Tuesday, August 23, 2011


There wasn’t much happening downtown. The financial sector hadn’t let out yet, and tourism season hadn’t begun. Only a few stray university students along with some residents milled about doing chores or trying to relax for a moment. On the roof of a department store a man dressed in black slipped a ski mask over his head and lifted a bullhorn. He stepped out over the edge of the store and peered down at the people walking around. No one looked up at him. He pulled a sack closer to him and raised the bullhorn to his mouth.

“Attention!” the bullhorn shouted. “Attention, people of Duluth!” A few people raised their heads as they plodded along but failed to find the source.

“I have in this sack a total of ten thousand dollars in ten dollar bills, and I am about to throw them into the street,” the man on the roof said, not dismayed by the lack of attention. A middle aged man dressed in jean shorts and sandals stopped on the sidewalk. He looked up at the figure on the roof and put his hands on his hips and cocked his head sideways. Just as he was about to yell up at the figure, some green pieces of paper fluttered about him.

He stooped down and picked one up, expecting to see a fake looking bill on one side and an advertisement on the other. Instead what he picked up had the unmistakable cloth feel of real money and the printing to match. He picked up another bill and saw it too was real. He glanced behind him quickly to see if anyone else was paying attention to this, then started grabbing at the money around him. He could feel more money landing on his back and saw it fall right in front of him. He couldn’t believe his luck as every bill he picked up was replaced with two more.

Across the street a woman saw the money falling and the middle aged man grabbing quickly at it. She cautiously walked across the street, never taking her eye off the money raining down. She caught a bill in her hand and looked at it intently. It must be a forgery, she thought. Still, she let out a squeal and snatched more bills out of the air as they rained down. Soon the attendants in the grocery store joined in and the small crowd attracted more attention. The middle aged man noticed fewer bills were finding their way down to him and was annoyed. He stood up quickly and his head collided with the jaw of the first woman.

Even with a bit tongue and chipped tooth she howled and punched the man in the back. Their personal altercation was soon drowned out by more and more people walking, then running to the sight of the flash mob. Above, the man dressed in black threw the last handful of money and stepped back from the edge. He turned the bag inside out and put the bullhorn inside and ran to the other edge of the building. Down below he took off his black clothing and covered the bullhorn in the bag, then walked off ignoring the shouting on the other side of the building.

A few hours later the police tallied the injuries: one heart attack, two broken bones, a stitched-up tongue, and multiple bruises. The event made the local evening news. The people who were lucky enough to grab some money and escape injury were happy, and word-of-mouth spread to their acquaintances, but didn’t go past the borders of Duluth. Some tried to search for a meaning behind the event or look for the person who did it, but nothing came up and soon the lingering exultation was all that remained.

Two days later, on a similar street at the same time, the same man climbed onto a building in Fort Worth, Texas, armed with the same bullhorn and carrying the same sack of money. The residents of Fort Worth—at least those on the street at that moment—had not heard of the events in Duluth and would never imagine such a thing happening to them. After the same short announcement the man began throwing ten dollar bills onto the street below.

This street was a little more crowded as it was the weekend as a craft beer event was going on a few blocks away. A few people had stopped to look up at the man just before he threw the money, and one woman, a mother of two and amateur seamstress, yelled “Oh my God!” in a high pitched voice once she felt the money. The scene was very similar to Duluth: distant spectators were skeptical and walked forward slowly, then ran as their hearts began to pound, hoping to snatch some free money. A patrolling police officer also ran towards the crowding thinking there was a fight. Once he saw the money, he also took a few bills and slipped them into his uniform.

After the money stopped, a shouting match started between two people—a young man and woman of no relation—who had grabbed two of the same bills. Neither were willing to let go of them. They screamed in each other’s faces and tugged on the bills as hard as they could but their unnaturally strong grip on the bills refused to release. The woman became fed up and kicked the man in the crotch. He doubled over in pain just as the policeman stepped between them and pushed over the woman, causing her to let go of the bills as she fell. The bills were grabbed as soon as they left her hands and the victors ran away immediately.

This event also made the local evening news, but no one was able to connect it with the event in Duluth, and it was quickly forgotten by everyone but the people involved.

It wasn’t until the third event two days later, this time in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that any national coverage of the events took place. An intrepid reporter saw the obvious link between them: spaced two days apart, always happening at two in the afternoon local time, and approximately the same amount of money was thrown out. Someone with a camera phone captured some grainy footage of the man on the roof, but no more evidence came out that would point to why these events were happening. The reporter was unable to offer any convincing theories.

