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
2003



Morning's Delight

For years now, he had been programmed to awaken at more or less the same time every day. Not as measured by a clock, but as measured by the sun. For a long time his job had required him to be at a meeting at 0600 sharp, which was usually the jumping off point for some sort of field work. So he was used to awakening with the alarm clock at 0400, grabbing a quick shower and light breakfast, and being on the road by 0500. Even on his days off, his eyes would snap open as the eastern horizon began to get light.

Normally when that happened, his eyes stayed open. Even after a long shift, or a grueling day on the road, he was refreshed when the alarm came, and got out of bed immediately. "No sense staying up late with the grownups if you can't get up early with the working men," he used to tell his sons. He'd jump in his truck and almost attack the freeways, stereo cranked up with the band du jour, and was ready for whatever God and his employer might toss his way by the time he sat down in his boss' office at 0555.

This morning there was no alarm, but his eyes popped open none the less just before dawn. He felt her breathing beside him, deep in sleep, quiet. He considered waking her up, but decided against it. Yesterday had been a long day, and even though they'd have company in the form of their daughter for the rest of the trip home, there'd be time enough for love later. She needed her sleep. She was not a morning fur, never had been. He rolled onto his side and looked at her. The blond hair was in slight disarray about her face, her expression relaxed. She was absolutely gorgeous. A bit of a lyric from an INXS tune suddenly flared across his mind like a shooting star as he looked at her. Sleep, baby, sleep, now that the night is over...

He lay there, contemplating his place in the great universal scheme of things, and marveling at his luck. Had you asked him twenty some years ago about life in general, he'd have painted a very dark picture, full of pain and rage and hate. Then came Annie, a dazzling blast of starshine in his black, closed universe. And like an angel, she had turned his life around, making light what had been dark, making joyful what had been contemptible, teaching him to love and trust again. It had been difficult at times, as he could be a very cynical and at times suspicious fur. She stayed with him through his dark times, she was his rock.

His instincts at self preservation had carried him far for many years, he could still remember the armored wall he'd built around the remnants of his heart and soul. Rage and pain had been his primary sources of motivation. He had been the Army of One, the rest of the world could have gone to Hell for all he had cared, he'd have happily held the door open for it. And then here came this Angel, with her gentle touch, a bright smile, and those incredible eyes, and she reached past all the garbage on his exterior for what was still good in his soul, and brought it forth. By the time their first child was born, people were marveling at what a changed coyote he had become.

It had been tough. Initially there had been some concern on the part of certain of his family members. "She's been married before?" "She's got a child by a previous husband?" "She's a single mother?" Scandalous things for those who let trivia scandalize them. But Joe was taken with her from the first kiss, and had quickly come to the realization that this fox, his Angel, was the star he needed to follow. From that day forward they had been an inseparable couple, happy to let the rest of the world think whatever the Hell it wanted to, dedicated to each other and their growing family.

Her family was half a country away. Originally from Maryland, her family of red foxes had fragmented and scattered to the winds as she and her siblings grew up. Her brothers had gone all over the eastern half of the map, one winding up in the midwest, the other in Texas. Her sister bounced around in the east, she had called Virginia and Tennessee home for years. Then by a quirk of fate, both brothers and her sister wound up in New Orleans, which was where they were now. Annie's mother and siblings had always liked Joe, as far as he could tell. He got along well with all of them.

His family had been stand-offish at first. Joe had no siblings, he was an only pup. As a child Joe had grown very close to what few cousins he had, and he considered these cousins as the brothers and sisters he had never been blessed with. Over the years many of Joe's cousins had become close with Annie, in spite of the reservations expressed by the aunts and uncles of the clan. She was truly a member of his family now, which pleased him immensely. His first wife had let his family politics get her down, and he considered that as perhaps having something to do with her eventual unwinding into what she had become. Annie was strong, confident, and secure. Family politics were not an issue for her.

He sighed quietly to himself, wondering why he had awakened in such a melancholy, reflective mood. It was unlike him. He turned to look again at Annie sleeping.

So after all that, here he was now, in bed beside the prettiest fox on the planet. His mood brightened considerably with the thought. The second best way to start this day, he thought to himself, is outside in the open air with a cup of coffee. As he thought this he rolled out of bed, grabbing his pants and putting them on quickly. Remembering that neither he nor his wife had brought any bags in with them last night, he reached for the shirt he had shed the night before and put it on too. He'd have to rectify the lack of fresh clothing directly.

Padding barefoot into his son's kitchen, he scanned briefly about for the necessities. Nodding in approval, he observed the coffee maker and saw that it was full of water and coffee, ready to brew. Thank you, son, he thought. It was a big pot, too, twelve cups. Two clean mugs sat on the counter next to the coffee maker. He touched the power switch on the maker with a single claw and turned it on. After a few seconds it began to make noises consistent with brewing coffee.

