Harley was absorbed in her work a while later, when she heard the clatter of buffalo hooves on the floor of the upstairs mudroom. Gordy and Prescott had obviously returned from their morning walk. Hoping to catch them before they removed all their outdoor gear, she rushed to the intercom and pressed the ‘mudroom’ button. “Gordy, Prescott? Is that you?” No response came.
Harley left her desk and ventured upstairs to the entry where she found Gordy and Prescott removing their buffalo mittens, hats and the plaid scarves Cookie had knitted for them last Christmas. They glanced up at her when she said, “Oh, darn, I hoped to catch you before you dis-robed.” They rolled their eyes at her choice of words.
“I have a little job for you, if you have time.” Harley said. “I’d really like it taken care of this morning, but it can wait if you’re busy.”
Gordy and Prescott looked at her expectantly.
Harley began to herd them into the hearth room. “Why don’t you have a snack and I’ll tell you what I need,” she said.
While Gordy and Prescott busied themselves with snack preparation, Harley perched on one of the padded stools at the raised counter and explained her project.
“The night vision attachment for the periscope came this morning. I’d like to get it hooked up before the snow stops.”
She added, “I’ll be out of the house for most of the day so I won’t be under-hoof while you’re working. And I think I’ll meet Roper and Harry for lunch down town. Maybe I can have Veryl hook me up with a meat pot pie instead of grub …”
Prescott set a plate of barley crackers and soy cheese slices in front of her, along with a glass of rice milk. “Oh, my, doesn’t this look delicious …” Harley began, trying to conceal her disappointment at the healthy snack. “You know, I’m just sure I saw some little meat pockets in the freezer,” she began, pushing the plate away and starting to get down from the stool. Gordy dropped a gentle hoof on her back, nudging her back onto the stool and Prescott pushed the plate back in front of her. “Meat pockets?” she asked hopefully, lifting her eyes to the buffaloes.
Gordy and Prescott fixed reproving stares on her and she ducked her snout into the plate of whole grain crackers and fat free cheese. “Well, this is much better for me, anyway,” she said, resignedly, and began to nibble at the snack.
“Now,” she began, with her mouth full of cracker. Prescott glanced at her sharply. Harley swallowed the bite before continuing. “I’ll need to combine my monkey romp with a buffalo walk – I just won’t have time to do them separately since I have a gravy spa appointment today. Also,” she started to say, after another bite of soy cheese. But the dry cheese got stuck in her throat and she grabbed the glass of rice milk, gulping it down quickly, trying to wince openly at the thin, watery flavor. “Also,” she began again, “I have a spirit guide consultation this afternoon. I guess I’ll have to take care of that while we’re walking and romping. Boy, I can’t wait to get out in that snow!” She rubbed her paws together and grinned in anticipation.
Gordy cleared away the snack-time dishes, putting them into the dishwasher and adding soap. He turned to Prescott and they exchanged a look. Prescott turned to Harley expectantly.
“Oh, yes,” Harley said, remembering, “Just text me at the Café when you are done with the periscope. I’ll drop by on my way to the spa. I won’t be needing a ride,” she said. “I think I had better walk,” she added. “I plan to take on a lot of gravy and I want to be prepared.”
Roper Lee gazed down at his boys. “They’re so big and beautiful,” he sang to himself. He shifted his position on the soft velvet and chinchilla covered sofa in his spacious office and looked at them from a slightly different angle. “Yes-siree, they sure are magnificent.”
An idea suddenly struck him that was so inspired it had him scrambling gracelessly off the sofa and prancing eagerly to his desk. He pressed the intercom button on the telephone before remembering that Harry had left his desk earlier to oversee some top secret project or some other such thing. “Trout,” Roper grumbled, then he remembered the new communicators Harry had issued to all The Under Dome personnel. Touching his paw to his chest, he winced at the slight pressure, then said excitedly, “Roper to Harry. Come in, Harry.”
“Harry here, Sir,” came the prompt response.
“Harry, I’ve just had a barnstorm!” Roper squealed.
“Yes, Sir,” Harry said. “Just to confirm, Sir, was this an actual storm involving your barn or did you have an idea – a brainstorm, perhaps?”
“Oh, yes – brainstorm!!” Roper bounced from one dainty foot to the other. “I always mix those two things up.”
“I had an idea,” he continued rapidly. “An idea so amazing, so unbelievable, so woooooo!” he sang. “I need you in my office right away to discuss it.”
“Yes, Sir. In your office right away, Sir. However, Sir, as a reminder, it’s time for us to meet at the Southside Café for lunch. Would it be possible to discuss this idea over grub pot pie, Sir?”
