Mark Dalton is carrying a load into Timmins with an East End Distributing company truck when he finds that the highway is blocked with a seven-car pile-up. He’s told the road could be clear in 10 minutes or 10 hours. Mark decides to take the detour, but as he’s driving along the side road the winter weather turns nasty and he drifts off the road and into the ditch. To make matters worse, he gets hooked up on a stump as he’s trying to get out and the engine goes dead. In addition, his cell phone can’t find a connection, and just a single truck has gone by since he became stuck. With no heat in the truck, things get cold fast.
Mark is freezing inside his truck. With no other options he’s forced to make a little fire inside the cab and hope it generates enough heat to keep him alive. After burning everything he could inside the cab, Mark checks what’s in his trailer to see if he can use any of the load to keep warm. Unfortunately, the load is locked up tight with three stout bolt-type seals. He returns to the cab, cold and getting colder. There’s nothing left to burn and he begins to wonder if this is how his life is going to end…
“Where the hell is he?” Bud mumbled as he hung up the phone.
He’d been trying to get in touch with Mark Dalton for the past few hours but he kept on getting a message over the phone saying the customer he was trying to contact was currently unavailable.
Sure Timmins was far away, but didn’t they have transmission towers set up along the highway corridor? And even if they didn’t, Dalton should have been in Timmins by now. The customer was expecting him, waiting for him actually, and since they couldn’t get a hold of Dalton either, they were calling Bud to find out where their load was.
Bud shook his head. It wasn’t like Dalton to miss a delivery like this. With all the misadventures and hair-brained stunts he’d pulled over the years, he’d never once missed a deadline.
He was charmed that way. No matter what happened to him, he always managed to get the goods delivered to their destination on time.
‘That’s why I like the guy so much,’ Bud sighed. For all the kidding around he did with Dalton, he was still one of Bud’s best drivers. Reliable, conscientious, a real pro. He was a good sport too, with all the teasing Bud did.
And the more he thought about it, the less Bud liked what was going on. “Something’s wrong,” he said.
Just then the phone rang.
Bud picked up the receiver hopefully. “Bud here.”
“Bud this is Jerry.”
“Oh, hi Jerry,” Bud said, unable to keep the disappointment from his voice.
“Yeah, well I’m happy to hear from you too,” Jerry said.
“What? No, sorry…I’m worried about Dalton. I sent him into Timmins and he’s late, maybe even lost.”
“I just came through there,” Jerry said. “In fact, I’m calling to let you know I wasn’t in that pile-up, just held up by it for a while.”
“Yeah. Seven cars on the highway. The coppers set up a detour, but I didn’t trust it. Caught some sleep instead and waited for the road to clear.”
Bud said nothing. Jerry was a cautious driver and stuck to the main roads all the time. Mark, on the other hand, was an adventurer who wouldn’t hesitate to take a detour for no other reason than to see where it lead.
“Glad you’re back on track,” said Bud, hanging up before Jerry could say another word.
Bud immediately dialed the number for East End Distributing.
When he got the shipper on the night shift, he asked her to check the log from earlier in the day.
“You said his name is Dalton?” she asked, somewhat preoccupied, like she was talking on the phone and looking through a file at the same time.
“Yeah, Mark Dalton.”
“Ah, here he is. Left here early afternoon in Truck 225.”
“Don’t you mean Trailer 225?”
A brief moment of silence, then, “Nope. He took a company truck. Matter of fact, I noticed a Pete in the yard when I came in tonight. Mother Something-or-other on the back of it.”
“Mother Load II?”
“Yeah that’s it.”
“Thanks,” Bud said, and hung up.
Dalton wasn’t even in his own truck. This was bad. Bud could feel it in the pit of his stomach…and considering the size of that stomach, the feeling was a strong one.
Bud picked up the phone again and called the O.P.P. At first the call-taker on the other end of the line seemed uninterested in what Bud had to say, as if a driver being late with a load was a common everyday occurrence. It was a daily thing, of course, but not when that driver was Mark Dalton.
The call-taker told Bud the information would be passed along to the appropriate detachment where an officer would be assigned to investigate.
“No,” Bud said, as forcefully as he knew how, without using any profanity. “You don’t understand. This driver, Mark Dalton, is never late. Something’s wrong and you have to start looking for him…Now!”
“I can appreciate your concern, sir, but a late delivery isn’t exactly a priority service call.”
“He was on his way to Timmins – to True North Distributing, and I’m afraid he’s broken down. I checked the Weather Channel and it’s -40 up there. He might freeze-“
“Did you say True North Distributing?”
“What? Yeah, that’s where he was heading.”
