by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from The Big Lebowski, screenplay by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Donny released the bowling ball, and ten pins scattered at the cut. Ambush Bug and Scabbard each sat with a beer at the scoring table. Scabbard was going on about a potential war with Qurac. “Sure, you’ll see some tank battles. But fighting in desert is very different from fighting in canopy jungle.”
“Uh-huh,” Ambush Bug said absently.
“I mean, ‘Nam was a foot soldier’s war, whereas, uh, this thing would be a cakewalk. I mean, I had an M16, Bug, not an Abrams #$%&ing tank. Just me and Charlie, man, eyeball to eyeball.”
“Yeah,” Ambush Bug said, nodding.
“That’s combat,” Scabbard said. “The man in the black pyjamas, Bug. Worthy #$%&in’ adversary.”
“Who’s in pyjamas, Scabbard?” Donny asked, walking up.
“Shut the #$%&k up, Donny. Not a bunch of fig-eaters with towels on their heads tryin’ to find reverse on a Soviet tank. This is not a worthy–“
“Hey!” a nearby voice yelled.
Ambush Bug and Scabbard looked in the direction of the voice.
Sam was bellowing from the lip of the lane, restrained by Elmer. “What’s this day of rest horsepucky, ya no good varmint?!“
Scabbard looked at him innocently.
“What is this hogwash, yuh mangy polecat? I don’t care! It don’t matter to Sam! But you’re not fooling me! You might fool the dang idgits in the League office, but you don’t fool Yosemite! It’s bush league psych-out stuff! Laughable, it is! I woulda torn yuh tuh pieces Saturday. I’ll tear yuh tuh pieces next Wednesday, instead!” He yanked his cowboy hat off, grabbing it to pull a huge tear out with his teeth as Elmer led him away. “You got a date Wednesday, yella-belly!”
Scabbard, his head cocked, and Ambush Bug, watched him go. “He’s cracking,” Scabbard said.
Donny, Scabbard, and Ambush Bug emerged from the bowling alley into the parking lot, each holding his leatherette ball satchel. “A tree of life, Bug. To all who cling to it.” They reacted to the droning synthesizer-based technopop coming from a boom box.
Dieter, Kieffer, and Franz, in shiny black leather, stood in a line facing them in the all-but-deserted lot. Behind them, orange flames licked gently at Ambush Bug’s car, which had been put to the torch. The orange flames glowed on the men’s creaking leather. Next to the car were three motorcycles parked in a neat row. Ambush Bug looked sadly at the burning car.
“They finally did it. They killed the Bugmobile,” Ambush Bug said.
“Vee vant zat money, Meezter Bug-man,” Dieter said.
“Ja, uzzervize vee kill ze girl,” Franz said.
“Ja, it seems you forgot our little deal, Meezter Bug-man,” Keiffer added.
“You don’t have the girl, pinheads,” Ambush Bug said. “We know you never did. So you’ve got nothin’.”
The men in black, stunned, conferred amongst themselves in German. Under his breath, Donny asked fearfully, “Are these the Nazis, Scabbard?”
Scabbard answered, also sotto voce, his eyes still on the three men, “They’re nihilists, Donny. Nothing to be afraid of.”
The Germans stopped conferring. “Vee don’t care,” Dieter said. “Vee still vant zat money, or vee #$%& you up.”
“Ja, vee still vant ze money,” Keiffer said. “Vee sreaten you.” He pulled an uzi from under his coat. It glinted in the firelight.
“#$%& you — #$%& the three of you,” Scabbard said.
“Hey, cool it, Scabbard!” Ambush Bug exclaimed.
Scabbard ignored Ambush Bug and addressed the Germans. “There’s no ransom if you don’t have a hostage. That’s what ransom is. Those are the rules.”
“Zere are no roolz!” Dieter exclaimed.
“No rules! You cabbage-eating sons of bitches!” Scabbard shouted, a wild look coming into his eyes.
“His girlfriend gafe up her toe!” Keifer exclaimed. “She sought we’d be getting million dollars! Iss not fair!“
“Fair!” Scabbard laughed. “Who’s the nihilist here?! What are you, a bunch of crybabies?!“
“Hey, cool it, Scabbard. Listen, pal, there never was any money. The rich Schwab gave me an empty briefcase, man, so take it up with him.”
“And I’d like my undies back!” Scabbard added.
The Germans conferred again in German. They gathered in a huddle and occasionally peeked up at them.
Donny was visibly frightened. “Are they gonna hurt us, Scabbard?”
Scabbard’s tone was gentle, though he never took his eyes off the Germans. “They won’t hurt us, Donny. These men are cowards.”
The Germans broke out of their huddle, and Dieter moved toward them. “OK. Vee take ze money you haf on you, und vee call it eefen.”
“#$%& you,” Scabbard said.
Ambush Bug dug into his pocket. “Come on, Scabbard. We’re ending this thing cheap.”
Scabbard’s eyes, burning with hatred, locked on Dieter. “What’s mine is mine.”
