Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chapter Nine Leclerc Trucking Company

UPDATE: Unlikely Merger is NOW available! We will offer
the book FREE on Kindle July 1-July 5, 2015!

Mercy has flown from coast to coast, almost border to border! Today, she's way up north, in Massachusetts for Chapter Nine.

Here are links to the previous chapters, in case you need them to help you decide.

Unlikely Merger: Chapter One
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Two
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Three
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Four
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Five

Unlikely Merger: Chapter Six
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Seven
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine
Leclerc Trucking, Great Barrington, Massachusetts

“Massachusetts.” Mercy leaned into her father’s office where Madeline was looking over his shoulder at the computer screen. They both looked up and smiled.
“Good choice. I hear New England is beautiful in the spring.”
Mercy smiled back, feeling brave and getting better at throwing darts. All the trips had given her new confidence that she could do this job. “The New Englanders at the resorts all say it’s the prettiest part of the country.”
“Well, when you get back you can tell me if that’s true. But I wouldn’t be in a hurry to trade in Colorado.” Her father replaced his signature ball cap on his head.
“Even if I meet Mr. Right with deep roots there?”
He raised his brows.
She laughed, but before she lost control over this silly exchange, she turned to leave. “I’m ready for my briefing whenever you are, Madeline.”
Later, she wasn’t so sure she was ready after all. Madeline sat opposite her in the conference room, folders and papers spread across the table.
“Trucking? Truck drivers? How do I talk to truck drivers? They’ll take one look at me and treat me like a ‘cute little thang.’” She drew out the last phrase in a bad imitation of a southern drawl.
“No they won’t. You’re a professional, representing a source of funding for a growing operation. They need your money, and they’ll go out of their way to treat you well.” She leaned over the table, gathering up the maps and charts and reports. “You can read over all this stuff tonight, or you’ll have time on the plane tomorrow. But here’s the short version. Leclerc Trucking in Great Barrington has been operating for the last five years with six trucks. The owner, Robert Leclerc, has been very aggressive about finding contracts and has recently signed one to make national deliveries for a manufacturing firm that makes parts for metal buildings. He needs to double the size of his fleet, and that’s where we come in.”
Madeline stacked the papers, closed the folder, and slid it toward her. “All of his financials are in this packet as well as information about his new contract. You’ll need to become familiar with the manufacturing firm as well as decide if Leclerc is a reliable and trustworthy business partner for us.”
Mercy had only been half listening. She knew Madeline’s research would be thorough, but how would it help her talk to truck drivers? She stood and took the packet, rolling her shoulders back and pushing her head a little higher.
I wish I were taller.
Madeline held on to the packet a little longer than she needed to. “You can do this.”
I wish she couldn’t read my mind. Mercy took a deep breath. “Yes, I can.”
The older woman cocked a smile in her direction. “And while you’re there, maybe the ‘cute young thang’ can meet another SAM?”


