“I’m not wearing a corset.”
Maggie rolled her eyes. “You have to,” she said. “The dress won’t fit without one.”
“It’ll be fine.” I grabbed the mass of cream-colored cotton out of Maggie’s hands and did my best to wriggle into it. But no matter how we tried, we couldn’t get it to close at the waist.
“Told ya.” Maggie helped me out of the dress and presented me with the dreaded corset. It was white and utilitarian, without a scrap of ribbon or lace, but it had a vampy hourglass shape that—I had to confess—gave it a whole lotta drama. I allowed Maggie to lace me into it, gritting my teeth. What a girl wouldn’t do for a brief walkabout through time.
“You remember the rules?”
“Two hours,” I said. “Minimal contact. In and out.”
“Um… take lots of pictures?”
Maggie made a low sound of exasperation. “No souvenirs.”
She dumped the mountain of fabric that was a late eighteenth-century dress over my head and came around to look me in the eye. “And you’ll follow the rules?”
“Sure,” I said, fighting my way through the openings at arm and neck
“Lucy.” She bit her lip and leaned in close. “This visit isn’t exactly approved.”
When your older sister gets a job at E.P.O.C.H. Historical, Inc., studying the first applications of time travel, do you:
A) Politely wait to be invited to take a look around
A) Bide your time, figuring the technology will be safer to use in a few years anyway
C) Use every dram of sisterly influence you’ve got to get into that facility and try out time travel firsthand.
It’s a one question quiz. A+ or F.
I had always been a history buff. Maggie grew up with her nose buried in fairy tales and chapter books, but stories of the past had always been more real to me. There was a reason for that: they were more real. They were the stories of men and women who, brick by brick, idea by idea, had built the world I lived in, and the amazing technology I was about to use. Ladies and gents, it doesn’t get more real than that.
Some of my love for the past must have rubbed off on Maggie, because here we were, at E.P.O.C.H. She had taken the job after grad school, and I knew she’d worked hard to get it, soldiering through a near-endlesss series of interviews and a vetting process that took months. Maggie was exactly the kind of person you’d want working at a sensitive research facility: serious, discreet, painfully honest. I would have had a harder time, I thought, netting the gig.
That being said, there was no way I would do anything to jeopardize Maggie’s position at E.P.O.C.H—and not just because I’d lose access to the facility. Maggie was more than your average awesome big sis. Our parents had passed away six years ago, so since she was nineteen, Maggie had been the one who looked out for me. Maggie didn’t demand my loyalty—she’d never demand anything. But she damned well deserved it.
I sighed. She was going to make me say it. “I’d never do anything to make you look bad, Maggie.” I grinned at her. “Now let’s go.”
But before we could, there was the hair. My blonde locks were swept up and piled efficiently, if somewhat sloppily, into a horde of curls atop my head. Then we walked down the hall to the portal room. Maggie handed me the chronometer, which looked exactly like an old, beaten up metal pocket watch. I clicked the button on top, and the cover popped up to reveal the clock face. The glass was badly scratched.
“Very authentic,” I said.
“It’s actually just a touch anachronistic, for 1800,” Maggie said. “But with the lid closed, it’ll resemble an ordinary locket.” She lifted the chain of metal links that was attached to the chronometer. “You can wear it just like a necklace.”
“And what do I do when I want to return?”
“Ideally, you won’t have to do much of anything. Just keep wearing the chronometer, and when you approach the portal, it will open up. Then you just walk right through. But do, please, remember to come back before it winds down.”
“It winds?” I shot Maggie a look. “Doesn’t that seem like someone went a touch overboard on the verisimilitude?”
Maggie crossed her arms, and from the look on her face, I knew who that someone was. “It doesn’t actually wind,” she said. “This is how we chose to record the battery life.” She turned the chronometer over so I could see the clock face. I peered at it closely. In addition to the hour and minute hand, there was a thin, red second hand. But it moved sluggishly. In fact, as I stared at it, I could barely see the thing move at all. “Get back before the second hand reaches the twelve, and you’ll be fine.”
