by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from The Big Lebowski, screenplay by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Ambush Bug woke up in the back seat of a taxicab that rocked and squeaked with every bump. Peaceful Easy Feeling played on the radio. He looked at the back of the driver, a large black man with rasta dreadlocks under a knit cap.
“Jesus, man, can you change the station?” he asked.
“#$%& you, man! You don’t like my music, get your own #$%&ing cab!”
“Look, pal, I’ve had a–“
“I pull over and kick your butt out, man!” the cab driver yelled.
“–had a rough night, and I hate the Eagles.”
“That’s it! Outta my cab!” The cab screeched over toward the curb. A red convertible roared by in the other direction, its radio blaring Metallica. The driver, high as a kite, sang loudly and badly along to the song with a dreamy smile on her face as her hair blew in the wind. It was Bunny Schwab.
On the accelerator was her right foot in an open-toed, bright red, high-heeled shoe, with five painted toes. When she downshifted, her left foot engaged the clutch. Five more toes.
Ambush Bug staggered in the open front door, one hand pressed to a lump on his forehead, and looked around.
The place was a wreck. Furniture was overturned, upholstery slashed, drawers dumped. “Cheeks!” he exclaimed. He dug through the wreckage until he found a stuffed toy dressed in a red super-hero costume. “Thanks goodness you’re OK!”
The tender moment was broken as the door to the bedroom started to creak open. Ambush Bug cringed. Maude emerged from the bedroom wearing a bathrobe. “Irwin.”
“Maude?” Ambush Bug said in surprise.
She pulled open the bathrobe as she approached. “Love me.”
Ambush Bug was stupefied. “That’s my robe.”
Thirty minutes later, Ambush Bug and Maude lay holding each other in his bed. “Tell me a little about yourself, Irwin,” Maude said, playfully tugging at one of his antennae.
“Well, uh… not much to tell,” Ambush Bug said, shrugging. “My career’s, uh, slowed down a bit lately.”
“What do you do for fun?” Maude asked.
“Oh, you know, the usual. Bowl. Drive around.”
He climbed out of bed, but Maude remained in it. She wedged a pillow into the small of her back and clasped a hand on each kneecap. She pulled her knees in toward her chest to keep her pelvis raised.
“What happened to your house?” Maude asked.
“Jackie Treehorn trashed the place,” Ambush Bug said. “Wanted to save the finder’s fee.”
“Finder’s fee?” Maude asked.
“He thought I had your father’s money,” Ambush Bug said. “So he got me out of the way while he looked for it.”
“It’s not my father’s money. It’s the Foundation’s. Why did he think you had it? And who does?“
“Larry Sellers, a high-school kid. Real brat.” He picked a White Russian off the bedside table.
“It’s a complicated case, Maude. Lotta ins, lotta outs. Fortunately, I’ve been adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind, you know, limber. I’m real close to your father’s money. Real close. It’s just–“
“I keep telling you, it’s the Foundation’s money,” Maude said. “Father doesn’t have any.”
“Huh? He’s freaking loaded!” Ambush Bug exclaimed.
“No, no, the wealth was all Mother’s,” Maude said.
“But your father — he runs stuff, he–” Ambush Bug sputtered.
“We did let Father run one of the companies, briefly, but he didn’t do very well at it,” Maude said.
“He helps administer the charities now, and I give him a reasonable allowance. He has no money of his own. I know how he likes to present himself. Father’s weakness is vanity. Hence the slut.”
“Huh,” Ambush Bug said. “Jeez. Well, so, did he — is that yoga?“
Throughout, Maude was lying on her back with her knees pulled in. “It increases the chances of conception.”
Ambush Bug spit some White Russian. “Increases?“
“Well, yes, what did you think this was all about?” Maude asked. “Fun and games?”
“Well… no, of course not,” Ambush Bug said.
“I want a child,” Maude said.
“Yeah, OK, but see…” Ambush Bug sputtered.
“Look, Irwin, I don’t want a partner. In fact, I don’t want the father to be someone I have to see socially, or who’ll have any interest in rearing the child himself.”
“Huh…” Something occurred to him. “So… that doctor.”
“And here I thought he was just being thorough.” Ambush Bug stared off into space, thinking. His answer was absent. “So, your father… Oh, man, I get it!”
