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Mark Dalton: Owner/Operator Unaccustomed – Part 3

The story so far...Mark picked up a load of German carpet in Montreal heading for Hamburg, New York. He decides to cross into New York State at Lewiston because he's had problems entering through nort...



The story so far…

Mark picked up a load of German carpet in Montreal heading for Hamburg, New York. He decides to cross into New York State at Lewiston because he’s had problems entering through northern New York State. Mark is a mess, with oil and blood all over him and a torn shirt. No wonder he was pulled over. After an inspection the young Customs officer Mark calls High School finds that Mark isn’t just carrying carpet like his paperwork says, but carpet laying tools as well. After a brief check, High School finds out that Mark has a criminal record, not only from his days as a private investigator, but a drug possession charge from his college days…

They gave Mark his cell phone so he could make a few calls. His first call was to Bud to tell him what the hell happened and to ask him to let the shipper back in Montreal know what was going on.

He had hoped that when he spoke to Bud next there would be some news. Especially something along the lines of an apology or shared responsibility in the fines which were quickly adding up and were going to put a hole in Mark’s bottom line big enough to drive a Freightliner through. There was news all right, but it was all bad.

“The shipper says it’s your responsibility to check your load. They’ve got 100 or more trucks leaving their warehouse every day and don’t have time to check every one in detail. The driver’s got just one load, so…”

“Don’t tell me your siding with this guy,” Mark said.

“No, not at all. I’m just telling you what he said to me.”

“Do you have to make it sound like you agree with him?”

“I’ve gotten about four loads a month from him for years. The one time something goes wrong you want me to forget how much good business I’ve done with him.”

Mark could feel the frustration in him building further as every avenue he tried ended up a dead end.

“Well, at least you could call him a name or something.”

“All right, I’m just telling you what the asshole said. Feel better?”

“Yes I do, thanks. What about the broker? They cleared the load without checking the trailer too.”

“Yeah, well the shipper says he won’t be using them anymore. He’d switched to save himself twenty bucks a load, but obviously the saving wasn’t worth it.”

Mark held the phone close to his ear, unable to believe what he was hearing. “You’re telling me I’m going to end up with $20,000 in fines and have my truck impounded for a lousy twenty bucks?”

“It sounds bad when you say it that way, don’t it?” said Bud.

Mark closed his eyes and leaned forward, letting his head hit the wall.

“Look on the bright side, after you pay the fines you’ll be able to sue the shipper and the broker to recoup your costs.”

“Bud, you’re no help at all.”

“I’m doing what I can, Mark.”

Mark wanted to lash out, but pressed his lips together to stop himself from saying something he might regret later. Bud was doing the best he could and, let’s face it, there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot he could do.

Maybe what Mark needed was a lawyer. He decided to call back and ask Bud if he knew of any lawyers who specialized in Customs laws.

“I doubt a lawyer could help you right now,” Bud said, “but give me an hour or so and I’ll call you back with the names and numbers of a couple of lawyers.”

“Thanks, Bud,” Mark said. “Having a lawyer would make me feel a little better about this whole thing, and maybe even pull the reigns back on this Customs guy. He’s like 20 years old and has an attitude like I’m the guy who stole his lunch money all through high school.”

Bud laughed at that.

When Mark hung up the phone, High School was standing right in front of him with a stern look on his face. Mark couldn’t be sure, but he had a feeling High School had been standing there long enough to hear most of Mark’s conversation.

“Why do you think you need a lawyer?” he asked.

Mark was speechless a moment. Judging by the look on High School’s face, he’d heard everything Mark had said, and was intent on letting Mark know he didn’t approve.

“I…I don’t really need one. I just thought, that maybe a lawyer would like, you know, be good to have…”

“Well, you just might be right on that count, because I think you might be hiding something inside your truck.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, that’s why I’m going to have to have your vehicle disassembled, so I can check all the pieces carefully.”

“You can’t do that… can you?”

High School nodded. “Oh yes I can.”

“Don’t you need just cause, or a warrant or something?”

“You’re confusing U.S. Customs with N.Y.P.D. Blue. But if you want probable cause, how about making a false statement, and having a past criminal record for starters?”

“But you’re not going to find anything in my truck.”

“Maybe I should just take your word for it, after all you haven’t lied to me before, have you?”

Mark suddenly wasn’t feeling too well. “That truck’s my whole life, you can’t just rip it up because you feel like it.”

High School smiled like he was really enjoying watching Mark squirm. “Oh yes, I can.”

Mark turned and ran to the bathroom, sure he was going to be sick.

By the time he got to the bathroom it turned out to be a false alarm. So instead of making a call on the telephone he lowered the seat and sat down to think in peace.

Did he have anything illegal in the cab?

He didn’t think so, but then again, he’d been sure he’d be able to cross the border without a problem too. He had a Louisville Slugger behind his seat and that could be construed as a weapon even though in court the case could be made for it being an essential tool for checking tire pressure.

Mark would have to wait and see what they found and hope that his truck would be ok.

Just then the door to the bathroom opened and two men entered.

“We’re home free, my friend,” one of the men said.

“But they’re going to search our truck.”

So, Mark thought, he wasn’t the only one who was getting his world turned upside down today.

“Relax,” said the first one. “They’re not going to find the stuff.”

At the mention of stuff Mark lifted his feet off the floor and unlocked the stall door.

“Yeah, why not?”

There were a few moments of silence, and Mark imagined the first guy was bending over right now checking to see if there were any feet in the stalls. Then the sound of footsteps and the stall doors were pushed open one by one.

Mark held his breath and leaned as far left as he could. When his stall was pushed open he let it swing as far as he dared before stopping it with a finger.

“They’re not going to find the stuff because they’re checking the trailer. They can look inside every damn box, they’re not going to find nothing but empty glass bottles, just like it says on the invoice.”

“The stuff’s hidden, right?”

“Damn right it is.”

“Where?”

“Fuel tanks are tricked, only the top half’s for diesel fuel, the bottom …”

“Oh man, that’s so cool.”

“Not as cool as the cash we’ll be getting when we deliver this load.”

The voices neared, then passed his stall. A moment later the door was open and they were gone. Mark slowly lowered his feet onto the floor and took a deep breath. The irony of the situation was too much. Here was Mark, who had made an honest mistake, being raked over the coals while smugglers who were proud of the way they defied the law would be getting away with their crime and become millionaires.

After a moment, Mark thought that there was something he could do to help himself out, and catch the bad guys at the same time.

– Next month: Mark Dalton returns in Unaccustomed – Part 4


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