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



TMI (Too Much Information)

A familiar noise was drilling into his sleep state. His brain wasn't even functioning yet, but somewhere deep inside his subconscious, which never slept, he identified the noise invading his head as multiple copies of the GE 7FDL sixteen cylinder diesel prime mover from some brace of railroad locomotives. He stirred in the bed.

Outside and across old highway 66, the newly reconstituted Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad was earning money the old fashioned railroad way, by pounding the steel. Since the breakup of the BNSF a couple of years ago, the AT&SF had begun rebuilding their motive power fleet and upgrading their right of way. And as an answer to millions of railfan prayers everywhere, the proud red and silver warbonnet paint scheme had done the Heritage II, or "pumpkin", paint scheme of the BNSF to death. While almost fifteen years old now, the CW44-9s on the head end of this morning's manifest were dazzling in fresh red and silver paint and at the peak of maintenance perfection. Turbochargers whining in unison and throttled up for the run down to Winslow, four of the machines took up the point on a mile and a half long double stack container train eastbound out of Flagstaff.

Joe could feel the thump of the engines in his chest as they passed by across the road. Rolling onto his back with his eyes still closed, he rejoiced in the small adrenaline rush that feeling of unbridled mechanical power always gave him when he heard and felt a locomotive nearby. Opening his eyes, several things occurred to him at once. It was light. Annie wasn't in bed. And he felt great. The rhythmic noise of the double-stacks passing by outside seemed to get his blood pumping.

Rising up from the mattress, he noticed that Debbie was gone, too. The light level in the room told him it was late morning before he was able to find his watch and look at it. 0935! I've got to get going.

Fifteen minutes later he was showered and dressed, lacing up his boots. In the process of accomplishing these things he had noticed that only his gear bag was in the room. The bags belonging to Annie and Debbie were unaccounted for. As he brushed his teeth he wondered where they might have gone.

As he stood at the sink he heard footsteps approaching the door to their room. As his ears swiveled on his head to try and discern and interpret more of the sound, the door opened behind him.

"It... is... ALIVE!" a familiar voice crowed from behind him. Turning with a mouth full of toothpaste, he saw Debbie grinning hugely from the open doorway. He waved at her and turned to finish the task at paw.

"Mom, your hero is awake!" he heard his daughter yell out the door. He could not hear her mom's reply. Finishing with his morning routine, he tossed the now dry toothbrush and a hairbrush in his gear bag and zipped it closed. Grabbing the bag handles with his right paw, he strode towards the doorway his daughter was still standing in. He picked up and put on his hat with his left paw as he passed the dresser in the room. Debbie was facing outside as he approached the doorway, and she did not hear or see him come up behind her. He stopped at her back, avoiding her tail, and with his left index finger ever so gently tickled her ribs just above her waist.

Debbie's shoes momentarily reached an elevation of about a foot off the ground as she jumped, yelling "YOW!" Somehow she managed to turn in mid air, so she was facing him as she came back to earth. She dropped to a crouch, paws up in a classic karate defensive stance, smiling, and stared at him.

"Mornin', Blondie," he said easily.

"Don't mess with me, old fur," she teased in a loud, authoritative voice. "You're up against the best indian fighter in all of Arizona!" she proclaimed. She stood up straight, dropping her paws, and leaned forward to kiss her father. "Hi daddy," she giggled quietly.

Joe chuckled in return. Taking his daughter by the paw he walked with her towards their truck, parked across the parking lot. They could see Annie placing items in the forward cab area as they approached. "Did you guys eat?" he asked as they walked.

"Oh yes. We had a grand breakfast," she enthused. "Mom had a bacon and cheese omelet, I had a muffin and some fruit. And daddy, we talked!"

He could hear the humor and excitement in her voice, and couldn't hide the humor in his own. "Imagine that..."

"We had one of those real juicy mother - daughter talks." She smiled up at him.

They arrived at the truck, and he opened the rear door on the driver's side for her. As she climbed up into the cab he asked her from the asphalt "Anything I would want know about?"

She smiled down at him from her seat in the truck. "Let's just say you were an active participant in the conversation's subject material." She laughed out loud at his look of puzzlement.

He heard Annie giggle, also. Shutting Debbie's door for her, he then opened the cargo hatch beneath the driver's door, tossed in his gear bag, and closed the hatch. Opening his door, he climbed into the cab. As he settled into his seat and arranged his tail comfortably his nose twitched slightly, he detected the smell of food in the cab. As this registered on his mind his pretty wife kissed him across the console between the front seats.

"Good morning, honey," she said quietly, smiling.

