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I've somehow got it in my mind that I legit need to BEAT this game, but I cannot get the ferry captain's cat to appear -- I've exhausted all his dialog options (first addressing him by his full title, mind you), and all Pierre's -- and then back and forth again and again, trying to get him to talk about the damned cat. I played the game AGAIN from the beginning trying to get it to activate.

Please help me complete my perverse "love" of this game . . .
Had this same problem today and was able to get around it by changing between windowed/fullscreen. I was using dgVoodoo to run it in a window, and was only able to move on that screen when in fullscreen mode. My setup was sketchy to begin with so your mileage may vary, but fiddling with display options is likely a good option.