When Dan dreamed of being a doctor, sure there were all the lives he would be saving, but he was also well aware of how lucrative a career it could be. So how, how was it that two doctors struggled to make ends meet? No, actually, it wasn't that big a mystery. The freezers and other equipment in the cellar ate far more energy than the average household consumed. There were also Herbert's very specific, special, hard-to-obtain chemicals and those damned, exotic iguanas. Then, last month Jeanine made a decrease in Herbert's allowance to make-up the difference in replacing Crawford's portable computer.
Dan was sat in the study where he took care of "boring, mundane" post-grad life details. He had a feeling Herbert never filled out a student loan application in his life.
"Dan? Dan!" Herbert burst into the room, ruining Dan's solitude. "Put your checkbook away. Our money worries are soon to be over."
"Did you go grave robbing and find some ancient family jewels?"
Herbert waved away Dan's sarcasm like so many gnats. "I just had a very interesting phone conversation with someone who is personally interested in funding our research. So I - well, really he invited himself - over for dinner and a demonstration."
"Personally fund? Who would-"
"Some Latin American general. Heard rumors of our work in Peru. Tracked us here, so he must be a bit more clever than your typical mindless militant."
"I thought you didn't want anyone else to know about your work because you think everyone wants to steal it."
"Other scientists, yes. I don't think el General Flores-Guerrero cares about how it's done and what the formula exactly is as long as it gets results."
"But what would a Latin American general want with it in the first place?"
"Why should I care?"
Herbert was under the impression the general was going to be expecting a welcome befitting his station. Dan wondered what the hell the guy thought he'd get from a couple mad doctors he already knew to be in need of money. "Maybe it'd be better if we get catering or something."
"Maybe you should get back in the kitchen."
Herbert, in his infinite wisdom, delegated the evening's tasks between them. He was working on the presentation half, leaving Dan with dinner. "'Get back in the kitchen'? I'm not barefoot and pregnant here, Herbert."
Herbert's first expression was that of being scandalized by the notion. Then, he looked Dan up and down in a more thoughtful way, and made a quick note on the pad next to him. It gave Dan chills.
"I wish you would take this more seriously," Herbert said, filling another syringe. "This is our future at stake tonight. We must convince this man we are the sort of people he wants to do business with. We only have this one chance, that's it."
Dan sighed. "Fine, fine. Just hope he likes mac and cheese," he muttered as he turned back to the stairs.
"What are you making? Smells awful."
"Dammit, Herbert, you left me to the cooking. So, if you're not going to be helpful you can get the fuck out of the kitchen!"
Herbert tutted. "You better sort out your attitude before the general arrives. Which is-" His eyes widened as he looked at his watch. "Just an hour! Dammit, Dan, why aren't you done yet? Are you making dessert? We should have a dessert. What are-"
"HERBERT! Either shut up and leave or shut up and do something useful. Either way, shut up."
Herbert quivered, trying to control his indignant rage. He took a deep breath through his nose, and as he let it out, his anger visibly left with it. "All right. What can I do?"
"Get me the bowl from the top cupboard, could you?"
"Now you're just being captious. You know I can't reach that shelf."
"There's four chairs right there. Stand on one."
Herbert eyed the old wood warily. "I don't think that's safe."
"Fine." He scraped one of the chairs along the floor with ear-splitting spite.
Dan ignored him, turning his back on his roommate to concentrate on the boiling pot on the stove. The first crack was that of wood splintering. The second was of a human skull hitting floor. Dan whipped around. One leg of the chair had snapped, sending Herbert backwards.
"Herbert!" Dan rushed to his side. Well, there wasn't any blood pooling around his head, but he wasn't responding. "Herbert?" Dan lifted his eyelids, checked his pupils. Definitely concussion, then. Great.
Dan knew what he should have done. But he imagined Herbert's reaction when he woke up in the hospital, discovering Dan had canceled on the their rich, Latin American, military, potential benefactor just because someone got a bump on the head. Dan thought quickly.
