the Philanthropist: issue two: the Bells Bells Bells Bells Bells Bells Bells.

bells

THE PHILANTHROPIST is an ongoing graphic(less) novel, with new issues on the first of each month. It follows Simon, aka the Philanthropist, and his trusty sidekick the figure, aka the Raven, as they fight amateur graffiti artists and debate the lesser works of Edgar Allen Poe. Or something like that.

You can catch up on issue one here. Hope you enjoy.

 

The Philanthropist: issue two:

The bells bells bells bells bells bells bells—from the jingling and the tinkling of the—

“Simon just answer it.” Beth, looking away as she speaks, her words riding out on a sigh.

“I—” Our hero, reading the caller ID again, and then again. His eyes not leaving it. His mouth hanging open.

The bells bells bells bells—

“I—”

“Jesus, Simon.” Beth’s hands on her purse. Her purse on her lap. Her coffee going cold.

Our hero’s ringtone (doodooDAduhduhDAduhDUHN—) trickling through the café, over the staccato tapping of keyboards, the quiet conversations. A few heads turn, casting aspersions.

“Just answer it.”

“I—”

The be—

The phone vibrates to a stop. The screen darkens. Ba-BEEP. {One missed call.} “No.” Our hero lifting the phone. “No.” Our hero putting the phone down. “I came here to talk with you, not talk on the phone. No. It can wait.” Looking up to Beth, he nods triumphantly.

Beth blinks. Beth shrugs. She sips her coffee.

“Beth,” Our hero’s hand, venturing halfway across the table. “I need to know: can I trust you?”

Beth looks at the hand like it’s something regurgitated. Her posture straightens away from it.

“I mean with a story.” His hand recedes slightly. “With something very important, but very dangerous. With a story people need to know about, but a lot of very powerful people would be very angry about.”

Beth’s eyes, rolling dramatically. Disgust slips out like a laugh.

Our hero: “This is serious!”

“Simon, if you have a lead for me: great, give me the lead. If not: fine, but I’ve got other things I need to be doing.”

Our hero’s mouth drops open. A phone buzzes out. Our hero looks to his own but it is blank on the table, listless. Beth’s hand slips into her purse.

She pulls the phone out. Her eyes find it. A smile—secretive, beautiful—flashes over her face before she hides it away. The phone, slipping back into the bag. Our hero’s hand, lurching across the table.

Simon!

But he already has the phone. His mouth hangs open as he reads the caller ID.

“Andrew Gillman?” Our hero lets out a ridiculous laugh. “Why the hell is the Gill calling you?”

Beth’s eyes not meeting his. Her smile slips back over her face. Our hero’s disappears:

Why the hell is the Gill calling you?

Beth, snatching the phone back. Answering it, drawing it to her ear. Color, rising to Beth’s cheeks. Whispers, hidden from our hero, only for the phone. Her laugh, horrendously beautiful—she tries to stop it but it bubbles on. Our hero, his mouth agape. Finally she ends the call.

Her hand returns the phone to the purse. It draws the coffee cup to her lips. The remnants of her smile still linger there.

“Beth.” Reluctantly, her eyes meet our hero’s. “Why the hell is Gillman calling you?”

“Simon, my personal life isn’t any of yo—”

Why the hell is GILLMAN part of your personal life?

Beth breaths in deeply and lets it out slowly. The air quivers with annoyance.

“Beth, that man has dedicated his life to bringing down my father’s company.”

“No, Simon—Andrew has dedicated his life to protecting innocent people, like, say, those needlessly killed in drone strikes. It is not his fault that your father’s company—I’m sorry, your company—has become the face of such needless massacres.”

“Are you kidding me?” Our hero’s voice rising, it pulling his body from the seat. “That man has a vendetta agai—”

Simon.” Her hand on the table now, smacking his words down. “I did not come here to talk about Andrew. I came here because you said you have a lead for me. Are you going to share that with me or are you going to waste my time?”

