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



An Unanticipated Change Of Direction

This was certainly a different traveling climate from that which he and his wife had enjoyed the other day. The dynamic in the cab was totally different. Whereas he and Annie had been totally into each other on the trip over the Rocky Mountains from Denver, now there was an added element in their process that changed everything. It wasn't bad or unpleasant, just different. That added element was their blonde, pony-tailed seventeen year old daughter, the most talkative of their three pups.

Even now, as they roared down out of Cortez into the desert of the Four Corners region, the two of them were in the back, Annie and Debbie, talking up a storm about God knew what. While he could hear the giggling and exclamations, most of the conversation was lost to him in road noise. He supposed it was just as well. It afforded him some time to become one with the road and his truck and allowed him to enjoy the scenery. He missed having his wife at his side, but was simultaneously sharing her joy at having their daughter aboard.

Last night's celebration dinner had been a family adventure. All of their children had been born in the month of October, so they tended to celebrate all birthdays on the same day. As the kids grew older and started their own lives, it had become harder and harder for Joe and Annie to hold those annual celebrations, so when the opportunity presented itself, as it did now in Durango, they capitalized on it.

And what a family meal it had been! So much had been shared over California wine from the central coast provided by he and Annie, consumed along with Chris's grilled trout and fresh corn and salad greens. Joe and Debbie had been the constructors of the meal, he minding the grill while Debbie made the salad and the dessert. By the time Chris had arrived home and taken a shower, the meal had been at the peak of perfection, ready to serve.

US 666 stretched in an almost uninterrupted tangent before him. Chimney Rock was already visible in the distance as they rolled along at legal speed. Somewhere ahead of him another pair of vehicles was communicating on 146.520 simplex, he had been monitoring their conversation as they all headed south towards US 160. He was hoping that they would turn west also, just so he'd have some "eyes" ahead of him. The low band radio scanned incessantly, nothing was happening there.

West it would be, down into the desert, into the Navajo Nation. Another "home away from home". God! Do I love this country! He smiled in spite of his earlier thoughts of having his wife "misappropriated" by his daughter. He loved them both, and if they needed this time to reinforce their bond with each other, so much the better. He glanced at them in the mirror. The word that leapt to mind was animated. Each of them spoke energetically, gesturing; their happy expressions lit up the cab.

They had all behaved that way at dinner last night. At times it seemed that all of them were talking at once, and each somehow managed to listen to all the others simultaneously. He had learned a few things during that meal. He had learned how stable and self controlled his daughter really was when she laid out the straight story on a couple of past boyfriends. Debbie was a smart, street-wise girl without all the negative side-effects that usually went along with that kind of education. She had benefited greatly from the careful diagnosis of some mistakes her friends had made. She was bright, observant, and intuitive. He marveled at the maturity she exemplified at her young age, and momentarily reflected ruefully on how different his life might have been had he been as smart at the same age.

He and Annie had heard first-paw from Mike about his new lady friend, and how that might be progressing to what most would call a "serious relationship". Mike had seemed pleased. She was a young feline from his church, steadily involved in the youngster's ministry Mike worked so diligently at. While in theory he worked for her, they had rapidly built a team concept for their mission vision, and that concept had begun to overlap into their personal and social lives. So much the better, Joe thought. Good for them!

And of course Chris had his love, the railroad. Their younger son had been, like his father, the one infected with wanderlust and a low need of "home". It pleased Joe and Annie both that Chris had found the Durango & Silverton. It was the first stability he had experienced since graduating from high school. Unlike his older brother, Chris had not exhibited any desire at all to go to college. He had always been the "tool fur", ready to take anything apart and make it better than it had been. So the job firing the ancient steam locomotives and working in the shops of one of the last surviving steam powered railroads in the country had suited him to a tee. There in Durango he was home, and his family visited often and stayed as long as they could.

