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

Waking Up

And damn if that wasn't as far as that relationship went! Joe thought, still reminiscing about Heather. And he knew who to blame. At that time, coming off a bad divorce, he had still been plenty gun shy around lady furs. Nothing more had come of that evening with Heather for the simple reason that he hadn't pursued it. He and Heather had worked together for years after that, and their friendship had grown stronger, but nothing else ever came of that night's kisses. Ah well, Joe thought, another missed opportunity.

The terrain around his truck had changed, he realized. He had descended into a sloping plain between mountain ranges. The stereo had faded to static hiss, he reached up and turned it off. He was now on the west side of the Arkansas River Valley, headed south towards Poncha Springs. The Sawatch Range towered over the highway on his right, dominated by Mount Antero, over fourteen thousand two hundred feet high. Down this way the valley was broadening and flattening into good ranch country. As he neared the village of Nathrop he geared down to 55 miles per hour, just in case anybody was taking a particular interest in him.

While keeping an eye open for local law enforcement, he continued to reminisce about pleasant trips of the past, recalling another hard-driving day that had been the non-stop run from Colorado Springs to Los Angeles back in '80. It had been early March, and he'd been in Colorado Springs for two weeks on factory training courtesy of his employer at that time, a large and world-renowned electronics equipment and computer manufacturer.

It had snowed intermittently through the two weeks he was in town, but the plows kept up with it and kept the roads clear. Then came Saturday morning, when he left before sunrise after a night's snowfall. The plows had been out on the interstate, but there was some ice that had formed on the roadway since their passage, and then another inch of snow fell on that. It made for tricky driving, and even though he had Interstate 25 to himself that morning, he kept his speed down to about thirty five or so, waiting for the sun to rise and begin the thaw of the roadway.

Just about dawn, somewhere south of Fountain in the rolling hill country, he had been approached from behind by a small sports car type vehicle. The driver gained rapidly on him, flashing his headlights. Joe had maintained his speed and position in the outside lane as the car roared by him at twice his speed. Joe caught a glimpse of a finger in the passenger window of the car as it went by. "Good luck, buddy," he had said out loud, thinking I'll see him off the highway soon. The car zipped into his lane and drew rapidly away.

And for all the times Joe had ever said or thought that about some errant driver with dangerous tendencies, just this once God smiled and gave him that gift of actually seeing it happen. He had gone another mile or two south following the tire tracks of the car that had passed him, and as he approached the crest of a grade, the tracks diverged. They separated, indicating the rear wheels weren't directly tracking those in front, not parallel to the path of travel. In other words, he could see that the car had momentarily lost traction and slid sideways.

Coming over the top of the grade, he observed the tracks to actually cross over one another, not once but several times, and then depart the roadway towards the median. Decelerating to about fifteen miles per hour while looking towards the median, he observed the top portion of the car, upright but buried up to the window sills in the snow. The driver, a feline fur of his own age, perhaps, was standing on the trunk, waving to him, hoping to get him stop and help. Joe did what any self-respecting Angeleno would do to any driver who had given him the bird. He rolled down his window. "Boy, you were sure in a hurry to get there!" he said above the noise of his own engine. Waving in an almost friendly manner, he fed throttle to his truck and slowly accelerated back to thirty five, leaving the speed merchant up to his own devices. The memory of the driver's stunned expression was still clear in his mind today, going on thirty years later.

Later that morning he had encountered a convoy of Army deuce-and-a-half six- by-sixes near the New Mexico border, filled with soldiers dressed bulkily against the winter cold. Other trucks may have carried armaments or machinery, for they were well covered, but the soldiers sat out in the open on benches. He fell in with the convoy and rolled along with them for many miles until coming upon one of them that had run off the roadway and overturned. There was a command car and two other six-by-sixes there, and probably forty or so soldiers standing about. He could see injured furs laying on canvas in the snow. As he was gearing down and preparing to stop, an MP stepped forward off the shoulder and waved him on. Passing slowly, he observed an Army nurse or doctor attending to the injured, and observed another MP talking on a two-way radio.

