All characters appearing in this story are mine of my own design.
This story is a work of fiction based upon nothing in particular.
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!
Precious Cargo is copyright © The Silver Coyote
2003 - 2009
Dawn of Darkness
Her daughter's excited voice reverberated through her home as Annie Latrans and Gina Vison glanced at each other over the island in Annie's kitchen. They heard the front door shut gently, followed by a warm but tired voice greeting the young femme ...
“Hi Blondie. How's my girl?”
The mink that was well on her way to becoming Annie's best friend watched as a change came over the countenance of the red fox. Where they had been enjoying a light, casual, and happy conversation about traveling, something Gina was surprised to find that Annie absolutely adored, at the sound of the male voice the mood of her friend changed noticeably, palpably. The smile left the fox's muzzle, and a tension arose about the fox as Annie turned towards the doorway leading to the living room of her home.
Debbie was still hugging her father, tail wagging like a fan, when Gina caught up with Annie after passing from the kitchen through the front room to the entry way of the Latrans home. She stopped to Annie's right, slightly behind her, both of them short of the slightly raised tiled entry. The fox appeared to study her husband as he kissed his daughter on the cheek.
“Boy, am I glad to be home,” the large coyote said as his daughter burrowed her nose and cheek into his shoulder, sighing. Her tail slowed noticeably, but her ears remained erect and her grip on him did not diminish.
He was dressed in essentially the same dark clothing he had been wearing when Annie had last seen him all those nights ago, with weapons in full view, but he looked somehow different. His left arm encircled Debbie's shoulders as best he could, hugging her tightly while still encumbered with his gear bag over one shoulder and a large, flat shipping container gripped by the handle in his other paw. As her husband released their daughter from his one-armed embrace and stood straight she knew immediately what had changed. Although he'd only been gone a few days, he'd obviously lost some weight.
As Annie watched him Gina moved to stand at her elbow, even as Russ Cantrell approached Joe shyly, right paw extended. “Welcome home, Mister Latrans.”
Joe carefully placed the carbon-fiber case on the floor and then extended his right paw even as his left gripped the strap of the bag over his left shoulder. He shook the husky's paw energetically. “Good to be home, Russ.” A grin flickered across his dark muzzle. “And stop calling me 'Mister Latrans'.”
Russ smiled warmly. “Sure thing, Joe. Let me help you with your gear bag ...”
... and the husky helped the larger fur slip the duffel bag from his shoulder and place it on the floor opposite the carbon-fiber case. Even as he was doing this, Joe was looking towards the other two furs in the room, and would have spoken to the red fox save for the muffled woof at his feet. A large Yukon kali bumped gently against his legs.
Joe's eyes widened as he looked down and a chuckle formed deep in his throat, the sound causing the kali's tail to wag briefly. Much of the cast that had been around Mojave's hips was gone. She had obviously been to the vet and had the large affair removed, and in it's place was a much smaller fiberglass resin cast that kept the thigh of her right leg immobilized, but otherwise allowed her much more freedom of movement than the hip cast had. She looked much healthier and happier than she had when he had last seen her.
The coyote dropped to a knee before the Yukon, and she licked his dark muzzle affectionately as he ran his paws over her face, her ears, and her shoulders, patting her.
“You look great, Mojave!” he exclaimed approvingly.
“Russ and I took her to the training center yesterday,” Debbie said happily. “For a checkup.”
“That's awesome,” Joe said, rising to his feet and turning to face the red fox.
The two canids stared at each other, the coyote smiling as his wife studied his eyes. She did not move and did not return his smile.
Joe sensed that something was wrong. There was a tension in the air that was unfamiliar. He nodded to Gina as he removed his hat and the mink nodded silently, briefly in reply, a small smile of greeting on her muzzle. Joe then turned his eyes back to Annie.
“How are you doing, Angel?”
She regarded him coolly, silent, from a distance. Barely perceptible, she edged closer to the mink at her elbow as she spoke.
Gina saw the shoulders square just a bit, saw his brow furrow just so, indicating caution. She also saw the jaw set, and knew it could get ugly.
