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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"There's turnouts around here..."
To Chapter Eight: The Waiting Game.
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