For a hundred dollars a day, plus expenses, Bill Chapters is your man in the city. When The Fiction Circus needs to know who's been cheating on us, we call Chapters because he always breaks the news as soft as a padded bra slung across a trundle bed. In this installment of "Busted Love," Bill travels to Delaware to follow up on the Connors case.

Catch up on the case!


Flash forward!


I took the morning train into Delaware and telephoned ahead to the school. A woman with a whistle in her voice gave me the runaround. I got off the train shortly after mid-day and took a long walk around the campus.

All the buildings looked the same -- red brick, black-tiled roofs. Ivy menaced the walls, probing into chimneys. There was a clocktower to the East, and I kept my eye on it where it shivved the sky. I checked the face. Five after one. I adjusted my watch to match.

There was a kid sitting on a patch of lawn, playing his guitar. He had long, painted fingernails and a felt hat flipped up in front of him. At the bottom, a few dollars; some coins. I put a dollar in there to cheer him up.

It worked. He stopped playing and smiled.

"Could you tell me where the Registrar is?"

He pointed with his pick.

"You know a Stan Jenkins?"

He shook his head and did his smile again, nodding at the hat.

I opened up my wallet and found George Washington hiding behind an old restaurant receipt. Mr. Washington hopped up into the air and did a nosedive onto his hat.

"How about now?"

"Sorry," the kid said. He had a nice voice but nothing good to say. "Appreciate it, though."

"Thanks Jimmi." I folded up my wallet and straightened the sleeves of my jacket. "Play me off."

I headed towards the administration building. Twangy notes accompanied my retreating footsteps. They tried to make themselves sound like "Dust in the Wind," and amazingly, they failed.

The woman at the desk was checking her makeup inside a compact. An Agnes if I ever saw one. Behind her was a portrait of some grim-looking American. The fellow had thick, angry eyebrows and fat, withered cheeks. The painter had added some blood around his nose so that it looked inflamed.

Agnes spread something on her cheek then snapped the compact shut. "So what is it you want?"

"Stanley Jenkins."

"Excuse me?"

"He's a student here. I need to know where to find him."

"May I ask what this is regarding?"

"No, not really, no."

"It is not our policy to give out that information."

I stared hard at her. She put her lips together and drummed her fingers down on her desk. The gold loops through her ears started swinging.

"Let me speak to your boss," I said.

She cocked her head and folded her arms together. "She's out to lunch."

I flashed my denty pearls and leaned forward. "Listen, Agnes," I said. "I wouldn't ask if it weren't important. All I need is a class schedule."

"Sir, the rules--"

I slammed my hand down on the counter.

"I'm calling security." She picked up the phone and started to dial.

I put my hands up. "Wait, wait." She stopped and looked at me. My throat went dry. "Anyone ever tell you, Agnes. You have very lovely eyes?"


I checked into the Holiday Inn outside of campus, rubbing my busted jaw where campus security had played piano on it.

I got the TV going and spent the rest of the day making case notes, shuffling them around just for fun. There was a phone book where the Bible ought to have been. I checked the name Jenkins just to see what would turn up. There were six listings for "Jenkins comma S."

The card on the nightstand gave me the phone rates. It was more than any civilized place would charge, but I thought "to hell with it. I can just expense it to Ms. Connor's bill."

I did the same with a bottle of champagne. A tall kid came up with the bottle. He looked around the room to see how I was settling in. Then he popped the cork. It went pop. It was just the two of us in the empty room. He wasn't much of a drinker. Pretty soon, it was just me.

I drank out of the bottle and started dialing numbers. The first few calls didn't pan out. There were little old ladies on the other end. One named Samantha. Another named Sally.

I hit a few busy numbers and got some no-answers. I squinted my eyes at the TV. There were some cartoons going. I slipped the volume way down and kept on with the calls.

I was four numbers and six pulls of champagne in when someone finally answered.

"Hello?" said a voice on the line.

"Hello." I cleared my throat and undid my collar. "Is this Jenkins?"

"That's my name."

"Stan Jenkins."

The line went quiet for a while. Then: "Who is this if you don't mind my asking?"

My head started to swim. I cleared my throat a few times and tried not to slur. "Stanley," I said.

"Who is this?"

"Stanley, you've been bad."


"I know what happened."

"I'm going to hang up now."

"At the lake."

I held my breath for a moment. He didn't hang up.

"Who is this? Joe? It's not funny, man."

"Stanley," I said.


"You are a very young man, and you need some advice."


"Stay away from large bodies," I said. "Of water."

I hung up the phone and laid down on the bed. I kept the TV going and kept pulling from the bottle till it gave up the last of its secrets.

I telephoned the office and left Sophie a message to look in on Marlowe. I switched off the TV and spent some time staring at the shellacked ceiling.

I made my hand into a gun and looked along the imaginary barrel. I cocked my thumb back. Shellacked.
"I know the feeling," I said to no one before pulling the trigger.


Posted by billchapters on Tue, 27 May 2008 08:04:02 -0400 -- permanent link

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