Chapter 3: The Cat

Two weeks passed uneventfully. No innocent townspeople were attacked by the undead, nor did any more dismembered limbs turn up. At least, no one found any. Herbert was quite sure they were out there, though, lying in wait for him. As a precaution, he kept a shovel in his car and a baseball bat in his room. And a flashlight , of course, to make sure nothing was lurking in a dark corner.

At the clinic, Herbert attempted to avoid Dan, and he was sure Dan was avoiding him. If the fact that he immediately left any room Herbert entered was any indication, anyway.

He'd also set up a lab in his apartment. Admittedly, it made moving around rather difficult, but he was quite willing to make sacrifices in the name of science. A bottle of reagent was currently stewing, and he'd rewired a lamp in order to continue working on NPE. Unfortunately, he hadn't been able to get his hands on anything living yet, and he certainly wasn't interested in having crazed, reanimated rodents making a mess of the place.

As luck would have it, though, a living test subject crossed his path. Of course, he was driving at the time and ran it over, but when he stopped the car to investigate, he realized the animal was still alive. Barely.

He bent down to pick it up and then quickly situated it in the passenger seat before tearing away towards home. The cat's life was slipping away, and Herbert needed his nano-plasma.

He got the cat through the bar witout anyone noticing and quickly hooked it up to the wiring. In a couple seconds, it was dead by electrocution. Herbert rapidly made the preparations to re-animate it--the movements were habitual by now, allowing him to devote his full attention to wondering if it would even work to give an entity its own nano-plasma. It was worth a try. And if it didn't work, well, the cat had practically been dead, anyway. Stupid animal shouldn't be running across country highways.

Upon re-animation, it yowled in pain, but Herbert swiftly sent its nano-plasma coursing back through its neurocircuitry. He watched it carefully. Nothing happened for several seconds, but then, slowly, the cat opened its eyes. It tried to stand up and fell immediately, mewling pitiably and feebly moving its right foreleg.

"It worked," Herbert murmured, a hint of surprise in his tone. There did seem to be something wrong with the cat, however. Taking a closer look, he realized its leg was bent at an odd angle and surmised that it was broken. Shattered, probably. He did what he could to take care of it until he could get it to a veterinarian. And then what would he do? Probably watch the thing for several days to make sure it wasn't going to go crazy or explode or something.

There was a tapping suddenly at his window and Herbert turned his head sharply. Nothing was there. Keeping a piercing stare on the sill, he approached it and opened it carefully, then slowly stuck his head outside. Still nothing. He remained there for a minute, looking into the night, before turning around.

At that moment, something with wings launched itself towards his face. Herbert jumped back with a yell and lashed out instinctively with his fists, connecting with nothing. When he wasn't attacked again, he cautiously glanced out the window once more and noticed a bat fluttering away. He just stared at it for a second, breathing heavily, and then began to laugh a little hysterically. "Paranoid," he said to himself, once he'd calmed down. "Very paranoid, Herbert."

He chuckled once more and reached up to close the window, and then he noticed someone lumbering slowly down the middle of the road. He squinted at it. Correction. Something. It was missing an arm. Herbert watched its progress towards the bar, wondering how it would attempt to get to him. Climb the wall, perhaps? Or maybe it would just walk straight through the bar.

As it turned out, he didn't get the chance to learn the answer. A car lurched out of the lot behind the building, engine revving, and tore down the street. Nothing in its path stood a chance. By the time it plowed into the zombie, it was going a good fifty miles an hour. The impact resulted in an explosion of decomposing flesh.

Herbert grinned. Yet another advantage to living above a bar--drunk drivers.

He didn't remain at the window to watch the police arrive on the scene, though he heard them. Instead, he turned his attention to straightening up his work space. The cat seemed to be watching him…a bit balefully, really. Herbert sighed. He supposed he should give it somewhere to rest more comfortably since he had run over it in the first place.

Looking around, he spotted a couple of old shirts and piled them in a corner. Then, gingerly, he picked up the cat (which thankfully didn't scratch or bite him) and set it down in its makeshift bed. "And you'd better stay there," he warned it. It simply blinked at him. "Good. I'm glad we have an understanding."

It kept staring at him, blinking occasionally. For some reason, Herbert found it unnerving. He'd definitely take it to a vet tomorrow, keep it under observation for a day or two to make sure there were no unfortunate side effects of the re-animation, and then find out who it belonged to.

Yes, the cat could be dealt with. The zombies were going to present another, more difficult problem. The one outside that had just suffered such an explosive fate had been rather pathetic--clearly it hadn't been fresh enough upon re-animation, judging by the way it had been torn apart so easily--but he had no doubt that more would be on their way, and not all of them would be so unfortunate.

Herbert realized abruptly he couldn't deal with them on his own. Which meant he'd have to enlist someone's help. And the logical choice, of course, was Dan. And Dan despised him. Well. A challenge was always interesting. Dan had been, in the past, fairly easy to manipulate, and Herbert doubted that would have changed. But he doubted Dan would give up his grudge easily. What he needed, he thought, was a bargaining chip.

Herbert was cleaning up between patients the following day when a knock sounded on his office door. To his surprise, Dan stepped through and immediately shut it behind him.

"Something I can do for you?" Herbert asked.

Dan looked at him, though it seemed to be a great hardship to meet his eyes. "My cat," he said deliberately, "has disappeared. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that would you?"

Herbert returned his stare for a moment before continuing with his cleaning. "Why is it that whenever someone's pet goes missing, I'm the first one blamed?"

"Probably because you're always the one responsible."

Herbert paused and glanced at him, one eyebrow raised. "Not always. Not this time, for example. I had no idea you even had a cat. But I suppose that doesn't satisfy you."

Dan kept a wary eye on him as he moved about the room. "No, as a matter of fact, it doesn't."

"Well, what would, Daniel?"

For several long seconds, Herbert stared Dan in the eye, unblinking, until the latter finally looked away and replied, "I don't know. I just wish you weren't here."

"Is your guilt for getting me thrown in jail finally catching up with you?" Herbert asked in a clipped tone.

"No!" Dan exclaimed forcefully. Then, more quietly, he added, "No, that's the one thing I've never felt guilty about."

Herbert tilted his head a little. "Try not to be offended, but I don't believe you. I'll bet you've been trying not to think about it, these past thirteen years, but it always comes back to haunt you." He paused, briefly, to appraise Dan, who looked like he was trying to contain another angry outburst. Then he continued, "No doubt your wife notices these moments. What must she think? It must annoy her, at the very least, that you oculd sympathize even a little with such a freak. A madman who almost got you killed on several occasions should spend his life rotting in a windowless cell, yes?"

"Clearly," Dan said tightly, "you don't know me as well as you think you do."

"Maybe not." Herbert smiled unnervingly. "In any case, I don't know anything about your cat, and I believe I have an appointment to treat a little girl suffering from pneumonia. Surely she shouldn't be kept waiting?"

Dan looked like he wanted to say something else--or maybe hit something--but he only sighed in frustration and left. Herbert just rolled his eyes and then paused, a realization dawning on him. The cat. The cat would be his bargaining chip.