Ambush Bug left the bedroom. “Yeah, my thinking about the case, man, it had become uptight. Yeah, your father–“
He finished punching a number into the phone. There were a few rings, and then an answer. “This is Scabbard. I’m not in. Leave a message after the beep.”
“What’re you talking about?” Maude asked from the bedroom.
“Scabbard, if you’re there, pick up the phone. Pick it up, Scabbard. This is an emergency. I’m not–” Beep.
“Scabbard, listen, I’m at my place. I need you to come pick me up!”
“I can’t drive, Bug. It’s Erev Shabbas,” Scabbard said.
“Erev Shabbas,” Scabbard said impatiently. “I can’t drive. I’m not even supposed to pick up the phone, unless it’s an emergency.”
“It is an emergency.”
“I understand,” Scabbard said. “That’s why I picked up the phone.”
“Then why can’t you–? Never mind, just call Donny, then, and ask him to–“
“Bug, I’m not supposed to make calls–“ Scabbard started.
“Scabbard, you idiot, we gotta go to Midvale! Come pick me up, or I’m off the bowling team!“
“Irwin?” Maude said uncertainly.
Emerging on his front stoop, Ambush Bug pulled on a shirt over his green costume. His attention was caught by something down the street. A car was parked halfway down the block, and he could make out the shape of a fat man in the driver’s seat.
Ambush Bug strode purposefully down the street. The fat man leaned forward, and the car’s ignition coughed, but the engine would not turn over. There were more whines and coughs, but no start. The man hurriedly fumbled in front of him, bringing up a newspaper, which he held before his face.
As he got to the car, Ambush Bug reached through the open driver’s window, grabbed the newspaper, and hurled it to the ground. He was revved with nervous energy. “Get out of that car, pal!”
The man nervously complied. Ambush Bug flinched at the man’s movement as he got out. The man cringed, reacting to Ambush Bug’s flinch. He wore a cheap blue serge suit. He was bald with a short fringe and a mustache.
Ambush Bug shouted to cover his fear. “Who the hell are you?! Come on! Out with it!”
“Relax, man! No physical harm intended!” the fat man said.
“Who the hell are you? Why’ve you been following me? Come on, &%#@head!”
“Hey, relax, man,” the fat man said. “I’m a brother shamus.”
Ambush Bug looked at him, stunned. “Brother Shamus? Like an Irish monk?“
“Irish m — what the–? My name’s Da Fino! I’m a private snoop! Like you, man!”
“A dick, man! And let me tell you something — I dig your work. Playing one side against the other — in bed with everybody — fabulous stuff, man.”
“I’m not a — ah, screw it. Just stay away from my lady friend, man,” Ambush Bug said.
“Hey, hey, I’m not messing with your special lady,” the fat man said, holding up his hands.
“She’s not my special lady, she’s my lady friend,” Ambush Bug said. “I’m just helping her conceive, pal!”
“Hey, man, I’m not–“
“Who’re you working for?” Ambush Bug demanded. “Schwab? Jackie Treehorn?”
“The Gundersons,” Da Fino answered.
“The–? Who the–?”
“The Gundersons,” DaFino repeated. “It’s a wandering daughter job. Bunny Schwab, man. Her real name is Fawn Gunderson. Her parents want her back.” He fumbled in his wallet for a picture and held it up. “See?”
Ambush Bug looked at the picture. It was probably a school portrait, unmistakably Bunny, but fresh-faced, much younger-looking, with a corn-fed smile and straight Partridge Family hair and bangs. “Great Scott!”
“Crazy, huh? Ran away a year ago.” He held out another picture. “The Gundersons told me to show her this when I found her. The family farm.” A bleak farmhouse and silo were the only features on a flat, snow-swept landscape. “Outside of Moorhead, Minnesota. They think it’ll make her homesick.”
“Boy,” Ambush Bug said. “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm once they seen Karl Hungus?” He handed back the picture. “She’s been kidnapped, Da Fino, or maybe not, but she’s definitely not around.”
“Oh, man! That’s terrible!” Da Fino said.
“Yeah, it sucks,” Ambush Bug said, nodding.
“Well, maybe you and me could pool our resources, trade information… professional courtesy… compeers, you know?”
