by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from The Big Lebowski, screenplay by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Ambush Bug and Scabbard sat at the counter, both staring off into space, both absently stirring their coffee with little clinking noises.
After a long silence, Scabbard said, “That wasn’t her toe.”
“Whose toe was it, Scabbard?” Ambush Bug said sourly.
“How should I know?” Scabbard said, shrugging. “I do know that nothing about it indicates–“
“The nail polish, Scabbard,” Ambush Bug reminded him.
“Fine, Bug. As if it’s impossible to get some nail polish, apply it to someone else’s toe.”
“Someone else’s?” Ambush Bug said in exasperation. “Where the heck are they gonna–?”
“You want a toe?” Scabbard asked. “I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways. You don’t wanna know about it, believe me.”
“I’ll get you a toe by this afternoon — with nail polish. These amateurs,” Scabbard growled. “They send us a toe, and we’re supposed to $#%&t ourselves with fear. Jesus Christ. My point is–“
“They’re gonna kill her, Scabbard, and then they’re gonna kill me,” Ambush Bug sighed.
“Well, that’s just, that’s the stress talking, Bug. So far we have what looks to me like a series of victimless crimes,” Scabbard said.
“What about the toe?” Ambush Bug asked.
“Forget about the toe!” Scabbard shouted.
A waitress walked up to their table. “Could you please keep your voices down? This is a family restaurant.”
“Oh, please, dear!” Scabbard said. “I’ve got news for you: the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint!”
“Scabbard, this isn’t a First Amendment thing,” Ambush Bug said.
“Sir, if you don’t calm down, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” the waitress said.
“Lady, I got buddies who died face-down in the muck so you and I could enjoy this family restaurant!” Scabbard yelled.
“All right, I’m leaving. I’m sorry, ma’am,” Ambush Bug said.
“Don’t run away from this, Bug! This affects all of us!” Scabbard yelled after him. “Our basic freedoms!” He looked defiantly around. “I’m staying. Finishing my coffee.” He stirred the coffee, bopping his head in time to the muzak, affecting nonchalance. “Finishing my coffee.”
Ambush Bug sat in the bathtub, staring in a stuporous manner, a white Russian in one hand, a washcloth draped over his head between his antennae. He stared at his toes, which protruded from the soapy water, splayed against the far side of the tub.
In the distance, he heard the sound of the phone ringing in the other room. After his outgoing message, he heard, “Mr. Schwab, this is Duty Officer Rolvaag of the M.C.P.D.”
Ambush Bug stood up in his tub. The bath water dripped in long rivulets from his costume.
“We’ve recovered your vehicle. It can be claimed at the North Metropolis Auto Circus there on Pine.”
“Yahoo!” Ambush Bug said. “The Bugmobile is back.”
“You’ll just need to present a–“ The message was interrupted by loud smashing sound, as of someone applying a baseball bat to the answering machine.
“Huh?” He looked blearily at the open doorway. A tall man dressed in black leather with a cricket paddle was striding across the living room toward the bathroom. “Hey! This is a private residence, pal!”
The man entered the bathroom and, in stride, swung the cricket paddle up to smash the overhead light. Two other men entered behind him. The room was dark now except for spill from the living room. The men were backlit shapes. One of them held a string, at the other end of which a small animal skittered excitedly about the floor.
Ambush Bug looked curiously at the small, nattering animal. “Nice marmot.”
The man with the string scooped up the marmot and tossed it, screaming, to Ambush Bug.
Ambush Bug screamed as he fell back into the tub. The marmot splashed frantically, biting at him in a frenzy of fearful aggression.
“Vee vant zat money, Schwab.”
Ambush Bug, screaming, blinked out of the tub and behind the first man, but the second man laid a palm on his back and pushed him back into the water. “You think ve’re kidding und making mit de funny stuff?“
“Vee could do things you only dreamed of, Bug mench.”
“Ja, vee could really do it, Schwab. Vee belief in nossing.” He scooped the marmot out of the water. It shook itself off, spraying Ambush Bug.
“Vee belief in nossing, Schwab! Nossing!“
The marmot, back on the floor, skittered around, shaking itself and convulsing in little sneezes.
“Tomorrow vee come back und cut off your chonson,” the second man threatened.
“I say vee cut off your chonson!” The three men turned to leave. Over their retreating backs, he said, “Just sink about zat, Schwab.”
“Ja, your viggly zing, Schwab.”
