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 - 2011


8 July 2011

 

Divisions

 

A gentle breeze blew up-canyon, stirring through the branches and leaves of the stubby pines and scrub oaks, blowing the telltale dust of his arrival away from the object of his attentions.

"Good morning, sir!"

The tiger hailed the fur from some distance. He could easily see that the object of his attention was heavily armed. Even though the fur had his back to the truck trail, kneeling at a small wooden table that supported a scoped rifle, the Cleveland National Forest ranger could plainly see a large knife hanging from his left hip, opposite the holstered pistol on his right. The fur was dressed in black: boots, denim jeans, cotton shirt, and leather vest, topped with a black western-style hat. The tail looked like it belonged to a canid of some sort, a wolf maybe. Those were the kind of furs that didn't bother to hide up here during the daylight hours.

It was still reasonably early in the morning. While the sky was bright overhead, the box canyon was still in shadow, the sun had yet to rise above the high ridge to the east. As the ranger slowly unfolded himself from the government-issue half ton pickup truck he had just halted at the mouth of this small side canyon, he unsnapped the restraining strap of his own government-issue sidearm, a thirty-eight caliber Smith and Wesson revolver.

"Sir?" the tiger called loudly. "Good morning!"

There were about twenty yards separating him from the supposed canid in the small canyon. They were deep in Silverado Canyon, about three miles above the town of the same name, on the west slope of the Santa Ana Mountains. The United States Forest Service pickup truck was parked next to a large, medium duty truck tractor of some sort. Passing this unmarked vehicle the ranger stopped as he also observed what, for all the world, looked like a Soviet-made AK-47 automatic rifle propped against the small bench to the canid's left. Drawing a deep breath quietly, the ranger removed his paw-held radio from its holster at his right hip. Bringing it to his muzzle he quietly made a radio call, hoping his dispatch would be able to hear him from deep in the canyon.

"Cleveland, Thirty Two Alpha on tone two, ten thirty four."

There was no reply. Dispatch hadn't heard him. He had no contact and could not call for backup.

The tiger sighed quietly and contemplated his options. Even though the canid had him out-gunned three-to-one it appeared that he didn't know the ranger was behind him. He could approach prepared for armed conflict and hope for the best, or not. He could get back in his truck and drive off, and no one would be the wiser.

The National Forest Service employee continued his slow approach, once again calling out to his potential adversary.

"Sir? Good morning! Can you hear me?"

No response. The canid continued to sight his scoped rifle, making adjustments to his optics as the tiger slowly approached. As he watched, the canid dropped his right paw to the trigger and paused for a moment, and then the rifle suddenly but almost silently bucked, making a small noise like the sound of rushing air, suddenly cut short. About seventy five yards up the box canyon a small geyser of dust erupted immediately behind a small, foot-square target propped against a shoulder of the box canyon.

"Better," the canid muttered, his face to the rifle's optics.

"Sir! Please stand and step away from your rifles!"

Again, nothing. It was like the tiger didn't exist. He slowly replaced his paw-held radio in its holster with his right paw as his left drew his revolver and cocked it.

The canid's right ear rotated slightly, and a wisp of smoke from beneath the hat brim preceded a gruff voice.

"You wanna see the sun go down, you'll holster that thing and mind your manners …"

"Sir, please step away from the rifle and raise your paws," the tiger said nervously, holding his revolver before him in his left paw.

There was a small eruption of dust at the canid's feet and, as quickly as the tiger's eyes and brain could recognize the activity occurring before him, there was a dark-muzzled coyote staring down the iron sights of a mean-looking automatic pistol's snout, straight at the bridge of his nose.

"Put that fucking toy away son, before I lose my temper," the coyote rumbled, his steel gray eyes staring at him, unblinking.

A small cigar trailed a hint of smoke from the coyote's muzzle as the two furs stared at each other. A good fifteen seconds elapsed as the two regarded each other silently.

"I'm going to reach into the right pocket of my vest," the coyote said calmly, the bore of the pistol he held never wavering from the tiger's nose, "… and pull some ID. You can look at it or not, but if you want to get back in that truck I suggest you check it out."

And he did exactly that, calmly, slowly. With a flick of his left paw the small plastic card sailed through the air to land at the feet of the tiger. The coyote slowly raised the pistol he held in his paws until it was pointed at the sky beside his right ear, trigger finger extended along the barrel.

