Rather than take another load from the Ontario Food Terminal, Mark decided he was in need of a break.In the past few months he'd foiled a band of smugglers, was the target of an insurance scam, almost...
Rather than take another load from the Ontario Food Terminal, Mark decided he was in need of a break.
In the past few months he’d foiled a band of smugglers, was the target of an insurance scam, almost got ripped off for unnecessary repairs to his rig, solved a murder on a movie shoot, helped a friend get money from an unscrupulous shipper, was nearly killed taking over for Bud and working as a dispatcher, had nearly been run off the road by a road-raging fellow trucker, been detained by Canada Customs, and had solved a murder that had been made to look racially motivated. Whew!
Instead of taking another load on, he decided to take a load off… of both his mind and body.
He rented a parking spot at an operation near the airport and took a cab to Pearson International where he booked himself on the first flight that was headed some place warm.
That warm place turned out to be Bermuda, and when he returned a week later, he felt refreshed and alive, and ready for anything the trucking business could throw at him.
He called Bud while he was riding in the cab that was taking him from the airport back to Mother Load.
“Hey Dalton, that cell phone of yours has got some range.”
“I’m back in Toronto, Bud.”
“I went away for a week. Just long enough to recharge my batteries.”
“Or deplete your bank account?”
“I could use a load.”
“You’re out by the airport, right?”
“Park ‘N Fly.”
“Okay, when you get to your rig, head up to the Bacardi plant in Brampton.”
“Yeah. They’ve got a load of booze that needs a special kind of driver.”
“You mean a good one?”
“No, a crazy one.”
“What’s the deal?”
“Well, you know how much a trailer full of booze is worth?”
Mark shrugged. “A million, maybe more.”
“That’s right, and it’s no more difficult to steal than a truck full of widgets, so guess which load is high up on a thief’s top-10 list.”
“But why me?”
There was a pause and Mark figured it was Bud’s turn to shrug. “To paraphrase the sign that used to be in the Leafs’ dressing room in Maple Leaf Gardens, let’s just say that ‘Theft does not rest lightly on these shoulders.'”
Mark thought that Bud was giving him some kind of compliment, but couldn’t be 100 per cent certain.
“I’ll call you when I’ve got the load.”
“Me and a whole bunch of other people.”
“What do you mean?”
The shipper at Bacardi was waiting for Mark and didn’t waste any time getting him to hook up his rig to the trailer that was sitting at the loading dock.
“Here’s your schedule,” he said, handing Mark a clipboard with a table on it that had times listed on the left at 15 minute intervals, and boxes where he could put a set of initials on the right.
“You call the number on the top of the sheet every 15 minutes until you reach the distribution center in Winnipeg.
“If you miss a call, we check the Global Positioning Satellite to find out where you are and then we send the police,” he added.
Mark was a bit confused. This sounded like a military operation, not a load shipment. “Are you sure you’ve got the right guy for this load? I mean, don’t I have to … I don’t know, be interviewed or write a test or something?”
“Your dispatcher helped us process all the papers for you. We were expecting you sometime next week, but since you were available today we thought, why wait?”
Mark stopped in his tracks. They were making it sound like he was the only driver out there.
“I’m sure there are a lot of guys that could take this load…”
…But the shipper cut him off…
“And don’t worry about the cost of the calls,” the shipper said, ignoring Mark’s protests as he kept walking toward the exit door.
“We’re paying you a dollar for every call you make.”
It didn’t take a genius to realize that at 10 cents a minute, Mark would be making a tidy profit on the calls.
“…but I’m really glad you chose me.”
“You’ve got five minutes before you head out,” the shipper said. “Good luck.”
Now why would he say that? Mark wondered.
Mark left the distillery at 10 a.m., just moments after confirming the time with the security guard at the gate.
He turned right onto Steeles Avenue and was heading west to the ramp that would take him onto the southbound Highway 410.
When he got to the on-ramp, there was a two-car collision blocking the ramp to traffic, so rather than wait for the cars to be towed, or moved by police, Mark continued westbound toward Kennedy Road.
He could easily head south on Kennedy to Derry Road and pick up the 410 there.
Still heading west on Steeles, Mark glanced at his watch.
There were a couple of minutes to go before he had to call in.
But just moments later while stopped at the light at Rutherford Road and Steeles, Mark felt his cab door open up and turned to see a man in a ski mask climbing into his rig.
He tried to push the man back onto the road, but a second man had jumped in the passenger-side door and was pulling Mark out from behind the steering wheel.
By the time the light turned green, the man on Mark’s left was driving Mother Load and the man on his right was pressing the barrel of a .32 against Mark’s head.
For a brief moment, Mark thought about taking on the two men. Mark doubted the driver would be able to control the rig while he punched and kicked at him, but there was the other man with a gun to consider, especially when the value of the load was more than enough for somebody to kill for.
He decided to go along with the hijackers… for now.
Besides, even if he did nothing, the Global Positioning Satellite would kick in after he failed to make his scheduled call and they’d probably be stopped by police before they even got onto the 401.
“Turn left here,” said the man to Mark’s right.
It was tricky getting over two lanes to make the turn at the light, but the guy driving managed it and in no time they were heading south on First Gulf Boulevard, the continuation of Rutherford Road south of Steeles.
The driver pulled over, put on his hazard lights, then produced a pair of wire cutters from his jacket pocket.
As the other held the gun to Mark’s head, the driver exited the cab, and for the next minute, Mark could hear him crawling up onto the cab, most likely disconnecting the GPS transmitter.
So much for state of the art electronics, thought Mark.
Moments later the driver was back behind the wheel. They continued down First Gulf, but before they reached Kennedy Road, the driver made a left onto Biscayne Crescent.
They were making another turn when the man with the gun noticed Mark concentrating on the name written on a sign pole to their right.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the man asked.
“Enjoying the scenery,” Mark said.
“Yeah, well enjoy this!”
The man struck Mark hard in the head with the butt of the .32.
Mark saw sparks behind his eyes for a moment, and then everything went black.
He was still married and still working as a private investigator. He’d been hired by a Fortune 500 CEO to get the dirt on his wife.
The guy wanted a divorce but knew it would cost him half his fortune and then some to see it through.
Mark worked the case for a month, then finally caught the woman fooling around with one of her husband’s fellow board members.
When the CEO saw the tape he was so pleased to be able to get rid of both his wife and business associate on the cheap, he cut Mark a check for $25,000 right there on the spot.
Mark’s wife’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw the check and they spent a couple of weeks on the beaches of Cozumel celebrating Mark’s good fortune.
Those days had been some of the happiest of Mark’s life, especially watching the sun come up on the beach each morning…
Mark was almost blinded by the light.
He tried opening his eyes, but the light was too intense. He shielded his eyes and squinted to try and see.
There were people shouting words at him from the end of a long, dark corridor.
Mark tried to move, and found his feet bound, his hands tied
tightly behind his back.
“You okay, pal?”
Mark blinked, his eyes slowly beginning to adjust to the light. He looked at the man standing over him, the man who’d asked him the question, and said, “Where am I?”
– Mark Dalton will return next month in Part 2 of his latest adventure, Thick as thieves.