Mark dialed the number of his dispatcher on his cell phone and waited for a response. He hadn't called Bud in close to a week - having decided to take a few loads on his own, for cash, thereby cutting...
Mark dialed the number of his dispatcher on his cell phone and waited for a response. He hadn’t called Bud in close to a week – having decided to take a few loads on his own, for cash, thereby cutting Bud out of the loop – and there was a chance Bud wasn’t answering Mark’s call as a form of punishment.
Then again, Bud just might be being his grumpy old self.
“Yeah,” said Bud.
Mark smiled. “Is that how you answer your phone these days?”
“Who’s this?” Bud asked.
“Bud, this is getting pretty tired.”
“I don’t know any Mark Dalton. Not anymore.”
“You’ve disowned me, now?”
Bud ignored Mark and continued on. “I used to have a driver working for me by the name Mark Dalton.” A sigh. “Good driver. A little bit crazy…He was reliable and all that, but then he went out on his own, decided he didn’t need a dispatcher and started taking loads for cash.”
“Very funny, Bud,” Mark said. “I get your point.”
“You know,” Bud went on, again ignoring Mark completely. “He thought he was getting ahead, and maybe he did in the short term, but I don’t think he gained anything over the long haul.”
“Okay, Bud, okay!”
There was a long pause. Then Bud said, “Especially when the police, and – as far as I can tell – thugs from two different mobs have been sniffing around here asking if I knew a guy driving a rig by the name of ‘Mother Load.'”
“You heard me,” Bud said. “Whoever you are.”
Finally, Mark began to understand. Bud was either worried his phone was being bugged, or there might be someone in the office there with him who Bud didn’t want knowing Mark’s whereabouts.
“Okay then…” Mark began slowly. “What if I wasn’t this guy Mark, but somebody else, like say, Jack, uh, Rabbit.”
“Well, Jack.” The tension in Bud’s voice quickly went away. “I might be able to help you out.”
“Great,” Mark said, breathing a sigh of relief. “I guess I need an out-of-town load, as far away from here as possible.”
“How does Newfoundland sound?”
“Far, far away.”
“I’ve got a load of auto parts headed for St. John’s this afternoon. You do it right, with a load coming back, you could be gone four, five days…maybe even a week.”
Mark shrugged. “Doesn’t matter to me how long I’m away, but I guess it would be good for this Mark Dalton character to get out of town for a while.”
“Yeah, just ’til things blow over, or cool off, you know what I mean?”
“Sure,” Mark nodded. But he couldn’t resist the temptation to have a little fun with the situation. “It must be rough for a guy like that, in so much trouble and all.”
Bud was having none of it. “Are you kidding me. That guy Dalton deserves every bit of trouble he gets into. The idiot likes to play with fire, so he gets burned. Big surprise!”
Mark didn’t appreciate being called an idiot, but he supposed he deserved it. “I guess you’re right,” he said, not wanting it to go any further. “Can you give me the info on the load, then.”
“Love to, but just start heading for Oshawa, and I’ll give you the particulars when I have a spare moment.”
A spare moment? Mark wondered. It wasn’t like Bud to talk like that. “Alright. I’ll start heading east and wait for your call.”
“Okay, Jack. Talk to you later.”
“Jack. Jack Rabbit.”
“Oh, yeah, right.” Mark hung up his phone, wondering just how much trouble he was in.
Mark picked up the load early in the afternoon and headed east along the 401 toward his ultimate destination, St. John’s Newfoundland. By the time he reached Kingston, he and Mother Load were both hungry enough to stop at a truck stop for some fuel and a bite to eat. He did his best to eat healthy, opting for chicken over a hamburger, a salad over french fries and a glass of orange juice rather than a coffee.
When he was done eating, feeling full and refreshed, he headed back out to Mother Load, but stopped about 20 yards from the truck at the sight of a dog, sitting patiently in front of the passenger side door. It was a Golden Retriever with a rich, shiny coat that had a slightly reddish tinge to it. It was hard to guess how old it was, but judging by the way it sat up so straight and still, it was probably less than five years old.
Somebody’s dog, thought Mark, looking left and right to see if anyone was nearby with any connection with the dog. There were a few truckers standing around gabbing, but none of them looked as if they were missing a dog. There was also a couple walking toward the restaurant, but they seemed more interested in each other than a lost dog. Finally, there was a family heading from the restaurant back toward their minivan. Mark thought he’d found the dog’s owners, but when they opened the van doors and started climbing in, there were two cat carriers in the back, each with its very own cat inside.
Mark spun around on his heels to see if there was anyone looking for a dog.
Maybe it belongs to a home nearby, Mark thought. Wandered off and can’t find its way home again. But as Mark scanned the surrounding terrain, it was obvious the dog hadn’t come from anyone’s home. All there was for miles around were highway and forest. If the dog came from anywhere, it was out of a car or truck. But how could someone lose a dog…leave it behind without noticing? Then he remembered the Home Alone movies where a family forgot one of their kids and didn’t realize it until they were on a plane and a thousand miles from home. A bit far-fetched, even for a movie, but it did show that it was possible to leave someone, or something behind.
That was all well and good, but what was Mark going to do with the dog. For a moment he was tempted to ignore it. Just walk around the dog, get into his truck and drive away hoping someone would come along to claim it before long. Then again, looking around the truck stop, it was apparent that nobody was about to go out of their way to help. Besides that, it wasn’t in Mark’s nature to leave things for the other guy. If something needed to be done, he was the one that would do it.
And so…Mark took several steps toward the dog, bent at the waist and began slapping his thigh, saying, “Here boy!”
The dog slowly got up onto all fours. Its tail suddenly sprang to life, wagging back and forth, back and forth, but it stepped cautiously toward Mark, as if unsure Mark could be trusted.
“C’mon, buddy,” Mark said, getting down onto one knee. “I don’t bite.”
The dog quickened its pace, but swung wide around Mark, still being a bit careful before trusting itself to a total stranger. It sniffed in the air, as if Mark might have B.O., or it sensed the odour of cat in the air.
“Let’s find your owners,” Mark said.
Instead of coming closer, the dog sat down and looked at Mark with a slightly tilted head.
“Or maybe I could get you a burger…Would you like that?”
The dog got back up onto all fours and approached.
Mark put out a closed hand for the dog to sniff at.
The dog checked him out, licked his fist once and then got closer.
Mark grabbed the dog’s collar and checked for a tag. There was none. “Alright, then,” Mark said. “Let’s see if I can find you something to eat…and the people you belong to.”
He headed toward the restaurant with the dog close by his side.
– Part 2 of A Trucker’s Best Friend will appear next month.