"I paid you to kill my wife! How difficult can that be?"
"Well, sir, as I was trying to explain..."
"And now you tell me you can't refund my money."
"There were complications."
"Now Horace, we agreed that I would do the talking."
"Sorry, Clancy. I was just tryin' to help."
"I appreciate the thought, Horace, but I figure the best way for you to help in this particular situation is to not speak."
"Quite all right. Now, Mr. Bascom, as I was saying?"
"I hope you were about to tell me that you are going to leave right now and go kill my wife, and I won't see your faces again until she's dead." Bascom opened a desk drawer and removed a large revolver. "Any other answer is going to make me terribly upset."
"Well, you see sir, I think there's something about your wife (a striking woman, I must say, sir, you must be proud) that perhaps you don't -- " Clancy stopped abruptly when Bascom cocked the revolver and pointed it directly at his face.
"You're sill here," Bascom said.
"Yes, sir, you're quite right about that, most observant of you. However, we were just awrrk -- " Clancy had always wondered what a gun tasted like, but he would have preferred to find out in more benign circumstances.
"You were just...?"
"Argwl -- "
"Yes?" Bascom looked over at Horace.
Horace swallowed. "Uh, we was just, uh... l-l-leavin'?"
Bascom smiled. "Correct. At last we see who the brains of the operation is."
"Oh, that would be Clancy, Mr. Bascom."
The two left.
"Well, Horace, we're in a fine fix. Confound that short-tempered misanthrope!"
"He's a werewolf?"
Clancy was too absorbed in his own monologue to correct his sidekick. "'Kill my wife', he says. Simple enough. But he didn't give us all the facts, did he? He can hardly blame us when things didn't go right. I mean, really, what sort of husband doesn't know that his own wife is already dead?"
"Well, she had me fooled, too."
"Yes, I must confess it came as a shock to me as well, but Mr. Bascom has been married to her for some years, now. You'd think that at some point he would have noticed something. He's not the most attentive of spouses, Horace, not at all. It bodes ill for their union, mark my words."
"I don't s'pose killin' her would of helped much neither."
"Right you are, Horace. Yet were she alive so that we could kill her, we would have no reason to surmise that Mr. Bascom was an inattentive husband, would we? Ultimately, however, the Bascom's matromonial status isn't germaine to our task at hand and the conundrum therein, vis-à-vis our having accepted money to kill someone who is, in fact, already dead. And, having spent a sizeable portion of the up-front fees on taking her out on the town, buying her flowers, gifts, and what-not in order to gain her trust, we also are unable to refund our client's fee."
"It seemed like she trusted us from the get-go."
"You can't be too careful, Horace. And you must admit that the leftovers I brought home for you were delicious. I suspect, however, that after our last encounter she will trust us no longer."
"You poisoned her, shot her, and then stuck a knife in her," Horace pointed out.
"It's important to be thorough, Horace. Thorough and redundant. Assures success."
"But -- "
"It assures success when one is given all the pertinent information. Good Lord! I've never had such a sloppy client."
"So now what do we do?"
"Logically, if zombies exist, there must be a way to kill them. Otherwise the world would be crawling with them by now. We just need to find that way."
"I heard you gots to cut their heads off."
"I have heard similar anecdotes, Horace my friend, but in this endeavor we cannot trust simple folklore. We must get it right the first time."
"What are we going to do?"
"Horace, what country are we in?"
"The United States of America! Land of the Free, home of the Brave! The Good Lord smiles upon her citizenry, for in every town, from the mightiest metropolis to the merest hamlet, there stands an institution wherein lies gathered all the knowledge of mankind. The library! There we shall find our answers."
Clancy was at a table in the library, concentrating over a musty old tome, when a quiet, timid voice interrupted him. "Pookie?"
Clancy sat bolt upright and slammed the book shut with a cloud of dust. "Victoria!"
"Shhhhhhhh!" several other patrons said at once.
"Victoria!" he whispered loudly. "How did you find me here?"
"I followed you from my husband's office." Victoria sat down across the table from him. "Are you mad at me?"
"Well, it was a shock, I'll allow..."
"I'm sorry. I really should have told you right from the start about me being a zombie and everything."
