Once I had made the decision to return to work, I tracked down Cousin Eddie and we confirmed the details of a top secret plan. Eddie zipped off in the remote control patrol jeep and I made my way toward the garden gate.
I stopped and visited with my lovely gatekeeper Raven for a few minutes before exiting my sacred garden. Raven, of course, was happy to hear I was returning to work. She seemed to think it would be good for me. And she is always right about such things. We also spent time discussing Raven's new "desk" which had been dubbed "Achilles' Last Stand," and which was imported from the far edges of Lemmington near the Passage of Time. Achilles' Last Stand was essentially a massive, two-tiered tree stump, so that she had ample space both for herself and her laptop and various & mysterious gadgetry. I was glad to see Raven enjoying it and making such good use of it. Our conversation concluded with Raven reminding me how nice it was to have me home again, and that I should not worry--that everything would surely turn out as was intended. I thanked her, of course, which I guess is technically how the conversation concluded.
More by whim than by pre-meditation, I decided to stop off at the old Record Emporium and rummage through the boxes of costumes and makeup Eddie the Peacock (my old boss at the county clerk's office) had stashed there before he left on an extended comedy tour in Morganshire. I found my preferred attire from days past: my Gliridescetan Prince ensemble that Princess Mydnite had brought special for me from her home planet of Gliridesceta. It really was stunning: lots of glitter and crystalline adornments, my calico wig, and even my custom made fangs. You see, KeV was once a vampire from outer space in another existence, and it was Princess Mydnite who had glitterized me as such. I decided to try the ensemble on, of course, and it felt nice. Felt quite natural. I settled on wearing it to work, anticipating the joy I'd find in annoying Madeleine the albino peacock. Also, of course, it would just be nice to feel fabulous once again.
As I entered the county clerk's office in full Gliridescetan Prince regalia, Madeleine was working away at her desk, and her reaction was much more controlled than I thought it would be--though that shouldn't have surprised me. She adjusted her glasses a bit and said--quite calmly--"Ah, I see you found your imbecile costume. Good job." Then she typed away a bit more on her computer and added, "Well, at least you've shown up. And none too soon. We've got lots to get done."
I started walking toward the closet and told her, "Yes indeed...lots and lots of stuff to do!" With that, I flung the closet doors open and began unplugging cords and cables.
Madeleine literally flew out of her seat--near the speed of light, I believe--and was next to me. "Just what do you think you're doing?!!" she asked at a much higher pitch and volume that she normally speaks with.
I patted Madeleine on the wing and tried to calm her. "It's okay, lovely Madeleine. It will be fine." I continued unplugging cables and removing servers from the closet. And I continued speaking, "We're going to need the closet for our costumes and makeup--and our full-length mirrors! And don't worry, you'll still have your computer...Cousin Eddie has already routed you through our sacred garden wi-fi--which is much more secure anyway."
I was completely shocked that I had succeeded in calming Madeleine a bit, and she seemed quite rational, though quite unhappy with me, of course, when she spoke, "Those servers connect with Mayor Reginald III, and it's how he monitors our transactions."
"Which is exactly why we need to get rid of them, dear Madeleine," and I gave her a peck on the beak, while wrapping up some cables and stacking the servers up outside the closet. "I've kept lots of secrets from you, Madeleine, because I needed to know I could trust you. My lovely gatekeeper Raven has already hacked into Reginald III's computers, and she has installed a phantom network so it appears on his end that everything is fine. In fact, Reginald III has been monitoring the phantom network for several days already instead or our computers in the county clerk's office. He will have no clue that these servers have been disconnected."
Madeleine adjusted her glasses nervously, as if she appreciated the intelligence displayed in our act of subterfuge, but was not at ease with the fact that it was subterfuge. "This all sounds very clever, but I don't like it. Not one bit. Besides, Reginald III will be here in person any day now to collect all the property tax payments...most of which we haven't yet collected. I don't suppose you thought of that. I very much doubt you have a phantom Reginald III." In a very odd gesture for Madeleine, I caught her little wing stroking the fabric on my sleeve as she spoke. It actually felt like an expression of affection, which was strangely beautiful.
I stroked the feathers of Madeleine's wing in turn, and said, "Well, no we don't have a phantom Reginald III, you have me there. But we have something much better: an endless supply of pumpernickel. Reginald III will receive his property tax pumpernickel in full, and much more at that." I could tell Madeleine was genuinely impressed and curious now, so I added, "We garden dwellers are quite clever when properly motivated. I will need you to gather the property tax bills of all the residents of the Xanadu Forest, and to mark them all as paid in full. And for the residents that have already paid, I'll need their receipts so we can return their pumpernickel to them. In fact, if you could gather the paid receipts first, that would be great, because Cousin Eddie Raven and Caesar Emeritus will be by shortly, and we can have them deliver the refunds."
