by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from Fargo, screenplay by Ethan Coen and Joel Cohen
The town of Smallville, Kansas, was experiencing an unseasonal, unusually heavy snowfall that September night in 1986. Driving down the stretch of road leading into the town was a car equipped with a hitch that was towing another car — a brand-new, light brown Cutlass Ciera with the pink sales sticker showing in its rear window. A green highway sign pointed the way to the small Kansas town whose most famous citizen was a former big city newspaper editor who had chosen to retire in his home town.
The driver pulled the car into the parking lot. The one-story brick building in front of the snow-swept parking lot had broken neon at the top of the building identifying it as the Jolly Troll Tavern. A troll, also in neon, held a champagne glass aloft.
The bar was downscale, even for a town like Smallville. Country music played on the jukebox. Two men were seated in a booth at the back. One was short, slight, and youngish. The other man was somewhat older, and dour. The table in front of them was littered with empty, long-neck beer bottles. The ashtray was full. The driver approached the two men.
“I’m, uh, Jerry Lundegaard,” said the driver, introducing himself. “Shep Proudfoot said…”
“Shep said you’d be here at 7:30,” the younger man said. “What gives, man?”
“Shep said 8:30!” Jerry said in surprise. “I’m sure sorry. I… Shep told me 8:30. It was a mixup, I guess.”
“You got the car?” the younger man asked.
“Yeah, you bet. It’s in the lot, there,” Jerry said, gesturing to the parking lot. “Brand-new burnt umber Ciera.”
“Yeah, OK. Well, siddown, then. I’m Carl Showalter, and this is my associate, Gaear Grimsrud.”
“Yeah, how ya doin’? So, uh, we all set on this thing, then?” Jerry asked nervously.
“Sure, Jerry, we’re all set,” said the younger man, Carl. “Why wouldn’t we be?”
Jerry held up his hands appeasingly. “Yeah, no, I’m sure you are. Shep vouched for you, and all.”
The two men stared at him. An awkward moment passed.
“So… I guess that’s it, then,” Jerry said nervously, sliding the keys across the table. “Here’s the keys.”
“No, that’s not it, Jerry,” Carl said.
“The new vehicle, plus forty-thousand dollars,” Carl said.
“Yeah, but the deal was the car first, see, then the forty-thousand, like as if it was the ransom,” Jerry insisted. “I thought Shep told you.”
“Shep didn’t tell us much, Jerry,” Carl said. “Except that you were gonna be here at 7:30.”
“Yeah, well, that was a mixup, then,” Jerry said.
“Yeah, you already said that.”
“Yeah. But it’s not a whole pay-in-advance deal. I give you a brand-new vehicle in advance, and–”
“I’m not gonna sit here and debate. I will say this, though,” Carl continued. “What Shep told us didn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
“Oh, no, it’s real sound,” Jerry said eagerly. “It’s all worked out.”
“You want your own wife kidnapped?” Carl asked, puzzled.
Carl stared. Jerry looked blankly back.
“You… my point is, you pay the ransom — what, eighty-thousand bucks?” Carl said. “I mean, you give us half the ransom, forty-thousand, you keep half. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul; it doesn’t make any sense.”
“OK, it’s… see, it’s not me payin’ the ransom,” Jerry explained. “The thing is, my wife, she’s wealthy — her dad, he’s real well off. Now, I’m in a bit of trouble…”
“What kind of trouble are you in, Jerry?” Carl asked.
“Well, that’s — that’s, I’m not going into… see, I just need money,” said Jerry. “Now, her dad’s real wealthy–”
“So why don’t you just ask him for the money?” Carl asked.
Grimsrud, the dour man who had not yet spoken, now softly added with a Swedish-accented voice, “Or your @#$&ing wife, you know.”
“Well, it’s all just part of this — they don’t know I need it, see?” Jerry squirmed. “OK, so there’s that. And even if they did, I wouldn’t get it. So there’s that on top, then. See, these’re personal matters.”
“Personal matters,” Carl echoed.
“Yeah. Personal matters that needn’t, uh…”
Carl pointed at Jerry with his cigarette. “OK, Jerry. You’re asking us to perform this mission, but you… you won’t, uh, you won’t — aw, the hell with it; let’s take a look at that Ciera.”
Jerry entered through the kitchen door in a parka and a red plaid Elmer Fudd hat. He stamped snow off his feet before entering. He carried a bag of groceries, which he deposited on the kitchen counter.
