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



The Sale

Blazing across the high desert of northeastern Arizona in October can be an experience in incongruity. Through the windshield it looked warm outside. The sky was bright and cloudless, the ground dry and dusty. Yet the outside air temperature, according to the onboard computer, was only 52 degrees. They were rolling west on US 160, the sun high overhead.

Each of them wore a light jacket to stay comfortable. Filtered, heated outside air coursed gently through the truck, maintaining a cabin temperature of about 68 degrees or so. The highway was flat and relatively devoid of traffic. The two-way radios were quiet. Way out here on the Navajo Nation, east of Kayenta, there just weren't that many furs around to do the talking.

Except in the cab of his own truck. His wife and daughter had picked up where they had left off, chattering, giggling, occasionally laughing out loud. Mile after mile rolled beneath their wheels, and they never ceased to have stuff to discuss. Occasionally he'd add his two cents worth, but for the most part he left them alone.

He had adjusted the stereo system to play some good driving music at a low volume, fading the rear speakers so it wouldn't interfere with conversation. The seating arrangements had changed, his beautiful wife was once again by his side. Their daughter's pony-tailed head was between and just behind them, she was perched on the jump seat behind the center console, an arm on each front seatback. At the moment the two girls were engaged in conversation about one of Debbie's old boyfriends.

He wasn't really paying much attention. Debbie was fiercely independent most of the time. She rarely came to him for advice or consultation, most of the time she took care of herself and her issues ably. By the time she brought any problem to him it had become of considerable importance and difficulty, requiring somebody with the finesse of a highballing railroad locomotive to set straight. He had sort of become her last line of defense, when she came to him he knew that the flags were up and it was time to move quickly. But that hardly ever happened. Debbie was too perceptive and too level headed to let things get away from her often; he tended not to worry about her too much.

So they rolled on, his gloved paws resting gently on the wheel, cruise control on, four and a half tons of diesel electric all terrain truck under his control at 75 miles per hour. He was reveling in the pure joy of driving. The destination might never come, the trip might never be over, and that would suit him just fine. The open highways of the southwest did that to him. Sometimes it was almost a letdown arriving at their destination. His fondest memories usually involved motors at speed and wheels in motion.

He supposed that he'd had that wanderlust all his life. He'd tried to control it for a few years, but it always managed to re-emerge after a time, bigger and bad as ever. So eventually he gave in to it, finding a job that kept him on the go, and taking trips as often as possible. He was blessed with a companion who shared in the experiences with him, although he was aware that she didn't have anywhere near the case of wanderlust he did. She had to regroup and get home after a time, and put down some roots.

She loved the trips they took. Her husband was never happier, more relaxed, more carefree than when they had a highway rolling under them. She loved what their trips did for their marriage, for their personalities, for their lives. As they grew older the trips became more and more frequent, and they spent more and more time looking for someplace in the real, un-urbanized world to finally land in that still distant time they would call "retirement".

She acknowledged similar reactions within herself. Work tended to occupy way too much of her time and attention at home, it was good to get away now and then to remind herself that her husband was much more than somebody she shared the responsibility of raising a family with. He was a loving, generous, and fun coyote to be with, and even though they had been married for a little over twenty years, she still found new things to learn about him every time they traveled. While she probably didn't emphasize it to him enough, he truly was in the center of her heart.

Joe reached to the dash above the stereo controls and energized the panel GPS receiver. A small color plasma touch screen lit up, and a few gentle proddings with his gloved fingers called a particular display showing route information, ETAs to various waypoints along the route, and estimated fuel consumption. Comparing that information with the fuel computer display to the left of the instrument cluster, he ascertained that they had plenty of fuel on board in their dual tanks to reach the evening's destination in Flagstaff, Arizona. Touching the GPS screen a couple more times, he summoned the moving map display and asked for any significant impediments to travel to be displayed (TIDs: Traffic Impediments and Disruptions). None appeared, indicating that there were no known construction zones or accidents or the like in the immediate fifty mile radius of their position.