Our hero leaning back now, his arms folded across his chest. “I can’t share it with you if I can’t trust you.”

Beth’s mouth drops open, venom ready to fly out. But she tucks it back down. She swings her purse to her shoulder. Her chair slides back with a squelch.

Our hero, lurching forward, grabbing her wrist: “Wait.”

They are frozen together like this, her: turning away but not leaving; him: holding her tight but not closer. “I’m just asking you for one more chance. I know, I was an asshole before, I know it. But I’m changing, every day, you have to believe me. I’m changing into a better person.”

Her head shakes. Her hand rests softly on his. “No, Simon, that’s not the way it works. People don’t start off as assholes and then change into good people. People are one way and they don’t change, not really—they just get better at being what they are.” Her hand, pulling his off. “You’ve taken over your father’s company but you’ve changed nothing. You’re staging photo shoots with a machine responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children. But you’re becoming a better person?” Her eyes look deeply into his. She’s even smiling. “Simon, you need to stop lying.”

Her body turning away, slipping past the tapping keyboards, the sipped lattes. Turning away from him, leaving him.

Hear the sledges with the bells—silver bells! / What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

Footsteps quick up stairs. Taptaptaptaptap. The figure pivots at the landing, hand on the railing. Taptaptap. Shoulder to door, hand against lever, burst of sunlight, flooding—footsteps crunching snow. A trail of footsteps on the roof of the building, like an ellipsis on a blank page.

How they tinkle tinkle tinkle in the icy air of night! / While the stars they oversprinkle all the heavens, seem to twinkle with a crystalline delight—

The figure stops, crouching to a knee. Camera swings up {The new Panon DX20! With digitally enhanced zoom! Available for onl—}snapsnapsnapsnap. The camera swings down. The figurethe Raven, squints at the sky. The thing is still there. It’s still moving. The Raven stands, he runs. The ellipsis trails on.

Keeping time time time in a sort of Runic rhyme, / To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells—

Picking up speed, both it and he. Footsteps stepping faster, snow crunching louder. The Raven’s breaths—heavy, short—bursting into the cold air. Arms pumping, roof disappearing. Before him: a ledge; and then after: at some distance, another roof. (What distance?) The Raven looks up, it is moving faster, it is already above the other roof. (What distance?) The Raven grunts, the Raven pumps his arms. (What—) He sees it now. Too far. Too late. Faster. Left leg planting, pushing him up to the ledge. Right foot on the ledge, pushnowpushnowpush, weight onto leg leg fighting back and he JU—

From the bells bells bells bells bells bells bells from the jingling and the tinkling of the

—MPS. His left foot lands first. “Ahh!” The ankle collapses but he’s there. Relief and pain, they flood through him. He’s up, he’s limping after it, fresh footprints on a fresh roof, but the limp makes a new cadence. Period, comma, period, comma, period.

Badoobaboobaboomp. In his pocket, his phone ringing. The Raven pauses, breathing desperately. Badoobaboobaboomp.  He brings it to his ear. Badoobaboo:

“Why don’t you,” breath, breath, “answer when I call you?” The Raven watches it as he talks, snow gathering on his face.

“I was busy, I was working on something.” Our hero’s voice is almost swallowed up by the street traffic.

“The reporter?” breath, breath. It hovers, a few hundred feet above him. It turns, advances, hovers. Turns advances hovers.

Our hero grunts.

“Did she agree?”

“No, she—it’s not going to work. She can’t be trusted. I’ll find someone else.”

“Why not? She’s important, we need her.” The Raven walks towards the corner that the thing hovers above. “If it’s a personal—”

“No. Just. I got it. Why did you call me?”

“I found him again.” The Raven, squinting up at it.

“The DexM?” Our hero’s voice jumps an octave.

“Yes. I’m still with him. And yes—I’m taking plenty of photos.”

“What’s he doing?”

“I’m,” turn-advance-hover, turn-advance-hover, “not sure.” Suddenly the Raven looks down. His hand tightens on the phone. “Henry. Where’s Henry? Are you with him?”

