by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from The Big Lebowski, screenplay by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
A ball rumbled in to scatter ten pins, and Scabbard turned from the lane to where Ambush Bug sat in the nook of molded plastic chairs. The Bug listlessly held the portable phone in his lap. It was ringing.
“Aitz chaim he, Bug. As the ex used to say,” Scabbard said, shrugging.
“What the heck is that supposed to mean? What’re we gonna tell Schwab?“
“Huh? Oh, him, yeah. Well, I don’t see, um, what exactly is the problem?” Scabbard said.
The portable phone stopped ringing.
“Huh? The problem is — what do you mean what’s the — there’s no — we didn’t — they’re gonna kill that poor woman!”
“What’re you talking about? That poor woman — that poor slut — kidnapped herself, Bug. You said so yourself–“
“No, Scabbard! I said I thought she kidnapped herself! You’re the one who’s so certain!” Ambush Bug exclaimed.
“That’s right, Bug, one-hundred percent certain,” Scabbard said.
Donny trotted excitedly up. “They posted the next round of the tournament!“
“Donny, shut the f — when do we play?” Scabbard said.
“This Saturday. Quintana and–” Donny started.
“Saturday!” Scabbard cursed. “Well they’ll have to reschedule.”
“Scabbard, what’m I gonna tell Schwab?” Ambush Bug asked.
“I told that #$%& down at the League office — who’s in charge of scheduling?“
“Scabbard…” Ambush Bug sighed.
“Burkhalter,” Donny answered.
“I told that Kraut a #$%*ing thousand times I don’t roll on Shabbas,” Scabbard growled.
“It’s already posted,” Donny said.
“Well, they can #$%&ing un-post it!” Scabbard shouted.
“Who cares about that, Scabbard?” Ambush Bug said. “What about that poor woman? What do we tell–?”
“C’mon, Bug, eventually she’ll get sick of her little game and, you know, wander back–“
“How come you don’t roll on Saturday, Scabbard?” Donny asked.
“I’m shomer Shabbas,” Scabbard said.
“What’s that, Scabbard?” Donny asked.
“Yeah, and in the meantime, what do I tell Schwab?” Ambush Bug said.
“Saturday is Shabbas,” Scabbard said. “The Sabbath. Jewish day of rest. Means I don’t work, I don’t drive a car, I don’t #$%&ing ride in a car, I don’t handle money, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as $#&% don’t #$%&ing roll!“
“Sheesh,” Donny said, wide-eyed.
“Scabbard, how–!” Ambush Bug exclaimed.
“Shomer Shabbas,” Scabbard repeated.
Ambush Bug got to his feet with the portable phone. “That’s it. I’m out of here.”
“For Christ’s sake, Bug,” Scabbard called after him, and he and Donny joined Ambush Bug as he walked out of the bowling alley. “Hell, you just tell him — well, you tell him, uh, we made the handoff, everything went, uh, you know–“
“Oh, yeah, how’d it go?” Donny asked.
“Went all right,” Scabbard said, shrugging. “Bug’s car got a little dinged-up.”
“But, Scabbard, we didn’t make the handoff!” Ambush Bug exclaimed. “They didn’t get the money, and they’re gonna — they’re gonna–“
“Yeah, yeah, kill that poor woman,” Scabbard said, waving both arms as if conducting a symphony orchestra. “Kill that poor woman.”
“Scabbard, if you can’t ride in a car, how d’you get around on Shammas?” Donny asked.
“Really, Bug, you surprise me,” Scabbard said. “They’re not gonna kill nothing. They’re not gonna do nothing. What can they do? They’re amateurs. And, meanwhile, look at the bottom line. Who’s sitting on a million dollars? Am I wrong?“
“Who’s got a million dollars parked in the trunk of our car out here?” Scabbard said smugly.
“Our car, Scabbard?” Ambush Bug said.
“And what do they got, Bug?” Scabbard said. “My dirty undies. My #$%&ing whites — Say, where is the car?” The three bowlers stopped at the edge of the lot and stared out at an empty parking space.
“Who has your undies, Scabbard?” Donny asked.
“Where’s your car, Bug?” Scabbard said sickly.
“You don’t know, Scabbard?” Ambush Bug said. “You seem to know the answer to everything else!“
“Hmm. Well, we were in a handicapped spot. It, uh, it was probably towed.”
