Originally posted by fragrantwoods at Making Their Way
Rating: R for language, implied/referenced sexual situationsGen, background for Al/Trixie, sex referenced
Disclaimer: I don't own anything re: Deadwood; It is HBO and David Milch's entirely
Resemblance to actual people is unintended, other than documented historical figures
Summary: A possible "prequel" account of how the relationship between Al Swearengen and Trixie the whore may have developed in the years preceding Deadwood's establishment.
Warning: Depiction and reference to violence between pimp and prostitute, in accordance with historical accounts of such, sexual references, language, physical violence, depiction of facial wounds and graphic medical images, abortion reference, and minor original character death.
Making Their WayPart 1
There was a time when traveling sounding like something grand, seeing new things, new people. That was before she ever went anywhere. Sometimes she wondered if he stirred shit up just to have an excuse to be on the move again.
She felt her trick moving faster now. She looked over his shoulder at the clock on the battered dresser. If he’d hurry up and finish, she could wash up and grab some dinner before the good pieces got gone. She started scratching at his back, alternating between saying “Oh, God” and “Oh, yeah!” in his ear. A final shudder, a two heartbeat rest, and he was up and off of her. She listened to his tired praise, reminded him that an extra dollar on the dresser would help fix it so she was the next one up, come his next visit. Threw in a few words about his huge prick, him being a handsome young man, she’d think of him while she was with her next trick.
As the door shut, she got up to wash. When she looked at the dresser, she saw an extra two dollars. She smiled. Al said it was her born gift of gab, as much as her tight snatch, that got the boys to come across with the extra.
Course, he also said it helped that there was a sucker born every minute, that’d pay for a whore’s flattery.
Trixie gave herself a quick going-over at the washstand, then combed her fingers through her wavy blond hair. Tugging her stockings back up, she stuck her money away and went down to see what was set out. Darting a quick hand through the girls surrounding the table, she grabbed a chicken leg and went out back to eat in peace. She threw out a couple of smiles and winks at the men standing around the bar, mouthing “later” on her way.
This place beat the hell out of some of the dumps they’d landed in. She reckoned there’d been at least four stops between Chicago and Denver, maybe one or two more. She mostly saw the ceilings of dingy rooms, wherever they went. Not much difference in those.
Iowa City had been their first stop. Al had rented rooms near the train depot, running her and a local girl out of one, whiskey shots and cards out of the other. Al had a way about him he could bring out, made marks want to be around him. Some ways, he was as much of a whore as she was.
That gambit lasted at least a year, by her reckoning. Things went south when the local girl took sick and brought her cousin in. The new girl was popular, a good earner, but had a heavy hand at picking pockets. One night, her luck ran out with a trick not as drunk as he looked and a bad temper to boot. Trixie had been finishing up blowing a millinery salesman when all hell broke loose…again. She had barely spit and got her top back on when Al busted in, telling her to throw her things in a bag and go around back.
He did take time to collect the money from the salesman, the knife behind his back still dripping. He let it show when the trick seemed to want to linger. That took care of that. She never did find out what happened to the other girl, but when she walked through the other room to grab some clothes, she just saw the one body on the floor.
That was her first train ride. Al had met her at the back of the rooming house, clean and calm like he’d just been to church. For all his roughness and his quick hand, he could be counted on to get them out of trouble, to always have a secret stake for times like this.
“Jesus Christ! Get some shoes on and hurry the fuck up,” he'd said, shoving her bag at her. He bought two tickets from the stationmaster while she laced up her boots, knotting the laces just as the train pulled in.
She took a hit of laudanum as he hustled her towards the train, stoppered it back up with steady hands, even on the run. She didn’t miss the water too much…she’d gotten used to the undiluted bitter taste. She stuffed it back in her bag while they stood on the platform. They watched a few people milling around the rooming house, a couple of men with torches, as the train pulled out.
So much for Iowa City.
She didn’t remember much about the next place. She had missed her monthlies early in their stay. Trixie was shy, then, to talk to Al about that kind of thing. The second morning she threw up in her chamber pot, he heard her and figured out what had happened. She thought she’d get another beating for not saying anything, but he had been right kind about it. He had gone out asking around for a certain type of midwife while he let Trixie lay around like the Queen of fuckin’ Sheba. He even paid extra for the old lady to cook her a big hit of dope before, and made sure she held the needle in the flame for a good little while first.
The next night she could remember through the dope haze, he had let her fall asleep with her head on his chest, him stroking her hair. He made her promise that she’d never use a needle again, that she’d stick to the laudanum or liquor. Didn’t want her ending up like her mother. That week, she had seen some warmth in his eyes, like he really cared about her. He let her just give blow jobs for another week while she healed.
