Every family has its secrets...
Summer, 1966: For thirteen-year-old Gus LeGarde, summertime always means Loon Harbor, his grandparents’ idyllic fishing resort on Great Pond. The season is a grand tradition of swimming, boating, and new adventures with his best friends, twins Siegfried and Elsbeth. But this summer, everything changes when a new lodge down the shore threatens the resort—and triggers a chain of events that will transform Gus and his friends forever.
Customers are leaving Loon Harbor in droves for The Seven Whistles, owned by the wealthy LaFontaines. The Baton Rouge family arrives with better amenities and a much larger staff—among them Wilhelmina “Willy” DuPont, a young black girl whose family works for the LaFontaines. Gus and the twins immediately bring Willy into their circle…but their friendship is soon challenged when events at The Seven Whistles take a terrifying turn.
A mysterious figure haunts the windows of women and young ladies at both camps, escalating from peeper to dangerous stalker. Then the LaFontaines’ spoiled and demanding daughter goes missing—and Willy’s innocent older brother is arrested.Gus soon discovers that dark secrets lurk beneath the surface of the LaFontaine family, and the stakes are higher than ever imagined as they race to exonerate Willy’s brother and find the real perpetrator—before he finds them.
Early July, 1966
“We made it.” My father eased our old station wagon over the rutted dirt road and turned into the Loon Harbor parking lot. The twelve-hour trip from East Goodland, New York to South Belgrade, Maine was finally over. He glanced at me in the rear-view mirror with a tired smile. “I’ll bet you’re glad we’re here, Gus.”
“Yes, sir.” I shoved open the door and escaped into air fragrant with balsam. Shadow hopped out behind me, his beagle nose already leading him in frantic circles around the mammoth pine trees shading the lot.
A long white building with red shutters lay just below us. One end housed the office, where my grandmother kept the camp records. The other end featured a huge kitchen where my grandfather and his staff of waitresses bustled to feed the camp guests three hearty meals per day. In the middle of the office and kitchen sat the spacious knotty pine paneled dining hall.
I caught the aroma of homemade donuts and smiled. Gramps was already frying them for me. I knew the donut holes would have my name on them.
We’d left at four in the morning, and now at just after four in the afternoon, I stared longingly down the hill toward the lake glinting green in the sun.
“Mum?” I asked. “Can I go for a quick dip?”
I expected an answer like, “Later, son. We need to say hello to your grandparents,” or “Help us with the suitcases first, honey.”
Instead, she gave me a sweet smile.
“Sure. I’ll meet you down on the dock with a towel in a
I didn’t hesitate. Today I wore shorts, an old tee shirt, and flip-flops, and I didn’t intend to waste one more second changing into my swimsuit. The shorts would do fine.
“Thanks, Mum.” Before my father could take issue with this unprecedented decision, I kicked out of my flip-flops and took off at a run, dashing down the hill as fast as my thirteen-year-old legs would carry me. The sandy path was crisscrossed with embedded logs, and I leapt high over each one, loving the rush of air against my skin. I felt the lake calling me, and imagined the cool water encircling my body.
I streaked past the shower house, three more cabins, the communal living room, and the sun porch. I pounded over the dock, stripping off my shirt as I ran. Bam, bam, bam, I ran across the weathered gray boards. Finally, I reached the end. I flew into the air, legs kicking and arms spread wide. Into the cool water I plummeted, making a titanic splash. Beneath the surface, a trail of yellow bubbles floated upward. When my feet hit the soft sand, I pushed up and burst into the warm July sunshine, arching to float on my back and gaze at the blue cloudless sky.
“Hi, Gus,” a familiar voice said.
I pulled upright and grinned, glancing around for her. “Elsbeth?”
Beneath the dock, her sweet face appeared, dark curls plastered to her cheeks. My friend rebelled against bathing caps, unlike all the other girls at camp, and let her hair go wild in the water. I didn’t blame her. The darned things looked awfully uncomfortable.
I swam closer to her. “Hey. When did you get here?”
“Monday,” she said in her German accent. “We’ve been dying for you to arrive. I have so much to tell you, Gus.” Her dark eyes flashed in anticipation.
“Ja,” a voice came from up on the dock. “Where have you been, anyway?” Siegfried, Elsbeth’s fraternal twin, smiled down at me, his long blond hair even more enviable than it was at the end of school last week. Wet bangs plastered his forehead and in the back, his hair hung down an inch below where his collar would be. He backed up a few steps and then took a running leap into the water, almost landing on me.
I waited for him to surface, and then scooped water toward him, splashing his face with an unbridled laugh. “My father had to train the new guy to run the pharmacy. It took longer than he planned.”
“Well,” Sig said. “It is about time you got here. Race you to the swing.”
Before I could respond, Elsbeth began feverishly dog paddling toward shore. Siegfried, taller and leaner, easily pulled past her, stroking hard toward the rope swing that dangled from a cluster of white birch trees. It never ceased to amaze me that twins could be so different in appearance and personality. Elsbeth—short, petite, dark, and wild—was the complete opposite of her brother, who sported blond hair, startlingly blue eyes, and who boasted an analytic, brilliant mind.
I began splashing toward the shore behind them, anticipating the giddy feeling of the rope swing flying out over the water, and the delicious drop that followed. “Hey, wait for me.”
I scrambled onto a granite boulder to climb up the mossy ledge where I joined the twins. Sig poised there, ready to soar over the water on the swing.
“Geronimo!” he cried. With legs flailing, he leapt from the porch.
I caught the excitement in Elsbeth’s eyes, and beamed at her. We’d been grounded at home last year because my father’s intended substitute to run his pharmacy became seriously ill, and instead of swimming and boating we’d spent our summer on our horses, riding through the woods. Not that it was a bad way to spend the season. In fact, we’d had an amazing adventure, had met a young Indian spirit named Penni, and had made some lifelong new friends.
In spite of the wonderful time we’d had, I’d still missed the lake.
“I’m so glad we’re here. I really missed it last summer.”
“Me, too,” Elsbeth said with a giggle. “But this summer we’ll make up for lost time, Ja?”
“You bet,” I said.
Siegfried landed with a respectable splash and the rope came swinging back toward us.
I snagged it for her. “Here you go.”
She accepted it gratefully. “Danke, Gus.” With a delightful laugh, she gripped it tightly, jumped into the air, and sailed over the water.
The Marggrander family had escaped from East Germany eight years ago when the twins were just four years old, and they still used some German words in their daily speech. I’d also learned a few key phrases and sometimes I found myself saying “danke,” instead of “thank you,” and “kein problem” instead of “no problem.”
Siegfried had already climbed up and stood dripping beside me. “It’s good to see you, Gus.”
I fake punched him. “You, too. It was pretty lonely without you guys at home the last few days.”
He grabbed the returning rope and handed it to me. “Your turn.”
With gleeful anticipation, I wrapped my hands around a thick hemp knot and swung out over the water, letting go at just the right time. After a delicious, stomach twisting fall, I plunged into the water, feet touching the sandy bottom in seconds. I popped up again, grinning from ear-to-ear.
“Watch out below,” Siegfried called.
I swam to the side to get out of his way, and then hurried back to shore for my next turn.
Half an hour later, my mother hailed me from the deck above. “Gus? Here’s your towel.” She waved a blue towel and hung it on the railing near the glider. “Dinner’s in an hour, honey.”
I flailed an arm in her direction with a quick, “Thanks, Mum,” then dove under the dock to catch Siegfried, who’d just tagged me when we’d finally tired of the rope swing.
“Can’t catch me,” he yelled from the other side.
I held my breath, shoved off the sandy bottom, and streaked underwater toward his legs. The shade of the dock turned the water amber-green, and in spite of my fuzzy underwater vision, I reached forward and touched his leg, bursting out of the water with a huge laugh. “Got ya!” I yelled. “You’re it.”
I swam away from him, circling around one of the dock extensions where it formed a double “T” for boat berths.
That’s when I saw her.
Just beyond me—no more than twenty feet away—a young girl paddled a blue canoe. She caught my glance, and then looked away, rapidly moving down the shore.
I stared at her, fascinated. With skin like milky coffee and thick black hair pulled into a ponytail, she streaked across the water with ease. She leaned forward, long arms pulling hard. With each stroke, her head bent down.
She was quite exotic looking, and something inside me sputtered with great interest.
I’d rarely seen people with dark skin like hers in the lake region, and it fascinated me. Of course, my parents had taken me to see To Kill A Mockingbird two summers ago, so I’d gotten to know and love Tom Robinson and his family as well as The Finch’s stern but lovable housekeeper, Calpurnia. No, it wasn’t too surprising to see such beautiful caramel-colored skin on this girl.
Elsbeth sneaked up beside me, touching my arm. “I told you I had things to tell you,” she whispered.
“Who is she?” I asked.
“We think she’s from the new resort just down that way,” she said, pointing to the right. “It’s called The Seven Whistles. They built it last year, when we weren’t here. Sig and I went past it yesterday. It’s huge, Gus. Like a giant lodge with a gazillion rooms.”
“Wow,” I said, watching the girl make her way around the bend. “Have you spoken with her yet?”
