At 9:00 the following morning, Harley walked slowly into Roper’s office. She wasn’t an early morning dog, unless the reason for the early morning was a) a large breakfast or b) a monkey romp in fresh snow. This morning’s meeting was neither and she had to keep reminding herself that she was here to get her new assistant (which was something she really,really wanted) so she wouldn’t turn around, go home and tunnel back into her warm, soft, inviting bed.
Not surprisingly, Roper was not yet present. If there was any dog who was less of a morning lover than Harley, it was Roper Lee. Especially when he had overindulged himself on mole waters the night before, which was pretty much something he did every night. Harley gave a brief thought to the notion that perhaps someone should say something to him about his clear dependence on the fizzy, refreshing beverage. But knowing as she did that Roper loved his mole waters beyond reason, she quickly dismissed the idea.
She made her way to the corner of the office where a small kitchenette had been installed. It housed a toaster oven, well-stocked refrigerator, microwave, cappuccino machine, dishwasher and sink, as well as a small set of cabinets containing dishes and glasses, cups and other small cookware items. Harley knew Roper had no idea it was even there – if he had known there was (as he called any sort of cooking apparatus) an “incendiary device” located in such close proximity to his boys he would refuse to come into the office until it was gone. But given Roper’s penchant for oddly-timed office hours and meetings, it was as likely as not for Harley or any of Roper’s other friends, family or business associates to be in the office during meal or snack times. Harry had graciously (and discreetly) added the little kitchen in an unused corner of the room and put up a room divider to hide it from Roper’s view. To keep him from looking too closely and discovering the snack center, Harry had told him that what lay behind the divider was a maintenance access door that led directly to the surface. Of course, Roper was assured, it was securely locked and only Harry held the key, but it was a sufficient deterrent to Roper’s further exploration of the area. He had hired an artist to paint a portrait of himself on the divider and pretended there was nothing beyond it.
Harley busied herself with making a second breakfast: She toasted an English muffin and added a thick slice of the real (not grub) ham and cheese she found in the refrigerator. “Oh, God bless you, Harry,” she murmured gratefully. She also found a mug of gravy in the cooler and heated it in the microwave. Grabbing a cloth napkin from the basket on the counter, she took her snack back into the main part of the office and settled into a chair near Roper’s desk to eat and wait for him to arrive.
At precisely 9:12, Roper pranced into the office, closely followed by Harry. Today, Roper was wearing a lime-green sateen jumpsuit with a wide, jewel-encrusted belt around his middle. The top of the jumpsuit boasted a wide collar attached to a deep V-neckline which showed off Roper’s (in his mind) well muscled pectoral area and his butterscotch chest fur. The long, puffy sleeves ended with ruffled cuffs which nipped in to hug his dainty forepaws. Each sleeve shimmered with an iridescent sherbet-colored overlay that fluttered when he walked. Over each of his haunches was a cut-out, outlined with an embroidered vine-like design in neon yellow. The legs of the suit were also overlaid with the iridescent fabric and they, too, gathered in closely around his hind feet and ended in a wide cuff studded with sparkling stones. On his feet were shiny patent leather ankle boots in eye-searing orange with a modest heel and bright green tassels attached to the zipper pulls on the inside of each boot. He wore a fedora-style hat in the same orange color, with a lime-green hat band. It was perched on his head at a dashing angle and the candy pink feather with which he had adorned the band waved jauntily as he walked.
Harley stared, open-mouthed for several seconds before swallowing the mouthful of food she had been chewing. Shaking her head and rolling her eyes she let out a loud, barking laugh. “Good Lord, Roper!” she exclaimed, “You look like a color blind genie in that get-up!”
Roper glared at her from under his hat brim. “I’ll have you know this is the peak of fashion in Europe!” he huffed indignantly. “All the most stylish people are wearing jumpsuits this season,” he added with a sniff.
“Uh huh,” Harley remarked dryly. “So the ‘Technicolor Pimp’ look is popular?” She laughed again when Roper gave her a sour look.
“Well, I’m sure you’ve made yourself at home in my office,” he said, looking pointedly at her empty plate and mug. “Thanks ever so much for stinking up my private space with your breakfast.” He made a production of settling behind his desk, smoothing his jumpsuit, puffing his sleeves and adjusting his hat.
“No problem,” Harley replied. The best way to deal with Roper when he tried to be all sarcastic and snooty was to take everything he said literally. It always had the added benefit of making him even more irritated and was something of a habit Harley had developed over the years. “So, what’s the plan to help me out with my staffing issue?” she asked abruptly, not wanting to give Roper more time to primp and ponce before getting down to business. She was, after all, a busy dachshund.