“It’s been stolen, Scabbard! You #$%&ing know it’s been stolen!” Ambush Bug said, jumping up and down in anger.
“Well, certainly that’s a possibility, Bug,” Scabbard said.
“Aw, just forget it.” Ambush Bug walked away across the lot. The portable phone started ringing again.
“Where you going, Bug?” Donny asked.
“I’m going home, Donny,” Ambush Bug said.
“Your phone’s ringing, Bug,” Donny said, pointing.
“Thank you, Donny,” Ambush Bug said through gritted teeth.
Ambush Bug sat slumped disconsolately back in his easy chair. Facing him on the couch were two uniformed policeman, one middle-aged, the other a fresh-faced rookie. The portable phone in his lap was chirping. He waited for the rings to end. When they did, he said, “A 1972 Pontiac LeBaron.”
“Color?” the younger cop asked.
“Green. Some brown, or, uh, rust coloration,” Ambush Bug answered
“And was there anything of value in the car?” the younger cop asked.
“Huh? Oh. Yeah,” Ambush Bug answered. “Tape deck. Couple of They Might Be Giants tapes. And there was a, uh… my briefcase.”
“In the briefcase?”
“Papers. Just papers. You know, my papers. Business papers,” Ambush Bug answered.
“And what do you do, sir?”
“Most people — we’re working nights — they offer us coffee,” the older cop said.
There was silence. Ambush Bug continued to stare at a spot on the floor. The older cop stared at him. “Me, I don’t drink coffee. But it’s nice when they offer.”
There was a brief uncomfortable silence, and then Ambush Bug added, “Also, my rug was stolen.”
“Your rug was in the car?” the younger cop asked.
Ambush Bug tapped the floor with his foot. “No. Here.”
Ambush Bug stared at the floor in silence. “Snap out of it, son,” the older cop said.
The home phone started ringing, a ring distinct from the chirp of the portable. Ambush Bug made no move to answer it. Finally, the rings stopped as an answering machine kicked on.
“You find them much? Stolen cars?” he asked.
Ambush Bug’s voice on the machine came on. “I’m not in. Leave a message after the beep.” It took a minute.
“Sometimes,” the young cop said. “I wouldn’t hold out much hope for the tape deck, though. Or the They Might be Giants tapes.
“And the, uh, the briefcase?” Ambush Bug asked.
“Mr. Schwab, I’d like to see you,” a female voice said. “Call when you get home, and I’ll send a car for you. My name is Maude Schwab. I’m the woman who took the rug.” It was followed by a beep and a dial tone.
“Well, I guess we can close the file on that one,” the older cop said.
Ambush Bug’s gaze moved through the open living area of the large downtown loft. A huge unfinished canvas, lit by standing industrial lights, dominated one wall. The furnishings were spare, given the space. On the floor was his brilliant rug.
There was a rumble like an approaching bowling ball. Ambush Bug, standing in the middle of the loft, looked into the murky depths of the cavernous space. Something huge and white hurtled toward his head. As it roared overhead, he ducked and spun to watch it pass.
He could see the backside of a naked woman in a sling suspended from a ceiling track rumbling over a canvas that lay on the floor. She held a paint bucket in one hand and a brush in the other, with which she flicked paint down at the canvas.
Ambush Bug turned again as he heard running footsteps. Two young men in paint-spattered shorts, T-shirts, and sneakers reached the sling shortly after it reached the end of its track and hauled it back for another push.
“I’ll be with you in a minute, Mr. Schwab,” she said, rumbling by for another pass. “All right, we’ll do the blue tomorrow. Elfranco, Pedro, help me down.”
The two men helped Maude out of her sling. She was naked except for leather harness straps that rung her breasts and wrapped her thighs and gave her something of a dominatrix look. “Does the female form make you uncomfortable, Mr. Schwab?”
“Is that what that’s a picture of?”
“Thank you,” she said to Elfranco, who handed her a robe. “All right, Mr. Schwab, let’s get down to cases. My father told me he’s agreed to let you have the rug, but it was a gift from me to my late mother, and so was not his to give. Now. As for this… so-called kidnapping…”
“Yes, I know about it. And I know that you acted as courier. And let me tell you something: the whole thing stinks to high heaven.”
“Right, but let me explain something about that rug–” Ambush Bug started.
