Mr. Palmer escorted Mr. Arnold into a room upstairs at the Bow Street Station where books lined the walls and a pleasant desk and sitting area had been arranged. If Mr. Arnold suspected anything was amiss with a solicitor whose office was in a public trolley station, he made no indication.
“Please, Mr. Arnold, have a seat.” Mr. Palmer gestured to the empty chair in front of the desk. In the chair next to his sat an elderly woman; white hair, a black mourning dress, an enormous feathered hat and ridiculous blue velvet shoes. Recalling a day some months earlier, Mr. Arnold vaguely recognized her from a chance meeting near the Academy cemetery. The old woman regarded him with a scowl.
“Oh, my manners!” Mr. Palmer exclaimed. “Mumsy Abigail Sharp, may I present to you Mr. Arnold?”
The woman allowed an uncomfortable pause to hang in the air. “Mr. Arnold, it is a pleasure… to have you in my employ.”
Mr. Arnold made no response.
Clearing his throat, Mr. Palmer went right to business. “Yes, well we have a matter of the contract to review. Shall we proceed swiftly?”
“Yes, that,” Arnold replied.
“I’m afraid Mr. Lighthouse was not very precise in his wording before he left rather suddenly,” said Mr. Palmer.
Mr. Arnold responded without emotion. “I’m not surprised.”
“My niece’s acquaintances are not often precise.” Mumsy Abigail spoke bitterly.
Mr. Palmer responded in a condescending tone. “Come Mumsy Abigail, I’m sure your niece has excellent taste.”
Turning his eyes to Mr. Arnold, he continued. “I’m afraid that it has taken a bit of legal interpretation on my part to sort things out.”
“Legal interpretation?” Mr. Arnold shifted. “You mean you don’t know for sure either and you’re guessing!”
“Well, Mr. Arnold, law, like medicine, is very subjective.” Mr. Palmer cleared his throat. “However, if I might begin…”
Mr. Arnold sighed and rubbed his head, then nodded his assent.
“Very good,” said Mr. Palmer. “Now then. The first item Mr. Lighthouse mentioned in his hastily-scribbled notes is the fact that your title is to remain unchanged. You are Major-domo Arnold in the joint employ of Mr. Lighthouse and Abigail Sharp. Is that satisfactory to you, sir?”
Mumsy Abigail watched Mr. Arnold with one eye until he responded.
“Yes, it’s fine with me.” He waved his hand dismissively with the assumption that fighting this point would probably be a waste of his time, at least for now.
Mr. Palmer continued. “You are to carry out your… and I am quoting Mr. Lighthouse here, ‘very busy major-domo duties by keeping track of his many splendid affairs.’” Mr. Palmer paused as he re-read the line and then glanced at Mr. Arnold. “I will assume you are familiar with his ‘many splendid affairs?’”
“If you mean his messes,” Mr. Arnold said, “then yes.”
Mr. Palmer smirked. “Semantics, sir.”
After a moment, he began the next section. “Second, Mumsy Abigail, whom I represent, will have certain tasks she may require of you when you are not burdened by the taxing business of attending to Mr. Lighthouse’s affairs.”
“Such as?” Arnold asked.
Mumsy Abigail cleared her throat and looked directly at Mr. Arnold. “My boy, those certain tasks may be summed up in three words: ‘duties as assigned.’”
Mr. Palmer shuffled papers suddenly, not bothering to conceal his smirk.
“So, basically,” Mr. Arnold said with irritation, “you expect me to be a beast of burden.”
“No, sir, I do not.” Mumsy Abigail spoke pointedly. “I do not consider you to be a beast any more than Mr. Palmer here. Point in fact, he has a similar clause in his contract.” She looked at her solicitor with authority. “Is that not so, Palmer?”
Mr. Arnold turned to Mr. Palmer. “I’m getting paid through doing this right? Or… I’m assuring that I’m getting paid at least.”
