As Mark backed Mother Load up to an empty loading dock at the Food Terminal in Toronto, there was just one thing on his mind -- unhooking his cursed shipment of fresh fish and bobtailing away from it ...
As Mark backed Mother Load up to an empty loading dock at the Food Terminal in Toronto, there was just one thing on his mind — unhooking his cursed shipment of fresh fish and bobtailing away from it as fast as his Cummins diesel allowed.
The problems started in Newfoundland, on The Rock, when a heavy mist rolled in off the Atlantic and shrouded the island in a layer of the densest fog he’d ever seen. But while he’d pulled to the side of the road to let the weather pass, he had an encounter with a ghost that had left him shaken, and just a little afraid.
But that wasn’t the end of his troubles.
Later on, after a hearty breakfast at the Big Stop in Moncton, Mark had returned to Mother Load to find that she’d been broken into while he’d been eating. Not much had been taken – a few clean t-shirts, a couple of his newer CDs, and about $20 in change – but it wasn’t the theft that bothered him as much as the thought of someone breaking into his truck, invading his living space. Sure, he’d been hijacked before, but that had been overt, obvious and over the top. This was different, like having your pocket picked while you slept, or the food snatched from your plate before you’ve had a chance to eat. He’d been violated, plain and simple, and there was little he could do about it. Sure he could call the police, but they wouldn’t do much more than file an occurrence. It wasn’t a big enough crime to start dusting for fingerprints or arranging a stake-out. This was just one of those petty thefts that most people shrug their shoulders about, thank their lucky stars that no one was hurt, then get on with their lives.
Most people, but not Mark Dalton.
After being robbed, and learning from other drivers that similar thefts had been an on-going problem at truck stops from Oshawa to Halifax, Mark was more than a little intrigued. In fact, he was determined to find out who was responsible for the crime spree and bring that person or persons to justice. And if that justice happened in the courts or out on the streets, it didn’t matter. Either way, Mark was going to make ’em pay.
So as soon as he’d dropped his load off in Toronto, Mark was on the phone with his dispatcher, Bud, looking for a load that would take him back east through the crime corridor.
“Hello?” said Bud.
“Hey Bud, this is Mark.”
“Mark who? I don’t know any Mark.”
“Cut the Bull, Bud,” Mark said. “I want a load east. Montreal, Moncton or Halifax, I don’t care which.”
“Well,” said Bud. “This is new. Last time I checked it was the dispatcher who gave out loads, not the driver who demanded them.”
“I’ve got no time for this, Bud. I want a load going east and I want it now.”
“Why? What happened?” Bud’s voice was softer now, as if he were genuinely concerned.
“I got broken into in Moncton. Nothing major was taken, but I want to find who did it.”
“C’mon Mark, that stuff’s been going on for months now,” Bud laughed. “Don’t you think the police would have looked into it by now?”
“Maybe they have, but truckers are still getting ripped off.”
“Sounds like you’re making this personal, Mark.”
“Damn right I am,” Mark said, his voice rising in pitch. “I work hard for all the stuff in my truck–“
“Alright, alright, I get the picture,” said Bud. Then, after a pause, “I’ve got a load of hockey helmets headed for Halifax. You pick them up at the factory in Oshawa, and you’ve got four days to deliver them.”
Mark nodded. “That’s perfect, just what I need.”
“Right,” Bud answered. “And what I need is the load to be delivered on time, not one of my drivers to be killed while trying to catch a thief.”
Mark drew a breath. “If I’m not mistaken, it sounds like you actually care about my well-being.”
“Of course I care,” said Bud. “If you die, who’s going to deliver the load?”
Mark just shook his head.
Bud gave him details about the load.
With all of his working hours used up for the day, Mark stopped at a truck stop outside Belleville for food and fuel, and hopefully a good night’s sleep. Inside the restaurant, he ordered a grilled chicken sandwich and a garden salad, and spent a lot of his time looking at the people around him.
‘Was the thief here at this truck stop?’ he wondered.
Now that was just wishful thinking. With all the truck stops between here and Halifax, and all the trucks moving back and forth on the highway, to have the culprit sitting here in this place…well that was just too much to hope for.
But Mark wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. To his left was a table full of oldtimers, the sort of drivers who’d been hauling loads for years, and have been wearing the same ball cap for every one of them. They were chatting up a storm and the topic of conversation was the recent rash of thefts from cabs and trailers all along the eastern part of the Trans-Canada Highway.
“I was ripped off at a stop outside Lachine,” said one of the men. He was wearing thick black glasses, had two day’s worth of grey stubble on his chin, and his sweat-stained hat had the logo from the 1976 Montreal Olympics on it. “I’d just bought this portable DVD player and hadn’t watched but three movies on it when I woke up one morning to find it gone.”
The oldtimer next to him adjusted his sun-faded Massey-Ferguson cap, then shook his head. “I told you…You’ve got to lock your doors at night.”
The other men around the table nodded agreement.
“I got dinged too,” said a younger man in a pair of dress pants and pale green golf shirt and a Nike hat on his head. “Had one of my clubs stolen. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they’d taken the whole bag, but they took just one club…It was a set for crying out loud! What’s anyone going to do with a single club anyway?”
And on and on it went around the table. One item stolen here, a couple of dollars taken there. The stolen items weren’t all that much on their own, but when you added them up, there was definitely a problem plaguing the industry.
Mark had heard enough. He decided to move over to the next table and ask the drivers a few questions.
“Hi guys!” he said, sliding into an empty seat. “Mind if I sit down?”
His question was answered by a few shrugs and a “Sure.”
“I had something stolen out of my truck too and I couldn’t help listening in on your conversation.”
“You too, eh?” said the Montreal Olympian. “Sheesh!”
“And I was wondering,” Mark continued, “who do you think’s stealing all this stuff.”
“The mafia,” said Massey-Ferguson.
“Bikers be my guess,” said another man in a Toronto Blue Jays World Series Champions cap.
“Kids,” Nike offered. “Kids gettin’ their kicks.”
Despite all the suggestions, no one seemed to be in agreement. Sure all those explanations were possible, but none very likely.
“Could be other drivers…” Montreal suggested.
“No. No way,” said the others, drowning him out before he could finish his thought.
“C’mon guys,” said yet another driver from under his Winnipeg Jets hat. “You all know it’s been lot lizards stealing from you. You just don’t want to admit you’ve been lonely or stupid enough to let them into your truck.”
The men around the table suddenly went silent, as if some secret code word had been said out loud rather than whispered.
Mark nodded. “That’s what I thought.” Although he’d never let a lot lizard into his truck, that didn’t mean they couldn’t get through unlocked doors, or break in through locked ones. And although these women offered sexual favours in exchange for money, that didn’t mean they wouldn’t just take something if the chance arose. The majority of them were single moms or addicted to drugs and they had to support their habits and families any way they could…which included stealing whatever they could from truck drivers.
“Okay,” said Nike. “So…we all know who’s to blame.” He shrugged his shoulders. “What can you do?”
“I don’t know about you,” said Mark. “But I’m going to find t
he one that stole my stuff.”
Nike laughed under his breath. “Yeah, well good luck, pal.”
Mark smiled, knowing he’d need all the help he could get. “Thanks,” he said. “And don’t worry. If I find your golf club, I’ll let you know.”
– Part 2 of Mark Dalton vs. the Lot Lizard will appear next month.