Deadwood, South Dakota
September 11, 2001
The day started badly.
And then it got worse.
Like the rest of America, Brick sat transfixed, watching the television set, not believing his eyes. And not trusting them either—ringed with moisture, as they were.
So many dead. So much brutality.
Brick had never killed anyone.
But then, the day wasn’t over.
The City of Deadwood began in lawlessness. In the early 1870’s the land was in dispute—an official treaty between the United States Government and The Lakota Sioux guaranteeing to the Indians ownership of the Black Hills until the end of time. The Sioux even got it in the white man’s writing. Didn’t matter in the least of course, when in 1874, famed American hero Colonel George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Hills and announced the discovery of gold. This led to the implementation of the golden rule; namely, that he who has the gold, gets to make the rules.
Just two years later Colonel Custer would pay for his sins with his life—his bloody corpse stacked, like so many thousands of others, as cordwood on the pages of history.
The blatant illegality of the settlement of Deadwood soon forgotten (at least by the white-man) more sprung up alongside it, fueling the greedy aspirations of the gold seekers, thousands of which poured into the Hills each month.
The process was endless. The Indians were not—the result a foregone conclusion.
And then there was Hickok.
As in James Butler. Otherwise known as Wild Bill. The Prince of Pistoleers. Another real-life American hero, even in his own day, although more myth than man. He likely would have been long forgotten, along with the town, if it were not for the fact that probably the most notable thing the man did in his life was to die. Oh, not so much that he died, but the manner of it. The story is well known. Sitting in Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon on Main Street, with his back to the open door, he played his last hand, trading a pot of gold for a brainpan full of lead as Jack McCall walked up behind and blew old Bill into the next world. It was August 2, 1876. Custer’s body, up there on the Little Bighorn River, had hardly begun to rot. It was a tough centennial year for America.
To this very day, the poker cards that Bill held (aces and eights) are known as the “Dead’s Man’s Hand.” But Bill died that the town might live, tourists rushing to the site of the shooting for a century and better. They were still flocking to it this late summer afternoon, September 11, 2001—when the robbery and shooting went down.
Deadwood had not seen anything like it—not since the long ago days of Wild Bill, anyway.
Brick was at home when the call came in.
At the Century Bank Plaza, three people were already dead—and three more were being held inside as hostages. Two women and a one-year-old child. There were two gunman—in an attempted bank robbery gone bad. Something so simple as the bank manager and his assistant—the only ones with the combination to the heavy and old-fashioned safe—being out of the building at the same time. And that almost never happened. But this day, of all days, was unlike others.
By the time Brick arrived on the scene, a little more than thirty minutes after the first call went out, the bank building was surrounded by cops, and a makeshift communications center had been set-up just around the corner, at a bakery.
Chief Wiggins had make telephone contact with the robbers. It was directly to him that Brick reported. Wiggins had just hung-up the phone as Brick approached.
“Brick—good to see you. We can use all the help we can get today.”
“No problem Chief. I think if I had watched my TV any longer today, my head would have exploded.”
“I know what you mean. It was on at the station too. What a damned day!”
“What’s going on here, Chief?”
“Two dumb as shit robbers walk into the bank and draw down on the two tellers, demanding they open the safe. Two ladies and a baby, plus old man Smith, the security-guard, and a janitor are the only ones there. The manager and assistant manager have left early for the day. They rightly figured, I guess, that the bank wouldn’t be getting a hell of a lot of business today anyhow, so they went home to watch the news from New York themselves. Of course, they were the only ones with the combo to the safe.
“Old Smith tries to draw, but he’s way too old and slow for that shit, and he takes one in the chest. Dead as he hit the floor. One of the lady tellers starts screaming her lungs our and gets a bullet in the brain for her effort. The second teller the shit-bags drag out from behind the counter and over to the safe. I guess they didn’t believe her when she told them she couldn’t open the thing, so they pistol whipped her to death—or maybe they just did it for the hell of it.
“At this point the janitor, who has remained unseen at the back of the bank, decides that perhaps that isn’t the safest place to be right at the moment, and shags it out the back door at about the speed of light. That’s how we know what went down.
“They might have gotten away clean at that point, but for Lt. Evans’ squad-car that just happens to pull into the bank at about that moment. He was simply stopping off to cash a check, and almost got dead himself when one of the perps opened up on him from the bank door. He took one in the lower leg, but it’s not too bad. He’ll be fine. Evans did a good job keeping them inside the building with just his revolver while calling it in on his dashboard radio.
