The Tides of Memory by Sidney Sheldon

“Well, the case has generated a lot of interest,” she whispered back to Toni.

The way dog shit interests flies, Toni thought bitterly.

Her anger masked her fear. The prosecution had called her as a witness. She’d received the notice only a few days ago, much to her father’s annoyance.

“Can’t you get her out of it?” Walter Gilletti asked Lawrence McGee, the expensive Manhattan attorney he’d hired to advise them. “It’s such short notice. She’s had no time to prepare.”

Lawrence McGee explained that Toni wasn’t supposed to prepare. “All she has to do is stand up there and tell the truth. No one’s contesting her evidence. Toni’s police statement and Hamlin’s tally exactly.”

But of course, Lawrence McGee didn’t know the truth. Nor did the police, or Toni’s parents, or anyone except Toni herself and Billy. What if Billy changed his story under oath? What if his lawyer cross-examined her on the stand and bullied the truth out of her? Did Billy even know that the prosecution had called her as a witness? Would he hate her for testifying against him, for going along with the lie, or was that what he wanted? The mere thought of seeing his face again made Toni’s heart race and her palms sweat, and not in a good way. She hadn’t felt this frightened since Graydon Hammond had looked up at her with tears in his eyes and blubbered, “Nicholas has gone.”

“Ooo, look. Those must be the parents.” Sandra Gilletti sounded excited, like someone spotting at a celebrity wedding.

Toni spun around. She felt like she’d been stung. She’d seen pictures of the Handemeyers before, on the TV news, but nothing had prepared her for the reality. Ruth Handemeyer, Nicholas’s mother, looked so like her son it was agonizing. She had the same butterscotch-blond coloring, the same saucerlike brown eyes. Except that where Nicholas’s eyes had been playful and dancing, his mother’s were glazed and deadened with grief. Toni couldn’t take her eyes off Ruth Handemeyer as she made her dignified way to her seat, escorted by her husband and daughter.

Senator Handemeyer was older than his wife, in his early fifties, with close-cropped gray hair and a face that looked as if it had been chiseled out of granite. Rage blazed out of his dark blue eyes, but it was a controlled rage, a determined rage, the rage of a powerful, intelligent man. Not for Senator Handemeyer the wild, impotent roaring of the wounded tiger. This was a man hell-bent on vengeance, a man who had set out methodically to bring those responsible for his son’s death to justice. Surveying the courtroom as if he owned it, Senator Handemeyer fixed his gaze briefly on Leslie Lose, Billy’s lawyer. Ruffled, the attorney looked away. Next, to Toni’s horror, the senator caught her eye. She stared back at him like a statue, her stomach liquefied with fear.

Can he see the guilt in my eyes?

Can he guess the truth?

But when Billy Hamlin walked into the dock, all the senator’s attention focused on him in a wave of such pure hatred, there was no room for anything, or anyone, else.

If Billy was unnerved by the senator’s withering gaze, he didn’t show it. Instead, scouring the room for Toni’s face, he saw her and smiled broadly. It was the same boyish, open smile Toni remembered from camp. She smiled back, buoyed by his obvious confidence.

This is a court of law, Toni reassured herself. Senator Handemeyer has a right to his grief, but Billy didn’t murder anyone. The jury will see that.

Leslie Lose fiddled nervously with his gold cuff links. His client should not be smiling at the pretty prosecution witness like a lovesick puppy. Come to think of it, his client should not be smiling at all. A little boy had drowned. Guilty or not, Billy Hamlin ought to look as if he took that seriously.

Out of the corner of his eye, Leslie Lose saw Senator Handemeyer’s broad shoulders tighten. His entire body was coiled like a spring, ready to wreak destruction on Billy Hamlin and, presumably, anyone who dared to help him.

For the first time since he’d taken the case, Leslie Lose began to wonder if he was out of his depth.

“All rise.”

The proceedings got under way in what seemed to Toni like record speed. No sooner had both sides made their opening arguments than she found herself on the stand, being sworn in.

