Mark was a few hours out of the Rocky Mountains and just a few minutes from his destination, a large truck yard on the Pacific Coast of British Columbia that serviced the ports in and around Vancouver. With his load about to be delivered and no prospects for another, Mark grabbed his cell phone and gave his dispatcher, Bud a call.
“Hey Bud.” “Who’s this?”
Mark let out a sigh and said, “Mark.” “Oh, hey Dalton. How’s it going?”
Mark was stunned. “What do you mean, ‘Hey Dalton, how’s it going?’ What happened to ‘Mark who?’ and that whole routine?”
“I got nothin’,” Bud said.
“You ran out of smart-ass comments and rude things to say? I’m calling Mr. Ripley because I don’t believe it.”
Bud chuckled, but only a little. “No, I mean I’ve got nothing. No loads. No work.”
“Nothing at all?”
“Have you read the papers, Dalton? There’s a recession going on, you know.”
“But you always have loads, Bud. Sure there’s been a few times I’ve had to wait a day or two for something good, but you’ve never let me down before.”
“Well, the economy affects the best of us, what can I say?”
Mark sighed. “What do you suggest I do?”
“Geez, Dalton, you could take it easy for a while. Aren’t you due for a vacation, or something?”
“Or something,” Mark said.
“You must have some money socked away somewhere. Go to Vegas, or some place warm.”
“I dunno,” Mark said, recalling his last real vacation. He went on a trip to Mexico where he got wound up helping a local trucker fight some highway robbers and nearly got himself killed for his trouble. “The last time I tried that, it wasn’t much of a vacation.”
A pause. “You need to go some place where there are no trucks. How about a cruise?”
“You think that would keep me out of trouble?”
“Probably not,” Bud said. “But it’s a start.”
“I’ll think about it,” answered Mark. “Either way, I’ll call you in a couple of days.”
“You know my number,” Bud said, hanging up.
Mark put away his phone and signaled for the turn he’d be making into the truck yard. But as he looked down the road, he could see the flashing lights of a half-dozen police cruisers and emergency vehicles. His first thought was there’d been an accident at the entrance to the yard, but as he neared he saw that the vehicles were not only at the entrance, but inside the yard as well.
He slowed as he approached the gate and an RCMP officer walked up to meet him.
Mark rolled down his window. “What’s going on?”
The police woman climbed up the side of the cab. “It’s a crime scene.”
She shook her head. “Homicide.”
Mark felt a chill ice its way down his spine. “I’ve got to deliver this load.” “Pull in,” she said. “The yard manager’s about 100 yards in. He’ll tell you where to park your trailer.”
“Thanks,” Mark said. He put Mother Load into gear and drove into the truck yard. It was one of the biggest yards he’d ever seen with hundreds, maybe even a thousand trailers all crammed into a space that was obviously over-capacity.
A short distance away, a man wearing a bright orange vest was waving a flashlight, flagging him down.
Mark slowed to a stop.
The man with the vest remained on the ground and called up to Mark. “Picking up or dropping off?”
“Dropping off.” “Great.”
Mark waited for him to say something else, but he just stood there rubbing his hand across his forehead. “Well,” he said at last. “Where do you want me to put it?”
“Uh, anywhere you like…”
“Anywhere,” Mark said, seeing that the yard was pretty crammed.
“Wherever you can find a spot, then see me on your way out.”
“Will do,” Mark said. He pulled forward slowly and began searching for an empty spot to drop his trailer. But by the time he was more than halfway around the yard it was obvious to Mark that it wasn’t going to be easy to find an opening. Then, at the very furthest corner of the yard, he found a spot. However, it was just barely wide enough for a trailer. If he had to measure the opening, Mark guessed there was less than inches to spare on either side of his trailer.
He looked around. “Doesn’t this yard have a shunt driver?” he said aloud. Mark had been to several yards where he could have just dropped the trailer off and the shunt driver would park it in the right spot. They had the right rigs for it after all, with small maneuverable trucks, a 360-degree view and an intimate knowledge of a yard that otherwise looked like a war zone to any long-haul trucker.
But with all the emergency vehicles in the yard and the police investigating a homicide there wasn’t going to be anyone coming to his aid anytime soon. He’d have to park the trailer on his own and the sooner the better. And so Mark took a wide left-hand turn to line up the end of the trailer with the narrow opening. It took three tries before he had it all lined up but once he was in place the trailer slid into the open space as if its sides had been greased with motor oil.
“Like a glove!” Mark said aloud as he backed the trailer the last few inches.
“Nice!” said a voice from outside the cab.
Mark looked over and saw the yard manager standing a few feet away. He smiled, set Mother Load’s parking brake and jumped down from the cab.
“Well,” he said with a hint of pride in his voice. “I have parked a few trailers in my time.”
“I can see that,” the yard manager said, nodding. Mark set about lowering the landing gear, disconnecting the glad hands, then released the fifth wheel.
He had it all done in just a couple of minutes and when he was done, he collected up his paperwork and presented it all to the yard manager.
“How you doin’ these days?”
“What do you mean, like for work?”
“Yeah, you got a load waiting for you?”
Mark smiled. “Funny you should say that,” he said. “I just called my dispatcher before I got here and he says he’s got nothing for me for a few days.”
“Nope. No loads for a while.”
“Isn’t that something?”
“You want to work here?”
“Well, the homicide the police are investigating was my shunt driver.”
“Who killed him?”
“That’s what they’re trying to figure out. In the meantime, I’ve got a yard to run and no shunt driver to keep everything organized. You want the job, it’s yours. If not, I’ve gotta call a shunt company and have them send over a driver.”
Mark took a moment to think about it. Bud had nothing, this man was offering work, and there was a murder that needed to be solved. It sounded like the perfect job for Mark Dalton. “Yeah, I can shunt for a while. When do you want me to start?”
“How ’bout right now?”
Mark hesitated, then realized that even though he had no on-duty time left in his logbook, he could drive a shunt truck all he wanted and it never had to be recorded in his log.
“Sure,” Mark said.
“Here’s the key to the yard mule. We’ve got six more loads coming in tonight, four going out. Make sure there’s room for them all.”
“Will do,” Mark said taking the keys. He was looking forward to being a shunt driver. After all, how hard could it be?
-Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 2 of ‘Thou shunt not kill.’