The Great Hippo 16 0
rating: 0+x

[1923. Chicago.]

[St. Jerome Emiliani's Home for Wayward Children.]

The basement is cold and damp. It is lit only by the silver glow of the moon, seeping through barred windows. There are three hard, lumpy straw mats on the floor; one is currently occupied by a BOY-shaped lump tucked underneath a tattered old coat.

There are sounds from above. Someone is yelling; the door at the top of the basement stairs opens, briefly allowing warm light to flood in. A TEENAGER is shoved down the steps. He is pale and freckled, with a tussled mess of honey-gold hair.

The TEENAGER catches himself on the railing and spins around to the door as it slams shut.

TEENAGER

Fuckin' penguins!

Several locks can be heard snapping into position. The TEENAGER proceeds to give the door both middle fingers.

TEENAGER

I hope you all choke on Jesus's fat cock.

The TEENAGER stares at the door for several more moments. He then shivers, wrapping his arms around himself and glancing around. As his eyes adjust to the dark, he notices the BOY wrapped up in the coat.

TEENAGER

Hey.

The BOY responds by turning his face into the hay-bed.

TEENAGER

Hey. Hey!

The BOY does not respond. Irritated and still shivering, the TEENAGER strides down the steps and makes his way toward him, glaring.

TEENAGER

What're you in for? You ain't a bed wetter, are you? 'Cuz I'm not shacking up with a bed-wetter.

Still no reply. The TEENAGER is now standing over the BOY, scowling as he rubs his arms.

TEENAGER

It's fucking freezing down here. Where'd you get that coat?

Still no reply. The TEENAGER glares, and leans down to touch the BOY's shoulder.

TEENAGER

Hey, can you hear me? I said —

BOY

— nngh!

The BOY jerks away from the contact. The coat slips partly off of him. His charcoal hair is short and dense, with deep brown skin that is the shade of burnt umber.

The TEENAGER can now see the numerous cuts and deep bruises that cover the BOY's arms and face. He retracts his hand, his expression changing.

TEENAGER

Oh.

The BOY rolls back under the protection of the coat, hiding the injuries.

BOY

(whispering)

Allez-vous en.

The TEENAGER sits down on hay-cot next to the BOY, frowning. He continues to rub his arms. For a long time, he says nothing. The only sounds are of him rubbing and the BOY's ragged, labored breathing.

The TEENAGER unlaces his left shoe and removes it. He dumps it out on the haystack; a wax-paper pouch falls out. From his pocket, he retrieves what initially appears to be a foil-wrapped stick of gum, but — upon being unwrapped — is revealed to be a stack of carefully folded cigarette papers.

He opens the wax pouch, removing a pinch of tobacco and placing it one of these papers; he then rolls it into a tightly wound cigarette. His fingers are quick and nimble.

The TEENAGER looks to the BOY. His face remains buried in the hay; despite the coat, he's shivering. The TEENAGER proceeds to take another pinch of tobacco and begins rolling a second cigarette.

TEENAGER

You want a smoke?

The BOY doesn't respond.

TEENAGER

I had a pipe, but the penguins took that away. Fucking penguins. Now I gotta smoke cigarettes. Like some sorta Nancy.

No response.

The TEENAGER finishes rolling the cigarette. He lifts his right foot; wedged in the space between his ankle and the interior of the shoe are several matches. He plucks one up, strikes it several times against the wall behind him, and — when he finally gets it to ignite — places the cigarette between his lips, puffing and lighting it with the tip of the burning match.

He then plucks the cigarette out of his mouth and lights the second one. After snuffing the match, he takes several puffs, before reaching out with the first cigarette toward the BOY.

TEENAGER

Here.

The BOY stirs. His head peels back just a little bit from the hay, staring at the cigarette. It's clear now that his eyes are rimmed with pink.

TEENAGER

It'll help with the cold. I mean, not really, but it feels like it does. Which is good enough, heh.

