It took a little while, but they got used to it. The cowboys, I mean, cause they could be as closed minded as anyone else and working cattle with a little Texican girl like me had rubbed them a little wrong at first. But Parker knew me, the old man, and when I'd come round looking for work he hadn't tried to put me in the kitchen.
My daddy had worked his ranch the last few years before he'd died, so maybe Parker had figured he owed him something. I hadn't banked any of that though, and to tell the truth, I don't think Parker had either. He knew I could carry my own weight and then some, and after a few days he was sure of it.
The boys took a bit longer was all.
My dad was a Texan, his family going back to a long time before Sam Houston ever got there. My momma came from Juarez, the other side of the border, and I'd seen a picture of her, but that's all. I'd grown up with my dad, moving from ranch to ranch, getting some school where I could, but mostly learning how to throw rope, mend fence, and read minds. Horses, steers, and cowboys ... I knew what they were thinking, even if they didn't.
I got my three R's from living in the bunkhouses and handy homes, as they were called sometimes. Reading and writing from old newspapers and Zane Grey paperbacks, and math from playing poker with the boys. I'd been raped twice, but that second time had been more my fault than his, and I'd learned. It hadn't killed me and the only thing I'd lost was a bit of blood, and I'd got that back a few years later. An eye for an eye, like the Good Book says.
So that's me, California Oquias, or just Cali for short, all of five foot nothing and light, too light maybe, but wiry strong too. Ranch work will do that to a person. Small hard breasts, narrow hips and a big round Mexican ass that got a little more attention than it probably deserved. Brown skin like Rio Grande mud, bright brown eyes and thick black hair. I had a pretty face, round with high cheeks and a little nose. A good smile too and most of the boys liked to see me smile, but not all the time.
I wore a smile right then, sitting at the table after a long day's work and a good supper. I was looking at a full house in a friendly stakes game of Louisiana Hold 'Em and there might have been about two hundred in the pot, give or take.
"Twenty?" I looked around at the four guys I sat with. They were all young, in their early twenties like me. The older hands didn't play much cards with me anymore.
Bucky nodded too quick and I knew he was sitting on something, flush probably. I'd just asked to see who was excited and who wasn't.
"I'll put up ... uhhh..." I sighed, reaching down to my hip. I'd busted myself on a mare that morning, bitch of horse, but she was ridden now. "The Virgin Mary for your twenty and thirty more."
I stabbed my Bowie knife into the table so it stood straight up, quivering just a bit. It had a bone handle carved with the Virgin's likeness, or so I'd been told. It could've been the face of a Tijuana whore for all I knew. It was a good knife though, worth 50 bucks easy and they knew it.
"She's bluffing." Tex grinned at me and somewhere behind us one of the old guys clucked his tongue. He mighta believed that too, but he wasn't gonna pay to find out and Tex tossed his cards.
"I'm out." Slim, the bull faced kid on my left, threw his cards towards the pot.
"Me too." Earl shook his head, folding his cards neatly and shoving them away.
Bucky stayed in though, like he had to being the Buck and all, and I just kept smiling.
"Thirty to me?" he asked, chewing on a long splinter of wood that he'd been using for a toothpick. "Payday stakes?"
"What?" I laughed at him and the other guys chuckled too. "Long time 'til payday, Buck. Too long."
A few days before payday and I'd have let him draw light, taking a marker. He'd be good for it anyway, but it was bunk house rules; ten days was a long time to be writing checks and a fella could run out of payday before he ran out of poker. Bucky had to pay up front, just like we all did.
"Well, shit." Bucky rubbed his jaw. He wasn't gonna try and borrow money neither, that never went too far. "I'll put up the roan for collateral, how about that?"
"Collateral?" Tex grinned at him.
"I ain't no banker," I said with a shake of my head.
"Come on, Cali. We done it before, everybody has." Bucky looked me in the face and that was the truth. What he was looking for was a promise that I'd sell the horse back to him later for however much it covered in the pot.
"Just sell the damn horse." Slim laughed. "Put it in the pot."
"How much for the roan?" I asked.
"Mmmm ... Six hundred?" Bucky looked around. "He's worth that much anyway." He fixed his blue eyes on me. "You wanna let me put him in the game?"
