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
About an hour later the truck wheeled off the highway into the turnout at
Coal Bank Summit. Joe set the brakes and sat back, rubbing his neck with his
left paw. He looked at his wife, who was sleeping in the reclined seat
opposite him, feet on the dash, head in the crook between the cab wall and
the seat back. She had a blanket pulled up around her neck, and a slight
smile caused her face to seem to glow, somehow. Her quiet, even breathing
told him she was in deep sleep.
Removing his gloves, he double checked the setting of the cab heater to
ensure her comfort, and then opened his door and quickly stepped down to the
wet asphalt of the parking lot, shutting the door behind him. The idling
truck made reassuring noises behind him. He quickly buttoned up his denim
jacket and jammed his paws into the pockets. He walked towards the guardrail
at the edge of the parking lot. Up here at 10,600 feet it was cold, maybe low
forties or even high thirties.
His back had been talking to him since Molas Divide. Not pain, really, just
the need for a stretch and a walk. Coal Bank Summit had a wide, level turnout
for semis to check their brakes at, and while the lot was fairly good sized,
his truck was the only vehicle around. They had passed no one since leaving
The sky overhead was dark, devoid of stars or moon. Clouds still covered the
sky, he knew. While the rain had stopped falling a couple of miles back, he
could smell it on the light wind that was blowing up out of the Animas River
canyon to the east.
Reaching the guardrail at the edge of the parking lot, he looked southeast
towards where he knew the San Juan National Forest should be laid out below,
but saw nothing except some scudding cloud and darkness. Looking back over
his shoulder he could feel more than see the mass of Engineer Mountain rising
to the west, but the slopes rose into the low cloud cover and disappeared.
The running lights of his truck glowed warmly, looking inviting.
Turning to his right, he headed south towards the Durango end of the lot.
Walking briskly, he was there in moments. He paused, listening to the wind,
and in the distance heard the sound of a truck working up a grade somewhere.
With the wind pushing the sound around and the cloud acting as an echo
chamber, it was hard to tell where it might be coming from, or how far away
it might be, but he definitely heard it.
Turning again, he walked past his truck to the other end of the lot. The cold
air drilled through his jacket and shirt, causing him to shiver. He jammed
his paws deeper into his pockets. The smell of rain was strong, it would
start falling soon. At this end of the lot the distant engine noise was
barely discernable, thus he surmised that the truck he could hear was on the
Durango side of the pass. They might pass each other on the way down the
hill. He looked north down the highway, back towards where they had just
been, as it curved out of view.
He heard the hiss of the approaching rain before it actually started to fall
on him. Turning with the sound, he started walking rapidly back to his truck.
By the time his left paw reached up to the door handle, it was raining hard.
Climbing into the cab, he tried to minimize the noise of his return so as not
to wake his sleeping wife. The heated air blowing out of the floor vents felt
good. He stepped up the fan speed a bit, removed his wet hat, and turning it
upside down, placed it on the center console between their seats. He
unbuttoned his jacket and then, reaching up to the dash in front of him, he
retrieved his gloves and put them on. He left his wet jacket on, figuring it
would dry out by the time they reached Durango.
From here it was a downhill run all the way to Durango. They were making good
time, given the weather, it was not quite one o'clock yet. Suddenly he
thought of the GSM phones, and reaching to his inside jacket pocket he
withdrew his, flipping it open. No network. Ah well, that's why he had
radios. But while he glanced at them to make sure they were scanning, he
didn't reach for a microphone. Instead, he turned to his right and gently
brushed some errant strands of blond hair from his wife's closed eyes,
murmuring "I love you."
Facing the windshield once again, he turned on the windshield wipers and his
headlights, and released the brakes. Gearing up, he angled across the lot and
turned into the southbound lane of highway 550.
Just below Mill Creek Lodge a few minutes later he detected headlight glare
on the immediate horizon in front of him. He flicked his high beams off,
anticipating the oncoming vehicle. The glare suddenly decreased, telling him
the other driver had likewise dimmed his lights. Rounding a slight curve, he
saw the oncoming headlights and running lights of a large tractor-trailer
rig. Here's the engine I heard, he thought, taking quiet satisfaction
that his ears still worked well. As the truck boomed by him he caught a
glimpse of a Kenworth logo on some sort of a conventional tractor.
As he turned into the approach to Purgatory a few moments later his high band
radio crackled to life. "Is that southbound on 550 listening to five two
simplex?" a feminine voice wanted to know. Reaching for the microphone, Joe
glanced at the display to confirm it read NATL SIMPLEX, and pressed the
button to disable the scan function. After stating his call sign, he gave his
position as "southbound 550 approaching Purgatory."
Purgatory, of course, was a well known and very popular ski area north of the
city of Durango. In season it's population could easily run into the four
digit figures. As there was no snow on the ground, the area was completely
deserted when Joe and Annie's truck rumbled through on it's southbound trek.
The soft voice returned, identifying herself as Jennifer with a call sign of
her own. "You're looking good through Durango to Cortez. The rain was lighter
for us below Electra Lake. Highway's in good shape."
Flicking his high beams back on, Joe replied "You're looking good to
Montrose, at least. We came through there much earlier this afternoon, and
we've been putting along five fifty ever since. We stopped in Ouray and then
again below Red Mountain, and in Silverton. Everything is quiet and clear.