“He's in Durango, sweetheart, at Mercy Medical. He's ...”
“Why didn't you bring him home?” The question cut like a blade into his reply, sharp and quick.
Sensing something building, Debbie and Russ closed around Joe, the husky standing with his feet slightly apart to the coyote's left, the fox to her father's right, hugging his arm.
“Well, basically because he said he didn't want to come home,” Joe said carefully. “He's got ...”
Paws went on curvy hips, and even in the building tension Joe couldn't help but notice her stance. The appreciation was short-lived.
“You abandoned him in Durango?”
“I didn't abandon him, no,” Joe said patiently. “As I told you on the phone, he's still in a room at Mercy Medical. He's being well looked after. Not only is Nurse Abrhams looking after him during the day, but his girlfriend ...”
“His girlfriend? You left him in the care of some strange girl?”
Joe's already well-worn temper frayed a bit more. “Annie, what the hell?” The coyote moved his feet slightly apart as well and let his left arm hang loose at his side. “I explained this to you last night before I left Colorado. Shari is staying with him around the clock, he has constant medical care, and Shari's folks are going to take him in until he can manage things on his own at his apartment. I offered to bring Chris home, but he wouldn't hear of it. He wants to recover and get back to work with his friends. They're going to rebuild ...”
“I don't care who's rebuilding what, you were supposed to bring him home!”
Joe sighed, flexing his paws. “Honey, he's twenty years old. I don't tell him what to do any more. I offered, he declined. End of story.”
The red fox's eyes suddenly filled with tears. She turned quickly to face the mink, and then scurried, almost running, back towards her kitchen, away from her family. The mink shrugged briefly as she made eye contact with the coyote, and turned to follow her friend. Joe was left with his daughter, her boyfriend, and his kali.
“What the hell?” Joe repeated, looking first at Russ and then at Debbie as she released his arm and stepped away from him.
“Mom's having a bad time,” the younger fox replied.
“No kidding ...” Joe grunted sarcastically.
“No daddy, you don't know what's been going on while you were away.”
“Sorry I was away saving your brother,” Joe retorted acidly, and then his ears immediately drooped and his tail hung to the floor as he gazed at his beautiful daughter. “I'm sorry Blondie, that was mean.”
She nodded slightly, arms folding tightly across her chest as she stared back at him.
“I'm tired, and frustrated, and apparently uninformed.” Here Joe moved slowly towards their family room, motioning with a paw for his daughter and her boyfriend to accompany him as he entered the large room off their living room and headed for the wet bar.
“So tell me,” he said with just a trace of annoyance as he opened a cabinet beneath the bar and removed the bottle he sought. “What has happened in my absence that is so devastating?”
Debbie Latrans let her arms drop to her sides, where her paws fidgeted. Her father's attitude was beginning to bug. He was behaving oddly, even given his unpleasant time away from home. She felt Russ at her side, didn't misinterpret the paw that gently, discreetly applied restraining pressure on her shoulder. “He's been on a rough trip with little sleep, Debs,” he said quietly into her ear.
The coyote placed a shot glass on the bar and removed the cap from the square bottle he held. As the caramel colored liquid flowed into his glass he looked up, eyebrows arched slightly in a question.
The young fox and the husky silently watched him as he placed the bottle on the bar and picked up his glass. “The undiscovered country,” he said, saluting them with his drink before he tossed it back quickly. He picked up the bottle to refill his glass.
“Jazz dumped Mike.”
That simple statement froze Joe in his steps. Suddenly hollow eyes stared at his daughter's pretty face, now contorted in a mix of fear and resignation and disgust. “Mom is pretty broken up about it because Mike's a basket case.” In spite of the squeeze to her shoulder from her boyfriend, she added “So are we ...” with just enough sarcasm to let her father know that he was excluded from “we.”
Still holding the bottle, Joe turned away from them slowly to face the sliding door that opened out onto his patio and, with his free paw, unlocked it and slid it open. His ears lay back against his head and his tail was quite still and hanging straight to the floor as he stepped out onto their darkened patio, followed by his loyal kali. A muttered epithet was all they got out of him by way of a response.
