"Are you Rick?" asked Mark."Rick's Rigs," said the man. "That's me." He was wearing a clean pair of jeans and a heavy, light blue sweater. The collar of the shirt under the sweater was crisp and clean...
“Rick’s Rigs,” said the man. “That’s me.” He was wearing a clean pair of jeans and a heavy, light blue sweater. The collar of the shirt under the sweater was crisp and clean and, judging by the rest of the guy’s appearance, he was doing pretty well for himself without having to get his hands very dirty.
“I need to have my clutch adjusted,” said Mark.
“Is it slipping?”
“Not really. I just want a little more play at the bottom end. Right now the pedal has to be all the way down for it to disengage.”
“Can you do it today?”
“I can get started on it right away, and if all it needs is an adjustment, it should be ready by five.”
“Oh, that’s great. I’ve got a load waiting for me and I’d hate to see it go to someone else.”
“Good to know you’re working,” said Rick, with an odd sort of smile on his face.
Mark wasn’t sure what to make of the man’s grin, but it unsettled him. In a way, it reminded him of a lot of the men he’d talked to when he was a private investigator working on divorce cases. Mark would ask some guy if he knew some woman and he’d smile and say something like, “Oh, yeah. Bakes the best chocolate-chip cookies in the office.” Meanwhile, the guy was having sex with her at every opportunity.
That was the same sort of smile on Rick’s face now, like he was a best friend who just happened to be screwing your wife when you weren’t around.
“‘Course I’m working,” said Mark. “You know another way to make a living?”
Rick shrugged his shoulders, but the smile never left his face.
After leaving the shop, Mark put his spare set of keys in the ignition of his rig, picked up his jacket, wallet and a few other essentials and hopped on a bus to a nearby mall. Since he basically lived out of his truck, there wasn’t a whole lot of things he needed, but it was nice to buy a new shirt, pair of shoes or a new CD every once in awhile to remind himself that his life wasn’t just about driving a truck.
He eventually found his way into a Smithbooks and checked the fiction section for any new Lawrence Block novels. He didn’t find anything new, but there was a re-issue of an older novel, Tanner’s Twelve Swingers, featuring Block’s international man of mystery, Evan Tanner. Mark picked it up, knowing it would be good for a distraction.
He spent another hour at the mall, reading the book over a few cups of coffee, then made his way back to Rick’s Rigs just before six.
“It’s not ready yet,” said Rick, before Mark could even ask.
“What? Why not?”
“We had a rebuilt transmission come in and I had to put two men on the installation. Your truck should be ready by noon tomorrow.”
Mark let out a long sigh, hoping it would settle his nerves. He’d been promised something and it hadn’t been delivered. That went against everything the trucking industry was about – on-time delivery and all that. He took another moment to compose himself, realizing it was really no big deal. After all, he wasn’t going anywhere until Friday, so it wasn’t as if the delay was screwing up his schedule. So he’d have to spend a night in a hotel. Worse things had happened, and besides, he could use a decent night’s rest.
“All right,” said Mark. “I’ll be in tomorrow. Early afternoon. It’ll be ready then, right?”
“Ready and able.” Again that smile.
Mark turned to leave.
“Hey, you need a ride somewhere?” asked Rick.
“That would be nice.”
“Harry’s just leaving,” said Rick, gesturing to a man in a Moosehead baseball cap and a pair of denim overalls. “Harry, you mind giving this guy a ride?”
“Sure, no problem,” said Harry.
“Thanks,” said Mark, getting his overnight bag from his truck and hurrying to catch up with Harry, who drove a Freightliner FLD 120 with New Brunswick plates. The truck was white, with plenty of polished chrome on the corners.
“Hey there,” said Harry, when Mark climbed in the cab.
The inside of the rig was immaculate, and it even smelled a little like a brand new truck. Obviously Harry took care of his rig, and Rick’s Rigs was doing a pretty good job of servicing it. “Nice truck,” said Mark, opening up the conversation.
“Yeah, looks good,” said Harry. “Runs good too… when it wants. Lately it don’t want to a whole hell of a lot.”
“It can’t be that old.”
“How many miles on it?”
“Not as many as it should have.”
Mark watched Harry run through the gears. He was gentle with his shifts and he didn’t seem to stomp on the pedals like some drivers. The truck was running smooth and steady, and if he didn’t know it was a 1994 model, Mark might have guessed it to be just a year or two old. “What kind of problems have you had with it?”
“You name it. Seems every time I’m out on this coast, Rick finds something wrong with it. New axle, rebuilt transmission, steering linkages…” Harry raised his hands as if to say, What can I do? “I have to admit, Rick does a good job. After he fixes something, I never have any trouble with it again. I just hope I run out of stuff for him to fix pretty soon. A few more repairs like the last one and I’ll be a company driver again.”
Mark just looked at Harry for a long time. Finally, he said, “I don’t want to tell you how to run your business, but that seems like an awful lot of major repairs for the mileage you’ve got on it.”
“Yeah, the thought’s crossed my mind, but I’ve talked to other guys getting work done at Rick’s and they all seem to be in the same boat.”
Mark wanted to suggest Harry should get his truck fixed somewhere else, but decided to save his breath. Harry didn’t seem all that unhappy about all the work, and he seemed to be doing all right despite the problems.
But even though he was holding his tongue, that didn’t do anything to relieve the bad feeling in Mark’s gut. There seemed to be something that wasn’t right about Harry and his rig and Mark hoped it had more to do with Harry than it did with the place he had his truck fixed.
Harry brought his rig to a stop and nodded to his right.
“Here you go,” he said. “Here’s where I stay whenever I need a night’s rest on the coast.”
They’d stopped in front of a motel called The Welcome Inn. It was a two-story independent and looked fairly well maintained. There were plenty of trucks parked out front and it was within walking distance of Rick’s Rig.
Dinner was a simple steak-and-potatoes special, and after dinner Mark retired to his room where he flipped on a Canucks game on TSN. During the first intermission, Mark got to thinking about a woman named Cindy he’d met the last time he was out on the coast. She lived in Vancouver, seemed to have a thing for truckers and, if he was lucky, he might be able to meet up with her for a drink and a few laughs.
He fished his address book out of his overnight bag and found her number under the Cs.
“Hello?” said a man’s voice.
Mark hadn’t been expecting that, although considering how fond his memory of Cindy was, he shouldn’t have been surprised that she’d found someone else.
“Good evening, my name is Dirk Malton and I’m calling to ask if you’re happy with the service provided by your current long-distance carrier…”
The man at the other end of the line hung up the telephone.
Mark smiled, replaced the phone on the night table next to the bed and checked the score of the hockey game. The Canucks were losing to the Oilers by four. He shut off the television, made himself comfortable on the bed and cracked open his paperback.
In it, Evan Tanner was currently in Greece on his way to Latvia by way of Macedonia to help out a friend named Karlis Mielovicious. Then, according to the book’s back cover, he would meet up with a former girlfriend in the Soviet Union who, along with 11 other young women, wanted Tanner to smuggle her into the U.S.
Mark lost himself in the novel, escaping into Tanner’s world. Wouldn’t that be great, he thought between chapters, going from adventure to adventure, not knowing where the winds of fate might take you? That would be so cool. n