“It can be done.” A voice came from the moss and earth behind the cricket. The cricket popped away from its place on the knot of a root, then dangled on a wire. Its eyes flashed and went dark, like small lenses lit up from behind. Earth and bits of moss began to fall away from the hole where the wire came through beside the root. Pink, living fingers poked through, stunningly large and soft next to the dangling electronic cricket.
A tuxedoed arm plunged through the earthen ceiling. Rocks and soil and bits of debris rained down into the dry grass. Sailor and I scuffled quickly out of the way. A whole man came through the ceiling, dropped onto the floor. He landed lightly on his feet and stood still for a moment, facing us. Earth and loam covered his tuxedo. A sheaf of heavily inked, rough-edged notebook papers protruded from one of his trouser pockets. One hand gripped some sort of remote control, wired to the cricket. With a soft click, the wire popped off the cricket’s body and whipped back into the box of the remote. A little electronic door snapped shut behind the wire. The remote had a handle and a screen packed with incredibly detailed visual information.
“I love this thing,” said Epson, smiling slightly, jamming the remote into the inside pocket of his tuxedo, where it created an ungainly bulge. He stooped down, pinched the robot cricket between his thumb and forefinger, and motioned for me to put my hand out. I did. He placed the insect, a tiny, elaborately engineered robot, at the center of my outstretched palm. I heard a tick. The cricket hopped once and then tipped over onto one side and was motionless. I handed it back to him.
“Some toy,” Sailor said sarcastically, covering her shock.
Epson ignored her with some effort. He pulled a fountain pen from another inside jacket pocket, and a piece of paper from one of his sleeves. A cuff link fell off and disappeared into the soft floor of the hollow. He muttered something about blasted cuff links and cultural decay. Then he looked up quickly. While his eyes had heavy bags and his face four days or so of stubble, his movements were bright, energized. He scratched at his tousled hair with his pen, licked its tip, and began scrawling notes, still standing on the pile of earth and debris he’d created when he’d plunged through the ceiling.
“Somewhat off script,” he said, still scrawling, “but well-played. The erotic sex scene was marvelous…my Bob-Martin nearly shot its cream…although I wouldn’t have written it in when you did it.” Then, a bit more quietly, he said, “That’s a beastly looking cock you have there, N. Err, no offense, all very erotic, but my goodness…the poor fellow’s ugly as sin. We could’ve given him a screen-test, you know, gotten a good wax penis to stand in for him.”
“It’s about sensation, not looks.”
“Err, right.” Epson went back to his notes. “Anyway, the drama between you, and all of that…again, the wishes were about getting out of the labyrinth, not about your relationship…which was a bit of a tangent…but, like I said, well-played, well-played.”
He finished up with his notes and stuffed them into his pocket with others. He capped his pen, put it behind his ear, and slowly took a seat in the dried grass. He blinked at us for a moment, sizing us up emotionally, then spoke again.
“Oh! And you did know that fellow Upi took a machine gun to Harlin Coke, did you not? Totally off-script as well, shot him in his Buick while he was standing at a red light up in Seattle, somewhere off Denny Way, dead of night, horrible scene, Bonny-and-Clyde sort of stuff, body jumping from the gunshots, whole car riddled with holes, shattered glass everywhere, blood dripping from under the car door, godawful stuff…though I suppose that’s child’s play to you Americans…” Epson trailed off, then cleared his throat and looked at us from under arched eyebrows.
“Anyway…you’re wearing condoms for the sex scenes, no? I mean, we don’t have hazard pay for that…if one of you catches the clap from all that ejaculating that’s going on? I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious, it’s just, well, you know…safety first!”
Sailor and I sat stock still and stared.
(Back Door: Enter Harlin Coke into the search bar.)