Precious Cargo

All characters appearing in this story are mine of my own design.
This story is a work of fiction based upon nothing in particular.

Precious Cargo is copyright The Silver Coyote

Missed Opportunity

Boy, is this ever God's country. His field of view was filled with the backbone of North America, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. All around him peaks of decomposing granite thrust themselves up into the crystal blue sky. Some of the peaks attained elevations of over fourteen thousand feet. Up that high, above the timberline past which trees disappeared and the grasses wouldn't grow, the tallest peaks were merely jagged rock, seeming to scrape the bottom of the stratosphere. Snow lay in abundance up there, but the major snowstorms of the winter hadn't started yet, and the lower elevations were still enjoying relatively moderate weather.

It was a cool morning in early October with some light, puffy clouds at fifteen thousand feet or so scattered about, laying a patchwork of brightly lit areas full of turning Aspen and evergreens amongst the dark areas where the sunlight didn't fall. While he had seen this type of landscape many times, he never tired of it. Vistas such as this were always fresh and new and inspiring, each day that he was presented with one. He could, with a little creative license, imagine this as still being a raw and undiscovered wilderness. The view was almost like a scene from some "National Geographic" nature program on HDTV.

Except for the noise and motion. The rumble of the engine in front of him, the whine of the tires on the pavement, the air whistling around his truck as it rolled along; the noise was subdued in the cab, but noticeable. It was music to him. The gentle rolling motion he experienced as his truck took the curves, crests, and low laying areas of the roadway was not unlike the experience of being on a railroad train, and just as relaxing. The sunlight warmed his body when it fell on him through the windows.

Headed southwest out of Denver on US highway 285, the truck had just crested the ten thousand foot summit of Kenosha Pass. West of the pass and below him lay a broad basin, beyond which more ranges and razor edged peaks seemed to claw at the sky.

The driver readjusted his posture in the seat and then, using the toggle switches on the six-way power seat, he raised the front of the seat pan slightly. Next he slipped the transmission selector down to third, anticipating the coming downgrade. It would be short, the next mountain pass was only a few miles away and less than a thousand feet below. Flicking a switch on the armrest of his door, he operated the controls to reposition his mirrors to compensate for his new position in the seat. Glancing at the speedometer, he tapped his brakes momentarily to reduce his speed to forty five miles per hour. Satisfied that third gear would hold him on this grade, he returned to sightseeing out the windows.

These mountains held such wonderful memories for him. Between Albuquerque and Denver on the east, and the Colorado River on the west, this entire area had been his playground and refuge for pretty much his entire life. His father had started teaching him the art of back country four wheeling here some thirty five years ago, and he came back to this, the Colorado Rockies, his spiritual homeland, every chance he got. He always felt closest to his God when he was on some high mountain pass or peak at thirteen or fourteen thousand feet, enjoying an unobstructed view of His creation. Being away from the confines of the over-populated urban centers, out in whatever elements God chose to toss his way that particular day, working for half a day to struggle, man and machine against a four mile trail, was for him the best form of recreation and stress management.

His paws, gloved in leather, rested lightly on the wheel. He drove with gloves on virtually all of the time now. In the old days he had worn stylish leather "driving gloves", with vent holes and snaps. These usually lasted about halfway through a summer before the cheap, thin leather disintegrated from heat and wear. For some years now he had been using plain old leather work gloves. They got dirty, but they took the abuse of cross country driving in the real world, and stayed tough. Not pretty, but tough, able to perform well. Somewhat like the fur that wore them, and paralleling his taste in machines.

He raised his right paw up to tug briefly on the brim of his hat, knowing as he did that the action was of no use. The sun was going to be in his eyes at times as the truck wound around curves coming off the pass. The only thing he could do about it was tuck his chin to bring the brim down low enough to provide some relief as the sun poured through the windshield. Problem was, when he did this, he had to watch the center stripe and the fog lines on the road, because the route ahead would be obstructed by his hat brim. Time for sunglasses, he thought, retrieving them from a compartment in the overhead console and placing them on his face. The hat brim became "backup".

Before lowering his right paw to the center console, he adjusted the volume of the stereo system down slightly, keeping the audio level low. Now that they were running downhill the noise level inside the cab had dropped considerably. Finally, he glanced at his two-way radios to make sure that they were still in scan mode. He hadn't heard anything from either of them since climbing out of the Denver area.

