End of Days

People are the worst.

Take the Bach, Mr. Chris Soules – what a cushy gig. Back when I was dating multiple women, I didn’t get to do it in plain view of everyone, especially the women involved. And I don’t remember anyone condoning it, let alone supporting it. Certainly nobody ever applauded me. Maybe my boys did, but that’s a different story. All I know is it didn’t end with a nationally televised special featuring a live studio audience. No, it almost ended with me losing my life in the wee hours of a cold Sunday morning in early March many years past – but that’s a different story entirely.

And no matter how entertaining that tale may be, it can’t hope to compete with anything as sensational as a man choosing a bride-to-be in front of millions – or a sharp trying to close that final 100k gap for his debt to Jimmy the Geek. That’s right, just a cool hundo. I made a killing on the props. Nobody saw Kelsey getting that many death stares or Ashley I. getting beat at the crying game, but I wasn’t able to reflect on my good fortunate at the time. My grandmother was in the hospital and I wanted to be with my family.

Yeah, bookies have grandmas, too. Wonderful ones at that. Who’d’ve thunk it?

We all come from somewhere – and we’re all going somewhere too. The million dollar question was would I be headed for freedom, or the large, flat end of The Geek’s microphone stand. He’s known to get a bit chippy when he doesn’t get the money he’s owed. Like he needs it.

And shouldn’t it be the other way around? I always thought the bookie was supposed to be the tough, extracting payments from people’s hides when the money runs dry. Hell, it’s why half the guys get into the business. Now I’m running around with my tail between my legs, trying to scrape together enough dough to keep The Geek from sitting me on his big guest-couch in the sky. These are strange and dangerous times we’re living in.

Even more so when you consider that a woman can tell a man things like, “I want to be in love with you,” and, “It’ll be long distance for a while,” and the money still moves in her direction. People couldn’t lay bets on Becca fast enough. Not due to anything she was saying, of course, but the look on The Bach’s face. Poor Chris – I actually felt sorry for him. Watching the moment someone’s heart breaks is a terrible thing, but it makes for excellent television. After that conversation he had the look of a man who’s got a date with a bottle of Wild Turkey and some feelings he’d rather not feel. Everyone in America could see that he was going to go drink himself into a hole – and Becca was throwing on the dirt.

It’s tough for people to bet their heads instead of their hearts. And when sympathy talks, money walks. It’s the only explanation for all those bets on Becca. At one time or another we’ve all convinced ourselves we could “make it work” with someone – whatever the hell that means – only for reality (the real version of the stuff, not the kind manufactured by a production crew) to slap us back to our senses. It’s a harsh awakening, possibly worse than the one Sgt. Cornfed’s Lonely Hearts Club Band must’ve had after that bottle of bourbon, but even if people had the opportunity to reverse their decisions, few of us would. Knowing that, who wouldn’t bet on someone making the same mistakes as them? After all, we’re only human – all too human.

And who knows what sequences the final dates were filmed in, but Mr. Man’s time with Whitney didn’t generate as much action on her numbers as I would have thought. It was like his time with Becca all over again, only with a complete role reversal; the girl all-in, the boy doing his best. At least this time Farmer Frown didn’t make her completely lose hope, but he didn’t exactly give her a lot to smile about.

While Chris said not-quite-helpful things like, “I’m…excited. I feel…good,” Whitney admitted to being scared for the first time. Maybe she saw a look in his eyes she didn’t recognize. Or maybe Chris was just putting on a show, coached to not give anything away. If that’s the case, then take the Best Actor statue from Eddie Redmayne, give it to Michael Keaton, then take it back from Keaton and give it to Soules. It’s like I said about Jade during “The Women Tell All” episode: the boobs may be fake, but by God the emotions are real.

So there we all were with heavy stuff on our minds (or at least camera angles meant to imply it): some of us gazing out windows, others staring at rivers, and me with a make or break pile of cash sitting on the coffee table. If Becca won she’d clean me out. If Whitney won I’d be in the clear. And if both the girls were sent packing I’d make a mint. Nothing to do but sit back and take my medicine like a man.

