THE STORY SO FAR:
At a truck stop Mark misplaces his keys. He retraces his steps but no luck, the keys are nowhere to be found. Just when he thinks that losing his keys is the worst thing that could happen to him he sees a Child Find poster and realizes there are always worse things in life.
The driver of the Child Find truck strikes up a conversation with Mark and tells him all about the program. Basically, the purpose of Child Find is to educate people so fewer children go missing in the future. When Mark mentions his keys are missing, the man suggests he check inside his truck. Mark does, and finds his keys in the ignition…
Mark stared at his keys in the ignition of Mother Load, dumbfounded. Keys in an unlocked truck was a bad situation -of that there was no doubt -but worse still was how it had been possible that he’d left the keys in there to begin with. It wasn’t like him, but after so many years on the road he really couldn’t fault himself for being careless this one time.
If it started happening on a regular basis, he’d be in trouble, but for now he was determined not to let it happen again. And now that he was back on the road, it was time to give his dispatcher Bud a call and tell him the good news.
He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Bud’s number.
“Hey Bud, it’s Mark.” “Mark who?”
“Mark this day on your calendar. I found my keys.”
“Where were they?” “You’ll never guess.”
“Under Mother Load’s left front tire,” Bud said.
“What kind of guess is that?”
“You said I’d never guess, so I thought I take a flyer and try the last place they could possibly be.”
“Well, they weren’t under the wheels… they were still in the ignition.”
“You’re kidding? That sounds like something my nephew Jimmy might do, not you. Not Mark Dalton.”
Jimmy was a new driver Mark had trained on a cross-Canada trip that also had them drive south into California. Jimmy was on his own now, driving for a company in New Brunswick and doing well for himself, according to his uncle.
“Yeah, well, even Mark Dalton screws up now and then.”
“Just now and then?”
“It won’t be happening to me again, ever. At the next truck stop I’m getting keys made and hiding them in the truck.”
“Good, cuz I’d hate to have you lose your keys in Texas.”
“Sacramento load’s been taken?”
“Yeah, but Texas is still far enough. They’ve made a couple of arrests in the truck yard murder. They’re also looking into something about some truck driver stopping by the widow’s home. Too bad she didn’t get the guy’s name.”
“Who was that masked man?” Mark said, in his best deep radio announcer voice.
“Nobody knows.” “Let’s keep it that way.”
“You want the information on this load, or what?” Bud asked. “You’re not the only driver I dispatch, you know.”
Bud gave Mark the details.
A few hours later Mark was hauling a trailer of zinc that had originated in a mine in northern Ontario. Mark had no idea what the zinc was used for or what was made with it but he was headed to a pharmaceutical company in San Antonio and he was pretty sure someone there would know what it was for.
He crossed the border in Windsor and was relieved to find that the shipper’s papers were impeccable. The Customs guy had told him zinc was one of Canada’s biggest exports to the US, and this company sent shipments south on a regular basis…who knew?
Now with the border behind him and several days on the open road ahead of him, Mark was able to relax a little. In a few days, or maybe a week, the police will have caught up with the rest of the people involved in the truck yard murder and it’ll be safe for him again in Ontario. Still, a few loads to the US, maybe across to California and up through Washington State with a return east from British Columbia might be a good idea, just to be sure.
And while he was on the subject of being safe, he saw a full-service rest station ahead and decided it was as good a place as any to stop for fuel and stay the night.
As he fueled Mother Load’s tank he idly watched as ads for gas and a bunch of the truck stop’s services flashed onto the screen just above the pump. There were laundry facilities, a theater, a games room, showers, and then… the face of a missing child appeared, aging before his eyes into a best-guess as to what the boy might look like now.
“Well, what do you know?” Mark muttered. This Child Find group, and others like it, must be set up across North America.
After fuelling, Mark parked Mother Load and headed for the kiosk inside the truck stop that cut keys. He decided to get two keys cut for the outside of the cab and two for the inside. He was getting older and he’d probably forget where he hid a single key so it was a good idea to have a back-up, or three.
“You want little magnetic cases to hide the keys?”
“They have that sort of stuff?” Mark asked. Apparently he wasn’t the only driver to misplace his keys.
She showed him a display with all sorts of devices to store spare keys in inconspicuous spots just about anywhere on the truck. “Or I could sell you a roll of electrical tape so you can tape a key to part of your engine.”
Mark liked that idea, figuring a piece of electrical tape on a length of black hose or wiring would be virtually undetectable.
Then again, he’d probably never find the key, especially if he had to look for it at night in the middle of a snowstorm…which was probably exactly when he’d misplace his keys next. “I’ll take the magnets,” he said.
After dinner Mark contemplated seeing a movie and taking a long hot shower before turning in for the night. As he was exiting the restaurant, he heard some commotion over by the rest-rooms. He glanced in that direction and saw a young girl crying loudly, the sort of cry you hear in a grocery or department store when a parent says “No” to a piece of candy or new toy. Next to the restroom was a convenience store with a large display of toy trucks and stuffed animals, so that seemed a likely fit.
But as the man tried to lead the girl away, she resisted and began pulling against his hand.
Normally, Mark would have looked away from the awkward situation. He didn’t have children himself but he knew how difficult it was for parents to deal with spoiled or unruly kids. It was tough enough for them without the added pressure of strangers staring.
“No, no,” the girl kept saying.
‘Unless’… thought Mark. Unless this situation wasn’t as innocent as it seemed. Maybe there was something more going on here, something sinister. Either way, it wouldn’t hurt to see what was going on.
Mark walked over to the girl and said, “Is everything okay?”
The man glared at him with eyes like lasers. “Mind your own business, buddy, I’m her father.”
“Daddy, no,” cried the girl.
“It doesn’t seem like she wants to go with you,” Mark said.
A crowd was appearing now and the man seemed less sure of himself. “Like I said, mind your own business.” He turned to the girl. “Let’s get out of here.”
“No,” she said again, jerking her arm. “Mommy!” she cried.
“April?” a voice called out in the distance.
The man suddenly let go of the girl’s arm and headed for the exit.
“Mommy!” the girl ran toward the women’s washroom and her mother’s waiting arms. As the mother hugged the girl she pointed in Mark’s direction.
“Thank you,” the mother said to Mark.
“I didn’t do much, just asked a question.”
“It must have spooked him.” “Is he the girl’s father?”
“We’ve been divorced six months,” she said. “When I got full custody he said he might try something like this, but I never thought…”
As she continued talking, Mark thought too, about Child Find and one poster that would never see the side of a truck. •
-Mark Dalton returns next month in another exciting adventure.
Did you know that there ar
e 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
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