They had enjoyed a couple days together after Joe's lunch with the yard crew. These times together as family were getting fewer and farther between as the kids grew up. Annie and Joe had learned to cherish these times together, so they all did whatever they could to maximize their fun. Like the almost innocent four hour poker game of the night before last, following the day trip they all took up to Silverton on a scheduled maintenance run with D&S # 480 and the maintenance of way train (crewed by Chris and Russ Taylor and John Briscol). The trip may not have seemed the most exciting thing for some, but they enjoyed it as a family, including Russ and John. The pride they all felt in Chris's work and accomplishment was second to none. And they had all caught a movie in town yesterday afternoon, just to have something to do together while Chris was working in the shops.

The turnoff to US 160 was coming up. Joe downshifted, checked his mirrors, and moved into the right turn lane as the intersection approached. Downshifting again, he slowed into the corner, foot off the throttle. Turning the steering wheel with one paw as his other rested on the gear selector, the truck leaned slightly into the corner, and within moments they had turned west and he was upshifting, accelerating towards Comb Ridge and Four Corners.

The sky was bright this morning, not a cloud to be seen in the deep blue overhead. A very thin haze from the coal fired power plant in Page caused the horizon to look somewhat milky, but the visibility had to be seventy five miles or better.

Out here traffic was light. There were other cars on the road to be sure, but by anybody's standards they were few and far between. The highway was only two lanes wide, but it didn't seem to matter to those who drove it. Everybody was well spaced and moving at legal speed.

And suddenly that "world by the tail" feeling hit him square in the chest. Out here on the high desert of far southwestern Colorado, with nobody else around, suddenly he realized, yet again, how blessed he really was. His wife and his daughter were everything, the sun and the moon, the sky and the earth. His outward expression didn't change, and the two-way radio still randomly chattered for him, but inside he was suddenly infused to the point of blindness with an all-encompassing feeling of right, of reality, of completion. His life meant something. And it was here, with his two ladies, right here.

As if on cue his daughter's pony tail momentarily preceded her head between the front seats next to him. She kissed his cheek to get his attention, and when he turned to look at her she had one of those mischievous "I've got a secret" smiles on her face. "Daddy, we're getting thirsty," she advised. "When do we stop?"

"We've got that stuff Mike packed in the cooler for us," he offered, motioning with a gloved thumb towards the back of the truck.

She put on one of those half-irritated, half amused faces that teenage daughters reserve for their befuddled fathers. "No, daddy! We want to stop. You know, actually make the wheels stop turning so we can get out and walk around?" She winked at him.

Raising his voice just a bit and tilting his head back slightly, he said "Ah! Full bladders, huh? Must be all that talking going on back there."

The hand with the manicured nails reached forward to slap the top of his hat gently.

"Hey...!"

The road suddenly curved and began to descend into a draw. The San Juan River loomed into view. "Well Blondie, there's not much between here and Teec Nos Pos," he said, lifting his foot off the throttle.

"Peek what?" she asked, turning from admiring the view out the windshield, a puzzled look on her face.

He smiled gently at her misunderstanding. "Teec Nos Pos." he said slowly. "It's the next town, maybe five miles or so away. We'll be there in a few minutes."

She looked at him steadily, anticipating an explanation.

"It's Navajo," her father explained, referring to the origin of the name, "dating from the late 1800s. It roughly translates to 'Circle of Cottonwoods', or perhaps 'Cottonwood which blooms perfectly round'. Nobody's sure exactly where the name originated."

"Well just remember that mom and I want to stop. Put on the brakes, shut off the motor, you know, stop." She smiled at him again.

"OK, OK, I get the message. We'll stop." Joe grinned at her.

Debbie's head disappeared, to be replaced a few seconds later by his wife's. Leaning in close, she gently bit his ear and whispered "I owe you one", giggling at his reaction. Then she was in back again, and the muttering and giggling and gesturing started all over again.

Some things never change, he thought, smiling and chuckling a bit himself.

