Originally posted by fragrantwoods at Twisted Way of Protection
length: 1610 words
Rating: R for language, implied/referenced sexual situations
Gen, background for Jewel
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: Part of an on-going prequel to the Deadwood characters of 1876: Imagined account of how Jewel came to work for Al
Twisted Way of Protection
She didn’t know who she was anymore, she thought as she looked out the plate-glass window and idly watched the townspeople walk by in the dusty street, afternoon sun illuminating swirls of dirt and ash. More precisely, she didn’t know what she was, without Al by her side acting as her touchstone.
Six weeks, he had said. Maybe less. He was on the road somewhere, and she was stuck in a second-rate saloon turning second-rate tricks. If not for the cigarettes and dope, Trixie thought she would be mad from boredom by now. She figured if she focused on the boredom enough, maybe it wouldn’t let any niggling fears slip through the cracks. Killing fear seemed to use up dope twice as fast, and she couldn’t afford that now.
A man so filthy from the mines she couldn’t tell his age gave her the eye through the big front window. She cut her eyes back to the interior of the dingy joint and lit up again, watching him out of the corner of her eye as he made a face and walked past the front door.
Some early mornings as she tried to get some sleep, she thought she’d never get the taste of mineshaft dirt out of her mouth. Even the ones who washed first seemed to have a dank, bitter smell embedded into their skin. She tried to think of the last man she’d serviced who’d been in a suit, and thought it might have been the week before they left Denver.
Al, that son-of-a-bitch, had introduced her to the middle-aged madam who ran the whores here, told the woman to treat her right, made a big fuckin’ show like Trixie meant something to him. She knocked the ash off her smoke, not wiling right that second to give him any credit that he might have been telling the truth. Fucker knows everything, she thought. How’d the madam’s ill health get by him?
He’d been gone three weeks when the madam, Daisy something, had started throwing up blood. He’d been gone four weeks when they buried her. Her weak-chinned baby brother Elijah was trying to run the tables, bar, and girls, and generally making a mess of things.
Trixie was no card sharp, but she could tell there was slick dealing going on, money draining out of the house coffers. Typical amateur, instead of cleaning up the card dealers, he raised the house cut of the girls’ earnings to make back the money. Went the easy way, messed with the girls’ money instead of the men he likely feared would beat him if he challenged their tally.
Al’s all kinds of a bastard, but he can keep his people in line, she thought. Most times, even me. She stubbed out her cigarette and ducked into the kitchen, finding a quiet corner to do a hit before starting again.
Bottle back in her pocket, she pulled the neckline of her stained linen blouse down enough to show off the goods as she floated back into the main saloon and looked for her next trick. As she went down on her knees by a back corner table, blonde hair hiding her narrow face, her breath caught in her throat from the smell coming off of the man’s rank clothes. She wondered what kind of an afternoon Al was having, and hoped he was at least a little bit miserable.
He wished he had a rational reason to just go ahead and cut her throat, the fat waddling she-pimp who stood before him, vacillating between avarice and fear. She was not being quite enough of an impediment that he could make such a move seem practical, as yet. He’d be almost embarrassed to admit that he’d wanted to do that very thing for over thirty years, and was only now seriously considering slicing her from ear to ear.
Thoughts of delays and bloodstains had stayed his hand thus far. Maybe it would be enough, to let her keep seeing the blood lust in his eyes, letting her smell his sweat and anger as he stood closer than either of them found comfortable. He could see the pulse jump in her throat and found her anxiety calming.
“Mr. Swearengen, you have to believe I was never going to put her in the poorhouse! I was just trying to motivate her to step a little quicker, give a little more effort to her chores. I’ve known Jewel since she was a babe, and I-“
He leaned closer. She thought she could count every line in his slowly weathering face. She tried to move back but he had cornered her up against the wall a good five minutes ago. The old woman’s thin dirty hair was starting to mat with sweat, although the day was seasonably cool and pleasant.
“So, knowing her from a babe, as you say, what was the reason that you thought, at this point of her life, she could be threatened into forgoing being a cripple? Had you seen her out on the town, kicking up her heels when she thought herself unobserved? Witnessed a moonlight jig, maybe?”