She thought that might have been in Council Bluffs. He had finally fucked her then, going easy, trying not to hurt her. He said at the time he just didn’t want her to start whining under a trick to where he’d ask for his money back, wanted to see for himself she was ready to get back to work. She could tell he liked it, though. It was months before he got mad enough to hit her again.
That time, she knew she deserved it. They had a good thing going in Council Bluffs, but a trick started fighting her over him coming too fast and wanting another go for free. If he had kept it to yelling, Al would have taken care of things. He had gone to hitting, though. Trixie couldn’t stand somebody hitting her that had no right to, and she’d stuck him with the little knife she carried. The man had gone crazy over thinking how to explain his wound to his wife, and then Al had gotten into it.
That was the end of their stay in Council Bluffs. Al had left with money owed to him, putting him in a foul mood no offers of pussy or blow jobs could improve. If anything, it made him madder. She kept to pallets next to whatever bed he slept in for the next month, missing the sound of his heartbeat, waiting on his forgiveness.
Al’s forgiveness and her return to his bed finally came in Lincoln, brand-new capital of Nebraska. Trixie had waited in the wagon, jittery and on edge, while Al made arrangements in a boarding house run by a plain-faced widow on the edge of town. He had returned with a room key and a bottle of laudanum in his coat from the drug store up the block. Once she was settled and dosed with her first hit of the day, he had glad-handed the owners of a saloon on the next block until he had a job at the bar and door and Trixie had a job out of one of the back rooms.
Lincoln had been on the raw side, but it was a bustling, busy place. Trade was good enough to get her a store-bought ready-made lady’s dress, dusty rose with lacy pale cream trim. Of an occasional Sunday, Al let her go to one of the town churches while he stayed in their rooms and worked on his dealing skills and various short cons. She swapped around between congregations, watchful for any of the family men she entertained, attending with wives and children. She knew she had crossed paths with a few, but they never seemed to fully recognize her, other than a sense that they knew the demure young lady from somewhere. For her part, she was careful to mostly keep her head down in Bible or hymnbook, enjoying the rhythm of the sermons and the sweet smell of oil-polished wood. The solemn cadences were a welcome change from the hectic pace of her evenings for the first couple of months.
One visit to the local Catholic church had brought back unpleasant memories from her years at the orphanage, as she stood at the communion rail, unable to get down on her knees in front of the oily-looking priest holding the chalice. She couldn’t imagine what the congregants thought as she walked back up the aisle, face flaming and gaze straight ahead. She kept herself to the Protestant churches in town after that, when she felt a need to attend; a need that lessened every month.
A town on the new side of wild in a brand new state, Al found others like him, but with more experience in real estate hustles and greasing political palms for profit. The seminaries and schools being established could not have been anywhere near as edifying as observing the local machinations between former Confederate and Union supporters, Democrats and Republicans. During their stay he saw a broken flagpole repurposed as an impromptu gallows, and a towering Judge browbeat an angry mob with no more than his voice and a couple of well-placed threats. In a new place, he thought, anything is possible. He kept a keen eye on the ways and means by which power and wealth were sorted out.
He also saw the power of the press at stirring up, then calming down, a citizenry. Al had always appreciated a good newspaper as a source of information, giving hints of things to come if read with care. Lincoln was the birthplace of his full understanding that the press could also be used to create events and steer outcomes. He sprung for rounds “on the house” out of his own pocket for the newspaper boys once or twice a week, learning how to herd newsmen in a desired direction. The first time he guided an editor to publish vague aspersions against a rival saloon, he saw his and Trixie’s incomes jump from added custom. He figured he’d made back all he had spent, and then some. Befriending the press, he thought, might be the most useful long con of all.
If asked what she remembered of Lincoln besides whoring, though her frequent laudanum fog, Trixie would have talked about good times at the State Fair, a reluctant Al in tow as she looked at prize-winning pies and pumpkins. A brass band playing on a Sunday in the town park. Mostly, though, it was where Al allowed her back in his bed, and she felt safe more often than not.
Their luck eventually changed as Lincoln rapidly became more civilized. When they arrived, the local jail was the back part of a town milk house. By the time they left, a state penitentiary was in the works, and lawmen seemed to be everywhere, bolstered by Ft. Kearney troops. The girl Al had obtained to run out of the saloon with Trixie left his joint to be some kind of high-kicking dance-hall girl. Part of the town had flooded that spring, making getting around even more miserable that it had been in winter, when at least a sleigh was a workable option. The only bright spot was a nicely run job done on an outbound stage road, Al setting up a young gang of road agents with information on cargo and arms of a lone stagecoach.
