Toni nodded miserably. She felt as if she might throw up at any minute. Mrs. Kramer was already leading the police toward them.
“Don’t worry,” said Billy. “You’re going to be just fine. Trust me.”
A couple of hours later, once the little boys were safely in their beds, the rest of the Camp Williams counselors sat around a large cafeteria-style table, comforting one another. They’d all seen the ambulance arrive and drive away with little Nicholas Handemeyer’s body. Some of the girls cried.
Mary Lou Parker asked, “What do you think will happen to Toni and Billy?”
Don Choate pushed a cold hot dog around his plate. “Nothing’ll happen. It was an accident.”
For a few moments they were all silent. Then someone said what everyone was thinking.
“Even so. One of them should have seen Nicholas leave the group. Someone should’ve been watching.”
“It was an accident!” Don shouted, slamming his fist down on the table so hard it shook. “It could have happened to any one of us.”
Don had helped carry Nicholas’s body back to camp. He was still only twenty, and obviously traumatized by the whole episode.
“We shouldn’t be throwing accusations around.”
“I’m not throwing accusations. I’m just saying—”
“Well, don’t! Don’t say anything! What the hell do you know, man? You weren’t there.”
Sensing that the boys were about to come to blows, Charles Braemar Murphy put an arm around his friend and led him away. “It’s all right, Don. Come on. Let’s get some air.”
Once they’d gone, Anne Fielding, one of the quieter Wellesley girls, spoke up.
“It’s not all right, though, is it. The boy’s dead. He couldn’t have drowned in such shallow, calm water unless someone took their eye off the ball. For a long, long time.”
“I can see how Billy might have been distracted,” said one of the boys. “That bikini Toni was wearing was kind of an invitation.”
“This is Toni Gilletti we’re talking about,” Mary Lou Parker drawled bitchily. “You don’t need an invitation. It’s first come, first served.”
“Shhh.” Anne Fielding interjected, her face pressed to the window. “They’re coming out.”
The door to the administrative offices opened. Inside, Toni and Billy had both spent the last three hours straight being interviewed by the police. Toni emerged first, leaning on one of the uniformed officers for support. Even from this distance, you could see how smitten the young cop was with her, wrapping his arm protectively around her waist and smiling comfortingly as he escorted her back to her cabin.
“Well, she doesn’t look like she’s in too much trouble,” Mary Lou Parker said caustically.
Moments later, Billy Hamlin came through the same door. Flanked by the plain-clothed detective on one side and the uniformed patrol officer on the other, he had his head down as he was marched toward the squad car. As he climbed into the backseat, the group in the cafeteria caught a glint of silver behind his back.
“They’ve cuffed him!” Anne Fielding gasped. “Oh my goodness. Do you think he’s under arrest?”
“Well, I don’t think they’re taking him to an S-and-M club,” one of the boys said drily.
The truth was, none of the boys at Camp Williams much liked Billy Hamlin. The carpenter’s son was too popular with the ladies for their liking. As for the girls, although they humored him because of his charm and good looks, they too regarded Billy as an outsider, a curiosity to be played with and enjoyed, but hardly an equal. For those with a keen ear for such things, the sound of ranks closing in the Camp Williams dining hall was deafening.
“What do you think you’re doing, gawking at the window like a gaggle of geese?” Martha Kramer’s authoritative voice rang out through the room like an air-raid siren. Everybody jumped.
“If I’m not mistaken, you all have to be at work tomorrow.”
“Yes, Mrs. Kramer.”
“And it’s vital that camp routines continue as normal, for the other children’s sake.”
Only Mary Lou Parker dared to pipe up. “But, Mrs. Kramer, Billy Hamlin—”
“—won’t be helped by idle gossip.” The old woman cut her off. “I hope I don’t need to remind you that a child has died. This isn’t entertainment, Miss Parker. This is tragedy. Now I want you all back in your cabins. Lights out at eleven.”
Toni Gilletti was surrounded by water. Seawater. It was pitch-black and cold, and her saturated clothes stuck cold and clammy to her skin, like seaweed. Gradually it dawned on her. I’m in a cave. The water was rising, slowly but surely, each wave higher than the last.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.
