What is Buffalo Bill’s Mafia? Glad you asked. It’s a weekly fan-fiction series that transforms real-life events important to Bills Fans everywhere into a fun, action-packed mythology story
- A legendary tale for a Legendary Team.
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Previously: The Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and it’s master gunslinger have proven dominance across the many times and worlds of the Near Ages. But also, that they can be beaten down - and all of their precious Dignity resources in New Fort York, lost.
Once, in the Near Ages, a plume of dust rose on the horizon.
Just a cloud.
Or a sneeze of hot wind.
Hawkeye Johnson was the only one to see it. He had the highest vantage point, perched in the watchtower of New Fort York, but carried on braiding raven feathers into his necklace. Life was good. A hammock. Dignity in the Silos. Real good.
Hawkeye tossed a palm of fresh-baked cheerios into his mouth and, as he crunched, he laughed. It was a rooftop below. The naked ballerina was doing his dance.
Only two things: Gardener Dawkins was not exactly a ballerina and the bath-towel kept him from being exactly naked. That said, by standards of steps alone and mental commitment - the 320 pound man was the best hoofer short of Blizzard Dancer - and Blizzard’s wounded knee kept him grounded. Dawkins leapt over a bathtub landed into a spin like an ice-skater. Not bad at all, despite the hilarity coming from everyone and his own laughing lungs.
The music though, it came from McKenzie Slim and Falletta. Fiddle & flute. Other cowboys, mountain men and Buffalo Gal’s danced behind the dripping laundry and the rooftop ice tubs of the saloons. Cookie stirred something so rich the sweet barbecue sauce carried on the heatwaves to Hawkeye.
He yanked open his brass telescope just to be sure that that nothing on the horizon really wasn’t actually something. Through the scratched oval he first found focus on this Western town’s gunslinger and namesake, Josh of Allentown. He was in the revelry. Near-center of it now. Josh wore his own towel and a full-beard of new English shavin’ cream hand delivered by Digger Parker. The only thing that soapy lather - likely starting to burn - needed was the straight razor to shave it off.
That particular blade happened to be everywhere but Josh’s grip.
It was the true center of attention - rifling through the sky - bouncing, dodging, teasing and tossing. The famous Buffalo Bill showmen darted that knife anywhere but within reach.
It tumbled over Bigfoot’s head, flicked on by Utah Davis and snagged by Four-Zero Miller-Class in a blinding, all-silver bathrobe.
“-Got it!” He said in his metallic, robot-augmented voice.
Throwing knives casually may be the most dangerous threat the Bill’s faced this week, since the Weakenings to other eras of the Near Ages were predicted to be elsewhere for a full-moon. No threat of ancient titans or new-fashioned gangsters marching into town. Yet among a wild bunch of rough-riding showmen - razor-throwing was not even a threat - just a dangerous game.
“Alright, Four-Zero…compadre. Send back the blade before you shave off that triangle on your skull,” said Josh. Parker and Bear Morse laughed as loud as the Irish jig. It was a troupe of odd-ball theater - huge gladiators in a cow-poke-spa-day, and two formidable heart-throbs now yelled at each other with a dripping Father Christmas beard of shaving cream or a gaudy dolphin hat-sunglasses from Finworld.
“-Creature. -The triangle represents man-manifestation, enlightenment, rev-rev-elation and a higher perspec-“
“Mine now!” Shouted Kaiir the Kid as he picked the knife from Miller’s speechifying hands and dropped it behind his back into Cookie’s.
Seven divine barbecue cutlets chopped by a new English shavin’ razor.
Cookie forked one and threw the blade over Josh’s soapy face.
Utah Davis tracked it down but Wallace, an old friend, found a better angle and intercepted it. He took a moment to dance it on back to McKenzie’s hot fiddle, even farther back from Davis, and handed Josh of Allentown his razor from a bended knee.
A collective groan went up from the sun-bathers and ice-soakers and ballet-dancing-gardeners.
“Some guy he is…”
“Walley, you can’t come back here and spoil all our fun.”
“This is for you, gunslinger,” said Wallace, ignoring the boos to speak directly to Josh.
“This blade is a little dull Captain? You feel it?”
Another clump of ridiculously foamy soap fell off Josh’s chin. Was this a pitch? Am I really being pitched in my own bath-time?
“I mean, if I’m able to snag it from a showman. Who am I? Just ‘some guy’ who walked onto this roof once?” Wallace, turned his back to move away, “Oneida silver doesn’t always stay sharp. You catch my drift, slinger?”
A lot of eyes were on the passive-power struggle. Four-Zero, Morse, the relaxing Mafiafolk, Hawkeye Johnson’s telescope. Josh needed to show strength - even in a bath-routine, even in a rowdy-teasing session. He inhaled deep and stroked his beard - totally forgetting his face looked like a frosted cake. It was a glob of goo…
Commit to it. Don’t make it look like a mistake.
“Hey Utah!?” Josh yelled loud and far.
“Where were we!?”
“Tossin’ —— before —— it —— that!” Everyone pretended they heard what he said.
Wallace caught the drift and started to run out to where Utah Davis had hopped a plank over an alley and onto the next roof.
Josh heaved the one instrument that he’d been struggling to get a hold of as far and as hard as he could. Threw it just like a baseball. Only a baseball that was long, metallic and sharp-enough to cut bone.
Utah Davis and Wallace jumped through a coop of carrier pigeon cages sending a plume of birds into the sky. Utah outstretched fingers on an outstretched hand to snag it - just enough for the second hand to come in to get purchase - only it wasn’t Utahs. Now both spies had a hand on the knife. Wallace, adding his second. Catch my drift?