After, most of the gang had been in favor of cutting Al out of his share, taking the numbers of four against one. A husky Kentucky boy, long-haired and handy with a blade, stopped that foolishness right quick, saving their leader from a throat-cutting. Al thanked him with a side lecture on choosing his confederates more carefully, and wondered if their paths would ever cross again. The boy had a leaning towards action around wilderness and mining towns, and had mentioned the Comstock.
A week later, Al had wished that the Kentucky boy, or someone like him, had been with him at the salt debacle. He had made it out of the warehouse unseen, but the main thief and his German accomplice had been caught in mid-robbery, salt-filed shovels in the air, when the owner of the salt works and six lawmen had busted in on the heist. As he fled, he could hear men yelling not to be killed and errant shots were ringing in the air. Lucrative though it might be, robbing the salt basin barons, he thought he’s just get Trixie to gut him before he’d go to jail for stealing salt.
Denver, he told her as he roused her to pack. He’d heard good things about Denver. He and Trixie had headed for Denver and all the opportunities Al thought a big city had to offer to a man of his experience. Trixie dozed against his shoulder and wondered what Denver would be like.
Trixie looked up at the sun low in the sky, tossing her chicken bone to one of the wandering mutts hanging around. She thought she had time for a quick cigarette before going back to work. As she smoked, she thought the air in Denver seemed clearer than Chicago’s atmosphere, but thinner, colder. Stubbing her cigarette out in the dirt, she went back in the over-heated bright bar, setting her features in a promising smile.
Rays from the setting sun filtered in through leaded glass and lace curtains falling behind heavy damask drapes. The clink of thin china cups and high-pitched chatter on all sides was beginning to feel like an assault on his ears. Annoyingly small sandwiches and bite-sized pieces of cake sat neglected on a tray next to their table, alongside some type of pastry he couldn’t identify. There was no conversation at his table until the waiter finished pouring the tea into two teacups, withdrawing after leaving cream, sugar, and lemon next to the tea service. Al waited stoically for a response to his proposal, already getting a rebuttal prepared against refusal.
“Mr. Swearengen, I have no doubt as to your bona fides. You have to realize, you are asking to set up business that is in direct competition with us for both clientele and workers. That’s quite bold for someone new to the area.”
The well-dressed woman in front of him seemed to be moving from mild interest to disapproval. She set her tea cup down and waited for his response, discreetly looking at her brooch watch to remind him that his time with her was running out.
“Mrs. LaRue, I’m not tryin’ to horn in on your business areas as such. I’m just tryin’ to lease a small saloon, running less than a dozen girls, two or three faro tables. I don’t see that as any real competition to Madame LaRue’s sporting houses. I ain’t gonna have girls in furs and diamonds, trust me. My clientele will most likely be men that find your establishments out of their price range, anyways.”
Pearl LaRue ran a fingertip around the engravings in her watch.
“My colleagues and I have lower-end establishments as well, Mr. Swearengen. Not all our houses are on Market Street. And that puts us back at square one.”
“Have you considered working at one of the established houses? Mrs. Bennett is in need of a bartender.”
He looked at the blonde matron sitting with him, fancy hat and diamond earrings. He couldn’t decide if she was just obtuse or actually trying to be insulting. Galling enough to have to seek permission to open a saloon from the head of the Denver whore union, or whatever they considered themselves, Mrs. LaRue speaking for the main madams in town. Worse still was her offering him a job, like he had come hat in hand, begging for work. Wouldn’t be here at all if the fuckin’ chief of police hadn’t warned him to meet with Mrs. LaRue before trying to set up shop, else not a property owner in town would speak to him.
“Not an option. I don’t plan to work for anybody but myself.”
“Pity. Actually, I know of another option, if it’s to your taste.” She hesitated for a second, looking at him thoughtfully, then pulled a heavy embossed card from her purse.
“Dr. McDonald mentioned that he was seeking a well-favored gentleman to assist him in his treatment of particular ladies’ maladies, primarily hysteria. I understand the pay is more than adequate for a person of talent.”
Al’s eyes turned stony. “I should become a whore, instead of runnin’ them, that what you’re saying?”
The elegant woman stood up, straightening her gloves. “We all whore in some way or another, Mr. Swearengen. You appear to meet the doctor’s requirements and seem to be a good twenty years younger, which I imagine would be much appreciated by the good doctor’s patients. I lost a piano player to him last year for the same purpose. That young man left for San Francisco in the spring with enough money to open a fifteen room sporting house.”
He watched in silence as she laid the card beside his plate. At her cocked eyebrow, he stood up as well.
“What about my whore? Is she a problem, too?”
Mrs. LaRue leaned towards his ear. “You can continue to hire out your girl to the establishment with which you currently have an arrangement. You can also deal faro at Sunny’s, tend her bar, or provide services for the doctor. I don’t give a good goddamn if you service gentlemen yourself, if you’ve a bent in that direction. What you cannot do, Mr. Swearengen, is operate a full-scale establishment of your own in this city. “She gave a discreet nod at the two uniformed policemen standing at the door of the tea shop, courtesy of the Chief.
