Me Tanner, You Jane

Page 13

All of this happened very quickly while I just stood there and held onto my fork. The man who’d been chopped in the throat made a terrible sound and fell in stages to the ground. His knees buckled, and his body bent at the waist, and he went down as if torpedoed. The other man came right up onto his toes, lifted by the claw in his middle. He made a whooshing sound as air came out of him in a rush, making its exit either from his mouth, which seemed more likely, or through the hole in his belly, which seemed possible at the time. His back was to me so I couldn’t really be sure, but either way the air went out of him, and so did the resistance, and so, I guess, did life itself. He flopped onto the floor and stayed there.

And the big man, who had done all of this as easily as he had flung me across the room, said, “You’re absolutely right about that, needless to say. Ontogeny certainly does recapitulate phylogeny.”

“Every time,” I said.

“One never sees phylogeny,” he said, “without it’s been recapitulated by ontogeny.”

Plum was saying, “Wha’, wha’-” The two men on the ground were saying nothing at all.

I said, “Sam Bowman.”

The big man looked at me. He just stood there looking at me, and then slowly his lips eased into a broad grin, parting to show white teeth. “Yeah,” he said, drawling. “Sam Goddamn Bowman himself. And just who in the hell are you, man?”

Introductions didn’t take long. When we all knew who we were, it was time to look to the future. The future looked uncertain at best.

Bowman checked the two men on the floor, and they turned out to be dead, which is what we had assumed. “So much for witnesses,” he said cheerfully. “But that ain’t the end of the problem. The question, baby, is what we gonna do about you two.”

I told him that was simple – we were heading for home and he could join us. He said it wasn’t that simple at all.

“Ol’ Sheena has her boys strung out all over this patch of real estate, man. We knew you were here last night. If we tried to split now, we wouldn’t make a mile without coming up against some of my old buddies.”

“Are they that good at combat?”

“You believe it. I trained ’em myself.”

“These two didn’t give you much trouble.”

“Oh, they didn’t expect anything, see. They were digging you, and I just came along and zapped them. And then they trusted me, see, which is always a mistake, like.” He shook his head. “No chance,” he said. “Only thing is to go back to where Sheena is at and pass you off as members of the tribe.” He shook his head. “Which ain’t gonna be exactly easy. Sellin’ you two to Sheena is like sellin’ sand in the desert.”

“Tell her we’re friendly. That we’re on her side, something like that.”

“You’re the wrong color, man. And the bird, she’s the wrong sex. You know anything about Sheena? She’s one beautiful crazy-ass chick, man. Great big blonde with jugs out to here and wild legs, looks like something out of a Swedish movie.”

“Where did she come from?”

“She was a missionary’s daughter.”

“You’re putting me on.”

But he wasn’t. Sheena, it seemed, had started life as plain Jane Grey (“Unlucky Lady Jane,” Bowman said) until a cannibal gang cooked and ate her parents. Jane was on hand to watch all this, and was at a sufficiently impressionable age for the spectacle to leave scars. Additional scars were left by the cannibals’ subsequent treatment of Jane herself – they used her to satisfy another hunger entirely, raping her beyond the bounds of good taste.

One might think that this sort of treatment would have made Jane, who had been shy anyway, and who had experienced a typically repressed childhood, into a man-fearing black-hating desiccated old bitch, and perhaps a vegetarian in the bargain. But somehow the Fates turned the picture inside out and printed it as a negative. She hated whites, not blacks. She hated women, not men. Far from desiccated, she was genuinely juicy, a full-fledged polyandrous nymphomaniac. (These – mark it well – are my words. Bowman’s description was less scholarly.)

Nor was she any sort of vegetarian. I learned now what had happened to the various human organs the absence of which I had last night noted. They had been eaten.

“So you see where it’s at,” he summed up. “Certain people don’t get to live when Sheena has any say about it. Like all women, white or black. And like all white men. And like any black men who won’t come join the harem. Which comes out” – he sighed – “that we got a problem. You’re white. The chick is half-white and also she’s a chick.”

Plum snorted quietly.

“Not that I’m complainin’ myself, understand.” He beamed at her, and her irritation dissolved in the glow of the smile. “Wouldn’t have you any other way, baby. That mixed-blood bag is very exotic. I dig it.”

I think she blushed.

“Thing is, you can’t come into Sheena’s camp looking like yourselves. But there’s a way around it. There generally is, has been my experience. We cut your hair short enough and darken it up some and it won’t look so bloody Caucasian. Use some dyes to darken your face. Darken up the bird’s, too, and her hair. At least it’s kinky to start with. Makes it easier.”

“I knew it would come in handy someday,” Plum said.

