Continuing with our look at Scalped, the crime thriller set on the fictional Prairie Rose Indian reservation. The backstory is that in 1975 two FBI agents were murdered on the rez by one of a group of four Indian radicals, Lincoln Red Crow, Gina Bad Horse, a man known as Catcher and the one man found guilty of the crime, Lawrence Belcourt who is serving life in prison. Another FBI agent called Nitz has fixated on bringing the other three to justice and has placed Gina's son Dashiell who is also an FBI agent undercover on the rez to find any murders he can pin on Red Crow. Gina has also been murdered by Catcher, although only we the audience know he did it right now. Dashiell is having a hard time coping with the stress of being undercover, where one wrong move will mean his death and in the previous book began a heroin habit to help deal with it. Red Crow has headaches of his own, his new casino was part-funded by money from an East Asian criminal gang and their leader Johnny Tongue sent his sadistic enforcer Mr. Brass to deal with any extra-curricular crimes that might threaten his investments. At the end of the previous book, Red Crow discovered Mr. Brass gouging out the eye of Dino Poor Bear and broke Mr.Brass's nose before having him arrested. This plotline goes on hold for this volume as we get to see just how close to bottom Dash's life has quickly become as well as some one-shots exploring already established characters further as we hit the halfway point of the series. Artists are R.M. Guera who did issues one, four and five. Davide Furno did two and Francesco Francavilla three.
THIS THEN IS THE REZ: An unseen narrator tells us that in 1876 Crazy Horse dreamed himself into the world and Custer got what was coming to him on the banks of the Little Bighorn. In 1890 the Lakota believe the "Ghost Dance" will protect them from bullets. They were wrong and at a place called Wounded Knee there is a massacre. By the end of the century the Lakota warchiefs have all been murdered. The Black Hills ripped of their gold and a great reservation reduced to tattered scraps of the least desirable land. Then the Christians came and beat them for speaking their native tongue and worshipping the wrong gods. And then ultimately everyone forget them. But even now, over one hundred years later "they're still here".
The narrator is revealed to be a black man travelling onto the rez via a coach. Now he's a confidence trickster who goes by many names and his real one is never told us, so to make quoting him easier I will call him "Styles" the first name he takes on in the story as he talks to an Indian travelling back to the rez, asking him why they stuck around here all those years. The Indian says it was so they could keep themselves sovereign and also keep their culture alive, "we fight back every day by surviving".
He asks Styles if he is an anthropologist, Styles just says he is a history buff. The Indian introduces himself as "Bob Winslow" and tells Styles they have a lot of history here. There's Wounded Knee and Little Bighorn and the Red Cloud school and also a new casino. Styles says he might check the casino out.
He's gone from street hustles and email scams to multi-million dollar swindles that involve whole teams. He was a confidence trickster and swindler, a loanshark and pimp. He walks into the casino and sits down at his favourite game, blackjack. He counts cards but is careful to do it in such a way he is undetected not always successfully. Because if you are caught in a joint run by the likes of Red Crow you're in serious trouble.
Styles: "Back in the old days, I never woulda set foot in a shithole casino like this. Especially not one run by a mad dog like Red Crow. But things change. When times is hard, you do what you gotta... just to get by."
Later he is admiring a pole dancer as he thinks about the most successful crew he ever ran, but one is in jail and the other dead and he's "working Injun joints in the middle of fucking nowhere". He pays the pole dancer to come back to his hotel room and have sex with him.
We cut to them post-coital. She asks if his name is really "Moses Johnson?" Styles says his mother was a religious freak. He thinks that actually she was a trailer park whore. She asks if he has kids, he says no while thinking "two or three at least". She says she does have kids and needs to get home. He offers her another two-hundred bucks to stay the night. He thinks:
Styles: "Fuck your kids. You're mine now. I bought you".
He says they don't have to have sex while he thinks of all the degrading things he wants to do to her and she can do to him. He lies about what he does when she asks then says he's never met an Indian before while thinking "tell me your secrets whore, so I can steal them. Just keep talking so I can keep lying".
Next night he is made-up to look different and is back playing cards. He's narrates that card counting needs to be done by a team, one counts the cards until he knows the deck is "hot" and then signals another player who swoops in and lays down the big money. When done by yourself you have to strategically lose hands so the house doesn't get wise, "unfortunately for me, if there's one thing I ain't never been... it's patient". And he gets a menacing hand on his shoulder.
|Styles gambling away.|
Styles: "I want to take you away from here. I want to tell you my secrets and I want you to love me for them. I have no one. I want you."
