For a hundred dollars a day, plus expenses, Bill Chapters is your man in the city. He probably won't kill anyone for you, but he would give them wrong directions, or copy their mannerisms in order to piss them off, right to their face. In this installment of "Busted Love," Chapters does not even come close to killing anyone. Not even close. He does hit a musician in the stomach, though.

Catch up on the case!


I waited for hours, it seems. I watched a trail of ants discover a cicada corpse and excavate the insides. There was a loner, a small purple-bodied joe, turning in circles, making annoyed patterns in the grit. I let him onto my finger, let him go around my wrist twice, and brought him down to his anthill, which was bleeding through a crack in the sidewalk.

"On the house," I said. The ant didn't say anything back.

Angela came out around six o'clock, wearing new clothes, a canvas satchel stretched across her slim body. When she got down to the end of the block, I stood up, stretched my legs, and followed.

She made her way down to the quad and stopped outside the administration building. I crouched down behind a hedge and watched as the busking guitar virtuoso strutted out towards her.

They exchanged a few words and he pressed something green and crisp into her palm. She slipped it into her jeans and gave him a packet of papers from her satchel.

She looked around and then made her way out of the quad, back the way she came. When she was out of sight, I jogged over to talk to Jimi Hendrix.

"Hey," I said. "Remember me?"

He stuck his thumb up and smiled.

"A penny saved," I said. I made a grab for the packet, but he jerked it away.

"What's the deal, bro?"

"Let me see that."

I got two fingers on a page and tore it.

"Be cool, man. Be cool."

I made like I was going to hit him. Then I did.

He bent down and grabbed his stomach. "What's up? Not cool, man. Not cool."

I lifted the torn page off the ground. "Make dust," I said.

He limped down the path and growled something after me.

"Go write a song about it," I said.

I smoothed the page out against the wall. It read:

B. Compare and contrast the works of Salvador Dali and El Greco. Cite specific examples we mentioned in class as well as examples in the assigned readings. Spelling counts; MUST BE LEGIBLE. (30 Points)

I went over to the Weasel and tried to earn my 30 points, but my penmanship was awful. I got three beers in when the fog started climbing up my throat, past my eyes. I was drawing a line through the phrase "brush strokes" when Stan Jenkins came in through the door.

I thought about leaving but to hell with it. The drinks were cheap and the co-eds were cheaper, with their glowing red faces, and their raccoon eyes, and daddy's money. I felt young and old at the same time, in all the good and bad ways. I signaled to the waitress, ordered a fourth, and said "thank you" with my teeth, but not my voice.

Jenkins slid into the empty booth behind me.

"What can I start you off with?" the waitress said.

"Club soda for now."

The waitress said "sure thing" in a voice that was more bird than woman and returned to her bar. There was a hockey game on, and everyone was shouting "hurrah," puffing out alcohol in dank clouds.

I turned around and poked my head over the seat-back at Stanley.

"Club soda? What's the matter? Don't they have any milk?" I said.

Stan looked up at me and blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Go ahead. Have a drink. They don't card here."

He nodded and look away.

"Don't be bashful, Stan."

"Do I know you?"

"Well, I certainly know you." I got up with my 30-point test answer and slid in opposite Stanley. "Hope you don't mind if I sit down."

"I'm actually waiting for someone."

"You're lying," I said. "Ain't you listening? I said I know you. I know every little thing about you. Now pay attention."

I spread the page out. The edges were wrinkled and now the page had little wet furrows that looked, smelled, and tasted like beer.

"How's this look to you?" I said.

He stared at it for a moment.

"Where'd you get this?"

I slammed my fist against the table.

"Focus, Stanley. Focus. How do you expect to get anywhere without focus, young man. Now look." I patted the page.

"I... I can't read your handwriting."

I caught the server on the arm, and took the beer off her tray. "Over here, darling." I held up two fingers and wiggled them. One. Two. It was a nice trick, but she didn't think so. I slid my beer over to Stanley.

"This is yours."

"I feel sick," he said.

I tapped the mug. "Medicine," I said. "Drink it."

"I don't want it."

"Drink it or I'll have you kicked out. Send you back to your podunk town."

"Kicked out? For what?"

I put my thumb on the sheet like I was squashing a mosquito. "Academic dishonesty. Drink."

After about three rounds, his eyes were goldfish that somebody had left out in the sun. He was flushed and his gray eyes had shrunk down to pinholes.

"Now," I took my notebook from my jacket and tried to get my fingers around a pencil. "Now, you talk."

"Talk about what?"

"Sandy Connors."

He nodded. He lifted his mug up but it was empty. "She's a good girl. Real sweet. Wrinkles her nose when she's happy. Like a rabbit."

"No more animals," I said. "Why'd you ditch her?"

"Ditch her?"

"The old shove. The boiling smelly flame of your love went cold. Let's hear why." I tightened my fingers on the pencil. It kept falling out of my hand. Stanley stared at me. "You went to the lake. Okay. With your buddies. You were drinking. Right?"

"Right," he said.

"Then you met Angela. She was staying at her aunt's -- a nice old bird with a cat that's got self-confidence problems. You met her. You fell for her. All the old tricks, the batted eyes, the pouting mouth. You fell for it. But then you were in a spot."

"No. It's not like that."

"The hell it's not." I swept a mug off the table and it shattered. The bar went quiet and looked our way. We froze until the noise bubbled over us and melted us into it.

"Okay, Stanley," I said. "You don't like my story? You tell me one."

The bartender came by with a broom. He swept the pieces up. We tucked our feet in.

"It... it was all too fast. I was nineteen. She was talking of getting married. Nineteen."

I counted the mugs that were on the table. "You're only at seven, Stanley."

He let it pass. "I was failing all my classes. Art History with Mendelson. If I didn't make at least a C, they said they'd kick me out. Angela. She said she had a way. A leg up."

"So you cheated."

"She said it was guaranteed. No risk. She liked me, she said. So I took it. Yes. I saw an opportunity. I took it."

"And Sandy?"

"Angela... she. Have you met her?"

"Only kind of."

"She's tough. Forceful. I didn't want to, but she said she'd expose me. Stay away from that little girlfriend of yours, or else."

"Or else she'd squawk."


"To Sandy."

"To Sandy. To the college. Everyone. I'd be ruined."

"What did she want?"

Stanley looked down at the table. The beer made little islands across the veneer. He touched a coaster, lifted it up, then put it back down. "What do women like Angela ever want?"

I thought about it for a second. I didn't write down my guess.

"In the end, I couldn't tell Sandy anything. She wouldn't understand. It'd be too much to explain. So I stayed away. For her and for me. I stayed away."

"So that's it?"

"That's it."

I looked down at my notepad. It was a car crash of lines, pencil marks piercing through pencil marks, smudges bleeding out over the faint blue lines. I closed up the notebook and dropped it back into my jacket.

Two beers showed up on the table. I showed them the way out.

We drank in silence.

"Now what," he said.

I put a hundred down on the table and hoped it would be enough. He was just a poor college kid after all. "Walk me back to my motel," I said.

Stanley took hold of me and we left the Weasel.

We got to the end of the block when a voice called out, "Hey Chapters."

I turned and looked. I didn't even feel it. I was suddenly falling. The concrete was a bed.

Posted by billchapters on Thu, 28 Aug 2008 14:31:29 -0400 -- permanent link

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