“Got it.” It still seemed like the E.P.O.C.H. team was being a little overly whimsical with that one, but who was I to complain? I was about to travel through time! “So how long do I have?”
Maggie squinted at the chronometer. “About four days,” she said. “Much more than you need. Just, you know, be aware.”
It was, regrettably, more than I needed. Maggie had declined to send me back with more than a few coins in my purse: first of all, E.P.O.C.H.’S authentic historical coins were in the locked equipment cabinet, and she hadn’t wanted to requisition all of them; second, she wanted me home before dark. Since I didn’t have enough money to rent a room, I’d be back, all right. But I’d try to make the trip last as long as I could.
The early 1800s was what E.P.O.C.H. was studying, so that’s where I was headed. I couldn’t have been more delighted. I loved early American history, always had. I’d taken the last week to bone up on the period, and I thought I could get along fairly well.
The portal chamber was the drabbest, most utilitarian room you could possibly imagine. There were three doors arrayed around the room, made of the kind of plastic-y wood-pattered laminate they use on cheap office doors. The floor was stained linoleum. The only impressive thing in the entire room was the computer, a sleek, silver job with four enormous monitors and enough wires coming out of it to confuse even the most dedicated IT consultant. It was sitting on a folding table, and next to it sat a coffee maker with a pot half full of old brew.
“So this is what a super secret, high-tech operation looks like?” I asked.
“It is when it’s paid for with government grants.” Maggie seated herself at the workstation and clicked away for a bit at the keyboard. The monitors came on, bathing her face in a blue glow and reflecting off her glasses in such a way that her eyes became two rectangles of gleaming light.
“That door.” She pointed to the door on the left of the room and nodded at me. “Be careful.”
I approached the door and swung it open. Inside, there was little more than an ordinary closet—but right at the threshold there was a strange kind of ripple in the air, something barely visible but undeniable. I felt it more than saw it, a faint electric charge that made the hair on my skin stand up.
I extended one finger toward the ripple and, poked, just lightly, at the barrier between the present and the past. A frisson of energy ran from my finger up to my spine, and I heard Maggie sigh. I looked over at her.
“Everyone has to do that,” she said. I couldn’t see her eyes rolling, but somehow I felt them just the same. “Just walk on through.”
All right, then. I faced the doorway and steeled myself, something I wouldn’t have thought I would need to do only five minutes ago. But now that I was faced with the door, I couldn’t deny that what I was about to do was momentous, incredible—and, yeah, ok. A little scary.
I stepped through the door, and the electric tingle ran throughout my entire body, leaving my ears ringing. And just like that, I was standing in a nineteenth century alleyway, with a million scents and sounds coming at me all at once. It was too much. Although I wasn’t physically off balance, I felt uneasy, out of whack, and I stretched out my hands to both sides. The fingers of my right hand touched a wall made of rough-hewn wood.
I stared at my hand, splayed out on the wooden wall, and suddenly felt as though my heart would burst. I did a quick pirouette, my skirts spinning out in a happy circle. Then I extended and hand toward the wall again and touched it, lightly, with one finger. “Real,” I whispered.
I heard a sound. I whipped my head toward the end of the alley. Had the sound come from there? It had been faint enough that I had to still my entire body to listen for it again. And then I heard it again: a low, painful moan.
I hesitated. Did I want to meet some drunkard in an alley in 1801 New York? Not much. But whoever had made that sound was obviously in pain. I couldn’t just ignore it.
I found the blood before I found the girl. There was a wide swath of it, mixing the with muddy brown water in the alley and turning it a dark, evil black. The girl must have fallen in the middle of the alley, but she had dragged herself against the wall of the nearest building. She lay there like a pile of forgotten laundry. Her hair, a dark mess of tumbled curls, and fallen out of its arrangement and lay in a puddle of muddy water.
I let out a low hiss of horror and fell to my knees beside her. I ran my hands over her body, trying to find her injury. She didn’t assist me, or resist. She didn’t respond at all.
In a moment, I had found the knife. The handle protruded from her chest, and was now concealed beneath her limp body. I hesitated, uncertain what to do. I felt certain I shouldn’t remove the knife, but should I stay with her? Or run for help? She moaned again. She sounded weaker now.