But as his thoughts run out of control he realises, "now I've gone and done it... now I'm even lying to myself." She sees all the make-up in he bathroom and asks him about it but he brushes the question off to try having sex again.
Next night he's "whited up" and is playing cards while he thinks this is no way for him to be living. He needs one last big score and this time he won't blow it on cars, pills and women. He fantasizes about "one last score and I can leave the nickel and dime life forever." Then Dash stumbles past him and upon seeing him Styles whispers "holy fucking shit" to himself.
Outside on the payphone he rounds up some mates to help him with something he has now just planned, he just has a couple of loose ends to clean up and they need to get down here in two days. Back in his hotel room he starts cleaning every surface as the sex-worker lies in bed watching with bemusement. He tells her it's time to go and puts a pillow over her faces and shoots her in the head, the pillow acting as a silencer.
|Styles blackmails Dash.|
BEEN DOWN SO GODDAMN LONG THAT IT LOOKS LIKE UP TO ME: We join Britt "Diesel" Fillenworth in prison due to his murder of a woman and her twelve year old son. And he's praying for them. He also prays for his people, the Kickapoo, who never accepted him. He prays for his mom who killed herself when he was ten. He prays for his father even though he was beaten by him.
Diesel: "About the only person I don't pray for is myself... never have. Me and God got something of an arrangement going. He fucks with me from on high. And I endure. I endure like a motherfucker. So bring it on, God, you cocksucker you. Diesel can hack it. Amen."
In the other cells the Indians in there mock his prayer and one-sixteenth Kickapoo identity. They say him murdering a woman and child sounds like what a white man would do. Diesel grits his teeth and stays silent.
We go back twenty-four years and we see young Britt armed with a bow and arrow playing on his own. Some young Indian men appear and ask what he's doing and he tells them he is being a Kickapoo brave. They say he's pretending then but Britt says he's not pretending, he's one-sixteenth Kickapoo. Or he used to be until him and his mom got kicked of the rez because he didn't have enough Kickapoo blood.
|Young Britt, desperate to be an Indian,|
Next day he returns to the meeting place jumping up and down with excitement at the thought of joining their tribe which appears to be the Commanche. He starts spouting all sorts of trivia, but the gang leader takes his money and they go and buy cigarettes. They tell him to wait there while they go to a secret tribal meeting. So Britt says he'll wait and they drive off. He waits. And waits. And waits. Finally come the night he realises he's been tricked and trudges sadly back to the place he and his dad live in.
Once there he is confronted by his father who yells at him for stealing his money and thrashes Britt with his belt. Next day a bruised and battered Britt confronts the men who took his money and attacks the leader with a knife. He is taken down easily and the gang leader says that'll cost him another fifty bucks. But Britt tells them where they can find a lot of money and pot too, just please stop hitting him.
He returns to the trailer. His father is passed out drunk so Britt takes his gun and puts it by his hand. Then he quietly calls the police saying someone broke into the house. We cut to twelve minutes later. Britt is standing watching the Indian gang being arrested for breaking into the trailer and killing his dad. He had told them when to come and emptied his father's gun of bullets so he'd definitely die in the shoot-out. The cops haven't told Britt yet, they think he probably thought his life couldn't get any worse. But he's alone now. Britt just grins to himself and in that moment, Diesel is born.
|The birth of a bad guy.|
Diesel: "You motherfuckers will learn to fear me, I promise you. Even if I gotta scalp every last fucking one of you. The Diesel has spoken".
And with those defiant words, this chapter ends.
THE BALLAD OF BAYLIS EARL NITZ: It's time for some backstory on Nitz whose vendetta is fueling the plot and why he's kept that vendetta alive over thirty-odd years. It begins with Diesel in prison talking to Agent Newsome. He wants to know why he's still in jail and Newsome says he killed a woman and a twelve-year old boy, "we can't just snap our fingers and get you out of there." Diesel demands to talk to Nitz but Newsome says he's away on business. Actually he's in the room perusing a porn magazine.
Diesel hangs up in a rage saying Nitz owes him after what he got from Red Crow's office, and Nitz comments that maybe he should stop scalping other prisons if he wants to get out. Newsome asks what it was Diesel got for him but Nitz changes the subject and asks about Dash who he's told hasn't checked in for two weeks. Nitz decides to fuck it, he'll sort it all out when he gets back and leaves.
