Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 27

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 27

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.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 19

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 19

Harley and B.H. sat at the kitchen table, each with a mug of gravy and a small plate of cheese.  While B.H. nibbled his cheese politely, Harley crammed all the pieces into her snout and chewed loudly.  Gordy, chopping vegetables at the counter, looked over his hump at her and snuffled loudly.  Harley swallowed her food and wiped her snout with the back of her paw.  “Sorry,” she mumbled to Gordy.  “It’s been a long time since I ate lunch and I’m pretty hungry.  When’s supper, anyway?” she asked in a surly tone.

Turning back to his vegetables, Gordy snuffled and pointed a hoof towards the oven where something was baking.  Harley thought it smelled like meatloaf, one of her favorites.  But she was positive that the loaf would not be made of meat – nothing ever was when the Buffaloes made it.

She shared a look with B.H. then asked, “Is that your famous meatless meatloaf I’m smelling, Gordy?”  She rolled her eyes behind his back and B.H. giggled.

Without turning around, Gordy snuffled and nodded his big shaggy head in the affirmative.

“Well, that’s good,” Harley said in a falsely cheerful voice.  She pantomimed putting her paw down her throat and gagging.  B.H. giggled again.

Gordy turned around and fixed his large brown eyes on the pair.  Harley sat looking innocently at him while B.H. tried, unsuccessfully, to contain his giggles.  Snuffling in irritation, Gordy shooed them both out of the kitchen.

“Well that’s a fine how-do-you-do,” Harley grumbled as they left the room.  “I don’t know why you can’t just let me eat what I want!” she shouted over her shoulder.  Gordy pointed his hoof at the kitchen door and snuffled.  “Well I think it tastes like card board!” she responded.

Turning to B.H. she whispered, “They think they’re so smart, feeding me vegetarian crap.  But I’m not going to let them ruin Thanksgiving, B.H.  We’re going to have real Thanksgiving turkey with dressing and gravy and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and Prescott and Gordy can put their pressed tofu turkey mold where the hump don’t shine.”  B.H. nodded encouragingly.  “Come on, B.H.,” Harley said decisively.  “We’ve got work to do.”

Harley walked quickly to her study, B.H. close behind her.  She shut the door behind him and motioned for him to take a seat in front of her desk.  She settled herself into the chair on the other side and then leaned forward to speak intently to B.H..

“Here’s what we’re going to do, B.H.,” she said.  “Gordy and Prescott have a vegetable-heavy Thanksgiving meal planned out.  There won’t be any meat in the turkey, no fat in the gravy and I’ll bet you they’re going to try to put some weird dessert in place of the pumpkin pie.  Last year, it was gluten-free flan.  Blech.”  She shuddered at the memory.  B.H. looked scared.

Harley continued.  “This year there’s going to be meat feast!”  Her eyes took on a gleam of meat lust that burned intensely. “I’m going to call the Southside Café and have them cater a real meat meal.  I know it will be expensive, since Roper pushes the grub-based diet, but it’s going to be worth it.”  She rubbed her paws together.  “Oh, B.H.,” she cried gleefully.  “Just wait until you taste that first bite of juicy, tender turkey!  It will bedivine!”

B.H. bounced excitedly in his chair and clapped his small paws happily.

“Now,” Harley said, leaning back in her chair, tapping her paw on the desk as if to aid her thinking process.  “What’s the best way to trick the Buffaloes into not noticing the real meal we’re eating while they gnaw away on their grassy knolls?”

“You know, B.H.,” she said after a moment.  “We’re so lucky that Grandma and Grandpa decided to go spend Thanksgiving with Chatauqua and Alan.  Grandma is too  shrewd to ever have the turkey wool pulled over her eyes.”  B.H. nodded sagely.  “But Gordy and Prescott are pretty gullible so this should be easy peasey nice and cheesey.”  B.H. nodded again.

“Back to the plan,” Harley said.  “I think it’s best if we let them prepare the whole meal.  After all, they’ll have to eat something.”  She tapped her paw on her chin thoughtfully.  “Our biggest worry, believe it or not, is going to be Roper.  He’s going to notice that we’re eating real turkey and stuff and he just can’t keep his mouth shut.  He’ll say something stupid, alert the Buffaloes and then it will all be over.”  She pointed her paw at B.H.  “We can’t let that happen, B.H.  There’s too much at stake.”

She paused in her plotting and went to the small kitchenette in the corner of her office.  “Would you like some tea, B.H.?” she asked politely.  “Tea helps me think.”  B.H. nodded.  “I have some really good blends,” she offered.  “This one’s my favorite – beef and apple – it’s decaffeinated so it won’t keep you up all night.”  She heated a kettle of water on the small hot plate, then prepared two cups of the pungent tea.

Handing a cup to B.H., she warned, “It’s very hot, B.H., so be careful.”  B.H. nodded and carefully took the cup into his small paws, sipping tentatively at the steaming brew.  He looked at Harley and smiled his approval.

She arranged herself comfortably behind her desk once again and resumed the conversation.  “You see, B.H.,” she sipped from her own mug.  “All we have to do is get Roper all looped up on mole waters and he won’t have the mental juice to say anything.  At least not anything the Buffaloes will take seriously.  They think he’s a complete poncey poof at best.  If he starts babbling about turkey and dressing and meat – they’ll ignore it and assume he’s a rambling nitwit.”

B.H. slurped his tea noisily.

“That just leaves the issue of sneaking in the real food and mixing it in with the Buffaloes’ “healthy” meal.”  She took out a note pad and began making notes, a pen held firmly in her Do Claw’s grasp.  “I think I can get Fluffy to help us.  I’ll have her stop at the Café, pick up the food and bring it here, disguised as her contribution to the meal.  The Buffaloes are kind of scared of Fluffy so they’ll never question her.  Then, we mark our food with some kind of secret symbol so we know which food to eat, we let the Buffaloes eat hay and everyone is happy.”  She dusted her paws together.  “Mission accomplished,” she declared smugly.