“Oh, well, yes, certainly, we must have lunch. Well, then, okay. I’ll meet you at the Café, Harry. I’ll bring the Yugo! After lunch we’ll take a drive and work out the details.” Roper was already working through things in his mind. “Harley will probably be joining us, Harry. I know she’ll make fun of my idea, she’s always so unsupportive. You know how to handle this, right, Harry? To make things safe for me?” Roper’s voice rose to a plaintive whine.
“Yes, Sir. Counteracting measures for your sister’s unsupportive attitude will be in place, Sir.” Harry’s calm confidence washed over Roper, enveloping him in a chinchilla-like cocoon of love.
“Thank you, Harry.” Roper said, gratefully. “You’re so good to me.” His voice was choked with emotion.
“Yes, Sir.” Harry responded. “I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
“Okay,” Roper squeaked. Tapping his chest again, gently, he ended the communication, “Roper, Out.”
Roper inhaled a deep, shallow breath and then another, and another. After his light-headedness cleared away, he trotted across the deep pile carpet of his office and out the door. He pressed the button for the elevator and boarded it only after several more deep, shallow breaths. He was so dizzy, he almost forgot to press the ‘garage’ button. As the elevator car descended to the garage where his one-wheeled sport utility Yugo was parked, he reflected on his life, or after-life as it were. He was indeed a lucky butterscotch dachshund. Ruler of The Under Dome, Harry by his side, a sister like Harley, who, even though she was thoroughly un-supportive and often a just a little hateful, was clever and industrious. Even Cookie, with her ramming and snot- wiping and going flat craziness was a comforting presence in his world.
The elevator bumped gently to a stop and the doors slid open. Roper let his gaze fall on the gleaming butterscotch automobile that was one of his most prized possessions. All buttery shiny metallic paint and chrome, armadillo-proof glass, air-cushioned shock absorbers – it was a thing of beauty, much like his boys. In fact, he thought, as he opened the door and slipped behind the fur covered wheel, if his boys were buffed with a metallic wax, they might look very similar to his car, only more awe-inspiring.
Settling on the soft, fleecy seat, he pressed the push button start and the engine purred to life. Since Harry and his special Mechanic Vole Squad installed voice activated controls, he found driving much more enjoyable. He could lie back and watch his boys while giving verbal commands to the car and not have to worry so much about all those pesky details like watching where he was going. He instructed the car what to do and where to go and snuggled further into his Mohair suit. It was certainly chilly in The Under Dome today, he thought. He might have to consider moving the city down a level. As he worked through the details of such a move, the car slid quietly to a stop at the Southside Café.
Roper pressed a grub into the claw of the Volet waiting to park his car and entered the restaurant. He saw Harry already waiting at his favorite table and trotted across the floor to greet him. “Hello, Harry. Have you been waiting long?”
“No, Sir. Only a few minutes, Sir. I took the liberty of ordering your drink, Sir – a root beer float.” Harry was always efficient.
“Thank you Harry,” Roper said as he sat on the bean bag cushion of the chair. “I take it Harley isn’t here, yet?”
“Well, let’s hurry and discuss this before she gets here and avoid that grief.”
“As you know, Harry, I have implemented an education system in The Under Dome, including the Vole Tech and The Under Dome University. We are dedicating the new TDU library building at the end of January and we don’t have a sculpture or work of art in front of it, yet. Is that correct?” Roper was in full business mode.
“That is correct, Sir. We have not been able to agree on a suitable representation of what education means in The Under Dome.” Harry was busily making notes in his VDA (Vole Data Accessory).
“Well, Harry, I have the perfect subject for a sculpture that will be a symbol to all who enter of what we should all strive for – perfection! Are you ready Harry?” Roper quivered with excitement and anticipation of Harry’s reaction to his idea.
“Yes, Sir.” Harry continued making notes.
“A giant sculpture done in butterscotch marble of … MY BOYS!”
“Yes, Sir. Indeed, Sir. Perfection, Sir. Butterscotch marble boys, Sir. Inspired, Sir.” Harry’s note taking took on a frantic quality as he worked through the details of the project in his VDA. “I’ll get right on that, Sir. Brilliant, Sir. It will be an inspiration to every Vole and Mole in The Under Dome, Sir.”
“Yes,” Roper beamed, “it certainly will.”
“It certainly will, what?” asked Harley, approaching the table and taking the vacant seat.
“Oh, nothing.” Roper answered, nervously looking at Harry for support. “We were just discussing the new Under Dome University library dedication. We think it’s really going to be a great benefit to the Voles and Moles in The Under Dome. Isn’t that what we were saying, Harry?”
“Oh.” Harley said. “So, why did you want me to have lunch with you, Roper? You know I don’t really like grubs.”
“Well,” Roper began, but broke off when the waiter appeared at their table.