"Crawford. I need you. Now."
There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Dan, I value our friendship, and I don't want to jeopardize that with-"
"Wait. What? Just get over here. Don't ask questions. I'll explain when you get here. Wear your glasses."
When the doorbell rang, Dan prayed it wasn't the general arriving early. To his great relief it was Crawford, bespectacled as requested. Dan grabbed his arm and pulled him into the house. "Upstairs. Herbert's room. He's got like twelve identical white shirts and black pants. Oh, and don't worry. He's not dead, but possibly in a coma."
Dan gave him a push towards the stairs. "Clothes first. Explanation after."
If Dan had the time to notice, he would have been mortified by how like Hebert he was starting to sound. He was getting dangerously close to "Cat dead; details later."
Dan went back to the kitchen to make sure the cake was cooled enough to frost. Crawford came back downstairs a few minutes later. "Now will you tell me what the hell is going on?"
Dan tried not to stare, but Crawford in Herbert's clothes was a disconcerting sight. He looked exactly like his brother, but slightly off in a way that was hard to place. Crawford frowned up at Dan as he straightened his tie and muttered, "Hair's a little long."
Crawford fidgeted under the scrutiny and stepped away. "Why are you dressing me like him? And why is he possibly in a coma? This isn't some kind of... Sexual thing, is it?"
"What? No! No no no no no no no. No. Now that you're ready, help me set the table and I'll explain."
After Dan told him about the general, the importance of the evening, and Herbert's accident, Crawford was still confused. "Why not just tell him the truth, and how you'll just have to do it yourself."
"Because he is expecting to meet Herbert West. I have a feeling if he came and I just said 'Oh, he's out of it for a bit,' the general would leave, upset that his time had been wasted."
"But, I'm not my brother."
"You're close enough." The glare Crawford gave him: A look that could kill, definitely. "Just, please. This is important for us."
"But I don't know anything about your research. I can't answer any questions."
"I can handle the medical science. You just act like Herbert. Except, Herbert being nice because we need this guy's money."
"How does Herbert act when he's being nice?"
The knock on the door made them both jump. "Okay, this has got to be him. Just try to stop looking so guileless." Dan opened the door. On the porch stood a 6'3", 300lb gorilla of a man in full military uniform, including sunglasses even though it was night. "Bienvenido, general! I'm Doctor Cain, and this, of course, is Doctor West."
"Uhm, hi," Crawford said with a little wave. Dan surreptitiously kicked him in the heel. "I mean, General, it's a pleasure to finally meet you in person."
The general rumbled a response that they had trouble identifying as English or Spanish. He took a commanding step into the house, Dan could feel the floorboards shake beneath them.
"If you'd care for some refreshment before the demonstration, we prepared a-"
"I say no food. Show me medicine."
"But I-" Dan had worked so hard and Herbert had insisted it was all part of the deal. Unless the bastard was just keeping him occupied. Then there was the problem that Dan had hoped to use dinner as a stalling mechanism, give Crawford a little more time to mentally catch up. To throw Crawford in the lab and expect him to know what do with anything down there was courting disaster. Unless...
"Excuse us, General, we just need a quick word, then." He dragged Crawford into the kitchen with all the food that was now destined to be a week's worth of leftovers. "Okay, okay. So, I wasted a day, but we're good. I don't know exactly what Herbert had in mind, but I can, I don't know, find something quick and bring it back. And Herbert left some notes."
"So, what do I do?"
"Keeping lurking in the back."
"I don't like this guy, Dan, he scares me. I mean, what could someone like that want with my brother's formula?"
"Probably to create and command an undead, zombie army of the damned."
"And you're okay with that?"
"I said 'probably.' And I hate to admit it, but we could use his money." Crawford stilled looked unconvinced and slightly terrified. "Look, just follow my lead. I'm sure he just wants evidence of its reanimating affects. We're good."