“Thanks for your help, B.H.,” she said warmly.  “This is going to be the best Thanksgiving ever.”  She smiled at the little vole, who slurped his tea, then grinned back at her.

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 16

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 16

After a carefully prepared (by the Buffaloes), but dissatisfying lunch of quinoa salad with marinated tofu, Harley was full but unhappy. Back in B.H.’s room, she grumbled to Gordy as they finished arranging the lounge chair and fluffy area rug that had just been delivered by the Buy Furniture Here delivery voles.

“I just don’t think it qualifies as real food!” she argued. When Gordy snuffled and shook his hump at her, she protested again. “But it’s not meat. And no matter what you soak it in, it’s not going to be meat. I understand that it’s supposed to soak up the flavor of whatever you soak it in, but the truth is – I could soak a kitchen sponge in some of Prescott’s fancy sauce and it would still be a sponge. And sponges are not meat! End of story.” She glared at Gordy, the tip of her tongue slightly protruding through her teeth and lip, as it tended to do when she was emotional. Gordy snuffled in what sounded like light chuckle and shook his hump again.

Harley took a final look around the room. “I think this looks pretty comfortable, don’t you? I mean I think B.H. will like it. Not that I really know B.H., but you know, if you were a vole clone who didn’t know anyone or anything, you’d think it was comfortable, right?” She looked at Gordy hopefully. Gordy nodded.

Harley was about to start fussing nervously with the bedding again, when she heard the doorbell sound upstairs. She turned in an excited circle before racing out of the room and up the stairs, calling over her shoulder to Gordy, “He’s here! B.H. is here! Come on, Gordy!”

Prescott met them at the door, drying his hooves on a kitchen towel. Harley looked at the Buffaloes and issued a warning. “Now, don’t talk about where he comes from – he may not even know he’s a clone. We don’t want him to be self-conscious, we want him to feel like he belongs. He’s probably going to be very nervous and the last thing we need is you two being all ‘Buffalo-ey’ and scaring him half to death. Try to look smaller – suck in your humps. And don’t crowd around him!” She pointed a paw at them, pleased that they both looked appropriately docile and friendly. “Good. Okay, here we go,” she said excitedly, grinning widely and opening the door.

Harry stood next to himself on the front porch. One Harry was holding a small suitcase. The other Harry nudged him in through the open door and followed, closing the door with a click. The two Harrys stared at the Buffaloes, then Harley. Harley looked at Harry, then at the other Harry, then at the Buffaloes. No one spoke.

Finally, Harley could take the awkward silence no longer. “So, which one of you is the vole clone?” she blurted. Prescott and Gordy looked at her in horror. Harry cleared his throat. Harley slapped a paw over her snout. Wide-eyed and embarrassed, she continued in a shrill voice, “I mean, which one of you is B.H.? Of course you wouldn’t be a clone – I meant clown. I heard you were a clown as a hobby. Everyone loves a clown, don’t they? Except those who find them terrifying. Prescott here doesn’t like clowns at all. Bad experience when he was just a little buffalo and all. But I’m sure he’ll like you. As long as you don’t dress up like a clown and jump out from behind a chair or something. He does not like that at all. Nope, not at all …” she trailed off, looking at first Prescott, then Gordy, her desperate glance finally landing on Harry.

Harry nodded briskly. “Yes, well,” he began, shooing the group towards the stairs. “I’m quite sure B.H. would like to see the room you’ve arranged for him, Harley. Perhaps you could direct us?”

Harley skulked down the steps and down the hall, pausing before she allowed them entry into the room. She turned and said to B.H., “I wasn’t sure what your style was so I took the liberty of, you know, getting some stuff for the room. If you don’t like it we can exchange it.” She shrugged, as if it was no big deal. B.H. looked at her timidly.

She opened the bedroom door and stepped back, allowing Harry and B.H. to enter first. She and the Buffaloes followed. B.H. was looking around interestedly, his small eyes lighting up when landing on the bunk beds. He dropped his suitcase and hurried over to them, letting out a tiny giggle as he climbed the ladder to the top bunk and began to jump up and down.

Harley raised her eyebrows. “Should he be doing that?” she asked Prescott. Prescott snuffled. She rolled her eyes. “I meant is it safe for him to be doing that?” She huffed in exasperation and stepped to the edge of the bed. “Now, B.H., I don’t think that’s a very good idea …” she began. B.H. bounced higher, chortling with glee and waving his small paws in the air. “B.H.,” Harley said again, firmer this time. “B.H. come on down from there before you hurt yourself.” More bouncing and gleeful laughter. Harley stomped her foot. “Barry Harry Vole!” she yelled. “You better get down from there right now!” B.H. stopped bouncing and stared at Harley in alarm. He began to squeak loudly, scrambling down the ladder and going quickly to Harry’s side where he stood trembling and watching Harley warily.

Harry patted his back gently, murmuring words of comfort and sending irritated glances at Harley. Prescott and Gordy glared at her for several minutes before Prescott pushed her forward with his hoof, nodding his hump in a gesture that plainly said, ‘fix it’.

“Uh, well,” she began moving slowly toward B.H., speaking in a conciliatory tone. “You see, B.H., what I meant to say was that I really think it’s dangerous for you to be jumping on the bed like that.” As she approached him, B.H. went very still and peered at her with wide eyes. She stopped moving and continued, “I’m only concerned about keeping you safe.” Harley said the word again, enunciating carefully and looking into his small face. “SAFE.” She held out her paw and B.H. reached out with his own tiny paw, tentatively placing it in Harley’s. He looked up at her and blinked. Harley nodded encouragingly. “See? Safe.” B.H. nodded briefly before moving forward quickly, throwing his small arms around Harley’s snout, hugging tightly.

Harley looked over at Prescott and from the corner of her eye saw both he and Gordy grinning and heard them snuffling happily. Harry stood with a satisfied look.

“Okay then,” Harley said after a few minutes when B.H. finally released the hug. “Everybody’s fine. Everybody’s safe. How about a snack? Big bowl of gravy anyone?” She looked around the room and was pleased to see B.H. bouncing excitedly from foot to foot, clapping his paws and smiling. “Well, B.H.,” she said happily, “Looks like we’re going to get along just fine. Follow me – the kitchen is this way. I’ll show you how to heat the gravy to just the right temperature.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 14

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 14

Harley stared in amazement. “So, I guess you want me to use one of these clones as my assistant?” she said after a few minutes.

“Well,” Roper began, relaxing in his chair, “I – I mean we – thought you’d like to choose some of the final characteristics.” He pointed to the nearest stasis chamber. “This clone is almost finished baking and there’s time for you to have some input on personality and that kind of thing. You know – like, do you want him to be musical? Harry has a wonderful singing voice – he’s always singing me to sleep. Very soothing.” Roper chattered on while Harley looked to Harry for direction.

Harry motioned for her to follow him and they walked to a small console that resembled one of the fancy computerized menu machines at a fast food restaurant Harley had protested earlier in the week. On the console were several buttons, each labeled with a word or phrase.

“Sense of humor, taste in clothing, movies, books …” she read out loud. “So I can, like, program a personality into my assistant?” she asked. “If you had this technology, why didn’t you program a personality for Roper?” she added with a snort. Harry looked at her dispassionately. “Right,” Harley smirked, “Roper has a personality. Sort of.” She shifted her eyes sideways to look at Harry and, seeing his disapproving expression, sighed. “Fine,” she huffed, “let’s talk about my clone.”

Harry handed her a glossy brochure. On the front were the words “Clone-O-Matic 1000” and underneath, the slogan “Own a clone today!” Harley opened the brochure and began reading silently. She wasn’t surprised to read that the technology had been developed by Roper’s technical voles – they were quite brilliant, although very weird. What did surprise her, was that Roper had been able to keep this project a secret for what appeared to be a good long while. Normally, he blurted out whatever thought happened to bubble through his empty little head.

He was especially vocal about his fantastic ideas that eventually turned out to be the cause nearly apocalyptic disasters.  For example, his fitness drink, “Roper-ize,”  which was supposed to build haunch muscles and make the drinker’s coat gleam like Roper’s but instead had ended up causing voles all over The Under Dome to develop bald patches and explosive diarrhea.  Or his fragrance line, “Butterscotch Musk,”  a pungent, overpowering cologne that had the eyes of every citizen in the Realm watering non-stop and had almost caused an ‘incident’ with the Beaver Contingent when the stench traveled into their territory.  Harley shook her head remembering Roper’s most insane and deadly invention – “The Live Wire Night Suit,” to which he’d assigned the slogan, “Never be afraid of the dark again!”  The design was simple – a rechargeable battery-powered suit which would keep the wearer warm and  ‘lit up’ for 12.2 hours at a time. Hundreds of those death traps had been sold.  It was known still as “The Night of a Thousand Twinkles.”  In that one night, the emergency room at Under Dome General Hospital  had been swamped with vole and mole casualties, second and third degree burns over most of their bodies where the Christmas lights Roper had used inside the suit had melted into their tender skin.  There had been a swift recall of the remaining suits, but the damage to the population’s blind faith in Roper Lee had been shaken.  It had taken him months to convince the general population that it was even safe to turn on the lights in their homes.

But this, Harley, reasoned, had to do with Harry and Roper was incredibly possessive of Harry. So it was, she supposed, the main motivation for him keeping quiet. She read on, raising her eyebrows at the long list of personality traits that could be programmed into each clone. This might take a while, she thought. She finished reading and looked up to see both Harry and Roper watching her expectantly.

“Well,” Roper demanded, jumping up from his chair to prance from foot to foot. “What do you think?”

“I think, as much as it pains me to admit it, that this is a fairly brilliant idea,” she said. “I like Harry’s efficiency, his attention to detail, his ‘get it done’ attitude … I’d like to have all that in my assistant. I won’t need the constant stroking, reassurance, coddling, fetch and carry stuff – I’d like my clone to be a bit more interested in life outside Roper – I mean, me,” she added quickly, when Harry and Roper both shot her slanted looks. “I mean,” she explained, “I’d like him to want to be around me, obviously, but I don’t mind if he has outside interests of his own. Like if he wanted to join a book club or something – I wouldn’t care.”

“That’s easy,” Roper declared. “Isn’t that easy, Harry?” Harry nodded. “So, just fill out this personality questionnaire and we’ll take care of the rest.” Roper scrabbled around on a nearby desk and produced a sheet of paper, handing it over to Harley with a flourish.

“This a list of all the personality traits I want the clone to have?” Harley queried, looking over the page.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Roper tittered. “It’s a personality profile for you. This way, we just input your information and the computer comes up with the personality that best compliments you. Easy peasy pie.” He added ‘jazz paws’ to emphasize the statement. “It’s like a dating service!” he squealed.

Harley rolled her eyes. “I’m not looking for a date, Roper. I’m looking for a personal assistant. Remember that.”

“Oh, yes, I know,” he nodded soberly. “I just meant that it would be a perfect match. Like Ropeo and Harriet. Hee hee,” he giggled.

“Right,” Harley muttered. “Just get it done quickly.”

Harry handed Roper a computer printout. “Well,” Roper said, reading the page. “It looks like, if you can get the questionnaire to us sometime today, we can have your clone up and ready by tomorrow afternoon … say, 1:34-ish?”