Ok. Run for help. Got it.
I tried to get to my feet, but to my surprise, the woman on the ground gripped my hand. She pushed something into it, a paper of some kind. There was no time to read it; I shoved it into my bodice. Then I did what I should have had the sense to do earlier. I threw back my head and screamed for help.
Almost right away, I heard shuffling footsteps, and then there was a man at the end of the alleyway. “Hello!” I called. “We need a doctor, please!”
The man approached us, moving slowly. There was a lopsided slant to his gait, and something about him that I instantly disliked.
“Have a bit of trouble?” he asked, as he got close. He was standing over us now, his big body silhouetted against the noonday sun.
“She’s badly hurt,” I said. “Can you run for a doctor?”
“Errand boy, am I?” And then he was hauling me up by the front of my bodice, his grip strong, his breath suddenly foul in my face. I screamed, but it was a pathetic scream, high and weak and frightened. With one hand, he held me, and with the other, he pawed at my body. He found the small leather purse immediately, with the few coins I’d brought. He pocketed it and dropped me.
I landed on my butt, hard enough to make my teeth clack together. Still, I looked up at him. “Take the money,” I said. “But, please, we must have a doctor.”
“Got anything else?” he snarled.
I shook my head, but as I did, sunlight glinted off the small, brass chronometer hung around my neck. I heard him chuckle, and then his hand darted down and fastened around the chronometer. He yanked, hard, and the chain snapped. The force of the yank wrung another small scream out of me, and then he was off, running.
I should have gone after him. I needed that chronometer, or I’d be stuck here in the past forever. But I couldn’t just abandon the girl. I would have to run for a doctor myself.
Her hand, clutching the folds of my skirt, stopped me. She struggled for a moment, and then her eyes opened partway. They were bright blue, but clouded, fading. They locked on me.
She mumbled something, something that sounded like “lucky.”
“What?” I leaned over her. “What did you say?” I locked my eyes on hers, willing her to keep them open, but even as I did so, they were closing. They would not open again.
I’m not sure how long I sat there, looking at her face. She had been around my age, maybe nineteen or twenty? I needed to chase after the man with my chronometer, but to leave her felt like an abandonment. Someone had stabbed this girl, left her to die, in pain, in a cold, filthy alley. How could I leave her there, too?
“Miss?” My head snapped up at the sound of the voice. I had no interest in being attacked again. Two young men were approaching us, one dark, the other with reddish hair. I stood up, placing myself between them and the girl, though there was little enough they could do to her now.
“Do you need help, miss?” asked the dark-haired man. “We thought we heard you cry out.”
“We need a lot of help,” I said. My voice caught in my throat. “She’s hurt. I think—I think she’s dead.”
The dark-haired man bent over the girl’s body, and his face became still and grim. His friend took one look and pulled back in horror.
The dark-haired man spoke. “Stephen,” he said. “You’d better run for a doctor.” The lack of urgency in his voice confirmed my own fears; the girl was past help. His friend took off running, and the young man turned to me. “If you’ll permit me, miss, I will escort you to the nearest tavern, and have someone send for your family.”
I shook my head violently. “I’m not just going to leave her in the street.”
The man looked uncomfortably from the body to me. “I would prefer to see you to somewhere safe,” he said. “It’s cold here, and your dress is—damp.” I glanced down at my dress and found that all down the front it was a blood-soaked ruin. I put a hand to my hair and found that it had fallen out of its elegant updo.
I wondered how I would take the situation if I were him, looking at a wild-haired young woman soaked in blood. Imagining that made me even more frantic. Would he think I’d killed her?
He reached, very gently, for my arm. I snatched it back out of his grip. “I can’t leave her,” I whispered.
He stared at me silently. “Very well,” he said at last. “We will wait together.” He offered me a small, gentle smile. “It is ill-mannered, I know, but perhaps you will allow me to introduce myself to you?”
The incongruity of this courtly statement, when compared with—well, everything—got a small, sad snort of laughter out of me. “Knock yourself out,” I said.
He cocked his head and squinted at me. After a moment he must have put my comment down to shock, and decided to ignore it. “My name is Phillip Hamilton. And yours, if I may inquire?”
“Lucy,” I said. “Grant. Lucy Grant.”
“Miss Grant.” He nodded, and his smile grew a degree or two warmer.
I noticed that my teeth were chattering. Was I in shock? I put a hand on the wall of the nearest building, to steady myself, and as I did so I gazed down at my hand.
It was dark with blood. A wave of nausea swept over me, and I closed my eyes, willing this entire scene to disappear. If only I could be back at home, watching old movies with Maggie on late night television, the visit to E.P.O.C.H. entirely forgotten.
“Steady, Miss Grant.” Phillip put his hand under my elbow, and this time I let him. “You’ve had a terrible shock.”
“She—” I tried to find the words to capture what had happened in the few moments I’d spent with the girl, how she had been alive one moment and gone the next. The sound of her voice—I could still hear it, full of pain, but still vital, still hers. What had she said to me? Lucky? Buckling? It hardly mattered. No one would ever hear that voice again.
Phillip leaned in close, and spoke to me quietly. “It’s good that you were with her, at the end,” he said. “It’s good that she wasn’t alone.”
I nodded slowly, my eyes still closed. His voice was a kind of lifeline, something calm and comforting in the midst of all this horror. “I know. I know you’re—” I couldn’t finish the sentence. I licked my lips and tried to breathe.
“Look at me, Miss Grant.” Phillip folded both of my hands between his. I forced myself to open my eyes. “You were there when she needed you,” he said. His chestnut eyes held mine. “And I will be here as long as you need me.”
I let out a slow, shaky breath, nodding as the words penetrated my panicked brain. I was lost, far from home, and a girl had just died in my arms. But at least I didn’t have to be alone.
I kept my eyes locked on Phillip’s as I waited for my breathing to return to normal. I didn’t even hear the footsteps when Stephen returned with the doctor.
The doctor was an older man with a long, hooked nose and a fringe of long hair clinging to his skull, Ben Franklin style. He spared me a quick look before bending over the girl. His examination was brief and perfunctory. “This wound is vicious. There’s little enough I could have done for her, no matter how early I had come. As for you, young lady—“ he turned to me, and I assumed he meant to examine me for signs of injury, but instead he squinted at me coldly. “Pray tell us, if it please you, how she came to such a sorry pass—and what you are doing with her.”
I gaped at him. I supposed it was stupid of me, but I hadn’t considered the possibility that I would be accused of causing the girl’s death.
How had that escaped me? I was the ideal suspect. Here I was, in an out-of-the-way street, standing over a body, drenched in blood. If I hadn’t known better, I would have suspected myself.
Phillip put his arm around me protectively. “Miss Grant will surely explain that, once she has been given time to get warm and change her clothing. She has had a horrific experience.”
The doctor looked down his pinched nose at Phillip. “She will explain it now, young man. A woman has died.”
“And another has been frightened beyond reason.” Phillip stood his ground. He had a good two inches on the stooped, elderly doctor, and I saw that he meant to use it. “Her memory will be as good, or better, for an hour’s rest.”
“Ridiculous.” The doctor didn’t seem to find this argument, or Phillip’s bravado, very convincing. “If she is innocent of the crime, she must give evidence to the magistrate at once. And if she is guilty—” He looked at me, and his pinched nose became even narrower. “Steps must be taken.”
Things seemed to be proceeding rather quickly here. I decided I had better speak up. “Sir, I was—traveling down the road. I heard a sound. I thought—I thought someone needed help.” There. Nice and vague. Nothing to trip me up. I hadn’t spent years watching old episodes of Columbo for nothing.
But Phillip was wincing, as though I had said something damning, and the doctor was looking at me even more sharply now.
“Traveling?” he said, his voice becoming something of a sneer. “At this hour? With no companion? Where, miss, might you have been traveling to?”