Figuring that the hurt soldiers were in good paws, he had gone on. That convoy had been huge. Even after turning west on Interstate 40 in Albuquerque miles later he was still passing the big trucks with furs and equipment. Of course, by then he had long since descended out of snow country, in fact the weather became almost shirt sleeve comfortable until the rain storms started somewhere west of Gallup. For a while he had been enjoying the sun.

That had been quite a ride. Starting out before dawn, he had arrived home in Los Angeles twenty two hours later after having driven through most of the desert west of Kingman at night. He really didn't remember getting home, but he remembered a girlfriend at the time giving him grief a day later for sleeping for fourteen hours after that. He had finally called her Sunday evening...

His reverie was interrupted by some noise emanating from a radio speaker. He glanced down to the two-way radios, noticing that the top one had stopped it's scan with the words NAT'L SIMPLEX in the display. He reached down to the radio controls and disabled the scan function in order to monitor the displayed channel. The bottom radio continued to scan. No further sound came from the speakers.

Raising his eyes to the road once again, he observed the tiny community of Nathrop come and go. As the village receded in his mirrors, he upshifted and fed a little throttle to increase his speed to 65 miles per hour. After a mile or so the top radio came to life again with a voice relating a call sign and a location in Salida. Another tongue flick moved the toothpick out of the way as he reached down to grab a microphone off it's hanger. He sat back while raising the microphone to his mouth, and quietly repeated the call sign he had just heard along with his own call and location.

"Good morning to you!" the disembodied voice said from the speaker. "The name here is Greg, I'm located about halfway between Salida and Poncha Springs just north of US50. I just wanted to see who was out here on five two five this morning." Greg continued to talk, describing the radio equipment he was using from his home, and gave Joe a signal report indicating the quality of the signal Joe's radio was developing. While Greg was speaking, the blond haired red fox in the passenger seat next to Joe stirred, waking up.

"Mornin' Greg," Joe replied into his microphone. "Name's Joe, I'm out here on 285 just south of Nathrop heading south. Do you happen to know if the Texaco station down at the junction in Poncha Springs is open today?" Joe put the microphone down and, reaching towards her, gently brushed the hair of the sleepy fox next to him away from her eyes. "How ya doin', Angel?" He smiled at her.

She smiled in return, squinting her blue eyes in the sunlight, and nodded a bit as Greg's voice came from the speaker once again. "Yep, it's normally open 24 hours. Are you familiar with the area?"

"Oh yeah, been around here once or twice before, but not for a year or two," Joe replied after retrieving the microphone. He proceeded to give Greg a brief description of his radio equipment on board, briefly identified his vehicle type, described the quality of the Greg's signal, and prepared to sign off.

"You're signal is full quieting, Joe. Thanks for the call back, and drive safely." Greg signed off with his call, and the radio fell silent. Joe returned the microphone to it's hanger and pressed the scan button on the top radio. The word SCAN appeared in the display. Satisfied with that, he looked up to his wife and smiled again. "Hungry?"

She briefly shook her head in the negative, quietly saying "No... not really." Then, with a little more volume as she continued to wake up, "Not yet. Maybe when I wake up." She turned to look out the windshield for a minute, yawning and then shading her eyes against the sunlight with her right paw. She noticed and reached for her sunglasses sitting on the dash, placing them on her face. "Where are we?" she asked finally.

"Near Salida. We'll be turning west again here in a little while, but we're gonna grab some fuel before we go over Monarch Pass." As he spoke they crested a grade and a long downhill tangent appeared in front of them. "See? There's our fuel stop up ahead." Right paw off the wheel, he dropped into fourth gear to maintain speed on the downgrade. "We can get out and stretch for a few."

"How long did I sleep?" she asked as she began patting and straightening her blouse and jacket. Annie was about five foot four, built well in exactly the ways that caught and held Joe's eye, and most others as well. She dressed well, and was always the best counterpoint to Joe's denim and leather.

"I don't know exactly, I wasn't paying attention to the time when you fell asleep. Maybe a couple of hours, maybe a little more" he replied.

She looked at the clock on the dash. "It's after eleven!" she said, sitting up straighter and reaching for her purse. Down came the visor with the vanity mirror, and she became preoccupied.

To Chapter Three: Flying High.

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