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.
By nightfall, Mark was sitting in a Tim Horton’s in Downsview trying to drown his sorrows in his second double/double. It wasn’t working.
All he could think of was how he could have been so stupid as to trust someone else with the securing of his load. Mark had been around long enough to know better, so in the end he had no one to blame for his misfortune but himself. That seemed to make matters worse, and Mark only felt more and more depressed.
His emotional state must have showed because a trucker wearing a Schneider National ball cap stopped in front of him and asked, “What’s got you so down, brother?”
Mark explained what had happened to him earlier in the day and the Schneider National man just laughed. “Is that all?” he said. “Everyone gets one of those at some point in their driving career. It’s just part of the job we do.” He paused a moment as if remembering. “Years ago I was delivering pop bottles and while I was on the on-ramp getting onto the highway one of my side doors opened up and 72 cases of empties came off the truck.” A pause. “You never heard such a racket in your life… I drive by the spot sometimes and can still see bits of glass twinkling in the asphalt.”
Another trucker must have overheard the conversation because he stopped by and joined in. “That’s nothing. I was hauling cattle one time and skidded off the 401 and put the whole thing into the ditch. The box in back opened up and in minutes there were four dozen head of cattle dodging cars and eating grass on the median.” He laughed. “Ever see the OPP trying to herd cattle? Not a pretty sight.”
Mark laughed, but knowing that this sort of thing happened to the best of drivers was a small comfort. There was going to be a claim on his insurance and his rates were bound to go up by who knew how much. It was going to be a long, long time before he could laugh about it like these other drivers were doing.
“Maybe you weren’t supposed to deliver the load.”
Everyone sitting at Mark’s table looked up. There was a tall, lanky man standing there wearing a black ball cap, with steely brown eyes and a handlebar moustache. He wore a grey vest over a faded denim shirt, blue jeans and cowboy boots. He reminded Mark of Lee Van Cleef in the old spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood.
“What did you say?” asked Mark.
“Maybe they wanted you to lose the load,” he said, lifting a leg to clear the back of a chair, then lowering himself into the seat. “If the financing for the building fell through, then they fabricated all this material and would never be able to collect a dime for it. They call in some schlub of a driver – that’d be you – and send him off to dump the load somewhere, the more public the better.” He grinned and shook his head. “Man, they must love you.”
Mark considered what the man had said. He recalled the Alcona Steel shipper specifically asking him if he had insurance. It seemed like a joke at the time, but now Mark wasn’t so sure.
The more Mark thought about it, the more things didn’t add up. It was all so mysterious and there was nothing Mark liked more than a mystery that needed solving – especially when it involved him and his money. He’d look into it first thing tomorrow. For now… “A fresh round of coffee for my friends here,” he said.
After breakfast the next morning, Mark drove over to the site where he was to have delivered the material the day before only to find the place abandoned. There wasn’t a soul working on the building – not even a foreman on site. What’s more, it looked as if there hadn’t been any work done on the place for weeks. Had anyone been working there yesterday, Mark wondered, or had they known he wouldn’t be arriving with the goods? They were legitimate questions and there was only one person who could answer them for him. So he drove back to Innisfil to find the old man who’d given him the load and sent him on his way.
Unlike the first time he arrived at the Alcona Steel shop, no one was outside to meet him. This time he went into the office and was greeted by a good-looking blond at the front desk. “Hi, I’m Mark Dalton,” he said. “I’m the driver who lost the load yesterday. I was wondering if I could see the shipper.”
As soon as Mark told her who he was, the woman’s eyes looked away and she seemed to suddenly be uncomfortable in her seat. “Uh, he’s in the back,” she stammered. “Follow the corridor down that way…you can’t miss him.”
“Thanks,” he said, but she was already turned away and busying herself with something else.
When he reached the loading dock, the old man was counting boxes, holding a clipboard in one hand and a pencil in the other. He was humming a tune, which infuriated Mark, and made what he was about to do that much easier. Mark grabbed the man’s right arm – the one with the pencil – and bent it behind his back. Then he pushed him up against a stand of boxes and applied pressure on the arm until he cried out in pain.
“Remember me?” Mark said.
“Who are you?” The shipper couldn’t get his head around to see.
“I’m the driver you screwed over yesterday.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You sent me off with that load when you knew it was unsafe. You set me up.”
“I did no such thing. I checked the load personally the night before. Everything was safe…even more secure than the law requires.”
“Really?” Mark asked skeptically. “If you expected me to deliver the load, then why is there nobody at the construction site?”
“Are you stupid?” the old man said. “There’s nobody there because they have no material to work with. The whole job was stopped for two weeks while we finished those pieces. Yesterday the workers were there waiting for you. Today, they were all told to stay home.”
All of that made perfect sense and Mark suddenly felt foolish for going so hard on the old man. Mark’s face grew hot and red from embarrassment. He released his hold on the old man and turned him around so they could speak face to face. “Sorry,” Mark said, running his hands up and down the man’s right arm. “I thought you set me up with a bad load so you could collect on the insurance.”
The old man didn’t respond at first, choosing instead to bend and flex the feeling back into his arm. At last he shook his head. “I can see how you might think that, but you weren’t even supposed to take that load yesterday. We have our own driver for those kind of deliveries.”
“What happened to him?”
“He called early in the morning from hospital. Apparently he was on his way to work when he got real sick and wound up putting his tractor into the ditch. He burst his appendix of all things, then broke a few bones as he came to a stop. He’ll be in the hospital for a few days, but it’s nothing too serious. At least not as serious as you losing the load.”
“He got sick on his way to pick-up the load?”
“That’s right,” said the old man. “So you see, we needed somebody to replace him fast.”Obviously there was much more to this than Mark originally thought. But despite all the possible scenarios, there were only three real possibilities regarding what had happened.
First of all, there could be a chance that Mark was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and the victim of a series of unfortunate events. Second was the possibility that the shipper was a big fat liar and was in the process of handing Mark another humongous load. And finally, there was a chanc
e that someone had it in for the original driver for whom Mark had just happened to end up taking the hit.
All three were plausible, but only one of the explanations was the truth. And Mark was determined to find out which one.
– Mark Dalton returns next month in Part Three of All’s Fair in Love and Loads.