It’s all Josh could hear.
That would demoralize his friend. Maybe the stunt was foolhardy.
But then, it seemed two hands weren’t enough. Utah added his own, and some heart - and dare I say - some of that hearts blood. The thing about wrestling for sharp knives…
Wallace let go - his statement wasn’t worth losing a finger - Utah’s was.
He held up the red and chrome blade.
Not Oneida Silver actually, but the same foundry as the railroads that crossed the frontier.
The Bills let out a cheer that came from a deeper place than just Joshin’ Josh.
The fiddle squeaked high and Diggs jumped on Josh’s back to give him a noogie (a mode of endearment picked up on a 1980’s Miami helicopter).
“Ah,” Josh said, wiggling away - but so overjoyed.
“That’s us right there!” Diggs cried in joy, “Utah! Send me one!”
“Wait - wait - my razor! That was just a —“
Too late, the game was back in full force.
Hollywood Diggs dove for the airborne blade sailing back, caught it and sprung up into a clothesline - on purpose? Maybe? Well he owned it if not, and didn’t want to be outdone apparently because two steps later he swung off the side of the Saloon roof tethered only by the twine. The super-spy ran horizontally across the wall and - “Whoooa!” - into an open window. “Who opened that!? Boomer!?”
“It’s hot! And the music sounds so nice…,” defended Boom Boom Milano inside.
“Alright, Diggs, back up here,” reminded Josh.
“Sorry Gunslinger! Can’t make the angle!” Diggs kicked the back of the razor like a bucking bronco and it tunneled out of the wooden saloon and to the Mafiafolks on the opposite roof, across main.
“Hey-ey! There!” Diggs yelled. But they were already watching, like Hawkeye. These Bills were always a show. A boy snagged it.
“Kaiir the Kid!?” Yelled Diggs out the window, “I thought you were over here!”
“I am!” Kaiir the Kid said above Diggs, hanging over the side of their roof.
“Yeah! I’m Khalil the Kid!” Said the boy on the other roof.
“And you ain’t the same person!”
“No!” - “Don’t think so!” They both replied.
Kaiir the Kid kept explaining, “See, I love corn on the cob - and Khalil the Kid don’t.”
“It’s True!” Yelled Khalil the Kid far too loud across the road. “The taste’s fine! But I hate all the pieces jammin’ in-between my teeth!”
“Enough!” Bellowed Bear Morse, suddenly at the edge of the roof with his gut getting pink from the sun. And, ‘enough,’ it was to stop McKenzie and Jo Ann’s music and much of the chatter of the town. “You mean to tell me we have two new frontiersmen and they be called Kaiir and Khalil…and you picked the same cowboy modifier!?”
“Yes.” - “Now that’s true.” Said the kids.
In the comedic silence another new face stepped up from behind Kahlil the Kid. “Hey, if you don’t want- or, uhm, don’t mind or nothing, I can toss that there straight razor back over Main Street if you want. I’m a bit of a slinger myself, y’know.”
“Be my guest, mister…”
“Mister. Sure. Oh! - ah, Mr. Casey, kid.”
Josh’s face appeared to melt, was their any hope to shave? He ate a forkful of barbecue cutlet instead. Juicy and tender, punchy but soft.
Men of many talents.
“Help! Help!” Cried of voice at the edge of town.
Hawkeye kicked out of the hammock and snapped his telescope up to the…plume of dust. Huge now! And at the water-tower.
Hawkeye blew the alert whistle attached to his feathered necklace. Anyone still moving in town, and any smiles remaining on Bill’s, hardened.
“Retreat!” Yelled the rider! A man - with a Mafiapatch. It was Mr. Jones of the Mafiafolk - he galloped his mount past the vendor carts and nervous ox. “To the Fort!”
Close on his horse’s heels a stage coach careened around the one-room school, a woman snatched a child from harms way as it skidded almost all the way into the water tower. It was driven by a fearful trio - one at the reigns, one wounded, and the last - riding shotgun - firing cover shots over the back of their carriage.
“Retreat to the Fort!”
All of the Buffalo Bill’s - defenders of the frontier
- sprinted in what little they had on - some adding a pair of boots to their towels and robes. They flew out of batwing doors and windows and rooftops; each one a bare example of getting caught with your pants down.
Ready or not, Weakening or not, they converged far and wide toward the massive gates of New Fort York as they slammed shut.
“-Mus-muster here, Defenders!” Commanded Four-Zero.
“Counter-attack! Center on me!” Added Bear Morse.
The two leaders - once rivals - were back-to-back now, comrads.
“Get these me-m-men off the coach and behind our line! Boom-Boom, wake D-Doc, the one of them-em is shot!”
Josh of Allentown arrived just as Mr. Jones - the rider escorting them - leapt off his horse into the pile of bodies near the gate. It didn’t matter that Josh was in only jeans and his face smeared in shaving cream - his eyes were clear. “Easy soldier. What is it?” Getting nothing but panting breath he looked up, “Hawkeye! What do you see!?”
Their eyes in the sky hadn’t stopped scanning the dust with the telescope. The problem was, “Nothing yet Gunslinger! But I make visibility only to the water tower!”
“Jones! What’s on your trail!?” Josh demanded.
A dozen faces, already sweating, watched Jones for his response.
New Fort York felt wide open.
“I made a mistake,” said Jones, shaking his head. “It was a mistake!”
“You’re okay, stockman. You’re safe here. Hawkeye, what do you got!?”
But the response came from closer.
“Who said that?” Asked Josh.
Digger Parker pointed to one of the coachmen he was pulling off their stage. A man in goggles and a flamboyant blue suit - perhaps European.
“It’s Stealers. A whole gang of them! They hold up innocent trains and dignitaries and coaches like is ours’s’es with the most violent a’ force. They break a’ the bones and take…everything! Even the clothes of a man’s back.”
“No!” Said Four-Zero defensively tightening the belt of his silver robe.
“Nobody wants your space pajamas,” said Morse.
“I’m -not-not from space…-future pajamas.”
Thankfully Dawkins was more relevant. He had to be, helping a real traveler with a real bullet in his body. “Stealers. Yeah, I know ‘em.” The man in a red version of the uniform groaned. It had a company patch on one shoulder. Dawkins added, “Big Ben’s Gang. They held up our Stampede just last year. Melted the tracks so we couldn’t leave the station. Lost it all before we even could move.”
“Devastating losses!” Yelled the third coachman from behind Rawhide Oliver’s protection. “They’re after our safe! It’s empty! But they don’t know that!”
“Stay calm, son.” This guy was a kid, as young as the Bill’s own new set of, ‘Kids.’
Josh spun, looking for answers as the dust cloud finally engulfed them.
This is a mess, thought Josh. The defenseless Mafiafolks outside of the fort- the important buildings in town - even the Generals - were far ahead of this repressed ‘front line.’
“Bad ’eh news. Doc’s sick!” Said Boom-Boom returning from The Edmund’s house.
“Who else-se-ses-is -not here?” Called Four-Zero.
“Well, uh, with Doc - at Doc’s - is Bowie Knox, obviously Blizzard Dancer and both lawyers, Poyer and Mister Hyde, God rest his soul,” reported Boom Boom.
“Hawkeye!? You hear me!?” Josh couldn’t even see him now above them.
“Nothing, Gunslinger. No Visibility.”
“It’s all my fault,” said Mr. Jones, still inconsolable, “This is a huge mistake!”
“Why are we defending from our doorstep? I should have met Big Ben on the open frontier!” Said Josh.
“No! They are con-men, Josh. It’s more-likely a trap to abduct you!” Said Digger Parker.
“It’s true!” the stranger in Blue got in, “Word is that Big Ben’s ‘a cashed in. All’a counts done. They’d be lookin’ for a gunslinger young and full’a promise as’are ya’self, like.”
“You be strong like Big Benny be too,” complimented the third one giving a grabby slap.
Josh flicked his arm away from him.
“Let’s do it then Gunslinger!” Said Utah Davis. “Who’s stoppin’ us!? I see nothin’! I ride out as fast as Niagara and one she’s at full speed and I get the lay of things you trick shoot out ta’ me a deterrence bomb.”
“Set -an- edge,” agreed Four-Zero. “Peri-meter-meter-meter.”
“Stop the thought here. There be no room for a slinger-shot,” said Digger Parker. “Backs against the-“
“Already set, Sir!” Said Bear Morse holding half a sling and Dawkins stretching the other side taut. Two heavies you love to have on your side, even when they are missing their shirts.
“But ye’ can’t see to fire a bomb at a moving target in this dust.” This was the new kid in the top hat, scared as yellow as his suit it seemed.
“You ain’t met our gunslinger,” said Hollywood Diggs. “Josh can shoot and has shot a whistler in a tornado.”
“Yah!” Utah had already galloped away before the kid could doubt, “That would be impossible.” And then galloped faster.
Josh slid behind the sling shot.
“The door! Open the door! I have to draw inside,” he said.
“What if the Stealers get in!” Yelled the red-suited stranger!
“Think about your Safety!” Agreed the blue-suit.
“I trust our guards,” mumbled Josh and both guards pushed at the gate to crack it.
Josh couldn’t be seen behind.
Utah couldn’t be seen ahead.
And the sparking bomb couldn’t be seen.
The Deterrence Bomb tunneled into the cloud at the screaming whistler so far in the distance and soon, with an incredible smash of silence, it was caught by Davis like a razorblade in full gallop. He didn’t slow a step as his steed drove past two of the four blocks that made up Main and carried on two more past the Water tower. By then the dust-chocked horizon was clearing and Utah could be seen with the smoking bomb. He held it high to sweep a long perimeter around the frontier town.
“Whoa,” said the three newcomers and Mr. Jones in unison.
“Yeah!? You should have seen us throw his razor blade around earlier if you think that’s impressive!” Added Diggs, “I dove off the edge of a wall and ran on it side-way-like, just as a bug!”
“Really-really billy! You like movies? Tell y’all what. I produce movies, big movies, and, well, been asked to star in some of the better ones. The best ones really, just on account that the heroes need to do their own stunts, and stunts make for the best action. How’s this, Billy, can I call you Billy? Or Johnny? Or Hollywood? What do you want to be called, anyway? You ain’t said nuthin’”
“Me?” One asked.
“Us?” Said the other.
“We’re brothers.” Said the last.
“That kind of had a rhythm to it, I like that,” said Diggs.
“What kind-a brothers? Like brothers with a name?”
“Yeah, salesmen brothers.”
“Three brothers who sell,”
“Under one name: ”
“I got a brother,” said Diggs immediately, “He’s a cowboy-like too - but a capital, ‘C’ Cowboy, not like us, like you prolly, like me, in the Buffalo Nation. Us Protectors, Guests, Stewards of the Native land & wisdom. Down. To. Earth. Like me. Did I say that?” Diggs moved them deeper into the fort toward the Stampede train and past the silos of Dignity…
“Wait, what is the name?” Asked Big Iron Bass, with a black eye.