He didn’t react to the implied threat. “As a courtesy, Madam, will you at least give me a sensible reason, so that I might understand why you feel you must…impede my commerce?”
She stepped back. “Look in the mirror, Mr. Swearengen, when you return to your rooms. Ask yourself if that is the face of a man who would be satisfied with limiting his control to one house, one operation, and working within parameters set by others. Your answer to that question will illuminate my answer to you.” She tilted her head so the feathered brim of her hat hid her eyes. “Good day to you, sir.”
Raising her head, her eyes were dark with warning until she turned towards the waiting officers, greeting them with a warm smile and bright pleasantries. The most successful madam in town left him there, standing over his empty cup, stymied. He crumpled up the heavy card, stuffing it is his pocket as the left the shop.
Trixie was in their rooms when he returned, hours before he expected her to be done at Sunny’s. He groaned inwardly. He had been looking forward to some solitary time to work out a plan for his next move.
“What the fuck you doin’ home so soon? Tricks run out of money?”
She sat on the settee by the window, still dressed in her working clothes. “In a manner of speakin’. Business was slacking off and the other girls were giving me the evil eye. I was ahead of my usual earnin’s so I thought I’d give them and me a break and head back.”
He stood over her. “Oh. Is that what you thought?”
She looked up at him, measuring his beginning twitchy rage.
“Al, once we have our own place, you get some girls that work good with me, it’ll be different. I just feel like…it’s best I not overstep. I don’t know these girls, who’s temperish and such, and it’s not like you’re there to handle things, they start going wrong.”
He grabbed her upper arms and pulled her to her feet.
“You goin’ with your feelings, now, as opposed to what I tell you to do? You makin’ the decisions now, Trixie? You want to run things in this fucking town of Amazons and Medeas? Maybe you think I should be a whore too, us pooling our earnings at the end of the night. That your thinkin’ on the subject?” He was glowering now, dark and hot, his fingers digging into her arms.
Trixie started to twist to get some ease from his hands.
“Jesus, Al, what the fuck? I’ll go on back right now, you want me to.” Her hands reached up for his.
His fingers twitched on her sleeves for a second before he threw her onto the bed.
“Do whatever the fuck you want.” He grabbed for a half-empty bottle on the table, drinking the whiskey in deep swallows. He walked back and forth in the suite, fidgeting with his moustache, frowning and muttering.
Trixie looked up from her place on the bed. She had lain very still as Al paced and grumbled. She frowned. “You want us to…move to a ground floor room?” She thought maybe he was looking to economize or some such.
“We gotta go somewhere we can get in on the ground floor, not have to kowtow to cunts and cocksuckers, think they run every goddamn thing like their own personal fiefdom.”
She sat up. “And where would that be? Any city we go to, every place we’ve been…it ain’t like we can find a place where we’re the first to offer pussy and spirits, 'less you’ve found a way to get us to the fuckin’ moon.”
He was starting to talk faster, in excited, slightly drunken tones. “We been goin’ west for years, things getting’ more open as we go, until this place. But we’ve stayed in cities, towns, places with hotels and whorehouses, saloons already standin’. “
He began gesturing with his hands. “We need to go somewhere where I’m the head cocksucker that has to be gone through, anybody wants to do business. Not some mayor, or police chief, or fuckin’ mother hen.”
She rolled over on her stomach, watching him. “Like where?”
He threw the morning’s newspaper at her. She could read headlines about Indians and forts and a few small gold finds out in the western territories. Some article about the Comstock mine.
“Read that in your leisure time. From here on out, you and me are going to earn as much as we can, as fast as we can, until we’ve got enough to stake us to a real move.”
She frowned. “I thought you had enough of a stake to rent us a working house.”
“Yeah, but not enough to move to a place with nothin’ and build a place from the bare ground up.”
He sat on the side of the bed, eyes wild with imagining, speech rapid and staccato, half talking to himself. “Get established, might be rough in the beginning, but get some good men around me, get some fast action going, folks’ll have to get my permission to do business, maybe pay fees or the like.”
He laid his hand on her hair. He looked at her but seemed to be seeing something else. Still, he was almost gentle.
“You get some rest tonight. Startin’ tomorrow, you’re going be fuckin’ and blowin’ like your life depended on it, addin’ whatever circus tricks you know to get those tips up.”
Great. “What are you going to be doing while I’m doing all this fancy fucking?”
His hand went in his coat pocket, smoothing out the crumpled card. “Don’t worry about what I’m doing. Just pull in the money, hmm?”