# # #
“I want this to be a very visible operation, Hector. The usual discreet methods will not do, the target must be dispatched publicly as a message to all who dare consider opposing us.”
The Sonoran coyote sighed quietly, knowing he was on thin ice even as he asked the question.
“But Mr. Director, the steps of the capital?”
He heard the Chinchilla draw an even breath before replying. “Hector, my friend, I have cautioned you about questioning me like this.”
Hector felt the fur on his shoulders bristle, but his voice held it's calm demeanor. “Sir, you reprimanded me for questioning you publicly in the presence of your subordinates. Are you now telling me that I am not to question you or your decisions at all?”
A caustic reply was immediately on the lips of the feline that held absolute authority over the Interstate Police Force, but Nicolas Canon had not risen to his present vaunted position by letting his mouth get away with him. He briefly considered who he was speaking to, recalled the history that the two shared, specifically the instrumental assistance Hector had provided him early in Hector's career that had helped the Director's meteoric rise in the political arenas inside the beltway. Back then Hector had been, amongst other things, a first-rate mechanic, a fur who could remove obstacles. He was one of those types who could be as discreet as the sigh of a nighttime breeze, or as publicly visible as a bomb in Central Park. Whatever obstacles needed to be removed, Hector would remove them, as visibly or invisibly as he was directed. All he required was the assurance that the operation was to the benefit of the country and it's citizenry.
Many times he and his western hit-fur field agent had discussed the finer points of the operations The Director required, fine-tuning plans, selecting or rejecting targets together after discussing options, affiliations, and priorities. Hector had a mind that could evaluate things like a targeting computer, viewing situations from all angles and taking all possibilities and ramifications into account before acting. Sometimes the Director thought that Hector moved too slowly, but one fact remained – Hector had never “blown” an operation, never arrived at an unforeseen outcome. His dealings were methodically planned, flawlessly executed, and never reflected upon the IPF unless he, the Director, required them to do so.
So Nicolas' initial response was squelched, not because he respected the fur known as Hector Sandovál, but because he realized that Hector was still and always had been a valuable yet dangerous tool, one that could accomplish much if handled properly. Yet at the same time a small voice in the back of the Director's mind told him that Hector was flexing the muscles of contradiction, voicing his opinion too often, speaking freely when a simple “Yes, sir” would have sufficed. The last thing Nicolas wanted was a free-thinking, articulate, dissenting voice in his organization. He'd have to keep an eye on his employee ...
“They dared oppose us publicly, Hector. That retired colonel took our money and went straight to the Governor. He is actively voicing and funding, with our money, opposition to our air operations in Orange County and the state of California. That is nothing short of treason: actively opposing our carefully developed plans which have been designed to increase our ability to protect the homeland and all who hold her dear. Nothing less than a public execution will send the message to those vermin that I desire be sent.” The Director paused briefly. “Do you remember, Hector, what that Democrat said about us while she was campaigning? She called us the New Gestapo.” The humor in the Director's voice was unmistakable.
“I remember,” the coyote replied heavily. It had seemed like political bluster at the time. Back then Hector had still been convinced that, in spite of their sometimes draconian methods, the mission of the IPF had been noble and just. The intervening years had taught the Sonoran something, and that something grew and clarified in his mind more and more as every day passed. Therefore the patriotic nonsense that had just flowed into his ear was largely ignored as he considered the plight of his new executioner, his friend.
As if reading his mind the Chinchilla's voice purred “If the opportunity arises, have your friend deal with her as well.”
Hector blinked in shock. “What?”
“If the opportunity presents itself, have Agent Latrans deal with the object of the Colonel's visit as well as with the Colonel himself. And if collateral damage is sustained, all the better. 'Mad gunfur,' that kind of press.”
Hector drew a sharp breath that told the Director all he needed to hear before Hector verbalized his thoughts. “Sir, I think that would be extremely unwise. The investigations that would follow such an act would harken back to the days of the Kennedy assassination, and be at least as expensive to control, and be very destructive to our cause.”