She dragged her bag behind her across the concourse at Hartford International Airport to the car rental desk. She had scheduled a meeting with Leclerc that afternoon, but she would have preferred a nap in her hotel room. The drive to Great Barrington took Mercy through rolling hills covered with old woods. The yellow forsythia and mountain laurel with star-like, white flowers kept her mind off the truck drivers she was going to meet. So far, New England in spring lived up to her expectations. She crossed into Massachusetts, and soon the GPS warned she was approaching an unpaved road. A green street sign proved it wasn’t a driveway, so she turned and bounced across the potholes for half a mile.
On her left, a sign attached to a chain-link fence announced that she had found Leclerc Trucking. She stopped the car in the road and examined the facility she might be recommending to her father. A large metal building with an open rollup door stood in the middle of a few acres of dirt. The cab of a semi-truck was parked inside, front tipped forward, and she could see someone in jeans hanging over the engine. Several other trucks lined the yard, attached to flatbed trailers.
The gate was wide open, so after another good look, she drove up to the building. She got out of the car and tugged on her suit jacket to straighten it. The crisp air made her glad she had chosen her wool suit instead of the lighter linen one. Taking a deep breath, she pushed open a door beside the warehouse entrance that said, “Office,” and walked into a small, dark space that smelled like motor oil and old coffee. While her eyes were adjusting, someone called out, “You must be Miss Lacewell. Come on back.”
She headed for a door at the back of the entry space.
A large man with a big grin met her there. “I’m Rob Leclerc. So glad you could make it. Come in, come in. How do you take your coffee? I hope you didn’t have any trouble finding us. We’re kind of hidden on this little back road, but that way we don’t bother our neighbors with our coming and going at all hours. How was your flight?”
Mercy took a breath when he did, wanting to help him breathe. She wasn’t sure if he expected her to answer any of his questions. He handed her a thick mug with black coffee before she could speak. He nodded toward a chair next to a desk that filled the little room.
“Oh, please have a seat, Miss Lacewell. What was I thinking? You must be tired. Have you been to your hotel yet? We can meet later if you want a rest.”
He took another breath, “No thank you.” She jumped in before he could start again. “And, please, call me Mercy. I’m anxious to learn all I can about you. Why don’t you tell me about your company?”
“Well, we’re a small operation here, but we’re growing.” He probably hadn’t needed that nudge, but at least it seemed to help him focus. As he told her what Madeline’s research had already shown her, she watched him. He was probably only a few years older than she, but his fatherly mannerisms smothered her. The desk was covered with papers, but perched on one corner was a picture frame with Rob, a woman, and two young children.  
Behind him, a plaque on the wall read “Blessed is the Man Who Trusts in the Lord.” Her dad would love that.
His dark hair was a little too long, and it fell across his forehead each time he nodded in emphasis. Passion for what he did—she could check that on her list. Occasionally he let her ask a question or make a comment. Madeline’s research gave Mercy the information she needed to show her knowledge.
She’d been listening to him for about an hour when another man came to the door of the small office. Like Rob, he seemed to fill the space, but he was younger and better looking. Brown hair curled around the bottom of a blue Red Sox baseball cap and tanned stubbly cheeks gave her the impression he spent a lot of time outdoors.
“Hey Rob, what’s wrong with Drew’s tractor? Are we going to get away on time?”
“Broken belt. It’ll be a couple of hours.”
“Oh well. I guess I’ll head back to the farm then.” He turned to go without even looking at her.
“Wait, Steve. This is Mercy Lacewell from that company I’ve been talking to about financing. Since you have some time, why don’t you show her around and explain what we do from a driver’s perspective?”
Steve’s gaze fell on her. She shouldn’t have been surprised. With that look, she imagined he saw her as the sweet young thang she’d laughed about with Madeline.
Steve shrugged and nodded. He put his hand out and said, “I’m Steve Leclerc, the better looking brother.”
Standing, she smiled and took his hand. “Nice to meet you. I’d love a tour. Could I look at the trucks too?”
He laughed. “Of course. That’s about all there is to see. Come on.”
She turned to thank Rob, but he was already shuffling papers on his desk.
Instead of heading out the way she had come in, Steve took her down a hall to another small room. It held a refrigerator, a shelf with a microwave, and a folding table with several chairs.
“This is what Rob calls the drivers’ lounge. We call it the snack room.” He opened the refrigerator and took out a couple of sodas. “Want one?”
Mercy shook her head. “I just had a coffee, thanks.”
“Okay. Let’s go through the shop first.” He opened a door that led to the warehouse. “We kid about the lounge, but Rob takes care of his drivers. He leases all his trucks and trades them in every two years. Comfort’s important if you’re going to be on the road a lot.”
They walked by the truck with the open hood, and he pointed at the man working on the engine. “That’s Drew. We’re leaving for Maryland as soon as he can get his piece of junk working.” Drew raised a hand and waved but didn’t put his head up.
“Wait, you just told me they’re good trucks.”
Steve glanced down at her and raised an eyebrow. “You’re quick. Drew’s an owner operator. He and a couple of other guys have contracts with us but drive their own trucks. They get to use our stuff when they break down.” He motioned toward a row of tool boxes and other equipment that lined the warehouse then headed for the rear where another large door stood open. She had to walk quickly to keep up with him.
“Are you Rob’s partner?”
“No, just his brother. He got the trucking company; I got the farm.”
She waited for more, but he headed for the row of black trucks. As they walked around the trailers, Steve talked about the different kinds of loads, how they were strapped, and about side kits and a lot of other technical truck jargon. Mercy tried to keep up, literally and mentally. Was he really trying to confuse her, or was she imagining it?
They rounded the last trailer and came to a cab. “Have you ever been in a truck?”
She shook her head, and he reached up and opened the passenger door. “Hop in.”
