Mother Load is repaired to showroom condition after being trashed by a group of punks. Mark marvels at how good a shape the truck is in, but after narrowly avoiding a highway collision, Mark wonders if Mother Load’s luck has run out. He decides to buy a new rig and trade in the old while it’s still in one piece. The salesman offers him $35,000 in trade, much less than the truck is worth. When Mark balks at the offer, the salesman says he can always hire someone to drive it and Mark suddenly has dreams of being a fleet owner.
Mark spends a couple of days interviewing drivers and every one of them has something wrong with them. They don’t want to work weekends, or be out on the road too long, and a lot of them just can’t speak English. Finally he meets Mitch Murtog, an experienced driver with a clean record and a bit of a rebellious side to him… just like Mark himself. After a day on the road Mitch calls Mark complaining of a flat tire. Mark arranges a repair, but Mitch doesn’t wait for the guy and calls in someone on his own, costing Mark the charge for his call, and the repair made by the other repairman.
Several days later, Mark hasn’t heard from Mitch. At first he thinks everything’s okay, but something is telling him that it’s not. He calls Mitch and instead of being in Ottawa with the truck, Mitch is in New Brunswick driving for a hot female owner who’s offering Mitch some very attractive fringe benefits. Mitch left the truck in Ottawa, forcing Mark to rent a car to fetch it. When he arrives in the lot, Mark learns that Mother Load has been used as a yard mule, and as an overnight sleeper by one of the shop’s mechanics.
Mark headed west down the 401 to Toronto, wondering why he was having such a bad string of luck with old Mother Load. Of all the drivers out there to choose from, he had to pick the grand prize winner, Mitch Murtog. Here was a guy who couldn’t follow instructions (he’d been told to wait for Mark’s tire man), had a misguided sense of initiative (called his own tire man while one was on the way, then asked for a new tire when a repair would have sufficed), had no problem leaving Mark hanging out to dry (left Mother Load in a parking lot in Gatineau without telling Mark), and had the gall to ask for money (wanted his paycheck sent to him, probably with vacation pay included). The only thing understandable about the guy was that he’d left Mark to chase after a woman. Mark didn’t agree with it, but at least he understood that.
“A million guys out there with the A-Z license, but how many good drivers are there?” From Mark’s experience as an owner, there were probably fewer than a hundred in the whole country, or else they went into hiding whenever Mark was around. Knowing his ability to find trouble in the unlikeliest places, Mark wouldn’t be surprised if the latter was at least partly true.
Around Kingston Mark pulled into a rest station for a bite to eat. He parked Mother Load as close to the restaurant as he could, hoping it might help keep the truck safe, then went inside. As he stood in line waiting to order a burger and fries, he noticed a familiar face two spots ahead of him.
“Johnny Jones,” he said.
The guy acted like he hadn’t heard Mark. Or maybe Mark was mistaken. He tried again, but a little louder.
“Hey, Johnny Jones!”
The guy in front finally turned around. He stared at Mark for a moment, then a look of recognition broke over his face.
“I haven’t seen you in…”
“A couple of years.” Mark had helped Johnny Jones out with a company that had been cheating him out of a lot of money it owed him. Mark had managed to get Johnny a just-in-time load headed for the GM plant in Oshawa, then held the load ransom until the company agreed to pay Johnny what they owed him.
The line moved forward and the woman behind the counter asked for Johnny’s order.
“Get your lunch and we’ll talk while we eat,” Mark said.
Johnny nodded and placed his order.
Mark joined him a few minutes later at a table by the window overlooking the parking lot. “You still with that company, what was it? JJ & G?”
Johnny laughed and shook his head. “Nah, after you helped me with that just-in-time load they didn’t want to deal with me anymore.”
“Which was fine with me since I didn’t want to deal with them, either.”
“You still driving your own rig?”
He shook his head again. “Nope. I sold it, paid off the loan and got a job as a company driver. Less money, but less headaches too.”
Mark nodded. That was true enough. “You still happy as a company driver?”
“Actually, I’m looking to buy my own truck again. I’ve been saving my money and I’ve got enough for a down payment… if I could only find a decent used truck at a good price.”
Mark just stared at Johnny, a smile slowly starting to break across his face. This was just too perfect, even for him. “You’re looking to buy a truck?” he said, just to be sure.
