Mark was between loads, enjoying a healthy breakfast over a morning edition of The Toronto Sun.
The big news of the day was about some scandal uncovered at the truck yard he’d been working at as a shunt driver. People there were being investigated for a whole laundry list of crimes from fraud to murder.
The police said they were operating on a tip they’d received from a member of the public, someone who may or may not be employed in the trucking industry, but so far no one had come forward.
And no one would either, thought Mark. This was definitely one time where staying anonymous was a good idea. It was one thing to appear in television and in print after delivering a baby on the side of some highway in Quebec, but it was another thing completely to take credit for disrupting some organized crime venture where people had already been killed for even suggesting they might go to the police. No, Mark was happy to get as far away from that truck yard as he could and if that meant waiting a few days for a load into California or Texas, then so be it. He could do with a few days of rest, maybe take in a ball game or go to some concert.
Mark finished reading the paper with a peek at the Sunshine girl and was surprised to learn she aspired to be a veterinarian, loved shopping for clothes, and was currently single.
“Maybe I’ll look her up and give her a call,” Mark muttered under his breath as he put some money down on the table to cover his bill.
As he fished in his pants pocket for change for the tip, Mark caught sight of a man staring at him from across the restaurant. The guy was dressed in black and had a dark shadowy face, but his eyes were bright as lasers and he was staring right at Mark.
Mark’s skin suddenly felt damp under his clothes and he wondered if someone had followed him from the truck yard, tailing him across the country until he stopped on some deserted stretch of highway to relieve himself just as a pick-up truck or some big black car pulls up and four men jump out, and while he’s still doing his business they administer some rough justice for what he’d done to their operation.
But then the shadowy man’s girlfriend appeared to Mark’s left and the man said, “Don’t forget the ketchup, hon,” and she turned back and the man’s gaze turned to the newspaper on the table in front of him.
Mark, his body damp with sweat and tingles of fear still trickling down his spine, shook his head and said aloud, “I’ve got to get somewhere far, far away.”
With a sigh, he turned to leave the restaurant.
Out in the parking lot on his way to Mother Load, Mark slipped a hand into his pocket for his keys. They weren’t there. He checked the other pocket of his jeans. They weren’t there either.
He stopped where he was and began a systematic search of all his pockets, starting again with his jeans and then moving on to the inside and outside pockets of his jacket, then finally to his shirt pocket.
Nothing but loose change and his cell phone. He checked his jeans again, not expecting to find the keys there after checking them twice already, but compelled to check those pockets because that was where he always kept them.
They still weren’t there.
“Where the hell could they have gone?” he wondered aloud.
In all his years as a driver, he’d never misplaced his keys. He’d locked them in his truck plenty of times, but on those occasions he knew exactly where the keys were. This time, he didn’t have a clue.
Must have left them somewhere, he thought. But where?
He would have to retrace his steps. Obviously he’d had the keys when he arrived at the truck stop so he’d lost them somewhere between this moment and the time he parked his truck.
He turned around and headed back into the restaurant. There was already someone sitting at his table so he asked them if there had been any keys at the table when they got there.
“No,” said the man. “Just this newspaper. You want it back?”
At the cash register he caught up with the waitress who’d served him. “You didn’t find any keys on the table when you cleared it did you?”
She stared at him. “Nope, just the money for the bill.”
Mark realized that while he’d intended to leave a tip, he hadn’t actually done it. He reached into his pocket for some change and handed it to her.
She smiled and her face suddenly brightened. “Thanks,” she said. “And I’ll keep an eye out for them.”
“In the meantime you might want to check our lost and found box,” she pointed to a wooden case by the door, “you drivers are losing keys all the time.”
Mark walked over to the box and opened it.
The box was full of all kinds of keys, from single ignition keys to full key rings with a dozen or more keys on them in all shapes and sizes.
“How in the world does anyone leave this place?” Mark said as he searched through the keys in the box. Obviously they’d all been in there a long time and none of them were his. Who knew? Maybe his keys would turn up inside the box in a couple of days, maybe even a month. Great, but they’d be no use to him then. He needed them now. But if the keys weren’t in the restaurant, then perhaps he’d lost them in the washroom, where he’d gone to clean up before breakfast.
As usual, there were a dozen or so drivers in the room, several in front of the mirrors and the rest doing their business at the urinals or inside the stalls. He counted the stalls and remembered he’d used the fifth one from the door.
Since he couldn’t see any feet beneath the door he gave it a gentle push.
A man wearing big leather boots and a large black cowboy hat looked at Mark, nodded and said, “Howdy!”
Mark closed the door immediately and said, “Sorry, I’m looking for my keys.”
“Sorry pardner,” the man said from behind the door. “Nothing in here but me and the commode.”
“Right,” Mark said.
He left the washroom, exited the restaurant again, and headed back to Mother Load. When he was halfway to his truck, his cell phone rang.
“Hi Bud,” Mark said.
“You’re in luck,” said the dispatcher. “I’ve got a trailer full of machine parts
for Sacramento ready this afternoon.”
“Great,” Mark said, the word sounding like it had escaped from a well worn inner tube.
“What’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy. It’s just what you wanted.”
“It’s a great load and I do want it, it’s just that…well, I can’t find my keys.”
“Don’t you have a spare taped up under the hood or something?”
“No…” Mark felt stupid inside. He’d always meant to hide a spare somewhere on his truck, but since he’d never misplaced his keys in so many years he never bothered.
“Well, let me know when you find them. A load like this pays well and I’ve got five or six guys who’ll take it in a heartbeat.”
“I hear you,” Mark said. “I’ll call you in an hour one way or another.”
“Good luck,” Bud said.
Mark hung up the phone and searched his pockets again.
Of course, the keys weren’t there. If he didn’t find them soon, he’d have to get someone to jimmy the door of Mother Load, then he’d have to get a replacement key made, or worse still, have the entire ignition system replaced.
Mark walked over to a bench outside the restaurant that overlooked the parking lot and sat down with his head in his hands.
“This is the worst thing that could happen,” he said.
Just then, a rig pulled into the lot and eased to a stop right in front of the spot where Mark was sitting.
Mark looked up.
Just a few feet from his face was a Child Find poster fixed to the side of the trailer. Mark looked at the poster and sighed.
“Okay,” he said, “the second worst thing that could happen.” •
–Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 2 of Lost keys, found <
Did you know that there are two full-length novels featuring Mark Dalton?: Mark Dalton “SmartDriver” and Mark Dalton “Troubleload.” For your free copy register with ecoENERGY for Fleets (Fleet Smart) at fleetsmart.gc.ca