He’d come to America from Italy to make his fortune. That’s what he told a bartender one night at a little dive in the Bronx. Making the semblance of a joke, the barkeep told him, “Go west, young man, go west.” Somehow, he ended up in Rapid City, South Dakota.At first, the owner of the Buckin’ Bronco: Booze, Babes and Burgers thought he was an American Indian, and was about to throw him out. But when he spoke his broken English in a heavy Italian accent, the man realized he was simply a funny little foreigner, and gave him the Dishwasher job. “Tanka you,” Rocco Raconnetti told him. “I washa dem good!”
Above the Buckin’ Bronco was a small room, which the owner, Doc Browner, let Rocco check into for what amounted to half his Dishwasher salary. The room was pretty much bare except for a bed, a night table, and a small bureau on top of which sat a TV hooked up to an old VCR. Cable television wasn’t included, and reception with the set’s rabbit ears was virtually non-existent. In the night table, Rocco found a video tape onto which had been recorded an old episode of Star Trek called, “The Mark of Gideon.”
The Buckin’ Bronc’, as it was know by her loyal patrons, was divided into three rooms. The Big Room was basically a burger joint where a hungry cowpoke could enjoy fat, grilled burgers, six-napkin fried chicken, an assortment of sides, and big, frosted mugs of beer.
The second section, called the Buckin’ Room, was a half-assed strip club. It contained a bar, a tiny stage with its ubiquitous pole, and tables from which the patrons could gawk, drink, hoot, and holler.
Entertainment in the Buckin’ Room was nightly. Doc employed three dancers, but the queen of the Buck was a flame-haired beauty named Lilith McGillicuddy. Though she preferred to be called Lilith, Doc gave her the stage name Antsy Pants. The name eventually pejorated to Nasty Pants, and by the time Rocco Raconnetti arrived, everyone knew her as Nasty.
Just off the Buckin’ Room, was what looked like a long, wide hallway. This was the Showdown Room. At each end of the Showdown, a stand stood hip high. Securely affixed onto the stands were holsters containing what looked like old, single-action, .44 revolvers. These pistols, however, would only fire special rounds, which were available for five dollars apiece at the bar. The special cartridges contained a tiny amount of gunpowder and a large, bullet shaped pellet full of red paint.
Make no mistake, these were not “paint ball” guns. If, during a “showdown,” you were shot with one of the special bullets, not only would a big red stain of paint bloom where you were hit, a respectable bruise would blossom on your person as well. Showdowning was painful.
When the Showdown Room was first introduced, duels were commonplace. But those who were shot rarely returned for an encore, especially since the rules required duelists to wear only Buckin’ Bronc’ tee-shirts on their upper bodies. Eventually, showdowns became rare, and were mostly substitutes for drunken brawls. If a fight looked likely to break out, Doc—in order to save wear and tear on his establishment—would announce in a commanding baritone, “Take it to the Showdown, boys, or I’ll bust both yer heads!”
Though he was a capable head-buster, Doc also employed two even more capable bouncers. If Doc said, Throw down, you paid your five bucks a cartridge and hoped you weren’t too drunk to shoot. Over the years, the number of fights at the Buckin’ Bronco dwindled.
Rocco was a dishwashing fiend, and Doc Browner took a shine to “the little feller.” “Keep up the good work, Rocky,” he told him, “and when my nephew’s old enough to take over dishwashin’, I’ll make you Fry Cook!” Rocco always thanked Doc enthusiastically whenever he was told this. But he also knew the nephew was only six, and his enthusiasm was mostly feigned.
Doc closed the Buckin’ Bronc’ on Sundays out of a grudging respect for his wife’s admiration of The Lord. Rocco worked the other six days a week from lunchtime until after midnight. Recreation in Rapid was extremely limited, especially on half a Dishwasher’s salary. After work, when he wasn’t dead tired, Rocco would plug in his “Mark of Gideon” tape, and watch Captain Kirk save Odonna.
One Friday night—actually, very early Saturday morning—Rocco lay drowsing on his bed while Mr. Spock searched for his missing captain. Suddenly, startlingly, an insistent pounding caused him to jump. “Rocky,” a baritone voice boomed. “Open up, little feller, it’s Doc!”
Rocco opened the door and bid his boss/landlord enter. “Wassa up, Doc?” he smiled.
“Ha, ha! That’s funny, boy! Like Bugs Bunny, only I-talian! Hey, listen up. I know from yer dubbaya two form that tomorrow’s yer birthday. Hey! It is tomorrow! Happy birthday, boy! Anyway, I got my sister’s cousin comin’ in to do yer dishes for you, so you’ve got the whole day off! And, here! I got ten bucks for you to spend in the Buckin’ Room! I want you to have a rip roarin’ birthday, little feller. You been a good and faithful servant, and I want you to know I’m takin’ care of you. ‘Kay, son?”