True to form, the man climbed up another building two days later, this time in Newport, Kentucky. As he was going through his spiel, a young man—a nineteen year old McDonalds cook—remembered the news report the night before and instantly knew what was about to happen.

“This is it! This is the guy!” he yelled to no one in particular. Just then the money started to sprinkle down. With one hand grabbing randomly at the bills, he fished in his pocket for his cell phone. There his friends would believe he was actually there without some proof. Other people on the street had also seen the news report and ran to the falling money. Soon the crowd was so thick the young man wasn't able to film the event or grab any money; he was pressed on all sides by his rabid townsfolk. Still, he stared up in elation as the masked man’s hand receded and came back out laden with bills; and as they tumbled down slowly rotating in the wind, a tear came to his eye.

The fourth event cemented the media frenzy. Reporters struggled to interview one person who had caught a bill from each event. They became instant celebrities to their friends and families, who forced them to tell their tales over and over again. Most were breathless, happy that their fifteen minutes finally came. No one focused on the slew of injuries that resulted in each instance. One woman was less than excited when she saw that her medical bill for a broken rib was orders of magnitude more than the paltry amount she had caught.

After the fifth event (Rockford, Wisconsin), in nearly every mid-sized town in the lower forty-eight states, a crowd gathered near the town center every two days, congregating under what they hoped would be the roof that the mysterious philanthropist would choose. In the minutes before two o-clock, strangers would chat with each other, wondering who the person could be and why he was doing it. The general consensus was that it was all a stunt and the truth would be much more mundane than imagined. No one gave money away, absolutely no one, without wanting some in return. They admitted though, if a company was truly behind this, their stock would soar when the truth was inevitably revealed.

The sixth event went badly for the man in black. The crowd in downtown Rapid City, South Dakota was one like never before, in the town’s history nor in the last ten days, and they were there just for him. No one knew where he would end up, or even if he was in the town, so they milled formlessly on the main street. When he appeared on a rooftop, a collective scream let out loud enough that his bullhorn wasn’t able to pierce it. The crowd grew so thick that people on the edges knew they would never make it in before all of the bills were gone. Some abandoned the streets and ran around the buildings trying to cut him off once he was finished. They thought perhaps by capturing him they would receive a reward, or at least an interview on a popular morning show.

Once his bag was empty he turned around to climb off the building but noticed a few people running in the alleyway, using the dull roar from the other side of the building to guide them. He hesitated, debating whether they would stare in awe, ask him for an autograph, or attack him. Instead of risking their advances, he ran across the roof to an adjacent building—having to jump a narrow gap—and climbed down there. He was sighted though, just as he set foot on the ground. A strong emotion arose in everyone in the alleyway, not of fear, nor of happiness, but a primal urge of hunter and hunted. The man in black started to run and the few people in the alleyway pursued. He dodged past a straggler, never stopping to look back. Adrenaline flowed on both sides, each causing their legs to pump with extra fervor neither knew existed, but the man in black won out.

He dodged between two buildings and tore furiously on breakaway clothes he had on just for this purpose. Stuffing each article into his bag, he aimed straight for the center of the crowd, now beginning to break up after the collective madness. No one cared much for his quickened pace, shortness of breath, or the bag he held in his hands. Others brought bags as well, thinking they would grab so much cash they would need it. Once mingled into the crowd, he was gone, his pursuers emerging from the buildings just as he faded into the camouflage of urban life.

To some, he was a celebrity, a hero, a role model. To others, he was a cancer, a sick product of a superficial culture. To everyone though, his life was a mystery. No one knew who he was, what he looked like, what his unmodulated voice sounded like, or where his money came from. Hundreds of imposters came forth, each less convincing than the last. Copycats clambered to rooftops every day at two o-clock and basked in the boos and heckles when the crowds realized their falsitude. The entire country waited for an explanation, and if they had to wait any longer, his flash-célébrité would be violently extinguished as fast as it was lit.

Some say the event in Aberdeen, Idaho was a conversation between the man in black and society. No one heard the bullhorn or saw the money thrown; most of the citizens didn’t care to go out at two o-clock with the rest of the nation because no one cared about Aberdeen. But when money started to blow past Aberdeen Middle just as fifth period let out, the students who had been bombarded with the Man in Black by the media and their friends for the last two weeks knew exactly what had happened. The wind whipped the unclaimed money into a vortex, scattering it down the streets and into the trees. A few people valiantly tried to contain the windfall, but it soon became apparent that it would never be contained, that Nature claimed this event, and the Man in Black spent ten thousand dollars to make a point only he knew. For the next few years, lucky citizens of Aberdeen would find a crumpled bill somehow overlooked in a shrub.

