Continuing our look at Scalped, the Vertigo series about life on an American Indian reservation. The backbone of the story is about an incident thirty-years prior in which two FBI agents who came onto the fictional Prairie Rose reservation in South Dakota were shot by one member of a group of four Indian radicals. They were Red Crow, who is now the tribal leader, a man known as "Catcher" who is now a shiftless drunk who has visions, Gina Bad Horse, and the one who definitely didn't kill them but who is the one in prison for life for the murders - Lawrence Belcourt. At the end of the last volume a guilt-ridden Gina was going to confront the person she knew could get Lawrence free. Then her body was found next morning by Dino Poor Bear. FBI agent Nitz has two undercover agents on the rez hoping they can catch Red Crow in any involvment in any murders to make up for the fact he wasn't found guilty of the FBI agent's deaths. They are Dashiell Bad Horse, Gina's estranged son, who is now part of the tribal police and also shagging Red Crow's daughter Carol. And Britt "Diesel" Fillenworth a white, sorry... one-sixteenth Kickapoo, man who has been part of Gina's resistance movement protesting the opening of Red Crow's casino and who broke into his office and stole something mysterious that pleased Agent Nitz greatly. The murder of Gina Bad Horse adds a second on-going strand to the overall story as we see om this volume how it impacts those who knew her.
DREAMING HIMSELF INTO THE REAL WORLD: Art by John Paul Leon. Before the main "Dead Mothers" arc begins we get a one-shot dealing with Dash and his dreams. Every night he has the same dream, that Red Crow knows he's an undercover FBI agent and "I lose. I fail. I fuck up. I die. And then I wake up." Only the feel of a gun in his hand can calm him down before he has a beer and gets back on the clock.
|Dash has bad dreams.|
We see Red Crow "talking" to him, he tells him that he wouldn't hesitate to kill Dash despite the relationship he had with Gina in the past. He's already suspicious of Dash, "how much longer before you slip up and I get wise?" Then he's with Carol. She tells him that rule number one of undercover work is never get involved in improper sexual relationships. "Whoops, guess you fucked that one up already, huh, hoss?" she says.
Carol: "The trashier I am, the more you want me, am I right? What sort of deep-seeded psychosis is that, I wonder? Though a better question is... how much lower will you go, just to get your rocks off? Personally, I'm wet with anticipation. Whadda ya say to that, lover?"
Dash thinks about how he's got here. We see a succession of images: him as a teenager cowering from someone, nine years ago holding a gun to his head, eight years ago in the army and six months ago in prison. But more important is how he gets out and why does he feel the worst is to come. He lies back and starts having the same dream again of being taken into Red Crow's office and killed.
|Dream Gina to the rescue.|
Then they are being hanged and she tells him that he may hate her, but "these people hate you more". Next they are suffering advanced smallpox, he demands to wake up from this crazy nightmare but she tells him to look around, "this is what the white man thinks of you." Back to normal she asks why he is risking everything for the FBI? She tells him if he wants something to fight for, "just look to the dirt at your feet".
Gina: "The ground you're standing on. The people who live on it. Your people. Your heritage... those are the only things in life worth dying for."
They stand on Mount Rushmore and Gina apologises for not being around to help him. She warns him that things are going to get ugly around the rez and more people are going to die. And before it's over, "you'll have done some horrible things".
|I don't think this will sway Dash.|
Elsewhere a cop radios in the discovering of Gina's body. Dash doesn't hear it as he is showering and getting ready for work. He tells himself he needs focus and to brush aside "crazy dreams".
Dash: "I ain't looking to make up with dear old mommy or get in touch with my injun roots. Ain't looking for true love or God or any other such make believe bullshit."
He's here to do a job and once the job is done he is gone from this place. And the job will be done most assuredly so long as things don't get more complicated. And we close the chapter on the various cops and crime scene techs exmaining Gina's body out in the desert where it was dumped.
