Jess the Keno Runner Part 2
by Judi Suni Hall
This is inspired by visiting my mother, one of the 'snowbirds' who lived in Reno for years. All locations are used fictitiously.
Knock, knock. Knock, knock. The sound brought Jess up from her deep sleep, from dreams of home in the Montana mountains. As she surfaced the knocks shifted to thumps that threatened to break the door. “All right, I’m coming. I’m coming!”
to the demands
of the day
Groggy, she swung her legs out of the bed, sat, and reached for her cell to check the time. The No Power light reminded her she’d meant to plug it in. Her chunky wristwatch told her it was 11:20 AM. Who could be here this time of day? Everyone knew she worked the night shift in the Keno lounge.
Thump, thump. She had to get the doorbell fixed. She’d reported it not working two weeks ago, and again last week, but José was always too busy. Oh… maybe that was José. Heartened Jess braved standing up. Her work swollen feet were tolerable to stand on, and the floor was cool. Two steps took her to the tiny closet. She pulled out her thin green and pink floral robe and put it on over the long pink T-shirt she slept in, then hurried to the door.
Common sense asserted itself just as she was about to unlock the door. Then again, it might not be José. Jess peered out the peep hole. Distorted by the lens was Frank looking tired and hung over. Jess pulled the door open.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were riding in Winnemucca.”
Besides being a neighbor back in Montana, Frank had been dating her favorite cousin for four years. So Jess knew all of his comings and goings on the bull riding circuit.
“Yeah, well…” Frank ran a hand over his stubble. “Jess, I’m fried. Can I come in?”
“Oh, sorry.” Jess yawned and stepped aside.
“Thanks.” Without asking Frank headed for the fridge. “What you got to drink?”
Before Jess could answer that one, because Frank did not need more to drink, there was another knock on the door. She knew that rhythm. Old Mrs. Sparrow from next door to the rescue. Blessing her, Jess pulled the door open again.
“Jess, are you all right?”
Jess smiled down at her tiny gray haired neighbor. She was armed with a cell phone, presumably to call the police, and her attacker repellent. Mrs. Sparrow had given Jess a long lecture on brand effectiveness a few weeks earlier.
“I’m fine. I’m sorry Frank disturbed you, but I was sound asleep.”
Ellie was unconvinced. She’d tried to get a look at the man through a small gap in the fence planks and hadn’t liked what she saw. Unshaven, dark-haired, tough. Jess was just too sweet to be down in Reno on her own. So far no family had come to check on her. Disgraceful! Look at the girl, answering the door wearing next to nothing. Her face without all that makeup looked so young, and was blotchy with sleep. Ellie automatically noted her roots were showing a natural light brown that would suit Jess better than the blonde, and probably cost her her job.
“Well, since I’m here, do introduce me, dear.” She put the spray away, but kept her cell in her hand.
Well, with Mrs. Sparrow here, maybe Frank would settle for cold water. “Come in.”
Ellie noticed how gingerly Jess was moving. Her feet were sore again. Keno running was hard work. Did these young girls know about Epsom salts? Probably not. Her granddaughters treated any advice she had like it came from the dark ages. They only believed what they read on the web.
for fifteen seconds
Oh damn! Frank had found the remains of the six pack Tony had put in the fridge on the weekend.
“Frank,” Jess said a little too loudly to distract him before he could open a beer, “this is my neighbor Ellie Sparrow. Ellie, this is Frank. He’s a friend from Montana down to ride the bulls at Winnemucca.”
Ellie’s eyes widened, and her cell phone went in a pocket. That Frank! With her first smile she said, “Will you take first? They have a good purse.”
“Better,” Frank muttered, scratching his neck. “Don’t and I won’t have gas money back to Montana.”
