The Kenworth W900 whined and whistled along I-70 East, bound for Oakton, Ohio. The long-haul rig dragged a 40-foot tanker filled with diesel from a Washington refinery. An exchange had been made near Seattle for a load of corn-oil. The diesel-delivery was assigned for four days to give better time for sleep and reduce the risks of accidents. Gail Wolfe was never one to wait though. As a driver, and owner of Oakton’s Lone-Wolfe Shipping, she saw it as her mission to make it into Oakton ahead of schedule.
For most, making such a long haul in a short time was dangerous. Back in the days before Unions fought for standardized breaks and drive time, countless accidents, incidents, and total nervous breakdowns had dominated the industry. The drivers that had built America through its shipping and transportation operations, and worked it for over a hundred years, were simply out of fuel. The profession itself had become so weighted under stereotypes, global economics, and international pressures, that no driver was immune. Even Gail admitted, once or twice, had she been driving then she’d have felt it too.
It was a different world now though, and even the old W900 felt it. The truck had been new twenty years ago, when Gail first built Lone-Wolfe, but they were older, slower, and just a little more tired with each haul that passed. What was worse, Lone-Wolfe seemed to be headed into the same downward spiral. It wouldn’t have been the first of the “old-timers” to go, but if Gail could help it, it would damn well be the last. She’d hold out until she croaked, stubborn to a fault.
Most other companies had been “acquired” by one corporation or another– the big ones, that wrote a lot of zeroes on checks to get their way. One of them, Mechanized Transports Incorporated, had even tried with Gail– Or rather, was still trying. She’d told the reps from M-T precisely where and how far to shove their offer.
The whole thing was a way to shut up people in power, and phase-out drivers for auto-drive software built into new, high-efficiency trucks, or retro-fitted into the older ones that didn’t offend bottom-lines too greatly. Gail had a hard time seeing how the buy-outs were anything less than bribes. Even the Unions were struggling to keep owners from taking them.
But Gail wouldn’t. In fact, if given a choice, she’d burn anyone that did– whether figuratively or literally. They weren’t worth the air in their lungs, let alone the sweat off her back. She’d fight to the death to ensure everyone knew that.
I-70 morphed into highway 127 South. The light of a new day rose to Gail’s left through a quilt of farm-land with river-like striations of trees along it. The rural road was vacant in the early morning, and even the best of GPS programs and software wouldn’t have foreseen how much time Gail would shave off her remaining route. That wasn’t the point though. She’d always gone into Oakton along the Masseville highway. Apart from its emptiness, it offered a modicum of serenity beyond the curtained sleeper-cab.
Fresh, cool dew clung to plants and matured crops near-ready for harvest. Dawn splayed through droplets, stank with the crispness of a new day beyond the cab’s open windows. Gail kept the radios low to soak in the beauty. The occasional murmur of other drivers or dispatchers mumbled from one radio while something old and vaguely folk-ish crooned from the other. The high-whine of the rig was the only other thing to break the still quiet. With that, it left waves of life in its wake, as if the harbinger of day arousing nocturnal dreamers from their slumber.
The rest of Masseville passed in similar fashion. A half-hour of winding roads and sharp-intersections forced Gail to downshift, then roar back up to speed again. To say she was somewhat of a romantic for Masseville’s views was to miss her otherwise utterly unsentimental nature. She couldn’t help but find a special place in her heart for the open road, however cold it was to everything else.
The quilted farmland began to degrade into the urbanity of Oakton’s outskirts. The shift had always been gradual, but there was no denying its jarring effect. Trees and fields turned to sparse homes and small office-complexes. Full-on city suddenly appeared, as if progress were shoved up to eleven to allow the metropolis to unfold.
The way in was clear enough that Gail hit only a pair of stop-lights before the diesel delivery-station. The place was a warehouse-sized shipping-receiver with a fleet of various rigs and trailers. She eased up to the guard house, diesel idle purring like a house-cat, and handed over her work order. A guard directed her across the lot near two other tankers. Before long, she had the trailer backed in, the work order signed, and the W900 ready to pull away.
Lone-Wolfe’s headquarters were partitioned to a large, industrial lot on the city’s West side, just a few miles from the delivery location. Making it to the garage from anywhere in the city was more habit than anything, and when the truck finally came to a rest amid Lone-Wolfe’s fleet vehicles, Gail was ready for the business-end of things before finally conking out– probably hours after her return.
