Tag Archives: western

Movie Review – Hostiles (2017)

Christian Bale…so moody…basically playing himself.

BQB here with a review of “Hostiles.”

I love a good Western.  The general movie going public doesn’t, but I appreciate it whenever Hollywood gives me one just the same.

In 1892, Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale) is nearing retirement as one of the U.S. Army’s most notorious Native American killers.  He is firm in his belief that his actions were justified, and can recite countless tales of horror perpetrated against settlers.

Meanwhile, Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) is a prisoner at the Army fort in New Mexico, where Blocker is stationed.  He’s one of the West’s most notorious killers of settlers and he can recite countless tales of horror perpetrated against his people.

In short, both men feel they were justified and yet, you guessed it…road trip!  (Horse trip?)  The Chief, due to his old age, is granted a pardon and Blocker is ordered to escort his longtime enemy to his ancestral homeland in Montana.

The setup seems intriguing enough.  Blocker and Yellow Hawk are not friends, yet they’ll need to come to an understanding because the Comanche are nearby and as Yellow Hawk warns, they don’t discriminate and will kill natives and settlers alike.

But alas, from there, the story wanders.  Rosamund Pike enters the picture as a widow who lost her family to a Comanche attack.  Various subplots ensue – a sergeant who has lost his faith, an African American corporal who is grateful that Blocker treats him as an equal, a prisoner who argues that Blocker is just as guilty as he is, and so on.

“Pick a plot already!” That’s what I found myself saying half-way through the film.  While there is sporadic, gruesome action, there are long periods of hum drum, drawn out talking.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy, but I’d say wait to rent it.  It runs at least a half-hour too long.  There were various parts where I was like, “Oh here’s a good part where it could end and…oh, no…it’s still going.”  No one needs to sit in a stiff movie theater seat for that.

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BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – The Wild Bunch (1969)

Guns, titties, and the most gruesome Wild West shootout to ever be caught on film.

BQB here with a review of “The Wild Bunch.”

The Old American West was a villain’s paradise.  There were trains to rob and banks to stick up but little to no law enforcement presence to get in the way.  The Feds just had not invested enough to bring law and order to a lawless land.

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By the early 1900s, that all changes.  The West has become more established.  The government has put up the money and built up enough infrastructure to keep hoodlums at bay.

That’s good news for the Godfearing folk but bad news for Pike (William Holden) and his sidekick Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) who head up a murderous band of cutthroat killers known as “The Wild Bunch.”

These aging gunslingers are relics.  Dinosaurs even by early 1900s standards.  Cars are replacing horses.  Railroads are given more protection and a gunslinger with a six-shooter is no match for an Army man with a machine gun.

In short, the black hat Old West villains are being put out of business but as Pike and Dutch hope, not before they make off with one last score.

These crooks have one in mind.  They hope to rob a train load of guns to sell to a corrupt Mexican general.  However, there are tensions between the gang and Mexican forces that look like they might turn bloody.

Meanwhile, Harrington, a railroad company boss, has sprung Pike’s ex-gang member Thornton (Robert Ryan) to lead a band of yahoos that have dispatched to hunt Pike and his cronies down.  The stakes are high for Thornton as he has been told in no uncertain terms that if he fails to catch or kill Pike, he’ll be sent back to prison.

I have to be honest, I’ve heard about this movie for years and finally found the time to watch it.  I didn’t like, not because it’s a poorly made film.  The action scenes are very well choreographed and the overall message is clear – this is a time when the gunslinger’s days were numbered.

It’s never quite said outright but it is said symbolically.  Pike is a coldblooded killer who lives only for money and is willing to murder to get it.  Gunslingers looked their victims in the eye and knew it was highly possible that their victims might get the drop on them, shooting them before they can get a shot off.

Meanwhile, as Pike and his boys rob a bank, there are a group of kids having a good laugh as they watch a scorpion being devoured by ants and later, they set a fire that burns the ants and the scorpion.  What’s the interpretation?  Men like Pike looked their victims in the eye and watched them die.  Hard but at least there was that buffer – i.e. a man had to be a real son of a bitch to be a killer so hopefully more moral minds would prevail to keep the whole word from erupting into chaos.

However, these bug burning kids would go on to become the World War II generation, inventing contraptions and weapons of mass murder that could be dropped with the flick of a button without having to look a victim in the eye.

When you have to look that victim in the eye, you must really want to kill them.  If you don’t have to look them in the eye, mass killing on an epic scale becomes easier and that’s no good for the fate of the world.

I lost my point.  So while the film carries that important message, I didn’t like it because the characters just were not likable at all.  Pike and Dutch are miserable pricks who’d kill their mother if she swallowed a nickel.  They’re old buzzards with no redeeming qualities and there’s nothing to hope for in them.  You can’t root for them because you know if they win  they aren’t going to become nice people.  They’ll just continue to be miserable, booze soaked, prostitute banging pricks.

Worse, the final scene is, as far as I know, considered to be the must violent in Western history, perhaps even in movie history.  In the midst of it all, Pike calls a woman a bitch and shoots her dead.  Dutch grabs a prostitute and uses her as a human shield, allowing her to take bullets meant for him.  Both men prove themselves to be utterly horrible and you just hope that the Mexican Army takes them out quick and puts them out of their misery.

I do think that was the point of director Sam Peckinpah.  If the early 1900s meant the end of the gunslinger era, then the late 1960s meant the end of the whitewashed, happy go lucky cowboy films of the 1950s.  No more John Wayne saying “Howdy pilgrim.”  No more Gene Autry singing songs and playing the guitar.  No more shoot-outs were everyone misses because here, shots cause bodies to gush blood.  The Old West villains were bad people who took advantage of a bad situation to do bad things and Peckinpah is showing them in all of their terrible glory, warts and all.  They were not to be revered but rather, to be reviled.

Also, and perhaps this is a spoiler but so be it, throughout the film, the idea of a final showdown between Thornton and Pike, i.e. a grudge match between two ex-gang members, is built up and then it never happens.  Seems kind of lame.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy because it shows the grittier side of the Old West.  Technically not shelf-worthy because I didn’t like the main characters although I believe that was the director’s point.

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Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 39

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Glowing paper lanterns hanged from wires that had been strung between rooftops, lighting up the street below as townsfolk gathered around a rickety stage.

A juggler warmed up the crowd, tossing oranges into the air, catching each them before they hit the stage and sending them just as quickly back into the air.

Kapow! The crowd “oooed” and “ahhhed” as a single golden firework launched into the air and exploded, lighting up the night sky.

First came the drumbeat. Then the trombone. The clarinet. The flute. Processional music as a band led a colorful cast of characters through the crowd and up onto the stage.

A man in a top hat held his face as close as he could to a torch he was carrying without melting himself. His visage was smeared with white makeup, his lips coated with red lipstick, his eyes had been outlined ever so darkly.

“Hush!” the performer said. The crowd instantly obeyed, ceasing all gossip and revelry. Their eyes were transfixed on the show.

“Wandering thespians are we,” the performer said with a flourish. “The Vagabond Players, to be precise. For the entertainment of the gentry, our time upon the stage shall surely suffice.”

The performer paced about the stage, never taking his eyes off the audience. “Mortimer Snodgrass ’tis my name and tomfoolery is my trade. But the star of our show puts me to shame and leaves me feeling quite dismayed.”

Wild Bill stood calmly behind a curtain, waiting for his cue.

A buxom blonde with a beauty mark on her cheek strutted up to Mortimer. “Tell us who it is, dear Morty, before another second ticks off the clock…”

“My sweetest Bertha, it is none other than…”

The crowd went insane as Bill stepped out and fired his guns into the air.

“…Wild Bill Hickok!”

Bill took a bow and smiled. Moments later, the applause died down.

“William!” Mortimer cried. “‘What tale shall we recreate first?’ is the question I now…ask ya’”

The juggler returned and got his oranges in the air again. Hickok put bullets through all three pieces of fruit, spraying the players with citrus. The audience cheered.

Bill holstered his pistols, rested his hands on his belt, and then surveyed the crowd. “Howsabout the time I shot the worst fiend in Nebraska?”

Deep within the crowd, a drunk off her ass Jane was having quite a time.

“Bravo!”

Jane whistled and slapped her hands together. As she did so, she swilled whiskey out of the bottle she was holding all over everyone around her, but she didn’t care.

“Bravo, Bill!” Jane shouted. “Goddamn it you’re the best fucking actor I’ve ever seen!”

Jane took a pull and nudged a very sullen looking Charlie in the ribs.

“Isn’t Bill acting the shit out of this, Charlie?”

Charlie kept to himself. That only made Jane nudge harder.

“Well,” Jane asked. “What do you think?”

Finally, the businessman gave in. “I think there’s nothing sadder than seeing the greatest gunslinger who ever lived yucking it up like a clown for pocket change.”

Jane tossed Charlie a look that was indescribably vile.

“Goddamn, Charlie,” Jane said. “Anyone ever tell you that you’re the turd in the moonshine?”

“All the time,” Charlie replied.

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Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 37

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August 2, 1876

A horse drawn carriage stopped in front of the Grand Central Hotel. The coachmen waited patiently as the finely dressed travelers in the back engaged in a discussion.

“Oh just let me do it,” Henry said. “I’ve wanted to execute the hideous little twerp for the past couple centuries anyway.”

Lady Beatrice stared at the hotel through the window of the carriage. It was evening. It was a humid evening. Warm and sticky.

“You were right about him,” Lady Beatrice said. “It was my mistake. I shall fix it.”

“Will you?” Henry asked.

The lady glared at Henry. “And what does that question mean?”

“Vampires care about very little other than their children,” Henry said. “I fear you may have concocted some notion that you’ll set him free. The Chairman would not be please.”

Lady Beatrice sighed. “‘The Chairman,’” she scoffed. “I miss the old days when he was just father.”

“Times change,” Henry said.

“That they do,” the lady replied. “Cease your concern. I’ll take care of it.”

“Be reasonable,” Henry said. “At least allow me to gather a team to dispatch Hickok.”

“Henry,” the lady said. “Am I not the Vice-Chairwoman of the Legion Corporation now?”

“You are,” Henry said.

“The number two being in the entire organization,” Lady Beatrice continued. “Second only to the Chairman himself.”

“Quite right but…”

“I outrank you, don’t I?” the lady inquired.

Henry was displeased with that question. “In theory, but…”

“There’s no ‘in theory’ about it,” Lady Beatrice said. “Stand down, counselor. I have the mission under control.”

