The Tides of Memory by Sidney Sheldon

“The defense calls Charles Braemar Murphy.”

Billy shot his attorney a puzzled look. Had they discussed this? Charles had never exactly been Billy’s biggest fan.

“Mr. Braemar Murphy, you were present at the beach on the afternoon that Nicholas Handemeyer died, were you not?”

“I was.” Charles nodded seriously. In an immaculately cut Halston suit and pale yellow silk tie, with his dark hair neatly parted to the side and a Groton class ring glittering on his little finger, he looked handsome, sober, and conservative—everything that the jury had been led to believe that Billy Hamlin was not.

“Tell us what you remember.”

Charles took a deep breath. “I’d been on my parents’ yacht for the day. I’m afraid I’d had a couple of glasses of wine, but I took one of the tenders over to the beach anyway, which was a stupid thing to do.”

Toni watched the faces of the jurors, who were all listening intently. It was astonishing how forgiving they seemed to be of Charles’s self-confessed drinking, in contrast to their disgust at Billy’s supposed drug taking. Was alcohol just more socially acceptable? Or was it Charles’s educated, upper-class manner that won them over?

Charles went on. “I was going at quite a clip, when I suddenly saw a rowboat directly in front of me, out in the shipping lanes. I swerved to avoid it and that’s when I hit Billy. Not head-on, obviously. I’d have killed him. But I clipped him on the shoulder. I wasn’t expecting to see a swimmer so far out.”

“Where were the children at this point?”

“On the beach, playing,” Charles said firmly.

That’s odd, Toni thought. I’m amazed he even noticed the boys from that distance and after the shock of what happened out in the lanes.

“Was Nicholas Handemeyer with them?”

“I think so. Yes. There were seven boys, so he must have been.”

A surprised murmur ran through the court. The Handemeyer parents exchanged distressed glances. Nicholas’s elder sister, a pretty, dark-haired girl in her early teens, gripped her mother’s hand. If Nicholas was safe and alive so late in the afternoon, whatever happened to him must have happened very quickly. Moreover, it probably happened when Billy Hamlin was on the beach, receiving medical attention. A mitigating circumstance if ever there was one.

“So your memory is that the children had been safe while in Billy Hamlin’s care that day, until Billy himself was injured by your speedboat.”


“Thank you, Mr. Braemar Murphy. No further questions.”

It was all Jeff Hamlin could do not to punch the air in triumph. Good old Leslie knew what he was doing after all.

“A couple of questions, Mr. Braemar Murphy.” The prosecutor was on his feet. “I understand that you and Miss Gilletti were dating at the time of these events. Is that correct?”

“It is.” Charles sounded perplexed. The question hardly seemed relevant.

“Other counselors at Camp Williams have testified that Miss Gilletti and Nicholas Handemeyer had a close bond. Is that correct?”

“All the boys adored Toni.”

“But Nicholas Handemeyer especially?”

The furrow in Charles’s brow deepened. “I guess so, yes. He wrote her these little love poems. It was sweet.”

Toni dug her nails into her thigh so violently she drew blood. She did not want to think about Nicholas’s poems, scrawled on slips of paper and pushed hopefully under her cabin door. Her heart might shatter.

“Mr. Braemar Murphy, did you consider William Hamlin to be your rival for Miss Gilletti’s affections?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Were you concerned that Mr. Hamlin was attracted to your girlfriend?”

“Not concerned, exactly, no.”

“Really? You knew the two of them had slept together?”

A disapproving murmur rippled through the court.

“Yes. But it was a one-night stand. It didn’t mean anything.”

From the dock, Billy Hamlin glared at Charles murderously. How dare the smug bastard say that what he and Toni had meant nothing? His fists were clenched and he looked fit to burst, but he managed to contain himself.

“So you weren’t worried?” the prosecutor continued.


“Not even after Billy Hamlin made threats against your life?”

The jury jerked to life as if awoken from a deep slumber. Toni Gilletti sat bolt upright. From the dock, Billy glanced anxiously at his father.

“Several other Camp Williams counselors have given statements that the night before Nicholas Handemeyer’s death, Billy Hamlin was vocally declaring his love for Miss Gilletti at a camp party and threatening to, quote, annihilate, unquote anyone who dared come between them. Wouldn’t that include you?”

