Mark Dalton was still looking to make some extra cash. He’d tried taking on some impossible loads and wound up having to fudge his log book to hide the fact that he was overextending himself. Of course, he didn’t get away with it thanks to a sharp enforcement officer with the MTO, but that didn’t mean he’d given up trying to get ahead.
That’s why when he was approached by a man who was willing to pay cash to have something moved, Mark was more than a little interested.
“You got a truck, right?” the man said, sliding into the seat across from Mark in a Tim Horton’s just outside of Oakville. He wore shiny grey pants with knife-edge creases, and gleaming loafers with thin gold buckles. It was a cloudy day, but he still had on a pair of hundred-dollar sunglasses resting atop his head.
Mark nodded. “That’s it out there.”
“Nice.” A pause. “You have access to a lowboy.”
“You mean to carry heavy equipment and stuff like that?”
Mark didn’t own a trailer, choosing instead to be a bit of a gypsy taking on different loads from a number of carriers. But he knew a lot of people in the trucking business and could probably get his hands on a lowboy if the money was right. “I could find one if I had to.”
“I might need something, you know…moved.”
Mark wasn’t sure why, but the man was talking to him as if he thought everyone around him was listening and he didn’t want them to hear.
“What do you need moved?” Mark asked, his voice getting lower and softer the longer they talked.
“I got a construction machine I need moved from one job site to another.”
Mark pulled back slightly. Construction companies had their own trucks for that kind of work, and even if they didn’t there were companies out there that specialized in moving heavy equipment. “There are plenty of dedicated companies and drivers out there doing that work. What do you need me for?”
“They charge too much. Not to mention all the paperwork and regulations.” He put his hands up in the air like he was being robbed. “I don’t need to buy the thing. I just want it moved, you know?”
Mark nodded. Everyone was trying to save a buck these days, so why not this guy? “How much?”
“I’ll give you $500. Cash. Three-hundred when you pick it up, the rest when you drop it off.”
“Fifty miles, tops. You pick it up in downtown Toronto and deliver to our new job site outside the city.”
“Five-hundred.” Mark had to say the amount again, just to make sure.
“Yeah. Will you do it?”
“When do you want it picked up?”
“Here’s my number.” He handed Mark a torn piece of paper with a number on it along with a name — Gus. “Call me when you have the trailer.”
Renting the lowboy was easy enough, but it cost him $100 cash up front. That hurt because Mark was a little short on cash at the moment – which was the reason he was doing this job in the first place – and if the guy who hired him didn’t pay, or decided to pay later, then Mark would be out the money with only a hope that he might get paid.
Mark fished around inside his pocket for the phone number “Gus” had given him, then gave the man the call. Gus seemed pleased, and a bit surprised that Mark had followed through, but he agreed to meet Mark at a job site in the east end of Toronto near the lake.
Mark arrived just after four in the afternoon. It was Friday so the work crews had all gone home earlier in the day. Gus was there waiting for him, dressed in the same clothes he’d been wearing at their last meeting a few days before. There were two large excavators on site, each of them looking a little bigger than the lowboy could handle.
“I think that one will be easier to move,” Gus said, pointing to an orange and black Hitachi with a huge bucket on the end of its folded arm.
“You don’t know which one you’re supposed to move?”
“‘Course I do,” he said. “That’s the one.”
“You have the keys for it, right?”
“Then why all the tools?” Gus had a pair of snips and a long screwdriver in his hands, and who knew what else in the pockets of his jacket.
“That one acts up a bit. Sometimes you’ve got to coax it to get it going.”
Mark nodded, but wasn’t sure what to make of Gus. He sure didn’t act like a construction boss…
“Here’s three hundred bucks,” said Gus, putting three $100 bills in Mark’s hand. “You’ll get the rest when we get to the other site.”
…but then again, what did Mark know about the construction business.
It took a while to get the excavator positioned on the lowboy, but once it was in place the big machine was easy enough to secure.
“So where am I going?” Mark asked.
“I don’t know yet.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“I’m not sure which site they want it at.” A pause. “Look, just get north of the city, then give me a call. I should know where it’s going by then.”
That made sense, thought Mark. “Alright.” He headed out, leaving the construction site with a left turn onto Lakeshore Road. He was looking for a way onto the Gardiner Expressway so he could skirt the city and double back onto Highway 400, then head north. But he made a wrong turn at the second set of lights and suddenly found himself heading north on Parliament. He wanted to turn around, but each intersection was way too small for his trailer to turn and the only way he could go was north. He’d reached Queen Street by the time things opened up and Mark was all set to make a couple of rights to get himself heading south once more, when…
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” someone was shouting on the street.
Mark checked his mirror and saw a man in a hard-hat and yellow traffic vest running toward Mother Load, his arms waving frantically over his head. He hit the brakes and waited for the man to appear in his window.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Mark smiled nervously. “I’m lost.”
“No kidding.” The man firmed his grip on the side of Mother Load and Mark saw the Hydro One logo on his vest.
“I need to head south, so I can get onto the Gardiner.”
“You’re not going anywhere, pal,” the man said. “We need a crew here to lift those wires off your excavator before they snap.”
Mark ducked down and took a look up through the windshield and saw that he’d driven under some power lines. The lines were taut, hung up in the arm of the excavator and looking as if the might snap if he moved another foot. “Sorry. My bad.”
“Yeah, well you’re not the first idiot truck driver to get stuck here.”
Mark wasn’t sure if the comment was supposed to make him feel better or worse.
The man was gone from the side of the truck, hurriedly dialing a number on his cell phone.
Mark glanced into his rearview mirror. Traffic was already backing up behind him. Horns were beginning to honk and people were staring. Mark slumped down in his seat and prayed the Hydro crew wouldn’t be long.
Because Mark was stuck on a transit line, there was a crew from the power company on the scene in minutes. With the help of two men in cherry pickers, they were able to lift the wires up and away from the excavator, allowing Mark to back up and out of danger.
“Thanks so much,” Mark said, hoping to get away without any further entanglements of the legal or financial kind.
“Hold on, pal,” said the man from Hydro One. “We still have to get you out of here.”
No mention of money, or a ticket. That was good. “Sure, no problem,” he said.
“We’re going to lift the wires just a little higher so you can drive one block north.” He handed Mark a blank sheet with lines drawn onto it. “This is the route you’ll need to take to get out of the city to keep you away from the wires.”
“Thanks,” Mark said. “Thank you so much.”
“Don’t thank me,” the man said. “Just don’t do it again.”
And Mark didn’t. Or at least he didn’t get tangled up in any wires. But he did almost get stuck under a bridge. Almost…but not quite. The railway bridge, on Gerrard St. just east of Carlaw, was about an inch too low for Mark to pass through. Unfortunately, he only discovered that fact when he was halfway through and the screech of steel against concrete drowned out his radio.
Fortunately for Mark there was at least three inches of play in the suspension of the trailer, giving Mark more than enough room to power his way to the other side. When he was free and clear, he got out to inspect the damage. There was a long black scratch on the underside of the bridge (beside a couple dozen others lines etched into the concrete), and the top of the excavator’s arm was ground down to the bare metal, but other than that there was really no damage. And if Mark could get out of there quick enough, it would be just like it never happened.
Mark shifted into first, let out the clutch and eased into traffic, wondering how many other obstacles lay in wait between where he was and where he needed to be.
– Next month’s issue will feature Part 2 of Cash Only
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