That done, he crossed the small kitchen and front room to the locked front door, which he proceeded to quietly unlock and open. As he stepped through the doorway, opening the storm door outside, he reached into his pocket for the keys to his truck. He could see it across the lot, standing tall above the cars and SUVs around it by the side of another complex across from the one his son lived in. He was maybe four or five steps towards it when his bare feet told him that it was fairly cool out here. The ground was damp from last night's rain, and his breath formed small clouds in front of him.

He looked up into the sky. There was enough light to see a high thin overcast. The sky to the east glowed orange. He quickened his pace, covering the distance to his truck quickly. He unlocked it, retrieved the bags belonging to he and Annie, and closed and locked the doors. He made his way back across the parking lot with his bags to Chris's door. Placing one bag down, he opened the storm door, stepped in front of it to prevent it's closing, and picked up the bag he'd put down.

As the storm door shut behind him, he moved quietly across the front room to the bedroom where his wife was sleeping. Pausing inside to put the bags down, he again marveled at her, sleeping there, a peaceful and content expression on her face. He left her to return to the kitchen and coffee.

Soon the coffee was almost done. He waited patiently for the machine to stop dripping, and then took the pot and filled one of the mugs with it. As he brought the steaming mug to his lips his eyes happened upon a small box at the back of the counter. Smiling, he lowered the mug slightly and reached out with his other paw to remove a toothpick from the box. The toothpick went in his mouth, and he turned and headed once again for the door.

There were no chairs on the small porch outside. Joe stood there in his bare feet, sipping his coffee, watching the sun rise above the eastern horizon. There was a slight breeze blowing up out of the southwest, and while he was surrounded by mountains he could smell sage on the wind. It was going to be a warmer, drier day. Looking at the sky again he noticed that the overcast was already beginning to dissipate. From the looks of things there must be a pretty good wind blowing up around fifteen to twenty thousand feet. He guessed the sky would be clear by the time most people were up making breakfast. He was enchanted, watching the sun come up, sipping his coffee.

After a few minutes the sun had risen high enough to clear the building across the parking lot, and sunlight fell upon the porch. Although the concrete was still damp, Joe sat indian style on the porch with his back against the wall next to the door. His tail curled around against one leg, he sat silently facing the sun. He was absolutely at rest, his only thought processes devoted to taking in the sight, smell, and energy of the sunrise.

It was how his son Chris found him some thirty minutes later. The storm door opened, and the first thing Joe saw coming through it as he glanced to his right was the coffee pot. Chris's face followed, looking around.

"Oh. Hi dad. How'd you sleep?" Chris smiled, noticing his father's mussed up hair and fur.

"Fine son. I'm just watching the day start. I didn't wake you, did I?"

"No. I had an alarm get me up. I have to go down to the shops this morning to get started." Chris reached out with the pot, and his father held up his mug for a refill. Finishing pouring, Chris said "I'll be right back," and disappeared into the apartment.

Returning a moment later with his own mug full of coffee, Chris let the door shut quietly behind him. "Dad, it's barely forty degrees out here. Aren't you cold?" Chris was fully dressed, a burly pair of steel toed work boots on his feet. His denim work shirt was open at the collar, and his Levi jeans looked new. A ball cap with a "Durango & Silverton" embroidered logo covered most of his brown hair.

"A little," Joe allowed. "But this is worth it," he said, gesturing with his free paw towards the rising sun. He turned his face back towards it, eyes closed, ears forward, smiling. Thinking about what his son had said, and having seen him dressed for work, Joe asked "What do you mean, get started? I thought that decision was still up in the air?"

Chris sipped at his own coffee. "It was until last night. The Trainmaster called me to tell me that he and the shop foreman had agreed to keep me on with the provision that I would be available to Operations whenever they needed me. I'll make apprentice mechanic's pay in the shop, fireman's pay while on the line."

Joe looked up at his son, his smile growing wider. "That's a sweet deal, Chris. Sounds to me like they want to keep you around." Joe was very proud of his son and what he was involved in.

Chris slid down into a squatting position, tail curled underneath him, back against the wall on the side of the door opposite of his father. He looked at his father as he sipped his own coffee. "That's how I see it," he replied, smiling. Then, changing the subject slightly, he said "They're going to pull the tubes on 476 and do a complete boiler overhaul on her this winter. Work starts next week, we're getting together this morning to discuss who's doing what. I'll be working mostly with the welders and the fitters. There's a lot of work on the tank and cab that needs to be done, I'll probably help with that." Chris took another sip of coffee, his father waited silently for him to continue. "Sometime between now and Christmas the crew schedules for next spring are supposed to come out. There's a possibility we may run some Christmas specials if the snow is light this winter. I'll probably fire one of the engines for that, most of the crews went home for the winter."

