Precious Cargo



All characters appearing in this story are mine of my own design except for the character of "Mark". I think you'll figure out where he came from, but in case my writing is a bit too obtuse let's just say that he belongs to Tigermark and let it go at that.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad does exist in the real world. While I have attempted to faithfully honor and represent the integrity and history of this famous railroad, and honor the men and women who operate it, this story in no way attempts to portray how the D&SNG operates in the real world. Don't take my word for it, check it out!

This story is a work of fiction based upon nothing in particular.

Precious Cargo is copyright © The Silver Coyote
2003 & 2004



Riffed

Joe looked up from his work with a start, his ears pricking up as he sniffed, sampling the wind. What was that? He strained to hear above the steady background noise of the city behind him. He could have sworn that he had just heard the distant, mournful sound of a steam locomotive whistle.

Joe was working in a small, west-facing canyon in the coastal mountains of Orange County. Surrounded by brush and trees, he was working in an electrical cabinet in a small clearing on a slope above the canyon floor. A tiny brook burbled a few hundred feet away, below his position. While looking very much like a rural location, the swank homes of upscale Newport Beach were less than a half mile away to the west and south.

The networking equipment in the cabinet before him was once again operational, the remote computer booting itself up as he stood there watching. His laptop was monitoring activity at the routerís console port, part of his mind casually observed the proper network handshaking going on while the majority of his attention concentrated on what he thought he had heard.

There it was again! But this time it didnít sound so much like a locomotive whistle as it did a...

Joe had two small holsters on his right hip. One of them held his "Leatherman" multi-purpose work tool. Joe removed his GSM phone from the other holster. Flipping it open, he spoke clearly into the device. "Hi. This is Joe."

"Joe?"

Joe unconsciously stood up straight. "Yeah boss, whatís up?"

There was a brief pause before Don Chadwicke spoke again. "Joe, I need you to come back to the shop when youíre done there at OC44. How soon can you get back here?"

It briefly occurred to Joe to wonder why Don was using GSM minutes the company would pay for to make this call, instead of using the dedicated two-way radio system as they usually did for dispatch. Mentally shrugging his shoulders as his tail wagged very briefly, Joe replied "I can be done here in about twenty to thirty minutes, Don. I can be back on the hill..." Joe looked at his watch. "... before lunch."

"Thatíll be fine, Joe." Don paused again, for a much longer period of time. "Well, thanks then. Iíll see you at lunch time."

Joeís ears pricked again. Something about Donís voice wasnít right. Something was bothering him. Figuring heíd find out what it was sooner or later, Joe said "OK boss, see you then." He terminated the call.

Joeís used a single claw to brush and tap the touchpad on his laptop, selecting the screen that displayed his serial connection to the RTU computerís console port. He interrogated the UNIX machine for active processes, and was pleased to see that the main application was already running. In a very few minutes he could put his tools away, climb back into his line truck, and head off for the other end of the county where SCWDís plant was.

Joe glanced at the scattered stratus clouds low in the sky to the southwest. It was a typical southern California morning in late November, with the air temp about seventy degrees and the sky clear inland, a mild northeast breeze blowing. The fire season was drawing to a close, they said on TV. One could never tell.

Joe observed several LEDs begin to flash in their standard routine on the various I/O boards within the RTU. Smiling, he began to close windows and shut down his laptop. His work here was done. Time to go see what was next on the dayís agenda.

# # #

Far to the east another telephone rang. A feline paw with excruciatingly sharp claws gently lifted the pawset off the noisy instrument. Itís owner spoke quietly into the pawset, the voice sounding almost mechanical in the callerís ear.

"Yes?"

A familiar yet flat, unemotional voice with a slight southwestern accent stated "The interdiction you requested has commenced."

"Good, Hector. How soon before target acquisition?"

The coyote sighed in frustration. Heíd been digging his paws in, lobbying against this operation for weeks, but had only succeeded in backing himself into a corner in the process. Now, as much as he wanted with every fiber of his being to not do this, he was initiating the process.

"Thirty six hours at most." He paused to control his tone of voice, thinking briefly of the bio describing the targetís wife and family. "I wanted to give him a few hours to himself before I contact him."

The feline actually giggled. At least that was what Hector heard in his pawset. "Let him stew in his own juices for a while, eh? Very good!" The felineís voice hardened as the giggle suddenly disappeared from his tone. "Remember the primary objective, my friend. Donít ally yourself with your tools. Especially those of a secondary, disposable nature."