Henry reached across the carriage and took the lady’s hand. “It’s not the mission I’m worried about.”
“If you’re referring to ‘us’ then you would have been at least one ounce kinder to Jericho in all these years,” Lady Beatrice said.

“Kind to that thing?” Henry asked.

Disgusted, the lady opened the door and hopped out of the carriage.

“Beatrice,” Henry said.

The lady turned. “That thing is my son.”

“I know,” Henry said.

“He has a name,” the lady said.

“I’m aware,” Henry replied.

The Lady walked away. “That will be all, counselor.”

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Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 32

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“What is she?” the Queen asked.

“A vampire,” Sir Francis said. “A dead being who has lost its soul and survives by feasting on the blood of the living.”

“And not just any vampire, Your Highness,” the archbishop said as he closed his bible and joined the queen and her advisors. “An agent of the Legion.”

“‘The Legion?’” the Queen inquired.

“A confederation of foul spirits and supernatural creatures who have sworn allegiance to the devil,” the archbishop said.

Queen Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “The…devil?”

“Father,” Lady Beatrice mumbled.

“Vampires have long been Satan’s chief emissaries,” Sir Francis said.

The Queen took a long, deep breathe. She closed her eyes, took all the information in, then looked toward the spymaster.

“Why is it that I get the impression that you and the archbishop have known of this for quite some time?” the Queen asked.

Sir Francis coughed into his fist. “Because we have, Your Majesty.”

The Queen turned to Sir Walter. “And you?”

“First I’m hearing of this,” was the rogue’s reply.

“This…” The Queen struggled for words. “This is most unacceptable. Lady Beatrice has been a friend to the crown for years.”

“Vampires walk among us, my Queen,” Sir Francis explained. “They keep their true nature hidden all the while acquiring wealth, status and power – assets to fuel their ambition to conquer the world in the name of their master.”

The Queen raised her voice. “And at no time did you ever think this was information that I should know?!”

Sir Francis lowered his head. “I am sorry. The archbishop and I, we have long found ourselves in an unenviable position.”

“Your most regal father swore us to secrecy,” the archbishop said.

The Queen’s eyes widened. “My father knew of this?!”

“Intimately,” the archbishop said. “For you see…”

Sir Francis cut the holy man off. “Three out of your father’s six wives were vampires.”

The Queen almost fell off her throne. “Shut your mouth. This is certain?”

“Most assuredly so,” Sir Francis said. “Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. All bloody vampires.”

Sir Walter picked up a stein of ale and sipped. “This is hilarious.”

“So embarrassed was your father that he’d been fooled thrice by the Legion that he swore us all to secrecy,” Sir Francis said.

“Wait a moment,” the Queen said. “Was my mother a vampire?”

“Nay,” Sir Francis said.

“Then why did father chop off her head?” the Queen asked.

The archbishop and the spymaster traded shamed looks. Sir Francis grimaced. “It was most unsavory business, Your Majesty. You see, Jane Seymour did this thing with her thumb and your father’s backside that he found to be most enjoyable and…”

The Queen threw up her hands. “I’ve heard enough!”

“I haven’t,” Sir Walter said. “Details, man. Details.”

The Queen slapped Sir Walter’s shoulder. “You are utterly useless, Sir Walter.”

The rogue quaffed some more ale. “That’s not what you said last night.”

Queen Elizabeth shook her head. “It’s what I say today. Don’t flatter yourself.”

Sir Francis produced two parchments. “Your Majesty, at your leisure I shall gladly answer any and all inquiries you may have vis a vis the Legion but at present, I feel it would be expedient to question the lady as to the plot on your life.”

“As you wish,” the Queen said.

The spymaster approached Lady Beatrice. The guards still held her down on her knees. Her eyes had returned to normal. Her fangs had retracted.

Sir Francis held the first parchment in front of the lady’s face. “A letter in the hand of Mary, Queen of Scotts, addressed to you and secreted out of her place of imprisonment.”

Lady Beatrice grinned.

“In this letter, the Queen Mary bids you to assassinate our Queen Elizabeth and promises you great riches once she is in control of England,” Sir Francis said.

The lady kept her mouth shut.

“Is Queen Mary a vampire?” Sir Francis asked. “Or is she merely in league with the Legion?”

Silence.

“How does she intend to usurp Queen Elizabeth?” Sir Francis asked.

“You’ll just have to kill me,” Lady Beatrice said. “I’ll never talk.”

“We shall see about that,” Sir Francis said as he reached underneath the top of the lady’s dress.

“Right,” Sir Walter said as he stepped forward. “Now we’re talking.”

Sir Francis fished out a golden medallion that the lady had been wearing around her neck. Lady Beatrice was highly displeased. Her fangs popped out again.

“Do your part and guard this, Sir Walter,” the spymaster said as he handed the piece of jewelry over to the rogue.

“Lacking in taste,” Sir Walter said as he examined the medallion. It was decorated with a pentagram. “I’ve nicked better pieces off of Orientals.”

“’Tis not the style but the substance,” Sir Francis said as he turned his attention to the Queen. “Vampires are so untrustworthy that even Satan himself keeps them in line. Only the members of his inner circle are allowed to walk outside during the day without being set ablaze by the sun’s warmth. For vampires, this medallion serve’s as the devil’s permission to bask in sunlight.”