“Are you ready to order Monsieur Roper?” he asked. “Our special today is grub pot pie with a side of mashed sweet grubs and whole grub rolls with grub butter. We are pairing it with a delicate grub rose’ and sparkling mole waters spritzer and for dessert a warm grub turnover topped with frozen grub-gurt.”
“That sounds lovely,” Roper said. “I love a good grub pot pie! Harry, what will you have?”
“I think just a Grubb Salad, Sir. I’m watching my weight through the holidays. And a grub and tonic to drink, please.”
“Very good,” replied the waiter, turning to Harley. “And for you, Madamoiselle?”
“Okay, I’d like the grub pot pie, but I want to hold the grubs and substitute that for meat. Also, I’ll have the mashed sweet grubs, but instead of mashed grubs, I’ll take mashed potatoes. And I’ll take some bread, lightly toasted. I’ll skip the spritzer and just have some gravy to drink. And for dessert, I’ll have the grub tart minus the grubs and the grub-gurt.” Harley closed her menu and handed it to the astonished waiter.
“But, but, but the special today is grubs, Madamoiselle. You cannot substitute for the grubs!” he sputtered.
“Well, listen up Brenda, I’m grub-tose intolerant and if there are any grubs in or near my food I will bloat up like a puffer kite and then I will sue and my whale will make sure I OWN this café! Now trot off like a good vole and get my food!”
The waiter scampered off to the kitchen. Roper cleared his throat. “You know, Harley,” he began, “this is a grub restaurant. And The Under Dome does have a grub based economy. You could show a little more respect for our customs and traditions.” He looked toward Harry and was comforted by Harry’s head, nodding in agreement.
“Look,” Harley groused. “You know I don’t like grubs. They alter the texture of my poop. They make it grainy and give it a whang. Plus, I’m a carnivore and grubs aren’t real meat. Now I can get on board with a lot of the ideas and policies in The Under Dome. But eating grubs and grubs alone is not one of of them. I need meat, cheese, gravy. Come on, Roper – remember what it was like to eat something besides grubs? Remember that roast beef you wrestled Grandpa for? Wasn’t that tender, juicy, succulent piece of beef worth the burns and blisters on your tongue? Didn’t you feel stronger and more alive after you ate it? I’m sorry, but I’m not becoming a grub-i-vore just because it’s politically correct. I’ve already given up buffalo and other foods that reference buffaloes out of respect for Gordy and Prescott. I am not a Vole!” She shook her paw in defiance. “Now, I’ll apologize to the waiter for being snarky. I’m very hungry and it makes me cranky. My mid morning snack was kind of disappointing. Prescott fed me a veggie pizza with fat free cheese. He said he was concerned about my cholesterol level or some nonsense. Anyway, I’m starving, and this is trout!” She tossed her snout in the air indicating she was closing the subject.
“Toochee.” Roper whistled to Harry. “She obviously needs a good shaking, right Harry?”
“Whatever,” Harley grumped. “Why don’t you just tell me what you wanted to talk to me about over lunch,” she snapped. “I have appointments and stuff this afternoon.”
“Oh, yes!” Roper said, “I did want to discuss something fairly important with you. Although your attitude has me of half a mind to not mention it at all …” he added.
The waiter chose that moment to deliver their drinks. Harley immediately snatched the mug of gravy from the table and chugged down a healthy mouthful. Roper attempted to sip his mole waters spritzer through a straw, only to find that his one lip did not allow him proper suction. A rivulet of liquid dribbled down his chin whiskers and splattered onto the linen tablecloth. He gave up the straw, stuck his snout into the glass and began to slurp noisily. Harry watched them both while sipping neatly from his glass.
Harley set her half empty gravy mug on the table with a thump. “Well,” she said sharply, “I’m waiting, Roper.”
“Hmm? What? Oh.” Roper looked up from his glass, now empty, mole waters dripping off his chin. “Sorry, I just suddenly felt absolutelyparched.” He wiped at his chin delicately with a soft cloth napkin. “Well, as I was saying, I have a position that I think you might be the right person for, Harley. It seems that The Under Dome University has a shortage of qualified instructors. Voles and moles keep showing up for classes, but there isn’t anyone to teach them. They just sit around looking at each other until it’s time to move on to the next class and at the end of the day, they aren’t any smarter than they were at the beginning.” Roper gestured wildly with his paws, his eyes glassy and huge, droplets of liquid flying from his lip. “It’s crazy! I mean there they are, just sitting around looking at each other and not saying anything and not learning anything and not doing anything. How are they supposed to learn how to do things the way I want them done if there’s no one there to show them and tell them?” The gesturing escalated until he was practically weaving out of his seat. “I don’t know what’s in this mole waters, but I love it! Love it, love it, love it!” Leaning forward across the table into Harley’s face, he ended suddenly, “I want you to be the Dean of The Under Dome University and hire some people to teach the classes.”
