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

Who I Am

The ride home had been pleasant and uneventful so far, which was a blessing after all the adventures of the trip. They had become separated from Mike and Debbie by the time they had crossed into Nevada from Arizona on southbound Interstate 15 owing to the canyon driving in the Virgin River gorge. Their truck, being about three times the weight and size of Mike's Jeep Cherokee, took the corners and grades a little more slowly. They had kept in touch with each other since then using their GSM phones as the day wore on.

By the time they got past Las Vegas heading towards Barstow it was bright and surprisingly hot. The skies were cloudless and a pale blue. Temperatures near Baker approached ninety degrees. While not unheard of for October, it was unusual. Annie rejoiced in the comforts of their ride, the cabin temperature as they rolled along was an even seventy degrees.

The trip so far had been non-stop. She and Joe spent their time talking about everything under the sun, but kept coming back to their kids. Their conversation of earlier that morning, detailing Mike's ordeal in Utah, kept rolling around in Annie's head. She worried unnecessarily about her children, she knew this, yet it was part of her being to continue to fret mildly over them. Who would watch out for them as she and Joe grew older? Annie's tail twitched nervously as these thoughts kept turning over in her mind.

Somewhere in the hills past the Zzyzx Springs ramp Annie finally got down to brass tacks with what was bothering her. She had been brushing her blond hair, watching the desert scenery as they rolled along southbound. Pausing in her ministrations, she held the brush in her paws in her lap. "Joe," she asked hesitantly, "what would have happened to Mike had we not been aware of his situation? What if we hadn't been there?"

Joe had known this was coming, and was on the spot, he knew. He wanted to tell her that Mike would have eventually been released after an investigation proved his innocence. Chris would have testified as to his point and time of departure, his residency was established in Orange County. It would have made sense for him to be where Natalie found him, at that particular time, a simple coincidence.

Which was true, as far as that went. But what he didn't want to admit to Annie was that if Hector had taken their son through an "interrogation process" Mike probably would have needed to spend some time in a hospital afterwards, and may not have been able to bring himself home alone. In other words, like Natalie he may have had some holes in him and parts forcibly removed from his person. Now it was Joe's turn to have nervous tail twitches. His mouth felt dry.

And there, on I-15 out in the Mojave, he had his dilemma over the Interstate Police Force clarified in a very personal way. The IPF's tactics were fairly easy to buy into, or at least turn a blind eye towards, when the real bad people were being "interrogated" and subsequently "dispositioned". Dealing harshly with the Natalie Shapirs and Abu Kabals of the world was easy. They were bad, no two ways about it.

But now an innocent had narrowly avoided the same meat grinding process by the skin of his teeth and the grace of God. The fact that the innocent in question was his own son did not alter Joe's feelings about anything, but certainly reinforced them and brought them home on a very personal level. The more he had learned about the IPF while being trained by them, the more pronounced his unease had become. He had hoped that when his training was complete and he returned to his normal duties at SCWD that his concerns would abate, but that hadn't turned out to be the case.

The truth of the matter was that Joe was, for all practical intents and purposes, an undercover agent for the IPF. Still paid by his employer, his checks now included a "bonus" for his participation as a "special agent" of the company. Joe knew that this bonus was a small portion of the funds paid by the IPF to his employer to keep him where he was and make him answerable to them under certain conditions. Most of the time Joe went about his business as he always had. He was mindful of the fact that his GSM phone (which he was required to keep on 24/7) could ring at any time, and that if certain persons called with specific instructions he was obligated to comply.

He had spared Annie a lot of the detail of this arrangement. She knew he was involved in security issues, knew about his weapons and training, and knew about his circumstances that might call him away from their table or bed at any time. She had supported him all the way down the line with it, and had never complained on those few occasions when his phone did ring with that particular person's voice on the other end. But it bothered her insofar as caring for their family was concerned.

And now her question had, quite simply, put the crosshairs of their marriage on this very issue. Should he lie to her? Could he even make himself try? Gloss over the fact that their son could have quite easily been maimed for life, or worse? Was he lying to himself about what could have happened? About his involvement with the IPF in general?

And suddenly he wanted to turn the wheel, get out with her, get away from the torrid mess security had become in the States. But as fast as that notion struck him he knew the futility of it. There was nowhere on the planet to hide from the combined efforts of the IPF, FBI, CIA, TSA, and the various military arms of his mother nation. There was nowhere to run to. He was stuck for the long haul, and his only hope, his only salvation was to pray to his God for guidance and deliverance, and try the best he could to keep his small corner of the picture as clean and honest and ethical as possible.

He glanced across the cab at the love of his life. She had put her hair brush down on the dash in front of her and was looking patiently back at him, almost thirty seconds had elapsed since her question. Her eyebrows were arched slightly, she was wondering why he wasn't answering.

Joe licked his lips and swallowed. "I don't know exactly what would have happened, Angel." He spoke quietly, his face a blank as his heart ached, unsure where and how far to go with the answer she deserved. "I'd like to think that he would have walked out of there in a day or two anyway, after their investigation proved his innocence."

"But you're not sure that's what might have happened." It was not a question, and she hadn't meant it to be one.

"No," he paused, wondering anew how much to say. "No, I don't know what would have happened. I trust in God to deliver my pups to safety when I'm not there to do it for them. I have to, Annie, I don't have a lot of choices sometimes, and as they get older and more independent it becomes harder and harder for me to control their environment."

"I worry about that too," she confessed. "Now that the boys are on their own I worry so much about them. Especially Chris, because he's so far away." Annie's eyes grew moist, and she growled quietly in frustration. She didn't want to cry, not now.

"Honey, we've done a good job raising our pups. You said so yourself, just the other day." At her questioning look he continued. "Remember, when you were telling me about the talk you had with Debbie yesterday morning in Flagstaff?"

Annie smiled in spite of herself, remembering the conversation with her daughter. It had been their first "female to female" conversation.

Joe saw the smile light up her face. "Remember? You told me about that conversation, and I got worried, and frustrated, and angry. Remember?" He noticed her left paw resting on the center console, and reached down to place his gloved right paw over hers. "And you said that Debbie was such a wonderful young female. That she's strong, competent, able to take care of herself. And she is, Angel, as they all are. We've done well by them, raised them properly. Look at Chris. He's too far away to bring laundry home, or stop by for the good home-cooked meal. He's really on his own, in ways that Mike really hasn't completely discovered yet."

Joe paused, and Annie just looked at him. Her eyes were still a bit glassy, but the corners of her pretty mouth were turned up slightly.

"It's normal for us as parents to worry about the pups we are raising. But there comes a point in each of their upbringings when we have to loosen our grip and guide them using conversation, solicited advice, and love, and not through authority and power. We've already passed those points with Mike and Chris, and Debbie is right at that point right now. It's tough to let go, to watch them make mistakes, but we have to let them do it. Otherwise we risk having children that cannot function on their own, and they wind up on the government dole, out on the sidewalk."

Joe realized that he had drifted unintentionally away from Annie's original question, but had no intention of correcting course without prompting. He looked at Annie, her smile had grown to cover her face, and she looked a little more relaxed. He squeezed her paw.


"Yeah, I guess I just worry too much." She turned her face to the windshield, gazing at the broad expanse of rocky crags and sand that is the Mojave near Afton Canyon. For a few miles she was silent, just watching the scenery. Joe admired her in profile. She had the most kissable muzzle he had ever seen, and looked almost stunning just sitting there with her ears up, her eyes alert, that beautiful almost glittering auburn fur of hers moving gently with her respirations. He kept stealing glances at her as they drove on.

"I'm sorry, Joe."

He glanced at her. "For what?"

She was still looking ahead at the highway. "For putting you on the spot like that. I know that there are things you don't want me to know, so I won't worry more than I do." Now Annie was the one with the blank face.

"Oh, honey," Joe's heartstrings suddenly grew taught, his ears drooped in frustration. "It's not that I don't want you to know." Joe felt a floodgate open in his soul. "You're right, I don't want you to worry unnecessarily, and so far I think your worry has been unfounded. If there's anything I hold back from you, it's because of the fact that I'm not exactly proud of some of the things my..." he stumbled, looking for the correct words. "... associates do or are involved with. There are a lot of things they do that I don't like. Their methods are questionable, but I believe their motives are sound. They're good, hard working furs with a noble cause who have been given a little too much freedom in how they meet their objectives."

She turned to look at him, her eyes full of love. "You don't have to say any more."

"Yes I do," he argued firmly. "I've needed to say this for a long time. What I said at breakfast this morning was true, as far as it went. I'm not on the IPF payroll. Exactly. I am," his eyes sought and locked on hers, "I am an undercover agent for them. I still work for and am paid by SCWD, but SCWD in turn is paid by IPF for occasional," his mouth twisted as if the words themselves were sour, "contract services that I may be required to provide." He tore his eyes from hers, turning his gaze back to the highway.

"The telephone calls?" she asked gently. She could almost feel the pain she saw in his blue eyes.

He nodded. "It wasn't supposed to wind up like this, Angel." He stopped and sighed, watching the road slide under them. "At first it really was supposed to be paramilitary training in weapons and tactics purely for our own use on the pipelines, protecting our own infrastructure. Then, as the IPF grew more powerful, they started to call in some markers. It turns out that a lot of the training provided to us was done at no cost to SCWD, and IPF levered on that to get us to cooperate with them. My bosses came to me one day and verbally laid out a picture: play this game or find employment elsewhere." He shrugged his shoulders and frowned, a guilty look on his face. "Had I had any idea what was coming I would have walked right then." The toothpick between his teeth wiggled slightly as his teeth ground on it.

