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Das Duel is the fourth book of the Felidae series, published in Germany in 2002.
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Cover of the book

The book has yet to be translated in english, but has been translated in Russian and Polish language.

Plot:Edit

It's winter and Francis's waiting for lunch time watching the snow-covered garden from the bathroom's window. His human master Gustav however, closes the window without realizing that the cat was on the ledge and now Francis is forced to remain out of the house.

Despite the hassle to be put in the cold, Francis decides to explore a bit the snow-covered neighborhood and walking into a garden he finds a close fountain wall and an almost frozen body of a cat who has been strangled with a rope.

In few seconds Francis realizes that only an human could have done such terrible work but suddenly Francis notices he's being watched by a mysterious presence: he catches only a glimpse of his observer and despite thinking to have seen human-like eyes, the silhouette of the being was smaller and clearly non human.

Quickly as it appeared, the mysterious creature runs away and Francis (having not managed to look at it clearly), despite fearing that it could be the killer, attempts to follow it just to find some fellow cats.

It's actually a very unique party of she-cats: Fabulous, a pretty Burmese female that Francis had hoped to court in spring and a pair of black-pelted young females. All of them were gathered flirting around Adrian, a young and beautiful tomcat that soon display a sarcastic behaviour toward Francis when the detective asks about the mysterios being he was following (and that of course the cats has not seen).

Still Adrians show an interested behaviour when he see the body of the cat and display (in front of Francis and the three females) a great investigative skills, pointing out a mistake committed by the same Francis: the dead cat has been killed and only later was hanged! Francis is even more embarassed when Adrian points other mistakes: the cat was not frozen by the cold weather because the air wasn't so cold to cause it and the knot that hanged the victim it's too soft to be done by an human and it's not impossible that a cat did it with with time and patience.

Despite this, Adrian suddenly show less interest in discovering further details about how the cat has been killed and who and why put him there: as Adrian is walking away with the three females, Fabulous turns back and speaks with Francis, telling him about having seen an human's shadow running away as she walked close that garden.

Driven by curiosity, Francis follows Adrian after he departed from the females: the detective finds him living into a large futuristic-style villa with many glasses and surrounded by an huge park-like ground with pine trees and bushes. There he watch a woman inside the villa, clearly close to terminal death due cancer, surrounded by many cats, including the same Adrian, and a servant that feeds the cats.

Adrian surprises Francis on the balcony and despite being angry of being watched into his home, he tells Francis about his master Agatha, and her terminal status of cancer and how she was going to die soon. From the dialogue however Francis guess that actually Adrian knew the victim and that the cat was killed with velvet's cords that he had spotted into the villa (even if they were not so rare and could came from other places too).

Adrian got angry and doesn't confirm such hypotesis and instead attacks Francis: the two cats fights for a little when suddenly a man covered with a full snow-white camouflage (including ski-mask) shot darts at them from the garden with a blowpipe.

Francis and Adrian stops their fight and departs, escaping in different directions on the balcony, however Francis after having reached the corner of the villa is attacked by a second man with the same white camouflage: finally a third man manage to surprise Francis and hit him with a dart forcing the cat to fall aslept and fall from the balcony at three storeys of height.

Francis is dreaming now: and as ever his dreams are full of meanings, he meets a wonderful model-like man (that in some way seems the "shadowy" creature he saw before)   that show him 30 youngs men and women, supposed by Francis to be representative of the same number of cats living into Agatha's villa, and then this dream turns into an hellish nightmare: their bodies are quickly destroyed by age and only blood and bones are left, his interlocutor has the same destiny, before asking him to "Find him", until only his human blue coloured eyes remains.

The cat wake up only to find the same eyes looking at him: however these appears to be only the eyes of a cat into a poster making an advertise for an "animalfarm" project. Francis is trapped inside a (comfortable) cage. The detective is greeted by Fabulous that make him notice how he's not trapped at all: infact the door of the cage is not locked and Francis came out and realize to know such place, a large old abandoned factory.

