Kitty Goes to Washington Page 4

“Come on. Please? Think of it as a vacation. It'll all go on the expense account.”

“I don't have time—”

“Honestly, what do you think the odds are that I can keep out of trouble once I open my mouth? Isn't there this whole 'contempt of Congress' thing that happens when I say something that pisses them off? Would you rather be there from the start or have to fly in in the middle of things to get me out of jail for mouthing off at somebody important?”

His sigh was that of a martyr. “When you're right, you're right.”

Victory! “Thanks, Ben. I really appreciate it. When do we need to be there?”

“We've got a couple weeks yet.”

And here I was, going the wrong way.

“So I can drive there from Barstow in time.”

“What the hell are you doing in Barstow?”

“Driving?”

Ben made an annoyed huff and hung up on me.

So. I was going to Washington, D.C.

I seemed to be living my life on the phone lately. I could go for days without having a real face-to-face conversation with anyone beyond “No, I don't want fries with that.” I was turning into one of those jokers who walks around with a hands-free earpiece permanently attached to one ear. Sometimes, I just forgot it was there.

I went to L.A., did two shows, interviewed the band—no demon possessions happened in my presence, but they played a screechy death metal-sounding thing that made me wish I'd been out of my body for it. That left me a week or so to drive to the East Coast.

I was on the road when I called Dr. Paul Flemming. Flemming headed up the Center for the Study of Paranatural Biology, the focus of the Senate hearing in question. Until a month ago it had been a confidential research organization, a secret laboratory investigating a field that no one who wasn't involved believed even existed. Then Flemming held a press conference and blew the doors wide open. He thought the time was right to make the Center's work public, to officially recognize the existence of vampires, werewolves, and a dozen other things that go bump in the night. I was sure that part of why he did it was my show. People had already started to believe, and accept.

I'd been trying to talk to him. I had his phone number, but I only ever got through to voice mail. As long as I kept trying, he'd get so sick of my messages that he'd call me back eventually.

Or get a restraining order.

The phone rang. And rang. I mentally prepared another version of my message—please call back, we have to talk, I promise not to bite.

Then someone answered. “Hello?” The car swerved; I was so surprised I almost let go of the steering wheel. “Hello? Dr. Flemming?”

There was a pause before he answered, “Kitty Norville. How nice to hear from you.”

He sounded polite, like this was a friendly little chat, as if there wasn't any history between us. He wasn't going to get away with that.

“I really need to talk to you. You spent six months calling me anonymously, dropping mysterious hints about your work and suggesting that you want me to help you without ever giving any details, then without any warning you go public, and I have to recognize your voice off a radio broadcast of a press conference. Then silence. You don't want to talk to me. And now I've been subpoenaed to testify before a Senate committee about this can of worms you've opened. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great can of worms. But what exactly are you trying to accomplish?”

He said, “I want the Center to keep its funding.”

At last, a straight answer. I could imagine what had happened: as a secret research organization, the Center's funding was off the books, or disguised under some other innocuous category. An enterprising young congressman must have seen that there was a stream of money heading into some nebulous and possibly useless avenue and started an investigation.

Or maybe Flemming had wanted the Center to be discovered in this manner all along. Now the Senate was holding official hearings, and he'd get to show his work to the world. I just wished he'd warned me.

“So all you have to do is make sure the Center comes off looking good.”

“Useful,” he said. “It has to look useful. Good and useful aren't always the same thing. I'd heard that you'd been called to testify. For what it's worth, I'm sorry.”

“Oh, don't be,” I said lightly. “It'll be fun. I'm looking forward to it. But I'd really like to meet you beforehand and get your side of the story.”

“There's nothing much to tell.”

“Then humor me. I'm insanely curious.” Wait for it, wait for it—"How about I interview you on the show? You could get the public behind you.”

“I'm not sure that's a good idea.”

Good thing I was driving across Texas—no turns and nothing to run into. Flemming had all my attention.

“This may be your only chance to tell your side of the story, why you're doing this research and why you need funding, outside of the hearings. Never underestimate the power of public opinion.”

“You're persuasive.”

“I try.” Carry them along with sheer enthusiasm. That was the trick. I felt like a commercial.

He hesitated; I let him think about it. Then he said, “Call me again when you get to D.C.”

At this point, anything that wasn't “no” was a victory. “You promise you'll actually answer the phone and not screen me with voice mail?”

“I'll answer.”

“Thank you.”

Mental calculation—the next show was Friday, in four days. I could reach D.C. by then. I could get Flemming on the show before the hearings started.

Time for another call, to Matt this time. “Matt? Can you see about setting up this week's show in Washington, D.C.?”

For years I hadn't left the town I lived in, much less driven across country. I didn't want to leave the place where I was comfortable and safe. It was easy to stay in one place and let my packmates, my alpha, take care of me. Easy to stagnate. Then the show started, and the boundaries became too narrow. What was supposed to happen—what happened among wild wolves, behavior that carried over to the lycanthropic variety—was that a young wolf moved up through the pecking order, testing boundaries until she challenged the leaders themselves, and if she won, she became the alpha.

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