The voice of Desdemona was close now; she was knocking on his bedroom door and shouting, “Joffrey, what are you doing?”
And then he woke up.
The knocking persisted. He was in his office. The wetness on his cheek was, in fact, the surprising quantity of drool that had spilled from his mouth. It was pooling onto the stack of paper that had been his makeshift pillow; on top of the stack was the Möbius Cog schematic. In a sudden panic, he grabbed the end of his tie and wiped away the liquid, relieved that it hadn’t blurred out some consequential phrase or equation.
The knock came again. “Joffrey! Door is locked. I know you are there.” It was Desdemona, at his office door.
“I was just napping,” said Joffrey, his voice hoarse. “What is it?”
“This man is to see you,” said Desdemona. “Roger. You remember.”
Unthank’s eyes went wide. He looked at the calendar on his desk (“A Prairie Home Companion Joke-a-Day!”) and saw that it cited the date as being Wednesday. The fifth day of his commission; the deadline for the production of the Cog.
“Uh,” he muttered while he braced his hands on the desk, taking stock of his surroundings. “Yeah. Go ahead and send him in.” He straightened his tie, still damp from its use as a sponge, and flattened the rumpled mess of his hair. He then pushed himself out from behind his desk and walked to the office door. He threw the latch, unlocking it.
Before long, the door swung open. Desdemona gave him a searching look, briefly, before ushering the visitor into the room.
“Roger,” said Joffrey, doing his best to feign attentiveness. The pall of the dream still hung over him; he was having a hard time fully transitioning back to his strange reality.
The man wore the same vintage suit; the pince-nez still remained affixed at the bridge of his nose. “Well?” said the man, after very little time had elapsed. “You’ve finished the Cog?”
Unthank gave a quick, toothy smile to Desdemona before he shooed her from the doorway and shut the door. “That’s just the thing, Roger,” he said. “I’m awfully close.”
“Close?” The man had been about to sit in one of the office’s chairs. Unthank’s admission had stopped him dead. “What do you mean, close?”
“This is a gorgeous piece of work, I can tell you that. A real once-in-a-lifetime part. I think the guy who made this should win a Nobel Prize or something. I mean, it’s that good.” Even Unthank was aware of his own stalling.
“Listen, Mr. Unthank: You either have the Cog or you don’t. Which is it?”
“I don’t.” The sudden confession felt strangely good.
“And why don’t you?”
“I need more time.”
“More time?” Roger’s face had grown considerably redder. His manicured beard twitched at his chin. “We don’t have more time.”
“A piece of this complexity, sir—I can’t imagine that your competitors are having any more luck.”
“My competitors are dead,” said Roger.
Unthank gulped, once, very loudly. “Okay,” he managed.
“But I can’t expect that there won’t be others to rise in their place. This needs to happen now, Mr. Unthank. Or I shall have to find another machinist.”
The implications of being fired by this odd and vindictive man seemed to be very serious indeed. “I don’t think you’ll need to do that. I—”
His stammered rebuttal was interrupted by a loud knock on the door. Unthank smiled sheepishly at Roger before calling, “What is it?”
“Joffrey, dear.” It was Desdemona. “Mr. Wigman is here to see you.”
Roger cocked an eyebrow. Joffrey felt rivulets of sweat appear at his brow. “Tell him …,” he began. An unannounced visit from the Chief Titan? It immediately spelled trouble to the beleaguered Unthank. “Tell him I’m busy.”
Another knock came. This one was a good degree louder, as if coming from the fist of a much larger person than lithe Desdemona Mudrak. “Machine Parts!” came a man’s thunderous voice. The two words sent shudders of dread through Unthank’s body. It was Brad Wigman himself.
“Quick!” hissed Unthank. “Into the closet!” Roger gave him an affronted look.
“Why on earth …,” Roger began as Unthank started pushing him toward a door opposite the desk.