Harley led Harry through the Brownstone and down a set of newly constructed stairs. She looked over her shoulder and said, “Now, you’re sure I don’t need to be concerned that you’re going to run tattling to Roper with what you’re about to see, aren’t you, Harry?”
Harry shook his head. “As I said earlier, Harley, I would never bother Sir with any details that would have an adverse effect on his mental state.”
“Okay, then.” Harley continued down the winding steps which finally opened into a large, cavern-like room. Direct sunlight beamed into the space from what looked like an enormous skylight carved into the ceiling. Harry could see B.H. scampering around the construction equipment and workers, a tiny orange hard hat perched on his little head.
Harry looked around in wonder. “What is all this?” he asked in awe.
Harley grinned widely and handed him a hard hat from the nearby work table. “You gotta put this on, ‘cause we’re in a construction zone and you can’t take it off until we go back upstairs, okay?”
Harry put on the hat. “I’m ready.”
“As you know, we’re adopting a water horse,” she explained.
Harry nodded. “Also known as a hippopotamus, right?”
“Yes, that is the common name,” Harley said in a superior tone. Harry rolled his eyes behind her back.
“Since we will be bringing a water horse into our home,” she continued, “we had to make certain adjustments to our living space in order to satisfy the adoption agency’s requirements. Namely, we had to have some water.”
“Of course, of course,” Harry agreed.
“Because of the unnecessarily strict building codes Roper implemented, I couldn’t very well apply for a permit to build a swimming pool. But,” she pointed a paw at Harry, “I could get a permit for a basement addition in The Under Dome Deeper facility. So here’s what we’re doing …” she began walking around the room, gesturing and talking. Harry followed her around, listening intently as she explained the project in detail.
“Here,” she said, pointing up at the source of sunlight, “is our sun tube. It’s designed to let in natural light from Above Ground through very deep layers of earth. Roper will never know it’s here and even if he does find out about this whole water park, I’ll just tell him it’s a laser room and he’ll never come near it – even to shut it down.” Harry started at her use of the term ‘water park’ but since she was already resuming the tour, he quickly followed.
“This will be the pool itself,” she pointed to a giant hole in the floor, currently bustling with activity as dozens of voles in hard hats laid colorful tile across the surface. “I had the tile specially designed to show a jungle theme so the water horse would feel right at home.”
Harry snorted, “Would you please quit calling it a water horse? It’s a hippo and you know it. In fact, you probably would have been able to sneak the whole project by Roper if you had called it that in the first place. You knew using the word ‘water’ would immediately put him on high alert.” Harry sounded slightly winded – he rarely had so much to say in one pass.
Harley blinked. “Ooookaaayy,” she said slowly, unsure now of Harry’s position on the whole situation.
“I’m just saying that continuing to call the hippo a water horse only makes you sound pretentious,” Harry added quietly, looking at her steadily. “I’m sure that wasn’t your intention.”
Harley pursed her snout and refused to meet his gaze. “It might have been my intention,” she conceded. “But if it bothers you, fine … we’ll call it a hippo. But he’s not just an ordinary hippo, you know,” she said forcefully. “He’s a special needs hippo. He’s got bionics. And they can’t be cured. So there.” She pointed her paw accusingly at Harry.
“I’m not sure you’re understanding what bionics are, Harley,” Harry said cautiously. “It’s not a disease.”
“Of course it is!” she said indignantly. “The adoption agency said he was a special water horse who had been ‘augmented for enhanced bionic performance’.” She used her paws to make air quotes around the term. “I know what that means – he’s sick and his bionics need to be treated with medication!”
Harry couldn’t prevent the chuckle that slipped out. Ignoring Harley’s glare, he tried to explain. “Bionics is not an illness,” he began. “Bionics is the incorporation of cybernetic systems into living organisms.”
“Like the Borg?” Harley asked in a panicked voice.
“Well, sort of,” Harry said. “Think ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, instead.”
Harley was quiet for a few minutes, clearly thinking about this new information. Suddenly, her expression brightened considerably. “You mean I’m getting a robot hippopotamus?!”
“Yes,” Harry confirmed. “A bionic hippo.”
“A ‘bionic hippo’,” Harley breathed reverently. “A bionic hippo! Wow! Hey – did you hear that, B.H.?” she shouted. “We’re getting ourselves a bionic hippo!”
Across the room, B.H. stopped and looked at her, a confused expression on his face. After a moment, he shrugged and laughed out loud, clapping his paws together excitedly.
“He really has no idea what that means,” Harley said to Harry confidentially. “But he’s got such enthusiasm. It’s really adorable, isn’t it?”
“Hmmm, yes. Adorable,” Harry agreed. “Now that we’ve cleared that up,” he said, “why don’t you show me the rest of your project plans?”
“Oh, sure,” Harley responded. “This way.” She trotted off happily with Harry trailing behind her.
“Over here,” she pointed, “is going to be the snack bar. And we’re having lots of tropical plants put in – really elaborate landscaping. Some of it, I’ll be handling myself of course, because you know how much I enjoy gardening.” She chattered on, listing features and details of what she started calling ‘The Laser Room’.
Harry pictured the completed space – lush green plants and colorful flowers surrounding the huge, beautifully tiled swimming pool. Harley explained there would be a water slide at one end of the pool and a diving board at the other. The deck area was to be surfaced with stamped concrete so as not to be too slick and dangerous when wet. Over in the corner, a small sitting area with comfortable and waterproof furniture would surround a fire pit so the family could roast marshmallows or slabs of cheese over an open flame. In the opposite corner, a grassy fenced-in lawn in case anyone needed to take care of any ‘private business’ would ensure the total comfort of everyone.
Harry pointed to a small partially-constructed building off to one side of the pool deck. “What’s that?” he asked. “A changing room?”
“Nope,” Harley smiled mischievously. “It’s a special space just for Roper Lee.”
Harry looked at her sharply. “I thought he was never going to set foot in this space?”
“He won’t … knowingly,” she giggled. “You know how every time we want to have some kind of family outing and Roper always complains that he’s too scared or too sensitive or whatever to come along? And then Fluffy gets all mad at him for not spending enough time with his family and she gets a little mean? And how Roper starts drinking too much mole waters and eventually sneaks off to his office or his closet to drink and listen to Little Texas?”
“Go on.” Harry wasn’t sure where this was going, but he was certainly intrigued.
“Well,” Harley said. “That,” she pointed at the structure, “is going to be his spot. All we have to do is get him to Butterscotch – which, is, let’s face it, not that hard. Then while he’s out, we get a Vole Squad to transport him to that little building and put him inside. I’m going to have it tricked out with a big screen TV where he can watch videos of himself or Little Texas and there will be a mole waters dispenser so he can drink as much as he wants. I’ll get some really soft furniture and he can spend the day with the family, without actually being with the family. He’ll never know he is anywhere near water! When it’s time to leave, we’ll just broadcast an armadillo documentary over the TV and he’ll Butterscotch again. We have the Vole Squad take him home or wherever and – POOF – everyone’s one big happy family.”
Harry stared at her for a long time. Finally, he said, “That, is, quite frankly, one of the most under-handed, sneaky, devious plans I’ve ever heard. It’s … brilliant. Well done, Harley.”
Harley smiled smugly. “I know. I know.”