“We got the place surrounded now, and the State Police boys are helping us out, so no one’s going anywhere. The big problem now is the two customers and the kid. I’ve talked to the perps on the phone. Nut-cases. Almost totally out of control. A couple of red-neck bubbas with guns. They’re threatening to kill one at a time each hour for the next three hours unless we provide a police helicopter to take them out of here. Say they’ll start with the kid. They say they want to go to Mexico. Guess they’ve seen way too many cowboy movies—the dumb shits don’t even know that Mexico would extradite their sorry asses right back across the border as soon as they set down.”
“How much time before the first one?” Brick asked.
“About twenty minutes.”
Brick let out a low whistle. “Not a lot of time. Got a plan?”
“Yeah,” Wiggins said. “I told them we couldn’t land a chopper here in the middle of town. Too many buildings, power-lines, etc. Said we’d drive them and the hostages to the chopper in a squad-car. The chopper will be sitting in a field just at the north end of town. We’re going to make a big deal out of flying it over the bank on the way there. That way it will all sound a lot more legit. State’s providing the bird.
“There is only going to be one unarmed cop driving the squad-car. He will be in his underwear to show he’s not armed. There will be a sixteen shot Beretta taped under the dash just to the right of the steering wheel column. Once inside, the cop is going to take them out with that.”
“Why inside? It’d be easier before they get in.”
“Maybe. But they’ll be using the hostages as shields. I figure them to put one in the passenger seat. Probably the single woman. Momma and papoose will go in the back. That means the officer will have to draw, turn and shoot behind him and not let the hostage in the passenger seat get in the way. I’d like to see them dead with one shot each to the head.”
“Well, we’ll need someone that can shoot—and look good in their underwear. Know anybody?”
“I was off duty,” Brick smiled.
“You were off duty. I know you’re damned good—but ever shot anything but paper?”
“No—but there’s a first time for everything.”
“Can you handle it?”
“I can handle it. Where’s the car?”
“Just around the corner.”
“Okay then. Let’s get this done.”
Chief Wiggins picked-up the phone and punched in the numbers to the bank.
As Brick made his way around the bakery and to the waiting car on the next street, the police helicopter flew in low, passing over the besieged bank and on its way to an open field just north of town.
Brick stood at the trunk of the car stripping to his tee-shirt and white boxers. He kept his shoes on. Getting into the black and white and putting it into gear, he gently made his way around the bakery shop, onto the main road, and then slowly turned into the bank parking lot.
Stopping about thirty feet from the front door and turning off the ignition, Brick sat behind the wheel, and waited patiently for his five passengers to appear.
As he waited, Brick reverted to an old habit, often used to relieve stress. He whistled softly, almost under his breath.
The tune was Careless Love.
When the two robbers exited the bank building about two minutes later, the first thing that Brick noticed was that they seemed to be a lot smaller than he would have expected—shielding themselves behind their female hostages as they were.
So much death—from such small men.
With a sigh, Brick pulled the secured pistol from under the dash and carefully removed the tape from the grip, tossing it to the floor in a ball. Then he swung the cruiser door slowly open, and unwinding his large frame from the driver’s seat, carefully exited the vehicle, the sixteen-shot Beretta casually dangling by his right side as he stood and faced the slowly advancing men.
The robber on Brick’s left, seemingly the older of the two, pulled-up short—his heartrate quickening as he saw the large pistol in the hand of the police officer. His eyes widened in surprise at the sudden turn of events.
His partner took several more steps before he too stopped—pulling his hostage up tight against his body—and pushing the barrel of his pistol hard into the side of the woman’s head. The muscles of his forearm bulged as he death-gripped his handgun. His hostage stiffened her body in fear—her eyes wild in fright.
Brick was the first to speak—his tone even and controlled—no hint of a smile crossed his face.
“Put your guns carefully on the ground boys. We don’t want them going off accidentally by dropping them. Then let the ladies go, and step back three paces. You do that, and I give you my word that you’ll live to see the inside of a prison cell. Disobey me, and you die right here in the parking lot.”
“Are you out of your mind, you son-of-a-bitch?” the older of the two asked.
“Most of the time—yes. But not today. Do as I say.”
“Why should we do as you say, asshole?”
Brick’s own forearm grew slightly larger as his grip tightened on the Beretta.
“Because I don’t like to hurt people.”
TO BE CONTINUED . . .