He undressed, blew out the lamp and got into bed. He lay there next to her in the dark, eyes open and feet fidgeting.
“Need some help gettin’ to sleep?’
"If you wouldn't mind, yeah.”
She heard the snaps unfastening as she bent over him. Fifteen minutes and one mouth-rinse later, both finally fell asleep.
Trixie yawned and stretched in the late morning light. The bed was empty beside her. She looked around the room, saw no sign of Al, and snuggled back under the covers for a few more winks. She was almost asleep again in the warm blankets when she heard the key rattle in the lock. Trying to get on her feet before Al got in the door, she was distracted until she heard, “So, what do you think?”
Her hand covered her mouth as she gaped at a clean-shaven Al.
“What on earth…I haven’t seen you like that in years!” She walked around him, looking at lips fuller than she remembered. “You look ten years younger.”
“Good. That’s what I was going for.”
She wished she had a cigarette handy. “What’s the deal with that, then?”
Al brushed off his coat and straightened his cravat. “The deal is, you’re gettin’ your ass over to Sunny’s to get the late morning rush while I get an account opened at the First Bank of Denver.”
He handed her a few bills. “Get your meals at Sunny’s, and don’t look for me until late. Don’t spend this unless you have to. That’s your laudanum money too, so slow that the fuck down, best you can.”
For the next six weeks, Trixie felt like she and Al shared a room in shifts. He was out the door in the early morning, hours before she left for work. There were late nights that he woke up enough to see it was her coming in the door, check her earnings, and go back to sleep without saying a word.
One evening, sent home because the rain and the cold were keeping customers at their own hearths, she came in while Al was still up. He still had his young clean-shaven look, but the circles under his eyes were wearing some of the new off.
She shook the rain off her shawl by the stove.
“Hell, I’ve about forgot how to talk to you, it’s been so long we were in the same place and both awake.”
He sighed, laying his head against the back of the damask chair. “I bet your memory returns real fuckin’ quick, my luck.”
She rolled her eyes. What a charmer.
She tried again. “You mind pouring me a drink and maybe telling me how your fuckin’ day went?”
“I’ll hand you the fuckin’ bottle and you can pour us both one.” His eyes closed, he grabbed the neck of the bottle and extended it towards her, almost hitting her in the face.
“Goddamn it, Al, watch what you’re doing! You almost busted my nose with…”she sniffed, taking one deep breath, then two. “Is that…why the fuck does your hand smell like pussy?”
He opened one eye. “Do I have to answer that to get a drink in a fuckin’ glass?”
She took the bottle and started to pour two shots. “You doing that thing with a doctor again, doin’ his lady patients?”
“I am.” His eyes were still closed. She put a glass into his hand.
She thought she’d never get used to the idea that women would pay for something they could do themselves. Maybe the well-to-do were different. She shook her head. No telling why they couldn’t get their men to do for them, either, men who must think enough of them to pay for…well, to buy their women a kind of whore, if you get right down to cases.
The idea of Al in that role made her uneasy. She knew he’d done it before, but it didn’t seem to fit at all with the man she knew. She figured maybe he saw it as just another kind of con.
She took a sip and enjoyed the burn. “You makin’ any money at it?”
He put his feet up on the bed and reached in his pocket. She gasped at the roll of bills.
“$250 today, and another job waiting tonight.”
She looked out the window at the cold drizzle and the street lamps reflecting on the wet pavement. “Must be a widow, you going out at night, or a woman sure that her husband ain’t comin’ home.”
He rubbed his eyes. “Different kind of job.” He got up and stretched, then started changing into rougher clothes. He took his main knife out of its leather sheath and started honing it with spit on a small whetstone.
Trixie got quiet. She used to like to pretend that this side of him didn’t exist. One day, she found it didn’t matter one way of another to her, as long as it wasn’t her neck.
He frowned at her as he put his boots back on. “None of your concern.”
She wrapped her arms around herself, chilled. Shitty Denver weather.
“See if you can rustle up a sandwich for when I get back.”
He was not nervous. He had been cutting throats too long to be nervous. The rub of it was that he had also been steering clear of the law for a long time, and this was shoving too many angles together at once. So he was…feeling the need to be very careful, but not nervous.
Pearl LaRue had hidden her tears behind a heavy black veil. Her rage and umbrage had kept her slightly shaking as Al was escorted to her office in the plush Market Street parlor house. Elegant women in vividly colored low-cut silk gowns walked the room, straight-backed and gliding, greeting the men and guiding them to settees to discuss the night’s arrangements. Fresh flowers brought by rail from California filled tall crystal vases. He had felt decidedly out of place as he walked to the upstairs office, noting that Pearl would have an unencumbered view of the main parlor as soon as she stepped out of her door. Handy arrangement.
