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

The Inquisition

"Gee dad, you look tired." The concern was evident on Debbie's face and in her tone of voice.

Joe stood on the edge of the small porch holding the door open for his wife. "Thanks, Blondie, you look pretty good, too," he replied, smiling around his ever-present toothpick. He pushed Annie gently from behind, propelling her through the doorway of Chris's apartment.

"Hi mom!" Debbie fairly jumped at her mother and gave her a huge hug, which Annie returned in kind.

"Hi sweetie," her mother replied, looking her up and down. "I swear you've grown in the week or two since I last saw you!" Then, looking over Debbie's shoulder, she asked "Where's your brothers?"

Debbie and Annie turned away from the doorway and Joe followed them into the apartment, shutting the door behind them. The boys were nowhere to be seen. "Chris is on the phone with someone. He'll be right out."

Joe moved past his wife to his daughter. "C'mere, you," he smiled, holding his arms wide for a hug of his own. "How's my girl?"

Debbie moved into her father's arms and hugged him in return, kissing him on the cheek. "OK, I guess. We were getting worried about you!" She pulled back from him. "Where have you guys been? It's past midnight! How long have you been on the road?" She stood back from him, looking at her mother while still keeping one paw on her father's arm. "Didn't you leave Denver this morning?"

"Actually we left Englewood this morning." Annie replied. Debbie turned to Joe once again, her expression a mix of confusion and suspicion. "Sixteen hours? Isn't that a bit long for a trip of that distance? I mean, that's only..." she did some quick guesstimating in her head, "what, four hundred miles?"

"Three hundred eighty, give or take." Joe replied wearily, knowing where Debbie was going with this mini-inquisition. As he looked at his daughter, his son walked into the room behind her. Glad for the distraction, Joe looked past his daughter and exclaimed "Hi son!"

"Hi Dad!" He closed the distance between them and gave his father a hug. "I was just on the phone with Rick at Mountain Bell. Looks like the GSM net won't be back up until tomorrow... I mean later this morning. They're flying parts in from Los Angeles. So our phones may not work until well after sunup." He looked quizzically at his sister, wondering why she looked like she was trying not to laugh. "Your bed's made up," he said to his father, turning to point to a doorway behind him, "right through there. Whenever you're ready. Mike's asleep on the floor in the den. Debbie gets the sofa out here, I get the sofa in the den." He looked back to his father after pointing out the various fixtures as he spoke.

"Thank you, Chris." Motioning towards his wife with his left paw, Joe said "We appreciate all you're doing for us. You are certainly putting yourself out on our account. We could have gotten a room somewhere..."

"Bogus!" Chris interrupted. "You're staying right here. Debbie's making breakfast to... I mean later. You get some rest."

"Not so fast," Debbie said, releasing her father's arm. Moving to stand by her mother, Debbie addressed both of them. "I still want to know how it is that you two took sixteen hours to drive four hundred miles." She put her paws on her hips, a feigned look of anger mixing with a small smile on her muzzle. "What is that?" Lost to her parents, the humor on Debbie's face and in her voice was quite evident to Chris.

"What's the problem, Deb?" he asked gruffly. "Leave them alone."

"It's OK, honey." Annie said to him, hearing the bossy edge in Chris's tired voice. To Debbie she explained "We stopped at several places for lots of different reasons. We spent some time in Sargents after seeing a bad traffic accident. We ate dinner in Montrose. We stopped so dad could meet an old friend in Ouray..."

"Hey wait a minute!" Joe interrupted. Noting the smile on his wife's face he didn't react with anger, but he wanted to set the record straight none the less. "I didn't know her. Never seen her before, don't care if I never see her again."

"Her?" Debbie and Chris both asked simultaneously, each looking inquisitively at their mom with ears forward. Joe noticed for the first time how Debbie's eyebrows arched in a manner very similar to her mother's. "Is she still alive?" Debbie asked half jokingly. She noticed the set of her father's jaw change, saw the color of his eyes go slightly gray. Oops, she thought.

"It was a case of mistaken identity on her part," Annie said soothingly. "No big deal."

"Tell me about the accident." Debbie said, diplomatically changing the subject. She took her mother by the paw and led her to the sofa in Chris's front room. Debbie sat indian style with her back against an arm rest, carefully arranging her tail beside her before facing her mother. Annie sat at an angle, her back resting against the corner the other armrest made with the sofa back, her tail draped over the armrest. Looking somewhat sheepish, Chris motioned towards his father to follow him and moved into the kitchen.

"Debbie can be such a pain sometimes." Chris grumbled to his father as he fetched a Diet Coke and a Sprite from his refrigerator. "You want something to drink? I've got the usual assortment, and there may be some Jack in the cupboard there." Chris motioned to a cabinet next to the refrigerator with the can of Diet Coke in his paw.

"Nah, I'm fine son, but thanks." Joe turned to follow Chris back into the front room.

Chris passed the Diet Coke to his mother and the Sprite to his sister.

"Thank you sweetie." His mother said, smiling at him.

"Thaaank Eeeeyouuuu Shweethart", Debbie drawled, teasing her brother. Chris tried to glower at her, but broke into a grin himself.

Sitting between his mother and sister, Chris motioned to the easy chair facing the TV. "Have a seat, dad. Let me tell you about what's been happening on the D&S."

"Maybe later in the morning, son. I'm a little worn out. I think I'll get some sleep. But I really want to hear about your job when the sun's up, OK?"

"Sure dad. Can you find your way?"

Joe moved to stand beside Annie. Dropping to a knee, he reached out for her paw. Bringing it to his lips, he kissed the back of it, looking into her eyes. "Good night, Angel," he said quietly. She smiled sweetly at him, saying nothing with her mouth, letting her eyes do the talking. He stood and looked at his son. "Yeah, no problem. Thanks. Good night, son." Looking towards his daughter he smiled and said "G'night Blondie." Turning away, he headed towards the bedroom Chris had indicated earlier. "Have fun, kids." He called over his shoulder.

"G'night dad," Debbie called. Dropping her voice, she turned her full attention to her mother. "So. About the accident, and the girl, and all the other stuff. What gives?"

And Annie began to explain, starting with Poncha Springs. By the time she finished describing the accident scene and the resultant activities at Sargents, Chris was asleep between them, head tilted back on the sofa. Debbie was wide awake. While she was tired, the presence of her daughter energized Annie, driving the conversation.

As Joe lay back on the bed and pulled the sheet over him, a lyric kept running through his head. Something he'd heard somewhere that put him to mind of the best fox in the world. She's a gold plated lover, twenty four carat cool. As he drifted off to sleep a smile came to his tired muzzle. She's got a kiss like fire...

And much later, after explaining to her young, over-inquisitive daughter almost everything that had happened that day, Annie finally came to bed. Smiling as she slipped beneath the covers next to her husband, her thoughts were about how adept Debbie was becoming at extracting information from furs. Debbie had some more to learn about interrogation, Annie thought, remembering how she had deflected her daughter's questions about the missing chunk of time between Ouray and Silverton. Annie rolled onto her side and snuggled a bit closer to her sleeping husband, resting a paw on his chest. Sleep overtook her as her thoughts returned to that high mountain interlude.

To Chapter Twelve: Bad Dreams.

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