As he packs he thinks that he didn't used to believe in spiritual journeys, but the trip he's doing now counts as one. It's not about God or anything:
Nitz: "This is spiritual in the sense that men who've been through war together know spiritual. This is the kinda shit you don't talk about you just do."
He's been waiting a long time to do it. And we see him thirty-two years ago at the murder scene of the two agents killed by one of the Dog Soldiers in tears, swearing he'll kill every one of "those fucking redskin cocksuckers".
Back in the present he visits his first ex-wife, Marci. She tells him to fuck off, he says he was in town and thought he's drop by. She says after thirty years, really? He says she doesn't have to let him in as she lets him in. They have lunch together as they make small talk, he has two sons with her who don't ever ask about him. She then asks him "so you wanna fuck or what?" He grins and says "I thought you'd never ask."
|Nitz and ex-wife.|
Marci starts checking out his scars, one where his dead wife stabbed him, one where she stomped him, one from a mechanical bull and booze and several bullet wounds. Then there is the long scar across his belly that causes Marci to turn her back and tell him to get out.
He silently gets dressed thinking that scar is the one that still scares her, "it's the reason she left me." A criminal called Maggart took him down and slashed him so deeply he nearly disemboweled him before leaving him to die. But two agents found him, Robert Bayer and Steve Berntson and saved his life. They were old school, met in Vietnam joined the bureau under Hoover. They visited him every day in hospital, more than Marci did.
Things changed after that between him and her. He couldn't let it go and when Maggart got let off on a techincality he was waiting outside the courtroom about to shoot him. But Bayer and Berntson stopped him, "they saved my life a second time. Six months later they were dead". They were the two FBI agents murdered on the rez. He thinks that those two men were saints, good family men, great lawmen and the best friends he ever had.
Nitz: "And on June 26, 1975, somebody shot them both in the face, and then took a knife and cut their fuckin' scalps off. Somebody will pay for that. I'll see to it. No matter what the courts say. No matter what it takes. What lines I have to cross. What laws I have to break. No matter who gets hurt."
He reaches the graveyard and walks over to their graves holding an evidence bag. He mulls that he could have moved on a long time ago. Transferred to a cushy job and retired. The young agents are all chasing Jihadists now, "they got their war on terror. I got mine." He isn't going anywhere until his friends have been avenged and their killer has been made to answer.
|Nitz at his friends graves.|
In the present he is sitting drinking beer by their graves. He wonders if he should have killed Red Crow there and then but instead he intends to tear down everything Red Crow worked to build, eventually he'd admit what he's done and then he'd die.
Marci comes up behind him saying she knew she'd find him there. She says those two agents were a "horrible influence" on him. Their wives don't miss them as much as Nitz does. "Fuck their wives" retorts Nitz. Marci says he knows he sends money to their kids whereas he hasn't seen his own children in years. Nitz says she doesn't understand.
She asks what happened to Maggart, Nitz says he moved away and he never saw him again. Marci says she knows when he is lying and he's going to pay for the things he's done. "You were a good man once. I remember that. Do you?" she tells him. Nitz says Bob and Bernie were good men, "they're all that matters to me now."
Marci says they've been dead thirty years now, where does that leave Nitz? "With a goddamn job to do" says Nitz. And what will happen after that she asks? She came to remind him he has family and if he wants to catch up he still has the time. Because no matter what, these men will still be dead and Nitz will be alone. Nitz says without them he'd have died a long time ago, she says he did. And she walks away.
|Yeah real saints.|
Back in the present Nitz takes the scalps out of the evidence bag and with a trowel buries them on the two graves. He tells them he hasn't got their killer yet, but the day of their revenge is coming. Having finished, he thinks maybe he should say a few words but all he can think of is "fuck it". He fucks everyone from Marci, through to Red Crow, the bureau, everyone. "Fuck'em all. Who fucking needs 'em. Not me, that's for goddamn sure." And that brings this chapter to a close.
I'LL NEVER GET OUTTA THIS WORLD ALIVE: We begin with tribal cop Officer Falls Down returning to the rez after his trip up to Kansas to talk with Lawrence Belcourt. He has a murder to attend to, it's the sex-worker "Styles" killed in the first chapter. Also attending the scene is FBI Agent Newsome who says women are dropping like flies round here. Falls Down says it wasn't an Indian who did this, it was a black man who rented the room.
|Falls Down comes back to the rez.|
Falls Down: "Whoring it up, most likely. He still got that thing for underage girls?"
