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


Forty five minutes later they were feeling better and starting to relax. Four empty bottles were on the bar, he and Annie were killing their third each. The remains of a plate of fries lay between them on the bar. The badger waitress, having no other customers, was sitting on a stool on her side of the bar, chatting with them. She was very interested in the fact that they were from southern California, and wanted to know about life there. She had shared some personal information of her own with the travelers. She was twenty three, married, her husband worked the service station next door. Her family had moved here from Denver several years ago and operated a ranch on the Gunnison River just below town.

They, in turn, described for her the life of the average southern Californian, emphasizing heavily the traffic, pollution, over-population, crime, and skimpy job market. But at the same time they allowed their pride to show just a bit, and spent an equal amount of time describing the beaches, the mountains, clubs, theaters, and the night life. The three of them were engrossed in this conversation and failed to notice the state patrol cruiser outside. It had been heading westbound on the highway, but had braked suddenly and executed a U-turn about a quarter mile west of the café. Returning the short distance eastbound the cruiser rolled quietly into the dirt parking lot outside.

The waitress looked up and smiled as the bells on the front door chimed, heralding someone's entrance. "Hi Sam, what can I get you?" she asked, standing up.

Joe saw the uniform out of the corner of his eye, and tilted his head slightly towards the door while keeping his eyes on his wife and quietly saying "Annie..."

She nodded slightly but didn't turn, and didn't need to, as the officer proceeded directly to the bar. He was big, at least as tall as Joe, a purebred Doberman by the looks of him. He was more broad in the shoulder than Joe, and looked a bit bulky. Annie realized with a start that the trooper was wearing body armor under his uniform. As the trooper sat down on the unoccupied stool to Joe's left he growled pleasantly "Coffee, Marie, thank you." Turning to Joe and Annie he said "I recognized your truck out front."

Annie nodded to the trooper and smiled in recognition as Joe leaned back, turning to face the bar so he could turn his head and see the trooper next to him. "Oh, hey, yeah! How you doin'?" he asked in recognition of the trooper he had spoken with over an hour ago.

"Better. I had some good news I thought you might like to hear. The baby skunk is safe. She was left with a relative of the father in Salida." He accepted a styrofoam cup of coffee from the waitress with a nod and a smile.

"Thank God!" Annie said, shivering slightly.

"Yeah, and thanks for stopping to tell us. I appreciate that." Joe held out his paw as the trooper stood up.

Shaking his paw while looking at the empty bottles on the bar, the trooper smiled and said "Glad to do it. You two be careful heading west, OK?"

"We will," Annie and Joe said in unison, smiling. Each of them understood the implication; he knew they'd had a couple and he'd be out there, watching and waiting.

The trooper dropped a dollar on the bar, winked at the waitress and said "Maria..." The door chimes sounded behind him as he headed for his cruiser.

"What was that all about?" Maria wanted to know as the cruiser raised a cloud of dust accelerating out of the parking lot, westbound again. Annie and Joe related what they knew and suspected, starting with the high speed pass heading up towards Monarch Pass from the east side. By the time they had finished, Maria had lost a little color in her face. "Wow..." she gulped.

"Yeah, wow," said Joe. The conversation lagged for a minute while each of them contemplated the event of the day. Dropping a twenty on the bar Joe asked "Will this cover us?", even though he had already calculated the cost and knew there was a couple of bucks extra for her.

"Oh sure. You have a buck or two coming back in change." Maria said.

"Keep it."

"You got a thermos? I've got some reasonably fresh coffee if you'd like some for the road." Maria smiled while indicating the pot on the counter behind her with a wave of a paw.

"Yeah, thanks! I'll get our thermos." Joe smiled, dropping a couple of singles on the bar next to the twenty and heading for the door to fetch it.


A little less than an hour later they drove through Gunnison without stopping, and settled in for the ride to Montrose. Joe had spoken at length about the Crested Butte Valley to the north, and the historical significance of the coal mines in that area, as well as the current ski resorts there. Annie was always asking questions about the country they passed through, it was one of the things he loved about her.

Blue Mesa Reservoir came and went in the afternoon sunlight. While still gray and foreboding behind them, the sky overhead and ahead of them was clear and bright. Annie was once again dividing her attention between the map and the scenery. As they turned away from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and headed uphill toward Cerro Summit, their speed dipped back down to forty five. Once past the summit it was pretty much a clear shot through Cimarron to Montrose, and they made good time. Finally they began their descent into the broad valley of the Uncompaghre River, the city of Montrose spread below them.