“Have to tie them there up a little,” he went on, pointing at her breasts. “And Evan, my man, I don’t guess it would hurt for you to join the red crotch club. It’s just this cochineal dye she has us put on. Don’t hurt none, and to tell you the truth I think it keeps the flies off.”

“What about Plum?”

“She have much trouble with flies?”

“No, but-”

“No point then, man.”

This stupidity got sorted out when Bowman explained that Sheena and her Merry Men only went naked on selected occasions, such as massacres, so that they wouldn’t get blood on their clothing. He and his two erstwhile buddies had been fully dressed when they came calling on us, but had stripped outside and left the clothes there. We could even wear their clothes, he suggested; it might help make the deception effective.

I don’t know if it did or not, really. In Plum’s case, the white duck slacks were a foot and a half too long for her, the waist almost that much too large for her, and the canvas tunic was so oversized that her breasts disappeared in it; there was really no point in binding them. My outfit came a little closer to my size – either my opponent had been less gigantic than he had seemed or the clothes had been too small for him.

We had no sooner gotten the clothes on than we took them off again and began making ourselves over as members of Sheena’s gang. Bowman took charge of things, and I was more than happy to let him. I had lost the ability for intelligent planning somewhere along the way and didn’t know if I would ever get it back. It was easier by far to nod and grunt while my hair got shortened and my skin darkened and my generative paraphernalia dyed a screaming scarlet.

He did the honors for Miss Pelham Jenkins, too. I had to admit that the transformation was fairly remarkable. The little bridge of freckles disappeared as her skin turned several shades darker. The very unusual cap of blond curls became a very usual cap of dark brown curls. Sam Bowman did good work, and if it seemed to me that his hands lingered rather too affectionately on the flesh he was darkening, there was really nothing I was entitled to do or say about it.

And through it all, Bowman talked. About the life he had for himself, roaming the jungles with Sheena’s gang and instructing them in hand-to-hand combat and guerrilla warfare techniques. About his flight from Griggstown, and how he had been very nearly killed a dozen times, and how he would have starved to death or died of a fever if he hadn’t met up with Sheena. About the Chief, and the stupidity of this assignment, and the superiority of the average urban ghetto to the average jungle, and of the average urban ghetto dweller to the average denizen of the bush.

“Not that these cats don’t have a certain charm, you dig. Because they do. And they are purely beautiful at getting their bodies to do what their heads tell them. When I was in Oakland with the Panthers we would get all these very straight college boys stuffed up to here with Black Power slogans. All hung up on Afro culture and Mao and Che, the whole bag. Intense, you know. I’d lay some judo and karate on them and they’d practice day and night and concentrate on nothing else, but it was like their bodies wasn’t right for it. They didn’t feel it, they didn’t have the rhythm for it, and they never did get it down right.”

I asked about Knanda Ndoro, and about the details of his assignment. He said he had been sent to rescue the Retriever but was rather bitterly surprised when I let him know that America had simultaneously supported the side that deposed the dictator. “They never told me that,” he said.

“Maybe they wanted to make your performance more convincing.”

“They do one thing with one hand and the opposite thing with the other.”

“The other hand was the CIA.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Well, it’s part of the policy of competing brands. They learned it from Procter and Gamble.”

He didn’t seem amused at this. He thought it over and just shook his head, and I asked again what had happened to Ndoro.

“Knanda Ndoro,” he said. “The Modonoland Retriever. Quite a man, Tanner cat. Quite a man. Know much about him?”

“Not much,” I said.

“He was a fascist bastard,” Plum said.

Bowman seemed not to have heard. His face took on an odd quality. “A natural leader,” he said. “An infinitely charismatic man. A charmer. Tremendous natural intelligence, a good British education, and enormous personal magnetism. Maybe he was bad for the country in some ways, but he was damned good for it in others. Gave these buggers a sense of identity, a feeling of national purpose.

“I had a hard time getting him to leave the capital. He wanted to stay. Of course we got out at the last minute. You must know about that. Then that mad rush through the jungle. I thought we were clear at one point. I thought the two of us, you know, would be equal to anything the jungle might throw up against us.”

He lowered his eyes and dropped his voice. “Then the fever struck. I caught it first and came close to dying. But he nursed me through it. And then, just as I was recovering nicely, he came down with it. He was burning up with fever and couldn’t eat and was delirious and, oh, it was terrible.” A pulse worked in his temple. “I stayed up with him day and night. I tried to bring him out of it by sheer force of will, but my will just wasn’t equal to that fever. After three days and nights of it he died.

“I dug his grave with my own two hands. By the side of a tree near a river bank. Scooped out the dirt with my own two hands and laid him to rest. I thought of a poem they taught me in school. Stevenson wrote it, Robert Louis Stevenson, for his own epitaph. It went like this:

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