Monday,August 23, 1993
Bernie Donatello heldhis breath and jiggled the accelerator pedal. The old truck coughed,jerked, and almost stalled. He yanked his foot off and jammed the clutch in,then tried it again, easing down on the pedal as he slipped the clutch out,praying mechanically, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, blessed is the fruit of thywomb …” His forehead was beaded with sweat, his jaw rigid. The muscles in hisright leg were so tight they almost cramped. The truck lurched, coughed, thenfinally caught and jerked forward, easing out of the dark tunnel mouth of thebridge.
A cone of light flooded the doorway of the emptyCustoms shed as the truck inched past. Bernie caught a glimpse in the mirror ofa uniformed man lurking in the shadows. The truck hiccuped again, faltered,then slid forward, finally slipping out of the bridge like a sick worm oozingout of a metal hole into the wet Canadian night. He hauled the steering wheelto the left, turning the rig toward Bridge Street, checking his mirrors againto make sure the trailer was okay. As the end of the rig cleared the bridge, hesaw a shadow flit through the light and disappear into theshed.
Bernie started breathing again. He didn’t know whatworried him more—the old rig breaking down, or getting jammed in the littlebridge. He knew just how it would feel—he’d run it through his mind so manytimes—the screech of metal on metal as the rig suddenly jerked to a stop. He’dbe trapped like a rat. It was bad enough worrying about the damned guardwithout having to worry about breaking down or getting stuck. What the hellwould he do then? Jump out and run for it, he figured—hightail it back toAmerica and leave the damn truck for Sal to worry about. It would serve the sonof bitch right, too.
He breathed deeply, trying to slow downhis racing heart. The headlights reflected off the puddles on the greasy blackasphalt of Bridge Street. A sharp pain shot through his stomach, and he gotthat funny taste in his mouth. How much longer could he take this? Every timehe came across, it was the same damn thing. It didn’t matter what Sal told himabout it all being fixed. It didn’t even matter how many times he made the tripand nothing happened. A million things could go wrong. The truck could getjammed up. Or break down, more likely. They could change the Customs guy, puthim on another shift at the last minute. Then what would happen? Bernie wouldeat it big time, that’s what. And Sal would be gone so fast, all you’d see wasa little dust cloud, like in those cartoons.
He thought aboutbeing taken under the ground. He tried not to, but he couldn’t help it. Eversince that time he and Edie took the bus up to Toronto, he couldn’t get thatpicture out of his head. He hated going on the bus because he knew they’d gethassled, but she was worried about him drinking up there and she didn’t want totake the car. She’d put her foot down and that was that. He was right, though. They always stopped you when you were on the bus.