by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from The Big Lebowski, screenplay by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Ambush Bug was driving home as he gingerly sucked at a too-hot cup of coffee. He glanced at the rearview mirror and, noticing something, looked again. A Volkswagen Beetle with a lone fat man driving was following.
His eyes still on the mirror, he absently took the styrofoam cup of coffee and flung it out the driver’s window — except that the window was not open. The cup bounced off the glass and splashed coffee everywhere.
The cup with the remaining coffee landed in his seat between his legs. Ambush Bug screamed as the car careened wildly. The surrounding traffic veered off to make way, horns blaring. His car finally spun and came to rest with its passenger side wrapped into a telephone poll.
Ambush Bug frantically grabbed at his door, which wouldn’t open, and then slid over to push at the passenger door, which also wouldn’t open. “This is just great.”
He fanned at his crotch, gasping, when he noticed something poking out from between the passenger seat cushions.
Ambush Bug pulled it out. It was lined spiral notebook paper covered with handwriting. In the upper right-hand corner was the name Lawrence Sellers, and under that, Mrs. Jamtoss, 5th Period. The theme was titled The Louisiana Purchase. In red ink was a large circled D and some handwritten marginal comments. Misspelled words were circled in red throughout.
At Crane Jackson’s Fountain Street Theater, Scabbard, Ambush Bug, and Donny faced the stage in the background where Binky Biggs, Ambush Bug’s balding landlord, performed a modern dance.
As Scabbard talked to Ambush Bug, he leaned in to him, his voice hushed to keep from disturbing the rest of the very sparse audience. “He lives on Maple near the Big Belly Burger–”
“The Big Belly Burger is on Oak,” Ambush Bug corrected.
“Near the Big Belly Burger,” Scabbard said.
“Those are good burgers, Scabbard,” Donny said.
“Shut the #$%& up, Donny,” Scabbard said. “This kid is in the ninth grade, Bug, and his father is — are you ready for this? — Arthur Digby Sellers.”
“Who the heck is that?” Ambush Bug asked.
“Who the heck is Arthur Digby Sellers?”
“Who the–? Have you ever heard of a little show called Branded, Bug?”
“All but one man died? There at Bitter Creek?” Scabbard said.
“Yeah, yeah, I know the show, Scabbard,” Ambush Bug said. “So what?”
“#$%&ing Arthur Digby Sellers wrote a hundred and fifty-six episodes, Bug,” Scabbard said.
“The bulk of the series,” Scabbard said. “Not exactly a lightweight.”
“And yet his son is a #$%&ing dunce,” Scabbard said, shaking his head.
“Yeah, go figure. Well, we’ll go out there after the, uh, the…” He waved a hand vaguely toward the stage. “…what have you. We’ll, uh–”
“We’ll be near the Big Belly Burger,” Donny added.
“Shut the #$%& up, Donny. We’ll, uh, brace the kid — he’ll be a pushover. We’ll get that #$%&ing money, if he hasn’t spent it already. Million #$%&ing clams. And yes, we’ll be near the, uh — some burgers, some beers, a few laughs. Our #$%&ing troubles are over, Bug.”
Ambush Bug and Scabbard pulled the LeBaron up in front of a dilapidated house sitting on a scrubby lot. Parked incongruously in front of the house was a brand-new red Corvette.
“Damn, Scabbard! That kid’s already spent all the money!” Ambush Bug exclaimed.
“Hardly, Bug,” Scabbard said. “A new ‘vette? The kid’s still got, oh, ninety-six to ninety-seven thousand, depending on the options. Wait in the car, Donny.”
Scabbard rung the bell. It was opened by a matronly Spanish woman who said, “Jace?”
Scabbard cleared his throat and then spoke. “Hello, Pilar? My name is Scabbard. We spoke on the phone. This is my associate, Ambush Bug.”
“May we, uh, we wanted to talk about little Larry. May we come in?”
They entered a dim living room and stood, looking about, as Pilar called up the stairs, “Larry! Sweetie! Dat mang is here!”
There was a rhythmic compressor sound. Scabbard placed it and nudged Ambush Bug. At the other end of the living room, a man lay on something that looked like a hospital gurney with its midsection enclosed by a motorized, stainless-steel bubble. It was an iron lung, artificially breathing with distinct hisses in and out. “That’s him, Bug.”
“And a good day to you, sir,” the man said through a speaker.
“See’ down, please.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Scabbard said. He and Ambush Bug sat on a sagging green sofa. In a lowered voice, he asked Pilar, “Does he, uh… is he still writing?”
“No, no. He has healt’ problems.”
