Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 8


The Gem Theater. It was the largest, most popular brothel in Deadwood. Naturally, it was also the rowdiest.

Prostitutes milled about in various states of undress. Some weren’t that bad looking in the right light. Others looked better in the dark or after a few beers.

Filthy roughneck miners were the establishment’s main clientele. They stank from long days spent out in search of gold. And what little treasure they found, they were happy to fritter it away on cheap booze and cheaper women.

Long before Al Capone or John Gotti, there was Al Swearengen, the man who ran his criminal enterprise with an iron fist, all the while posing as a humble businessman.

Al’s hair and mustache were greasy due to the black shoe polish he rubbed into it daily to keep the gray at bay. At a casual glance, he looked like any good barkeep. He wore an apron to keep the liquor from staining his clothes. He took orders from customers and poured brews promptly.

He even responded to employee grievances. Lorelai, a working girl in her late twenties who looked as though she might have been a beauty before she lost a tooth and drank one too many, sloshed up to the bar.

“Al,” Lorelai said. “Phil’s back and he’s smellier and uglier than ever. I think he shit his pants.”

Al’s last name was apt. He didn’t just swear. He was an artist who used obscenity as the paint that he applied to the canvas of life. There was a certain Shakespearean way to which he told people off.

“Sweetheart,” Al said. “When the the world turns upside down and all that makes sense ceases to be, thus generating a sequence of events that leads to a fucking knight in shining armor barging his way into the joint and demanding to see my finest toothless whore posthaste, I guarantee you that I’ll point him in your direction without delay.”

Lorelai frowned.

“But until that momentous occasion comes,” Al said. “Go fuck Phil.”

“Ughh!” Lorelai stomped her foot in protest then walked away.

Al looked across the sea of drunk barflies before him.

“Whores. Am I right?”

The barflies nodded and offered various expressions of agreement.

A young man in his early twenties stepped out of Al’s back office and closed the door. He tied his long hair back in a pony tail and had a scraggily beard. He approached the bar.

“Al,” the young man said. “That situation you wanted to tend to…it uh…needs tending to.”

“As we speak?” Al asked.


Al wasn’t one to suffer fools lightly. He sighed.

“Jesus Christ, Mike. Is this an issue that must be acted upon without delay?”


Al removed his apron, folded it neatly and stowed it underneath the bar. He did the same with the towel he had over his shoulder.

“Mitsy!” Al yelled.

Mitsy was a particularly corpulent wench sitting in the corner who, at the moment, was working her feminine whiles on a sleepy octogenarian in the back corner.

She stood, adjusted her plentiful bosom, then walked over.

“Al,” Mitsy said. “I think Ralph is about to bite.”

Al took a look at Ralph, whose face was firmly planted down against the table, drooling away.

“Dear, I wouldn’t wager that wrinkly old fuck has bitten anything since George Washington was in diapers,” Al said. “Your services are needed here. Listen up, boys!”

A few heads turned. “Mitsy can pour beers and shots. If you need some kind of special mixed drink, I recommend that you go and fuck yourself, because this isn’t France.”

Al and Mike walked to Al’s office.

Once they were out of earshot of the barflies, Al asked, “Is he alive?”



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8 thoughts on “Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 8

  1. He was an artist who used obscenity as the paint that he applied to the canvas of life. – fabulous sentence but then Al uses like one swear word in his next speech which is five lines long. In fact he barely swears at all. Don’t gild a lily that isn’t going to appear.

    • Well…here’s the rub.

      Backing up a bit, earlier this year, I had to choose between making Zombed just a quick easy story about some cowboys vs. zombies, one and done (kind of wish I’d done that now) or just keep it going on forever.

      As I started reading about the old West to get some ideas, I read about Wild Bill Hickok getting shot in the back whilst gambling and my brain started working. What if he was secretly a vampire hunter? What if he was carrying a deck with the faces of the evil vampires printed on them?

      And thus, based on that, I decided it might be worth it to build up all the backstory behind the “Legion” in Zombed.

      Seemed like a cool idea. It led me into a foray where I had to start leaving my original characters and start using historical characters that are basically public domain and belong to the ages.

      Wyatt Earp came at the very end of Zombed. I thought about it and then decided it would be funny to portray him as history’s first action movie star where everyone thinks he’s a celebrity and awesome and everything.

      Teddy Roosevelt came in the monologue and I portrayed him as this guy that just fearlessly punches bears in the face and throws himself at things that people would normally walk away from.

      Then I got started with this novel. Bullock, ok, pretty much standard leading man. Martha Bullock, ok, loving wife who disapproves of her husband’s risk taking.