Look for some heavy rain between Coal Bank and Molas, though."
"You sound like a local..." she ventured, a hint of interest in her voice.
"Sorry, nope. Out of Los Angeles. My son is up here in Durango, we'll be
dropping in on him shortly."
A pause, then "OK, well, have a good trip. We run this route a couple of
times a month or more, we'll look for you down the road somewhere." Jennifer
gave her call once again and said "73".
"So long, Jennifer. Safe trip."
Joe had just sat back from hanging up the microphone and placing the high
band radio back in scan when another soft, feminine voice slid through his
ear and into his brain. "I can't leave you alone at all." Annie spoke with a
tone of offense, but he could hear the smile on her face, and that belied her
true feelings. "I'm asleep a few minutes and you're hitting on ladies on the
radio!" she teased.
Looking at his wife he smiled in return, and turning back to the road said
"Hey, just another faceless voice in the void. She may be cute, maybe not,
but I don't care. My eyes have all they can handle."
Trading moods, she asked "How are you doing? Are you feeling OK?" He could
hear the concern in her voice, he didn't need to look at her.
"Yeah. I stopped at Coal Bank Summit and took a walk until it started to
She reached out to touch his sleeve. "Your jacket's damp." Her fingers
squeezed his arm gently.
He took her paw in his and brought it to his lips, kissing the back of it.
"I was soaked. I've been drying out for ten minutes or more. It started while
I was out walking around. I got a stretch and worked some kinks out of my
back, though." He looked at her. He could make out her blue eyes in the glow
from the instrument lights in the dash. She wore an expression of mild
concern. "I'm OK, really. We're only about twenty minutes out."
"Do we have any coffee left?" she asked as she turned to rummage behind the
seats. She was looking for the steel thermos that had been filled for them
way back in Sargents, hours ago.
"Yeah, there should be some left. It probably won't be much more than luke
warm by now, though." The road ahead leveled and became straight, he selected
another gear and throttled up to sixty.
Various noises consistent with small items being moved around came from
behind him, and a strawberry blond tail was bouncing about in Joe's
peripheral vision. Suddenly Annie sat back in her seat with a steel thermos
in her hands. "Got it!" she exclaimed, as she began to unscrew the cup cover.
Placing the cup in a cup holder, she unscrewed the plastic stopper beneath
it. As she removed this, they both could see steam rising from the thermos.
"Looks hot to me," Annie said.
"I'll take some of that," said Joe, holding out his gloved right paw.
She filled the cup for him and passed it to him. Winking at her in the dark,
he took it and sipped it. Finding it not too hot, he took a big gulp of it.
"Aaahhhh. Thanks, Angel!" he said, passing the empty cup back to her for a
refill. She poured some more from the thermos and passed it back to him.
The truck shuddered and bounced slightly as he took the cup from her again.
"Railroad tracks," he told her. "Won't be long now, we're almost there."
Before she could venture a reply the high band radio crackled once again with
a familiar voice. Chris identified himself and called for them.
"Want to talk to him? Joe asked his wife, placing the empty cup in the cup
holder and reaching for the microphone once again.
"No thanks. Just tell him we're almost there." Annie picked up the cup, wiped
it with a paper towel from the map pocket in her door, and placed the stopper
and cup back on the thermos. The thermos went back behind his seat. That done
she then opened the center console between the seats and began to rummage
through the CD cases within.
Joe keyed the microphone and identified himself, continuing "We're just north
of Hermosa Tank. We ought to be there in a few minutes."
"The GSM network is down, dad. I just got off another channel with my friend
at Mountain Bell. Apparently their center in Farmington took a lightning
strike, and GSM wireless is down across the Four Corners area right now."
"OK then, that would explain why I had no network connectivity at Coal Bank,
"Yep. So you guys are close?"
Joe thought a moment, watching Annie select and remove a CD from the center
console, and replied "Maybe fifteen minutes. The rain has let up, it's just a
mist now. Where should we park?"
Chris described a location in the parking lot of his apartment complex big
enough for their truck to get into without too much fuss, and concluded with
"Mike's asleep, but Debbie and I are waiting up."
"You didn't need to do that, son, but thanks."
"Who could make her do anything?" They heard the humor in Chris's tired
voice. "She's as stubborn as mom is. And I know she's listening! Hi mom!"
Annie's arched eyebrows relaxed a bit, and she inserted the CD into the
stereo system. "Do you want any coffee when you get in dad?"
"Nah, I just now was drinking some, thanks anyway. Your mom takes good care
"This is a true statement. OK, your bed's ready, all you need to do is fall
in it." Chris gave his call sign and advised that he'd be standing by.
"Thanks son. See you in a few." Joe gave his call and hung up the microphone.
Turning to his wife he said "We have good kids."
In response she pressed the orange button on the stereo system. Dire Straits'
Heavy Fuel began to play through the speakers. They both reached
simultaneously for the volume button to turn it up. Laughing, Joe stopped to
let her adjust it. Annie smiled up at him, saying "This is the perfect song
for our arrival." The remaining few miles passed quickly.
To Chapter Eleven: The Inquisition.
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