The story so far ...Mark takes a reefer load of frozen beef from a company called BETTER BEEF in Regina Saskatchewan. As he heads for the docks in Vancouver, he notices he's being following by a truck...
Mark takes a reefer load of frozen beef from a company called BETTER BEEF in Regina Saskatchewan. As he heads for the docks in Vancouver, he notices he’s being following by a truck belonging to BEST BEEF, one of BETTER BEEF’s bitter rivals.
Each time Mark stops for a bite, or to sleep, something goes wrong with his reefer. Unexplained things are happening, like controls and generators that shut down on their own for no apparent reason. Mark blames another trucker for the vandalism, but the man claims someone else did the damage during the middle of the night. Mark manages to get the reefer running again, but realizes he’s still being shadowed by the big black rig from BEST BEEF.
The restaurant was like just about every other greasy spoon he’d ever eaten in, offering a breakfast special of two eggs, bacon or sausages, hash browns and a coffee for less than five bucks. Mark ordered sausages, scrambled eggs, and asked that the hash browns be replaced by toast… on account of his heart only being able to handle so much grease at one sitting. He also ordered a second breakfast for Vernon and asked for that one to go.
Mark found an empty table by a window and turned the chairs around so he could watch his truck while he ate, just in case. Breakfast arrived a few minutes later – both on the plate and in the bag – and Mark dug in to what was a fairly tasty breakfast as far as roadside fare is concerned.
After finishing off his eggs, Mark started in on the sausages. Before he had his first bite, an old-timer came up beside him and smiled at him with a sort of goofy grin.
“Can I help you?”
The old man, wearing a Roughriders ball cap and a T-shirt from some wheat collective, just smiled at him. Then, he said, “You’re drivin’ for BETTER BEEF, hey?”
Mark nodded. “Yeah.”
“You crazy or stupid?”
Mark pulled back slightly at that, looking the man square in the eyes. What the hell kind of question was that? he wondered. But the longer he looked at the man, the more the man kept smiling. Obviously, the question wasn’t meant to be an insult, but perhaps a good-natured jab. Mark decided to humour the man. “A bit of both, I guess.”
“You’d have to be a bit of both to drive for them guys.”
“Why? What’s wrong with BETTER BEEF?”
“With BETTER BEEF? Nothin’. It’s them other ones you gotta worry about.”
Mark was having trouble following the old man… like he was talking in riddles. The old-timer looked like he was about to be on his way, but there was a lot Mark wanted to know before he let the guy slip through his fingers. “I’ve got an extra breakfast here if you want it?”
The old-timer’s eyes lit up. “Sure.”
“Have a seat, then. And tell me what you know about BETTER BEEF.”
The old man slid into the seat across from Mark, still allowing Mark a partial view of his truck over the guy’s shoulder. He pulled the breakfast out of the bag and began eating without missing a beat.
“BETTER BEEF’s a good company. An excellent company. Been around for ages and their meat’s some of the best you’d ever want to eat.”
“But, they’re having a real old-fashioned range war with BEST BEEF. BEST opened up shop across the road from BETTER about a year ago. They’ve got all kinds of money, but their product ain’t as good. So, instead of workin’ to make themselves better, they’ve been trying to make BETTER BEEF worse.”
Mark thought he understood, but there was still a sliver of doubt in his mind. “So the two companies are having a big fight, huh?”
The old-timer, with a mouthful of sausage, just nodded his head. After he swallowed, he said, “And this ain’t no Pepsi Challenge kind of war either. This one’s a knock down drag’em out kind of brawl.”
Mark was silent, wondering just what he’d gotten himself into.
“You havin’ trouble with your reefer?” the old man asked.
“And it’s a spankin’ brand new one too, right?
“Yes.” Mark tried to keep the surprise from his voice, but couldn’t. How did this old man know so much about his current situation?
“Have any ketchup for these hash browns.”
“Ketchup for my hash browns.”
