Mark spent the night in the parking lot of the German Heritage building in Hamburg, New York. In the morning, just after dawn, he was awakened by the tap, tap, tapping of an elderly man against his wi...
Mark spent the night in the parking lot of the German Heritage building in Hamburg, New York. In the morning, just after dawn, he was awakened by the tap, tap, tapping of an elderly man against his windshield.
The man had a hot cup of coffee and a very fresh-looking piece of strudel in his hand.
Mark was dressed and out of the truck a minute later.
In addition to the elderly man – a custodian of the building named Gunter – there were also a dozen young German men waiting to unload the trailer.
However, Mark’s instructions were just to get someone to sign for the load, and leave the trailer on site so the carpet could be unloaded as needed. Someone else would be by in a week or so to pick up the trailer when it was empty.
“I hope you didn’t have any problems crossing the border,” Gunter said, after he’d signed for the load. “We’ve had several things turned back lately, even some beer.”
“No, no problem,” Mark said, not wanting to get into it with the man. “It was a piece of… strudel.”
When all of the paperwork was in order and Mark was free to leave, he gave his dispatcher, Bud a call.
Bud was unusually polite on the phone, causing Mark to wonder if he’d dialed the number right. “Hey, Dalton…” Bud said. “Don’t worry about a thing. I’ve got a lawyer all lined up for you. He’s tied up ’til Tuesday, but promises to be down there first thing Wednesday morning.”
“No need for a lawyer, Bud. I’m calling from Hamburg looking for another load.”
“Another load? You mean I’ve been on the phone all night trying to get a lawyer for you…” Bud’s voice started out being angry, but it slowly became edged with a hint of fascination. “…and you got across?”
“How? How’d you do it?”
“It’s a long story I’ll tell you over a beer one day.”
“What about a load?”
“Well, you caught me a little off guard. I don’t have anything in the area. But, if you don’t mind coming back to Toronto empty I’ve got a load heading west.”
Normally Mark wouldn’t be thrilled about driving anywhere empty, but the prospect of crossing the border without a load was just what the doctor ordered. “Don’t mind at all. What’s the address?
“Ontario Food Terminal. It’s a shipment of bulk rice from Pakistan, headed for a packager in Calgary.”
“From Pakistan? They grow rice there?”
“Apparently … be there in the morning.”
“Okay, will do.”
Mark parked his rig far enough from the terminal to be out of the way of the people and trucks that constantly buzzed around the building.
As he walked to the terminal office, Mark was amazed yet again at how busy the placed looked.
At first glance it appeared to be a madhouse of confusion and turmoil, as if the place were under attack.
But upon closer observation it became apparent that everyone knew exactly where they had to be and when.
More than that, there was order to the madness and what seemed like chaos was actually very highly organized.
At the main terminal office he got directions to the Ravi Roadways offices and a short time later he was ringing the bell on the door of the company’s small storefront operation.
“Help you?” the young dark-skinned man said.
“I’m looking for Dahn Nanalal.”
“He’s not here right now, I’m his brother Chunder.”
“Mark Dalton,” Mark said as they shook hands. “I’m here for a load to Calgary.”
The man seemed to take a deep breath, as if Mark’s arrival was some sort of significant event. “Ah, very good.”
“Is it loaded yet?”
He shook his head. “No, no, no. My brother is usually very good about getting such things ready, but no one has seen him this morning.” A pause.
“But the trailer is in the yard. You must get it and bring it round to the loading dock.” He scribbled the trailer number, a map to its location, and the loading dock number on a piece of paper and handed the paper to Mark.
Mark studied the information. “See you at the dock.”
“Yes, I will be there shortly.”
Mark turned to leave, then noticed a young woman peeking out from a room at the back of the office.
Mark waved, but she was gone before he could say “Hello.”
“I’ll meet you on the dock,” Chunder repeated, as if trying to hurry Mark along.
“Right, see you there.”
Mark left the office with the feeling that something hadn’t been right back there, but he had enough experience to know that some guys were go-go all the time and any wasted time was always counted in dollars instead of minutes.
Then again, maybe it was something else.
Mark was suddenly stopped by a stiff hand to the chest.
When he looked up two scruffy-looking characters were standing in front of him, one with a lit cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, the other with a toothpick jutting out from his teeth like a needle.
“What’s your problem, pal?”
“My problem?” Mark said, wondering what they meant when they’d been the ones who had stopped and confronted him.
“Can’t you find any honest work?” Cigarette said. “You gotta work for Osama’s company.”
“They ship produce from Pakistan, pal.” This time it was toothpick’s turn to speak.
“Well, you can’t trust anyone from that part of the world these days, know what I mean?”
Mark didn’t know what the man meant.
“No I don’t know. In case you haven’t watched CNN lately, Pakistan’s helping the Americans.”
Cigarette took a long drag on his smoke.
“Not all of them.”
“Well, Isn’t that funny. Up until now I had refused to judge smokers as a group, choosing instead to judge them individually on a person-by-person basis. Now, meeting up with you I’m inclined to think they’re all assholes.”
Cigarette’s eyes grew wide and he was about to grab Mark by the collar when Toothpick stopped him.
“Forget it, Joe. He ain’t worth the trouble.”
Cigarette seemed to think about that for a moment, staring at Mark with two narrowed eyes.
Then he laughed, patted Mark on the cheek, turned and walked away.
Mark shook his head in dismay. If he had been harassed just for driving for their company, what had Chunder and his brother had to put up with since the attacks in New York and Washington.
Mark couldn’t even imagine.
He found the trailer off in a far corner of the yard and easily had it hooked up to the back of Mother Load in less than 20 minutes.
A short time later he had the rig backed up to the loading dock he’d been assigned, and was climbing up a ladder to get back onto the dock.
He looked up and down but Chunder was nowhere in sight. Figuring the man would be along any moment to supervise the loading, Mark undid the latch securing the rear doors of the trailer, then opened first one, then the other.
With the doors open, there was a slight buzzing sound on the air and a rather foul odor coming from inside the trailer.
Not the best smelling trailer to be shipping food in, thought Mark.
A few moments later, with the doors secured on either side of the box, Mark took a look inside the dark, dark trailer and…
“Holy shit!” he exclaimed.
There was a body lying on its back just inside the trailer. A small pool of blood had formed around the head and there was a broom lying flat on the floor next to it.
Mark took a few steps into the trailer to take a closer look at the body.
He knelt down beside it and placed a hand on the neck.
No pulse, and the flesh was cold. He tried lifting a hand, but it was stiff with rigor mortis.
He tried the neck and jaw, and they were still locked as well.
Mark guessed the man had been dead between 12 and 16 hours, and then saw something that confirmed this assumption – maggots were crawling out of the mouth and over the lips of the man’s corpse.
The satisfaction Mark felt over his correct deduction was short-lived, as it was immediately followed by the urge to vomit.
He made it out of the trailer just in time to preserve the integrity of the crime scene.
– Next month: Mark Dalton returns in Death rides a semi – Part 2