The Mark Dalton Project, Part 1

by Edo van Belkom

Mark had been spending much of the winter driving long-hauls between Toronto and Edmonton. When the weather was bad on the prairies, the drive could be a challenge, but with the weather improving and spring just around the corner, the route could get a little boring. If Bud didn’t give him something else in the next few weeks, Mark was going to have to ask for a change of scenery, maybe even some shorter hauls.

But as so often happened in the past, just as Mark was thinking about his future, his phone rang as if it were opportunity herself calling.

Mark glanced at the number but didn’t recognize it. “Now who could this be?” he said under his breath as he answered the call. “Hello?”

“Hi. Mark?”

“Yes. Who is this?”

“It’s Aunt Mary,” said the voice on the other end in a bright, sunny tone. “I hope it’s not a bad time to talk.”

Aunt Mary, Mark wondered. He hadn’t spoken to her in a year, and hadn’t seen her for even longer. She wasn’t truly an aunt, but she was such a close friend of the family when he was growing up, he just called her by that term of endearment.

“Well, well, Aunt Mary. I haven’t heard from you in ages.”

“I know. It has been a long time.”

Mark remembered her coming over to his parent’s house two or three times a week so she and his mother could go out to the movies, or to bingo. He also remembered that she’d often bring home-baked chocolate chip cookies whenever she visited. As a result, he’d always been excited to hear she was on her way over. “What can I do for you, Aunt Mary?”

“It’s funny you say that because I am calling to ask you a favor.”

“After so many years I didn’t think you called up just to talk.”

“No,” she said quickly. Then, after a pause. “It’s my nephew.”


“Yes. It seems he’s gotten into some trouble with the law. I’ve bailed him out of jail and now I want to do what I can to help him get his life back on track.”

“What kind of trouble?” Mark wanted to know.

“Well…” She took a deep breath on the other end of the line. “First he was arrested for possession of marijuana. But I didn’t know about that until he breached his release conditions and was re-arrested for a second time. This time it wasn’t just possession. The police say he had enough drugs on him for the purpose of trafficking.”

“That’s not good.”

“No, it’s not. It’s terrible.”

“So how do I fit in?”

“The boy,” then a pause. “You know, he’s 21 but I still call him a boy. Isn’t that funny?”

Mark was silent. None of this was funny when you thought about it.

“Anyway, in the past he’s had an interest in driving trucks for a living and I thought if you took him on the road with you and taught him how to drive, it might give him some purpose, maybe some direction in his life. At the very least, it might get him away from some of the people who are a bad influence on his life right now.”

Mark let the phone line go silent as he thought over the request. He had trained young drivers before, most notably Bud’s nephew, who he’d taken on a cross-country trip that eventually saw the young man become an ice road trucker and an owner-operator in his own right. But Jimmy had been highly motivated to succeed and had already taken driving and other related courses before the two had ever met. This guy would be a whole different matter altogether. This young man would need coaching and coaxing. There would be a lot of teaching and instruction and Mark would always have to keep a watchful eye on him to ensure that he remained focused on the task at hand. From the sounds of it, Aunt Mary’s nephew could be difficult to deal with and fail just as easily as succeed.

“Sounds like a lot of work,” Mark said.

“I know it does. It’s a heck of an imposition and I hate asking you, but I don’t know what else to do.”

“Have you talked to him about this? Is this something that he wants to do?”

“To be honest, he doesn’t really know about this yet. But he really has no choice in the matter. I’ve just bailed him out of jail, and I’m his surety so he has to do what I tell him, especially when one of the bail conditions says he has to seek and maintain gainful employment.”

Mark was still on the fence. “I don’t know Aunt Mary, I’m not the type of person to give someone second and third chances. I could take him on, but I don’t think I’ll be putting up with much bull. The minute he screws up it’ll be over.”

“I completely understand. In fact, that’s what I was hoping you’d say. I plan on telling him that this will be his only chance. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll remove myself as surety and he’ll have to go back to jail.”

“I dunno,” Mark sighed. “It’s a big commitment.”

“I know. That’s why I didn’t want to call you at first, but your mother insisted. She said you love challenges and you’d likely take on my nephew as a project. That was the very word she used.”

“You called my mom?” It was dirty pool, but he wasn’t surprised. After all, he’d learned everything he knew about getting through life by watching the way his mother did it.

“She said I should only mention it to you if you were unsure. She said that you would understand if we were a bit sneaky about it. I don’t really get it, but she said it’s the way you two get things done all the time.”

“She said that, did she?”

“Yes, and that I should offer to make you cookies.”

Mark sighed. How could he refuse? “All right, I’ll be back in town in two days.”

“Great. I’ll make sure he’s ready.”

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