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 body dead inside the trailer.
It didn’t take long for the police to begin treating the man’s death as a homicide and they asked Mark to stick around the terminal while they conducted their investigation. Mark got the feeling that if he pushed and made a big stink about lost time, he could have just left his name and number with the detectives and headed off with another load.
But Mark didn’t want to get back on the road just yet. He was much more interested in sticking around to see how everything panned out. After all, how often did dead men turn up inside the back of one of his trailers. And beyond that, even though the dead man’s brother, Chunder, seemed to have the case all wrapped up for the police, Mark was still curious about who the killer might be.
It was sort of like an episode of Murder She Wrote. And even though Mark thought of himself more in terms of Mike Hammer than Jessica Fletcher, this murder had the makings of a classic hour-long television drama … a dead businessman, his brother and partner, a pretty young widow, even two unsavory villains.
“Those two men are to blame,” Chunder was telling one of the detectives with wildly exaggerated gestures. “I know they did it. And I want them arrested.”
The cop was trying to remain calm, and had tried to get the grieving man off the loading dock and somewhere private, but it didn’t look like Chunder was co-operating. In fact, it looked a lot like the man wanted to make a public display of his anger, and the more people who showed up to see what was going on, the louder his rant got.
“They are taunting us all the time,” Chunder said. “Calling us names and threatening us with violence. They are behind this.” He pointed into the crowd, but Mark couldn’t make out exactly who he was pointing at.
The cop ushered Chunder aside, so they could speak in private. Mark moved to a spot where he could overhear the interview unnoticed by the police.
“You know of a specific reason why someone might want your brother dead?”
“They don’t need a reason, they all hate us. They are jealous of my brother … he was close to being a millionaire and they are lucky if they can make payments on their trucks.”
“Okay, so that makes them assholes,” the cop said. “But why would they want to kill your brother?”
“You know what happened in New York?”
The cop nodded.
“They blame us for it, think we’re involved somehow.” Chunder was getting louder now, shouting into the crowd of onlookers. “I know who did this … I want those two men arrested.”
It sounded as if the man’s rant had come full circle. Mark had heard it once already, and it was beginning to wear thin. He decided to get a cup of coffee and see if he couldn’t find more about the dead man, and the two suspects, the two men he knew as Cigarette and Toothpick.
When he got to the Food Terminal coffee shop, Mark bought a large coffee and a fritter, then scanned the faces of the customers, hoping to find someone he recognized.
And then he saw a familiar face in the crowd.
“I know you, don’t I?” he said, sitting down next to a short dark-haired man with a thick mustache and beard.
“You look familiar to me too,” he answered.
“I think we were lined up together a couple times at the rail yards in Concord waiting for loads.”
“Yeah, that might be it, how’s it going?”
Mark smiled. “Ah, you know … if it doesn’t want to go, I give it a push.”
The man smiled. “My name’s Cheyenne Ashukian.”
“Is that a native name, Cheyenne?”
“Nope, it’s Armenian.”
Mark extended his hand. “I’m Mark Dalton. I don’t know what my name is since I’ve got ancestors spread out all across Europe.”
“That makes you a Canadian… like me.”
“Right,” Mark laughed, taking a sip of his coffee and bite of his fritter. “You know anything about the guy they found dead this morning?”
“Yeah, that was his name.”
“Never did me wrong.”
“His brother thinks it was a couple of guys who’ve been giving the family problems since September.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. People just see your face and skin color, and they think you’re a terrorist, or you know somebody who is.”
“Are they Muslim?”
“You see, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. They’re not even Muslim, they’re Hindu … That’s why they left Pakistan, but I doubt there are two dozen people in the terminal who know that, or even care.”
Mark looked at Cheyenne. Although he was Armenian, he could easily pass for someone from Afghanistan, or any other country in the Middle East he reasoned.
“You had problems since then, too?”
He shrugged. “Just little things, usually from small-minded people.”
“You think those two guys did it, like the dead man’s brother says?”
Cheyenne thought about it for a long while, then shook his head. “They’ve given the brothers a hard time, sure … they’ve even had a few words for me, but I doubt they’re stupid enough to kill anyone over it. I mean, they’ve all got trucks to pay for and mouths to feed … They talk a good game, but I’ve seen one of them – the one with the toothpick – haul a load for the brothers.”
“They hired those guys?” Mark asked in disbelief.
“The loads were sub-contracted a couple of times so the drivers didn’t know who they were really carrying for … I think they knew though, but they didn’t want to ask too many questions about it, if you know what I mean.”
“And the dead guy, Dahn … He didn’t mind giving them work?”
“I don’t know, he was a pretty decent guy. He probably knew those guys were full of shit … and he needed loads moved.”
“Then if it wasn’t those two jokers, who would want Dahn Nanalal killed?”
Cheyenne laughed at that question. “You tell me one trucking company owner who doesn’t have at least a few enemies out there.”
Mark was about to mention his dispatcher Bud, but he remembered the hard right to the jaw he’d taken a while back when he’d filled in for Bud. The guy’s name had been Glen, and he’d wanted to beat Bud to a bloody pulp for sleeping with his ex-wife. “Well, I guess I can’t argue with you there.”
“Owners got all kinds of skeletons in their closets, especially the ones who are really successful in a short period of time … A lot of them don’t always play fair with their drivers.”
“And this Dahn Nanalal was like that?”
“Are you kidding, I’ve never seen a guy work so hard in my life. He had his company 15 years and was only starting to make some real money the last three.”
“So maybe he was killed over something that had nothing to do with his company, or trucks,” Mark said, thinking aloud.
“Maybe,” Cheyenne replied, “but with these guys their business is their life.”
That was probably true, but no matter how hard someone worked, they still had a private life.
After all, the trouble he’d gotten into while filling in for Bud had been a personal matter and had had nothing to do with the trucking business.
Maybe that was what was going on here?
Mark decided it might be worth checking out.
– Next month Mark Dalton: Owner/Operator returns in Death rides a semi – Part 3.