Kitty Goes to Washington Page 23

There was a time I didn't much like steak, and I preferred any meat I ate ground up and well burned on a grill. The Wolf, however, liked meat to bleed. So I ate rare steaks.

“Yeah, thanks.” I gestured at the empty place on the table in front of her. “So, what are you…”

“I've already dined this evening.”

This was going to be awkward. When one of her staff brought out a plate with the steak and tastefully arranged vegetables and set it in front of me, I half expected she'd also bring out a goblet full of thick red stuff and give it to Alette. Though it was probably just as well she wasn't going to be… dining… in front of me.

I managed to overcome a lifetime of socialization about eating in front of people who weren't and started in on the meal, which was perfect, of course. Warm, bleeding, tender, tangy. Small bites with fork and knife; not messily devoured. The Wolf and I compromised on these points.

“Tell me how the hearings went today.”

I was supposed to be her spy, then? “I think C-SPAN was broadcasting. At least they had cameras there. You could have watched it for yourself.”

She narrowed her gaze. “I was indisposed.”

I shrugged, nonplussed. “You could tape it. Heck, you could probably download it off the Web.” I didn't know if the old vampires even used the Internet. She probably let her minions do that.

Resting her elegant chin on her hands, she said, “I want to hear what you think.”

Did she really want to know what I thought, or was she testing my bias?

“Flemming testified today. He's the head of the Center, and the committee has put him in the position of having to defend his project, his baby. In that respect, this could be any government research project being put under the microscope. But then there's Duke. He wants to turn it into a witch hunt. Since this is a PC world, he can't get Flemming to make a judgment call like 'vampires are evil' or 'werewolves are hellspawn.' Flemming's being very clinical about the whole thing, and I think it's pissing Duke off. I'm wondering if this isn't all his idea in the first place. He's always been on the fringe. He may see these hearings as a way to gain validation for his ideas.”

“Senator Duke knows very little of the matters on which he speaks so fanatically.”

“Yeah, but he's a fanatic with political clout. That makes him scary.”

“The werewolf, afraid of the politician?”

I smirked. “As werewolves go, I'm a total coward. Give me a good alpha to hide behind any day.”

“You just haven't found a good one, is that it?”

It was kind of like finding a good boyfriend. You kept hoping the perfect one existed, but the trial and error in the meantime could be gut-wrenching. “You're very nosy.”

“It's how I learn. You have some experience with that yourself, I believe.”

“Can't argue.”

“What have they scheduled for tomorrow?”

“More grilling of Flemming, I think. If it's anything like today they'll end up going around in circles. This is an oversight hearing, so they could go for days, until they've heard everything they want to. They haven't even announced the whole schedule of witnesses yet. It's like the whole thing was thrown together.”

“When do you testify?”

“I don't know.”

“Duke will postpone your testimony until next Monday, if he can.”

I paused and considered. Monday was the next full moon. Alette must have known that. Did Duke? Did he know that I'd be at my worst, the day Wolf rose so close to the surface? I didn't want to give him that much credit. “I hope not,” I said simply.

She said, “What do you hope will result from these hearings?”

“I guess I just want everyone to say, 'Yeah, okay, this stuff exists.' Then I want them to leave us alone.”

“What is the likelihood of that happening?”

“I don't know. The trouble is, I don't think they can both happen at the same time. I keep thinking, if the government recognizes the existence of these things, it'll want to regulate them.”

“That is my fear as well. Whatever happens, that must not be allowed to come to pass. The government—Flemming, Duke, all of them—must, as you say, leave us alone:”

“We may not have a choice what happens.”

“Oh, there are always choices. Above all, the conclusion of these hearings must be that we are not a threat—to the public or to the government. You know very well we are not. We have regulated ourselves for centuries to ensure our secrecy, to ensure that the mortals don't have a reason to fear us and take action. It may be up to you to preserve that balance.”

And I was one of the reasons that secrecy was coming to an end. No pressure or anything. “I don't think I have that kind of authority—”

“I think you sell yourself short. People listen to you, Kitty. You simply don't see it because you stay sheltered behind your microphone.”

She was implying that it was all make-believe to me. That I didn't believe I really had an audience.

Maybe it was true. Here, for the first time, I was meeting some of my audience. I had to face them and stand up to defend all the stuff I'd been talking about on the air for the last year.

So much easier to hide behind the microphone.

“I'm only worrying about telling them the truth. I'm not going to be able to dictate what action the committee takes.”

“The implications may run far wider than you think. Have you ever seen someone burned at the stake? I have.”

Why was I not surprised? “It won't come to that. We've gotten past that.”

“Perhaps.”

Even with all the conversation, I'd managed to finish eating. The steak was good, and I'd been hungry. I tapped my fork—stainless steel, not silver, another courteous gesture from the mistress of the house—on the plate, fine china in some antique pattern. I should have been afraid of breaking it.

“Flemming's the one who's going to swing this,” I said. “He's the scientist, and he's the one who depends on the committee for his livelihood. They'll listen to him.”

Alette reached over and took the fork out of my hand, setting it down out of my reach. I stared at my hand, startled. I hadn't seen her coming. I hadn't had time to flinch. She said, “Are you suggesting we should be more worried about Flemming than Duke?”

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