Among Friends

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A Calling Card

A CALLING CARD

Natalie was met at the state line by a trooper in a cruiser. After a quick greeting, he escorted her car down to Albany, leading the way with blue lights flashing.

Before she reached this rendezvous, Natalie had been relayed the message that plainclothes detectives were searching Toby’s apartment but that there were no signs of violence on the scene. Her radio crackled again a few miles outside Albany. Natalie carefully answered as her car hurtled down Interstate 87. A detective with the Albany P.D. told her that he and his partner hadn’t been able to find any contact information for anyone named “Casey” or “K. C.” among Toby’s personal effects.

“We can pull the phone records from his home number but that will take a little while.”

“Do what you can, Detective. I appreciate it.”

Natalie signed off her radio and thought for only a matter of seconds before it came to her. She got back on the radio and reached a New York State Police dispatcher. Her request to be connected to the Rutland barracks was done within a few minutes. Natalie then had Johnny paged to the line.

“Johnny, I’m almost to Albany. They haven’t found Toby and he didn’t leave a phone number for ‘Casey’ lying around anyplace.”

“Too bad. What about the phone logs?”

“They’re being ordered. But Johnny, you got Mrs. Wright’s phone records from the day Graham drove off and crashed, right?”

“Right. But it was inconclusive.”

“Check them again, Johnny. You haven’t looked at your notes since we found out the name of his accomplice, have you?”

“Not my notes, Sergeant. I had one of the troopers make the calls and tell me if anything came up. As I remember it, the calls were all to Momma Wright’s friends, both inbound and outbound, plus one wrong number.”

“One wrong number?”

“Yes.”

“Local, or long-distance?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know! Get the list!”

“But why?”

“That’s an order, Billings!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Never had Johnny irritated Natalie quite as much as this. She seethed after her partner put down the receiver to pull the log. Each minute that ticked by was another one in which Toby could be dying. She could tell Johnny was also annoyed or he wouldn’t have called her “ma’am”, especially not with that sarcastic tone.

“I’m back, Sergeant. It was a call to a number in the 518 area code. Less than thirty seconds long.”

“Johnny Billings, do you know what’s in the 518 area code?”

“Albany?”

“Yes, Albany! Did our trooper call the number?”

“Y-yes, of course he did. That’s how we know it was a wrong number. According to his notes, the trooper spoke with a woman who said she’d gotten this odd message on her answering machine that must have been meant for somebody else.”

“There’d better be a name written down for that number.”

“Kasey Miller. That’s Kasey with a ‘K’.”

“False Brenda.”

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

“Someone at Toby’s newspaper recognized the sketched face. She met Toby at his office not too long ago and the witness thought he heard a name that could be Kasey.”

“Oh, God…”

“Give me that phone number so Albany P.D. can track down Kasey’s address.”

A short while before Natalie got Kasey’s phone number, Toby was still her prisoner at the apartment.

“You said you might not get a chance to write your story,” he said, looking at the pistol in Kasey’s lap. “What if I help make that happen for you?”

“I’d rather kill you and Natalie Dvorak.”

“Come on Kasey. You struck back for your father, for Graham, and every other wrongly convicted prisoner. Why not make me help you now? Why not spare Natalie, the one person who thinks you could be right about Tom’s guilt?”

Kasey frowned slightly.

“I could run your story in the Transcript. Serialize it there before it’s published as a book.”

“It’s against the law for me to profit from my crimes. Who gets the advance and royalties? You?”

“Why not Sharon’s widower? Whatever you thought about her, he had nothing to do with what happened to Graham.”

“Wouldn’t that make me look good?” Kasey replied in a sarcastic tone.

“Then let a legal advocacy group use the proceeds. The kind of organization that works to free people who didn’t get a good defense.”

“And I martyr myself for their cause.”

“Isn’t their cause your cause?”

Kasey picked up the gun.

