The story so far...When Bud the dispatcher doesn't have a load ready, Mark gets on his case and ends up telling him that dispatching can't be all that hard. Bud suggests Mark take his place for a coup...
When Bud the dispatcher doesn’t have a load ready, Mark gets on his case and ends up telling him that dispatching can’t be all that hard. Bud suggests Mark take his place for a couple of days and, with no load waiting, Mark takes him up on it.
After Bud shows Mark around the office, Mark takes over as dispatcher. Things start going wrong almost immediately with Mark tackling problems he had no idea were part of a dispatcher’s job. After calming a driver down for accidentally sending him 450 miles to the wrong destination, he begins to feel that maybe dispatching is tougher than he’d thought and maybe Bud was better at it than he gave him credit for.
But while he’s fixed that problem, others keep coming until Mark seems to have reached his limit. That’s when a big, angry truck driver storms into the office looking to crack open Mark’s skull with a tire iron.
“Who are you?”
“Don’t give me that!” the man said, slamming the tire iron down on top of a desk. “You know damn well who I am.”
Mark studied the man’s face for a few seconds. His hair was long, pulled straight back and tied in a ponytail. He had a couple day’s worth of stubble, but it was neatly trimmed and looked like the beginning of a decent beard. His eyes were big and mean, like they were on fire, and there was a wild sneer on his lips, like he was in no mood to talk.
Mark had never seen the man before in his life.
“Sorry, but I don’t know who you are,” Mark said, sliding to his left to try and keep a desk and a few chairs between him and the madman. “I’ve never seen you before.”
“You sure about that, are you?” He swung the tire iron and caught a coffee mug on the desk. Luckily the mug had been empty, but ceramic shards went flying all over the office.
“Believe me, I’d remember someone like you.”
“Is that right?”
Mark had run out of room on his left and was now moving back to the right. “That’s right. I just met you and I already know I’ll never forget you as long as I live.”
“You sure you didn’t see a picture of me somewhere… like in my house… while you were sleeping with my wife?”
“What?” Mark wondered if his years as a private investigator – sticking his nose into other people’s dirty business – would ever catch up to him. Perhaps now it had.
“Don’t give me that crap! You’ve been doing my wife.”
Mark tried to recall his sexual activity over the past few months. He’d made it a habit of avoiding women who wore wedding bands or engagement rings, and women with boyfriends. And he most definitely didn’t patronize lot lizards.
But even if he’d unknowingly been involved with a married woman, it sure wasn’t anything recent. He hadn’t even been with a woman in almost two months.
“Look, pal, I don’t know who you are, but I can assure you I did not sleep with your wife. Or anybody else’s wife in the last three months.”
He looked unconvinced and probably thought Mark was trying to wiggle his way out of a jam. “Your name’s Bud, right?”
That’s when a smile broke over Mark’s face, as much from relief as from the humor of the situation. “No, my name’s Mark… Mark Dalton.”
“Then where’s Bud?”
“He’s out of the office for the next little while.”
“When’s he coming back?”
Mark wondered if he should tell the guy that if he really wanted to meet Bud, all he’d have to do is hang around for another day. It would serve Bud right. But this guy looked like he wanted Bud’s head, and putting Bud in the hospital would only mean Mark would have to work as a dispatcher for even longer. No way he was going to let that happen.
“He’s driving a load into Alaska,” Mark said at last. “Won’t be back til the end of the month.”
“Dammit!” he said, tossing the tire iron onto the desk where it landed with a heavy thud. “I’m only in town a few days. I’ve got to pick up a load headed for the east coast in the morning.”
Mark could see the obvious frustration on the man’s face.
He’d probably been driving for days thinking about nothing but what he was going to do to Bud when he got here. And now that Bud wasn’t around, the guy was lost over what to do next – and probably felt a little foolish now.
But Mark knew exactly what he was going through since it hadn’t been that long ago that Mark had found out that his wife had been cheating on him. So, the two men were actually kindred spirits, and maybe this guy just needed someone to talk to for a while.
“You know, when I found out my wife was cheating on me, I wasn’t mad at the guy she’d been sleeping with. I figured, if it wasn’t him then it would be some other guy. If a woman’s the kind to go looking for another man, she can find one around just about any corner…”
“Or under every rock.”
Mark laughed. “Plenty of them to be had there, my friend,” he said. The office suddenly went silent.
“My name’s Gord,” the guy said, extending his hand. The two men shook.
“Listen, I’ve got a break coming up, you want to go grab a coffee?”
“That’d be nice.”
“C’mon, there’s a great shop around the corner. We can talk on the way.”
As they left, the phone started ringing. Mark let it go unanswered.
After sending a calmer Gord on his way, Mark settled down to put out all the fires that had erupted that morning. He was up well past midnight, but by the time he lay down on the cot in the back room, everyone had been taken care of and no one would be out gunning for his head.
As he lay in bed thinking about the day’s events, the thing he kept coming back to was how Bud – a man whose gut had its own postal code – had been able to steal away anyone’s woman. The man was loud-mouthed, short-tempered, and without a sense of humor… or maybe that was just the way he chose to work as a dispatcher. That would make sense since those qualities would certainly help make him a better dispatcher, but wouldn’t translate well in the romance department. Maybe there was a side to Bud that Mark didn’t know about. There was certainly enough of Bud to hide such things from view.
The little joke put a smile on Mark’s face and he drifted off to sleep imagining what other things Bud might be hiding inside that belt-buckle vault of his.
Mark was awakened by rapping on the office front door. His first thought was that Gord had come back wanting to know where Bud lived, but as the noise persisted, Mark took a look and saw that it was Bud.
Mark was unlocking the door a split-second later. “You’re back,” he said.
“How bad did you screw things up?”
“Not too bad,” Mark said, realizing he was admitting failure, but too happy to see Bud to care. “I got everything straightened out in the end.”
“What’s it going to cost me?”
“A few hundred miles in fuel.” Mark knew he’d said he’d pay for that mistake himself, but as long as Bud was asking, there was no harm in trying. Bud agreed.
Mark was stunned. “You’ll pay it?”
“Yeah, I got it covered. Was there anything else?”
“Like what?” Mark decided to play dumb for a while and see if Bud was going to come clean.
“Anyone come by?”
Mark was tempted to say no, just so Bud would wonder about Gord, but he decided against it. “As a matter of fact…” And then he swung his right fist and hit Bud square in the jaw. “…a guy named Gord dropped in on me.”
“I guess I had that coming,” Bud said, rubbing his jaw. “He tell you to pass that along, did he?”
“No, that was from me for putting me in a situation like that. That guy could have killed me.”
“Sorry ’bout that, Dalton.” Bud sat down on a chair and continued to rub his jaw. “I’ve been seeing this woman for a few weeks now. Even though she’s been separated from this guy for six months, he seems unable to get the message. Anyway, I figured you’re probably crazier than he is, so you’d know what to say to him. You know, settle him down before he did something stupid.”
So, Bud had the psychologist part of being a dispatcher down pat.
He was exactly right about him and Gord. Still, it was a nasty little trick for Bud to pull. The punch was good for the moment, but he’d get him back fo
r this little stunt, someday.
“Well, you were right on that account. And, I hate to admit it, but being a dispatcher is way more difficult than I thought it would be.”
“Apology accepted,” said Bud. “And, I suppose, the least I can do for putting you in the path of an oncoming mad trucker is give you your choice of loads.”