DEAD MOTHERS: Co-creator R.M Guera is back on art duties for this five part arc. We begin with Red Crow sat looking down at Gina's body still where she was killed. He pulls an anguished face and says to himself "Goddam you Gina!" Watching from some distance away the cops say the coroner can't collect the body until Red Crow says so and they have been trying to raise Dash but he is on a meth bust.
We cut to Dash as he takes one of the meth cookers down and start going through the house arresting everyone until they come to a room with five children in it. They start to cry in fear and a lady cop - Officer Bindle - draws Dash's attention to the fact that the room next has a dead woman in it. She's been strangled and some hours earlier. The older child comes up behind Dash and queries "mom?" Dash tries to tell him his mother is dead but Officer Bindle says she's just sleeping and gets someone to take the kids down to the station.
|Shelton and his siblings.|
Her name was Pamela Bittan, she sometimes lived there and those were her kids. The person who was having sex with her last night was a crazy guy, "looks white but says he's part Kickapoo. I don't know his name... but he calls himself Diesel". At that Dash demands the case and is given it by Officer Bindle. Dash then delivers a powerful kick to Clydes balls. Back with Red Crow he walks away from Gina's body and he says that no one tell Dash until he's had a chance to tell him. Then he tells everyone to get to work, they have a murder to solve.
At the station Dash and another cop are watching the kids through the one-way mirror. The unnamed cop tells Dash that he brought them all cheeseburgers and when he gave the eldest one - Shelton - his, he tore it into five pieces, "when I showed him that they each had their own burger, I thought he was gonna cry". Dash says someone has to tell them about their mom, they have a right to know.
Red Crow comes in and tells him he is off the case, and that Gina has been found dead. He tells Dash to take some time off, but Dash just says "why would I wanna do that?" Red Crow says she was still Dash's mother for all their differences. But Dash says he is on a case and he is not going to be taken off it and he walks into the room with the kids. Then played out with no dialouge we see the kids reactions with Shelton taking it hard. Dash leaves the room as all the others crowd round Shelton who is wailing in grief huddled in the corner.
|Shelton reacts to the bad news.|
Dash: "That's stupid! This is just some dumb cave. There ain't nothin' special about it. Them stories is all bullshit!"
Gina says the stories are his heritage and he needs to learn respect for his Lakota ancestors. But Dash just storms out of the cave saying he isn't listening and he doesn't care about "any of this crap!" Gina calls to him, then we are back in the present watching her being zipped up and pushed into a morgue draw.
Outside the police station Shelton approaches Dash and they talk awkwardly. The children have relatives in Canada coming down, Dash rather lamely says that's nice. Angrily Shelton says:
Shelton: "I can't wait to leave this place. I hate it here. I don't wanna be an Indian no more. I just wanna be a regular person. I wanna go someplace where nobody knows who I am. But I'm not leaving until you catch the man who killed my mom".
Dash tells Shelton he promises he will. Shelton says he wants that person hurt, he wants Dash to hurt him, will he promise Shelton that? We don't see what Dash's reply is.
We jump to the evening and Dash is out talking to Nitz. He has a plan, they help him find Diesel then he takes Diesel to Red Crow who'll want to kill Diesel for wrecking his office on the night of his casino's grand opening. He'll then see Red Crow with blood on his hands and Nitz gets his murder tied to Red Crow. Problem solves and they all go home.
Nitz says "no". Dash asks why not and Nitz evades and tells him to forget about Diesel. Dash keeps pushing it until Nitz yells, "Diesel is not to be touched!" And Dash realises the truth, that Diesel is another undercover FBI agent. He tries to take a swing at Nitz and Newsome holds him back. He then says he is walking and Nitz says no you won't or he'll take those kids and put them through the system until the boys are stone cold bangers and the girls peddling their asses like pros. And Dash knows he'd do it.
