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?
The next day, Mark took a drive north to visit the original driver who’d been admitted to the hospital in Barrie.
The elderly man at the information desk in the hospital’s front lobby told Mark that the driver – a man by the name of Orest Simms – was on the fourth floor. After getting off the elevator, Mark stopped by the nurse’s station and asked the woman on duty a few questions.
It turned out that Simms had indeed been treated for a burst appendix, but he’d also suffered a broken nose, fractured skull, broken left arm and three cracked ribs in the ensuing accident.
“Thanks,” Mark said with a nod.
The guy was really sick, so at least that part of the shipper’s story checked out.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence that the driver got sick on his way to pick up the load.
If that were true it meant that Mark’s little accident could either have been just that, an accident, or it could have been meant to happen to Simms, only Mark ended up being the poor sap who wound up taking the fall.
When he reached Simms’ room, Mark gave the door three gentle knocks with his knuckle. A woman’s voice greeted him with a “C’mon in.”
He stepped into the room and found Simms lying on the bed looking pretty beat up with bandages around his head and torso, a cast on his arm, and his face looking as if it had been given the once over with an ugly stick.
There was a good-looking brunette in the room, the one who’d told him to come on in.
She stood up to greet Mark, extending her hand and flashing him a warm, sexy smile.
“Do I know you?” she said.
“My name’s Mark Dalton,” he said, shaking hands.
“I’m the driver who took the load for him yesterday.”
“The one who put it all over the highway?” Simms said through his bandages.
“Yeah, that’s me,” Mark said, doing his best to smile.
“Shouldn’t have happened,” he said.
His voice sounded as broken as his body looked.
“That’s what I wanted to ask you about.”
Mark pulled up a seat next to the bed.
“You’ve been driving for them for years. Have you ever lost a load like that?”
Simms tried to shake his head, but stopped abruptly with a sharp cry of pain.
“No,” he said after a moment. “I’ve never lost a thing off the back of my truck. Ever.”
At that moment the woman stood up.
“I think this is where I should leave and let you two talk.”
She turned to Simms. “I’ll be back later tonight.”
He raised his hand in a wave as she left the room, which left Mark to wonder if the woman was the man’s wife, girlfriend, or sister. “She’s really looking after you,” he said, hoping to learn what their relationship was.
“Yeah, she’s a good girl.”
That was no help, so Mark was left with no choice but to ask. “Girlfriend? Sister?”
“Why? You interested?”
Of course, Mark was interested, Mark was always interested, but he had enough trouble in his life at the moment and didn’t need to complicate things with a relationship. “Just curious is all.”
“Girlfriend,” he said. “And a hell of a lot better than the last one.”
“The current one is always better than the last,” Mark said, appeasing the man before getting back onto the topic of the load. “So their record is pretty good with loads, then?”
“I’ve been the regular Alcona Steel driver for the last 10 years and I’ve never had an accident, never lost as much as a length of rebar.”
“That’s different,” he said with an edge to his voice that suggested he was offended by the implication. “I was bobtailing, and besides, it couldn’t help it…I got sick.”
“It must have been pretty bad for you to drive off the road like that.”
“I guess,” he said, shaking his head as best as his wounds would allow.
“The pain wasn’t that bad at first and I was doing all right slowing down and pulling off to the side of the road, but, I don’t know…something happened and the next thing I know I’m looking at the sky through my front windshield.”
“Did you pass out?”
“I don’t remember all that much, but I must have, right,” he said. “I mean, how else am I going to drive off the road like that?”
Mark nodded in agreement. Driving off the road went against every instinct a driver had, so Simms must have lost all control. “The company’s always got good equipment, then?”
“The best. Late model trucks and trailers, those new grippy sponge underlinings…you name it. They’ve been shipping heavy steel pieces for 25 years and this is the first time they’ve ever lost a load that way.”
Mark smiled. “Lucky me.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. I hope it didn’t end up costing you too much.”
Not at all, thought Mark.
Just thousands of dollars in fines, a couple of demerit points on his licence and a black mark on his reputation for the rest of his working life.
“Don’t know yet,” Mark said at last.
“Oh yeah, the OPP fined me, and my insurance premiums are bound to go up, but you never know…the situation could change.” But there was more here than met the eye and Mark was determined to find out what it was. He paused to think of the right words. “Let’s just say the final chapter of this story has yet to be written.”
They talked for another half-hour and during that time Mark became convinced that Simms had played no part in Mark’s losing the load. It was curious, however, that he got sick on the very morning he was due to take the load, but at the moment that was little more than an interesting coincidence.
“I better get going,” Mark said at last.
“You need to be driving,” said Simms. “Earning some money instead of hanging around here.”
Sure, he needed to be making money, but if he could prove that there was some sort of foul play responsible for his mishap, he’d be saving more money than he could hope to make hauling a few loads.
“Thanks,” he said, grabbing Simms’ hand and giving it a gentle shake.
He left the room and headed down the hall toward the elevator, but before he even got there, the elevator door opened to reveal the good-looking blond from the Alcona Steel offices.
She was holding a big bunch of flowers in one hand and a large “Get Well Soon” card in the other – no doubt signed by all the people at Alcona Steel.
“Hi,” said Mark.
It looked as if she had been trying not to see him, but after he said hello, she’d been left with no choice but to acknowledge his presence.
“The flowers are beautiful.”
“The company bought them,” she said, her eyes darting left and right as if searching for an escape route.
“It’s nice that the company sent you over to convey everyone’s good wishes.”
“Yeah,” was all she said.
“Well, take care,” said Mark.
“I’m sure I’ll be seeing you ar
But before Mark was even finished talking, the woman was gone, down the hallway and into Simms’ room.
Boy, thought Mark punching the down button for the elevator, the face of this guy Simms looks like hamburger meat and there’s no shortage of beautiful women hanging around.
I’ve got all the parts of my face in the right place and I don’t seem to do half as well.
He wondered how many women might visit him in hospital if he were seriously hurt in a crash.
After considering it a moment, he realized some things were better left unknown.
The elevator arrived and as Mark rode it down to the lobby, his cell phone rang.
“Dalton, it’s Bud.”
Mark couldn’t resist it.
“Bud Wiser, you idiot.”
“I got a call from the insurance investigator. He wants to meet with you tomorrow.”
“Did he say what about?”
“Not really, other than it’s about the accident. He did kind of hint that there was a chance you may be off the hook.”
“Really, what’d he say?”
“He said…there’s a chance you may be off the hook. Don’t you think I’d tell you more if there was more?”
“Okay, where does he want to meet?”
Bud gave Mark the information.
“Thanks,” said Mark.
“Tell him I’ll be there. Early.”
– Mark Dalton returns next month in Part Four of “All’s fair in love and loads.”