Harley nodded. “I’ll have it back in your tiny little paw before lunch,” she said matter-of-factly. “By the way, will I have to choose a name for my clone or does it come with one?”

Roper looked at Harry, then back at Harley. “Well,” he began tentatively, “we sort of came up with a system of naming the clones. I felt,” he looked to Harry for confirmation, “it was important to recognize Harry’s contribution to this project. I mean, after all, we used his VNA to start the whole process. So, I decided that each clone should have a name that includes Harry’s name. Beyond that, you can name him whatever you want. As long as it also rhymes with Harry.” Roper said the last bit quickly and very quietly.

Harley’s ears perked up and her eyes widened. “So I have to name the clone something that rhymes with the name Harry and also includes the name Harry?”

“Yes.” Roper replied. “Other than that, it’s totally up to you.”

Harley stared at him for several minutes before speaking. “Exactly what do you propose that I name this vole, then?” she said finally, paws up, shoulders shrugging.

“Well,” Roper stammered, looking at Harry and shaking his head. “I’m sure I have absolutely no idea what you’d like to name him!” he exclaimed innocently.

“How many Harry clones are there in circulation or whatever, out there in the Under Dome?” Harley demanded. “And what are their names?”

“Um, let’s see,” Roper looked at the ceiling and tapped his chin whiskers with one small paw. “There’s my secretary, of course – you’ve met Sharry. And Larry down in the mail room. Ah, Chef Parry over at the Southside Cafe – he’s responsible for preparing all my meals, you know. Um, Jarry, Carry and Garry, on my Vole Security Team. Marry, President of the Under Dome Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Director and Tarry, my stylist, Jose’s assistant. I think that’s everyone, don’t you Harry?” Harry nodded.

Harley sighed. “So you’ve taken Sharry, Larry, Parry, Jarry, Carry, Garry, Marry and Tarry? That doesn’t leave me many names to choose from, Roper. And no offense, Harry, but it also doesn’t sound like my assistant will have much of an individual identity, no matter what I choose.” She gave another disgusted sigh.

Harry leaned close to Roper’s ear and whispered something. Roper’s expression, which had drooped during Harley’s complaint, brightened again. “That’s a wonderful suggestion, Harry!” He clapped his paws together excitedly.

“Harley!” he said confidently. “Harry and I think you should name your clone/assistant Barry! Isn’t it a beautiful name?!” he cried gleefully.

“No.” Harley said petulantly. “But it’s better than Farry or Darry, which is all I could come up with.” She shrugged again. “Fine. Barry it is. But,” she pointed a paw sternly at Roper, “I’m not calling him Barry Harry. He can be B.H.”

“Fair enough,” Roper nodded. “Harry will program his personality and bring him to your house tomorrow afternoon.” He started to get up, but sat down again when Harry looked at him intently. “Oh, yes, that’s right,” he waved his paws in front of his face. “I almost forgot, Harry.”

“Now, Harley, B.H.,” Roper carefully enunciated the name, “will have his distinct personality and all the qualities that you requested. But what he won’t have, is a place to live. Will you be furnishing him with an apartment or something, or is he going to live with you?”

Harley looked thoughtful. “I hadn’t really thought about that,” she admitted. “But I suppose it would be a good idea for him to live with me and the Buffaloes. I have a spare room at the Brownstone … Prescott and Gordy have been bugging me to turn it into a home gym.” She shuddered at the idea. “But this way,” she rubbed her paws together and smiled, “I’ll have an unbeatable excuse! I mean, who would cast a poor, tiny, orphan vole out on the street just so you could have one of those awful elliptical machines?” she put on an innocent, sweet face, then laughed wickedly.

“It’s settled, then,” Roper said, rising from his chair and making his way toward the door. “Harry and B.H. will be at your house sometime tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got a meeting so you can show yourself out, Harley.” He turned back and said over his shoulder, “And Harley, you can’t tell anyone about Project Pardner … it’s a matter of Under Dome security.” He turned and was gone.

“I guess I’d better get going, Harry,” Harley said. “I’ve got a lot to do before tomorrow – a whole room to decorate. Or maybe I should wait and let B.H. pick out his own décor?” She looked at Harry questioningly. Harry shrugged. “Yeah, you’re right. We should probably pick it out together. I’ll just make sure he’s got the necessities and we can go shopping tomorrow or the next day.” Muttering under her breath about bedding, paint colors and no evil exercise equipment, she exited the lab and made her way out of the building.

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 11

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 11

Roper Lee was enjoying a quiet breakfast in his office the next morning when the door burst open and Harley charged in shouting his name. “We have to talk,” she cried. “Now! So put down your sissy coffee and listen up.” Behind her, the vole Roper employed as receptionist scuttled into the office, then seeing that Harley had already announced herself, scuttled back out closing the door softly.

Roper was so startled by the intrusion that he almost spilled the contents of the cup he was holding. He set it down on the desk quickly, so as not to lose a drop of his morning mole waters, then looked at Harley with irritation.

“For your information,” he snipped, “I don’t drink coffee. Too much caffeine tends to make me jumpy. This,” he pointed at the delicate tea cup on the desk, “is mole waters. It’s a wonderfully refreshing way to start the day. What do you mean barging in here so early in the morning and upsetting my routine, Harley? You should have scheduled an appointment with Sharry.” He brushed some crumbs from his sleeve and settled back into his chair. “I’m very busy this morning and I don’t have time for one of your rants about Under Dome policy.”

Harley shifted the briefcase she carried under one foreleg then flopped into one of the soft chairs in front of the desk. “I’m not here to rant about Under Dome policy,” she said dismissively. “Since you obviously forgot at last night’s council meeting, I’m here to discuss my big announcement. And for your information, I know you aren’t busy – the only thing you have going on this morning is getting soused on mole waters then making prank phone calls to New Money. It’s Friday and that’s what you do every Friday.”

