I spent a week lying low, drinking slower, driving faster and coming up with a plan of action.
Third Street | Nov 26 | 7:25am
I was up before the first dispatch and out of my storage space, dead sober. It was Black Friday, and I hoped to find everyone in power with turkey exhaustion from the night before. I jumped in my company hatchback and entered a text message into the company cell phone.
going 2 cops w what i know
AT&T Park | 7 min later
At each stop light, I tapped the beats to Effective Disorder songs. I was almost downtown before I got a response.
Harry was all business after Acid Burn inspired me to start asking questions, but he couldn’t stall anymore. I kept driving towards his office, punching in my response. Roger was the one who told me to play along, but he also gave me the idea that would put me in contact with the man at the top.
im breaking nondisclosure
All I really had over my bosses was knowing they had secrets to protect. I had a lot less to lose. I was the punk who could throw away my job and everything I gained in the past two months on a simple blackmail scam. I hoped it wouldn’t occur to Harry that I would never really go to the cops, but the bluff was part of my plan.
Under the Bay Bridge | 17 min later
While I let the threat sink in, I parked and looked out at the Bay Bridge, halfway between two huge sculptures, a giant bow-and-arrow and something new, a three-story metal rocket ship from an alien culture called Burning Man. I imagined flying away in it and not having to deal with anything, or at least taking the bridge out of town and driving until the tank was dry, but I would get a lot further with a pile of money in my pocket.
Why you wanna put a gun to your head?
That didn’t sound like Harry, but I had someone’s attention. The plan was working.
want 2 c the dude
Come to the dispatch office.
Dispatch | 42 min later
There were extra rubber seals around Harry’s door frame, and he had a hotbox going in his office, using his computer inside the cloud. “Jeez Harry, it’s 8 in the morning. Don’t you ever stop smoking?”
Harry was eating Chinese food out of a folded paper take-out box. “Look, I got all these… I need to…” His waving hands pointed at his laptop and the bong on the desk next to it.
I leaned over the desk to intimidate him. “I wanna talk to the Dude.”
He looked up like he didn’t know who I was. His eyes were blood red from the weed. “He will come to you, and then you…” He giggled. “Dude, I get it.” He flicked his eyes down at the computer.
“Harry, I know you got my message.” My brain was getting cloudy from the smoke. “I’m going to the fucking cops.”
He stared at me for a few seconds. Finally he shrugged. “With what?”
My bluff wasn’t working, but maybe I had to be more aggressive. I knocked a stack of pizza boxes off of the chair behind me and settled into it. My body was relaxing, but I fought it. “Harry, some guy called the Dude has these people under surveillance or something, running things from the shadows. Doesn’t that bother you?”
“And he used to call me paranoid.” Harry gave a deep guttural laugh and looked at his desk. “You wanna tell him?” He shook his head and looked at me again. “We want what’s in your trunk.”
My palms started to sweat. The trunk had my small but growing collection of stolen goods, the scheme I came up with to get out of town.
“You can’t steal from us. We see everything.” Harry brought the chopsticks to his mouth, a greasy shimmering pea pod hanging off the end. It looked so good.
I shook myself to keep focused. “Is that why you had me come here?”
He stared at his computer. “Is that why you had him come here?” Harry frowned. “Why don’t you two talk?”
He rotated the laptop to face me, and I realized he had a video chat going. The resolution was low. All I could see was a pale chin under a big black hood that made a shadow across the top half of his face.
“Who’s that?” I leaned forward, trying to pick up any other details, aware that the camera watching me from the top of the screen showed him more of me than I was getting of him. Behind him was a circular window with stars in it, even though it was day. Maybe he was in a different time zone.
The figure moved his arm a little. “I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me, you know.” I realized his mouth wasn’t moving, that this audio was a recording playing back. “Uh, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or uh, you know, El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.”
I raised my eyebrows. “You’re the Dude who runs the company?” This man could fire me, and I’d be reduced to begging for every meal, but I tried not to worry about that.
His arm moved again, little motions like moving a mouse below the frame. Another recording played. “Uh, negative. I am a meat popsicle.”
Harry chimed in. “I told ’em we were old friends and you were my guest at the party.”