He tells Dash the only dead woman he's worried about is Dash's mother, "if Red Crow didn't kill her, he sure as shit gave the order." Dash needs to pretend like he cares about her and get Red Crow to talk about it. Then he tells Dash to call him when he has something he can use. As they drive away Newsome says to Dash "sorry about your mother". Frustrated beyond belief Dash punches the hell out of his old pickup truck.
|Dash takes out his anger on his truck.|
Red Crow is sitting in the casino restaurant examining the crime scene photos of Gina's death. His right-hand man Shunka comes in, Red Crow immediately asks if he did this, he told him Gina was not to be touched. Shunka says has he ever given Red Crow a reason to doubt his loyalty? Red Crow grabs him and asks again if he did it. Shunka says no and they have a bigger problem right now. It's the enforcer for the Hmongs, an East Asian criminal gang who gave Red Crow cash towards the casino, the one-armed Mr.Brass and a couple of back-up goons.
|Mr. Brass and co.|
He gets into the patrol car which has Shelton inside, he hands Dash a beer and says he heard Dash mum had been murdered as well. When Dash tries to explain they weren't that close, Shelton says:
Shelton: "She was still your mom though. My mom wasn't so great either. But I still always loved her."
Dash just says does he want to talk all damn day or does he want to learn to shoot? They line up some bottles and Shelton fires off a shot that misses. Dash says the key is to think of something you really want to shoot. He imagines the bottles are his troubles and he fires destroying every bottle.
Red Crow is out on the balcony drinking when Shunka comes in a queries why he sent all the evidence from Gina's murders to the FBI Crime Lab in Rapid City, Red Crow says if they didn't kill her he'd sure like to know who did. Shunka thinks it was Mr. Brass, but Gina was shot in the back and scalped post-mortem, that's too humane for Brass. Shunka says it should have been buried, her death is a can of worms they can't afford to open.
Shunka leaves and Dash walks in, exchanging snide digs at each other as they pass. Red Crow wants to know what Dash wants and Dash fumbles his way through a speech saying he knows Red Crow had Gina killed, she pushed her luck and now she's dead and he understands why it had to happen and is cool with it. This enrages Red Crow who lays a righteous smack across Dash's face and yells at him to get the fuck out of there.
|Red Crow did not kill Gina!|
We see Clyde saying he told the cops everything over and over. It was Diesel and he doesn't know where he is. Mr. Brass opens up a kit-bag full of unpleasant looking instruments and says, "I'm a man who does not ask a question twice". He is very polite as he introduces himself as working for Johnny Tongue. He has a vested interest in the casino and Diesel has proved himself to be at odds with those interests.
He is going to ask a question and Clyde will only have seconds to answer, "be so kind as to pick a number between one and nine". A panicking Clyde picks three. "That would be the right eye" says Mr. Brass "Splendid choice!" The goon fits a gag around Clyde's mouth and Mr.Brass uses a pair of tongs to fix round the eyeball. Then there are noises and lots and lots of blood.
|Interrogation Mr.Brass style.|
Mr. Brass: "I'm afraid your prisoner could not be any more specific than that, despite my best efforts at persuasion. You're welcome to try asking him yourself. But you might first want to provide him with medical care. He seems to have suffered a most grisly accident."
And they depart as Dash ponders the unconcious and severely injured Clyde. Later that night he and Shelton are camping out. Shelton says his mom is being buried on the rez. He asks if there are any knew leads... and Dash abruptly goes for a walk. He goes into Gina's house, sees his bedroom still as it was when he left, his arrowhead collection framed on the wall and seeing that he has to compose himself. Shelton comes looking for him as Dash walks back saying he'd been "just.. nowhere."
Next day he travels to White Haven, Nebraska showing a sketch of Diesel to various shiftless young men out drinking. Then he is interrupted by the local Sheriff a braggart of a man called Karnow. He says Dash might be the law on the rez but not here. He says he's something of a living legend in these parts, played football, did multiple tours in Vietnam as part of the Green Berets, didn't come home until '75.
Karnow: "You like John Wayne movies? ...Rio Bravo, True Grit, High Noon. My motto is, never trust a man who don't like John Wayne".