He barely refrained from gritting his teeth as he spoke in a dead chilled tone. “What was it, Mrs. Anderson? Did her halting step offend your ears? Did her twisted hand cause her to spill tea on your Sunday dress? “
A mocking imitation of concern came over his features as he folded his hands in front of him like a concerned clergyman. “I’m just…trying to understand the truth of the matter."
He let her rattle on with excuses while he reflected on the probable reasons. He wouldn’t be surprised if Jewel had been slowing down some, compared to the quickness with which she had moved when younger, in spite of her infirmities. She’d had sand aplenty when she was a scrappy little cripple in the orphanage building. Once or twice, a young teen-aged Al had had to sort out a backyard bully bent on making her cry, but for the most part, Jewel would hold her own as best she could, surprising strength in her twisted frame.
No, more likely she had seen or heard something she shouldn’t have, disappearing into the background as all good servants do around company. Seen a pillar of the community buying a young orphan boy from Mrs. Anderson, or some such. The damnable irony was that Jewel would most likely keep the real reason to herself, even if she couldn’t hide her distress over being sent to the city poorhouse, or her relief at seeing her old rescuer, all grown up and emanating a subtle but deadly menace.
He had just finished making his mental selection of two whores out of ten presented, girls who would be the starting stock for his planed Virginia City saloon. Pretty, and sturdy-looking, likely to be good earners for a mining town. He had been calculating the cost when he heard a soft slurred voice behind him.
“Al! Is that really you?” He had turned, smiling, to greet her, one of the few people who held a pleasant childhood memory for him. Then he realized she had been crying. He had moved into the kitchen to talk with her privately, away from the pitying looks of the whores.
“Yeah, Jewel, it’s me.” He searched her face. “What’s wrong? I haven’t seen you like this since Billy Arnold stuck you in the fork of that tree.”
He smiled at the memory of the beating he had given Billy over that. Jewel had just been learning to bake then, and had haltingly made her way to his room, dragging her bad leg. She had given him a sliver of fresh-baked gingerbread as thanks, hiding it in her apron from the other boys and presenting it with shy pride. That memory made her current distress bite into him even deeper.
She had explained in trembling awkward words. Mrs. Anderson had told her the week before that she was going to have to move to the city poorhouse by the end of the month. To make room for someone whole and sound, Mrs. Anderson had told her, someone who could give a good day’s work. Her words became stronger and harsher the longer she talked.
He felt obligated to tell her something of his long-term plans and the hardships that might come with them, before he offered any options. The next couple of years, maybe longer, would not be easy. Or particularly safe.
“It’s a rough place, Jewel, and I’ve a mind to set up for good in a place even rougher and wilder that Virginia City. You understand, it won’t be like living here, with streets and stores and such.”
She had snorted at that. “Wherever you go, you’re going to be selling pussy and liquor, right?”
“Yes,” he said gravely. “And most likely games of chance.”
She had dried her eyes as she made her pitch. “And whores, barmen, and dealers…they all gotta eat, right? Have their piss-pots and spittoons emptied out, their rooms tidied?”
“Assuming they have rooms and not just a corner of a tent, yes.”
She had become serious then. “I can do this, Al. Keep me from what that bitch is planning for me, and I’ll do whatever you want.” She had grinned, then, looking for a second like the spunky mischievous child she had once been. “You need me to, I’ll sell pussy to them that can’t pay for a regular girl. I can earn my fucking keep.”
He chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He turned towards the eavesdropping whores. “Help Jewel get her stuff together. She’s coming with us.”
Yay, Jewelfic! Makes sense that she was the one who invented Al’s excuse for keeping her around.
“So, knowing her from a babe, as you say, what was the reason that you thought, at this point of her life, she could be threatened into forgoing being a cripple?
That’s a very Al way of putting it. ;)
I was most curious of all to see how the Jewel-voice sounded to you, since you've written her so much more. Anything that needs tweaking, or sounded off, let me know.
When I looked for an image of her, I found the funniest shot of Geri Jewell and Ian McShane acting like the biggest couple of goofballs ever at a wrap party. It was adorable.