Kitty Goes to Washington Page 13

“Listen, they've cobbled these hearings together at the last minute. I couldn't get the staff to give me a schedule of when witnesses are testifying. They're probably not going to call you tomorrow. I'm thinking they'll spend a couple days grilling Flemming. We should go and sit in, to see what kind of tone they set. Get a feel for the room, that sort of thing.”

And it wouldn't hurt hearing what Flemming had to say. See if his answers to the senators were any less evasive than the ones he gave me.

“What do we know about Flemming?” I asked Ben.

“Whatever's been in the news. He's a doctor, he's been on the fringes of some pretty whacked-out research. You probably know more than I do.”

“I know about his research, about his work with the Center. But I don't know anything about him. He said he did a residency in New York. Think you could track down a little history on him?”

“I'll see what I can do.” He reached over to one of the piles of paper on the bed, scooped it up, and handed it to me. “Here's your mail from the last couple weeks. There's a couple of local invitations you might look at. Word seems to have got out that you were coming. You apparently got put on some media-related mailing lists.”

That was it. Everybody knew I was here. Even people I didn't know about knew I was here. I supposed I ought to enjoy the attention.

“Why would people send me invitations?”

“Apparently, you have cachet,” he said dryly. “You're hip.”

Gah. That was almost worse than being an authority.

The invitations he mentioned were three pieces of mail that came in thick, stationery-type envelopes, cream-colored and pearl-gray. I cracked them open while I ate. One was an invitation for a cocktail party at the Washington town house of the Colorado representative from my district. Vote-pandering. I set it aside. The second was for the next installment of a lecture series sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Latent college feminist tendencies almost got the better of me on that one.

The third was a reception for the opening of a new exhibit at the Hirshhorn, the museum of modern art that was part of the Smithsonian. Attire: formal. Cultural, flashy. Swanky. An interesting crowd showed up to these things, I bet. It would sure beat hanging out at Alette's for the evening. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been to a real party.

I was going to have to buy a dress. And shoes. And I only had a couple of hours to do it in.

“I gotta run.” I stuffed the mail in my backpack and headed for the door. “I'll see you tomorrow.”

“Kitty.” He stopped me, caught my gaze. He'd looked mostly at his plate until then, finishing off the last of his meal. He startled me into staring back. “I don't have to tell you to be careful, do I?”

I was a little dumbstruck. “Wow. I might start to think you really care.”

“Have to protect the revenue stream,” he said, quirking a smile.

I rolled my eyes and got out of there, thinking, what could possibly go wrong?

I'd never owned a little black cocktail dress. But every girl should own a little black cocktail dress before she's thirty. Now I had mine.

I returned to Alette's place just after dark, with an hour to spare before the reception. Alette met me in the foyer, like she'd been watching for me. My assurances to Emma that Alette wouldn't know I'd been gone scattered like dust.

She crossed her hands before her, “I would have preferred that you take Bradley or Tom on your outing.”

Despite my best efforts, I stood there like a guilty teenager out past curfew, my backpack over one shoulder and the plastic garment bag from the department store over the other.

I shrugged, trying to turn a wince into a smile. “I didn't want to bother anyone.”

Her glare told me what a poor excuse that was for flouting her hospitality.

“You've been shopping?” she said, indicating the bag.

She wasn't going to want me to go to the museum reception. She'd want me to stay all tucked up and safe, with her. But I'd been all over town today. I hadn't sensed any lycanthropes. What was more, no super-territorial werewolves had found me. That whole explanation was becoming increasingly lame.

Sneaking out while she was up and about would be a lot harder than sneaking out during daylight hours.

I wasn't going to make excuses. “Yeah. I got a dress. I have an invitation for a reception at the Hirshhorn.” Earnestly, I dug in my backpack, found the invitation, and handed it to her. As if I had to prove something like that. “It sounds like fun, and it starts in an hour, and I'd really like to go.”

This was ridiculous. I hadn't had to beg to go out since high school. Well, that wasn't true. I'd had to beg Carl, the alpha male of my old pack, to go out. He liked keeping his cubs under his paw, and he especially didn't want me having any fun without him. I thought I'd finished with all that when I left. When he kicked me out. I squared my shoulders and tried to seem a little bit dignified.

She examined the invitation, then me. “This dress. May I see it?”

I peeled off the plastic and held the hanger up to my shoulders. It was black silk with spaghetti straps, clingy in all the right places. The skirt was short without being trashy. I had to be able to sit down and stand up without embarrassing myself. And I found these killer strappy high heels on sale.

Alette rubbed the fabric between her fingers, stepping back to take in the whole garment. “Hm. Understated. Good lines. It will do, I suppose.”

Like I needed her permission. “I'm going to get changed,” I said, creeping toward the stairs.

She didn't stop me. After the first couple of steps, I ran the rest of the way.

I'd just closed the door to my room when my cell phone rang. I dug it out of my pocket, read the display—it was my mother. I'd forgotten, today was Sunday. She called every Sunday.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, Kitty. Where are you this week?” Her tone was laden with unspoken reprimands. She'd asked me to call her when I stopped in a new place, to let her know where I was. Since I was someplace different nearly every week, and on the road most of the time in between, it seemed kind of, well, futile to try to keep her updated on my whereabouts. I forgot, usually.

“Washington, D.C.”

Her tone changed to sounding genuinely interested. “Really? That's exciting. Have you done any sightseeing?”

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