"Well, now, it turns out I wasn't entirely forthcoming with you, either, considering your husband was paying me to kill you. Why don't we call it even?"
Her face lit up. "Really?"
"Sure, Peaches. Let's start over."
"I'm so happy!" she reached across and took his hand. "So, what are you reading?"
"Uh, just some old academic writings -- "
Horace held up the yellow and black book he was working on. "I got Zombie Slaying for Dummies," he said proudly.
Victoria looked hurt. "You still want to kill me?"
"Now, Pudding, it's not a matter of want, per se. It's more a contractual obligation."
"But it's not fair." She pushed out her lip in a pout.
Horace said, "Old Man Bascom just said dead an' buried. Seems like we's already halfway home."
Clancy sat bolt upright. "From the mouths of babes comes the wisdom of Solomon! Of course, the answer is simple! We put Miss Victoria into a box, let Bascom bury her, boo-hoo and so forth, collect our fee, then go back and dig her up! It's perfect."
Victoria wasn't convinced. "How long?"
"How long what?"
"How long would I be buried?"
"Well naturally we'd keep the time to a minimum..."
"Have you seen what happens to a zombie when they've been buried too long? They start to fall apart. It's gross. Plus the boredom drives you crazy. Too long like that and all you want to do is eat brains. You just snap." She snapped her own fingers to illustrate.
"Well, we certainly don't want that, do we Honeybunch? Let me think."
"Plus, I don't want him getting my money. That's why he wants to kill me in the first place. I think he planned it right from the start." She dabbed at her eyes daintily. "I was so blind."
"It's your money, you say? Victoria, I'm afraid that man never had your best interests at heart. You're quite right about not letting him get away with it; that money will come in handy as we start our new life together."
Victoria's eyes lit up. "You mean...?"
They were treated to another chorus of "Shhhhhhhh!"
Clancy leaned toward her and took on a conspirational tone. "We have a problem to solve first, though. What's called for at a time like this is a plan, and I happen to have a mighty fine plan right up here." He tapped his head. "We'll have you out of this fix in no time."
Mr. Bascom reached down and gently stroked the cheek of his bride. "She's so cold," he said softly. She lay in her coffin, the top half of the lid open so those in the church could pay their last respects. "So still."
"That's 'cause she's dead," Horace said helpfully.
"I don't recall inviting you two," Bascom said. He turned away from Victoria and she made a face at him, sticking out her tongue, then snapped her expression back to one of peaceful repose.
"Well, now, it would hardly do for me to just disappear, would it? Especially before collecting the rest of the payment."
Bascom looked around quickly. "Not so loud. See me after the funeral."
"Sure thing, boss."
"What's this business about burying her here, anyway?"
"Were I to hazard a guess, sir, I'd say since the young lady grew up in this house she probably had those happy sorts of memories about the place. The golden days of childhood and whatnot."
"I just don't like surprises."
"Under the circumstances, I couldn't agree more, boss. We will all breathe easier once she's subterranean."
The burial went smoothly. Clancy watched from the window of Bascom's study as the heavy coffin was lowered into the ground beneath her "favorite tree".
"How long you think we got?" asked Horace.
"The dry ice should last long enough," Clancy said. "Mostly I'm worried about freezer burn."
The formalities dispensed with, Bascom brushed his hands together and strode back toward the house.
Watching Bascom approach, Clancy said, "Now, Horace, who is going to speak?"
"Exactly. And who is not going to speak?"
"Our success is assured." He turned to face the door as Bascom entered the office.
Bascom sat behind his massive desk. "I can't tell you how happy it makes me to know that I will not be seeing either of you again," he said. He unlocked a drawer and removed a stack of one-hundred dollar bills. Clancy picked up the cash and handed it to Horace, who started counting, mumbling numbers under his breath.
Bascom scowled. "Goodbye, gentlemen. Please excuse me if I don't show you out."
"No need, Mr. Bascom, no need at all. It's my house after all."
"What are you talking about?"
"Miss Victoria sold it to me. The papers were concluded this morning. I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave. We can arrange a time for you to collect your effects."
"If you think you can get away with this, you are mistaken."
