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
Back On Line
When Joe had initially hired on with the Southern California Water District
he hadn't been too sure whether or not he'd made the right decision. Sure,
the job classification was "electronics technician", but it was industrial
process and control, not the high end test equipment and systems he was used
Joe's background was two-fold, he had spent years as a "bench tech" with
Dymec Industries, a global manufacturer of high tech electronics equipment.
His job had been to repair and calibrate all forms of Dymec's electronic test
equipment, and later to develop automated test systems and write software to
make the systems he built useful to other techs. Before he had left that
company he had been writing technical documentation, test procedures and
ISO9002 compliance materials for his repair center.
After that, radio had become a focal point in his employment history. He had
focused on being a communications technician, which had eventually landed him
on the doorstep of the AT&SF Railway radio shop in Los Angeles in the early
nineties. Radio was what he liked best, and the railroad gave it to him in
droves. But while the pay was good, the railroad also gave him an odd shift
schedule. He worked day shift, which was fine, but his workweek was Thursday
through Monday. That was rough on his family, as his "weekend" was Tuesday -
Wednesday, in the middle of the school week when his kids weren't around.
Everyone else's weekend found him working downtown.
Eventually he had grown tired of the schedule, and his supervisor's
indifference to his plight drove Joe to the want ads once again. So it was
towards the end of 1994 that he found himself mailing an application to the
Southern California Water District's headquarters in Los Angeles. The job he
had applied for offered a Monday through Thursday workweek, and that was
improvement enough for Joe.
They hadn't needed to, but SCWD had offered Joe a considerable pay raise
(about 12%) to join them. Joe would have settled for the standard weekend
off, the money was thick icing on an already fat cake! The deal was quickly
struck, and in early 1995 Joe became a member of the SCWD team in Orange
Joe was initially less than impressed with his duties from an intellectually
challenging point of view. What he initially spent most of his time with was
industrial control instrumentation and equipment. Even the Remote Terminal
Unit computers and interface equipment was pretty tame stuff, 8080 processors
communicating with the Area Control Center via 2400 baud data on copper wire
provided by the telephone company. Some of the sites had 900 MHz data radios
for the communications link, but this was simple FSK equipment at 2400 baud,
Some of the areas he was required to work in were best described as filthy.
He found himself in dank, dark bunkers and vaults as much as forty or fifty
feet below the surface. He worked at facilities in neighborhoods where you
didn't want to be after sunset. He found himself doing types of mundane work
that he seemed to be grossly overpaid for. All these things combined to cause
him to wonder, sort of off the cuff, if he was doing the right thing.
But water utilities had their high tech, too, and as Joe grew into the
company their infrastructure grew in technology. Joe was ramrod on his unit's
first deployment of wide band high speed wireless networking, and was the
only field tech that had anything to do with the fleet voice and data radio
systems. He was instrumental in the original deployment of the new Remote
Terminal Units in the distribution system, DEC Alpha computers connected by
56k data circuits to servers at the Area Control Centers and the System
Operations Center. There were thirty four RTUs in Orange County's
distribution system, it took almost two and a half years to get all of them
deployed and connected to the network, either via copper, fiber optic, or 900 MHz spread
spectrum wireless networking.
As Joe moved up the ranks in the organization he was dealt more and more
autonomy and responsibility. Fortunately for him, his boss was very
supportive in his efforts, providing him with whatever tools, equipment, and
assistance were needed to complete any particular task. As the years went by
Joe found himself more and more suited to the work he was asked to do, and
became quite happy with SCWD.
By the time the Interstate Police Force shoved it's nose into the Southern
California Water District's operation, Joe had found his niche in the scheme
of things. His days were spent mostly outdoors on the various pipelines or
infrastructure systems, which suited Joe to a tee. For the most part Joe
liked and enjoyed his job, the furs he worked with, and the places he
worked. And as long as the IPF left him alone, Joe was pretty much the happy
camper, content to partake in the specification, development, deployment, and
maintenance of electronic voice and data systems in the field.
Today, however, was not going to be an enjoyable day.
Annie was having troubles of her own.
