Looking to make some extra money, Mark agrees to move an excavator for a man named Gus. Gus isn’t sure where the excavator’s going, and doesn’t have keys for it, but he’s offering Mark $500 cash for the job, so Mark is willing to give the guy some slack. Mark picks up the machine, but gets it caught up in overhead wires as he tries to make his way out of the city. Free of the wires, he almost gets stuck under a bridge, but manages to get free…
Mark got out of the city and headed north on Highway 400 without further incident. It seemed odd that he would be on the road with a load and not know where he was going, but that’s the way “Gus” wanted it and he was paying for the ride, after all. Besides, Gus didn’t seem like the kind of guy you’d want to mess around with.
Mark fished around inside his pocket for the slip of paper with Gus’s number on it. When he was driving straight with no other traffic around him, Mark dialed the number. The phone range eight times before someone answered.
“Who wants to know?”
“I do,” Mark said. “It’s me, Mark.”
Mark pulled the phone away from his ear and shook his head. “What is it with these guys and my name?” he whispered. He returned the phone to his ear and said, “Mark… Mark Dalton.”
“Is that right?”
“I’m the guy you hired to move your excavator for you. You told me to give you a call when I got out of the city.”
“You made it?”
“Yeah, I’m on the 400 right now.”
“Anyone followin’ you?”
It was an odd question to ask, but Mark checked his mirrors anyway. There was no one around for miles. “Not that I can see.”
“Excellent! That’s terrific!”
“So where do you want this delivered?”
“Just a minute.” There was a pause and the sound of several voices conversing. A few moments later Gus came back on the line and said, “Do you know where Stroud is?”
“Sure, just southeast of Barrie.”
“We got a job site up there.”
“Okay, can I get some directions?”
Gus gave Mark the information, and Mark was on his way to netting some easy money.
The directions to the construction site were good and Mark had no trouble finding the project. There were raw materials piled up in the empty field behind a construction trailer, and there were a variety of vehicles on the site as well, all of them different colours with different company names on them.
Mark pulled into the lot, stopped and looked all around for Gus’s car, but it was nowhere to be seen. He decided to wait a few minutes before calling, and sure enough Gus pulled off Tenth Line and onto the site a short time later.
“You really got it here, eh?” Gus said, as he walked around the lowboy admiring the excavator.
“Of course I did,” said Mark with a tinge of pride in his voice. “I always deliver my load… on time.” He was about to say in good shape too, but the incident in the tunnel stopped him.
“And you didn’t have no trouble?”
“What’s ‘not really’ supposed to mean?”
“Well, I got tangled up in some overhead wires in the city.”
“Did the cops show up?”
“It was hydro guys mostly. I think there were a few policemen directing traffic. That’s about it.”
“And the cops didn’t ask you any questions.”
“Not really, no.”
Gus smiled. “So no problems, then.”
Why was he so concerned about “problems” Mark wondered. Maybe he knew what had happened in the tunnel and was testing Mark’s honesty. If he damaged the excavator and said nothing about it, that would be the same as lying to the man. And Gus probably didn’t appreciate being lied to. So, considering all that, it was probably best to come clean and admit everything. “I got stuck in a tunnel too. Scratched the arm of the excavator a bit, but that’s it.”
“Were the police there too?”
Again with the police. “No, I didn’t have to call anyone for that one. I was able to drive right through the tunnel without stopping. Scratched up the excavator, and the roof of the tunnel got torn up a bit, but I just kept on going like it never happened.”
“But I did damage the excavator a bit,” Mark repeated.
Gus looked up, even though the damage to the arm wasn’t visible from the ground. “Ah, so what? It gives the thing some character. The important thing is you got it here, right?”
“I guess.” Mark had never seen anyone so blas about the condition their load upon delivery. Most guys were keen on damage to their property and tried to weasel a few hundred bucks out of the driver, or get the whole thing delivered – no charge.
But not Gus.
“Here,” he said, peeling off two $100 bills from his bankroll, completing their $500 cash agreement.
Mark pocketed the money so fast, the bills barely saw the light of day.
But Gus wasn’t done yet. “And here’s a little something extra, you know… for the wife and kids.” He handed Mark an extra $50.
“Thanks,” said Mark. “But I’m not married. No kids.”
“So what do you want from me?” Gus said with a shrug. “Spend it on whatever you want.”
“Gee, thanks!” Mark said, like he was a 12-year-old who’d just been given a candy.
“Fuh-get about it,” said Gus, already moving onto something else. “Now let’s get this thing off the trailer so we can both get out of here.”
Mark got to work undoing the chains that secured the excavator to the lowboy, taking his time to wrap up each chain and secure it to the trailer before moving onto the next one.
“C’mon,” said Gus. “We haven’t got all day. We’re losing daylight, here.”
Mark wondered what the hurry was. No one was waiting for the use of the excavator, and work hadn’t even started on the site. Once they got the excavator off the trailer it would just be sitting in the field for at least a few days, maybe even a week or two. So what was the rush? “So what kind of construction does your company do?”
“Everything,” Gus shrugged. “Houses, buildings, roads…You name it, we can do it.”
“Yeah, but here,” Mark said gesturing to the surrounding land. “What are you going to be building here?”
“Houses, I think. Or maybe a shopping mall. I’m not sure.”
“So why do you need this excavator?”
“What’s with all the questions?”
“I’m just curious.”
“Well, stop being curious and get this thing off the trailer.”
Mark said nothing more, concentrating on freeing up the excavator and getting it off the trailer.
Once all the chains were unfastened and the excavator was sitting freely on the lowboy, Gus climbed up inside the machine. He had to fiddle with the ignition for a while, but this time he got it going after just a couple of minutes. Once it was running smoothly, he eased it down off the trailer and drove it to the edge of the site behind several bundles of 2x4s. By the time he shut the big machine down, it was almost totally obscured from view and only the top of the excavator arm was visible from the road.
“Thanks for all your help, kid,” Gus said as he headed toward his car.
But Mark wasn’t ready to say good-bye just yet. He was still curious about the work they’d be doing here.
“So your company’s going to put what here, exactly?”
Gus threw his hands up into the air. “Again with the questions. What’s the matter with you?”
Mark shrugged. “If they’re going to be new houses, maybe I’d like to buy one. See, I’ve been thinking about buying a place to call home for a while now…and since I drive all over the country, it doesn’t really matter where I live.”
Gus stared at him for the longest time, as if he were trying to size Mark up, or make sense of what he was saying. Finally, the man’s eyes opened wide and he began nodding his head slowly. “I get it now.” A pause. “You’re acting like a rube, but you’re really pretty smart ain’t you?”
“It just looks like a nice place to live, and if the houses are nice, you know…”
“Yeah, I know.” Gus smiled at Mark in an odd sort of way – more malice than warmth. “You’re putting the squeeze on me.”
“No, not at all.”
He pulled out his billfold and peeled off another $100 bill and gave it to Mark. “But that’s it!”
“What’s this for?”
“So you’ll stop asking questions and keep your mouth shut.”
“Really, that’s not necessary.”
But Gus wasn’t listening anymore. “Now get the hell out of here before I decide to take all my money back.”
Mark didn’t need any more encouraging than that. He was behind the wheel of Mother Load and pulling out of the site in seconds. Minutes later he was on the road heading back to the city with $650 cash in his pocket. Mark couldn’t believe his luck.
It all seemed too good to be true, and somewhere down deep inside he knew it probably was…But there’d be time to worry about all that later. Right now, he felt like celebrating and he had more than enough cash to do it right.
– Next month Mark Dalton returns in Part 3 of Cash Only.