"I am quite certain, sir, that you don't want to be attracting attention. They still have the electric chair in this state. And you certainly don't want them suspecting that your wife was a victim of foul play. I took the liberty of putting some other items in the coffin with her."
"What sort of items?"
"Oh, a few odds and ends, things connecting you with some other sordid business." Clancy could tell from the look on Bascom's face that the other man had, indeed, been into some other underhanded dealings. He pushed the bluff. "If that stuff comes to light, the police will be the least of your problems."
Bascom opened his drawer and pulled out the revolver; holding it white-knuckled he pointed it at Clancy. "If anything happens to me," Clancy said, "the box comes up, and you go down. Horace, escort Mr. Bascom from the premises."
It was two nights later when Bascom returned, along with two thugs on loan from one of Bascom's more unsavory associates. The two big men carried shovels, Bascom had an empty suitcase. Clancy and Horace watched from a darkend upstairs window as the two big men set to digging while Bascom supervised.
"This should be interesting," Clancy said.
"What if she gets hurt?"
"Don't worry, she'll be fine. Anyway we already have all her money."
It took the two men a while to reach the casket, despite the freshly-turned earth that covered it. Finally they had enough dirt cleared away to make it possible to open the lid. "Stand over there," Bascom ordered the men. He motioned to a point where the two would not be able to see the items he put in the suitcase, whatever they might be. He slid down into the hole and landed with a loud thump on the casket. It felt cold.
He caught his breath, then with shaking fingers found the latches for the top half of the lid. He flipped the first, then the second, and a stream of cold vapor shot out with a loud hiss. He opened the lid and more vapor escaped. Looking eerie in the pale moonlight and surrounded by the mysterious fog, his late wife lay in repose.
Her eyes popped open.
Bascom jumped back in shock. Her lips started to move slowly. "Braaaains," she whispered. Slowly, stiffly, she tried to sit up. She reached out to him. "Braaaaains," she said again. Bascom screamed, then collapsed, gasping. The carbon dioxide from the dry ice had replaced all the air in the bottom of the hole.
From their vantage Clancy and Horace watched the two goons approach the pit, guns drawn. They recoiled in shock and disgust at what they saw, then fired a few rounds into the grave. They hesitated. One of them said something, then they turned and fled. A pale, blood-covered figure emerged.
Clancy scowled. "It appears that the books on tape weren't enough to keep her from snapping," he said. "Perhaps I should have reconsidered including Ulysses."
"Barnaby Rudge ain't hardly Dickens's most captivatin' work, neither."
"Yes, in retrospect I should have heeded your opinions on the subject of Dickens. Not my bailiwick, as the expression goes. I stand by my selection of William Shatner reading the Foundation Trilogy, however. All water under the bridge, now, of course; live and learn. It seems we have a bit of a problem on our hands." Victoria was shambling stiff-legged toward the house. "It looks like we'll be slaying a zombie after all. A pity; she was a looker." They gathered shotguns, axes, and molotov coctails (thorough and redundant) and went to meet her on the lawn, before she got too close to the house.
By the time they got outside she seemed to be moving a little faster. "Be careful," Clancy said, "she's thawing out. Don't let her surprise you."
At the sight of them she began moaning and reached out stiff-armed toward Clancy, speeding up yet more. Horace shouldered his shotgun, aiming at her head. He was about to fire when Clancy shouted, "Wait!" Horace hesitated.
"Pooooookie..." Victoria moaned. "Pooooookie..."
"I think she'll be all right," Clancy said.
"I dunno," Horace said. "You sure?"
It was too late for second thoughts; her knees limbered up and she sprinted the last yards between them. She wrapped him in an iron grip and looked into his eyes with a gaze from beyond. Her breath smelled of blood. "Pookie!" she said. "It worked!"
"Better than I ever hoped," Clancy said. "I didn't expect you to take care of Old Man Bascom like that."
"Did I...? Oh! Gosh! It's like it was a strange dream. The whole time I was down there I just got hungrier and hungrier. I guess... I guess I couldn't control myself."
"Remind me not to bury you again. Come, my dear, let's get you cleaned up. Horace will see to filling the grave back in. This time I do believe we can rely on its occupant staying put."