by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from The Big Lebowski, screenplay by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
A large, brilliant Persian rug lay on the floor beneath Ambush Bug’s beat-up old furniture. At the table next to the answering machine, Ambush Bug was mixing Kahlúa, rum, and milk.
“Dude, this is Shaggy,” the answering machine said. “Look, I don’t wanna be a downer about this, and I know it wasn’t your fault, but I just thought it was fair to tell you that the gang and I will be submitting this to the League and asking them to set aside the round. Or maybe forfeit it to us.”
” –so, like I say, just thought, you know, fair warning. Tell Scabbard.”
“Mr. Schwab, this is Brandt at, uh, well — at Mr. Schwab’s office. Please call us as soon as is convenient.”
“Mr. Schwab, this is Fred Dynarski with the Southern Metropolis Bowling League. I just got a — an informal report from a Velma Dinkley that, uh, that a, uh, a member of your team, Mr… uh, Scabbard, drew a loaded weapon during league play–“
“Mr. Bug? This is Jonni DC. I think you and I need to talk about some of these teams you’ve been playing on your bowling nights–“
The doorbell suddenly rang, much to Ambush Bug’s relief. It swung open to reveal a muscular-but-balding middle-aged man in a black T-shirt and black cutoff jeans.
“Hiya, Binky,” Ambush Bug said.
“Hey, Bug. I finally got the venue I wanted. I’m performing my dance quintet — you know, my cycle — at Crane Jackson’s Fountain Street Theater on Tuesday night, and I’d love it if you came and gave me notes.”
Ambush Bug took a swig of his Kahlúa. “Sure, Binky. I’ll be there.”
“Bug, uh, tomorrow is already the tenth.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. OK.”
“Just, uh, just slip the rent under my door.”
Back in the living room, the voice continued on the machine:
“–serious infraction, and examine your standing in the DCU. Scabbard isn’t even supposed to be on Earth-One!”
“Mr. Schwab, Brandt again. Please do call us when you get in, and I’ll send the limo. Let me assure you — I hope you’re not avoiding this call because of the rug, which, I assure you, is not a problem. We need your help and, uh — well, we would very much like to see you. Thank you. It’s Brandt.”
Brandt and Ambush Bug walked down the high-ceilinged hallway. A dolorous soprano filled the air. “We’ve had some terrible news,” Brandt said. ” Mr. Schwab is in seclusion in the west wing.”
“Huh,” Ambush Bug said.
Brandt threw open a pair of heavy double doors. The music washed over them as they entered a great study where Irwin Schwab, a blanket thrown over his knees, stared with haunted eyes into a fire, listening to Lohengrin. “Mr. Schwab.”
Irwin Schwab waved Ambush Bug in without looking around. “It’s funny. I can look back on a life of achievement, on challenges met, competitors bested, obstacles overcome. I’ve accomplished more than most men, and without the use of my legs. What… what makes a man, Mr. Schwab?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Is it… is it being prepared to do the right thing? Whatever the price? Isn’t that what makes a man?” Irwin Schwab asked.
“Sure. That and a pair of testicles.”
Schwab turned away from Ambush Bug with a haunted stare, lost in thought. “You’re joking. But perhaps you’re right.” He paused for a second and said, “Bunny.” He turned back around, and the firelight showed tear tracks on his cheeks.
“‘Scuse me?” Ambush Bug said.
“Bunny Schwab… she is the light of my life. Are you surprised at my tears, sir?”
“Strong men also cry… strong men also cry.” He cleared his throat. “I received this fax this morning.” Brandt hastily pulled a flimsy sheet from his clipboard and handed it to Ambush Bug.
“As you can see, it is a ransom note. Sent by cowards. Men who are unable to achieve on a level field of play. Men who will not sign their names. Weaklings. Bums.”
Ambush Bug examined the fax. It read:
WE HAVE BUNNY. GATHER ONE MILLION DOLLARS IN UNMARKED NON-CONSECUTIVE TWENTIES. AWAIT INSTRUCTIONS. NO FUNNY STUFF.
Schwab looked soulfully at Ambush Bug. “Brandt will fill you in on the details.” He wheeled his chair around to once again gaze into the fire.
Brandt tugged at Ambush Bug’s Hawaiian shirt and pointed him back to the hall. The soprano’s singing was once again faint. Brandt’s voice was hushed. “Mr. Schwab is prepared to make a generous offer to you to act as courier once we get instructions for the money.”
“You were the only person of the costumed variety we know personally, so we called you. He also suspects that the culprits might be the very people who, uh, soiled your rug, and you’re in a unique position to confirm or, uh, disconfirm that suspicion.”
