It was just after lunch that OPD’s forensics rep appeared in the garage. Contrary to Gail’s expectation, it wasn’t a guy like Thacker with even thicker coke-bottle glasses. In fact, it wasn’t a guy at all. Her name was Nora Roselle, an English-born Oakton Crime Forensics officer who’d retained a slight accent from her youth. Darian was instantly smitten by it, however well he hid it. Gail sensed it in his over-accommodation and slight, dreamy-eyes. She eye-rolled internally, externally remained unchanged; Nora was good-looking, if slightly plain, but her accent and diction had enthralled the untraveled and intellectual Darian. They might’ve been an excellent match were it not for the circumstances surrounding them. Before long, the trio stood at the damaged rig, now in more pieces than it had arrived in.
Nora’s well-shaped brows and full lips inflected learned charisma on her speech. “I understand you have documented the process of disassembly.”
“Quite well, in fact,” Darian said, still somewhat dreamy.
Gail cleared her throat to snap him out of it. He shook off his entrancement and called over one of his crew– curiously, Gerald Rush, the married and less attractive of his two, currently unoccupied employees. He introduced Rush and set him about gathering their camera footage and inspection notes for Nora’s review.
“Thank you, Mr. Foster. It will help immensely to integrate me into things,” Nora said, the pout on her full-lips now evidenced as permanent.
“Please, Darian,” he corrected somewhat uncharacteristically.
If Gail hadn’t been standing slightly behind Nora, she’d have seen the world-tilting eye-roll that once more put Darian back in his own shoes. He said something Gail didn’t need to hear to know was flirtatious fluff-speak, and she cleared her throat again.
“Miss Roselle, if you don’t mind, I have a business to run. Is there anything you need form me?”
She reached into a leather briefcase, “This is a standard non-disclosure agreement stating that you may overhear privileged information during my time here. Often times, it is not regarding my work on the premises, but elsewhere. It is merely a safety protocol to ensure against information leaks.”
Gail nodded, “Fine. But I have over twenty other employees, I can’t sign for them.”
“They will be asked to sign separate disclosures,” Nora assured her.
“And if they don’t?”
Nora winced, “Then they may not be present during my time here. I’m sorry, I know it is an intrusion, but it is required.”
She took the packet, led the pair to the couches and table, and sat down to flip through it and scrawl her name on the last page. She handed it back, “Anything else?”
“No, thank you.”
Darian gestured Nora along, “Well, Ms. Roselle– may I call you Nora?”
“I’d be happy to review our information with you. I’m certain Rush has it compiled by now.”
“Very well,” Nora said, rising with him. She looked at Gail, “Thank you again for your cooperation, Miss Wolfe. I’ll do my best not to be a bother.”
Gail finally stood, “Clear things up. That’s all I care about. Good luck.”
Nora gave a courtly forward-tilt of her head and Darian led her to the far corner of the garage where his desk was sequestered. They disappeared around an edge of the damaged rig, and Gail blew a breath through her lips. At least someone’s day was looking up. Hers, on the other hand, was only looking to get more complicated. Almost immediately preceding Nora’s arrival, dispatch had received alarm codes on one of the short-haul rigs. Felicia Euwart, the driver, immediately confirmed the issue, but it had put everyone on-edge. ABS warning-codes had gone up, and Felicia lost pressure in her primary brake-lines, it wasn’t earth-shattering, and even Darian confirmed the rig had needed new brake-lines. With the state of things, he’d let it out on the road with the mind of replacing them on its next return, expecting they’d make it one last haul.
However understandably wrong he was, the extra time required to bring the rig back, exchange it for another, then haul its load to its destination would now put Felicia behind schedule. It was just enough, that she’d never make the next haul, assigned to her from Ferrero’s schedule. With most of their long-haulers on the road, and only Carl on his mandated time off left at the garage, Gail was forced to pick up the slack. In other words, after greeting Nora, she had enough time to go home, sleep off the day’s bullshit, then head for Northern Indiana.
Afternoon writhed and wriggled into night, passing only for Gail to rise more tired than usual. She chugged her latest mug of black-sludge coffee and made for the garage. The morning’s wee-hours found the office door spitting light across the garage’s outer-sanctum. The night-shift dispatchers were slumped at their desks, imbibing caffeine and barely visible from the angle, but Gail’s attention was drawn to low-lights glowing from Darian’s desk-area. She had more than enough time to dally before getting on the road, figured she’d scold Darian for skimping on sleep. She rounded the corner of Ferrero’s damaged rig, and found Nora poised over Darian’s desk with loads of paper-work atop it.
“Nora?” Gail asked approaching. “Why’re you still here?”
She didn’t respond. Gail eyed her oddly, then stepped up and laid a hand on her shoulder. She snapped ’round with a start. Gail lurched back, panted terror.
Nora yanked ear-bud headphones from her ears with a breathy, “Cry-st!”
Gail gasped, “Sonuvabitch! I think I need to change my pants.”
