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

An Uninvited Guest

Fifteen minutes later they were seated at a booth in the Alpine Café on the main drag in Ouray. The day's final bit of sunlight was casting an alpine glow on The Amphitheater, a twelve thousand foot high ridge east of town. The town was bustling as much as it could for being off season. Their truck was parked on a sloped, dirt side street around the corner, a dirty group of recreational four wheel drive vehicles of different manufacture and in various stages of decay were parked out front. There were some other couples in the café, and a small group of males of various species occupied a table in the back of the room. Annie was on her GSM phone, apparently talking to Chris. She was animated and happy, ears up, a glint in her eyes as she asked him questions about him and his brother and sister. Joe looked up and smiled at the Collie waitress as she placed a cup of coffee in front of him, and a glass of iced tea in front of Annie.

"Anything else, hon?"

"That'll cover us for now, thanks." Joe scanned the room once again as the waitress wandered off. He'd been in this place more times than he could remember, and felt comfortable here. While he didn't know anyone personally in this town, his folks had, and some of the furs in the room looked familiar in a way.

They were in a booth towards the front of the room, Annie facing the street. Joe's hat and gloves sat on the table to his left. As he sipped the coffee he tried to listen in on the conversation going on across the table from him.

"When did Mike and Debbie get in to town, honey?" She paused, listening to Chris's reply. "Are you all there now?" A longer pause. "Good. When do you go back to work?" Annie looked up at her husband and mouthed the words "two days or less" to him. Joe nodded. "Good, sweetie. We're in Ouray, and should be getting in by..." again looking at her husband, "nine?" He nodded. "Nine." Another pause. "OK sweetie. I love you. Tell your brother and sister I said hi." She looked again at her husband and said "Chris says hi."

"Hi son." Joe said loud enough for the GSM phone to hear.

Finishing her good byes, Annie terminated her call and folded up her phone, placing it in her purse. As she looked up to her husband her mouth opened in a startled expression, but before she could make a sound two paws slid around from behind Joe's head and covered his eyes. Joe jumped slightly, then his right paw darted towards the inside of his jacket on his left side, but paused with his fingertips just under the fabric with a single word from his wife. "Wait..."

He froze, motionless, waiting.

A voice behind Joe's head asked "Guess who?" in a breathless, excited tone. To Joe the voice sounded like that of a young female, maybe even a teenager. It certainly wasn't anyone he knew, judging from the sound of her voice. Her paws smelled of work, and he didn't recognize the owner's scent. He sat there, momentarily startled, eyes covered, his hand just scant inches from it's objective, but he did not move. "Annie...?"

"It's OK," she whispered. Raising her voice to a conversational level and adding a bit of steel edge to it she said "Play it out, but be cool. I'm curious to learn about this." The paws over her husband's eyes belonged to a young brunette, some sort of feline mix, maybe twenty five or so, about Annie's height but more slender, thanks to her youth. Her clothes were a size too small, her eyes were brown, her fur unkempt, like she had been out in the wind a lot. Annie's eyes narrowed and her eyebrows arched slightly as she looked directly into the brunette's eyes, asking the question without words.

Oblivious to this, still holding his right paw flat, just above and to the left of his stomach, Joe exhaled slowly. "I give up." He said clearly.

"You're not even trying." The brunette pouted, ignoring Annie's eyes.

"Ma'am, you're closer than you know to having all of your questions answered." Joe said carefully. "C'mon, it's been a long day. Give me a break."

Seeming to be in one fluid motion, the brunette withdrew her paws, pulled a vacant chair around to the table between Joe and his wife, and seated herself after kissing Joe on the cheek. At this Annie's eyebrows arched higher than Joe had ever seen them arch before. That was bad news, he knew. She was an easy-going, fun loving fox, but brooked no interference in her relationship with him. She was obviously in lock and load mode, just looking for an execute order.

And things got no better when Joe's eyes shifted to the brunette. He didn't have any idea who she was. Looking back to his wife with a raised eyebrow of his own, he leaned forward slightly, paw still in front of his stomach, and whispered "Six?" towards his wife.

Leaning forward slightly, Annie whispered back "You're clear," still watching the brunette. At that Joe moved his paw away from his mid-section and towards his coffee cup on the table top while looking again at the brunette himself.

"Do I know you?" he asked after a moment, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice while also trying to calm the adrenaline rush her game had predicated.

Anger clouded the brunette's features as she opened her mouth to say something. Then, while drawing a breath and forming some sort of caustic reply, she stopped, mouth open, and sat there momentarily staring at the two of them. The anger drained away suddenly, replaced with a look of shock.

