The Naked Truth
THE NAKED TRUTH
Toby pulled his car to a stop outside the address Kasey had given him. There was no difficulty finding a parking space because he’d arrived a good hour before the return from work traffic. The apartment building had a parking lot around back but that was for tenants only.
Kasey’s home had been built in the ’Sixties from the look of it. It was a flat-topped, two-story structure with yellow brick face and rows of windows on either side of an entry way between Georgian columns and a peaked atrium. The entry was windowed from stoop to atrium, exposing a stairway going from the lobby to the second floor.
Toby counted six picture windows per floor on either side of the entrance with smaller, square windows in between. Vertical vinyl blinds were shut in most of them; wall mounted air conditioners jutted out below the picture windows.. Toby figured it meant two dozen front-facing units with perhaps an equal number overlooking the parking lot.
He went up the sidewalk to the front door and found the panel of intercom buttons for each unit. Toby peered into the lobby and observed two banks of mailboxes and heaps of unclaimed fliers from grocery and department stores lying on the beige wall-to-wall carpeting.
Toby selected the button for Apartment 206. The intercom remained silent but he heard a buzzer almost immediately; the door lock clicked open. Toby went inside and trudged up the stairs. Glancing to his right, the first apartment door number he saw first was No. 213. So the even numbered units were on the front-facing side of the hall and 206 would be on his left.
In no time, Toby knocked softly on Kasey’s door. She opened it for him with a smile on her face.
“Hi, babe,” Kasey said.
Toby smiled at the yellow dress she had on. There was a pattern of tiny pink posies on the yellow cotton and a narrow black belt fastened around Kasey’s slim waist. The dress hemline was just above her knee. Kasey was standing barefoot on carpeting in the same color Toby had seen in the lobby.
They kissed briefly and went into the living room.
“I feel like I should have dressed better for you,” Toby said; he was in a pair of blue jeans and a short-sleeved green polo shirt.
“It’s okay,” Kasey assured him.
Toby looked around the room. It was tidy with a small sofa and an armchair set to face the picture window, one of those with blinds drawn. A small TV set on a white platform was in front of the window. Kasey had a bookcase in the corner opposite the dining area and a galley kitchen. There was a small wooden table with two chairs in the dining area. Kasey had already set out plates and silverware.
“Bedroom and bathroom’s down the hall,” Kasey said. “Need to use the bathroom?”
“We’ll get to the bedroom later,” Kasey said with a wink. “How ’bout a drink?”
“Get settled on the sofa and I’ll join you in a sec.”
Toby did so and took in the aroma of the pasta sauce from the kitchen. It smelled like something tomato-based embedded with garlic, onions, and peppers.
“I won’t make the pasta for another hour,” Kasey said, carrying two beer bottles into the room. “Sauce can be reheated then. I’ve just had it simmering for a bit before you got here.”
“Looking forward to trying that sauce,” Toby said, taking his beer.
“Thanks,” Kasey said, cuddling up to him.
They sipped beer for a moment and then set the bottles on the coffee table, using coasters. Toby pulled her into a kiss and she squirmed in apparent excitement.
Jake Stephens was an associate editor at the Transcript. He was eager for the work day to end because he was going to pitch for his amateur softball team that evening. Jake wandered from his own desk close to the newsroom door over to the nearest window as if looking at the fair skies above the city would make five o’clock arrive any sooner.
That window was behind Toby’s desk. After confirming the weather was holding up for the game, Jake looked down at the clutter his boss had left behind. There was a fax cover sheet from the Burlington, Vermont Police Department lying there next to some pencils and note pads. Although the cover sheet was noted “Attn: Toby Hughes”, Jake didn’t see any words like “confidential”.
That became his excuse for indulging idle curiosity.
Jake flipped the cover sheet over and saw the sketched face. Below it was a notice indicating the portrait was of a woman wanted for questioning. She used the alias of “Brenda Francis”; “Hair: Blond, Eyes: Green. Height: 5’6”; Build: Thin”. There were two sets of phone numbers, one to the Burlington P.D. and the other to the Vermont State Police.
Jake wondered why it had been faxed to Toby’s attention and what the cops wanted to question the woman for. He looked at the sketch more closely and suddenly realized what Toby had to do with it. Sitting at Toby’s desk, Jake picked up the phone and dialed the first number.
“Tell me about Natalie Dvorak,” Kasey said after breaking off a long make-out session.
“Why?” Toby asked, reaching for his beer.
“I think she could be my rival.”
“Don’t be silly. The only rival you did have works at the State Capital but I got rid of her for you.”
“You did?” Kasey gushed, grinning widely.
Toby nodded, sipping beer.
“Tell me about Natalie anyway. I might be meeting her one of these days.”
“Really?” Toby asked, putting the bottle down.
“Didn’t you say she might have some true crime stories for me?”
“Oh, that’s right, I did. Now, don’t get worried but Natalie was my girlfriend during my senior year in high school.”
“And now she’s a cop.”
“Yes. I saw her the day I dropped Ryan off at River Run, like I told you. She’s changed a lot, though. Not my type anymore.”
“She had a rough time after high school. A bad marriage with an abusive husband. Natalie went into law enforcement to protect herself, so I gather. For one thing, Natalie’s not a sweet kid anymore. And her body… Well, she used to be tiny and cute when we were together. Natalie’s not any taller now, of course, but she really bulked up.”
“Bulked up, like muscles? Not fat?”
“Not fat. She’s stronger than I am now. And she’s got some kind of black belt. Kung Fu, or something.”
Kasey smiled and nodded.
“You could protect her when you were kids. You don’t want a woman who could protect you. I mean physically protect you.”
“Is that bad?”
“Not for this chick. You’ll always be the man when you’re with me.”
Toby started kissing Kasey again. Then he tried moving her around a little; she was passive and also light in his arms. Lighter than Betsy even though Kasey was taller than Toby’s ex-wife.
“Now,” Toby whispered.
“Yes,” Kasey gasped. “Carry me.”
Toby sighed with delight. He’d planned to take Kasey to bed that way but it was good to know she wanted to ride in his arms.
The alarm went off in Natalie’s mind as she heard Jake’s voice speaking to her over the long-distance connection. It was an alarm but where could she go to respond to it?
Natalie’s left hand scrawled over a notepad as Jake explained where he’d seen the False Brenda.
Came to office… true crime writer… article… book… real name Casey… or K.C.? Toby dating her? Maybe with her now!!!
Natalie demanded that Jake search his boss’s desk for anything that might lead to the suspect. Stammering that he would, Jake put the receiver down and Natalie heard papers rustling, a drawer opening.
She waved frantically at Cheryl, who was walking past the conference room where Natalie had taken the call.
“What?” Cheryl asked, hurrying over to the table.
“False Brenda’s in Albany! Or she’s been seen with Toby in his newspaper office. Her name’s Casey, this guy thinks.”
“Someone who works at the paper. He saw the faxed sketch on Toby’s desk. He’s looking to see if Toby left the woman’s contact information― ”
“N-not in his desk,” Jake reported breathlessly.
“I’ll check it.”
“I can call the Albany P.D.,” Cheryl suggested.
“Let’s see if this guy can turn anything up first.”
Natalie and Cheryl stared at each other until Jake came back on the line.
“No, nothing. Sorry.”
“You think Toby might call in?”
“No reason I can think of. We’re closing within the hour, anyway. We’re a weekly so we don’t have a 24/7 news bureau.”
“I understand. Look, are you there until closing?”
“So if Toby just happens to call, you know what to tell him.”
“I can go by his place, see if he’s there.”
“We’ve left messages on his answering machine and he hasn’t called back. We’ll ask the Albany P.D. to check his apartment. I’d rather you stay away from there.”
“That woman’s dangerous?”
“Possibly. We have to assume she is, at least. Thanks for the call. You probably gave us vital information.”
Toby had given Natalie his address during the hotel room meeting. She wrote it down for Cheryl, who placed a call to Albany while Natalie reached George Sweeney. She gave her boss the update and asked permission to travel over the state line.
“Hell, yes! I’ll notify the New York State Police.”
