Mark Dalton is taking a trailer load of theater sets from a production in Winnipeg to the Elgin Theatre in downtown Toronto. Near Kapuskasing, Ont., he comes across a man and woman arguing outside of their car on the side of the highway. She's obv...
Mark Dalton is taking a trailer load of theater sets from a production in Winnipeg to the Elgin Theatre in downtown Toronto. Near Kapuskasing, Ont., he comes across a man and woman arguing outside of their car on the side of the highway. She’s obviously in trouble, so Mark stops and gets out of his truck. The woman is in trouble, but the man doesn’t appreciate Mark’s intervention. As Mark confronts the man a carload of the man’s friends arrive on the scene, their car striking the girl and rendering her unconscious. Suddenly, it’s six against Mark on the side of the road.
But Mark isn’t about to back down. He tries to put up a fight, but ends up getting beaten up by at least four of the punks.
They ask him for his money and Mark uses the opportunity to get a baseball bat out of his truck.
He comes out swinging and takes out four of the punks, sending them to the hospital. With only two of them left, an OPP officer arrives on the scene and draws down on Mark, telling him to put the bat down.
Since the only independent witness is in hospital and unable to speak, the police are considering charging Mark with four counts of assault with a weapon.
Despite Mark’s pleading, it’s his word against the word of six punks, but police decide to wait for the girl’s version of what happened before they lay any charges. Mark is beside himself.
All he’d done was try to help a woman in distress and he’s been beaten up, in trouble with the law, his truck’s been trashed and his load will probably be late. No good deed goes unpunished, he thinks, and nice guys finish last. Mark vows to never stop to help another person again, it’s just not worth it.
The officer drove Mark to a garage on the highway near Kapuskasing, just a few kilometres east of where the incident had occurred.
The road crew had dropped Mother Load off in one corner of the garage’s lot where she sat leaning to one side as if her back – maybe even her spirit – had been broken.
The sight of the damaged truck very nearly brought a tear to Mark’s eye. Mother Load was a great truck, and had been through countless adventures with Mark, never letting him down and never coming up short. Yet, here she was, looking like she’d gone three rounds with a backhoe and bulldozer, instead of just four measly little punks.
“Doesn’t look too bad,” the officer said, trying to sound upbeat.
Mark didn’t even bother responding. He’d seen Mother Load at her best, and right now she looked bad. Her left front tire had lost its air over the past few hours and that set the whole truck on an angle – off-kilter.
One of the headlights had been smashed, making her look like she had a black eye, and the mirror framework on the driver’s side was twisted as if Mark had gotten too close to a wall.
And then there was the paint that had been so shiny just the day before.
There were dents and scratches all over Mother Load’s body, as if it had been in some kind of a catfight with another truck.
“Doesn’t look too bad at all,” the officer repeated, as if saying it again might make Mark feel better. “I’m sure it still runs fine. And after you get that tire changed you can be on your way.”
Mark couldn’t stand to hear another word. “Shut up!” he told the man, and got out of the cruiser without looking back to see the man’s reaction.
The cop had been right on one account… it wasn’t too bad, it was terrible.
A tire change would cost him a couple hundred dollars, a headlight and mirror supports another few hundred, and body work and a paint job, well, it was going to cost him a few thousand dollars just to get the truck back to the condition it had been in 24 hours before.
Without doubt, it had been the mostly costly stop Mark had ever made. Mark let out a sigh and started walking toward the truck.
It took a mobile tire serviceman two hours to arrive and 15 minutes to change Mother Load’s flat tire. When the man was done, Mark thanked him, wrote him a check and eagerly climbed up into the truck, ready to be on his way. It had been almost 24 hours to the minute that he first stopped by the side of the road and Mark wanted nothing more than to be on his way so he could leave the whole sorry incident behind him.
He shut off his cell phone, turned up the stereo and put Mother Load in gear.
He was on the road in minutes, ready to drive non-stop until he reached his destination. No exceptions.
That made for a long, uneventful drive, giving Mark plenty of time to think. If I’d only kept on driving. If I’d only minded my own business.
If I’d just driven on, I would have made my delivery by now and would be sitting back in some hotel pool enjoying a well-deserved day off. Instead, I’m in a hurry (always a bad thing for a truck driver to be in) and I’ll have to work a week or 10 days without rest to earn enough to get Mother Load repaired. It just wasn’t fair.
Up ahead, Mark saw a minivan parked on the side of the highway. There was a woman standing by the vehicle looking at it as if it were some sort of intellectual puzzle.
The car obviously had a flat tire and it was just as obvious that this woman was helpless to do anything about it.
“No,” Mark said to himself. “You’re not going to do it. She’s a licenced driver, she should know how to change a tire. Or else she’s married and she can call her husband to come and fix things for her. If not her husband, then the CAA.”
Mark paused a moment and his foot unconsciously came off the accelerator. “I’ve helped one too many people by the roadside. I’ve done my time for it. Learned my lesson.”
Mark paused again as he began to have an uneasy feeling in his stomach. It was cold outside and the clouds looked ominous, like it was going to start pouring rain at any moment.
“Sorry l-lady,” he said, his voice started to crack. “Yesterday I would have h-helped you, but today you’re out of -” Mark stopped in mid-sentence as a little girl in a smart summer dress appeared by the woman’s side. Then another child appeared, a boy even younger than the first. Finally Mark noticed the baby inside the van, twisting and turning in his car seat like a fleshy siren set on wail.
He couldn’t do it.
He just couldn’t do it. Mark had to stop and help. It was in his nature, ingrained within him where it would remain until the day he died.
Mark began downshifting and pulled to a stop just in front of the minivan.
“Need some help?” he said.
The woman, near tears, nodded. “Yes, thank God.”
Mark reached the Elgin Theatre in downtown Toronto by 8 p.m. that evening.
The stage manager was furious with him for being two hours late, but that was a small price to pay, especially since he had managed to avoid any late penalties by a matter of hours.
“What the hell took you so long?” the stage manager asked as a dozen stagehands set about unloading the trailer.
“You must be driving like a granny out there…” Then he paused to look at Mother Load’s condition. “… or a maniac.”
Mark forced a polite smile. “Let’s just say I ran into some trouble on the road and we’ll leave it at that.”
“A bad boy, eh?” said the stage manager with a creepy sort of smile on his face. “You’ve got to try staying out of trouble, my friend.”
Mark bit his tongue to prevent himself from saying something nasty in return, then grabbed his paperwork and returned to Mother Load.
Once inside, he wondered if he should get the truck fixed, or take another load. He needed the money, but he hated driving around in a truck that looked as if it were on its last legs. In the end he decided to call Bud and see what he had for him.
He turned on his cell phone and dialed up Bud.
“Dalton! Where have you been? I’ve been trying to get in touch with you all day. Why don’t you have your cell phone on?”
Mark had shut his phone off, but didn’t want to explain it all to Bud. “Must be out of power… Listen, have you got a load for me, I could use a good run.”
“Yeah, I got a load needs to be in Kapuskasing by the weekend.”
Mark shook his head. He’d just come from there, and consider
ing all the trouble he’d gone through, it was just as well with him if he didn’t go back there for at least a few months. “Don’t you have something else?”
“That’s the only load I’ve got, and you will be taking it.”
“Why? What’s up?”
“I’ve been on the phone most of the day with a man who says he owes you big-time.”
“Never heard of him.”
“And he never heard of you until yesterday… when you stopped on the side of the highway and saved his daughter from certain rape by a number of unsavory characters.”
“That was his daughter, huh?”
“Yes, and it just so happens that Elliot Atherton is the CEO of a computer software company.”
“Yeah, and his daughter was able to talk this afternoon and she told her father and the police all about what you did.”
Mark couldn’t stop a smile from breaking over his face. “No kidding?”
“That’s right, and he wants to thank you personally. He knows you’re out of pocket so he wants to reimburse you for all the damage those punks caused to Mother Load, and for the penalties you incurred on the late load …”
“Oh, yeah, those penalties were pretty steep,” Mark lied.
“…And he wants to throw a few bucks your way to do with whatever you want.”
“So, are you going to take the load?”
“Do I really have to? Can’t this guy just send me a cheque or something?”
Bud sighed. “I didn’t want to have to tell you this, but there’s an article about you in today’s Kapuskasing Northern Times. Seems the mayor wants you back there so the whole town can honour you for what you did.
And you need to be there by Saturday because they’ve got some kind of summer festival going on and they want you to be a special guest for the opening ceremonies. You know… key to the city and all that crap.”
For one of the few times in his life, Mark was left speechless.
“Mark?” Bud called. “Mark? Are you there?”
“Yeah,” he answered, still in a daze. “I’m here now, but I’ll be in Kapuskasing by Saturday.”