Kitty Goes to Washington Page 6

“Um, no. Not yet. Just getting to it now. Be ready in an hour. Yes, ma'am.” Wes bounded to his desk and closed the solitaire game.

Liz gave me exactly the tour I wanted and answered all my questions. Even, “That Wes is a bit excitable, isn't he?”

“You should see him without his medication.”

She saw me to the door and recommended a good motel nearby.

“Thanks again,” I said. “It's always kind of a crap shoot finding a station that'll even touch my show.”

She shook her head, and her smile seemed long-suffering. “Kitty, we're five miles from Washington, D.C. There's nothing you can throw at us that'll compare with what I've seen come out of there.”

I couldn't say I believed her. Because if she was right, I was about to get into things way over my head.

I returned to the station a couple of hours early and waited to meet Dr. Paul Flemming. I fidgeted. Ivy, the receptionist, told me all kinds of horror stories about traffic in the D.C. area, the Beltway, the unreliability of the Metro, all of it giving me hundreds of reasons to think that Flemming couldn't possibly arrive in time for the show. It was okay, I tried to convince myself. This sort of thing had happened before. I'd had guests miss their slot entirely. It was one of the joys of live radio. I just had to ad-lib. That was why the phone lines were so great.

Somebody was always willing to make an ass out of themselves on the air.

Ivy went home for the evening, so at least the horror stories stopped. Liz and Wes stuck around to watch the show. I paced in the lobby, back and forth. A bad habit. The Wolf's bad habit. I let her have it—it gave her something to do and kept her quiet. Anxiety tended to make her antsy.

Me. Made me antsy.

Fifteen minutes before start time, a man opened the glass door a foot and peered inside. I stopped. “Dr. Flemming?”

Straightening, he entered the lobby and nodded.

A weight lifted. “I'm Kitty, thanks for coming.”

Flemming wasn't what I expected. From his voice and the way he carried on, I expected someone cool and polished, slickly governmental, with a respectable suit and regulation haircut. A player. Instead, he looked like a squirrelly academic. He wore a corduroy jacket, brown slacks, and his light brown hair looked about a month overdue for a cut. His long face was pale, except for the shadows under his eyes. He was probably in his mid-forties.

In the same calm voice I recognized from a half-dozen phone calls, he said, “You're not what I expected.”

I was taken aback. “What did you expect?”

“Someone older, I think. More experienced.” I wasn't sure if he intended that as a compliment or a mere statement of fact.

“You don't have to be old to have experience, Doctor.” And what did he know about it? “Come on back and I'll show you the studio.”

I made introductions all around. I tried to put Flemming at ease; he seemed nervous, glancing over his shoulder, studying the station staff as if filing them away in some mental classification system for later reference. I wasn't sure if that was his academic nature or his government background at work. He moved stiffly, taking the seat I offered him like he expected it to slide out from under him. The guy was probably nervous in his own living room. Maybe he was relaxed, and this was how he always acted.

I showed him the headphones and mike, found my own headset, and leaned back in my chair, finally in my element.

The sound guy counted down through the booth window, and the first guitar chords of the show's theme song—Creedence Clearwater Revival's “Bad Moon Rising"—cued up. It didn't matter how many different stations I did the show from, this moment always felt the same: it was mine. I had the mike, I was in control, and as long as that on air sign stayed lit, I called the shots. Until something went horribly wrong, of course. I could usually get through the introduction without having a crisis.

“Good evening. This is The Midnight Hour, the show that isn't afraid of the dark or the creatures who live there. I'm Kitty Norville, your charming hostess.

“I have as my very special guest this evening Dr. Paul Flemming. As you may or may not know, a little over a month ago Dr. Flemming held a press conference that announced scientific recognition of what used to be considered mythical, supernatural forms of human beings. Vampires, werewolves—you know, people like me. He has an M.D. from Columbia University, a Ph.D. in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins, and for the last five years has headed up the Center for the Study of Paranatural Biology. Welcome, Dr. Flemming.”

“Thank you,” he said, managing to sound calm despite the anxious way he perched at the edge of his seat, like he was getting ready to run when the mortars started dropping.

“Dr. Flemming. The Center for the Study of Paranatural Biology. Am I correct in stating that this is a government-funded organization dedicated to the study of what I believe you've called alternate forms of human beings? Vampires, werewolves, et cetera?”

“Only in the simplest terms. The nature of the research was not always explicitly stated.”

“You couldn't exactly put down 'Give me money for werewolves,' could you?”

“Ah, no,” he said, giving me the tiniest smile.

“So this was a secret government research program.”

“I don't know that I'd go that far. I don't want to enter the realm of conspiracy theory. The Center's findings were always available.”

“But in the most obscure outlets. No attention was drawn to a potentially explosive area of research. I would have thought, as part of this research team, you'd have wanted to announce your findings a lot sooner.”

“It's not so simple. You can appreciate that we risked a great amount of criticism if we drew too much attention before we were ready. We needed to have data in hand, and a good potential of public support. Otherwise we would have been relegated to the back pages of the annals of bad science.”

“In your mind, this is clearly a scientific endeavor.”

“Of course. The best way to approach any line of inquiry is through the scientific method.”

I was quite fond of postmodern literary analysis myself, as a line of inquiry. “What drew you to the scientific study of a subject that most people are all too happy to dismiss as folklore?”

“So many legends have a seed of truth. In many cases, that seed of truth persists, even in the face of great skepticism. The existence of a real-life King Arthur for example. How many legitimate historical and archaeological investigations have been inspired by Arthurian literature? Vampire and shape-shifter legends exist all over the world, and I've always been struck by the similarities. I simply pursued the seeds of truth at their core.”

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