His tongue flicked the toothpick in his mouth from the left side to the right. He had absolutely no reason to have this toothpick, his last meal had been hours ago, but he just enjoyed the ride a little more when it was there. Perhaps that had something to do with the fact that he had quit smoking years ago, or maybe it was just a stupid habit. Whatever... He smiled, remembering. What was that saying he had heard? "A pipe gives a wise fur something to contemplate, and a fool something to stick in his mouth..." He'd never been a pipe smoker, but had enjoyed an occasional cigar. But that was a long time ago. Now, if he had something that needed contemplating, the toothpick was the weapon of choice.

Joe was a big fur, a canid mix of German Shepherd and Southwestern Coyote. Six foot, nearing fifty and on the wrong side of two hundred pounds, but not horribly so. He appeared to be nothing more than a large, broad shouldered coyote, except he had the dark muzzle and ears characteristic of a Shepherd. He had his grandmother to thank for that, her Prussian genetics were apparently dominant. He and his son, like his father before them, shared many physical characteristics that they could see in old photographs of her. His fur was a rangy brown color, with a dusting of dark gray and black on his back and shoulders, and on the tip of his tail. His hair had been dark brown in his youth, but was now quite mixed with a silvery gray color and worn relatively short. He had clear blue eyes that turned sort of a steel gray color when you needed to be out of his way. Not that he needed to be avoided very often, for he "had the world by the tail", as he liked to tell folks. While he wasn't one to wander about sporting an idiot grin, he had an easy smile which occasionally revealed an even set of teeth and sharp fangs, especially when he heard a good joke. He was, by and large, a happy and contented soul.

The mountain vistas continued to slide by outside the glass. Traffic was light. Being in the middle of the week, that wasn't surprising. He could have made much better time on Interstate 70 to the north, but why? This country was meant to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace, not roared through as fast as possible. There hadn't been a car gone by the other way for at least a quarter of an hour now. He glanced down at the fuel gauges, confirming he had plenty left to make Poncha Springs, where he'd be turning west on US highway 50 towards Gunnison. He wiggled a little in the seat, trying at the same time to work out the kinks in his muscles and maintain his seated position. He'd been on the road for about two and a half hours already.

The last time he'd come this way had been many years ago, back in '88 perhaps. He'd been visiting a friend in Albuquerque during the annual balloon festival at about this same time of year. He had driven hard, non stop from Los Angeles to Albuquerque except for fuel stops. He'd arrived shortly before midnight to find that everyone had waited up for him. They had apparently been partying a little bit before his arrival, for most of them were yawning and weaving slightly as they stood there in Lynn's entry way greeting Joe and talking about various things pertaining to the festival. Conversation ensued as everyone moved to and found a seat in the family room.

All of the adults in the room were approximately the same age except for Joe, who was a pawful of years younger. While they had all met before, Lynn and her children were not as well acquainted with the crew from southern California. Jim, Heather, and Joe all worked together, and had for some years. Jim and Monica were still on the leading edge of a "relationship" which was actually a second time around, for they had dated in high school many years ago. Lynn's kids, Pat and Linda, were typical teenagers.

Within a few minutes of Joe's arrival Jim and Monica, yawning noticeably, excused themselves and headed off for the guest bedroom.

"You can tell they haven't been together for that long," giggled Lynn after they had disappeared from view. Nods of agreement and bits of sage wisdom greeted this observation. With the exception of Lynn's kids, everyone in the house had been through a divorce at least once.

"Don't worry, they'll get over it" said Joe dryly, earning him a poke in the ribs from Lynn.

Lynn had met Joe not too long ago, having been introduced through a mutual friend, John, another coworker of Heather and Joe's. John and Lynn had gone out with Joe and Heather to a local club near the place where the southern California crew worked. Lynn was a sweet, good looking tabby. Dark hair accentuated by green eyes and a good figure, she stood about five and a half feet tall in her bare feet.

