(Click here to read our previous episode; go here to return to the beginning of this third-place prize winner of the Lucky Strikes Sprawling Epic Award.)
Frank paused, then, spreading his hands, he looked around the table.
“Did I tell ya this lady was smart? Wha’d I tell ya?”
Daphne rolled her eyes.
Harvey picked at the label of his Falstaff Beer bottle.
Dick lit a cigarette and, toying with his scuffed old Ronson lighter, he stared intently at Frank.
“And, yes,” Frank went on, “Mr. Ridpath, sometimes we pick up an -- oh, how shall I put it -- an exceptional earthling -- and, with a device we call the ‘Brain Flusher’, we -- well, we kinda sorta empty out the entire contents of the subject’s brains into one of these teeny tiny little ‘computer chips’ they call ‘em. Then back home a client just clips on a special sorta helmet kinda thing, presses a button, and -- wham -- he’s actually living the earthling subject’s life -- including his dreamlife, might I add.” Frank took a sip of his Dom Perignon. “Except it’s better than actually living life ‘cause ya got a rewind button for the good parts, and a fast-forward for the dull shit --”
“Uh-huh. Okay,” said Dick. “So, when I -- disappeared -- back in January ‘65, it was -- you guys -- um, flushing out my -- my brain.”
“That is correct, sir,” said Frank. “And you might be pleased to know that those contents of your brain -- in essence your very life, every moment you lived up until January 9, 1965 -- have been in the top ten for the past four-and-a-half years!”
“Fabulous,” said Dick. “Do I get any royalties?”
A ripple of nervous laughter coursed around the Pack.
Dick didn’t laugh, though, and neither did Daphne or Harvey.
Frank leaned forward, with a serious-looking demeanor.
“Mr. Ridpath, as I have said before, we are not pikers; and we shall address the issue of -- oh -- compensation -- forthwith.”
He now leaned back, smiling, expansive.
“Well,” said Dick, "I must say this explains a lot.”
“I’ll tell you what it explains --” said Daphne.
“Is that an empty glass I see before you, Mrs. Ridpath?” said Frank. He stood up halfway, picked up the magnum that stood on the table next to Daphne and filled her glass. “Leave it not be said. Mr. Ridpath, may I?”
Dick waved his hand, and Frank freshened his glass.
“And young Master Harvey?”
“I’m good,” said Harvey, who had only drunk about two-thirds of the one glass Arnold Stang had poured him a while ago.
“Just to wake up the bubbles,” said Frank, and, bending awkwardly over the table he dumped way too much champagne into Harvey’s glass causing six or seven ounces of the exquisite wine to foam up out of the glass and down onto the table cloth.
“Fuck,” said Harvey.
Frank shoved the bottle back into one of the entirely unnecessary ice buckets the waiters had put down and then finally he sat the fuck back down.
“But really,” he declaimed, “all I have thus far mentioned -- as fabulous as it all is -- is still only just part of our fabulous operation here.”
Dick leaned back in his chair, smoking, looking away from the table and off into the smoky and gaudy crowd.
“I mean,” said Frank, “if you’re innerested --”
“Oh. Please,” said Dick, “continue.”
“Ya see, Dick --” said Frank, ”may I call you Dick?”
Dick waved his cigarette indulgently, as if to say, more champagne, more bullshit, call me Dick, whatever.
“It’s kinda like in Vegas,” said Frank. “Now f’rinstance the slots are just great for most people -- just as the real-life dramas --”
“And comedies,” said Joey.
“Whatever --” said Frank, “alla this product we beam back home is great for most people, as are your wonderful earthling books and films and TV shows -- as are the, uh, 'brain-flushings' -- but -- just as the slots are not enough for some earthling high-rollers, so it is also with some of our people.”
“They want more action,” said Dean.
“Yeah,” said Dick. “I guess I would too if I had no life.”
“Heh heh. Whatever,” said Frank. “And so, to accommodate these high-rollers -- and in point of fact all these good people you see around you at the tables right now are just such high-rollers -- we have got a very special vacation package whereby we bring folks in from our world, give’em human forms and send ‘em down to earth for a while. So it’s kinda like watching a movie where you are actually in the movie. It’s real. Alla these wonderful people here are undergoing our 'how-to-act-like-an-earthling' orientation, and when they’re ready they’ll go down and actually live among you wackos for a while. Some of our guests dig it so much they spend twenty-thirty years on earth.”
“Maybe more,” said Richard Conte.
“Maybe more,” assented Frank.
“They get the bug,” said Joey.
“Yeah, we call it the Earth Bug,” said Frank. “Some people just can’t get enough.”
“O’ dat funky stuff, daddy,” said Sammy.
“Fine with us,” said Frank, “as long as they keep their monthly payments up.”
“Um --” Dick tapped his cigarette into an ashtray. “These -- uh -- faux earthlings --”
“Yes sir,” said Frank.
“Do you -- um, have I -- do you --” He went ahead and just stubbed out his cigarette, he really didn’t want it any more. “Do you think I might have ever met any of these -- uh -- these --”
“You most certainly have,” said Frank.
Daphne raised her champagne to her lips.
“Dare I ask,” said Dick --
“Howzabout,” said Frank, “Mrs. Ridpath’s own father?”
Daphne sprayed a mouthful of fine champagne across the table.
(Continued here, because we owe it to Daphne.)