After dropping his load off in Toronto, Mark urges Bud to give him a load to Halifax. Mark is eager to head back east, because on his way west, Mother Load was broken into and he’s determined to find the thief. At a truck stop in Belleville, Mark talks to other drivers and concludes that lot lizards – prostitutes who haunt truck stops and parking lots – are to blame. He vows to find the lizard who ripped him off and bring her to justice. Mark watches the activity in the truck stop parking lot that night and marvels at the number of lizards slinking through the lot. He does his best to stay away from them, but in the morning as he’s doing his circle check, a lizard is chased by a monster of a truck driver who’s intent on hurting her… bad. Mark hides the woman in his truck and sends the irate driver on his way, but while the woman is inside Mother Load, she’s robbing Mark blind…
When the lot lizard suggested she could “show her appreciation” to Mark for not turning her over to her last, angry, client, Mark felt himself being tempted…but just for a moment. After all the girl was young, attractive, and sexy, it had been a while since he’d been with a woman, and on the road, you had to take your lovin’ wherever you found it. But before he could act on the urge, he caught a glimpse of her face in a different light and was suddenly reminded how young she was. This wasn’t a worldly woman wanting to share a few hours of fun with him, this was a scared and frightened little girl – a child really – and the only reason she was offering herself up to him was so she could stay alive.
Mark just shook his head. Desperation and survival had never been a big turn-on for him.
“No. You can start showing your appreciation by putting those coins you took back into the cup,” he said, climbing into the cab.
“Sorry,” she said, dropping a few quarters into the cup.
Mark sat in the driver’s seat and tilted the cup so he could see down inside of it. He looked up at her and sighed. “There were two five-dollar bills in there.”
“Were there?” she asked.
Mark nodded and grabbed her by the arm. “Put them back!”
She searched her pockets, then laughed nervously under her breath. “Were these them?” She produced two crumpled fives in her hand and dropped them into the cup. “I wonder how they got into there?”
Mark didn’t have to wonder. This girl was a thief, a crook, a cheat, bandit, con artist, burglar, robber and hooker. In Charles Dickens’ time she would have been called a street urchin, harlot, hussy, tart, tramp or trollop, but these days there was just one word for her… lizard. Mark made himself comfortable and put his hands up on the steering wheel. “I’m sure the police around here would be interested in you, and the truck stop owner would sure be glad to see you gone. And there a probably a dozen drivers who’d like to see you locked up for cheating them out of their money, or stealing things out of their trucks. Tell me why I shouldn’t just turn you in.”
After a few moments she shrugged. “Because you’re too nice a guy to put a pretty girl behind bars.”
Mark was angered by that comment, partly because it was true. She was a good looking girl, and so young, how could he turn her over to the police, or that angry trucker looking to do her harm? He wasn’t going to give her up to that madman, and he was hesitant to call the police, because they’d only charge her, have her spend the night in jail, then release her on a promise to appear. By the time her court appearance came up she’d be a thousand miles away doing the very same thing… so what was the point? “Yeah,” Mark said at last. “Maybe I am.”
She smiled at him and turned to leave, but Mark locked the door before she could open it.
“But I’m not about to let you get away.”
She stopped trying to leave then, and slowly turned back around, as if she’d just been propositioned and was about to enter into a “business arrangement” with a new customer.
“Open your bag,” Mark said.
“You heard me. Your bag… there’s a few other things missing from my truck and I can’t help thinking that you might be responsible in some way.”
“Look mister,” she said. “Thanks for helping me get away from that monster, but I’m hungry and I’d like to get something to eat.”
“Your bag,” Mark said firmly and without emotion.
She sighed and opened the bag.
Mark grabbed it from her. There were two of his CDs on top of the pile of stuff she’d accumulated during her travels. There were credit cards, gas cards, coffee coupons, sticks of gum and bars of soap, and a single Blackberry. Mark dug deeper and found plenty of loose change, and several pocket knives, including one stiletto with a five-inch blade. Mark took the CDs from the bag, placed them on his dash, then put the bag on the floor to his left, safely away from the girl.