I blinked. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be so very strange for a woman to be traveling the public street alone before dawn—but, of course, in 1801 it very much was. “To—” The butcher? The silver smith? The tobacconist? “My aunt’s home,” I finished. It seemed like the most reasonable answer. But I was losing control of my nice, vague story, and fast.
“What is your aunt’s name? We shall send for her.”
Well, sure. Of course they would. I thought fast. “She doesn’t live in New York,” I said. “She lives in—” I ran through a quick list of American cities that would have existed in this time period. “Philadelphia.” I hoped it was close enough to sound feasible. I loved history, but geography was not my strong suit.
Phillip elbowed me lightly in the ribs. I glanced at him, and he gave a small, subtle shudder. I took the hint and allowed myself to shake slightly, hugging my arms around myself. It wasn’t hard, really. It was a cold morning, and the wind had begun to pick up.
“Sir, I can endure this no longer,” Phillip said haughtily. “Miss Grant is not well, and must be taken somewhere safe and warm. In any case, my father is expecting her.”
“Your father?” The doctor looked somewhat taken aback.
“Indeed, sir. Miss Grant intends to break her journey at my parents’ home. You may call upon her there if you wish.”
And without another word, he turned on his heel and led me away. I was left wondering who this young man’s father was, and why simply invoking his presence had gotten me out of such hot water.
Phillip’s friend, Stephen, trotted after us. During the confrontation with the doctor he had drifted back, but now he looked urgently at Phillip. “What about last night?” he asked Phillip. “What are we going to do?”
Phillip sighed a very tired sigh, and said, somewhat snappishly, “I don’t know, Stephen. I shall consult my father. Pray speak with your own.”
Stephen shook his head. “He’ll never understand this.”
Phillip wore a grim expression. “Mine will.”
Stephen bid us good-bye and walked off, his hands in his pockets and his head hanging rather low. I walked along with Phillip, marveling at everything there was to see. As the sky lightened further I could make out more details and more signs of life. A robin called. A young woman, looking stoop-shouldered and tired, came out of a nearby building with a bucket of garbage and threw it straight up into the street.
I grimaced, but Phillip paid her no mind. I cleared my throat. “Will your parents be—happy to see you have a guest?” I didn’t think this would be the case. Even in 2020, a man bringing a strange woman home soaked in blood wouldn’t be likely to win the approval of the mistress of the house. But Phillip was right: I needed to get somewhere warm, and to clean up. Then I would have to search for my chronometer, and hope that the thief hadn’t gotten far.
Phillip scrubbed a hand over his face. “They will understand the importance,” he said. “They would not have wanted me to leave you in need.”
“They must be very proud of you, Mr.—um—” I realized I had forgotten Phillip’s last name.
“Hamilton,” he supplied.
“Mr. Hamilton.” My mind snagged on that. Phillip Hamilton. That was the name of Alexander Hamilton’s oldest son. But surely my new friend wasn’t that Phillip Hamilton? After all, even in 1801, there had to be at least a few young men in all of New York City christened with such a common name.
I certainly hoped it wasn’t him. Phillip Hamilton, the son of Alexander Hamilton, had died in a duel in 1801. He and a friend had insulted a lawyer named George Eacker at the theater one evening, and two days later, the friend had faced Eacker in a duel in Weehauken, New Jersey. Shots had been exchanged, but neither man was injured. The next morning, it was Phillip’s turn to face Eacker. He had been shot in the arm, something that sounded less than fatal at first blush—at least from my modern standpoint. But between the heavy ammunition and the lack of excellent medical care, gunshots in the 1800’s were far less survivable that in my own time. Phillip had died the following day.
What had been the name of Phillip’s friend, the one who had dueled Eacker first? It came to me, and I almost turned my heel on a cobblestone. Price.
I licked my lips and cast a glance at Phillip. “How did you come to be out in the street so early, Mr. Hamilton?”
Phillip’s mouth twisted to the side in a rueful look. “To be honest, Miss Grant, to me it is late rather than early. I’m afraid Stephen—my friend—I’m afraid we have been out walking all night. We had a great deal to discuss.”
“Oh,” I said. “Something important?”
Phillip rubbed the back of his neck. “Very much so.”
“So you have been out all night. Did something happen last evening that troubled one of you?”
My mouth felt dry as I asked the next question. “What, may I ask?”
Phillip looked like he didn’t want to answer but after a moment, he said, “An argument. At the theater.”
So. My Phillip and the son of the famous Alexander Hamilton were one and the same. That meant in a few short days, Phillip was fated to die.
He turned his head to me, and the wind ruffled the long dark hair that had strayed from his ponytail. He smiled down at me. “It is nothing to trouble you, Miss Grant,” he said. “But I think we should talk about my father.”
“Your father.” I grasped at one last chance for my identification to be off. “He wouldn’t be—Alexander Hamilton?”
“He is.” Phillip seemed to be used to people recognizing his father’s name. “And if I were you, I would consult him before you speak with anyone else. The circumstances of where we found you, Miss Grant, the state of your clothes—” He trailed off.
“I know,” I said. “It looks pretty sketchy.”
“Er—” Phillip hesitated for a moment. “Yes. I believe it does.”
So what did that even mean, I wondered. I was fairly certain that New York at this time didn’t have a real police force, but what exactly did it have? Who would be investigating the girl’s murder, and what real power would they have over me? “What does that mean exactly?”
“I suspect you will have to give testimony to the magistrate, but first, I beg you to seek my father’s counsel. His law practice is unmatched in New York. His advice will be invaluable.”
I remembered something else I had read about Phillip Hamilton. “Aren’t you a lawyer, too?”
Phillip blinked, and I mentally scolded myself for being such a know-it-all.
“I am,” Phillip said. “But my father’s experience is the greater.”
“Very well, Mr. Hamilton, I am grateful for the recommendation.”
Phillip cleared his throat. “When you speak to him,” he said, “I would suggest you tell the truth.”
“What?” I stopped in the road and turned to him. “What are you talking about?”
Phillip glanced away from me, at a pair of pigeons wrestling over a scrap of bread. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it agin. Then he sighed and faced me squarely.
“You claim you were traveling down the road. But Stephen and I have been walking this neighborhood some many hours, and we did not see you. You have no companion, and no reasonable explanation for where you are going.”
He bent his head toward me and said, in a rather reproachful tone, “And Philadelphia is one hundred miles away.”
I was floored. Phillip thought I was a liar!
I mean, sure, I had lied. About almost everything, I supposed—but not about anything truly important. Certainly not about the girl. I exhaled sharply and drew away from him.
“If you think I’m dishonest, Mr. Hamilton, why are you so determined to help me?”
Phillip’s eyes softened, and fell to my neck. With one incredibly gentle finger, he traced a line just below the the scraped skin where my chronometer had been torn away. I hadn’t realized, until he touched me, that I was injured. Now that he had drawn my attention to it, the skin burned. But I could also feel the line that Phillip’s finger had followed—as though it, too, had drawn an indelible mark across my flesh.
“Because I believe you suffered something you are not yet ready to admit to,” he said. “Because your concern for the woman you found was obviously sincere. And because—” he hesitated.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Because you need my help.”
I took a step back. “Oh, do I?”
Phillip didn’t answer, but he moved his hands apart in a gesture that clearly meant, “Duh.”
Suddenly, the stress of everything—the terror of the last hour, the biting November wind, and the godawful stink of whatever it was these people dumped in their streets—collapsed inside me, coalescing into a white hot anger. “You don’t know me, Mr. Hamilton,” I said. “So don’t presume you know what I need.”
“Miss Grant, I meant only—”
“I don’t care,” I said. I was aware that I was being slightly unfair to Phillip, but somehow unable to stop. “I am grateful, as I said, for your recommendation. But I would appreciate it if you kept your opinions about me to yourself.”
Phillip seemed about to speak for a moment, but thought better of it. “As you like, Miss Grant.”
He offered me his elbow. After a moment’s hesitation, I took it. We walked like that, arm in arm, thought the cobblestone streets, looking, I imagined, quite picturesque. Anyone would have thought we hadn’t a care in the world.