"Do you want to stop for anything?" Joe inquired of his wife.

"Probably the same thing you need to stop for." Annie smiled at him. "It's been a while."

"Yeah, they say you only borrow beer, right?" They both chuckled as he downshifted for the upcoming speed limit.


It was getting on towards evening time as they accelerated once again, leaving Montrose and dinner behind. The sun was beginning to settle down behind high clouds in the west, and the San Juan Mountains began to fill their field of view in front of them as they headed south on US 550. The river valley was flat and wide, and maintaining the speed limit was easy. As they rolled south, they both observed the clouds over the San Juans.

Looking out the windshield Annie asked "More rain for us?"

"Could be," Joe said, glancing up at the sky briefly. "Let's see what it looks like when we get into Ouray. Maybe we can scare up somebody on the radio for a weather report." It occurred to both of them that neither radio had made a sound since the conversation with the fur in Salida that morning.

Considering that, Joe reached down and poked buttons and twisted the tuning knob of the lower radio. "Simplex is in scan," he said, "I guess everybody has something else to do right now."

"Good," Annie said with a trace of satisfaction in her voice, "now I can have more of your attention."

Glancing at her, Joe reached out to pat her thigh. "You always captivate my attention. Completely."

Annie leaned across the center console into him, placing her lips close to his ear. Joe leaned to his right in anticipation, looking at her. Kissing him lightly on the cheek, Annie whispered "Bad boy!" into his ear and sat back, smiling.


Just south of Ridgeway, Joe reached for the microphone connected to the lower radio. Holding the mic in his right paw, he used the pointer finger of that paw to turn the scan function off. The display read NATL SIMPLEX. Joe brought the microphone to his mouth and, keying it, gave his call sign and asked "Is there a local station listening that can give us a weather update?"

Hearing no immediate reply, he sat there, left paw on the wheel, right paw holding the microphone in his lap. A mile or so went by, and he tried again. This time he heard a reply.

The other station identified itself, gave the name Hersh, and gave a location as the city of Ouray.

"Great! That's where we're headed. Name here is Joe, we're southbound on 550 a couple miles south of Ridgeway, wondering if I can get a weather update for 550 through to Durango."

Hersh advised that there was a high overcast in Ouray, and that he had heard reports of rain in Silverton. He wasn't sure about Durango, but advised of another frequency Joe could monitor that should cover the route from Red Mountain Pass to at least Coal Bank Summit, between Silverton and Durango. Joe thanked him, gave his call once again, and said "Seven three, Hersh!"

Hersh in his turn gave his call sign. Almost before he was through speaking Joe was turning the tuning knob, looking for the frequency Hersh had described. He found it almost accidentally, as there was already traffic on it. Adjusting the volume down a bit, he hung up the microphone.

With the radio chatter at a background level conversation in the cab was easy. "Looks like we might have a little rain on the other side of Red Mountain Pass, Angel. Nothing we can't handle. We've got a local repeater to listen to, and we can keep an ear open for adverse conditions."

"Are you OK? Are you ready for the mountains at night?" she asked. She wasn't worried about him, so much, but they'd already been on the road for a full day. She was familiar with this route, they had been in the San Juans many times before. She knew it was only about seventy five miles from Ouray to Durango, but she also knew that there were three mountain passes in that distance with steep grades and sharp curves. In good daylight weather lightly loaded it was a two-hour trip, in bad weather at night... Who knew how long it might take?

"Let's stop for a stretch and some coffee in Ouray, and we can call the kids. I think we've got coverage on the GSM phones here." Joe smiled without taking his eyes off the road. The valley had become a canyon, and it was getting more and more narrow as they approached Ouray, and the road was curving now and again. Joe knew the kids were on his wife's mind, and wanted to put her mind at ease. "As for me, I'm fine. Nothing wrong with me a short walk won't fix."

"Full bladder, huh?" Annie grinned at him, a bare trace of fangs visible. "Me too!" And to make her point she wiggled and squirmed in the seat, giggling and wagging her tail briefly.

"Cute," Joe said, grinning himself. "You get it wet, you ride in it..." he laughed.

To Chapter Seven: An Uninvited Guest.

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