It wasn’t supposed to have gone that way. He always kept gas money safe back at the motel. But a friend staying there too had told him of another high-stakes game and he’d been sure of recouping his losses. So what happens? Flat broke, nothing left to pawn, too drunk to drive, no money for another night at the motel, and just enough gas to get to the rodeo if he didn’t use the AC. He’d tried sleeping the worst of the drunk off in the pickup in the motel lot with the windows down, but Reno was damned hot in the summer. That was when he’d remembered Jess.
in the shimmering heat
Ellie gave Frank an assessing look. Now that she could see him properly he looked a lot like his father had at that age. And he smelt like he had the same problem, couldn’t handle alcohol. Add that up with this being Reno and he probably couldn’t handle gambling either. Well, if he started on that beer this early in the day, he wouldn’t do himself any favors, or improve his odds of getting to Winnemucca on time. Ellie didn’t like to see that. He was better on the bulls than his father had been, and Frank Senior had been one of the best. And she definitely did not like the idea of him sitting here drinking with Jess asleep.
“Frank, you don’t know me, but your uncle has two of the cutting horses my late husband and I raised. Friday4, and Wander Wind.” Friday4 was an unimaginative name, but the foal had been born at 4 AM in a spring blizzard and no one had been feeling the least bit imaginative, just anxious to get back to a warm bed.
Frank blinked and tried to focus on this change of direction. It took a moment, but he got there. He scratched his neck again at the tan line. “Friday4 is still the best horse on his ranch.” He extended a hand that only shook slightly. “Pleased to meet you.” And please please go away, lady. I need a beer and six hours of sleep.
“No offense, Frank, but you need to sleep it off.” Ellie watched Jess give an alarmed look at her couch. So Frank was not invited. “Jess needs her own sleep working nights. I’ve got a nice guest room I keep for the family. You’re welcome to it. When Jess wakes up she can come over and I’ll make you both waffles.”
It was phrased as an offer, but had the tone of a command. Half drunk and hung over or not, Frank recognized maternal authority. “Yes ma’am. Thank you ma’am.” He reached for the partial sixpack but Jess snatched it away.
“Come on, Jess.”
“You really want to ride like this?”
“No.” Frank admitted defeat. “Have a good sleep, Jess.”
He followed the diminutive elderly woman out the door. Horse breeder, huh? Canadian snowbird. That was where those horses were from, the foothills near Calgary.
She couldn’t do it. Sleep was impossible. As soon as she relaxed, or told herself to relax and shut her eyes, Jess saw Frank’s first place belt buckle sitting in the pawn shop window. If she gave up and admitted she was awake, Jess found herself biting her lip and wondering what to do about the belt buckle. It was wrong for Frank to not be wearing it at Winnemucca. She mentally recalculated her accounts, what she absolutely had to buy in the next three months. Even if she spent all her precious savings to redeem the buckle, there would be too much debt to pay off in three months. She just couldn’t do it. She didn’t dare go more than three months in debt.
Trying to relax, in her mind’s eye Jess saw her mother’s tidy basement with a well planned supply of food on the shelves. It was carefully replaced and used as the seasons progressed. The tradition came from her settler great-great-grandmother who learned the hard way plans do not always come to fruition. If she ever got that cabin, she might start to do that, stock a cupboard. Or it might still be cheaper to eat at a casino ... Jess drifted, tried to drowse.
It wasn’t working! She had to do something or she’d never sleep, and tonight would be a busier than usual night with the bus tour from San Francisco at the casino. Sitting up, Jess called Rachel. This was not a stretch out and relax in bed call.
“Jess! What are you doing awake midday?”
Her cousin sounded distracted, and Jess could hear the background noise of farm equipment.
“Frank came and pounded on my door.”
“Oh no! Is he still there? I’ll get rid of him for you.”
“It’s okay. He’s sleeping it off in the spare bedroom of a neighbor. But,” Jess bit her lip again, “he’s pawned his buckle.” There. It was out.
“Again.” Rachel slumped against the barn wall and swore.
“This is the third time this month. Tell me the name of the pawn shop and I’ll wire the money so he can get it out.”
“Did you do that the other times?”
Looking at the horizon Rachel sighed. “He’ll pay me back – sometime.”
“Sometime,” Jess said skeptically. “Why don’t you dump him, Rachel?”
The voice drifted off. Yes. Because. Jess wondered if a man who was ‘because’ like that would ever enter her life. Tony was a nice guy, and she really liked him, but he wasn’t a ‘Because’.
“I’ll get that number,” she said brusquely, “and call you back.”
© Gingezel 2017
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is strictly coincidental. Locations are used fictitiously.