Mark gets a call from Bud for a load of construction steel that has to be picked up and delivered within the hour. The shipper is paying a premium and Mark takes the load, but is in such a rush that he trusts the shipper has secured the load well enough to make the trip. At the bottom of highway 400 Mark rounds the curve for the eastbound 401 and winds up losing his load, throwing tons of steel all over the off ramp. He’s fined thousands of dollars and is on the hook with his insurance company for the value of the load.
Mark is in a coffee shop talking with other truckers about losing his load. They all have similar stories about lost loads, but one trucker suggests that someone might have wanted him to lose the load on purpose. Mark considers this and visits the shipper to ask about the load and how it was secured. The shipper swears the load was fine, and tells Mark that the original driver got sick on his way to pick up the load and wound up putting his tractor in the ditch. Just an accident? Mark wonders.
Mark pays a visit to the original driver, Dave Simms, in hospital and sees the man has no trouble attracting beautiful female companions. He even sees the blond from Alcona Steel at the hospital with flowers and a big card sent by the company. When Mark stops to talk to her, she seems nervous and afraid of him, just as she did the day before at the office when Mark told her who he was. After visiting the driver, Mark gets a call from Bud telling him Mark’s insurance adjuster wants to talk to him. About what? Bud doesn’t know.
Mark met the insurance adjuster for lunch in a Subway sandwich shop north of Toronto. Mark was there a half-hour early and killed the extra time by reading a copy of The National Post. While he was going through the sports section, a middle-aged man in a long turd-green overcoat, thin black moustache and bad comb-over tapped Mark on the shoulder and said, “You Dalton?”
Mark couldn’t help but answer, “Who wants to know?”
“McCumber,” he said. “I’m the insurance adjuster.”
Mark laid the paper down. “Have a seat.”
McCumber slid into the bench seat across from Mark. “Before I get started, are you hungry?”
Mark shook his head. He was eager to hear what the man had to say.
“Well, I’m starved. Mind if I get myself a sandwich?”
Mark just shrugged. “Knock yourself out.”
McCumber got himself a sandwich. Ten minutes later he was back sitting down across the table from Mark.
Mark couldn’t take the suspense any longer. “What’s going on?” he asked. “What’s so important you had to tell me in person instead of over the phone.”
He took a bite and spoke with his mouth full of sandwich. “I wahn you to hole off on payeen de fine.”
He swallowed and repeated himself, this time with an empty mouth. “I want you to hold off on paying the fine…and we won’t be paying out any claims until we get to the bottom of this.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
McCumber made as if to take another bite, but Mark grabbed the man’s hand and brought the sandwich back down to the table. The man nodded “Sorry,” then said, “We found several straps had been cut, both holding down the load and holding the load together.”
He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a length of yellow strap.
“We cut this end for the sample,” he said, pointing to a cleanly cut end. “This other end was found this way after the wreck.”
The other end of the strap was cleanly cut as well, except for a half-inch section that looked to have been torn when the load shifted. Obviously the load had been sabotaged, but by whom?
“Will you be investigating?” Mark asked.
“I’d like to but I’ve got a heavy caseload as it is, and I don’t really know anyone who’s qualified for a job like this.”
Mark couldn’t believe his luck. “I could do it for you.”
“Yes, me,” said Mark, a little insulted but willing to shrug it off. “Before I started driving, I was a private investigator for over five years…divorces mainly, but some criminal matters too.”
McCumber started to laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“Your dispatcher said you’d probably offer me your services, that is, if you didn’t already start your own investigation.”
Mark decided not to mention that he’d made a visit to the hospital in case he could figure out a way to claim the visit was made on a later date and he could bill the insurance company for his time. “So you’re hiring me?”
“Your name’s Dalton, right? Mark Dalton?”
“I remember that name now. You’re the PI who followed a suspect to a motel and caught her in bed with your own wife.”
Mark bristled at the reminder. “Yeah, that’s me.”
McCumber looked as if he was going to laugh, but suddenly thought better of it. “Sure,” he said. “If you want to see what you can find out, I’d be happy for the help.”
Mark parked Mother Load in one of his regular overnight yards outside Toronto, paid the guard in the kiosk for seven days worth of parking, and was picked up by a driver from the company from which he’d rented a dark blue sedan.
After dropping the driver off, Mark drove up to Innisfil to stake out the Alcona Steel shop.
They were in the process of fixing the damaged steel from the load, straightening bent pieces and replacing others that were too far-gone to save. They had half a load done and it would be another day or two before all of the pieces were ready to ship.
Mark was content to wait and see what happened to the full load, but in the meantime, there was a new and interesting piece of evidence in the yard.
Dave Simms’ truck had been towed in and was sitting off in one corner like a dog that had been beaten badly and was licking its wounds. Mark waited until after closing time, then hopped the fence to check out the damaged truck.