The BOY hesitantly reaches out for the cigarette. He takes it and brings it to his mouth. When he puts it between his lips, he ends up sucking too hard — leading to a violent coughing spasm. This only worsens the pain from his bruises.

BOY

Nngh, fhhhhh—

TEENAGER

Jesus, relax. Don't make out with it. It ain't your sister.

The BOY slumps back to the haystack. He hesitantly tries again — this time, slower. He inhales — then exhales. Swirls of smoke emerge from his nostrils, spiraling toward the ceiling.

TEENAGER

That's it.

The BOY seems to relax. His breathing is no longer quite as hard. He steady puffs on the rolled cigarette.

TEENAGER

Why'd they throw you down here?

Still puffing slowly, the BOY frowns and looks down.

BOY

(hoarse)

Because I'm wicked.

The TEENAGER appears amused.

TEENAGER

Wicked? The penguins told you that? I drank the last of their sacramental wine and filled the jug back up with piss. The fuck you do, kid?

The BOY hesitates. With a slow, deliberate movement, he reaches out from underneath the tattered coat and plucks up the snuffed match the TEENAGER tossed to the floor. He then holds it up for the TEENAGER to see. He concentrates on it, his russet-brown temple wrinkling with focus.

Suddenly, the match is gone — and in its place is a smoldering cigarette. The TEENAGER jerks back in surprise — only to realize the match is now between his lips.

TEENAGER

Wha —

The TEENAGER springs to his feet, leaping back and away. The BOY, clearly alarmed by this response, retreats under the coat.

TEENAGER

How —

BOY

(softly)

Désolé — I'm sorry — sorry, I didn't —

The BOY remains hidden under the coat, his face buried into the hay. For a while, he hears nothing.

Finally, he works up enough courage to lift his head up and peek out from under the coat.

The TEENAGER is crouched right next to him — holding the match up, giving him a crooked grin.

TEENAGER

Do it again.



[1928. New York City.]

[Brooklyn.]

MATTHIEU LAPIERRE awakens in the back seat of a cab. WILLY FROST sits besides him, staring out the window; a self-rolled cigarette is pressed firmly between his lips.

WILLY is watching the streets slip by, his eyes on the small, squat Property Clerk building.

MATTHIEU

We're here?

WILLY turns from the window and gives MATTHIEU his familiar crooked grin.

WILLY

Yeah.

They exit the cab and enter the lobby. Soon enough, they're escorted down into the basement.

The basement consists of a large office lit by several overhead lights; a dozen filing cabinets alongside half a dozen metal cages (containing all manner of evidence) are arranged in rows. Items stowed here include rifles, clothes, boxes, and even a model human skeleton.

There is a desk near the back. Half a dozen maps of New York City — accompanied with numerous markings and pins with colored threads connecting them — are plastered on the wall behind it. An evidence clerk is seated at the desk, leaned back and reading a book. This is OFFICER LAWSON.

As MATTHIEU and WILLY approach, the latter clears his throat.

LAWSON

Just throw it in the bin, I'll catalogue it later.

WILLY

We ain't here to make a deposit, 'Dick'. We're here to make a withdrawal.

This gets OFFICER LAWSON'S attention. The officer looks up from his book, eyebrows raising. He glances from WILLY to MATTHIEU, then back to WILLY.

LAWSON

'Scuse me?

MATTHIEU

Your officers were instructed to collect hair fibers from the trunk of Mr. Bernoulli's car.

MATTHIEU extracts a slip of paper from his pocket; it has a case number on it. He places it on LAWSON's desk; the detective glances at the slip of paper, then back at the two gentlemen, again. He frowns.

LAWSON

Oh. Yeah, they grabbed them this morning — one minute.

LAWSON sets the book down and rises to his feet, making his way toward one of the filing cabinets. He traces his fingers down a row of them, searching for the right one.

LAWSON

Happy to hand this one off to someone else. Good luck with her.