“Ja, und maybe vee stamp on it und skvush it, Bug mench!”
A policeman with a clipboard led Ambush Bug through a large parking lot. “You’re lucky she wasn’t chopped, Mr. Schwab. Must’ve been a joyride situation. They abandoned the car once they hit the retaining wall.”
They had reached the Ambush Bug’s car. The driver’s side exterior had been scraped raw. The policeman handed him a door handle and an exterior rearview mirror.
“These were on the road next to the car. You’ll have to get in on the other side.”
Ambush Bug climbed in the passenger side. “My briefcase! It’s not here!“
“Yeah, sorry,” the policeman said. “I saw that on the report. You’re lucky they left the tape deck, though.”
“My briefcase! Wha — what’s that smell?“
“Uh, yeah. Probably a vagrant slept in the car. Or perhaps just used it as a toilet and moved on.”
Ambush Bug tried to roll down the driver’s window, but it wouldn’t go. He bellowed through the glass, “When will you find these guys? I mean, do you have any promising leads?“
The policeman laughed, agreeing broadly, rocking back on his heels, his raucous laughter muffled by the glass. “Leads, yeah. I’ll just check with the boys down at the crime lab. They’ve assigned four more detectives to the case, got us working in shifts.”
Ambush Bug, Scabbard, and Donny sat at the bar, Ambush Bug with a White Russian, Scabbard with a beer, and Donny eating beer nuts.
“And then they’re gonna stamp on it?!” Donny exclaimed.
“Oh, for Christ — will you shut the #[email protected]% up, Donny?” Scabbard said.
“I figure my only hope is that the big Schwab kills me before the Germans can cut my zing off.”
“Now that is ridiculous, Bug. No one is going to cut off your… uh…”
“Thanks, Scabbard,” Ambush Bug said.
“Not if I have anything to say about it.”
“Yeah, thanks, Scabbard,” Ambush Bug said bitterly. “That gives me a very secure feeling.”
“That makes me feel all warm inside.”
“This whole thing…” Ambush Bug grumbled. “I could be sitting here with just pee-stains on my rug.”
Scabbard sadly shook his head. “#$%&king Germans. Nothing changes. #$%@ing Nazis.”
“They were Nazis, Bug?” Donny asked with a wide-eyed expression.
“Come on, Donny, they were threatening castration!” Scabbard said.
“Uh-huh,” Donny said, nodding.
“Are you gonna split hairs?” Scabbard said.
“No–” Donny said in confusion.
“Am I wrong?” Scabbard said.
“They’re nihilists,” Ambush Bug said.
“They kept saying they believe in nothing.”
“Nihilists! Jesus.” Scabbard looked haunted. “Say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Bug, at least it’s an ethos.”
“Yeah,” Ambush Bug said.
“And let’s also not forget — let’s not forget, Bug — that keeping wildlife, an amphibious rodent, for uh, domestic, you know, within the city — that isn’t legal, either.”
“What’re you, a freaking park ranger now?”
“Who gives a damn about the marmot!” Ambush Bug snapped.
“We’re sympathizing here, Bug,” Scabbard said.
“I don’t need your sympathy, man. I need my Johnson!“
“What do you need that for, Bug?” Donny asked.
“You gotta buck up, man. You can’t go into the tournament with this negative attitude,” Scabbard said.
“Forget the tournament! Forget you, Scabbard!” Ambush Bug said.
There was a moment of stunned silence. “Forget the tournament?! OK, Bug. I can see you don’t want to be cheered up. C’mon, Donny, let’s go get a lane.”
They left Ambush Bug sitting morosely at the bar. As he stared down into his empty glass, he said, “Another Caucasian, Gary.”
“Right, Bug,” the bartender said.
“Friends like these, huh, Gary?” Ambush Bug said, still staring down at the bar.
“That’s right, Bug.” The pop song on the jukebox ended. Someone put on How Dry I Am.
A man sauntered up to the bar to take the stool that Scabbard had vacated. He was middle-aged and amiable. He had a weathered, craggy face and wore a dirty raincoat. He smelled strongly of hard alcohol. “D’ya have a good whiskey?“
“Jack Daniels,” Gary said.
The guardian angel nodded. “He and I are old friends.” Waiting for his drink, he looked amiably around the bar. His crinkled eyes settled on Ambush Bug. “How ya doin’ there, Bug?”
Ambush Bug, still staring down at his drink, shook his head. “Ahh, it’s you. Not so good, pal.”
