The release of the ‘Do Claw’ ushered in a new era of entrepreneurship and productivity in The Under Dome. Over the following weeks and months, Harley became a celebrity and was hailed as a creative and technological genius for her invention. Requests for public appearances, interviews on daytime talk shows and invitations to author scholarly publications poured in. Harley became so busy trying to keep up with the demands on her time that she finally decided she needed an assistant to help manage her daily affairs. Knowing Roper was a bit put out by her own recent rise to fame, she decided to extend an olive branch and seek his advice on the matter.
Harley dialed the Roper’s private office phone number using a prototype device – a newer and more advanced version of the Do Claw, which she was planning to introduce into the market the following spring. She was calling it the “Super Do Claw” and had tentatively made arrangements to test market it at Under Dome General Hospital and Convalescent Center for Voles and Moles. The ‘Super Do’, as she referred to it, had more robotic technology and she felt it might have better application in medical and emergency services. Of course, she understood that as soon as Roper got wind of it, every Vole Squad and Super Vole Squad in the Kingdom would be equipped with the device as well. Military contracts notwithstanding, though, she was excited about the potential of the new product. As the line began to ring, she tapped the Brown Tooth device on her ear and settled back to schmooze Roper Lee into doing what she wanted.
A/N: Just a word about Roper’s ‘deep shallow breathing’ … obviously, deep shallow breaths result in hyperventilation and sometimes loss of consciousness. This state of self-induced (usually due to fear, worry or embarrassment) unconscious is what Roper refers to as ‘Butterscotching’. He does this frequently and the reader will know a Butterscotch as happened when Roper makes a comment such as, “When I woke up.” This is not something Roper did in reality, however, Roper’s desire to be held, have his head stroked and be called ‘Little Pardner’ does actually reflect a real event in his life. His Grandpa used to call Roper Little Pardner when he was a puppy.
“Hello?” Roper answered the phone himself, whispering tentatively as though he expected the caller to jump out of the box. “Who’s there, please?” he asked, looking fearfully down at the phone.
“Roper!” Harley barked loudly, then laughed gleefully when she heard his terrified squeak on the other end of the line.
“Not funny, Harley,” Roper said sourly. “You could have given me a heart attack.”
“Ahhh, Roper,” Harley sighed, wiping a tear from her eye with her paw. “It was very funny. But, although scaring the butterscotch out of you is always entertaining – that’s not the reason I called.”
Sniffing disdainfully, Roper straightened up in his chair and quickly pressed the button that would silently summon Harry to his office. “Well, why did you call then?” he snapped peevishly. “I thought your new “career” would be keeping you much too busy to bother with your only living relative.”
Harley rolled her eyes in exasperation, but said mildly, “Funny you should mention my busy schedule, Roper. That’s exactly what I wanted to discuss with you.”
“Do you need someone to start taking over some of your public appearances?” Roper asked eagerly. “Someone to be the face of the Do Claw?”
Harley snorted, “I’m the face of the Do Claw. And I’m managing my public appearances just fine, thank you.” She glanced at the clock on her desk and, noticing the time, decided she had better hurry the matter along before Gordy and Prescott came home. She doubted they would approve of the large basket of grub fries with gravy she was currently enjoying. “What I need from you, Roper Lee, brother of mine,” Harley crammed a forkful of gravy fries into her snout, “is staffing advice.”
“Stuffing advice!” Roper repeated incredulously. “What in the world do you want to stuff??”
Harley swallowed, then growled lowly in frustration. “Not stuffing advice, you nitwit! Staffing advice. You know, as in a staff – personnel – people who work for you?”
“Oh.” Embarrassed, Roper fidgeted with the buttons on his vest before going on. “Well, you really should speak more clearly. It sounds like you’ve got a mouth full of – well, I don’t really want to know what.”
“Never you mind what I’m eating,” Harley said. She was certain Roper would snitch her out to the Buffaloes if it suited his agenda. She tried not to let him have any more leverage over her than possible, for safety’s sake. “I need a personal assistant. I’d like to hire Harry for the next few months.” She grinned wickedly and waited for his reaction.
“HARRY!” Roper cried. “You can’t hire Harry! He’s mine! I mean, he belongs to me! I mean he works for me.” Panicking, Roper looked around frantically for Harry, pressing the ‘Call Harry Alarm’ button repeatedly. “What makes you think he would want to come work for you??” When Harry didn’t appear in the office immediately, Roper panicked further, worried that Harley had somehow managed to sneak Harry away from him.
He began to chant quietly, “Deep shallow breaths. Deep shallow breaths.” When the breathing exercises failed to bring him to the sweet oblivion of a Butterscotch, he began to cry and whined, “Oh Harry, where are you? I need you?” More deep shallow breathing, then Roper wailed, “Harry!”
Harry silently appeared by Roper’s office chair, a tumbler of mole waters in his paw. He patted the now sobbing Roper gently on the head and held the drink to his snout. “Here, Sir,” he said soothingly, “Just try to take a little sip, Sir. There you are, Sir. It’s going to be fine, Sir.”
“Oh, Harry,” Roper wept, “I had the most awful dream! I dreamed you went to work for Harley and you left me all alone! It was horrible!” Roper continued to weep while Harry patted his back, continued to give him sips of mole waters and murmured ‘There, there, Sir’ – over and over.
Harley waited patiently for Harry to get Roper back under control. She munched her fries, did a quick inventory of her snack stash and then checked some emails on her computer before deciding Roper had melted down long enough.
“Relax, Roper,” she said finally. “I was just kidding around. I know how vital Harry is to your survival,” she added sarcastically. “I don’t want to hire Harry – but I do want an assistant who is just as efficient and qualified. But I think I want someone a little less, well,” she tried to think of a word to describe Roper’s vole without insulting him, “less Roper-oriented.”
Hiccuping, more from the mole waters than the crying jag, Roper answered, “That was just about the meanest thing you’ve ever done to me, Harley. I’m so hurt that you would treat me this way. After all I’ve done for you!” he slurred the last bit slightly, as the mole waters continued to work their relaxing magic on his tense frame. “But I’m a magnanamoose sort of fellow,” he continued. “I’m going to help you out, Harley. Because you’re my sister, and helping family is what I’m all about.” He looked at Harry, who nodded encouragingly. “I’ve got a little project we’ve been working on in the labs and I’m confident you’ll find just what you need. Meet me here at the office tomorrow morning at 10:38. No – wait – there’s a parade planning meeting then. Um, meet me at 9:12 here in my office. Roper Lee out.” Without waiting for a reply, Roper ended the call with a click.
Turning to Harry, he sniffled pathetically. “Harry? Would you hold me? Will you stroke my head and call me Little Pardner?”