“Uh-huh.” He bellowed across the room, “I just want to say, sir, that we’re both enormous — on a personal level, Branded, especially the early episodes, has been a source of, uh, inspir–”
There were footsteps on the stairs. Larry, a fifteen-year-old, looked at the two costumed men.
“See’ down, sweetie. These mens are from the Chusteece League–”
“No, ma’am, I didn’t mean to give the impression that we’re super-heroes, exactly. We’re hoping that it will not be necessary to call in the big guns.” He adopted his commanding voice in turning to Larry, “But that is up to little Larry, here. Isn’t it, Larry?”
Scabbard popped the latches on his attaché case and took out the homework, which was now in a ziplock bag. He held it out at arm’s length, displaying it to Larry. “Is this your homework, Larry?” Larry didn’t respond. “Is this your homework, Larry?” Scabbard repeated.
“Look, kid, did you–?” Ambush Bug started.
“Bug, please! Is this your homework, Larry?” Scabbard growled.
“Just ask him if he — ask him about the car, Scabbard!” Ambush Bug exclaimed.
Scabbard was still holding out the homework. “Is this yours, Larry? Is this your homework, Larry?”
“Is the car out front yours?” Ambush Bug asked.
“Is this your homework, Larry?” Scabbard repeated.
“We know it’s his homework, Scabbard! Where’s the money, you little brat?!” Ambush Bug exclaimed.
Throughout, Scabbard had been staring at Larry with the homework extended toward him. “Look, Larry… have you ever heard of Beirut?”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Scabbard!” Ambush Bug groaned, slapping his forehead.
“You’re going to enter a world of pain, son,” Scabbard said. “We know that this is your homework. We know you stole a car–”
“And the money!” Ambush Bug added.
“And the money. And we know that this is your homework, Larry.” No answer. “You’re gonna kill your father, Larry!” Scabbard growled. No answer.
“Ah, this is pointless,” Scabbard finally said in disgust as he shoved the homework back in the attaché case. “All right, Plan B. You might want to watch out the front window there, Larry.” He headed for the door. Ambush Bug, puzzled, rose to follow him.
“This is what happens when you #$%& with me, Larry. Scabbard strode down the lawn with his attaché case like a deranged encyclopedia salesman, without looking back at Ambush Bug, who followed.
“Language problem, Bug.” He popped Ambush Bug’s trunk, flung in the briefcase, and took out a tire iron. “Maybe he’ll understand this.”
Scabbard walked over to the Corvette. “You see what happens, Larry!” Crash! He swung the crowbar into the windshield, which shattered. “You see what happens?!”
Crash! He took out the driver’s window. “This is what happens when you #$%& with me!”
Lights went on in houses down the street. Distant dogs barked.
“Here’s what happens, Larry!” Crash! “Here’s what happens! #$%& with Scabbard, will you?!” Crash!
A man in a sleeveless T-shirt and boxer shorts ran over behind the unsuspecting Scabbard and grabbed the crowbar from him on the backswing. “What joo doing, mang?! I jus’ baw deez car lass week!”
Scabbard stared in shock at the enraged Mexican. “Huh?”
The man looked about, wildly, and then ran toward the LeBaron. “I kill joo, mang! I — I kill jor freakeen’ car!”
“No! No! No!” Ambush Bug exclaimed. “That’s not–!”
Crash! Crash! “I freakeen’ kill jor freakeen’ car!” Crash! “I kill jor car!” Glass rained inside on a terrified, cringing Donny. “I kill jor car!”
The Mexican suddenly slumped to the ground. Behind him stood Scabbard, the hilt of his sword pointed forward from where he’d tapped him with it. “So who’s hungry?”
Wind whistled through the caved-in windows of the Bugmobile as Ambush Bug drove, his jaw clenched, staring grimly out at the road. Scabbard beside him and Donny in the back seat munched on Big Belly Burgers. Devo’s Beautiful World played above the bluster of wind.
As Ambush Bug talked on the phone, he was hammering a two-by-four into the floor just inside and parallel to the front door. “Scabbard, I accept your apology… No, I — I just want to handle it myself from now on… No. That has nothing to do with it… Yes, it made it home. I’m calling from home. No, Scabbard, it didn’t look like Larry was about to crack.”
He finished hammering, rose, and grabbed a straight-backed chair that stood nearby. “Well that’s your perception… Well, you’re right, Scabbard, and the unspoken message is shut up and leave me alone… Yeah, I’ll be at practice.”
He hung up and had just finished sliding the chair into place with its top under the doorknob and its legs braced against the two-by-four, thus wedging the door closed, when the door opened outward. The chair clattered to the floor. “Huh?”