He stood until she sat down after greeting him. She raised her veil and laid it carefully over the brim of her hat. Her eyes were red and swollen.
“Mr. Swearengen, at the end of our last conversation, I had one of my men check your background.”
“You did some…work in Cincinnati for a man with whom I am familiar. A man who is close-mouthed, so I couldn’t discern the nature of your work. I do, however, know that this man does not brook anything less than the highest quality of his hires.”
“The fact that you are here and in good health tells me that you were satisfactory to him.”
She got up again and handed him a large book of photographs, beautiful women in graceful poses.
“Please turn to page 15.”
“Ava Marteen.” He looked at the photograph above the name. A young dark-haired woman with brown eyes that looked almost black in the picture. She had a slight smile in the posed shot, a hint of dimple in her left cheek. A filmy scarf with flowers had been draped over her half-reclining nude form. High forehead and Grecian nose, she looked like a living cameo.
“Follow me, please.” Pearl went to a bookcase that slid on tracks to reveal an entrance to a back hall. Al raised an eyebrow at this but followed the madam to four plain doors at the end of a narrow hallway.
“Occasionally, when a girl is unwell, she recuperates away from the public areas, with the doctor coming and going without…bothering the customers.”
“So, she’s sick?” He stood outside of the last door with Pearl, hands clasped behind his back, wishing she would get on with her purpose.
“Not exactly.” She walked over to the narrow bed, motioning for Al to follow. “I wanted you to understand fully the nature of the job I have for you.”
She turned up the small oil lamp by the bed. The figure on the bed was female, and had long dark hair, and there the resemblance to the picture ended. Bandages covered her eyes and sections of her face. Here and there he could see the edges of black silk stitches, some running from forehead to chin. The room felt hot and close, and he thought he could smell a whiff of putrification.
“What happened to her?”
“We had problems with this particular trick in the past, getting rough with the girls once in a while. I would talk with someone in authority over him, and he would stay away for a month or two, then come back with apologies and swearing it was the drink, or bad opium, and would behave for a time.”
“Why’d you let him come back? Why didn’t you have someone do for the cocksucker after the first time?”
Pearl sighed and sat on the straight-back chair next to the bed, absently stroking Ava’s arm as she talked. “He’s the son of the Police Chief’s cousin. The Chief considers him like a nephew. I’ve heard rumors that his father is in an asylum somewhere back east.”
She looked up at Al with a sad cynical smirk. “And of course, the man himself is also an officer.”
She turned back to the girl in the bed. “And Ava is a whore. Just a whore, for all her education and genteel ways.” Al could see her throat shaking now. “So, any notion of justice…” her voice trailed off. She cleared her throat.
“If she lives, the doctor says she might have the use of her left eye. The right one was…very damaged. And then the other cuts…The concern, of course, is to attempt to fight infection in the…around the eye area. He’s been applying carbolic acid dressings, but I believe he’s surprised she’s not yet succumbed.”
The bandage around her right eye was stained with brown and yellow patches. The darker yellow patches looked wet.
Pearl took another deep breath. “After he cut her, he beat her in the sides, breasts, and between her legs. Kicking, actually, the doctor thinks. He was gone before another girl looked in on Ava. The girls were having an evening of singing at the piano and no one heard anything. She usually kept a Derringer with her,” she nodded at the tiny gun on the nightstand, “but it didn’t do her any good.”
The little lady’s gun looked like a toy, gleaming in the oil lamp’s flame.
“It’s awful close in here. You think we could talk outside?”
“Certainly.” She stood, giving a final pat to Ava’s arm, and they left. Al thought he heard a muffled whimper from the bandaged figure.
“She on anything?”
“We give her opiates as the doctor suggests. In another day, he’ll tell me if there is any hope, or if he sees signs of worsening infection. If he does, at that time, he will provide as much opiates as…as she needs.”
After the sickroom, the narrow hall felt almost light and airy. Pearl has ceased any trembling and walked back to the hidden door to her office, back straight and shoulders square.
Al was ready for this to be over. He thought of other whores he had known, dead and alive. And the one in his suite of rooms here in town. He felt his pulse speed up as he asked, “does this cocksucker ever…has he been known to frequent Sunny’s on Holiday Street?”
“I don’t believe so. Sunny’s is a step or two…they cater to a more workingman’s trade. This man feels himself of a higher station.”
“The whore-murderer, yes. He also sees himself above other policemen, probably above the Chief.”
Al tapped his upper lip, missing his moustache. “Not well-loved, even by his own?”
She turned thoughtful. “That is my impression, yes.”
“Tell me about my fee.”
Pearl looked down at her desk, then met his eyes. “Fifteen thousand dollars; five thousand now, ten thousand after you notify me it’s done. You will need to make your own arrangements for your protection and whatever you need to leave town, if that’s your plan.”