“That is so Mr. Arnold,” answered Mr. Palmer, “and to date my tasks have been reasonable.”
“He often gets dinner as well.” Mumsy Abigail glared at the man sitting across the desk from her.
Mr. Palmer tapped his finger nervously and then reiterated. “Yes, sir, you will be paid. Shall we continue?”
Hearing no objections, Mr. Palmer continued his reading of the contract. “Mr. Lighthouse has agreed to pay you 10% of his net annual income. What he is unable to pay of that, 10% will be covered in part by Mumsy Abigail, namely 75% of the first 5% he is unable to pay and 100% of the balance owing based solely on Mr. Lighhouse’s filed tax return.”
Mumsy Abigail showed a hint of a smile as Mr. Arnold placed his paw on his face in disbelief.
“Sir,” asked Mr. Arnold, “what do you know of Emerson Lighthouse?”
“Mr. Lighthouse tells me he is wealthy, sir.”
Arnold twitched in his seat.
“So you should be in a lucrative way by March,” remarked Mr. Palmer. “That is, if Mr. Lighthouse does not die or otherwise vanish.”
“Oh, no,” said Mr. Arnold. “That I’m not worried about. If he dies I’m even better off.” He paused as he considered. “Or worse. Either one.”
“Well,” Mr. Palmer said, “that is true. He has also signed this document.” He slid a piece of paper across the table. “This, Mr. Arnold, is the last will and testament of Sir Sir Emerson Lighthouse. He has named you sole heir of his financial fortune and left his properties to Miss Ginsburg.”
He paused to let the impact of this statement sink in. “So you get all his money should he…. er, pass.” He traced his finger along a line on the document and corrected himself. “Oh. And the Tesla cannon.”
Mr. Arnold gave an expression of resignation. “That at least I could sell to someone.”
Mr. Palmer nodded in agreement. “In this town you could indeed.” After gauging Mr. Arnold’s ability to cope with more revelations, he continued. “There is a stipulation, Mr. Arnold… are you familiar with Fae Way?”
Mr. Arnold stiffened in his seat. “What?”
“Fae Way,” said Mr. Palmer. “It is a small lane that intersects with the Esplanade de Trucha in the Wheatstone Waterways.” Noting Mr. Arnold’s blank stare, he clarified further. “The sidewalk in front of Mr. Lighthouse’s property?”
Mr. Arnold relaxed slightly. “Oh, that. Yes.”
“Mr. Lighthouse is requiring that when you are shoveling it clear of snow that you also shovel the entire length of Fae Way. He is apparently ‘trying to be neighborly to Ms. Heinrichs,’ and feels that ‘she may be distraught that he has left the neighborhood unprotected again.’ His words, not mine.”
“He wants me to what?!” Arnold sputtered.
Mr. Palmer looked at him with incredulity. “He is providing the shovel.”
Before Mr. Arnold could respond, he went on. “There is one other thing. If Mr. Spires drops by looking for something, you are to remind him that the ‘something’ is under the garbage can behind the house, and you are to tell him to ‘be careful’ with it. Personally, I am a little confused by this, so I hope it makes sense to you, sir.”
Mr. Arnold shook his head. “No, but I figure one look under said garbage can will satisfy my curiosity.” He paused. “I can’t believe he’s managed to do this to me…again.”
“There is one other minor detail.” Mr. Palmer continued in the business-like tone that incited such hatred for men of his profession. “No effort involved in this.”
Mr. Arnold scowled. “How many more ‘minor details’ are there?”
Mr. Palmer waved dismissively. “Last one before the codicils. Now then, apparently Mr. Lighthouse owns a monkey.”
“That thing?” Mr. Arnold asked. “I figured it was a stray.”
Mr. Palmer delivered the next line flatly. “You are to sing a lullaby to the monkey every night. It gets lonely.” After a moment he said, “again, his words, not mine.”
If Mr. Arnold was capable of becoming red in the face, he certainly would have done so.
