Feeling lonely at Christmas time and without a long-haul load available, Mark decides to put his skills to work for a good cause and volunteers to help deliver toys collected in a local toy drive. After a full day of collecting toys, he parks at a nearby hotel and treats himself to a nice dinner and a room for the night. When he wakes up the next morning, he realizes that someone has stolen the load of toys -and Mother Load as well…
Mark went back inside the hotel and called police. At first they treated it like just another report of a stolen vehicle, asking him to file a report at the nearest community station. But once they realized the trailer had contained the season’s entire load of donated toys, they told him to stay where he was and they would come to him. Four cruisers showed up in minutes, including two detectives from the Criminal Investigation Bureau and a duty inspector in a white shirt who looked pretty displeased that the toys had been stolen on her watch.
Mark showed the investigating officers where he’d parked the truck, which room he’d spent the night in and provided pictures of Mother Load. Then, when they were done at the hotel, they brought him to a police station to ask him even more questions.
“How could a professional truck driver like yourself leave your truck unlocked overnight?” the detective asked. Mark figured this guy was playing the bad cop role in a good cop/bad cop scenario, since he was a little more angry than the other cop in the room, but not by much.
“I told you before…I was so worried about the trailer I must have forgotten to lock my truck.”
“That,” said the officer, “or you arranged for someone to take the truck.”
“First of all,” Mark said. “I’ve hauled loads worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions… and second, my truck -which is my livelihood, my home, and just about everything in the world to me -was stolen too.”
“Yeah, along with all our toys.”
And that’s the way it went for two hours until they finally decided to let him go. “Don’t go anywhere,” he was warned. “No problem. My truck was stolen, remember?”
But the detectives ignored him, already busily talking amongst themselves.
“Why didn’t you leave the truck in our lot here?” said a voice. Mark was about to snap back at whoever had said that since he’d already answered the question a dozen times. But before he could say anything he realized the voice belonged to Liz, who had been waiting for him to finish with the police.
“I didn’t want you to know I lived out of my truck,” he said softly, his head down.
“But I already knew that,” she said. “Bud’s niece told me.”
“Oh,” was all Mark could say as the Christmas spirit he’d been feeling had been replaced by embarrassment. He had a hard time looking Liz in the eye. “They think I had something to do with the theft.”
“They always think that way,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Now that they’re done with you they’ll be looking elsewhere.”
“What do we do now?”
“Nothing,” Liz said. “CIB is investigating.” “CIB?”
“Criminal Investigation Bureau.” “But you’re a cop too.”
“I’d love to help investigate, but I’m not assigned to the case. I’ve got to see about replacing the stolen toys.”
She shrugged. “I’ll take you back to your hotel and you can wait until they find your truck.”
“You seem so confident.”
“It’ll turn up. Somebody will find it…In the meantime, try to relax.”
Back at the hotel, Mark realized why the police were so upset over the theft. News of the stolen toys was all over the news. Television, radio, newspapers, even the Internet was abuzz of the ‘Real Life Grinches,’ as the robbers were now being called. In his room, Mark called his insurance company to see about filing a claim for Mother Load. He got a recording at first, then after 15 minutes of waiting, a real-live person told him there would be no-one in the office to process his claim until Jan. 3.
“What do I do till then?” he asked.
“There’s not a lot you can do, except wait.”
“Right,” Mark said hanging up the phone.
This was without a doubt, the worst Christmas ever, but he’d be damned if he was going to sit back and do nothing about it. Mark headed out.
His first stop was the Tim Horton’s at Hurontario and Derry. He could use a coffee and something to eat, but what he wanted even more was information, as in, where his truck was at and who stole it. He ordered a coffee and a breakfast sandwich and sat down next to a man reading the news. The paper was open to the story about the stolen toys and Mark used it to break the ice. “Isn’t that terrible?” he said.
“The truck that was stolen,” he said, pointing to the paper.
“Crazy,” the man said. “What’s the world coming to?”
“I wonder where the police would start to look for something like that.”
The man just grumbled.
“You have any ideas where they should look?”
Mark was greeted by an icy stare. “What are you, a cop?”
“No, just a truck driver.”
“Well, if I were you I’d keep it down. People around here don’t like cops much.”
“Thanks,” Mark said, finishing his food and leaving without another word. He was on the right track, just going about it the wrong way. He walked up Kennedy Road until he came across another Tim’s and went inside. After a visit to the bathroom to mess up his hair and clothes a bit, he ordered a small coffee, paying with nickels and pennies. Then he sat down and tried to look… sad.
A woman came by first and innocently said, “Hi, how are you?”
She’d opened the door and Mark stepped right through. “Lousy,” he said. “My truck was stolen, I’m out of work and I don’t know how I’m going to buy the kids presents this year.”