Blind, clawing at the walls, Toni groped desperately for an opening, a way out. How had she gotten in here in the first place? Had someone brought her here, to punish her? She couldn’t remember. But if there was a way in, there must be a way out. She had to find it, fast.
The water was at her shoulders.
Toni’s scream echoed off the cave walls. Unheard. Unanswered.
Water was in her mouth, salty, choking. It flowed down into her lungs, robbing her of air, drowning her slowly. She couldn’t breathe!
Please, somebody help me!
“Miss Toni. Miss Toni! It’s all right.”
Toni sat up in bed, gasping for breath. Wild-eyed and terrified . . . her nightdress soaked with sweat. “Carmen?”
The Gillettis’ Spanish housekeeper nodded reassuringly. “Sí, Miss Toni. It’s okay. Only you are dreaming. It’s okay.”
Toni slumped back against the pillows as reality reasserted itself.
She wasn’t drowning.
She wasn’t at Camp Williams.
She was in her own bedroom, at home in New Jersey.
But Carmen was wrong. Everything was not okay.
Billy Hamlin was going to be tried for murder.
The whole thing was ridiculous. So ridiculous that Toni had confidently expected to hear with each passing day that the charges were being dropped, that it was all a huge, horrible mistake. She’d had no chance to speak to Billy since his arrest, but she’d pieced together what had happened through the Camp Williams grapevine. Evidently Billy had told the cops that he had been in charge of Nicholas and the other boys when the accident happened, not Toni. He’d also admitted to having drugs in his system, presumably to deflect the heat from Toni, who he knew had prior convictions. That must have been what he meant when he told her he “wouldn’t let” the police throw the book at her.
At first Toni was so relieved, she felt overwhelmed with gratitude. No one had ever stuck their neck out like that for her before, certainly not a boy. Boys all wanted to sleep with her, but none of them actually cared, not like Billy did. But it wasn’t long before the romantic gesture turned hideously sour. The Handemeyer family, furious over the drug allegations and in desperate need of someone to blame for their son’s death, insisted on pressing charges. Nicholas’s father was a senator and one of the richest men in Maine. Senator Handemeyer wanted Billy Hamlin’s head on a pike, and he was powerful enough to force the D.A.’s hand. Soon Billy’s little white lie to protect Toni had become national news, and Toni’s relief turned to constant, gut-wrenching fear.
Parents all over America identified with the Handemeyer family’s grief. To lose a child was always horrific. But to lose an only son, at seven years old, and in such appalling circumstances; it was more than people could bear. And what did it say about modern society that a drug-addled teenager would be left in charge of a group of vulnerable children?
Overnight Billy Hamlin’s handsome, nineteen-year-old face was on every news channel and in every paper as the poster child for a selfish, hedonistic generation. Of course he hadn’t actually murdered the Handemeyer boy. Everybody knew that the case would be thrown out once it got to court, that in his grief Senator Handemeyer had gone too far. Yet people were pleased that the post-Vietnam generation should be somehow called to account. Two weeks before the trial, Newsweek ran an article about the trial with a shot of Billy, long-haired and bare-chested, next to a picture of dear little Nicholas Handemeyer in his school uniform, complete with tie. Below the images ran the simple, two-word headline:
They weren’t asking what had happened on the beach that idyllic day at a children’s summer camp in Maine. They were asking what had happened to America’s youth. What happened to decency, to the nation’s moral fiber.
Billy Hamlin’s trial was set for October. As it drew nearer, Toni Gilletti’s nerves stretched closer and closer to breaking point. She still didn’t know if she would be asked to testify, and had no idea what she would say if she were. She knew she ought to come forward, to tell the world that it was she, and not poor, blameless Billy, who had allowed Nicholas Handemeyer to die. But every time she picked up the telephone to dial the D.A.’s office and tell the truth, her nerve failed her. When it came down to the wire, Billy was the one who had the strength, not Toni. She simply couldn’t do it.