The place has been turned into a sort of laboratory and Francis can see medical materials, cages, the same men that captured him and seemed to have no problems having Francis walking around (their own features identify them as young students rather than common villains). Fabulous explains how these young men are part of the AnimalFarm ecologist group, that this factory has turned into temporary base and their aim was to capture Adrian (not Francis). Than she keeps on telling how their plan it's to expose the crimes against the animals, and that Agatha made her fortune selling in Asia pelts of  domestic animals, cats and dogs, to make profits.

Now some pieces of the puzzle can be collected: the first dead cat has been killed by Gromyko (the servant of Agatha) by pure pleasure, the pair infact was forced to abandon Scotland (where they lead their "enterprise"), and killing by choking was the common way to keep the animal's pelt intact. The Animal Army attempts to free the cats that remain into the villa and at the same time try to collect further proofs against the pair.

Francis departs from Fabulous, and walking into a tube he reaches a separate storehouse that's filled with animal's food produced by the same ecologist group. There Francis has the pleasent meeting with his friend Bluebeard and his son Junior, they were feasting in secret with some food stored there. Francis tells about it's adventure but Junior isn't sure about the same conclusion: he thinks that's difficult that a cat as Adrian isn't aware of the danger of living close to a mad-man that enjoy killing cats, and than he make Francis notice that he got an addittional wound on his rear. Francis has clear round scars as if someone has took tissue samples for some purpose.

Despite all, Junior and Bluebeard insists to make the next days attempts to rescue the cats into Agatha's home without human help, expecially thanks the fact that Bluebeard already watched the home and noticed when the old woman and the servant disappeared weekly, probably for the chemotherapy.

Francis returns home, just to find Archie (the old friend of Gustav, now living at the first floor of the house) in bad state, having emptied his rooms because he lost lots of money for bad investments due the economical crisis. Also Gustav is in very bad state, half-sleeping with emptied bottles of wine, due his despair that Francis is disappeared (once again). Francis feels guilty for his "cans-opener".

Gustav's joy is great for having found again his cat, however later during the night Francis get another hellish dream: the mysterious creature was sitting at the far end of the bed, this time appears with its animal features, standing as an human even if shorter than a normal one, with cat's furs and ears but with his shining eyes crying. Slowly, Francis realizes that maybe he's not dreaming at all, before his own eyes close due tiredness.

The next day Francis realizes to have overslept and that the bathroom's window is closed. Francis is forced to waste some time with Gustav until the man keep open the window while "explaining" the cat about the dangers out there: obviously Francis take this occasion to jump out of home.

When Francis finally reach Junior and Bluebeard, he's surprised to find an old known-face: Kong and his comrades Hermann&Hermann that had gathered other cats to attack Agatha's villa. Junior manages to find a middle way between the reckless and dangerous "frontal attack" that Kong plans to do and the fears of Francis, and he and Bluebeard walk forward to inspect the villa.

The signal is given and the cats attacks and enters into the villa, until finding the cats living inside: they seems all even too much calm and not bothered by such "invasion" to save them, Andrian appears and reveals a very different story about the recent knowledges of Francis.

AnimalFarm is not an ecologist group, but the largest world's producer of animal's food, lead by Maximilian Hutchkins (a man that Francis already saw into the factory and believed him to be the leader of the group), notorious for harsh behaviour toward animals while experimenting new foods: Agatha and Gromyko works on biotech industry to create vaccines (and not furs industry). Adrians explain well all the faults in Francis's theory and how probably Fabulous had just has fun of him, an angry Kong leads his crowds away after giving further insults to a ridiculed Francis.

Despite having been clearly defeated, still doubts remains in Francis's mind: he checks the two closed freezer's doors that raised suspects before: Adrian has claimed that they were just to storage the meat but actually they're all empty.

Walking away alone Francis makes the suddent discover of the dead body of a recently killed Bombay cat and at the first glance appears a number of curious things: as the first body, this second one seems to have been frozen and then left clearly to be seen by Francis: there is half-digested food close to him, but it's too warm to have been vomited by the same cat (as if he was poisoned) and Francis realize that someone (probably an animal) put the victim in that place and in this status just to let Francis finds him.