Madeleine smiled a sheepish smile--a lovely surrender of sorts--then placed her wing on my shoulder and said "This sounds doable! But hey now, lets not forget that I'M the boss...you are only my assistant. I must admit, though, that I enjoy your newfound sense of command. You have been working much more than I had realized. That's admirable." With that, lovely Madeleine started pulling documents from file cabinets and I started sorting them...with a little guidance from her, since I couldn't initially tell a receipt from a bill.
At some point, Madeleine had returned to her desk, mostly stoic once again, and was tapping away rapidly on her keyboard. One by one, I was finding the property tax bills, and she was rapidly updating them as paid in the computer. She was working at such a furious pace that she had to keep re-adjusting her glasses every few seconds. She stopped for just a moment to ask, "So you are positive these are being updated in Reginald III's computer network?"
I too was working fairly efficiently, though not nearly keeping pace with her. Boy could she type! I paused to respond, "Not until we notify my lovely gatekeeper. Good thought, my lovely boss!--you should send her an AOL instant message to let her know we're updating the payments now--she is _lovely_gatekeeper_. Once she's aware we're updating the files, she'll direct them into the phantom network."
Madeleine adjusted her glasses again and typed quickly. "Done," she simply said. Just like that. And we sped along making lots of progress. It felt nice. Felt quite natural.
It wasn't long after that Cousin Eddie and Caesar Emeritus arrived, pushing dollies containing vintage audio equipment and boxes of costumes and makeup. Madeleine eyed them for just a second, then went back to typing without saying a word. I smiled a bit, realizing that had Cousin Eddie and Caesar Emeritus arrived just a few hours before, Madeleine would have been very angry and probably said some subtly nasty and condescending things. But not now. I think I was finally winning her over. "Or was she winning ME over?" I briefly and silently wondered.
Cousin Eddie instinctively started unpacking costumes and hanging them in what was the server closet just a little while ago, and he directed Caesar Emeritus to start stacking the vintage audio gear on top of the large file cabinet on the northern wall of the office. I did exchange a few pleasantries with Cousin Eddie and Caesar Emeritus, but only a very few, as I was quite focused on the task at hand. Once he had emptied the boxes into the closet, Cousin Eddie left for a moment, then returned with his drill, slugging a can of beer, and proceeded to install two full-length mirrors on the wall next to the closet.
Madeleine had finished with the last of the property tax receipts and handed the stack to me, which I shuffled and arranged, and handed off to Cousin Eddie while I explained to him these were the residents that needed to be refunded their pumpernickel. Cousin Eddie tucked them inside his wing, saluted, and slugged another beer. He assured me he and Caesar Emeritus would have all the refunds delivered by sundown, and suggested we all meet up at the Sacred Pub tonight. I saluted him back, and agreed completely.
After that, I gathered the old nasty computer servers and stacked them onto the dolly that Caesar Emeritus was leaning upon. Dear Caesar seemed to be intrigued by my attire, so I explained to him that it was my Gliridescetan Prince formals, and was about to tell him stories about Princess Mydnite and Gliridesceta..which he interrupted gently, of course, and suggested I tell him more later tonight at the Sacred Pub. So pleasantly wise, that baloo-eyed Akita is!
Since Madeleine seemed to be warming up to me a bit, and the others would be gathering at the Sacred Pub, I decided to take a chance and put her on the spot: "What do you think, sweet Madeleine? Should we go to the Sacred Pub tonight? Our work will be long done by then."
Madeleine looked up from her computer screen and took off her glasses, doing her best to disguise a smile, and perhaps even blushing a bit. "Well, I'm not sure I'd be the best company. I've never really gone to places like that; I would feel like a fifth wheel, I believe."
Cousin Eddie rushed over to Madeleine's desk and raised his voice, "Oh, that's nonsense, doll! You're a forest dweller just like the rest of us. Besides, I think that brilliant brain of yours could use a little leisure." Then Cousin Eddie raised his can of beer as if to toast her, and slugged it down. "I'll look forward to seeing you there tonight, doll!"
Madeleine looked at me as if to ask what she should say. I smiled and winked at her, then patted Cousin Eddie on the shoulder and said, "We'll happily see you there tonight, my dear friend...both of us!" With that, Cousin Eddie and Caesar Emeritus grabbed their dollies and vanished into the forest.
Madeleine finished up the last bit of her data entry, and placed her glasses in the desk drawer. I slid a chair just to the side of the large file cabinet, and patted it, gesturing for her to come sit down. "Come keep me company, sweet Madeleine, my lovely boss...I need to hook up this audio gear. And I'll tell you more about the Sacred Pub, and maybe even an imbecile story or two." Madeleine smiled and sat down attentively. It was a beautiful and peaceful moment.
Thank you my recent soul mate, Cousin Eddie, and dear, wise, Caesar Emeritus, for all of your hard work and effort. I love you both.
And thank you, all lovely of lovelies, for being out there. I love you too.