She let go of his paw and placed her paw on his shoulder, squeezing it gently. "What happened?"

"SoCal played along. I'm one of perhaps twenty five employees who are involved across southern California, southern Nevada, and western Arizona. A few of them did walk. Those of us who stayed on, we go about our duties unmolested most of the time, but on those rare occasions when IPF calls, they expect us to jump. And we can jump far, which is why the 'license to carry' permits from all over."

She began to rub the back of his neck and shoulders with her paw by way of encouragement, and also to smooth the fur that had raised there as a result of the conversation.

"Remember that Saturday when I got called out, and was gone for almost two days?"

She nodded. His callouts normally lasted a handful of hours, never more than half a day. She had been extremely concerned by his prolonged absence and lack of communication. "Yes. I was very worried about you."

"I was in Texas and Oklahoma. I flew by helicopter to the Armed Forces Reserve Center, then by IPF jet to Midland. Turns out one of our own guys got mixed up with the wrong people, and they called a couple of us to go and assist in getting him back. It took us a full day just to track him down." Joe looked briefly at her.

She knew there was more to the story than he was telling, she just had a feeling. "What happened?"

Joe's frown deepened. "Annie, this is dangerous information. You can get into trouble yourself by knowing too much. I'll tell you because I love you, and because I'm sick of keeping the truth from you, but you must not pass this on to anyone, for any reason. Do you understand?"

She nodded slowly, unsure herself if she wanted to hear any more.

"As I said, we found him after almost a full day. Turns out he was quite deeply involved with a domestic terrorism organization called Free California. With his help we were able to round up almost the entire operation, and stop a couple of bombings in the process." He knew what motivated her questions, she was still trying to find out how much danger their son had really been in.

Joe lifted his foot off the throttle and the truck began to decelerate. Annie looked questioningly at him. "I need to stop," he said simply.

Their truck glided into the exit ramp near Field siding on the Union Pacific mainline, which was paralleling them to the south. Joe turned north, away from the rail line, and pulled off the asphalt a few hundred feet away from the interstate. Setting the brakes, he turned to face her, his face now earnest, his attention undivided. For her part she returned his stare with equal intensity and attention. They looked at each other for a few seconds, silent.

"I love you Angel," he whispered in the silence of the idling truck cab. "More than anything, more than my own life, you are the center of everything I am. I will never allow anything I've done to endanger or jeopardize you in any way."

A tear formed in the corner of her eye, brought on by this sudden emotional profession of his. She growled quietly again, reaching for a tissue in her purse without taking her eyes from his. Finding one, she dabbed her eyes momentarily. She took a deep breath and held it for a couple seconds. As she exhaled she touched his face, quietly saying "I know."

"The fur we found was interrogated by my acquaintance, Hector Sandovál." She nodded, recalling the name from this morning's discussion at breakfast. "Initially he was reluctant to tell us anything. Hector knew he stored a wealth of information, that he was deeply involved. He eventually provided us with the information Hector sought." He stopped, searching her eyes. "He was shot once through each hand," Joe whispered, "had his left thumb forcibly removed with a pair of pliers, and his kneecap was shattered with a steel bar. Now he walks with a crutch in prison because his right kneecap is missing and the knee is irreparably damaged and can't carry his weight." Joe's face had taken on a look of disgust.

A look of horror briefly flashed across Annie's face, to be replaced by a look of concern for him.

"Honey, I had no part in that interrogation, and never have been a party to one." He looked down to her paws on the console, and took them in his own. Still looking down, he continued. "I don't have the stomach for it. I cannot bring myself to be associated with that. So far, I haven't been challenged by anyone in that situation, they allow me to leave before the interrogations start." Joe shuddered.

He looked up to her, his face an ashen color beneath his fur. "Angel, that woman that Mike gave a ride to, she was being interrogated while I was there. Hector is very methodical and thorough." Joe's implication was clear. His mouth was screwed up, like he was going to be ill. "There's a good possibility that they were going to question our son next."

It was Annie's turn to shudder.

"So to answer your question," he continued slowly, pausing for a breath, "I don't know what would have happened to Mike. I pray to God that if any of us ever find ourselves alone in the situation he was in that we will be firm in our convictions and trust the Lord to deliver us to safety." Joe's eyes were glassy, he blinked several times in rapid succession. "All I know for sure is that he is safe now, God has delivered us once again."

Annie took her paws from him and hugged him across the center console. "Thank you for your honesty, my love. I know that was difficult for you." She kissed his cheek and held him tightly. After a few seconds she whispered in his ear. "Let's take a walk."