There was a distant yapping growing louder with the hum of an approaching car. “Yeah, I get it,” Ambush Bug said. “Take off, Da Fino. And stay away from my special la — from my lady friend.”
Ambush Bug stepped out to meet Scabbard’s car as it pulled up, its passenger window open and the Pomeranian leaning out and yapping.
Inside Denny’s, four people sat at a booth: Dieter, Kieffer, Franz, all in black leather, and a young woman with long, stringy blonde hair, wearing torn and patched jeans and a ribbed sleeveless T-shirt, worn thin with age. She was apparently bra-less, and was tectonically pale with birthmarks on her face and arms. Notable was her left leg, which ended in a bandage-swaddled foot. Dried rust-colored blood stained the tip of the bandage. The four were arguing loudly in German. They seemed very unhappy.
A waitress walked to their table with a check-pad and pen. “You folks ready?”
The Germans’ shouting stopped. Dieter looked sourly up. “I haff lingonberry pancakes.”
“Lingonberry pancakes,” Keiffer said.
“Sree picks in blanket,” Franz said.
The woman spoke to Dieter in German. He nodded, then looked to the waitress and said, “Lingonberry pancakes.”
Scabbard’s eyes were on the road as drove while listening to Ambush Bug, whose speech was occasionally punctuated by yaps from the back seat.
“I mean, we totally fouled it up, man,” Ambush Bug said. “We screwed up his payoff. And got the kidnappers all pissed off, and the big Schwab yelled at me a lot, but he didn’t do anything. Huh?”
“Well, it’s — sometimes it’s cathartic,” Scabbard said.
“I’m saying if he knows I’m a screw-up, then why does he still leave me in charge of getting back his wife?” Ambush Bug said. “Because he doesn’t want her back! He’s had enough! He no longer digs her! It’s all a show! But then, why didn’t he care about his million bucks? I mean, he knew we didn’t hand off his briefcase, but he never asked for it back.”
“What’s your point, Bug?” Scabbard asked.
“His million bucks was never in it! There was no money in that briefcase! He was hoping they’d kill her! You threw out a ringer for a ringer!”
“Yeah?” Scabbard said in surprise.
“Yeah!” Ambush Bug said.
“OK, but how does all this add up to an emergency?” Scabbard asked.
“I’m saying I see what you’re getting at, Bug. He kept the money. But my point is, here we are, it’s Shabbas — the Sabbath — which I’m allowed to break only if it’s a matter of life and death.”
“Scabbard, come off it,” Ambush Bug said. “You’re not even Jewish! You’re–“
“What the #$%& are you talking about?” Scabbard said indignantly.
“You’re Protestant — specifically, a radical Christian sect called the Molluskans! You were the leader of the Molluskan terrorists and once took over the Holy Mosque in Mecca on your Earth, where you performed the first televised beheading! (*) You’ve told me all about this!“
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Seven Seconds,” Thriller #1 (November, 1983).]
“What the #$%&k are you talking about?” Scabbard said indignantly. “I converted when I married Cynthia! Come on, Bug!”
“Yeah, and you were–” Ambush Bug began.
“You know this!” Scabbard insisted.
“And you were only married to her for a few days in Vegas! You got both married and divorced nearly two years ago!”
“Yeah? What do you think happens when you get divorced? You turn in your library card? Get a new driver’s license? Stop being Jewish?“
“This driveway,” Ambush Bug said, pointing.
“I’m as Jewish as Tevye,” Scabbard said, turning the car.
“It’s just part of your whole sick Cynthia thing,” Ambush Bug said. “Taking care of her dog. Going to her synagogue. You’re living in the past.”
“Three-thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax — you’re damn right I live in the past!” Scabbard shouted. “I — Jesus. What the hell happened? He looked off as the car slowed down. Ambush Bug looked where Scabbard was looking.
Scabbard’s car pulled up the drive into the driveway of the Schwab mansion, and he and Ambush Bug got out. Both were gaping off at the front lawn.
“Jesus Christ,” Scabbard said. Tire treads led across the manicured front lawn to where a little red sports car rested with its hood crumpled into a palm trunk.
