The story so far...Mark delivers his load of carpet in Hamburg, New York and is happy to come back across the border empty to pick up a load of bulk rice headed for Calgary. In the Ravi Roadway office...
Mark delivers his load of carpet in Hamburg, New York and is happy to come back across the border empty to pick up a load of bulk rice headed for Calgary. In the Ravi Roadway office, Mark meets one of the two brothers who own the company, as well as the wife of the other brother, who no one has seen all morning. Leaving the office, Mark is hassled by a couple of redneck truckers who don’t like the fact that Mark is working for a company that ships produce from Pakistan. Mark brushes the loudmouths off, but after backing up the empty trailer to the loading dock, he opens the doors to find a dead body inside the trailer.
Mark goes for a coffee while the police investigate what looks to be a murder. He meets up with a familiar face in the coffee shop and asks a few questions about the dead man. Was the man really killed by the loudmouths in a racially motivated murder that’s connected to the attacks in New York City? Would the redneck truckers go so far as to kill a man over such a thing? Mark’s friend doubts the two rednecks would ever kill anybody, even though the dead man’s brother insists that the two commited the murder.
When Mark returned to his rig he offered the cop guarding the back of his trailer a fresh cup of coffee. The cop seemed pleased by the gesture, accepting the coffee with great appreciation. He was a young man in uniform and looked bored with his assignment. Mark was certain that the cop had gotten all excited about being around a murder scene, only to be disappointed with the job of keeping an eye on an empty trailer.
“Thought you would have been gone by now,” the cop said.
“No, I thought I’d stick around, you know, see what happens.”
The cop shrugged. “Detectives said they don’t need you anymore.”
Mark ignored the comment.
“Are the detectives getting anywhere on the case?”
The cop looked at him. “Why? What’s it to you?”
Mark realized that while the cop was young, he was also very bright and would become suspicious if Mark asked too many questions. Mark would have to be careful not to make his prodding too obvious.
“Well, in addition to the dead guy being found in the back of my trailer, I used to be a private investigator … before I became a trucker, so I’m curious about stuff like this.”
“Private Dick, eh?”
Mark smiled, humoring the policeman. “For example, I figured that the man had been dead about 12 hours … maybe a little more, 16 at the most.”
The young cop looked at Mark curiously. “How’d you know that?”
“Am I right?”
“Have they made a guess as to how the guy was killed?”
The cop paused a moment, as if sizing Mark up. Finally, he answered the question, hopefully because Mark had shown that he wasn’t just being nosy.
“Blow to the head, most likely.”
“Blunt force trauma,” Mark said.
“Think there was a fight?” Mark asked, knowing there were few signs of a struggle inside the trailer.
“They’re looking into it.”
Mark nodded. “Do you think he was killed in the trailer?”
“I don’t know. The dead man’s brother says he was probably sweeping the trailer out late last night so it would be ready this morning … for you.” He said the last two words with a bit of surprise in his voice, as if he’d been startled by the connection.
“He did a lot of that sort of thing, working late, cleaning up…”
“So he died in the trailer?”
The cop looked as if he was becoming irritated by Mark’s constant questions.
There was only so much a cup of coffee bought you, it seemed, and Mark was kicking himself for not bringing along a donut as well. “Yeah, it looks like he died in the trailer.”
Mark didn’t believe that. His gut was telling him otherwise. “Don’t you think it’s kind of too neat and tidy a story for you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the dead man’s brother is pointing you guys … no, he’s shoving you guys in the direction of the killer, or killers. I mean, he’s even providing you with a motive.”
The cop just looked at him, as if he had finally worn out the thin welcome the coffee had earned him.
But Mark didn’t care. If he could put a few ideas into the cop’s head, maybe some of it might make its way to the detectives.
“The dead man was supposedly in a fight with a couple of troublemakers, but the broom isn’t broken or scratched in any way.
“There should be loose bristles all over the back of the trailer, but it’s clean… I know if I’m being attacked and I have a broom in my hand, I’m going to use it to defend myself.”
The cop looked into the dark, empty rear of the trailer, as if thinking. “And if he was hit over the head with something in the back of the trailer, then where’s the blood spatters? I’ve never seen anyone get their head cracked open, but I imagine it can be pretty bloody … There’s not even much blood on the floor of the trailer where he fell. If that’s where he died, there would be a huge puddle of blood all around him.”
The cop continued looking into the back of the trailer for a while longer, then turned around to face Mark. “Well, he was a pretty old guy, so if he were attacked by two younger men, maybe he didn’t have the chance to defend himself.”
Mark shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he said. He had tried not to come off sounding like a wise-ass or smart-aleck, but judging by the cop’s face, he’d failed miserably.
“Look, pal… Thanks for the coffee, but with all due respect, why don’t you get into your truck and get the hell out of here?”
Mark shrugged. “Sorry, I was just trying to help out.”
“Yeah, well, as shocking as it might sound, we don’t need your help.”
“Oh, I think you do.”
Mark regretted the comment the moment he’d said it, since his words seemed to have pushed all the wrong buttons. The polite demeanor and bit of respect the young policeman had been showing Mark up until now was suddenly gone.
Instead, the man scowled at Mark and it was clear that the cop wasn’t interested in hearing any more of Mark Dalton’s ideas on the case.
“Look, pal, they’ve got four detectives working this case and with all their years on the force I’m sure they’ll be able to figure it out without your help … just like they did on all the other murders they solved lately.”
Mark wanted to say something more, but he’d been around cops long enough to know when to back off and leave well enough alone. Besides, he’d basically said the cops didn’t have a clue as to what they were doing and it was pretty hard to backtrack from something like that. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to try. “I suppose you’re right.” He hunched his shoulders once. “You know how it is … people don’t get caught up in murder investigations all that often, so when one happens and you’re right there on the scene, it’s pretty easy to get carried away.”
The cop looked at Mark with something akin to pity. “Look, if it’ll make you feel any better, I’ll pass along your theories to the detectives.” Mark didn’t believe him. He was obviously just trying to get rid of him now.
“Sure, whatever,” Mark said. He turned and started to walk away when the cop grabbed his jacket sleeve and stopped him. “Hey,” the cop said.
Mark turned around. “What?”
“Thanks for the coffee.”
“Don’t mention it.”
– Mark Dalton: owner/operator will return next month in the conclusion of Death rides a semi.