"Look at it, God dammit!" he barked.

Still holding his revolver on the coyote, the tiger crouched and picked up the card. Stealing the briefest of glances at it, he immediately recognized the seal of the Interstate Police Force on its face. Studying it more closely, he stood up slowly and looked back to the coyote before him.

"Agent Latrans?"

"Yes."

"Sir, you can't use the National Forest as a rifle range … sir. You should be at a police range."

"I like to keep my business to myself."

"But sir, we don't allow firearms on the Cleveland. We have no designated shooting areas, and even if we did, automatic weapons are illegal on all national forest land."

The big coyote slowly stood from his crouch in the dust and holstered his pistol, a Beretta 92 SBE. The ranger had no way of knowing that this particular weapon fired 170 grain silver-jacketed nine millimeter hollow-point rounds that would leave a small hole in the middle of his forehead while completely blowing off the back of his skull. He didn't need to. There was something about the coyote's calm demeanor, his unblinking steel-gray stare, that spoke without words what the ranger really didn't need to hear anyway.

Without raising a paw the coyote drew on his cigar and exhaled smoke through his nose as his paws dangled loosely at his sides.

"We done?"

The tiger in the USFS uniform was getting exasperated. "Sir, I cannot let you stay here. You cannot use National Forest land for your military purposes," the tiger said quietly. "You are free to go, but go you must."

The coyote began to walk briskly towards the tiger, even though the ranger still held his pistol on him. Within moments the fur, obviously past middle-aged but fearful none the less, was almost nose to nose with the young ranger, the brim of his black hat almost touching the brim of the "Smokey Bear" hat the ranger wore.

"I'm busy, junior. Why don't you get to Hell out of here and leave me alone?"

The tiger was at a loss for words, unable to speak as those gray eyes bored into his own, as the smoke from the coyote's cigar wafted into his nostrils and up into his sinuses.

The coyote smiled tiredly. "Look son, I'm a federal law enforcement officer who's just sighting his hardware. We're on the same team, fighting the same bad guys. You know I'm here and why. I'll be gone in less than an hour. Go about your patrol and forget you saw me. To do otherwise would not bode well for you." The coyote gently pulled his ID card from the tiger's paw.

And then the canid had the audacity to turn his back on the tiger with the pistol in his paw, and walk slowly back to his scoped rifle at the little wooden bench. Stopping at the bench, the coyote looked back at the ranger who was easily half his age.

"Or would you prefer to stand here in front of me?"

Wordlessly the tiger holstered his pistol.

"Have a good day," the coyote said with a trace of sarcasm.

The tiger turned without another word and returned to his pickup. Starting it, he jammed the transmission into low and quickly accelerated away, spraying gravel and dust in his wake.

"Goddam punk …" the coyote muttered as he knelt at the little bench with his sniper rifle.

 

# # #

 

"He's not the same!" Annie cried in an exasperated tone of her own.

Gina Vison nodded sympathetically. "He's still your husband, dear."

"My husband would have brought our son home," Annie said heatedly. "My husband would be talking to me about these things that have happened to him. My husband wouldn't be running out of the house every morning before sunrise when … when he's got no reason to!"

"He has a new job, Annie. One that he doesn't seem to like very much, yet one which seems to demand a lot of his time and attention."

"He's … not … oh dammit! He's acting like a complete shit!"

Annie Latrans was furious, her skin flushed red beneath her auburn fur.

Since he had returned from Colorado two days ago her Joe had been a different fur, cold and distant. She had so been expecting him to bring their son Chris home to her, so she could help nurse him back to health.

He hadn't.

She had so hoped that his firm yet gentle paw would help guide their son Mike through his disintegrating relationship with his girlfriend, something she couldn't seem to do. She couldn't seem to connect with their oldest son right now. Mike was suffering, and making some bad choices in how to deal with that pain.

And that didn't seem to interest Joe at all.

He was away from home at least as long as he had been each day with SCWD, but she had no idea where he was going or what he was doing. He wouldn't talk to her about his new job, and refused to discuss Chris' status with her, saying only that it was "his call."

He and their son Mike had yet to see each other since Joe's return. Yesterday had been the only time Annie had seen her son since that night he had told she and Gina about Jacklyn breaking up with him, he'd looked for all the world like he was hung over … waking up past noon. It was very unlike Mike, who had never consumed alcohol in his life, as far as she knew. And he'd disappeared just as soon as he could get a shower and put on some fresh clothes. She had no idea where he was or who he was with.