These toys are great. Travel is so much different than it was in the old days. He leaned forward and reached below the center stack of built in electronics for the two-way radios mounted underneath them. The low band radio still scanned incessantly. Even now, after all these years, there were still no low band systems north of Interstate 40 in all of Arizona. The high band radio scanned too, occasionally stopping as the traveling pair of vehicles now many miles in front of him spoke briefly to each other. Other than that occasional stop on NATL SIMPLEX, the high band radio was also quiet, scanning.

He became aware of the fact that it was much too quiet in the cab. The conversation to his right had stopped. Glancing at his wife, he saw her looking at him, eyebrows arched slightly, the unheard question plainly evident on her face. She stared steadily at him, like a cat, unblinking. It was quite unnerving to see that character trait in a fox. Oh great! I've missed something important. He sat back in his seat, glancing quickly at his daughter in the mirror. She wore an apprehensive, worried expression. He turned his attention back to his wife.

"I'm sorry Angel, did I miss something?" he asked pleasantly.

"I suppose you did." Her voice was tight. Something was on her mind, and she was not happy about it. She continued to look unwaveringly at him. It continued to make him slightly nervous.

"I'm sorry," he repeated. "I wasn't paying attention to your conversation. What are you discussing?" He continued to smile at her, beginning to feel like he was looking into the wrong end of a rifle scope.

Without preamble Annie got right to the point. "Your daughter wants to be a model." Her tone of voice left no uncertainty about her view of this fact. "She wants to do this instead of going to college." She took a breath and held it momentarily, reminding herself to stay calm, and then exhaled quietly. It would not do to unload on her daughter or her husband about this.

Her gaze softened ever so slightly, but he still felt like he was in the crosshairs. Tact was called for. He wished his cousin, the diplomat, were here to advise him, he and tact were not the best of friends.

A voice from the back seat started, "Mom, that's..."

Annie's head snapped around to look at her daughter as quickly and as smoothly as the gun turret on an attack helicopter, and apparently conveyed to their daughter the same destructive capability. Annie said nothing, her expression did not change, but suddenly it was as if Debbie had lost the ability to speak. She sat there on the jump seat, mouth slightly open, silent, frozen. Annie slowly returned her gaze to Joe.

"OK, Angel, let's not get too tightly wound about this. We talked about this..."

She didn't raise her voice, didn't need to. The razor-edged quality of her voice spoke more for her than the words she chose. "You've known about this?"

"For about..." he glanced at his watch quickly, "half an hour or so. And I think you and Debbie need to clarify a couple of things. The way I heard it was that this was something she wanted to try for a while before going to college. There's a big difference between that and not going to college at all." He paused, looking at her expression. That steady feline-looking gaze met his. For several hundred feet down the highway they stared at each other, each reading the other's eyes. Joe finally turned his attention back to the road.

"Tell me what you know. Maybe I haven't heard all there is to hear." Annie was working hard at controlling her temper. She was a loving, generous, paws on mother, especially where her only daughter was concerned, but some things were indisputable in her view. College was a foregone conclusion as far as her pups were concerned. Chris had skated under that radar by promising to take college courses while he worked for the railroad (which, as yet, have failed to materialize, she thought suddenly). She was not going to allow her daughter to become another uneducated blight on the government welfare payroll by indulging in something as foolish as modeling.

Joe sighed audibly, feeling like he was running through a minefield. "OK, here's what I know. A lady at our church runs a modeling agency. She has offered to 'show Debbie the ropes', teach her a little bit about modeling and the modeling business, at no expense, and if Debbie does well at it and wants to give it a try, this woman will act as her agent." He paused, glancing at Annie, smiling warily when he saw her expression soften a little more. "Nothing is set in stone, no schedules have been made, no contracts have been signed, no money has changed hands. It's all preliminary, and all pending on our, yours and my, approval." Ever so gently he reached to pat her thigh with his right paw.

She watched his paw descend to her thigh, pondering what he had just said. As he patted her leg, she suddenly placed her right paw over his, wrapping her fingers around the back of his gloved paw and squeezing gently. It was a silent "I love you" with perfect timing. She felt him relax, and she did too, a little, even though there was still some discussion to be finished.