The fur on Hectorís shoulders and upper back rose slightly at that. The brujo was once again referring to the mixed ancestry of their target. By all things holy Hector was not able to maintain his indifference towards that attitude, it was and had been slowly eating away at him. The coyote drew a breath to calm himself and curb the initial caustic reply that had formed in his mind.

"Sir. Until I see anything indicating otherwise, I will let his exemplary and exceptional record in covert ops speak for itself. He has surpassed my expectations in every operation he has concluded for us thus far. I have no reason to question his loyalty or ability."

The feline paused momentarily in return. "Hector, your attachment and devotion to those you consider distant kin is admirable, even remarkable. But it is misplaced, my friend, and could be your undoing. You should guard against that."

Hector worked his mouth silently, as though something bitter had suddenly materialized within it. Hijo de la gran puta ! This miserable housecat never stops!

After correctly guessing his callerís reaction to that last comment, The Director paused for a few moments to let his coyote subordinate stew in his own juices, a small smile spreading across his features. He reached to his desktop for a small steel file with his free paw.

Hector continued to remain silent. He stood to gain nothing by pursuing this conversation, so he simply stopped. Reaching for the cup of coffee on the desk before him, he sipped quietly and stared out his window at the Chiricahua mountains while listening to the steady respirations of his boss in his pawset.

After a good half minute of silence had stretched between them, The Director inhaled noisily and said "I expect a report from you when target acquisition is complete, Hector."

The coyote put his coffee cup back on his desk before replying. "You will have it, sir."

"Good. Iíll look forward to hearing from you within forty eight hours, then."

The circuit went dead in Hectorís ear.

# # #

The snow continued to fall out of the gray Colorado sky, driven on by the ever- increasing wind.

The furs had worked diligently in the storm. The front end loader and itís crew had worked their way through almost six hundred feet of rock, snow, and mud. The front end loader would clear the debris down to the railhead, and then the ground crew would follow behind with picks and shovels to clear a flangeway inside of the rails. So far the exposed rails seemed undamaged, and the track had been checked for proper gauge and alignment. Most of the material they removed had been spread along the right of way below the slide area, but a couple of the larger boulders had been dumped in the gondola for transport out of the narrow canyon.

The MofW furs were bundled up so effectively against the storm that it was difficult to tell who was who. Paw signals sufficed for communications most of the time, no one wanted to expose a muzzle to the sub-freezing temperatures and the biting wind. As the weather conditions continued to deteriorate the work became more and more difficult, reduced visibility caused visual communications to suffer.

As the maintenance of way crew diligently attacked the slide, the crew of the 480 had taken the main and backed down the line in the heavy snowfall to the wye below Cascade. Using picks, paw shovels, and fusees to thaw the switch points, the crew had managed to turn the locomotive and caboose on the wye and slowly back up to the downgrade end of the work train. The pilot plow on the 480 was now positioned to clear the way for their return trip. Below Cascade the snow depth was approaching four to six inches in some places.

Meanwhile, on the 478, Chris and Russ both performed their tasks as a locomotive crew. Chris worked his way around the old K-28 with a hot water line, melting the ice and snow from the running gear and brakes of the old engine. Right behind him Russ would apply liberal amounts of valve oil to the running gear and chip away at chunks of ice elsewhere on the locomotive with a paw-held pick. In this way they prepared for their eventual departure and maintained their locomotiveís readiness. Neither of them were aware of the 480ís return until one of the crewfurs from that team approached them from downgrade, on foot.

"Hey Mark," Chris greeted his counterpart as he trudged towards him through the snow and mud trackside. He stepped away from his work a bit and looked downgrade. Nodding, he continued. "You guys got turned. Good."

The older tiger huffed a bit as he stopped, facing Chris and Russ. His blue eyes were alight, a look of concern crossed his face. "Your work team have any idea how much longer theyíll be?"

Motioning for the tiger to follow as he nodded, Chris began to retrace his steps around the 478, gathering up the water line in his gloved paws as he went. Mark automatically lent a paw, taking a few loose spools of hose from Chris as they moved around the pilot of the locomotive. Chris looped up the rest of the line as Mark trailed behind, carrying his share of the line. Once by the gangway on the stokerís side, Chris closed a valve and disconnected his line. He motioned with a paw, and Mark tossed his burden up on the deck of the locomotive. Once Mark had climbed the steps to the cab, Chris unloaded his portion of the line and climbed aboard, following the tiger.