      Then the past few chapters I’m wondering if I’ve reached a corner.

      See, these characters are public domain but, I also don’t want to run afoul of the HBO series Deadwood (did you see it? Surely a history buff like yourself saw it.)

      So, yes I can use all these historical characters, make them mine, they’ve been dead hundreds of years so they can’t sue me…but…

      HBO’s portrayal of those characters belongs to them so I don’t want to run afoul of that, get sued, be accused of copying them or what have you.

      Thus, I’ve started to get a little nervous.

      In the HBO show, there’s a love triangle between Bullock, Martha, and a fictional woman they invented, “the Widow Garrett.”

      The show’s story line is that Martha was his brother’s wife. The brother dies and Bullock feels it is his duty to marry her and take care of her and raise his nephew as his son, but he is torn as he has the super hots for the Widow Garrett.

      Instead, I just decided to have Mr. and Mrs. Bullock as a relatively happy married couple. From what I have found online, there’s nothing to indicate that they were unhappy or unfaithful.

      So I believe I’m ok vis a vis Mr. and Mrs. Bullock.

      Sol Starr – again I mean he belongs to the ages and my description of him basically comes from the photo of him I found online. So I believe I’m ok there.

      “The Town Fathers.”


      Rev. Henry Weston Smith – the HBO show portrayed him as crazy due to a brain tumor. In reality, he did not have a brain tumor.

      The info online seems to suggest that he was just a nice Reverend who decided Deadwood needed some preaching so he took it upon himself to go and preach there.

      When I saw his photo online, he did look like he had crazy eyes (though I mean it was 1800s photography so that isn’t fair) but whatever.

      Anyway, HBO had him as crazy. I have him as crazy. But no tumor and he’s doing a lot of different things…I think I’m ok here.

      (Though I feel bad this poor reverend who appears to have been a good person is getting pilloried but oh well. Maybe an after the book discussion can fix that.)

      A.W. Merrick – he was Deadwood’s newspaper owner. He ran the Black Hills Pioneer. I didn’t want to run afoul of that because that paper still exists so I changed it to the Deadwood Dispatch.

      My recollection of the HBO show was that he was a pretty basic character played by the guy who played the principal on Ferris Bueller.

      I think I’m good here. The basic description of an 1800s printer would be a guy in a green eyeshade I think.

      E.B. Farnum – I’m a little worried on this one. The HBO show depicted him as incompetent and low and behold, my instinct was also to depict him as incompetent.

      I feel bad about that because from what I found online, he did some positive things and there was nothing to indicate that he was a bad Mayor.

      But oh well. As the story goes on, I’m going to go out of my way to add some things that differentiate him from the HBO show so I think I’m good there.

      Dr. McGillicuddy was not in the HBO show at all but as I researched Deadwood I found him and his wacky beard so he seemed like a cool addition so I’m good there.

      Ahh, and then 10,000 words later, to get to your comment – Al Swearengen.

      If you haven’t seen the show – oh my God. Ian McShane made that show and without him it would have been nothing. Shakespearean swearing fit him to a T so much so that as I thought about it later today, I decided in the rewrite I need to just remove that entirely.

      I’m worried about including Al. Yes, he was real. Yes, he is a part of history and belongs to the ages. Yes, he’s been dead a long time and can’t sue me.

      But I don’t think he was on anyone’s radar until HBO breathed life into him and made him a Shakespearean swearer.

      As I think about it, and then look at the info available about him online, photos of him (the real life Al) online – my instinct that he was basically an early west mobster. That any depiction of a mobster would be a) swears a lot b) talks to everyone like they’re dirt and he’s better than they are c) has the obligatory scene where he is torturing someone over money that was lost.

      So I don’t believe HBO can own Al Swearengen as he was a historical character, and I don’t think they can own the concept of him swearing a lot and going out of his way to act like he was smarter than everyone and put everyone down and being funny as he did it …but I just have to be really, really careful.

      I have no idea what the real Al was. My gut tells me that he probably wasn’t that smart or intelligent and was probably like a dumb knuckle dragger who dragged women into his bar and smacked them around if they didn’t do it with dudes for money.

      But there’s not much story there.

      So I have no idea how to go out of my way to distance Al from the HBO Al but I have to at least try.

      As the story goes on, Lady Beatrice (aka Lady Blackwood from the first novel with a name change) will hit him up for assistance and then the going question for the rest of the novel will be whose side is he on – has he sold out to the vampires or is he playing them to help the heroes.

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