“Hon? Got the gro’shries,” he called out to his wife, Jean.
“Thank you, hon. How was your day?”
“Real good,” Jerry said cheerfully.
“Dad’s here,” she said. Jerry’s expression quickly changed.
Jerry entered the den, pulling off his plaid cap. “How ya doin’, Wade?”
Wade Gustafson was mid-sixtyish, vigorous, with a full head of gray hair. His eyes remained fixed on the TV. “Pretty good.”
“Whatcha watchin’ there, Wade?”
“Who they playin’?”
“Who’s… OOOoooh!” His reaction synchronized with a reaction from the crowd.
Jerry walked back in the kitchen, taking off his coat. His wife was putting on an apron. Jerry nodded toward the living room. “Is he stayin’ for supper, then?”
“Yeah, I think so… Dad, are you stayin’ for supper?
Thirty minutes later, Jerry, Jean, Wade, and twelve-year-old Scotty sat in the dining room eating.
“Wade, have ya had a chance to think about, uh, that deal I was talkin’ about?” asked Jerry. “Those forty acres?”
“You told me about it,” Wade said.
“Yeah, you said you’d have a think about it. I understand it’s a lot of money–”
“A heck of a lot. What’d you say you were gonna put there?” Wade asked.
“A lot. It’s a limited…” Jerry started.
“I know it’s a lot,” Wade laughed.
“I mean a parking lot,” Jerry said.
“Yeah, well, seven-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars is a lot — ha-ha-ha!” Wade laughed.
“Yeah, well, it’s a chunk, but–”
“I thought you were gonna show it to Stan Grossman,” Wade said. “He passes on this stuff before it gets kicked up to me.”
“Well, you know Stan’ll say no dice,” Jerry said. “That’s why you pay him. I’m asking you here, Wade. This could work out real good for me and Jean and Scotty.”
“Jean and Scotty never have to worry,” Wade said. Jerry grew silent.
Carl Showalter drove as Gaear Grimsrud stared blankly out at the white, snow-covered landscape. “Where is Pancakes House?” Grimsrud said, breaking the silence.
“What?” Carl said incredulously.
“We stop at Pancakes House,” Grimsrud said.
“What’re you, nuts?” Carl said incredulously. “We had pancakes for breakfast. I gotta go somewhere I can get a shot and a beer — and a steak, maybe. Not more pancakes. Come on.”
Grimsrud gave him a sour look.
“Come on, man,” said Carl with a sigh. “OK, here’s an idea. We’ll stop outside of Mont Pilate. I know a place there we can find some girls. Whaddya think?”
“I’m #$^%ing hungry now, you know,” the big Swede said.
“Yeah, yeah, Jesus — I’m sayin’, we’ll stop for pancakes, then we’ll find some girls. Whaddya think?”
Jean Lundegaard was making coffee in the kitchen as Scott ate cereal at the table. In the background, a morning show blared on television. As she went about her morning routine, she lectured her son. “I’m talkin’ about your potential.”
“Uh-huh,” Scott said absently.
“You’re not a C student,” Jean said.
“And yet you’re gettin’ C grades. It’s this disparity there that concerns your dad and me.”
“You know what a disparity is?”
“Yeah!” Scott said testily.
“OK. Well, that’s why we don’t want you goin’ out for hockey.”
“Oh, man! What’s the big deal? It’s an hour!”
“Hold on,” Jean said as the phone rang. She picked it up and cradled it between her ear and shoulder. “Hello?”
“Yeah, hiya, hon,” the voice on the other end said.
“Oh, hiya, Dad.”
“Jerry around?” Wade asked.
“Yeah, he’s still here — I’ll catch him for ya,” Jean said. Holding the phone away, she called out, “Hon?”
“Yeah?” Jerry answered.
Jerry entered in shirtsleeves and a tie. “Yeah, OK.”
“Look, Dad, there is no $^%ing way…”
“Scott!” Jean yelled, horrified.
“Say, let’s watch the language,” Jerry reprimanded as he picked up the phone. “How ya doin’, Wade?”
“What’s goin’ on there?” Wade asked.
“Oh, nothing, Wade. How ya doin’ there?”
“Stan Grossman looked at your proposal,” Wade said. “Says it’s pretty sweet.”
“No kiddin’?” Jerry said excitedly.
“We might be in’erested,” Wade said.
