For a hundred dollars a day, plus expenses, Bill Chapters is your man in the city. He does free work for The Fiction Circus when we need him, and in return we bring you his life, his times, his ways, and his cunning. In this first installment, we meet Ms. Sandy Connors, a woman with a painful past.

Flash forward!


"Sit down," I said, and she took a seat across from me. She had on jeans; a sweater. A ribbon of flaxen hair came out the back of her Yankees cap. The bill was tilted low, as if she were trying not to be recognized. It worked: I had no idea who she was. "How can I help you?"

"I'm sorry. I was looking for Bill Chapters."

I folded my fingers together. "Well, that's me."

"You're Bill Chapters. Well, pardon me for saying so, but Chapters doesn't sound very?"

"Asian? No. It's just a working name."

I touched my eyebrows and then the edge of my left eye, where it slanted and dropped off.

"What's your real name?"

"Fortune cookie. What do you want?"

"Well," she began. She brought her purse up to her lap. Her fingers leafed through the things inside. "My name is Sandy Connors. And I saw this ad on the internet."

She unfolded a print-out. It had my name, the office address, and my phone number on it. It was printed on pink paper.

"I have-- well, let me explain my situation."

I took out a pad and a pencil.

"See, I'm a sophomore at Wilmington University. It's a small liberal arts college in Delaware."

"I know it." I wrote it down. Wil U.

"Let me start over. I grew up in a small town just outside of Salisbury. The kind of place where everybody knows everybody. Out of all those everybodies, I started going with this guy Stanley Jenkins in high school. We'd planned to get married and go down that old road -- kids, a dog, happiness, death. You know how it is. We both started going to Wilmington and we figured it was fate. We'd finish our four years, and then we'd be off to domestic paradise."

She was bitter. I wrote this down, too. She tried to see what I was writing, but I tilted my pad away from her pretty eyes.

"It didn't turn out that way, I take it." Salisbury. S-A-L?

"You could say that. Summer break was six months ago, right?"


"And so Stanley got it into his head to go on this fishing trip. It was going to be just him and the boys, you know? No girls. The last time we were intimate was during the last week of July. We had dinner together the night before he left, and he said he'd see me first thing when we got back to school. But when the fall semester started, he had changed."

"What sort of change?"

"He didn't want anything to do with me. He would ignore me in the hall and he would avoid our usual hangouts. He even had all his classes changed so that we weren't scheduled together."

"You tried to find out what happened."



"Nothing. All his friends refused to give me any straight answers."

I snickered at this. Friends. I wrote that down and underlined it.

"So you want me to find out what happened on the trip?"

She screwed up her lips and bit them like an apple. She smiled at me bashfully. "You see, Mr. Chapters, I'm the kind of girl that needs to know everything bad. I have my suspicions, but I need to know for sure."


"So you'll take the case?"

I gave her the usual rate and knocked off a few dollars for the bashful smile. We spent the morning drawing up the paper work. I left it on my secretary's desk and walked Ms. Connors to the door. "Oh, one more thing, Ms. Connors."

"Yes. What is it?" She was miserable again. She tucked her cap down lower. I decided to ask her a different question than the one I had been angling toward. I thought about it. Angling. That was a good angle.

"Did Stanley say where his fishing trip was?"

She paused to think for a second and reached the bright tip of her fingernail to the pink rim of her lip. "Towson Lake," she said. Then she walked out of the room without even closing the door.

I waited for Sophie to come back from lunch. Waiting, I fell asleep in my chair. When the door clicked open, I jumped out of my seat. I glanced at the clock. It was a quarter to five. "Sophie!"

She peeked her head in. "Yeah, Bill?" She had her black hair done up in a bun, and there was a wet smacking sound coming out of her mouth. It was bubble gum.

"Where've you been all day?"

"What do you mean? I've been at the desk."

"Sophie, you're fired."

"Thank God." She walked to the reception desk. I could hear her shuffling the files. She was going home. I put on my coat; my hat. I locked up the drawer. It looked like I was going home too.

"By the way, you saw that contract I left on your desk."

"Yeah. I'll take care of it."

"Great," I said. I hit the lights and held the door open for her. "Sophie, I'll be out of town this week working on that contract. So I'll leave the office to you."

"Gotcha." She blew a bubble and popped it. I let her walk in front of me. When we got downstairs, I said, "See you in a week." I tried to kiss her cheek, but she was too fast for me. We took different trains home.

I thought about Sandy Connors on the train instead of Sophie. There must have been a dozen PI's in Delaware. Why come all the way to New York for me? Was I really that good?

Back at the apartment, I packed a bag and I fed Marlowe. He'd been scratching up the furniture for months. I wrote a note to myself to get him de-clawed when I got back into town. I switched on my desk lamp and began compiling a list of notes on the case.

Marlowe rubbed up against my ankle. "Meow," he said. It was well past midnight and all the typing was keeping him awake.

"Sorry, pal. Just a little while longer."

"Meow," he repeated and slunk off into the kitchen. Tap tap tap went his long claws. Why had I never noticed them before? What did it all mean?


Posted by billchapters on Thu, 22 May 2008 08:18:35 -0400 -- permanent link

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