Mad Crab Mojave: Chapter 64

In which our heroes arrive at Lake Mead

Jones gripped the dashboard with both hands. He was nauseous. After many hours of Bugs’ erratic drifting and shifting, he could not get the horizon to stop wobbling. In the drivers’ seat, Bugs rambled on, oblivious to Jones’ discomfort.

“I know why you’re not happy,” Bugs declared. “You keep getting caught up in things bigger than yourself. You let the macro take over. It’s too much information, Jones. You gotta focus on what you can control.”

They approached a junction. Bullet holes obscured the sign, but Jones was able to make out some faded lettering. “Exit 75 - Valley of Fire, Lake Mead.”

“Turn there!” Jones cried. “Take a right!”

Bugs obliged without touching the brakes. Jones’ chest jerked against the seatbelt. The horizon spun downward.

“Here’s the thing about potatoes,” Bugs said, “Everybody needs them, everybody understands them. Sure, there’s been some complexity with the supply chain lately, but the fundamentals are straightforward. Potatoes and milk. Get potatoes, cook them with milk, complete nutrition. You can put the whole thing on a t-shirt. I’m doing good in the world, and more importantly, I understand what it is that I am doing.”

The highway began to climb. They were entering into more rocky terrain. As the car began to struggle with the incline, Bugs stepped harder on the gas. The vehicle lurched forward. Jones groaned and buried his head in his hands.

“I’ve known you for a long time,” Bugs continued. “Even if you know you’re not capable of something, you’ll do it anyway if someone yells at you long enough. Then they yell at you more when you fail. What kind of life is that? At first, when you started the detective agency, I was happy for you. Finally, master of your own fate. But then you kept taking on impossible cases.”

“For the money,” mumbled Jones. “And then to avoid Federal prison.”

“But that is my whole point! You don’t need the money if you just eat potatoes and milk! Wow! That is spectacular.”

Bugs fells silent. Jones looked up as they crested the hill. The Valley of Fire opened up before them. All around the road, crimson, wind-carved monoliths jutted out of the desert floor, scattered around the valley like jewels broken off a necklace. The road dipped and turned over the crest of ridges and into valleys, now lined with white sandstone, now revealing a verdant green hillside.

Occasionally, the highway would dip into a desert wash and Bugs would have to slam on the brakes to avoid driving the car straight into the pavement. Then the road would climb again and they would crest to another stunning panorama. Jones felt bittersweet regret.

“I bet Marvin would love this place,” said Jones.

“Who?” asked Bugs.

“The autonomous vehicle I was working with.” Jones explained. “The Fed. They love geology.”

“Can cars love?” asked Bugs, skeptical. Jones felt a twinge of annoyance. Bugs pointed at another road sign.

“Five miles to Lake Mead!”

Jones blinked. He had been so distracted by Bugs’ driving and the scenery that he’d forgotten, momentarily, what they were here for.

“What will we say when we get there?” asked Jones.

“Say to who?” asked Bugs.

“Mad Crab, I assume. I hope it’s  Mad Crab. They should have the military grade quantum super computer with them.”

“How about, ‘Halt!” suggested Bugs.

“Yes,” agreed Jones. “But it needs to sound authoritative.”

They practiced together as the red rock sank into the sand behind them. A few turns and a few miles later, the road turned and began to peter out into gravel. Bugs slowed. The road opened out into a wide parking lot, facing a long beach. Jones took in a deep breath. After so many miles of sand and rock, they were now staring at the glittering blue waters of Lake Mead.

“Here we are,” breathed Bugs. 

Jones scanned the shore of the lake, his heart sinking.

“Where’s the dam?” he asked.

Bugs screeched the truck to a halt. “Shit!” he yelled. “We’re on the wrong side of the lake!”

Jones tore at the road atlas, turning it in all directions, comparing it to the sun. “We’re on the wrong side of the lake.”

“How far away are we?”

Jones and studied the map. “Sixty five miles due south. There’s a two lane road that follows the Colorado River bed, through the Lake Mead recreational area. How much gas do we have?”

“About a quarter tank.”

“Is that enough?”

“It’ll have to be.” Bugs put the truck in gear. “Mad Crab cannot control the Mojave.” 

He pressed the gas pedal to the floor. The truck leapt forward, lurched into a large pothole, and skidded sideways across the gravel, tires spinning as they tried to gain purchase in the drifted sand. Bugs kept his foot on the gas. The vehicle hit a concrete divider and spun out, coming to rest with its bumper against a large boulder. 

“Sorry,” said Bugs, and tried to restart the engine. The truck groaned to life, but listed heavily towards the passenger side. The two men got out and examined the tires. Two of them were completely flat.

“Do you smell that?” Jones asked. There was a sour, metallic taste in his mouth. Bugs inhaled through his nose.

“Run!” he screamed. 

The two men turned and dashed away from the car. Moments later, explosions rippled through the air. Bugs and Jones threw themselves to the ground, covering their heads with their arms. A cactus dug its needles painfully into the flesh of Jones’ underarm. He ignored it, holding his breath.

Nothing else happened. He heard sizzling sounds and lifted his head. The trunk of the car, where the gasoline cans still rested, was on fire. 

“I thought you knew how to drive,” he groaned, sitting up. Bugs rolled over and began to brush pebbles out of his palms.

“I thought you knew how to read a map!” Bugs said cheerfully. “It’s like a metaphor for our civilization, am I right? What a week!”