“So he thinks it’s the carpet pissers, huh?” Ambush Bug said.
“Well, Mr. Bug, we just don’t know.”
Ambush Bug sat next to Scabbard in the molded plastic chairs. He stared toward a short, redheaded bowler displaying perfect form. “Man, that hayseed can roll,” Ambush Bug said.
The bowler in question displayed perfect form as Ambush Bug and Scabbard’s conversation continued. “Yeah, but he’s a short little freak,” Scabbard said. “Look at his beard. It hangs down past his knees! I keep expecting him to trip over it.”
He rolled again with perfect form, and the pins were scattered by a strike. He threw back his large, cowboy-hatted head and yelled, “Yahoo!” Then he pulled out a couple of six-guns and was about to fire into the air, alarming the other patrons, when the alley manager shot him a look.
“You wanna get us thwown out again, Sam?” his partner said, chiding him. Stitched above the breast pocket of his all-in-one was his first name, Elmer.
“Sam ought’a let his partner have some of all that hair,” Scabbard said as he and Ambush Bug were joined by Donny. “Anyway. How much they offer you?” Scabbard asked Ambush Bug.
“Twenty grand,” Ambush Bug said. “And, of course, I still keep the rug.”
“Just for making the hand-off?” Scabbard asked.
“Yeah.” He slipped a little black box out of his shirt pocket. “They gave me a beeper for whenever these guys call.”
“What if it’s during a game?” Scabbard asked.
“I told him, if it was during league play–” Ambush Bug said emphatically.
Donny had been watching Sam and Elmer and interrupted, asking, “If what’s during league play?”
“Life does not stop and start at your convenience, you miserable piece of s#$%!” Scabbard snapped at Donny.
“What’s wrong with Scabbard, Bug?” Donny asked.
“I figure it’s easy money. It’s all pretty harmless. I mean, she probably kidnapped herself,” Ambush Bug said.
“Huh?” Scabbard said.
“What do you mean, Bug?” Donny asked.
“Rug pee-ers did not do this. I mean, look at it. Young trophy wife. Marries a guy for money, but figures he isn’t giving her enough. She owes money all over town–”
“That… bitch!” Scabbard said.
“It’s all a fake. Like Lenin said, look for the person who will benefit. And you will, uh, you know, you’ll, uh, you know what I’m trying to say.”
“I am the Walrus,” Donny answered.
“That bitch!” Scabbard bellowed.
“I am the Walrus,” Donny said.
“Shut the #@%& up, Donny! V.I. Lenin! Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov!” Scabbard said.
“What the heck is he talking about?” Donny asked Ambush Bug, gesturing at Scabbard.
“That’s exactly what happened, Bug! That makes me sick!” Scabbard bellowed.
“Yeah, well, what do you care, Scabbard?” Ambush Bug asked.
“Yeah, Bug, why is Scabbard so pissed off?” Donny asked.
“Those rich sons of bitches! This whole damn thing — I did not watch my buddies die face down in the muck so that this… this strumpet–”
“I don’t see any connection to Vietnam, Scabbard,” Ambush Bug said.
“Well, there isn’t a literal connection, Bug.”
“Scabbard, face it, there isn’t any connection. It’s your roll.”
“Have it your way,” Scabbard said, shrugging. “The point is…”
“It’s your roll,” Ambush Bug said.
“The point is…” Scabbard repeated louder.
“It’s your roll,” Ambush Bug repeated louder.
“Are you low-down mangy varmints ready to be beaten?” a nearby voice interrupted in a thick Texan accent. They both looked up.
Sam, on his way out, looked at them from the lip of the lanes. Over his polyester all-in-one he now wore a windbreaker with a racing stripe and Yosemite stitched on the breast. He held a rawhide leather ball satchel. Behind him stood his partner, Elmer, a short, fat, bald man.
“I see you yella-bellies sidewinded your way into the semis. Fudd and me, we’re gonna make mincemeat outta ya!”
His partner gave a rapid, “Ha-hah-hah-hah,” laugh.
“Yeah, well, that’s just, ya know, like, your opinion, man,” Ambush Bug said.
Sam looked at Scabbard. “Let me tell you something, you low-down mangy polecat. You pull any your fool loco nonsense with us, you flash a sword out on the lanes, I’ll fill ya full o’ lead!”
“Jeez!” Ambush Bug exclaimed.
Scabbard nodded sadly. “Short little freaks.”
Ambush Bug lay prone on the rug, his eyes closed. He wore a Walkman headset, and leaking tinnily through the headphones came an intermittent clatter. In his hand lay a cassette case labeled New Venice League Playoffs 1983.