“Well,” Roper sniffed, “be that as it may, you should still have called ahead. I could have been busy.” He picked up his cup daintily and took a sip before nodding at his sister. “So what is this big announcement you have to make? Getting a new buffalo?” He chuckled at his own attempt at humor.

Harley sent him a sidelong glare. “No. This is big Roper. Really big. Like change the world big. I, along with one of your super geeky technical vole squads, have come up with an invention that is going to revolutionize dog-manity.”

Roper looked at her with interest. “Well, what is it?” he demanded.

Harley opened her briefcase, took out a bound report and handed it to him. “This is the ‘Do Claw’,” she said. “You’ll find all the details in that report, but essentially, the Do Claw is a prosthetic device worn by dogs or other thumbless animals, I guess, that will allow them to have the same mobility they would have if they had an actual thumb and finger. Imagine the possibilities! We can now play the guitar, race RC vehicles, play Candy Crush on a cell phone, weld, hitchhike – we can achieve total world domination!” She stopped to let the implications sink in.

Roper sat up straight in his chair and clapped his paws together excitedly. “We can finally form an Under Dome curling team!” he squealed. “All this time we’ve been trying to teach the voles to curl, but they just aren’t big enough. They always end up just riding the stones in circles, getting dizzy and then crashing into each other. It’s an ugly mess, is what it is.” He shook his head. “But now,” he went on, “now we can do the curling ourselves! You, me, Fluffy, Cookie – it will be brilliant! The Under Dome is finally going to be an Olympic contender! This is wonderful news, Harley. Just wonderful!” He grinned widely, his upper lip slipping up over his gums allowing his teeth to show fully. “Well done, Harley. Well done.” He ran his tongue over his teeth several times, attempting to get his lip unstuck.

Harley rolled her eyes and said derisively, “This is about more than just your silly sports team, Roper. Think of the opportunities.” She pulled more papers from her briefcase in preparation to list the potential activities made possible by the Do Claw.

Roper sat back in chair, displaying his boys. “Now,” he interrupted her. “As co-owner of the Do Claw, I say we start production right away. We’re going to need a marketing slogan, too. It should be catchy and easy to remember and really product-oriented.”

Harley opened her mouth to tell him about the slogan she had come up with but he cut her off.

“I’ve got it!” he announced. “Buy the Do Claw and you can do all the things that you couldn’t do without it!” He looked at Harley triumphantly. “It’s perfect!”

Harley stood up and looked down at Roper. “Co-owner?!” she shouted. “Since when are you the co-owner?! You didn’t come up with the idea! You didn’t come up with the name! And for your information, that is the stupidest slogan in the history of slogans! My slogan is much better!” She began to stomp back and forth in front of the desk.

“Well,” Roper said imperiously, “you did use one of my technical vole squads to develop the thing. That vole squad belongs to the Under Dome, which belongs to me which means the Do Claw is part mine.” He looked at his toenails and continued, “I’ll give you 32.13% of the profits.” Looking up to see her reaction, he quickly added, “I think that’s a fair division considering how much effort I put into coming up with the marketing plan.”

Harley snarled and stalked around the desk, staring down at Roper until he squirmed uncomfortably. “Okay,” he squeaked, splaying his paws out in front of him. “How about 46.8%?” Harley continued to glare. “79.6%?” he whined.

Harley growled deep in her throat. It was a sound Roper recognized – the same one she made when someone tried to take a plate of food away from her before it was empty.

“Okay,” he whispered, “102%, but that’s all I’m willing to give you. You can’t just pirate my vole squads for free.”

Harley backed around the desk and sat down again. “Fine,” she said, gathering up her paperwork and tucking it back into her briefcase. “I take 102% of the profits, I retain 100% ownership of the the Do Claw, I supervise production and marketing and I add a notation on the packaging, in very small print, that the Do Claw manufacture was made possible by the Under Dome University Technical College. Your name is mentioned nowhere. Isn’t that what we agreed?” she smiled sweetly at Roper as she shut her briefcase with a click.

Roper gulped. He reached for his mole waters and took several deep drinks. He wiped his mouth on the back of his paw and nodded meekly. “Yes,” he said hoarsely, “that sounds more than fair. Thank you for the opportunity to share in this amazing invention.” He smiled wanly at her as she strode purposefully to the door.

Turning, she said briskly, “It’s always a pleasure doing business with you, Roper.”

Waving weakly as the door banged shut behind her, Roper reached for his intercom. “Harry, I’m going to need more mole waters.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 10

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 10

Harley was furious. By the time she had made her way back to her brownstone, she was in such a rage she hardly noticed the delicious aroma filling the house.

“Stupid Roper,” she growled, tossing her bag and lunch cooler onto the entry table. “I tell him I have an announcement and he prances off to a parade. It’s only the most important invention in all of history.”

Stomping loudly, she continued to gripe as she made her way through the tastefully decorated rooms, entering the kitchen to seek comfort in the form of a snack. She was brought up short by the sight of a buffalo who was not Gordy or Prescott standing in front of the stove, stirring something in a pot. Something that smelled wonderful.

“Grandma?” Harley asked in surprise. “What are you doing here? Gordy and Prescott didn’t tell me you and Grandpa were coming for a visit.”

The buffalo looked at her briefly, snuffling softly as it returned its attention to the simmering pot.

“I didn’t say I wasn’t happy to see you,” she said defensively. “I just said I didn’t know you were coming.”

More snuffling left Grandma’s snout, followed by a hump shrug.

“Well,” Harley conceded, “I am in a bit of a mood. I’m sorry, Grandma. I am glad you’re here. Where’s Grandpa?” She looked around the room but saw no sign of the other buffalo.

