Kitty Goes to Washington Page 20

Senator Duke opened the hearings after laying down the rules of how long each senator could speak and when. As Chair, he got to decide such matters.

“Because of the highly irregular nature of the subject which we have convened to discuss, and the secrecy under which the research on this subject has been conducted, the committee has opted to reserve the first two sessions for questioning the gentleman who supervised the research. Dr. Paul Flemming, welcome. You have a statement for us?”

Each witness could enter a prepared statement into the record. They tended to be dry and academic. I expected Flemming's to be doubly so.

“Five years ago, I received a grant of funds from the National Institutes of Health to conduct research into a number of previously neglected diseases. These are diseases which have for centuries been shrouded in superstition and misunderstanding—”

And so on. He might as well have been talking about cancer or eczema.

The senators' questions, when they finally started, were benign: what is the Center, where is it located, who authorized funding, from which department was funding derived, what are the goals of the Center. Flemming's answers were equally benign, repetitions of his opening statement, phrases like the ones he'd given me: the Center strives to further the boundaries of knowledge in theoretical biological research. He never even used the words vampire or lycanthrope. I squirmed, wondering when someone was going to mention the elephant in the room.

Senator Duke granted my wish.

“Dr. Flemming, I want to hear about your vampires.”

Dead silence answered him. Not a pen scratched in the entire room. I leaned forward, waiting to hear what he'd say.

Finally, Flemming said, very straightforward, as if delivering a paper at a medical conference, “These are patients exhibiting certain physiological characteristics such as an amplified immune system, pronounced canines, a propensity for hemophagia, severe solar urticaria—”

“Doctor,” Duke interrupted. “What are those? Hemophagia? What?”

“Consuming blood, Senator. Solar urticaria is an allergy to sunlight.”

He made it sound so clinical, so mundane. But what kind of allergy caused someone to burn into a cinder?

“And what have you discovered about these so-called patients of yours, Doctor?”

Flemming hesitated a moment, then leaned closer to the microphone set before him. “I'm not sure I understand your question, Senator.”

“Vampires. In your opinion, what are they?”

Flemming cleared his throat, nervousness slipping into the calm, and said cautiously, “I believe I explained previously, that vampirism is characterized by a set of physical characteristics—”

“Cut the bull, Doctor. We've all seen Dracula, we know the 'physical characteristics.' I want to hear about the moral characteristics, and I want to hear about why they exist.”

I leaned forward, scooting to the edge of my seat, not because I would hear any better. The microphones worked great. I was waiting for the fight to break out.

“My studies don't involve the scope of your question, Senator.”

“Why not?”

“Those points are irrelevant.”

“With all due respect I disagree with you. Strongly.”

“Senator, I'm not qualified to comment on the moral characteristics of my patients.”

“Your test subjects, your patients—how do you feed them, Doctor? Whose blood do they suck out? How many of them turn into vampires?”

“Despite all the stories to the contrary, the condition is not transmitted by direct fluid contact—”

“And the blood?”

“Blood bank, Senator. We use pints of the most common types that the existing blood supply can spare.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” He said it like he'd gained some kind of victory.

“Doctor, I have some questions over the budgeting of your research—” One of the other senators on the committee, a woman named Mary Dreschler, quickly steered the discussion back to more mundane matters. A Democrat from a Midwestern state, Dreschler had run for the seat held by her late husband, who'd died suddenly in the middle of a reelection campaign. She was on her third term.

After two hours of this, the day's session was over. It was just as well it wasn't an all-day thing. If people in Congress did this sort of thing a lot, I was going to have to respect them a little more. Here I was, thinking the job was all glamour and state dinners. When Duke called the session into recess for the day, a sense of relief passed through the room, and the group sigh of exhaustion changed the air pressure.

Ben, leaning back in his chair, smirked in amusement. “If this is the tone the whole hearings are going to take, we're in for a roller coaster. I can't wait to see what Duke does with you.”

“I thought you were supposed to be on my side.”

“I am. It's still going to be fun to watch.” I could hear it now: Eaten any babies lately, Ms. Norville?

Eggs for breakfast. Does that count?

Looking purposeful, Ben gathered up his briefcase and jacket.

“Where are you off to?” I asked.

“I have some research I want to do. You don't need me for anything, do you?”

“Nope.” I had some research of my own I wanted to take care of.

“Then I'll see you tomorrow.” Outside the hearing room, he took off down the hallway, away from the front doors of the building.

As I turned to leave, a man with a mini digital camcorder tucked in his hand stepped into my path. I balked, startled.

“You're Kitty Norville,” he said. “Aren't you?”

I wondered how he knew. I didn't include my picture with any of the publicity for the show for exactly this reason. But he might have overheard Ben talking to me. He might have pulled my file off DMV records. It could have been anything.

He wasn't tall for a guy, only a couple inches taller than my five feet six. His build was average and he dressed preppy, a brown leather coat over a sweater and khakis. But his eyes shone with a barely suppressed zeal that was unnerving, because it was focused on me.

“Who are you?”

“Roger Stockton, I'm a reporter for Uncharted World. Do you have a couple minutes to answer some questions?” Without waiting for an answer he hefted the camera and turned an eye to the little screen, which was no doubt showing me glaring at him.

Prev Next