“There are two things I do NOT do,” said Mr. Arnold with undisguised impatience, “and that is dance and sing.”
Mr. Palmer regarded him silently for a moment. “I don’t think the monkey will tell on you, sir.”
Quite suddenly, and quite loudly, Mumsy Abigail sneezed. After a look of disgust crossed his face, Mr. Palmer handed her a tissue, which she waved off in favor of an old handkerchief from her pocket. After busying herself with the indelicate business of tidying her nose, she pointed at Mr. Arnold with a crooked finger.
“YOU are a cat,” she accused.
Mr. Arnold looked at her wordlessly.
“I was not aware you are a cat,” she said. “I am allergic to cats.”
Mr. Palmer shuffled his feet beneath the desk.
Remembering Miss Ginsburg’s warning on the matter, Mr. Arnold watched the old woman with suspicion. As he looked for symptoms of an actual allergy attack, she demanded, “do you shed, sir?”
Mr. Palmer cringed as she sniffled dramatically.
“Yes,” Mr. Arnold answered. “I shed, but not in the cold season.”
Mumsy nodded resolutely. “Fine then. I suppose you may enter the house.”
Mr. Palmer took a quill from the ink pot on his desk and began scribbling some text at the bottom of the contract.
“I have just added an addendum, Mr. Arnold, as I feel I must consider your interests as well.”
Mr. Arnold regarded the solicitor with skepticism.
“If Mr. Lighthouse does not return to New Babbage by the end of February,” Mr. Palmer said matter-of-factly, “I will have him declared dead. You, as his heir, will receive his funds and his guns.”
Mr. Palmer lowered his voice then, and leaned over the desk toward Mr. Arnold. “If, however, Mumsy Abigail’s niece also does not return, you get Mr. Lighthouse’s properties as well.”
Mumsy Abigail raised her eyebrow at Palmer.
“If they are merely late in their return,” he said, “they may purchase the properties back from you at a rate which I will negotiate.”
Mr. Arnold looked puzzled. “A rate which you will negotiate?”
Mr. Palmer nodded. “Yes. I will negotiate fair market value for you, Mr. Arnold. I do not work for Mr. Lighthouse, nor do I owe him any favors. So, shall we sign?”
Mumsy Abigail held out a trembling hand for the quill, and then signed with an an embellished and inky flourish.
Taking the quill, Mr. Palmer spoke as he inscribed the contract as well. “I will sign on behalf of Mr. Lighthouse,” he said.
A bit dumbounded at this turn of events, Mr. Arnold shrugged and signed.
Mr. Palmer smiled. “Very good then, Mr. Arnold! Now, if you would kindly report to Mumsy Abigail’s home, Ruthorford House, in Academy of Industry, tomorrow morning at 05:00 to start her breakfast, I think everything will be fine.”
Mr. Arnold twitched with annoyance. “Five a.m?”
The old woman turned a glaring eye at the cat as Mr. Palmer nodded.
“Yes, Mr. Arnold. In the morning.” He blew on the signatures to dry them. “If you have any questions, at any time, please feel free to contact me.”
Mr. Arnold sighed and nodded. “I’d like copies of all of this. Everything we just signed.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” replied Mr. Palmer. “I will have copies forwarded to you in the morning. But please tell me something if you will.”
Without waiting, he continued. “I can’t say as I know this Mr. Lighthouse as well as you do, sir, but he seems an interesting chap. Knowing him, do you really think he is capable of travelling halfway around the world and completing this mission of his in the time frame he has outlined? It all seems rather ill-conceived if you ask me.”
Mr. Arnold wasted no time in answering.
“The man is untrustworthy to a fault, a liar, and in many ways an idiot who is going to get himself killed.”
He paused with a sigh of resignation.
“He’ll make it in time.”
* * *
((Thank you, Arnold, for your help with this, and Emerson, for all the assistance with Palmer’s dialogue! ))