Joe nodded. "You'll get some double head experience with that, I'll bet," he commented. They both knew that even a little bit of snow on the torturous Animas River Canyon run could leave a single engine spinning her drivers.

"Yup, probably so." Chris grinned. "We don't have anything like those Dash Nines you used to work with." He was referring to the four thousand plus horsepower locomotives that his father used to work with on the Santa Fe.

"Thank God. They'd tear your roadbed up all to Hell," his father replied.

Railroading was the only topic of conversation between them as the apartment complex awoke around them. There was a program of caboose restoration planned for next summer, Chris said, and would his father be interested in being part of that? Joe reminisced about days on the Santa Fe. The pavement and concrete dried and warmed around them. Their mugs were long since empty and cold when the door opened between them and Debbie's head poked out.

"What are you two doing?" she asked incredulously. "It's cold out here! Aren't you frozen?" She had a robe on and shivered slightly, standing in the open doorway.

"Mornin' Blondie," her father smiled up at her. He was marveling at what a pretty young woman his daughter had grown into. She took after her mom in so many ways.

"Hi dad." She winked at him. "Get up and come inside. You're going to freeze."

Chris looked at his watch. Handing his mug to his father he said "I really should get over to the shops. I'll call later to check in." He smiled at his sister, nodding. "Bye, Deb."

She winked at him in return.

Rising himself, his father replied "OK son. Have a good morning."

"Bye dad." Chris wandered across the parking lot towards his old CJ-7. Joe turned and followed his daughter back into the apartment.

###

Annie's mind floated slowly up from the depths of sleep. Before her eyes opened she was aware that she was alone in bed. Without opening her eyes she reached for him, but he was not there. Far from being upset or even concerned by this, she smiled, stretching languidly. After yawning hugely, she finally opened her eyes.

His eyes met hers from across the room. He was sitting in a straight back chair, just looking at her, not saying or doing anything. He looked peaceful, at rest, content. She squinted her eyes to make sure it was him, blinking the sleep away and waiting for her thoughts to coalesce. He smiled.

"Mornin' Angel."

"Hi."

"Sleep OK?"

"Yeah..." her voice trailed off, eyes half closed. He rose from the chair and came to kneel next to her side of the bed. He gently kissed her cheek, breathing in of her scent, his cold nose causing her to shiver ever so slightly as his muzzle drifted up towards her ear. She in turn ran a paw lazily up the back of his neck, grabbing the scruffy fur that grew there playfully. "Hey. Your fur's damp."

"I took a shower a little while ago."

She appeared to consider this for a few moments. "Are our bags here?"

"Right there," he said, pointing to the dresser across the room from the foot of the bed. She rose up on an elbow to look. Once again he was taken by her beauty. He actually stopped breathing for a moment in contemplation.

"What's wrong?"

He shook his head briefly. "Just looking at you," he exhaled. Glancing at the floor for a moment, he looked up again and smiled. "Sorry."

She rolled her eyes at him. "You're a pain," she teased gently. "Now get out of here so I can get a shower and get dressed." She flipped back the covers and sat up on the bed. To say that what she was wearing was brief would be a horrible understatement.

He rocked back on his haunches, looking up at her from a squatting position on the floor. "Need some help?" he asked playfully.

Another eye roll. "No! Now go on and leave me be." But as he stood up she rose with him, taking his paw as she stood. Her other paw went around behind him, pulling him to her. She leaned towards the side of his face, her lips brushing against his cheek as she whispered "I love you. We'll have some time soon enough, trust me." She leaned back a bit, her blue eyes searching his.

He was under her spell. He could neither resist nor deny those eyes, that face. He smiled, almost stupidly. There was no place he'd rather be.

She was aware of the effect she had on him, even after all these years. She would never cheapen their love by using that ability to achieve petty gains at his, or their, expense. What they had was powerful, steadfast, reliable, true. While not likely to fall into a trance over him like he seemed to do with her sometimes, he was the only one for her, the only true, real love she'd ever known in her life. In his eyes she saw strength, loyalty, and perseverance, but she also saw patience, generosity, and a raw kind of love that tied them together in ways neither of them could describe or completely understand. It just was. And it grew better every day.

He blinked. Her arm around him tightened, and she closed her eyes as she kissed him. His arms went gently around her waist. It was not a kiss of passion, more of tenderness, but the two emotions mixed freely for almost a minute.

"Wow," he breathed into her ear as they separated slightly for air.

"Yeah," she giggled, releasing him and turning within his arms. He let them fall to his sides as she moved towards the bathroom off Chris's bedroom. Looking over her shoulder at him she grinned, wiggling her behind a bit to make sure she had his undivided attention. "See you in a few minutes." The bathroom door shut behind her.





To Chapter Fourteen: Down At The Yards.

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