“Bass! Big Iron! What you talkin’ about, name!? We know each other! Hollywood Diggs. It’s Hollywood Diggs, baby!” The Bill’s prominent super spy was mortally offended. He might cry at the injustice. “Ask you this, Big Iron Bass - what’s the robot's name? You know that don’t you!? You know him!?”
“What do you mean, ‘me,’ anyone else talk like a train engi-“
“I’m - am-am ro-robotically augmented, no-no-no different than any-ny-ny-one else who re-requires advance robotics to speak.” Said Four-Zero, then added, “And ev-eve-eviscerate all enemies.”
“No, dodgasted! The brothers, Hollywood!” Said Bass.
The brothers started answering, “Ah - yis’sir ‘a name.”
But Diggs didn’t hear, instead, still on, “Bass, my friend. You did know!” He gave Big Iron an awe-shucks blush with a hug.
“Oh? We got an Edmund!” Said Bass, patting Digg’s hugging back. “You kin-folk ‘a Doc?”
“Yes, sir. Kin and folk and all with ‘a Dr. Edmunds.”
“Go Bills, how about that!” Said Bass. “A wide open world spannin’ eight known-eras, and yet, as small as a litter a’ pups in a basket.”
“This-this reminds me of a lon-long story about the tri-tri-triangle.”
The brother in red who had taken a bullet not long ago offed up, “And I’d like to meet him, Brother Doc, presently, if you don’t mind.”
“That is fine!” Diggs said nice and loud, turning from the hug, “Moving right along, I can bring the projector into the medic house or we bring the Doc to the Cinema! What do you say? Cinema?” Then Diggs turned and whispered to Bass, “Seriously, Big Iron Badass, do you even know the big robots name? Or not really?”
“Yes, Four-Zero.” Plain and matter of fact.
“Blast!” Said Diggs, “He-don’t-even-do-his-own-stunts!”
“-I am -a two-two time super-soldier Marine. I have more -sac-sack-sacrifices than any-ny-known combatant still at battle.”
“Is that so?” Asked the wounded Edmund Brother in red. He was a big man, the size of Four-Zero.
“Three of these films are already ‘award-winning,’” said Hollywood Diggs, deflecting them away smoothly from the conversation, “And that’s three wins out of only four films total. That’s where all this Dignity comes from…”
Outside, far from the sales pitch, Dawkins, Morse and Josh still watched that smoking bomb circle the area, a bit proud and a bit stunned it all started like this. …And it actually worked.
Sure, award-winning warriors they were, but, remember, they only had one shirt on between the three of them, and one, a dust-smothered shaving cream beard.
Not bad for a start.
“Nothing will dare cross that line for a good half of the hour,” said Tiny Bear Morse, shading his eyes to see Utah outside of the small saloons and inns.
“What is it?” Josh finally asked.
“A deterrence bomb.” Said Dawkins. “Terrible smell, poison to the taste, universal repellant.”
“I know that,” said the Gunslinger, “But what is it?”
“It’s me feces,” said Bear Morse, “In a bag and set on fire.”
Nothing else was said.
Josh knocked, then stepped into the dusty haze of Town Hall.
“Hey-ey,” he offered. It was mostly shadow inside but he could make out a stranger talking to the generals. They stood in the colored light beams which radiated down from the stained glass skylight. This was the first time Josh saw the effect of stained glass, ever. Closest cousin to it was his favorite lamp from back on the homestead with a tinted case, but the result on this scale like this, coloring a whole room was reverent.
Luckily the gunslinger wore a poncho now to preserve some respect to the crimson and blue chamber.
“Executive Vice President, this is Josh a’ Allentown,” introduced McDermott. “Josh, th’es be Executive Vice President Tomlin from our own Age ’n Era and an old friend.”
“Sparring partner perhaps,” said the man in an all black business suit and tinted-spectacles - hard to imagine how dark this room must be to him. As he took Josh’s hand Tomlin added, “I’ve heard enough of your reputation to not scrap with your Generals any longer.”
“Go Bills sir, welcome to New Fort York.”
“Is it urgent Josh? The EVP has some concerning news,” clipped in General Beane.
“Not pressing, sir, we have it under control.”
“Then as I was saying, Chief Elder Reid is on the war path, burning villages and warehouses and burial mounds in the border lands. The War Chief’s territory is expanding.” Tomlin dropped a bag of white chips onto the General’s map of the Niagara Frontier.
“What’s that?” Asked Josh from across the room with some annoyance.
“Looks like dice, Josh.” Said Beane.
McDermott was closer to them than Josh and used his back to shield the boy from the purse. What he may have mouthed to the two leaders was unclear to Josh. “Generic bone fragments. From a chicken meal, likely. No doubt meant to taunt us.”
“As they besieged our main blast furnace and I negotiated surrender the War Hawk demanded I bring these, dice, here with a message.” Tomlin addressed both of the Generals with low tones, understanding an attempt at discretion.
“What message?” Josh wasn’t going to simply stand by. Whatever else that band of Chiefs might be, they were the destroyers of his only friend, only child and only partner: The triangle trinity that makes up a pet. His wild horse, Filly.
The Chiefs were his enemy.
“The message is this…” Tomlin turned from the Generals to Josh and removed his tinted-glasses revealing a patch over one eye. “These are the bits the pigs scat.”
Josh stepped forward, “What are they exactly? Dice or Bones?”