LAWSON has found the cabinet; he opens it with a rattle of glass, before plucking out a small corked bottle with strands of curly red copper hair inside.

Meanwhile, MATTHIEU and WILLY exchange glances, looking back at LAWSON. He isn't supposed to know about the girl they're trying to retrieve.

MATTHIEU

'Her'?

LAWSON hands the glass bottle over to MATTHIEU.

LAWSON

Yeah. Y'know.

LAWSON gestures toward the maps plastered on the wall behind him, his voice dropping lower.

LAWSON

(whispering)

Her.

WILLY looks annoyed. MATTHIEU, meanwhile, is now looking at the maps, his brow crinkling.

WILLY

No, I don't know. The fuck you talking about?

LAWSON appears surprised — and uncomfortable. Meanwhile, MATTHIEU moves past him, examining the maps.

LAWSON

Uh, I mean — I thought you — you guys know about... y'know. Right?

WILLY folds his arms across his chest.

WILLY

Your words. Use them.

LAWSON

You... really don't know? Uh. Okay.

LAWSON glances between WILLY and MATTHIEU. MATTHIEU continues to examine the map.

LAWSON

(softly)

Okay, you didn't hear this from me, but, uh. When you find a pile of charred corpses in New York City, there's really only one suspect.

WILLY

Why are you whispering?

MATTHIEU

There's a pin here at Novak Deli.

LAWSON turns to MATTHIEU.

LAWSON

Yeah, I just added that one this morning — she, uh, she got the Novaks.

Now both MATTHIEU and WILLY focus on LAWSON.

WILLY

Wait. What?

LAWSON is growing increasingly uncomfortable with his role.

LAWSON

Jakob Novak and his boys. They were all found dead in, uh, the alleyway next to Novak's Deli. Oskar Novak — his father — he's missing, too. I mean, we know it's her, we just...

WILLY steps forward, snatching LAWSON by the collar. He pushes the clerk back against his desk. LAWSON's hands snap up to grab at WILLY's wrists.

LAWSON

Shit!

MATTHIEU

William.

Still holding LAWSON by the collar, WILLY points at the model skeleton in one of the evidence cages.

WILLY

Start making some fucking sense or I swear to God I'm going to have Matt switch your skeleton out for that one just to see what the fuck will happen.

MATTHIEU

William, calm down.

LAWSON squirms in his grasp.

LAWSON

I... F-fuck, look, I just — I just track her as a hobby, you know? But you're not supposed to — you're not supposed to talk about her. She's — she's some sort of vigilante. Likes to burn people. Burn them alive. But you can't talk about her.

WILLY

Why the fuck not?

LAWSON

You don't talk about her. Nobody talks about her. You don't want to get her attention. Once she gets your scent — once she's after you — she just keeps coming. Nothing stops her. She's — she's —

WILLY's eyes narrow.

LAWSON

(whispering)

She's the devil. That's what they say. They call her the Whisper. She — she kills everyone. Anyone. Hoods. Cops. Bureaucrats. Businessmen. Rich, poor, she doesn't care. If you've done something terrible, anything terrible, she knows. She knows and she'll come for you.

WILLY

For fuck's sake.

WILLY lets go of LAWSON, stepping back and shaking his head. LAWSON slumps against his desk, straightening his uniform.

WILLY

Some bitch with a bucket of gasoline and a set of matches is on a killing spree and coppers are too scared to do a thing about it. You believe this shit, Matt?

MATTHIEU is examining the map once more, arms folded.

MATTHIEU

Mmm.

WILLY

Oh, come on. Don't tell me you're buying any —

MATTHIEU

Whoever she is, she's our suspect — the one who interrupted Mr. Night's shipment. I can use the hair to find the girl, but we'll also need all the information we can get on this woman.

MATTHIEU turns to LAWSON, who looks more than a little terrified.

MATTHIEU

Fortunately, it appears we have an 'expert' in our midst. Tell us everything you know about 'the Whisper'.