Desperate Times

I was ponied up to the bar at El Coyote on Beverly, throwing back scratch margaritas as I waited for the last few bets to roll in.

“Uno mas, señorJackson?” the bartender asked. His name was Keith Williams, but he knew I was a sucker for the bilingual schtick.

“Hit me again, Keith,” I replied. “In fact, if you saw fit to put this on the house’s tab, I’d lay a C-note on Raven for you.”

Keith’s floppy blond hair waved back and forth along with his head. “Not on your life, Clint. There aren’t odds big enough for that bet.”

“You’re telling me,” I said into the bottom of my glass, flicking away the salt that got caught in my scruff. I’d spent the last week hustling my tail off to no avail. Vanessa was winning the whole enchilada; nobody could be convinced of anything different.

I fished the lime wedge out of the ice cubes and sucked on it, using every part of the booze buffalo, as I slowly shook my head. A shit season in a string of shit seasons, but at least some of them had been lucrative. This one was doing its damnedest to put me in the poor house while simultaneously boring me to death.

The alarm went off on my phone as my next drink materialized. It was time.

“Switch it on, would you, Keith?”

“You sure you want to do this to yourself, Clint?”

“We all gotta face the music,” I said before taking a healthy belt of the margarita. “Mine just accompanies the opening credits.”

Keith reached up and pressed a button on the face of an old square Magnavox hanging above the back corner of the bar. The old set had seen better days but it still managed to hum to life. I screwed an unlit cigarette into place between my lips and started running the numbers – as if I hadn’t already done the math.

The Rachel announcement killed me. Despite weeks of good dates and making it all the way to Fantasy Suites, there was no money to move. Once it was down to Vanessa and Raven it was like Keith said: no odds could have swung the money in the Hoxie Honey’s favor.

Which is a damn shame, considering she’s a real sweetheart (minus the criminal charges that never made it to the sergeant’s desk in Little Rock) and handled her dismissal with class. The problem is she’s a regressive Bachelor contestant: sweet and simple, a real downhome girl who talks about the husband/children/house lifestyle as if it’s actually what she wants in this world and not just what she’s saying in front of the cameras. Vanessa represents the future; an independent woman with a career that touches peoples’ lives who isn’t going to pick up and move because the precedent surrounding a reality TV show tells her to.

And that certainly isn’t to say one’s better than the other, but if you think the producers don’t exert their influence on these sorts of things I’ve got some beachfront property in Rovaniemi to sell you.

The only enjoyment I had through the whole episode was watching Chris Harrison get his last licks in against the man of the hour. Harrison may be an asshole, but I couldn’t help myself from laughing every time he mentioned Nick’s “desperate search for love” with a twinkle in his eye. We’re out of each other’s good graces but I won’t begrudge him a few final twists of the knife.

Keith did me a couple solids while I watched the non-drama unfold, all the way into After the Final Rose. The first was taking my keys from me. The second was instituting a buyback program after I tried to settle up the bill the first time.

I pulled out a briefcase that would look conspicuous handcuffed to the arm of a Secret Service agent and set it on the bar. After fiddling with the numbers a bit I popped it open and turned it to face Keith.

“Take what I owe,” I said. “And give me one for the road.”

“Clint, that’s…”

“Too much goddamn money,” I responded. “The Geek doesn’t need all of it.”

“The Geek?” Keith shot back. “As in Jimmy The Geek?” He shook his head and showed me his palms like I had a gat on him. “Clint, me holding any amount of Jimmy Kimmel’s money is heat I don’t need – even if you gave it to me. How about we say the last six rounds were on me and call it square?”

It was hard to argue with that logic, even if I did feel like a jerk for putting the kid in that position. I really did just want someone else to have Jimmy’s money. I nursed my last drink, the tequila reminding me that I wasn’t such a bad guy after all, while Chris Harrison kicked off Rachel’s Bachelorette season early by parading a handful of eligible men across the entrance of a paper mansion.

“You offering odds on Demario?” Keith asked as the first contestant made his way across the stage.

“A Hamilton’ll get you a Benjamin.”

He slid a pair of twenties across the bar. I gritted my teeth at first, ready to wave off the charity, then saw the same hopeful look in his eye that all fools have when parting with their money. I wrote the details down in my ledger as if the fate of his hard-earned cash wasn’t to end up as my cab fare.

We watched as Rachel’s first four men made asses of themselves to varying degrees. Keith supplied the best comments of the night, quipping, “Dean looks like he majored in lacrosse,” as the poor soon-to-be-eliminated schmuck claimed that he was “ready to go black, and I’m never going back.” I’ll be glad to give odds on the week that walking eye-roll gets sent packing.

When the parade of embarrassment ended I wished Keith well, jammed my fedora over my head like a stopper in bottle, and went to see a Lyft about a theater.  I spent more time smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk waiting for the car to show up than it took to get from the restaurant to the Masonic Hall where The Geek taped his shows.

The show was underway as I arrived, but it was as intended. I saw the writing on the wall several weeks ago and knew I wouldn’t be able to cope with handing over this much cash to receive only a trademark Kimmel smirk in return. I flashed my backstage pass – the briefcase full of greenbacks – to the heavies that got in my way as I descended into the bowels of the sandstone labyrinth.

I expected Guillermo or Cousin Sal to be lying in wait, someone to either not know or not care enough to bust my chops when it came time to collect. Instead it was Chris Harrison, swirling champagne in a flute and far too goddamn bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, waiting outside of Kimmel’s dressing room.

“Come to pay the piper, Jackson?”

“You got any material someone else hasn’t written?” I shot back at the smug bastard.

He chortled and drained his glass, beckoning me forward with his free hand. If we bookies didn’t have a code, I’d have beat him half to death with the briefcase right then and there. Instead I handed it off to him, watching all my winnings from last season fly right out the window.

“Tell me something, Harrison,” I said, fishing the last cigarette out of my pack. “Did The Geek win that fair and square, or did you provide the dope on Vanessa?”

“I know you won’t want to hear this,” he said with a sigh. “But we were still taping when he placed that bet. Jimmy’s just better at this than you, Clint. Accept it.”

“And last season?” I asked, hoping to open that wound back up.

“You both made out like bandits,” Chris hissed. “I was the only one that lost.” He smoothed out his suit to compose himself before adding, “But like I said – Jimmy’s better than you. I decided to get on the winning team. And he decided it was time to start making better investments.”

Chris Harrison tossed his empty champagne flute over his shoulder. It smashed against the concrete with a sound that belonged in a music box. He stepped forward and slapped the flat of his fingers against my cheek twice. “See you on the boards, Jackson.”

I swallowed my pride like it was a double at last call and watched Chris Harrison walk away. When he disappeared from view I finally lit my cigarette and made tracks for Jimmy Kimmel’s green room. The solo game was dead, just as I’d thought. I wasn’t about to be left in the lurch.

Staring at the door, I knew I was putting conflict in the rearview mirror and heading full speed for all-out war; it didn’t stop me from rapping my knuckles against the thick piece of oak in front of me.

“Am I finally on?” a man called from behind the door.

“Sorry, pal,” I said taking one last drag on my cigarette before tossing it aside. “You got bumped again.”

“Son of a bitch,” he shouted, opening the door. He looked me up and down before asking, “Who the fuck are you?”

“To hear Jimmy Kimmel tell it, I’m his enemy,” I said, pushing up my hat. “And as I’m sure you know: the enemy of your enemy, Mr. Damon, is your friend.”

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