Getting in was more of a climb than a hop, but she reached the seat and looked around. The dash that curved around the driver’s side was lined with gauges. The cab looked a bit like her mental picture of an airplane cockpit. A curtain hanging behind the seats was pulled open to reveal a neatly made bed and the edge of a cupboard. Steve climbed into the driver’s seat and turned to Mercy.
“Want to go for a ride? You can’t understand trucks if you haven’t been in one.”
Nodding, she looked out the window at the road and trees beyond the lot. They were pretty high up. Steve started the engine and shifted through a bunch of gears; the truck rumbled softly, and her seat vibrated a little. When they reached the gate, he turned the truck away from the paved road and they bounced farther down the dirt road she’d driven to get to the company.
“My dad was an over-the-road driver and wasn’t home much, so we lived with my mom’s parents on their farm. When Pepe died, Dad decided to retire and take Mom to Florida. They left us the farm. Rob built his business at one end and I’m farming the rest. I drive for him to support the farm. You’re not investing in it, but I love to show it off.”
The truck stopped in front of a little farmhouse with dormer windows peeking over the roof of a wide porch. A row of daffodils seemed to welcome visitors.
“Don’t get out yet. Let me see if I stopped in a mud puddle.” He looked down at her shoes and then jumped out.
Mercy had thought her black leather pumps quite appropriate back in Colorado. What did he expect? She’d dressed for a business meeting, not a farm tour. But after some of her other experiences, she should have known better. The cab door opened and Steve looked up at her.
“Yup, it’s muddy. Can’t avoid it in the spring. Come down on the step, and I’ll swing you over to this dry patch.”
She was grateful for his thoughtfulness in saving her shoes. And his kindness was sweet. She stepped down, and he put a hand on each side of her waist and swung her over to the grass behind him. She gazed across fenced bare fields to an apple orchard and forested hills beyond them.
“Welcome to God’s Table. Here’s where we grow produce for the food banks and homeless shelters in Great Barrington and Springfield.”
Mercy swung her head back to Steve. Suddenly she was no longer looking at a rough, condescending truck driver. His brown eyes twinkled, and he winked.
“Okay, it’s not there yet, but that’s what it’s going to be. Some of the kids from our youth group have volunteered to help in the vegetable garden, and Rob’s going to let me use one of his trucks to transport the produce. I interned at a place like that in Maryland, so I know it can work.”
Mercy forgot her expensive shoes and the trucking business she had come to evaluate and walked with Steve over to the fence. They leaned on it as he told her his vision. He practically glowed as he pointed out the strawberry patch, the plowed spot he would soon plant with lettuce and peas and the fruit trees and corn fields in the distance, and even a pond he had stocked with bass.
The pressure inside Mercy loosened. He’d grasped what was missing in her life. A chance to serve others. His passion reassured her that her own path had God’s blessing. She looked up at Steve gratefully and surprised herself again when her core muscles convulsed. He must have sensed her interest because he looked away from the fields and down at her. His smile drew her into his vision where she found she wanted to be. Then his head jerked up and he thrust two fingers into his mouth, letting out a loud whistle. She jumped and turned to see a large brown dog running across the field behind the house. The monster turned and sped toward them, skidding to a stop in front of Steve.
He grabbed for the dog’s collar. “How did you get out, boy?”
The dog evaded him and wagged its tail, panting with its big tongue hanging out the side of its mouth. Mercy gripped the fence post behind her as the dog wove back and forth in front of them, getting closer with each move. Suddenly it jumped up with paws on Steve’s shoulders.
“No, boy. Down.” He pushed the dog away, right against Mercy. She slid down into a mud puddle with the dog on top of her. Before she could move, a big tongue washed across her face.
“Oh no. I’m so sorry. I don’t know how Prince got out of his run.” Steve gripped the dog’s collar and pulled him away. He looked down at her with wide eyes. “Your clothes are ruined. I’m so sorry.”
His look of horror was so different from the happy vision she had just been looking at that she had to laugh. She looked down at the mud splatters on her business suit and shoes and laughed harder. “So much for looking professional. I bet your brother won’t want to do business with me when he gets a glimpse of my muddy rear end.”
Steve stared at her for a moment then laughed. He reached for her hand, and she let him pull her up. “He won’t care. He grew up on the farm too, you know. Come on. I have some towels in the house. I’ll put the dog away while you dry off, and then I’ll take you back to your car.”
He looked down at the dog and scolded, “Bad boy,” but rubbed the top of its head as if he couldn’t help himself. He led the way to the house and gave her directions to the bathroom. She brushed off as much of the mud as she could before going in.
Cleaned up a bit, she rejoined Steve outside and climbed back into the truck.
“Hey, you’re a good sport,” he said as they bumped along the unpaved road. “And I talked too much. I didn’t have a chance to ask about you. Did you always want to be a financier when you grew up?”
Mercy looked at him, wondering if he was just trying to make up for her fall. But he was looking at her with interest, and she hoped he really was sincere. “It’s a long story, and I’d love to tell you if we had more time.”
He flushed, and looked away.
Oh no. The guy was being nice, and she’d agreed with his assessment of talking too much. Not true. She loved hearing all he had to say about his plans for the farm.
“Of course. You want to go get cleaned up.”
When he stopped the truck, he came around again to help her climb down. Once she was on the ground, he looked down at her, holding her gaze with his kind eyes.
“Steve, I didn’t mean it the way it sounded, and I apologize. I enjoyed hearing about your farm, and I’d really like to talk more about it with you. I understand you have a run, and I’m here to look over the trucking operations but …”
“Then maybe you’ll visit us again.” He smiled. “If you think that a non-profit would be something Lacewell Limited would be interested in backing.”
She nodded. Her thoughts exactly.
“And if you return, I’ll shut up and listen to the long story about your journey to becoming a financier.”

From the Authors of Unlikely Merger

Wednesday, June 17

Marji Laine:  No Joy in Mudville

Tuesday, June 16

Monday, June 15

Marji Laine:  Ain't Nothin' Easy

Saturday, June 13

A Dozen ApologiesAvailable on Kindle

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