written for yuletide 2006, with a brief throw to jae's brilliant by faith and by fire universe.
The Gem smells different from the Bella Union. Cy's place always smelled of heavy cloth and heavier wood, soaked-in booze and just the slightest whiff of pussy, just enough to make a man's mouth start watering before he even knew what he was hungry for.
This ... isn't that. Joanie isn't the sort to turn up her nose, because she started out worse than here and in some of her more desolate moments she's figured she's like to end up worse than here. But it's still The Gem, and she's tired right through to her bones so she doesn't have the energy to even be particular when the crippled cleaning-woman rounds her off and says, "You don't want to come this way, unless you figure your boots might look better with sawdust and vomit on 'em."
Joanie manages a slight smile and nod, diverting nimbly enough past the tables of men with quick pinching fingers and open leers to land at a small table tucked in under the stairs. The weight hardly eases off her feet when there's an insistent rustle at her elbow, and Joanie looks up to find that blonde whore with the sharp chin and desperate mouth regarding her.
"You better be wanting a drink," the blonde whore says, "and not be looking to rustle up business here for your own godforsaken place."
"You can line me up three whiskies and a cup of coffee at the close to help send them to God," Joanie tells her. The blonde whore stares flatly at her for a moment and Joanie doesn't look away until the woman turns and goes to the bar to get the whiskey. Joanie exhales in a long, slow breath and wonders if life for some people isn't like this, made up of small fights all the time for every little thing you want or need or could even conceive of. The idea makes her uncomfortable. She's never been good with turns of circumstance that were born easy.
She folds her hands on the table and looks around, taking in and dismissing all of the male gazes directed her way and wishing at the edges of her mind that she'd asked Jane to come with her -- only Jane would rather ride to Yankton and back on a saddle of cant hooks than set foot in Al Swearengen's establishment and she's done her best to make sure everybody in camp knows how she feels. There's enough places in Deadwood to get a bottle that Jane can safely consign Swearengen and his place to perdition and be assured that she'd never have to go dry for it.
"Here's your fuckin' whiskey." The blonde whore sets down the glasses with a pepperbox crack for each one; some of the liquor slops out across her hand and she raises it to her mouth without a thought. Joanie picks up that glass and knocks it back, wiping a thumb across her lips when she's done. The other woman is standing there with her fists on her hips, and every time she shifts her poorly-fitting corset drags at a new place on her chemise and pokes a new place on her ribcage.
"You saw me at the funeral earlier," Joanie opens it up, and before the woman can follow her sneer with some brave goddamn flippancy she continues, "I'm Joanie," and pushes one of the two whiskies left over to the other side of the table with the empty chair.
The blonde woman looks up, eyes doing a quick reconnoiter of the upper balcony before she swishes her skirt out of the way and sits in the chair. "Trixie," she offers, and Joanie asks, "How's the boy taking it? Justin."
"However the fuck people take it when they have the goddamn poor judgement and fucking temerity to throw their emotions in with somebody and it turns out they were coppering a bet right from the start." Trixie's words are harsh, but Joanie knows enough to hear the pain slicing through from underneath. For all the badmouthing and gossip, whores don't like it when one of their own suffers like this, in one of the only ways that really counts. This is more even than them being sad for Justin's loss; this is a mob mourning session for the death of that secret, small hope most whores cherish of finding somebody to love. It's a recurring death, and one that stings afresh each time. Joanie doesn't need to ask any more to know that Justin's not doing well, but she has no doubt that she'll continue to see him around camp, seeming a little harder around the eyes with every passing month.
Just once, Joanie would like to come up against a trouble that she doesn't already know on intimate terms.
"He's only but between hay and grass," she says, picking up her glass. "Plenty of time to learn how to conduct himself in this glorious profession."
Trixie laughs and it's more pretty than Joanie would've guessed, sounding like a piano trill and getting buried under the men hollering and the other whores plying their wares. "Ain't that the Lord's fucking gospel truth," she agrees, and the two of them throw their heads back and drink their whiskey. When they're done, there's but a beat of silent calm between them before Trixie throws her glass on the table and announces, "Get you that goddamn coffee." She's on her feet fast and stomping back towards the bar and Joanie knows that if she looks up to the upper balcony, she'll see Swearengen there, prowling like a bear with oiled mustaches and an evil look in his eye.
Joanie's still tired. The thought of going back to the Chez Amie is devastating; the sweat and shit miasma of The Gem doesn't make her cringe like the thought of her own place's smell, sweet dark draperies and blood and women. Jane will likely be there, ripped on cheap bourbon and tetchy with maudlin thoughts, but even her company won't cut through the lingering sense of horror that pervades the place for Joanie. The thought rises in her that she might never feel at peace in the Chez Amie again and she quashes it ruthlessly, knowing through long experience what she can afford to dwell on and what she can't as well as the more material circumstance of what she can financially afford to dwell on. Upstairs, she hears Al Swearengen shouting for Justin and hears the empty, chill hollowness of the boy's voice when he answers, and knows that they'll be making money tonight.
She sits at her small table tucked under the stairs. Her coffee never comes.