The crowd’s mumblings eventually worked their way back to Doc and Annabelle.
“Women and children only.”
“Come on,” Annabelle said. “We’ll find another way.”
“No,” Doc replied. “My dear I can’t deny you safe passage across the Mississippi River on my account.”
“But we’re in this together,” Annabelle said.
“And we still will be, in a way,” Doc replied. He reached into his pocket, produced the two documents he’d been carrying and handed them to Annabelle.
Annabelle squinted at the words. She hadn’t been through much schooling.
“My last will and testament,” Doc said. “My dear, when I got into the miracle cure-all business, my financial standing was transformed overnight. I went from pauper to prince in an instant but you see, I made so much in the way of cash that I didn’t feel comfortable carrying it all on my person.”
Annabelle listened. Fearful that untrustworthy characters were lurking in the crowd, Doc led Annabelle away from the rabble.
“At each major city I stopped, I enlisted the assistance of men from the revered Pinkerton Detective Agency to transport my money and deposit it in an account I set up in the First Bank of Chicago.”
“Darling,” Doc said. “In my will I have left the entire sum of my wealth to my beloved wife…”
The ditzy prostitute slapped Doc’s face before he could finish. “You’re married?! You never told me that you…”
Annabelle furrowed her brow at the small chunk of Doc’s flesh that had come off in her hand. She pressed it back into Doc’s cheek.
“Maybe I can just put it back,” she said.
“No just leave it,” Doc replied.
Annabelle let the piece of rotten flesh drop to the ground.
“Let’s be honest, my love,” Doc said. “My condition is worsening and even if I could cross that bridge at your side, I would eventually become a danger to you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and you’d no longer have a life…for I will lose control of myself and devour your brains when you least expect it.”
“Then we’ll go out together,” Annabelle said. “My brains are your brains.”
“No,” Doc said. “For the world needs cocaine and gynecology and you must promise me that you’ll spread the news of the curative properties of both across the globe in my stead.”
Annabelle stammered. “But…”
Doc clutched Annabelle’s shoulders and looked Annabelle in the eyes. In the dim moonlight, Annabelle was able to see that Doc’s face had turned gray and the left side was drooping, practically sagging away.
“From the well-to-do royal circles of London to the lowliest village of the Congo, you must tell everyone that daily doses of cocaine are required for robust health and that women can stave off the mysterious horrors of their nether regions through regular examinations…you must promise me.”
“I promise,” Annabelle said.
“The money in my account will be more than enough to fund your world travels,” Doc said. “And should the bank manager protest you need only show him my will in which you are named my sole heir.”
Doc pointed to the second document.
“And should any scheming members of my family protest your claim, I have taken the liberty of preparing this certificate of marriage…”
“Marriage?” Annabelle asked.
“Indeed,” Doc answered. “This certificate states that you and I were joined in the bonds of holy matrimony two days ago. The Reverend was kind enough to falsely claim that he officiated the ceremony by affixing his signature. And Mr. Slade graciously signed as a witness.”
Doc pointed to an empty line. “That is for you, my dear. Sign it, if you’ll have me and in the eyes of the law, we shall be considered husband and wife. I know earlier this afternoon you said that premise did not appeal to you but…”
Annabelle cried and hugged the good doctor. “Oh Doc. You’re the best fake zombie husband a girl could ever ask for…”
“And you are the finest fraudulent wife a nearly undead man could ever dream of,” Doc replied.
Though she’d been gentle, one of Doc’s ribs cracked under the pressure of Annabelle’s hug.
“I’m sorry,” Annabelle said.
“Quite all right,” Doc replied. “I’m rotting from the inside out as it would seem.”
Unconcerned about the safety of his bones, Doc pulled Annabelle back to continue the embrace for awhile longer.
“Do be careful not to lose these documents, my dear,” Doc said. “For with them in hand, your claim to my fortune will be iron clad.”
“I don’t want your money, Doc,” Annabelle said. “I just want you.”
“And I, you my dear,” Doc replied. “But this is bigger than both of us now. The needs of two people hardly matter when compared to the world’s need for cocaine and vaginal inspections and I know you will do me proud in both endeavors.”