Grandma stopped stirring the pot, and huffing loudly, dropped the spoon on the stove top with a clatter. Wiping one hoof on her apron, she shook the other in the air while snuffling excitedly.

“Oh,” Harley said carefully. She could tell Grandma was upset and didn’t want to further agitate her. “He went to visit Allen and Chatauqua, huh? Well, it’s nice you came here. I’m sure Gordy and Prescott will be thrilled to have you stay for a while.”

She peered interestedly at the pot on the stove. “What’s that you’re cooking, Grandma? Gravy?” she asked hopefully. A hump shake and more snuffling. “Oh,” Harley said, disappointed. “Vegetable soup. Yum.”

Harley sighed. If Grandma was visiting, there wouldn’t be any meat cooked or served in the brownstone for the duration of her stay. She was very strict about that and no one dared to cross her. She had quite a temper. Or so Gordy and Prescott had always said. She was, after all, their mother, so they should know.

Harley decided not to cause trouble so soon in the visit, especially since Grandma already seemed pretty upset about Grandpa’s visit to Chatauqua and her family. Knowing that the couple always traveled together, Harley figured there was some sort of argument involved and she simply didn’t have time for family drama. She quickly bade Grandma good-bye and headed for her bedroom to brood and scheme revenge on Roper, who had ruined her day. And to find the stash of beef jerky she had squirreled away in case of emergency.


“So, Grandma,” Harley swallowed a large mouthful of vegetable soup at dinner later that evening. “Guess what happened to me today?”

Grandma looked up from her own bowl of soup and snuffled encouragingly.

“Well,” Harley began, shoveling another spoonful into her snout. “You see,” she continued, mouth full. “Roper called a council meeting and I told him I wanted to make an announcement before everyone left and then he pulled one of his ‘hee hee, I’m so sorry Harley, I forgot you wanted to say something but I really don’t care so I told everyone to leave before you could make your big announcement’ moments and sent everyone home before I could say anything about my big news.” As she spoke and chewed at the same time the vegetable soup became a gory image sloshing around in her toothy maw – coming dangerously close to slopping out of her mouth completely several times.

Grandma aimed a hard look at her, holding her gaze until Harley stopped talking completely.

“Sorry, Grandma,” Harley gulped the masticated bites of food then wiped her snout daintily with a napkin. “I didn’t mean to chew with my mouth open. It’s really tasty and I’m pretty hungry.” She took another large bite, but was careful this time to chew and swallow before continuing her story. Grandma nodded in approval at her improved table manners.

“Anyway, Roper sent everyone home before I could tell them about my new invention. Well, it’s not really my invention. I mean, it was my idea, but I got Harry to assign a Vole Technical Squad to really flesh it out, you know?” Warming to her subject, Harley looked around the table. Grandma appeared to be listening with interest, but Gordy and Prescott continued to eat, focusing intently on their large bowls of soup. Harley glared at them, but when neither acknowledged her, she continued her story.

“My idea was that it’s really hard for us dogs to get anything done because we don’t have a thumb or a finger, right?” She looked from Grandma to Gordy to Prescott. “And so I thought, well, what if we did have a thumb and a finger? We could do so much more. So I said to Harry, ‘Hey Harry, let’s talk about creating a device that dogs can wear on one or both paws that gives them the flexibility and function of a thumb and a finger.’ And Harry was all over that. And finally, just yesterday, we finished the clinical trials. We’ll be launching an Under Dome wide ad campaign and then, based on my projected numbers, we’ll be taking the “Do Claw” global by the end of the year. I even came up with a great marketing slogan – “Do more with the Do Claw!” I think it’s going to be HUGE!” Harley bounced slightly in her seat and waited for the buffaloes to heap praise on her.

Grandma smiled indulgently. Gordy looked up from his meal just long enough to snuffle a perfunctory congratulations, while Prescott simply patted Harley on the head gently with a large hoof.

“Please,” Harley muttered sarcastically, “try to contain your enthusiasm. No, stop, you’re embarrassing me.” Seeing she wasn’t going to get any more reaction from them, she glumly returned to her own soup. “You’ll see,” she grumbled. “The Do Claw is going to be huge.” She chewed thoughtfully as she imagined her impending celebrity.

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 9

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 9

Harley grabbed her messenger bag and hastily slung it over her shoulder. She glanced around the study making sure she had all she would need for the morning’s activities before switching out the lights and hurrying from the room. Mentally, she ticked off her schedule. “Council meeting, snack, nap, post-nap snack, teach Dachshund Ethics class at TUDU, lunch, nap, post-nap snack …” She snatched her lunch bag from the counter – Prescott had prepared it and she bet there was nothing good in there – and bustled out the door. “There just aren’t enough hours in the day,” she grumbled. “I have to go to the bookstore, but it’s Thursday and that means Roper has everything shutting down at 1:26 for his weekly parade; must be why Prescott and Gordy were so cranky this morning.”

While Roper’s love of a parade was well-known in The Under Dome, it was equally well-known how much Harley’s Buffaloes disliked them. Every Thursday, second Tuesday morning of the month and every other Monday afternoon Roper lined the buffaloes up at the front his themed parade and marched the procession around the town square. He designed, with the help of his stylist Jose, costumes for the bison that coordinated with whatever theme he had dreamed up for the parade. More often than not, the costumes involved sparkles, glitter, rhinestones (Roper’s favorite) and occasionally tinsel. Gordy and Prescott hated the costumes, but did enjoy the noteriety and acclaim that came from being the (as Roper called them) “Noble Bison leading the way to a powerful future for all of The Greater Under Dome … and it’s territories.” They were famous, and their celebrity often brought them new clients and business contacts. Gordy’s exercise studio, Hot Buffalo Yoga, had grown so large that he was now condisering an additional location on the other side of town. As a financial planner, Prescott was very much in demand by the wealthier vole families who loved being able to say their fortunes were being managed by such an auspicious buffalo.

