Like many discreet professionals, Chausie's career path was oblique. She'd dreamed of devoting her life to animals and waited anxiously for news of her acceptance to veterinary school. When the letter came, she climbed up the white oak in her back yard to savor it alone, absently licking the dried glue at the torn edge of the envelope as her future rolled out before her. She pictured being surrounded by soft creatures who gave no backtalk. That vision was clouded when she observed her first surgery. She'd studied the textbooks where all the colors, layers, and organs were in place, and easily memorized the necessary implements and procedures, but shortly after the first slice of the knife she fainted and never went back. All that blood and glistening viscera, such impersonal and shifting interior anatomy!
Her given name was Charlene. Cat breeder parents had chuckled with tender amusement at their agile child who liked to jump on things, and nicknamed her Chausie after the new hybrid cat whose ruddy color matched their daughter's thick, auburn hair.
While still in vet school, Chausie had rented a carriage house on the large estate of an elderly woman with the single name Geneviève, an au courante sculptor whose statues resembled obese Giacomettis. Geneviève shared a taste for luxury with Zula, her Red Abyssinian cat—silk sheets, the finest meats, organic wild-crafted catnip. Geneviève's only worry was Zula's fate if orphaned. She spoke of this in the garden with Chausie, savoring the scent of cosmos and lilac, zinnia and verbena, while Chausie's cats, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, conducted their own analyses of the breeze. "Charlene, dear, I would like to will Zula to you, with a small stipend, if you agree."
A pedigreed cat! The first scent of greed dilated Chausie's nostrils. Ribbons from New York, a board membership with the Abyssinian Cat Club, mine to stroke: that golden goddess whose coat glows like a flame. "Of course," she said. When Geneviève showed her the will, Chausie was stunned to learn she could live at the mansion with a monthly income of $8000 for as long as Zula lived. She told her boyfriend Max, "Just think. I could make this into a profession: ten cats, twenty cats. I could afford to have the carpets replaced every three months. Come over tonight and help me celebrate. Bring Claude. It's time he got to know the felines."
Not as species-biased as Chausie, Max had tamed a wild parrot he named Claude whose eyes, circled by white, gave him the appearance of a jaunty academic. Max played to this, teaching the bird Elizabethan curses. When they arrived at the carriage house that night, Claude cast leery glances at Carl and Sigmund: "Mewling, idle-headed ratsbanes!"
Chausie became a swanky cat sitter. She sought out wealthy people with elegant cats and gained their trust by showing her sure hand with their pets. But no matter how she ingratiated herself, none of them offered her an inheritance. To sate her lust for pedigree, she became a cat burglar. Her targets were prominent figures who failed to treat their pets with proper respect. She would grow close to the cats, quietly observe their owners' movements and habits, even be given her own key.
She never burgled while officially pet sitting, and thus she was the last person suspected when cats disappeared—perhaps while their owners were hosting a large party. Chausie would sneak into the house through the kitchen door, grab some gourmet hors-d'oeuvres, and glide unseen up the back stairs carrying Smoked Salmon Tartare, Caviar, or Shrimp Ceviche.
A Maine Coon would look wide-eyed when she picked it up, then purr against the familiar cheek as Chausie tiptoed to the window, quietly opened it with one hand, and dropped lightly to the ground. A Persian might hold its ears back, unsure of what to do until Chausie chirped its name, called it to her, cradling it gently as she slipped away.
By this time Geneviève had met with an untimely accident, leaving Zula and her home to Chausie, who now had plenty of room for more. She renamed all the cats after famous people. Carl and Siggie had set the tone. Zula was now Goldie Meir.
The two Ragdolls she had whisked away from a well-known Republican were particularly rare, mitted with black toes. Male and female siblings, she'd named them Snoop Catty Cat and Madonna. Snoop and Maddie would ride—one draped over each shoulder—as Chausie went about her chores, hardly time now for anything beyond formal cat sitting and informal sitting with her cats—feeding them, changing their litter boxes. An entire afternoon might pass in the enclosed garden while she brushed the longhairs one by one, and the shorthairs chased butterflies and beetles.
About the time that Chausie snatched her fifteenth prize, Max said, "Enough!" and slouched away, Claude swaying in a dither at his wrist. Max's departure was not due to moral outrage (he rather admired Chausie's prowess as a cat burglar), nor to the increasingly strong scents and invisible clouds of dander. No. Jealous of the time and attention she gave the cats instead of him, Max felt neutered.
As they left, Claude cried triumphantly, his spectacled eyes wide upon Chausie through the narrow aperture of the closing door: "Saucy, spur-galled miscreant!"