After traveling a distance out of New York City by bus, Joe and Iola stopped in a town to get something to eat. The off-the-beaten-path look of the area gave them an idea. Spotting a store called Jungle Jack’s Outfitters, they headed there.
Joe and Iola stepped into the rustic building. It was packed with every piece of sporting equipment imaginable. Kayaks hung along one wall, neatly arranged with skis and rafts on either side of them. Skates were displayed on small shelves dotting another wall. Whether it was inline, hockey, or figure skates, there were several samples. A variety of baseball bats, made of wood or metal, were also on display.
As the couple glanced around, they had yet to see anyone else in there. So when a booming voice greeted them from somewhere near the back of the store, they were both slightly startled. Joe’s grip on Iola’s small hand tightened protectively. She squeezed his large hand back as they both spotted the smiling man coming toward them.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome, kiddies!” the mustached man boomed. “Jungle Jack, at your service, sir and lady.” He tipped his head to Iola, who couldn’t help but smile at the man’s friendly demeanor. Jungle Jack began his boisterous spiel of what his store had to offer.
“Here at Jungle Jack’s our motto says it all,” Jungle Jack told them proudly. “Ready?” He cleared his throat. “‘Buy From Jungle Jack’s Outfitters Because If You Don’t – When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Bungle in the Jungle – Without Jungle Jack’s Outfitters!’”
“There isn’t a jungle around here,” Joe pointed out. Jungle Jack didn’t look upset about that little fact.
“But, the point is, if you do go to the jungle, or anywhere for that matter, without getting outfitted at Jungle Jack’s, you will bungle!” he explained easily with a smile. His infectious, deep chuckle seemed to fill the store. Iola laughed while Joe was hoping that Jungle Jack wasn’t this friendly with everyone or he might give away their location just to sell merchandise or even by accident.
“If you want to go skiing, you came to the right place, because I have the best skis available….”
“But no snow,” muttered Joe. Iola nudged him, but Jungle Jack was again undaunted by the interruption.
“Ah, but it is worth it to get the skis here, since they are the best, and then travel to where there is snow. Or wait until there is snow here. However,” Jungle Jack moved their attention over to the area of rafts, “if you want to enjoy the activities popular around here, right now, might I suggest the best raft ever made? It’s crafted in the good ol’ U S of A, of the finest materials available in the world, guaranteed to add enjoyment to any river rafting experience.” Jungle Jack beamed at them expectantly.
“Are there any cabins for rent around here?” Joe asked instead.
“Yes, indeedy there are,” grinned Jungle Jack. “I have one not too far away that I rent out when I’m not using it. I’ve got a place above my store here where I usually stay.”
“Is the cabin available now?” Joe asked.
“Yep. I rented it out a few weeks ago and restocked, so it’s all good to go,” Jungle Jack said with his constant smile and twinkling eyes. “So what drew you two to our friendly little town?”
“We’re on vacation and our stuff was stolen and we won’t be able to go where we wanted, but we still plan on having a good time,” Iola explained, hoping to make things sound normal and casual. Their stuff, such as phones, had been stolen by the Assassins.
“Hey, that’s too bad you got robbed, but you’ve got the right attitude! And, right off, you made the best choice, since you came to Jungle Jack Outfitters-,” Jungle Jack said.
Joe had the feeling he was about to give them the motto again, so he quoted it good-naturedly, letting the store owner know they had it memorized by then.
“That’s right!” Jungle Jack beamed. He liked these two and he honestly wanted them to have a great time. “Have you ever been rafting before?”
“Yes, but we won’t be buying a raft today,” Joe told the proprietor.
“So you say all your stuff was stolen, huh? Did you report it?”
“It wasn’t in this county.” Joe sensed that Jungle Jack was being helpful and nosy all at the same time.
“Does the cabin have amenities?” Iola asked, with the right amount of curiosity in her tone, thinking a change of subject a good idea right about then.
“Oh yes! Practically a luxury cabin! Won’t have to rough it at all!”
“I have no problem roughing it, I was just wondering,” Iola smiled. She was also very curious to see what Jungle Jack’s definition of ‘luxury’ turned out to be, and had a suspicion it varied from hers and Joe’s.
Joe glanced over at Iola and she turned to Jungle Jack, “If you’ll excuse us a minute, we’ll decide what all we need.”
When they were alone, Joe asked her how much money they had left after eating earlier. She told him quietly and together they made their decisions and plans. A little later Jungle Jack happily rang up their purchases.
