A/N: Hello! Here it is – the eighth and likely the last installment of the Chapters series. If you haven't read the other stories, there will be some details in this one that might not make sense, but I'll try to explain everything, keeping readers who haven't been following this series in mind. The main things you need to know are that Frank and Callie are married and expecting their first child, Joe and Iola had a pretty bad break-up a couple of years before this story takes place and while they're on fairly good terms, they're not dating anymore, and Nancy and Ned are married with a daughter who is almost a year old. This story will be very Joe-centric with a healthy dose of Biff and Chet. I've had a lot of people wondering why Joe hasn't found a new girl or gotten back together with Iola yet; this story will explain why. It will probably surprise you (a lot) and might be disappointing. If the choices I make in this story bother you, I won't be offended if you don't want to continue reading. I do ask you to be respectful, though, please.
So, that was a much shorter break than I meant to take. I'll probably not be as good about updating this story as often as I have been in the past – there could be as many as four or five days between chapters. Thanks for being patient with me on this.
Thank you in advance for reading, following, favoriting, and/or reviewing! I really appreciate your support and comments.
Finally, to give credit where credit is due, this story was largely inspired by the song "Riding with Private Malone" by David Ball.
The Legacy of Private Wilson
The '63 Mustang
Everyone up and down the street jumped when the Queen's horn blared loudly. Several people rushed to their doors or windows to see what the noise was about. Most of them shook their heads in annoyance when they saw the yellow jalopy with three young men in it parked in front of the Prito house, the driver blasting away on the horn, but a few of them smiled a little. The time was when they used to see this very sight just about every Saturday, but it had been years since then. For a moment, they felt as if nothing had changed since then.
Chet Morton was in the driver seat, tapping the horn with the heel of his hand. Biff Hooper had commandeered the front passenger seat, which was the only seat he could fit in since he had gained another four inches after graduating high school. That left the back to Joe Hardy, who was desperately trying to roll the window down.
"Hey, Chet, I think your window's broken," he pronounced after his unsuccessful attempt.
Chet waved his hand carelessly. "Just put it on the list."
A moment later, Tony Prito came down the front steps from his parents' house and approached the jalopy, an expression on his face that was all at the same time annoyed, alarmed, amused, and a little bit nostalgic.
"What do you guys think you're doing?" he asked.
"It's summer, it's Saturday, and we're tired of being adults," Biff declared. "So, for today, we're seventeen again. Come on, get in."
"Have you guys been drinking?" Tony asked suspiciously.
"Who? Us?" Biff countered in the most incriminatingly innocent voice he could.
Joe kicked at the back of his seat to warn him, to which Chet merely replied, "Hey! If you break the seat, Joe, you're fixing it."
"Come on, Tony," Biff said.
"Guys," Tony protested, "I'm a law enforcement officer, and I'm getting married in a week."
"That doesn't mean you have to be boring," Chet replied.
"I can't go riding around town, acting like a teenager in that broken down old jalopy," Tony went on.
"Oh, I guess it does," Chet replied, a trifle sarcastically.
Joe pushed his door open. "Get in, Tony. There's plenty of time to adult. Besides, we already asked Frank and he turned us down flat."
"He always was the most sensible of all of us," Tony pointed out.
The three friends in the car looked at one another and shrugged.
"One last chance," Joe said. "You can't be that busy today."
"I've got a million things to do," Tony protested, "and Vanessa's so stressed out, even if I didn't have so much to do, I'd want to be with her today."
"Well, I guess it's the three of us, then," Biff said.
"See you later, Tony!" Joe shouted as he slammed the door shut. There was a crack, and the door wiggled. "Uh, Chet?"
"Add it to the list," Chet replied, throwing the car into gear and starting off.
It was a bright Saturday in early June, coming on the heels of a rough week. Joe, who was blond and about a month away from his twenty-fifth birthday, was a private detective who worked with his father, Fenton Hardy, and his dad's long-time partner, Sam Radley. Joe's brother Frank, dark-haired and a year older, still worked with them to some degree, but his field work was severely limited. He had had a rough case at the end of November of the year before, and between that and the fact that his wife, Callie, who was eight months pregnant, worried about the danger he ran into with his detective work, he had decided to go back to school the following fall and begin working toward a degree in forensics, in which field he could still work with his father and his brother. That left the others a little short-handed at times, especially this last week. They had had four separate cases, and Joe had stopped logging his hours after he had hit eighty for the week.
On Wednesday, Chet's apartment, which was a basement apartment, had flooded, and he had had to scramble to get his things out of there. Even as it was, most of his electronics and appliances were ruined, and he was out of an apartment for an indefinite amount of time. For the moment, he was moved back in with his parents. Then, that same day, Biff's girlfriend, Aleesha, had broken up with him, and then he had learned on Thursday that it was because she had started seeing someone else.
So, by the time Saturday rolled around, all three of them were more than ready to do something to get their minds off everything and maybe even have some fun. Hence, it was decided to cruise around Bayport and the surrounding area in Chet's jalopy, the Queen, like they used to when they were in high school, the radio blaring '80s and '90s music as loud as it could.
Chet steered the car out of town, and they headed up Shore Road, winding over the cliffs overlooking Barmet Bay, the horseshoe-shaped inlet on the banks of which rested their hometown of Bayport. It was sparkling like a jewel in the sunlight, and small pleasure craft were zipping about it, out of the way of the larger freighters. It was a beautiful sight, but Joe, Chet, and Biff were too busy seeing who could sing along with the radio the loudest to notice.