“Miss Gilletti, you were on the beach with the defendant on the afternoon in question. Did William Hamlin seem distracted to you?”

“I . . . I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

She was so nervous, her teeth began to chatter. The entire room was looking at her. Terrified of accidentally making eye contact with Senator Handemeyer, or with Billy, she stared fixedly at the floor.

“You don’t remember?”

Of course I remember. I remember everything. The rowing boat, Charles nearly killing those boys, Billy diving for pearls, disappearing under the water. I remember everything except Nicholas, because I wasn’t watching. It was me! I let him die!


“Other witnesses have confirmed that William Hamlin was repeatedly diving for oysters that afternoon. That he was showing off for your benefit. Do you remember that?”

Toni looked down at her clasped hands. “I remember him diving. Yes.”

“Despite being in sole charge of a group of young boys at the time?”

Toni mumbled something incoherent.

“Speak up, please, Miss Gilletti. You had originally been charged with taking the boys swimming that day. But you arranged to swap shifts with the defendant. Is that correct?”

No! Billy wasn’t in charge. I was. It was my fault.

“Yes. That’s correct.”

“May I ask why?”

Toni looked up, panicked. Without thinking, she looked to Billy, as if asking for his help. What should I say?

“I’m sorry.” She flushed red. “Why what?”

“Why did you agree to swap shifts, Miss Gilletti?”

For a horrible moment Toni’s mind went blank. “Because . . .”

The word hung in the air, like a swinging corpse. The silence that followed felt endless. But at last Toni blurted out, “Because I was tired. I hadn’t slept well the night before and I . . . I didn’t want to take the boys when I wasn’t a hundred percent focused.”

She looked up at Billy again, who gave her an imperceptible nod. Well done. Good answer.

“Thank you, Miss Gilletti. Nothing further for now.”

The prosecution’s case wore on. Billy tuned in here and there, but mostly he just gazed at Toni.

She’s even more beautiful than I remember her. We’ll move to the West Coast after the trial. Start again, somewhere fresh.

He wished he could talk to her, tell her not to be afraid, that it was all going to be okay. The poor girl looked terrified, as if he were about to be led out to face a firing squad. It touched him that she cared so much. But there was really no need.

Billy knew he was going to be acquitted. Leslie, his lawyer, had told him so a thousand times. At the end of the day it didn’t matter whether he or Toni had been watching Nicholas. What happened was an accident. Nobody murdered anybody. It was a mistake, a dreadful, tragic mistake.

The one thing that bothered him slightly was the number of witnesses who testified about his drug use. Yes, he smoked the odd joint and occasionally snorted a line or two of blow. But the “experts” on the stand made him out to be some sort of rampant addict, and Leslie didn’t challenge their allegations.

Jeff Hamlin had the same concern. He took his son’s attorney aside at the first recess.

“That drug counselor guy made Billy sound like a junkie. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because the drugs are a distraction, Mr. Hamlin. A sideshow. We don’t want to get drawn into that.”

“Well, the jury was sure as hell being drawn in. Did you see the look on the foreman’s face?” Jeff Hamlin protested. “And the middle-aged woman at the back? She looked like she wanted to string Billy up right here in the courtroom.”

“Billy’s drug use or otherwise has no bearing on the case.”

“The prosecution obviously thinks it has some bearing.”

“That’s because they have no case,” Leslie Lose said confidently. “A fact I will abundantly prove tomorrow when we start Billy’s defense. Please try not to worry, Mr. Hamlin. I know what I’m doing.”

The prosecution took two days to present its case, which consisted of a thorough hatchet job on Billy Hamlin’s character. Much was made of the toxicology report, and Billy’s “substance abuse problems.” Still more was made of his promiscuity, with various girls from Camp Williams tearfully admitting under oath to being “seduced” by the charming carpenter’s son. Combined with Billy’s admission, backed up by Toni Gilletti’s evidence, that he had been in charge of the boys that day, the consensus was that the district attorney’s office had done enough to prove involuntary manslaughter. But for second-degree murder, they needed more. They needed negligence on a gross scale, and they needed malice.

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon