Six kegs and ten crates full of liquor get unloaded from someone’s borrowed minivan, courtesy of Slinky’s and a few other neighborhood bars, and Lucie directs a couple of Billy’s busboys hanging lights from the rafters over the makeshift dance floor and the stage they’ve set up for the show. When Myla kills the overheads, August has to admit the place looks incredible, all brutalist lines and giant antique levers and dingy tubes of wires transformed in the glow.
Eight o’clock draws closer and closer, and August can’t believe it, but they actually made this happen.
“You ready for this, old man?” August asks, tying her hair up as she takes her spot at Jerry’s side, next to the griddle. He and a small army of line cooks will be slinging pancakes all night, and August and Lucie will be passing them out to the drunk and hungry.
“Born ready, buttercup,” Jerry says with a wink.
She knew, mathematically, that they sold more than two thousand tickets for tonight. But it’s one thing to see the number, and another entirely to see this many people in the flesh, dancing and bellying up to the makeshift bar. Jerry and the line cooks start pouring batter on the griddle, and August realizes they might save Billy’s and Jane in one night after all.
The first hour passes in a riot of color and noise and maple syrup. Art school kids in Filas pick their way down the silent auction line, oohing and ahhing at Myla’s enormous, glittering, twitching sculpture, which she’s entitled IT DO TAKE NERVE. People line up to have Wes or someone else from his shop ink something impulsive onto their arms. The first queens take the stage, spinning under the lights and crowing crass jokes into the microphone.
It gets louder, and louder, and louder.
Lucie leans over, scrambling to fill a plate with pancakes before a shitfaced NYU student with corduroy overalls and half-pink hair can chug any more of the complimentary syrup. “Did we give out too many drink tickets?”
August watches two girls nearby go from making out to viciously arguing and back to making out in the span of four seconds. “We were trying to get them to donate more.”
“Have you seen Myla?” says a voice to her right. It’s Gabe, out of breath and sweaty, a rapidly separating milk tea in one hand and a crumpled McDonald’s bag in the other.
August looks him over. “Man, I don’t think she wants that Filet-O-Fish anymore. It’s been, like, four hours.”
“Shit,” he says. He looks around at the pandemonium in time to see Vera Harry throw herself off the stage and start crowdsurfing. “Things got, uh, kinda crazy while I was gone.”
“Yeah,” August says. The tires on Gabe’s Tesla may or may not have been slashed by a fish-shaped knife before his errand to keep him busy for a few hours. August isn’t taking questions. “You want a drink?”
The night blares on—the guys from the post office next to Billy’s having a disjointed dance-off, a person with a lip ring shotgunning two White Claws at once, bodies jumping and swaying as the queen who is sometimes Winfield takes the stage in a magenta beard and performs an elaborate socialism-themed number set to a mix of “She Works Hard for the Money” and clips from AOC speeches.
Isaiah’s Easter brunch was madness. Christmas in July was chaos. But this is a full-tilt, balls-to-the-wall, someone-getting-a-tattoo-of-Chuckie-Finster, drag-king-named-Knob-Dylan-doing-a-full-gymnastics-routine shitshow. The tip jar by the pancake griddle is overflowing with cash. August feels like the entire belly of New York’s weirdest and queerest has emptied out on the dance floor, smelling like syrup and weed and hairspray. If she weren’t double occupied by her pancake job and the Jane plan, Myla and Niko would have her out there in a cloud of glitter.
The feeling she had at Delilah’s comes back, tugging at her hair, pushing her heart against her ribs. Jane should be here. Not on a train waiting for this party to smuggle her out of purgatory. Here, in it, defiant by existing, in a room full of people who would love her.
“And what are we here for tonight?” Bomb Bumboclaat shouts into the mic.
“Billy’s!” the crowd shouts.
“Who has held down the corner of Church and Bedford for forty-five years?”
“Who’s gon’ do it for forty-five more?”
“And what do we say to landlords?”
The crowd inhales as one, through smoke and dry ice and paint fumes, and they bellow out in one resounding voice, middle fingers raised up to the lights, “Fuck you!”
Bomb Bumboclaat leaves the stage, and the alarm goes off on August’s phone.
* * *
August’s fingers are sweaty on her phone.
She can do this. She can.
She registered with one of those conference call services last week so they could keep a group call going while they try to pull this off—the bootleg version of Mission Impossible comms. She ducks behind a bundle of balloons and starts the call.
Myla dials in first, then Wes, Niko, and finally Jane. She knows exactly where each of them is, because they agreed on it beforehand: Wes is taking a break from the tattoo booth to smoke a cigarette dangerously close to a trash can full of alcohol-soaked paper cups. Myla is milling around the edge of the dance floor, keeping an eye on Gabe as he refills his drink. Niko is one floor up, looking over the railing of the catwalk to keep tabs on everyone.
“And I’m on the subway,” Jane says. “You know, in case anyone was wondering.”
August switches her phone to speaker and slides it upside down into the front pocket of her T-shirt, like she did the night of Isaiah’s party. Only it’s not just Jane in her pocket this time. It’s a whole family.
“Yep,” Myla says.
“As I’ll ever be,” Wes says.
“I like when you’re in crime boss mode,” Jane adds.
“These pancakes are fantastic,” Niko says, muffled through a mouthful. “Tell Jerry I said he’s doing great.”
“Do the spirit guides have anything to say about whether or not this is gonna work?” Jane asks.
August looks up to see Niko lick a finger and stick it in the air. “Hmm. I’m feeling pretty good about it.”
“Dope,” Myla says. “Let’s go.”
August can’t see her through the enormous crowd, but she can hear the noise shifting through the speaker as she moves.
“Hey, Gabe?” she says. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
Gabe’s voice comes faintly across the line. “Sure, what’s up?”
“No, I meant … alone.” Myla leans heavily on the last word. She’s heard Myla use that voice on Niko more than she’d care to think about around the apartment, usually followed by a lot of loud music from their room and August taking a trip downstairs for an extra-long Popeyes dinner.
“Oh. Okay, yeah.”
She drags him off toward a storage closet they scouted earlier, and August finally catches a glimpse of them, Myla’s hand wrapped around his elbow. The badge is where it’s been all day—on the lanyard hanging around his neck. August watches Myla lean away from him and into the phone tucked under her bra strap, ducking her head down so he can’t see her mouth move.