An interesting dynamic built up: how does the public grow tired of someone who gives out money with no strings attached, on a regular schedule? The initial euphoria began to fade in the public conscious, and the truth began to set it: if he was really just one man, with only one fortune, then he couldn’t possibly visit all of the cities in the United States. His fortune would eventually run out, or he would be shot by a crazed assassin. How many more money drops would there be before one day the news failed to report one? Diehards went into the streets every other day and waited, some at early hours to secure a coveted spot below a hopeful roof. After the rush died down, those cities who hadn’t been dropped upon slowly stopped forming crowds. Some said they didn’t care about the Man in Black any more. They militantly ignored all mention of him. His name—or lack thereof—became synonymous with the hundreds of old pop singers and sports stars who had faded to nothingness and were nothing more than faint memories in a generation growing up without them.

The reaction of the southern part of Reno, Nevada reflected this feeling. A crowd had formed, smaller than days before, but enough to incite the requisite mass panic inherent to the events. Something else was at play, though. On the outskirts of the crowd, people knew they couldn’t possibly reach the middle and catch anything. They knew they would go home with nothing. Instead, they decided to give something back to the Man in Black. Amid the roar a cluster of boos began to dominate and soon vegetables flew at the man as he worked. The first few pieces missed, but a well-placed potato struck him in the chest. He visibly reacted, looking up from his bag in the direction of flight. He was able to dodge a couple more vegetables, but it was apparent to the crowd that his rhythm had been broken. Little less than half of the cash had been distributed, but the man in black decided to cut his losses and dump the rest.

The whole crowd began to boo as the money poured down below. Some booed out of disgust, some out of peer pressure. Others stood perplexed. A myriad of emotions flooded the crowd and nary a person could explain why. They only knew that the good times—despite being constant and fruitful—were coming to an end.

There was talk of arresting him, secret whispers in various justice departments. Some cities had built up contingencies in case he came, crimes they could pin on him so that they could be the one to take down the masked maniac. Others banned any sort of public gathering every two days. Lawyers and judges balked at the perversion of constitutional authority on display across the nation, solely to stop one person from throwing money—most likely his own—off a rooftop. Not only the general population turned against him, but also the doctors and nurses of the nearby hospitals, who had to deal with an influx of injuries all happening within a hundred foot radius of dumping sites. Heart attacks and bruises were the most common injury, but in two cases—Newport and Rapid City—people had been trampled nearly to death.

It was a sweltering day in Flagstaff, Arizona, but that didn’t stop the man in black from wearing his long dark clothing and trademark ski mask. The people on the street weren’t as jovial as other events. From a distance, a strange mist rose from their collective sweat evaporating into the dry air. Some people cursed themselves for buying into the hype and coming out on such a hot day. They couldn’t wait until a few minutes after two, when the crowd would decide he wasn’t coming and they could all descend back into their air-conditioned hovels.

When he appeared on the roof, instead of instantly starting into his speech, he stood as a statue—bag in one hand and bullhorn in other. A hush fell for a second, then doubts if he was the real Man in Black began to spread. Four days ago someone in Tucson had thrown down green leaflets for a local nightclub and was summarily booed, and many in Flagstaff felt the same thing was about to happen. After a half minute of him standing still, the first boo was belted out, then a chorus, all on the same frequency amplifying their disgust across town. But then he raised his bullhorn and the boos quit.

“Attention! Attention, people of Flagstaff!” he said. Half the crowd booed again; the other half’s faith was temporarily restored and they screamed in delight. The cash began to fall, the boos still rose up. No fruits or vegetables were lofted however, as the outliers of the group were too exhausted from the heat to try anything. Only those ennobled by the bills directly above them summoned the strength to fight against the desire to collapse in a pile of sweat.

When the crowd of people began to peel away, one body was left lying on the pavement. Some noticed it and passed on, others spoke to it and fewer shook its shoulder for signs of life. Someone called an ambulance after they noticed the body wasn’t breathing. She was an unemployed middle aged woman—pharmacist by trade—who had come out to the streets the last five gatherings. The official cause of death was heat stroke. There had been other injuries before, but she was the first death. She had three ten dollar bills in her pocket.