“Tanka you, Doc!” Rocky beamed. “You jussa like-a fadda to me!”
“Ha, ha! Let’s say big brother, boy. I ain’t so old as runnin’ this place makes me look. Now getcha some sleep so’s you can git rip-roarin’ tomorrow.”
“Tanka you, Doc,” Rocco smiled. “You jussa like-a bigga brudder!”
Until Doc Browner’s display of generosity (of-a-sort), Rocco had actually forgotten about his birthday. In fact, the monotony of his days had become such that he had to think for a minute to remember how old he was. His days and nights spent in the kitchen of the Buckin’ Bronco were becoming a blur. He ate his meals in there, and even showered in a little stall in the back. He rarely saw the sun.
On the Saturday morning of his birthday off, he went to the kitchen for his customary two soft-boiled eggs and toast. Afterward, he planned to venture into Rapid for a haircut. While he was eating his eggs, Jimmy-the-Cook presented him with a Buckin’ Bronc’ tee-shirt, that he, the Fry Cook and waitresses had chipped in to purchase. With their ten percent employee discount, the shirt had cost them $4.50. “Tanka you,” Rocco told them. “You all-a jussa like-a familia.”
The barber Rocco patronized was offering half-price shaves with the purchase of a haircut. Rocco left the shop pink-cheeked and smelling of Witch Hazel. He thought about taking in a matinee at the local theatre, but the day was sunny, and Rocco just couldn’t consign himself to the dark after being kitchen-bound for so long. Instead he simply wandered around Rapid City, stopping once for a birthday donut and coffee. As the sun was setting on his adopted western home, Rocco made his way back to the Bronco.
At just after seven in the evening, Rocco walked into the kitchen—freshly barbered and wearing his new Buckin’ Bronc’ tee-shirt. “Hey,” Jimmy-the-Cook called as he entered. “Lookin’ good, birthday boy!”
Rocco opted for a burger instead of fried chicken, and when Jimmy handed it over the serving counter there was a little lit candle stuck in the bun. “Tanka you,” he beamed. “You jussa like-a brudder!”
Rocco was about to sit at the tiny table by his dishwasher station, but Jimmy told him to go out and sit in the Big Room. “Issa okay?” he asked.
“Hell yeah, Rocky, you ain’t workin’!”
As Rocco was exiting the kitchen through the waitress doors, Lilith McGillicuddy was making an entrance. Though Rocco had seen the three dancers whenever they ventured into the kitchen for food, he’d never seen them perform. “Missa Lilith,” as he called her, was Rocco’s favorite, and though he didn’t know it, he was about to be her’s. Lilith hadn’t gotten her Antsy Pants name by accident, and most regulars at the Buckin’ Bronc’ knew she had a weakness for “strange.” Call it curiosity, call it nymphomania, whatever it was, she simply had to give anyone “new” a try. Both cooks in the kitchen had had their turns, as well as Doc, the two bouncers and the bartending crew. Being a bit wicked in his generosity, Doc let slip to Lilith that Saturday was Rocco’s birthday.
Lilith was still in street clothes—a red cocktail dress and red pumps. With her flame colored hair topping it off, she looked like a firecracker about to go bang! “Hiya there, birthday boy,” she said to Rocco, slinging the strap of her big handbag onto her shoulder. “Git us a table and I’ll come back and have a bite with you.”
“Tanka you, Missa Lilith,” Rocco smiled.
“Well ain’t you just mannerly,” Lilith smiled back.
Rocco sat at a duce, and waited with his still-candled birthday burger for Lilith Antsy Pants Nasty McGillicuddy to return. In short order, she came back out with a fried chicken breast and a side of slaw. “Gotta watch my weight,” she said as she sat.
“Oh-a nooooo! You-a perfect,” Rocco told her. Then he blushed.
“Well ain’t you sweet,” Lilith said, reaching across the table to take his hand. “Tell me about Italy, Rocky Racoon-eetee. I’ve always wanted to go someplace like that. Or maybe Florida.”
“Every place-a gotta someting-a beautiful. Jussa gotta look,” he told her shyly.
“What about the people? What are they like?”
“All-a Cat-o-lic. Lotsa bambini,” he smiled. “Maybe some-a day gonna be like-a Gideon.”
“What’s Gideon?” Lilith asked.
“Issa place on-a da vee-cee tape-a. Too many-a people. You canna no move-a issa so many.”
“And you have a video tape of Gideon?”