Next to exit the scene were Lynn's kids. Having become bored with their mom's friends they headed off to their respective rooms to do whatever it is teens do in the middle of the night. Within a few minutes of the kid's departure Joe was fighting the urge to fall asleep himself. He was seated on the floor, boots off, back against a sofa, with Lynn and Heather seated on either side of him on the sofa.

Heather was an interesting mix of vixen and siamese, a bit shorter than Lynn, thinner of frame with highlighted light brown hair, and light brown eyes that sparkled with hidden secrets. A fun loving lady fur, she was a bit of tease, at least with Joe. The two of them had become somewhat close over the years working together. While an intimate relationship did not exist between them, it was certainly within the field of view to each of them. They camped as part of a larger group of work friends, and went out occasionally. They also shared notes on relationships gone bad, divorce, and bad spouses.

Of course each of the girls had questions about the trip, and he described it with a few short sentences, concluding with "It was dark by the time I made it past Holbrook, and out there after nightfall there isn't that much to see." And what was happening back in southern California, Lynn wanted to know. Who was doing what to who, who was dating who, who was getting married, who was having babies, who was divorcing? Who was getting promoted, who was being laid off, who got fired? On and on and on...

"How the Hell am I supposed to know all those things?" Joe finally asked with a note of exasperation in his voice, a slight smile on his muzzle. "I finished my shift...", glancing at his watch, "fourteen hours ago. Even if I had the spare time to check out what everybody else was doing, you know, get in major conversations, who could remember after all these miles?"

"You're tired out, huh?" asked Heather. "Poor baby, you need your beauty sleep..." This statement garnered her a raised eyebrow from Joe and a giggle from Lynn.

"I know what this man needs," said Lynn, rising from her sofa.

Joe raised his head up and turned to watch her as she made her way to the kitchen. Dressed casually, she nevertheless pleasantly filled her denims and blouse, her tail swayed from side to side slowly as she walked. She reached up to open an upper cabinet, withdrawing a large, square bottle with a black label on it. A slight smile spread across Joe's muzzle, he knew exactly what it was. While he was spying this and the data was processing in his slightly fuzzed up brain, Heather began to rub his shoulders and the back of his neck, murmuring "I bet I know what you need."

By the time Lynn returned with the Jack Daniels and some glasses, Joe's head was leaning forward, his chin almost touching his chest, his eyes closed. "That didn't take long." Lynn said, grinning at Heather. Heather looked up and winked at her.

"I'm here, I'm awake, I'm just enjoying what she's doing." Joe mumbled, slowly raising his head and opening his eyes. The first thing that registered in his mind was a shot glass with a couple of fingers of Jack Daniels hovering a few inches in front of his nose. "Thanks," he said, reaching up for it while lifting his head higher to smile at Lynn.

"You're welcome," she replied, passing another shot glass to Heather and raising the third to Heather in a silent toast. The lady furs smiled an unspoken dialog to each other. Heather put her glass down after a sip and went back to her masseuse duties. After placing the bottle on an end table and seating herself, Lynn sipped a bit while watching Joe throw back the contents of his glass in a single swallow.

"Something tells me I should leave this with you", Lynn said with a smile. She turned and picked up the bottle, and then placed her arm over his shoulder, holding the bottle where he could see and reach it.

"Thanks. I don't want to seem like a pig, though. Let me know when you want more." After pouring and consuming another two fingers, Joe put the bottle and his glass on the floor next to him and leaned back into Heather's paws, mumbling "Now, where were we?"

The conversation gradually wound down in proportion to the amount of whiskey left in the bottle. The fuzzy feeling in Joe's head died away as the casual conversation continued. After perhaps twenty minutes or so it occurred to him that he was doing most of the talking. He glanced towards Lynn, over his right shoulder, and saw that her eyes were closed. He looked over his left shoulder to Heather, who winked at him. "Think she's done for the night?" she whispered to him.

"I heard that" Lynn mumbled. "But the fact is, I am. Time for this girl to go to bed." While she had been looking forward to getting to know Joe better, it was pretty obvious to her that Heather had plans. Time enough for Lynn's turn, it was going to be a long weekend. With that she rose and bent to kiss Joe on the top of his head. She smiled at Heather and said to them both "See you in the morning. Sweet dreams..." and headed across her kitchen towards the hallway and her bedroom.

"Night Lynn" was all Joe could manage to say before she disappeared from view around a corner.