It wasn’t too tough to swallow. When Becca stepped out of her visibly dented limo into the frozen Iowa afternoon and Chris started yammering at her about this, that, and the other, it was clear he was winding himself up for one of his famous, “thanks, but no-thanks” speeches. Like almost every other time we’ve seen Becca, she had virtually no reaction. The same couldn’t be said for me, though. I breathed a sigh of relief, but unlike everyone in Battlefield Barnyard, you couldn’t see it. Seriously, ABC – spring for some coats or a space heater or something. It’s entirely possible Becca didn’t look upset because she was just glad to get back in the car where it was warm.

After she was sent off, I started getting irrationally excited about the prospect of Chris making two right choices in the same episode, but it wasn’t meant to be. The damn fool got down on one knee and proposed to a girl he’d known for six weeks and everyone acted like it was the happiest day of their lives and that nobody was freezing their tails off. It wasn’t the decision I wanted, but it was the decision I got. It was a damn sight better than it could have gone. As they cut away to a beautiful helicopter shot (one more thing the producers would rather spend money on than a trip to Vancouver), I turned the TV off, put a cigarette between my lips, and headed for the studio.

It was a beautiful day in Los Angeles, but isn’t it always? A drizzle is a rainstorm, the haze is a cloudy day, and a one hour delay is light traffic. Of course, the sun always shines a little brighter when you’ve got a new lease on life.

Security didn’t want to let me onto the lot, but, to quote a buddy of mine, a duffel bag of cash is kinda like a skeleton key – it’ll open any door. Not that I had to lay any of those greenbacks on the stooges manning the entrances, they just know it’s as good as an all-access pass. Another perk of being in LA.

I chewed the filter of my cigarette waiting for Jimmy the Geek to finish his bit on “After the Final Rose.” The audience lapped him up. No small wonder, considering they didn’t owe him any cash. He can be an entertaining fellow when you aren’t in his pocket. I even let out a chuckle when he led that cow onto the stage as an engagement gift for Ma and Pa Kettle Corn. Say what you will, the guy works for every laugh he gets.

“James,” I said as he approached me backstage, the applause still following him.

“Clinton,” he responded.

“Just, ‘Clint,’ Jimmy.”

“Don’t care,” he said, taking the cigarette from my mouth. “You got something for me?”

I handed him the bag and the burden of the past few weeks.

He unzipped it, smiled, then closed it again. “So where do you stand?” he asked.

“After squaring up with you and the cost of gas to get down here, I’m even all around.”

He lit the cigarette. In the silence the audience roared, quieted, then roared again. He smiled as the process repeated.

“Guess you didn’t hear,” he said. “But they announced the Bachelorette. Or should I say, both of them. How much that going to set you back?”

“Not a thing, pal,” I said with a grin. For once I was a step ahead. “Britt and Kaitlyn are both gonna be on that first episode, but only one of ‘em’s gonna be the Bachelorette. By the time the dust settles on that debacle, I’ll have the funds to close those accounts. Might even make a buck or two if the chips fall my way.”

“Get out of the business, Clint,” The Geek said as he flicked the cigarette away. “You stink.”

“Think that’s your cow, James.”

“More like your aftershave,” he said walking away.

“I’ll give you one to two that this couple never even makes it down the aisle,” I shouted after him.

Jimmy didn’t say anything back, just shot me the bird and continued toward the exit. He’ll lay some green on it, though. It’s too juicy not to.

As the two girls onstage tried to pretend they were happy about this Bachelorette Thunder Dome and tried even harder to pretend they don’t hate each other, I pulled out my flask and knocked one back. I didn’t make any money, but any day you’re outta the hole and in the clear is a win in my book. I’ll drink to that.

I told myself I was going to get out. Maybe it’s finally time. It gets late early around here.

But…two women enter, one woman leaves.

Who wouldn’t lay action on that?

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