By: xffan_2000

Summary: After "Bonds of Steele," Laura deals with the worst day of her life.



As I reach for the bottle and a glass, the stench of dead fish assaults my nose. Where most people would gag, I'm more impressed that something has managed to overpower the reek of old-lady perfume that always dominates the air.

Working in a bar next to the Wilshire Country Club, my usual customer is in her sixties. I turn to find instead a woman half that age.

Beneath a hurricane of hair is a pretty -- albeit filthy -- face with large brown eyes that bore right through me. Those eyes warn me, tell me to shut my mouth and pour the damn drink. But after fifteen years of slinging drinks to the most hard-boiled, hoity-toity, rich bitches in Los Angeles, I don't fold so easily. I put the glass down on the bar between her clenched fists and serve.

"I'm assuming the other guy looks worse," I say with a smile.

Her scowl deepens. She lifts the glass, knocking back the tequila in one swallow. I see her mud-caked fingernails squeeze against the glass as she suppresses the natural response to the burn in her throat.


I dutifully refill.

I don't usually ask, because I don't usually care, as most of my patrons are hauled home by their husbands after they finish eighteen holes. But this one doesn't look like a white-haired guy in loud pants will be walking in for her anytime soon. "Had anything to eat recently?"

"Nope," she answers after finishing the second hit. She taps the glass to the wood. I tilt the bottle, but don't pour.

"You're going to get drunk fast."


I set the bottle down and slide a bowl of pretzels in front of her. "Bad day at the office?"

Her thoughts appear to go inward for a moment. "Something like that."

"Want to talk about it?" It's my job to ask. Normally, I wouldn't give a rat's ass about the follow-up, because the problems of an over-the-hill golf widow don't interest me at all. This woman, though, she's got a story and I'm dying to know what it is. You don't walk into a bar in this neighborhood looking like that. You just don't. It's not done.

"No, not really."

Of course not. They never agree to spill their guts, but then the booze kicks in and loosens their tongues. In unspoken agreement, she eats a few pretzels and I refill her glass. This time, she runs a dirty finger around the rim and sighs.

"I got married today."

I raise my eyebrows at that. She's the most disheveled looking bride I've ever seen. "Congratulations," I say as neutrally as possible.

She lifts her glass in toast and tosses back the tequila. This time she doesn't try to hide the discomfort. She leans forward and spills the pretzel bowl with her elbow.

"Want to know the best part?"

"Sure." I casually remove her glass and wipe away the broken pretzels.

"I was second choice to a hooker." She props her cheek on her fist, her elbow still in the pretzel dish, and looks up at me, her expression clearly pained.

I've heard some good ones in my time, but that just about tops them all. "Then why'd you marry him?"

"To keep him from being deported."

"Oh, gotcha. Green card scam." I don't understand the hooker angle, but I don't suppose it matters.

"It's not a..." She stops, her mouth hanging open. A moment later, "Okay, yeah, it's a scam." I see tears well up. "Just like everything else between us."

"You known him long?"

"Four years."

I'm stunned by that. These green card arrangements generally involve strangers. "You two close?"

"I thought we were."

"In love?" I ask.

"I thought so. Until this afternoon." She swipes at her eyes with her torn sleeve, smearing the dirt on her face into muddy streaks.

I nod and retrieve her shot glass, refilling it with a double. Her head will hurt tomorrow, but it looks like her heart will hurt a lot longer.