Chester woke up only a little later. He had been lying flat on his face on the rug in Mitchell’s office. He pulled himself to his feet. The clock on the huge desk told him something he did not at first believe, that only five or so minutes had actually gone by. He was shaking and sweaty. He sat down in the big log chair and tried not to think too much about what was happening to him. He pulled himself together and found his cellphone without too much trouble and called Willi up in Beaverteeth and told her the good news; he had bagged three authentic celebrities for the parade.
“Chester, I’ll say it one more time,” Willi said. “There is no parade. They had a meeting and some of them have gone over to Midden and are trying to get their pathetic floats in the new Midden parade. Lorene Supplemeir called three times to tell you that she’s very hurt and upset.”
“You call Lorene and tell her I’ll be home tomorrow. They cancelled the parade?”
“They cancelled the parade. Iím not going to call her. She’s got a new boyfriend, you know that, don’t you, Chester?”
“I didn’t know that. No.”
“Well, face the facts Chester. In general.”
He hung up and for a moment leaned his head out the window. The air outside was strangely warm. He could barely remember the cold and rain of the season up north. This was a peculiar benefit of Hollywood, he remembered, this comfortable feeling of temperate normalcy – unless you were from the East Coast. People from back East never felt comfortable here, he thought. He was a West Coaster and was acclimatized instantly, he was native to the whole coast, he thought. It was practically the Romance of the West. His hand hurt. He splashed water on his face from the marble sink in Mitchell’s private bathroom and then he downed some aspirins he found in Mitchell’s desk. He found some other medication and he swallowed a couple or three capsules and then set off at a half-trot down the log ramps and through the expensive appurtenances of Fort Honeyacre. Once outside, he took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves and was even marvelling that the huge elms above him had already leafed out as if it were truly summer when he realized that their leaves were plastic and their trunks were exact replicas of real trunks. His mind was racing. In a way, things were going his way. He had shaken loose of Baxter, for instance. His luck was operating smoothly, bad as it was. He decided to take advantage of this proposed camping trip with Mitchell, one of the most famous people in the known world, and someone who, suddenly, seemed to even like him a little. He could have cried, he thought sarcastically, but it was probably the pills kicking in.
It was easy to catch up to Mitchell and Rosie and Jim Rook and Val because Mitchell had slowed down, drifting dreamily from acquaintance to admirer met on the lot, slowly edging his way back to work, happily introducing Rosie Everlasting and Jim Rook to everyone who stopped to talk and followed all the while by the five-person crew from “Amusement Now!” who, it seemed, were to be dogging the great man through this day, gathering footage for a TV tabloid story about him and his success and today’s triumphant finish of his latest picture, “Jack O’Saurus II, The Awakening!” Mitchell was carefully delighted with the attention. The camera of “Amusement Now!” sensed celebrity all around and focused often on Jim Rook, who was charming and modest, and on Rosie Everlasting, who was reputed to be on the verge of a movie comeback. They all, the whole crowd gathered – a couple of writers and an actor or two and three guys from marketing and a drapy studio executive and some others Chester couldn’t identify – all walked together slowly, pretending that the cameraman was not swinging the snout of his camera from one to the other of them, oblivious, seemingly, to the lance of the boom mike and its operator in shorts tracking them while walking backwards, they blithely pretended that the Tabloid Nation was not, in absentia, watching them surround and bolster the guy “Amusement Now!” was really excited about. And Mitchell’s embrace was wide. Mitchell looked really happy that people, even these, were excited about him and his doings.
“Look,” he said delightedly, as Chester drew nigh. “It’s my big brother Chester. We’re all going to be in Chester’s parade!” The camera swung toward Chester.
“Yes,” said Chester, to the camera. “Yes, we’re all going to be in a parade. It’s the Beaverteeth ???” and here he paused because there was no parade. “It’s the Beaverteeth, Washington Parade.” It sounded flat, he thought “It’s the greatest. We’re all very excited about it, that’s for sure.” Everyone agreed with him. His luck was holding just fine.