Once they reached the top, passing by the old Pollit place where Frank and Joe had solved one of their first cases years ago when they were still amateur sleuths, Chet turned down a narrow gravel road that would take them through what used to be farm ground. Most of the farmers' children hadn't been able to make a go of it, though, and the family farms had been sold off, piece by piece, with new houses being put up all through them. It made an odd assortment, with some towering mansions, some cracker-box houses, and a few of the old farmhouses lined on either side of the road, with plenty of trees in between them to try to block out the sight of their neighbors. This particular road wasn't as densely populated as most of the others, which most people blamed on the road. In addition to being narrow and gravel, it had steep banks on either side and winding curves every few yards.
Chet was driving as fast as he could around the curves, something that wasn't particularly smart but he had been doing it for years. He was just going around a right turn when a horrible grinding noise erupted from the engine. Instantly, he slammed on the brakes, steered the car as near the edge of the road as he could, and stopped.
Biff whistled. "I don't think you can just add that one to the list. It's a good thing you've got the best mechanic in Bayport with you."
"Yeah," Chet agreed. "I should be able to fix this in no time. Oh, and maybe you can help, too."
The two of them worked in the same shop as mechanics, and it was no unusual thing for them to be debating each other over who was better at his job.
"We'll need tools," Chet went on as he got out and headed for the hood. "There's some in the trunk, Joe."
When Joe opened the trunk to look, he couldn't help making a face. "How do you have so much junk in here?"
"It's not junk," Chet protested as he lifted the hood. "Most of that is priceless treasures."
"I don't see any treasures, or tools for that matter," Joe commented.
"They're probably just buried," Chet told him. "Keep looking."
While Joe rooted around in the trunk, Chet and Biff looked to see if they could spot the trouble even without any tools. Nothing stood out to them.
Joe eventually gave up the search with a shrug. "No tools in here."
Chet slapped his forehead with his palm. "I just remembered. I was doing some work on Dad's car. You know, to help repay him for letting me stay there. I must have forgotten to put them back in the trunk."
Biff sighed. "Well, I guess we'll just have to call for help. So much for the drive."
"I bet somebody in one of these houses has some tools," Joe said. "If we ask nice, they might let us borrow some."
The others agreed it was worth a try, so they trekked a short way up the road to the nearest house. It was one of the old farmhouses, a little rundown, but it looked like someone was in the process of fixing it up. Biff reached the door first and knocked.
The door opened a crack, and someone peered out at them. They couldn't see much about her except that she was a sandy blonde and short. "Can I help you?" she asked, apparently nervous to have three strange men call on her unexpectedly.
"Maybe," Biff replied. "Our car broke down just up the road. You can see it from here. Now, my friend, here, and I are mechanics, and we can probably fix it on our own, but somebody forgot to put any tools in the trunk. Is there any chance we could borrow some from you? We could pay you for the trouble."
The woman opened the door a little wider, and Joe and his friends could see her clearly for the first time. She was about their age, possibly even a little younger, and very cute. She looked them over for a moment or two and must have decided she could trust them.
"There are some tools in the barn." She pointed out the weathered, wooden building near her house. "I don't know if they're what you need. I don't know much about cars, but you're welcome to look at them and see. I – I guess I'd better show you where they are."
Joe decided she must be home alone and probably more than a little worried that he and his friends meant her some harm. Even so, she led the way to the barn. Everything inside was covered in dust, including the old tool that she showed them.
"Sorry," she said. "I just bought this place a few weeks ago, and I've been trying to fix it up, but it's going pretty slow."
"No problem." Biff turned from the tool bench to smile reassuringly at her. She blushed and looked down at the floor. Over her head, Biff spotted something underneath a tarp. "What's that?"
The woman seemed startled by the abrupt question as she looked over her shoulder. "Oh, just an old car. It was here when I bought the place."
"An old car?" Biff repeated. "Would you mind if I took a look at it?"
The woman shrugged. "Go ahead."
Biff, followed by Joe and Chet, who were also curious, approached the car and pulled the tarp off. He took in a breath when he saw the car underneath.
"It's a '63 Mustang," he said in much the same voice he might have used to announce a discovery of the Holy Grail. He walked around it in awe and then asked, "Do you mind if I sit in it?"
"Sure," the woman invited him, smiling a little at Biff infectious enthusiasm.
Joe and Chet added their admiration, although Chet was quick to add, "Of course, the Queen's better. Plus, she runs, which is probably better than you can say about this car."
"You mean, she used to run," Joe reminded him.
"Is this car worth anything?" the woman asked. "I guess I haven't really thought anything about it, not even to wonder what I'd do with it."
"Do with it?" Biff repeated, turning around to look at her. "You mean, you don't want it?"
"I don't have any use for it," the woman said. She blushed again under Biff's pleading gaze. "If you want to buy it, I'd be willing to sell."
"Oh, man." Biff gripped the wheel with both hands. As much as he made fun of Chet's jalopy, he had a soft spot for classic cars and had long wished he could find one cheap. He jumped out. "What are you asking for it?"
The woman shrugged and looked around at Biff's friends as if for help. "I don't know what a car like that is worth. It doesn't even run. How about eight hundred?" Biff almost choked. "Is that too much?" the woman asked.
"No, no," Joe hastened to say, since Biff didn't seem like he was able to say a word. "Honestly, you could ask a lot more than that."
If Biff had been standing near enough to him to kick his foot, he would have. However, it turned out that wasn't necessary.
The woman thought what Joe had said over for a minute and then grinned shyly at Biff. "You seem like you really want it, and I don't need the money all that bad. If eight hundred sounds okay to you, it's fine with me."
"It sounds totally fine," Biff managed to say.
The woman held out her hand. "Let's shake on it. My name's Kristine Lewis, by the way. Kristy for short."
Biff shook her hand. "Biff – er, Allen Hooper. Everyone calls me Biff, though."
"Well, then, Biff Hooper," Kristy replied. "It looks like you are now the owner of a '63 Mustang."