HE HELICOPTER rattled along, a thousand feet above the arrow-straight beach. Artie Kinzie stared down at the sparse scattering of beachfront homes, solitary dog walkers. "Just can't picture it!" he yelled over the roar, pushing his sunglasses up on his forehead.
"Give it a chance," shouted Mike. "We're not even there yet."
For fifteen more miles the Rhode Island shore unrolled beneath them, a ribbon of sand hemming a skirt of dune grass, salt marsh, and scrub oak.
Finally the pilot shouted back at them, "Can start to make out the village." Silhouetted in the haze a few miles ahead was an abrupt rise, topped by a cluster of gables and turrets. Artie peered intently.
Mike motioned to the pilot. "Take it low and slow."
They began to pass over more and more large homes, small estates really, with pools and tennis courts worked into the terraced gardens. Artie's stomach flip-flopped as the helicopter suddenly ascended, following the abrupt, ledge-pocked noggin of Signal Hill, every inch of it manicured and studded with ample summer houses, their proud bulks rising to busily elaborated white-trimmed peaks and dormers, and stepping off seaward into porches, pergolas, and patios.
They crested the promontory, passing over the mammoth, sagging Ocean Hotel, held together by thousands of gallons of legal-pad-yellow paint. Mike grinned. "We'll have to keep the boys from smoking in bed."
Directly below them, a dense little business district fronted on a cozy harbor bobbing with yachts. But beyond that stretched the key to the plan.
"Wow," said Artie, staring off ahead of them. "I see what you mean."
"Yeah, isn't it amazing?" said Mike. "Long Spit."
A pristine sand spit, topped with a ridge of dune grass, projected another mile beyond the village, into the busy waters of Fishers Island Sound. On the seaward side, a flawless white beach lay in a gentle arc; on the bay side, a scattering of yachts rode at anchor.
"Incredible," said Artie. "Why is it so deserted?"
"I have no fucking idea." Mike grinned and rocked back and forth in his seat. "But that's just what I told you. I've been going by on the boat for years, and it's always deserted. Check out the ruins at the end."
On a low hill at the tip of the spit, almost hidden in a tangle of undergrowth, were the rust-streaked, crumbling remains of concrete artillery emplacements.
"Perfect," said Artie.
"I don't know who they were expecting the enemy to be", said Mike.
"Right," said Artie, "but they're about to find out."
TWO WEEKS later, Artie held a meeting at the offices of his venture company in a former billiard parlor overlooking West Twenty-first Street in Chelsea. The six around the table ranged from Brooks Brothers and J.Crew to engineer's boots and a smattering of bondage accessories.
"Mike here told me about it," said Artie. "We took a look a couple of weeks ago. Setting couldn't be more perfect. Halfway between the city and Boston, isolated beach not too far from town, antique shops, art galleries, B&Bs, a big old hotel ripe for rehab . . . 'Course, this sort of thing has never been done from a standing start. Guess we have to figure how to get it moving on all fronts at once."
The others pushed photos around the table. "So what goes on there now?" asked Leo Robbia, the owner of the Snake Pit, a venerable leather bar in the meatpacking district.
"Pretty quiet," said Mike. "Old-money summer houses, an unbelievably fucked-up plywood-beach-cabana club right at the edge of the village, fucking thing blocks the view out to sea for half the village. Then, you know, the T-shirt shops, the yogurt window, the usual crap. But what's cool is that there are these time-share units with balconies down the whole second floor of the main street, and a couple of other small hotels, and the street-I think it's called Front Street‹has buildings just down one side. It runs along a park right on the harbor. Could be like desperate parade after tea dance."
"Well, you can't just declare it open and throw a party," said B. J. Gelson. "You've got to have the buzz going already, word-of-mouth thing, the right people seen there." B.J. was an events planner who, when he wasn't organizing the Dalai Lama at Madison Square Garden, was promoting giant circuit parties for AIDS charities.
"Exactly the problem," said Artie. "We don't have years for that to happen. We don't own the venues, the accommodations."
Leo spoke up. "Maybe we should get it going with the nature dykes first. They could do their bird-watching thing, you know, not piss anybody off too much."
"No way," said Artie. "They already bought up P-town while the boys were busy worrying about their tans. We gotta watch it, keep a head start."
"But Leo's right," said Mike. "We're not even probably welcome. It's not like those B&Bs are exactly advertising in the gay papers." Then he got an odd smile on his face, and let out one low grunt of a laugh.
HELEN BOOTHROYD pushed aside the crocheted curtain in the front sitting room. She sighed at the sight of the brown, spent daffodils among the tulips along the front walk. At seventy, she just couldn't get to everything anymore. Too late for any last fussing, though: the guests who had booked her honeymoon suite were due. She shifted sideways to scan the street, her modestly but carefully groomed head held just back from view. But there was no one down front except the two big guys getting out of their black Jeep. They were dressed in ripped cutoff shorts and giant work shoes. Probably, she thought, from a lawn service.
She went back in the kitchen and resumed knitting baby hats for the hospital. It was just two years ago that Helen had taken the step‹her grown kids were appalled‹of turning her house into a bed-and-breakfast called the Lilac Bush. Since her husband of forty years had died, her social life had dwindled to nearly nothing. Couples were easier to seat at dinner parties. So now her guests had become her companions. She'd exchanged Christmas cards with a number of them, traveled to visit one couple in Maine. But she still felt a tremor of nerves before each new guest arrived, a trace of Yankee reserve. What will they think? There was a knock.
She opened the front door and reared back. The two men from the Jeep loomed in the doorway, blotting out the sky. As pumped as linebackers, they could have been twins. Both had boot-camp buzz cuts, tiny goatees, and cheeky grins. One had on a heavy, hammered-silver collar, the other a piece of bent rebar around his vast, puffy upper arm. Collar put out his hand.
Excerpted from The Summer They Came by William Storandt. Copyright © 2002 by William Storandt. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.