As he achieved the deck Chris noted that Russ was already seated at his station, staring out his side window into the storm, chewing absently on his now cold cigar. Chris piled his water line into a tool box on the tender deck and turned to Mark. "Last report they had about a hundred and fifty feet to go. That was about forty five minutes ago, when Alex came down here for another shovel to replace the one he broke."

Mark watched as Chris reached for his own shovel and turned towards the tender deck. The tiger seated himself on the stokerís box, staying out of the way of Chrisí work. With his left foot Chris kicked the doors of the firebox open and began shoveling coal into the maw of the 478.

"Itís been a lot of years since Iíve seen it snow like this so early in the season," Mark said to the coyote and the husky.

"It sure is thick," Russ agreed, talking to the snow falling outside.

As Mark opened his mouth to venture another comment they all heard a dull, deep rumble, and the 478 began to dance nervously under them. Chris looked up from his work into the suddenly wide eyes of his engineer.

"Avalanche!" Russ said in a hushed tone, not moving.

# # #

Joe slowly descended the half-dozen steps on the east side of SCWDs plant, exiting the facility. As he made his way across the parking lot towards his personal truck a large SCWD line truck rolled by on itís way off the hill, the occupants nodding and waving paws as they passed, smiling at him. Joe waved briefly in response.

Unlocking the driverís door of his truck, Joe tossed his briefcase and jacket onto the passenger seat. Placing a paw on the doorframe he slowly looked around him, taking in the main building, the treatment plant, and the various shops and outbuildings that comprised the SCWD facility. He spent long moments staring at the American flag that fluttered from the pole at the opposite end of the parking lot, near the main entrance of the administration building he had just walked out of. As he watched the red and white stripes move in accordance with the wind currents a red-tailed hawk landed on the small globe atop the pole. The bird stared down at Joe, and Joe stared up at the bird. After several seconds of mutual contemplation the hawk emitted a single, shrill cry and took flight. She soared on the updrafts at the south edge of the parking lot, high overhead, and disappeared from sight beyond some pine trees.

Muttering a single, strong expletive under his breath, Joe sighed as he sat in the driverís seat of his truck. He looked through his windshield at the broad expanse of metro Orange County spread below him. Repeating the same expletive a little more quietly, he started the engine of his truck and selected first gear. Resisting the temptation to leave some rubber behind, he accelerated slowly out of the parking lot and headed down the hill.

Joe was going home.

# # #

Even though the weather was pleasantly warm, Annie suddenly shivered at her desk in her home office. The plasma display of her computer system seemed out of focus. She stared at it for a few seconds, waiting for the chill to pass.

She felt oddly uneasy, as if she were slightly ill. Reaching for a remote, she got up from her desk and turned on the TV in the entertainment center. After a few seconds the usual senseless blither-blather of the daily soaps issued forth from the speakers, nothing unusual enough to make the local news was going on.

Mike and Debbie were both in school, she knew, he at Hope and she at Los Pinos.

The chill passed, yet Annie still felt somehow unsettled. She picked up her GSM phone and pressed the speed-dial for Joe. Her sense of vague uneasiness continued as she waited for him to answer.

He didnít.

# # #

The rumbling faded as their locomotiveís jittering tapered off. As the footing of the three furs stabilized on the deck of the 478 Russ stared out the forward facing window on the engineerís side of the cab.

"Dear God," he exclaimed quietly.

Mark and Chris looked at the huskyís face, and then mirrored his frightened stare as their heads simultaneously turned towards the grade ahead. A white cloud billowed towards them through the falling snow. As the cloud sped towards them Mark said "Lord have mercy." The tiger closed his eyes tightly.

Before Chris or Russ could offer any further comment or plea the 478 was enveloped in a cloud of snow and dirt. A mild concussion buffeted the cab, and quite a bit of snow and dirt blew in through the open windows, but the furs were spared anything more unpleasant than a good dusting. As the rush of the cloud abated and the air began to clear around them they became aware of shouts from up the line.

As the visibility improved they could see several furs moving towards them down the right of way, stumbling and shuffling through the snow. At least two were being supported by others, seemingly unable to walk. All three furs in the cab of the 478 suddenly burst into activity, simultaneously leaping towards the nearest gangway and thence to the ground, running. In a wild dash Chris beat Russ and Mark to the first group of MofW furs by a couple of steps.

"What happened?" he cried, knowing the answer well enough already. Mark and Russ moved to help the furs.