Roper looked up sharply at her sudden change of subject. “No time for even basic courtesy or small talk, Harley?” he said. He mimicked Harley’s voice, “My, Roper, you’re haunches certainly do gleam this morning.” “Why, thank you, Harley,” he went on in his own. “I had a vole squad come in early this morning to give me a haunch massage and get the circulation going. You know that’s one of my little beauty secrets – regular massages – don’t tell anyone,” he confided.
Harley snorted rudely. “Don’t worry,” she retorted. “I never talk about your ‘beauty secrets’. It’s weird that you even have beauty secrets.”
She waited a moment longer for Roper to settle himself and take a healthy gulp of mole waters before asking again, “So, really, Roper, what’s the deal? I don’t have all day to piddle around and watch you groom yourself and drink mole waters.”
Roper glanced at Harry before speaking. “I think it would be better to showyou what I’ve been working on instead of telling you,” he said, suddenly all business. “Harry, let’s take her down to the lab.” He put down his mole waters and stood, waiting for Harley to get out of her chair.
Harley blinked at the sudden change in Roper’s demeanor. Normally, he was, at best, ambivalent about business matters. Now, he seemed not only interested, but well informed and professional. She shrugged. It was odd, but so was Roper. She got up, collected the go-cup of gravy Harry had placed on the table beside her and prepared to follow Roper and Harry out of the office.
Harry led them down a series of hallways to an elevator. Pressing an amber button marked with the letters “T.U.R.D.,” he motioned them inside when the doors opened.
Harley looked at Roper with concern. “Where are we going, Roper? What is ‘turd’? Some new snack bar you’ve opened?” she asked hopefully.
“The Under Dome Really Deep,” Roper began, aiming a condescending look at his sister, “or ’T.U.R.D.’, (he raised his paws to make air quotes around the acronym) is the top secret laboratory facility where Harry and I have been working on ‘Project Pardner’ (more air quotes). Some time ago, I realized that Harry was not only my best friend,” he directed an adoring gaze at Harry, “but also the most valued member of my government. Without him, I wouldn’t be able to effectively run The Under Dome and all its territories. He keeps me organized, gets me to events on time and makes sure I always have mole waters.”
The elevator stopped and the trio exited the car. Harry led them down a darkened passage way while Roper continued to speak.
“So one night I had a dream – a nightmare really – that Harry was gone and I was all alone. It was so horrible,” he shuddered at the memory. “I knew I had to make sure nothing could ever happen to Harry. That’s when we developed the idea for ‘Project Pardner’.”
They reached a door, guarded by two tough-looking voles dressed in black with ‘Under Dome Security’ emblazoned on their shirts. To one side of the door was a small electronic panel with a numbered keypad under a square paw-reader. Roper looked pointedly at Harley, “You need to turn around, this is a top secret facility, remember?”
Harley rolled her eyes and huffed, but turned around. After a moment, she heard a series of beeps and then a soft ‘snickt’ sound.
“Okay,” Roper said, “follow me. And don’t touch anything.”
They entered a room, dimly lit and lined down both side walls with what looked to be glass coffins. Inside, Harley could see that each contained some sort of body, shrouded in mist.
“This,” Roper said, grandly, “is ‘Project Pardner’.” He threw his paws out and made his signature ‘jazz paws’ motion with them. “Isn’t it neat?!” he exclaimed.
Harley gazed around the room, not sure whether to be impressed or terrified. “Roper Lee, what have you done?” she breathed. “What is this ‘Project Pardner’ of yours?”
Roper bounced excitedly on his hind feet and shook his front paws again. “It’s only the best idea I’ve ever had!” he crowed, gleefully. “Harry and I decided the best way to make sure that he never left me alone was to make a whole bunch of him … so we cloned Harry!” He danced around the room, twirling in a circle until he dizzily bumped into a lab table covered with equipment. The equipment shook, teetered and looked as though it might crash to the floor. Harry quickly grabbed Roper and gently steered him away from the table, then turned to still the wobbling objects. Harry sat Roper softly, but firmly down into a chair before giving him a look that plainly said, “Stay.”
“Oops!” Roper giggled, then sat, chastised, when Harry pinned him with another look.
“You’ve cloned Harry,” Harley repeated slowly. “So, all those coffin thingys along the wall are full of Harry?” she asked incredulously.
“Yep!” Roper nodded his head enthusiastically.