For a hundred dollars a day, plus expenses, Bill Chapters is your man in the city. Yes, he'll say, SURE I've got a drinking problem. But you don't solve problems by sitting around TALKING about them. You've got to get out there in the world and put your problems to work. Chapters spends a little time on his back in this final installment of "Busted Love," and then -- one way or another -- he puts this whole mess behind him.

Catch up on the case!



The question was about water but I couldn't get my eyes open or let loose an answer from my throat.

Would you care for some water, Mr. Chapters?

And all I could think to do was bleed.

Who knows when I got my eyes open? Ten minutes? Ten days? They got open eventually -- staring down at a set of yellow toes on yellow shag carpet.

"What," I said.

"I asked if you wanted any water."

I craned my chin up but I already knew who it was.

"Water would be heaven," I said.

"Then maybe you don't deserve any," she said. The toes disappeared. I heard the tap run.

"Are my hands tied or am I drunk?" I asked.


I rolled over onto my back and faced the stucco ceiling. The ceiling was what my insides felt like.

"Where's Stanley?" I said.

Angela set the glass down by my head.

"If you throw up in that position, you'll choke on your own vomit and die."

"Sit me up," I said.

She did and put the glass to my lips. The water made the blood taste thin and weak. I swallowed, even though I wanted to spit the whole thing out.

"Why are you here?"

"Near as I can figure, I was invited by your friend with the big fists. Where's Stanley?"

"He's sleeping it off in the other room. You gave him quite the working over. I'll ask a different way. Why did you come here, to Delaware?"

"For my health."

"You joke, Mr. Chapters."

"It's got nothing to do with your test answers racket."

"Then it's about dear Stanley."

My head was full of rocks. Big fat ones with sharp edges, the kind you see in cave paintings. Primitive rocks. "I can't tell you. It's the P in the P.I."

"Does it have to do with a certain jealous ex?"

I said nothing. I said too much.

"See, it's not so hard what you do, Mr. Chapters. You make a few phone calls, ask a few questions. Maybe I should become a detective myself."

I shook my head. It hurt. "Not worth it." I looked around me. "You spend half the time tied up in some crazy coed's living room."

"I'm not crazy. I'm a business woman."

"You're a cheat."

"A cheat."

"You sell test papers. Maybe they're fake. That'd make you a scammer. Maybe you stole them. That'd make you a thief. One way or the other, you don't play by the rules."

"I level the playing field, Mr. Chapters. I give everyone a shot at doing well." She stood up and lit a cigarette. "Take our friend Stanley, for example. Poor Stan. Poor Man Stan. Most people do not adjust well to college life, Mr. Chapters. Stan was one of them." She took a puff and glared out the window. "You see, in order to get the girl, he had to get a good job, and in order to get the good job, he had to graduate. And in order to graduate, he had to get through Joseph Mendelson's Critical Theory and Art History class."

"But he lost the girl," I said.

She looked at me. Her features were soft and sympathetic. The kind of features you could make a pillow out of. You could stuff them in a case and then take it to bed with you.

She nodded. "That will happen in life. You win the girl. You lose the girl. You win the girl. So on and so forth."

"There are other guys. Why Stanley?"

She smiled. "You've met him."

"I recall parts of that."

"So deliciously pathetic, isn't he? Like a puppy with a broken leg. Hopping along with a little radar dish around his neck, to keep from chewing up the stitches."

"Sounds like him," I said.

"I have never met anyone so earnest. So eager. A lot of men, they have those qualities, but you press deep enough, you'll touch that hard stone. Pride."

"Some people call it self-respect."

"Stanley doesn't have that."

"Get a puppy. Break its legs. You should have no trouble."

She sighed and stood up. "So what should I do about you?"

"You can let me go."

She shook her head.

"You can kill me."

She shook her head again. "I don't like that either."

"Forget it," I said. "There are in between steps, of course. For instance, you could be a dear and fetch me an aspirin, or maybe offer me a sandwich. But in the end, I've got to go somewhere. One way or another."

"You have something on me."

"Sure, there's that."

"What assurances do I have that I won't be standing in front of the dean at the end of the week?"

"You let Stanley go. Cut him off. No tests. No nothing. A free fish. Then you can have my word."

"Stanley, huh? A big chip."

"The only chip. Let him go and you keep your business. Or else I shut you down. I shut down the Weasel's for underage drinking, and I let on around campus that you were the one responsible. And a shut down bar in a college town like this? People here, I've noticed, make a pass-time out of getting antsy."

She screwed up her lips. "What was that you said about killing you again?"

"You could," I said. "I wasn't kidding about the aspirin and the sandwich though."

She looked at me. She stood up and took the glass into the kitchen. She came back with a carving knife. Cold metal. I tried not to look at it.

She turned me around and slit the ropes off my wrists.

We went into the kitchen. She shook two aspirins into a napkin and invited me to sit down.

She made dinner. Not sandwiches, but risotto in a mushroom sauce.

"I'm not a bad person, Mr. Chapters," she said from over the stove.

"Bill," I said.

She switched the stove off and brought the plates over.

"I'm not a bad person, Bill."

"I know, Angela," I said. "No one ever really is."

I speared a few mushrooms. They were juicy and salty. I looked across the table at Angela. The pain in my head was starting to lift.


I showed Sandy Connors my itemized expenditures. She took a black pen from my desk and crossed out all the booze. I let it go. How could she know? How could she know the business?

I told her the story, but I left Angela out of it. I told her where to find Stanley. I gave her the address of the one-eyed man and the frat house.

"You know, if that's what you want in the end," I said.

She sighed and undid the clasp on her purse. It was red alligator skin.

She said: "What I want? What do I want? What do YOU want?"

She wrote out my check and tore it neatly along the perforation. When I got the check in my hand, I said, "Nothing."

"You can't go back in time, Mr. Chapters. I realize that now. Your story hasn't delivered me the peace I was looking for, I must say."

"Peace?" I smiled and slapped my forehead. "That's what you were looking for?"

"Isn't everyone?"

"Well, that one's easy."

I called Sophie in and asked her to go downstairs for a bottle of the OK rye.

She came back a few minutes later with three clean glasses.

We drank in my office. We threw up the windows and put the radio on. Sophie started singing a song I didn't know. It had catchy lyrics and a real nice groove to it. I'd have to investigate it one day, privately. I took Sandy's hand and danced her around. We knocked into file cabinets, making the old case files shake and shudder. We laughed and cried and laughed. And the bottle of rye kept getting smaller and smaller.

Posted by billchapters on Tue, 09 Sep 2008 16:35:43 -0400 -- permanent link

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