Mark Dalton is taking a trailer load of theater sets from a production in Winnipeg to the Elgin Theatre in downtown Toronto. Near Kapuskasing, Ontario, 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 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.
Mark spent the next hour explaining to the police officers investigating the incident just what the hell had happened. He walked them through the entire scene and explained his actions precisely, avoiding any embellishment or drama.
When he was done, they thanked him for his co-operation and escorted him into the back of a cruiser. “Can I go now?” he said.
“Not quite yet,” he was told. “Have a seat and we’ll be with you in a little while.”
That little while turned into two hours as the two punks who hadn’t gone to the hospital each explained to the officers what they’d seen.
Judging by their body language and exaggerated motions, each of them told quite a different story. Still, from what Mark could discern, it was fairly obvious that they were both telling the police Mark had been the one to start the fight.
“Bastards!” Mark cursed under his breath.
There, out on the side of the road, was the second of the two punks acting out the part of Mark, pretending to swing his bat at them all.
Then, when it came time to play the part of one of the punks, the kid cowered and shrugged his shoulders as if he hadn’t a clue why Mark would be swinging a bat and trying to hurt any of them. According to the punk’s gestures and expressions, Mark must have been some lunatic hopped up on drugs and they were just six young guys minding their own business.
Surely the police didn’t think these punks were telling the truth. Mark’s story was obviously the one that made the most sense, the one that had all the pieces falling into place. They couldn’t possibly take the word of these hooligans over his own.
“If we proceed with the charges, it looks like it’ll be four counts of assault with a weapon,” the officer told Mark after the man had spoken to his sergeant about what charges needed to be laid.
Mark wasn’t surprised. While Mark had been able to walk into the police station unaided, two of the four punks were in the hospital with broken legs and wouldn’t be getting out for several days. Another of the punks had a broken arm and two broken fingers that required pins to have set correctly, and the fourth one had gotten off lucky with a body covered with bruises that looked like rain clouds.
“I got beaten up too, you know,” Mark said. It was an exercise in understatement since his clothes were torn and his face was scratched and bruised, the left side of it swollen up like a purple throw cushion.
“I know,” said the officer, “and believe me, I’m sorry for the way things are working out for you, but you have to understand our position here. They’ve got six guys all saying roughly the same thing… That you started the fight. That’s the word of six people against the word of one, and even though you were roughed up pretty good, your injuries are less severe than theirs, which makes it a little easier to believe that you attacked them and were able to get in your shots before they could do anything about it.”
“You believe that?”
“It doesn’t matter what I believe, sir. What does matter is the facts, and you were the only one who used a weapon. They might have hit you with their fists and feet, but you had a baseball bat in your hands.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Not one of the SIX of them had a weapon. Six of them, one of me. Six against one. Besides, the bat was a weapon of opportunity,” Mark said. “I keep it in my truck to check air pressure in my tires.”
“Pretty handy thing to have in a fight, though.”
Mark knew he was getting nowhere along this line and decided to change course. “What about the girl?” he said. “She’ll be able to tell you I stopped to help her. She was about to be beaten up by the guy with the Holly baseball cap on his head.”
The officer nodded. “She’s a key witness, but until she recovers from the hit, we can’t proceed based on what we think she might say.”
Mark let out a sigh.
It was obvious that no matter what the officer thought of the situation, he had to process the charges according to procedure, and until the girl was able to say anything in Mark’s defence, he was basically screwed.
The officer looked over at Mark and there was a slight change of expression on the man’s face, as if he were sorry for Mark’s predicament.
“The doctor said that she might be able to talk well enough in a day or two to give us a statement. If that’s the case, this whole thing might be over with by the end of the week.”
Mark shook his head. “Yeah, the legal stuff might be over. I won’t be charged and that’ll be done with, but what about the damage that was done to my truck?”
“All six of them deny doing a thing to your truck,” the officer said, obviously feeling a bit uncomfortable saying the words. “They all said your truck was like that when you arrived on the scene.”
“What?” Mark said, his voice a high-pitched whine of disbelief. “And you believed them? I just picked up that truck from a body shop and I’ve only put a few hundred clicks on it since I got it back. How could I do all that damage just by driving it?”
“I can’t answer that,” said the officer. “What I can tell you is that we’re conducting an investigation into what happened and I’m relating to you what the other party said. We have to weigh that against what you said, and hopefully later against what an independent witness has to say.”
Mark dropped his head and looked at the floor. “I just stopped to help out a young woman who looked to be in trouble. If I knew all this would happen…”
Mark paused a moment, hating himself for what he was about to say. “…I would have driven right by and never looked back.”
The officer glanced left and right, then closed the door to the room they were sitting in. “Look sir, we have a pretty good idea about what happened since a few of these guys have been in trouble with us before.
“But right now, it’s six against one.
“It all hinges on the girl… If she recovers and tells us what she saw, this whole thing might go a lot differently for you.”
“Great,” Mark said. “And what do I do in the meantime?”
The officer shrugged. “As long as we have a way of contacting you and you agree to return if we need you to, then you’re free to go.”
“Free to go, just like that?”
The officer nodded.
“And what about my truck? I don’t even know if it still runs, or if I can drive it to my destination.”
“You’ve got insurance, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” Mark spat. “But what am I supposed to do, put in a claim for the damage… and when they ask me for the police report it’ll say six people swear that I did the damage to the truck myself. I’m sure my insurer will be happy to cover my costs, and of course they won’t think of sending my rates through the roof when they renew my policy next year.”
The officer said nothing.
“Sure I can afford to stay in town for a few days while my truck gets fixed – that’s if they have all the parts and can get to it right away. I’m already going to be late with my load as it is because of all this. You have any idea what all this is going to cost me… on this load, and in terms of future j
obs with this shipper?”
“It’s going to cost me plenty. All because I wanted to help somebody in trouble. Do you know what kind of message that sends out? Nobody cares. The bad guys can do whatever they want and it’s the regular guy, the hard-working regular guy who always gets shafted in the end.”
The officer’s eyes dropped to the floor.
Obviously he wasn’t about to get into an argument with Mark, especially when Mark was so much in the right.
“Well, I’ll tell you something. The next time somebody needs some help out there on the road, it won’t be me stopping to lend a hand. Maybe the next sucker will be stupid enough to want to help, and screw up his life. Nice guys finish last, you know that! And right now, I’m probably one of the nicest guys you’ll ever want to meet. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at my truck…”
Mark’s rant trailed off, his chest heaving in an effort to catch his breath.
The officer waited until Mark had settled down, then said, “Would you like a ride back to your truck?”