“Basically, I’m like a bloc—”

“You’re not with him? Who’s with him?”

“Dude. Calm down. I’m a block away from your place. He’s fine. He’s going to have a great day with Uncle Simon.”

And suddenly the thing drops altitude, maybe a hundred feet. Still turning, still hovering, but much closer now.

“You should have been there already.” The Raven pulls the phone from his ear as he speaks. “I have to go.” He snaps the phone shut, moves to a corner. It is maybe fifty feet above him now. He tucks in. He raises the camera. Snapsnapsna—

Badoobaboobaboomp.

In one motion the thing turns and finds him. It begins to drop altitude.

The Raven’s hand, diving into his pocket, searching frantically.

Badoobaboobaboomp.

He finds the phone, he pulls it out. Before he can flick it off, before him, a few feet away, its own footprints like a colon on the roof: the DexM.

Badoobaboo—

ells Silver bells! What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

The Raven—but stomach without the paunch, eyes without the deep sockets. The Raven—but younger. The Raven—but callow.

The Raven—staring at a beautiful woman. “Annabelle?”

She nods, a cautious smile.

“The Raven nods, smiling. “I knew it. I wrote a poem about an Annabelle once. Looking at you, I knew you must be Annabelle.”

Her wary eyebrow, rising.

“Let’s see,” he looks at her eyes, not away: “I dwelt alone / In a world of moan, / And my soul was a stagnant tide, / Till the fair and gentle Annabelle became my blushing bride— / Till the yellow-haired young Annabelle became my smiling bride.”

She smiles triumphantly. “You didn’t write that.”

“Sure I did.”

“Edgar Allen Poe wrote that.”

“Well maybe I stole it then,” the Raven smiles back. “But I stole it just for you.”

Hear the mellow wedding bells—golden bells! / What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!

The callow Raven—hands in pockets, bustling down the street. He spots one. He drops nothing, he bends to pick it up. Coming up, he bumps the man. Expletives fly. The Raven—apologetic, walking away, rounding the corner. He pulls out the man’s wallet. He checks inside and smiles.

Through the balmy air of night / How they ring out their delight!

The callow Raven—his arm around Annabelle. The light from the projector flickers above them. Her face is beautiful in the soft glow from the screen. Deftly, his fingers sneak the bracelet onto her wrist. It is not until dinner that she notices. She gasps. A hand to her chest, a smile across her face.

From the molten-golden notes, / And all in tune, / What a liquid ditty floats / To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats / On the moon!

The callow Raven—throws his weight into the handle, yanks up on the metal rod. The car door pops open. The callow Raven—on the crowded subway. His thumb tucked in, middle and forefinger slipping into the mark’s back pocket. The callow Raven—up close with his Annabelle. He kisses her jaw, soft light kisses, until she collapses into laughter.

Oh, from out the sounding cells, / What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!

The callow Raven—on the subway, a smile on his face, his Annabelle running through his head. The callow Raven—heavy with the scent of his love. Heavy so that even he can smell it. He loves her smell. He sniffs. The mark turns at the sound. The mark bumps the Raven’s thumb. The mark’s hand on the Raven’s wrist. The Raven twisting loose, slipping out of the subway door. The door closing, the mark caught in it. The mark’s fist meets the Raven’s jaw. The Raven’s forehead meets the subway pillar. Blood meets the Raven’s eye. The doors open and he knocks the mark back in. Staggering, he’s halfway up the stairs before the doors close again.

How it swells! / How it dwells / On the Future! — how it tells

The callow Raven—the blood drained from his face. His Annabelle next to him. Her cheeks red, still wet. Neither looks at the other.

“When?” The Raven asks.

“Seven months,” sniff.

The Raven smiles. “December.” His head falls to her lap. “Maybe he’ll be born on Christmas.” His hand to her stomach. “Maybe we’ll have a little messiah.” She laughs, tear-stained, her hands in his hair.