“Okay, here’s a map to the cabin. I was just out there this weekend making sure everything was perfect. Food and everything is stocked and, as I said before, is included with the fee for the cabin. Oh, and you can leave your stuff here while you go make your other purchases at the store I told you about for items I don’t stock here. They have better merchandise and better prices than the other stores in town.”
Joe was sorely tempted to ask if it was a sister store to Jungle Jack’s Outfitters, but held back. The proprietor was nice and helpful, even if he was slightly pushy. Joe and Iola thanked him and hurried to make their other purchases so they could head out to the cabin while there was still light to find their way.
“Wow, that was a long short distance away!” exclaimed Joe as they finally spotted the cabin. They were both carrying stuff and were getting tired. Joe’s carefully arranged loaded pack, which he had put together in hopes that Iola wouldn’t have to carry too much, was getting heavier, it seemed, with every second. “I’m glad it’s not hot!”
“You and me both!” Iola returned. She felt energized, though, at the sight of the cabin. Hurrying up the wooden steps, she unlocked the solid door. “Welcome, welcome, welcome, kiddies, to our luxury cabin!” She laughed and Joe’s spirit lightened just hearing it. He laughed with her while he went ahead to make sure it was safe, with her right behind him.
“Well, we already figured it wouldn’t be a luxury cabin,” Joe commented with a lift of his brow. As he dropped the heavy pack off his back, his blue eyes swept quickly over the sturdy, but not exactly fancy, furnishings.
On second glance, though, some of the wood cabinets adorning the room had carvings of filigree on them. The living room and kitchen were open as one room, with a small dining area that consisted of a carved table and chair set, along with a cabinet of dishes. Joe quickly checked the other three rooms to the cabin, two bedrooms and a bathroom.
“Oh, but it’s quaint, Joe!” Iola’s eyes sparkled as she dropped her own backpack and went over to Joe. He put his arms around her and held her tight. They enjoyed each other’s closeness and drew strength from one another. She pressed her face against his strong chest, thankful for so many things, savoring his nearness, him. With Joe’s gentle hand stroking her hair, she looked up at her man, joyous love shining from her large eyes and found that his powerful love for her shone just as brightly in his vibrant eyes.
After a few moments they moved apart, being very aware of each other, as always. Joe cleared his throat. “Guess we better….do something else.”
Iola smiled, “Yeah, how about some food?”
“Probably a good idea.” Joe took hold of her hand again and they walked over to the kitchenette. They were pleased to find Jungle Jack had been accurate in his promise that it was fully stocked. Together Joe and Iola enjoyed preparing a delicious meal.
The bell on the door let Jungle Jack know that new customers had arrived. A glance at the clock told him it was after 9 pm but he was never one to turn away potential customers. He set the radio he’d been working on aside and moved toward the front of the store to greet them. A group of healthy looking guys and girl were checking the store out. Jungle Jack was sure he could sell quite a lot to these hearty adventurers.
“Men and lady, happy to see you!” he boomed, a huge smile on his face. “How are you? You look like you are ready to tackle the rapids! Or perhaps hike and climb the fantastic cliffs around here. Either way, you came to the right place, because our motto says it all. ‘Buy From Jungle Jack’s Outfitters Because If You Don’t – When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Bungle in the Jungle – Without Jungle Jack’s Outfitters!’”
“But we aren’t in a jungle,” stated the tallest guy.
Second time in less than twenty-four hours some smart mouth had to point that out, this one blond as well, thought Jungle Jack, but he didn’t let the comment bother him and kept smiling. He was there to help make their visit more enjoyable and he told them as much.
“We’ll be buying some equipment, but first if you could answer a question,” said one of the guys, whose deep voice held quiet authority. This one was also tall, but dark hair, with dark eyes that were serious, intense, and worried all at the same time, noted Jungle Jack. Probably been working too hard, needs some rest and relaxation, namely, rafting!, Jungle Jack thought. He looks familiar, wonder if he’s been here before?
“Sure thing, what’s on your mind?”
Frank held out his phone to show Jungle Jack a picture of Joe, “Have you seen him?” He wouldn’t mention Iola in case Joe had come in alone, having hidden her somewhere.
Jungle Jack was careful not to let on that he recognized Joe. After all, he didn’t know who these guys were, and the guy in the picture and his girl were a nice couple, although he had a serious smart mouth, but Jack could relate. “Hmmmm, I’ve seen a lot of people.”
“In the last couple of days?” questioned another guy, this one with glasses, glancing significantly around the otherwise empty store.
“Well, I had a bunch of people come in the other day,” Jungle Jack explained. He glanced surreptitiously again at the picture Frank was still holding. Then he looked up to find Frank was watching him carefully. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to be related would you?”
“He’s my brother.”
“Oh, okay, yeah. Different hair color and eye color but I see some definite familial resemblance there.” Jack glanced again at the photo. Yep, they could be brothers. “Why are you looking for him?”
“Long story. When did you see him?” Frank asked, not letting anything show on his face.
“Well, I didn’t exactly say I’ve seen him.” Jungle Jack was trying to decide whether to tell him where Joe and his girl were. After all, even brothers could fight.
Frank’s jaw moved ever-so-slightly as he looked steadily at the proprietor, whose smile faltered slightly. “When did you see him?” the older Hardy brother asked again.
Jungle Jack’s eyes moved from each intense looking face, still trying to decide.
“If you’re protecting my brother, I appreciate that very much. That’s what we would like to do as well. Has anyone else been asking about him?”
“No, no one else.”
“Did my brother come to your store?” Frank asked once more, while remaining calm. Barely.
Jungle Jack sighed. He was usually a pretty good judge of character, and whatever conclusion he came to was usually correct. This guy seemed to be truly concerned for his brother.
“Yeah. This afternoon.” Again the proprietor glanced at each of the friends’ faces. “What’s going on?”
“Like I said, long story, but we definitely need to get to him soon,” Frank said, glancing at the picture of his little brother before putting the phone back in his pocket.
“Okay, well, I can give you a map on how to get to them.” Jungle Jack went over to draw up another quick map. He snuck a glance over at Frank and the others, checking to see if that was news to them that Joe wasn’t alone. “Yeah, your brother and his girl. He’s very protective of her, and the two adore each other, you could really tell.”
Frank didn’t let anything show on his face. He figured neither Joe nor Iola wanted to be out of each other’s sight. That made sense. Jungle Jack looked a little disappointed at not finding out anything.
Biff, the one who had mentioned about not being in a jungle, walked around the store, gathering up supplies. Chet helped by picking out items and loading them into Biff’s arms. He continued to do so until Biff cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows. Chet grinned and took some of the things over to the counter.
“It’s dark out, you can’t go there now!” Jungle Jack said, concerned, knowing it could be treacherous in daylight and wasn’t about to recommend anyone unfamiliar with the area try to traverse the woods at night. “It’s a fair piece out there. Wait until morning; you’ll get there faster and safer.”
Frank heard him, but knowing that his brother wasn’t far away, he didn’t want to wait. He was afraid Joe would leave before they got there.
“Come back in the morning and I’ll give you the map,” Jungle Jack promised.
Right then the sheriff came in and said hi to the visitors and Jungle Jack.
“You about ready to close? It’s almost ten. Clarissa made pie today and said I better bring you over.”
“They’re looking for his brother,” Jungle Jack motioned toward Frank. “The sheriff here’s my brother.”
“Need to catch up with him,” Frank said calmly, not feeling the need to explain everything.
“His brother is out at my cabin, and they wanted to go on out there, but I told them it was too dangerous.” Jungle Jack knew his brother would back him up. He didn’t want someone getting hurt on his conscience.
“Yeah, with the cliffs and all, you should wait until morning,” the sheriff strongly cautioned.
“Well, we’ll make these purchases and see you in the morning,” Frank stated.
Joe and Iola took turns washing up at the small sink in the bathroom. When it was his turn, Joe wiped a washcloth over his face and his hair, trying to get the hair product out. He looked into the mirror a moment. Seems like so long ago when the marshals saved my life. And I decided to disappear. Then finding Iola. Joe looked upward, knowing that they never had to face things alone, and his heart gave a prayer of thanks.
Once he had cleaned up, he left the bathroom and found Iola looking past the curtains in the living room. He quickly moved to her and put his arm around her.
“See or hear something?”
She shook her head, again relishing his love. “Just checking.”
“Doesn’t hurt to be careful,” Joe agreed. His observant eyes tried to make sure all of the dark shadows were just that.
Later, as Joe and Iola sat on the comfortable couch, snuggled next to each other, he wondered how long it would be before they would feel safe again. Continuing as they had been, they took turns sleeping, so that one was always on watch. Joe listened to any sounds coming from outside, as well as the quiet slumbering of Iola’s even breathing. He gently touched her soft hair, letting it flow through his long fingers, yet careful not to interrupt her sleep. He was so thankful she was alive.
The group of Assassins slowly converged on the peaceful cabin nestled seemingly safe amongst the trees and brush. The rising of the sun wasn’t far off, but if the killers’ plan went as intended, the two occupants would never see the glorious display of sunshine painting the morning sky.