Evan Angler

Evan Angler is safe, for now. He lives without the Mark, evading DOME and writing in the shadows of Beacon. But if anyone asks, you know nothing about him. Don’t make eye contact if you see him. Don’t call his name out loud. He’s in enough trouble already. And so are you, if you read his books.

Evan Angler

George, the Not-Strictly-Legal Live-In Markless Butler

Anyone who’s read my book SWIPE might remember Dane Harold’s not-strictly-legal live-in Markless butler, George. But what do we really know about this man? Where is he coming from? And what makes him tick?

During a brief visit to Spokie recently, I was fortunate enough to find out first-hand.

I’d been hoping to research more deeply into the family lives and childhoods of Logan Langly, Hailey Phoenix, and Dane Harold in preparation for SWIPE’s upcoming sequel, SNEAK, which launches this September. Much of what I’d written about Spokie in SWIPE was pieced together from stories I’d heard and rumors I’d gathered, but I knew going into SNEAK that if I was serious about continuing my biography of these teenagers, I needed to see their hometown firsthand.

So the first chance I got, I train-hopped my way all the way out to that little New Chicago suburb, wide-eyed and eager, notebook in hand, ready for interviews, new sights, new smells, new whatever-it’d-be that might fly my way...

Only to find that all I was really in for was a rude awakening.

Once I arrived, the Spokie I saw before me wasn’t the Spokie I’d come to expect, or even the Spokie I’d written about in SWIPE. Its streets were crawling with officers from the Department of Marked Emergencies. Its famous Markless haven Slog Row was long since swept up and cleaned out, with not an Unmarked hand in sight. The Markless network I’d expected to tap into, to learn from, to chronicle from here on out...by the time I’d made my way west, that network no longer even existed.

It took me three days to find the Spokie School of Middle Development, and when I finally did, Ms. Carrol kicked me out the moment she saw my wrist.

It took me another two days to find my way to DOME’s Umbrella, but once I’d made it there, it was clear I couldn’t get within five blocks of the place without being picked up by an officer for trespassing first.

Logan’s parents wouldn’t talk to me, slamming the door in my face, narrowing their eyes and accusing me—along with anyone else who might come asking—of deliberately tarnishing the reputation of their son...

Hailey’s mom, Mrs. Phoenix, wasn’t anywhere near the Phoenix household, at least not while I was there, and while I assume she was spending her time working over at the nanomaterials plant outside of town, it’d be hard to know for sure, as I never once saw her.

All this is to say that, two weeks in, my grand Spokie adventure was shaping up to be little more than one disappointing door slam after another.

In fact, I’d just about given up. I’d just about thrown in the towel on thinking that any piece of what I might see or hear out west could possibly do any good at all for my preparations on the upcoming SNEAK.

But that was the moment—right there, that nadir—that I finally made my way to Old District, to that wealthiest, most Marked neighborhood in all of Spokie. No way Dane Harold’s parents will talk to me, I thought. But as long as no one else was talking either, I figured a simple knock on one more closed door couldn’t hurt.

What happened next surprised me.

I should have seen it coming. Of course the Harolds don’t come to their own door. Of course that would be the job of their Markless butler, George. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it earlier.

“My name is Evan,” I told the man through the screen grating. “I’m here to talk to the Harolds about their son, Dane.”

And George just smiled, unblinking. He glanced at my Unmarked hand, but he didn’t miss a beat.

“Mr. Angler,” he said. “I’ve been wondering when I might see your face...”

We snuck into the den unnoticed by Mr. or Mrs. Harold. They seemed to be giving George his space, especially since Dane’s disappearance a few months earlier. The house was impeccably clean, unnervingly quiet. George brought us hot tea in two little cups, with lemon on the side.

“I liked your book,” George said, a smirk crossing his face. “Inaccuracies aside.”

I laughed, sipping my tea, burning my tongue, not at all accustomed to the feeling of hot liquid or food. “I tried my best,” I told him. “Not so easy from where I was hiding out in Beacon at the time.” But below the surface, my heart was pounding. I was shocked that SWIPE had made it so far and so fast through the Markless circles in America, and suddenly found myself feeling more than a little self-conscious about it. “I hope I got the big things right,” I told him.

“Oh you did, you did,” George said quickly. “And I appreciated the cameo.”

The next few hours moved fast, my notepad filling quickly, my tea going cold. George told me of the years he spent watching Dane grow, about his role in the boy’s upbringing, about the balancing act of influencing Dane where he could without overstepping the bounds of an illegal Markless housekeeper.

But what strikes me most, looking back on those notes and scribbles now, was George’s own philosophy, his own perspective and aspirations, that came across only subtly at first.

Look at our country right now and ask yourself—what isn’t great about the American Union? Technology connects us, instantly, easily. Knowledge is more accessible than ever before. We are a nation at peace, at least on its own soil. We’ve never had more choices in entertainment, never had more avenues by which to pursue fulfillment. Life expectancy has never been longer, and comforts, for the Marked at least, never more complete.

And yet who here is happy? Really, truly happy? How quickly we’ve taken for granted the conveniences we’ve been given. Fast as technology gets, we complain when it isn’t faster. Sublime as entertainment can be, we feel cheated when it doesn’t live up to our own unrealistic expectations. Readily available as knowledge is, our quest for new horizons of understanding is approached, largely, with apathy. I pass no judgments in these matters; I am as guilty of them as anyone, and anyway, I believe such behavior is natural.

Because, after all, how important are these comforts, really? How could we not walk through life even the least bit unfulfilled, when we’ve been trained to aspire towards what are, at the end of the day, only transient joys.

George lives without the Mark. His freedom is limited, since he lives in a town that no longer readily accepts his Markless nature. His job consists—these days, with Dane gone—mostly of cooking the same few meals for his boss, cleaning the same few rooms that are hardly messy to begin with....It is a small existence with a short field of view.

And yet in my afternoon alone with him, George struck me as the happiest person I’ve seen in this American Union for years and years. In SWIPE, George told Dane that there were more important things than material wealth. In my visit with him, he confirmed it.

Real freedom, of course, comes from a spiritual wealth that money and Marks can do little to buy.

The truth is that we are a part of a world that is bigger than us, cogs in a great, big, churning machine beyond our material comprehension. No matter what frills we put on our place in the gears, no matter what creature comforts we attain to dress the spokes, it will never be the simple spinning of that gear that fulfills us. It is the machine itself that churns happiness, and it is our place within it that allows us our slice. But until we see the bigger picture as George sees it, our own view of the wheel shows, and will only ever show, little more than the daily grind.

In my visit to Spokie, I was hoping to find the real motivation behind Dane’s actions in SWIPE. I was hoping to have some insight, so that I might better understand what he goes on to do in my second book SNEAK.

It turns out the answer rested with George. After all the closed doors and disappointments of my short stay in Spokie, it turns out that this quiet, not-strictly-legal live-in butler was the answer to it all. He’d rubbed off on his young master Dane more than he knew. More than Dane knew. More than I knew.

Let’s hope George rubs off a bit on the rest of us, as well.