Thirty minutes later they climbed back into the cab of their idling truck, shivering at the temperature difference. The brief walk in the warm desert had done wonders for them both, they were happy and high spirited once again. Far from being depressed or upset by what she had learned, Annie now had a clear understanding of her husband's employment requirements, and a very clear idea of how he viewed things. She was pleased to learn that his opinions of the IPF, their tactics, and their freedoms mirrored her own, and she now understood how he had wound up being associated with an organization he had such mixed feelings about. While not entirely comfortable about everything, she at least felt like she could see the big picture now, and could better understand her husband.

Joe, for his part, felt much better now that everything about his "special agent" status was out in the open with her. He worried just a bit about how this new information would sit with her over time, but underneath everything he realized that their morals and ethical standards were very similar, and he was confident that they had each reinforced their marriage today. As he settled into his seat once again and tugged on his gloves, he looked at the fox he adored with a wide smile on his face.

"What?" she asked playfully.

"I'm reveling in the fact that I'm the luckiest coyote on the planet," he said, reaching for the brake release.

"Yeah, right," she teased, pretending indifference.

"You'll see how much I believe that," he said in mock warning. "I have plans for you later."

Her tone turned lascivious. "I'll be waiting!"

He laughed gently as he selected low on the gearpad. The truck jumped ever so slightly as it rumbled into motion. They were on the move once again.


And the rest of the trip was uneventful. They stopped in Victorville for dinner, and at the "Seventy Six" truck stop in Ontario for fuel. All too quickly they were turning into their own driveway. Their house was open, lights greeted them from open windows and the open front door. Mike and Debbie had been home for almost two hours by the time Joe and Annie pulled in that evening. That had been plenty of time for Mojave to make her first tour of inspection of the house and yards, and she was already getting comfortable with her new home. She greeted Annie and Joe at the door with a big, tooth flashing, tongue lolling smile.

"Boy, it sure feels good to be home," Joe said as he dropped his bag and Annie's bag on the sofa in the front room. He looked around, noticing that his children's bags were nowhere to be seen. "You guys got your stuff in yet?"

Debbie was hugging her mother. After letting go of her, she turned and stepped towards Joe, saying "It's all been put away, daddy. We don't fool around, here. 'Put things where they belong when you're done with them,'" she quoted his standard refrain from their childhood, "'and they'll never be lost.' Right?" She was grinning as she hugged him.

"Right," he said with a slightly squeaky voice. His daughter didn't hold anything back, her hugs were energetic and tight. "Where's Mike?" he asked in a more normal tone of voice as she let go of him.

"Right here," their son called, coming into the front room from the family room with a laundry basket full of clean clothes.

"Well," Annie said appreciatively, "look at this! Aren't we being industrious."

"You shouldn't have to do all this for us as soon as you get home, mom. It's your vacation too..."

Annie looked aghast. "Who are you, and what have you done with my son Michael?" she demanded.

Mike and Debbie both laughed out loud, Joe grinned while scratching Mojave behind the ears. Mojave's tail thumped against the floor.

"Mom...," Mike drew it out, feigning resignation.

"Thank you, sweeties. How very thoughtful." She paused in thought, smiling again. "Have you eaten yet?"

Debbie spoke up. "No, we were waiting for you." She looked at her mom with a face Joe recognized from Chris' apartment the other night. "Where have you guys been?" she asked.

After putting the laundry basket down on a sofa Mike moved up to stand next to Debbie. They both looked at their folks, waiting for an answer.

"We stopped for a walk out near Afton Canyon." Joe said.

He and Annie both saw Mike elbow Debbie, and saw them grin and wink at each other. "OK..." Debbie said, almost laughing. "Honestly," she said as she moved towards the kitchen, "you two act like a couple of teenagers sometimes."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Joe asked. He looked to Annie, who was grinning a bit herself. "What are they on about?" he asked her, a grin spreading across his own face.

She rolled her shoulders, an unspoken "who knows?" plainly evident in her expression.

"She's right," Mike said. "You were way late to Chris' place, and you're way late now. What do you guys find to do out there on the road?" Joe could tell he was being teased by all hands.

He looked down to the kali sitting at his feet. "C'mon, Mojave, let's see what's in the refrigerator for an old coyote to drink." She whined, wagging her tail, and followed Joe into the kitchen. They passed Debbie near the doorway.

"Pizza in ten minutes!" She high fived her older brother.

"Thanks sis, I'm starving. Waiting around for these guys makes me hungry." They both looked at their mother, giggling slightly.

"All right, all right, all right..." Annie giggled a bit herself. "But we really did just take a walk!"

"Sure mom..."

To Chapter Twenty Seven: Home Is Where The Heart Is.

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