“Yessa. I’m-a finda. Some-a body leave-a.”
Lilith squeezed Rocco’s hand and said softly, “Will you show it to me?”
Rocco assumed that what Lilith meant she wanted to see was his video taped Star Trek episode, and maybe she did. “Issa up inna da room,” he told her.
“Let’s go,” she told him back.
Rocco held the door, and Lilith eased into his tiny room. “Cozy,” she said. “Do you know I have a surprise for you, for your birthday, in my bag?”
“Surprise-a! For-a me?”
“Yes I do,” she smiled. Sitting on the bed by the night table, Lilith produced a little half-pint bottle of Galliano. “This,” she told him, “is I-talian booze.”
“Yessa,” Rocco agreed.
“And this,” she said, pulling out another half pint, “is all-American vodka. AND,” she added, reaching once more into her bag, “I have a nice pint of orange juice. Have you ever had a Harvey Wallbanger?”
“Wassa dat?” Rocco asked.
“It’s what I’m going to make you for your birthday. I’ve got two nice plastic glasses in here, so why don’t you put your Gideon tape in while I do the mixin’?”
“I’m-a putta heem in,” Rocco told her, assuming she knew he was referring to the tape. Maybe she did.
Two strong Harvey Wallbangers and a ten minute bump-and-go later, Lilith got dressed and headed for the door. “Gotta go to work now, sweetie,” she told Rocco, touching her lips to her fingers and her fingers to his lips. “Catch your breath, then come down and see the show. I’ll do an extra special birthday dance just for you.”
“I’m-a love-a you,” Rocco breathed.
“Well ain’t you sweet,” Lilith told him as she left.
When Lilith entered the Buckin’ Room, the first dancer, “Candy Lass” (whose pejorated name should be obvious), was just taking the stage. This gave Antsy Pants time for a drink before she’d have to head for the dancer’s dressing room and put on the costume she’d come out of on stage. But on her way to the bar, someone snuck up behind her and grabbed a double handful of her recently boinked ass. “OH!” she squeaked, spinning around. Then she squealed again. “Danny!”
“Surprise, darlin’,” Dan said. “Come to Papa!”
Still squeaking delight, Lilith jumped into his arms. As Dan resumed his ass grabbing, she said, “When’d you git back, honey? I been missin’ you somethin’ fierce!”
“That’s my little Nasty!” he told her. “Lost without her sweet daddy.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call me that,” Lilith whispered in his ear.
“But you know you are,” he whispered back, still kneading her ass hard—like it was two big hunks of dough.
“Did you hit yer big strike at the mine yet?” Lilith asked hopefully.
“Not yet, darlin’, but it’s close. Soon as I do, I’m gonna come down outa them hills and buy you a diamond ring big as an ice cube.”
“And marry me?” she asked.
“O’ ‘course, marry you! Why the hell else would I buy you a big diamond ring?”
Lilith ended up sitting on Daniel’s lap while Candy Lass slowly bared all. Finally, he said, “Candy’s ‘bout buck, darlin’. Ain’t you better change?”
“Do you like this dress?” she asked him.
“Yup, I do,” he answered.
“Bet you’ll like it even better when you’re watchin’ me come out of it,” she smiled. “When Candy’s done, I’ll just head from your lap straight to the pole.”
“And when you’re done,” Dan grinned, “I got another pole waitin’.”
Rocco caught his breath quick, then schlepped down to the kitchen for a shower before the show. When Jimmy-the-Cook saw him come in, a greasy grin spread across his face. “Havin’ a good birthday, Rocky?” he said.
“Issa good,” Rocco smiled. “Issa hot uppa my room. Gonna make-a shower anna go see-a da show.”
As Rocco disappeared into the shower room, the Fry Cook grinned and said to Jimmy, “Gonna wash-a da stinky offa his dinky.”
Rocco couldn’t have timed his entrance to the Buckin’ Room any better (actually, any worse). Candy was down to a g-string, and sweating like a cold can of beer on a hot summer day. Lilith was just standing up out of Daniel’s lap. As she did, he goosed her so hard that at least two inches of her dress disappeared up into the promised land. “OH!” she squealed.
“Hey!” Rocco yelled, running to her rescue. “Wadda you do?” he growled at Daniel.
Without rising from his chair, Daniel placed a left jab into Rocco’s right eye. “Don’t hurt him, Danny!” Lilith pleaded. “He’s foreign and don’t know no better!”
Rocco rocked back from the punch, and dropped onto his butt. Quicker than spit, Bob-the-Bouncer hurried over and picked him up. “C’mon,” he told Rocco, dragging him out of the Buckin’ Room toward the kitchen.