McDermott matched Josh’s pace and path toward the desk. He thudded into him right in the rays of the blue glass, dying their faces. “Neither Gunslinger! It’s a taunt. N’uthin’ more. Meant only to draw ‘es out.”
“To Arrowhead Rock!? Sure. Let’s go!”
Each head turned to General Beane behind his desk, and the map, and the dice and the light shafts.
“Because it would be a war.” Beane took a deep breath and stood up to circle the desk and light. “It will be the war of this Age, the 1800’s, which determines the entire fate of the Near Ages. And as I hear telegraphs from each Weakening, every reported raid, every show, every Dignity-run - it’s going to be whichever wild bill or war chief that survives the eventual campaign, the coming bloodshed - who will take it all. They will have no greater foe left to prevent them from the most illusive throne of all.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Asked Josh in both a growl and deference.
“I like this one, A-Cad.” Said Tomlin with a hearty laugh to McDermott, “How’d you like to make some real money in an empire, kid?”
“My goal is to live and die in the Bill’s Mafia - and bring it to glory, A-Cad.”
“Oh! With fire this one. A fighter.” Tomlin got very close to Josh’s face though, much closer than Josh would have allowed if not in the supervision of his Generals and apparently an ally.
The eye patch lifted.
This man had seen war.
Tomlin said, “Civilians may fight, but there is no way you know the meaning of an A-Cad nor the discipline and rigor we sacrificed to survive and thrive in the Process of the Academy.”
“I only speak of defending our home, Sir. My fight is not with you.”
“I know it ain’t! Not today at least!” Said Tomlin, all spirits again and hopping up with a bright smile. His patch flipped down and his tinted-spectacles returned. He clapped Josh’s thick neck and spoke to the room, but meant McDermott. “You were at Academy under a particularly tough drill sergeant if I remember it rightly. A sergeant who was, 'a Smitten fer thou Book of thee Blacksmith.' And you were there longer than me, right, A-Cad?”
“That’s right,” McDermott answered. It seemed the memory was more of a blister than a bloom.
“And that drill sergeant promoted up to Secretary Eagle just as you rose ranks, …Colonel? Is that right too?”
“That’s right, EVP.” McDermott now reminded Tomlin in emphasis that, while successful in the capitalist sector, it was he who was an equivalent Lieutenant General.
Josh couldn’t understand the order of any of these titles nor the political game that was at play. General Beane, ever-rooted a step ahead, gave his gunslinger the missing piece.
“McDermott was Colonel & direct report to the Secretary Eagle for two years in the Academy.”
“That Secretary Eagle was Chief Elder Reid.”
McDermott and Reid had their own history.
As did Josh and the War Hawk.
As did the Buffalo Bill’s and the Congress of War Chiefs.
And no less than the battle of this Age, the 1800’s, would likely crown the ruler of the Near Ages.
General Beane, EVP Tomlin and Lieutenant General McDermott read every sentence behind Josh’s thinking eyes. It was Beane who spoke.
“Trust the Process?” Asked Josh, not smiling.
McDermott knew he was speaking to him this time, that his own emotions had been teased out by this old sparring partner. The man took his shots, even with his hands folded behind his suit. A-Cad.
“We shall. Now, why have you come, Gunslinger?”
“Some travelers raced into town fearin’ they had a gang of outlaws on their heels.”
“What gang?” Asked Tomlin?
“Stealers, apparently. Lookin’ to press-gang.”
“Those thieving cons are on their way!? Then that’s my high time to leave,” said the man in tinted-spectacles, “Generals, if you do ride out to them, the Chiefs, you have heard that I delivered their message. But tell them not this: I’d much prefer to live under the benevolent influence of the Buffalo Nation than the Kingdom.”
“Be well, A-Cad.”
“Go Bills.” The three dismissed in their own way.
“Say, Gunslinger, have you got the time?” Asked Tomlin, letting white sunlight into the town’s hall.
“Sure, it’s - ” Josh picked at his pockets for his stopwatch. “It’s - ”
“Never-mind, kid. In Pittsburgh we’ve a great steel clocktower that can be seen from anywhere in town." Josh looked down to notice the EVP had placed a colored flier in his hands with propoganda images of the 'Steel City.' "Read up on that. With the right working class we can produce more than anyone. And you’d love the ketchup sauce too. Better than wings.”
With that, Tomlin was gone. A quick entrance of four Bills rushed to the door. Various reports came at Josh.
“Gunslinger, I think I’ve been robbed,” said Khalil the Kid.
“I know I have been!” Said Utah Davis.
“I was going to fire another deterrence bomb, but the catapult’s kick wire’s vanished.” Added Big Iron.
Another man rushed over to Josh, Mister Morris, “Hey-ey Josh, this is outrageous! - I had a complete bundle of seven-score Dignity going into the Fort and no one can find it now.”
“You hurt?” Asked Utah to Morris, “Anybody hurt?”
“Nah, it’s all petty except I feel like a ballyhoo fool!”
“They got me first,” said Josh, clapping him on the neck, “Where are — ”
“— the brothers!?”
Josh pushed through the gates of the Fort and scanned the busy courtyard. Pockets of Mafiafolk in their leathers and feathers of blue, red and white; but not the trio of strangers in their bright suits.
Josh turned to the folks closest to him, “You seen the brothers from earlier?”
“Us? No, Go Bills.” They cleared away as Josh heard:
“The Watt brothers!?” An avid reader, looked over to Josh through her drawn bow and arrow. Her eyes were painted behind spectacles. It was a blue war-streak like Hawkeye’s.