Dash says he isn't a fucking movie critic he is looking for a murder suspect. Karno thinks he means Gina, "good luck with that. That woman had more enemies than there's niggers on welfare." Realising this is going nowhere Dash starts to leave.
Back with Red Crow the tribal council is badgering Red Crow about having two murders on his opening night, and why can't he control this shit. "It's being handled" says Red Crow. They tell him the council is freaking out and they also think he killed her, which Red Crow again denies. They them if it was Mr. Brass? Another says whoever it was they created a "big fucking mess. We gotta make it go away."
They tell him to catch Diesel and pin both murders on him. Press will eat up a "crazy white guy killing Injuns". Another says it has to be done fast, they don't want the FBI sticking their nose in this mess. Unfortunately the FBI is already there, they are sent over to see Agent Nitz sitting at a table grinning.
|Nitz pays Red Crow a visit.|
Nitz: "I'll tell you whatever I goddamn well please, Lincoln. You don't like it... go tell your ancestors they shouldn't a' signed all them fucking treaties."
Red Crow says Nitz won't get a rise out of him. Nitz says putting a casino in this place is like "putting tits on a boar hog" and if anyone else dies he expects a call. When they catch Gina's killer call him too, "I'd like to shake the motherfucker's hand". And he leaves.
Red Crow, walks off into one of the back corridors where Karnow is who tells Red Crow they need to talk, but Red Crow tells him to "FUCK OFF!" Then he spots a man being ejected from the casino for cheating, in a rage Red Crow punches him to the ground and kicks and stamps on him over and over screaming "FUCK YOU, MOTHERFUCKER!" Dino witnesses this, Red Crow gives him a significant look and leaves with Dino getting ready to clean up the bloody footprints he left.
Sometime later Dash is getting ready to say goodbye to Shelton, he doesn't want to leave with his mom's killer still out there. Dash says they'll find him. Shelton says he hears he's hiding out in Nebraska now, it's what everybody says. Then Shelton smiles and says thankyou to Dash for showing him round and teaching him to shoot these past few days. Dash says it was "cool" and as a going away gift gives Shelton the framed arrowheads from his house. Shelton thanks him and leaves.
That night Dash pulls over some drunk drivers, he checks the backseat of the car and finds the framed arrowheads. He demands to know how they came about them and the men say some kid traded them to him in return for a ride to White Haven and "a gun. He wanted a gun". Horrorstruck Dash jumps in his patrol car and guns it towards White Haven.
|Shelton meets a tragic end.|
Dash screeches up and gets out of his car, rushing over to Shelton as Karnow says that he was dead when they got there. Diesel complains that he nearly got killed, "who the hell taught him how to shoot anyhow". Suddenly Dash turns and fires at Diesel hitting him in the shoulder and thigh. Karnow kicks the gun out of his hands and tells him to stand down or he will shoot Dash. As Diesel is taken away Karnow says, "you want him. You tell your Chief Red Crow to come and beg me for him."
Next day is Gina's funeral. There are many mourners but Dash is not one of them. When Red Crow reaches the coffin he takes a knife and cuts a lock of his own hair off and puts it in with Gina, "travel well, mita kola." We then cut to his office where he is talking with officer Falls Down. He says he wants the murder of Gina solved, "I don't care who gets pissed or who gets hurt". He's giving Falls Down a blank cheque what ever he needs he'll get. He wants to see someone answer for Gina's murder but first they need to be found, "will you do that officer Falls Down?"
|Falls Down will have to think about it.|
Sitting alone at night a morose Red Crow tries to phone his daughter Carol but can't think of what to say to her and she hangs up. In the mortuary, Shelton's body is zipped up and stored away, while elsewhere Dash is getting blackout drunk. He goads some fellow bar patrons in to beating him up and nearly gets run over as he staggers along the road.