Al tried not to show his surprise. “Fifteen thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money. Not that I’m arguing, but I have to say, I’ve done more for less.”
She turned to look out the window into the dark. When she turned back to him, she had replaced the veil over her face.
“Ava was my sister’s daughter—my niece. She wanted to work a year or two, lay some money by, then go out to California and act on the stage.” He saw a glittering steak behind the veil. “She had a lovely voice.”
She touched a finger to the tear track, then handed him an envelope. He felt the thickness and did her the courtesy of not counting it in front of her. Another envelope had pages with address, description, taverns and sporting arenas he frequented, and a penciled note that he would be at a prize match near the train yards tonight. The madam rang a small brass bell.
“Emilee will escort you out by the back way. I need to prepare a subterfuge to explain to my sister why we could not wait until she arrived to bury her daughter. Ava would haunt me forever if I allowed anyone who cared for her to see her like that.”
“Mrs. LaRue, my condolences on—“
“Thank you, Mr. Swearengen. There is only one condolence I wish for at this point.” Her eyes turned back to her desk as a willowy blonde came to escort him out.
Street snitches are much the same in one city as in another. Before midnight, Al was two doors up from the saloon hosting the prize fight. Flush with winnings and drink, his target, a tall thin man in a derby hat, did not notice he was being followed as he cut away from his fellows. Al watched him pause under a street lamp to ruffle through his winnings, more gloating than counting.
Al put on his gregarious face, friendly and helpful with a roguish edge. He let himself sway a bit on his feet and slurred his words slightly. Hey, pal, you feel lucky tonight? Inside track on some action over here—high roller rubes, sin for a couple o’ swells like us to let ‘em keep their money, eh?
He kept the patter going, offering to buy the man a drink once they got to the table. His target patted his chest lightly as if checking his weapon was still under his coat. Reassured, he followed Al towards a brightly lit door, nodding as Al asked him to hold some of Al’s card money in case someone tried to fleece him: I can see sharps would steer clear o’ you, pal. You almost got the look of a marshal about you, am I right?
No, no, we can’t go in the front. They run a tight game here, gotta go ‘round the back, I’ll vouch for you, I can tell you’re a sport…
Flattery, drink and greed got the man into the alley between the brightly lit door and a dark three story warehouse. Thick walls kept whoever was within the building with the brightly lit door from hearing the thuds and groans and the one high-pitched wail that was suddenly silenced.
Al cleaned his blade on the leg of the man’s pants and headed to his rooms in the chill night air. His knife felt hot through the leather sheath. He had one more errand before he was done for the night.
He paid a street boy two bits to go into Sunny’s and ask for Trixie, the blonde whore. Keeping to the shadows to hide any stains, he spooked her when he grabbed her arm from the dark.
“Al, what the hell--?”
“Come on, we’re going back to the room.”
“Al, a guy in there owes me five dollars. Let me go in and—“
“That’s why you get all the money up front. Now, come on.”
She let him pull her along as she tried to explain it was her tip, not her fee she was waiting for, and how stupid did he think she was, anyway, while he hustled her along the dark streets. Under a lamp near the hotel, he stopped.
“Look at me.”
“Do you see any blood, anything on me that shouldn’t be there?”
Trixie grew still and looked him up and down, carefully. She’d done this before.
“Wipe the top of your left shoe on your pants”.
Whatever had been there soaked into his black pants without a trace.
Okay, you’re fine.”
He held her arm as they went upstairs.
Shutting the door behind them, he looked at her, hollow-eyed.
“Pack. We’re headin’ out first thing.”
Trixie frowned. She had been with Al for ten years now, and was quite sure she’d seen him within hours, sometimes minutes, maybe, of him ending a man. Usually he kept a steely calm, occasionally he acted like it was nothing. But this almost haunted look—this was different. She decided to keep her own counsel for now.
He had come up behind her as she gathered three dresses and some underthings into a valise. She turned her head back towards him.
She started at the touch of his hand on the side of her face. Wary, she stood still, waiting to see what this was about. He turned her towards him, his fingers lightly moving over her cheeks, temples, forehead. He held her face in his hands, his thumbs lightly stroking over her eye brows, down to her jaw line.
“Anybody ever tries to hurt you, you scream bloody murder and you don’t stop until me or somebody like me gets there, understand?”
She put a hand on top of his. “Anybody tries to hurt me is gonna be real fucking sorry—I’m tougher than I look, Al. Better armed than I look, too. You know that.”
His eyes got shiny as he grabbed a hank of her hair and pulled, hard.
“Ow! Goddamnit, Al, that hurts!”
