The story so far...Mark couldn't believe it. He'd been asked to pull his rig into the lot for inspection, something he hadn't been asked to do in years.What had gone wrong?He was met at the lot by th...
Mark couldn’t believe it. He’d been asked to pull his rig into the lot for inspection, something he hadn’t been asked to do in years.
What had gone wrong?
He was met at the lot by the Customs officer, who he couldn’t help but think had just finished with high school and was trying to make his mark at his new job. In fact, Mark wouldn’t have been surprised if this was the guy’s first week on the job, maybe even his first day.
“Is something wrong?” Mark asked.
“That’s what I want to find out,” High School said. “What are you carrying?”
“Floor coverings, carpet actually … just like it says on all the paperwork.”
The Customs officer nodded. “Well, we’ll see about that.”
At the officer’s request, Mark opened up the back of the trailer and just as it had been on the loading dock in Montreal, the trailer was loaded with rolls of German carpet.
“See, what’d I tell you?”
High School seemed unimpressed. “What’s at the front of the trailer?”
Mark wasn’t sure, but he was too far down the path to backtrack now. “Of course I’m sure.”
“Well, let’s have a look.”
And with that High School jumped up onto the trailer, then climbed to the top of the rolls of carpet. At the top of the rolls, he sat down comfortably, then pulled a pocket light from his sleeve protector and crawled on all fours into the trailer.
Mark just shook his head in disbelief. How ironic was it that he’d avoided crossing into the U.S. through northern New York State because he’d expected trouble there, only to find trouble in the usually trouble-free crossing in Lewiston. It was a crapshoot, really, and getting pulled over for inspection was absolutely arbitrary.
For example, today he was hauling imported carpet into the United States and maybe this Customs officer’s brother or father had worked in some carpet mill for years before getting laid off a few months or a year ago. Or maybe the mill was shut down, sending his family into financial hardship and putting a chip on this guy’s shoulder for any carpet coming into the United States.
It sounded silly, but it happens.
Or maybe there was some sort of international trade war going on at the moment over carpet that Mark wasn’t aware of. Those sorts of things happened with fish, or wood products, why not carpet. Maybe some European countries like Germany were dumping carpet into the U.S. and putting a lot of red-blooded Americans out of work. That would make it only natural that this officer would be holding him for inspection.
Or maybe Mark’s first assessment had been correct. Maybe this guy, High School, was new on the job and wanted to put his mark on the wall and show the other officers working the crossing that he was sharp as a tack.
That seemed most likely, but whatever the reason was, Mark had to be careful with the way he talked and acted with the officer. As much as Mark wanted to take the guy over his knee and spank him for ruining his day, Mark had to keep his cool and show some respect. Customs officers, after all, had all sorts of discretionary powers at their disposal. If you showed one of these guys some attitude, or otherwise got them pissed off, they could hit you like a Mack truck, then stop and back up over you, just to make sure you wouldn’t be getting up onto your feet anytime soon.
Mark heard High School crawling back over the carpet and a moment later he was sitting on the top roll of carpet putting away his flashlight.
“You want to tell me again what you’ve got in this trailer.”
Mark shrugged. “Rolls of carpet from Germany.”
Mark thought about what he’d seen in the trailer and what Bud had told him when he dispatched him to pick up the load. “Floor coverings… so maybe there’s some floor tiles in there too.”
High School was just shaking his head.
“What? What is it?”
High School came down from the trailer, saying nothing. When he was standing on the pavement, he waved to a couple of nearby officers and motioned them to join him.
“Do you have any weapons on you?”
“What? No, of course not.”
“Would you mind emptying your pockets?”
“No, but I don’t see…”
“Put the contents in this bucket, please.”
Mark did as he was told, putting his keys and wallet into the bucket, but didn’t understand what was going on.
“What have I done?” he asked.
“For starters, you made a false statement about your load.”
