by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from Fargo, screenplay by Ethan Coen and Joel Cohen
Jean Lundegaard was curled up on the couch with a cup of coffee, watching television as a morning-show host in an apron stood behind a counter on a kitchen set.
She smiled as laughter and applause came from the studio audience. Hearing something else, a faint scraping sound, she looked up. The scraping sound persisted. Jean set down her coffee cup and rose. From the studio audience came an, “Awoooh!”
A curtain was stretched tight across the window of the back door of the kitchen. Jean pulled the curtain back, and bright sunlight amplified by snow flooded in. A man in an orange ski mask looked up from the lock. Jean gasped, dropped the curtain, turned, and ran into a taller man, also in a ski mask, already in the house.
She heard the crack of the backdoor window being smashed. The tall man — Gaear Grimsrud — grabbed Jean’s wrist. She screamed, staring at her own imprisoned wrist, then wrapped her gaping mouth around Grimsrud’s gloved thumb and bit down hard. He dropped her wrist. As Carl Showalter entered, she raced up the stairs.
“Unguent,” Grimsrud grunted.
“Huh?” Carl said.
Grimsurd looked at his thumb.” I need… unguent.”
As the two men entered the upstairs bedroom, a door at the far side slammed shut. A cord snaked in under the door. Jean, sobbing, frantically pushed at buttons on her princess phone.
The phone popped out of her hands, jangled across the tiled floor, smashed against the door, and then bounced away, its cord ripped free.
With a groaning sound, the door shifted in its frame. Grimsrud had a crowbar jammed in between the bathroom door and frame, and was working it.
Jean crossed to a high window in the bathroom above the toilet and threw it open. Snow that had drifted against the window sifted lightly in. Jean stepped up onto the toilet.
The door creaked, moving as one piece in its frame. Jean glanced back as she stepped up from the toilet seat to the tank. The groaning of the door ended with the wood around its knob splintering and the knob itself falling out onto the floor.
The door swung open, and Grimsrud and Carl entered. The room was empty and the window open. Carl strode to the window and hoisted himself out. Grimsrud opened the medicine cabinet and delicately tapped aside various bottles and tubes, seeking the proper unguent. He found a salve, but after a moment set it down, noticing something in the mirror. The shower curtain was drawn around the tub.
He stepped toward it. As he reached for the curtain, it exploded outward, animated by thrashing limbs.
Jean, screaming, tangled in the curtain, ripped it off its rings and stumbled out into the bedroom. Grimsrud followed. Jean rushed toward the door of the bedroom, cloaked by the shower curtain, but awkwardly trying to push it off.
Still thrashing at the upstairs landing, Jean crashed against the upstairs railing, tripped on the curtain, and fell, thumping crazily down the stairs. Grimsrud trotted down after her.
The door swung open, and Jerry Lundegaard edged in, looking about, holding a sack of groceries. “Hon?” he called out. He shut the door. “Got the gro’shries…”
He saw the shower curtain on the floor. Frowning, he poked at it with his foot. “Hon…?”
Jerry walked into the upstairs bathroom and set the groceries down on the toilet tank. He looked at the open window, through which snow still sifted in. He shut it.
He picked up the small tube of unguent that sat on the sink, frowned at it, and put it back in the medicine cabinet. He looked at the shower curtain rod holding empty rings.
After a few minutes that seemed like an eternity, Jerry picked up the phone and punched in a number. “Yeah, Wade Gustafson, please.”
The two-lane highway was otherwise empty as Carl drove. Grimsrud smoked and gazed out the window. From the backseat there was whimpering. Grimsrud turned to look. Jean lay bound and curled on the backseat underneath a tarpaulin. “Shut up, or I’ll throw you back in the trunk, you know.”
“Geez. That’s more’n I’ve heard you say all week,” Carl said. Grimsrud stared at him, then turned back to the window.
At a loud WHOOP, Carl stared and looked back out the rear window. Fifty yards behind them, a state trooper had turned on his lights. Carl eased the car onto the shoulder.
“Ah, $%^&, the tags…” Carl groaned. Grimsrud looked at him.”It’s just the tags,” Carl explained. “I never put my tags on the car.”
Grimsrud stared at Carl. “Hey! I’ll take care of this!” Carl exclaimed. He looked up at the rearview mirror. The trooper was stopped on the shoulder just behind them, writing in his citation book.
Carl watched as the trooper walked up the shoulder. He opened his window as the trooper drew up. “How can I help you, officer?”
The trooper scanned the inside of the car, taking his time. Grimsrud smoked and gazed calmly out his window.
Finally, the trooper said, “This is a new car, then, sir? You’re required to display temporary tags, either in the plate area or taped inside the back window.”
“Certainly,” Carl nodded.
“Can I see your license and registration, please?” the trooper said in a tone that was more command than request.
“Certainly.” Carl reached for his wallet. “I was gonna tape up the temporary tag, ya know, to be in full compliance, but it, uh, it, uh… must’a slipped my mind.” He extended his wallet toward the trooper, a folded fifty-dollar bill protruding from it. “So maybe the best thing would be to take care of that right here in Smallville.”
“What’s this, sir?”
“That’s my license and registration,” Carl said. “I wanna be in compliance.” He forced a laugh. “I was just thinking I could take care of it right here… in Smallville.”
The policeman thoughtfully put the fifty into the billfold and handed the billfold back into the car. “Put that back in your pocket, please,” the trooper said.
Carl’s nervous smile faded.
“And step out of the car, please, sir.”
