The blue tabby accepted the morsel of chicken from Renée’s fingers.
“How long have you owned that cat?” asked the Dashing Chevalier.
“It’s presumptuous to say you own a cat.”
Meowing in agreement, the tabby gently tapped his paw on Olivia’s hand and she fed him again.
“My grandmother owned a cat,” said Dashing, “a grey longhair.”
Olivia smiled, “Perhaps she thought she owned a cat, but it’s more likely that they enjoyed each other’s company.”
“That’s an odd way of looking at it.”
“I’ve always been a dog person myself,” replied Dashing who tossed her ponytail artfully over her shoulder.
“Oh well, you can own a dog.”
“But not a cat.”
“Not really, but dogs want to belong, cats decide if you’re worth the time.”
“Did the cats of the Arrondissement not recently unionize?”
“A union is very much a belonging sort thing, wouldn’t you say?”
Olivia shrugged and said, “They don’t belong to people, they belong to themselves.”
“How very independent.”
Olivia continued to share her lunch with the blue tabby, whom she called Thaddeus after her grandfather but whose name was his and his alone. She took out the letter she received that morning. It was scarce on details and she knew it somehow was connected to her having suddenly acquired a Chevalier bodyguard but she read it again. Xs and Os made her blush slightly but it wasn’t a bad thing.
The chicken was all gone, mostly into Thaddeus, so she stood and moved to look at the new piece she was working on. She had been capturing scraps of sounds she heard as she wandered the Arrondissement and had woven them into a rough sculpture. Plucking a strand of laughter, she twisted it around an amorous sigh. Still not quite right.
While she molded and mixed sounds, Thaddeus leapt to the window of her studio, lay in the afternoon sun, and watched. Orange flower petals that had bloomed that morning were now twirling and spinning in the suddenly cool wind.
“Fah!” spat Olivia.
Dashing drew her sword, which flashed in the light and rapidly surveyed the studio. No danger appeared.
“What do you see?”
“What?” said Olivia.
“You cried out in distress.”
“I cried out in frustration, I’m having problems with this new piece.”
With a flourish, Dashing sheathed her blade.
“You’ve never guarded an artist before.”
“Actually, I had to accompany the painter Naviaux to safely.”
“Did you get to see him work?”
“Not on his painting.”
Olivia cocked an eyebrow.
“He was in a feud with a critic, who had hired a member of the Frères de la mort to kill him.”
“That’s crazy. Wait, the critic hired the killer?”
“There may or may not have been some indiscretion with the critic’s wife. And mistress.”
“I’m afraid I cannot speak to Monsieur Naviaux’s artistic process.”
“I must ask you to be discreet, unlike some other artists, to whom I will give no names.”
“But I will ask once more, is there anything thing I can do to aid you?”
Olivia looked at her work in progress and sighed.
“A very wise man said that if you’re having trouble making something, then you’re not supposed to work on that today and to try something else.”
“That’s a rather long saying.”
“I’m paraphrasing,” Olivia replied as she removed an artist’s pallet from a table full of paint pots and brushes.
“Put your foot up on that chair.”
Dashing did so and as usual, did it with panache.
“Now just hold still.”
“If you don’t mind, my eyes must move in order to maintain your safety.”
Olivia used a tiny glass needle and traced a path of sigils around the edge of the pallet. The paints went from dull and dry to vibrant and liquid. With a flick of a brush, she set the rough outline of her subject floating in the afternoon sunlight. Walking around, she made slight adjustments. Sometimes it was helpful to return to the basics.
As she painted her guardian, Thaddeus noticed something odd. A flock of pigeons flew by the window. That was not the odd thing, it happened quite a lot. One of the birds stopped. In midair. It was stuck, not moving, and also not falling while the rest of his flock continued on. Then it moved as if nothing had happened. This needed reporting.
“Your cat just jumped out the window,” said Dashing.
“I told you, he’s his own cat.”
“It’s a little abrupt.”
“Cats don’t say goodbye.”
“Aren’t you worried?”
“Do you think he’ll come back?”
“How can you know that?”
“Because I will always share my chicken with him. Now please hold still.”