Through the French doors at its far end they could see Bunny Schwab naked and briefly bouncing on the diving board before splashing into the illuminated pool outside. Heavy metal music filtered in from a boom box by the pool.
Brandt, approaching, stooped and straightened, again and again, picking up the discarded clothes that ran the length of the hall. “He can’t see you, Mr. Bug.”
Ambush Bug and Scabbard approached the doors to the great study. Scabbard’s dog followed, stiffly waving its tail. “Where’s she been?” Ambush Bug asked.
“Visiting friends of hers in Gotham,” Brandt said. “Just picked up and left. Never bothered to tell us.”
“But I guess she told Dieter,” Ambush Bug said.
“Jesus, Bug! He never even kidnapped her,” Scabbard said.
“Who’s this gentleman, Mr. Bug?” Brandt asked.
“Who’m I? I’m a freaking veteran!” Scabbard growled.
“You shouldn’t go in there, Mr. Bug! He’s very angry!”
Ambush Bug and Scabbard loudly pushed through the double doors into the study, causing them to bang against the doorstops. The big Schwab turned at the sound of the door. His wheelchair hummed as he spun it around. “Well, she’s back. No thanks to you.”
“Where’s the money, Schwab?” Ambush Bug asked.
“A million bucks from needy Little Urban Achievers! You are scum, man!” Scabbard shouted. The dog yapped, jumping up and down.
“Who the hell is he?” Schwab said.
“I’ll tell you who I am! I’m the guy who’s gonna kick your phoney goldbricking @$$!” Scabbard growled.
“We know the briefcase was empty,” Ambush Bug said. “We know you kept the million bucks yourself.”
“Well, you have your story, I have mine. I say I entrusted the money to you, and you stole it.”
“As if we would ever dream of taking your bulls#&$ money!” Scabbard growled.
“You thought Bunny’d been kidnapped, and you could use it as a pretext to make some money disappear. All you needed was a sap to pin it on, and you’d just met me. You thought, hey, a deadbeat, a loser, someone the square community won’t give a damn about.”
“Well? Aren’t you?” Schwab asked.
“All right, get out,” Schwab snapped. “Both of you.”
“Look at that phoney, Bug! Pretending to be a millionaire!” Scabbard growled menacingly.
“I said out. Now,” the big Schwab demanded.
“Let me tell you something else. I’ve seen a lot of spinals, Bug, and this guy is a fake. A #$%&ing goldbricker.” He crossed the floor over to Schwab. “This guy #$%&ing walks. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life!“
“Stay away from me, mister!”
Scabbard reached around from behind and hoisted the big Schwab out of the wheelchair by his armpits. “Walk, you #$%&ing phoney!“
The big Schwab waggled helplessly, his rubbery feet grazing the floor like a Raggedy Ann’s. The Pomeranian gaily leaped and yapped. “Put me down, you son of a bitch!”
“It’s all over, man! We call your #$%&ing bluff!” Scabbard yelled.
“Scabbard, for Christ’s sake! He’s crippled! Put him down!“
“Sure, I’ll put him down, Bug. Rauss! Achtung, baby!” He shoved the big Schwab forward, and he crumpled to the floor, weeping. Scabbard gulped in realization. “Aw, $#&%.”
“You’re bullies! Cowards, both of you!” Schwab sobbed.
Scabbard was abashed as the big Schwab flailed about on the floor. “Aw, $#&%.”
“He can’t walk, Scabbard!” Ambush Bug exclaimed in horror.
“Yeah, I can see that, Bug,” Scabbard said.
“You monsters!” Schwab sobbed.
“Help me put him back in his chair,” Ambush Bug said.
Scabbard moved to comply “$%#& sorry, man.”
“Stay away from me! You bullies! You and these women! You won’t leave a man his #[email protected]%ing dignity!” Schwab cried.
“Scabbard, you idiot!” Ambush Bug snapped.
“$#%&, Bug, I didn’t know. I wouldn’t’ve done it if I knew he was a big crybaby.”
“We’re sorry, pal. We’re really sorry.” Ambush Bug picked up the big Schwab’s plaid lap warmer and frantically tucked it back in around his waist as he batted the dog away. “There ya go. Sorry, pal.”
Scabbard, puzzled, hands on hips, stood over the big Schwab. “Funny. He didn’t look like a spinal.”