"So she will go to college? Sooner or later?"

Joe nodded an affirmative while looking at the road. "She's not trying to get out of going to college, she's just wanting to try something else before she starts that."

"What if she doesn't like it?" Annie's questions were loosing the razor's edge, and that predatory stare was gone.

"Mom..." Debbie tried again.

She turned to look at her daughter, much more slowly this time, and smiled slightly once her eyes met those of her daughter. Annie nodded slightly, encouraging her daughter to verbalize her thoughts.

"Mom, if I don't like it, then maybe I've delayed my college entrance by a few months at most. If I like it but Gina says I'm no good at it, then I've delayed my college entrance by a few months. But what if I'm good at it? Really good? I could make enough money in a short period of time to put myself through any college I choose in whatever program I desire, and not have to work or impose on you and daddy while doing it."

"Sweetie, you're never an imposition. It's our job as parents to provide for you." Annie smiled. While observed by her father, Debbie missed the effort that smile required of her mom. Annie's anger was fading with the observation that her daughter's rationale was sound, and she was sorry that she had questioned her daughter's (and indirectly, her husband's) judgement. She was also chagrined by Debbie's desire to remove the burden of college from their shoulders, and her anger was thus replaced by a mixture of admiration of her daughter's pragmatism and a wistful sadness at the knowledge that her daughter was rapidly becoming an adult.

"But you may not have to fulfill that role, mom!" Debbie continued. "Think of the possibilities! I can't afford to pass up the opportunity. The returns could far outshine my personal investment!" Her logic was sound in her parent's ears. She was selling the idea well.

Annie's eyebrows had returned to their normal, relaxed position. The pressure had dissipated in her brain, and therefor in the cab of the truck. Joe watched the road, waiting to see if his input was still required.

"I'd like to talk to... what's her name? Jenny?"

"Gina. You'd like her. She's independent, strong willed, runs her own business. A real professional." And then Debbie clinched the deal. "She's a lot like you, mom."

Annie's smile was not forced this time. She knew Debbie's compliment was heartfelt, not some ploy on her daughter's part to sway her decision-making. She released her husband's paw and pulled her legs up under her, carefully keeping her tail out from under her. She turned in her seat to face her daughter directly, touching Debbie's face with the paw she had been holding her husband's paw with. "I love you, sweetie. I want what's best for you. Maybe I was a little bit hasty in my reaction." She saw Joe nod ever so slightly out of the corner of her eye and her smile broadened a bit. I'll get you later, mister! She lowered her paw to her lap. "Maybe we can have lunch with Gina when we get home?" She looked at her daughter questioningly.

By way of an answer Debbie reached into her purse on the seat next to her, removing her GSM phone. "I can set that up right now, if you like."

"No honey, that will wait for a while. I want to learn more from you about what she does with your group at church. What do you talk about? Are there other girls involved in this offer? Does Pastor Kirk know about this offer? Is he OK with it?"

Debbie put her phone in her lap and began to answer her mother's questions. Annie listened attentively, the atmosphere in the cab brightened considerably, and Joe returned to being one with the highway.

Nine thousand pounds of North American General AC300AT continued to roll westward. They topped a rise called Gray Point, and spread below them on the desert plain was Church Rock and, in the distance, the town of Kayenta. Beyond that to the left loomed the massive bulk of Black Mesa, rising several hundred feet from the basin they were beginning to drop into. To the right of US 160 beyond Kayenta rose Tyende Mesa, not as imposing as Black Mesa, perhaps, but riddled with mysterious canyons and ancient ruins. The backside of Comb Ridge paralleled their run to the north.

Joe moved a small lever next to the gear selector, glanced at the traction motor ammeter in the instrument cluster, and confirmed the change in reading to a charge state as they began the downhill run towards Kayenta. The onboard computers had changed the function of the traction motors, using them as generators to charge their multiple batteries, and dumping the excess power overboard as heat from the dynamic brake resistors overhead.

God! Do I love this technology, he enthused. But then, remembering what had just transpired, he added But Lord, I really love this woman you've given me, and our children. Thank you!