The general stood in the middle of the living room, frowning at his surroundings. Clearly, he thought little of the décor. "Sorry, we just had to compare notes. You can follow us downstairs."
"Who are you?"
"I thought this is Dr. West's project. Yet, you do all the talking."
"Laryngitis!" Dan blurted.
"Poor Dr. West here has a really bad sore throat. But he's here to supervise me, his long-time assistant."
The general's face remained passive, but Dan imagined his eyes flicking between the two of them, assessing. "He talked good at the door."
"It comes and goes. Better he rests it, though." He gave Crawford a look. He really hoped the general didn't know much about Herbert beyond his work, because no one who knew better would be buying the wide-eyed squirrel impression Crawford was currently perfecting.
The three of them went down to the old embalming room. "This is more what I want," the general said with approval, looking at the brightly-colored fluids and array of glass tubes. There was a notebook left open on one table, and Dan went straight for it. It contained nothing new that Dan didn't already know, no outline for tonight. "So, you want proof we can bring things back from the dead, right?"
Dan looked around for something dead. There were several bits and pieces of body parts left out, but no full animal. And he didn't think the general would see the benefit of a living elbow. That meant taking a life. One of the iguanas, then.
Dan didn't like lizards, scaly, cold-blooded things with claws and tongues and, ew. He really didn't want to have to touch one. So he motioned for Crawford to take one out of the cage while he put on gloves. He showed the lizard to the general. "Alive, yes?"
"And now," he twisted its neck until it snapped with a small pop. Next to him, Crawford made a small whimper of dismay. "Dead."
The general took the animal from him. Its head lolled from side to side. He nodded. "Muy muerte."
Dan put the corpse on the table, then opened the box containing a set of filled syringes. He jabbed the needle into the base of the iguana's skull. It didn't take much for a small creature. It almost immediately started twitching. It tried lifting its head, but it only rolled to the other side. Its tail lashed around as it tried to skitter away, but it was hindered still by the broken neck.
The general's loud laugh hopefully covered Crawford's "That's terrible!" The iguana gurgled and hissed as it struggled. Dan scooped it up and put it back in the cage to be dealt with later.
"So, you see, the formula works. We just need to refine it for-"
"Animal not good enough. Make it work for person."
"I, uh, I'm afraid we don't have any human corpses on hand to-"
"Then I make one." The general reached into his jacket, pulled out a pistol, and aimed it at Dan. "I will kill your enamorado, Dr. West, and you make him alive again. And we all happy, si?"
"Oh my God, Dan!"
"I'm sorry, Crawford."
"Not necessary, General, I found a volunteer. You." A shot rang out, Dan and Crawford ducked under the table. General Flores-Guerrero's dead body joined them from the other side. An exit wound had exploded his forehead into a mess of gore.
"Oh my God!" Crawford said again, scrambling backwards.
Dan stood up and stared at Herbert. He was standing at the door, one hand rubbing the back of his head, the other holding the gun he kept from Peru, its barrel smoking.
"Damn," Herbert said, "shouldn't have taken the head shot. Useless now."
"Herbert! Wha- How- Why- Oh my God, you killed him!"
"Yes, Dan, thank you for stating the obvious. Bastard probably wasn't going to make good on the money, anyway." Herbert walked calmly past the body and around the table to find Crawford still curled up on the floor. "Come on, you," he said, hauling his brother up. "He weighs a ton, it'll take all three of us to get him out of here."
"What do we do now?" Dan asked, raking a hand through his hair, staring at the corpse.
"We bury him in the potter's field, of course."
"But he's a general!"
"He's a radical madman from a small, tumultuous country who came to the states on some secret errand and mysteriously disappeared. Who's going to bother looking?"
"I hope you're right."
"Can I go home now?"
"No! You're helping. And why are you in my clothes? Dan, you weren't trying some kind of sexual thing were you?"
"No! Why do people keep... You know what, never mind. I'll explain while we get this lug up the stairs."