"Oh my God," she said. "I am so sorry! I thought you were somebody else! You look just like an old boyfriend. I'm so sorry. Oh my God..."

Joe looked at his wife, and was pleased to see her eyebrows descending. Her eyes had relaxed somewhat. In fact, the corners of her mouth were ever so slightly curved up, like she was trying not to laugh. Looking at the brunette, he said dryly "Hey, no problem. We all survived."

There followed an outpouring of apology from the feline, which Annie graciously fielded while Joe sipped his coffee and tried not to think about how close he'd just come to drilling the young fur. Thank God his wife had been paying attention and had possessed the situational awareness to see things clearly for what they were. Bleeding bodies on café floors could ruin a trip. There were always the explanations, the paperwork, the phone calls.

The brunette was offering to pay for their drinks and a meal. Annie was being polite, but suddenly Joe needed moving air and no walls. He grabbed his gloves and began to put them on. Seeing this, Annie reached for her purse. Finishing with his gloves Joe immediately picked up his hat. Trying to be polite himself, he addressed the brunette while standing up and putting his hat on. "Well thanks for the fun, but we've got to go." He held out his paw to his wife.

Taking it, she rose and moved to his side. With just the right amount of sarcasm and a razor edged voice she addressed the brunette one last time. "Nice to make your acquaintance." They turned and left the feline sitting at the table, mouth open as if to say something else, which probably wouldn't have been a good idea.

Just then the waitress wandered up, coffee pot at the ready. "Hey, Lacy." She greeted the brunette. "Are you going to pick up their tab?"

Five minutes later our heros were heading south out of town, switchbacking up the mountainside on US 550, bound for Ironton and Red Mountain Pass. The sun had set long ago in this canyon, and in the sky overhead the thin overcast still glowed with a dull light, but was growing darker by the minute. The truck rumbled along easily at thirty five miles per hour, the smartest speed on this twisting canyon road. Annie had a small grin on her muzzle, thinking her husband had been quite embarrassed by the whole thing. She had been ready to beat the tar out of that brunette until the situation resolved itself, but now it all seemed funny to her.

Joe glanced at her and contemplated telling her what had just almost happened. He was acutely aware of the Beretta in the custom inside pocket of his jacket, and wondered why his wife was being so cavalier about the incident. Maybe I ought to settle down and wait a while before discussing this, he thought.


It was now fully dark. They were down to ten miles per hour in the switchbacks above Ironton, near the top of Red Mountain Pass. The road was dry, but no stars were visible overhead. The radios were quiet. The highway was deserted. Only two cars had gone by northbound since they had left Ouray. Thus far their ride had been in silence, the blonde fox patiently waiting while the driver organized his thoughts.

Almost twenty five minutes had passed since the incident at the café. Joe had settled down enough to talk about it. Watching the road and almost constantly turning the wheel from one extreme to the other, he took a quick look at her before speaking.

"I'm sorry about that back there."

"Why?" she asked gently, looking at him, smiling. "You had no control over it. She mistook you for someone else. So what?" She knew what he was driving at, but waited for him to bring it up. Meanwhile she looked at him, a mixture of spousal concern and joy at his expense on her face and in her heart. She was amused by the incident, nothing more. There was nothing to see outside of the truck in the dark except the highway in the headlights.

He thought about her comments as they wound through a final switchback and he saw reasonably straight road ahead. "That's not it." He said slowly. "I almost..." His voice caught, and he tried again. "I could have shmmpf."

She had placed her finger firmly over his lips. "Ssshhhh. I know what almost happened. Don't apologize. You trusted me when the chips were down, and nobody got hurt. Where's the problem?" Releasing pressure but still holding her finger to his lips, she waited momentarily for him to absorb that. Presently she took her finger away from his lips and caressed his face. "I love you."

He saw a sign flash by in the glare of the headlights, indicating their passing the summit of Red Mountain Pass. It was cold up here above 11,000 feet, but the heaters in the truck kept them comfortable on their journey. Observing a bit of level, straight highway ahead, he glanced quickly towards her, a corner of his mouth turning up. "I love you, too. Thanks for taking care of me."

She leaned forward and kissed his cheek, lingering there for a moment. "Thanks for taking care of us," she whispered in his ear. She leaned back into her own seat. Smiling mischievously she lowered her eyes while still facing him and said "Can't you think of anything better to do with those lips than make words?" Her tail thumped slowly against the door panel behind her.

That got him. A smile creased Joe's face as he relaxed. "Well, yeah, but here?"

"There's turnouts around here..."

To Chapter Eight: The Waiting Game.

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