Of the rapture that impels / To the swinging and the ringing of the bells bells bells—

The callow Raven—and his Annabelle. Face to face. Hands in hands. Enraptured by the glistening of the ring on Annabelle’s finger. She turns, she holds his face and brings it to meet hers.

“But only if you stop. We can’t have a family, not with you out, just waiting to get caught. Only if you stop.”

He nods. “Alright, of course, alright.”

She drops her hands. “You’re lying.”

“No, darling.” His own raise to her face. “I only stole just for you. I can stop just for you.”

Of the bells bells bells bells bells bells bells—to the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

Ding.

The boy’s mouth agape, like a bird waiting for food from its mother. His eyes cast up, at the lights progressing above the door.

Ding. Ding.

“Your office is very high u—”

“Yes,” our hero interrupts him.

Ding. Ding. Ding.

“What floor are we go—”

“86.”

Slowly—eyes wide, mouth agape—the boy turns to our hero. Our hero smiles:

“The top.”

Da-ding!

The elevator doors open. Patricia is waiting. Patricia is unamused.

“Simonyou’vemissedyourappointmentwithBohrEnterprisesandiftheydon’thearfromyoubefore3they’llcancelthecontract—ThereisanongoingcallwithCaro&Sonsandtheyneedyourpermiss—”

Patricia sees the boy. Patricia’s mouth keeps moving but the words no longer come out.

“Patricia, this is Henry,” our hero walks past her, towards the glass walls. The boy waves.

“Ummmm,” Patricia chases after them.

Our hero, over his shoulder: “Patricia, black, please.” Her brow crinkles. Our hero: “Ok cream, but no sugar.”

The boy spins around to Patricia: “Um, two sugars please, and 2% if you hav—”

Simon’s hand on the boy, pushing him into his office. “He’s fine.” The door closing quickly.

The view—the city unrolling before him, a gleaming hillside of steel and glass—it gets him every time. The phone is beeping, though, with the call waiting. Our hero hits the speaker button.

“Ah, Simon, how nice of you to join us. We were just saying, without your approval, our hands are tied on this matter. Now your father, before his unfortunate passing, had made an agreement with us in regard to our future funding. We need to know, Simon, does the—”

Our hero hits the end call button. Seated now, he closes his eyes. He lets out his breath.

“Is that lady your boss?” The boy is on the couch across from him.

Our hero’s eyes flick open. “What? No—”

Patricia, opening the door. “Simon, General Linnaeus on line one.”

The boy, looking to our hero. Our hero, looking to Patricia: “He thinks you’re my boss.”

Patricia, looking to the boy: “2% and two sugars?”

The boy, smiling. “Yes please.”

Warily, our hero hits the speaker button.

“Simon, son, this isn’t going to work. I cannot overstress the importance of Caro Enterprises to the research we are doing. Simon, your father and I spent the majority of our lives building up this company, and I am not going to let some lazy good-for-nothing kid throw that away. You want to be an asshole, son, fine—do it on your own t—”

Our hero hits the end call button. He closes his eyes again.

The boy: “Oh, that’s your boss.”

Our hero opens his eyes: “Do you want to help me be an asshole?”

The boy gulps. “Umm,”

Our hero, standing, already halfway to the door. “Come on, it will be a lot more fun than this.”

Boom. Hard into the door, out of the light, the dark of the stairwell—eyes adjusting, feet adjusting. Feet finding steps, hand finding rail. Thudthudthudthud. Down a level, pivot at the landing, hand sliding on railing. Thudthudthud. The side door to the alley. Slipping on the snow, the slush, there, left, the street, hand wet from the snow, pushing off—the Raven emerges from the alley.

The DexM is waiting for him. The lenses in its eyes, dilating. Blinking. A flash goes off. The Raven steps back. Blink, another flash. Blink blink. Flashflash.