"He never used to allow his job to interfere with his family," Annie said heatedly. "He used to be part of us. Now that the IPF has got their claws into him, he's turned into somefur else, somefur I don't even know! The Joe that left here to go to Colorado was my Joe. I don't know who this Joe is!"

The mink rose from her chair in the Latrans family room and crossed to sit beside her friend on the sectional leather sofa. The fox watched her wordlessly as she did this, breathing heavily, trying to control her temper. Her eyes were losing their bright blue fury, to be replaced with the glassy sheen that hinted of tears.

"Annie, I don't want to come between you and your husband by defending either of you to the other. I am your friend, dear. All I ask is that you be patient with the fur you've been married to all these years. He's on unfamiliar ground himself in this new job, and it may be scaring him. He may have his paws full …"

"Too full for his pups?" Annie demanded, snarling. And suddenly her demeanor changed in the blink of the fox's blue eyes as the tears welled for real. "Too full for me?" she choked out.

It had been a regular occurrence since Joe's return, Gina thought to herself, with Annie frustrated to the point of tears. After that first night tensions had been very high, the relationship between her friends disintegrating as she and their daughter Debbie watched.

Debbie was trying to stay neutral but tended to see the logic in Joe's actions, or lack thereof, regarding her brother Chris. She tended to come to his defense when Annie got wound up on that subject. But on the other paw, she tended to agree with her mom regards Joe's complete lack of interest or involvement in their son Mike's situation. Her father's only comment to his daughter about Mike had been "He's a big fur, he'll figure it out."

Gina wrapped her arms around Annie, whispering what she hoped would be soothing things into her friends ear as the tears began to spill across the fox's cheeks. "It's OK, dear. It will get better, you'll see. Things will turn around."

The fox turned slightly to her right, the better to wrap her arms around the mink's torso as she buried her nose against the mink's shoulder. The tears came silently, but Annie's whole body trembled with pent up anger and hurt.

Gina stared at the bright morning sunshine on the other side of the windows and patio door of the Latrans family room, oblivious to the beauty and serenity of the day outside. Her only thoughts were for the fox she held.

 

# # #

 

"One more day."

"I know, sir."

"They're going public with a news conference on the steps of the capitol," the mechanical voice said with something approximating glee. "What could be better for us, what better venue in which to set an example?"

"Yes, sir."

"You think he's ready." It was not a question.

"Yes, sir."

"You're sure he'll follow through with it?"

"Yes sir. He will because it's what his country needs of him."

There was a snort followed by an exhalation of breath. "Good, Hector. Keep him in that mindset."

"Anything is attainable, sir, as long as we believe." the coyote responded. "He believes that national security is served by having the Force maintain authority over that air base. He believes that the target is an obstacle to maintaining national security."

"Everything is possible because I expect it, my friend. What the junior agent believes is … irrelevant."

Senior Field Agent Hector Sandovál had no response for that. At least none that would be wise to verbalize in the Director's ear.

Hector had mixed feelings about this project, to say the least. The bulldog had done nothing against his country's interests, had in no way compromised national security. He was a corrupt politician, but in a society already well overburdened with corrupt politicians that conviction could hardly carry a death sentence.

But there was that air base. Four ten thousand foot concrete runways in the heart of southern Orange County surrounded by miles of concrete ramps, acres of hangar space, and quarters for ten thousand personnel. It was a secure installation in every sense of the word, the largest such secure, military installation left in southern California. From its runways the air forces of the Interstate Police Force could protect the borders and coastlines of the entire southwest. And with the infrastructure already in place, El Toro could provide logistical support for the governments of the counties and states the IPF's air force flew above like no other installation in the southwest. Proximity to ports, highways, and rail terminals made the former Marine base a logical hub from which to deploy defensive and offensive missions.

Hector knew the need for El Toro was real. And the IPF had tried to play the “clean” dirty politics with the Orange County supervisors, and had carried it off until this one old bulldog had gotten himself a case of remorse, or perhaps a small dose of conscience, and had taken it and his information straight to the Governor.

The IPF would keep their air base, of that Hector was certain. Now it was time for the Orange County Supervisors to learn what dirty politics really looked like. The slinky otter that was the Governor of California, a Democrat by the name of Sarah Jane Farnsworth, could be persuaded to that end with little covert effort. The Director had actually voiced the desire to have her dispatched as well, but Hector would not promote that idea with Joe. It was sheer insanity. The coyote's target was a relative unknown and his assassination would garner heated but short-lived media reaction. Were the middle-aged Governor to join him in death, however, the witch hunt would rival the response to the Kennedy assassinations in duration, both by the media and by internal agencies such as the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

Nicolas Canon had once run the CIA, and was fully aware of the jealous rivalries that existed between all of those three-letter agencies inside the beltway, his own IPF included. Hector knew that if any of the other agencies ever received official directive from on high to pursue the tactics of the IPF into a court of law, all hell would certainly break loose, and the devil himself would have to be paid in full. No one would survive the kind of spot-lit investigation that followed the assassination of a governor … any governor.

To suggest, even in jest, that a political figure of such stature be targeted was ludicrous.

It was a rare example of how Mr. Canon was not fit to run an agency such as the Interstate Police Force, an agency founded on lofty ideals of protection and service but now corrupted and devoted to the continuous development and expansion of one fur's power base and sphere of influence.

It made Hector want to puke sometimes.

But he had a plan, a long range plan, to do something about it. So for now he bit his tongue while biding his time, and carried on as if nothing were amiss.

"The conference is scheduled for ten hundred hours. We will be in position and the transaction will be effected. I will report on the outcome by noon." Hector swallowed a bad taste in his mouth. "Sir."

"I look forward to hearing from you, my friend."

Hector surprised himself by terminating the call.

 

# # #

 

“This is harder than I thought it would be.”

The Durango & Silverton stoker huffed for breath as he struggled to position himself in the back seat of the Goss family sedan, a large and powerful Chrysler product. The nurse with the wheelchair he had just clambered out of smiled at him, but he did not notice.

The female coyote that had been his constant companion since the night the 478 had gone into the Animas River smiled patiently as she waited to shut the door behind the fur that had suddenly and unabashedly become the center of her life. She didn't question why she felt this way, never gave a thought to why a railroader would occupy her thoughts so. All Shari Goss knew was that the health and welfare of one Chris Latrans suddenly mattered very much to her, to the exclusion of all else in her life.

And her parents could see this, even if they didn't try to look for it. There was a shining light in their daughter's eyes that neither had seen before, a calm assurance in the way she spoke and the way she moved that was brand new and in delightful contrast to the young adult she had been mere days ago. Neither George nor Stella questioned the truth in what they saw, even though they both had reservations aplenty about what their eyes told them about the future. At the very least they were going to have to become literate with the lexicon of coal-fired mountain railroading.

“Thank you,” Chris muttered to the nurse. Before the female brown marmot could utter a reply the car door was shut firmly in her face and the slim coyote femme, barely a year or two younger than the student nurse, quipped “Yes, thank you dear. Have a good day.”

Arianna Martínez attempted a small smile for the pushy coyote that had stayed between her and the young D&S employee, and had rode herd on her with the stoker's father as well.

“Good luck to you,” she replied in what she hoped was a cheerful voice as the slim coyote scooted around the back of the sedan and, quickly opening the far door, settled herself beside her young patient.

That fur, a D&S cap perched upon his head, smiled and grinned ruefully as he waved, the car pulling away even as the far door shut.

Shari Goss stared out of the windshield, silently seeking and holding on to the left paw of Chris Latrans as the sedan moved out from the Mercy Medical parking lot into traffic on Park Avenue, headed for US-550.

The older coyote in the right front seat spoke up. “How are you feeling, Chris?”

“I'm OK Missus Goss,” Chris replied. “A little out of breath, maybe ...”

“That's understandable,” the Golden Retriever at the wheel said. “It's only been a few days since you cheated death in the canyon, after all.”

Chris nodded. “Yessir. The 478 saved Russ and I.”

“That she did,” George Goss replied. “Have you heard the news about her?”

“About the resurrection?” the young coyote replied, his tail thumping weakly against his seat. “Oh yeah. My engineer, Russ Taylor, he told me all about it. And then my conductor, Carl Wallace, he was telling me about how the FRA was gonna try and bring a case against us and the D&S because of the wreck, but how that didn't matter to Trainmaster Gallegos and the company. As far as they're concerned the 478 deserves to be rebuilt, and they're already starting. The FRA will have to take a back seat, I guess.”