The Bug absently licked his lips as a hall rumbled down the lane. On its impact with the pins, he opened his eyes and screamed.
A blonde woman loomed over him. Next to her, a young man in paint-spattered denims stooped and swung something toward him.
The sap caught Ambush Bug on the chin and sent his head thunking back onto the rug. A million stars exploded against a field of black.
When Ambush Bug opened his eyes, his head was resting against hardwood floor, not rug. “Oh, man,” he groaned. He raised himself onto his elbows and massaged the lump on his jaw. The beeper on his belt was blinking red in sync with the continuing irritating beeps.
He looked around the room. An end table was upset, but otherwise the furniture was in place — except the rug. The rug was gone.
Ambush Bug looked around. The bowling sounds continued from his Walkman. The beeps continued. The phone started to jangle.
Ambush Bug walked down the marble inlaid hallway inside the Schwab estate as Brandt filled him in. Brandt threw out a wrist to look at his watch. “They called about eighty minutes ago,” Brandt said. “They want you to take the money and drive north on the 4-5. They’ll call you on the portable phone with instructions in about forty minutes. One person only, or I’d go with you. They were very clear on that: one person only. What happened to your jaw?
“Oh, nothin’. You know.”
They reached the little desk outside of the big Schwab’s office. Brandt opened its bottom drawer with a key and took out an attaché case. He handed this to Ambush Bug along with a cellular phone in a battery-pack carrying case.
“Here’s the money and the phone,” Brandt said. “Please, Mr. Bug, follow whatever instructions they give.”
“Uh-huh,” Ambush Bug said, nodding.
“Her life is in your hands,” Brandt said.
“Oh, man, don’t say that.”
“Mr. Schwab asked me to repeat that. Her life is in your hands,” Brandt said.
“Her life is in your hands, Mr. Bug,” Brandt said. “And report back to us as soon as it’s done.”
The headlights played over Scabbard as he stood waiting in front of the storefront of SCABBARD SECURITY. Though he was wearing his fearsome red mask and had a giant sword sheathed down his back, the fact that he held a battered brown briefcase made him look oddly like a commuter. He also held an irregular shape bundled in brown wrapping paper.
The car stopped in front of him, and he opened the Bug’s door and handed him the briefcase. “Take the ringer,” Scabbard said. “I’ll drive.”
Ambush Bug took the briefcase and slid over. “The what?”
“The ringer!” Scabbard said. “The ringer, Bug! Have they called yet?”
Ambush Bug opened the briefcase and pawed bemusedly through it as the car started rolling. “What the heck is this?”
“My dirty undies. Laundry, Bug. The whites,” Scabbard said.
“Agh,” Ambush Bug said grimacing as he closed the briefcase. “Scabbard, I’m sure there’s a reason you brought your dirty undies–”
“Thaaaat’s right, Bug,” Scabbard said. “The weight. The ringer can’t look empty.”
“Scabbard — what are you thinking?” Ambush Bug asked.
“Well, you’re right, Bug. I got to thinking. I got to thinking, why should we settle for a measly twenty grand?”
“We? What do you mean we? You said you just wanted to come along!” Ambush Bug exclaimed.
“My point, Bug, is why should we settle for twenty grand when we can keep the entire million? Am I wrong?”
“Yes, you’re wrong. This isn’t a game, Scabbard!” Ambush Bug yelled.
“It is a game. You said so yourself, Bug. She kidnapped herself,” Scabbard said.
The phone chirped, and Ambush Bug grabbed it. “Bug here.”
“Who is this?” a voice said in a German accent.
“The bagman. Where do you want us to go?”
“Us?” the German voice said suspiciously.
“Uh, yeah, you know — me and the driver,” Ambush Bug said. “I’m not handling the money and driving the car and talking on the phone all by my–”
“Shut up!” the German voice snapped. When Ambush Bug clammed up, he said uncertainly, “Hello?”
Scabbard looked over at Ambush Bug and bellowed, “Bug, are you #[email protected]&king this up?”
“Who is that?”
“The driver, man. I told you–” Ambush Bug said. There was a click and then a dial tone. “Oh, hell. Scabbard.”
“What the #$%^ is going on there?” Scabbard asked.
“They hung up, Scabbard!” Ambush Bug yelled. “You fowled it up! You fowled it up! Her life was in our hands!”
“We’re screwed now! We don’t get paid, and they’re gonna kill her! We’re screwed, Scabbard!”
“Bug, nothing is fowled up. Come on. You’re being very un-Bug-like. They’ll call back. Look, she kidnapped her–”
The phone chirped.