“What happened to him?” Jimmy-the-Cook asked Bob-the-Bouncer as he sat Rocco in a chair and gave him ice for his eye.
“Defending Nasty’s honor,” Bob laughed.
“Dan’l back in town?” Jimmy asked.
“Bad timing,” Jimmy said matter-of-factly.
“Now you stay in here,” Bob told Rocco, as if he were speaking to a child or a dog. “Birthday’s over.”
As soon as Bob left the kitchen, Rocco jumped up and ran to his room. He had a little money up there that he’d managed to save by eating all his meals in the kitchen. After stuffing it into his pocket, he headed back down for the Buckin’ Room.
Rocco eased into the Buck just as Lilith was easing out of her dress. Surreptitiously, he crept along the wall, making his way to the bar. “What’ll it be, Rocky?” Billy-the-Barkeep asked him.
Slapping thirty dollars onto the bar, Rocco said, “Six-a bullet, please. Already gotta my shirt,” he added, patting the bucking bronco on his Buckin’ Bronc’ tee.
“Oh, shit,” Billy said, reaching for a six-pack of cartridges. “You sure you know what yer doin’?”
Grabbing up his ammunition, Rocco looked over to where Daniel was sitting and said, “Gonna getta dat boy!” Then he marched over to his rival and announced, “Issa showdown! I gotta my bullets!”
Daniel was about to pop Rocky in his other eye, but Bob intervened. “Showdown Room or I’m tossin’ yer ass out,” he told Dan.
“Where’s Doc?” Dan wanted to know. “I ain’t gotta shirt with me, and I ain’t spendin’ thirty five bucks on blastin’ this runt!”
“Doc’s off drinkin’ with the mayor, and I’m in charge!” Bob said with an I-mean-business look.
“Okay! Okay!” Daniel relented.
“Go git yer rounds,” Bob told him. “There’s shirts fer sale in the Showdown Room.”
From the stage, Lilith peered out at these goings on and halted her dancing. “And you!” Bob-the-Bouncer roared, pointing a loaded finger at her. “Finish yer show!”
As many as could fit lined the walls of the Showdown Room, as Daniel changed into a Buckin’ Bronc’ tee-shirt. “I’m gonna git my thirty-five bucks worth outa that little wop,” he swore.
As per the rules, Bob loaded both pistols, and gently slipped them back into their holsters. Then he placed Rocky in front of his weapon and quietly told him, “Don’t move till I say, ‘draw!’ Soon as I do, slap leather and commence to blastin’. Got it?”
“You ready, Dan?” Bob shouted.
“Oh, I’m ready!” Daniel assured him.
Bob-the-Bouncer took his place by the tee-shirt table and sucked in a deep breath. “Ready…” he said, followed by an anticipation-stoking pause. “…DRAW!”
When Lilith heard the shots, she ran from the stage to see who’d won. She poked her head into the Showdown Room just in time to see Rocco sliding down the wall. Three big stains of blood-looking paint were clustered on his chest near his heart. His gun was still in its holster. “Aw! Poor fella!” Lilith lamented. “He jus’ took it all too serious.”
Doc Browner had been out to the mayor’s fund-raising martini party. When he returned, the first thing he saw as he entered the Buckin’ Room was Lilith McGillicuddy standing bare-assed, and staring into the Showdown Room. “Hot damn!” Doc muttered drunkenly. “Fur’s a-flyin’!”
Daniel, with three bullets left in his gun, was taking aim at Rocco’s head. But Bob stepped in and said, “He’s done, Dan!”
“I got fifteen more bucks worth!” Daniel complained.
“You pop off them rounds, I’m gonna kick yer ass,” Bob-the-Bouncer warned.
“What a gip,” Dan scowled, pitching his pistol into its holster.
Doc managed to stagger into the Showdown just as Daniel was walking out with Lilith’s ass in his hand. “Oh, shit!” Doc exclaimed when he saw Rocco. “Looks like you done met your match, boy. Guess you won’t be forgettin’ this birthday any time soon. You gonna be able to wash dishes Monday?” he asked, leaning drunkenly on the tee-shirt table.
“I’m-a be able,” Rocco told him, wincing in pain.
Doc nodded, then headed back out of the Showdown Room. As he exited, he said to Bob-the-Bouncer, “Remind me never to drink gin!”
Rocco Raconnetti schlepped back to his room, having been thumped by his rival. He plugged in his tape, for comfort’s sake, hoping for Gideon’s survival.
As the big space ship zoomed across his TV screen, Rocco closed his eyes and muttered through the pain in his chest, “I’m-a be better, Doc. Soon, I’m-a be able.”