We stood a fifty dollar limit on bets and raises, which was probably over most of our heads anyway. The next night we'd be playing for twenty, probably. Bucky was looking to see if I'd agree to change the rules for that one hand and let him bump the pot 570 dollars at one go. That seemed pretty heavy for a bunch of cow pokes in a friendly game and if he lost, Bucky wasn't gonna get his horse back.
"I don't know what I got to cover that," I told him, feeling no shame in admitting it. Weren't none of us rich.
"You got something I can use." He grinned at me and there were some chuckles at that, but they died quick.
"You might want to be cautious, Buck." I stared at him.
"Six hundred, Cali..." He sucked his cheek. "Be my bunk girl 'til payday, that might cover it."
It got kinda quiet then, the dozen ranch hands watching us now. I knew they were interested, not just to see if I'd pick up my knife and use it on Bucky's balls, but to see if I'd say yes. I hadn't fucked any one of those guys and I didn't mean to, cause once that happened ... Shit, anything could happen. It wouldn't make the boss too happy neither, cause boys were boys and they got jealous quick.
"I'd rather fuck that horse of yours, Bucky!" I laughed at him and he turned a bit red. The other guys cracked laughing and everybody moved a little, just letting the tension go.
"Well, let's do that then." He stared at me, feeling a bit angry, but that's cause he was just a kid and didn't know any better.
"Do what?" I looked at him.
"I'll put in my roan, you fuck him if you lose." Bucky sat back in his chair, balancing on the rear legs and rocking slow.
"Shut up," I snorted. "I ain't even said you could put your horse in."
He was just messing with me now, trying to get back at me for knocking his dick in the dirt. I'd been told to fuck a horse before during poker games, but this was original, trying to make a real bet out of it. He couldn't even cover the thirty I'd raised him unless I did him a favor and he wanted to pull this crap?
A little voice told me he might be sitting on more than a flush, but I'd always been a mite too feisty for my own good sometimes, a fact my daddy had pointed out on more than one occasion. But like all good daughters, I didn't pay him enough mind to learn my lesson while I was still young.
"You want to lose your pony?" I laughed. "Fine."
"Fine?" Bucky stared at me. "You mean, you'll do it?"
"If I lose, I'll do it," I agreed with a nod. "But I ain't gonna lose, Bucky. I'll be riding your horse tomorrow, not the other way around."
"You'll fuck my horse?" He looked around and the room got busy with talk, I'll tell you that much.
Either way it happened, this was gonna be a story now and I regretted it immediately. Just by saying yes I'd started building a reputation, I could see that. It wasn't gonna matter if I fucked that horse or not. I was willing to make the bet and that's all the punch line a good story needed. If I lost, well, that would really be something, wouldn't it? But I wasn't gonna lose, not with my full house, that was just too...
"I hope you love horses, California, cause I got four sevens that say my roan's gonna love you!" Bucky laid them out slowly, the cards flicking off his thumb real slow like.
"Shit." I stared at them sevens layin' there and even laughed, just cause it was a good trick.
A little too good maybe, and while they boys were laughing and getting all excited about maybe seeing the tough little cowgirl take some big horse cock, I grabbed my knife out of the table. I lunged across it quick as a coyote on a hare and put the edge to Bucky's throat. I grabbed the front of his shirt with my other hand, sprawled out over the cards and money, and held him tight.
"Check him, Tex," I said, a little breathless.
"Goddamn, Cali ... Put the knife down ... Shit ... Calm down..." They were all talking at once, but Bucky sat real quiet and there was a thin red line on his throat now. The Virgin was sharp as sin and she liked to bleed.
"Uh..." Tex moved slowly, he knew what I was asking for and if I was wrong there'd be hell to pay, but there wasn't no way in God's creation little Bucky had pulled four sevens out of that deck.
"Shoot..." Tex pulled a six of diamonds and then a three of spades out of Bucky's shirt, down low by his belt. He'd palmed a pair of sevens during one of his deals, stashed 'em away for a rainy day, and all he'd done was swap 'em out when he had a couple more to go with them.
I let him go then, pulling the knife back and pushing myself away from him, across the table 'til my feet touched the floor. I put my knife back in the leather sheath at my hip. I wouldn't be needin' that no more.
"Got us a little cheat, boys." Tex held up the cards he'd found and Bucky looked around nervously.
.... There is more of this story ...