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“And it was him?”

“Yeah,” Jane says with a gradual nod. “Something happened, on his way to work that night. I don’t even remember—some neighbor needed help, someone had a flat tire or something. He missed his shift. He was supposed to be there when the fire happened, but he missed his shift. He wasn’t there. He survived.”

August releases a breath.

He told her, Jane says, that he couldn’t bear that he lived when his friends didn’t, so he left, sick and blind with grief. He borrowed a car and drove out of town and woke up three days later strung out in Beaumont and decided not to come back. Started drinking too much, started hitchhiking, lost himself for a year or two, until a truck driver dropped him off in Castro, and someone pulled him off the sidewalk and told him they’d get him some help.

“He was doing well,” Jane remembers, smiling a little. “He was sober, he’d gotten his life together. He had a steady boyfriend. They were living together. He sounded happy. And he told me he thought I should come home, that San Francisco was ready for people like us now. We’ll take care of each other, Jane.”

“Jerry said,” August says, “well, he said you were supposed to be moving back to California.”

“Yeah, it was … the way Augie talked about his family … that’s what did it for me,” she says. “He felt like he missed his chance with them, and I—I saw through the guilt for a second. I realized I didn’t have to miss mine.”

She swallows, palming her side, the dog inked there for her mother. August waits for her to go on.

“New York was—it was good. It was really good. It gave me a lot of stuff I hadn’t had since New Orleans. It was like I finally figured out who I was. How to be who I was,” Jane says. “And I wanted my family to know that person. So, I mailed Augie my record collection, and I was gonna call him when I got into town.”

“Did they know?” August asks. “Your family, did they know you were coming back?”

“No,” Jane says. “I haven’t talked to them since ’71. I was too nervous to call.”

August nods.

“Can I ask you something else?”

Jane, still examining the handwriting, nods without looking up.

“Did he say … did Augie tell you why he stopped writing home?”


“He used to write my mom every week, until summer 1973. She never heard from him again after that.”

“No, he—he told me he was still writing to her. He said she hadn’t written back in years, and he didn’t think she wanted to hear from him anymore, but he was still writing.” Her eyes move from the card to August’s face, studying her. “She never got them, did she?”

“No,” August says. “She didn’t.”

“Shit.” It hangs unsaid in the air: someone else must have gotten to those letters first. August has a pretty good idea who. “What a fucking mess.”

“Yeah,” August agrees. She slides her hand over Jane’s at her side and squeezes.

They ride in quiet for a few stops, watching the sun set behind apartment blocks, until Jane stands and starts pacing the aisle in that way she does, like a tiger in captivity.

“So, if you’re right about how I got stuck,” she says, turning to August, “what does that mean for getting me out?”

“It means, if we can … somehow re-create the event, and have you touch the third rail the same way you did last time, maybe it’d reset you.”

Jane nods. “Could you do that?”

She’s rallying, throwing memories over her back like luggage, cracking the knuckles of one hand against the palm of the other like she’s getting ready for a fight. August would kill for her. Space and time are nothing.

“I think so,” August says. “We’d have to cause a surge, and we’d need access to the power controls for the substation that manages this line, but I’m close. I’m waiting to get some public records about exactly which one that is.”

“Then it’s only a matter of … breaking into city property and not electrocuting yourself.”

“Yeah, basically.”

“Sounds simple enough,” Jane says with a wink. “Have you tried a Molotov cocktail?”

August groans. “Man, how did you avoid the FBI watch list? That would have made this whole mystery so much easier to solve.”


* * *


Myla agrees with August’s theory. So now, they have a plan. But when they’re not trying to figure out how to take down part of New York City’s power grid, they’re selling out double Delilah’s capacity for the Save Billy’s Pancakepalooza, which means there are two weeks to find a new venue. They’ve been through bars, concert venues, art galleries, bingo halls—all booked or asking for a fee they can’t begin to afford.

For August, it’s nights waiting tables and days split between research on substations and every logistical snag of planning a massive fundraiser. With whatever she has leftover, she’s on the Q, threading her fingers through Jane’s and trying to memorize everything about her while she still can.

Her mom has given up on texting her, and August really doesn’t know what to say. She can’t tell her what she’s found out over the phone. But she also isn’t ready to see her.

It occurs to August that it’s just as fucked up to keep this information to herself as it was for her mom to hide things. At least, she tells herself, she’s doing it to protect her. But maybe that really is what her mom thought too.

It’s a train of thought that always brings her back to Jane. She thinks about Jane’s family, her parents and sisters, none of them ever knowing what happened to her. August has checked the records enough times to know that there was never a missing persons report filed for Biyu Su. As far as Jane’s family knew, Jane left and didn’t want to be found.

August wonders if any of them have boxes of files like her mom. When this is over, one way or the other, she’ll find them. If Jane goes back to her time, she’ll probably find them on her own. But if she stays, or if—well, if she’s gone, they deserve to know.

That’s what she’s thinking about when she clocks out of her late shift and takes her Su Special from the window. People who leave, people who get left behind. The Q closes in a month, Billy’s in four, and it’s all over unless they find a way to stop it.

“So,” Myla says when August slides into the booth. She’s been giving August significant eyes across the dining room since she and Niko sat down, so she must have some news. “You know how I’ve been, like, shaking down all my old Columbia classmates to find out if anyone has any MTA connections?”

August swallows a bite of sandwich. “Yeah.”

“Well … I found a lead.”

“Really? Who? What do they do?”

“Um,” Myla says, watching her pancake slowly absorb syrup, “he actually works at the Transit Power Control Center.”

“What?” August says, nearly upsetting a ketchup bottle. “Are you kidding me? That’s perfect! Have you talked to him about it?”