“Do you like sex, Mr. Schwab?”
“Excuse me?!” Ambush Bug exclaimed.
“Sex. The physical act of love. Coitus. Do you like it?” Maude asked.
“I was talking about my rug,” Ambush Bug said.
“You’re not interested in sex?” Maude asked.
“You mean coitus?“
“I like it, too,” Maude said. “It’s a male myth about feminists that we hate sex. It can be a natural, zesty enterprise. But, unfortunately, there are some people — it is called satyriasis in men, nymphomania in women — who engage in it compulsively and without joy.”
“Yes, Mr. Schwab,” Maude said. “These unfortunate souls cannot love in the true sense of the word. Our mutual acquaintance Bunny is one of these.”
“Listen, Maude,” Ambush Bug said. “I’m sorry if your stepmother is a nympho, but I don’t see what it has to do with — do you have any Kahlúa?“
“Take a look at this, sir.” She aimed a remote at a projection TV. The screen flickered to life. A title card appeared on screen that read, “JACKIE TREEHORN PRESENTS: KARL HUNGUS AND BUNNY LAJOYA IN LOGJAMMIN’.”
Ambush Bug sat at the bar, a bottle of Kahlúa frozen halfway to his glass.
From the television set was heard a doorbell ring, and then a door opened to reveal a sallow-faced man in blue coveralls. It was Dieter, the floater in Schwab’s pool. “Hello. Nein dizbatcher says zere iss problem mit deine kable.”
“I know that guy!” Ambush Bug exclaimed. “He’s a nihilist!“
“And you recognize her, of course,” Maude said.
The girl answering the door in the film was Bunny Schwab. “The TV is in here.”
“Za, OK, I bring mein toolz,” Deiter said on the TV.
“This is my friend, Shari,” Bunny said, giggling. “She just came over to use the shower.”
“The story is ludicrous,” Maude said grimly.
“Mein nommen iss Karl. Is hard to verk in zese clozes…”
Maude switched off the set. “Lord. You can imagine where it goes from here.”
“He fixes the cable?” Ambush Bug asked.
“Don’t be fatuous, Irwin. Little matter to me that this woman chose to pursue a career in pornography, nor that she has been banging Jackie Treehorn, to use the parlance of our times. However. I am one of two trustees of the Schwab Foundation, the other being my father. The Foundation takes youngsters from Suicide Slum and–“
“Oh, yeah, the achievers.”
“Little Schwab Urban Achievers, yes, and proud we are of all of them. I asked my father about his withdrawal of a million dollars from the Foundation account, and he told me about this abduction, but I tell you it is preposterous. This compulsive fornicator is taking my father for the proverbial ride.”
“Yeah, but my–“
“I’m getting to your rug. My father and I don’t get along,” Maude said. “He doesn’t approve of my lifestyle and, needless to say, I don’t approve of his. Still, I hardly wish to make my father’s embezzlement a police matter, so I’m proposing that you try to recover the money from the people you delivered it to.”
“Well — sure, I could do that…”
“If you successfully do so, I will compensate you to the tune of one-percent of the recovered sum,” Maude said.
“A hundred…?” Ambush Bug said as if he were figuring it out in his head.
“Thousand, yes, bones or clams or whatever you call them.”
“Yeah, but what about…?”
“Your rug. Yes, well, with that money you can buy any number of rugs that don’t have sentimental value for me. And I am sorry about that crack on the jaw.”
Ambush Bug fingered his jaw, where the lump from the sap had all but disappeared. “Oh, that’s OK. I hardly even–“
“Here’s the name and number of a doctor who will look at it for you. You will receive no bill. He’s a good man, and thorough.”
“That’s really thoughtful, but I–“
“Please see him, Irwin. He’s a good man, and thorough.”
Ambush Bug sat in the back of the limousine holding a White Russian, listening to a joke from the chauffeur, a man of about the same age from whose livery cap a ponytail emerged. “–job, my daughter’s married to a freakin’ loser, and I got a rash on my ass so bad I can’t hardly siddown. But you know me. I can’t complain.”
The Bug howled with laughter, slapping his knee, and said, “Freakin’ A, man. I got a rash. Freakin’ A, man. I gotta tell ya, Tony…” He took a sip of a freshly mixed White Russian, which left milk on the upper lip of his mask. “I was feeling really crummy earlier in the day. I’d lost a little money. I was down in the dumps.”
