Jess the Keno Runner
by Judi Suni Hall
This is inspired by visiting my mother, one of the 'snowbirds' who lived in Reno for years.

Jess the Keno Runner Haiga by Judi Suni Hall at Gingezel.
keno runner
yawning in the morning sun
ready for her day's sleep

Jess didn't exactly plan it this way. When she came to Reno from the farm in Montana she was going to get into entertainment, make it big. After all, she was popular as a singer in the small bars around Butte. It hadn’t taken many weeks to see her money and that dream gone though. Since she had no intentions of going back and letting her aunt do ‘I told you so’ she'd taken the only job she could find, keno runner on the pre-breakfast shift at a small casino.

It wasn't bad. The casino was empty of all but the serious gamblers that time of night. She didn't mind the aching feet and what she was told were the beginnings of varicose veins too much. Her feet had acted up clerking to get the money to come here, so it wasn't exactly a surprise.

The day was going to be another hot one. Jess stretched, arching her back. Then with a determined fluff of her dyed blonde hair she started the six block walk to her apartment.

soft morning air
carries the smell of breakfast
across the parking lot

Jess cut across the empty street to the supermarket. She needed juice and some bread, a piece of fruit, a few other things, nothing expensive. It was cheaper to eat at the casino. She'd had breakfast after her shift, but she always woke up hungry. The place was deserted except for the cashiers. She nodded to Marge and got a cart.

empty aisles
juice, white bread, soup
slot machines at checkout

She fed her change into her favorite slot. Okay! A small win that put her five dollars ahead on the shopping. That was a sign of luck for sure.

Blinking, Jess stepped out into the sun. In front of the pawn shop she stopped to check her reflection in the window. Her necklace was gorgeous. The shop owner had sworn that even the large stones were real turquoise, not composite. Jess didn't believe that for a second but it was still gorgeous. Her hand went up to the necklace, shifting it slightly, making the gold links gleam in the reflection. It was only last week that a big winner, a regular who flew in from San Francisco, had given her the tip she’d used to buy the necklace. There was turquoise again in the center of the display, real this time she knew.

pawn shop window
first place belt buckle
the winner lost

Should she buy it? It belonged to Frank on the neighboring ranch back in Montana. No one could touch him bull riding, but he couldn't handle alcohol. She'd seen him leaving the casino then coming back without the buckle, but he hadn't seen her, hadn’t even looked into the keno lounge. He liked card games and he’d kept playing until after dawn. Jess studied the buckle. Frank had been so proud of it. She almost had enough saved. But would he be grateful for its return or furious she knew he'd lost gambling? For sure Tony, her boyfriend, wouldn't like it. Jess gave the buckle one last irresolute look and moved on.

Tony was a good thing happening. He was a cook on the morning shift and they were dating regular. They were even making plans, arranging to have the same day off and looking for somewhere in the country to live. He liked to hike, she just wanted nature around her. So they were exploring all the back roads. If they got anything it would have to be a cheap old farmhouse but that was okay. Jess understood work. She could fix one up. Tony said they should try to be close to Truckee. Get to know more people there and maybe he could move up to being a sous chef in one of the good restaurants there. Maybe she could get back to singing at the festivals. Maybe. Anyway, the exploring was fun.

Her feet didn't just hurt, they throbbed. Oh well, it was only another half block to the apartment complex. Jess gritted her teeth and strode on. She'd take the damned shoes off and go barefoot since her panty hose had a run, but someone who knew her would see her for sure. Turning into the walkway between the two low wings, she instinctively looked up to the second floor.

two doors down
an important man …
the pit boss

Hank would be even later getting to sleep than her. He hadn't been on the floor all night, and they said a big game upstairs had asked the management for him as dealer. A game like that could run for days. Could she work up to a job like Hank's? Jess certainly intended to try. And the casino was starting to accept her as regular staff, not one of the girls who stuck it out for a month or so. So she had a chance. Unless of course she and Tony moved to the country and she got work in Truckee.

The door to the patio next to hers opened as she fumbled with the latch on the door to her own patio with tired hands. Tiny Ellie was there, looking depressingly tidy and fresh. She wasn't an employee of some casino like the rest of them. She was a retiree, a gray-haired snowbird from Canada. Jess knew about snowbirds from the odd time she filled in on day shift.

breaking even at keno
over lunch … buy dessert
play another round

They always made the minimum bet, stretching it out, just passing time. They were there more to watch people than to gamble although they enjoyed their small wins, and they liked the cheap food. Politely she asked about Ellie's family, listened, then lied about her own.

At last Jess was home in her tiny one bedroom apartment. All she had to do was put the juice in the fridge, wash the make up off her face, and slip into blessed oblivion.

pulling the
blackout drapes for
a day's sleep

© Gingezel 2015.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is strictly coincidental. Locations are used fictitiously.