“She is doomed to darkness without it then?” Queen Elizabeth asked.

“Quite,” Sir Francis said. He returned his focus to Lady Beatrice. “And she will not get it back until she tells us what we need to know.”

“Do your worst,” the lady said.

“I assure you that the worst is coming if you continue to withhold your cooperation,” Sir Francis said. “How did Queen Mary come to believe that she would obtain dominion over England?”

Lady Beatrice retracted her fangs and stared up at the spymaster blankly.

“You conspire with the Catholic Church, do you not?” Sir Francis asked.

“The Catholic Church?” the Queen interrupted.

“Replete with vampires, Your Highness,” the archbishop said.

“Surely you jest,” the Queen said.

“Alas, no,” the archbishop replied. “Your father was happy to allow the masses to snicker that he adopted Anglicanism as a means to avoid his marital promises but in truth, there are many vampires lurking about in that faith.”

“The Pope himself is a vampire,” Sir Francis added.

Queen Elizabeth shot Sir Francis an angry glare. “I was going to tell you.”

The spymaster addressed the prisoner again. “My sources inform me that as we speak, King Phillip of Spain has drained his treasury to build a vast armada of ships. For what purpose?”

Lady Beatrice said nothing.

“I have further learned that King Phillip and the Vicar of Rome have had several meetings,” Sir Francis said. “To what end?”

No response.

Sir Francis returned to the throne. “I shall deign to assemble the puzzle before us, Your Majesty. King Phillip, no doubt in league with the Legion, has publicly proclaimed Catholicism as the one true faith. He has sought the blessing of the Pope to invade our country. In truth, he does so to add one more nation to the Legion’s holdings. He will install Mary, herself a Catholic, to the throne.”

“To the world it will look like the product of a religious war,” the archbishop said.

“And many people will be fooled into rising up against you in the name of said religious war,” Sir Francis said. “Completely unaware that they have been turned into unwitting agents of the Legion.”

“This cannot be so,” the Queen said.

Sir Francis walked back to the prisoner. “I fear it is. And I have but one more question.”

The spymaster looked down on the lady. “How many zombies and werewolves will King Phillip bring with him?”

That question startled the lady. She suddenly became very talkative. “What? How do you know of zombies and werewolves?”

Sir Francis smiled and stretched out his arms. “Spymaster.”

“Zombies and werewolves?” the Queen asked.

“Zombies are dead men who continue to walk,” Sir Francis explained. “Mindless monsters created through the ingestion of vampiric blood. On their own they are wild beasts who destroy anything in their path as they search for the brains that they crave for sustenance. However, when controlled by the vampire whose blood they drank, they can be turned into formidable soldiers.”

The Queen rested her head in hear hands. “I feel ill.”

“Werewolves, on the other hand,” Sir Francis said. “Are men and women tormented by an inner rage that transforms them into large, hairy dog-like monsters.”

Queen Elizabeth put her hands up. “I…can’t…this is all so far fetched it’s as if that hack Shakespeare wrote it.”

The spymaster looked at the lady. “Phillip is a vampire. Is he not?”

Lady Beatrice shook her head.

“Phillip has conspired with the Catholic faith to force thousands of Spaniards to drink his sacramental wine laced with his blood,” Sir Francis said. “Has he not?!”

The lady looked away.

“He plans to invade our shores with scores of werewolf mercenaries and an army of the undead that obeys only him,” Sir Francis said. “Does he not?”

Lady Beatrice chuckled. It started off slow. “Ha…ha ha ha…”

And then it reached a maddening crescendo. “Ha ha ha!!! Yes! It’s only a matter of time before all of your entrails are ripped from your bodies, your blood drained, your brains feasted upon, your lands and your riches ours!!!”

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Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 30

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That afternoon, Jack sat in Aunt Lu’s cafe, sulking in defeat.

His body ached all over. He had a black eye. His face was bruised. Two teeth were gone. His chest was sore. It hurt to do anything – literally, anything.

All he wanted to do was go home and sleep forever but he lacked the energy to face another one of his father’s angry tirades.

So there he sat, nursing a cup of coffee as he read his favorite book.

A longstanding question has plagued the public discourse. How many men have met their doom at the end of Hickok’s pistol?

Hickok himself puts the figure at well over a hundred, though he admits that when he reached one hundred, he stopped counting.

Various officers of the law have all confirmed that the count must indeed be over one hundred.

One hundred defeated opponents. Surely, when one considers the mathematics at hand, it must be concluded that Hickok has cheated that statistical odds.

This writer put it in layman’s terms and posed a question to Hickok. “Simply put, how is it that you’ve been able to shoot so many men without any one of them ever putting a shot into you?”

Mr. Hickok’s response? “I could tell you it was practice, and to a certain extent it was. I spend more time training in the art of gun play than the average man. And I could also tell you it is experience. Get yourself in enough gun fights and sooner or later you’ll come to understand what a desperado is going to do before he does it himself. But when it really comes down to it, it’s all a matter of will. I wanted to live more than the other guy. Thus, I fought harder and smarter than the other guy.”

“Fight harder and smarter than the other guy,” Jack mumbled to himself.

The young man pondered that quote for awhile until he spotted Ginny. She was buying a sandwich wrapped in paper from Aunt Lu and even this simple sight was enough to make Jack’s heart skip a beat.