Francis decides to turns and talk again with Andrian, but he see the reddish cat running in hurry to the factory and Francis follows him in secret.

SPOILER (conclusion):Edit

Francis finds Adrian into a freezing room filled with strange sculptures of animals and creatures, there he see also Fabulous crying and talking with someone else. The detective manage to speak in low voice with Adrian and the reddish cat beg him to be out of the whole events, he admitted that he told lies but that no cat was "killed". Adrians tells of being himself in danger and that Francis can helps him, as soon the detective came out to try to talk with Fabulous too, one of the men with ski-white mask and clothes appears and fire with a rifle (with real bullets, this time). Other men appears and start firing, the cats manage to run and hide but the mysterious interlocutor of Fabolous hide under the sculpture of a T-rex dinosaur: many shots are fired until the sculpture collapse not before that the humanoid figure launch a sharp piece of ice and kills from distance one of the shooters.

Walking away from the room with Adrian, the other cat still doesn't want explain what's happening but Francis finds an huge tank filled with ice and frozen bodies of countless of cats inside.

Francis is shocked but Adrian revelas how all these cats actually died of premature old age, and not because they were killed by someone. Francis is even more surprised because the oldest of them wasn't surely more than 1 year old. Adrian explains how he told partial truths: Agatha and Gromyko are really scientists, but they worked with Animal Farm for profit and making experiments on animals to create vaccines against human allergy on cats to increase the profits of the company that was selling the animal's food. It has been managed to create transgenic cats that cause no allergy, however this had also direct not-desired effects incresing the risks of cancers, heart attacks, etc... all these cats showed quickly to have a number of diseases usually caused by age and at beast they lived for few months or one year.

When Agatha realized her failure and herself got a cancer (due her age) she retired with a number of survived animals into this new villa and there attempted without success to stop the accellerated aging process without success, sadly Adrian is one of the cats affected. The Animal Farm company did not abandoned the project and that's why they re-located there, even if with less brilliant scientists, and so it's explained why they shot and captured Francis (believing he was one of the altered cats).

Adrian reveals also that the two large freezers into Agatha's villa were meant to keep and study the bodies of the deceased cats, however it was true that someone mysteriously stole them: and it hasn't been the AnimalFarm group.

Adrian too wanted to know who stole the body and he thinks has been the "ghost" hiding under the T-rex sculpture: a whole plan to attract both Francis and Adrian to discover something.

Francis and Adrian leave the factory and the pair have some very sad and emotive talks about the destiny of the same Adrian: Francis is moved by the cruel destiny of the cat and hopes all the better for him, in this world or in the world after the death.

While walking home, Francis meets also the pair of young black she-cats that he had first seen with Fabulous and Adrian: they told him of having been only by a month there and they were lost in the still not-known city and he offers them help to find shelter for the snowy night. However the she-cats told him about the same Fabulous was "searching for his ill lost son", this puzzles Francis, because Fabulous told him that the Maximilian, the human leader of the Animal Farm group, had himself an "ill son" that recently left him.

Francis helps the she-cats to find their lady master, but before leaving their home, one of the them tells that the Fabulous's son name is "Max" and Francis remembers to have seen a large cage with "Max" engraved on it into the Animal Farm's laboratory.

Later Francis receive a new important clue while watching the Archie's television (the man was still checking for improvment of economy on tv), because AnimalFarm officially advertise the creation of the "perfect pet animal": Francis realize how this creature is the "ghost" he saw many time, an hybrid of man and cat.

Francis realizes also the danger for Adrian a the other cats because now the AnimalFarm was likely to "clear" every proof about the most dirt and terrible experiments (that resulted in the cats with shortened life).

Just out of the Agatha's villa, Francis finds the same old woman killed (due shooting) on her wheelchair. Into the villa all the signs of cat's presence is disappeared and on the second floor Francis finds also the body of doctor Gromyko. All the data from the computers are deleted and the body of the doctor was left with a gun in the hand (to suggest a suicide) and a fake-wrote suicide note, but it is clear to Francis that AnimalFarm is responsable for both the killings.