###

"This would look great in mom's office, don't you think?" Debbie held out a small Navajo rug for her father's inspection. It was hand woven of home-spun wool, maybe four by six feet. Her brow was furrowed slightly, her tail wagging slowly while she looked at it, as if she were trying to decide whether she believed her own assessment or not. She looked up at him questioningly.

They were in the only trading post in Teec Nos Pos, in far northeastern Arizona. Her mother was next door procuring "essentials" at the market. "You know," Debbie continued, "on a wall with a rustic hangar, like some sort of weathered wood beam with old wire. Or maybe..." Impulsively she draped the rug over her shoulders like a shawl and wrapped herself loosely in it. She turned slowly, looking at him from beneath lowered eyelids over her right shoulder.

"It looks pretty good just like that," her father offered. At times he was slightly bewildered by how much like his wife their daughter looked and behaved. She was truly a chip off the old block. And God bless her, Annie was now taking such good care of herself that they were sometimes difficult to tell apart at a distance.

Each of them would most likely be described as "busty" or "buxom". But where Annie tended to be broader of shoulder and a bit shorter than her daughter, Debbie tended to be leggy and lean. They both had great legs. They were both blond and blue eyed. Where Annie's body fur was a silvery auburn blonde color, Debbie's tended to be more of a champagne color. Debbie's fur also tended to be thicker and more coarse than Annie's, thanks to Joe's genetic contribution to her composition.

Joe looked at the exposed fur of his own arms. The outer shell was coarse, beneath it the fur was fine and soft, densely packed for good insulation against the elements. The fur coloring was mixed, in overall appearance it was a silvery tan, but upon close inspection individual colors of black, brown, tan, gray, and cream were visible. He'd always imagined it to be unappealing. Thank God his girl's didn't have coyote fur!

"So what do you think?" She held her arms out to him with the rug still across her shoulders like a shawl, turning slowly one way and the other for him.

"I think you should be a model," he told her. To her surprised smile he added "I know, you've heard it before, and so have your mom and I. But I think it's true. You could do it. You're a natural. Look at the way you're moving right now."

"You think so?" she asked coyly, a trace of uncertainty in her voice.

"Certainly. I wouldn't say so if I didn't think so." He looked at her questioningly, his head tilted slightly to one side. "You don't think so?"

"I have a confession to make, daddy," she said cautiously, removing the Navajo rug from her shoulders and holding it out to him. "I wasn't going to say anything about this until I had a few more facts and a couple of test shootings... I'm looking into modeling." Pausing to measure his reaction to this, she continued. "I've got a mentor, and I'm considering some specialized schooling for it after I graduate from high school." She smiled up at him, knowing she had just taken a big step with him, and a considerable gamble as well.

He took the rug from her paws and slowly rolled it up into a tube shape, taking the time this required to arrange his thoughts. "Your mom know about this?" he asked finally. He could see she was nervous about discussing this. He stuffed the rug tube under his right arm.

Taking his left paw, she began to walk slowly with him about the shop they were in. Outside a semi truck whined by on the highway. She looked out the windows facing the highway, watching it pass out of sight. "I haven't discussed this with her yet. I didn't want to say anything to either one of you until I had more to talk about. I have no idea how or if this will work out. I may not have any chance. I may not like it at all." She stopped, looking at him ruefully.

He smiled warmly and prodded her along. "Honey, you've got more chance than most, take it from me. One thing I know a little bit about, it's classy, good looking females." She actually blushed slightly, visible mostly through the thin fur around her nose and eyes. "You'll go as far as you want." He squeezed her paw, trying to put her at ease. "You know, ever since you were in grade school people have been telling us you should be a model."

She stopped again and turned completely to look at him. "Really? Like who?" Her nervousness was forgotten with this bit of news.

"Remember that woman who's daughter you were in classes with in your elementary school? The one who was always doing volunteer work at the school? Her daughter was in your third and fourth grade classes, I think," he said, trying to recall. Letting go of her paw, he scratched his chin gently with his left paw.

"Missus C?" she asked after a minute's thought.

