Mark had been working steadily the past few months hauling loads between Toronto, Winnipeg and Montreal, but now that it was mid-December, things were slowing down on the nation's highways as business...
Mark had been working steadily the past few months hauling loads between Toronto, Winnipeg and Montreal, but now that it was mid-December, things were slowing down on the nation’s highways as businesses shut down for the holidays and people spent time with friends and family. Mark had plenty of friends, but they were scattered across the country and not exactly the kind of people you visited at Christmas time.
They were more like the kind you got up-to-date with every few months in a coffee shop, then didn’t see for the rest of the year. As for family, Mark had an ex-wife who he didn’t talk to anymore, and his parents had died years ago. All of which made December one of the toughest months for Mark to get through. In the past he’d book a vacation trip to make sure he wouldn’t be driving the empty streets and highways looking for something to do. This year, he’d forgotten to mark arrangements and by the time he’d remembered the packages were double the cost they’d been in the past.
So he decided to tough it out.
A long-haul load to some place warm might make things easier, so he gave Bud a call to see if he could get lucky.
But instead of saying “Mark who?” Bud began singing a Christmas carol. “Mark! the herald angels sing, glory to… “
“Is that you, Bud?” Mark asked.
“Course it is. It’s Christmas and I feel like singing.”
“I’m glad somebody does.”
A moment’s silence, then, “Hey yeah, that’s right. Shouldn’t you be on vacation somewhere?”
“Not this year.”
“You want to work through Christmas?”
“It might be best.”
“Wish I could help you, but I’ve got nothing till January. I’m even shutting down for two weeks since there’s no real loads going out over the holidays, and even if there was most places are shut down.”
“What am I going to do for two weeks?”
“It’s Christmas. Take some time off, visit family.”
“I’ve only got my ex-wife and I don’t think she wants to see me…I don’t really want to see her either.”
“I’d ask you over to my place, but I’m visiting my wife’s family in St. John’s. I don’t want to go but the wife put her foot down.”
“Still,” Mark said. “It must be nice having somewhere to go, someone to be with.” A sigh. “It doesn’t feel much like Christmas to me.”
“Why don’t you do some volunteer work?” Bud said quickly.
“I’ve thought about helping out at some shelter in the city,” Mark said. “Might get me into the Christmas spirit.”
“You know, it’s funny you should say that, cuz I have a request from a friend of one of my nieces. She runs the Toys 4 Tots program with the police and she’s looking for someone to drive a rig around for a few days to pick up all the donated toys.”
“You were getting to this all along, weren’t you?”
“So you’ll do it?”
“Sure,” Mark laughed under his breath. “Why not.”
“Great, I’ll give my niece a call and tell her how to get in touch with you.”
The next day Mark got a call from the friend of Bud’s niece.
“Hello, Mark?” she said. “This is Constable Elizabeth Marsden.”
Mark was about to ask “who?” but caught himself before he said it, “Bud’s niece’s friend?”
“A friend of his sister, really.”
They made small talk for a while, then arranged for Mark to pick up the trailer and outlined the various locations they’d be visiting throughout the day.
“That’s a lot to remember,” Mark said when she’d gone through the list.
“Not to worry,” she said. “I’ll be riding with you.”
This was getting better all the time, Mark thought. Something interesting to do and a woman to do it with. “See you in a half-hour,” he said, wondering where was the nearest truck wash and coin-op vacuum were.
It was a short-bed trailer in the parking lot of the Peel Regional Police building on Derry Road just west of Highway 410. It had been decorated with a banner that read “Toys 4 Tots” and images of all the program’s sponsors, including Bud’s company, Bud’s Trucking. Bud’s sponsorship was basically Mark, and Mark smiled knowing it was just like Bud to take the credit for someone else’s work. But Mark didn’t mind, really. This sounded like it was going to be fun.
As he pulled up in front of the trailer, an older woman in a smart-looking pant suit exited the rear of the building and started walking across the lot toward him.
“Right on time,” she said as she neared.
Mark was busy hooking up the trailer, but took a glove off to shake her hand. “I’m Mark,” he said. “Mark Dalton.”
“Elizabeth,” she answered. “But friends call me Liz.”
“You don’t look like a cop, Liz.” She was probably in her forties and had put on a few pounds over the years. But the extra weight had all been added in the right places. She was more woman than girl and it was easier to picture her behind the wheel of a minivan on her way to soccer practice than behind the wheel of a police cruiser on her way to a call for service.
“Been one for 20 years now,” Liz said.
“Really? I’d have thought this job would go to someone with uh… less seniority.”
“I asked for it. I’m divorced and my kids are grown and moved away. A couple of weeks ago I hurt my knee so I’m on light duties… this seemed like the best way to enjoy Christmas under the circumstances.”
‘You and me both,’ thought Mark, realizing Bud had not only been dispatching, but matchmaking as well. “Where to?”
She produced a list. “All the divisions, community stations, the courthouse and all the companies in the program whose employees donated toys.”
“Sounds like fun,” Mark said. “Let’s get started.”
It was a whirlwind of a day as they made 12 stops at police buildings and private companies all over town. At one place the people working on the top two floors of an office building donated 16 shipping barrels of toys. Not surprisingly, the trailer was full by five that afternoon. Mark felt like some sort of reverse Santa Claus, gathering toys instead of delivering them, but felt tingling of the Christmas spirit for the first time in years.
“There’s nobody at the warehouse at this time of night,” Liz said after their last stop. “We’ll have to drop them off in the morning.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Mark said. “The trailer’ll be locked up overnight.”
“You can leave the trailer here tonight,” she said as they pulled into the parking lot of the police building on Derry Road. “It should be safe enough.”
Mark thought about it, but didn’t want to admit he’d be sleeping in his truck overnight. “That’s okay, I’m visiting friends and they’ve got room to park this rig. I’ll see you tomorrow bright and early.”
“How about just after nine?…Okay, nine-ish,” she said. “I’ll bring the coffee.”
She left Mother Load and waved as she walked to her car. Mark returned the wave and pulled out of the lot, feeling guilty about lying to a police officer about where he’d be staying. How could he possibly sleep in Mother Load tonight? He decided to find a motel that had a sauna or whirlpool, maybe order himself a turkey dinner and have a few beers. It was Christmas, after all.
He found a Comfort Inn a few blocks away and parked his rig in the far corner of the hotel’s lot. After making sure the trailer door was locked up tight, he took a moment to look at his rig all decked out in festive decorations. It seemed crazy, but he could swear that the truck seemed to be smiling at him.
“Merry Christmas, Mother Load.”
The next morning Mark had a light Continental breakfast, skipping the coffee since Elizabeth would be bringing him one when they met up later. He was out of his room by eight, giving himself plenty of time to get to the Derry Road lot before nine. But when he exited the hotel and headed out to Mother Load, Mark’s world came to a screeching halt. The trailer was gone.
And if that wasn’t bad enough… they’d taken Mother Load too.
-Mark Dalton returns next month
in the conclusion.
Did you know that there are two full-length novels featuring Mark Dalton?: Mark Dalton “SmartDriver” and Mark Dalton “Troubleload.” For your free copy register with ecoENERGY for Fleets (Fleet Smart) at fleetsmart.gc.ca. Both are also available in audio book format.