“Haven’t found anything yet, but I’m lookin’.”
“Well, maybe your search is over.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m looking to sell Mother Load.”
“The Mother Load? Mark Dalton’s famous Mother Load?”
“Yup,” Mark said. “In fact, it’s right over there.”
“You quittin’ driving?”
“No,” Mark said with a smile. “I can’t, it’s in my blood.”
Johnny looked out the window and probably noticed the smashed headlight and dented fender. “Then what’s wrong with the truck?”
“Nothing. I just bought myself a new one and haven’t gotten rid of the old one yet. You interested?”
Johnny gulped down the rest of his meal and said “You bet!” although with his mouth full of hamburger it came out sounding more like “Ru ret!”
“Great,” Mark said, unable to believe his luck. “Let’s go take a look.”
They spent a solid 20 minutes walking around the truck, Johnny doing a thorough circle-check while Mark hung back and watched.
He could go over the truck with a fine-toothed comb if he liked, he wasn’t going to find anything wrong with it mechanically.
Sure, something could break five miles down the road, but as of this minute and as far as Mark knew, everything on the truck was in perfect working order.
“Looks good,” Johnny said, “inside and out.”
“You know me, Johnny,” Mark said, realizing he was suddenly sounding like a used truck salesman.
“I’m a professional and I take good care of my truck.”
“Oh, I know, it’s just that…”
“Well, this is a Pete after all. And broken headlight and dent fender aside, it’s in good shape and would probably cost more money than I’ve got.”
“Maybe,” Mark said. “Maybe not.”
Johnny looked at Mark for a moment, then smiled. “You don’t have to smooth-talk me about the truck, Mark. I know it’s in good shape.” He shrugged.
“It’s just a question of money. How much I have, and how much you want.”
Of course that was what it was all about. Mark had to admire Johnny’s honesty.
Here was a decent, hard-working guy looking to go out on his own after learning his lessons through a couple of earlier failed attempts. He had a wife and family to support and would probably take excellent care of Mother Load over the next few years, giving the truck a whole new lease on life.
“How much do you have?” Mark asked.
“You know negotiations don’t work that way. How much do you want for it?”
“I was thinking $50,000.”
Johnny whistled through his teeth. “That’s a little bit more than I had in mind.”
“Which was how much?”
“Somewhere around $35,000.”
Mark felt as if he’d been punched in the gut.
He shook off the feeling, then started to chuckle.
“Hey, I know the truck’s worth more, but that’s all I can afford at the moment. And believe me, after nearly losing a couple of trucks I know exactly what I can and can’t afford.”
“That’s not why I’m laughing.”
“Then why are you?”
Mark wondered if he should tell him the whole story…ealer offered him $35,000 in trade, thinking he was being ripped off?
Or tell him about how he thought he was going to be a big time owner/operator with his very own fleet, only to lose about $1,000 in his first week in bu
Or maybe he should lie.
Mark considered it and wondered why the hell not?
“I’m laughing because while I was looking for $50,000, I was prepared to settle for $35,000. Then I run into you and that’s just what you have to spend. It’s almost like somebody up there – maybe even Mother Load herself – is trying to tell me something.”
That much was true. Sure he could probably sell the truck for more money, but here was Johnny Jones, a driver Mark knew would take good care of Mother Load. What was the value of such peace of mind?
Mark had already tried to make money off Mother Load and had failed miserably.
Maybe he’d be better off just making sure she went to a good driver, regardless of how much money he earned from the deal.
It wasn’t a very smart business move, but Mark had already proven he was a lousy businessman. Maybe he and his truck would be better off simply being a good person.
“Maybe I could afford $36,000 or even $40,000, but I’d have to talk it over with my wife first.”
Mark shook his head.
“No need. I’ll sell it to you for $35,000, as long as you promise to take good care of her.”
“Of course I will.”
“Then it’s a deal.”
The two men shook hands.
Mark felt a little regret over not holding out for more, at least to cover what he’d lost trying to be a big shot owner, but the more he thought about it the more he realized, the lesson he’d learned had come cheap at $1,000.
And besides, the warm feeling he felt shaking Johnny’s hand was absolutely priceless.