Naked Came the Stranger - By Penelope Ashe


Copyright 1969 by Penelope Ashe

(Penelope Ashe is the pseudonym for twenty-five Newsday writers)

Second Dell printing – April 1970

To Daddy


Screwed. It was, Gillian realized, an obscene word. But it was the word that came to mind. Screwed. It had been, after all, an obscene act. She tried not to think about it. She was driving, floating actually, toward her new house, floating past the freshly butchered lawns dotted with the twisted golden butts that were the year's first fallen leaves, past the homes built low and the swimming pools and the kempt hedges and all the trappings that went into the unincorporated village of King's Neck.

Screwed. The word kept coming back to Gillian Blake. Small wonder. For on that bright first Friday morning of October, Gillian had discovered through relatively traditional methods – specifically through the good offices of the Ace-High Private Investigators, Inc. – that her husband had been spending his every weekday afternoon in an apartment leased by one Phyllis Sammis, a twenty-two-year-old Vassar graduate with stringy hair, gapped teeth, horn-rimmed glasses and peculiarly upright breasts. Gillian Blake had paid the Ace-High people six hundred and seventy-five dollars (including expenses) to learn that William – or Billy, as he was known to the rest of the world, or at least that portion of the world described in certain circles as the Metropolitan Listening Area – had been leaving his office every afternoon at 2:45, taking a taxicab to the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and 23rd Street, walking a half block south, climbing two flights of stairs and entering the apartment rented by Phyllis Sammis, recently hired production assistent on The Billy & Gilly Show.

Now Gillian was floating slowly past the road signs (Stop and Hidden Driveway and Slow Children and Yield and Stop again). Floating. It was this floating feeling that had drawn her to King's Neck in the first place. King's Neck, a boomerang of land twisting out from the mainland into the waters of Long Island Sound. Floating, floating toward the three-bedroom, two-bath, two-car house that was, as the man said, within easy commuting distance (forty-one minutes) of Manhattan and within sight (nine miles, through leaves) of the Connecticut shoreline.

Screwed. It was not so much that William Blake had cheated on Gillian Blake. Nor even that Billy had cheated on Gilly. In a sense, a quite real sense, he had cheated on that portion of the world known as the Metropolitan Listening Area. For William Blake was half of The Billy & Gilly Show, fifty per cent of "New York's Sweethearts of the Air," part of a radio team that five times a week dispensed a blend of controversy, information and … love. The show, so the announcer said every weekday morning at five seconds past nine, provided "a frank and open look into the reality of marriage in the crucible of modern living."

What held the show together (every poll indicated) was the quality of the marriage, the fact that this was a meeting of minds as well as bodies. The fact that every woman listening (the listenership was eighty-four per cent female) sensed that this was the way marriage should be. In cheating on Gilly, Billy had cheated on an audience that regularly numbered over eight hundred thousand – or at least he had cheated on eighty-four per cent of that audience. It was, when you considered it, an act of breathtaking infidelity.

Floating then into the circular driveway, mashed gravel, one and a half acres, imitation Tudor, water view, $85,000. There were several possibilities. She could, and the thought seemed strangely appealing at the moment, put arsenic in William's morning coffee. She could sue for divorce in any state in the Union and get it, along with a fair share of William Blake's not inconsiderable inheritance. These alternatives were considered, savored, ultimately discarded. The difficulty was that either course of action would mean the demise of The Billy & Gilly Show. And the show was what kept Gilly alive.

The car was parked. The keys were in her purse. Still, Gillian Blake did not move. There was yet another possibility. Gillian Blake could even the score. Absurd? Well, why not? King's Neck could be her laboratory, her testing ground. She could, with the cool detachment of a scientist, gather all the raw data necessary to determine how other marriages were faring "in the crucible of modern living." In the process, Billy would be screwed. Good and screwed.

She stepped from the car then, walked