He followed her out into the road.

“Ginny.”

“Uggh,” Ginny replied without even an attempt to mask her disgust. “I don’t have time to dilly dally, Jack. Father sent me to fetch his lunch for him and he’ll be very cross with me if I’m late.”

“I know,” Jack said. “Did you see the fight?”

“What a stupid question,” Ginny said. “You saw me there. You didn’t see me with my eyes clothes. Ergo, I saw the fight.”

“Right,” Jack replied.

“Are you ever going to quit?” Ginny asked. “Boxing doesn’t suit you.”

“I don’t want to,” Jack said. “Buck says I have to.”

“Thank goodness,” Ginny said. “At least someone has some sense.”

The duo walked together in silence for awhile.

“What will you do now?” Ginny asked.

“I was uh…umm..” Jack cleared his throat.

“What’s wrong with you?” Ginny snapped.

“Nothing,” Jack said. “I was just, you know…thinking about becoming a gunfighter.”

Ginny stopped. “A what?”

“A gunfighter,” Jack replied. “It’s better than being a prizefighter. You don’t have to be bigger than the other guy. You just have to know how to shoot better than he can.”

Ginny stared at Jack. Her face was expressionless.

“I’ll be just like Wild Bill Hickok,” Jack said as he pointed to the cover of his book.

And with that, Ginny could no longer hold back her laughter. She covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her amusement but she couldn’t help it.

“You?” Ginny asked. “Be just like Wild Bill Hickok?”

“What?” Jack asked indignantly. “It could happen! Everybody who is a somebody started out as a nobody you know.”

Jack winced as Ginny brushed her hand against his sore face. “Ooo…sorry.”

She took her hand away. “Jack, you must stop filling your head with such nonsense.”

“It’s not nonsense,” Jack said.

“Whatever it is, I can’t be bothered with it anymore,” Ginny said as she walked away.

“Wait,” Jack said as he put a hand on Ginny’s arm, only for it to be immediately shaken off.

“No,” Ginny protested. “No, Jack! Now I don’t know how many different ways I can tell you but we are over so stop asking. Father has put his foot down on this subject.”

“You don’t have to do what your father tells you,” Jack said.

“And who will take care of me if I don’t?” Ginny asked. “A moron with stars in his eyes who wants to be a prizefighter, and now a gunfighter, anything but a man who just puts in an honest day’s work?”

Jack’s eyes welled up.

“Oh,” Ginny said. “Jack, you’re very sweet but father is right. I’m nineteen and still a single maid. I’m already considered by every eligible bachelor to be a reclusive spinster and if I’m ever to find an accomplished man I simply can’t be seen about town with the likes of you. Good day!”

“But Ginny…”

“Good day!”

Jack watched as the woman he loved walked out of his life. He then walked into the nearest saloon, ordered a shot of whiskey and opened up his book.

“Women will drive you crazy if you let them,” Bill said. “The thing to remember is just when you feel like you’ll never be able to love another woman ever again, another woman will surely come waltzing her way right into your life.”

“I’m not so sure about that Bill Hickok,” Jack mumbled.

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Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 24

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Al rapped on his office door. “Mike.”

“Busy, Al,” came Mike’s voice from the other side of the door. It was followed by a strange sound. Bullock wasn’t able to place it though Al realized it was the sound of a saw cutting its way through bone.

Al was a man of multiple personalities and in the presence of the new sheriff, his “I’m just a nice guy” routine was on full display. “Join us on the veranda imminently.”

“Huh?” Mike asked.

The barkeep wasn’t perfected. His default gruffness poked through. “Get the fuck up to the veranda quick as you can.”

Al forced a smile at Bullock and then added one more thing for Mike. “I’d like you to meet the new sheriff.”

A short silence followed by…”Oh. OK.”

The barkeep put an arm around Bullock and led him upstairs. “Got my assistant cleaning my office for me. It’s a real mess. But the air will do us some good. What’d you say your name was?”

“I didn’t,” Bullock said. “Seth Bullock.”

Al snapped took his arm off Bullock’s shoulder and snapped his fingers repeatedly. “Bullock….Bullock…Bullock….where do I know that name? Oh!”

Bullock stayed quiet as he walked with Al up the stairs.

“The Johnny Do-gooder who held off a wild mob with a shotgun while he hanged a no good horse thief all by himself.” Bullock said.

“That’d be me,” Bullock replied.

“Ah,” Al said. “So the town council went out and hired an honest man, those cunts.”

“Pardon?” Bullock asked.

“They hired an honest man for once,” Al said.

Al lead Bullock into his own personal quarters. Pretty drab. Nothing hanging on the walls. Just a lonely bed and a chair to sit in. He opened up a set of doors and walked out onto a veranda that overlooked the town.

Bullock leaned over the railing and did some people watching. From a distance, the lives of the townsfolk as they hustled and bustled, fought, argued and lived seemed halfway interesting.

“All right,” Al said. “Now that we’re alone lets cut the bullshit. How much do you want?”

“Excuse me?” Bullock asked.

“McKenna was a greedy fuck,” Al said. “Took his pay from the council. Hit me up for even more. It got to be too much, and he was an incompetent lowlife fat fuck who never met a pie he didn’t want to shove down his throat. You actually look like a halfway useful person so you’ll be worth the extra scratch. How much you thinking?”

“I’m not thinking about that at all,” Bullock said.

“Then what are you in my face for?” Al asked.

Bullock pulled his pistol. Whereas many men would have reached for the sky, Al indignantly folded his arms.

“And what the fuck do you suppose you’re going to do with that?”

“You’re under arrest, Al Swearengen,” Bullock said. “For the murder of Patrick Farley.”

Al couldn’t keep a straight faced. He laughed and laughed. “You’re…you’re serious!”

“As a bullet through your head,” Bullock said.

At that moment, Bullock heard the distinct sound of a pistol’s hammer being cocked behind his head.

“That can be arranged,” Mike said.

Undeterred, the sheriff kept his weapon pointed at Al. “You want to call off your dog?”

“Mike,” Al said. “Remember what I said…”

With his weapon still pointed at Bullock, Mike walked around to Bullock’s left side so as to avoid the possibility of shooting Al by accident.

“That and the other thing,” Al said.

“I won’t shoot till your say-so, boss,” Mike replied.

Bullock cocked his hammer and leered at Al. “You better tell him to drop it right quick.”

“Tell you what,” Al said. “Howsabout you both drop your steel and we have a little talk?”

“Whatever you want, Al,” Mike said.

“I don’t negotiate with lowlives,” Bullock said.

“You might consider it,” Bullock said. “The kid’s a hair trigger and not right in the head.”

Bullock sighed. “Fine. On three.”

Hearing agreement all around, Bullock counted down. “One…two…”

On three, Mike lowered his weapon only to have it immediately snatched out of his hand. Bullock now had two guns and pointed one at each scumbag.

“Mike,” Al said. “I swear to God you are the worst fucking henchman ever.”

“Both of you,” Bullock said. “Let’s go.”

“Fine, fine,” Al said. “I wanted to talk like gentleman but if you have to be Mr. Squeaky Clean Law Abiding Fuck then let’s do this the hard way. I’m not going any where.”

“The hell you aren’t,” Bullock said.

“Which one of those turd sniffers put you up to this?” Al asked. “McGillicuddy? Nah. He wouldn’t dare.”

“Less talking, more walking,” Bullock said.

“Merrick!” Al shouted. “It was that fucking newsboy wasn’t it? Aww I ought to chop of his pecker with a rusty razor and run it through his printing press.”

“Enough,” Bullock said.

“Now that’d be a short edition.”

“I don’t want to hear another word,” Bullock said.

“Well you’re going to,” Al said. “Because I own this town. Look around you, Bullock. Everything you see is mine. We’re outside the United States, so if I wanted to, I could build myself a throne, pop a fucking golden crown on my head and declare myself ‘King Al the First, Rightful Ruler of the Drunk Fucks of Deadwood’ and no one could stop me, least of all you.”

Curiosity got the best of Bullock and he allowed Al to keep talking.

“But U.S. Grant,” Al said. “Mr. Unconditional Surrender himself. That bearded fuck could stop me. He and all his political lackey ass kissers would love nothing more than to march their fat asses up here and take everything that isn’t nailed the fuck down. I’m the one who greases the right palms, whispers into the right ears and most importantly, bribes the right shit bags to keep a vote on whether or not this fucking territory should be taken the fuck over by America from happening.”
Bullock did not like the direction of this conversation one bit.

“Everyone with an office in this town is expected to be my puppet,” Al said. “Shut the fuck up, do what you’re told, act like you’re doing something important so that it makes it hard for the politicians to just send the Army up here to wipe us all the fuck out. Oh sure, the government can slaughter scores of the heathen savages all day long and twice on Sunday and no one gives a fuck but harm a bunch of simple townsfolk who even went to the trouble of forming a rudimentary government with a mayor, a council and a sheriff? That’s a whole other story.”

“You broke the law,” Bullock said.

“What law?” Al asked. “There are no laws here. You are a sheriff in a land without a single fucking law on the books.”

Bullock scoffed. “You got to be shitting me.”

“Nope,” Al said. “Not one. Why do you think people come here? Sure, out of a sad hope they might find a shiny gold nugget or two, but they stay because this is the only place in the world where you can do whatever the fuck you want and no Goddamn nosey lawman sticks his nose in your business. Why would you want to ruin a good thing like that?”

“No more bullshit,” Bullock said. “Time to lock you two up.”

“Where?” Al asked.

“Huh?” Bullock asked in return.

“Where are you going to lock us up?” Al asked. “There isn’t a jail.”

“There isn’t?” Bullock asked.

“Nope,” Al replied. “No jail. No Sheriff’s office. No judge to try us, no jury to convict us, no law except for dog eat dog and I’m the biggest dog here.”

Beads of sweat collected on Bullock’s brow. “That can’t be right.”

“Woof fucking woof,” Al said. “And let me assure you, Bullock. You put one in me and there will be over a hundred assholes lined up to put two in you. There’s no end to the list of people I’ve got on the take. Once I go, the livelihood of a lot of people go with me and they’ll make you answer for it, I assure you.”

Bullock’s stomach was queasy. His head ached. It was an experience he’d never been through before. A criminal had talked him out of making an arrest.

He kept his guns pointed at Al and Mike as he backed his way toward the door.

“Good idea,” Al said. “And don’t show your face around here until you’re ready to be a useful part of the operation.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Bullock said.

“I’ll tell you whatever I want you to do,” Al said. “And you’ll do it and like it.”

Mike grinned. “Yeah. And if you don’t we’ll cut your wife’s tits off.”

That did it.

Bullock’s eyes widened. His nostrils flared.

Al was displeased. “Oh Christ, Mike.”

“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Bullock asked.

“I said if you don’t…”

Before Mike could finish his sentence, Bullock was pistol whipping Mike across the face. It only took a couple of blows before the young man was on the ground, but that didn’t stop the sheriff from continuing his assault.

Al put his hands on Bullock’s shoulders, attempting to pull the lawman away.

“Bullock!” Al cried. “That’s enough!”

Bullock was too focused on pounding Mike’s face.

“He does not have permission to speak for me!” Al shouted. “Don’t kill him!”

The thought that continuing his attack could lead to Mike’s death was enough to bring Bullock back to his senses. He stepped away.

“I’m not completely without honor, Bullock,” Al said. “I’ve yet to punish anyone just for being the relative of a dumb fuck I didn’t like. I assure you that your wife’s lovely tits will remain quite stationary.”

Bullock headed for the door then stopped. “As soon as I figure this all out, we’ll talk again.”

The sheriff was gone before Al could think of a snide comeback. Instead, he put his energy into helping Mike to his feet.

“You all right?” Al asked.

Mike clearly wasn’t. His face was bloody and he was having a hard time staying upright. Al took his lackey’s arm and put it over his shoulder.

“Just can’t get it through your stupid skull can you?” Al asked.

“I’m trying,” Mike answered.

“Try harder,” Al said. “Speak when spoken too. Come on. Get cleaned up. I have to show you something.”

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Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 23

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The double doors of the Gem swung open. Bullock moseyed on in and didn’t like what he saw. He wasn’t against a good belt of whiskey to calm his nerves now and then. And though he didn’t particularly care for raucous behavior, he’d seen enough of it as a lawman that it rarely bothered him to be around it.

Sure, the topless whores were letting it all hang out just a wee bit too early in the morning for Bullock’s tastes.

“Wow,” Lorelai said, flashing her smile despite the missing tooth. “Aren’t you handsome?”

Bullock sidestepped the prostitute and kept moving.

“Figures,” Lorelai lamented. “The good looking ones never buy it.”

The drinking. The swearing. The gambling. All activities Bullock found crude but he bypassed them. When he saw two barflies locked in a heated argument that looked like it was about to come to blows, he stopped at the table, tapped on his star, and they both piped down.

Standing on the bar was a fully lit woman wearing pants. Bullock hadn’t met her yet though you, the noble reader, know her as Jane. She had reached the giddy stage of her bender and was holding court, regaling an audience with humorous anecdotes, an art form that would eventually come to be known as stand up-comedy.

“So I says to this feller I says…” Jane was all giggles. She slapped her knee and guffawed at herself.

The crowd was eating it up. “Come on Jane!” a man yelled. “What’d you say?!”

Once Jane’s laughing fit passed and she’d taken a swig of whiskey, she tried it again.

“I says, ‘Mister, if that isn’t a rattle snake I feel crawling into my pants then you and I have a problem!’”

Uproarious laughter. The tale hadn’t even been that funny, but booze makes everything seem hysterical.

The barkeep was not amused.

“Twat in trousers,” he said. “Either buy me a new bar or stop scuffing this one up with your Goddamned shit kickers.”

“Aww hell, Al…”

That name stood out to Bullock. “Al.”

“…I’m just blowing off some steam. No need to get your britches in a knot.”
Al responded by poking Jane in the behind with the whisk end of a corn broom, trying to sweep her away as if she were some kind of undesirable rodent.

“Get!” Al shouted.

“All right, all right!” Jane said as she gulped the last bit of her drink. She tossed the glass over her shoulder, unconcerned about where it would land or that it would shatter when it did.

The show was over and the crowd had begun to amuse themselves with their own conversations. Jane was too hammered to realize no one was paying any attention to her.

She threw her arms out and shouted, “Catch me, boys!”

Literally no one but Bullock noticed when she fell face first into the floorboards. Alas, Bullock had been too far away to have made a difference and as a general rule, if drunks were about to hurt themselves, he rarely got involved.

“Ungh.” Jane groaned and chewed the crowd out. “What fucking part of ‘catch me boys’ did you ignorant yahoos not understand?”

She griped a few seconds more and then passed out, falling asleep right there on the floor.

Bullock walked over and leaned down to put a finger under Jane’s neck. He felt a pulse and stood up. Just another drunk who’d had one too many.

The new Sheriff bellied up to the bar, where Al was busily wiping the bar down with a white rag.

“You Swearengen?”

Without looking up, Al answered. “Who wants to know?”

Bullock waited until Al spotted the star.

“What in the name of Mary Todd Lincoln’s saintly pubic hair is that?!”

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Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 22

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Doctor McGillicuddy kept an office in town. He earned a meager living doing what he could to keep the denizens of Deadwood alive and in exchange, they’d cough up what they were able to afford, or at least the handful of honest folk did anyway.

Bullock stood back as the doctor reviewed the deceased. Since its discovery in the stable, it had since been stripped naked, washed and laid out on a table.

“So what’s the story, Doc?” Bullock asked.

“Oh,” Doctor McGillicuddy said. “If it is a story you’re after, I can tell you this man is some poor drunkard, a vagabond who stumbled into the stable in search of shelter only to be kicked in the back of the head by an ornery horse. In his final moments, he lifted up a bale of hay, crawled under it and expired.”

“Sounds possible,” Bullock said. “Until you get to the hay part.”

“Indeed,” Doctor McGillicuddy said. “But if you’d prefer the truth over a ‘story,’ then I can tell you this man is Patrick Farley, well known about town as an associate in the criminal dealings of one Al Swearengen. It would appear that Farley died as the result of a gunshot wound. One could only assume that said wound was motivated by an underhanded business deal gone awry, though if you choose to investigate this matter further, I bid that you not indicate to anyone that you heard such assumptions from me.”

“Swearengen?” Bullock asked.

Doctor McGillicuddy stroked his long beard.

“Mr. Swearengen would have the general public believe, or at the very least, not publicly admit in mixed company, that he is anything but a humble bartender,” the doctor explained. “In truth, he is very much the true ruler of this town. Through a system of corruption, graft violence and intimidation, he controls everyone and everything. He makes a fortune in the process though you wouldn’t necessarily know it by looking at him.”

“Ahh,” Bullock said. “Merrick warned me about him.”

“Yes well,” the doctor said. “If only the imbecile had the good sense to warn you yesterday, or better yet, to not have dragged you into this mess at all. I did my best to warn you.”

“I thought you were just being an asshole,” Bullock said.

“Perhaps I am,” Doctor McGillicuddy said. “For thinking that I’m able to be of service to a town that is hellbent on destroying itself through vice and villainy. However, the criticism I offered of you yesterday wasn’t meant against you personally but rather, it was intended to steer you away from the position without uttering a negative word about Swearengen in public. Those who speak ill of that man outside of closed doors do not last long.”

The doctor pulled a white sheet over the deceased, then took a seat behind his desk. Bullock followed and took the visitor’s chair.

“All the world’s a stage,” Doctor McGillicuddy said. “And the people, merely players.”

“What’s that now?” Bullock asked.

“It’s a line from a play,” the doctor said. “William Shakespeare. Oh it doesn’t matter. Mr. Bullock, what you must know is this town’s political system operates as if it were one large play. Town office holders are but mere actors, you see. We pretend to have power when in fact, we have none. Merrick is a man who fancies himself a hero for shutting himself up in his office and writing about the heroics of others. He’d never take up a firearm in the name of justice in a million years. Meanwhile, the Reverend has a distinct deficit of bats in his belfry.”

“I’ve noticed,” Bullock said.

“He simply agrees with whatever Merrick says,” the doctor said. “The man hasn’t a clue what’s going on. He just feels as though serving on the town council is way to give back, to pursue his Christian duty.”

Bullock nodded.

“Farnum is a decent enough fellow, though as a mayor, he’s a bumbler,” Doctor McGillicuddy said. “He enjoys the pomp and circumstance of the office, but quite understandably, he is scared to death of Swearengen. Thus, he will never cross him.”

“And you?” Bullock asked.

Doctor McGillicuddy sighed and stared off into no particular direction for a moment before giving his answer.

“I once hoped that a peace could be bartered between the natives and the white man,” the doctor said. “There’s no reason why we all can’t live together in harmony. I visited the indigenous peoples often to lend them my medical services. I even struck up a dialogue with Crazy Horse until…”

Bullock finished the doctor’s sentence. “Custer’s last stand.”

“Precisely,” the doctor said. “All hope for peace is gone now. These days, I while away my hours patching up drunks and treating the rotten, gangrenous genitalia of those who dabble much too often in harlotry.”

“No offense,” Bullock said. “But you don’t seem like the type that would roll over for this Swearengen fella.”

“Not easily,” the doctor said. “However, I have more pressing matters to tend to. The plague, for instance.”

“The plague?” Bullock asked.
“Smallpox,” Doctor McGillicuddy said. “A terrible epidemic. Hundreds quarantined into a series of tents on the outskirts of town. Al pays all the expenses necessary to tend to the inflicted. In turn, I keep my mouth shut on all the violence he inflicts.”

“Well,” Bullock said. “I best go bring him in.”

Doctor McGillicuddy laughed. “Did you really just say that?”

“I did,” Bullock said. “If he killed a man, then he needs to answer for it.”

“O Mr. Bullock,” Doctor McGillicuddy said. “I assure you that you will soon learn your options are threefold. One, return that ridiculous badge and forget you ever accepted it.”

“Not happening,” Bullock said.

“Two,” the doctor said. “Join the rest of us in our little game of ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.’ Ignore Al’s chicanery. Hassle an occasional drunk to justify your existence and then collect your pay.”

“Also not happening,” Bullock said.

“Then I fear you will soon find out that your third and final option will come when Al sends you the way of Sheriff McKenna,” Doctor McGillicuddy said.

“The Sheriff before me?” Bullock asked. “Merrick said he died of natural causes.”

“Oh yes,” Doctor McGillicuddy said as he leaned back in his chair. “I assure when that after he was shot, stabbed, and thrown off a roof, it was quite natural for all of his organs to shut down.”

“Shit,” Bullock said.

“Indeed,” Doctor McGillicuddy replied.

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