Harley leaned away from Roper’s face, now only inches from hers. “O-o-o-ka-y-y-y, Roper. Calm down a little and go easy on the mole juice.” She said, holding her paws out as if to ward off harm.
“Mole waters,” Roper said, “like waters from a mole.” He settled back into his seat and began to signal to the waiter for a refill.
Harley and Harry shared a look, then Harry said gently, “Sir, I think perhaps you might want to hold off on another mole waters, Sir. It might be perceived that you are showing a favoritism toward the moles by drinking their waters. It would be very harmful to maintaining the support of your vole constituency, Sir, and they are most valuable to your position in The Under Dome, Sir.”
Roper’s expression fell, “Really, Harry?” his voice held the pleading quality both Harry and Harley were quite familiar with. “But the mole waters is just so refreshing.” He looked hopefully at the approaching waiter.
“Yes, Sir. Indeed, Sir. Just a suggestion, Sir.”
Harley did not feel the need to coddle Roper or protect his incredibly tender feelings. She blew air through her snout and said matter-of-factly, “Roper, you are completely soused. That mole waters has gone straight to your head where it did not encounter any thing that might stop it from sloshing around there and making you seem even more wiggedy-wiggedy wack than usual. Have some coffee and get hold of yourself.”
Roper straightened in his chair and cleared his throat. “Of course, you’re right. I do have an image to maintain. Waiter,” he addressed the vole hovering at his side, “I’d like a cup of grubber-mint tea with cream, please.”
“Very good.” The waiter hurried off to fill the order.
“Now,” Roper said, making visible effort to hold himself steady in his chair, “where were we? Oh, yes. The Dean’s position at TDU. What do you think, Harley? Interested?”
Harley, the edge from her terrible hunger temporarily taken away by the mug of gravy, leaned back in her chair and looked thoughtful. In her mind, she could see herself molding and shaping the minds of the voles and moles in The Under Dome with her stimulating lectures, witty anecdotes and powerful charisma. She imagined herself in front of a great hall, wearing very intellectual-looking reading glasses while eager young voles absorbed every inspired word she uttered. Then she imagined piles of paperwork, meetings with disgruntled parents and students, miles of bureaucratic red tape to be waded through and saw herself thin and haggard, her once glossy fur dull and matted, chained to a desk inside a windowless, airless room. Photos and postcards on the desk showed Gordy and Prescott in a variety of exotic vacation locations always with the words ‘wish you were here,’ displayed somewhere. She saw the whale packing trunks and suitcases and heard him saying “you just spend all your time working, I need more …” Harley shuddered. “I don’t think that’s really the direction I want to take my future,” she said. “But I can help you put together a list of possible candidates for the job,” she offered, “and help out temporarily by teaching a few classes here and there.”
“Oh, well, okay,” Roper had though for sure Harley would jump at the opportunity. Disappointed but resilient, he sipped his tea and nodded, “I’m sure whatever help you can give us will be great, Harley.”
Just then, the sound of Harley’s cell phone startled them all. “It’s a text message from Prescott,” she said, reading the display. “I have to go.” She signaled the waiter, who approached the table quickly.
“I’m going to need my food to go,” she said. “Right away.”
“Yes, of course, right away.” He scurried off toward the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with a container and a bag. “Here you are, Madamoiselle. Enjoy your meal and please come again soon.” His words belied the relieved expression on his face when Harley took her carryout containers and rose from the table to leave.
“Roper, I’ll see you later this afternoon for the council meeting. Harry, I’ll email you a list of candidates for that job and you can let me know what courses at the University you might want me to teach. Now, remember, I said temporarily. That means short term. The Whale will be back in May and I’ll be traveling extensively over the summer. I won’t be changing my plans just because you dawdle around and don’t find a replacement, Roper.” As she spoke, she pulled Euro Grubs from her pocket and tossed some on the table. “Later,” she said, and walked quickly out of the restaurant.
“Well, that was interesting, as usual, wouldn’t you agree, Harry?” Roper commented as he sipped his tea.
“Yes, Sir, interesting, Sir. Although she was more helpful than normal, Sir. She must be feeling the Christmas spirit, Sir.” Harry nodded and made more notes in his VDA.
“Yes, Christmas Spirit.” Roper murmured absently as he gently stroked his chin whiskers. “I wonder where she was off to in such a hurry?”
The waiter brought their food and Roper and Harry settled in to enjoy a quiet meal before returning to the office.
“Harry, I find this grub pot pie to be the most comforting food,” Roper said around a mouthful. “It’s warm and creamy and the grubs are so tender. Makes me feel so warm and safe.”
“Yes, Sir. Safe, Sir.” Harry agreed. He nibbled carefully at his Grubb Salad and continued to make notes in his VDA.