After dropping off his load of frozen beef in Vancouver, Mark gets a load of imported Japanese auto parts headed for Winnipeg. In Calgary, Mark reads about another girl gone missing from her family in Banff. Later Mark stops at the McDonald’s in Swift Current and meets a peculiar little man who orders a meal for himself and a Happy Meal, even though it’s three in the morning, there’s no kid in sight and there are plenty of other places on the road to get a “snack” later on. Strange, Mark thinks, and as he’s thinking about this, and not so much on his driving, he hits a deer on the highway.
It took Mark more than an hour to hack the deer free of Mother Load. A lot of the deer’s antlers had gotten tangled up in the Peterbilt’s grille, while the animals left front leg ended up wedged between the fender and the front bumper.
The antlers were easy enough to break and hack free, but the deer’s leg was another matter entirely.
It might have been possible to lever the leg free of the bumper, but Mark was unable to move the leg as long as it was attached to the deer’s cumbersome body. A conservative estimate put the animal as 300 pounds and there was no way Mark could lift or move it to get the leg free. The only option left open to him was to hack the leg from the body with his axe.
Mark began tentatively, unsure how difficult it might be to hack a fresh deer to pieces.
He’d seen butchers cut meat, but of course, they had the sharpest tools and knew exactly where to cut. He’d also seen bodies being hacked with axes in the movies, but that was the movies and wasn’t going to teach him anything about how to actually cut up a deer.
His first swing of the axe was a little weak, barely breaking the animal’s skin. He knew the thing was already dead, but there was something inside Mark that was telling him not to hurt it. Crazy, since he’d already smashed the life out of it with his truck.
Compared to killing a deer with a few tons of rolling steel, cutting its body apart with an axe seemed almost surgical.
His next swing was more forceful, breaking the skin, but doing little to cut through the big muscles in the deer’s shoulder. He tried again, each swing getting stronger and more forceful. But after a dozen swings, he was no closer to getting the animal free of his truck.
Mark took a deep breath, and spent a moment looking at the animal. An open eye stared back at him.
The deer was dead, but its eye was open and its gaze was unflinching. It was creepy, as if the deer was asking, “Why’d you do it, Mark?”
He reached out with his right hand and closed the deer’s eye. That was better. Now, with renewed determination, Mark started hacking at the animal again. This time, he held nothing back, and with each swing he was able to cut deeper and deeper into the flesh. A few times, the force of his blows forced blood to spurt from the wound. He was hit by blood in the face, hands and clothes, some of it even trickling down over his mouth.
Mark felt as if he might throw up if he had to do this for much longer, but then a particularly hard blow caught the shoulder just right, slicing through the joint and freeing the leg from the shoulder.
All that was left was a few cuts to get through a bit of muscle and the rest of the flesh.
He took a moment to catch his breath. He could never have imagined that dismembering a deer could be such hard work. His clothes were soaked, his muscles ached and he felt as if he’d just run a marathon.
One, two, three more hacks with the axe and the body of the deer fell to the ground. Mark took a moment to assess the damage.
The truck would need a new grille and fender, and maybe a new radiator. The bumper was bent, but depending on how much it would be to replace he might be able to get away with having it straightened and painted, maybe even rechromed.
He’d gotten off lucky and he knew it. Without a roo bar protecting the front of Mother Load, the collision with the deer (and a full-grown male at that) could have been a lot worse.
He’d seen rigs with their whole engine compartments smashed in by a moose, some of them even flying up and taking out the windshield and killing drivers.
In Mark’s case, a few thousand dollars might have his rig back good as new, which wasn’t too bad, but it meant that he’d be without a truck for a week.
And even if the cost of repair and a rental was covered by his insurance, there was the deductible to consider, and the probability that his premiums would be going up (again) in the new year. Any way you looked at it, this incident was going to end up costing him money.
“Dammit!” Mark said, as he dragged the carcass of the deer off to the side of the road. He was upset about the cost and feeling sorry for himself … for about a minute, until he caught sight of the deer’s other eye, wide open and staring at him as if it were still waiting for an answer to the question “Why, Mark?”
Okay, he thought. It could have been worse.
He returned to his truck and worked the leg free of the bumper. He decided to leave the antler bits in the grille, just in case anyone asked him what the hell had happened to his truck.
He also made a mental note to call the authorities to let them know there was one less deer in the province to worry about.
But that could wait. It was dark now, and Mark was bushed. He needed a few hours sleep before heading back out on the road, especially since he needed some time to unwind after killing the deer and hacking its body into pieces.
So he climbed up into Mother Load, lay down on the bed in the sleeper and drifted off to sleep.
Mark awoke after a few hours, rested but hungry. He headed off down the highway prepared to stop at the first greasy spoon he found.
It only took 10 minutes before a mom and pop diner appeared by the side of the highway.
Mark vaguely remembered eating there before, and the food being okay.
It was called Lookers now, but it had probably operated under another name the time he’d been there before.
Judging by the name, maybe only beautiful people ate there, Mark thought. Well, to hell with that, I’m going to eat there anyway.
The moment he stepped into the restaurant, there were dozens of eyes upon him.
Maybe that’s why they called the place Lookers. Everyone is looking at me.
And the look on the face of the girl behind the counter had been something else as well. Like she’d seen a ghost, or maybe a monster.
Mark picked up the tray with his burger, fries and coffee and headed for a secluded corner of the restaurant. He’d hoped that people might forget about him being there, but he could still feel their eyes on him, following him across the room as if they expected him to do something weird.
He crept into the booth farthest from the counter and started eating.
The feeling of eyes on him made him nervous, so he hunched up his shoulders trying to make himself smaller and less conspicuous.
He looked around for a newspaper and saw one on the table next to him.
He grabbed it.
It was a day-old copy of the Regina Leader-Post but it would do the job.
He folded the paper so he could hold it with one hand, and then raised it up to eye level so that people around him couldn’t stare at him any more.
“Maybe now I can eat in peace,” he muttered under his breath.
He took a bite of his burger, washed it down with some coffee, then picked up a French fry and dragged it through the pool of ketchup he’d squirted onto one side of his plate.
The fry was cold, and a bit undercooked, but it was tasty enough.
“Put down the paper, slowly,” said a voice.
“What?” Mark said, without looking up.
“I said, put it down slowly,” repeated the voice. “And keep your other hand where I can see it.”
Slowly, just as he’d been instructed, Mark lowered the paper.
Directly across from him was a large man, dressed for the most part in black, pointing the biggest gun Mark had ever seen directly at his forehead.
“What is it?”
He glanced around, there were others surrounding him, all dressed in black and look
ing a little bit like commandos.
“Put your hands down on the table and slide out of the booth.”
“What’s going on?”
“Listen asshole!” the man shouted.
“Killing you would be a waste of a good bullet, but if you don’t start doing everything I say, I’ll put one in your brain…to hell with the cost.”
Mark wasn’t sure what was going on.
Apparently somebody was thinking of killing him and was pretty damn serious about it, too.
He tried to do what they were asking, but his body was shaking and it was hard to move as fast as they wanted him to.
He was trying to get out of the booth, but his legs and arms just weren’t co-operating, and he just couldn’t seem to slide out from behind the table fast enough.
Not to worry, though.
There were plenty of people around him more than willing to lend him a hand.
One of those hands grabbed his jacket and pulled.
Then there were other hands on him, lots of them, holding him down.
“What’s going on?” Mark demanded.
“Why are you all covered in blood?” the man asked.
Mark had to think for a moment, then started laughing.
“Yeah,” Mark said. “There is.” n
– Next month, Mark Dalton will return with another exciting adventure in Part Three of Lost and found.