Read an Excerpt
Jane of the Jungle
By Jane Baskin
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Jane Baskin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhen he pointed the gun at my head, I knew it was over; and I remembered my father telling me so many years ago, "It's a jungle out there. Be careful."
Then something lifted.
I could not feel the weight of the bus or the bumps in the road. Some part of me realized that it was happening again; I think I went into a trance.
When I came to, I was driving somewhere all hot and rocky; it had to be either hell or California. Then my head cleared the rest of the way, and I realized that I had made the jump from the Mexican border unnoticed—at night. I was glad of that because a flying bus is something that might attract some attention, and attention was the last thing I wanted just then.
Last night he had chased me across most of New Mexico, all the way to the Mexican border, toying with me and blowing me kisses because we both knew he was going to kill me. He was taking his time, enjoying himself.
Then my mammoth tour bus, the bus I live in, gave up its connections to gravity and to reality and floated up into the air. I adjusted to a new type of controls—aircraft controls—and flew the bus away. Yes, this happened. I know because it had happened before.
All this started about a year ago.
Call me Jane. When I was fifty-eight, I won a radio contest and got a free face-lift to complement a lifetime of gym membership. I looked good, really good, and was counting on a lively few years to come.
Then the day I turned sixty, I chucked my entire life and entered a life of crime and strange events. My excuse was that I had no choice.
This is how it happened: my husband died after a long illness that sucked the life out of him and shredded my heart as I watched. Afterward, I was drowning in his medical bills and couldn't pay the mortgage. So one day I just up and quit my emergency nursing job and wrote several letters: one to the bank, thanking them for the house and giving it back to them; one to the bill collectors, suggesting they put the bills in their collective rectum; and one to my priest, asking him to pray for my outlaw soul and vote Democrat in the next election. Then I hit the road in a converted tour bus with a fantastically redesigned engine powered by manure.
A month later, I had an exceptional experience that showed me my new life would be unique. I had driven into the woods on an old logging road and was eating my lunch on the soft spring ground when I became aware of a red fox staring at me. For some reason, he seemed to have no fear of me, so I threw him a piece of my ham sandwich.
"That's kind of you ... but no, thank you," he said. "I just ate."
I looked at the sandwich; it did not appear to be spoiled. I tried to recall if I had inadvertently taken some of my husband's pills with my brandy last night, but I was certain I hadn't.
"Never seen a talking fox, eh?" he said to me.
"Uh ... no, now that you mention it," I replied. "Never."
The fox laughed. "Most people haven't," he said kindly.
Suddenly, the whole world seemed to fold in on itself like a piece of soft bread, and I felt myself sliding through a door. "Holy shit," I mumbled to myself.
The fox laughed again, not unkindly. "It is a shock at first, but I think you'll get used to it."
"You have spirit."
"I do?" Personally, I had always thought my "spirit" was just an anger problem.
"You are about to embark on a very adventurous life," the fox said.
"But I'm dull."
"You're not dull at all. You will have many adventures. You will find great love."
"You're out of your foxy little mind. I wouldn't know love if I stepped in it. Especially at my age."
"But you will. And you remain beautiful. Your age, you will see, is irrelevant."
"My husband was ill ...," I began, but he interrupted me.
"Yes, I know. And he died in great pain, equaled only by your grief. But he is healthy now, and happy, and he wants you to be happy too. He wants you to go on. And you will. And you will love again, magnificently. Don't forget me."
"You ...," I started to say, but he was gone.
A new life
I'd like to say that I thought carefully about this bizarre event, as a responsible person would do, but the truth is, I was not in a thinking mood. My life had come crashing down around my ankles so fast that I had abandoned all thought and hope that things would ever make sense. A cautious, deliberate life had left me nothing but broke on the sidewalk, and I had surrendered every good habit I thought I had.
A week or so after I talked to the fox, I made my way into an RV park in Florida. I expected to be surrounded by legions of old farts who would leave me alone. It turned out to be very different from that.
In the spot next to mine was a couple from New Jersey, Albie and Deedee Mazzini. They seemed younger than most RVers, not a gray hair between them, fit, trim, and lively. I dyed my hair too; I could relate. They liked to drink. So ...
We started hanging out together a lot, especially after five o'clock, when the drinking lamp was lit. Albie had the hardy good looks of an outdoorsman and exuded masculinity with every word and step. He seemed bored by the surroundings but enchanted by his wife and his cat. His wife, Deedee, was alluring to male and female alike: lushly beautiful and ageless, with an unabashed gritty character that challenged men and made women envious.
The cat, who was named Gordo and traveled with them everywhere, was possibly one of God's most unfortunate creatures. He had been either a fighter or the victim of immeasurable cruelty, for he was blessed with more scars than hairs. Fortune had left him with one eye, one ear, and about two-thirds of a tail with a nasty hook at the end.