“No kiddin’!” Jerry said excitedly. “I’d need the cash pretty quick, there. In order to close the deal.”
“Come by at 2:30, and we’ll talk about it. If your numbers are right, Stan says it’s pretty sweet. Stan Grossman.”
“At 2:30.” The phone clicked, and Jerry heard the dial tone.
“Yeah, OK, ” Jerry said, hanging up the phone.
Jerry wandered through the service area of Gustafson’s Olds Garage, where cars were being worked on. He stopped by an Indian in blue jeans who was looking at the underside of a car that sat on a hydraulic lift with a cage light hanging off its innards. “Say, Shep, how ya doin’, there?”
“Mm,” Shep grunted.
“Say, you know those two fellas ya put me in touch with?”
“Put you in touch with Grimsrud,” Shep said.
“Well, yeah, but he had a buddy there. He, uh…”
“Well, I don’t vouch for him,” Shep said.
“Well, that’s OK, I just…”
“I vouch for Grimsrud. Who’s his buddy?
“Never heard of him,” Shep said. “Don’t vouch for him.”
“Well, that’s OK. He’s a buddy of the guy you vouched for, so I’m not worryin’. I just, I was wonderin’, see, I gotta get in touch with ’em. I might not need it anymore. Something’s happening, see…”
“Call ’em up.”
“Yeah, well, see, I did that, and I haven’t been able to get ’em,” Jerry said anxiously, “so I thought you maybe’d know an alternate number, or what have ya.”
Jerry slapped his fist into his open palm and snapped his fingers. “OK, then.” He backed up, turned, and walked out of the garage.
Carl and Grimsrud drove in silence. Grimsrud stared out front. Carl broke the silence by trying to make conversation. “Look at that. IDS Building, the big glass one. Tallest skyscraper around. After the Sears, uh, Chicago… You never been to Metropolis?”
“Would it kill you to say something?” Carl said.
“‘No.’ First thing you’ve said in the last four hours. That’s a — that’s a fountain of conversation, man. That’s a geyser. I mean, whoa, daddy, stand back, man. $%#&, I’m sittin’ here driving, man, doin’ all the drivin’, tryin’ to, you know, tryin’ to chat, keep our spirits up, fight the boredom of the road, and you can’t say one thing just in the way of conversation.”
Grimsrud smoked, gazing out the window. His expression was impassive.
“Well, forget it. I don’t talk, either, man. See how you like it.” Carl gave a sigh of disgust. They drove again in total silence.
Jerry sat at his desk in his cubicle with the phone pressed to his ear. “Yeah, real good. How you doin’?” he said.
“Pretty good, Mr. Lundegaard,” the voice on the other end said. “You’re damned hard to get on the phone.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty darned busy here,” Jerry said, “but that’s the way we like it.”
“That’s for sure,” the voice on the other end said. “Now, I just need, on these last… these financing documents you sent us, I can’t read the serial numbers of the vehicles on here, so I…”
“But I already got the… it’s OK, the loans are in place. I got the — the what — the…” Jerry stammered.
“Yeah, the three-hundred and twenty-thousand dollars; you got the money last month.”
“Yeah, so we’re all set,” Jerry said.
“Yeah, but the vehicles you were borrowing on, I just can’t read the serial numbers on your application. Maybe if you could just read them to me.”
“But the deal’s already done,” Jerry said. “I already got the money.”
“Yeah, but we have an audit here,” the voice on the other end said. “I just have to know that these vehicles you’re financing with this money, that they really exist.”
“Yeah, well, they exist, all right,” Jerry said emphatically.
“I’m sure they do — ha-ha! I can’t read their serial numbers here. So if you could read me…”
“Well, but, see, I don’t have ’em in front o’ me — why don’t I just fax you over a copy?” Jerry said.
“No, fax is no good; that’s what I have, and I can’t read the darn thing…”
“Yeah, OK. I’ll have my guy send you over a copy, then,” Jerry said.
“OK, because if I can’t correlate this note with the specific vehicles, then I gotta call back that money.”
“Yeah, how much money was that?” Jerry asked.
“Three-hundred and twenty-thousand dollars. See, I gotta correlate that money with the cars it’s lent on.”
“Yeah, no problem, I’ll just fax that over to ya, then.”
“No, no, fax is–“ the man on the other end started.
“I mean send it over. I’ll shoot it right over to ya,” Jerry said.
“All righty, then.”