He finds himself somehow on the doorstep of Gina's house. He kneels and looks at it, then begins to cry. And as he sobs he staggers inside and goes to sleep. We finish this arc with Catcher in his old shack scrubbing himself as he babblingly prays to God that he doesn't understand, "why won't the blood wash off?" And we see him naked and his hands coated in the substance.
|Gina's killer revealed.|
Falls Down: "Every night I try to focus on the beautiful...but instead all I ever see is ugliness. The ugliest moments from my 25 years as a cop on this rez."
Red ants eating the brains of a man with his head blown off. Hearing the confession of an old high school buddy who is telling him how he beat a four year old to death. The stench of burned rubber, engine fumes and alcohol. The taste of blood on his lips as he tried to resucitate his wife, killed by a drunk driver. The eyes of the men who shot him.
He reflects on being set up to be killed in a routine bust a couple of months back as shown in Book 1. Vest stopped most of the bullets but not all and it hurts when he breathes. He knows it was Red Crow who was sick of him being the "one good cop" on his crooked force. Falls Down is tired too and thinks he could retire today, read more romance novels, stay caught up on his stories, wouldn't get shot, wouldn't have to arrest no more friends. Wouldn't have to care who killed Gina Bad Horse or why Red Crow wants him to take the case so badly, "only problem with that is... I do."
|Falls Down takes a punch.|
Captain Rayfield gives him a bollocking then we cut to Falls Down round at Granny Poor Bear's place talking to her. He complains to her that his grandfather policed the rez for 30 years and never carried a gun. He'd solve problems according to the old ways, avoiding blood feuds and only using his jail for drunks to sleep it off. The world out there now is a world for "young psychos like Dashiell Bad Horse. Not for me." He's just a fuck-up who lost his gun.
He tells Granny that Red Crow wants him to investigate a murder but he doesn't think he can do the job anymore. Granny asks him if he sees the man, Parker Louvin, who killed Falls Down's wife around. Falls Down says he sees him all the time, staggering back from White Haven. He pretends not to notice him.
Granny tells him that his grandfather Alfus Louvin got so liquored up he beat his wife with an axe handle until "she never was right no more". He went after his kids and killed one or two and the rest ran away. Falls Down's grandfather tried to handle it, but there wasn't no handling a man like that. So one day he was put on the back of a truck at gunpoint and disappeared. Never seen again and no one ever asked why.
Granny: "Things ain't changed as much as you think they have Franklin. This world has always been a harsh place, especially for us, You can't let that change who you are though. Do you remember who you are Franklin Falls Down? If not, don;t let it worry ya none. We can help ya remember".
We cut to him naked in a sweat lodge with some other older Indians. They share round a bowl of something and Falls Down eats some as they chant in Lakota. We flashback to him holding the bloodied corpse of his wife.
Falls Down: "This is where I forgot who I was. This is where life tried to crush me. When my wife died it seemed like everything that was ever beautiful to me died with her. But I can't let that be true anymore. Beauty is all around us. You just have to fight for it."
And as he thinks this, his wifes body and the blood flowing from her turns into flowers. Some men appear behind him and he tells them he is not afraid to die. They shot him through the head and flowers burst out of his forehead. Now when he closes his eyes he'll remember how much he loved her and he'll remember who he is and "what i'm fighting for."
O'Ray points the gun at him and when Falls Down says he won't shoot, O'Ray fires over his shoulder. Falls Down presses his forehead against the gun barrel and says that O'Ray will turn the gun in and they'll go to the station together. O'Ray says he'll fire in five seconds. Falls Down says either you hand over the gun or "you use it."
Later he is snoozing and thinks of sweet grass and sage, Granny Poor Bear's fry bread and plum wojapi, the old songs, the smell of his wife coming out of the shower. He is woken up and told the prisoner is ready to see him and it turns out he's in Kansas now talking to Lawrence Belcourt as he was the last person Gina spoke to before her death.
Falls Down: "I do:n't give a damn about Red Crow or his interests. All I care about is finding Gina's murderer. All I want is the truth. Why don't we start with that. Tell me everything".
|Falls Down takes the case.|