She had worked for Dymec for over thirty years, starting as a very young red
fox at the age of nineteen in Maryland. Her career spanned several states and
locations in that timeframe. She had come to southern California in 1977, two
years before first meeting Joe at their workplace in Los Angeles in the
summer of 1979.
While Joe had gone through one disastrous marriage between the time Annie
first met him there in 1979 and when they finally started dating in 1988,
she had ended one marriage and gone through a second.
Her first husband, a Marine, had developed into a mentally abusive and
uncaring individual. She invested seven years of her life in that fur, and
had finally given up on him after they had come west to California. She had
still been married to him when she first met Joe.
Her second husband had done the Marine one better, becoming addicted to
cocaine and various other things, which caused him to become unstable in the
extreme. He couldn't keep a job, became a pathological liar, and harbored an
explosive temperament. While he never physically harmed Annie or their son
Michael, he threatened her more than once, and she believed him enough that
she finally had to take her son home to her mother in Maryland while she
filed for divorce from him. It was on the tail end of that marriage that Joe
reappeared in her life.
Annie had started working in Maryland as a data entry fur, called a Repair
Order Coordinator. She rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a
supervisor of her own Order Processing department. While fully capable in
this capacity, she didn't enjoy being a supervisor. Some furs are better
suited to supervision, some better suited to the "paws on" work. Annie was a
good supervisor, but she didn't enjoy it, so she quit that position and
department and transferred into the Support Materials Organization,
otherwise known as the "parts department".
As a coordinator again in this department, she began a slow but steady rise
through the ranks, but sidestepped the traditional career path into
supervision and evolved into Inventory Management. By the time her daughter
Debbie was born Annie had become a noted resource within Dymec, peers from
all over the United States would call her for assistance in manipulating
the various computer databases and applications they used to manage and
control distribution of inventory worldwide. Eventually the company
formalized this position, and Annie became first a "Business Systems
Specialist", and then more recently was promoted to an "Area Logistics
Somewhere around the time she became a BSS Annie also became a telecommuter.
Her office was in a corner of the large bedroom she shared with Joe, upstairs
in their home. Her work area was a large corner desk in that room, with all
her computer, network, and telecomm equipment integrated into a small office
environment. In this environment Annie excelled, and consistently exceeded
her superior's expectations. After thirty five years, Annie had arrived at
her niche in the corporate scheme as well, and was quite comfortable.
Her job was very stressful at times, however. So many furs looked to her
for solutions that she occasionally overloaded, and she could easily work
late into the evenings trying to clean up other fur's messes across the
country. Normally beginning her day around six in the morning, it was not
uncommon for her to still be on line working past the dinner hour.
Today was beginning to look like one of those days for her. For the past hour
and a half she had been working on an issue brought to her by one of her
peers in the midwest. Jim had called at about ten, wanting to know if she
could help with an inter-division transfer he was having trouble with. One
thing had led to another, and it became apparent that a problem existed
either within both of their computers, or within the database they were
trying to access.
Annie growled quietly as her fingers flew over her keyboard. "I'm looking at
24Z right now, Jim. I can see your part there, but can't access it for
transfer." Annie wore a headset / boom mic combination connected to her
telephone. The stereo system in the entertainment center in her room played
some classic rock at a low volume setting while she worked.
"Right," Jim replied. "I've tried several ways to get to that part, and can't
access it. I can view it from half a dozen access points like 24Z, RU, and
the corporate escalation process, but I can't move it." Annie could hear the
frustration in his voice.
"Hmmm..." The claws of Annie's left paw drummed her desktop lightly as her
right paw manipulated her computer mouse, calling another screen to her
display. A few more keystrokes and she was becoming more baffled. "Jim, try
the old SO4 access route, see what you get." She paused while she heard key
clicks from Jim's end of the telephone circuit.
"Hey, I'm getting an undefined error message." Jim said. "What the Hell..."
"So am I," Annie replied, looking at the time in the corner of her display.
