Kitty Goes to Washington Page 26

Jack came over to pick up the empty glass and wipe down the table. “Good work,” he said. “I've been here for a year and never heard him say more than one word.”

I needed more than one word if I was going to get him to tell me his story. If I was going to convince him to tell his story on my show… But I was getting ahead of myself.

Then Luis walked through the door, and all such thoughts left my brain entirely. My giddy smile grew even giddier when I saw the same smile on him. He took me out for seafood, then back to his place, and Leo didn't break down the door on us this time.

The next morning, I drove to Bethesda and looked for Dr. Flemming.

The letterhead located him at the Magnuson Clinical Center, a research hospital that dated back to the fifties. I had to check in at the front gate of the campus, show ID and everything. I told them up front that I was visiting Flemming. Since the campus included several working hospitals, security was used to visitors. They gave me a pass and let me in.

Flemming's office was in the basement. I made my way from elevator to corridor, unsure of what I'd find. Fluorescent lighting glared off scuffed tile floors and off-white walls. I passed one plain beige door after another, marked with plastic nameplates, white letters indented into black backgrounds. At the ends of corridors, safety notices advised passersby about what they should do in case of emergency, red lines moving through floor plans helpfully directing them to the nearest exit. Wherever our taxpayer dollars were going, it wasn't for interior decorating.

The place smelled like a hospital, antiseptic and sickly. The vigilant attempts at cleanliness were never able to completely hide the illness, the decay, the fact that people here were hurting and unhappy. I didn't want to breathe too deeply.

I found Flemming's nameplate at the end of a little-used hallway, after passing several unmarked doors. I hadn't seen another person in the last five minutes. It seemed like he'd been relegated to the place where he'd be most out of the way.

I knocked on the door and listened. Somebody was inside. Leaning close to the door, I tried to make out the noises. A mechanical whirring sound, almost constant. Crunching paper. A paper shredder, working overtime.

And if that wasn't enough to make me suspicious…

I knocked louder and tried the doorknob. It was locked, requiring a magnetic key card to open. No sneaking in and catching the good doctor unawares, alas. I rattled the knob insistently. The paper shredder whined down and stopped. I waited to hear footsteps, heavy breathing, the sound of a gun being cocked, anything. Had Flemming—or whoever was in there—snuck out the back? I wondered if Bradley had a lock pick that worked on card readers.

I considered: was I ready to stoop to going through Flemming's waste bin, piecing together strips of shredded documents, to find out what his research really involved and what he was hiding?

I wasn't any good at puzzles.

Then, the footsteps I'd been waiting to hear sounded, the slap of loafers on linoleum.

“Yes?” a voice said. It was Flemming.

I put on my happiest radio voice. “Hi! Is this where we sign up for tours of the lab?”

The lock clicked and the door opened a crack. Flemming stared back at me with a startled, wide-eyed expression. “You shouldn't be here.”

He turned away, leaving the door open. I considered it an invitation and stepped inside.

The place was a mess. I wanted to say like a tornado had struck, but that wasn't right. The chaos had a settled look to it, as if it had accumulated over time, like sediment through the eons. Flemming must have been the kind of person who organized by piling. Papers, file folders, books, trade journals, clipboards—that was just what I saw on a cursory glance. The stacks crowded the floor around the pair of desks, lurked in corners, and blocked the bookshelves that lined the walls. Three computers, older models, hunched on the desks. If I had expected the gleaming inhumanity of a high-tech, secret government laboratory, I was disappointed. This was more like a faculty office at a poorly funded university department. A second door in the back led to who-knew-where. Probably a collection of coats and umbrellas. It had a frosted window inset into it, but the other side was dark.

The waist-high, high-volume paper shredder lurked against the back wall. Flemming returned to it, and the stack of paper on the table next to it.

“Is everything okay, Doctor?”

“I'm just cleaning up.”

“In case you have to move out, is that what you're thinking?”

“Maybe.”

“So, no tours of the lab today?” He'd started shredding again, and I had to speak louder to be heard over the noise.

“Ms. Norville, this isn't a good time.”

“Can I come back tomorrow?”

“No.”

“You don't have any hapless interns who could show me around?”

“No. There's only me.”

The scene made me think Flemming wasn't just afraid of losing his funding; he was already at the end of it.

The computers were on, but the screen savers were running. I wondered if I could casually bump the desk, and get an image to flash on-screen, maybe a word-processing file with a title across the top saying, “Here's What's Really Going on in Flemming's Lab.”

I took slow steps, craning my neck to read the papers on the tops of various stacks. There were graphs, charts, statistics, and articles with titles containing long, Latinate words. Without sitting down and plowing through the documents, I wasn't going to get anything out of the mess.

I really wanted to take a look at what he was shredding.

He was keeping an eye on me, watching me over his shoulder while continuing to feed pages into the shredder.

“So, um, do you think the committee would want to take a look at what you're destroying there?”

“I don't think that's any of your concern.”

“Then I guess if I asked you straight up what the real purpose of your research is, you wouldn't be inclined to tell me?”

“Do you treat everyone like they're on your show?”

I hadn't really thought of it like that, but he had a point. I shrugged noncommittally.

“I've told you a dozen times, and I've told the committee: I'm doing pure science here, information-gathering research, nothing more.”

“Then what was all that you told the committee about finding the secret of vampire immortality?”

Prev Next