George Goss glanced long enough in his rear view mirror to see the shining blue eyes of the stoker staring back at him. You couldn't miss the energy in the voice of the battered fur. That locomotive meant a lot to him. As much as his daughter? He wondered …

The retriever turned his vehicle north on US-550 and accelerated away from downtown Durango. “Do you need anything from your place, Chris?”

“We have everything he needs,” his daughter replied quickly, turning her muzzle towards her companion long enough to wink at him.

“Have we got tunes?” Chris asked her.

“I've got your old iTouch,” Shari replied with a grin.

“Find me Jump Around,” Chris growled. “I need some get up and go music.”

Her paw disengaged itself from his, patting his thigh briefly as she pulled her purse up with the other. She began to rummage for the little electronic music player as the sedan sped north past the University Co-Op.

“Got a patch cord? We'll all listen!” Stella said brightly, not really knowing what she and her husband would be setting themselves up for.

“Ummm ...” her daughter mumbled into her purse. After a few moments of scrabbling she produced a small cable assembly and handed it to her mother. As the elder coyote took this from her she also produced a small music player and turned it on. Scrolling through some menus, she quickly found the House of Pain selections and picked the song that her boyfriend had requested.

Boyfriend

She giggled slightly as she plugged the player into the cable her mom held out to her and touched the play button on the player.

After a few moments her father asked in a slightly raised voice “They let you listen to this stuff while you're working on the railroad?”

Chris Latrans laughed along with Shari, and explained “Oh no. The rules expressly forbid us from having anything like headphones or earbuds on while on duty.” He chuckled. “But sometimes I listen to my iTouch while I'm on my lunch break.”

“And sometimes when you're watering your locomotive,” Shari observed coyly.

“Sshhh,” Chris said with a wide smile. “Callate chica!”

 

# # #

 

The Honorable Sarah J. Farnsworth, Governor
Sacramento, California

Madame Governor -

Recently the Interstate Police Force has become aware of some subversive, terrorist factions that have infiltrated the governing bodies of the County of Orange, in southern California.

These factions are determined to prevent the IPF from executing its charter, to provide for the internal defense and welfare of the United States of America and its citizens.

It has come to our attention that a member of the Orange County Supervisors is endeavoring to persuade you to prevent the IPF from taking possession of the former Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro. Per Presidential Directive HS-17-201 from the Whitehouse, the Interstate Police Force plans to use this air base as the focal point of our defensive operations for the entire southwestern United States. We will create approximately four thousand jobs in southern Orange County in the process, which will create approximately twenty million dollars annually in income tax revenue for the State of California, not to mention an additional thirty to seventy million dollars worth of additional sales and use taxes for the State.

Please be advised that we will deal with these subversive elements in a manner and at a time that we find suitable. I caution you to refrain from aligning yourself with or lending active or passive support to these elements. To do so would be contrary to your interests and to those of the United States of America.

Be ever vigilant, Madame.

Sincerely,

Nicolas Canon, Director
Interstate Police Force
Arlington, Virginia

 

“What do you make of this?” the otter in the red evening dress demanded.

“It's bluster,” her senior aide replied, shaking his head. “All you're doing is listening to that old bulldog, you've not come out publicly with an opinion pro or con.”

“Scare tactics,” a grizzled tiger muttered.

“What?” the Governor demanded.

The Siberian cleared his throat. “Scare tactics,” he said clearly. “The IPF is trying to discourage you from even listening to Colonel Mollett.”

“I don't scare easily,” the Governor snarled at her senior consul.

“Be that as it may,” the tiger replied, “you would be well advised to be careful in your interactions with the Colonel until you get a better picture of what the IPF has in store for him.”

“'Has in store for him?'” the Governor repeated emphatically.

Both her aide and consul shrugged silently.

“Holy shit,” the otter muttered. Turning on a red stiletto heel, she continued in a clear voice. “I've got to attend this dinner. If you hear anything else of importance on this matter, please text me and we'll meet in my office.”

With that she strode from the room.

 

# # #

 

The fox found him sitting in the family room.

He was dressed in black and sitting at his desk. Her eyes widened as she saw what he was doing.

“Hi,” Joe Latrans said guardedly, smiling up at his wife.

There was a hesitation before she replied, as she took in what he was doing. “Hi.”

Joe put down the materials he had been holding in his paws and rose from his chair. He looked into the blue eyes of the Red Fox that stood on the other side of his desk.