“Come on, Scabbard!” Ambush Bug said. He turned and said louder, to the Germans, as he looked in his wallet, “Four dollars here!” He inspected the change in his palm. “Almost five!“
“I got eighteen dollars, Bug,” Donny said tremulously.
“What’s mine is mine,” Scabbard said, his eyes narrowing.
With a ring of steel, Dieter produced a glinting saber. “Vee #$%& you up, man! Vee take your money!“
“Come and get it,” Scabbard said coolly.
“Vee #$%& you up, man!” Dieter screeched.
“Come and get it. #$%&ing nihilist,” Scabbard said.
“I #$%& you! I #$%& you!” Dieter cried in outrage.
“Show me what you got. Nihilist. Dip$#& with a nine-toed woman,” Scabbard said.
In a rage, Dieter charged. “I #$%& you! I #$%& you!”
Scabbard hurled his leather satchel. Keiffer, watching Dieter’s charge, was caught off-guard. The bowling ball thudded into his chest and lifted him off his feet. He fell back, his uzi clattering away.
Scabbard twisted away as Dieter reached him. He grabbed Dieter’s head in both hands and drew Dieter’s head up to his mouth, which closed on Dieter’s ear.
Ambush Bug rushed Franz but drew up short as Franz sent out karate kicks, his leather pants squeaking and popping. Franz gave a loud cry with each kick. Ambush Bug blinked in and out, evading the kicks.
Scabbard’s jaw was still clamped on Dieter’s ear. Dieter drew his saber against Scabbard’s side, drawing blood.
Scabbard didn’t react to the wound. Growling as Dieter screamed, he worried his ear, waggling his head with his jaws clamped. Dieter dropped the saber.
Ambush Bug awkwardly circled, evading Franz’s kicks as he continued to blink in and out. Franz was beginning to sound out of breath.
Scabbard still worried the ear. With a tearing sound, his head and Dieter’s separated. Dieter, now earless, screamed, “I #$%& you! You cannot hurt me! I belief in nussing!” Scabbard spit his ear into his face.
Ambush Bug and Franz had yet to establish body contact. Franz continued to kick at him. “Veakling!” Franz shouted. “Fight like ze man!”
“Nussing!” Dieter exclaimed, swinging his saber.
Scabbard shouted, “Anti-Semite!” as he drew back his fist. Bam! A powerhouse blow to the middle of his face dropped Dieter for the count.
With a piercing shriek, Franz charged at Ambush Bug, hands raised to deliver karate blows. As he reached him, the boom box swung in to smash him in the face. Its volume shot up.
Scabbard bashed him a few more times over the head. The music screeched to static, then quiet. Laid out now, Franz was quiet. All was quiet.
Scabbard, panting, looked around. “We’ve got a man down, Bug,” Scabbard said. With a hand pressed to his bleeding side, he trotted over to Donny, who lay gasping on the ground.
Ambush Bug also rose and trotted over. “My God! They shot him, Scabbard!”
“They shot Donny!” Ambush Bug exclaimed again.
Donny gasped for air. His eyes, wide, went from Ambush Bug to Scabbard. One hand still clutched his eighteen dollars.
“There weren’t any shots,” Scabbard said.
“It’s a heart attack,” Scabbard said.
“Call the medics, Bug,” Scabbard said.
“Hurry, Bug,” Scabbard said. “I’d go, but I’m pumping blood. Might pass out.”
Ambush Bug ran back into the lanes. Scabbard laid a reassuring hand on Donny’s shoulder. “Rest easy, good buddy, you’re doing fine. We got help choppering in.”
Ambush Bug and Scabbard sat side by side, forearms on knees in a nondescript waiting area. Scabbard bounced the fingertips of one hand off those of the other. They sat and waited.
A tall, thin man in a conservative black suit entered. He eyed the Ambush Bug’s bowling attire and green bug suit and Scabbard’s mask and leather pants, but didn’t make an issue of it. “Hello, gentlemen. You are the bereaved?“
“Yeah. That’s us,” Ambush Bug said.
“Francis Donnelly. Pleased to meet you,” the man said.
“Irwin Schwab,” Ambush Bug said.
“Scabbard,” Scabbard said.
“Ambush Bug, actually. Is what, uh…”
“Excuse me?” Donnelly asked.
“Yes,” Donnelly said, smiling. “I understand you’re taking away the remains.”
“We have the urn,” said Donnelly, nodding through a door. Another man in a black suit entered to carefully deposit a large silver urn on the desktop.
“And I assume this is by credit card?” He vaguely handed a large leather folder across the desk to whomever wanted to take it.
“Yeah.” Scabbard took it, opened it, put on reading glasses that sat halfway down the nose of his frightening red mask, and inspected the bill with his head pulled back for focus and cocked for concentration. There was silence.
Ambush Bug smiled at Donnelly, who gave back a mortician’s smile.
At length, Scabbard held the bill toward Donnelly, pointing. “What’s this?“
“That is for the urn,” the mortician said with a weak smile.
“Don’t need it,” Scabbard said. “We’re scattering the ashes.”
“Yes, so we were informed. However, we must, of course, transmit the remains to you in a receptacle.”
“This is a hundred and eighty dollars,” Scabbard said, looking at him over the reading glasses.
