Rutledge gives her a quick, disgusted up-and-down, and says, “What’s that?” He points with his chin at the cage in her hand.
“Why, why, this is my cat, Lil’ Bumpkins.”
“Cat?” Rutledge rumbles.
She angles her head and uses one of her unsteady hands to brush the hair back from her face, exposing the gas mask seals against her forehead. She glances involuntarily in the direction Rutledge had thrown my pack.
“Yes, he’s a calico and I—”
“Why, yes, Lil’ Bumpkins in my cat and he’s a calico—”
“A f[…]ing cat?!”
“Yes, you must have seen him before.” I couldn’t see the expression on her face as she took a half step away from the farmer, but there was a pleading element in her voice. “In a month he’ll be celebrating his fourteenth birthday.”
There was no warning. At all. Rutledge drops the muzzle of the shotgun and simultaneously empties both barrels on the carry-cage. I don’t know what Rutledge uses for loads in that shotgun, but when it discharges, it is half hand-cannon, half flame-thrower. The bottom half of the cage seems to evaporate in a gout of yellow-white fire the length of two cars. The top half and most of the blanket flies out of her hand, and pieces of plastic, fabric and cat skitter across the pavement like a flaming car wreck. Only the handle and a small scrap of cloth remain in her fingers.
If I had any doubt about the Schrodinger-ness of Lil’ Bumpkins before, Rutledge had collapsed the animal’s waveform into a greasy, smoking smear on the asphalt.
“No, he won’t,” Rutledge says.