“I'm sorry, Annie.”

She looked genuinely surprised. “Sorry for what?”

“Behaving the way I have been behaving since I got home,” he said as he moved around his desk. Taking her by the paw, he guided her towards the sectional sofa in the large family room.

“Come sit with me.”

They sat together without saying anything. They weren't close, but not far apart either. Annie looked at Joe with a vaguely suspicious expression, her tail still, her ears erect.

“I'm full time IPF now,” he began without preamble.

“I know.”

A silence stretched between them.

“I'm not allowed to discuss much of what they ask me to do with you.”

“That never stopped you before.”

Joe sighed. The tension between them was palpable, building between he and his wife as they spoke. He thought he understood what was angering the Red Fox before him. She was not happy with his new job, and that was creating tension between them.

Poor male … he was so off target.

“I'm sorry dear,” he began again. “When I worked at SCWD I was employed by the IPF as an undercover observer, more or less. I did my work with the SCWD for the most part, and on occasion had to do work for the IPF when they called on me. Now I …

“Shut up, Joe.”

The coyote was stunned. “What?”

“Stop … talking.”

He stared at her for a moment, his whiskers twitching with suppressed emotion.

“Why? Don't you care about what I have to say?”

“Frankly, no,” the fox replied.

Something changed in the coyote. His eyes softened, but not in a pleasant way. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, never taking his eyes from hers.

“I don't understand.”

“Maybe that's the problem,” Annie replied acidly. “Maybe if you paid a little more attention to your family and a little less to the IPF you might have a better idea what's really going on.”

Joe's ears drooped. “That's not fair, Annie …”

“Not fair? Not fair?” Her skin flushed beneath the fur of her face in genuine anger. “You leave one son with a broken body several states away and ignore the shit out of the one who's falling apart right here under the same roof with you and you talk to me about not fair?

“Annie ...”

“Shut up, Joe,” she said, rising quickly to her feet. She looked down at him, fire in her eyes, slightly out of breath. “Until you get your priorities straight, until you learn to prioritize your children and your wife above the needs of the state, until you can return to being the Joe Latrans I've lost ...” She began to walk, almost sprint, towards the stairway to the upper level of their home.

“… then you and I have nothing to talk about.”

The air hummed and crackled with emotion as the coyote sat there staring at the empty stairwell. He could barely hear muffled voices from above, and he knew that his wife and her friend Gina were conversing. Probably about him.

He rose slowly and returned to his desk. He had just resumed his task when he heard the front door shut. As he worked quietly he was vaguely aware of a fur approaching him but had not identified who it was until he heard a slurred voice.

“Hey pop. Whaa you doin'?”

Looking up in surprise, Joe held up his paws to show what he held in them as he greeted his eldest son.

“Hi Mike, it's good to see you again.”

The fox mix stared at him as he approached the desk, mouth slightly open, and burped slightly as he stopped in his tracks.

Joe stared at his son as the fox swayed slightly before him. He was obviously drunk, you could smell it on him. His eyes broadcast pain like Joe had not seen in more years than his son had been alive. A soft spot in Joe's heart wanted to jump up and hug the fur, beseech him to sit and tell him about what had happened, offer his help, whatever form of that his son might require.

But it was not to be.

“Jeezus Chrish,” Mike Harland muttered drunkenly, turning away. “Jazz ish gone, mom's a bazket case, and now my da's a hired killer.”

Joe stared at his son's back in shock as Mike lurched slowly from the room. He heard a door slam shut somewhere on the lower level, opposite the side of the house Annie was in. His gaze wandered the room for a bit until it landed upon the box of 7.62 millimeter rounds on his desk, and then focused to consider the half-dozen rounds he held in his left paw and the clip for his M-21 he held in his right. He took a deep breath and sighed heavily.

“Supongo que soy,” he grumbled in a low voice.

Joe briefly wondered if the Santa Fe was hiring, but knew he was locked into his destiny.

What the Hell was happening? Could the IPF so completely unravel his family in … just a week? Chris was battered, Mike was well on his way to becoming an emotional, drunken wreck, Debbie was on the fence, sometimes his daughter, sometimes a critic, and Annie …

Joe's eyes misted.

He felt like his wife despised him. For what he did. For what the Interstate Police Force was turning him into.

And suddenly he despised the IPF for bringing him full circle, back to what he had been.





To Chapter 47: The First Time ... Again

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