The Chinchilla giggled, an unnerving, evil sound, and quite uncommon. “I know ... but it's fun to think about, isn't it?” Another giggle. “The Governor …”
The scrambled telephone circuit disconnected.
# # #
George Goss had run a construction outfit in southern California back in the eighties and nineties. He had made an awful lot of money and built some incredible homes and office buildings, made some wonderful friends and built powerful business relationships. He had met a stunning femme in those days, a tall and elegant coyote named Rebekkah, but whom was known by everyone as “Stella.” He and Stella had married in 1995, and a year later she had borne him their only pup, a beautiful little femme that looked just like her. They had named her Shari.
Stella's passion was books. She had been a librarian at the city library in their home town of Arcadia. A self-educated linguist and amateur author, she wrote stories in her spare time and with the advent of the Internet, published them on line. Teaming with a small Internet based publishing house run by a raccoon friend of hers, she actually managed to market a couple of her stories in “tree-ware,” in print, earning modest royalties which she invested in books for herself and her daughter, which lined the shelves of her office in their home.
By the age of four Shari was reading, by the age of twelve she could read at or above the level expected of a high school graduate. Shari and her mother devoured novels, fiction, histories, biographies, and fantasies with equal fervor, and much dinner discussion was devoted to what they had read and how it affected them. The whole series of Harry Otter stories was a shared favorite, the subject of many an animated and excited conversation. George was always a discreet observer in these conversations, happy and proud, but a little lost. He was very much a T-square and pen architect, printed words were an unnecessary extravagance in the big retriever's business.
One of the many things George and Stella loved to do together was travel, and one of the many places they enjoyed visiting was the Rocky Mountains. Both reasonably good on skis, they found much opportunity to visit ski areas off the peaks of the season by taking their daughter out of school for a week here and a week there, as she was always able to maintain her grades even as she hit the slopes with her parents. In this way the three of them grew to know the inter-mountain west very well, and Shari never suffered a grade lower than a B.
Shari grew up tall and slender, like her mother, and was very popular with the males in grade school. But she was damn intelligent, and that scared the males, because she could consistently outperform them in any scholastic subject they chose. So while she always had suitors, none of them got too close, because they just couldn't compete with her mind. It was difficult being the alpha when you were always being corrected or coached.
That hadn't been a problem in California, but they had moved to Durango after Shari's graduation from junior high school, and she had been slow to start socially in Colorado. Immediately perceived as the uber-intellect by her would-be friends, she was ever so slowly, warily accepted by a pawful of the female contingent at Durango High School but pretty much avoided by all but the most daring of males, all of whom had been scared off by her intelligence. It didn't help much that her folks operated one of the trendy book stores that catered to the tourists, uptown near the depot.
Which was odd, because Shari was not the type of female to try and impress others with her abilities. She was calm and outgoing without trying to control or direct conversations or situations. She had a quick, dry sense of humor and an infectious giggle that rewarded the astute of mind with it's repeated presence. And she was pretty. Not overpowering like some femmes, but her thick, shoulder-length dark hair and green eyes attracted a lot of attention when she met furs, and her slender figure turned a few heads here and there. She was, all in all, a quietly classy young lady.
Which sometimes caused George and Stella to wonder, off the cuff over morning coffee or perhaps over a glass of brandy after dinner, what in the world she saw in that railroader she was dating.
They had of course met Chris Latrans, and were pleasantly surprised to find that he was not an inarticulate gorilla covered in grease and reeking of smoke. In fact, George straight away took a liking to him after listening to his story about his family at home in California and how he came to be in the employ of the Durango and Silverton.
“I don't know what it is,” the tall coy-fox hybrid had said with a rueful smile. “There's something about these mountains, about those engines, about the furs I work with, that makes me feel whole and complete.” The young fur had blushed just enough to be noticed, looking at him, and shrugged slightly. “My family is all in California, but I belong here.”
And now those mountains and that railroad that he loved had almost killed the young male, and Shari had called from the hospital that first dreadful night not asking if, but simply informing them that Chris would be recuperating with them until he could go home. Home to his apartment in Durango.