Newsome asks who the woman was, Falls Down says she was a dancer at the strip club called Margarette. Newsome asks if this has anything to do with what happened at the casino afew nights ago. Falls Down doesn't know what he's talking about, he was away when whatever it was happened.
Newsome asks how the Gina Bad Horse murder is going, Falls Down says about as well as their investigation into Red Crow. He wants to talk to Nitz because he thinks Gina's murder is linked to the FBI murders in '75. He then asks Newsome if he ever worked a murder before. He suspects Newsome wasn't top of the class which is why he ended up out here and he's working a murder now so get to it.
We cut to Lawrence in prison. He walks out into the yard and speaks with the leader of the black gang in there. He tells the man he knows Red Crow pays him to look out for Lawrence. The man won't admit to it but say Lawrence shouldn't rock the boat. But Lawrence tells him to get a message to Red Crow, "tell him I know who killed Gina Bad Horse".
Back with Falls Down he goes into his office with the files on the FBI murders with a post it note from Newsome telling him not to ask him for anything again, "asshole". Falls Down smiles and says to himself "thanks Newsome, but you're still a prick." He then goes over the files in detail. The FBI agents came under fire when driving onto land occupied by the Dog Soldier Society. When more agents arrive on scene the agents are dead from multiple gunshots, all native suspects have fled. In 1978 three are acquitted of the murders due to lack of evidence and eye witness testimony. In 1980 Lawrence Belcourt was convicted, witnesses who say he bragged about the murders later recanted claiming FBI intimidation. The debate over who fired the shots continues to this day, no one present at the murders have ever spoken publically about it and presumably never will.
|The FBI killer finally revealed.|
In the present Catcher is standing by Gina's grave. He apologises to her saying "it was all my fault. Always was. I wish I'd listened to you." He says he never should have shot the agents and let Lawrence take the fall. If he hadn't maybe he never would have lost her, "I'm sorry I had to kill you Gina".
Catcher: "I always loved you, you know. I dreamed about you for years before we even met. I wish just once I'd had the courage to tell you that. Maybe if I had you woulda listened. Maybe we could have saved each other. Maybe you'd still be alive."
In the past, Catcher watches Red Crow and Gina embrace and kiss. Lawrence is panicking. And then Catcher takes his knife and scalps the two agents, "you wanted a war, didn't ya Lincoln? Well now you got it. Hoka Hey motherfuckers!"
|Catcher escalates what he did.|
ROCK BOTTOM, POP. 1: We jump back a few days to "Styles" and his plan to use Dash to rob the casino. We see that after sex with Carol he smoked heroin, then went out to buy more and the dealer gave him a hypodermic loaded with heroin as an extra for being a good customer. Sat wasted at the casino bar, Styles tells him it's time to rob the casino. Dash is completely out of it though.
He staggers over to the garage door where the armoured truck will be coming in and opens it before collapsing. One of Style's gang says Dash is in no fit state, he'll blow it for them. The door opens and the security guard asks what the hell, and one of the gang stabs him through the nose into his brain. Angrily Styles tells Dash if he fucks up again he'll join the guard in death.
Dash starts remembering things. In the army, as a kid seeing his dad doing blow, just a few hours ago smoking drugs with Carol. As the gang load up on cash he slumps to the ground cuffed to a rail. The rest of the gang move out with the cash, but Styles stays to deal with Dash. He notes how the undercover life seems to have taken it's toll on Dash so his death seems somewhat inevitable. Dash asks who he is:
Styles: "I'm Wesley Willeford. I lie for a living. But now it's time for a moment of truth."
He turns and points his gun at Dash. And somehow the hypodermic needle full of drugs that Dash had in his pocket gets stuck in Styles. He'd swiped Dash's jacket after the security guard was killed and got blood on his so he accidentally stuck himself that way.
Released from his cuff and knowing there is the rest of the gang out there who know he's FBI, he takes a shotgun and walks out to where they were waiting and methodically blows away each one of them. Then he walks off. Red Crow arrives on the scene and picks up the syringe and asks where Dash is. He's gone back to Carol. He wakes her up and says he has something important to talk about, "what do you know about the FBI?"
|Dash clears up loose ends.|