Looming up ahead was the legendary hulk of Stage Six. The Babylonian touches on this, the biggest stage on the lot – indeed, probably the biggest in town – were left over from the days of the big silent epic movies of the Old Hollywood, films now largely forgotten. While succeeding administrations, like toppled governments, had left their ephemeral garnishments on the building, nothing could overcome the architectural grip of the deep past. The Original Builders had studded this great tomb with plaster torches gripped by bodyless hands thrusting out from the upper regions. Symbols of mystery – eyeballs and ibises – fought for wall space with cast plaster medallions and coats of arms; replicas of battleaxes and maces and the thousand iron cruelties of the imaginary past graced its heights. Stage Six looked like a mausoleum, a monument to the tastes of those who enjoyed pictures like “Sword of the Arrow” or “The Curse of the Illuminati,” the kind of movies favored by forgotten people in the long ages before television. Chipped plaster gorgons and medieval nondescripts glared down upon Mitchell as he paraded toward the side entrance, trailing his entourage like the tail of a comet, clothed in what Chester calculated was a seven thousand dollar jacket flung over a thousand dollar shirt, each of his shoes worth four figures and on his head an elaborate baseball cap studded with all the gold braid of an aircraft carrier’s commander. He sported a wristwatch whose pawned value might support Chester for a year.
“The kids just love the picture business. They’re inside, Ches, soaking it all up,” Mitchell proclaimed. The kids’ mother, Rosie Everlasting, followed him obediently enough, not actually holding hands with Jim Rook, but kind of pressing against him now and again, sort of letting her hand fall close to his big one. Now and again.
She did not snap at Mitchell or lace the air with acerbic remarks about someone who saw so little of his own kids that he had to make it up to them in one insanely elaborate lump every year. She smiled and entranced the camera of Amusement Now! To both Honeyacre brothers’ horror and yet satisfaction, she seemed quite taken with Jim Rook and he, for his part, was quite obviously in love. It was true love, evidently. He was acting in a careful and gentlemanly manner, a pose he seemed to be able to call forth more easily than Chester might think, given the bizarre lunacy of much of his recent behavior. Chester was impressed. He had seen more than one man come on to Rosie and he found himself thinking to his great surprise that Rook actually loved her at first sight, in the way of a third-grade boy for his third-grade teacher. Already, the big guy had dropped four precise quotations from her songs into the conversation and his rugged bulk seemed to circle around her like a protective wagon train braced for battle.
“Here’s my kids!” shouted Mitchell. “Look, your mom’s here, isn’t that great? And Uncle Chester. And look who’s with them!”
Chester immediately noticed the physical changes in Corvin and Bela. They were larger, changed, different beings entirely. Chester realized that he had let them get away from him. He was letting way too much in his life get past him, he realized. Corvin was fourteen now and Bela twelve, so he calculated, and he saw, as he hugged them in the glare of the “Amusement Now!” lights when they came rushing to see him – shocked that their mother had shown up from New York and amazed to meet the fabled Jim Rook in person – that they were grown. Once he had held them on his shoulders at Disneyland watching the fireworks disappear into the California summer nights, once he had tended them on the beaches of Mystery Island when they were the size of baby rabbits. He hugged Bela most, for she was his baby. He punched Corvin around the shoulders and butted heads with him and laughed and made jokes because Corve was the son he’d never had.
His whole family momentarily and mysteriously united, Mitchell led them all into the cavernous recess of Stage Six, pursued by the glare of the lights of Amusement Now! They nearly tripped over the thick electrical cables and big black box-plugs from which emanated the promise of unlimited voltage; they filed around the skeletal walls made by hundreds of silvery light stands; they trooped past the temporary staging areas for the props and building and scenic materials and costumes and makeup and human habitation and officework that all go into the daily making of dreams. When finally they made their way out into the vast space that was the active area of the soundstage, they stepped into something that was entirely another world, or so it seemed to Chester, who should have known a thing or two about other worlds.
Chester’s head began acting quite peculiar again. One minute it thought that it was very large and somewhat detached and the next it thought it was Chester. This separation of head from self was at the root of his problem, he thought. He wondered momentarily if perhaps he didn’t have two heads, neither of which would admit there was another. Perhaps he was crazy. There you go, he thought glumly. That was more like it.
As the great room opened out before him, dwarfing him, he realized that twice now in two days he had shivered from the sensation of stepping out from a dark tunnel into a vast open space sheltered from above. The entire area of the stage, as big as half a football field, was the arena for a wonderful, complicated scene; a huge setting had been built there for “Jack O’Saurus II, The Awakening!” All over the stage, people were attentive at their casualness, as if looking out the sides of their eyes at the genius who had thought this all up and provided work for a period now stretching – for some of them – into three years. Mitchell Honeyacre had entered upon his kingdom.
For a moment, Chester thought that what he saw before him might be real and he had the sensation of walking across that invisible line to the Adjacent and Additional World. But then he realized, as lights began to come on, that what he was looking at seemed to be nothing more than a huge scale model of the same kind of forest floor into which he had fallen face-first with such stunning consequences on the day before this one. It was eerie. The centerpiece of this great wet forest of moss and fungus and tree was a gigantic mushroom, perhaps twenty feet tall, under the catwalks and lights some fifty feet above. Technicians worked busily in this forest, among false moss and dead branches and cranes and ladders. There were three-foot high mushrooms so realistic that they even exuded moisture, they pulsed and breathed. Little animals ran around and at first he didn’t realize that they were actually robots. All seemed to be in a great underground room, a mine in fact.
And the tall red-haired woman was standing at the base of the huge mushroom, staring up at it. Above her floated the camera, strapped to a glistening crane. She straddled gleaming aluminum rails hidden in the moss on which the entire camera and crane assembly must surely ride. Grips – presumably so-called because it is their responsibility to actually hold the sacred camera, to move it and rig it and fly it and pan it and coddle it-and-its-operators – stopped tossing little soft nerf drifterball skulls across the smaller mushrooms and manuevered the crane and camera into a starting position, now that Mitchell was here. Chester stared at the huge mushroom, its textured and weeping construction, like flesh, the hidden flesh of secret parts of a body too large to be seen or even comprehended. Lights came up in a washed pool and for the first time he could see the red-haired woman very clearly as she talked concernedly with various technicians. She looked so familiar to him by now that he felt he certainly knew her. He liked looking at her. She was tall. Not like Rosie. Also she was not, like Rosie, cuddling up to Jim Rook. The red-haired woman had a clipboard under one arm, and now pointed down to her feet where a vast field of what seemed to be moss and ferns carpeted the floor of this outsized forest. Someone responded by pushing buttons somewhere else and the place at which she pointed suddenly pulsed, like a wave. The detritus of the floor actually moved as if it were alive and then parted like a black sea and the huge mushroom quivered and began to shrink itself down into the earth. It magically disappeared from view. The earth closed over it and the whole thing was gone. This made him feel very strange and for a moment he again thought he was in the Adjacent and Additional World, but it might have been the pills. He asked Val who the red-haired woman was. She was the mushroom expert, Val told him. Val called her “Karen” or “K-M” and talked of her with some respect.
“She is a scientist, actually,” said Val. “She’s been very helpful on this show. Mitchell quite likes her which is unusual,” she said, “because lately Mitchell only likes whores.” By this remark Chester assumed she was talking about Amber Bernstein, the movie star who had lately jilted Mitchell in full view of the Tabloid Nation. He assumed as well that Amber Bernstein was the reason Mitchell was smoking and talking about drugs and wanting to make cop pictures and feigning mental illness. Mitchell wasn’t in love with her, was he? No, are you kidding? said Val. He was way too short and she was way too old. He got Val to quickly fill him in.
“Jack O’Saurus II,” she said, “is down to its last day of shooting on its most expensive set, considerably over budget, and as well the source of considerable worry for Charlie Christianstein because the New Foreign Owners of The Studio are starting to take a hard line about costs.”
Everyone was hoping against hope that this was indeed the last day of production, that this shot was the last shot, and there was therefore a gathering air of frustration and celebration all over the huge stage. Men in shorts stood idle under the huge trees of lights, rolls of tape and tools and light meters strapped around their waists, waiting for Mitchell to give the signal to begin again, waiting for him to stop introducing Jim Rook and Rosie Everlasting and his kids to everyone he saw.
With the giant mushroom tucked away, Karen Mae found her position among the computer technicians behind their banked screens at the side of the stage and asked one of the guys in the art department if that wasn’t Rosie Everlasting who had just come in with Mitchell and who, besides, was the big balding guy with them? He told her yes, that was surely Rosie Everlasting and wasn’t that Jim Rook? No, she said, the other guy and he said oh yeah, that big balding guy, thatís Mitchell Honeyacre’s brother.
Chester Honeyacre, she thought to herself. That’s Chester Honeyacre, she thought. Oh my God. That’s who that is.