"'Undefined error occurred in 3802AE'. Is that what you're getting?" She
interrogated her application for additional information, but none was
"That's it," Jim replied. "And you can't get any more information about the
failure. In fact..." she heard more key clicks, "I'm locked up in that screen
"Can you go to another screen and continue working?" Annie had also locked up
in SO4, but could still work other databases in other open windows on her
display. Her brow furrowed slightly as she pondered a possible work-around.
She paused while she heard Jim working at his end. "Yeah," he replied
eventually. "It's just SO4 that's locked up. You know this really sucks,
because I've got a CE out in Columbus waiting for this part to get a video
production hot site back on line. I've been working this for over an hour
already." She heard him sigh.
"Tell you what Jim, it's lunch time where you are. Go grab a bite, and I'll
try and get our helpless desk involved to see what's up with the errors on
SO4. Meanwhile I'll try to see if I can find a way to move this for you.
What's the service order number?"
Jim ruffled through some notes on various scraps of paper on his desk. "It's
uh..." more rustling. "For Jack Cahill. It's 3620E4401, item four. Asset
number of the part in question is SCU 41-714-42185-EXA."
"Got it," Annie replied as she scribbled the last of the information on a
sticky note of her own. She placed the note on the edge of her monitor
display. "Give me a call at one o'clock your time, OK?"
She could hear the reprieve in his voice. "Really? Thanks, Annie! I owe you
"Don't worry," she grinned, "I'll collect when you least expect it. Talk to
you in an hour or so, OK?"
Jim was grinning himself, for the first time that morning. "You got it,
Annie. I'm sure glad you're back! Talk to you in a while. Bye now..."
Annie was already calling another database access route to her display.
"Later, Jim." As quickly as she disconnected her call her claws were
dialing the contracted help desk back east.
It had to be at least 100 degrees in the control room of the OC28 pressure
control structure. The stench of dead, rotting rodent filled the room, as
well as the valve room on the other side of the one foot thick concrete wall
separating the two. Dust and dirt and filth lay half an inch thick on the
floor, as well as every other horizontal surface. Cobwebs strung themselves
between the motor control cabinet in the center of the room and the RTU
cabinet against one wall, the small desk, the paymeter equipment rack, and
the fiber optic cabinet. Rodent droppings were everywhere. Joe was standing
in the doorway to the control room trying not to breathe, his arms full of
tools and equipment, a laptop PC and interface accessories in a backpack
slung over one shoulder.
Up on the surface it was only 95 degrees. Joe's truck was parked, along with
three other trucks, on the asphalt apron surrounding the surface entrance to
the structure. The structure was located in the foothills of the northeast
part of the county, good rattlesnake and scorpion country this time of year.
Two of the trucks belonged to the pipeline crewmen, Frank and AD in one, Luis
and John in the other. The third truck belonged to Kyle, a journey level
electrician. All the furs except Frank were down in the structure. Frank had
met Joe on the surface, and they had descended the stairs into the structure
" Pretty nasty, huh?" Frank asked as they surveyed the control room.
"Yeah, what's up with this place?" Joe asked. Last time he had worked in this
structure with John and some other furs on the valve crew, it had been left
clean and orderly with everything operational. "Seems like dead rat central
"I don't think anybody's been in here since that brush fire last fall." Frank
tilted his head back, looking at the metal plates in the ceiling twenty feet
overhead. "It's too bad we can't pull those access plates to get some fresh
air in here. We'd need the boom truck to lift them, though, and it's in the
"Last fall?" Joe asked, glancing around the room. The brush fire had
completely surrounded the structure and burned everything on the surface. The
area surrounding the structure entrance had resembled the surface of the moon
the following morning. "That was over a year ago, wasn't it?"
Frank nodded. He was a couple years older than Joe, and maybe an inch
shorter. A wolverine with atypical lighter fur, he had a vaguely Scandinavian
appearance with light hair and blue eyes. The old country image was neatly
camouflaged by a California - grown desert rat attitude. Frank was very much
into off road vehicles, especially ATVs, and had a second home near the
Colorado River that he visited often.
Moving his boot toe back and forth in an arc across the concrete floor in
front of him, Frank commented "This is mostly ash and dust that's been wet a
few times since it fell in here." Dust began to rise from the movement of his
A small conference in the valve room between the collected furs had decided a
course of action. While Joe started his work on the RTU in the control room,
the pipeline crew would begin hosing down the valve room next door. Kyle
finished his electrical work while the conference was taking place, he was
gone by the time the water started rinsing down the valve room.
Joe worked diligently and quickly in the control room. He had retrieved a
painter's mask from his truck to try and filter out the dust and the stink,
and it was moderately successful. While he was running the diagnostics on the
RTU computer, John was sitting on the small desk across the room, operating
each of the sixteen regulating valves from the motor control panel.
A tenacious badger, John was nearing retirement. He'd already gone a round or
two with cancer and was quite thin, yet he still smoked a pack or more a day,
and even now had a half a cigarette hanging from a corner of his mouth. What
hair he had left on the sides and back of his head was quite gray, a ball cap
covered his thinning fur. John was very old school water utility, which meant
that while he was a bit rough around the edges and tended to call a spade a
spade, he knew these pipelines and pressure control structures like the back
of his paw. John had a coarse sense of humor but was a good hearted soul, Joe
enjoyed his company very much.
"These valves are fucked up," John kept muttering. At each end of a valve's
travel he would make a notation on a sheet of paper of the position
indication error. Some were off by less than half a percent, others were off
by as much as five percent or more. The system operators squalled if the
error was greater than one percent, and John's boss was the one who got
squalled at. You know what they say about fecal material and how it goes
downhill, hence John's concern. He could see additional work coming their
The desk phone rang as Luis appeared in the doorway, fire hose in paw. "Ready
Joe?" Luis asked, waving the hose slightly as John turned away, reaching for
the phone. Luis was at least ten years Joe's junior, another badger, tall and
well built, reddish brown hair over a brown furred face that always seemed to
John grabbed the noisy phone pawset. "OC28, this is John."
"Uhh..." Joe looked at the two inch fire hose in Luis' paw, running water as
they were speaking, and then around the room at his laptop bag on the floor,
his tools and equipment spread out everywhere. "Can you give me a few
"Joe," John held out the phone towards him. "Control Room."
"Sure," Luis replied. "Let me know when you're ready." Luis disappeared back
towards the valve room with his fire hose as Joe took the phone pawset from
John's outstretched paw.
"Thanks, John," Joe nodded. "This is Joe..."
It was early afternoon at the Latrans home. The neighborhood kits would be
home from school soon. Annie had not taken a lunch break yet. It was not an
unusual state of affairs.
"Hi Jim, this is Annie." She was leaving a voicemail message for her
counterpart in Kansas City. "I've figured out a work-around for our SO4
problems. I went to the overstock database for your source facility, which
is..." she searched through her notes on her desk, "Saint Louis 65E. I backed
the part in question out from 65E to our corporate hub in Palo Alto, and then
used 24Z to restock to Jack's service order number for his Columbus customer.
It took some doing, several screens worth of work, but it is done. Meanwhile
I'm working with the helpless desk trying to figure out what's going on with
SO4. I'll keep you posted. Bye." As Annie disconnected her call her computer
sounded a Netmeeting prompt.
She clicked "OK" on the permission icon, and heard a voice thick with a mid-
eastern accent asking "Mrs. Latrans?"
"This is Annie," she said brightly. And so began her odyssey with the help
desk. A contracted service, no one was sure where exactly the furs were
physically located. Some guessed Pakistan or India, others guessed New York
City, but nobody knew. The techs invariably helped out, once the
communications barrier was overcome.
By the time three quarters of an hour had slipped away, the tech and Annie
had mutually agreed that whatever the problem was, it was not at Annie's end
of the network. That, of course, didn't help much, as Annie's database work
was still backing up and other customer engineers and ALMs were continuing to
"Grrr..." she growled quietly between phone calls. In a corner of her mind
she saw the snowflakes in the wind of Monarch Pass, saw Joe in his denim
jacket out in the wind, heard his happy voice as he climbed into their truck.
"No time for this," she told herself as she punched the talk button on her
phone and dialed a long distance number in Texas. "Too much to do."
She closed several windows on her display while waiting for her call to
connect. "Kurt? How are you? I need some help..."
At about 5:30 that evening Annie heard heavy footsteps trudging up the stairs
behind her. She knew it was Joe from the sound of the footfalls. The
footsteps sounded tired. She didn't turn to look at him as he entered the
room, she was deep in a transfer from a site in northern California.
She felt his breath between her ears just before he kissed the top of her
head, his paws squeezing her shoulders gently. His head then hovered over her
right shoulder. As he spoke her nose began to wrinkle.
"Hi Angel, how was your day?"
She stopped what she was doing and swiveled her chair around to look at him.
"What happened to you?" He was filthy and smelled of sweat, cigarettes, and
something worse that she could not readily identify.
"It's been a day. Spent most of it at OC28, underground with the dead rats
and garbage. It got up to 105 down there around three this afternoon, and the
boys hosed out the structure, so the humidity was sky high." Joe sat down on
the love seat at the foot of their bed and began unlacing his work boots.
Annie smiled lovingly at him, but made no move to get up from her chair. "Why
don't you get a shower, and I'll give you a back rub after dinner?"
"That sounds great." Joe removed his boots and set them aside. He stood up
and removed his shirt, tossing it on the floor near his nightstand.
Annie returned to her work as Joe unbuckled his belt. No sense getting
distracted this early in the evening. She had work to do.
After a few minutes she heard the water running in the shower. About this
time a thundering noise coming up the stairway behind her announced the
arrival of Debbie and Mojave.
"Hi Mom! Guess what?" Debbie called breathlessly as she entered the room.
Mojave was on her heels, tail wagging and banging into the door frame, tongue
lolling in her typical big, sloppy pooch grin.
Annie turned once again. "Hi sweetheart. What's the big noise about?"
"Remember Gina and the modeling project? She want's to take us to dinner, you
and I, this Friday night so we can discuss the whole deal." Debbie's smile
and excitement were infectious. Mojave sat at Debbie's feet, tail thumping on
"What about your father? Doesn't he get to go?" Annie thought she already
knew the answer, but she asked anyway.
"Nope. This is ladies night out! You and Gina and I are going to Raphael's in
Tustin. It's her way of getting to know you better, and to also lay out the
details of our project." Raphael's was a high end restaurant with a dance
floor and live music in the foothills of eastern Orange County.
Annie was a little unsure of herself. What she knew about modeling Gina
probably blew out of her nose every time she sneezed. Still, Debbie was quite
taken with this woman, so she must not be all that bad a person. And Joe was
completely supportive of "the project"... Annie smiled in spite of her
concerns. "What time?"
Debbie bounced slightly in glee. "The dinner reservation is for seven. Gina
said we could meet in the bar about 6:30 for drinks."
"Just remember how old you are, young lady," Annie admonished. "You may be a
full grown female now, but you still have to reckon with the law," she teased
"I know, mom, I know." Debbie looked happy but impatient. Mojave stood up
"OK, we'll do it." Annie smiled. "Go call her," she urged, correctly guessing
what was keeping her daughter wound so tight.
Debbie stepped forward and bent at the waist to kiss her mother's cheek.
"You’re the best, mom!" She turned too quickly to see the glow her statement
brought to her mother's face. In a blur of blond and green fur Debbie and
Mojave stormed downstairs to find a telephone.
A few minutes later Joe stepped from the shower, a towel draped somewhat
haphazardly over one shoulder and around his waist, to find Annie sitting
there as Debbie had left her, staring idly at the ceiling, deep in thought.
"You look happy, what's up?"
"I'm having dinner Friday night with Gina and Debbie." Annie's gaze slowly
drifted to and focused on Joe. "The modeling project's official kickoff." She
studied him for a moment. "You look clean." Her nose twitched slightly. "And
you smell much better."
"Thanks, Angel." Joe smiled. "Girl's night out, huh? OK. Maybe I'll go over
to Mike's and help him with his Jeep."
A hint of concern tinged Annie's voice. "What's wrong with his Jeep?"
Joe winked at her. "Nothing, yet."
To Chapter Twenty Nine: Divine Will.
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