Western Short Story
Johnny Reneger
Ben Fine

Western Short Story

My name is Johnny Reneger and I’m a gambler. I own the Gold and West Saloon in Brown Peak, Arizona. I came to Brown Peak five years ago to get away from some trouble I had gambling on the riverboats along the Mississipi and Missouri. It was by happenstance that I own the saloon but it was on account of three different women that I came to where I am now. That’s what this tale is all about.

Let me start before I came to this city. I was born and raised back in a small town is eastern Ohio. My father was a grocer and my folks both were good Christians and church-going people. Despite their intentions of raising me right, I took to gambling early. By the time I was twenty years old I had traveled down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and then drifted on to pleasures of the gaming houses in New Orleans. I had a head for cards and I understood odds and I learned to really play and gamble in the New Orleans establishments. As I became even better and more proficient I started gambling on the riverboats. There were constant high stakes games on the river and I knew when to hold and when to fold. On the big rivers I made a great deal of cash. My success angered the host of people whose money I took. Many of the losers were influential people who traveled up and down the rivers and gambled. Because of them many of the boats banned me.

In one game I beat a notorious well-known gambler who accused me falsely of cheating. I had become quite capable with a gun but I had no desire to kill anyone. Instead of fighting him, I left the river gambling boats and headed further west onto the frontier. Each small town on the prairie had a saloon that was both a casino and a brothel, as well as a drinking establishment. I traveled the small town circuit along the great plains, through Kansas and then Colorado and continued earning a living at the tables.

Eventually I arrived in Brown Peak, Arizona, a small city in the western part of the state near the copper mines. It was a bit bigger than many frontier settlements but still looked the same as a hundred other towns that dotted the open country on the pastures and deserts. There was one dusty main street and no wood sidewalks. From building to building you had to walk through the dust and the mud. There were only a few people on the street and a few dogs scavenging for food. In the middle of town sat a two story hotel that doubled as a boarding house and a restaurant, then a sheriff’s office, a tiny town hall, a general store, a bank and mining office, a livery stable and of course, across the street from the hotel, a saloon, that I knew had gaming tables and fancy girls.. Set apart a bit was a small, well kept building, painted white with a cross on top, that I recognized as the town church; a place I rarely frequented.

The only saloon in town was the Gold and Western, which as in every small frontier town doubled as a casino and a brothel. As soon as I arrived in Brown Peak, I rented a room at the hotel across the main street from the saloon, and after settling in and having dinner at Lucy’s the restaurant attached to the hotel, I walked across the street and planted myself at the Gold and Western. After having a few drinks and watching the tables, I joined a friendly game and my gambling career resumed in Brown Peak.

Hector Montoya was a rich Mexican who owned the saloon. How he got to Brown Peak I never learned but as I would discover, Montoya was bad hombre. Although he kept an air of respectability as a businessman in town, he secretly led a gang of fellow Mexican bandidos that terrorized the villages and stole from the poor peons across the border. His gang also attacked the stages that ran between the mining towns in Arizona, but the Arizona Rangers were never able to catch them. Montoya in his dealing with the Anglo population, who ran the town, tried to maintain an illusion of being on the up and up.

Montoya was an arrogant and cruel man who above all liked being a man of respect – un hombre de respeto– in the town. He deeply resented the Anglos disdain for him. He hated being called a beaner, a derogatory term that was coming into fashion to describe Mexicans. He bristled whenever anyone said the term and had pulled his gun several times to silence the men who uttered it. Despite that, he had never killed anyone over it, just threatened them.

After that initial card game, I stayed in the Brown peak Hotel and began to gamble each night in the Gold and Western. As in my past, I was quite successful. When I played in the faro games and the roulette wheel tables, most nights I beat the house. This caught Montoya’s attention and he watched me win. When I had been in Brown Peak for about three weeks, Montoya walked over and talked to me.

“Reneger. I see that you know the games well. How would you like to run the casino for me? I need someone who knows what they’re doing and someone I can trust. I have a good feeling about you.”