The Raven turns, runs, but no, pulls his legs back under control. A swift walk along the city streets. His camera tucked under his jacket, his collar up as high as it goes. Behind him a sound, like a rocket taking off—FWOOOOOSH. He doesn’t turn. In a few seconds, it is setting down in front of him, its feet melting away the snow like a time lapse video. The Raven stops before he runs into it. People are probably staring but he doesn’t turn to look. He just watches it. Its eyes dilate, blink, but no flash now. Just the dead stare. It would smile if it could.

The Raven turns, a quick jog across the street, rounding the corner. Behind him: FWOOOOSH. There’s another alley and, with it, a dumpster. The Raven cuts down it and tucks around the dumpster. Carefully, he quiets his breathing. The DexM lands. The Raven checks his pulse, feels it slow. He closes his eyes, calms his body. He waits for the crunch of footsteps. He hears only the whine of the gaskets as the thing’s head turns, searching. There is a long silence. A slow whine, and then a long silence. The Raven lets himself smile.

Badoobaboobaboo—

“Jesus Christ.” The Raven is up, hand grasping at pocket. The Raven is running. FWOOOOSH.

“But why?” The boy shouting over the traffic, skipping to keep up with our hero.

“Because—he took something that’s mine, so it’s only fair.” Our hero not slowing.

“But what?”

“Something I cared about very much, something I still do. So we need to make sure he’s taking good care of it.”

“But how?”

“By you being young and innocent-like, and me being angry and distracting.”

“But . . .”

“Look, kid,” finally, our hero stopping, bending down to the boy, “haven’t you ever stolen anything before? It’s gonna be a blast, you’re gonna love it. Just act all cutesy and unoffending, you’ll be fine.”

“Is this what my dad does for you?”

“Steal things? No! Your dad helps me stop bad guys.” The boy looking to our hero. “Well, theoretically. In actuality, not so much yet, but it’s a work in progress.”

Our hero stands. He steps toward the door. The boy doesn’t move.

“Look, think of it like that,” our hero, turning back to him. “You’re being like your dad. You’re being a good guy by helping me stop a bad guy.”

The boy nodding, looking down. The hero’s hand on his shoulder, pulling him into the storefront.

The bell hanging from the door: Da-ding.

Hear the loud alarum bells—brazen bells! / What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!

The Raven—but the paunch creeping on, deep circles under the eyes. The Raven—but in a starched white shirt and strangling necktie. Staring at the clock, squeezing each minute out through willpower alone—the Raven, but bored out of his mind.

The Raven—walking home in the black of night. The calming quiet of the sleeping city. He thinks of his wife and child, he thinks of his bed. He thi—screeeeeeeeech and then an expletive. And then a few more. Two fools, down the block, fumbling at the car door, as if trying to scratch their way in. He doesn’t know the fools but he knows the car. He can feel the release of the lock, the buck of his rod against his hand.

The Raven, crouched low at the passenger side, opposite the fools preoccupied with their fumblings. The Raven’s tie clip, straightened, slipping into the passenger side lock. Softly, the lock popping up. The Raven letting out a sigh. The Raven climbing across the seat. The car shaking to life, from beneath the hands of the fools. The Raven shimmies it out of its spot, down the street, the expletives and fools chasing after him. He drops it a few blocks away, some random parking spot, even locks it back up. For the rest of his walk home, he smiles uncontrollably to himself.

In the startled ear of night / How they scream out their affright!

The Raven—watching his wife and child, his Annabelle and Henry. The mother nursing the boy, cradling him in her arms. The mother washing the boy, reading with the boy, her hands clapping his together. The mother laughing with boy. She sways around the room with him, she dances with him. The doorbell sounds. The sitter—Annabelle says, a shadow passing over her face. She walks to the Raven, she hands his son to him, going past. The Raven looks to the boy. The boy looks to the Raven. The Raven blanches. The boy begins to cry.

Too much horrified to speak—

The Raven—and his Annabelle. Laughing, arguing, talking, walking. His arm around her, her hand on his side. His Annabelle disagreeing with him, shaking her head, smiling brilliantly. Her hand to his chest, tapping her argument into him. Her hand to his chest, setting off the church bells around them.

They can only shriek, shriek—

A hand to his chest—with a force like an epiphany. Knocking him from the arms of his Annabelle. The Raven—horrified, alert—looks up to find the fools. Where is it—they demand. Out of tune. The Raven grabs his Annabelle, pulling her behind him. Where is it—there’s at least one gun, maybe two. Heavy and dangling before the Raven, the fool waves it about. Where did you leave it—the fool screams. In a clamorous appeal to the mercy of the fire. I don’t know—the Raven is stammering, the Raven is frantic. I don’t remember. They laugh at him. In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire. The gun, pushed into his chest, knocking him back against his Annabelle. The car—they demand—where is it. Oh the bells bells bells! The fool’s hand shaking, the gun quivering. He raises it. Where is it! What a tale their terror tells of Despair! The fool’s nose is running. How they clang, and clash and roar! He turns to his fellow fool, their grins demonic, their bodies insane. What a horror they outpour. The fool wipes his nose. The Raven lurches forth, into the fool. On the bosom of the palpitating air! The gunshot rings out. By the twanging and the clanging in the jangling and the wrangling. The fool is knocked back. The fool sees. The fool is made aware. By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells. And the fools are wheeling away, are retreating, are gone. The Raven turns to his Annabelle. Of the bells. His Annabelle, her body on the cold cement—her body gasping for breath. Of the bells bells bells bells—the Raven, back in her arms bells bells bells bells the Raven, stained with her blood bells bells bells bells bells Henry—she says, her life flying out of her bells bells bells bells bells bells bells Go to Henry, you must protect him—

From the clamor and the clanging of the bells!

Emerging to the street he turns, he looks, no not this block, the next, maybe. And he’s fighting to the corner, his feet sliding in the snow. FWOOOOOSH behind him, spurring him onwards. KA-TCHUNG as the thing sets down behind him, the Raven’s feet spinning him onto the next block.

His head whips up, whips around, searching for it. His eyes, skipping through a crowd, some people turning at the frantic man, as he tries to find it. There. The entrance. At the end of the block. And across the street. (Always across the street.) The Raven is off, towards the staircase. The DexM behind him, launching up again.

(And but so why?) he wonders. (Why does the thing leapfrog like this? Why does it not land down in front of him? Are the Raven’s movements really so enigmatic, so unpredictable? No, of course not. The thing could easily drop in front of him and scoop him up in its steal hand. Maybe)—but no, people are turning now, people are starting to point and stare. He has to hurry.

The Raven, his feet like a thing out of control, cascading him down the subway steps. Beep. Ka-ching. Beep. Over the noise of the turnstiles—ka-ching—overwhelming it, he can hear the coming train. He throws himself down the tiled corridors. Behind him, like a gong ringing out, he hears the DexM, metal feet dropping down the subway steps.

Ba-bing. The conductor lets out some garbled message. The Raven slows, still running, waiting. The DexM is pounding down the corridor, somewhere behind him. The reverberations, swollen to cacophony by the narrow corridors—the sounds bring everyone around, staring down the hall, waiting for the cause to emerge. The moving doors have cleared out now, the last few stragglers slipping in. The Raven waits for the sound. Ba-boong. Please stand clear—and then now. He picks up speed and, jumping, tucking, clears the turnstile. Someone yells, no one sees, everyone is staring at the giant metal man-machine that has appeared behind him. The Raven makes it past the closing doors. Immediately, the train rattles back into motion. But the Raven turns and sees that it doesn’t matter. The DexM is caught behind the turnstiles, too monstrous to fit through. Its lens of an eye follows the Raven. Before the train carries him into the tunnel, the Raven raises his own lens back. Snapsnapsnapsnap.

At some point, our hero began to yell. The attendants of the office circled round him, like settlers rounding up their wagons. Andrew Gillman held out his hands, though, keeping the settlers back, letting our hero rage on in peace.

Our hero, proud in his rage, a hand raised in indignation. The settlers standing down. Our hero, quivering in his rage, stammering almost. Andrew Gillman nodding slowly, with understanding. Our hero shaking his head, his voice wavering. The settlers exchanging glances. Our hero blubbering almost, his hands waving erratically about, his gaze lost somewhere on the floor. Andrew Gillman’s hands, gently meeting our hero’s shoulders, when a settler raises a finger, points it at the boy standing in Gillman’s office.

“Who—” and everyone turns to the boy, standing behind Gillman’s desk, staring at our blubbering hero, the boy’s eyes wide, mouth agape.

“What—” the Gill turning back to our hero, his eyes squinting, his hands tightening on our hero’s shoulders.

“Simon, tell me you didn’t,”

Our hero sniffing, his eyes dropping to the carpet.

“Simon, what is that boy doing in my,”

The settlers, together, take a step in. A tension rings out in the small office.

“Spying? You’re using a boy to,”

The hands a vice grip our on hero’s shoulders, turning him, directing him. A settler hurrying into the office, a hand on the back of the boy’s neck.

Spying?!”

The office is an uproar of shame and anger. Our hero’s head is ringing like the sound of bells. Now the Gill is the one yelling—but his voice does not stammer, his arms do not wave about.

The boy is thrown out first. Our hero is held inside, detained to receive his admonishment in full. The boy watches him for a moment before walking away, to the corner.

From his pocket, the boy pulls out the Gill’s phone. Deftly, his fingers flick across it, flip through it. By the time our hero has found him, the phone is again hidden away.

“I’m sorry that wasn’t my best,” our hero has not yet fully composed himself, “decision. Oh man. I’m sorry, they’re right,” our hero sniffs, “I shouldn’t have involved you in it. Are you,” our hero wipes his nose, “ok?”

The boy nods and so does our hero. Desperately, our hero lets out a sigh. “I’m not a very good person. In fact I’m a pretty bad person. And every day I get a little bit better at it. I’ve become pretty good at being a bad person.”

The boy shrugs. “Or maybe you’re just really bad at being a good person.”

Startled, our hero looks at him. But the boy is looking away.

The boy: “You think my dad is a good person?”

Our hero nods. “Yes, I know he is.”

“Really? You’re not just saying that?”

“No, of course not. I mean it.”

The boy nods. “I didn’t get the phone.”

Our hero waves a hand at this. “That’s definitely for the best.”

Our hero’s hand finds the boy’s shoulder, turns him, leads him down the street, the boy in tow. Deftly, with his far hand, the boy sneaks the phone from his pocket, slipping it into the corner trash can. From the can, the phone begins to buzz:

{Incoming: Hank Quarles}

The train bursts from the ground, climbing the rails of the bridge. Hovering a few hundred feet above the river, the DexM scans the contents. It finds a match. Like a kite in tow, the DexM follows the train. Four stations later, the Raven exits. He climbs a series of stairs, turning down the sidewalk. Patiently, the kite follows him. The Raven drags it home.

Hear the tolling of the bells—iron bells / What a world of solemn thought their monody compels

“You don’t have to look at me, just please listen.”

Her hands loosen and then squeeze together again. She says nothing.

“I just have three things to tell you and then you can go. Or I can go. Whatever—three things and then we can go.”

Our hero watches her as he speaks. A strand of her hair has slipped out of the tight bun. One little curl, mimicking the curve of her ear.

“Ok, actually four things. The first thing: thank you for coming. Even if you won’t look at me or talk or whatever, still. Thank you. Really.”

In the silence of the night / How we shiver with affright / At the melancholy menace of their tone

“Second thing: I’m sorry. I know that doesn’t really begin to cut it, but that’s all I can give you right now, at least in that area. So, I’ll just give you that again: I’m sorry. Really.”

She shakes her head. She opens her mouth but closes it. Her eyes haven’t moved, haven’t yet met his.

“Third thing:” the wisssssh of the manila envelope, sliding across the table. “That’s a story, an important one. I’m not giving it to you as an apology, or repayment, or as any sort of bribe. I’m giving it to you for one reason: it’s an important story that deserves to be told by someone who will do it justice.”

For every sound that floats / From the rust within their throats / is a groan

“It’s a report on a possible complication with the DexM’s neural processor. Also, there’s a very nice photo of the DexM trying to take the subway.”

Her eyes flick to it, for a second, and then away.

“Fourth thing: I think you’re wrong. You said I was an asshole and I wouldn’t change, I would just get better at being an asshole. But someone else told me I might be a good guy who’s just doing a really bad job of being a good guy. And I think he’s right. But I’m not sure. I know I want him to be right, though, so I’m going to try to prove him right. And I know there are a lot of things I messed up between us, so I don’t expect it to change much, but maybe, if I get really good at being a good guy, maybe it will change a little.”

“No, Simon,” her hand grabbing the envelope, her body rising, “you don’t know.” The chair squeaking against the linoleum. “You don’t have any idea of the things you messed up between us.”

And with that she turns away. With that she is gone.

And the people—ah the people / They that dwell up in the steeple / All alone

They are neither man nor woman / They are neither brute nor human / They are Ghouls

The Raven—not callow but callused. The Raven—now bloodshot and drained. The Raven—drunk. More supported by the bar than not, the Raven—in need of another drink.

And their king it is who tolls / And he rolls rolls rolls / Rolls / A paean from the bells

“Hey turn this up! Can you turn this up please? Hey,” the man next to him is speaking too loudly for this sort of place, “can you—thank you, thank you.”

The voice from the screen grows, increment by increment: “—no organization is as of yet taking credit for the incident, but the sophistication of the weaponry suggests an extremely advanced military organization, such as the United States or Israel.”

“Did you hear about this man,” the man next to the Raven is speaking too closely to the Raven for this kind of night, “it’s unbelievable, just sickening.”

“The extensive forensic evidence seems to point to weaponry such as the so-called ‘super drone,’ an advanced robotic technology currently being developed for the US military by an unnamed private contractor. The United States has denied any involvement in the massacre, which has resulted in the death of at least 40 Pakistani school children.”

“And no one gets blamed! I guarantee you, no one will get blamed!” The man is speaking far too passionately for the political leanings of the bar. He leans yet closer to the Raven, dropping his voice: “You know, I heard about this crazy guy who lives around here, have you heard about this? Supposedly, his wife was murdered, just this awful thing, these two small-time criminals shoot her and kill her, and the husband just goes crazy. He hunts the criminals down, beats them to death or something, but that’s not enough for him. He goes all over his neighborhood, every night, like some sort of vigilante. He beats up drug dealers, stealing whatever they’re holding and flushing it. He goes around painting over graffiti. He smashed up anybody he can find. People say he must have some kind of death wish, have you heard about this guy?”

Slowly, the Raven turns to the man talking. The man is wearing a smile, far too bright and shining for this sort of conversation, but the man seems to know it. The man seems to know a great many things.

“To me, that doesn’t seem like a death wish,” the man says. “To me, that seems pretty logical. This guy had his life ruined by scum, it seems logical he would want to clean the scum up, wash it away. How many other guys are in that situation and are just too cowardly to do anything? No, to me—when I hear about somebody like that—I think: man if only I could meet this guy! The things we could do together! The scum we could clean up! I mean, man, we could clean up scum like,” the man’s finger stretches out, incriminating the television, “that!”

The Raven sits up, looking the man over.

“I haven’t even told you my name, oh man, how rude of me!” The man smiles brighter. “I’m Andrew,” he stretches out his hand, “Andrew Gillman.”

The Raven eyes his hand.

“Hank,” he says, grabbing it. “Hank Quarles.”

To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

 

(The Philanthropist will return April first . . .)

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One Response to the Philanthropist: issue two: the Bells Bells Bells Bells Bells Bells Bells.

  1. Pingback: the Philanthropist: issue three: Pennywyld Crybilly. | melkshakes

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