“The three brothers who rode in on the coach this morn’. One was shot up.”
“Yeah, Watt was.” She released an arrow. Fuew-
“Well, the whole stage coach and at least one of the brothers.”
“Watt.” She loosed another. Fuew-
“One of the brothers,” Josh repeated.
“I’m trying to explain.”
“No, no, I got it. I’m answering you.” Fuew- Bullseye
“Thanks. You are talking about the three brothers right?”
“So. They are named Watt.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes you do. Listen close, Watt is their name.”
“Look, I wish I could help you, but I didn’t meet them.”
“Sure. I did meet them, sneaking around the movie house. Steel Salesmen, stated trying to talk us into replacing the Bethlehem lines.”
“No way!” Said Josh.
“I know! I agree, and we told them that. Anyway, they were saying their name was Edmunds, but when they meet Doc they changed their story.”
“Okay, changed it to what?”
“Right, you got it.”
“Don’t get too proud of yourself. I’ve been saying it the whole time.”
“I’m just glad we finally understand each other.” She laughed, half-to herself and went to get her arrows. The unshaven Gunslinger followed a step behind.
“And so,” she said, “Watt, as you know, is a Steeler.”
“Oh, they are like a gang, of outlaws, who used to sell out travelers and towns and steal everything they could,” explained Josh.
“Right, traveling and steeling, Watt is that.”
“What I just said.”
“Yes. That’s what I’m saying.”
“Exactly!” She laughed in joy and patted him on the shoulder.
“I think I know what’s going on here, when you say, ‘Exactly.’ Is that somebody’s name?”
The woman sighed. “No, you’re close, but not exactly.”
“Another name then?”
She put her bare foot on the straw target and pulled out an arrow each time she made a point. “What I’m saying is: Watt, claims to be, truly, a steeler - who was shot - but who sold steel for trains and railroads and spoons. What this shot Watt is not, is a Stealer who stole steel nor trains or railroads goons. Make sense?”
Well why didn’t you say so! Thought Josh, relieved.
“Perfectly.” He said.
“Good.” They let the wires in their brains cool off a little. Finally out-of-the-woods, so to speak, they noticed each others eyes. Gray with blue war-pigment and brown with dusty flecks of shaving cream.
Josh wanted to introduce himself but didn’t know how to ask her without using the word, ‘what.’ A word he very well might never use again.
Or worse, her name could be, ‘Exactly.’
She looked at her arrowhead and began, “Do you have a — ”
“Mafiamici!” Boom-Boom Milano interrupted in his Buffalo-Italian, “These three fratelli - il brothers are ‘a not Edmunds - and they are ‘a not the salesmen! They’ve another name entirely!”
“Watt!?” Said Josh and the archer in unison.
“I’o know! I was so, so surprised anche! Bucktail! The names!”
Bucktail Jackson stepped away from Hamlin, a confused law-student he speaking quickly to and jogged over. Their bounty-hunter was upset. “Boom Boom, I should have recognized them earlier. We were Bucktails together in the Thirteenth Pennsylvanian Reserves. It’s Pickens ’n Picket ’n Watt!”
“’n Watt! They a’ pickpockets we saved!” Boom-Boom yelled.
“Pickpockets sure, and they did fleece us for mistakes.” Said Josh, “But they are more than that. It’s all been a con - the whole thing - it’s not steel they are selling, they sold us on the Stealer’s threat and I bought it. And Mister Jones bought it. And we all did. Led them right in our doorstep and locked the door behind them.”
“How far in did they get?” Asked Bucktail.
“I don’t know, we’d have to ask —”
“Diggs? You in here?”
It was as if Josh had stepped into a cave, some gigantic catacomb, from the bright day outside. This was another world, unrecognizable from the one steps behind him. More snug a metaphor than that of a cave: t’was a Weakening portal Josh had stepped through.
On one-side a Wild West frontier town with ice tubs and laundry and an archer as sharp as her arrows in the autumn heat, and the other, a haunted castle with crows and a Baltimore fog that tasted sea-salt and mildew. The black and white film of the movie house was silent of course, flickering the torture of the gothic raven biting at a thrashing man’s head. A weak man’s head. Just a Weakening ago.
“Hollywood?” Josh asked quieter, feeling the great hall was empty, even if his eyes couldn’t discern the shadows. Josh let his mind wander back to moments before, in the sun, where, maybe for a moment he wasn’t the Gunslinger. Where it was just an easy Sunday after a bath and a real shave, sharing some target practice with an archer - and not needing to rush away to another scene without at least introducing himself.
The projected camera shook as some stop-motion effects showed the raven burrow into the hero’s skull.
As if a set of petty pickpockets - AT LARGE! - THEY COULD BE ANYWHERE! OFFERING BULK STEEL CONTRACTS, STEALING ALL THE WHILE! - were the reason I didn’t ask her —
“BAHH!” - Josh leapt out of his skin and punched at the blackness right behind him!
His caught nothing despite striking right at the sound.
“…your name?” She finished, moving her head back where it should be when not ducking.
“What!? -What? Wait. What’s my name!?” Josh stammered. It was all making sense. He had been asked a question. That’ okay. That is normal.
“Wait, ‘What’ is actually your name?”
Josh shuffle-hopped around to position the light of the screen on her relative to him. He did this with way more adrenaline in his system than is necessary to breathe and speak sentences - and to sweat too apparently. But he could see her now - confirming the gray, painted eyes of said archer.
She laughed. He chuckled. The two seemed to be in a grayscale world, lit only by black and white.
