Mark was driving westward through Saskatchewan when his cell phone rang. He checked the number on his phone, saw that it was Bud calling and put the call onto his hands-free device.
“Hello?” he said.
“Hi Mark,” said the caller, then a pause.
“Who’s this?” Mark said. He knew it was Bud, but he couldn’t resist giving his dispatcher a hard time. Bud had the same caller ID technology as Mark did, but that didn’t stop him from playing the “Mark who?” game every time he called. Now it was time for a little payback.
“C’mon Dalton, you know it’s me.”
“I don’t know any Mebud,” Mark said. “I have ear buds, and an iPod, but no Mebuds.”
“Smarten up Dalton, this is important.”
The smile immediately disappeared from Mark’s face. It was all funny stuff, but maybe not the right time for it. “What’s up?”
“I need you to head up to Prince George to pick up a load that’s stranded there.”
“One of your drivers bailed on you?”
“No, I wish it was just that.”
‘What could be worse than a driver quitting on Bud in the middle of a load?’ Mark wondered. Whatever was left of Mark’s playfulness was suddenly gone. “What’s going on?”
“You remember a guy by the name of Earl Purcell?”
“The name rings a bell.”
“He’s an older guy, over 65 but still drives a couple of times a month for me, you know, for a bit of extra money and something to do.”
“Is that the guy who drove the flowers for your daughter’s wedding all the way from South Carolina.”
“Yeah, that’s him. Did it in one shot. He already had a load and went two hours out of his way to pick up the flowers. I offered him money, but all he wanted was a piece of the wedding cake.”
“I know who he is now… gave me a litre of oil once at a truck stop when everything was closed. I still haven’t given it back to him.”
“Well here’s your chance to pay him back.”
“Why? What happened?”
Bud took a deep breath and let out a sigh. “He was on the highway heading north toward Prince George when some guy on the side of the road flagged him down looking for help.”
“No, some guy in a car,” Bud said. “Earl can’t pass someone in trouble so he pulls over and gets out of his truck to see what he can do.” A pause. “And that’s when they jumped him.”
“Three guys. In addition to the guy out on the highway, there were two more in the car. As Earl’s looking under the hood, one of them hits him with a tire iron and once he’s on the ground all three men wail on him…punches, kicks, the iron.”
“I heard about that attack on television. It was everywhere… on TV, the radio, newspapers. I had no idea the guy was one of your drivers.”
“One of my best and most experienced drivers. These thugs left him on the side of the road for dead, but he’s a scrapper. When he was found a while later, he was taken to the hospital in Prince George, but he was in such bad shape they couldn’t do everything he needed done. He had to be airlifted to Vancouver where they reconstructed his face.”
“Is he going to live?”
“Yeah, he’ll live, but who knows what the damage will be to his brain, his eyes? He might have to learn everything all over again.”
“Will he drive again?”
“I doubt it,” Bud said. “Who would want to after something like that?”
“I hear you,” Mark said, understanding completely. He’d once stopped on the side of the road to help a girl who looked as if she were being harassed by a bunch of goons. He stopped to help and wound up in the hospital for his trouble.
And to make matters worse, Mother Load had been trashed to the point where he almost had to buy a new truck. Luckily for him, the girl’s father was rich and paid to get Mother Load repaired.
But even though everything worked out all right for him in the end, Mark never passed a motorist on the side of the road without first wondering whether something bad might happen to him if he stopped.
He hated to admit it, but there had been plenty of times in which he’d just driven on by thinking that he probably couldn’t help the person in trouble or that they’d likely already called somebody and help was on the way.
It wasn’t a good feeling, looking the other way and driving on by, but it was safe.
“Now, I’m not naive enough to think that if I give you Earl’s load, you’ll just pick it up and deliver it without a lot of fuss and bother.”
“Yeah, you’ll probably end up in the thick of it, looking for the guys that did this to Earl or doing something nice so his family won’t have to suffer.”
“That does sound a little bit like me.”
“Well, just so you know, the Canadian Trucking Alliance and the British Columbia Trucking Association have each put up a $10,000 reward for anyone who helps catch and convict the men responsible for this.”
“Twenty grand, eh? You know I’d do it for nothing.”
“I know that, but with that much money as an incentive, there are going to be dozens, if not hundreds of truck drivers playing detective out there.”
“Might not be a bad thing,” said Mark. The money will put the capture of these criminals at the forefront of everyone’s mind and with thousands of drivers on the lookout for clues, it might only be a matter of time before the thugs were caught and brought to justice.
“Yeah, well, just be careful whatever you do.”
“Awe, Bud. I didn’t know you cared.”
“I’ve already got one driver in the hospital, I don’t need another one.”
Bud gave Mark the information he needed to get Earl’s load out of the yard in Prince George. “The load is already a day late, but I called the receiver and explained what happened, and he’s giving us a couple of day’s grace. But only a couple.”
“Where’s it going?”
“A warehouse in Oregon.”
“I’ll get it there.”
“I know that,” Bud said. “I just don’t want you doing anything stupid before you get it there.”
“Bye, Bud,” Mark said, hanging up the phone.
Mark continued heading west. Even though the load he was supposed to pick up was already late, he’d head up to Prince George tomorrow.
Today he had to reach Vancouver to drop off his load and visit a hero.