“There looks to be some tools at the front of the trailer for laying and stretching carpet. Those aren’t floor coverings, my friend. They’re floor covering installation tools.”
“You got to be kidding me.”
High School shot him a disapproving look.
“Do I look like I’m kidding?”
Mark just shook his head. The kid looked serious, real serious, like he was thinking about asking the girl down the street to the prom. It killed Mark to say the S word, but he knew if he didn’t, things would only get worse. “No sir, you don’t.”
High School didn’t bat an eye over being called sir by a man 20 years his senior. In fact he looked as if he expected it from Mark. And that grated on Mark’s nerves even more.
High School escorted Mark into the Customs office. He took down all of his personal information, not all that impressed by the fact that he had no real permanent address in Canada.
Then, when officials had all his information, they asked him if he’d like to go to the washroom and clean himself up.
Mark knew he’d dirtied his hands repairing the radiator hose, but from the way they were talking to him, it sounded like he might want to have a shower or bath before coming out again.
But when Mark stepped into the bathroom and took a look at himself in the mirror, he couldn’t believe what he saw.
Not only had his hands been turned black during his time under the hood of Mother Load, but his face had been blackened too.
There was a huge black smudge on his right cheek and a streak of oil on his left that was still fresh and glistening in the light coming from over the mirror.
But if that wasn’t bad enough, when he’d lost his balance under the hood, he’d cut his forehead. It was a small cut and he’d hardly noticed it, but it had bled badly in the last hour and there were streaks of blood over his eyes and a long thin streak that curled around his right eyebrow and ran all the way down his cheek and neck.
To top it all off, he’d torn his shirt as well, completing the ensemble.
Anyone looking at him would have wondered what the hell he’d been doing in the past hour.
The guy probably thought he’d caught a murderer, or at least some violent offender and denying him entry into the U.S. would probably make him a hero.
Trouble was, he wasn’t a killer or violent offender, he was just some sucker who’d broken down at the wrong time and happened to be pulled over when his load and his paperwork were out of synch by a hair.
Normally it would have been an honest mistake, but this time, with the help of his appearance, it was a big, big problem.
Mark cleaned up as best he could, getting most of the blood and oil off his face and running his fingers through his hair to get it sitting as straight as possible.
When he left the bathroom, he could see that Customs officers were busy unloading his trailer and were pulling out boxes of tools and machinery, none of which had been on his customs invoice.
Mark knew he was in trouble, but just how deep would be up to High School.
“So, Mark Dalton,” said High School, pronouncing Mark’s name like he was a career criminal. “It would appear that you’ve made a false statement.”
Mark opened his hands and spread them wide in a gesture that pleaded his innocence. “I was only going by what the shipper gave me. The Customs broker cleared the load too, so…”
High School said nothing in response to this. In fact, he seemed unconcerned about Mark’s excuses. It was like he had something else on his mind, something bigger.
“You ever had any trouble with the law?”
Mark was speechless. He’d had plenty of run-ins with the law, but he’d helped the police as many times as he’d crosse
d them. Of course, none of his good deeds would show up on his record, only the bad stuff. “I used to be a private investigator,” Mark said.
“I can see that,” said High School. “There are all sorts of charges here… obstruction, trespassing, mischief…”
“Nothing real serious, though, right?”
“I would call drug possession fairly serious, wouldn’t you?”
“Drug possession?” Mark said, trying to remember. “Oh, that was for a marijuana joint back in my college days.” Mark shrugged.
“That was more than 20 years ago.”
“Twenty years ago you were doing drugs … Ten years ago you were getting in the way of the police … Today you’re giving false statements to Customs officials.”
Mark wanted to say something in his defense, but everything High School was saying was true.
“We’re going to be impounding your vehicle and searching it.”
“I don’t believe this!” Mark said. “In all my years driving I’ve never been inspected, never mind searched.”
“Well, then,” said High School, “it would seem like you’re due.”
– Next month Mark Dalton returns in Part 3 of Unaccustomed.