Something Rotten in the State of Denmark

Shakespeare wrote that, “Parting is such sweet sorrow” – but he obviously never had to watch a bunch of jabronies compete against each other for a woman’s affection on national television. If he had, he might have gone with something along the lines of, “Parting is pretty great. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.”

Speaking of ol’ Bill, the guy also wrote a little play called Hamlet that takes places in Denmark; and if you’re still unaware of that fact this morning then you were watching some other reality dating show last night. Rachel’s a smart cookie and I’m sure she knows a thing or two about the Bard, but she needs to ditch the intern who’s getting their BA in Drama who decided to throw all the other Danish facts out the window and leaned hard on, “Shakespeare wrote a play that took place here. Let’s talk about that.” Live and learn, Tiffany. Live and learn.

Truthfully, the goodbyes were not only necessary, but long overdue. As per usual, the two-on-one date was just an awkward trek to a destination in the middle of nowhere where cheap furniture had been set up by interns (good job, Tiffany) and the unhappy trio sullenly sipped low-shelf booze out of expensive glassware until it was time to get the show on the road. Recapping this drama would have all the excitement of listening to a thirteen year old explain a middle school love triangle that a friend of a friend is involved in, so I’ll stick to the facts: Lee and Kenny talked a bunch of shit about each other, Lee’s a bigot, and Lee got sent home. Everything else is beside the point, even the fact that Rachel looked like they were filming in the Arctic Circle (down jacket, hood up, shivering), Kenny appeared to be in Upstate New York in October (light jacket and clearly cold because he was underdressed and should have known better), and Lee was seemingly taking in a balmy morning New Orleans (Henley, booze, and a smile). Unpacking their individual reactions to the climate was really the most compelling thing of that segment.

All that being said, Kenny does deserve a little more attention. The man has heart in every sense of the word; he dug himself out of the Lee-sized hole he put himself into with Rachel by speaking honestly about their potential, not making wild claims that he’s in love with her after only a few weeks. More importantly, he’s not only looking for a wife, but someone ready to be a mother (I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Kenny has a daughter). Look, everyone – Kenny included – knew he wasn’t winning this thing, and in the end he decided the woman that mattered most was waiting back home for her dad. This bookie isn’t made of stone, and watching Kenny call his daughter is as close to a human moment as this show gets. I’ll take it and any future calls we may get as a result of Kenny’s tenure with the Bachelor-industrial complex.

The other man who deserves some acknowledgment after this brace of episodes is Dean, who clearly just wants to go home. Poor Dean, out of his element in Scandinavia, really has the look of a guy who misses Venice Beach, acai bowls, and his lacrosse bros. On back to back group date parties he’s sported a white t-shirt under other poor wardrobe choices while the rest of the guys dressed to impress. He wore a jockstrap outside his singlet during the handball match (though he did make a good Pippen to Will’s Jordan, dishing lobs unselfishly), and spent the majority of the Viking training looking like he was practicing nonviolent resistance. I was genuinely disappointed for him when he received his rose and I think he was too. Rachel, give the guy a break and either take him somewhere warm or cut him loose. Especially when he publicly speculated that maybe Bryan – a clear frontrunner – was potentially getting sent home from his one-on-one date. If he’d take that bet, I might be able to offer him exclusive odds on the sun rising in the west, the Knicks winning a championship in the next twenty years, and other seemingly impossible events.

In the midst of notable departures by Alex (most eccentric), Anthony (most insightful), Josiah (most unbearable), and Will (most embarrassing shirt/most likely to maintain swagger), perhaps the least surprising exit came courtesy of Jack Stone who set the simple act of going on a date back at least a hundred years. I’ve seen actual train-wrecks that were easier to look at than Rachel gritting her teeth through what may have only been sixty minutes, but felt like several days, with Jack Stone – a man who very likely has people tied up in his basement at this exact moment. There was a point where it got so bad that Rachel was drinking water, understanding that it was best to eschew booze and keep her wits about her. When a guy responds to the (paraphrased) question of, “What would you like to do if we were back in Dallas?” with, “First off, I’d lock the door,” it’s time to go. And not just go like, “I’ve got a thing, but I’ll call you, I swear,” rather, “I need to go file for a restraining order right now.”