“Sorry to hear that,” she said, a look of concern on her face. “Can I get you something to eat? A muffin, maybe?”
Mark shook his head. “No thank-you. I need toys for my kids.” And so it went all day long. Mark nursed his coffee for hours telling his tale of woe to anyone who would listen.
“Little Amy just wants a doll,” he’d say. “Not much, just a doll and how can I tell her she can’t have one?”
By mid-afternoon people were coming to him without prompting and patting him on the shoulder telling him, “Merry Christmas,” and “Things will turn around.” When an older couple gave him money for dinner he felt the spirit of Christmas warming inside him once more. And then it happened.
“You’re the guy looking for toys, right?” said a young man barely of his teens.
“Well, there’s a guy in the lot around the corner selling toys out of the back of his truck for five bucks a piece. Anything you want, five bucks.”
“Hey thanks, that sounds perfect.”
Mark left the Tim’s and nearly ran to the parking lot in an industrial area on the east side of Kennedy Road.
As he neared, he could see Mother Load hooked up to the short-bed trailer. The banner was gone and the truck looked a little ordinary sitting there in the empty lot. The man standing behind the rig wore a hooded sweatshirt and sported a full beard. It was late in the day, but he still wore sunglasses to hide what little of his face was exposed. “What do you want?” he said as Mark approached.
“A guy at the Tim’s said I could get toys for my kids here.”
“That’s right,” he said with a slight clap of his hands. “What do you want?”
“My daughter wants a Downtown Barbie and my son is hoping for a Robot Assassin.”
The man stared at Mark, probably glaring at him from behind his shades. “This look like a toy store to you, pal?”
Mark shrugged. “That’s what they want. I’ll pay extra if you got’em.”
The man thought about it, then opened up the rear of the trailer. “I’ll get you a doll and a robot, how ’bout that?”
“My kids have their hearts set.”
With a sigh, he climbed up into the back of the trailer and began rummaging through the boxes of toys. Mark knew he’d be in there a while since he just made up the names of the toys. That’s why Mark took his time when he grabbed hold of the trailer door and swung it closed…then locked it tight.
“Hey, what are you doing?” came the muffled voice from inside.
Mark laughed. “Finding out who’s been naughty or nice!”
“Hey, let me outta here! Lemme out!”
Mark ignored the cries coming from the back of the trailer and walked up beside Mother Load. The spare key he kept hidden under the gas tank was still there and he was inside the cab in minutes. A quick look around told him most everything was still in its place. Despite the job they’d done on the ignition, the key still turned over the engine and seconds later Mother Load’s big Cummins roared to life.
“Ho, ho, ho!” Mark laughed. “Merry freakin’ Christmas!”
He put his rig in gear, then took out his cell phone to call the police. When he had them on the line, he did his best to explain the situation, but his message just wasn’t getting through.
“I have the truck with the stolen toys,” he said. “It’s my truck. I’m bringing it back.”
The call-taker asked his location and he told her. Moments later he could hear the wail of police sirens in the distance, growing louder.
“A police escort,” he said, grinning. “How cool is that?”
But it wasn’t any police escort. There were police cars -marked and unmarked -in front and behind him, boxing him in and forcing him over to the side of the road. The street too was suddenly clear of traffic. Then a black van pulled up and two heavily armed officers exited with their guns drawn.
“Show us your hands,” said a voice over a loudspeaker.
“Oh,” Mark said under his breath. “They think I’m the thief… ” He opened the door and climbed out.
“Get down on the ground!” everyone shouted at once.
Mark looked up and could see a half-dozen guns pointed at him. Then he looked down at his own body and saw three red dots shining on him, one squarely set right between his legs.
“Get. Down. On. The. Ground!” said the loudspeaker.
Mark got down on all fours, smiling. What a way to celebrate Christmas.
Mark entered the police station through the back door in handcuffs, but left through the front door a few hours later, a hero. Liz was there waiting for him.
“That was a crazy thing to do,” she said. “Maybe a little, but everyone was so worried about the toys,” he said. “Someone had to get my truck back.”
She smiled and shook her head a bit and Mark figured she’d just realized that everything Bud’s niece had told her about him was true. “They’ll probably need your truck for a day or two. You know, for evidence.”
“So, where will you be staying?” “My room’s still booked at the hotel.” She hesitated, then said. “Why not stay
at my place? I could use the company, and I’ve got a turkey in the freezer that’s big enough for two.”
Mark started laughing. “What’s so funny?”
” It’s just that,” he said, thinking -there’d been no work, his truck had been stolen, guns were pointed at his head, he’d been thrown in jail, and still -“This has been the best Christmas, ever!”