Highway 93 between Kingman and Hoover Dam was untypically empty in the early morning light. Probably it was because it was midweek --not the peak time for traffic between Phoenix and Las Vegas. That was very good because in this area the barren hills were steep and rocky, and the 2-lane road wound cautiously between them, leaving only short areas for passing the tour buses and RVs --not to mention the boat trailers bound for Lake Mead. In other sections the hills were not so steep, and the road, emboldened by their gentle slopes, would climb to the summit of one after the other. The vallies between were shallow and bowl-shaped, giving the effect of a miles-long, and not very thrilling, roller coaster.
The radio was on a local station that played an unusual mixture of country, pop and R&B, and lots of Gordon Lightfoot who didn't really fit in any of those categories. But the mixture worked for Julius Caesar Smith who was driving the big SUV. He was a slim, tall man with a persistent grin below a nose that had been broken more than once. His name had been chosen by his father, John Smith, and his mother who was born Mary Jones. Both had felt that a child should have something unique and memorable about his name. Over his childhood, Julius Caesar had developed his own opinion on the matter, and since his thirteenth birthday had been going by the name J.C. In one sense it was too late by then since his habit of getting into fights was already well-ingrained --and his nose had already been broken once.
J.C. glanced over at his passenger who was deeply involved in whatever was on the laptop computer. Matt Morely had been more fortunate in the name department, but had still managed to rack up a couple of broken noses. Matt was a bit taller than J.C. and had the build of a weight-lifter. Feeling J.C.'s eyes on him he said, "They don't want to cancel the fight but they want to reduce the size of the purse based on the expected reduction in the gate."
J.C. scowled, "J.C. does not approve." he said, "J.C. will not fight unless they keep their end of the bargain."
Referring to himself by name and never using contractions was an affectation that J.C. used because his wife had convinced him that it would make him more noticeable in the fight circuit. Matt thought it made J.C. sound like a dork, being more appropriate to an actors in professional wrestling than to a genuine athlete in mixed martial arts. But Matt was just his trainer. J.C. let his wife, Katrina, pretend to be the public relations manager.
"Let's find out what the deal is before we say no, J.C.," Matt cautioned him. "You really need the money, and it's not like it's their fault that terrorists decided to attack a flight into Las Vegas."
"Yeah," a sleepy woman's voice chimed in from the back, "After you spent like a hundred thousand dollars on this damn jeep you really need the money."
"This is not a jeep, Sweety. This is a 6-wheel drive all-terrain super-flex-fuel serial-hybrid amphibious military scout vehicle with custom luxury outfitting. Or a Scout GT-E if you want a shorter way to say it." Then he leaned over to whisper to Matt with a sly grin, "And it cost a hell of a lot more than a hundred grand."
Matt grinned back, "It's a sweet ride, all right."
"What did you say?" Katrina's face appeared between the bucket seats. She was tall and slim, with an elfin face and with hair so blond that it was almost white. It contrasted fetchingly with her dark eyes.
"I said it's a sweet ride," Matt answered.
"No," she said, "Katrina heard Julius whisper something to you." She used the same speech affectations as her husband in order to help him keep in practice. It was a point of contention between her and Matt that Matt refused to go along also.
J.C. looked worried about Katrina finding out how much he spent, but Matt was a quick thinker, "He said you were going to look like a chipmunk since you slept in your makeup".
Katrina gave J.C. her patented wide-open-mouth look of surprise and shock as he sputtered, "J.C. did not say that, Sweetie, honest..."
Katrina punched him in the arm and slammed back in her seat, arms folded to announce a pending sulk. But she ruined the effect by immediately opening her bag to search for a mirror.
Matt laughed and then pretended to relent, using his most sincere voice, "I'm sorry, Kat, he really just told me not to say anything about your makeup until you had a chance to fix it."
"And so of course you had to say something," she snapped, examining her face in a small mirror. "It is not even messed up, Katrina looks fine." But she took something out of her kit and began touch ups anyway.
"And you went and hit poor innocent J.C.," her husband said plaintively. "J.C. is fighting Mike Marvosa tomorrow and now J.C. will be going into the cage with a bruised arm."
"Katrina is sorry baby," Katrina said, playing along. She leaned forward to kiss the spot that she had just punched and patted it gently. "Katrina will give J.C. a nice massage tonight to make up for it."
"Aw." Matt joined in, "Isn't that just sickeningly sweet."
"And Baby," Katrina said, ignoring Matt, "Can we just dump Matt out the door here? They say that many people abandon unwanted dogs along this road and Katrina believes that Matt fits the category nicely".
"Yes, they may do it, but it is illegal." J.C. answered seriously. "You wouldn't want J.C. to get a ticket, would you?"
"Hey, look at that!" Matt suddenly interrupted the conversation, pointing to the right and slightly ahead. "Is that a freaking tornado?"
"Where?" Katrina asked, shifting to look out the front, "It cannot be a tornado in Arizona, probably just a big dust devil ... Wow!" She stopped talking as she stared at the dark swirling cloud.
"J.C. cannot make it out," J.C. said, ducking his head around to try to get a look in brief glances as he kept his eye on the narrow road."
"J.C. does not look until J.C. pulls over and stops." Katrina said firmly. "You want to get us all killed?"
J.C. didn't pull over, but he did slow down to about twenty miles per hour as he tried to get a look at the cloud. "It does look like a tornado!"
The object of their interest was a twisting tunnel of dust and debris rising up to the clear skies. There was no particular funnel shape to it, but it was obviously much more powerful than the swirling whirlwinds of dust that spring up on hot, gusty Arizona days.
"It's too big and too dark for a dust devil," Matt said, "and the weather is too cool for dust devils anyway."
"But tornados do not appear on clear days, do they?" Katrina asked. "Where is Katrina's camera?" She was suddenly digging in her bag again.
"Hey, this road is going in that direction." J.C. said. He turned onto a small dirt track that intersected the highway.
"Wait, wait!" Matt said causing J.C. to slam to a stop. "We don't know how far away it is or how big it is. It could suck up this 6-wheel drive super-flex-fuel serial-hybrid military scout vehicle with custom luxury outfitting and spit it out a thousand feet up in the air."
"You forgot 'all-terrain' and 'amphibious'." Katrina said absently as she tried to frame the swirling cloud in the screen of her camera phone. After a moment of silence she looked up to find both men twisted around in their seats to stare at her. "What?" she asked, "It is not like Katrina has not heard J.C. give that description a thousand times."
The men looked at each other and then sat back to look at the cloud again.
"You mean," J.C. said after a moment, "You have been calling J.C.'s Scout GT-E a jeep all this time just to irritate J.C.?"
"Do not expect Katrina to be polite about the other woman in your life," Katrina said as she took a couple of shots with her camera phone. "Let us see if we can get closer."
J.C. looked at Matt. "Don't look at me," Matt said, "I've just been operating under the assumption that she's a dumb blond who doesn't know a jeep from a halftrack."
Katrina ignored him as she dialed her phone to send the pictures to someone. J.C. put the vehicle into gear and they started forward with just the sound of the six tires on the dirt road. The Scout's batteries were fully charged and at this slow speed, only the electric motors were running. When Katrina rolled down her window to get a better picture, they heard the distant howling of tortured wind. They slowly approached the ominous swirling cloud.
continued at part 2