Grimsrud, smiling thinly, shook his head. There was a whimpering sound coming from the backseat.
The policeman hesitated.
The policeman leaned forward into the car, listening.
Grimsrud reached across Carl, grabbed the trooper by the hair, and slammed his head down onto the car door. The policeman grunted, dug awkwardly for footing outside, and threw an arm for balance against the outside of the car. With his free hand, Grimsrud popped the glove compartment. He brought a gun out, reached across Carl, and fired.
Jean screamed from the backseat.
“Shut up,” Grimsrud said without any emotion. He released the policeman. The policeman’s head slid out the window, and his body flopped back onto the street.
Carl looked out at the cop in the road. “Whoa… whoa, daddy,” he said softly.
Grimsrud took the trooper’s hat off of Carl’s lap and sailed it out the open window.
“You’ll take care of it. Boy, you are smooth-smooth, you know,” Grimsrud said.
“Clear him off the road,” Grimsrud ordered.
“Yeah,” Carl said, still in shock. He got out of the car and leaned down to hoist up the body when headlights of an oncoming car suddenly appeared. Inside the Ciera, Grimsrud suddenly became alert as the car approached, slowing.
Carl stood with the trooper’s body hoisted halfway up, frozen in the headlights. The car accelerated, roaring past and away. Inside, the silhouettes of two occupants could be seen in the front seat.
Grimsrud slid into the driver’s seat of the Ciera. He squealed into a U-turn. The driver’s door slammed shut with his spin.
Small red taillights fishtailed up ahead. The pursued car churned up fine snow.
Grimsrud took the cigarette from his mouth and stubbed it in his ashtray. The churning of the car wheels and the pinging of snow clods and salt on the car’s underside sounded noisily as he raced after the other car. In the backseat, Jean started screaming.
Grimsrud could not catch up on the taillights. He fought with the wheel as his car swam on the road face. The red taillights ahead started to turn. With a distant crunching sound, they disappeared. The headlights now showed only empty road, starting to turn. Grimsrud frowned and slowed down. His headlights showed the car up ahead off the road, crumpled around a telephone pole, having failed to hold a turn.
Grimsrud broke. Jean slid off the backseat and thumped into the legwell. Grimsrud swept his gun off the front seat, throwing open his door, and got out.
The wrecked car’s headlights shined off into a snowfield abutting the highway. A young man in a down parka was limping across the snowfield, away from the wrecked car. Grimsrud strode calmly out after the injured boy. He raised his gun and fired. With a poof of feathers, a hole opened up in the boy’s back, and he pitched into the snow.
The radio of the wrecked car, somehow still functioning, blared a story about the return of Captain Triumph. (*) Grimsrud walked up to the wreck and peered in its half-open door. A young woman was trapped inside the twisted wreckage, injured. Snow swirled in the headlights of the wreck. Grimsrud raised his gun and fired.
[(*) Editor’s note: See All-Star Squadron: The Return of Captain Triumph.]
The painting above the bed was a blue-winged teal in flight over a swampy marshland. The room in which it hung was dark and filled with the sounds of snoring. Nearby was an easel upon which sat a recently completed oil of a gray mallard with the initials C.K. in the lower-right corner. And near the easel lay a couple in bed, sleeping. The man, fiftyish in appearance and pajama-clad, was big and muscular. His hair was black, with white forming at the temples. His arms were flung over a woman who appeared to the unknowing eye to be in her late thirties, wearing a nightie.
The phone rang, and the woman stirred. “Oh…” She reached for the phone. “Hi, this is Lois.” Listening, she heard the voice of one of her staff at the Smallville Gazette, where she was editor-in-chief. “Oh, my. Where? Yeah. Oh, geez…”
The man sat up, gazing sleepily about.
“OK. There in a jif.” She hung up. “You can sleep, hon. It’s still early.”
“Gotta go?” he asked.
“Yeah. A new story just broke.”
The man swung his legs out. “I’ll fix you some eggs.”
“That’s OK, Clark. I’ve gotta run.”
“Gotta eat a breakfast, Lois,” Clark said, nodding to her large belly. “I’ll fix you some eggs.”
“Aw, you can sleep, hon,” Lois said.
“You’ve got to eat a breakfast. I’ll fix you some eggs.”
Later, the sink was filled with plates covered in the leavings of eggs, ham, and toast. Lois was wearing a smart-looking beige suit. She carried a heavy bag holding a tape recorder, portable phone, camera, and various other jangling impedimenta. Clark had changed into the uniform of Superman.
“Thanks, Clark. Time to shove off.”
“Love you, Lois,” he said, helping her as she struggled to get her ample, pregnant form into a parka.
“Love you, hon,” she said, hugging her arms around his neck. “Find our boy.”
“I will,” he said with determination.
She watched him as he exited the backdoor and took off into the early morning sky. Every time she watched him do that, she wished she could as well. It would make her job so much easier. She exited out the front door.
Lois made her way down the icy front stoop to her minivan. Her gaze drifted over to the guest house where Alex Lane was staying. Lights flickered on and off. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know what was going on in there. Some new and probably risky experiment, no doubt.
She hoped Clark would understand why she didn’t fill him in on all the details of the story. Anyone could handle this case, and Smallville had its own police department. Not everyone could find their son, Clark Jr. (*) If it seemed selfish, it was a selfishness she was entitled to. She was a mother, not a super-hero like Clark.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Junior JSA: The Junior Injustice Society, Chapter 5: Perpetual Motion.]