The one positive of watching that dumpster fire nestled in the Valley of Woe was Matt Damon making a killing at The Geek’s. I advised him to lean heavy on that action and he did not disappoint – a fact I found out early when I got a call from Chris Harrison shortly after Jack Stone’s dismissal:

“I know what you’re doing, Clint.”

“Hello, Chris,” I said, lighting a cigarette. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Why do you think you still have kneecaps?” he asked, getting right to the point.

“Yoga and good calcium intake?”

“Because I haven’t ratted you out to Jimmy.”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about,” I replied as I wiped down the board, readying it for this season’s action.

“Taking Kimmel’s money is one thing. But using Matt Damon – someone he likes even less than you – to take his money? That’s suicide.”

“It’s my goddamn money,” I shot back. “I just plan on reclaiming it. With interest.”

“So you are involved.”

“Boy, nothing gets past you, Harrison. You’re a regular brother Seamus. When’re you going to teach this level of detective work to your producers?”

“Can it, Jackson. You want to keep this game running? It’s gonna cost you. Twenty percent of the take.”

“Looking to add blackmailer to your resume?” I asked.

“Blackmail is such a dirty word, Clint. Let’s call it ‘hush money.’”

“Well whatever you call it, you’re talking to the wrong guy. I don’t touch the money.”

“You’re telling me it’s all on Matt?”

“I’m not saying that. Buy if you do start implying otherwise, I might start telling people the information he receives is coming from you.”

“You wouldn’t,” Chris said, with as much edge in his voice as Dean’s Viking war cry.

“Keep your mouth shut, Harrison,” I said. “And I won’t.”

I switched the phone off and went back to work on the board, which took full shape after the end of the second episode. We’re down to six, and while I still don’t know who Matt and Adam are, I know they’re not winning this thing. To make the action a little more interesting, I decided to offer odds on the next man eliminated – because why should I have to wait until the end of the season to make my payday?


Put A Quark In It

The last time The Bachelorette aired we were in a different world: the Cavaliers were still the NBA champs, Julius Caesar was still a classic Shakespearean tragedy and not a prop in the right’s ongoing war against intellect, and Jack Stone was still the creepiest man in the mansion. Not so, only fourteen days later – in large part thanks to Lee semi-drunkenly handing out gems like this:

In case you were wondering, “single word crudely chiseled into a piece of wood” is traditionally the last gift a stalker gives before either murdering his victim or finally getting arrested.

And yet, Lee remains. And this thing is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

You know me, I run an honest game. I stay away from the spoilers and the Reality Steve’s of the world, but sometimes the clamor gets too loud for even this bookie to ignore, especially when the subject doesn’t pass the eye-test. Lee has said some downright awful shit on a public platform and it was long before he auditioned to be on The Bachelorette. Chris Harrison claims the producers were unaware of said Tweets, and if you believe that then I’d like to offer you an exclusive deal on some beachfront property in Deadwood. If they truly weren’t aware of the racist and sexist shit Lee was espousing – and that is perhaps the most monumental of ifs – then they were merely negligent as opposed to malicious, which really doesn’t make the situation any better. The first time a person of color is the Bachelorette and they couldn’t have done just a little more in the way of due diligence? That story stinks worse than Jimmy Kimmel’s aftershave.

I’m more than a little wary of putting my trust in the producers, especially as they continue to pull the fastest of fast ones on us. With Blake and Lucas getting the boot during the same rose ceremony, it appeared we were finally witnessing the death of the Thunderdome storyline where two fools entered and one idiot left. But lo and behold, it was a bait and switch of epic proportions as Lee and Kenny are now primed to compete in the recurring two-on-one featuring everyone’s least favorite contestants. I don’t know why I’m surprised – they do it to us every season.

Perhaps even more worrisome than the aforementioned maneuver is the producers trying to convince us that we lack both memories and eyeballs. Dean came off great this week; he was vulnerable, he conquered his fears, and he had the best take possible when it came to Lee (“You know exactly what I mean when I say that”)…but should the show’s moral compass really come in the form of a guy who led with, “I just wanna let you know: I’m ready to go black and I’m never going back,” when he met Rachel?

Look, maybe Dean’s gone through a real awakening. He seems like he’s capable of self-reflection. I just think the show needs to be careful about who they select as a savior, especially when we can go to the tape.

Speaking of, it was an unfortunate week for Peter, who now has to live the rest of his life knowing there is video evidence of him a) rapping and b) claiming that Rachel is from the hood. One of those things is upsetting, the other is disappointing. I’ll let you decide which is which. A word of advice to anyone else who might find themselves in a similar situation: don’t assume all black people are from the hood, and if you’re 30 years old and you’ve never recorded a rap song, you’ve picked a pretty terrible time to start.

Also, take one last look at Jack Stone in his natural form, because the way the show’s going we’ll never see it again:

Once relegated to only smiling sinisterly at Rachel, Jack Stone’s not only being allowed to talk (even if he did confuse a quark – a subatomic particle – with a cork – a thing used to stop a wine bottle), but he’s going on a one-on-one! Even he couldn’t believe the change of fortune. My only guess is that the producers needed someone to get sent home from a one-on-one and they quickly found their sacrificial Silence of the Lambs. Cue the close-up of fava beans on the dinner plates.

Maybe I’ll have Matt Damon tease out a little action on an early Jack Stone departure. He took the night off on Monday and apparently Kimmel was champing at the bit. With a double-dip scheduled for next week, the boards likely going up after the second episode, and the producers doing their best to treat us like a bunch of drunk toddlers that can’t rely on their senses, there’s a whole fat stack of money to be made.

Enemy At The Gates

In all my years in the game I’m not sure there’s been a stronger thirty words uttered on any of The Bachelor properties than those spoken by DeMario this week:

“My Uber ride up here I explained to my driver, ‘I’m going after the woman of my dreams.’ And he said, ‘You know what? Don’t take no for an answer.’”

Wow. I mean, why even bother busting these guys’ chops when they’re already doing the heavy lifting for me?

DeMario may have heard the Uber driver’s advice, but he certainly wasn’t listening. He did, in fact, take no for an answer in what has become a refreshing departure from the norm this season. No overly dramatic buildup, no second chances, just a strong, empowered woman telling the boys when it’s time to hit the bricks.

And it’s about damn time.

Usually by this point in the season we’ve already seen one or two of the spoiled children masquerading as men getting their speedos in a twist because the Lady of the Hour hasn’t been pursuing them. And who knows, maybe the old paperwork did used to say, “Be prepared to be pursued by one woman as she’s chased by thirty other guys,” but we’ve barely heard a whisper of that this season (Eric’s antics notwithstanding, though I’ve never been a hundred percent certain what station his train of thought is headed toward). I give full credit on that to Rachel, who takes no bullshit, sticks to her guns, and certainly doesn’t want any of the boys fighting her battles for her. Come to think of it, the only thing that makes me think there might be anything wrong with her is that she’s starring on The Bachelorette.

Apart from the fact that the majority of these guys are so bland they make applesauce look decadent, it’s been refreshing to watch a self-assured woman enjoy herself on the dating scene. Rachel takes control, speaks her mind, and makes no bones about being in it for the abs. Sure, she has to wade through the drudgery of poorly executed conversation (Rachel: “Here’s to being on top of the world…” Anthony: “That’s a beautiful toast.”), but there are worse frogs for her to kiss as she whittles her way down to Bryan, Alex, and Peter.

And the process has, for the most part – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – worked. We were mercifully saved from a large-scale Blake/Lucas showdown (though we did receive a glimpse of what it might look like if the producers had to fill five minutes of airtime on some other episode), Frederick was sent packing with a polite pat on the head, and I’d be mildly surprised if a similar fate wasn’t awaiting Lee, Iggy, and Eric next week. I’m not saying I’d put substantial money on a mass exodus, but if you made it worth my while I’d be tempted to put down a C-note or two.

Speaking of the cash (because why else would you be here?), we intentionally gave a little ground over at The Geek’s this week. The key to reeling in a big fish is to keep him hooked but not pulling too hard; you’ve got to give him a little slack or he’ll try to run and snap the line. Which is why I advised Matt Damon to bet on Blake going home (won), Lucas staying (lost), and Jack Stone not looking like The Cable Guy poster whenever he smiles (lost).

According to my Academy Award winner on the inside (original screenplay counts), he remains in The Geek’s good graces. Mr. Damon keeps getting invited back, but that’s probably because Kimmel’s still in the red overall and feels his luck changing. I told Matt to be coy next week as I’ll be away on business. I don’t want him losing too much and whetting Jimmy’s appetite or, God forbid, winning too much and blowing the whole thing. I’ve got plans for Jimmy Kimmel – big plans – and it’s far too early to have them spoiled by a string of unfortunate good luck.

Don Juan DeMario

I can still hear Chris Harrison’s words as I handed him that bag of my hard-earned cash at the end of last season:

“Jimmy’s just better at this than you, Clint. Accept it.”

Most bookies would have trouble sleeping at night with a mark like that in their ledger, but I ain’t most bookies. Sure, I knocked back a few more drinks than usual that evening, but only after I got to work. I already had my next hustle lined up; all I needed was someone who had as big a beef with Kimmel as I did. Luckily that’s not tough to find in the reality-gambling circuit – or the talk show circuit.

Just as I suspected, Matt Damon was starring in his nightly one-man version of No Exit performed solely for the monitors of Jimmy Kimmel’s greenroom. Given their history, Mr. Damon wasn’t a tough sell. I promised that if he could work his way into The Geek’s weekly viewing parties, I’d feed him enough info to turn Kimmel from a player into a pigeon.

“So what do you get out of it?” Matt asked me over a glass of rye at The Rainbow on Sunset.

“Well, I wouldn’t object to you snapping a picture of him handing you what’s actually my money,” I said with a shrug. “But it’s about the setup. The Geek hates to end a season in the red. If you give him an early push in that direction, he’ll get careless. He’ll think, ‘How can I recoup my losses?’ He’ll give me a call. And I’ll clean house like a Roomba.”

Mr. Damon didn’t even care about putting his own money on the line. “Anything to get one over on The Geek,” he said. Music to my ears.

It was good to have some skin in the game so soon, especially because these early episodes have been historically unwatchable. The men are still mostly one homogeneous blob of testosterone with only a few standing apart as front-runners (Peter), gimmick guys (Lucas), and those so visibly annoyed by the gimmick guys that you find yourself quietly rooting for the gimmick guys because they’re going to be the cause of a complete and utter meltdown (Blake).

At least the producers have learned from their past mistakes and expedited the pending face-off. Last season we had to wait five weeks for Corinne and Taylor to have it out once and for all, and it took six weeks for Chad and Alex to finally square off during JoJo’s season. But Blake’s been encouraged to start his campaign tout de suite and has started using his one-on-one time with Rachel to throw as much shade as humanly possible at Lucas. Lucas may be deserving of it, but Blake still hasn’t learned the lesson that you can only throw shade from above; an “aspiring drummer” doesn’t have a ton of room to talk down to a “Whaboom” because neither of those are actual things. Even more embarrassing for Blake was his inability to form a coalition of the willing. Much like the European heads of state dealing with Trump, the other guys politely sat and listened to Blake’s impassioned plea to act like idiots and shake up the good thing they got going on before collectively looking at each other and saying, “Yeah…we’re not doing that.”

But sometimes a good thing gets ruined for you, as DeMario was forced to find out. Thankfully, one man’s complete and utter embarrassment is another man’s good fortune.

Every season we get the same thing; a tired tease that one of these gents might not be here for the capital-R Right Reasons (just one? Really, that’s it?) and likely has a girlfriend back home. Usually the stories are just that and we have to wait the majority of the season for the biggest non-event in Bachelorette history to finally play out. But when they started previewing the girlfriend experience early on in the episode it seemed that not only were the producers done making us wait, they might actually give us a real scene for a change.

I did some quick mental calculus: it couldn’t be someone on the first group date, nor could it be Peter, whose name is already written in ink on a Fantasy Suite invitation. That left everyone back at the mansion; most notably Don Juan DeMario who had already been flagged by one of Rachel’s squad as potential trouble. Given that he was all “wifey this” and “we’re getting married that,” it seemed only natural that he’d make for the biggest heel turn. Besides, what guy shows up to a first date with a pair of tickets to Vegas and a ring in his pocket unless he’s running like hell from something else? I texted Matt Damon and told him to put every cent in his pocket on pride coming before the fall.