Even as Toby’s apartment was being unlocked by the building supervisor for two uniformed officers who’d told him they’d come for a “welfare check-in”, he himself was lying in Kasey’s bed a few miles away, caressing the bare skin of her lower back. Toby enjoyed the woman’s slim body and was delighted with her cute little breasts; they were nicely firm for someone Kasey’s age.
“You know what?” he said. “I think I might have a contact or two at a publishing house that would consider buying your book.”
“That means you believe in me.”
“That means so much to me, Toby.”
“I know you put a lot of work into that book. It’s improved a lot from the previous draft, like I said. Really, a good job for a first effort.”
Kasey sat up on the mattress.
“It’s not my first effort.”
“I lost my father when I was ten years old. He was killed. I wrote about the case after college. Nobody would take it for publication.”
“Really?” Toby asked with a scowl. “I’d think that a daughter’s memoir would be marketable.”
“I was told that no one would be interested because my father was convicted of homicide.”
“But you said he was killed.”
“Yes, killed,” Kasey said, looking over her shoulder at him with angry eyes. “Killed by the State of New York in the electric chair.”
A wave of anxiety passed through Toby.
“So… that’s why you’re interested in true crime?”
“You might think I’m biased. But I know my father was innocent. I tried to tell the police but no one would accept an alibi from a juvenile. Not even Mother believed us.”
Kasey got up from the bed and walked over to the chest of drawers against the far wall.
“That’s terrible,” Toby managed to say even though his mouth was dry; he felt vulnerable lying there naked on the sheet.
“Why won’t the police and prosecutors believe the truth in one case,” Kasey said, keeping her back to Toby, “and swallow lies in another case?”
“W-what other case?”
“I think you know. I can hear it in your voice.”
Kasey turned around and pointed a revolver at him.
“Stay on the bed.”
Toby shivered and gave her a slow nod.
“I don’t want to shoot you,” Kasey said. “Someone would hear it and even if they didn’t, I really couldn’t move your body all by myself.”
Toby fidgeted slightly.
“I’ll shoot if I have to, though. I can always make a run for it.”
“Talk to me, Kasey. What do you want, if not to shoot me?”
“I have another true crime story for you. I might not ever get the chance to write it all down.”
“About your father?”
“You mean what you’ve done to help Graham?”
“Yes,” Kasey said, leaning against the dresser and lowering the gun. “That ungrateful loser…”
“Ungrateful? He didn’t put you up to this?”
“There’s an answering machine over on the night table. You can reach it from the bed. There’s one message saved on it. Press the play button.”
Toby moved slowly, not wanting to provoke Kasey into pulling the trigger.
“Brenda!” Graham’s voice shouted. “What the fuck did you do? What’s wrong with you? Did you think I’d like it? You crazy bitch! I’m getting out of here! The cops won’t believe I didn’t do it but if they catch me I’ll tell them about you! You better hope I get away!”
Then there was a click.
“That was Graham. Lucky for me, he crashed that car before the cops ever heard about me.”
“Brenda? Is that your real name?”
“No, he thought it was my name. I really am Kasey Miller, like the name on my manuscript says.”
“Kasey, Graham’s dead. Why keep it up now?”
“Because I hate you all. The four of you banded together to protect Tom Wright and got the State’s Attorney to railroad Graham the way they did it to my father in New York.”
“It’s not true, Kasey. None of us were out to protect Tom. We were just a bunch of kids. The evidence pointed to Graham. We didn’t think Tom was capable of murder.”
“When you met me, did you think I was capable of it?”
“Like I said, we were kids. Naïve. These days, Natalie thinks Tom might have done it, killed Ashley and framed Graham for it.”
“Don’t give me bullshit!”
“You believe Graham’s story. If it is true, why couldn’t a real police detective see it, too?”
Kasey frowned and seemed to consider Toby’s suggestion.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said at last. “Your old girlfriend would run me in for what I did to Rick and Sharon, anyway.”
Toby tried to slow his breathing.
“Could I get dressed?” he asked. “If you… I mean, I don’t want to be found dead and… naked.”
“Go ahead,” Kasey told him, kicking his underwear up onto the bed. “Take that and get dressed in the bathroom with the door closed.”
There was enough room for Toby to carry his clothes out of the bedroom without being able to touch Kasey. He crossed the hall and went into the small bathroom, shutting the door as instructed.
“I’m getting dressed, too,” Kasey called through the door. “Stay in there until I tell you to come out, then go to the living room.”
“Yes, I understand.”
Toby dressed with trembling, fumbling fingers, realizing his shoes were in the living room. He put everything on but those shoes and waited until Kasey called him. While he waited, Toby had a moment of inspiration.
In place of the yellow dress, Kasey was now wearing blue slacks and a white blouse over a pair of black loafers. The gun was in her right hand; Kasey used it to point at the sofa.
“Shoes?” Toby asked, nodding at them.
“How did you even hear about the Ashley Vickers case?” Toby asked as he tied the laces in his left shoe.
Kasey sat in the armchair with the gun in her lap.
“I was going through some old magazines from around the time my father was executed. Crime magazines. Sensational headlines, that kind of thing. Nothing about the frame-up job on Peter Miller. So then I was looking for stories where the convicted murderer wasn’t caught red-handed, cases where I thought someone else might’ve been wrongly prosecuted and sent up like Dad was.”
“And there was a write-up on Ashley?”
“Yes. It had pictures of all of you: smug private school kids. I saw one caption, ‘Cousin vs. Cousin’ below pictures of Graham and Tom. ‘Which One Really Murdered Ashley?’ The writer picked up on the defense argument. The true story.”
“Ever contact the author?”
“He’s dead, too. The magazine was printed a long time ago. I couldn’t go at this full time until my mother died and I collected her life insurance. I tracked you guys down through the alumni office at your high school.”
“You’re not from Vermont, are you?”
“No, I’m from New York City. I lived at that first return address you saw.”
“I pretended I was the daughter of one of your classmates, a name I got from a yearbook. Said Mom was sick and asked me to find some of her old friends. They were happy to help me get the contact info. Of course, I found out Tom escaped justice, sort of. But then I kept up the concerned daughter act. I called Rick and asked about Sharon. I called Sharon and asked about Rick.”
“I… I should try that trick for a story sometime.”
“Yeah, well, I said something to Rick about how my mother heard about the tough time Sharon had been through. Then I said the same thing to Sharon about Rick what had been through. Of course Rick didn’t know what I was talking about. But Sharon said: ‘Oh, but Rick’s clean now.’ Clean, see? Not just ‘sober’. So I pressed my luck and asked if Rick was really off heroin. Sharon said yes. Even though Sharon was wrong about that, it was just a matter of time before I found a way into the junkie scene in Burlington. Got a name to use as an alias and even some pure heroin.
“Then I took a few cab rides with Rick until he got horny for me in my hooker costume. You know how easy it is to nab a guy by saying you’ll fuck him for free when you make anyone else pay for it?”
“Never thought of that,” Toby muttered. “But it makes sense.”
“I only gave him that pure heroin after we had sex so he’d trust me like you trusted me. I damn well wasn’t going to take drugs with Rick. The first time I broke out the junk in front of him was also the last time. I gave him the works and said, ‘You go first.’ That’s all it took.
“I got rid of Rick before Graham was released to make sure he had an alibi. I wrote to him in prison using the name of some junkie Rick knew just to incriminate someone. That’s the Brenda name you heard on my machine. And Brenda was about as skinny as I am, just in case anyone saw me with Graham or Rick.”
“Then you started on me with that story submission.”
“That’s right, Baby. I met Graham after he went home to his mother, said I was writing a book to prove him innocent. He gave me photographs of you four liars from your cabin trip.”
“Did you sleep with him, too?”
“No, it wasn’t necessary.”
“But you never told Graham you were his avenging angel?”
“Not until after I took Sharon out with this gun.”
“You told him?”
“I gave him a package with a little portrait gallery in it. Two down, two to go.”
“Yeah, I saw that gallery,” Toby said, a flicker of anger growing against the fear. “That’s what started the investigation. Kasey, they know there’s a link between Rick and Sharon.”
“But they don’t know about me.”
“What if I’ve already told them about you?”
“You wouldn’t have come here like this if you had. Toby, I fucked you stupid.”