"Hi Angel. You guys ate breakfast already, huh?"

"Oh yes. And we have a breakfast for you, too." Reaching behind his seat, she grabbed their thermos and opened it, pouring fresh coffee into the cup and handing that to him.

"Thanks, sweetie." He took a sip. It was quite hot and smelled delicious.

Annie arranged herself comfortably in the passenger seat. With a slight smile she asked "Are you going to sit here and contemplate the windshield, or are we going to get going?" A single eyebrow was arched slightly. Her teeth and fangs flashed briefly as her smile grew.

"You in a hurry?"

"We've got a long way to go..." she said, looking at the world on the other side of the windshield, waiting for them.

Smiling and nodding in agreement, he put the cup down in the cup holder. He removed his gloves from within the center console's storage cabinet, and as he tugged them on she refilled his coffee cup. He placed the key in the ignition switch and turned it, and then paused briefly to verify the correct indications on his various instruments in the panel. He pressed the starter and listened to the three hundred horsepower diesel engine below him churn to life, and watched the various instrument indications climb to their normal operating range.

While the engine warmed briefly he consumed the next cup of coffee without comment. Finally he turned to Annie and asked "Ready?"

She winked at him in reply. "Always..." she said with a lascivious glance.

Pressing the gearpad selector for low, he checked his mirrors and released the brakes. As they turned towards the street the day's adventure began.

###

A very few minutes later they were up to speed on Interstate 40 when Annie turned to Debbie in the back and asked "Think he's ready?"

"I think so. He looks malnourished and overworked," Debbie replied. They both giggled at this.

It occurred to Joe that his females were suffering from a case of the giggles this morning. Everything seemed to be funny to them.

Debbie handed forward a bag, from which Annie began to withdraw various items. First was what appeared to be a linen napkin, which was draped over the center console between she and Joe. On top of this was placed a plate. Next came a closed container with what appeared to be orange juice, placed in one of the forward cup holders. Finally Annie removed a left-over container. Opening this, she removed several fat-taquito-looking things and placed them on the plate between them.

"What's all this?" he asked.

"This, my love, is a driving man's breakfast. These little finger-food- looking things are mini-omelets. They contain cheddar cheese, bacon, and egg, wrapped in pastry. I had them made fresh for you this morning while Debbie and I were eating our breakfast." Placing the container back in the bag and placing the bag on the floor in front of her, she sat back and looked at him, arms crossed over her chest, smiling.

"Well thank you, my love. How sweet." Using his teeth, Joe removed the glove from his right paw and tossed it on the dash in front of him. While continuing to watch the road, he picked up one of the bite-sized breakfast goodies and bit off a piece. As he chewed on it, he became aware of his daughter's head hovering to his right.

He glanced at both of his ladies approvingly and swallowed his food. "Very good!" He bit off another piece of the omelet stick and commenced chewing again.

Turning once again to her daughter, Annie winked and said "He'll survive." Again, they both giggled.

Debbie sat back in her seat. It's going to be a long day and a long ride , she thought, I might as well get comfortable. Winking one last time at her mother, she intentionally began to tune out of the conversation going on up front. Reaching into her purse, she removed a tiny MP3 player and turned it on. Flipping through the menus on the tiny plasma display, she selected several tunes to start her day. She next removed her sunglasses from her purse and placed them on her nose, adjusting the fit with her right index finger. Finally she removed the ear buds for the player and put them in her ears. Pressing the Play button on the player, she sat back and wriggled into her seat, getting comfortable for the long drive. Slipping her sandals off her feet, she put her feet up on the very back part of the center console. As she wrapped her tail about herself so that the end of it was resting in her lap, she looked out the window in time to see Interstate 17 drift under them as they rolled westbound towards home.

She mentally reviewed the conversation she had initiated with her mother this morning. It had been the first time she had ever spoken with her mother "female to female" instead of "daughter to mother". Once over the initial, momentary discomfort brought on by her opening topic, she had found her mother easy to talk to about this particular subject. She felt they had grown closer during breakfast, and that they had reached a new level of intimacy and trust with each other.

The noise of travel was completely blanked by the ear buds, all she heard was the music her tiny player provided her. The music and the motion of travel worked quickly to lull her to a relaxed state as she watched the central Arizona countryside drift by the windows. She daydreamed about her boyfriend, and started planning her activities for their arrival home.

###

The western edge of Williams, Arizona was passing behind them. Interstate 40 wound through the forested hills of the Kaibab National Forest as they rolled on towards Los Angeles. The plate on the center console was empty, as was the container that had held fresh squeezed orange juice. The coffee thermos was half empty, and Joe felt well fed. "So what's with the breakfast for a king?" he asked his wife.