Frankly I don’t know what was more rewarding: knowing that Kimmel got squeezed like a lemon or watching DeMario go through the eight stages of “oh shit, I got caught” grief in roughly three minutes. If you’re not familiar with that particular coping process, it starts with amnesia (“Oh, who’s this?”), goes to amateur psychology (“This chick is psycho.”), is followed by inane babbling (“I met her many, many times ago.”), proceeds to flop-sweated pleading (“Can we talk somewhere else? This is personal life stuff.”), which quickly turns to agreeing with whatever is said (“Yeah, yeah, definitely, 100%.”), veers off into lawyering-up (“All communication? Uhm, some communication.” “I don’t know the exact dates.” “That we had something? We had sexual intercourse.”), settles into acceptance (“Sorry, Rachel.”), and then has one last death-rattle of indignance (“That was crazy. My character’s assassinated. This is bogus.”).

And the whole thing isn’t even over! After ten ridiculous minutes in which the rest of the guys tried to convince us they’re upset over having a better shot with Rachel, the producers DeMario brought himself back to the mansion for a few more minutes of manufactured drama. I have no hope that the ensuing scene will be any good, but apart from being lucrative it just might be entertaining. And after the past few seasons, that’s a nice change of pace.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

Ah, spring: the season where an aging bookie’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of revenge.

It’s been ten weeks since Jimmy the Geek finished beating me like a gong and let me tell you: my brass is still feeling it. Kimmel’s spending my money all over town – and make no mistake, it’s my goddamn money – and putting on a big show of it. At every gin joint all over town it’s the same story:

“You wouldn’t believe who was in here last night – Jimmy Kimmel! And boy was he generous! He was literally throwing cash all over the place!”

At this point I’d believe a lot, even the story about a guy who walks into a bar, finds thirty other jackasses and one woman there, and still decides to stay. What I can’t believe is that, for once, I expected this season to be different.

Not that I thought any of these men would go running for the hills; especially not when they’re getting their fifteen minutes of fame and at least one night of an open bar. I was just hoping for a break from the same tired tropes: the schmuck in a costume, the schmuckier schmuck with a guitar, the schmuckiest of them all who’s there to make an idiot of themselves and then everyone acts shocked when they’re kept around for two more weeks. Come on, people; even with a program I can’t tell one contestant from another. You think after Rachel called out the names of the five guys she could pick out of a lineup, she wasn’t readily accepting whatever names were put in front of her? She would have called out the entire Marx brothers lineup if only the producers told her to.

The only thing more baffling than Chris Harrison leaning on those tired clichés season after season (and that not one but two idiots showed up in khaki suits) is the fact that I’m not exploiting them for personal financial gain. I’ve never gotten my kicks separating people from their money when things are preordained. It makes me feel like a stick-up artist, and a mask and gun has never been my style. I prefer to set the odds and let people make their own mistakes.

Of course, that isn’t to say I’m not turning the situation to my advantage. I may eschew financial gains at this stage in the season, but it doesn’t mean I can’t have a bit of fun helping out a friend.

I’ll give Matt Damon his due: he may not be able to work his way onto Kimmel’s guest couch, but the man knows a thing or two about reeling in a sucker. With only a little cajoling he was able to work his way into The Geek’s weekly viewing parties. From there it was just a matter of getting the whale to take the bait.

As soon as the Rose Ceremony started I texted Mr. Damon that he should try to get 5-1 odds on Lucas (who I refuse to refer to by his trademarked nickname) getting a rose, 3-1 on the penguin guy getting sticking around, and even money on a fight being shown during the “this season on” preview. Just to throw The Geek off the scent, I recommended that Matty D. throw a few dollars in the direction of Rob, the law student who likely received a ton of advice about how to dress for his first night on the show and clearly didn’t take any of it.

As soon as the credits started rolling and we found out that many of the contestants have had rap albums described to them without ever actually hearing one, I got a confirmation text from my man on the inside.

“We’re in business, Clint.”

“Glad to hear it. How’d it shake out?”

“Up thirty grand. He made a point of telling everyone it was your money.”

“Lovely. Was Harrison there?”

“Yeah. Watching everyone like a hawk. Guy can hold his champagne.”

“We’ll take care of him later. You did good this week, Matthew.”

I switched my phone off and lit a cigarette. It didn’t matter that the money wasn’t in my pocket, the only real downside of the transaction was not getting to see that shit-eating grin wiped off The Geek’s face.

Thirty grand. It’s shaping up to be a good season.

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.”