Kitty Goes to Washington Page 34

Ben was already in place in the back row, his laptop open on his lap, typing away at something that may or may not have had anything to do with the hearings. I sat with him, and Jeffrey joined us.

“You okay?” Ben whispered. I nodded, waving him off.

Everyone looked back at a commotion brewing by the doors. The security guy seemed to be talking to someone who wanted in. After a moment, he opened the door and let in something of an entourage: a middle-aged man with short-cropped, steely hair, wearing a dark turtleneck and slacks, flanked by a couple of hefty bodyguard types.

All my hair stood on end and a shiver passed along my spine. Those two were werewolves, big and scary, and there was something about the way they followed the first one that was unnatural. Or un-supernatural. It was like they walked too close to him, or watched him too closely. Like Labrador retrievers with separation anxiety. Not wolf-like at all.

“Who's he?” I murmured.

Jeffrey leaned over. “That's Elijah Smith. He's a self-styled faith healer to the supernatural.”

My blood chilled and the gooseftesh thickened. My shoulders stiffened, and I swallowed back a wolf-inspired growl. “I know him. I know of him. We had an encounter, sort of.”

“You didn't try to join his church, did you?”

“No. This was indirectly. I met someone who tried to leave his church. It didn't turn out well.” In the end, she'd killed herself. The vampire had staked herself to get away from him.

As exploitative celebrities went, Smith was in a class by himself. Jeffrey and I were little more than entertainers, to some extent. Our hearts may have been in the right places, wanting to help people, but we were also sort of freak shows. Smith, on the other hand, professed to save people.

He called his organization the Church of the Pure Faith. Preaching the motto “Pure faith will set you free,” he claimed to be able to cure vampires and lycanthropes of their conditions through his style of old-fashioned, laying-on of hands faith healing.

The so-called church had more in common with a cult. Once healed, his followers never left. They traveled with him in a caravan that crisscrossed the country, collecting true believers who were utterly loyal, like the two werewolves seemed to be. My informant had said he really could cure them: vampires could walk in sunlight, werewolves never suffered the Change. But only if they stayed with him forever. For some, the loss of freedom might not have been too high a price to pay. The trouble was, Smith didn't tell them what the price was before they signed up.

What could he tell the committee? What was the point of having him here?

“How the hell did they manage to get him to testify?” As far as I knew, the few police who'd tried to investigate the church hadn't been able to touch him. Nothing persuaded Smith to leave his compound, and his followers defended him like an army. Jeffrey shook his head.

Ben piped in. “Rumor has it Duke offered his church official recognition and tax-exempt status. Then he can start collecting monetary donations.”

“Can Duke do that?”

Ben said, “It really only takes an application with the IRS, but Smith may not know that. Maybe Duke can expedite the application.”

Didn't that just beat all?

Jeffrey watched Smith distantly, lips pursed. After a moment he said, “I don't like him. He's dark. I don't think he's human.”

I looked sharply at him. “Vampire?”

“No, I don't think so. This is different. Thicker. Would it be too melodramatic to say he looks evil?”

I was right there with him. My favorite theory about Smith at the moment was that he was some kind of spiritual vampire. Rather than feeding on blood, he consumed people's devotion, awe, and worship. He didn't cure his followers; rather, he had the power to suppress their weaknesses, the vulnerability to sunlight, the need to shape-shift. My acquaintance, a vampire named Estelle, thought she was cured, but when she left Smith's caravan, the condition returned. She burned in sunlight again. He was powerful enough to control vampires and lycanthropes, and sinister enough to use them.

I didn't know enough to guess what he was, especially if Jeffrey was right and he wasn't human.

Jeffrey testified first. He flashed me a smile and a thumbs-up before he went to the table. If he had a lawyer with him, he kept the attorney hidden. He had a prepared statement, speaking carefully and nonthreateningly about being open to strangeness in the world, to mysteries we didn't understand and might possibly fear. He stated a belief that the universe was basically good, and if we approached each new encounter with the unknown with that attitude, we would be rewarded with knowledge and understanding. It sounded a little metaphysical and New-Agey for my tastes. He'd obviously never encountered a hungry werewolf in the middle of the night. Wasn't much knowledge and understanding at the end of that meeting.

Either the television celebrity garnered more respect from the panel of senators, or Jeffrey did a better job of winning them over with his charisma and amiability. He treated them like a talk show audience, engaging them, telling jokes.

He did what Duke probably brought him here to do, which was to testify to the existence of the supernatural, at least his own little branch of it. To think, a couple months ago anyone with a rational thought in his head would have written Jeffrey off as a New Age kook at best, or a manipulative charlatan at worst. But in this context, this new frame of reference, where vampires were real, the U.S. Congress had to take him seriously. I wondered if he felt at all smug or vindicated by the turn of events, the change in attitude. He just looked calm.

I leaned forward when Elijah Smith took the stand.

Smith never left his caravan. People who wanted to join him were screened before they were let inside to meet him. He'd never spoken publicly, until now. Finally, I got to see him in the flesh.

Whatever Jeffrey saw in him that indicated he wasn't human, I didn't see it. He moved with confidence, holding himself with a somber poise. His werewolf bodyguards stayed behind, seated in the first row among the audience.

They kept their gazes focused on him, refusing to let him out of their sights.

“Heaven's Gate,” Ben whispered to me. I looked at him, raising my eyebrow to invite him to explain. He said, “The suicide cult. He's got that suicidal calm thing going. Jim Jones, David Koresh, you know?”

That didn't reassure me.

He didn't have a statement, so the committee launched right in to basic questions: where did he reside, what was his profession. Smith claimed to be based in California. I'd never been able to trace him to any permanent place of residence. His caravan was nomadic. Maybe he kept a post office box somewhere.

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