She looked up from the newspaper she had purchased in Flagstaff that morning. "What do you mean?"

He smiled at her. "I mean, I wake up alone this morning, you and Debbie are already packed and loaded and fed, ready to go. And then I get this great meal while under way. OJ and omelet sticks, fresh coffee... What's that all about?"

She grinned mischievously. "I guess you sort of overslept."

"I guess!"

She lowered her eyelashes for effect. "I guess I sort of wore you out. You don't normally sleep in late like that."

He looked at her, too long with her and too old to blush, but wondering if he was blushing anyway. He grinned mischievously himself. "I wouldn't say I was 'worn out'. But I'll tell you something..." he paused. "I felt great when I woke up!"

She smiled lovingly at him, and then her grin returned. "Debbie was kind of fidgety this morning. She and I both woke up about seven. We cleaned up and dressed and debated waking you, and then decided to get our stuff in the truck and go eat while you slept." She stopped, looking out the windshield briefly as she chose her words. She turned back to him and said quietly "We woke Debbie up last night."

"What?" He stared at her, mouth slightly open. A rhythmic thrumming sound from below their feet told them all that the truck had drifted onto the center stripe due to his reaction and momentary inattention.

"You heard me," she said, the grin lighting up her face.

He considered this momentarily, looking back to the highway as he recentered the truck in their lane. "How much did she see?" he asked quietly.

"I don't think it was a matter of what she saw as much as what she heard."

"Ah..." His grin was as large as hers now. "I told you to keep your voice down. You certainly can get vocal at some interesting times," he teased.

"Me? As I understand things, it was your purr, or whatever that noise you make is, that got her attention. Don't hang this on my neck!" She was almost laughing at him now.

Suddenly some pieces of the puzzle came together in Joe's head. "Uh, how is it, exactly, that you know precisely what woke our daughter up?"

She smiled sweetly, the picture of innocence. "We had to have something to talk about at breakfast!"

A gloved paw rose from the wheel to slap open-padded against his forehead. "Oh my God," he exhaled. "So what, you painted her a picture?" He slid the paw down over his face and returned it to the wheel. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that the way it sounded."

She took no offense. She was too busy trying not to laugh hysterically at her husband's reaction. "Honey, you should know something about your daughter." Again she paused to consider how much to say and how to deliver it.

As he waited for his wife to continue Joe selected another gear and stared briefly at the instrument panel. The automatic wastegate on the turbocharger was doing weird stuff, occasionally the boost indication would twitch into the yellow range, and then settle down again. He watched the boost indication for a few seconds, and then turned his attention back to his wife. "Yeah...?"

"Well..." she looked at him with a mixture of trepidation and mirth in her eyes. She wasn't sure how he was going to handle this. "Let's just say Debbie didn't learn much last night that she didn't already know."

His eyes grew slightly wider, and the toothpick in his mouth jumped slightly as his teeth clenched around it.

His reaction was not lost on Annie. "Hold on, hear me out before you start making judgement calls and getting on your soapbox." She reached out and placed her left paw on his arm, and noticed an immediate calming effect on him. "Our loving last night was only a doorway for Debbie and I this morning. That's what started our conversation, but it was only the beginning. She told me quite a bit about her own love life. She's shared a lot of honest, intimate information with me this morning about herself and her boyfriend Russell. Your daughter is no different than we were as kids, except that she's a lot smarter about taking care of herself and being very selective about who she shares her love with. She will not endanger herself or disappoint us. You should be proud of her."

"I'm always proud of her," he growled. "But..."

"No butts!" she interrupted, smiling slightly at her own play on words. "She needs no lessons or lectures from you or me. Honey, Russ is the only one, and they're more serious than you or I could have possibly imagined." She saw the gray in his eyes. "He was not the instigator, Joe. Don't throw this at Russ' feet like he's the bad guy. Debbie told me it was her idea, her persistence, all along." She paused again, but continued before he could interject anything. "Apparently they have discussed a 'long term relationship'. They've..."

"She's just turned seventeen!" he hissed between his teeth. He was not liking where this dialog was going.

"Joe." She looked at him, her eyes willing him to settle down. "Do you remember how she handled herself at Cameron with that indian?" Thinking about that, she considered that the Cameron example might not be the best. "Do you remember our conversations about the modeling issue and how I mishandled that? Don't make the same mistake. Our daughter is a big fur now, a female almost grown. Sure, she has a lot to learn about 'relationships', but who doesn't? We're still learning." She smiled warmly at him and squeezed his paw. Their fingers interlaced and she rested their paws on the center console.

"I remember," she continued, "a young coyote who wasn't particularly bothered by the 'recommended decorum' of dating and relationships." She saw the gray in his eyes diminish somewhat. "Honey, she's OK. Don't worry about her. Rejoice with her that she's found someone to love. Life could be worse." Her expression turned warm but serious. "Trust me on this, Joe. You know how protective I am about our pups, especially Debbie. I wouldn't have chosen this path for her, but I'm OK with this."

He looked at her for a long moment. "Annie, I trust you. I'll keep quiet and listen."

"In a nutshell, she and Russ have agreed to keep things relatively light as they go through college. Each of them is fully aware that the other may find someone else in college, and they don't want to make any formal commitment to each other at this early stage of the game. However, they do love each other, and if they are still seeing each other when they both graduate, then they plan to make it a formal declaration and set a wedding date."

"Hell, that's five or more years in the future!" Joe exclaimed, more in wonder than anger.

"She's got your head for planning. Look again at all the thought she put into the modeling thing before you or I ever heard about it. She had that all laid out, every step, every option in detail, in her own head before we knew anything. This girl is smart, tough, determined, and beautiful. The fur who can measure up to her will be as good a fur as the one I have." She smiled to him as his head turned to face her. Compliments like that were unusual.

He exhaled again, slowly. "OK. So where does that leave us? What do we do now?" He was wondering what kind of discussion he was going to have to have with his daughter.

"Where's that leave us?" she repeated. "It leaves us in love, just like we have been. We do nothing we haven't been doing all along, providing our kids with the example, the role model, of how it should be done. No lectures, no accusations, no recriminations. I have my love, you have yours, and now she has hers. We answer her questions when she asks, we listen to what she has to say, and we love her unconditionally, just like we always have. We're here for her, just like we're here for each other." She released his paw and brushed her bangs away from her forehead. "Can we have a little air? It's getting warm in here."

Joe pushed the little blue button on the dash labeled "A/C" and dialed up a figure of seventy degrees on the display. Cool air issued from the vent registers in the dash almost immediately. He returned his right paw to the wheel, placing his left arm on the armrest of his door. He considered all his wife had said, and the things she had related about their daughter. Of course she was right, absolutely on target. He was once again impressed with her ability to drill down through the unnecessary emotional garbage and arrive at the correct decision and run with it. Debbie had already taken that big step on her own, nothing any of them could say or do would undo that. Their job as parents was almost done, but their job as individuals who respected and loved their child was just beginning.

Ash Fork looked forlorn in the windshield. The Interstate bored through the little town like it wasn't there, and within moments the town was in the mirrors and receding. The boost needle twitched a bit. The All-Terrains whined on the concrete and the diesel engine rumbled, their music soothing to him.

Eventually he concluded that the best course of action was to be thankful that a little indiscretion on their part last night had led to a new level of trust and love between his wife and their daughter. He felt good about that, the trust and love. And, truth be known, he felt pretty good about what had led to the "indiscretion", too. His wife's amorous notions and abilities still left him in awe sometimes. She was truly a remarkable fox. And it seemed that their daughter had mixed the best of both their personalities and physical makeup and attitude. She was a natural force to be reckoned with, just like her mother.

Annie placed her paw once again on Joe's arm. She was worried about him, he'd been silent for a few miles now. He turned to face her momentarily at her touch, once again the manicured nails catching his attention. "Too much information?" she asked.

He smiled, turning back to his highway. "Nah." He paused briefly, and as she began to think that was all she was going to get out of him, he continued. "I was just reflecting on what a gem you really are." She looked down briefly at that. "I mean, here is this stuff that you and I could get all distraught about, but you drill down to what matters and see things for what they are. I'm so fortunate to be with you, and I'm doubly blessed that Debbie has acquired the best of your character traits."

She leaned over the center console, placing both her paws on it, and kissed him on the cheek. Seeing a significant stretch of relatively straight and level, unoccupied roadway ahead, Joe took the opportunity to turn towards her. For a few hundred feet they shared a passionate kiss that was suddenly interrupted by a commotion from the back seat.

Debbie had been scrolling the menus of her MP3 player, and happened to look up as her parents kissed. Sitting up suddenly, she dropped the player on the seat next to her.

"Hey!" she yelled playfully. "Who's driving the truck?"

As her parents separated all three of them were laughing.






To Chapter Twenty One: Mojave.

Back to Stories Page

Back to Main Page