"You must be worn out after that drive." Heather said quietly when Lynn was gone. "Where are you going to sleep? I've got the last bedroom..."

"Probably right here on the floor if I don't get myself on a sofa soon." Joe replied, missing her implied invitation. As she continued to rub his shoulders he rolled his head back against the sofa to look at her from his place on the floor.

She gazed down into his eyes for a few silent seconds. "How are you doing?" she finally asked in a more serious tone of voice. Seeing the generic "I'm OK" in his eyes before his mouth actually started to form the words, she continued quickly "No, I mean, you know, are you hanging in there OK?" Without actually using the "D-word", she was referring to the nasty divorce Joe had just concluded. He and Heather had become much closer friends and confidants since Joe and his ex wife had split up about a year and a half ago. Heather had been through a divorce of her own, and had recently been for Joe a stabilizing force and mentor.

"Ah, I guess I'm gettin' by," he replied. "It's all over, the dust has settled, and I'm just trying to move on and get my life put back together, you know? Pay off all the debt and get some money in the bank, that sort of thing."

She paused in her shoulder rub. "You've got all the legal fees and that stuff settled?"

He nodded slightly. "All paid up. My lawyer now owns a new Mercedes, I think."

"How's your head? Are you happy now that everything is over and done?" She reached for and sipped from her glass on the coffee table in front of her.

A look of sadness mixed with regret touched his face briefly. "I'm sorry I gave seven years of my life to that... dalmatian." He paused as the first expression was slowly replaced by a slight smile. "But I'm glad I extricated myself, glad I don't anymore feel like someone is always throwing grenades into my day-to-day existence." He paused again, considering his emotions and choosing his words. He sighed and said "I'm content, I guess. I sleep well now, my conscience is clear. I have nothing, but I don't hurt any more. I guess I'm just sort of numb."

He fell silent, staring at her briefly, and then lowered his head to stare at the wall across the room for several minutes.

"I should let you get some sleep." She had noticed that his eyes had been slightly bloodshot and half closed while he was looking at her. She put her paw on the top of his head between his ears. Expressing her claws, she ever so gently moved her claws slowly through the thick brown hair on the top of his head, caressing his scalp.

He continued to stare at the wall for a time, not saying anything, eyes slowly closing. Her ministrations were relaxing him, and his brain was drifting off towards sleep. His ears, normally erect, began to relax, folding in the middle. Without making the effort to, or even noticing it, something resembling a low growl came from deep within his chest.

"Hey, you can purr!" Heather murmured to him. She found this adorable and enticing, but didn't say anything else. Instead, she slowly slid off the sofa cushion until she was sitting on the floor beside him, angled a little to face him.

"I can?" he asked quietly. "I didn't mean to. I'm just totally relaxed by what you're doing and wasn't paying any attention to what I was doing." He turned his head towards her, eyes open again.

"It's sexy," she whispered, eyes locked on his. She stared at him, her arm now resting behind him on the sofa cushion, her claws still in his hair. "I should let you get some sleep" she said again.

"I heard that" he smiled at her.

Impulsively she leaned forward and quickly kissed him lightly on the mouth. She leaned back a bit, looking once again into his eyes. He sat there looking at her, the smile slowly turning up the corners of his muzzle.

He reached out to her, resting his paw on the back of her neck, and slowly pulled her towards him. His lips met hers, and after a moment her lips parted, her tongue playing gently with his lips. He responded in kind, and the kiss escalated several levels of passion in a short period of time. Once again that low growl came from within him, and she responded in kind with a purr of her own.

Eventually they both came up for air. Another kiss, shorter this time, but with an equal amount of fire, and then they were apart, smiling at each other.

"I guess that makes us a couple of alley cats." Joe said, smiling.

"You need to get to bed, cowboy." Heather laughed lightly, paw caressing his face as she rose to stand before him. She hesitated but a moment, long enough for him to make a reply, but not enough to create an embarrassing silence. "I'll see you in the morning" she said, winking at him as she turned to leave the room.

"I'll be here" Joe replied, looking up into her eyes and then following her figure as she went off towards the hallway. As she disappeared from view he reached for a blanket on the adjoining sofa.

To Chapter Two: Waking Up.

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