And in bed after that phone call that night Stella had sighed, snuggling up to her husband, and as she had drifted into sleep she had murmured “Watch out, honey. He's the one.”
# # #
Joyce Abrhams was aghast. “What the hell are you doing?” she repeated.
Chris Latrans grinned at the nurse. He was standing beside his bed, monitor leads and IV tubes in one paw, the other gripping the stem of his rolling IV rack, and had just turned away from the window he had been looking out of.
“I wanted to stretch a bit. I'm tired of laying down.”
“You get your tail back in bed right now, young fur, before Doctor Hernandez sees you and we both get in trouble!”
“Too late,” a gruff voice said behind her.
Spinning on her heel the lapine began to apologize for her patient's behavior, but upon seeing the tired grin on the doctor's muzzle that was almost a match for that on the muzzle of his young patient, she stopped in mid-sentence. The doctor held a cautioning paw out towards her and winked briefly.
“How do you feel?” he asked the canine by the window.
“Weak,” Chris replied evenly. “But good too, you know? I mean, I'm sore everywhere, and feel a little light-headed, but it feels good to stand up for a bit.” As he said this he stepped slowly back away from the window and abruptly sat with a small plop on his bed, barely avoiding squashing his own tail in the process.
Seated, he grinned even more at the couple watching him. “I guess I'm weaker than I thought,” he said slowly. “Whew!”
“Your body is still devoting most of it's energy to healing, Chris,” the doctor said as he stepped further into the small room. He moved to stand before the young canine, placing a paw on his shoulder. “Don't rush into things, Chris. Your body is repairing a lot of damage at once. I admire your energy and enthusiasm, but you need to take it easy. Be careful. One misstep can set you back a long time.”
Chris rubbed the top of his head briefly. “I know, doc.” His grin returned. “But I've got a locomotive to fix, and we've got a railroad to run!”
“That reminds me,” the doctor said, turning away from him and taking a couple of steps towards the door. “Someone is here to see you. Russ?”
Russ Taylor entered the room, his blue eyes shining. There were no bandages anywhere on him save for his left paw, which was tightly wrapped in gauze and supported by a custom-made brace that kept everything stable and fixed in place. The husky's ears were erect and his tail spoke loudly of his greeting before his muzzle uttered a word. And as he stepped into the room his first words were directed not at his stoker and friend, but to the nurse who was even now fussing with the leads and tubes connected to the young coyote-fox hybrid.
“Be careful with that stuff, whatever it is. We need this young fur back on the job as soon as possible."
Joyce Abrhams paid the husky no mind as she re-positioned things out of her charges way so that he could lay back down. “Here you go …" she said to Chris quietly, indicating with a paw that he should recline, which he reluctantly did. The lapine's paw found his shoulder and rested there gently, as if to keep him put, keep him safe.
“How are they treating you, Chris?"
“Good," the coyfox smiled at his engineer. “Food sucks, though."
The husky chuckled along with the doctor.
“They're springing me today," Russ said. "I'm going back to work Monday."
Russ Taylor nodded. “Mark's guys are already tearing down the 478. By the end of the month they figure to be ready to start re-tooling the shop for the rebuilding. Have you heard?"
The coyfox's eyebrows raised by way of an answer.
"The entire city has turned out, and more. In Durango some are donating cash towards the rebuild, some are supplying materials, some are giving their time. Yesterday I spoke with Mark Incom, he told me about this sixty eight-year old retired cabinet-maker from over to Mancos has been driving in every day since the 478 came home and has been eating and breathing those old plans. He won't go away, won't go home. Mark says he's gonna ramrod all the woodworking not only on our locomotive but also on the rotary."
"The rotary was damaged?" Chris inquired.
"Hell no," the husky replied with a grin. "But apparently that guy took one look at the wood sheeting on the sides, at the sills and end beams, and just started muttering to Mark 'I ken fix dat, I ken fix dat …'" The husky chuckled.
Chris Latrans sighed, smiling. "That's awesome."
"You don't know the half of it," Russ replied. "You know Georgia Pacific?"
"The lumber company?"