“I was just kidding, asking, ‘Watt’ you go by, but is it, actually?” She said.
“It is actually not.” Josh managed.
“Thank the Lord, I’ve had enough mysterious brothers and vaudeville conversating for one afternoon.”
“Yes. I’m Josh. Josh of…well, here.”
“I like that.” She hadn’t stopped smiling actually. Josh on the other hand, wasn’t sure what the hell was going on with his facial expressions.
“You’re a great shot with your bow. Where are you from?”
“I’m here. Brittany of Here.”
She looked to the screen. The wounded schmuck on film, Josh of Baltimore, was close up and bleeding black goo from his ears, drooling, and wore a dazed affect behind the eyes. Black raven feathers artistically swirled around the character and some stuck to the snot on his lips.
Brittany started to ask, “Is that supposed to be -”
A shadow passed over half the screen, a shadow with a distinct edge of hair that bent hints of rainbows onto the wall.
“This is where Josh of Allentown is at his lowest!” It was Diggs, narrating, apparently, to whomever he imagined was still in the audience. “It’s dark. He’s got a raven in is skull. He’s thinking, ‘Am I actually this bad without Hollywood at my side!? And I mean you see it in his eyes! It’s very sad.”
“Hey! Hey-ey, Diggs!” Josh yelled, “I’m down here!”
“Josh is in the Picture House! Ladies and Gentlefolk of the Mafia, Distinguished Steelers! The man who will…”
“Make you want to!”
Josh turned back to Brittany as he ran away, again, “So-I-gotta-go-the-movie-gets-better-we-actually-escaped-with-more-Dignity-if-you-stay-to-the-end-but-I-don’t-expect-you-to-you-can-it’s-free-but-maybe-not-even-that-good-great-meeting-you.” And before time could pass farther —
“-Don’t. Shout.” Josh was in the booth.
“Okay.” Said Diggs. “But you make me want to.”
It was thirty degrees hotter in the projector closet and smelled of chemicals. The projector itself that Diggs (and, mostly Four-Zero) had made was the size of a horse, as solid as a train car and broiled like an oven. Takes a lot to run an artificial Weakening in the Space-Time boundary inside a Square Dance Barn.
“Allentown.” Just like in the movies!
“Yes. The Edmund’s Triplets, they are downstairs - finishing up the marathon. This is the part where-”
“They’re not. And they are called, ‘Picket, Pickens and Watt;’ a set of con-men and pickpockets from the Stealer gang.”
“Got it, that’s a small crew to move Dignity,” said Diggs, sobering and lowing his voice. “What are they after?”
“I was hoping you might know since you were close.”
“What do you mean close?”
“I mean, what I mean. You were close to them, maybe sort of even watching them. Did you catch anything here before…well, showing them all about us.” It was coming out more tenuous than Josh intended, and yet, maybe he meant it.
“Yes, of course. C’mon you’re ‘Hollywood’ Diggs. Of course you tried to show them your projects…”
“Tried? What do you mean tried?”
“Nothing, really, after all. It’s too late now.”
“What Gunslinger? Tried rather than showed? And of course they walked out and I kept narrating to an empty theater trying to get someone to give-a-damn about what I’ve been trying to work on to make us relevant for five-some Weaks straight? Alone?”
“Yeah, exactly.” Josh saw the victim card and was playing a lippy card back.
“I know the showmen think this is all vanity. Or it ain’t helping us move forward like all you guys fixin’ windows and rebuilding tables. But this,” Diggs pointed into the beam of light which cast a massive shadow of a pointer-finger on screen. It pointed through the huge face of Josh of Allentown silently becoming a monster to break out of the gothic tower. “This is history. Or it will be if we achieve what we are tasked with here. And, tarnal, if we don’t, again - if we surrender to the Chiefs - then, sure it will have been for nothing. But that’s a risk of 500 hours I’m willing to take because I billieve this is the year.”
“Okay, it’s fine,” said Josh, “And I hope so too. You and my ma & pa and the wagon masters and the whole Mafiafolk - even the Wests themselves - the land and rivers I mean - you all deserve it. You do. We do. We are overlooked and mocked in every era of the histories and we deserve a notch better.” The Josh on the screen literally bashed his head into a Baltimore brick wall. “And I’m tryin’ not to let you down Diggs.”
Those words may seem to be ripe for an empathetic bite, but Josh coated them with a toxic bitterness. I’m not your punching bag. “And historic or not, threatening or not, we have Stealers on the loose who were last seen here.”
This is a fight then, Josh thought after hearing his words and feeling how good it felt to talk tough and controlled. One minute the pickpocket brothers are a comedic punchline and now he was trying to draw blood with their rampage. And it felt good. He couldn’t let loose with Tomlin and the Generals, nor strangers with bows and arrows, but Diggs was a peer. Some gangs would consider a spy a subordinate of their gunslinger.
“You want me to go catch them? Please. Please.” Said Diggs. “Catching people is what I do. Tell me to go. Just like you could have done here.” He pointed to the silent film Josh, maddened and alone and making his own path. “Or here.” Diggs snapped the reel-lever to reveal the final act of The Miami Job. There an over-exposed Josh in the dark wetsuit pushed forward over collapsing understudies, putting on a show, but alone.
“I ain’t vanity.” Diggs drove it home. “I ain’t a one-dimensional diva. I am damned if I ain’t the hardest-working spy in the Wests and, be proud Buffalo Nation, because that edges me over anyone in the known Near Ages.”