“I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t hear you.”
Gail recomposed herself, pushed onward, “What’re you still doing here?”
“I’m accustomed to long nights,” she admitted, finally catching her breath. “In my profession, it is a useful skill. I work a thirty-six hour days, sleep eight hours, then repeat.”
Gail sympathized, however apprehensively, “I know the feeling.”
She smiled, “I imagine I’d have been an excellent driver in another life.”
Gail nodded to the papers, “Quite a commitment to the job.”
“It is important I examine as much of the vehicle’s history as possible, however mundane. A faulty, third-party part could be as much to blame something factory-spec that never required replacement. In either case, the vehicle’s history will allow me to narrow it down as Darian has attempted.”
Gail leaned against a wall at the desk’s edge, “Any ideas yet?”
“No.” She picked up a sheet of paper, skimmed it, then met Gail’s eyes again. “But I have seen the video footage.”
“Off the record, what’s your assessment? Driver error?”
Nora seemed to consider if her opinion could be professionally damning, then relented, “Off the record, there is no way to be certain. Ever. Driver-error is always a possibility, but given the driver’s history, it’s too far of a stretch for my liking. Unfortunately, I can’t rule it out entirely without proper evidence. As far as the vehicle goes, nothing adds up.”
“How do you mean?” Gail asked with genuine intrigued.
Nora shuffled some pages, “These are all of the work orders on the vehicle’s maneuvering systems and suspension. All post-work diagnostics indicate perfect functioning, as far as the tests can tell. From what I can personally see, the vehicle was expertly maintained. Some evidence of this is only days old.”
Gail skimmed the pages with a look, “What’s it tell you?”
“Simply? That there was no earthly reason for that vehicle to act as it did.”
Gail’s skeptical look urged her to explain. She dug a laptop from beneath the mounds of papers, and flipped it open. Gail braced herself on the desk and chair from beside Nora. On-screen was a crude, wire-frame model of a T680. She keyed in a command and the wire-frame began to move as if traveling at highway speeds. All of a sudden, the rig jolted left, then right, left again. The model tipped and ground its side until it struck a guard-rail. Simulated debris rained behind it, smacked away like particles. The wedged rail caught the road, took the rest of the engine with as it broke free, and crude flames sparked on the overturned rig as it came to a stop.
Gail was suddenly aware of her white-knuckled grip on the desk and chair before her. Nora seemed to notice it too, tactfully ignored it. Gail eased from the tense poise and cleared her throat; it had been like watching the accident all over again, except every bit of the first-person dash-cam played over in her head atop the third-person render. It was horrifying, enough that even Gail’s hardened heart felt sympathy for Buddy’s last moments to have been in such fear.
Nora allowed Gail a moment to recollect herself, then explained, “As near as I can tell, the vehicle was traveling in a straight-line, at safe-speeds, in preferable road conditions. Nothing short of a driver error or an electrical failure could have caused the first swerve.”
“But you disagree it was driver error?”
She was careful, evasive for the sake of her job more than anything, “Personally, I do not believe that to be an issue. This was a deliberate motion, too instant and sudden for the drifting of a fatigued or inebriated driver. More-over, none of the preceding video shows any indication of driver distraction.”
“So, it was the electrical system?” Gail asked outright.
“Logic would suggest as much, given the video evidence. As I’ve said though, there is no mechanical reason for it to have happened.”
Gail went quiet for a long time, wondering how the findings might fit her M-T theory. For someone to sabotage the vehicle, as she suspected, they’d need access to it. Overlooking the obvious fact that it was damn-near impossible to get to, Gail wondered what they could have done to cause the accident. She’d been driving rigs long enough to know this wasn’t a frayed wire snowballing into a colossal fuck-up. If it had been, the rig would’ve shown signs before-hand, and it would’ve been caught during one of the vehicle’s inspections Darian and his crew had done.
But without clear evidence of tampering, Gail couldn’t point a finger at M-T without bringing a serious shit-storm upon herself. She suspected something would be found though. Even Nora seemed to be leaning toward that– in as much as her suspicions did not involve neglect by either driver nor mechanic. While Gail didn’t know much about the woman, her high-intelligence was obvious in her methods and demeanor. If others respected her as Gail expected, especially given the Chief of Police personally assigning her the case, her word might be enough to back up Gail’s suspicions if necessary.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” Nora said finally, breaking the silence. “What do you believe happened? You must have suspicions yourself, right?”
“Off the record?” Nora blinked once. “I think someone fucked with that rig, someone from M-T Inc.”
“Mechanized Transports?” She asked, accent drawing out certain syllables.
“Yes. The assholes have been trying to buy me out and I’m not interested. I wouldn’t put it past them to do something like this then hide behind their lawyers.”
Nora looked away to think. Then, with a resigned grimace, she met Gail’s eyes. “If that is the truth, it is all the more imperative we discover how they’ve done it. Otherwise, many more innocent people may die.”