Chapter 1. The Duchess

They went for a walk with their cats.

One was called the Duchess. She was dressed in a café au lait coat, a masquerade of black sattin, chocolate powder gloves and truffle-color boots on her ski-long legs. Her eyes she once described as the color of the Blue Celeste dish in her porcelain Louis Quinze tea service. The duchess loved to play with money. But it is an axiomatic truth easily tested that all cats love money. The bigger the bill, the more fun they have.

They both carried their cats, who remained relaxed in body but alert in mind and perked in ear. They were carried in comfortable pouches of alpaca yarn by their companions.

The Duchess could not stand one thing and it was one thing only: Distraction. As an old bat of fifteen, she could not abide modern technology. Not that anyone ever asked modern technology if it could abide her.

She had once been quiet and reserved. But although she kept the slim, waifish figure of her youth, she had taken to neglecting the propriety she once was so proud of, back when they still called her Kitty. Nowadays, she would loudly complain of her sorrows whenever she felt that one of her companions had been neglecting her in favor of a glowing screen. Of course, her entire catalogue of conversation topics was firmly rooted in enumerating and describing the things that bothered her. So who knows?

She would voice her displeasure in the surveillance room on the third floor, which housed nothing but a screen with feeds from all the cameras that recorded various points of interest in and around the house.

She enjoyed this room as a stage for her tirades because its bare walls provided the most superior acoustics.

Her ladylike behavior stemmed from a title of nobility she had awarded herself for performing admirable services during Waterloo.

This was one of her favorite yarns to screech whenever Distraction was stumbling about the house, opiating the general public with its presence. As soon as someone began to stare lazily at a screen instead of giving her the rub, she would walk over to the room with the audio-enhancing walls. With a madman’s calmness and a madam’s poise, she would collect herself and begin a gale-wind retelling:




Of course, ‘Waterloo’ was actually a weeklong skirmish against a family of three adolescent mice that had been spotted by one of the gamekeepers on the grounds of the Duchess’s second floor.

Every other morning that week, the Duchess left a new trophy, each smaller than the one before, proudly displayed in various quarters.

One mouse was mangled—she called it minced—in the manuscript room.

The second mouse was torn in the theater. She had been torn about how to present it best. So she tore a curtain to match the mouse.

The last of the interlopers was the fastest, most elusive, and unbecomingly brazen ruffian she had ever seen— for dramatic flair she stressed that she had seen the brute walking upright and muttering obscenities. She always paused before going on to tell that, “Well the final foe was filleted, really supremely, underneath the painting of God and Adam.”

She really had admirably performed in Waterloo. But what was truly remarkable was her ability to talk of little else for the majority of her life after that great event.

At some point, three mouse drawings of gold permanent marker, identically primitive and dumbly expressioned, appeared on her water bowl. These medals were nodded at with proud nonchalance whenever company was over. No matter how many times that company had previously witnessed those honors.