At the Kit Kat Ranch, Sheriff Allen exchanged friendly greetings with the young women who were sitting around in the main parlor or drinking coffee in the kitchen. Some of them looked younger than the law's eighteen-year-old minimum. A few of the prostitutes were black, but, the sheriff said, none of Lyon County's brothels accept black customers, a source of unpleasantness between county officials and the commander and black men of a nearby military base. Only Mustang Ranch in the next county has let down the color bar, but even there blacks use a separate entrance and parlor.
Big spenders at the Kit Kat Ranch can ask for its special lounge with purple walls, mirrors on the ceiling, and a leopard spread on the double bed. Other special luxuries or services carry an extra fee. But the standard rate is about a dollar a minute, fifteen minutes minimum. Says the sheriff, "By the time the customer decides on the particular program he wants, he's likely to be paying a lot more than fifteen dollars."
The sheriff introduced Marie, madam and owner of the Kit Kat Ranch. She is about sixty, a grandmother and still very good-looking. As she talked in a small sitting room, flashing pictures of naked women appeared on the top of a jukebox.
"I hate to see a girl start," she said, but quickly added that she thought legalized houses did not, as some argue, encourage more girls to enter the profession. Before prostitution was legalized the police rarely interfered with the Ranch, but Marie feels the change is clearly for the better. "You have a legitimate business, you keep your books, you're not hot and on the run. The girls prefer it too. They're not going to get hurt. When they're sick or have their period they have a place to stay. If they manage their money, they can retire and have a good life." College students do stints at the Ranch in the summer, and a student at a nearby medical school used to work during weekends.
"I still hear from her," Marie said. "When they decide to leave, I tell them to forget where they've been and make a new life, but some of them say, 'It's a part of my life,' and they don't lie about it." Girls who want to work seldom call ahead; they arrive at the Ranch and ask for work. To Marie, women who make a man feel at ease are successful: "It's not the looks that count."
Streetwalkers who disparage life in a brothel claim the prostitutes at the Ranch are confined there. Marie denies the charge, and says they may come and go as they please except when they are working a shift. Most houses permit women to leave for a week once every three or four weeks.
The four houses in Lyon County are clustered along the highway several miles from any town, and perhaps their isolation accounts for why the Kit Kat's women are free to go where they want. But in other counties local authorities have established restrictive regulations, including hours that the women can be in towns, and buildings in which they are permitted, specifically excluding bars, gaming houses, and residential areas. The town of Winnemucca, for example, does not allow prostitutes to have friends within the town, including pimps, boyfriends, or husbands.