For a hundred dollars a day plus expenses, Bill Chapters is your man in the city. Chapters isn't a prim-and-dainty Granny's man who will waste time with a whole bunch of applesauce about "right" and "wrong." He'll do what he needs to do, provided it isn't too difficult. In this installment, Bill Chapters hoodwinks a one-eyed man and sort of gets away with it.

Catch up on the case!


Flash forward!


We waited an hour but Jenkins never showed.

Mortimer splashed at his bushes, and then curled the tubing around his arm. "Maybe he went to the fraternity house," he said. "He stays there sometimes. University Drive and Maple."

I said goodbye and took off like I was going to check it out. The trees shuddered in the wind and storm clouds stretched out over town like a cat. I got to the end of the block and turned the corner. I waited, and then I jogged back to the house. The old man was gone.

I kept low and kept my back below the windows. I could hear the faint mumble of voices from the distant houses and -- somewhere -- the nervous splashing pelt of a sprinkler. A tool shed on the far side of the yard was streaked with rust and bird shit. In the garden, the cucumbers were just starting to bloom, stretching out their soft green vines and spiraling up the garden posts. Leaves fanned out like daggers. A bad-tempered bumble bee doodled a hieroglyph in the air. It gave me a look and then and kept on doodling.

The basement window was small, but not impregnable. I peered down into the darkness. I slipped my knife out of my sock and sliced the netting around the frame. I dropped down into the room and felt the bite of my buckling knees. I crouched down against the mildewed carpet, waiting for my eyes to adjust.

A patchwork of art history textbooks and gym socks quilted the floor. I lifted up a sock and brought it up to my nose. It was ripe and stale. I coughed into my sleeve and tucked the sock into my pocket. The bed hadn't been slept in for days. At the desk were photos of Sandy Connors hugging a tall man with a day old mustache and crooked sideburns. He had a Wilmington sweatshirt on and I could see car keys looped around his fingers. Neither of them were smiling. I popped the frame open and folded the photo into my pocket. Inside the frame, there was a glint of metal. A key.

I put the key in my pocket, too. Then I checked the drawers. In the bottom drawer, beneath an Egyptian History textbook, was a silver hip-flask. I shook it around, emptied it, and then put it back.

On his computer screen was a mass of post-it notes. It was too dark to read them so I stuck them together and put them in my shirt. What else was there? Nothing.

I gave myself a running start and leapt at the window. Something sharp clipped me on the side but I managed to anchor an arm on the ledge. I wriggled out, rubbed my eyes and made my way out to the street.

"What are you doing back here?"

Mortimer looked at me through his one eye, folding his gardening gloves into his palm.

I mumbled something and pushed past him.

"Hey, wait a minute," he said.

I could hear his sandals moving after me. I widened my stride.

He called out after me. I didn't stop to take notes.

I lost him after a few blocks and stopped into a cafe. The waitress had short hair clipped just below her ears, where there were dangling butterfly earrings. I took some time to catch my breath then I put in my order: a sandwich and a beer. I watched her write it down. She looked up from her pad with two green eyes like twin "GO" traffic lights. She had a damn nice memo pad.

There was a copy of the campus paper by the window. I took it and browsed through a few articles. The school had recently received a large endowment, and a freshman had been caught plagiarizing a paper on Tom Wolfe. I took a pen out from my pocket and started drawing mustaches on the pictures until my food arrived. The waitress glanced down at my work then went back into the kitchen, where she stayed.

I finished up my sandwich and headed to Maple and University Drive. The frat house wasn't anything special-- two stories and trash on the lawn. There was a pool of something sticky on the steps. Punch vomit? I tried to read the letters on the building. But they were Greek.

I rang the buzzer and a scrawny kid came to the door. He peered out at me through two lazy slits.

"Yeah?" He pressed his face up against the mosquito screen, trying to get a good look.

"Stanley here?"

"Hasn't been around. You campus security?"

"Where he's staying?"

"I don't need to answer your questions. I got rights, man."

I acted like I smelled something. "You're aware of the school's policy on illegal substances? Minimum penalty is expulsion, of course, and then there's the committee hearing with the provost. Criminal charges are not out of the question."

"You're putting me on, man."

He unstuck his nose from the screen.

"I'll let you know when you're put on. You will know it."

He squinted some more. "Wait a minute," he said. "He's over on Pinegrove staying with his girlfriend. Here, let me get you the address."

He reached into his pocket and wrote an address down on a bar napkin. He cracked the door open a little and slipped it through. The napkin had a black cartoon blob in one corner. Near as I could tell, it was a weasel in a martini glass. "Thanks Joe," I said.

"How'd you know my name?"

I folded the napkin up, patted my forehead with it, then slipped it into my pocket. "Be seeing you," I said.


Posted by billchapters on Tue, 24 Jun 2008 03:37:06 -0400 -- permanent link

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