Noting my surprise at my first sight of Gordo, Albie said, "Yeah, he's an ugly little bastard, but he's my baby. Old Gordo, he's had a rough life. I found him in a dumpster behind my friend's restaurant. Poor guy was half-dead."
Deedee said, "You should've seen it. He goes outside to take a leak—only God knows why he doesn't use the bathroom—and then he comes back into the restaurant carrying this dead cat like a baby. Walks right through the restaurant with people eating and everything. Now the goddamned cat sleeps with us every night. It's like sleeping with a disease."
Albie slapped her good-naturedly on her round bottom and said, "You don't have to worry. The only thing wrong with him is bad luck, and that ain't contagious." He picked up the oblivious cat, who buried its pocked face in his neck with undisguised pleasure at being alive despite the odds, and disappeared into the RV.
Deedee called after him, "I promise not to let the world know how softhearted you are in real life." To me, she said, "If you're human, watch out; but if you're an animal, he has a real soft spot. Don't tell."
Their pleasant buddy relationship was balm to my soul, which had been so badly bitten by my husband's death. Then one evening I mentioned something about myself, and my life changed forever.
A single engine seaplane landed in the bay and slithered into a tiny inlet up the shore from the camp. I laughed. "Yeah, I almost got into that business once," I said.
"What business?" Albie asked me with a peculiar grin.
"Drug running," I answered him. "I used to live in New Mexico, and when people know you're a flier, you get lots of uh ... transport offers."
"Is that right? You fly planes?"
"Been flying since I was a teenager. I'm even certified on big aircraft."
"I thought you said you were a nurse."
"I am, an emergency specialist. Or rather, I was, before I skipped out on all my bills. Fat chance I could get a job now. If I turned up on the radar anywhere, the bastards would be on me like a cloud of locusts. By the time they got done with attaching my pay, I'd be lucky to work for fifty cents an hour."
"You got money?" Deedee asked.
"What are you gonna do?" she asked me bluntly.
"I don't care."
So they proceeded to find out about my dark side, my husband's death and how embittered I was—and how I had pretty much flushed my whole life down the toilet and wasn't planning to look back. We drank late into the night.
When we could barely see and the air smelled of approaching dawn, Albie said to me, "Maybe you should take up flying again."
I laughed. "Yeah, maybe some of those old offers."
"Maybe so. I might even have an offer for you ..."
The next morning I woke up on the floor of my bus with a pneumatic drill inside my head. My stomach felt like an ocean of vomit and I had trouble finding my legs. Hours later, when I had cleaned up and medicated myself sufficiently, Deedee came over. She didn't look too good either.
"Are those drugs any good?" she asked, looking at an assortment of pill bottles on my table.
"The best. Mr. Valium here will steady your nerves, and Mr. Fioricet will take care of the headache."
As I poured her a dose she asked, "Where did you get all this stuff?"
"My husband had enough drugs at the end to open a pharmacy. It's about all I have left of him."
"That's tough, dearie. It must have been hard on you. How long has it been?"
"About a year and a half."
"How long were you married?"
"Fifteen years. Second marriage. The second one is always the one you don't want to give up."
We chatted for a while as the narcotics took effect. We learned that we each had two kids, that she and Albie had been married for eternity, and that I was vaguely heading north to visit my girls in Boston, which is where they lived.
"You know," she said, "it seems like you've had a rough couple of years. And you don't really know what you're gonna do next. Maybe you should take Albie up on his offer."
She laughed. "You were really loaded last night."
"We all were. Did Albie offer me something?"
"You know," she giggled. "The plane."
"There's a plane?"
At that point, we both burst out laughing. Drunken fools. Then Deedee told me that Albie had offered me thirty thousand dollars to do a plane delivery. "No drugs," she assured me. "Just the plane. He wants his plane back from Mexico, and his regular pilot was killed in a car wreck."
I started to remember. There had been something about his pilot getting into a terrible car accident that left his body horribly twisted, or as Albie had put it, "The bitch wound up with his head up his ass, and nobody could have deserved it more. When they hauled him out of the car, he was all wound up in a circle like a tortellini."
I remembered Deedee giggling and saying, "With all the blood, he must've looked like Sunday dinner."
I remembered thinking that they didn't have a whole soul between them—and that they were probably mob.
I remembered wondering what was in the damned plane; thirty thousand was a lot of money for "just the plane."
And I remembered thinking that I didn't give a tinker's damn.
As he feared, just too weird
We stayed in the camp another three days, during which we alternated drinking together, sleeping it off, and making plans. With the help of some maps and the Internet, Albie showed me the exact location of the plane. He said that the mechanics at the airport in the Yucatan had already gone over the engine and filled the fuel tanks; it was ready to go. He arranged for me to have an escort, a man with a gun (only for safety in traveling, he said) and a good command of the local language. I was to leave my bus at a private home in El Paso and then rendezvous with my escort after driving into Juarez in a car I would pick up when I dropped off the bus.
The last night in camp, we sat on the beach and poured Albie's hundred-dollar scotch into Styrofoam cups, enjoying the balmy night air. Albie sipped at his scotch and eventually slipped into a reverie. "Last time I was in Florida," he mused, "I was ten years old. Came here with my parents, my pain-in-the-ass sister, and my buddy Johnny Dom. Thank God my parents let Johnny come; otherwise my bitch sister would have driven me crazy. Me and Johnny disappeared up and down the beaches all day long. Played in the water, tortured crabs, talked about girls, and rumpled our little boy dicks. Watched the fast boats come and go. We wondered what it'd be like to drive one of those boats. We knew what was in 'em; we weren't that stupid. We thought it would be wicked fun running from the cops."
Deedee said, "Was it like you thought?"
They both laughed at that. For my part, I was getting used to the periodic knowing exchanges between them.
Albie said, "I remember one night when it was balmy and nice, like this here. Me and Johnny went to the beach after supper and just lay on the sand, counting the stars. Johnny said he was gonna join the air force someday and go up there; he was always a dreamer. I told him he'd probably just grow up and go into the family business like the rest of us. He bet me a shooting star I was wrong. So we lay out there and watched the sky, and sure enough, I'll be damned if he didn't get his shooting star."
"Did he join the air force?" I asked.
"He did. He came back after a while, but he was in for a long time. He never went to the stars, though. I guess he didn't need to. They were always in his head."
Deedee laughed. "What he means," she said to me, "is that his buddy Johnny was always a dreamer type."
"Did his dreams come true?" I asked.
Albie frowned. "More often than not," he said. "My grandmother always used to say that Johnny had second sight, but she was a superstitious old bitch."
"You wish," Deedee said to him. He grunted and poured himself some more scotch, and Deedee turned to me. "Albie's a frustrated weirdo," she said conspiratorially. "Superstitious as hell. He's a dreamer just like his friend, but it makes him crazy."
"I'm not superstitious," he protested. "There's no such thing as second sight or any of that crap my grandma used to go on about."
"How do you know?" she said, enjoying his discomfiture. "Now and then weird things happen. You of all people should know that." There was a sudden look between them that held so much rage it might have turned them both into puddles of slime if they had not looked away quickly.
I was thinking about all the weird things I had personally experienced when Deedee said, "And your granny was not full of crap." She turned to me, again like a conspirator. "His granny had the second sight. She could tell the future. She was so good that his dad used her to bet on the horses. They won so much that he remodeled his whole house and she paid for her own room at the old folks' home when she got fed up with Albie's dad. There's weird shit in this life, believe me."
I said, "I know what you mean. I talked to a red fox in the woods about a month ago. Had a whole conversation with him."
Albie dropped his scotch and Deedee stared at me. Clearly, I had said something dreadfully wrong.
Deedee finally broke the agonizing silence, saying, "How about that, Al? See? People see weird stuff all the time."
Albie retrieved his fallen Styrofoam cup and poured himself another drink, nearly filling the cup to the brim. He grunted, "She's full of shit."
"Doesn't sound like it," Deedee said, still needling.
Then the feeling in the air stilled the breeze and set the insects to flying in lunatic circles. In the bizarre moment, I said, "I'm sorry if I said something wrong. I didn't mean to upset you. Forget it, huh?"
Albie sulked wordlessly.
Deedee intervened. "Cool your jets, would you? How's she supposed to know?"
He sulked until Gordo the cat arrived to rub against his ankles, at which point he grabbed the cat and went into the bus.
Deedee said, "Well, dig this: that red fox of yours, he gets around. Al and I saw him too, years ago. It was just after we were married. We were on our honeymoon out West someplace. I just figured it was something we drank or smoked or snorted, but Al was so shook up by it that it bugs him to this day."
"I had no idea," I said, but I thought, Please don't rescind that offer. I need the money.
"Oh, don't worry about it. He'll get over it. He always does."
Albie returned with his cat and sat close to the bottle of scotch. He looked up at me and attempted a conciliatory grin. At that moment, I felt a chill and shivered.
Deedee laughed. "Careful," she said. "When you shiver in eighty-degree weather, someone just walked on your grave."
"Forget that crap," Albie said.
"If only you knew for sure, eh, baby?" Deedee said to him. He looked at her and glared. The cat stretched, then began rubbing its face against his.
Suddenly I understood that I was witnessing the core of an argument as vast as all the years they had spent together. I had been married twice to their once, and perhaps I had not had the time they had had to build such resentment. But as I watched their eyes lock off and on and their glances rise and fall, I was struck by the awesome depth of their love and their hatred for each other.
Excerpted from Jane of the Jungle by Jane Baskin Copyright © 2011 by Jane Baskin. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.