Francis reach the factory and finds all the cats in cages crying of fear (including Adrian, the only calm one), the three survived young men (one was killed by the "ghost") are ready to kills all the cats with euthanasia, there is also Fabulous free but in shock to see the incoming death of so many cats and the same Maximillian, watching the scene while having dinner on another table.

As the first cat is going to be killed, Francis attempts to attack the three men operating around the table but during the clash he's hit with one of the darts fired by a blowpipe.

Francis is now barely aware of what's happening due the effects of the dart, but manage to cross the eye of the first unlucky cat, an Abyssinian, just while he receive the lethal dose of toxins to kill him.

The next designed victim is the same Adrian and Francis manage to exchange a glance and a smile with him, but as soon the syringe is almost going to cause the cat's death, someone starts to sing with a beautiful voice.

Somewhere over the rainbow Way u p high There's a country I did heard of Once in a lullaby Somewhere over the rainbow Skies are blue And the dream did you dare to dream Really does come true ...

It's the creature, the ghost, the hybrid of human and cat that AnimalFarm wanted to show at the world. "MAX01" or just Max, it has an humanoid body, just smaller than an human, and inherited the coffee-milk fur colour of Fabulous. He has tail and ears has a cat, but his face has more human features and his eyes are the blue ones of Francis' dreams: it's whole features make him a beautiful creature at Francis's (and possibly everyone else) eyes.

Max speaks with a beautiful voice too, understandble both to humans and cats: he thanks Fabulous and tells her to love her as a mother even if she has only (unwilling probably) provided an egg, and that after having altered with genetic studies of Agatha and Gromyko has been able to cross with a sperm of Maximillian.

Max demands for the liberations of the cats and the three doctors attempts to shot him with guns firing sleeping-darts. The men fails when the hybrid display an incredible acrobatic skill and strenght, they even try to fire live bullets to hurt or kill him but he manage to kill the first of them pushing the gun of the rifle into his skull, crushing it.  He display human-like skills, firing with the gun toward Maximillian, his "father" was attempting to flee and then (after this warning fire) Max politely ask him to wait. The two survived young doctors open the cages as requested and Adrian too it's freed.  Max congratulated with Francis for his intelligence and skill, than reach  the two remained doctors and kills them by pushing their faces on the table, crushing their noses, and forcing some of the poisoned syringes into their arms. Finally Max reach a terrified Maximillian and question his father about the sense of his whole existance and how the man had used his own genes to create him, in a megalomanic way to preserve himself into the new breed he wanted to start.

Max make three questions to the man: if there are other hybrids like him, if there was a possibility to turn his not-developed sexual organs and actually reproduce (with cats or humans),   the human give a "no" as answers for each questions but the last one, if the fast aging process on the cats can be changed, has a "yes", but not for him: the process that Max has inherited (and that AnimalFarm had obtained from the failures of  Agatha and Gromyko) was planned to give a short life to the "perfect pet" and so allow an increase of profits (while keeping them sterile, to have the monopoly of the selling).

The replies anger Max that ignite a fire over his own body and the one of his father, with a canister full of liquids.

A desperate Fabulous attempts to reach his "son", claiming her desire about being a family with him, but the fire suddenly cause huge explosions and she's too engulfed by the flames.

The cats manages to escape by the conducts and leave the burning factory, with Adrian that helps a still weakened Francis.

Out of the factory, the cats are happy for their regained freedom and even if their lives will be short, they are going to enjoy every single moment. Adrian however say that's even unsure if he was part of the cats with fastened aging because he seems to have much less of the effects that the others starts to have and his mind was clear and developed. Also Adrian departs with one last friendly teasing: that at the next spring Francis should not dare to compete with him for some females or their friendship was going to end, moreover because according him Francis was "ugly" (compared to himself).

As the cats walk away, Francis starts to sing, quickly followed by Adrian and the others:
Somewhere over the rainbow
Blue birds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?
Where troubles melt like lemondrops
Way upon the chimney tops
 
That's where you'll find me
Somewhere over the rainbow
Blue birds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

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