The foreman, Bill, was struggling with a second fur to help hold up Eddie, the front-end loader operator. Eddieís left leg was clearly broken below the knee, bent in an unnatural way. Blood soaked the leg of his denim jeans, and also his jacket on the left side. Eddieís eyes were glazed, he was already going deep in shock.

"The loaderís gone," Bill said in amazement. "The slide took it right off the track and threw it into the river. Eddie was thrown clear, but not before he got banged up real good."

Something clicked in Chrisí head. He became quite calm. Addressing Russ, who had taken Billís place holding the moaning Eddie up, he said "Get him in the crew car. Stoke up the stove. Iíll be in there directly." As he said this the other group of furs approached, helping a very coherent Gary limp along. Mark moved to assist this group.

Expletives flowed from Garyís mouth more or less in direct proportion to the blood oozing from a nasty cut above his right eye. The otter had been hit in the head with something big and hard, that was obvious. A noticeable bump was already rising on his forehead. As Gary continued swearing Chris noticed that his speech was slurring slightly.

"Gary was working directly in front of the loader when the slide hit," Bill continued. "I think he caught the bucket as the loader spun towards the river."

Chris nodded silently. Even a glancing blow from the large steel bucket of the loader could do serious, even lethal damage to a fur.

Chris addressed the second group as well, motioning for them to follow their foreman towards the crew car. "Get him comfortable and quiet." Chris looked around, quickly counting furs. Addressing Jim, the last of the second group, he asked "Is anyone missing?"

Jimís jacket was torn in several places, and his right paw was bloodied and disfugured. "I donít know, there should be ten of us, all told." Chris looked around. Russ and Mark were helping get the seriously injured furs into the crew car.

"Címon, letís count noses where itís warm." He carefully wrapped an arm about Jimís shoulders.

The coyote and the marmot shuffled and stumbled through the snow and rock towards the waiting train.

# # #

Hector SandovŠl hung up his telephone with a grimace on his face. That conversation had gone no better. The employer had been quite resistant, and Hector had needed to point out some less visible but perfectly legal clauses in the contract the Interstate Police Force held with them.

They did not want to release the target, they made that very clear. Even though they had involved their legal staff, Hector and his contract had prevailed. He had not needed to resort to some of the more base, yet also still legal, methods of persuasion. The target had been released as desired.

Hector sighed. As much as he didnít want to admit it, The Director was right about one thing. Hector had developed an emotional attachment to the target. That didnít bother him, the fact that The Director had picked up on it bothered him. He considered the fur a "friend", someone he enjoyed being around and talking to. From his bio he knew that he shared several traits in common with the target.

As he leaned back in his old swiveling wooden desk chair his ears rotated in response to the arhythmic, faltering steps he heard behind him. A smile creased the muzzle of the coyote as he closed his eyes. After a few seconds he felt her paws begin to gently rub his shoulders.

"Le deseo, amante," the mountain lion purred quietly in his ear. The tip of her tail gently tickled his rib cage.

"Gracias, novia," Hector replied, the voice rumbling from deep within his chest. Suddenly he sat up, and then rose from his chair. Turning to his beautiful wife, Hector put all thoughts of the IPF out of his mind as he took her paw in his, his smile growing larger.

"Why donít you get your purse, and Iíll take you down to that new steakhouse in Tucson. You know, the one youíve been wanting to check out?" He stroked the soft fur below her right ear. "Maybe we can take in a movie before we come home."

Lupeís tail twitched briefly in happy anticipation. "That sounds wonderful," she purred in reply, leaning close to his face. Hector anticipated a kiss, but wasnít disappointed when she gently nipped the tip of his ear just before twirling on her good foot and heading for their bedroom to fetch her purse.

# # #

The crews of both trains and the MofW crew were all in the crew car. Eddie and Gary were resting as comfortably as could be. Eddie was unconscious.

Mark and his engineer, a black bear by the name of Zachary, and Chris and Russ were huddled with John Briscol and Carl Wallace at the far end of the crew car.

"Do any of you guys know first aid?" Chris asked. To his surprise, they all nodded.

"Letís break out the first aid kits and do what we can for these guys," Chris said, searching the eyes of each of his crewmates. The others looked back expectantly.

"Mark, can you keep the 478 and the 480 hot?" Somebody was going to have to keep the fires burning in the locomotives and keep their steam pressure up. If the fires went cold it could turn very bad, very quickly.

