After dropping off his reefer of frozen beef in Vancouver, Mark called his dispatcher Bud for a new load.He'd either called at just the right time or Bud was in an especially good mood because Mark wa...
After dropping off his reefer of frozen beef in Vancouver, Mark called his dispatcher Bud for a new load.
He’d either called at just the right time or Bud was in an especially good mood because Mark was given a load coming out of the very same yard he was in, and which fit on the standard 40-foot chassis he already had connected to Mother Load.
Too good to be true?
Of course it was.
It took a three hour wait to get the container of imported Japanese auto parts loaded onto his chassis, and another 20 minutes for Mark to find his way out of the yard.
But, a few hours wait wasn’t too bad considering he’d be driving the load for the next three days. The trouble with extended waiting periods came when you were delivering containers at a flat rate, or driving just an hour or two to make the delivery. Something’s definitely wrong when you’re spending more time waiting than driving.
Mark hoped, for the sake of the local city drivers, that the intermodal operators across Canada got their act together soon because if they didn’t do something to fix the system now, things would only be getting worse.
But that was behind him now. He was out on the Trans-Canada with nothing but long hours and open road in front of him before he hit his destination in Winnipeg sometime on Wednesday afternoon.
He decided to drive for six hours and sleepover outside Calgary.
That would give him two more days driving, one to get halfway through Saskatchewan, and another to reach Winnipeg, making his delivery with more than half a day to spare.
After a good night’s rest on the outskirts of Calgary, Mark had a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausage while reading the morning edition of the Calgary Herald. The big story of the day was news of a child being taken from her family’s campsite at Banff National Park.
That made three children abducted in the last two weeks, one in Saskatchewan and now two in Alberta.
Things didn’t look good for the family, since the first two girls had both turned up dead in rural areas just off the Trans-Canada.
Mark felt sick to his stomach and had trouble finishing his breakfast.
It was a terrible thing to lose a child, but it had to be hell for the families knowing there was a very good chance the child would turn up dead.
Mark took the picture of the girl with him and posted it inside the cab of Mother Load.
Maybe he’d see her somewhere on the road.
It was a long shot, but stranger things have happened. Especially to him.
Mark drove straight on through to Swift Current, where at three in the morning, he was due for some sleep.
But before he caught some Z-Z-Z, Mark had a craving for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. He wasn’t sure why he wanted one so bad, but every once in a while he felt the need to eat a fat-soaked, artery-clogging burger that tasted really, really good.
Luckily for him, there was a McDonald’s in Swift Current not very far from the highway.
Within minutes of pulling off the Trans-Canada, Mark was in line, salivating at the smell of freshly grilled 100 per cent Canadian beef.
There were four people ahead of him in line, including a short, thin man with a bad comb over standing right in front of him. Normally Mark wouldn’t have noticed the guy, but he was constantly shifting from foot to foot while he waited, and he smelled as if he could have used a bath, like yesterday.
When the little man stepped up to the counter, he ordered a Big Mac combo, and a Happy Meal. That was curious.
Mark took a look around the restaurant and couldn’t find a kid anywhere.
“You must be hungry,” Mark said.
“What?” the little man said.
“I said you must be hungry,” Mark repeated. “A Big Mac and a Happy Meal.”
“Oh,” he laughed. “The Big Mac’s for now. I’ll have the other meal late … you know, for a snack on the road.” He laughed again, leaving Mark to wonder what was so funny. No offense to McDonald’s, but their sandwiches weren’t exactly the best when served cold.
And if this guy was driving, there were plenty of places to stop and get a snack along the highway in both directions.
“Oh yeah?” Mark said, acting interested. “Where you headed?”
“You wouldn’t know it.”
“Hey, I’ve been driving for years. Try me.”
“A small town called Morden, in Manitoba.”
Mark thought about that a moment, but the town didn’t sound familiar to him at all.
At least he’d never had it as a destination for anything. “They got a terminal interchange there for the states or something?”
The young girl serving them stepped up to the counter. “Your order sir.”
The little man turned around and grabbed his two meals. Then he said goodbye to Mark and it was Mark’s turn to order.
“Give me a Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal…” he said, wondering if that would be enough to satisfy his hunger. “And give me an extra hamburger, too.”
She asked if it was for here or to go.
“For here,” Mark said.
When he had his order he took a seat by the window so he could look out over the parking lot.
As he opened up his Quarter Pounder, he saw the little man walking across the lot carrying his Happy Meal in his hand.
When he got to his truck, Mark was surprised, and maybe a little disappointed, to learn that the guy drove a Peterbilt 379 similar to Mark’s, only it wasn’t in as good condition as Mother Load.
The name on the door of his truck read Power Trucking, which made Mark laugh under his breath because judging by the size and demeanor of the little man, the name should have been Feeble Trucking instead.
Mark ate his burger as he watched the man drive off.
Strange sort of guy. Nothing wrong with him to look at, but something about him had given Mark the creeps.
Enough of that, thought Mark. He’d finished his Quarter Pounder and still felt a twitch of hunger in his belly.
He opened up the hamburger and downed it in three bites. Then he took a sip of his drink and sighed. He was full, satisfied and ready for bed.
Feeling guilty about his late-night snack, and having trouble getting his constitution to co-operate with his travel plans, Mark had a coffee and bran muffin for breakfast and headed east hoping the bran would work it’s magic on his system by lunchtime.
When he stopped for fuel just after noon, he paid an extended visit to the men’s room and exited feeling pounds lighter and eager for lunch.
However, resisting the urge to indulge himself with another burger, he opted for a submarine sandwich and a Diet Coke.
He was back out on the highway a half-hour later; not looking forward to more endless stretches of asphalt that neither curved nor rose or fell.
He’d often toyed with the idea of having an automatic pilot that could be engaged just for travel across the prairies.
If such a thing existed he could catch up on his reading, do a crossword, maybe even do a little paperwork, all while putting kilometres under his wheels. A nice thought, but of course such a thing would never be…
Just then, something darted onto the roadway.
And the next few seconds seemed to slow down to a crawl.
Mark wanted to turn left to avoid it, but there were cars in the lanes on that side, and the shoulder to his right looked loose and unstable, especially for such a hard turn as he needed to make to avoid hitting the…
It was a large buck standing in the middle of the lane, transfixed by Mark’s headlights and not looking to be in any hurry to get out of the way.
Mark stood on the brakes.
The chassis wheels locked up and began skipping over the asphalt.
Mark got on the horn, hoping a sharp blast might scare the thing out of the way.
Another look left.
The lane was clear.
He turned the wheel.
Not in time.
He clipped the buck with the front right half of his truck.
Upon impact, Mark straightened out his rig and rode it out until it had come to a complete stop. Then he pulled off to the side of the road to inspect the damage.
“Awe, shit!” he said, as he walked around to the front of the truck.
The buck’s antlers had gotten tangled up in Mother Load’s grille. There
was no steam rising up out of the engine compartment so there was a good chance the light housing and fender had taken the brunt of the collision.
The light housing, the fender and the buck.
There was steam rising up from the buck’s limp and broken body. Blood leaked out of it in a dozen different places.
A long crimson streak was painted across the highway behind the truck, and the right side of Mother Load was coated in a dark red sheen.
“You okay?” someone asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” said Mark.
“What about the deer?” they asked. Then, “Oh!” as the man came up around to the front of the truck and saw the animal.
Mark climbed up into Mother Load and brought out the axe he kept in the sleeper.
Then he began the grisly task of hacking the buck free of Mother Load.