"Yeah," he said, pointing at her. "That's the one. She always used to tell me that you should be a model. At that time I didn't give it much of a tumble, but now..." his smile broadened as he looked at her.

"You're not mad?" She seemed surprised.

"Why should I be mad?" he asked, curious.

"I don't know." She sounded perplexed. She took both his paws in hers. "I just thought you might be disappointed in me for some reason."

"Not hardly!" he exclaimed with pride. Then, thinking over what had been said within the past few minutes, he explored cautiously. "So, tell me about your mentor."

She dissolved all his concern with the first word past her muzzle, and she could see that as she spoke. "She's terrific. She works at our church now, but modeled in the past before coming to us. Her name is Gina." At his blank expression she elaborated "You may not have met her. She works with Bryan and Ozzie with the high school kids. She's been on the volunteer staff for a few months."

"I guess I don't know her," he agreed, dropping her paws.

"You know, daddy," she smiled at him, gently gripping his arm to reinforce the teasing, "You'd know more of these folks if you'd show up a little more often."

He dodged the barb with a grin. "How old is Gina?" He envisioned some dish of perhaps age thirty with a gaggle of males following her around.

"I don't know, maybe your age. She owns her own agency." Sensing his next question she answered it before he could ask. "Apparently business is so good that she can afford to devote a lot of her time and resources to the church. She talks to us girls about a lot of 'un-church' stuff like grace and poise, and etiquette, and boys." At his raised eyebrow to that last she added "All on the up and up. You know, how to behave properly on a date, that kind of stuff."

He smiled, teasing her back a bit. "Like you really need any lessons in that." He hooked his thumbs in his jeans pockets.

"Daddy!" she grinned, punching his upper arm lightly.

"So this Gina has offered you advice on getting into modeling?" His tone and appearance had turned serious.

"Better than that," she replied. "With your and mom's approval, she wants to teach me about it at her convenience for free, and then manage me as my agent if I want to try it out."

"Can't beat that deal with a stick," he observed. "You really want to do this?"

She nodded her head emphatically, pony tail bobbing. She smiled broadly, blue eyes shining. It was a contagious look, he couldn't help but be infected by her excitement. He grinned back at her.

"OK, then. Your mom might have some minor heartburn with you possibly putting off college for this, but I'll back you up. Who knows, maybe I'll see my baby on the cover of Vogue someday!" He smiled back at her. He reached for his wallet and removed some cash. "Tell you what. Buy this rug for your mom." He handed the rolled up rug and cash to her. "It may help soften the delivery. Keep the rug under wraps until after you tell her, and use it as a peacemaking tool if things get heated."

"You think she'll be mad?" Suddenly Debbie looked worried.

He tried to reassure her while at the same time letting her know that it might not be an easy sell. "Not mad, maybe, but you can bet she'll be concerned for your future and safety. At the very least she'll want to meet Gina and spend some time with her." He put an arm around his daughter's shoulders. "Don't worry, sweetie. I'll be there to keep things civil." He smiled his best "I've got your six" smile.

"OK daddy. Thanks." She took a few hesitant steps towards the cashier in the front of the trading post, and then suddenly ran back to him and kissed him. Looking in his eyes she repeated "Thanks" with much emotion.

He turned her by the arm towards the cashier and, patting her lower back, sent her on her mission. She paused briefly and half turned to look back over her shoulder at him, a slightly uncertain look on her face, like she was momentarily unsure of herself. It was one of those picture moments when his mind took a snapshot. Years later he'd be able to perfectly recall the way she looked at that moment, in that pose with her brow slightly furrowed, mouth slightly open as if to say something, ears up, eyes bright, her future full of promise. He'd remember that look for the rest of his life.

He nodded to her. Go on, he thought. As she moved to continue her trek towards the cash register he turned in the opposite direction and walked towards the door of the trading post. Passing through it he could see Annie placing a couple of bags of groceries in their truck.





To Chapter Sixteen: The Sale.

Back to Stories Page

Back to Main Page