The tiger nodded. "No problem, Chris."

"Why donít you and Zack keep our locomotives in readiness. I think weíll be pulling out as soon as we can get Eddie and Gary stabilized for the trip."

This time the tiger and the bear both nodded. "Can do," Mark said quietly. Turning towards Zack he held a paw out towards the door to the near platform, and the locomotive crew moved off to care for their beasts of iron.

Chris looked next at their conductor. "Carl, is there any way we can get in touch with Durango?"

The lynx shrugged. "Not with these little things," he said dejectedly while holding up his portable radio. "Maybe with one of the locomotive radios, theyíve got more power."

"Can you give it a try?"

"Sure," the lynx shrugged again before turning. "Iíll get right on it," he said as he walked towards the same door Mark and Zack had exited through moments ago.

"Thanks," Chris called to the lynxí back as he walked away.

Chris turned to his friends. "John, can you de-brief these guys while Russ and I get the injured ones ready to go? We need to make sure theyíre all accounted for and figure out what happened so somebody can report to Rudy when we get back."

By way of an answer John looked at Russ. "You know splints?" the mountain lion asked.

"Never applied one," the husky replied.

"I have. Why donít you talk to the crew and get a nosecount, and Iíll help Chris out with Eddie."

"That works," Russ said with a small, tight smile.

"Chris, weíve got some wooden survey stakes in the tool car, I think, and some other pieces of wood as well. Iíll go rustle them up while you break out the first aid kits, OK?"

Chris nodded. "Thanks, guys." The coyote suddenly looked at the floor. Without preamble he said aloud "Lord, we ask for Your help in this time of trial. Help us get our friends and fellow workfurs out of this canyon and back to their families. Grant us a safe return to our homes. In Jesus name, amen."

Chris looked up again, meeting the gaze of his friends. Placing a paw gently on a shoulder of each of them, he smiled briefly and said "OK guys. Letís get busy."

# # #

Annie heard her front door shut behind someone. It was early afternoon, too early for Joe or either of their pups to be making an appearance.

She was deep in a major provision fault issue and couldnít get up to go see who had come home.

She returned her attention to the task at hand, paws dancing on her keyboard as she waited for a reply from an instant message she had sent a few moments ago to her counterpart in Atlanta. The "hold" button on her desk telephone blinked impatiently, a district manager was waiting for her to supply answers. The fox attempted to interrogate the stock level of a particular item in a location in the mid-west, hoping that one of what the DM needed would be available for transfer.

An instant messenger window opened in her display. Her Atlanta counterpart, a sweetheart of a raccoon named Samantha, sent something that was at first confusing.

Your part has been deleted from the southeastern region database. We have two in stock in Atlanta and one at Oak Ridge. Sam.

Annie scratched an ear in confusion. How could Dymec stock parts anywhere if they had been deleted from the database? And why would anyfur delete records of stock on hand? She commanded another window to her display and began scrolling part numbers.

She never even heard him. The first she was aware of his presence was when a paw gently squeezed her shoulder and his lips touched the top of her head between her ears. It was the way he had been greeting her at the end of the workday for years. Yet it was only early afternoon...

"Hi honey."

She heard no reply from him, but did hear his briefcase as he set it on the floor next to the small sofa behind them. As she continued to scroll her screen she asked "Why are you home so early?"

"Fuck."

Annie blinked and whirled around in her chair. That was such an uncharacteristic response from her husband of twenty years that she knew something was very wrong. The vision that greeted her confirmed her suspicion. He was bent over, unlacing his work boots. In itself a quite normal thing, what caught her attention was the bottle of Jack Daniels laying on the sofa cushion to Joeís right. She hadnít seen him drink whiskey in a very long time.

The look on his face when he turned his attention from his boots towards her caused her to shiver again. It was a cold, empty glance, emotionless and distant.

All thoughts of Dymec and work vanished from Annieís mind. In a flash she was seated beside her husband on the sofa, placing the bottle of whiskey on an end table, in the process placing herself between that bottle and Joe.

Joe leaned back, resting his head against the backrest of the sofa as he stared vacantly at the ceiling.

Annie caressed his face gently. "Honey, what happened?"

Joe slowly turned to gaze at her.

"I got riffed today."

Annie was unfamiliar with the expression. "What?"

Anger suddenly boiled up out of Joeís soul, his eyes blazed. "Riffed! Furloughed! Fuckin' fired! After seventeen years!"

