Chapter Five: The First Chase
"Rabbit?" Jo set her CB radio aside so that she could use both hands to navigate a particularly sharp corner. Holding the wheel steady, she reached back for the microphone as she came out of the turn.
"Can we do better than the 30?" Jo queried.
Inside Allan's truck, Rabbit reached behind the seat and grabbed the detailed road map and adjusted his headset.
"No…Not for awhile. It's ah, best to stay on it until we pass Roger's Creek…"
The radio crackled as Jo accelerated up over a rise in the road, and Bill searched for the frequency on the CB in his own truck.
"Once we catch up with them you take the truck and head home," Bill cast a reassuring glance at Melissa, "I'll get everything settled and see you tonight, okay?"
"No…" Melissa insisted, "You know what Honey? I find this kind of interesting, I'm gonna tag along!"
Bill smiled, but his expression quickly turned to one of disgust as he caught sight of the reflection in his mirror.
"Jonas…Son of a bitch!"
The black truck drew even beside them before pulling ahead, and Melissa's gaze followed Bill's.
"Who is that, Honey?"
"Jonas Miller, he's a Night Crawler…We all started out in the same lab and Jonas went out and got himself some corporate sponsors. He's in it for the money, not the science! He's got a lot of high tech gadgets…but he's got no instincts." Bill turned smugly back to face the road, "And he doesn't have Dorothy…"
"Jo," Beltzer radioed over the network, "I think we got fleas!"
"Jo, come back-" Bill put a call out on his own radio, and Jo leaned over to glance at her side mirror.
"Hey there, you change your mind?"
"Yeah, what's Jonas doing here?"
Jo watched as one by one the single file line of all-black vehicles passed by her truck, lead by Jonas, and radioed back:
"I'm not sure…But I bet he's asking himself the same question about you!"
Bill glanced at his side mirror and did a double take as he realized that the last in the line of vehicles -a big black van- was bearing down on his driver's side.
"Oh shit, hold on!" Bill grabbed the wheel and swung right as the driver of the van laid on its horn and bore past them, running them off the road.
"Damn! Son of a bitch!" The truck bounced onto the grassy bank and up over a pile of culvert poles. They clanged against the undercarriage of the Dodge as Bill struggled to control the bucking wheel axle. He braked -narrowly missing a barbwire fence on his passenger side- and let out another curse as his truck bounced over the last of the metal poles and came to a jarring stop as one of his rear tires blew.
Bill pulled the spare from the back hatch of his truck. It bounced as it hit the ground and he guided it across the parking lot to the garage attendant.
"How long do you think that'll take to get fixed?"
"Oh maybe ten minutes, fifteen tops."
"Sounds good…" Bill glanced at his watch and headed back over to his truck. He brushed the dirt off his shirt and paused, looking up as he heard a familiar, pretentious Southern drawl.
"What if we could predict a tornado's path? How many lives would be spared with the creation of an early warning system! And D.O.T. 3 is the answer! The first Digital, Orthographic, Telemeter…"
Bill followed the sound of Jonas Miller's preaching, drawing even with the grill of his Dodge as he listened unsurely.
"And inside, she holds hundreds of these little sensors…Which when released in the tornado will transmit data back on wind speed, pressure, and due point temperature!"
Bill felt his blood pressure begin to rise as he marched forward, towards the crowd of people and cameras surrounding Jonas and his team. Jo and the rest of the team had a map spread out across the hood of Allan's truck, and Jo glanced up, casting a look over her shoulder as she sensed Bill drawing nearer. She called out a warning:
"Why didn't you tell me!"
Almost unconsciously, Bill went rushing up to Jonas and cuffed the hat from his head, grabbing him by the collar.
"Hey!" Jonas let out a startled cry as Bill shoved him up against their device, "Hey, hey, hey!"
"You son of a bitch! What'd you think, I wasn't gonna find out about this?"
Jo's team came rushing across the parking lot and into the fray as Jonas' men grabbed at Bill from all sides.
"Hey guys, get this loser off me!"
Dusty and Rabbit pulled on Bill as he surged against shoves from the other team.
"Alright back off! Back off!"
"What's your malfunction man!"
"He's not worth it!" Allan called as Dusty gripped Bill's shoulders and pushed against him, trying to force him away from Jonas.
"What is the matter with you!" Jonas demanded, taking a cocky step nearer now that Bill had been drawn a few feet backwards.
"You stole my design, you son of a bitch!" Bill surged forward, slipping out of Dusty's grasp and aiming a wild swing at Jonas, grabbing him again by the collar and forcing him back.
"Come on! Come on!" Rabbit and Joey pulled Bill back as Jonas' team shouted insults.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Jonas demanded indignantly.
"Dorothy…You took her, you damn thief!"
A slow smile spread across Jonas' face.
"Oh, I get it…You wanna take credit for my design-"
"You're a liar! She was our idea and you know it!"
"That ain't worth shit!" Bill barreled forward and Jo broke into a run across the blacktop, quickly realizing that another round of pushing and shoving was about to commence.
"Hey-Hey! Guys, guys! Guys!" Jo drew even with the fray and pushed her way in front of Bill, "All my guys, get a grip on yourself!" Her words were directed at Bill now: "We both know, he'll never get that thing up in the air."
"That's right!" Beltzer called indignantly.
Jonas rounded his instrument pack and smiled.
"Well let me enlighten you people…This baby has satellite COM link-" he depressed the sensor cap and the arms of the telemeter folded back into place, "We've got onboard pulse Doppler, we got Next-RAD real-time…Today, we're gonna make history! So stick around…'cause the days of sniffing the dirt are over!"