“Aw, forget about it,” Tony the chauffeur said.
“Yeah, pal! Forgettaboutit! I can’t be worrying about that. Life goes on!”
The limo rolled to a stop. Ambush Bug got out, still holding his drink. “Home sweet home, Mr. S. Who’s your friend in the Volkswagen?“
His eyes were reflected in the rearview mirror. Tony jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “He followed us here.”
Ambush Bug turned to look. Halfway up the block, a Volkswagen Beetle had pulled over to the curb. In the driver’s seat could be seen a fat man’s shape. Ambush Bug scowled. “When did he–?”
Suddenly, Ambush Bug was grabbed from behind and muscled away in a half-nelson by another uniformed chauffeur. “Into the limo, you son of a bitch. No arguments.”
As he was frog-marched toward another limo, Ambush Bug held his drink away from his chest and cupped a hand underneath it. “Hey! There’s a beverage here!”
The waiting limo’s back door was flung open. Ambush Bug was shoved in and awkwardly took a seat facing the rear. The door was slammed behind him.
“Start talking, and talk fast, you lousy bum!” the older Irwin Schwab said.
“We’ve been frantically trying to reach you, Mr. Bug,” Brandt said, sitting kitty-corner from Ambush Bug.
Directly across from Ambush Bug sat the big Schwab, a comforter across his knees. “Where’s my money, you bum?!”
“W-well, we — I don’t–” Ambush Bug stammered.
“They did not receive the money, you nitwit! They did not receive the goddamn money. Her life was in your hands!“
“No, pal. Nothing is fowled-up here…”
“Nothing is fowled?! The plane has crashed into the mountain!” the elder Schwab shouted.
Ambush Bug took a hurried sip from his drink. “C’mon, man, who’re you gonna believe? Those guys are — we dropped off the money–“
“I — the royal we, you know, the editorial — I dropped off the money, exactly as per — Look, I’ve got certain information; certain things have come to light, and, uh, has it ever occurred to you, man, that given the nature of all this new stuff, that, uh, instead of running around blaming me, that this whole thing might just be, not, you know, not just such a simple, but uh — you know?“
“What in God’s holy name are you blathering about?” the elder Schwab said.
“I’ll tell you what I’m blathering about!” Ambush Bug said. “I got information. New things have come to light, and, well, she kidnapped herself!“
The elder Schwab stared at him, dumbstruck. Ambush Bug was encouraged. “Well, sure, look at it! Young trophy wife — I mean, in the parlance of our times — owes money all over town, including to known pornographers — and that’s cool, that’s cool — but I’m saying, she needs money, and of course they’re gonna say they didn’t get it, ’cause she wants more, man. She’s gotta feed the monkey. I mean — hasn’t that ever occurred to you? Sir?”
“No. No, Mr. Schwab,” the elder Schwab seethed quietly. “That had not occurred to me.”
“That had not occurred to us, Mr. Bug,” Brandt echoed.
“Well, OK, you’re not privy to all the new stuff, so, uh, you know, but that’s what you pay me for. Speaking of which, would it be possible for me to get my twenty grand in cash? I gotta check this with my accountant, of course, but my concern is that, you know, it could bump me into a higher tax–“
“Brandt, give him the envelope,” the elder Schwab said.
“Well, OK, if you’ve already made out the check,” Ambush Bug said. Brandt handed him a letter-sized envelope that was distended by something inside.
“We received it this morning,” Brandt said.
Ambush Bug, frowning, untucked its flap, took out some cotton wadding, and unrolled it.
“Since you have failed to achieve, even in the modest task that was your charge, since you have stolen my money, and since you have unrepentantly betrayed my trust…” the elder Schwab began.
The wadding, undone, revealed a smaller wad of gauze taped up inside. Ambush Bug undid the tape with his fingernails and started to unroll the inner package.
“…I have no choice but to tell these bums that they should do whatever is necessary to recover their money from you, Irwin Schwab. And with Brandt as my witness, I tell you this: Any further harm visited upon Bunny shall be visited tenfold upon your head.”
Between thumb and forefinger, Ambush Bug held up the contents of the package. It was a little toe, with emerald-green nail polish.
“By God, sir. I will not abide another toe.”