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



Up The Hill

"Hey, are you daydreaming?" There was a note of teasing in her voice, along with a measure of satisfaction at having caught him doing just that. Annie smiled, her fangs briefly visible.

Joe started, ears flicking up and forward as his head turned towards her voice. He realized his wife was grinning at him. Caught again! Looking back to the pump, he noticed that it had tripped off. "Yeah," he said, turning to remove the nozzle from the tank and hang it on the pump. "Woolgathering, I guess. Sorry..."

She was the prettiest fox he had ever seen. Her fur coloration was unique, as far as he was aware. Her body fur could best be described as a silvery, or highlighted, auburn color, lightening to a strawberry blonde on her stomach and chest. Her paws, arms, legs, and feet were charcoal black, and the outside edges of her ears were also lined in the same charcoal color. Her tail was thick and bushy, typical of the Red Fox, and was a mottled mixture of the strawberry blonde and charcoal except for the very tip, which was snow white.

Annie's hair was also strawberry blonde, hanging to the middle of her shoulder blades. Her aqua blue eyes gazed at him from beneath bangs cut at her eyebrows. Busty for a fox of five foot four, she turned heads everywhere she went, and seemed to be ignorant of that fact most of the time. Furs they met typically guessed her to be anywhere from ten to fifteen years younger than her 54 years. Joe was hopelessly taken with her, and quite proud to be her husband.

She giggled, her tail wagging slowly as she walked towards him. Her paws were full of bags and soda cups. "You must have gathered enough for a good sweater, I was in there a while." She motioned towards the A&W behind her with a toss of her head. "I got you a burger and a Diet Coke," she said finally, giving the bags and cups to him before climbing up into their truck.

"Great. Thanks." He waited while she settled herself, and then held up the bags and cups to her. After she had taken them from his paws, he turned away from the truck, telling her "I'll be right back, I've got to pay for the fuel." He strode into the small office and shop at the Texaco station while pulling his wallet out of his pocket. After a couple of minutes he walked back out into the noonday sun, glancing at the sky while pulling his gloves on, heading back towards the truck.

"What were you thinking so deeply about?" his wife asked him as he settled into his seat once again.

"I saw an Arrow flying by," he pointed out the windshield. "Looked like he was heading for Pueblo. Sort of put me to mind of some adventures you and I had a few years ago." He smiled around his toothpick at her.

"Do you miss flying?" she asked him. He spoke occasionally of flying, in what sounded to her like wistful tones. She wondered if he felt like he had missed out on something.

"Yeah, but not enough to put out the megabucks to get a license and get back into it. Maybe someday when the kids are through college and my rich wife retires we'll fix that. For now..." at that he turned the key and pressed the starter, bringing the engine alive in front of them. "Where's my burger?"

She had partially unwrapped his sandwich and now gave it to him, and waving her paw towards a cup in the cup holder in the center console said "There's your Coke."

"You are an Angel!" he smiled. He put the truck in gear and they pulled away from the pump island. "Let's go get wet," he said motioning towards the west with the sandwich in his left paw while his right paw spun the wheel over to the locks, getting them aligned on US highway 50 in that direction. Storm clouds were beginning to build over Taylor Mountain and Mount Shavano to the north of Monarch Pass. While the way ahead looked clear and was even sunlit, Joe knew how quickly a storm could blossom in the high passes, and was mentally preparing himself for a wet and slippery ride. The temperature at Poncha Springs had been pleasantly brisk, but it could, and probably would, drop considerably in the four thousand vertical feet that separated them, in their seventeen mile trip, from the summit at Monarch Pass. Even as they watched, wispy shards of cloud began to form around Pahlone Peak and Mount Ouray to the south of the pass.

"Are we going to be OK on the pass?" Mild concern underlay Annie's question. She wasn't apprehensive about their safety, she was concerned about how the weather would affect their transit time.

"I think so. If you're worried we can always go over Marshall Pass instead of this one. It's a little bit lower in elevation..." He tried to suppress the grin that wanted to break out on his muzzle, and wondered if he had kept his voice level enough.