“One a those days, huh? A wiser fella than m’self once said, sometimes you eat the bar and sometimes the bar, well, he eats you.”
“Uh-huh. That some kind of guardian angel wisdom?“
The bartender put a glass on the bar in front of the guardian angel. “Much obliged.”
He looked back at Ambush Bug. “I like your style, Bug.”
Ambush Bug looked up absently. “Well I like your style too, man. Got a whole wino thing goin’.”
“Thankie. Just one thing, Bug. Ya have any spare change on ya?”
Ambush Bug looked up at the ragged figure. “What kind of guardian angel are you, anyway?”
The guardian angel chuckled indulgently and held out his hand. “One who’s gotta pay for his whisky.”
“OK,” Ambush Bug sighed, handing him a couple of bucks.
“Much obliged, Bug,” he said.
He vanished. How Dry I Am ended as a nearby voice broke the spell.
“Hey, Bug! Bug!” the voice from off to his side yelled, trying to get his attention. Ambush Bug looked in the direction of the voice and saw Tony, Maude’s limo driver, at the door of the bar, beckoning.
When Ambush Bug walked into the loft, Maude Schwab strode toward him, naked under a robe that she was just cinching shut. Paint flecked her skin.
“Irwin, you haven’t gone to the doctor,” Maude chided.
“No it’s fine, really, uh–“
“Do you have any news regarding my father’s money?” Maude asked.
“I, uh… money, yeah,” Ambush Bug said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I gotta respectfully tender my resignation on that matter, ’cause it looks like your mother really was kidnapped, after all.”
“She most certainly was not!” Maude said.
“Hey, why don’t you listen occasionally?” Ambush Bug said. “You might learn something. Now I got–“
“And please don’t call her my mother,” Maude added.
“Now I got–“
“She is most definitely the perpetrator and not the victim,” Maude insisted.
“I’m telling you, I got definitive evidence,” Ambush Bug said.
“The main guy, Dieter,” Ambush Bug said.
“Dieter Hauff?” Maude asked.
“Well — yeah, I guess,” Ambush Bug nodded dubiously.
“Her co-star in the skin flick?” Maude asked.
“You know him?” Ambush Bug said, surprised.
“Dieter has been on the fringes of — well, of everything in this city for about twenty years. Look at my L.P.s. Under Autobahn,” Maude explained. Ambush Bug fingered through the albums filling one bookshelf. “That was his group. They released one album in the mid-’70s.”
Ambush Bug stopped between two albums. “Roy Orbison… Pink Floyd…”
“Huh? Autobahn. A-U-T-O. Their music is a sort of — ugh — techno-pop.”
Ambush Bug pulled out an album with a worn sleeve. On it was the group’s name, Autobahn, the album name, Nagelbett, and a picture of three young Germans, their foreheads looming below slicked-back hair, gazing upward in thin-lipped epiphany. They wore severe but modishly retro suits. Each had his name under his picture — Dieter, Kieffer, and Franz. A bed of nails was the only set dressing on the picture.
“Is he pretending to be the abductor?” Maude asked.
“Well… yeah, but–“
“Look, Irwin,” Maude said in a tone as if explaining it to a child, “you don’t really kidnap someone that you’re acquainted with. You can’t get away with it if the hostage knows who you are.”
“Well, yeah… I know that,” he said.
“So Dieter has the money?” she asked.
“Well, no, not exactly. It’s a complicated case, Maude. Lotta ins. Lotta outs. And a lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in the Bug’s–“
“Do you still have that doctor’s number?” Maude asked.
“Huh? No, really, I don’t even have the bruise anymore. I–“
She scribbled something down on a notepad, then looked up at him. “Please, Irwin. I don’t want to be responsible for any delayed after-effects.”
“I want you to see him immediately,” she said, picking up a telephone. “I’ll see if he’s available. He’s a good man, and thorough.”
His eyes were closed, a headset on, his shirt off. Leaking tinnily through the headset was Devo’s Workin’ in a Coal Mine.
Behind him, a white-smocked figure tapped at Ambush Bug’s back. After a moment, the figure circled to one side. His hand reached in to pull one arm of the headset away from Ambush Bug’s ear, and as he did so, the music became louder. “Could you slide your tights down, please, Mr. Schwab?”
Ambush Bug’s eyes opened. “Huh? No, she — she hit me right here.”
“I understand, sir. Could you slide your tights down, please?”