“Oh.” Mark passed the man a bottle of Heinz.
“And you’ve probably had a BEST BEEF truck followin’ you west all the way from Regina. That right?”
“Yes, but… how did you know?”
The old man shook his head. “How do you think? I was haulin’ a load for them, oh, about three months ago. New reefer, great pay, everything perfect about the whole deal, ‘cept by the time I’d reached the coast I’d had so many problems that half the load got turned back for hamburger meat and dog food.”
“So all of the stuff that’s been happening to me…”
“Has happened to just about every other poor slob who’s been crazy or stupid enough to take a load from BETTER BEEF.”
“But that means…”
“Sabotage,” the old-timer said as he picked up the last few remnants of his hash browns between the tines of his fork.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Nope. Let’s just say that BEST BEEF doesn’t exactly do much of a background check on their drivers. In fact, a criminal record is probably a bonus as far as they’re concerned.”
Mark could feel his hair start to bristle down the back of his neck at the thought of some thug using him and Mother Load to put a legitimate company out of business. What made it even worse was that there were good-paying loads just waiting there for truckers to pick them up and haul them away, but they were turning them all down out of fear over what somebody might to do them, their truck and their livelihood. Dammit, thought Mark. Drivers had enough trouble making a decent living these days without worrying about their next load possibly being their last.
“Well, that would explain it, then,” said Mark.
“Been having trouble?”
“The whole way.”
“And you still ain’t there yet.”
No, thought Mark, and there’s still a long way to go. “Well, I better be going.”
“Thanks for the meal,” the old-timer said with a wink. Then, he added, “Just don’t do anything stupid.”
Mark looked at the man, wondering if he knew what Mark was like and had heard of some of the crazy stunts he’d pulled in the past.
“This little feud ain’t worth your life,” he said.
Mark nodded and said, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
He exited the restaurant and returned to Mother Load. When he was halfway across the parking lot he realized things were too quiet. He started to jog toward his truck, but after just a few steps he realized that the reefer had once again stopped running.
“What now?” he wondered aloud.
A quick check of the unit revealed that the fuel tank was empty. That, of course was impossible, since there’d been plenty of fuel in the tank before he’d gone inside and even a quarter of a tank would have lasted four to six hours, maybe even more. Obviously someone had drained the fuel tank on purpose.
Mark was about to ask himself who might do such a thing, but now it was obvious. The driver of the BEST BEEF truck had been shadowing him since Regina and had sabotaged his reefer at every stop. But how could he have done it so quickly without punching a hole in the tank?
Obviously the people at BEST BEEF had trained their drivers in guerrilla tactics and no amount of inspection, precaution or care was going to stop them from making life difficult for BETTER BEEF drivers.
No wonder they can’t get anyone to haul for them. Who needs the hassle? Most drivers would just move on to the next company instead of putting up with that sort of crap.
Then again, some drivers enjoyed a challenge. Some drivers felt right at home in a good old-fashioned range war. Some drivers you just don’t mess around with. Drivers like Mark Dalton: Owner/Operator.
These guys weren’t going to get away with this. Not if he could help it.
Now that he knew the score, Mark had an idea or two about how to stop BEST BEEF from getting the better of him … and the company he was hauling for.
He climbed up into his rig and started it up. He’d have to top up on fuel, both for Mother Load and for the reefer. Then it would be a no-holds-barred battle all the way to the docks.
May the better man win, he thought.
As he shifted into first and began to inch forward, Vernon climbed out of his truck and approached Mark’s truck.
“What about my breakfast, man?”
Mark looked at him a moment, then said, “Why don’t you take the money the BEST BEEF guy gave you to look the other way and buy your own damn breakfast with it.”
The surprised expression on Vernon’s face told Mark he’d hit the nail right on the head.
Mark rolled up his window, heading for the pumps. If it was a war they wanted, then that’s just what they’d get.n
– Mark Dalton returns next month for more adventures in part four of Reefer madness.