I was headed for the basement when my phone buzzed. Thirty more seconds and I would have been downstairs. The signal’s bad down there. I probably would have missed the call.
I think about that sometimes, knowing it would have been better that way. Well, better for me, at least.
I was going to the basement because Rich Thompson told me to. “Get to your safe place,” he said, and his jacket was off and his sleeves were rolled up, so I knew he meant business. Behind him, the map of Alabama had a thick, jagged stripe of green, yellow, and red running through it—mostly red. That stripe was inching its way across the state, and when Rich zoomed in, I saw that the top of it was just west of King County.
I’d been watching that stripe push its way toward us for the last couple of hours. When they first cut in, interrupting the golf tournament I’d been drinking through, Rich had been in full coat and tie mode. As the storms advanced, feeding off that rich Gulf Stream and growing bigger and bolder with each gulp of warm, moisture-rich air, Rich’s tie got loosened and the coat came off. I’d been working up a good Saturday afternoon drunk at that point, watching grown men chase a little white ball around for hundreds of thousands of dollars while I sat in a house with an upside-down mortgage and a fresh set of divorce papers, feeling a little sorry for myself. Bad weather had always scared me, so I’d quit on the beer and got wrapped up in Rich’s play-by-play.
It was amazing, really, just how accurate they could be these days. I remember my dad always railing against the weather man (in his day, they hadn’t yet invented the weather woman). “If he says it’s gonna be sunny, pack an umbrella,” he would say. “They don’t know nothin’. They’re just guessin’. ”
Rich Thompson didn’t guess. Rich had a vast array of satellites and digitized maps and such at his command. He could spot the tell-tale rotation of a tornado in all those red and yellow pixels, and he’d zoom in and tell you what street it was on now, and which streets better get ready to duck and cover in the next ten minutes.
That day, as the storm front plowed into King County, he didn’t name my street. But he did name a few streets about three miles from me, including the one my sister Becky lived on, and that was close enough. “Get in your safe place,” Rich said, and I answered right back with a slightly slurred, “Yes sir.”
But my phone rang before I could oblige him, and when I looked at the screen it had Becky’s name on it, with that picture of her sticking her tongue out that she always complained about, and I stopped in the hallway and took her call.
“Becky? Have you seen the weather? They’re saying it’s gonna get bad over where you are.”
Mostly what I got back was static, but a few of Becky’s words fought through.
“… coming … here …”
“Yeah, it’s coming! That’s what I said! Rich Thompson says to get in your safe place!” I was shouting into the phone, trying to be heard over the interference, my hand on the knob of my basement door. “He named your street! I was about to call you!” This was not true, but I said it to feel better about myself, an act which had the exact opposite effect.
“Zzzzzz … *crackle* … he’s coming … zzzzzz”
Not it’s coming. He.
She wasn’t calling about the tornado. She was calling about her on-again, off-again boyfriend.
I took my hand off the basement door and began digging in my pocket for my keys, moving down the hallway, headed for the side door and my truck.
“I’m on my way,” I said. In reply, I got another burst of static and the phone went back to my home screen.
As I passed through the kitchen, Rich Thompson told me one last time to get in my safe place. I didn’t listen to him, just like Becky had never listened to me about that sorry son of a bitch Lee Dixon.
Full of suspense! Not quite a happy ending but that's okay.