Volume 1.5: 'Sunny Side Up'
Let me tell you about Golden Jack. Yeah…I knew him and yeah, I know where he stashed it. It's not a legend; I was there.
Now you listen to your father. Now you lose that educated smirk.
Jack cooked the best damn eggs in the state. People’d come from miles around for his omelette at the diner. I don’t rightly remember how I ended up in Arizona. It'd been a damn dry year again and I was just more tumbleweed blowing through the desert, I guess. Folk would come for Jack's omelette and I'd wash up after.
That surprises you? You’ve never known hardship, but I was a pot wash in a worn-out diner that scraped by selling a few hamburgers to people who ducked in out of the sun.
Once Jack arrived, things turned round. The man had a talent with eggs, what can I say? Scrambled, fried, omelette: he cooked them all like a proper chef. The whole day, he’d stand there as still as a mountain, apart from his flipping arm. His craggy face was permanently creased with a smile, even when it was so hot that his grey hair stuck to his forehead like anemones to a rock.
The eggs got to be famous. The diner's owner was delighted. His restaurant was permanently full now; I washed dishes just as fast as a body could, but Jack just cooked along at the same steady pace. Jack got a raise and I got more plates to wash.
Jack didn't talk. At all. We worked together silently for months until, one evening, he sat next to me on the stoop out back while I smoked. I was tired and smelled of dish soap and egg. I wasn't in the mood, but neither was he. We watched the sunset burn the desert to black silhouettes and, when I'd finished, he clapped me on the shoulder and left.
This continued for months until, one day, he spoke finally. He liked me, I reckon.
“D'ya know what a Brasher doubloon is?” he grunted.
I shook my head. He gestured at my pack of Lucky Strikes and took one when I didn't object.
“Old coin, solid gold, very rare. Worth more than you can imagine.”
I didn't know where this was going, so I kept my mouth shut. Yeah, who'da thought I was ever quiet, the way I run my gums off these days.
“Went to prison over one. It's where I learned to cook eggs,” he offered.
I raised an eyebrow; he continued.
“Dirty Face Frankie and me knocked over this fancy apartment this one time. Got a tip about a well-stuffed safe. Frankie cracked it while I sat outside as the getaway driver. Problem is that the damn car kept stalling, just as the cops turned up. We tried escaping on foot, which went as well as you'd think. I went to prison for six years and they took all the loot. Nearly all the loot.”
With that, he smiled, clapped my shoulder again and left.
Why had he told me that and what the hell was a Brasher doubloon?
The next time I could get the bus out to the library, I got an answer. Brasher was a metalsmith who privately minted the doubloons in 1787. His skill was boundless, but the number of surviving doubloons was very limited: no more than six or seven. They were so rare that their exact value was hazy, but it was damn high. Why was a man with one just cooking eggs in a diner?
Of course, I opened my damn mouth to the librarian.
Word spread quickly and soon they came to watch him. He was like a pirate with buried treasure: find it yourself and never work again. They dug through the diner's trash, studied the menu for hidden clues and even took notes on how he cooked, like the coin's location was in a code of eggs: this one sunny-side up, this one sunny-side down. It was ridiculous, but they even nicknamed him Golden Jack.
Weeks later, he sat down beside me, swiped a cigarette and tucked it behind his ear.
“I swallowed it when the cops turned up,” he grinned, like our conversation had been yesterday. “And swallowed it. And swallowed it.”
Of course! There was no other way to hide it, but things don't stay hidden that way for long. Every day of his sentence, he'd have to check his waste to see if it'd...landed sunny-side up, if you catch my drift; clean it and swallow it again if it had. Again and again for six years, keeping that secret, waiting for freedom.
“And now?” I asked.
“Haven't seen it for a long time. Apparently that can happen sometimes.”
“Huh,” I said, stubbing out my cigarette.
The next day, I just grinned at all the conspiracy theorists eating in the diner. They had no idea.
Dirty Face Frankie had an idea. He'd got out of jail after ten years, having gotten the longer sentence for a more active part in the robbery, and heard about the diner cook with buried treasure. The description fit Jack, so Frankie thought he'd screwed him and bought a diner with the cash.
One day, he burst into the diner and hit Jack above the left ear with a tire iron.
Crash went Jack to the ground, dead, and crash went Frankie into jail again.
After, the diner started going under – no-one wanted to eat there after Jack's murder – so I got to thinking about the Brasher doubloon.
Jack's funeral was dead: just me, the priest and the undertaker. The undertaker complained that the body had been disturbed overnight; I just shrugged.
So, next time you look at me with that college sneer, just remember that this big house, your sharp suits and your fancy diploma are all because I'm prepared to get my hands dirty.