“Hey,” she said. “That’s mine.”
“Yeah, well, for as long as you’re in my truck, I think I’ll keep it there. You know, for my own safety.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and sighed.
“I’ve got to admit, you work fast.”
A shrug. “I do what I have to.”
Mark stared at her for a while, sizing her up. “You’re so good, in fact, that I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re the one responsible for most of the thefts that have been going on in the truck stops between here and Halifax.”
A small grin appeared on her face, a gesture that Mark interpreted as a hint of pride. “So what if I am?”
That surprised Mark, since he’d thought she was too smart to admit to anything. But maybe she was tired of life on the run and would welcome it coming to an end. Or maybe she was just playing with him, stalling until she figured a way out. Either way Mark decided to push her a bit to see what might happen.
“Well, there are a lot of police jurisdictions who would love to make an arrest in connections with these thefts. You’ve got the Ontario and Quebec provincial police, the RCMP and dozens of local police forces in between. They could probably take you on a tour of the courthouses of Eastern Canada.”
“They’d have to prove it was me.”
Mark gestured to his left. “I’ve got a bag of proof right here, and there’s an irate trucker roaming this truck stop who wouldn’t mind testifying against you. Beyond that, I don’t think it would be too hard to find a few other truckers who remembered being with you the night their stuff was stolen.”
For the first time since she’d entered the truck, the girl looked a little unsure of herself — almost afraid.
“Please don’t turn me in,” she said.
Mark said nothing for several moments. Then he said, “You see, although I’ve had my share of contact with the law, I’m still an honest guy at heart. Ask anyone who knows me, my problem is always doing the right thing, even when it lands ME in trouble.”
“Look,” she said, all the strength and toughness back in her voice. “Are you gonna turn me in or not. If the answer’s no, open the door and let me go. I’ve got things to do.”
Just then the angry bald trucker exited the restaurant and was heading back to his truck, right past Mother Load.
Mark unlocked the doors.
“You want to leave? Go ahead.”
The girl hesitated.
The bald-headed trucker neared.
“I think someone’s looking for you,” Mark said. “Should I tell him I’ve found you?” He reached up for the gas horn’s lanyard.
“No, please,” she said, grabbing his hand. “He’ll hurt me… bad.”
“Yeah, he looks like he won’t give up ’til he finds you. What did you do to get him so pissed off?”
The driver was almost at Mother Load.
“The Blackberry in the bag,” she said. “It’s his.”
Mark nodded. “That would do it.”
“Give it back to him.”
Mark studied the girl a moment, then rolled down his window. “Hey brother,” he said. “You still looking for that lizard?”
“You bet I am,” he said, smacking the business-end of his
wooden stick into his palm. “You seen her?” Mark nodded. “Saw her getting into a rig heading west.”
“Good that’s where I’m going.”
“And as she was climbing into the cab, this fell out of her pocket.” He held up the Blackberry. “Not yours, is it?”
“Hey,” he exclaimed. “I didn’t even know it was missing.”
“Well, you got it back now, eh?” Mark said, handing him the portable communications device. “No harm done, right?”
“Wrong,” he said, turning the Blackberry on. “I’ll still be looking for her… and telling everyone I know to be on the lookout too.”
Mark looked over at the girl scrunched down in the passenger seat and let out a little laugh. “Sucks to be her, I guess.”
“You know it.”
“Well, see you around,” Mark said.
“You’re a lifesaver, pal,” the driver said as he headed off. “Thanks.”
Mark rolled up his window.
“Wow,” she said. “That’s the second time you’ve saved me.”
“Yeah, I’m a regular hero.”
She made herself comfortable. “You are a hero, and I want to do something nice for you. I mean, really nice.”
Mark was flattered by the offer, but he knew there was something wrong about it.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“Sixteen,” she said. “I’ll be 17 in two months.”
Sixteen, thought Mark, feeling his stomach start to turn. Old enough to be my daughter.