Mark was in need of a load. It didn't need to be anything fancy, just a decent load with some miles on it so he could get some coin in his pocket and make up for the time and money he'd lost while sol...
Mark was in need of a load. It didn’t need to be anything fancy, just a decent load with some miles on it so he could get some coin in his pocket and make up for the time and money he’d lost while solving the case of the lost load for Innisfil Steel and its insurer.
He’d probably break even on the whole mess eventually, but in the short term he needed some cash to tide him over. And so he called up his dispatcher, Bud, looking for a load.
“Bud here, who’s this?”
Mark almost didn’t want to say it. But eventually he said, “Mark,” then made circles in the air with his fingers waiting for Bud to say the two words.
“Mark my words,” said Mark. “One day you’ll wish you didn’t goof around with me so much.”
“What you want?”
“I’m looking for a load.”
“Why? You lose one?” Bud said, laughing heartily. “Try looking for it around Highway 400 and 401.”
Bud was referring to the load of steel Mark had lost on the Highway 401 on-ramp, coming down off the 400. Bud was howling now and as much as Mark hated to admit it, it was kind of funny…now, but not so much at the time.
“I’m serious, Bud. I need a good load.”
“Okay, how about a run up to Timmins. You’ll be taking a load of dry goods to a warehouse up there and coming back with a trailer full of skids.”
Mark thought about it.
Timmins was a nice long drive, but there was nothing to see the whole way, especially in the winter.
Weather usually wasn’t a problem, but things could turn quickly up north and that can be a problem when you’re miles from nowhere.
Bud could probably sense Mark’s hesitation.
“These guys pay top dollar. And if they like you, you could end up with a regular run, two, three times a week.”
That was something to consider. Timmins was just far enough to be a sweet deal. A few loads a week would mean good pay, a few nights in Toronto each week, and most weekends off. If he could swing that, he might even consider buying a condo, maybe even a house.
But first things first.
“Okay, I’ll take it,” Mark said. “Where do I get the load?”
Bud gave him the address of the wholesaler in Scarborough.
East End Distributing was a stand-alone warehouse in an industrial area in Toronto’s east end. There were a few Wilson Trailers parked at the loading dock along with a few semi-trailers with EE emblazoned on the side of both tractor and trailer.
It took five minutes for Mark to find the shipper and introduce himself.
“I’m Mark,” he said.
“Mark who?” asked the shipper.
Mark wondered if the guy was asking for real, or if Bud had put him up to it.
He thought about making a wise crack, but decided against it in the end, just in case.
“Mark Dalton. Bud sent me.”
“Oh yeah. You’re on Truck 225. There’s a map in the cab along with the shipping papers. The tank’s full so you don’t have to worry about fuel. Be back by tomorrow night and we’ll see about giving you another load.”
Map in the cab, thought Mark. Full tank?
“But I’ve got my own tractor.”
The shipper shrugged.
“You want to take your truck, go ahead. We pay the same whether you drive our truck or yours.”
Mark thought about that a moment. The same. So he could use their fuel, use up their truck, and still get the same money. It was too good a deal to pass up, especially since he needed the cash.
“I’ll drive yours,” he said.
“I thought so,” the shipper said. “Keys are already in it.”
“Great,” said Mark, already having misgivings about leaving his rig behind – but the deal was just too good.
So he parked Mother Load II in a corner of the yard, made sure she was locked up and secure, packed up a kit bag, then headed off to find Truck 225.
Truck 225 was an eight year-old Volvo with a worn out seat and 750,000 kilometres on the odometer.
Everything seemed in good order on the circle check, which was a good sign. Inside the cab, Mark turned the key, waited a few moments, then turned the key once more.
The engine roared to life with little smoke from its twin stacks and settled into a nice even thrum with just a hint of vibration throughout the cab.
Mark spent a few minutes checking out the rest of the truck and realized that – as with most company trucks – driver comfort was a dirty, dirty word.
There was no CD or cassette player, and the radio that was set into the dashboard was missing one of its buttons.
The in-cab light was burned out, the driver’s seat didn’t adjust up and down, and the covering on the steering wheel was cracked and felt rough against Mark’s hands.
But the engine ran well, and the gears felt smooth as he shifted it into first.
“At least it’s mechanically sound,” he said under his breath as he left the yard.