The blond man and Woo, who had earlier peed on the rug, strode in, kicking the chair away. “Pin your diapers on, Schwab,” said Woo. “Jackie Treehorn wants to see you.”
“And we know which Schwab you are, Schwab,” the blond man said.
“Yeah. Jackie Treehorn wants to talk to the deadbeat Schwab,” Woo said.
“Yeah. You’re not dealing with morons here,” the blond man said.
Out of the blackness fell a woman, her limbs flailing, her mouth contorted by either fear or ecstasy. She was topless. She fell, then after a beat reappeared, rising into the night sky.
A crowd of mostly tanned, middle-aged men with blow-dried hair, wearing jogging outfits and other expensively casual attire, were blanket-tossing the squealing young woman.
It was a party, lit by festive lights and standing kerosene heaters. Mainstream jazz from the 1960s of the Mancini-Brubeck school had been piped down to speakers on the courtyard.
A man walked toward Ambush Bug. He was handsome, fiftyish, and wearing cotton twill pants and a Turnbull & Asher shirt with a foulard knotted at the neck. Behind him, the woman rose and fell, appearing and disappearing. “Hello, Ambush Bug. Thanks for coming. I’m Jackie Treehorn.”
As they walked from the courtyard and into his mansion, Ambush Bug looked around at the ’60s modern decor. “This is quite a pad you got here, man. Completely unspoiled.”
“What’s your drink, Bug?” Treehorn asked.
“White Russian, thanks,” Ambush Bug answered. “How’s the smut business, Jackie?”
“I wouldn’t know, Bug,” Treehorn said. “I deal in publishing, entertainment, political advocacy, and–”
“Which one was Logjammin’?” Ambush Bug asked.
“Regrettably, it’s true — standards have fallen in adult entertainment,” Treehorn said, shrugging. “It’s video, Bug. People often forget that Metropolis once had a thriving film industry — personified by such mainstream studios as Mammoth — that, while not nearly as large as Tinseltown, was still formidable in its day. Now that we’re competing with those amateurs in San Fernando Valley, we can’t afford to invest that little extra in story, production value, feeling.” He tapped his forehead with one finger. “People forget that the brain is the biggest erogenous zone.”
“On you, maybe,” Ambush Bug said.
Jackie Treehorn handed him the drink. “Of course, you do get the good with the bad. The new technology permits us to do exciting things with interactive erotic software. Wave of the future, Bug. One-hundred-percent electronic.”
“Uh-huh. Well, I still rassle Ricky Ricardo manually,” Ambush Bug said.
“Of course you do. I can see you’re anxious for me to get to the point. Well, Bug, here it is. Where’s Bunny?”
“I thought you might know, Jackie,” Ambush Bug said.
“Me? How would I know? The only reason she ran off was to get away from her rather sizeable debt to me,” Jackie Treehorn said.
“But she hasn’t run off. She’s been–”
Treehorn waved this off. “I’ve heard the kidnapping story, so save it,” Treehorn said. “I know you’re mixed up in all this, Bug, and I don’t care what you’re trying to take off her husband. That’s your business. All I’m saying is, I want mine.”
“Yeah, well, right. There are many facets to this, uh, you know, many interested parties. If I can find your money, what’s in it for the Bug?”
“Of course, there’s that to discuss,” Jackie Treehorn said. “Refill?”
“Does the Pope go in the woods?”
“Let’s say a ten-percent finder’s fee?” Jackie Treehorn asked.
“OK, Jackie, done. I like the way you do business. Your money is being held by a kid named Larry Sellers. He lives in North Metropolis on Maple, near the Big Belly Burger. A real brat, but I’m sure your goons’ll be able to get it off him. I mean, he’s only fifteen, and he’s flunking social studies. So if you’ll just write me a check for my ten percent — of half a million — fifty grand.” He got to his feet but swayed woozily. “I’ll go out and mingle. Jesus, you mix a hell of a Caucasian, Jackie.” Ambush Bug shook his head, trying to focus.
“A fifteen-year-old? Is this your idea of a joke?” Jackie Treehorn’s image started to swim. He was joined on either side by Woo and the blond man, and all three men looked grimly down at him.
“No funny stuff, Jackie… the kid’s got it. Hiya, fellas. Kid just wanted a car. All the Bug ever wanted… was his rug back… Not greedy… it really…” He squinted at Jackie Treehorn, who swum in and out of focus. “Tied the room together.” He tipped forward, spilling his drink off the table. His face hit the glass and squished.