Mark Dalton: Owner/Operator Just in Time – Part 3
– The story so far…
Mark Dalton returns to Toronto and checks up on his post office box where he receives his bills and checks. Everything is in order, but when he drops into a nearby coffee shop he meets up with Johnny Jones, a young driver who Mark had helped get his first rig. Johnny is being stiffed on a pair of loads to the tune of $6,000 and is in danger of losing his rig, his wife and everything else he’s worked for. Mark agrees to help Johnny, who is unsure of what to do.
Mark urges Johnny to call up his dispatcher, a sleazy character named Tony, and ask for another load. Tony offers Johnny a load of broccoli, but Mark tells him to refuse it and hold out instead for a load of car parts that’s due at the GM plant in Oshawa by early Friday morning. The two set out to pick up the load.
Working as a team, Mark and Johnny had no trouble getting to Flint in time to pick up the load and turn it back around for Oshawa. They kept the bill of lading taped to the dash of Johnny’s Freightliner, neither one of them letting it out of their sight the whole trip.
Mark found the trip more relaxing than it should have been. Even though they would soon be taking on some risky business when they got to Oshawa, the company of another driver, someone to talk to over the miles, was a nice change of pace from driving on his own week after week.
“Have you always been a truck driver?” Johnny asked after they cleared the border at Windsor.
“Me, no,” said Mark. “I used to be a private investigator.”
“No kidding? Just like Jim Rockford and Simon and Simon?”
“Sort of like that.”
“Did you carry a gun?”
Mark shook his head. “No, and I never needed one either.”
“Did you work on any big cases?”
“Depends on what you consider to be a big case. I did a lot of surveillance work, you know, guys wanting to see know if their wives are cheating on them, or insurance companies wanting proof that some guy claiming he’s got a bad back is really hurting or just trying to milk the system.”
“You caught guys like that?”
“Oh yeah, plenty. See, most guys who figure they can cheat the system already think they’re too smart to get caught. I remember one guy said he hurt his back working on a loading dock.
“He went around a corner with a box in his hand, lets out a yell and comes back around the corner all hunched over and saying he can’t straighten up anymore.”
“How’d you catch him?”
“He was stupid. After three years he’s awarded this big payout, but after receiving the judgment, and before getting the check, I followed him one Sunday to a soccer field. I thought he was just going out to watch the game, but imagine my surprised when he suited up for one of the teams. I wrapped up my camera in the Sunday paper and taped him scoring a goal and being tackled by all his teammates. The insurance company showed the tape to a judge and the guy was arrested for fraud while I got a five-figure bonus.”
“Why’d you get out of it?”
The smile left Mark’s face and he let out a sigh. “A woman came into the office one day and said she thought her husband was cheating on her. She’d known he’d been cheating on business trips over the years, but now she thought he was cheating on her in the city and she couldn’t tolerate that. So, I took the case, followed the guy for a week, and he eventually met someone at a local motel.”
“Yeah, so?” Johnny said, when Mark hadn’t said anything for a while.
“So, I managed to set up my camera in an open window and taped the guy having sex with this woman.”
“Wow, you must have got some pretty hot stuff over the years.”
“Yeah, ‘cept the woman the guy was with happened to be my wife.”
“Oh, Mark, I’m sorry I didn’t -“
Mark cut Johnny off with the wave of his hand. “Don’t worry about it. See, I was spending so much time watching other guys cheat on their wives, I wasn’t paying enough attention to the woman I was leaving home alone every night. I don’t blame her for what she did, but I would have appreciated her just telling me it was over so we could go our separate ways.”
“That when you became a driver?”
“Yeah. Sold everything I owned, bought a rig and headed out on the open road.”
“Do you still do any detective work?”
Mark turned to Johnny and smiled. “Let’s just say, I help people when they need it.”
“Like me?” asked Johnny.
By the time Friday morning rolled around, they were in position and ready to place the call.
Mark offered Johnny the use of his cell phone, but Johnny wanted to do this on his own cell, just in case things went wrong and there’d be some record of Mark’s involvement through the phone company.
Mark appreciated his concern, and had a feeling that after this was over, he’d be better able to take care of himself.
Johnny dialed the number.
“Hi Tony, this is Johnny.”
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Well, not so good.”
“What’s wrong? Didn’t you get the load?”
Mark was listening in on the call and was delighted to hear there was some real panic in Tony’s voice.
“I got the load all right, but I can’t deliver it.”
Johnny was stretching it out just like Mark had told him.
“What do you mean you can’t deliver it?”
“My truck’s broke down and… well, I don’t have any money to get it fixed right now.”
“No problem, Johnny,” Tony said, “I’ll send another truck to take the load.”
Johnny looked over at Mark with a look on his face that said, “What should I do?”
“Say, ‘yes’ and hang up.”
“Yeah, okay, Tony. That’d be good.” And then Johnny hung up.
“Wait until he realizes he hasn’t got a clue where you are.”
Both men had a good laugh.
Three minutes later, Johnny’s cell phone rang.
“Johnny, this is Tony again.” There was a bit of nervous laughter in his voice. “I can’t send a truck if I don’t know where you are, buddy. Where are you?”
Mark was going to tell him what to say, but Johnny was beginning to get the hang of it. “Ah, let me check… Somewhere between Flint and Toronto.”
“Okay, cut the funny stuff, I need to send a truck right away to make it into Oshawa on time.”
“I’m not telling you where I am, Tony.”
“Why not, what’s going on?”
“This load’s not going into Oshawa until I get paid for those missing loads.”
“Come on, Johnny, you know we’re still looking for those bills of lading. There are papers all over this office, and finding your bills is going to take some time. You deliver those parts and I promise you I’ll do my best to find the papers on the missing loads.”
Johnny covered the phone’s pick-up mike and looked over at Mark.
“How long have they been looking for the bills already?” Mark asked.
Johnny counted the days as if they were floating in the air before his eyes. “Five.”
Mark was shocked by the number. Obviously no one was looking for anything in the JJ & G offices. “And you’re sure you submitted all the bills of lading together at the same time?”
“They were all stapled together.”
“Tell him ‘No way’ and hang up.”
Johnny lifted his hand from the mike and said, “I’ll deliver the load when I get paid!” And then he hung up.
After a few moments of silence, Johnny looked over at Mark and said, “What do we do now?”
“We wait.” n
– Next month: Just in Time, Part 4.
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