The Dude nodded with his giant hood. “Welcome to the party, pal!” The volume was high on that sample, and Harry’s tiny laptop speakers clipped.
I don’t smoke much weed, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what made all this so strange. Still, I had a bluff to amp up. “I have all the details of your operation.” Except suddenly I couldn’t remember a single one.
Harry talked with his mouth full. “Winston, come on. Spreken zie talk?”
I saw the empty pizza boxes near my feet, and I had a sudden craving. I stood up. Focus. “Okay, first of all, stop calling me that. My name is Oscar.”
There was a pause. Then the Dude stood up too, in jerky motion of the shitty webcam connection. “Winston Zeddmore, your Honor.” His mouth was out of frame now, and all I could see was the black robes he had on, but this wasn’t his voice either. “I’ve only been with the company for a couple of weeks, but let me tell you, these things are real. Since I joined these men, I’ve seen shit that’ll turn you white.”
I froze, trying to figure out if I knew those words from something. Then I remembered my demands. “You’re not paying me enough.”
The Dude reached below frame again, cueing another recording. “Reject the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions.” Before I could answer, the Dude had the next one playing. “I have a better solution: You keep me on the payroll as an outside consultant, and in exchange for my salary, my job will be never to tell people these things that I know.”
My head was fuzzy. I couldn’t tell if my plan was actually working or he was blackmailing me back or what, but I felt like I heard all that before. “That’s the same… proposition…” I had to clear my head.
The next recording spoke in monotone, narrating. “Under and behind and inside everything this man took for granted, something horrible had been growing.” I recognized it now. I knew that voice. After I dropped out of school, it came along and gave me hope my violent streak could be part of something greater. I was a big Fight Club fan back in the day.
And I knew. That was why all of the employees had movie character code names. This was the guy responsible for everything I’d seen, and he was only communicating with me using lines from movies.
I sat back down to think. My bluff was a joke if my fate was in the hands of a crazy person. I took a deep breath and had to cough from all the smoke. I squeaked out a reference I figured he’d get. “I am Jack’s congested lungs.”
He sat back down and looked into the camera. I saw a nose, and his Dudeness smiled, but the hood kept his eyes in shadow. A clip played. “He could become a powerful ally.”
“I get it.” I shouted, and my hands made fists. I didn’t remember what I was there for. “But you can’t just play back movie quotes and I’ll go away. You’re up to something. I don’t like it.”
“If the applicant then waits three days without food, shelter or encouragement, he may then enter and begin his training.”
I thought I had a sense of things for a second. That was another Fight Club clip, but I was lost if it meant something. “Training for what?”
He nodded and played more of the same scene, two voices talking. “You got two black shirts?” “Sir.” “Two pair black pants?” “Yes, sir.” “One pair black boots?” “Sir.” It cut off.
Harry leaned over the top of the screen and blinked. “I think he’s offering you a place to live.”
The Dude played another clip. “Shut the fuck up, Donny.” I recognized that movie too.
I needed to think. This was a chance to leave the storage space, but it meant going deeper into this Dude’s fucked up world. Maybe my judgement was kinda impaired, but I smiled. “Pretty much all I got is what I got on.”
“That’s great. He’s the one who set me up here.” Harry lifted his arms to show off his tiny prison cell of decomposing takeout and smoke.
The Dude played the same “Shut the fuck up, Donny,” and Harry did. I saw the defeat in his eyes.
I leaned forward, holding the edge of the desk for stability. Sure, I wanted a better place to live, but I couldn’t just do whatever he said. This guy had to know who he was dealing with. “Let me tell you something. If anyone’s the Dude, it’s me. You’re the big Lebowski, okay? You’re the reclusive millionaire.”
A clip was ready. “Nobody calls me Lebowski. Uh, you got the wrong guy. I’m the Dude, man.”
I leaned back. “Whatever. You get me a new place, bill it to the company, I’ll dump my trunk, and I just might keep my mouth shut.”
The Dude answered with something monotone. “Then we have a deal.” Before I could argue, he leaned forward and played something else. “See you in the future, Mister Powers.” Then he waved his hand across the screen and disappeared.
[Editor’s note: more of the notebook is now available, starting with Behind Enemy Lies]