This took me completely by surprise. It was nothing I ever expected. I thought it over quickly and told him yes. This was something I could do well. That was five years ago and I became Hector Montoya’s junior partner. I should have been grateful and loyal to Montoya but his arrogance and general cruelty repelled me so I did my job without getting too friendly with my senior partner. I tried to avoid any of his criminal acts. On his part he acted quite friendly to me and treated me like his close buddy.

I began to really enjoy the aura of respect that I now received being a businessman, even in the business of vice. I made a substantial living and had a small house built for myself at the edge of town. Things sailed along – I was comfortable and making money. Then three different women changed my whole life; one for the good and one for the bad, while the third was a friend who unfortunately wound up with the wrong man.

Evelyn Keating was the friend. She was a sweet woman who had come west from St. Louis, with her sister, to find a husband. She worked as the waitress in the town restaurant Lucy’s, run by Lucy Kavidge, who did the cooking. The restaurant was attached to the Brown Peak Hotel. Evelyn was lovely and charming but also very naïve, traits that made her desirable by almost every man in town. Each day I ate in Lucy’s and Evelyn would talk to me. I was one of the few single men in Brown Peak who didn’t have the desire for Evelyn. I prefer a woman who knows her way around and she was much too innocent for me. There were many women , traveling on the riverboats, who attracted me,. Rich gamblers with cash attracted them and I’ve enjoyed quite a few but Evelyn was just not for me.

Blanton Blaine was the deputy sheriff in Brown Peak. The elected sheriff Tom Collins was useless and just collected his salary. Justice in the town fell to U.S. Marshall Paul Peterson who was competent and kept the town quiet and livable. The sheriff was content to let Peterson police the city. Blaine, like his boss, did basically nothing, and although he worked as a lawman, he was in truth an outlaw. He had made friends with Montoya and looked the other way whenever Montoya’s bandidos rode into town. Occasionally he would ride together with the bandidos on one of their raids south of the border. Peterson knew all about Blaine and Montoya but didn’t rock the boat as long as the town remained quiet.

Blaine was handsome and charming. He began to court Evelyn, talking to her each day, as I did, in the restaurant. She fell for him in a big way, but he only used her and had no intention of marrying her. As she became more and more dependent on him, he abused her; beat her, and took advantage of her.

I became friendly with Evelyn and talked to her each evening while I ate my dinner. Blaine was jealous of me but said nothing. I carried a gun and my reputation from the riverboats was that I could use it, so Blaine, who was no gunman, had no desire to test me. Evelyn felt close to me and poured her heart about Blaine. My advice to her was that he was no good and she should drop him and find someone better. Love is very tough, and hard to explain, and despite my warnings she stayed with him.

The second woman was Ella Raines. She was the sister of Bill Raines, the richest rancher around Brown Peak. Ella was beautiful but as treacherous and devious as a desert rattlesnake. As Bill’s sister, she had money and power in Brown Peak, but she wanted her own money and her own power. I could tell that she would do anything to have them. She set her sights on Montoya and easily trapped the Mexican. Montoya fell madly in love with her, both for her beauty and for the respectability it gave him. The upstanding Anglos in Brown Peak tolerated Montoya, but looked down their noses at him. Ella knew that being with Montoya brought her power and she stayed with him, while for Montoya she was an in to the wealthy Anglo society. Bill Raines was not happy with his sister’s choice but what could he do, so he accepted it. It became known quickly that Ella Raines was Montoya’s woman. Eventually Montoya married her and here’s where I come in.

I would see Ella in the Gold and Western. .She was a totally respectable woman but as Montoya’s wife she could stay in his saloon, a right forbidden by society to most of the “good” women in town. On my breaks from watching the gaming tables, Ella and I would often talk. I could make her laugh and I could tell she was attracted to me.

Montoya had built a nice big house on the edge of town, near my much smaller dwelling. One evening Montoya stayed in the saloon and I walked Ella home. We talked and joked and suddenly we fell together and then kissed. She was a beautiful woman and a good kisser but I regretted it immediately. I knew better that to get involved with another man’s wife, especially one as powerful and cruel as Montoya. She however became obsessed with me. Each evening after that kiss, she stood by me in the Gold and Western and talked to me incessantly. Montoya looked at her attention to me angrily but did nothing.

