As an abandoned boy, Rangle Ditmouth lived in a dark room in a crumbling tenement on Harbinger Street. Now, he was twenty-three and he looked like a walking cadaver. He worked at odd jobs: messenger boy, Handyman, thief and lout. He did what he was told to do. He never asked questions. If he was told to break a man’s finger, he did. If he had to rob a store or steal a wallet, he did. He never had second thoughts. In the beginning, he worked for anyone who had cash. Rangle had no boundaries on what he did either to himself (if someone needed a slave for a night) or to someone else. He was never paid to think so he didn’t, but he couldn’t stop his emotions from bubbling up causing his stomach to churn and complain. He couldn’t stop the interminable bouts of depression and remorse. He was unable to erase the fact that he’d done terrible damage to people who were more helpless than himself, but he excused his actions as necessary for his own survival. Mr. Rotobar became Rangle’s main employer – and, eventually, his only employer. Rangle was only sixteen when he met Ransumm Rotobar. The man taught the boy all the skills he needed to become a valuable commodity. Over the years their relationship became intimate: Ransumm dominating Rangle in a relationship orchestrated by pain. “At all times call me Mr. Rotobar or Sir,” the older man sternly instructed. He towered over Rangle with the authority of a very obese man in a city where abundant flesh was a sign of power. When he was in a perverse mood he ordered Rangle to feed him with a spoon. The young man was often hungry himself, but never allowed to eat until Rotobar granted permission. Rangle had the unpleasant task of feeding his provider copious amounts of fat-laden food. He had to wipe grease from the old man’s chin with a dainty muslin napkin – he had to clean the house after every food orgy – he was the nurse-maid and domestic … only after he thoroughly cleaned everything was he allowed to salvage scraps for himself — the old man was amused and called the boy degrading names. Rangle always did what he was told to do. Once, on the orders of Rotobar, he broke a man’s leg with a baseball bat because the man owed money. Another time he paid a young girl to have sex with the old man. He couldn’t bear watching the girl prostitute herself, but he was as powerless as a mite under the microscope of Rotobar’s deadly stare.
Rangle Ditmouth saw the red desert in a dream. It glowed like a radioactive sewer — with dust boiling up from the bowels of the earth like luminescent ghosts. the dream trembled with a loud wind-born wail. Something was out there languishing in the red dust — something glorious. Every night, Rangle struggled, pushing through the sand. The wind scoured his skin like brimstone tearing into flesh. Every morning he woke in pain to the insults leveled at him by an ornery Mr. Rotobar.
“It’s out there,” the old man yelled in excitement. It was rare to see Rotobar express any kind of emotion other than discontent. Rangle was curious but he knew better than to question the old man. He had to wait silently while Rotobar gasped and spit-out unrelated anecdotes and insults until he finally came to the point of his exposition, “Harlequin is out there – and, I want it!” He stared maliciously at his young servant, “you will get it for me.” Everyone knew the myth of Harlequin-beat Angel, but no one knew who or what the Harlequin was. Rangle ventured a modest reply, “Sir, I believe it is a myth.”
“If you weren’t a brain damaged mutt, I’d slap you for impertinence; but I’m a generous man so I will explain. I have evidence that Harlequin exists – it is an exquisite delicacy – a power source – and I intend to eat it.” The man leered at Rangle and had him fluff an enormous pillow at the back of his head. He pursed his lips and forced the young servant to kiss his cheek. He was enormous spread out against the lemon yellow pillow, “with the map and information I possess you will find and retrieve the elusive Harlequin. I’m counting on you – even with your limited intelligence you should be able to manage.” Rangle meekly protested, “the red desert is no longer habitable. I’ll die.” Rotobar puffed up like a buzzard about to strike, “I won’t have lip! I know the dangers. You will be equipped with a breathing bladder — and a telegraph device so you can send reports. I expect a report each day. I don’t want to order my hunters to track you down, a waste of time!” Rangle was on dangerous ground, but he had to inquire, “what about your needs while I’m gone. Who will look after you?” The old man smiled, “sweet of you to ask, but it is your obsessive attachment to me that really worries you. Have no fear. I have other servants who will meet my needs — and better than your pathetic attempts.” The next morning Rangle was sent out with enough provisions for a week. Rotobar calmly pointed out the obvious: “lingering will lead to your death.” The old man laughed at the look of fear on the young man’s face. At the same time, He couldn’t help but recognize a twinge of fear in himself at being separated from his beloved servant. (to be continued)