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Chapter Two: Jack of All Trades
Jack parked the Pork-Chop Express up on the side of Highway 41, and left Pete to his favorite pastime of panting, drooling and scratching himself—in this respect, he reminded Jack of the kid who had the desk behind his in high school, and later went on to a successful career as an entertainment lawyer.
A Trans-Am swerved to avoid hitting him as he made his way to the nearest payphone. Jack was too busy trying to figure out what he was going to say to Egg Shen to pay attention to things like cars speeding at him. Like the late and unlamented David Lo Pan, Egg was some kind of magician, but that was more of a side job. Most of the time, he drove a tour bus around Chinatown. He was also the possessor of a magic potion, which he claimed had been invented by a Gaelic druid during Roman times. Jack had sampled it only the once, but just one sip had made him at least feel as though he could be capable of taking down Lou Ferrigno, romancing the beauteous Miss Morgan Fairchild, and solving the TV Guide crossword, all simultaneously. A man could get seriously hooked on something that powerful, which was why he’d never touched it again. A great American patriot had once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations,” and as far as Jack was concerned, they were the truest words ever spoken. Why the guy who’d said them had ignored his own advice and gone on to star in Paint Your Wagon was beyond his comprehension.
While dialling, Jack remembered that after the business in Little China, Egg Shen had said he was going to take a long vacation, then go help out his cousin running a convenience store out in the ass-end of nowhere, or Nevada, as the locals apparently preferred to call it. It was only understandable that he’d need a change of lifestyle as badly as Jack did, since his career as a tour guide undoubtedly took a hit when, all of a sudden, there wasn’t as much of Chinatown left to drive tourists around. That was largely Jack’s fault, true, but done with the best of intentions, namely the protection of the human race.
“Jack! My good friend, Jack Burton!” cried the familiar voice at the other end of the line. Jack was momentarily relieved that Egg remembered him, then wholly unsurprised. Of course, Egg remembered him, why wouldn’t he?
“How’s it going, Egg? You enjoying retirement?” he asked.
“Retirement? Who’s got time to be retired? There’s too damn much to be done around here!”
All of a sudden, Jack had a nasty feeling that Egg was about to relate his whole life story, something he could easily live without. Why some people got off thinking every little thing they did in their boring day might be worth repeating, he could never understand. He couldn’t ever be so damned egotistical. As he often told anyone who cared to listen, “Jack Burton’s never had such a crazy high opinion of himself, and Jack Burton never will.”
“Hey, that’s great,” he said, cutting Egg off in his tracks. “Listen, I need a favor …”
“Whatever you want, Jack, you can have it,” he snapped, cutting Jack off in his own tracks. “I was hoping you’d call, I got a job for you.”
“If you’re looking for a relief tour bus driver, you can forget it. I’ve never been much of a public speaker, and the idea of sticking to the speed limits is anathema to me.”
“Anathema. Word of the day. Yesterday’s was ‘felicitations’—couldn’t figure out a way to work it into a sentence.”
“It’s a simple haulage job, Jack. Take a crate from one place to another, that’s it.”
Jack examined his thumbnail as he thought it over. It was true that, just lately, he’d had as much work as a British dentist. “Is this for love, Egg, or are you offering something in cold, hard cash?”
“Whatever your rate is, you can have it, Jack, but I need you to do this for me tomorrow!”
“Tomorrow, huh? Well, that kind of complicates things. Oh, I’m not saying I couldn’t do it, but, uh, well, I’d really have to burn some rubber, drive all night … Under the circumstances, we’d have to discuss a special rate.” Jack was impressing himself at that point, something he didn’t find at all easy, what with his ridiculously high standards. With all the modesty he could muster, it seemed to him that not even young Mr. Donald Trump himself could have bettered his negotiating skills.
“Fine, fine!” Egg responded, caving a lot quicker than Jack expected him to. “You can have the cash in your hand as soon as you get here, but I got to come with you.”
“Well, now, hold on there, Hoss—this is strictly a one-man operation.” He looked over at the truck, where Pete was in the middle of a battle to the death with one of the flies that regularly circled his head. “Well … one man and one Christ-knows-what.”
“It’s a big item, Jack. You might break your back.”
“I’m unbreakable, compadre.”
“You want your money or not?”
That was the all-important question, and there was no denying that the opportunity to afford non-expired beer for the first time in a year was an immensely powerful one.
“Okay, fine, you can come,” he relented. “I’m going to be making some space up front anyhow.” From his position a few feet away from the Pork-Chop Express, he watched Pete smearing a trail of snot on the windshield, with a sound like a thousand souls crying out in eternal torment. “So give me the details.”
“You don’t want to write this down?”
“I don’t need to write it down. I got a memory like, uh …”
“An elephant?” he suggested.
“Nah, that ain’t it. It’ll come to me. Look, just give me Point A and Point B, and I’ll make it happen. Now what’s the job, Egg?”
“Well, you’re supposed to be taking the crate from the Kessler private museum in Concord to the Izraya Shipping Company, here in San Francisco.”
At that moment, a too-familiar smell wafted down the highway from the direction of the Pork-Chop Express, a cross between asparagus and rotting corpses. Jack knew that, without a shadow of a doubt, Pete was once again marking his territory.
“God dammit, Pete!” he yelled, dropping the phone, “How many times do I have to tell you, that’s premium suede!”
“But there’s one very important thing you have to know,” Egg continued, unaware that he was now talking to thin air, as Jack raced back to his truck. “You’re supposed to be taking it to the Izraya Shipping Company, but what I really want you to do is-”
At that moment, Jack was ruining two perfectly good copies of his second favorite publication, Cat Fancy, in order to clean up the mess made moments earlier by the hairy monstrosity he had named Pete. He was madder than the day he learned they’d cancelled Supertrain, and he didn’t care who knew it. There was now no doubt in his mind that he was making the right decision.
“Now you just sit right here,” he warned the big hairy doofus, using his sternest, pointiest finger to add weight to his well-chosen words. “When I get back, if I find out that your lice are even thinking about mating, you can Kerouac your way back to Chinatown, pal!”
Pete gave a feeble “Ook,” in reply, to which Jack responded with a frown before jogging back to the dangling phone.
Egg was still talking as Jack put the receiver to his ear. “… Everything depends on it. Do you understand me, Jack? Jack?”
“Egg, Egg, Egg, relax, I got it.”
“You got it?”
“I got it all. I’ll see you tomorrow. What time?”
“I already said what time!” he protested.
“Well, say it again, you know I can’t get enough of the sound of your voice.”
“Nine sharp. Ish.”
“Jack …” His voice took on a serious tone, which baffled Jack somewhat. “You understand how much this matters?”
“Egg, old buddy, you can trust me to rely on you. See you tomorrow at nine. Felicitations to you and your family, if you have one.”
Jack put the payphone back on the hook, satisfied that he was about to revisit his beloved Chinatown while making some easy cash, and damned annoyed that he was going to have to make the long drive back to San Francisco with the windows rolled all the way down.
In his palatial Chinatown home, Egg Shen set down the receiver, ran his stubby fingers through what little remained of his hair, and for the first time in weeks, felt something akin to relief. For a while there, it seemed as though a lot more than just the fate of the world was on the balance. But Jack Burton had come to his rescue once before, and vanquished Lo Pan to one of the 84,000 Hells. Now he had given his word that he understood the importance of the task ahead of him, and Jack was a man of honor. At last, after what seemed like an eternity of wakefulness and worry, he could sleep.
Boom! Studios is releasing Big Trouble in Little China: Big Trouble in Mother Russia in comic shops on December 21, and bookstores on December 27.
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