The Man in Black’s pause on the rooftop was puzzling to his fans and enemies. Aside from the thirty second gap, his performance was as expected. Some say he had clairvoyance, that he was looking at the woman he knew was about to die. Or perhaps he was admiring his handiwork. The tenth event was approaching in two days and many thought there would be something special planned. His waning popularity spiked a bit with conjectures about his next appearance.

On the morning of the tenth event, news stations buzzed with excitement, sending out camera crews to film the crowds starting to form hours before two o’ clock. Pundits commented on how quickly this new phase of consciousness bled across the country. Only eighteen days ago the Man in Black first stepped up on a rooftop and dominated the headlines. Since then auxiliary celebrities rose and fell, miniature fortunes were nabbed and spent, a rabid fever for money burned bright and failed to abate. For a moment, people were able to comfortably forget the horrors of the world, of the wars and famines and all the nasty things that never affected them but was still forced into their private sphere. A new, soft plateau blanketed with riches stretched before them, a gentle sprinkle of green snow floated down and caressed their cheeks. Despite the pain and anguish that came when the Man in Black failed to choose their city, a hope burned brightly in their hearts that one day he would visit them and lift them to the moneyed height in which he presided.

San Diego’s weather was the antithesis to Flagstaff’s blistering heat. The usual mild temperature dropped noticeably due to a low cloud cover moving in from the ocean. The citizens—unaccustomed to any temperature outside of a thin pleasant band—tugged on their fleeces and shivered once or twice as they waited the last fifteen minutes before two. Crowds were allowed to form downtown; freedom of assembly was harder to abate in a large and public city. However, the mayor had made a decision early in the craze that if He were ever to appear on the rooftops, a contingent of police officers would be waiting for him once he distributed his load. Police officers freely volunteered to stand around watching the crowds as it provided them an easy break from shuffling the local homeless population from one street corner to another.

Just as a nearby digital clock blinked two, a thin tall shadow covered the crowd. The citizens had to shield their eyes to see a person standing directly above the nucleus of the crowd. Just as in Flagstaff, the citizens were wary of fakes and a vein of skepticism coursed through them as he stood staring down through the slits of his ski mask. Two days ago they remembered the report of his eerie silence, and now, in the midst of an uncomfortable deafness, a glimmer of hope shone bright of the hearts of all. The only movement came from the police officers slowly ascending the building waiting for the show to end.

“Attention! Attention people of San Diego!” A roar interrupted his speech. He put his hands up imploring for silence.

“Please, please. Allow me to speak!” The crowd was confused; this was not his normal speech they had seen on the news so many times before. A bit more hand waving and the crowd quieted down enough for a single bull horn to be heard.

“You have been wondering who I am for the last eighteen days, and for good reason. I have decided to reveal myself before you, and to the world.” He slowly lifted his ski mask above his head and dropped it to the roof. He had short brown hair, frizzled from the mask, and matte-black eyes. The humble beginnings of wrinkles were forming around his eyes as he squinted at the crowd. No feature could distinguish himself from any other person in the city. Some people were disappointed in his lack of golden flowing hair and chiseled jaw.

“My name is Marcus Dmitri Branson, son of Caroline Lynn Branson and Patrick Robert Branson, and I stand before you a pauper. I have spent a great deal of money to travel the country so that I can give away the rest of my wealth. When I throw my remaining ten thousand dollars down I will be penniless, and those of you fortunate enough to catch a bill will be infinitely wealthier than I am.”

He put down the bullhorn and with one deft swoop, flung the bag filled with bills into the air with a tall arc. With every turn a few bills spilled out and drifted away from the bag. All eyes shifted from him to the bag and a hundred different calculations anticipated where the bag would land and if it was possible to reach it. Moments before the bag struck the crowd hands were thrown up and bodies balanced precariously on toes. It was impossible to jump to the bag as the pressure on all sides kept everyone locked to the ground. When the bag struck it seemed to explode in a green flash, money scattered everywhere and the pit of people nearly collapsed trying to grab it all. Nails and fists were thrown; loose strands of hair were pulled; a guttural pulse of angry voices was overpowered by shrieks of unconstrained emotion. The crowd, once composed of individual entities, morphed into an amoeba-like blob of shifting colors feasting upon a bit of green food.

Above, police officers closed slowly on the Man in Black with cuffs in hand. The first officer peered over the lip of the roof and saw only a collapsed body. As the crowd raged below, a thin stream of blood ran to meet the officer. The bullhorn lie face down in a dark crimson pool and the body acted as a dam to a congealing pool of blood. After some inspection, the officer noticed a gunshot wound on the underside of the jaw, and a revolver gripped tightly in the hands of the Man in Black.

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