“You’re a glib son of a bitch, Toby. You could be lying just to keep yourself alive.”

“To keep us both alive,” he said, feeling more anxious. “You committed your crimes in Vermont. They can’t execute you like what happened to your father. Even here in New York now…”

“Shut up!”

“You can’t shoot me, remember? What would you do with my body, the bloodstains? The cops find me here, dead, and they might not take you in alive. Turn yourself in peacefully with me alongside you and it’s all right. You’ll still be prosecuted but you can plead guilty and get that over with.”

“Stand up,” Kasey ordered, pointed the gun at him again.

“Are we going to the police?”

“We’re leaving this apartment. I need to think, give myself more options.”

Toby nodded and then allowed himself to be marched out into the hall, Kasey having draped a sweater over her right hand which held the gun at the small of Toby’s back. There were no other tenants in the hall to see them together. Kasey’s luck held as they left the building and went to Toby’s car.

“Just start driving around,” Kasey told him. “And this time don’t say anything.”

Natalie’s New York State Police escort led her through the city to Kasey’s apartment building where two Albany squad cars were already parked out front. The trooper pulled up alongside the first car and Natalie stopped behind him.

She got out of her car and walked over to thank the trooper for his help.

“You can hang around here if you want,” Natalie said through the open window. “But otherwise I’m okay with the local force.”

“I’ll sit here in case anyone needs backup,” the trooper promised.

Natalie gave him a nod and went to the building entrance. A uniformed officer was guarding the lobby. After she’d introduced herself and flashed her badge, the young cop told Natalie the apartment was upstairs on the left.

The door to Apartment 206 was propped open so Natalie walked right in.

“Dvorak, Vermont State Police,” she told the second uniformed officer where she found him standing in the galley kitchen. “Are Broderick and Coyle on the scene?”

“Down the hall, ma’am.”

These were the same detectives who had searched Toby’s apartment. Broderick, the older man of the team, had been the one to speak to Natalie over the radio. He introduced himself and his partner when Natalie met them in the bedroom.

“Again, no signs of a struggle, Sergeant,” Broderick reported. “But Hughes has apparently been here.”

“Oh?”

Broderick nodded and looked at his partner.

“Show her, Vince.”

The younger detective gave her an evidence bag containing Toby’s driver’s license.

“We found it in the bathtub,” Broderick said, “behind the shower curtain. Could be he wanted us to know he was inside this apartment.”

“Too bad he didn’t leave us some bread crumbs to show where he’s gone,” Coyle added.

Natalie allowed herself to smile at him and gave the bag back.

“Any witnesses see him coming or going this afternoon?” Natalie asked. “Or Kasey Miller, with or without him?”

“No, Sergeant,” Broderick replied. “Only about half the tenants are home right now. Nobody’s seen her today.”

“She have any particular reputation in the building?”

“All we got was that Miller’s a little stand-offish,” Coyle answered. “No one we talked to called her a friend.”

“Miller’s not been disruptive around here?”

“No one’s said so.”

“No surprise there,” Natalie said, looking around at the unmade bed, the mirrored closet doors, and the chest of drawers. “Anything incriminating?”

“Ammo for a 38-caliber pistol in the sock drawer,” Coyle said.

“Her second victim back in Vermont was shot dead with a 38,” Natalie said.

“Bullets but no gun.” Broderick said.

“She probably walked Toby out of here at gunpoint,” Natalie remarked. “Did you find either of their cars parked outside?”

“We found the car registered to Miller in the tenants’ lot,” Coyle said. “No sign of the missing person’s vehicle.”

“There was a pot of spaghetti sauce on the stove and the dining room table’s set for two,” Broderick told her. “Seems your friend was coming over for a home-cooked meal and got more than he bargained for.”

“Looks like semen on the bottom sheet,” Coyle said, nodding towards the bed. “No condoms.”

Natalie winced and refrained from looking at the sheet.

“Well,” she sighed. “Somehow or other, he found out that Kasey’s the one who’s out to kill the witnesses in the Vickers murder trial. He was second to last on Kasey’s hit list.”

“Who’s the last name?” Coyle asked.

“Haven’t you heard?” Natalie reacted with a frown. “I’m her next target.”

Toby knew his way around Albany better than Kasey. She’d lived in the capital city for just over two months and he’d moved there in 1969. He drove slowly, wondering what Kasey was thinking about, what she was deciding to do with him. The pistol was in her lap, under the sweater.

“Just keep driving,” Kasey had said after the first quarter-hour.

“Anywhere in particular?”

“Anywhere but a police station. Now shut up.”

So Toby edged ever closer to downtown even as the clock was indicating it was nearly the end of rush hour. Toby figured that with more potential witnesses around them, Kasey was less likely to do him harm.

There was slow traffic on one block. Toby watched the intersection coming up ahead of them. His heart pounded when he saw a police car sitting at the red light at the crossing street. He thought desperately of some way to signal the officer behind its wheel. Looking reflexively at the traffic light above the intersection with two vehicles ahead of him, Toby saw it change from green to yellow.

The first car sped through under the light, then the other just barely caught the yellow. The red light went on just as Toby’s car reached the stop line. He stomped down on the accelerator and roared past the police car during the instant that all four traffic lights signaled drivers to stop.

“Hey!” Kasey shouted.

Toby applied the brakes, making the tires squeal and causing both himself and Kasey to lurch forward against the safety belts. The sudden stop caused Kasey’s sweater and gun to fly off her lap and land on the floorboard.

Looking in his rear view mirror, Toby saw the police car pull up behind him, lights flashing.

“Better behave yourself,” he told Kasey.

She gasped and tried to pick up the gun. But the seatbelt limited her reach too much for that.

The policeman, Officer Stan Gilbert, was a bald and paunchy middle-aged veteran officer, a few years short of retirement. He was irritated by the reckless jerk in the Volvo sitting there with a Mondale for President bumper sticker on the rear bumper.

Gilbert put on his peaked cap and got out of his squad car. He noted with satisfaction that the driver turned off his engine but still brushed his hand over the handle of his sidearm.

“Okay, you prick,” Gilbert huffed at Toby through the open window. “License and insurance card.”

“Haven’t got my license,” Toby replied. “I guess I’ll get a ticket for that, too.”

“That’s right, asshole. Want any more citations?”

“You can’t call me an asshole. That’s police harassment!”

“Oh, you’re really asking for it,” Gilbert snapped. “Out of the car!”

Toby was anxious to do just that but didn’t want to move too quickly and upset the cop enough to rough him up.

“You,” Gilbert said to Kasey as Toby cautiously opened his door, “stay where you are.”

Toby stepped out onto the street. Cars driving the opposite way slowed down so their drivers could stare at the scene.

“Want me to put my hands on the trunk so you can pat me down?” Toby asked, struggling to continue his insolent citizen act.

“Oh, been through this before?” Gilbert sneered. “Get over there and assume the position!”

Toby walked with shaky knees to get between the vehicles.

“Officer,” he whispered as Gilbert reached out to push him along.

The sudden change in tone made Gilbert hesitate.

“She has a gun, sir!”

Toby put his hands behind his head in a surrender pose.

Kasey had taken the short time available to release the seatbelt and grab the gun. She leapt out the passenger’s side door and started firing. A bullet hit Gilbert in the shoulder and sent him falling backwards onto the pavement. Another bullet tore through the far right side of Toby’s torso, missing any vital organs. But he dropped as if Kasey had shot into his thoracic cavity. This was partly because the trauma caused Toby to collapse anyway yet also from a barely conscious hope that his attacker would leave him for dead.

Kasey ran around the front of the Volvo and jumped in behind the wheel, started the engine, and drove off. The passenger door slammed shut when it hit a parked car on Kasey’s way up the street.

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