Arnold was sitting behind Emerson’s desk in the clock-tower office, holding a pile of documents in his paw, while the self-described double knight was ‘taking a moment’ in his house next door. Arnold shuffled the papers again thinking his work from the past two months was almost done. He tried to remain calm, but his cat heart betrayed him and he twitched at the slightest noise as he waited for Emerson and dreaded the thought of someone getting in the way of this meeting.
Finally, Emerson came into the room wearing nothing but a sarong and a smile. He smelled of bourbon and one of his cigars.
“Arnold, you look like a natural behind that desk… it suits you,” said Emerson.
Arnold held his tongue for the moment, trying to hide how upset and nervous he was now that his preparations were about to come to test. “I think that you’ll find that everything is in order around your home, and that I followed all your instructions.” Arnold’s eye twitched. “I even sang to the monkey one last time while you were busy.”
“Really?” Emerson looked around and was surprised to find the little spider monkey, sleeping soundly in the cat mat in the corner. “You’re saying that noise I heard from next door was singing? I was starting to think you might be in heat or something.” Emerson chuckled at his own little joke, while Arnold ignored the musical critique. “I’m surprised Bookworm or her maids haven’t shot you by now!” Emerson paused before adding, “Still, he seems to have taken to you.”
When Arnold still didn’t say anything Emerson continued, “Well, so long as it’s still the 29th you are still my major-domo, so can you send word that I am seriously considering holding a welcome home party. We’re thinking about the 10th… maybe at The Gangplank. You’re invited of course. It’s about time that you loosened up and had a little fun.”
“Actually, I’ve been dancing and drinking for days now,” Arnold said quietly as he handed the papers towards Emerson. “Celebrating my impending victory over you.” That wasn’t the full truth, but he wasn’t ready to tell anyone the whole story yet.
“Victory?” Emerson looked momentarily puzzled, “Have you been smoking my hookah while I’ve been gone?”
“No, and I never have.” Arnold gritted his teeth as he stood up to his full height which wasn’t much. “But I had to do something, I was going crazy here just waiting for you and sitting on all that work I’d done.” That was closer to the truth at least.
“Arnold, you’re far too tense, that can’t be healthy. Seriously, a pull on the hookah might remedy that.”
Arnold’s nose twitched but he remained silent. Emerson shrugged his shoulders.
“Okay, so tell me then… what is all this ‘work’ you are talking about?”
“I’m talking about how much you owe me Emerson,” Arnold replied as he put the documents onto the table and took them out. “You gave me the autonomy to handle your affairs while you were away, just like on your last escapade, so I did your taxes.”
“Ahh…well that wasn’t really necessary. I would have gotten around to them.”
“You still have to ‘get around’ to them,” Arnold replied, without believing him. “I only filled out your income of the last year.” Arnold opened the files for Emerson to read, most of the pages were blank. There were no deductions, no life changing events were listed…
“I’m a little surprised, you’re usually more thorough.”
“Ten percent of your income, Emerson,” Arnold had indeed been daunted by trying to put together all of the information that would have covered all of Emerson’s life in the past year, but after reading the contract carefully he’d figured out he didn’t need to. “Deductions, losses, and life changing events affect how much you owe in taxes. It does not change your income, which is all we need to discuss my compensation.”
“Ahh,” Emerson took a quick glance, and then double-taked and coughed. “I think it might be best if we let the brothers check your math. Lapis has told me that he handles these kinds of things.”
“I have the receipts right there,” Arnold pointed, unable to keep his paw from shaking. “I got the writs for the Sagrada Lucia and one for the Chivas from Victor. He laughed when I asked for one, but he provided it.”
Emerson smirked, “Of course he did, that bastard.” Arnold got the distinct impression that Emerson was about to divulge something but at the last second Emerson showed uncharacteristic restraint and held his tongue.
“Still, I might claim that first one is a forgery.” Emerson said seriously, “I stole those cigars the same night I stole that priceless piece of art… wait, you didn’t hear that.”
Arnold thought back to the last conversation they’d had when Emerson had returned. “Is that the thing that proves you made it to the island then?”
“No matter, I think that we can both agree that my trip down south was a loss all around, customs didn’t even let me bring those cigars anywhere near Babbage!” Emerson added matter of factly, “If anything I could argue that you owe me money.”
“You don’t want to go down that road Emerson,” Arnold said breathing deeply, trying to control both his temper and his excitement. “I’ll take the matter up with City Hall if I have to, and though they may side with you it will be after an investigation, also an audit. You don’t want either, they’d trace your drug money quickly enough.”
“So? Is there some law against selling drugs?” Emerson paused. Arnold indicated the income bracket to remind Emerson he kept it off his books which meant tax evasion and possibly smuggling charges as well. “Look, either you’re shaking Arnold, or I am, either way we need a drink.” Emerson turned towards a shelf and retrieved a bottle of wine. “I’m sure that we can reach a reasonable accommodation-“
Arnold went over and grabbed Emerson’s arm below the shoulder, “Yes, we can Emerson! That’s what I’ve been hoping for!”
“Ah! Good! You had me worried for a second there,” Emerson shifted himself to begin bartering. “Listen, the Tesla Cannon’s bolted down, so it would be a lot of work to actually give it to you… but we could say it’s yours.”
“Emerson, I’ve been going around telling people that I wanted to burn your house down in front of you. That I’d trade your debt for that chance.”
“Arnold, I’m sensing you are upset.” Though he covered it with characteristic glibness, Emerson was actually surprised at the depth of the cats distress. Is it possible in my glibness I’ve been a bit callous with respect to Arnold’s feelings? Emerson thought.
“It’s true it might make me feel better, but it’s not what I want above all else. I never even told the Lionhearts what I wanted to do, just in case someone was listening and would stop it just to hurt me.” And Arnold had been afraid someone might.
A number of inappropriate comments flashed through Emerson’s mind at this point… but he held his tongue due to the gravity of Arnold’s admission.
“I will give up any money you still owe me, all claims to your wealth, home, or anything else in your will.” Arnold walked back and pointed to the fireplace with the writs and documents. ” I will burn these! Everything here that could implicate you. All I want from you in exchange is that our deal is completed. I will never again be your employee, your major-domo, your slave.”
“Slave? I think that’s a little overly dramatic,” said Emerson who was actually a bit
flustered by this claim.
“It’s how I’ve felt,” Arnold retorted, losing himself for the moment. “I realized I could have no ‘victory’ over you if you could recall me again by our first contract. Even if I got ‘paid’ or burned your home what would it mean if in a few months we would go through this again, where one of us would inevitably end up trying to outdo the other?” Arnold extended a paw…and tried unsuccessfully to steady himself. He wouldn’t get on his knees, but his tone was close to begging, “I want no part of it. From this day forth I will never again be your major-domo. I will no longer be your servant.”
Arnold’s heart raced as he watched Emerson think about what he’d finally been able to say aloud. He had plenty of friends tell him about the intricacies of human nature…why they couldn’t be trusted. But this was not about them, or anyone else for that matter. This was between Arnold and Emerson now and no one else. The cat knew in the next few seconds he would see the true measure of the man.
“I understand Arnold.” Emerson gripped Arnold’s paw and shook it, “If you just wanted to be friends you should have just said so sooner!”
Arnold’s eyes widened, and he tried to protest but it came out flabbergasted nonsense. Before he knew what was happening his ‘friend’ had dragged him off to celebrate, the man still only wearing his sarong. The cat was left to wonder how he had lost control of the situation once again.