Nevertheless, the buffaloes always bristled on Parade Days, often spending the morning snuffling grouchily and snapping at Harley. She understood their pique, but still wished fervently they wouldn’t take it out on her lunches – she knew she would not be finding the meat and cheese she so loved in the neatly packed cooler bag and resigned herself to tofu bites and soy chips.

*****

“I now call to order this meeting of The Under Dome City Council,” Roper Lee sat at the head of the table in Town Hall Conference Room T and gazed over the assembled Council-Voles, Council-Moles, assistants, secretaries and interns. “Does anyone know where Harley is?” he asked, glancing at Harry, who shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. Roper huffed out a sigh. “We’ll just have to start without her.”

The door burst open and Harley rushed in, just then, apologies tumbling from her snout.

Roper yelped at the sudden noise. “Aiinh!” he squeaked.

“Sorry, sorry, excuse me,” she muttered, skirting the table to take her reserved seat. “Traffic was slow and I had to go to the bookstore before coming here because someone (she glared at Roper) is closing all the shops early today. But I’m here now, so, you know, proceed.” She waved her paw dismissively toward Roper’s seat and began to rummage in her bag, pulling out a pad of paper and writing tools.

Roper made a production of looking at his notes and collecting himself before continuing. “We have a lot of ground to cover today so let’s get started,” he began. “First, I’d like to make a small announcement of a personal nature. It seems that my lovely wife, Fluffy, has decided that we need more children. So, to this end, she got herself all – what’s the word, Harry?” he turned to Harry, who whispered lowly in his hear. “Yes,pregnant, that’s right.” He looked as though he had swallowed something unpleasant as he continued. “So, I guess we’ll be having more kids and I’m getting the feeling she won’t let me sell these, either. I’m not really sure what we’re going to do with them, but, well, there it is.” He looked around the table as though waiting for a response. Some of the voles and moles clapped weakly. Harley rolled her eyes.

Roper straightened in his chair and went on. “In old business, it looks like we are still working on bringing tourists to The Under Dome. This report says we’re going to be holding some sort of Festival of the Vole next month and that certainly sounds exciting. Keep me posted on that. And, Harry, your cousin Vance has that soft rock band – you were going to get him to play in the park on Wednesday evenings, right? How’s that coming along?”

Harry fiddled with his VDA. “Sir, yes, Sir. Vance and the Vole Tones will be playing every Wednesday at the bandstand in Ringworm Memorial Park, Sir.”

“Good,” Roper nodded. “Very nice. Okay, on to new business. I’m promoting my kids’ nanny, Cookie the Poodle, to Defense Minister. You aren’t going to get to vote on this because I already told her she could have the job and quite frankly, she scares me so, you know. If any of you want to try to fire her now, go ahead, but do so at your own risk. She’s pretty mean. That said, I think she’ll do a great job protecting our city – she was quite helpful during the Armadillo Crisis and she does seem to have a certain something about her that inspires one to keep their distance.” He flipped through his notes.

“Also,” he looked at Harley. “I trust you and your Buffaloes will be at the Parade this afternoon?”

Harley looked up from her note-taking. “Uh, yes, as far as I know,” she nodded. “I have an announcement of my own whenever you’re finished, though.” She went back to her notes.

“Riight,” Roper said warily. Harley’s announcements were never to be anticipated, he knew. “Okay,” he said. “Our last order of business today involves upgrades to our Under Dome Dire Emergency Reporting System. It has come to my attention that most of the citizens are finding this very confusing so I think we need to come up with a clearer way of explaining how it works and launch a new marketing plan. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far,” he looked expectantly around the table. “U.D.D.E.R.S. is designed to make reporting emergency situations simple and fun for everyone. Don’t know what to fix your family for dinner? Did you forget what day it is? Have you been injured in a smelting incident? Did you spot an Armadillo or agent of Okinawa? Our operators are standing by to handle any level of emergency you may be experiencing.” He bounced slightly in his seat and went on, “Dial 011 if you are lonely and just want to hear a friendly voice. 111 operators are on hand to remind you what street you live on or your kids’ names. Press 211 for restaurant guides or entertainment options including movie and documentary listings. Dial 311 if you can’t find your car keys or your tire is flat. 411-level emergencies are strictly relating to public works disasters such as tears in street carpeting or pee pee accidents in public places. If you find a hot spot or cold spot, puddles, or any other potential climate-related or weather-related emergency, call 511 immediately. If you witness a fashion crime such as someone wearing white after Labor Day, too few sparkles on a jumpsuit or a bad comb-over, dial 611. To hear a listing of Roper’s favorite songs, call 711. 811 calls are limited to reported sightings of Armadilloes, Agents of Okinawa, New Money spies, or to report access-hatches to the World Above Under Dome left open.” He glared pointedly at Harley, “So those of you who repeatedly go above ground to do whatever it is you do and leave the door open – remember to close it!”

He glanced at his notes. “911 is really only for my personal use. I use it to call Harry or one of my Super Vole Squads when I’m out of mole waters or if I need to contact Jose regarding a new jumpsuit or some other really dire emergency.”

He settled back in his chair and looked at the Council. “So, what do you think?” he asked. “Oh, yes,” he sat up straight. “There is one more dire emergency that we need to include. I’ve added a 10 key to all VT&T phone systems in the Under Dome. 1011 is to be called to report that things have just gone completely wrong and we need to evacuate the City to The Under Dome Deeper. Now,” he aimed a pointed look at some of the Council-Voles. “We need to explain this very carefully to the general population. It is imperitive that they dial 1011 – not 10-10-11, which actually changes their long-distance service to Sprint. Remember, 1011. That’s 1-0-1-1,” he enunciated slowly. The voles nodded gravely. “Okay, then. Well, that’s all I have for now. Spread the word. Meeting adjourned.”