"Yeah, right." Annie smiled, remembering. "We'd do real good up there in the rain and the mud." Marshall Pass was a known quantity to her. The remains of an old railroad grade dating from the 1880s, it was now a back country trail traversing the southern slopes of Mount Ouray, south of the highway pass they would be driving over. Passable with a two-wheel drive vehicle in warm dry weather, it could become a hair-raising experience in inclement weather, especially at the pass itself. She and Joe had been over Marshall Pass more than once in past back country adventures.

"Or snow." Joe said. "You never know. I've been snowed on in August in this part of the country. It happens...." He suddenly looked confused, sitting there with his gloved right paw on the wheel, his left holding the burger, and the toothpick suddenly switching sides repeatedly in his mouth. He placed the burger between the thumb and forefinger of his right paw while the remaining three fingers stayed curled around the steering wheel. His left paw reached up to remove the toothpick from his mouth. Reaching across his own body with his left arm, he placed the toothpick next to the cup holder in the center console. Placing his left paw back on the wheel, he lifted the burger to his mouth with his right.

"Mmmm... Good stuff!" By the time he was swallowing the first bite, they had attained highway speed, and Poncha Springs had drifted out of sight behind them. They were already headed uphill.

Annie was enjoying her own burger, not paying too much attention to him. Instead, she was looking at the scenery sailing by their windows. She wondered how their kids were doing right now, and began to try and compute how much travel time remained before they would see their kids again. "Where's the map?" she asked.

"In the console", her husband replied. "Can you get it? My hands are kind of full."

With her free paw she opened the console and immediately saw the map sitting on top of the other things in it. Placing her half-eaten sandwich on a napkin on the dash, she removed the map and unfolded it, and within a minute or so had located their position on it. "How far to Gunnison?" she wanted to know.

"Time or miles?"

"Time"

"Oh... maybe an hour and a half or so, maybe more with the rain." Up ahead they could see the rain falling, a gray curtain of mist reaching in a slight diagonal pattern from the cloud base above to the slopes of Taylor Mountain ahead. "It's about sixty miles, but the first fifteen or so are going to be up a pretty stiff grade, and the downhill side won't be much quicker because the road has lots of sharp curves and a pretty decent grade, too." He took another bite of burger.

"Does it get any easier after Gunnison?" she asked as she studied the map.

"Sort of," he mumbled around his food. Pausing to swallow, he continued. "You can maintain higher speeds than we're doing right now, but the road is still in mountainous country almost all the way to Montrose, so we won't be seeing much of freeway speeds. Its another sixty five miles or so to Montrose after Gunnison, and then we've got the San Juans to deal with after that. We won't be in Durango before nightfall, if we get there that fast."

She made no reply to this. Her ears were ever so slightly laid back against her head, she was impatient. She wanted to be back together with her children and was mildly frustrated with this estimation. But then she turned back to her food and the scenery, putting the map down. Within a mile or two she had relaxed, her strawberry blond ears facing the beauty that was parading before her on the other side of the glass. The truck slowed as the grade increased.

After a mile or so more, Joe wadded up his now empty burger wrapper. "Can you put this in the trash for me?" he asked his wife. She took it wordlessly from him, smiling slightly as she put the paper in a bag on the floor in front of her and turned back to the window.

Joe downshifted into the grade, which had begun to include some sharp turns. Fortunately there was a passing lane, they were down to forty miles per hour. Yet there was virtually no traffic on the road. They were slowly gaining on a semi truck about a half mile ahead of them. Joe could see a sedan of some sort coming up on them from behind, perhaps as far behind them as the semi was in front of them. He looked briefly at the soda cup in the cup holder, and then looked back to the road as he reached for it. As he brought it to his lips he heard a whoosh to his left, and as he started to glance in that direction he saw the blur of the sedan going by them at considerably better than legal speed.

"Dang!", he said as he sipped his soda. "Somebody's in a hurry!" Raindrops began to speckle the windshield.

Annie offered a "hmmph" in reply, still gazing at the mountains and the shower they were entering.






To Chapter Five: Another Fine Mess.

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