The truck had rolled onto its side, bending the axle, twisting the chassis and making the whole rig a write-off. The cab had also been smashed, looking for all the world as if some giant had decided to mash down one side of it to turn the truck into a single-seater.
But as dramatic as the damage to the outside of the rig was, Mark was more interested in what was underneath it. So after twilight, he pulled the scorpion from his belt and crawled underneath the broken rig.
The first thing that Mark noticed was the ground was soaked with oil.
Obviously all kinds of lines had been broken and fluids had bled out over the course of several days. Mark clicked on the scorpion and the undercarriage of the rig was suddenly turned from night into day. As he suspected, several fluid lines had been ruptured, but the only ones he was really interested in were the brake lines. He found them easily enough, and after a few seconds in the scorpion’s light, he muttered, “I thought so!”
While most of the broken lines had shown signs of bending, twisting or rupturing during the crash, the brake lines looked to have been pinched off by some kind of cutting tool. After seeing the evidence it wasn’t too difficult to surmise that the brake lines had been cut or damaged so that they would fail at the first bit of hard braking.
Cut straps and cut brake lines. Obviously somebody had it in for Alcona Steel, or Dave Simms. The question was, which one?
The end of the next day enough of the steel pieces had been readied for a shipment to the job site. An owner/operator was called in to take the load and Mark followed the guy’s rig all the way to the construction site in Toronto. Mark wasn’t too surprised to see the load make it to its destination without incident. That suggested whoever had sabotaged the initial load didn’t have it in for Alcona Steel, but for their driver Dave Simms.
So Mark paid a second visit to Simms in hospital. He found the driver sitting up in bed alone and looking a lot better than he had earlier in the week. He was
a handsome guy, Mark had to admit and it was easy to see why he had his choice of women. “Alone today?”
“I need my rest,” he said. Then after a moment of silence, “What’s up?”
“The last time I was here I didn’t ask you if there was anyone who might want to see you dead.”
“What? Are you saying someone’s trying to kill me?”
“Just asking a question,” Mark shrugged. “If not kill you, then hurt you somehow. You know, payback.”
Simms thought about it a while, then shook his head. “Can’t think of one.”
“How about women?”
“I got lots of girlfriends. They all know I’m not ready to settle down.”
“What about a jealous husband or boyfriend?”
“No way! The first I hear they’re with someone already, I’m gone. It’s hard enough handling women. I don’t need to deal with their men too.”
Mark was satisfied that Simms didn’t know of anybody who’d want to hurt him, but still felt he was onto something. Perhaps a second opinion might help him figure it out. He drove over to Alcona Steel to talk to the shipper once again.
“What do you want now?” the old man said as Mark pulled up to the loading dock.
“I want to ask you about Simms.”
“What about him?”
“Does he have a lot of girlfriends?”
“Too many. I told him if he needed help with some of them, I could lend him a hand…and maybe something else too, eh.” The old man wheezed a laugh.
“There was a pretty brunette at the hospital,” said Mark. “And the blonde here from the office was there too, twice.”
“I guess that’s her name. I saw her there twice, one time with a big bunch of flowers and a card from the company.”
He was shaking his head as if something was wrong.
“Marcie can’t stand Dave. They had a thing going for a while, even went in together as co-owners on a Freightliner. But he did a long haul with another woman along for company and that was the end of their relationship.
He sold the tractor and they both lost a few grand on the whole thing.” A pause. “I didn’t think she was even talking to him anymore.”
Mark said nothing. He didn’t have to. The blonde, Marcie, had to be the saboteur. By working at Alcona she had access to the company’s tractor and trailer, she knew when Simms would be making a delivery, and now it was obvious she had a motive. All that was left was proof.
And getting that would be easy.
Two days later, Dave Simms was still recuperating at home, but everyone at Alcona Steel had been told he’d be back to work in the morning, making a delivery with the company’s new rig.
Mark was set up in his rented sedan in the parking lot of the diner next to Alcona Steel, waiting.
And even though he’d slept all day in preparation, he was still having trouble staying awake, at least until three in the morning when a car entered the Alcona lot and quickly blacked out its headlights.
Mark then watched as the car was parked and someone got out all dressed in black.
The dark figure made a beeline to the rig and began working on the straps securing the load.
This is almost too easy, Mark said, starting up the sedan and flicking on its highbeams.
In the glare of his lights, and the lights of the two OPP cruisers who were also on the scene, several strands of Marcie’s blonde locks peeked out from the edge of her black skullcap.
“Police, don’t move!” one of the coppers shouted.
Marcie froze in place.
Later that night the shipper thanked Mark for his help in solving the case.
Marcie had been one of their best employees and no one would have ever suspected her.
“Who would have thought that all of this would happen because of sex and money?”
Mark laughed and put a hand on the old man’s shoulder.
“Take it from me, that’s always what these things are ever about. Sex and money.”
– Mark Dalton returns next month for a brand new series of adventures.