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



History Lesson

They ate a heartfelt if quiet meal that night. There had been plenty to drink on the road that day, but no food to speak of (except for Annie's munchies from Teec Nos Pos) since leaving Durango that morning. Events at Cameron had put the thought of food or a meal out of their minds for a while.

By the time they had arrived in Flagstaff and obtained a room Debbie had settled down. By the end of dinner she was feeling inquisitive, the fear having drained completely out of her system. Her mother, too, seemed relaxed, but wasn't too talkative. She appeared somewhat introspective.

Debbie was sitting next to her father in a booth at the restaurant across the street from their motel. The two of them faced her mother across the table. Dinner conversation had been light and banal. Over dessert she looked at her father and asked quietly "So how long have you had that gun, anyway?"

Her father put down his coffee and gazed at her for a moment, a non-committal look on his face. "Since before you were born," he said finally. "In fact, since before your brother Mike was born."

"And how long have you been carrying it around with you like this?" she asked, keeping her voice low so furs around them wouldn't hear too much. The booth directly behind them, they both knew, was empty.

He continued to gaze steadily at her, then glanced momentarily at her mother, who nodded ever so slightly. Speaking in a low voice himself he replied "Since the terrorist problems we had on the job a few years ago. When things got really ugly the company and the state got together and sent a lot of us volunteers through a special class, sort of a mini basic training. The state got us permits to carry concealed weapons, and the company used those of us who graduated from the program as auxiliary security forces because we were in the field so much." He smiled at her. "All strictly on the up and up," he said reassuringly.

"So how is it that you are licensed to carry in so many states?" She looked innocently at him.

Damn my loose lips! he thought. He paused briefly. "Well, we spend some time in Arizona now and then on company business, Nevada too. So permits from those governments were justified and relatively easy to come by. And it seemed the more states we were permitted by, the more easily we found the process of getting permits from other states. Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas extended me permits as a matter of courtesy for the asking, based on the fact that I had permits in California and Arizona. The others came along here and there as situations warranted."

He picked up his coffee and sipped, looking briefly at his wife over the rim of his cup. She smiled slightly in return, saying nothing but conveying a message of trust, none the less.

Debbie's interst was piqued. Her ears were forward, her gaze steady upon his face. "What situations?" she prompted. She spooned a bit of her ice cream into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully while he formulated a reply.

He thought briefly, wondering how much of this she really needed to know. He opted for the short story, no sense in ending the evening on a sour note. Again placing his coffee cup on the table, he reached for her paw with his. "You remember all the troubles when you were in junior high? Do you remember all the hoop-la about domestic terrorists and how they came to be more feared by Americans than the Osama Bin Ladins and Al Quedas of the world?"

She nodded, her pony tail bouncing slightly. "Sure. That's when we had to get ID cards and be genetically tested as proof of residency. We had to fill out all those loyalty forms and everything. I remember that." It had been a dark time in America's recent past. Conditions had required much sacrifice on the part of individual's personal freedoms for a couple of years, until the huge subversive elements had been rooted out and destroyed. Some of these changes were still in effect. Old timers compared the first decade of the twenty first century to the McCarthy Era of the 1950s. There had not, however, been nearly as much blood spilled in the name of Senator Joseph McCarthy or the Communists as there had been in the domestic terrorism purges of the early twenty first century.

"During that time the President mobilized all National Guard units across the country and sent requests to each of the 52 governors, asking for any militias or additional forces to be organized and put on alert status. Some governors responded favorably to that request, some did not. Those that went along with the President's program, which was the beginning of the Interstate Police Force, found themselves in a position to extend certain courtesies to these new additional forces. There were thirty five states participating in that program, and one of those courtesies was reciprocal concealed weapons permits. If you had a permit from any member state, you automatically got a permit from each member state." Joe stopped, wondering if he'd said enough.

"But why? How did you get from your job to that position?" She looked confused.

"It was a result of the times, sweetie. Those were dark, ugly days for a while. There was a lot of political and social unrest during those days, and loyal governments were mobilizing and utilizing any resources they could find to protect, maintain, and operate vital infrastructure. Because I spent so much of my day in the field anyway, I was a logical choice to be included in the new field security forces." He looked carefully at her. "Do you remember Mister Lemmon from your seventh grade?"

She nodded again, smiling. Mister Lemmon had been a janitor at their school, a friendly, elderly skunk she saw in the hallways occasionally.

"He was IPF. He was on your campus for fifteen months, and he was armed every minute of every day he was there. His primary mission was to protect you students and weed out any terrorists that may have been there. His janitorial job was a cover."

Her mouth opened in surprise. "Mister Lemmon??" She couldn't believe it. "He was a sweet little old skunk!"

Her father smiled broadly and poked her gently in the ribs with his elbow. "Hey kiddo, that fur is ten years younger than me! Be careful what you say!"

Her jaw dropped in complete shock. "He is??"

"Yep. He's prematurely gray and a little bit of a guy, the rest of it was an act. The shuffling walk, the hunched back, all an act for you kids and the staff. Quite a good act, apparently..."

She fell silent, pondering this. No longer hungry, having eaten enough, she pushed what ice cream remained in her bowl around with her spoon. At the lull in the conversation her mother cleared her throat.

Looking up at her, thankful for the break in conversation, Joe asked "Are you ready to go, Angel?"

"Yes, my shepherd. Let's walk" She winked at him. A hint of surprise registered in his eyes. He hadn't heard that nickname cross her lips in ages. Where'd that come from? he wondered.

He rose from the booth and moved to offer Annie his paw. She took it and stood next to him. He turned and repeated the process with his daughter. Removing his wallet from his pocket, he laid thirty dollars on the table. "That ought to cover it. Let's go."

Outside each of Joe's ladies linked an arm through one of his. They walked in silence towards their room across the roadway.

###

Debbie was already in bed. They had all brushed teeth, fur, and hair and dressed for bed. It was getting late, and they had some long miles to go tomorrow.

For years and years Joe had tucked his daughter in to bed every chance he had. Sometimes she was awake for this, more often than not she wasn't. Tonight she was. He knelt beside her bed and kissed her cheek. "G'night, Blondie," he whispered.

She looked at him, blue eyes wide, and he could tell something was still on her mind. "What is it, sweetie? What troubles my pup?" He placed a paw on hers.

She stared up at him, her eyes locked on his. "Daddy, I don't like guns. They scare me."

"They scare me, too, Debbie." He looked seriously at her.

"Have you ever done that before? Pulled a gun on someone?"

"No." He looked steadily at her, understanding her concern at the same time damning the conditions that required him, even now, to lie to his daughter. "Never had to before. And I didn't like doing it today. I was scared to death. But I was even more terrified of you being hurt by him. I would gladly trade the lives of ten stoned purse snatchers, and jeopardize my own freedom, to keep you out of harm's way." He squeezed her paw.

To his great surprise her eyes filled with tears. She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. "Thank you for being my hero, daddy," she whispered into his ear, bringing a tear to his own eyes.

Unbeknownst to either of them, Annie had observed this brief exchange from the doorway leading into the vanity room. Smiling, she turned away to find a tissue with which to dab her own eyes.






To Chapter Ninteen: An Affirmation.

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