###

Some time later the truck was decelerating southbound on US 89 as they approached Cameron. A bladder and munchie stop was in order. Joe was downshifting as they approached the bridge over the Little Colorado River, watching his mirrors and the road ahead for conflicting traffic. The highway was virtually empty, and the parking lot in front of the trading post across the river canyon didn't look too populated, either.

They rolled across the new bridge over the Little Colorado. This was the third highway bridge at this location, built on the site of the second bridge which had been almost completely destroyed in a bad commercial trucking accident a few years ago. A propane tanker had gone sideways on black ice early one February morning, and the twenty five thousand gallon tanker had been broadsided by a sixty foot flatbed truck with 65,000 pounds of steel beams headed for Page from the railroad at Flagstaff. The resulting explosion was recorded as a magnitude 2.8 earthquake in Boulder, Colorado, and every window and door in the Cameron trading post complex had joined the birds in flight away from the river gorge. The fireball had scorched sage brush two hundred and fifty yards from the center of the bridge. Seven people died, including both semi drivers, and fifteen some were injured, mostly by flying debris. Even now, years later, evidence remained in the buildings at Cameron of the explosion, if you knew where to look.

By some miracle, the first highway suspension bridge, originally built in 1911, had been spared destruction. This bridge was less than one hundred and fifty feet downstream of bridge number two. Oh, to be sure it was damaged, but the State of Arizona recognized it as being of historical significance, and it was repaired and made useable by light traffic (seven thousand pounds per axle, maximum vehicle weight thirty thousand pounds). It had, in fact, been repaired first and used in the subsequent construction of bridge number three.

Bridge number three was a model of modern technology. Starting with the pilings and abutments of bridge number two, the Arizona Highway Department had constructed a marvel of steel and concrete, able to carry multiple copies of the heaviest of modern trucks. It was said to have been built to railroad standards, capable of bearing thousands of tons of traffic as a matter of routine.

Joe was aware of all this as they rolled, decelerating, across bridge number three, but didn't bother his passengers with any of this trivia. The animated dialog between his wife and daughter had continued unabated for almost a hundred miles, and continued at this moment. But as the noise level in and motion of the vehicle changed the girls paused, looking out the windows to see what was happening.

Annie looked at her husband. She wore a happy, carefree expression, a definite departure from the earlier conversations regarding their daughter's career ambitions. Joe had no idea that his wife and daughter had been discussing the finer points of selecting a mate for life. It amazed her, sometimes, the things she could get away with discussing under his nose. He could become so wrapped up in the nature around him and the task of traversing it that he almost seemed to loose sight of the fact that other furs were in the truck with him. She knew this wasn't literally so, knew that his comfort level and theirs, while intertwined, were measured with different parameters, knew that they had only to change from their happy tones of voice for him to tune in.

"Are we stopping?" she asked.

"I don't know about you two, but I could use a stretch and a pit stop." Her husband replied.

Annie grinned lasciviously. "Oh, I'm sure Debbie and I will find something to do while you're stretching whatever it is you need to stretch." She giggled slightly at the sidelong glance that earned her from him.

"Very funny," he said as he wheeled the truck off the highway into the parking lot. They rolled slowly into a parking stall three rows back from the trading post proper, Joe allowing himself plenty of maneuvering room for their departure. Finally setting the brakes and shutting off the engine, he turned to his wife and smiled slightly.

"Anybody else?" he asked.

Annie looked at her daughter, who nodded wordlessly, and turned back to her husband. "We're going shopping. Come and find us when you've stretched yourself out." She winked at him.

"I'll be back," he winked back at her. With that he was gone, pressing the automatic door lock button as he exited and shutting his door behind him.

Annie turned to her daughter. "C'mon, lets go see what we can see."






To Chapter Seventeen: The Other Side Of Daddy.

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shutting his door behind him.

Annie turned to her daughter. "C'mon, lets go see what we can see."






To Chapter Seventeen: The Other Side Of Daddy.

Back to Stories Page

Back to Main Page