Mark gets a regular run between Toronto and Montreal that gives him two round-trips every three days. He ends up staying overnight at a truck stop near Kingston once every three days and notices the lot lizards working the lot. He hadn’t thought human trafficking was a problem in Canada, but now he knows it’s a problem everywhere. Mark sees one of the girls waiting for her ride one morning and sits down to talk to her. She’s not in the mood for conversation and seems afraid that she might be caught talking to Mark by her pimp. When the man arrives, it’s clear he has control over her. Mark offers her the option to stay with him, but she leaves with her pimp anyway.
Mark sees a Truckers Against Trafficking bumper sticker on a truck and he asks the driver about the organization. It seems awareness is key to combating the problem so that night Mark calls the police as soon as he sees the girls working the lot. The police stop things for a while, but everything is back to normal as soon as they leave. Mark thinks there has to be a better way…
• Mark stopped at the truck stop three more times and each time he’d been disappointed by the progress the police were making in shutting down the operation. Each night he would call the police to report the prostitution going on in the parking lot and each night a police car would show up, cruise around a while, then drive off without making an arrest.
Once, an enterprising young officer actually went around knocking on doors looking for young girls. He may have actually visited trucks with girls in them, but they were probably hidden away in sleepers and his questions were likely answered with a dumbstruck, “Nope, sorry officer. I don’t have any prostitutes in my truck. Maybe over there.”
It was like turning on a light in a darkened room and watching the rats run and hide. As soon as the police showed up the girls all disappeared. But they were back at it within minutes of their departure. It was so routine it was almost comical.
By now it had been a couple of weeks since Mark first called the police and besides the appearance of a marked cruiser every once in a while, it appeared that nothing was being done. That didn’t mean there wasn’t an investigation going on, or some undercover sting in the works, but all Mark had to go on was what he could see, and from what he could see, nothing was happening.
Mark thought about that, wondering if there was something he might be able to do that would get the ball rolling. If something happened to increase awareness of what was going on, then there’d be dozens of cops out here and the operation would be shut down in a day.
He came up with a plan.
• Around six that morning, while it was still dark out, Mark started up Mother Load and moved her around to the last spot on Party Row. Then he watched the lot closely and a half-hour later a girl exited a truck down the line and began looking for her next client.
Mark flashed his headlights and the girl immediately headed towards him.
She climbed up into Mother Load. “Hey,” she said. “You want to have sex with me?”
It was a different girl than the one he’d spoken to in the restaurant, but she was one of the regulars and would suit his purposes fine. “Sure,” he said.
“Well you better make it quick. My ride’s going to be here any minute.”
‘Perfect,’ Mark thought. All he had to do was stall for a little while. “How about we just talk a bit?”
She turned to get out of the truck.
“I’ll pay you,” Mark said. “I’ll pay whatever the rate is, but all you have to do is talk.”
“You pay in advance?”
She told him and Mark gave her the money. Then she said, “What do you want to talk about?”
Mark asked her name, where she was from and a dozen different questions about who she was and what she was doing here in this truck stop. Since he’d paid her she didn’t mind answering his questions. Her name was Cheryl and she was from Calgary. She ran away from home to get away from an abusive stepfather and wound up in Ontario where she met a man named Garfield. That had been two months ago. She’d heard that her mother and stepfather had separated, but she was working for Garfield now and there was really no way out.
“Does he have a gun?” Mark asked, figuring that would be a good thing to know.
“You a cop?”
“No. I just know guys like Garfield don’t like you talking to men.”
“Yeah, well…he’s not here is he?”
Mark smiled, liking this girl’s pluck. He was about to ask her about the gun again, but at that moment the blue van pulled onto the lot. “That’s him now, isn’t it?”
“I better be going.”
Mark reached over and put a hand out to block her. “You’re not going anywhere.” Then he started up the engine.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting you outta here.” Mark had fully expected her to make another attempt to get out of the truck, but she seemed happy just to sit tight and see what happened next. Mark asked her again, “Does he have a gun?”
“Not that I know of.”
Mark put Mother Load in gear and moved off the line, cutting the van off in the process. When the van screeched to a halt Mark rolled down his window and said, “I’ve got Cheryl. She’s going to work for me now.” And then he drove off.
As he’d hoped, the van followed.
Out on the highway, Garfield pulled up alongside Mark for a while, shouting obscenities and threats through an open window. But eventually he fell back, probably wondering how in the world he was going to pull over a semi-trailer with nothing more than a van.
But for someone without a plan he was persistent, following Mark for 20 kilometres with no sign of giving up.
Which meant it was time for phase two of Mark’s plan. He got on the radio, switched to Channel 9 and started talking. “This is Mother Load and I’m looking for some help from my friends westbound on the 401,” he said. “After looking for her for six months, I’ve just found my daughter working a truck stop outside Kingston. I’m taking her home to her momma, but her pimp’s following me in an old blue van. The girl says he might have a gun on him, she can’t be sure.”
“I see you Mother Load,” came one response.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” came another.
There was plenty of other chatter, including someone who said they’d called the police.
Mark slowed to just under a hundred to allow the other trucks in the area time to catch up. In about 10 minutes three trucks had found him, a box trailer, a flatbed and a straight truck. Shortly after, the blue van was boxed in by the three trucks, which slowed down in unison to squeeze it onto the shoulder.
The police were on the scene in no time and Mark ended up being pulled over by a pair of marked OPP cruisers, one of which had been travelling eastbound and drove over the median and against traffic to get to him.
“What’s going to happen now?” Cheryl asked.
Mark shrugged. “I think Garfield’s going to be in a lot of trouble, you might be able to go back to your family, and a lot more people are going to know what’s going on.”
She smiled at him then, a genuine smile, young and joyful and befitting a girl Cheryl’s age. “Thanks,” she said.