Blaine continued to abuse Evelyn and I took it on myself to tell him to lay off of her. He threatened to kill me, but I knew I could handle him so his threats did not worry me. I never suspected the he would hurt Evelyn badly.

One morning Evelyn came to me outside of Sally’s with a battered face. She had been beaten. She told me that Blaine was incensed because she spent so much time talking to me, so he pummeled her. I was tempted to take it out on Blaine, but instead I just told her that she had to leave him. After that, I don’t know what happened, but Evelyn was found strangled behind the Gold and Western. Suspicion fell immediately on Blaine and the Marshall had to step in.

Peterson closely questioned Blaine but the deputy wouldn’t admit to killing Evelyn and wouldn’t let himself be arrested. “I’m the deputy sheriff here” he boasted “you can’t touch me.” When the Marshall pressed his investigation unto Evelyn’s death, Blaine attempted to fight it out with Peterson. Blaine foolishly drew his gun on the Marshall who shot and killed him.

The two deaths so close together, Blaine and Evelyn, shocked the city but such things were common in the prairie towns like Brown Peak. The Marshall wired Evelyn’s sister, Diane, who lived in Denver, with the bad news. The sister wired back that she was taking the train to Brown Peak to claim her sister’s body.

When she arrived in Brown Peak she stayed in the hotel. I went to introduce myself and to tell her how sorry I was about Evelyn’s death. Losing her sister was heavy blow to the young woman. I related how I had warned Evelyn about Blaine. The sister told me that Evelyn had written to her and told her that she loved Blaine but also how nice I was even though I was gambler.

Diane was beautiful and self-confident. She knew her way around both the world and around men. She had none of the naivety of her sister. She could ride a horse like a man and joke like a man but still was loving and romantic like a woman. She was everything I ever desired in a woman. In only two days of knowing her I decided that she was the woman I wanted to marry.

She decided to leave the body in Brown Peak and four days later, after burying Evelyn in the small cemetery in town, she was prepared to return to Denver. I went with her to the train station to say goodbye. While standing there with her, waiting for the northbound train, I took a gambler’s chance, and told her that I cared about her and asked her to marry me. Surprisingly she said yes and that she felt the same way about me. She never got onto the train and we prepared to marry.

When Ella found out about Diane and me she became enraged. She came to me outside of the Gold and Western and told me that if she couldn’t have me no one could.

“I’ll tell Hector that you assaulted me. He does everything I tell him to and he’ll kill you.”

Calmly I told her “Ella please forget about me. You’re Montoya’s woman and I can’t be interested in you.”

Despite my pleas, she went to Montoya, her love slave and told him that I assaulted her and that I told her I had to have her and I would kill Montoya.

Montoya was insane with jealousy and he came after me. I was working, watching the gaming tables in the saloon, when Montoya came in. I had my back to him but he pulled his gun. He would have shot me right then in the back, if the crowd hadn’t been there. Suddenly he yelled at me, “Reneger, you go after my wife you’d better prepare to meet your maker. Go for your gun.” As I turned to face him he went to shoot.

I’m good with gun and my draw is quite fast but instead of drawing and firing I dove down to the floor and from there pulled my colt 45 from its holster. Montoya fired but I was no longer in place. From the ground, I fired back and hit Montoya squarely in the chest. The bullet ripped through him and he toppled over. Ella looked on and yelled that I had killed him because I wanted her.

Marshall Peterson took over and I quickly related what had happened. The truth was evident and there were no charges in the shooting.

Diana stayed in Brown Peak and I married her . Ella claimed the ownership of the Gold and Western but the courts ruled that because I was the junior partner and her husband had tried to kill me she forfeited her claim as his wife. By default, I now own the casino and saloon. Ella Raines is bitter and lives with her brother. She is constantly trying to either get me to want her or to get others, such as her brother, to go after and kill me. Nothing seems to work for her.