The interior of Lone-Wolfe was more like a repair garage than anything. There was enough space for three rigs, loads of diagnostic equipment, toolboxes and the like, and some vending machines with couches and coffee tables to one side. One of the drivers, Carl Reyer, was passed out on a couch, his face hidden under a trucker-cap as he snoozed away.
Gail ambled past. Carl was the type to be on the road more than home. Most of the time that meant he was or crossing the country, long-hauling haz-mat cargo or the occasional low-boy with hired hands flagging ahead and behind. Like Gail, he had a sort of love for the open road that kept him running when he should’ve been at home, in bed. Even his wife had gotten tired of it, left him. Since then, he’d taken his sleep in his cab or on one of the garage-couches. Gail empathized, if little else.
She strolled across the smaller section of the garage to the offices in its opposite corner. Carl’s snores followed her in to the first section. The two desks, back-to-back, were reserved for the dispatchers running tracking and comm software, and monitoring traffic and weather with real-time uplinks to NWS and various news-agencies. From the two desks, the company’s six, dispatchers could communicate with and track the dozen drivers Gail employed 24/7. Apart from one or two other, necessary upgrades, Dispatch was the only thing Gail had let progress seep into. Even the rigs themselves were elderly by most standards. If it weren’t for Darian Foster and his crew, the fleet would’ve been dead years ago.
Darian was the highest paid employee at Lone-Wolfe, and for damned good reason. He had more mechanical expertise than a submarine full of engineers, and a degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. If it weren’t for the dire, crushing debt he’d had a decade ago, Gail would’ve never survived. She’d hired him in on basic salary in a downsizing economy, and before she could get out the door on her next haul, he’d proven himself worthy of a raise.
Presently though, Gail was focused on the back-office and the silhouette behind its frosted glass. She stopped to hand a file to Walt Thacker, a dispatcher with a beer-gut larger every time she saw it.
“Latest pay,” Gail said unceremoniously. “Make sure Brianne gets it before shift-change.”
He grunted an “eh,” in reply.
Truth was, she didn’t care to hear his Hutt-like wheezes anyhow. She glanced at the frosted glass, checked her watch, 7:30 on the dot, “Who’s here?”
Xavier Knaggs replied, “Suit.”
Gail’s face turned red, and she stormed for the office, “Son of a bitch!”
She burst into the office to find a pair of suits sitting in the chairs before her desk. A third one stood behind and between them like a guard dog. Something about the two men and woman said they felt accosted by the sheer thought of sitting in a dingy office like Gail’s. Part of her wanted to keep them there for that fact alone, but the rest of her won out.
She stepped around the desk, nostrils flaring. The woman in the chair extended her hand, “Missus Wolfe, I’m Eleanor Tyler, Mechanized Transport’s Acquisitions Department.”
It took all of Gail’s sense not to punt the scrawny bitch through the frosted glass– that, and the obvious bulldog look of the blood-thirsty lawyer between her and the window.
“These are my associates,” Tyler said with a gesture. “Lloyd Wembley and Matthew Benton–”
“I don’t care,” Gail snapped. “Get out of my office.”
“If you’re going to patronize me, at least get my fucking name right. I was married once, I’m not now. At no point during was my name Wolfe.”
The scrawny bitch recoiled from her own faux-pas. A mental flash of her arcing backward through the glass almost caused Gail to smile. She didn’t though, especially not now. Instead, she stiffened up, arms crossed, “I’ve told your company, I’m not for sale. Keep this up, and I’ll sue your asses for harassment.”
The bulldog’s ears perked up. Gail could’ve sworn she saw his ass wiggle like a tail. “I assure you, Mizz Wolfe, that these meetings are more than legal by any definitions of the law.”
Her eyes sharpened to pointed knives, “I may not be a lawyer, Mr. Benton, but the last time I checked, trespassing wasn’t. This is private property owned by Lone-Wolfe Shipping, and if I say leave, I mean it. Now go, before we see who’s right.”
The bulldog-face crumpled together. He muttered something and signaled a rise from the other two. Tyler followed Benton out immediately, but Wembley laid a card on the desk and gave a smug bow of his head. He followed deliberately, steps paced as if he owned the joint. She slammed the office door hard enough to rattle loose its panes of glass in their fittings.
She fell into her desk-chair, palm to her forehead, and glanced at the card. “Lloyd Wembley,” sat above “Board of Directors, Mechanized Transports Inc.” A phone number and a few other lines of contact filled out the corner. The only thing missing was the word “Prick” next to his name. Gail hoped someone was fired for the oversight.