“Ya see? Nothing is fowled up here, Bug,” Scabbard reassured him. “Nothing is fowled up. These guys are amateurs–”
“Shut up, Scabbard! Don’t say peep when I’m doing business here.”
“OK, Bug,” Scabbard said patronizingly. “Have it your way.”
Ambush Bug unclipped the phone from the battery pack.
“But they’re amateurs.”
Ambush Bug glared at Scabbard, then spoke into the phone. “Bug here.”
“OK, vee proceed,” the voice on the other end said. “But only if there is no funny stuff.”
“So, no funny stuff. OK?”
“Hey, just tell me where the heck you want us to go,” Ambush Bug said.
A highway sign that said Valley Road flashed by in the headlights of the roaring car. “That was the sign,” Ambush Bug said.
Scabbard wrestled the car onto the two-lane road. “Yeah. So as long as we get her back, nobody’s in a position to complain. And we keep the baksheesh.”
“Terrific, Scabbard. But you haven’t told me how we get her back. Where is she?”
“That’s the simple part, Bug. When we make the handoff, I grab the guy and beat it out of him.” He looked at Ambush Bug. “Huh?”
The Bug stared back for a moment, blinked, then laid his head in his hands in despair. “Yeah. That’s a great plan, Scabbard. That’s really ingenious, if I understand it correctly. That’s a Swiss freaking watch.”
“Thaaat’s right, Bug. The beauty of this is its simplicity. If the plan gets too complex, something always goes wrong. If there’s one thing I learned in ‘Nam–”
The phone chirped. “Bug here.”
“You are approaching a vooden britch. When you cross it, you srow ze bag from ze left vindow of ze moving kar. Do not slow down. Vee vatch you.” Click. Dial tone.
“Aw, no…” Ambush Bug groaned.
“What’d he say? Where’s the handoff?” Scabbard asked.
“There is no handoff, Scabbard!” Ambush Bug yelled. “At a wooden bridge we throw the money out of the car!”
“We throw the money out of the moving car!”
Scabbard stared dumbly for a beat. “We can’t do that, Bug. That #$%&s up our plan.”
“Well, call them up and explain it to ’em, Scabbard! Your plan is so simple, I’m sure they’d understand it! That’s the beauty of it, Scabbard!”
“Wooden bridge, huh?”
“I’m throwing the money, Scabbard! We’re not playing around!”
“The bridge is coming up! Gimme the ringer, Bug! Chop-chop!”
“Forget it!” Ambush Bug said. “I love ya, Scabbard, but sooner or later you’re gonna have to face the fact that you’re a moron.”
“OK, Bug. No time to argue,” Scabbard said. “Here’s the bridge.”
There was the slight bump and new steadiness of the car on the bridge. Ambush Bug twisted around to pull the money briefcase from the back seat. Scabbard reached one arm across Ambush Bug’s body to grab the laundry. “And there goes the ringer,” he said, flinging it out the window.
“Scabbard!” Ambush Bug yelled.
“Your wheel, Bug! I’m rolling out!” Scabbard said.
“What the hell?”
“Your wheel! At fifteen em-pee-aitch I roll out! I double back, grab one of ’em and beat it out of him! The uzi!”
Scabbard pointed across the seat at the paper-wrapped bundle. “You didn’t think I was rolling out of here with just a naked sword!”
Flinging open his door, Scabbard leaned halfway out over the road. “Fifteen! This is it, Bug! Let’s take that hill!”
Scabbard rolled out with his parcel, giving a loud grunt as he hit the pavement. The car swerved and lurched, and Ambush Bug, cursing, took the wheel. Scabbard tumbled onto the shoulder and — RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT! — muzzle flashes tore open the wrapping paper.
The car rocked, and Ambush Bug wrestled with the wheel. The car clunked and screamed around in a skid. Ambush Bug blinked out, teleporting himself away just before the car hit a tree. He ran back and pulled the satchel out of the car. The front of the LeBaron was crumpled into a tree. The body of the car snapped back to the left, where the rear wheel had been shot out.
Scabbard was just rising from the ground, massaging an injured knee. Ambush Bug ran up the road toward the bridge, frantically waving the satchel in the air. “We have it! We have it!”
There was a distant engine roar. A motorcycle bumped up onto the road from the ravine under the bridge and, tires squealing, skidded around to speed away in the opposite direction. It was closely followed by two more roaring motorcycles.
“We have it! We have it.”
Ambush Bug and Scabbard stood in the middle of the road, watching the three red tail lights fishtail away. After a long silence, Scabbard said, “Ahh #$%& it, let’s go bowling.”