Elliot Atherton, the software company CEO whose daughter Mark saved from a certain rape by the side of the highway, had been true to his word.
The man had paid for the repairs to Mother Load, compensated Mark for the late penalties on his load (he’d avoided any late charges, but figured $500 was fair), and he’d given Mark another $500 just as a way of saying “Thank you.”
Now, Mother Load was back in top shape, cruising down Highway 400 as smooth as silk and looking like she just drove off the showroom floor.
But despite the truck’s condition, Mark couldn’t help but think that Mother Load was on her last legs – at least with himself behind the wheel.
After all, in the past few months, she’d been trashed by a bunch of punks, been in a scrape with a truck driven by a kidnapper, and bashed in by a highway meeting with a deer.
Mark hated the thought of selling the old girl since he and Mother Load had been through so much together, but the time seemed right.
She had 800,000 kilometres on her and shined like a fresh loonie. If there was ever a time that Mark could get the most resale value out of her, that time was now.
Maybe in a couple of weeks, I’ll take out an ad, Mark thought. That would give me some time to clean her up inside and get myself ready to say goodbye.
Just then a minivan in the left lane pulled right, cutting off a station wagon in the centre lane and sending it swerving onto the shoulder.
A cloud of dust exploded off the shoulder as the rear end of the wagon cut a swath through the gravel.
Mark lifted his foot off the accelerator and got on the brake.
The wagon’s rear wheels caught in the dirt and the back end of the car swung back out onto the highway.
Mark jammed on the brake, but not so hard as to lock up the wheels.
He’d never be able to stop in time to avoid a collision, but he might be able to get by the spinning car.
The station wagon had spun all the way around and now the front end of it was pointed at Mother Load.
Mark could see the wide-open mouths of the driver and his family as the car continued to turn, shuddering on its wheels as if it might flip at any moment.
Mark watched closely as the car settled onto its wheels and began backing across the lanes toward the median. He pointed Mother Load directly at the car steering the truck to where the car was at that moment.
A second later, he was at that spot, but the car was gone, rubbing up against the guardrail and screeching to a stop.
Mark checked his mirrors and pulled onto the shoulder.
That had been a close one.
Another second or two and Mother Load would have plowed into the wagon, wiping out the family and destroying the trucks front end once again.
Mark set the parking brake, switched on his hazard lights and took a deep breath.
“Guess the time to sell is now,” he sighed, as if he were speaking directly to Mother Load, “while I still have a truck to sell.”
Just then Mother Load’s air pressure valve let go with a sharp blast, almost as if the big machine were answering Mark.
Mark nodded once, sniffed, then got out to see if anyone was hurt.
After making his delivery outside Toronto, Mark decided not to call Bud for his next load until he’d taken the time to check out new truck prices at a few dealerships around town.
But while most of them were offering competitive packages and any of the new makes and models would have been an improvement over an eight-year-old Mother Load, Mark wasn’t about to change brands.
Mother Load was a Peterbilt 379 and she’d served him well over the years. If he was going to buy another truck, it would be a new 379 with many of the bells and whistles that modern technology had to offer.
Mark pulled into the Roadway Truck Centre lot around four in the afternoon.
He had barely parked Mother Load and was about to shut her down when he noticed a man stepping through the dealership’s front door heading straight for him.
He was wearing dark pants, a light-coloured shirt and a striped tie.
His hair was neatly trimmed, yet slightly mussed, as if he’d spent time in front of the mirror to get each hair exactly out of place just enough to make it look like he didn’t care all that much what his hair looked like.
“Must have smelled me pulling in,” Mark said under his breath.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
Mark looked up and saw several dark clouds looming. “If you’re a duck, maybe.”
“Hey, you’ve got a sense of humour,” he laughed. “I can just tell we’re going to get along famously.”
Not likely, thought Mark, stepping down from the truck.
“How can I help you?”
“Interested in trading in for a new truck,” Mark said. “A new 379.”
Mark nodded. He had enough money socked away to buy a new rig outright if he wanted.
After all, he’d been working for eight years without a mortgage to pay or a wife and family to support, and he’d owned his truck for more than five of those years.
The question was, did he want to pay the entire amount up front, or finance some of it for tax purposes?
There was also the question of how much Mother Load would fetch in trade. A decent offer for his old truck would have a lot to do with where he bought the new one.
“Well, we’ve got a good selection of new trucks on the lot, and if we don’t have it we’ll order it for you, no problem.”
Mark smiled. He’d heard it all before. “Every dealer I’ve been to has said that.”
“I’ll tell you what. You find yourself the best deal you can, and we’ll not only match it, but beat it by $2,000.”
Mark tried not to show any reaction, but he could feel his eyebrows rise up slightly at the mention of $2,000 off anybody else’s best price. “Sounds good.”
“Damn right it is,” the salesman said. Then he threw his thumb in the direction of Mother Load. “You looking to trade this one in?”
“How many klicks?”
The man winced, as if he’d just stepped on a rock with his bare foot. “That’s a lot of mileage. We’d probably have to do a lot of work to get it up to Roadway’s ‘Pre-Owned Vehicle’ standard of excellence.”
Mark laughed under his breath. He’d heard this song and dance before.
One guy told him that dark-coloured trucks didn’t do all that well on the resale market, while another said they’d have to paint it green if they wanted to sell it.
One guy, an oldtimer with grey hair and stained pants that were held up by an equally dirty pair of suspenders, said it was a bad year for used Petes. “The truck runs like a top and it’s never looked as good.”
“I’ll give you that,” agreed the salesman. “But if it’s running so good, why are you gettin’ rid of it.”
What to say? He couldn’t tell the man he felt the truck’s luck was running out, that he had to get rid of it before he drove it into a ditch or rolled it onto its back. So instead, Mark told the man what he wanted to hear. “Because I can afford to buy a new one.”
“Hey… My kind of customer. Knows what he wants and doesn’t like to beat around the bush.”
The man flashed a smile that had no doubt been perfected by years of practice in front of a mirror. “And that’s why I’m not going to haggle with you.” He crossed his arms and looked at Mother Load. “‘Course, I’d have to have our mechanics check it over, but I’d say I could probably… offer you… say… $35,000 in trade.”
“I know, it’s a good offer, but I’m willing to stick to it, no matter what our mechanics find.”
Mark was more than a little insulted.
Mother Load was worth $50,000 easy, especially with all the new paint and bodywork. He’d seen other 379s advertised for as much, some of them with more mileage on them. “That’s about $15,000 less than what I expected,” he said.
“Hey, we’ve got to put some money into the truck before we resell it,” the salesman said. “We’ve got a business to run, you know.”
It was obvious that they were able to undercut other dealers by $2,000 on the sale price of a new truck because they would stiff the buyer $15,000 on his trade-in. “You’re not the only one running a business,” said Mark.
“If you think you can get more selling the truck on your own, go ahead.
But then you’ve got to take out an ad, and leave the truck someplace where people can look at it… and hope it doesn’t get damaged or vandalized before you complete a sale.”
He had a point there.
Mark was always on the road and would need to let Mother Load sit for a few weeks so buyers could see it.
Then he’d have to be around to sign papers and close the deal.
“Or maybe you could hire someone to drive it for you, you know, start your own fleet.”
“What did you say?”
“Hire someone to drive the truck. You know, be a real big-time owner/operator with your own two-truck fleet.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Mark said. “Not bad idea at all.”
After all, how hard could it be to manage two trucks instead of just one?