“No. But I waved to her yesterday and she waved back.”
Siegfried popped up beside us, shaking the water from his hair like a dog. “Did you see her, Gus?” He nodded toward the ripples in the lake where the girl had just passed.
“I did,” I said, still mesmerized.
“Do you think she’ll play with us?” Elsbeth asked dreamily. “I would love to have a girl to play with this summer.”
I shook my head. “I have no idea. But tomorrow, let’s go find her and ask her.”
Siegfried nodded sagely then glanced toward the shore. “Ja. It is almost dinnertime. We must go, or else…”
I knew what he meant. Punishments for the twins were severe, and they never dared cross their father’s rules.
We climbed the dock ladder and scrambled up to the porch railing, where three towels hung waiting. I recognized Elsbeth’s pink and yellow towel from two summers ago. It was a bit frayed, but still had plenty of life left in it. She wrapped it around her shoulders and squeezed the water from her hair.
“See you in the living room after dinner?” she asked.
“Of course.” I toweled dry and grinned at her. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Wanna play cards tonight?”
The whole camp congregated in the common building in the evenings, listening to the radio, playing games, reading by the fire, or just talking. The adults did a lot of talking.
“Sure,” she said. “If we can tear my brother away from his calculus workbook.”
Sig looked up as if injured. “But I love calculus. And I really want to be ready for the third level this fall.”
Elsbeth and I exchanged a glance. We usually tolerated Sig’s brilliant mind and his absurd need to study, but sometimes it seemed a little too much.
“Sig,” I said. “Summer’s just starting. Can’t you relax tonight and play a nice game of ‘Battle’ with us?”
He shrugged. “Ja. Okay. I guess so.”
“It’s a plan, then.” I hopped off the porch steps and onto the trail leading to Wee Castle, the cabin our family stayed in when we summered at Loon Harbor. “See you soon.” I raced along the path toward the one story cabin that nestled into the shoreline, located four docks down.
I spotted my father and Shadow on the porch. Dad had just carried the last of the suitcases down from the parking area.
“Hey, Dad. Let me help you.”
He dropped the cases and glanced at me with a relieved smile. “Thanks, son.”
I wrapped my towel around my waist so I wouldn’t drip on the floor, and picked up my own battered suitcase and duffel bag.
Shadow pressed his cold nose against my bare leg, as if he’d already missed me. His tail wagged madly.
“Yes, boy. We’re here. And summer’s just started.” I smiled down at him. “It’s gonna be a doozy.”
My father laughed behind me. “A doozy, son? What makes you think that?”
I turned left into my bedroom that jutted over the water and dumped my suitcase and bag on the old iron bed. “I just have a feeling, Dad.”
He came in and ruffled my hair. “Okay, son. Whatever you say.” He stood looking out the windows that faced the lake. “Need any help?”
I shrugged. “Thanks, but I’m good. All I have to do is shove my clothes in the bureau.”
“Well, dress in something nice for dinner. We’re invited to the dining hall with the paying guests tonight. Your grandfather asked us because we’ve had such a long day on the road.”
“Really? Keen.” I popped open my suitcase and began to put my clothes away.
We normally ate in our cabin with food my mother made. Eating in the dining hall was a huge treat.
“Be ready in ten minutes. Okay, Gus?”
“Will do, Dad.”
When I finished putting away my clothes, I changed into a new pair of khakis and a blue and green plaid shirt. It was a little wrinkled, but I didn’t think my mother would want to iron it tonight. My black Keds were kind of scuffed because I’d worn them to school every day since my birthday in March. One of the soles was starting to detach near my toes. But they’d have to do. New shoes were expensive and I knew I’d have to wait for school in the fall to get a new pair.
I sat on the edge of the bed, facing the lake. Shadow jumped up beside me, circled a few times, and snuggled close. I closed my eyes and let the sounds of the water lapping on the rocks beneath my room fill my mind. I’d never been so happy as when I fell asleep to the soothing sounds of the water. I’d often wished I could bottle it and take it home to play in my bedroom.
In the distance, the tremolo of a loon echoed across the water, sending a thrill through me. It repeated, and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect moment.
“Gus? You ready?” My mother poked her head into my room, looking pretty in a white dress with red rick-rack on the collar.
“Yep. All set, Mum.”
“You look nice, son.” My father stood in the doorway in a clean white shirt and pants that matched mine. “Let’s go.”
Shadow raised his snout at the words. I patted him to calm him down. “Not this time, pal. You stay here, okay?”
He looked disappointed, but laid his head back on the bedspread.
I linked arms with my mother. “Come on. I’m starving.”