Continuing our look at the American Indian crime noir story Scalped, a Vertigo title by writer Jason Aaron and artist R.M Guera. Set on the fictional Prairie Rose reservation where a new casino has opened, the backbone of the story is a vendetta by FBI agent Nitz against the one-time members of an Indian radical group The Dog Soldiers. In 1975 two FBI agents who had come on to the rez for reasons unkown were shot dead. Present at the murders were Lincoln Red Crow, Gina Bad Horse, a man known as Catcher and Lawrence Belcourt. Although all four were caught, only Lawrence who was tried in a different jurisdiction was found guilty. Now, thirty years later Nitz has fixated on linking Red Crow with a murder, any murder, to have him put away for good and he is using Gina's son Dashiell, an FBI agent going back to the rez he grew up on to do the investigating while undercover. He has another agent in play as well, the one-sixteenth Kickapoo white man called Diesel who in the previous book murdered a sex worker then gunned down her twelve year old son when he came to seek revenge. This hit Dash hard as he had taken the kid under his wing and taught him how to shoot while bonding with him. Another on-going plot thread is finding the murderer of Gina, who was revealed to be Catcher at the end of the last volume. Red Crow is now tribal leader and owner of the new casino but has headaches of his own in the form of Mr. Brass, an enforcer for the East Asian criminal gang who part funded the new casino who is here to deal with any threats to the place. Dash has hooked up with Carol, Red Crow's estranged daughter and in this volume we'll find out just why she hates her father so much as he tries to deal the many problems besetting him.
THE BOUDOIR STOMP: Art by Davide Furno. We begin twenty-four years in the past. A young Dash is watching his father Wade chopping out lines of coke on a mirror as he rants about the government wanting people to watch "make-believe shit" so they don't open their eyes as to what is going on in the world. When Dash asks what he is doing he tells him it's "grown-up stuff" and he never wants to cath Dash doing it and making the same mistakes he has. Gina comes home and screams at him to get out, then hugs Dash saying she's sorry he had to see that.
|Dash's deadbeat dad Wade.|
She says the only reason she married him was because he was white and she wanted to "piss off my dad." And she hoped he might be the one to take her away from the rez. Dash asks if she had ever come close to getting away and she says she had in the past, the man was called Graham and worked for her father. "He died" she says when Dash asks what happened to him. Dash asks if that was when she and Red Crow stopped talking, she doesn't answer but says she hears Dash is living in his mother's place now. They both get up to go to work.
We then cut back and forth between Dash at his job on the tribal police and Carol as a waitress in a local diner. Then we jump to Dash watching from afar as the dead twelve year old boy Shelton's family mourn at his grave. Red Crow says he thought he'd find Dash here. He tells Dash that he knows the last couple of weeks have been tough on him but he's handled it well and now he's offering him a promotion.
Red Crow: "You'll be working directly under me. No more of this tribal cop bullshit. You'll work out of the casino. You'll have your own crew. Your duties will consist of whatever the fuck I say."
He tells Dash to take some time off to think it over. As for Carol he is fine with him fucking her but he better not pick up any of her bad habits, because then he'll become a liability and "that, I will not abide." He walks off leaving Dash alone in the graveyard.
|Strong feelings but can't spit them out.|
She tells him she wants to get high, and Dash leaves. Carol cooks up the black tar heroin she brought earlier. She falls backwards in a drug induced reverie and flashes back to seven years ago. She is heavily pregnant and her boyfriend Graham appears and says it's time to get in the car they are leaving right now.
She protests that she isn't packed and sees bullet holes in the car, he says he'll explain everything but she needs to get in the car, She sees a bag with lots of packages of either coke or heroin in the back. She realises he's stolen that from her father.
Graham: "This is the key to everything we've always dreamed about, baby. Getting off the rez. Starting a new life. I did this for you Carol. I did this for our family. Now get in the fuckin' car".
They go speeding past the edge of the reservation and Graham whoops that they are finally free. Carol is unsure saying if her father catches him he'll kill him, but Graham says her father is history. She feels the baby kick and puts his hand on her so he can feel their daughter moving. As he tells their unborn child all the things she'll have suddenly the back windscreen is shot out.
|No escape from the rez.|
Dash is drinking heavily in a bar when a woman comes up to him. She slaps him saying he got her nephew killed, she shouts that she was going to take Shelton away from this place and he went and taught him how to shoot, "you got him killed, Bad Horse! It's all your goddamn fault!" He says nothing as she is escorted off the premises, he just reaches for his drink. Later that night he drunkenly contemplates suicide and holds his gun to his head several times, then says to himself, "no.. it ain't all my fucking fault."
Back in Carol's past she is drinking away after getting out of hospital. Red Crow approaches and offers to buy her one. He said he'd tried to see her in hospital but she had told the nurses not to let him in. She asks what the fuck he wants, and he says "I want to tell you I'm sorry".
She explodes at him saying is he really sorry for killing Graham? Red Crow says he didn't know she was in the car or that she was involved with that "motherfucker." He didn't even know she was pregnant. She says fine he's sorry, "now get the fuck out." As he leaves he asks if the baby was gonna be a girl or... she cuts him off shouting "get the fuck out!"
She orders more whiskey but a creepy man sitting at the bar says he has something that can really get her fucked up. She says she can't fuck him, can't fuck anyone for another six weeks. He says her mouth still works doesn't it? He then says he's kidding but if she does want to party his name is... she says she doesn't care what his name is "let's just go." And we see her again in the present in her squalid house smoking heroin off tin foil silently.
Dash has gone to White Haven Sheriff's Office to see Diesel, the man who murdered Shelton. He sits down and Diesel whispers that Dash knows they are both working for the same team now. Dash says he knows and Diesel demands to know "when the fuck you guys getting me outta here?" Diesel says as far as he is concerned he can rot in this place.
|Dash and Diesel talk.|
Dashiell: "If I ever see you outside of these walls again... I'll kill you. I swear to fucking Christ".
Diesel laughs at that saying the kid had more balls than Dash does. He doesn't think Dash is cut out for this work, "a blind man could see it". As Dash goes to leave, Diesel says he's Dash's best friend on the rez. Red Crow and Nitz would feed him to the dogs at the drop of a hat, "without me, who the fuck else you got left to turn to?"
He goes to Carol's place and they lie together just holding each other for a while. Then they get up and Carol starts cooking up more heroin. As she smokes it Dash looks at her, then he asks "can you show me how to do that?" She replies "sure" and as this arc ends, Dash starts smoking heroin as well.
|Dash gives in to temptation.|
Back in the present Dino Poor Bear got his car fixed with the cash Red Crow gave him and he is speeding along the road with his friend Griff. Unfortunately this results in them getting pulled over by two corrupt cops. They "fine" Dino the five-hundred dollars he has on him and tells the pair of them to cover the rest of the fine they have to deliver something for them to an address in Nebraska. After the cops have gone Dino and Griff drive off but the water pump in the car breaks and Griff, terrified of repercussions if they fail to deliver the package, flees leaving it with Dino.
In the casino Red Crow is being told by Shunka that he needs to see Hmong enforcer Mr. Brass who is staying in the casino hotel. Inside his room we see Red Crow looking at something which enrages him while Mr. Brass apologises for the "mess". Red Crow says angrily:
Red Crow: "Listen goddammit. This is my place. My rez. My fucking rules. I don't let nobody come in here and disrespect me like this."
Mr. Brass says the place was built with his employers money and he's been sent to keep an eye on the investment. Red Crow demands to know what he is looking at here then.
Mr. Brass says he is a man of "certain peccadillos, it's true" and has to unfetter himself from time to time to allow him to work with a clear head. And there is much work here to be done. Red Crow's people are undisciplined. They run deals behind his back, trafficking in drugs and guns. The organisation lacks structure and the chaos will lead to problems his employer wishes to avoid.
Red Crow yells that Mr. Brass is the one going around gouging people's eyes out, "this is not the way we do things around here!" Mr. Brass says he looks around and sees nothing but filth, people wallowing in alcohol, content with their own ignorance and poverty. Red Crow stands at the head of the pack:
Mr. Brass: "I know everyone you've ever killed to get where you are, my good chief, so don't presume to labe me a hypocrite, sir. It's far too late for you to go adopting a sense of moral indignation".
Red Crow says he expected less arrogance from someone who just a few short years ago was sleeping with monkeys and wiping his ass with his hand. He and the rest of the Hmong have "the stench of the banana boat" on them and they dare insult him and his people?
|Mr. Brass's mess.|
Dino meanwhile got ahold of a bicycle and rode it to where the package needed delivering to. The man who takes it from him is quite impressed and hands over Dino a delivery fee saying if he wants to make some real money to come and see him. Later at the rodeo Dino is attending with his daughter and his friends. Griff comes up and apologises and Dino forgives him.
Red Crow is also at the rodeo at an award ceremony. As he walks off he asks Shunka if he found out what he asks, Shunka says not yet and that he thinks they should disappear the kids, but Red Crow says he wants to know who they were. Then he is told an old woman wants to speak to him and he tells Shunka to wait as he goes to speak with Granny Poor Bear.
|Gina's soul bundle.|
Granny tells Red Crow that he is going to keep it. He says it should be a family member, like Dashiell. Granny says he's in not up to it. "This is Gina's last chance, Lincoln. And yours as well. Don't squander it". And she walks off leaving Red Crow contemplating Gina's soul in silence.
Thirty-five years ago and the Dog Soldiers (which is more than just the four involved in the FBI murders) are having a meeting. Red Crow reveals that he knows one of them is working for the FBI. Ask they discuss who and what they'll do to them when they find out they hear raucaus laughter close by. Some hippies are partying there.
In the present Red Crow is looking at Gina's soul bundle back in his home. He talks to it saying they were too alike, even if she'd never have admitted it.
Red Crow: "Too quick-tempered. Too stubborn. Too full of ourselves. Too much damn gravel in our guts. Still I always figured we'd somehow end up together. Just never like this."
The little bundle of tabacco and sage is all that's left of Gina Bad Horse. Friend, fellow activist, co-defendent, lover, rival, bitter enemy. Now she dead and he is the keeper of her soul.
He thinks on how he been respobsible for lofty responsibilties. Multi-million deals, the lives of his men, the fate of whole communities, "but never anything like this." He screws up and she's lost forever, "and I'll have yet another ghost to haunt my dreams."
Later Shunka comes in to tell him of Mr. Brass's latest activities. He cut up a dealer for selling coke on the side, angrily Red Crow says he knew about that, the man was doing it to support his large family. Shunka says the Hmongs are trying to prove a point, "and this shit ain't gonna stop. You either cave in and kiss their asses... or else get bloody".
Red Crow says he doesn't want a war. Shunka will let their boys know to refrain from extracurricular activities for now, let Brass think he's made his point. Shunka says Brass is never going to stop. He's also found out who the two kids Brass killed were, two runaways, no one is looking for the boy but the girl was called Geraldine Standing Rock and Red Crow knew her grandfather.
He drives out to see Phyllis Standing Rock who starts by telling Red Crow it's been thirty-five years since Reggie disappeared. Red Crow says he is here about her grandaughter. Phyllis says she had never had a chance, always in trouble since she was old enough to know better. Her mother dumped her on her, after her father Reggie disappeared she gave up on life and is a waitress somewhere else now.
|Phillys Standing Rock.|
Time passes, Dino is now fully working as a drug coriour for the two cops. We then cut to Red Crow meeting with Jigger the head of the local Bureau for Indian Affairs. He says it's in his interest that the reservation flourishes and what's this he hears about the Hmong? Red Crow says the discussion is over, then Jigger drops a bombshell, "you got a Fed in your house." He's probably working for Nitz and has been there for a few months. Red Crow yells "it's bullshit!" And drives off.
Back thirty-five years ago. Red Crow is confronting Reggie about being with the FBI. Reggie protests his innocence, but Red Crow demands to know why and hopes it wasn't merely for money. As Reggie continues to deny it Red Crow grabs him round the throat and starts choking him:
Red Crow: "First thing you learn when you witness a killing is that it ain't at all like it is in the movies. In the westerns I watched as a kid, a cowboy'd take an arrow in the back and instantly fall over dead. First man I killed.. I had to strangle for eleven minutes."
We see him stumble away from Reggie's corpse as he thinks how there is no honour or glory in killing. Just the dying howls and them shitting their pants. Sometimes you do to, sometimes exhausted, sometimes jacked on adrenaline. And in the end you stand over something that doesn't look human anymore and you swear you'll never do it again, "and sometimes you might even believe that lie".
|Red Crow's first kill.|
Three year ago Dino is making out with his girlfriend, she tells him to put a condom on but he promises her he won't come inside her. Cut to the present and his daughter Angie is crying away, Dino is on the phone and tells Granny to deal with her. Granny says Angie has an ear infection so Dino tosses her some cash for medicine.
Granny says his job cleaning up at the casino doesn't pay this well and she warns him that after the last time he got in trouble with the law she said if it happened again she'd kick him out of the house for good. She says if she finds out he's dealing drugs she'll call the cops on him herself, Dino says not to worry "I work for the police now". They are waiting outside and Dino gets in the back with a big box of deliveries to make that day.
Time goes by as he works as the drug delivery boy. As he does so he remembers that one day an astronaut came to their classs and talked about walking on the moon. Dino became obssessed with being like him, dreaming of flying through space. He thinks it's funny that all those years spent dreaming and here he is all those years later "and I can't even get the fuck out of Shannon County, South Dakota".
They make one more stop to the home of an old man called Andy Short Bear. His son owed them money but he's in a coma in hospital so the two cops say his debt has passed on to him and start beating him when he refuses to pay. Andy recognises Dino and asks what he is doin with these "hoodlums". As they beat him some more, Dino runs outside.
|An accidental knife to the face.,|
Next day Dino is phoned by his parole officer Falls Down who is up in Kansas on the Gina Bad Horse murder. He niggles at Dino asking if he is in any trouble which Dino denies. He says the cops Granny has seen him with are "two degenerates". Dino denies any wrong doing again. Then he gets pissed off and says no one is stepping forward to pay his bills or give him a better job so he can get of the rez and get his daughter what she needs. Then he tells him to leave him the fuck alone unless he has a warrant and slams the phone down. Falls Down mutters "damn it, son.. you ain't ever getting of the rez"
Sometime later Dino is being observed making drug deliveries by Mr. Brass and his two bodyguards, he says the people here are like animals. When Dino gets him Granny tosses his things out of the house in a bag saying "you don't live here anymore." His sister is in the hospital from smoking God knows what and may lose the baby. Dino brought the junk into their house and she can't have it here no more. Dino tries to come in and get his daughter but Granny says she is staying here.
Granny: "It ain't safe for her to be around you. I'm sorry if you can't see that. I put all your money in that bag. We don't want any more of it here. God be with you boy".
And she closes the door on him, leaving him alone in the road before he picks up his things and walks away. The two cops pull up behind him and asks if he wants a life. When Dino declines and tells him he quits they get nasty and point a gun at him so he gets in the car.
|Granny tosses Dino out.|
They park up outside the Badlands Cafe and go inside. Dino goes to the bathroom to wash up as he thinks life is all about luck. Some folks get to be astronauts "and then some folks get the kinda luck that sucks dick".
Dino: "They get born with the deck stacked against them and can't never seem to catch no breaks. Some folks just get fucked by fate. Fucked 'til it hurts. Fucks 'til it bleeds. Fucked 'til it kills ya."
And over this narration we see the two cops lying dead, their throats slasheds. Mr. Brass is standing there smiling as usual and says politely to Dino, "I want to talk about your future."
In the present Shunka is itching for a fight with the Hmongs. Under false pretences he lures Red Crow to a place where he has been keeping the bodies of the two kids Mr. Brass murdered. Shunka introduce them as James Dowd and Geraldine Standing Rock. He thought Red Crow might want to meet them.
He then shows the wounds on them saying the were inflicted pre-mortem while he was raping them, "he fucked and stabbed them to death, all at the same time." He made the girl watch what he did to the boy then did her the same, does he want to know where they found the semen inside her. Red Crow yells at Shunka to pack his things and get off the rez which doesn't seem to bother Shunka much. Indeed later as he is packing, Red Crow comes up and asks where Brass is.
We then join Red Crow back where this arc started in his car outside the Badlands Cafe. He apologises to Gina's soul bundle and goes inside gun in hand. There he finds Mr. Brass in the process of tearing out Dino's eye. He seems pleased to see Red Crow saying "I was just re-educating a few of your citizens".
Red Crow tells him to put the knife down as he points his gun at them. Mr. Brass enquires as to if he's lost his mind. But Red Crow says he's has enough of the Hmong on his rez they are done here. Then he shoots one of the goons right in the head, And gunfire between him and the second breaks out.
|Red Crow may be old but he can still move.|
Back in the past, seventeen years ago, Red Crow has paid an impromtu visit to Gina's house. Dash is sleeping and Red Crow comments he looks like an angel. Then he says to Gina that he is running for tribal council and wants to count on her support because he has heard she's been speaking out against him. She says she won't let him worm his way into politics she wants the whole rez to know what he's capable of. But he draws his gun and points it as the sleeping Dash saying "what exactly am I capable of, Gina?"
He says just because he used to fuck her doesn't mean he'll let her stand in his way now. She is to stay out of his affairs, "the reservation needs a man like me whether you like it or not". He finishes up by making a threat to hurt Dash if she doesn't play along then leaves and she slumps to the ground in distress. Back in the present.
Red Crow: "My name is Lincoln Red Crowm, and I consider myself an honourable man. Spiritual. Respectful of my elders. Kind to animals. A tender lover. Benevolent politician".
But none of that makes him a nice guy as we see images of Dino in hospital with a banaged eye and Granny Poor Bear with him. He's killed a lot of people in pursuit of his dream and he'd kill a hundred more to see his vision through, "to carve a better place in this world for my people". We see an image of Mr. Brass in a jail cell nursing his broken nose.
That's who he is and that's all he always be. He does what he does because someone has too, and if it doesn't make him popular so be it. No one will shed tears when he dies, but that's all right, "ghosts are best forgotten anyway. Who's got time to worry about the dead? It's trouble enough just trying to live." And we see Granny Poor Bear receive a package, it has Gina's soul bundle in it. And that brings this volume to an end.
|Gina's soul returned.|