"Better than what you sniff!" Allan threw back, and Bill stepped forward.
"We'll see who gets there first…pal!"
Jonas turned from his retreat with the rest of his team.
"Oh, and by the way," he called over his shoulder, "I really enjoy your weather reports," his glance darted to Jo's midsection and back to Bill, "…Daddy."
Jonas' team burst into loud jeers as a newfound rage overcame Bill. He clenched his jaw and rushed forward, breaking away from the rest of the group.
"You slime! I'm not through with you yet!"
The entirety of Jo's team rushed forward to subdue him, and Jonas continued his retreat.
"Come on, come here! Come on!"
"Get your hands off of me!" Bill shrugged his shoulders and pushed away members of their own team, "Okay!" He stalked away to cool down, letting out an aggravated yell and aiming a wild kick into thin air.
"He's a corporate kiss butt, man!" Lawrence called after him.
Jo jogged to catch up to Bill as he kept walking, drawing even with him and pulling up short, blocking his path.
"I'm sorry. I should have told you."
Bill ran a hand across the back of his neck and scowled, annoyed that she could allow Jonas' comment to roll so easily off her back.
"One day," he insisted, "I'll give you one day. Whether she flies or not- I'm gone."
"Honey? Honey…is everything okay?" Melissa was rushing towards them and Jo bowed her head, making a hasty retreat.
"It's okay…Everything's fine, everything's fine-"
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Bill grasped Melissa's hands in his own, "Everything's okay."
"Listen, I'm gonna hang out here and get some air. Why don't you…Why don't you go get us some cold drinks?"
Jonas ambushed Jo as soon as she stepped into the diner.
"You know Jo, I don't know what the matter is with Bill- I mean he-he's…he's wacko! He's crazy! I mean you otta keep a leash on him!"
Jo glared at Jonas, nodding in mock sympathy.
"He's not my problem. He's yours-"
Jonas moved to cut Jo off as she tried to brush past him and she pulled up short.
"Oh, by the way. This storms gonna be a lot bigger than we anticipated-" Jonas cast a glance out the window towards Bill, "I got reports of mesos from Grand County all the way to Logan-"
"You're sharing information with me?"
"No, it's just ah…I'm curious as to which way you're gonna head."
Jo nodded eagerly, catching on.
"Southeast, I think. To the counter." She brushed Jonas off and cast a disbelieving glance in the direction of his team as she drew even with the counter and Melissa.
"Nothing changes…" she muttered.
"Pardon me?" Melissa straightened and turned in her direction, and Jo hesitated.
"He's gonna wait and see what Bill does," she provided, incling her head towards Jonas.
"That man is waiting for Billy, why?"
"My Aunt Meg used to call him a human barometer," Jo provided, by way of explanation.
"So you're telling me that Billy knows what a storm is thinking?" Melissa echoed disbelievingly.
"Something like that. Gum?"
Melissa shook her head and sat up straighter.
"Well he hasn't really told me about…all this."
And awkward silence settled between them, and Jo opened her mouth to fill the void:
"If you have to pee, you should do it now, 'cause there's not very many places to stop once we get on the road."
Melissa was silent. After a moment, she spoke:
"You're still in love with him, aren't you?"
Jo raised her brow and looked to Melissa disbelievingly.
"Not that I blame you…I just hope that this isn't some desperate attempt to keep him in your life."
Jo chewed her gum, contemplating the other woman's words before reaching over and plucking Melissa's tab off the counter.
"We're together," she told the waitress, placing both tickets and a wad of crumpled bills onto the counter. Grabbing her Styrofoam cup, she shot Melissa a friendly smile before turning from the counter and making an uncomfortable exit.
Bill stood at the edge of the parking lot and surveyed the clouds. The sky had darkened considerably; it's edges were tinged a nasty green color. Thunder reverberated off the hills, and before his eyes the light steadily transitioned from grey to orange to a heavy, ominous green, until soon the whole sky was tinted with the color. The crunch of gravel signaled Dusty's presence as he walked up behind Bill and stilled, his hands deep in his pockets.
"Hey man. What's up?"
"Goin green," Bill provided, picking up another handful of dirt and gravel and holding it open to the wind.
"Greenich," Dusty provided appreciatively, and Bill turned to head back towards the diner.
"Saddle 'em up…"
"You got it boss."
Dusty eagerly headed back to the others and Bill strode to his truck, grabbing his jacket from the front seat and shrugging it onto his shoulders.
Melissa was approaching, drinks in hand.
"Honey, I got you a lemonade-"
"We gotta move out-" Bill cut across fervently, "Listen, follow us in the truck but stay behind Dusty's van, you'll be safe back there. I gotta go with Jo!"
Bill spun on his heel and sprinted towards Jo's truck, rallying the others as they exited the diner in ones and twos and prepared to depart.
"Okay let's move out people! Let's go!"
"Where are we goin?" Melissa called unsurely.
Dusty hit the flashing lights on his bus and peeled past her, and Melissa fumbled for her keys, shoving the drinks onto the roof of the truck before pulling the door open and sliding into the drivers seat.
Jo gripped her key strap between her teeth as she pulled on her own jacket.
"Thanks, I'll drive!" Bill rushed past, plucking the keys away from her, and slid behing the wheel of her truck. Jo did a double take as she realized what had happened; she glared at Bill and hustled around the front the vehicle, pulling the passenger door open and sliding in beside him.
One by one they peeled out, and Dusty's roof-mounted speaker crackled to life and began blaring Van Halen across the darkened plains as they hit the highway, gathering speed.