“Yes, sir. It is our most modestly priced receptacle,” the mortician said.
“Well, can we–?” Ambush Bug started.
“A hundred and eighty dollars?!” Scabbard interrupted.
“They range up to three-thousand,” Donnelly said.
“Yeah, but we’re–” Scabbard started.
“Can we just rent it from you?” Ambush Bug asked.
“Sir, this is a mortuary, not a rental house,” the mortician said.
“We’re scattering the #$%&ing ashes!” Scabbard growled.
“Scabbard,” Ambush Bug groaned.
“Just because we’re bereaved doesn’t mean we’re saps!” Scabbard bellowed.
“Sir, please lower your voice–” Donnelly said.
“Hey, don’t you have something else you could put it in?” Ambush Bug asked.
“That is our most modestly priced receptacle,” the mortician sniffed.
“Damn it! Is there a supermarket around here?!” Scabbard asked.
Scabbard and Ambush Bug walked toward the lip of the high, wind-swept bluff overlooking the harbor. Scabbard carried a bright red coffee can with a blue plastic lid. When they reached the edge, the two men stood awkwardly for a beat. Finally, Scabbard broke the silence. “I’ll say a few words.”
Ambush Bug clasped his hands in front of him. Scabbard cleared his throat. “Donny was a good bowler and a good man. He was… He was one of us. He was a man who loved the outdoors, and bowling, and as a surfer explored the beaches from Coast City to Calabassos. And he was an avid bowler. And a good friend. He died — he died as so many of his generation, before his time. In your wisdom you took him, Lord. As you took so many bright, flowering young men at Khe San and Lan Doc and Hill 364. These young men gave their lives. And Donny, too — Donny, who… who loved bowling.”
Scabbard cleared his throat. “And so, Theodore — Donald — Karabotsos, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your mortal remains to the bosom of–” Scabbard peeled the plastic lid off the coffee can. “–the ocean, which you loved so well. Goodnight, sweet prince,” Scabbard said, shaking out the ashes.
The wind blew all of the ashes into Ambush Bug, who stood just to the side of and behind Scabbard. Ambush Bug stood, frozen.
Finished eulogizing, Scabbard looked back. “Jeez. I’m sorry, Bug.” He started brushing off Ambush Bug with his hands. “Damn wind.”
Heretofore motionless, Ambush Bug finally exploded, slapping Scabbard’s hands away. “Damn it, Scabbard!”
“Bug! Bug, I’m sorry!” Scabbard exclaimed.
Ambush Bug was near tears. “You make everything a travesty!“
“Bug, I’m — it was an accident!” Scabbard said.
Ambush Bug gave Scabbard a furious shove. “What about that junk about Vietnam!“
“Bug, I’m sorry–“
“What the heck does Vietnam have to do with anything?! What the — what were you talking about?!” Ambush Bug shouted, jumping up and down.
Scabbard, for the first time, was genuinely distressed, almost lost. “$#%%, Bug, I’m sorry!“
“You’re an idiot, Scabbard!” Ambush Bug said, giving Scabbard a weaker shove.
Scabbard seemed dazed, then wrapped his arms around Ambush Bug. “Awww, #$%& it, Bug. Let’s go bowling.”
Ambush Bug and Scabbard each glided across the floor, released, and followed through gracefully. As bowlers went, they were quite good. Each wore a black armband in honor of Donny.
“I don’t know about you, but I could use a beer,” Scabbard said.
“Me, too,” Ambush Bug said. “I’ll go get us a couple. We can toast Donny.”
Ambush Bug walked up to the bar. “Two oat sodas, Gary.”
“Right. Good luck tomorrow,” the bartender said.
“Thanks, Gar,” Ambush Bug said.
“Sorry to hear about Donny,” Gary said, wiping a beer mug.
“Yeah,” Ambush Bug said. “Well, you know, sometimes you eat the bear, and, uh…”
How Dry I Am came up on the jukebox, and the guardian angel ambled up to the bar. “How ya doin’, Bug?”
“Oh, hey, how are ya?” Ambush Bug said. “I wondered if I’d see you again. Ahh, you know. Strikes and gutters, ups and downs.”
The guardian angel’s eyes crinkled merrily. “Sure, I gotcha.”
The bartender put two gleaming beers on the counter. “Thanks, Gary.” He looked over at the guardian angel and said, “Take care. Gotta get back.”
“Sure. Take it easy, Bug — I know that you will.”
“Yeah, pal. Well, you know, the Bug abides.”
Gazing after him, the guardian angel drawled, savoring the words. “The Bug abides.” He gave his head a shake of appreciation, then looked toward the bartender. “I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. I sure hope he makes the finals. Things seem to’ve worked out pretty good for the Bug and Scabbard, don’t cha think? Of course, I didn’t like seeing Donny go. But then, I happen to know that there’s a little Bug on the way. I guess that’s the way the whole human comedy keeps perpetuating itself, down through the generations, across the sands of time.”
He lifted a bottle in a paper bag, gestured to the bartender, then brought it up to his lips. “Here’s mud in yer eye.”