So I'm walking into this very faded 1990s airport hotel bar that smells like my vet's waiting room. It's 10 in the morning. There's one customer, an old broad slumped over a beer at a table in front of the TV, her whole head wreathed in cigarette smoke. And I think to myself, "Lord, why me?"
But of course I know the answer to that one. It's my job. My name? Let's go with Jim for now. The job? I'm a bleeding heart.
"Hey," I tell her. She looks up. Ouch. Lot of bad road on that puss. But I can see somewhere way back at the beginning of that road she probably was a looker. Yeah, I bet she was. Some looker, a very long time and a whole lot of work ago.
"Hey," she tells me, puffing smoke in my face.
Yeah. That's about how this conversation will go.
I sit. There's a bartender back there looking at me with his head tilted back. I guess that's sign language. I wave him off. I would be thrilled to get out of here in about five minutes.
"You said on the phone your name was Valley Ranch," I tell her.
"Is that a real name?"
Oh, and charming, too, on top of the looks.
She taps the empty beer bottle with a very long purple fingernail that looks like something she bought at the State Fair. I say over my shoulder, "Another brewski for the lady, please, Oscar."
Oh, shit, now we have tears, great big sloppy tears turning the Mardi Gras makeup into a California mudslide. So much for getting out of this one fast.
She keeps looking up at the TV, and every time she does the tears get bigger. So I look up at the TV. Some kind of big wedding going on. I don't know. I don't keep up. Is it a royal wedding or some shit? Did my well-traveled lady friend here get ditched by the prince or something?
Now snuffling. Damn. If there's snot, I'm outta here. Yeah, I may be a professional bleeding heart, but there's a limit.
"So who's gettin' hitched?" I ask her, trying to move it along. Here comes the beer -- bottle, no glass. She tips it back and it's gone. Wow, this lady has got some serious oral abilities. One doesn't want to know.
"It's ... it's ..." She can't spit it out. We're into big-time blubbering now.
"Yeah, that's OK," I tell her. "I don't really give a shit who's getting married, Dear. You called me. I'm here. I'm a bleeding heart. What's on the agenda?"
She gulps for air and then blurts it out: "The Dallas Morning News said I was an urban sophisticate. An urban sophisticate! Me! Don't you think Jerry would at least give me some respect for that? Just a little bit of respect? Is that too much to ask?"
Hmm. Is respect too much to ask? I'm leaning toward yes, but I'm going to keep that one to myself for now, because it'll only drag things out.
Big noise on the TV set, and both she and the barkeep are staring at it like it's the second coming. So I look up, too. The bride is coming down the aisle. She looks like she's about 17. Talk about smokin'. Man, that should be against the law. According to the deaf-people caption, her name is "Frisky." Nah, can't be. Who would give their daughter a name like Frisky? That's a name for a pro in Vegas. I stand up and look closer. No, her name is "Frisco." Close enough.
The camera pans up the aisle, and there's an old dude up there waiting for her who looks kind of like a cross between Alex Trebek and Dracula. The camera tightens down on his mug, and Valley Ranch starts bawling like the sirens on two fire trucks.
"Jerry!" she shrieks, "Jerry, don't leave me! Jerry, we had a thing!"
I hear the bartender muttering something about, "Yeah, you had a thing, shit. You got nothing, bitch, and now we're all screwed."
I walk over and put a finger in his face. "Hey, pal, you wanna put a cork in that?"
"Sorry, sir," he says, shrugging, drying the same glass for the hundredth time. "It's just ... everybody out here, we was all countin' on her to keep Jerry around. You know, man. It's our bread and butter. Now look at her. Who would stay around for that?"
"You know what?" I tell him. "You're a lousy bastard. Gimme some Kleenex from back there."
He shrugs and hands it to me, keeps wiping the glass.
OK, now I'm on the job. Damn right. I knew if I stuck with it, it would come to me. I feel sorry for her. I go back, sit down and hand her the Kleenex. She blows. I could have gone my whole life without hearing that. But I'm OK. My heart bleeds.
"So, this Jerry? He ditched you for the bimbo on the flat-screen, I take it. Did he leave you fixed pretty good, at least?"
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"Yeah, right," she says, her voice clear. "I got bupkes."
We're quiet for a long moment. Cheers and squealing on the TV set. I signal the barman for another beer. "So, your name," I say. "Is there really a valley?"
Turning slowly toward me, her face appears from behind the cloud of smoke. What is that I see glimmering there beneath the mask of muddy makeup? Oh, God, no. NO! She's giving me the naughty look!
OK, you know what pisses me off? The only thing about this job that really pisses me off? It's people who think being a bleeding heart is easy.