He gripped her chin with one hard hand, continuing to yank her hair tight with the other. He spoke in a deadly monotone.
“You listen to me, you reckless cunt. Any man tries to hurt you, you get help. You try to take him on your own, so help me God… if you live through it, I’ll kill you myself, understand?”
He has the look of a man who’s seen his worst nightmare walking, she thought, fighting the urge to grab at his hands.
“Sure, Al, whatever you say. I swear I’ll be good.” She winced. “Just…could you please let go now, please?”
He looked down at his hand on her jaw, slowly unclenched his grip, then loosened his hold on her hair.
“Get packing. I want us able to leave out as soon as I take care of a bit of business.”
She rubbed at her jaw, gently touched her scalp.
“Sure, Al. Just—yeah, I’ll be ready, okay?”
She finally laid down to get some sleep before sunrise. She watched him sit in the damask chair, shirt unbuttoned and cravat hanging loose, facing the door. His sheathed knife was on his right thigh. Every once in a while, until she fell asleep, she could feel him turn to look at her, then back towards the door.
An hour after sunup, Al walked the short stretch to Madam LaRue’s Parlor House. He hung back behind a parked horse cart as two uniformed policemen walked down the steps and away from him. A young maid came out to sweep the porch, gesturing for him to wait when he asked if Madam LaRue was receiving. She disappeared, then returned, beckoning him inside. The girl steered him away from the main parlor to a flight of back steps by the kitchen. In another minute he was in front of Pearl LaRue’s office door. Two sorrowful damp-faced girls came out, motioning him to go in and speak to the black-veiled madam.
Once again, he stood silent in front of her while she readied herself to speak.
“I heard this morning that a man was found dead by the train yard.” She looked past him. “They say his throat was cut.” She pulled out an envelope and handed it to him. “They say it was the Police Chief’s nephew.” He took the envelope and waited.
“Within, you’ll find ten thousand dollars.”
She pulled another envelope out of her desk drawer and met his eyes. “They say he was beaten badly before he died. Ribs broken, leg stomped in half. Multiple kicks to the groin, testicles almost torn off from the force.” She played with a silver cross around her neck. “They think it was an amateur, maybe someone he wagered with last night.”
“Really? What makes them think that?”
He fingered the second envelope.
“It was strange, they said. Whoever did it had a sharp enough blade, but terrible aim. The poor man’s face was sliced quite a bit before his assailant made the final cut to his throat.”
“So what’s this, then?”
She smiled an icy smile. “That, Mr. Swearengen, is another five thousand dollars. I am a firm believer in quality pay for quality work.”
“I’m sorry we had to do business under these circumstances, Mrs. LaRue.”
“As am I. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” she broke off, fingering a large bottle of opiate, full to the neck.
“I met again with the doctor this morning. I have a medical situation to which I must attend.”
He nodded again, standing aside as she got up and went to the door. She stopped in front of him.
“One last thing, Mr. Swearengen. I’ve seen your young whore, the one that’s been at Sunny’s of late.”
She sighed. “I’d not speak against the profession, as whoring has been very good to me, as a worker and an owner. But if the young lady ever shows an inclination or ability to do something else with her life, something that doesn’t put her with strange men behind closed doors several times a day, more times at night…I would hope you might consider encouraging her, if you care for her at all.”
“I’ll consider it, comes the day she shows an interest.”
“Godspeed, Mr. Swearengen, and have a care in leaving town. For all of his personal distaste for the victim, the Chief will be expected to make vigorous inquiry.”
He paused at the door, opening the smaller envelope, pulled out a bill. He spoke without looking directly at her.
“That picture of her in your whore-book? How ‘bout seein’ if a painter-type can paint some lace or the like over her parts, maybe stick the picture in a nice frame. It’d be something good, I think, givin’ people who knew her…something pretty to remember her by.”
Her hand tightened around the bottle she held.
“That’s a fine idea, Mr. Swearengen. I believe I’ll speak of that as Ava falls asleep.”
He heard one soft sob as she passed, then the madam collected her composure and turned towards the hidden door and her niece.
He took time to go by Dr. McDonald’s office to tell a rattled story about a patient’s extended treatment interrupted by an irate husband the day before, leading him to the conclusion that leaving town would be wise. Trixie was ready and waiting by the time he returned. Newsboys were calling out about the policeman’s murder as Al finished his dealings with the First Bank of Denver and pointed his hired wagon towards Nevada and Virginia City, Trixie by his side. They finally had a decent stake, and Virginia City had the Comstock mine, worked by thirsty, horny miners.
Things were looking up.
A/N Concrit, comments, always welcome and appreciated. This is a follow-up to "Miseries and Familiars" taking place a few years later.
I plan to continue prequels up until 1976 and the start of Deadwood proper.