And later, after he’d been on the road for a few hundred kilometres he was of the opinion that the company mechanics – or whoever serviced their vehicles – had done an excellent job with the truck.
The Volvo had plenty of power, stopped with authority, and turned with ease.
“Runs like a charm,” he said with a smile.
And with the weather turning nasty outside the cab, with lots of wind and snow, a good-running truck made for one less thing to worry about.
By the time he reached North Bay snow was falling steadily, but the highway was still clear. If Mark’s luck held out, it would stay that way all the way to Timmins.
But at Cobalt everything ground to a halt. There was a roadblock manned by two Ontario Provincial Police cruisers and several officers detouring traffic onto a side road west of the main highway.
Mark slowed as he neared one of the officers and rolled down his window.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Seven car pile-up about a mile up the highway,” answered the officer.
The man nodded. “Two people died.”
“How long’s it going to be?”
“Can’t say,” the officer said with a shrug. “Could be 10 minutes. Could be 10 hours.”
“What’s the detour like?”
“It’s a sideroad. Ten miles long. It’s in pretty good shape since it doesn’t get used much, you know…right next to the highway and all.”
“Thanks,” Mark said. He rolled up his window and put the truck in gear.
Shouldn’t be too bad, he thought. Be back on the highway in a few minutes, anyway.
Mark tried to follow the lights of the car in front of him for several miles, but in the few minutes he’d been off the highway the weather had gotten worse and he couldn’t see anything through the snow whipping across his windshield.
And then he saw a twinkling of red in the distance, someone signaling right and making the turn north.
“That must be it,” he said.
Mark made the right at the crossroads and headed north through the blinding snow.
There was a slight build-up of snow on the roadway, but still not enough to slow him down. As long as he kept pace for a few more minutes, he’d be back on the main highway and the driving would be that much easier.
But the weather wasn’t co-operating. The snow was getting heavier and the wind was blowing directly onto the windshield.
Mark had to run the wiper blades at full speed just to be able to see.
He knew he should pull over and wait out the storm, but he was so close to getting back on the highway that it didn’t make sense to stop now.
And then it happened…Mark lost sight of the road as everything outside his windows turned white. He took his foot off the accelerator, shifted into neutral and did his best to keep the truck straight on the road until he could slow to a stop.
Unfortunately, the road must have curved right or left because he went over a bump, and then the right side of truck dropped – like he was on the right side of the road and halfway into the ditch.
To correct that, Mark shifted into gear and tried to pull to the left and away from the ditch.
But instead of righting the truck, the front end dipp
ed down, then dropped, hitting something with a hard BANG!
The motor died instantly, not fading away like it had been shut off, but coming to a complete and sudden stop, as if something big had been jammed up into all of the engine’s moving parts.
Mark turned the key, but there was just an electric humming sound coming from the engine compartment, and a moment later the smell of burnt plastic and ozone.
“Great!” Mark said. “Just great!”
A rig passed by then, air-horn blaring.
Mark ignored the truck, figuring he’d flag down the next truck if he needed help.
For now, he was content to get out of the truck and see if there was anything he could do to get himself going.
He wasn’t exactly dressed for the weather, so it was a mixed blessing that he was able to see the problem the moment he stepped around the front of the truck.
He’d driven halfway into the ditch, but that was nothing compared to the three-foot tree stump that was rammed up inside his engine compartment.
It was preventing everything from turning and judging by the pools of steaming liquids under the truck, had tore out several fluid lines while it was at it. Obviously, Mark wasn’t going anywhere.
He climbed back into the truck and looked for the controls for the in-cab heater.
“Typical,” he said, realizing that company trucks rarely were equipped with such options.
He continued looking around inside the truck for an emergency blanket or something to keep him warm, but there was nothing of the sort to be had.
“Well, at least I can call for help,” he said aloud, pulling out his cell phone. But one glance at the phone’s display screen told Mark that his luck that day was all bad. Dancing around on the phone’s illuminated blue screen was a magnifying glass and a message explaining that the device was searching for a connection.
Mark watched the image of the magnifying glass move back and forth across the screen for several minutes, feeling the first of the winter’s icy claws begin to tear through his clothes and begin their attack on his flesh.
“That confirms it,” he said. “I’m screwed.”
– Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 2 of The Cold Shoulder.