The Nick of Time

Jesus Christ – what year is it?

I’ve been drunk for many months. There are those in civilized society that might look down on such behavior, but in the bookie community it’s a fairly appropriate response to the realization that you’ve been screwed out of several hundred thousand dollars.

And some might say it’s a bit of an overreaction, given that I came out of last season up a hundred and twenty-five grand after playing Chris Harrison like a cello. But that bastard got the last laugh – or at least the most recent one.

It was August 30th, a sticky day just shy of 90 degrees in Los Angeles. I didn’t have to deal with it, though. I was treating myself to a vacation in exotic Long Beach, keeping cool by indulging in a schooner and a special at Joe Jost’s and even indulging in a pickled egg or five. A hundred and twenty-five G’s isn’t exactly retirement money, especially in this feast or famine business, but it’s enough to keep you from starving for a while – especially if you stretch it and don’t think about the cost of gas.

My drink was just about empty when my phone rattled against the indomitable wood of the bar. There wasn’t anyone in my orbit that was going to be better company than another ice cold Busch and the bartender’s silence, so I let it go and signaled for another. Before the barkeep could collect my glass the phone went off again. By the time he came back with my beverage, my cell was doing a full-on Fred Astaire impersonation. Twice is a coincidence – anything more is a pattern.

“You gonna answer that?” the barman didn’t so much ask as growled.

“Phone rings that much for a guy in my line of work, probably just means I owe someone money.”

“You can add my name to list,” he said, shoving the bill in front of me before moving to the other end of the bar and flipping through channels on the television. It’s not hard to take a hint when it’s being crammed down your throat.

The tab came out to $17.20 – a steal even if the lug slinging drinks turned out to be the loquacious type. I dropped my namesake next to the check – it was scooped up by the bar-back before the paper even hit the wood – and gripped the frosty half-bowl of beer in my hand. I raised it to my lips and tilted my head back when something caught my eye on the idiot box.

“Hey, pal – go back to that channel a minute, will ya?”

“You still here?” he called over his shoulder without looking at me.

“Yeah, and I’ll even leave my change behind if you flip it back.”

He shrugged and pressed a button on the remote before lurching down the bar and making sure I couldn’t go back on my promise.

“Continuing with E! News’ top story, we’re about to be joined by ABC’s newest Bachelor, Nick Viall.”

I left my full beer behind and was out the door so fast I didn’t give it a chance to hit my ass on the way out.

As I sped north on the 710 I pulled up Chris Harrison’s number on my phone. He answered with that face-punchable smugness that’s become his calling-card: “Clint, baby! How’s tricks?”

“Don’t ‘Clint, baby’ me, you son of a bitch.”

“So I’m assuming this is a business call.”

“You’re goddamn right it’s a business call,” I hissed into the phone. “Nick Viall? Nick. Fucking. Viall?

“The next in a successful line of Bachelors hoping to find love while being helped out by yours truly. How’d you make out on the announcement? Hopefully there weren’t too many bets placed on him.”

“There weren’t any bets placed on him,” I screamed. “He wasn’t on the goddamn boards!”

“So if you weren’t offering odds, then that means…”

“You know what it means,” I groaned.

“No,” he said melodiously. “I want to hear you say it.”

“It means I have to give everyone their money back.”

The bastard didn’t say anything; didn’t laugh, didn’t even let out a snicker. I’m pretty sure I did hear the pop of a champagne cork in the background, though.

“Well, that’s a shame, Clint. A real shame. I won’t ask you how much it was, but based on past experience I’m guessing…half a mil?”

It was more like six-hundred grand, but I wasn’t about to give the bastard the satisfaction.

“Listen,” he continued, “I know you’re going to see this as a setback, but I think it’s a real opportunity. I paid off Kimmel, but I’m not exactly thrilled about what he did to me last season and you aren’t going to stay in his good graces forever. Hell, if word gets around town that you two are buddy-buddy, people might even be a little reluctant to do business with you.”

“So what are you saying?”

“New season starts January 2nd – let’s make some goddamn money. Deal?”

“Call me that afternoon,” I replied. “I should be sobered up by then.”

What else was I going to say? No? The game ain’t straight. Every time I think things are on the up and up, they drag me right back through the mud. Every. Damn. Time.

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