My friends had warned me.

A ding sounds behind me. One of the double doors to the agency. Another ding, another door. “Sir, what are you doing?” says a short man who gave me the form inside. “You only have one firearm.”

I crawl out, stand up and turn around. Behind the short man stands a tall man who questioned me when I drove to the window. He stands at the short man’s side, covering him, I figured, in case I try anything funny. But I don’t think any of this is funny. I try to explain.

The short man interrupts. He marches over. Where’s the shotgun? he says, but stops me and pulls it the rest of the way out of the car. My ignorance is victimizing.

If they turn me back, I decide then, I’ll bury it. I’m not backtracking 400-plus miles to a pawnshop in Anchorage to hawk the gun I bought at Walmart. I’ll dig a hole. But then—shit—I’ll need to wait a day—at least a day—before round two—they’d know—because driving back a half hour later with dirt under my nails—evidence!—would be more suspicious—where’s the gun, son?—than sitting outside the Canadian Border Services Agency—are you saying you lost it?—searching for a serial code that I’d painted over.

“Well,” says the tall man, now holding my shotgun, “we’ll just have to write ‘candy cane.'”

The short man huffed. No. We can’t do that, he says. “He’s just going to have to scrape it all off.”

“Naw. We ain’t gunna do that.”

Miles later pennies pop out of my cup holder as I speed into the new country. I can’t believe it. I keep glancing at the receipt for my shotgun. The slot for the serial number: blank.