“Billy didn’t mean that,” said Charles. “He was high.”

“Indeed.” The prosecutor paused meaningfully. “As the court has heard. But I put it to you, Mr. Braemar Murphy, that Mr. Hamlin did mean it. I put it to you that William Hamlin was wildly, violently jealous of anyone whom Miss Gilletti loved. That his drug use merely unleashed feelings of rage and obsession that, in his more sober moments, he managed to keep hidden.”

Belatedly, Leslie Lose got to his feet. “Objection! Conjecture.”

The judge waved him away. Like the rest of the room, he wanted to see where this was going.

“I’ll allow it.”

The prosecutor continued. “I put it to you that Mr. Hamlin’s violent jealousy was such that he even resented the affection shown to Miss Gilletti by a small boy.”

A look of pain crossed Charles Braemar Murphy’s face. Then, to Toni’s astonishment, he said. “That may be true.”

What? Of course it isn’t true!

“Billy may have resented Nicholas.”

“Indeed he may have! In William Hamlin’s paranoid, drug-warped mind, Nicholas Handemeyer wasn’t an innocent, seven-year-old child at all, was he? He was a threat. Just like you.”

“Maybe.” Charles shook his head, as if willing it not to be so.

“A threat that needed to be disposed of. Neutralized. Annihilated.”

“I hope not.” Charles shuddered, as if the idea had never occurred to him. “Good God, I hope not.”

Bastard! Toni thought. Billy would never have hurt Nicholas and Charles knows it. He’s just trying to get back at Billy for coming on to me.

“Billy’s a good guy.” Charles twisted the knife. “But he was out of his depth at Camp Williams.”

“In what way?”

“In every way. Socially, economically, educationally. The truth is, I felt sorry for him. We all did. He couldn’t stand the fact that Toni chose me over him.”

This was too much for Billy.

“Liar!” he shouted, jumping to his feet. His face was red with anger and the veins on his forehead and neck protruded as if they were about to explode. “Toni loves me, and I love her!”

The jury was not impressed. Billy looked like a madman, his hair a mess, arms gesticulating wildly, the flames of his obsession with Toni burning in his eyes. Toni felt like crying. Charles had provoked him, and Billy had fallen right into his trap. Worse, his lawyer had fallen with him.

“And that’s without drugs in his system,” the prosecutor said, sotto voce, accurately voicing the jurors’ thoughts. “Thank you, Mr. Braemar Murphy. No further questions.”

The next two days were about damage control.

Leslie Lose wheeled out various witnesses from Billy’s former life to attest to his good character: teachers, coaches, neighbors. The consensus was that the Billy Hamlin they knew would not knowingly have hurt a fly.

Jeff Hamlin pleaded to be allowed to take the stand, but Leslie Lose wouldn’t allow it.

“You’re too emotional. It won’t help.”

“Then let Billy speak for himself. He needs a chance to show people what he’s really like.”

That had been the original plan—for Billy to be his own secret weapon, for his affable charm and natural humility to change hearts and minds. But after Charles Braemar Murphy’s evidence, that ship hadn’t so much sailed as sunk without trace.

“The less Billy says the better,” said Leslie. “From now on we focus on facts.”

The facts were still in Billy’s favor.

Had Billy Hamlin been negligent in taking his eye off a seven-year-old boy at the beach? Yes, he had.

Was he wrong to have used drugs and alcohol while working as a camp counselor responsible for young children?

Of course he was.

But had William Hamlin murdered Nicholas Handemeyer? Had he willfully caused the boy’s death? Notwithstanding his disastrous outburst of jealous rage earlier, there was no proof that he had. There wasn’t even any compelling evidence to suggest it.

Leslie Lose finished his summing-up with the words:

“Billy Hamlin isn’t a murderer. Nor is he a monster. He’s a normal teenage boy and a loving son. Let’s not allow one family’s tragedy to become two.”

As he sat down, the lawyer was aware of Senator Handemeyer staring at him. His skin prickled uncomfortably beneath his wool suit.

He prayed it was enough.

The court adjourned for the night. Walter Gilletti spoke to his attorney outside the courtroom.

“What do you think?”

“Acquittal. No question. He didn’t help himself with his outburst, but the prosecution hasn’t proved a thing.”

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon