The Tides of Memory by Sidney Sheldon

“You!” she gasped.


Billy Hamlin smiled. Then he said two words that Alexia De Vere had thought she would never hear again. Two words that brought the past rushing back and that filled her heart with utter, abject dread.

“Hello, Toni.”

Part Three

Chapter Sixteen

Toni Gilletti thought disappearing would be difficult. In fact it was frighteningly easy.

A few days after Billy Hamlin’s trial, she sneaked out of her bedroom window in the wee hours of the morning and ran. She ran and she ran and she didn’t look back. When she could run no more she waited. For retribution. For her father, Walter, to come for her. Or her friends. Or the police. Or Billy’s lawyers, already busy working on an appeal. Surely, eventually the truth would catch up with her? She would be hauled back to jail and left to rot.

But nothing happened. No TV appeals, no expensive private detectives on her tail. No one came for Toni Gilletti. No one cared.

Well, not quite no one. The one person who did care had sacrificed his freedom for Toni Gilletti and allowed himself to be branded a murderer. In return, Toni had promised to marry him, to give him her life just as he had given her his. An eye for an eye.

But when push came to shove, Toni couldn’t do it. She couldn’t sacrifice her whole life on the altar of one teenage mistake. Not for Billy Hamlin. Not for anyone. Once she realized this, her path was clear: there was nothing left for Toni Gilletti to do but to run.

She spent the first two years of her new life in that mecca of lost souls: Las Vegas. Nevada was like another planet, hot and dry and soulless and sleepless and as good a place to get lost as any. It was 1975 and business was booming, with new hotels and casinos popping up out of the ground every month like vast, concrete krakens rising from the waves. Everybody was hiring, and nobody cared about your past. If ever there was a place to reinvent yourself, it was Las Vegas in the midseventies. Toni Gilletti did just that. Rechristening herself Alexia Parker (her best friend in grade school had been called Alexia and she’d always loved the name. Parker just sounded unobtrusive and real), she started working as a bartender. She had no papers and no Social Security number, but Vegas employers were happy to pay cash. Alexia Parker was a sexy girl, which the customers liked. She was also hardworking and reliable, which the club owners loved. Sexy girls were a dime a dozen in Vegas, but Alexia Parker combined her good looks with abstinence, neither drinking nor doing drugs. That was a whole lot rarer. She also appeared to have taken a vow of celibacy, never dating customers or other bar staff.

Toni Gilletti had been a party girl. But Toni Gilletti was dead. Alexia Parker lived to work. In two years she’d earned enough of a nest egg to put herself through college. She applied to UCLA, intending to major in political science.

Unfortunately, unlike the Vegas bar owners, UCLA did need papers. Alexia Parker had no Social Security number, no passport, no birth certificate, no history of any kind. It was a problem.

Alexia solved the problem by moving to L.A., breaking her vow of celibacy, and sleeping with Duane from the Social Security office on Santa Monica Boulevard.

“I could get fired for this. I could go to jail,” Duane moaned, typing Alexia Parker’s fake details into the state records while she gave him expert head under the desk.

“So could I,” Alexia said, spitting out Duane’s twitching cock like a chick rejecting a worm. “Which means we’ll both keep the secret, right?”

“What are you doing? Don’t stop now!”

“I said, we’ll both keep the secret. Right, Duane?”

“Right, yes, of course. You got it. I ain’t gonna tell nobody. Just please, please don’t stop.”

Alexia Parker left Duane’s office with a newly minted Social Security card and a backdated birth certificate. Her SAT results she forged herself.

Alexia did not consider herself a dishonest person. She simply did what she had to do. She looked forward, never back, and she solved problems as they arose, using her natural talent for acting and mimicry to help her forge a new identity.

First rule of politics: be pragmatic.

Only two years later, as she was working her ass off, she graduated UCLA summa cum laude and boarded a plane for London. There was no way she could pursue a political career in Washington, not without her past coming back to haunt her. But politics was in her blood now. It was time for another new chapter.

Alexia Parker landed at Heathrow Airport with no friends, no connections, and two hundred pounds of cash in her pocket.

She was twenty-three years old.

Billy Hamlin’s grip on her arm was tightening.

“Please, Toni. I need to talk to you.”

Her heart pounding, Alexia wrenched herself free.

“I’m afraid you’re confused. I don’t know any Toni. Excuse me.”

The members’ entrance to Parliament was only a few feet away. She stumbled toward it desperately, afraid for her life. But Billy Hamlin lunged for her, grabbing her again.

“Toni, for God’s sake, it’s me. It’s Billy.”

Alexia looked into his eyes and saw the confusion written there, the desperation. What are you doing here, Billy? Don’t you understand? Toni’s dead. She died years ago. I’m Alexia now, a new person, a phoenix risen from the ashes of a ruined life. I can’t let you drag me back there!

“Let go of me.”

“I know you’re busy.” Tears welled in Billy Hamlin’s eyes. “But this is important. It’s life or death. My daughter’s in terrible danger.”

“Step back please, sir.” Finally, a policeman managed to pull Billy away. Dizzy with relief, Alexia almost fainted. Thankfully Sir Edward Manning reappeared just in time, grabbing Alexia’s hand and helping her through the gate and into the building.

“Are you all right, Home Secretary?”

Alexia nodded. She was still shaking. Through the closed door, she could hear Billy’s screams. Sir Edward Manning heard them too.

“Toni, please! It’s my daughter. My daughter! Why are you doing this? I KNOW WHO YOU ARE!”

They waited for the commotion to calm down and silence to fall. Then Sir Edward Manning said, “I think we need to talk, Home Secretary. Don’t you?”

They retreated to Alexia’s private office. Sir Edward Manning shut the door and locked it.

“That was him, wasn’t it? That was William Hamlin.”

Alexia nodded. “I think so. Yes.”

“He knew you. You knew each other.”

Alexia looked past Sir Edward out of the window. Two barges were making their stately way down the Thames, as leisurely and untroubled as a pair of drowsy swans.

This is reality. London, Parliament, my life with Teddy. The present.

I am Alexia De Vere. I am the home secretary of Great Britain.

The past is gone.

Only the past wasn’t gone. It was outside in Parliament Square, grabbing hold of her in broad daylight, demanding to be heard. It was threatening everything she had become, everything she had worked for.

“Home Secretary?” Sir Edward Manning disturbed her reverie. “What is your connection with William Hamlin?”

“We have no connection, Edward.”

“I don’t believe that, Home Secretary,” the civil servant said bluntly. “What you tell me will go no further than these four walls. But I need to know what’s going on. I can’t do my job otherwise.”

Alexia’s mind raced.

Should she trust him?

Did she have a choice?

“We knew one another slightly. As kids. That’s all. I haven’t laid eyes on Billy in almost forty years.”

“But you chose not to share this information with the police. Why?”

“Because I was born in the United States and grew up there. Nobody in this country knows that—not the media, not the party, not even personal friends—and I’d like it to stay that way.”

Sir Edward Manning took this in. It was quite a revelation. To have made it as far in public life as Alexia De Vere, and to have successfully concealed such a big piece of one’s past, was quite a feat.

“May I ask why you chose to conceal this, Home Secretary? After all, being American is hardly a crime.”

“Indeed. But I’m not American, Edward. I renounced my citizenship years ago, before I stood for Parliament. My whole adult life has been spent in this country and I consider myself completely English. Besides, I didn’t conceal anything. I’ve never been asked about my childhood other than in the most generic of ways. It’s never come up, that’s all.”

“But it’s coming up now.”

Alexia sighed. “Yes. That night, at Kingsmere, the figure on the CCTV footage. There was something familiar about him. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. But then it came back to me.”

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon