Ransumm Rotobar cut into the flesh with relish. He was eating the meat raw – a much anticipated feast: sweetbreads fresh from the body cavity floating in blood-soaked whipped cream … and newly excised brain-stem dripping in natural juices. He was eating the Harlequin-beat Angel: the exquisite energy source and immortality drug. Somehow the Angel attached itself to Ransumm’s loyal servant Rangle Ditmouth. It wasn’t easy strapping Rangle to the top of the feasting table. The young man struggled at first, but then an extraordinary calm began to radiate from Rangle’s fragile, naked body. There were no screams or sobs as Ransumm greedily cut into the boy’s flesh, but there was pain: hot-throbbing pain like a knife through the eye and into the brain – the pain shot through Ransumm Rotobar while the Harlequin, Angel, and Rangle Ditmouth felt nothing . The nightmare burned down the house, then dissolved like tissue paper – only a dream leaving Ransumm perplexed and disturbed. He had no intention of eating his servant – he wasn’t a cannibal. In truth Rotobar was beginning to realize that Rangle Ditmouth was much more than a servant – he was his adopted son. Ransumm had tender feelings toward the young man that bordered on the romantic, but he would never admit that to himself. Instead, he sulked over the young man’s absence – his own fault having sent Rangle off on an impossible mission to retrieve the Harlequin-beat Angel rumored to reside in the Red Desert. It was only two days since the boy left, but Rotobar was at his wits’ end. He didn’t know how to take care of himself and he trusted no one, except Rangle, to help him. He chastised himself – after all, he was a kingpin with powerful connections and he controlled many of the quasi-legal operations that sustained the Red City while adding to his own coffers. But, at this particular time, he was depressed (a feeling he never allowed himself to experience before now). He stared at himself in the mirror and laughed at his gross appearance: runnels of fat puffed up his body in freakish mounds. His girth was a sign of power in the Red City, but Rotobar was never happy being obese. He loved to eat, to gorge himself … but he also wanted a slim, muscular body and a handsome face. Rotobar realized that Rangle was graced with the kind of beauty he craved. He knew it all along. He ridiculed and shamed Rangle because he was jealous of the young man’s beauty. He laughed to himself knowing how ignorant the boy remained regarding his own charm. Ransumm felt a sudden twinge of pain as he realized the punishment and humiliation he administered led to Rangle losing his innate beauty – the young man was a cadaver of his former self. Now, Rotobar’s heart ached for just one glance, one soothing touch from Rangle. His mind twisted back to memories of Mr. Hamm, his father, “The bastard called me ‘pig-boy’ and force-fed me like livestock … He was brutal — yet, I could never get enough.”
Ransumm was filthy having gone two days without a sponge bath or change of clothes. He sat day-and-night at the dining-room table stuffing his face with junk food – no one cleaned the crumbs and stains from his body and clothes. Underlings came and went trying to be helpful, but everyone was rudely dismissed. Pickpockets and con-men who depended on Ransumm’s largess were given short shrift. On the morning of the third day, Rotobar had enough. He called his hunters to search for Ditmouth and bring him home. Two grizzled mercenaries were sent into the Red Desert dressed in armored suits with breathing bladders attached. They found Ditmouth, barely alive, a few hundred yards from the border at the outskirts of the city. He hadn’t gone very far when his breathing tube began to leak and holes opened in his protective suit. He was exposed to the poison gases rising from the cracked and swollen ground. He soon became malnourished and dehydrated. For two days the young man was in a languorous coma. He was dreaming about the Harlequin-beat Angel. Rangle Ditmouth believed he’d been in the Red Desert for months – following instructions from the Director of a foreign film about alternate worlds. He wrestled with questions about death and transmutation. A strange and vile music seeped through Rangle’s coma and into his brain — he followed the music from one lifetime to another, from one dilemma to another until he finally came upon the Harlequin-beat Angel … and, in the dream, Rangle Ditmouth was consumed. He dreamed he already returned to the Red City as an avenging angel — and burned down the walls.
When he awoke, Rangle discovered he was back home in Ruby Mansion. He saw the face of Ransumm Rotobar. The large face took up the whole plane of vision from horizon to horizon. Something was different, slightly askew. Rangle couldn’t believe he’d only been gone for three days, but once he learned the truth he expected a burst of anger from Rotobar. Instead, he saw remorse, a terrible sadness seemed to seep from the big man like a gaseous cloud. Rangle had never seen this before — he never experienced compassion or empathy until this moment. Both men had been transformed, touched by the Harlequin-beat Angel.