"Youíve been fired?" Annie asked incredulously. That was inconceivable in her mind. Joe had never been fired or laid off from any job in his life, as far as she knew, certainly never in the thirty years that she had known him.

Joe returned his gaze to the ceiling, his demeanor calming somewhat. "SCWD calls it a furlough. The difference is I could conceivably be re-hired in the future and retain my seniority." Joe swallowed, the action leaving Annie with the impression that he was swallowing much more than saliva. "But Hell," he continued, "fired is fired. Iím out of a job."

"Why?"

Joe shook his head sadly. "Thatís the kicker. Don wouldnít tell me. He had some goon from HR there, and all they would say was that they were prevented by contract from explaining their grounds, but that they were within contractual rights to Ďfurloughí me at this time without cause or notice."

Annie sat back, her paw still gently caressing the side of Joeís head behind his right ear. She was completely at a loss as to what to say or do. Joe continued to stare at the ceiling.

They were still posed like that a few minutes later when a GSM phone rang. Joe reached slowly for his hip.

"Yeah?"

Annie could hear an indistinct male voice on the other end of the wireless connection.

Joe suddenly sat up straight on the sofa as all color drained from his eyes. "Say that again?!" he commanded.

The cadence of the voice on the other end changed somewhat as Joe listened intently, his ears up.

"The fuck you say!" Joe growled. He listened to the voice a bit longer.

"Well gee, Don, thatís swell, but it really doesnít help me put food on the table for my family, now does it?" Joe angrily flipped his phone closed as he rose from the sofa. As he returned the phone to itís holster at his hip he began pacing back and forth across the room in front of Annie.

To her wordless, questioning look he simply growled "God damned IPF," and continued pacing before her.

# # #

Two short blasts from the 480ís whistle floated through the snowfall to the ears of Chris and Russ on the 478. It was Zackís signal that he and Mark were beginning to head their train downgrade, towards the wye below Cascade. Due to the fact that the 478ís train was between them and the 480, there was about three hundred yards between the 478ís cab and the 480.

Russ tugged on the whistle cord above his head, sending three short blasts of the 478ís whistle in return to indicate that they were beginning to back up.

John Briscolís voice called to them over the radio. "Theyíre pulling out, Russ."

"Copy."

Next was Zackís voice. "Iím going to hold between three and five miles an hour, Russ. The visibility down canyon really sucks."

"OK, Zack. Iíll give you about two minutes before we get rolling." Russ reached for a lever and released the brakes of his train, yet maintained brake application on the 478 itself. He and Chris could hear the rush of escaping air as their train stretched out a bit.

Chris shoveled a couple of more scoops of coal into the 478ís firebox and then hung up his shovel on the tender wall. After carefully inspecting his water level and steam pressure, he seated himself across the cab from Russ on the stokerís cushioned toolbox.

"Eddieís not looking so good," Chris commented cautiously. "If we canít get home in a timely manner he may lose that foot. Heís already lost a lot of blood..."

Russ stared at the young coyote across the cab from him. Chris was his friend and a damn fine stoker, but today Russ had seen a side of him heíd never known existed. He wasnít sure which perplexed him more, the commanding presence Chris had assumed in a time of crisis, or the "christian" he had become in the middle of everything. Both of these were new to Russ.

Russ blinked slowly. "You guys did good work with Eddie and Gary."

Chris smiled. "Do you know what John did before he got into railroading?"

Russ shook his head in the negative, his right paw reaching for and resting upon the handle of the brake valve for the 478.

"Viet Nam," Chris replied. "Air Cav in the late sixties and early seventies."

To Russí widening eyes Chris added "He told me he lost count of how many furs heíd patched up with minimal resources before his first tour was up."

"How many tours did he do?"

"Three."

"Wow," Russ exhaled slowly. "I never knew that."

The distant wail of the 480ís whistle floated to them, shortly followed by Zackís voice coming from the portable radio speakers. "Weíre clear of the south switch at Cascade, Russ. Forward visibility down here is about two hundred yards."

Russ released the 478ís brakes before reaching for his radio. "Copy, Zack. Weíre getting underway now. Let me know if your speed or conditions change. Howís the wye look?" Their train gently eased into motion, moving backwards down grade.

"OK, I guess. Itís snow covered, but you can still see the rails, so you guys shouldnít have any trouble getting turned around."

"Thanks Zack. Keep us posted. 478 out."

"480."






To Chapter Thirty Eight: The Old Fashioned Way

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