Kitty Goes to Washington Page 52

Ben gave me his predator's smile, the one that I was sure made opposing attorneys cringe in the courtroom. A wolf in lawyer's clothing, if that wasn't redundant. I felt a little better.

I settled at the table facing the committee members. They were like vultures, perched behind their desks, staring down at me. I rested my hands on the table and willed them to remain still.

“Ms. Katherine Norville,” Duke said. He didn't look at me, but at the papers in front of him, as if searching for an important piece of information. He took his time. “Welcome to this hearing. You have a statement you wish entered into the record?”

There was a microphone in front of me, which was comforting. Hell, it'd be no different than how I made my living week after week. I was just talking to an audience, no different than any other, laying out what I thought and not pulling punches.

“Yes, sir. Senator Duke, I'd like to thank you and the rest of the committee for inviting me here to testify. This is a rare opportunity, and a rare time, to have so much of what is held as scientific fact challenged and reevaluated. I'm privileged to be a part of the process.

“I am what Dr. Flemming would call Homo sapiens lupus. That is, I'm a werewolf. I'm allergic to silver, and once a month, during the night of the full moon, I suffer a temporary physical transformation. What this means for me personally: I make adjustments to my life, as anyone with a chronic, nonfatal illness must. And like most people with a chronic, nonfatal illness, I continue to live, to pursue a career, to gain emotional support from my family. It's a decent life, if I do say so myself.

“These phenomena merit discussion for the purpose of bringing them out of the shadows of folktales and nightmares, and into the light of day, so to speak. So that we might confront fear with knowledge.”

And just like in an episode of the show, I waited for people to ask questions.

The first came not from Duke—I was bracing for one of the grillings he'd been giving everyone else all week—but from Senator Mary Dreschler.

“Ms. Norville, you'll pardon me for expressing a little skepticism. It's one thing to have so-called experts talk to me about this subject in the abstract. But to have someone sit here and claim to be a werewolf is a bit much to take. What proof can you give us?”

I could have shape-shifted right then and there, I supposed. But I didn't trust my other half to behave herself in this setting—cornered and surrounded by screaming would-be victims. No way.

She wore a flower pendant on a long chain over her cashmere sweater and tailored jacket.

“There's a blood test Dr. Flemming could probably perform. But for right now—Senator, is your necklace silver?”

She frowned quizzically. “Yes.”

“May I see it?” I eyed the security goon off to the side. “May I approach?”

No one said anything, and Dreschler slipped the chain over her head, so I went to her place on the risers. She offered me the piece of jewelry.

I took it in my left hand, curling the chain around my fingers for maximum skin contact. My hand started itching immediately, and within seconds the itching turned into burning, like the metal was hot, right out of the furnace hot. I couldn't take it for much longer; my face bunched up into a wince, and I hissed a breath between clenched teeth.

“Here,” I said, handing it back to her. I shook it away quickly, more inelegantly than I meant to, in my hurry to get it away from me. I stretched my hand, which still throbbed.

A red rash traced lines around my fingers and left a splotch on my palm, all the places where the necklace had made contact. I held it out, so all the committee members could see it.

“A silver allergy,” Dreschler said. “It might happen to anyone. My sister can't wear earrings that don't have surgical steel posts.”

“Trust me, this didn't happen before I was infected. I had to give up some killer jewelry because of this.”

She showed a thin smile, almost in spite of herself. I went back to my seat; she didn't put the necklace back on.

Next to her, Senator Deke Henderson spoke. “What else? What other changes does this… condition bring on?”

“Dr. Flemming mentioned a lot of it in his testimony. It affects the senses. Smell becomes more sensitive, night vision is better. I'd have to say in my own experience it effects mood as well, things like temper and depression. I've heard some jokes about how women make better werewolves since they're used to turning into monsters once a month.” That got a few nervous chuckles. “Although I can't say how much of any depression is caused by the condition, or stems from the frustration of dealing with it.”

Henderson, the rancher who'd probably spoken out on the debate about reintroducing wild wolves to ranch country, said, “You just called yourself a monster, Ms. Norville. These conditions, as you call them: do they pose a threat to society?”

I had thought long and hard about how I would answer this question. I'd written out a dozen versions of my answer, practiced it, slept on it. Or didn't sleep on it. People on both sides of the issue might not be happy with what I wanted to say.

“No, sir. I don't believe they do. I could mention a dozen issues that better merit your attention if you're worried about dangers to society—highway safety and cancer research, for instance. If they—werewolves, vampires, all of it—were a danger, you'd have had to confront them long before now. For centuries, these groups have lived under a veil of secrecy. They haven't revealed themselves to the public, and they have taken great care to monitor themselves, to ensure that they don't become a danger to society at large, and thereby threaten that secrecy. Like any other citizen, it's in their best interests to live by society's laws. Individuals may pose a threat to other individuals—but no more so than any other person. Domestic violence, for example, poses a much greater danger to more people, I think.”

The veil of secrecy was gone, now. The centuries of cultural conditioning that we lived by, as governed by the packs and the vampire Families, by gathering places like the Crescent and patriarchs like Ahmed, all of it swept away. A lot of people weren't going to like it. I didn't know what would happen next, what would come of all this. I felt like I was in the middle of the show, with no other choice but to plunge forward. I clung to the familiarity of that fatalism.

Senator Duke pointedly adjusted his microphone to draw attention to himself. My heartbeat quickened. He had not been kind to witnesses this week. I suspected he had saved the bulk of his ire for me.

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