The line went silent for several moments, then a male voice came on and introduced himself as the communications sergeant.
“You had a driver that was headed to True North?” the sergeant asked.
“Yeah, why? What’s going on?”
“Haven’t you been watching the news?”
“No. Should I?”
“I’ll fill you in, but why don’t you tell me everything about this driver of yours first.”
“Uh, okay,” Bud said. He had difficulty with the words in the beginning, but once he got going, Bud had no trouble telling the sergeant all about Mark Dalton. After all, there were so many stories to tell.
Mark’s teeth chattered and his fingertips were numb. His toes were gone too, without feeling and surely about to turn black with frostbite. Certainly not the way a truck driver expects to die out on the road. An accident sure, maybe even being hit by a vehicle while parked on the side of the road, but freezing to death in this day and age…
He reached down and tried to massage some feeling back into his feet. Although he worked the right foot hard, there was no feeling there. ‘How can that be?’ he wondered. Then he looked down and saw that he had his left foot in his hand, not the right one.
I’ve got it bad, he realized. A few more hours of this and my feet, my hands, will be dead. Burned black by the frostbite and nothing to be done about it but have them removed – cut off at the ankle…see you later, man.
Maybe he could walk somewhere. If his feet were already frostbitten, then what did he have to lose? If nothing else, then at least he’d go out with a fight, trying to save himself instead of just lying here and waiting for the end.
If he did nothing, he’d surely die, but if he started walking somewhere, then there was a chance he might live. He could stumble across another side road, find a car or house somewhere. At least there was a chance.
Mark tried the driver’s side door, but it wouldn’t open. He pushed on it again and again, but to no avail. There was snow piled up against it and there was no way he’d be able to push the door open. Not now. Not in his present condition.
He climbed into the sleeper and decided to light another fire. By now there was little left to burn, but he had to try.
Cassette tapes. Old underwear. A map left under the seat.
The fire helped for a little while, bringing the blood back into his feet just enough to allow him to feel the pain of the frostbite. But eventually the flame dimmed and died out.
Gone, he thought.
Fire’s gone, and with it all hope of making it out of this thing alive. And all of it happening probably less than five kilometres from the highway. Ten kilometres
to the nearest town. But which way to that town? And through how much snow?
Mark thought about that, and closed his eyes. He knew it was a bad thing to do, but he didn’t care. It just felt so good to close his eyes and drift off to sleep.
Where he could dream.
About the sun and the beach, and the warmth of the sand against his body. Hot and dry, and oh so comfortable…There were people all around on the beach, jumping and laughing. And someone was building a sand castle, digging into the sand and flinging it every which way. Sand fell onto his body and head…And then someone was tapping him on the shoulder. The sand castle man, wanting him to move out of the way.
“Hey, buddy!” he said.
Mark moaned, doing his best to ignore the man so he might leave him alone and let Mark sleep.
“His name’s Mark,” somebody else said.
“Hey Mark, wake up!”
Mark lifted an eyelid. There was a man hovering over him dressing in black – like a police officer – and covered with snow. There was a shovel in his hand and snow was swirling all around him.
“Are you Mark Dalton?”
“I’m Constable Sharpe,” he said. “I’ll be saving your life today.”
Mark nodded and closed his eyes, wondering if he’d be leaving any of his fingers or toes buried in the sand.
A half-hour later, Mark was sitting in the front seat of an O.P.P. cruiser heading south toward the hospital in Sudbury.
The car’s heater was blowing hot air onto his feet and hands, making each extremity a knot of fiery pain.
He tried to sip at the coffee the constable had poured him from a Thermos, but it was too hot to drink right now and he’d need to wait a while for it to cool down enough to drink.
The irony of it almost made him smile.
“So you were headed to True North Distributing in Timmins, eh?” the officer asked.
“Lucky you broke down, then.”
Mark felt fresh stabs of pain slash through his feet, like someone had just driven a rusty nail through his soles, and he wondered if the man was trying to make some sick, sick joke.
“Guess you didn’t hear, huh?”
Mark turned and looked at the officer. “Hear what?”
“Happened yesterday. Some driver for the company came to get his paycheck. Had a shotgun with him. He killed the boss and two other drivers…one of them was on just his second day with the company. If you’d been there, it might have been you instead of him.”
Mark tried to inhale a breath as the shock of the news wrapped itself around him and held on tight. So, his luck hadn’t run out after all. He was just as lucky as he’d ever been, probably even more so.
He smiled then, splitting his chapped lips enough to make them bleed.
“Lucky me,” he said. “Lucky, lucky me.”
– Check out next month’s issue for another thrilling adventure with Mark Dalton.