Voles and moles began to disperse quickly. Harley looked around and then stood up, shouting, “Wait a minute! I have an announcement!” She shot an irritated look at Roper. “Dang it, Roper! I had something to announce! Why did you adjourn the meeting?”

“Oops! I forgot.” giggled Roper. “Guess you’ll have to wait until next meeting,” he shrugged. “No more time – got to get ready for the Parade. It’s going to be wonderful … the theme is ‘United by Glitter’ and everyone will be wearing costumes made of glitter-encrusted grub-silk. Don’t be late! Hee, hee!” he scampered out of the room, leaving Harley fuming silently, alone.

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 8

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 8

“And so I ask each and every one of you to dig deep into your Drazi pouches – I mean, pockets – and give all you can.” Roper stood behind a podium, looking out over the large crowd of business-moles, business-voles and Under Dome citizenry. He took a sip from the cup at the edge of the dais and waited for the refreshing mole waters to take effect. He hated public speaking. Well, he loved speaking into a camera and having his image and voice broadcast throughout the Under Dome on the close-caption vole-vision system while he relaxed in an undisclosed location. But standing in front of a large live audience made him nervous.

“The Under Dome Vole Center for Enlightenment has done a lot of great work,” he continued. “We have been able to establish a University to further vole and mole higher education, as well as offering support to many new businesses which add so much to our economy. But there is much yet to be done. Every Euro-grub contributed tonight will go towards funding new, plusher street carpeting and will ensure that no citizen of the Under Dome or Under Dome tourist will have sore feet while doing business or shopping for pleasure in our beautiful downtown area.” Roper glanced to the side of the stage area and nodded slightly to Harry, who began clapping loudly, triggering wild applause from the audience.

“In conclusion, I would like to thank all of you for attending tonight’s event. I would also like to thank Southside Cafe Catering for the delicious and tender meal. And most especially, I’d like to thank someone without whom I would not be able to do the work of leading this fine city – Mr. Harry the Vole.”

He gestured with his paw toward Harry. “Take a bow, Harry.” Harry bowed awkwardly then quickly retreated into the backstage area. The audience clapped politely. Roper nodded, clapping enthusiastically. “Yes, wonderful vole, that Harry,” he said. “So again, thank you all for coming and remember to drive softly.”

The audience began to move away from their tables and towards the exit, stopping suddenly when Roper squeaked excitedly from the stage. “Oh, yes!” he called, flapping his paws back and forth. “My lovely wife, Fluffy! She’s here with me! I mean, not on the stage of course – you certainly didn’t come to hear her speak, right? But she came with me. In the car. We brought the Vole-vo. It’s actually a very smooth ride and of course, I’m an excellent driver. You know, it’s interesting that I used to be afraid of driving. But now I just love it. Love, love, love it! It’s relaxing and exciting at the same time. Not too exciting – that might be dangerous…” Roper trailed off, staring with glazed eyes at the crowd. Suddenly he started and glanced around anxiously. “What was I saying? Oh, yes, Fluffy. Thank you, Fluffy, for coming with me tonight.”

He shrugged. “I guess that’s everything then.” Then he giggled and scampered off the stage, calling over his shoulder, “Hee hee!”

Harry caught up with Roper backstage. “I think that went very well, Sir,” he said, giving Roper a fresh cup of mole waters. “There seemed to be quite a few contributers to the ‘Street Carpet Fund’, Sir.”

“Yes, yes,” Roper nodded, sipping thirstily. “I’ve got a real gift for fundraising, don’t I, Harry?” Without waiting for an answer, he walked to the stage entrance and peeked out front. “Did you see Harley or her buffaloes out there tonight?”

“No, Sir. No buffaloes were in attendance, Sir.” Harry checked a guest list on his VDA. “But Mr. Prescott Buffalo did send a sizeable check, Sir. And Harley sent her regrets. Apparently she had a prior engagement, Sir.” Harry followed as Roper began to pace back and forth.

“Prior engagement, my paw!” snorted Roper. “She probably wanted to stay at home and watch V.V.” He emptied his cup and raised a paw at Harry. “That’s just like her, Harry. Selfish, self-absorbed, inconsiderate … she never thinks of the community – only her own comfort and pleasure. You know, Harry,” Roper lowered his voice and spoke intensely, “I’d like to be able to have more leisure time, too. I’d like to be able to stay home and watch V.V. with my family. I’d like to order a grub pizza, watch a movie with my kids or maybe spend the evening shaking my wife and rolling her over a log. But I don’t.” He spun around and pointed his paw at Harry. “I have a responsibility to this city and the voles and moles who live here. I have to get dressed up and make these public appearances for the good of the Under Dome. I wish Harley would take her own responsibility to the City as seriously.” He shook his head and sighed. “But I guess we’ll just have to keep trying to get her to see the importance of it all.”

“Yes, Sir. Importance, Sir. Would you like me to send an email, Sir?” Harry asked.

“No, Harry,” Roper said sadly. “It would only make her defensive. Let me think about it for a while – I’m sure I can come up with some way to impress upon her how vital her support is to the Under Dome. She’s always been so stubborn,” he added confidentially. “You have to sneak the responsibility in disguised as something frivolous that she wants to do.”

“Yes, Sir.” Harry nodded.

“Well, Harry,” Roper said, suddenly cheerful. “I guess the evening’s about over. Maybe it’s not too late to go home and roll Fluffy over a log. Send a Vole Squad to my home, Harry – I’m going to need them to shake her, then hold her.” Roper pranced off to collect Fluffy and head home.

“Yes, Sir. Shaking and holding, Sir. I’m on it, Sir.” Harry called to his retreating form.