The husky nodded. "That cabinet maker has already been in touch with them. They had called Rudy and volunteered to supply all the lumber product necessary for the rebuild of the 478, the rotary re-fit, and a brand new crew and tool car."
"No way …"
"Way. Our story is all over the internet, the media is picking it up, and several major corporations have stepped up. You know who Kensington Forge is?"
"The steel mill?"
"Mills. And iron works, and fab shops … those furs. Already on line for all the iron and steel for the 478. All we gotta do is tell 'em what we need."
The coy-fox stared at his friend, speechless. It was like a dream.
"That's .. incredible."
Russ glanced up to the nurse who had spoken, and the turned to the doctor who had accompanied him to his friend's room. He had temporarily forgotten them. Nodding, he continued.
"My boss told me this morning that there are almost forty businesses in the city of Durango that have pledged cash, facilities, or resources. Nobody involved in the resurrection of the 478 … That's what they're calling it, the resurrection. Anyway, no fur on that job will go hungry or want for clean sheets and a warm bed to sleep in. And …" the husky looked back to his stoker. " … as of nine AM today the Durango & Silverton has received a total of seventy five thousand, four hundred and thirty dollars, donations towards the rebuild of the 478, with pledges for another quarter million before the job is done."
Something moved in the soul of Russ Taylor.
"And you have contributed perhaps the greatest gift of all," the husky said, glancing briefly at the doctor before turning his attention to the nurse. "You saved us, so that we could be part of the resurrection that our community and our country believes in." He nodded slightly to Joyce Abrahms. "Thanks," he said quietly.
Arturo Hernandez had been a doctor for thirty years, and had been at Mercy Medical in Durango for almost twenty of those years. He had quietly prided himself on his stability under pressure and his stoic approach to death and destruction. He had also, in the privacy of his own mind, prided himself on the fact that he had not shed a tear over a patient's case or cause since he had found those two frozen cubs on the streets of Durango in the winter of '98. Yet with that simple pronouncement of his patient, Art realized with a grin that the clock on that particular facet of his career had just been reset.
The puma in the white coat raised a paw to wipe at the fur beneath an eye.
"You're welcome," he said quietly. "Maybe when your work is done we can celebrate with you."
"You can count on that," the coy-fox stated emphatically from his bed.
"At the Bent Elbow in Silverton," the husky agreed in a stronger voice, nodding again. "It'll be the party of the decade, all on the D&S."
"Where's my cellphone?" Chris Latrans wanted to know. "I gotta call my dad …"
# # #
And in a particular gear bag in a particular house in Orange County, California, a cell phone rang.
And nobody answered it.
Upstairs, far from the range of the cellphone's ringer, a red fox and a mink conversed in hushed tones over a glass of wine. The mink was doing most of the talking.
And downstairs in the family room another equally hushed conversation was taking place between a pretty coy-fox femme and her husky boyfriend, and like the ringing cellphone their conversation was masked by the TV that neither of them was paying attention to. They shared a soda.
And in the city of Fullerton a young coy-fox male was experiencing for the first time the not-so-fine art of drinking too much. He was indulging in this practice for what might be one of the oldest reasons known to furkind: femme troubles. Mike Harland had been drinking beer since his arrival at The Rockin' Taco, and felt he had no reason to leave.
And on the patio of the Latrans home a coyote, feeling all of his years and then some, carefully placed an almost-empty whiskey bottle on the floor next to his steel patio chair, raised his boots to the steel patio table in front of him, tipped his hat forward, and scratched his kali between the ears.
The Yukon growled her pleasure at him, and rested her head on his elevated thigh as the coyote drifted into a troubled sleep.
And above the crest of the Santa Ana mountains, the eastern sky began to fade from a deep, dark purple to a patchwork of faded blue and muted pink as dawn approached. A new day was in the offing …
Far to the east, near the Dragoon mountains in Arizona another coyote snuggled up to the mountain lion that he adored as the early morning sun streamed through their bedroom windows. Still asleep, Hector Sandovál sought solace for the tasks that he knew confronted he and his friend, all too aware of where those tasks would take them and what the likely result was to be.