On Tuesdays Mr. Gobi had no lunch commitments. He ate a turkey sandwich in the woods behind the school. His doctor always told him he needed to get more exercise, and the long walk through the winding trail was the most he could commit to. These sojourns away from both his chaotic work and his oppressive, empty home were one of the few places that he could relax. Padding alongside him, Cody acquired a spring in his step. He would rush forward to sniff a rock, then bound back to a particular tree as if to cross-reference. Mr. Gobi drew comfort from the fact that this member of his family was still with him and that even everything that happened could not dampen his spirits.
Mr. Gobi himself kept watch – he liked to humor his inner child with the thrill of possibly seeing Romero’s infamous Thinking Bear with his own eyes. Thoughts like these helped him not to think about Angela and Belladonna. And now Julia, and everyone else whom he had failed to protect. To keep his soul from collapsing under the weight was a constant balancing act, but Mr. Gobi was a soul-heavy-lifting olympic medalist. He would be if they offered that category. In any case, he could take heart that Costa Rica didn’t police zombieism as aggressively as the United States. Personal zombie dogs were not required at all, and as long as you didn’t smell strongly enough to attract the attention of the roaming bands of dogs that prowled its public areas for the so-called undead, you didn’t have to worry about a human Safety Patrol at all. Julia was smart enough to stay safe, he hoped.
As he focused his sights ahead, Mr. Gobi did not see the man approaching behind him. A hand grabbed his arm. “Come this way.”
Before he could react, Mr. Gobi was pushed into a tree and had the air knocked out of him.
Cody barked and leapt forward, but the man’s spiky white deerhound intercepted, dancing left and right to stay in the way, leering with bright red eyes.
The man wore a heavy trenchcoat and did not mince words. His breath smelled like menthol. “What do you have on Ethan? What did you do? Did Mr. Sable pay you?”
Mr. Gobi coughed. “Nothing, Nothing, and No. I have nothing to hide. Let me go.”
Thugs like this relied on an instinct for self-preservation that Mr. Gobi no longer had. The man released his shirt. “Ethan killed your daughter. That makes you suspect.”
Mr. Gobi’s soul teetered. “What do you want? I don’t care about Ethan. He encountered a zombie in the woods and killed it. That’s not a crime.”
“Someone leaked a doctored video. My client wants to know who.”
Mr. Gobi raised his hands. “I don’t want to waste any more of your time. I know nothing.”
The man glared into Mr. Gobi’s eyes. Then he grunted in frustration and waved him off. Mr. Gobi turned around and walked straight back to the school, trying to shake the white deerhound’s eyes out of his mind. Now they know you have nothing for them and they’ll leave you alone, Sanjay.
As the day wore on, Mr. Gobi managed to lose himself in his work again. The journalism club needed at least three students to maintain its status or it wouldn’t count towards the mandatory minimum one club that each teacher must sponsor, and he didn’t have time to found a new one. While he proctored a test for his BC Calculus students, he searched for replies to his bulletin. Exactly one. Danny Cobbe had rewritten his pitch for a regular “Crab Facts” column.
Re: Seeking new members for Romero Star
“To whom it may concern,
My name is Daniel Cobbe, and you should know more about crabs. Did you know that there are over 6,793  species of crab?”
This was followed by a picture of a wide red crab raising its pincers in the air.
“Wow. Did you know that these aren’t speciations of one common crab ancestor?”
A crab photoshopped into a classic portrait wearing a monocle and a top hat.
“What? How? It’s true. Crabs are everywhere because hundreds of different crustacean species independently evolved into crabs. Put simply:”
A crab stands on top of an albino alligator, again raising its pincers in the air. The caption reads “Crabs are the optimal form of crustacean.”
“Maybe the optimal form of all animals? I wouldn’t be so brash as to make such a claim, but I won’t stop you if you come to that conclusion when you read my weekly column in the Romero Star. “Crab Facts” is your source for all things crab, straight from the local expert, yours truly, published marine biologist Daniel Crab.
Oops! I mean Daniel Cobbe.
P.S. Mr. Gobi, I have worked with my therapist and she believes I am ready to be a team player if you give me another chance.
 https://kidskonnect.com/animals/crab/ “
When Mr. Gobi had first taken a chance on Daniel and his crab column, he had gotten into a fight with Stacy over a container of leftover crab legs she had brought for lunch. When he grabbed at the food and it ended up all over both of them and their computers, Stacy had insisted Mr. Gobi ask him to leave.
Since then, he had managed to talk his way into the marine biology lab at Guerrero University and coauthor a research survey paper about the mating habits of a particular species of local freshwater crab. Meanwhile, half of Mr. Gobi’s existing team had vanished, and he had become desperate. “Daniel,” he wrote back, “people are allowed to eat crab in my classroom. You will not interfere with that. If that is understood, pending Club President Torres’s approval, welcome to the team.”
Later that day, Mr. Gobi invited Stacy into his office. To save the club, she agreed to rubber stamp Daniel Cobbe’s re-entry. She said that she couldn’t stay late today because she had to go home and walk their new dog Pelusa. House dogs were not common in an age when everyone had their own personal dog, but she offered no further explanation and Mr. Gobi did not ask.
After she let herself out, the sun went down. Another knock came on the door. “Stacy, are you still here?” Mr. Gobi asked as Cody leapt up and barked. A dark-faced woman slipped inside with a glossy black ferret perched on her shoulder.
“Control your animal,” she chided as Cody continued to bark, making her ferret scurry from one shoulder to the other in its agitation. Mr. Gobi put one hand on his dog’s head to settle him down.
“May I help you?”
“My client wants to thank you for everything you’ve done for Julia,” said the woman. Mr. Gobi noticed the ferret studying him with glittering black eyes. The woman introduced him. “Walter. He’s not a zombie protection animal, just a pet. I have my self-protection card if you want to see it.”
Sometimes someone’s job took them into zombie-heavy territories, where a yapping, snarling dog could be more of a liability than an asset. With a few reams of paperwork, a human equivalent of the Safety Patrol Zombie Dog Certification Exam, and a gun, you could get a permit to protect yourself, but for almost everyone a dog was far more practical. Mr. Gobi nodded, now noticing the jet black shotgun hanging off her belt. He furrowed his brow. “No, that’s all right. You’re welcome. Is she doing ok in Costa Rica?”
“Actually, sir, we were hoping you could tell us where she is.”