Hollywood’s sweat glowed from the hazy light behind him, his business shit and tie clung to his chest. He didn’t look ‘good’ right now, but he did look like he was telling a truth. “It ain’t vanity if it’s a fact.”
Josh had nothing to say as he stared at the desperate trick-shooter on the screen, fighting a vice cop with the butt of the rifle only by being held upright by Dawkins, almost dead himself - so loyal - the show clock ending. Diggs didn’t need to look at the screen to know each frame that was passing. He’d studied this film’s seconds in the editing room as he had every performance or ambush before it.
Finally, Diggs said, “And it plays to an empty room. Sure the Steelers leave, that’s expected, outsiders, up to no good. But every night I play these pieces here, right here in Allentown, in the Great Buffalo Nation, to no one. My gift. Free for the same people who migrate across the plains and portage the falls to join the Buffalo Dance…but it’s an empty house. …Y’all see me pitchin’ and hustlin’ and think it’s Hollywood’s vanity - but gunslinger, our own squad, our own core team, doesn’t show if I don’t make them - and it’s supposed to be for our relevance. It don’t matter how good we are if no one bothers to look at us. Is it even history if nobody knows?”
“C’mon now. You’re work ethic is incredible. I look up to your ethic. And they are getting better. You have something you are passionate about and nothing will stop you. It is fan-tastic.” Josh said the sacred phrase of the nation, and it was true.
“Yeah? You think they’re getting better?” Josh felt a sinking feeling when he saw the hope in his friend’s eyes. Desperate hope.
“What’s the last one you saw?”
“Yeah.” Was all Josh could find to say, because he knew he had the wrong answer.
Diggs knew it too. Of course he did.
“The Miami Job, even? Most of the references were actually for you, y’know.”
“It was your Science Fiction Picture.”
“Yeah, Los Angeles. Our first one. When I forced everyone to watch.”
“I’m sorry, Hollywood.”
Diggs just got very still. No wise crack about, ‘how do you know they are getting better if you’ve only seen one,’ or ‘how am I still able to be there for you every time you need me and you can’t take even an hour let me perform for you.’
Josh wasn’t even sure how these sideline projects got that way. So invisible.
Had it really been two Weakenings since he used Diggs? Invisible.
Diggs was just very still.
Then the footage ran out of The Miami Job reel, as it had in reality, in history.
The flickering theater went dark. This ‘other’ world which was Baltimore, which was Miami, was now void. A world of void. And this hot space capsule orbiting above that nothing went black.
And Josh actually felt relieved he didn’t need to see the pain on Diggs’s face. How awful is that? To be relieved you don’t need to see the pain you caused.
From the darkness, Josh heard:
“If I were the survivors of an infamous Stealers Gang with only a wounded heavy, a spy and a slinger without a gun - I’d take whatever scraps kept me alive - and suffer any hell required to cross time ages alone and then prove myself to a new people who were righteous and able.”
Diggs spoke it slow and careful in the hot void of that room.
“If that didn’t work, I’d go to the best blacksmith in the Narrows to forge my shooter a gun.”
“Hey-ey-ey, there he is ladies!”
Utah Davis extended his arms like a magician revealing a magic bunny. Josh, feeling darker than the theater he stepped from, was the magic bunny. His audience, two mafia tots in pig tails who clapped and danced like Davis.
“Maybe Mr. Josh can tell you what the deterrence smoke came from…”
They loved that proposition. They loved that two adults, two Bills, were paying attention to them. Josh didn’t. He felt instead that he hurt someone he loved. Because he had.
To pay attention: the cheapest investment.
It could have protected the nation from con-men today, as well.
“Dawkins.” Josh called quick toward the opposite hitching post.
“Or maybe Mr. Josh is too busy…” Utah said, reading despondency on Josh’s face like it were seasickness.
Josh flexed a smile. He fought through wounded muscles in his legs, torso, arms and neck - the sprained muscles that control a smile can be pushed too. He took a knee and gave chivalrous handshakes like the kids were the Imperial Raja Princesses. Moods and muscles the mind controls.
The next right choice.
Josh didn’t need Lieutenant General to say it, in order to hear it.
“You mean the big smokey thing Mr. Utah had!?”
“Did it smell really awful!?”
“You want to know what it’s made from?”
“I have to whisper because I only learned it today. The memory is just a little baby thought so I don’t want to scare it away in my head where I can’t find it.”
Josh leaned forward and they leaned their ears in.
The girls squealed and shook everywhere, like a wet dog - it was really funny actually - and Josh stood up, sobering, to Dawkins arrival and Davis. Adult-talk, in the canopy above the kiddies.
“If I were lookin’ for the best gun-craft in all the Near Ages - where would I go?”
Utah drew a long breath expressing, ‘not-sure.’
Dawkins didn’t. “Right here. No doubt in it.”
“The Blacksmith. Nobody’s better.”
“Then that’s where the Stealers were headed. We need to get their first. Can you take us there?” Josh asked.
“We are there. It’s here. But it’s a question of when.”
“Now,” Said Josh. “We leave now.”
“See you think you are asking us to leave this place, right this moment.” Dawkins looked hard at Josh and Utah Davis to dig deeper, “I’m saying we’d need to leave this moment, right in this place.”
“Are you talking about the Buffalo Nation in…” Utah began to Dawkins.
“In a different era.”
The Gunslinger finished with their mission, “Then, it’s settled, we leave the now.”
Tune in Next Week for a thrilling New Chapter of Buffalo Bill’s Mafia!
…find more great entertainment at PanAmericanFilms.com