Kitty Goes to Washington Page 7

I said, “I read a book once about how many vampire mythologies might have grown out of primitive burial practices and superstitions—bloated corpses bursting out of shallow graves with drops of blood on their mouths, as if they'd been feeding. That sort of thing. By the same token, some scholars traced werewolf legends to actual medical conditions marked by excessive hair growth, or psychological disorders that caused periodic animalistic, berserker-type behavior. That's where scientific inquiry into these subjects usually leads: to rationalizations. What told you that there was something real behind it all?” I was fishing for a personal anecdote. He'd had a run-in with a were-dingo as a small child and it changed him forever, or something.

“I suppose I've always appreciated a good mystery,” he said.

“But there are so many other mysteries for a medical doctor to unravel. Like a cure for cancer. Surefire weight loss on a diet of chocolate ice cream.”

“Maybe I wanted to break new ground.”

“Why now? Why last month's press conference? Why draw attention to your research at this point and not earlier?”

He shrugged and began obviously fidgeting—wringing his hands, adjusting his seat. I felt a little thrill—was I getting to him? Was I making him squirm? Maybe he was just shifting his position on the chair.

“Ideally, a complete report would have been published in a respected journal, making all our findings public. But this isn't always an ideal world. Members of Congress began taking an interest, and if Congress wants to ask questions, who am I to argue? I wanted everyone to be clear that this project isn't shrouded in secrecy.”

Could have fooled me. In a rare show of restraint I didn't say that. I had to be nice; wouldn't do any good to totally alienate my only source of information.

“What do you ultimately hope to accomplish with the Center?”

“To expand the boundaries of knowledge. Why embark on any scientific endeavor?”

“The quest for truth.”

“It's what we're all trying to accomplish, isn't it?”

“In my experience, this particular subject evokes a lot of strong emotion. People vehemently believe in the existence of vampires, or they don't. If they do, they firmly believe vampires are evil, or they're simply victims of a rare disease. Where does this emotion, these strong beliefs, fit into your investigations?”

“We approach this subject only from the standpoint of fact. What can be measured.”

“So if I asked what you believe—”

“I think you know what I believe: I'm studying diseases that can be quantified.”

This was starting to sound circular. And dull. I should have known that Flemming wouldn't be an ideal interviewee. Every time I'd ever talked to him, he'd been evasive. I'd really have to work to draw him out.

“Tell me how you felt the first time you looked a werewolf in the eyes.”

Until that moment, he hadn't looked at me. That was pretty normal; there was a lot in a studio booth to distract a newcomer: dials, lights, and buttons. It was natural to look at what you spoke to. People tended to look at the foam head of the microphone.

But now he looked at me, and I looked back, brows raised, urging him on. His gaze was narrow, inquiring, studying me. Like he'd just seen me for the first time, or seen me in a new light. Like I was suddenly one of the subjects in his study, and he was holding me up against the statistics he'd collected.

It was a challenging stare. He smelled totally human, a little bit of sweat, a little bit of wool from his jacket, not a touch of supernatural about him. But I had a sudden urge to growl a warning.

“I don't see how that's relevant,” he said.

“Of course it isn't relevant, but this show is supposed to be entertaining. I'm curious. How about a cold hard fact: when was the first time you looked a werewolf in the eyes?”

“I suppose it would have been about fifteen years ago.”

“This was before you started working with the Center for the Study of Paranatural Biology?”

“Yes. I was in the middle of a pathology residency in New York. We'd gotten an anomalous blood sample from a victim of a car accident. The report from the emergency room was horrendous—crushed rib cage, collapsed lungs, ruptured organs. The man shouldn't have survived, but he did. Somehow they patched him up. I was supposed to be looking for drug intoxication, blood alcohol levels. I didn't find anything like that, but the white blood cell count was abnormal for a sample with no other sign of disease or infection. I went to see this patient in the ICU the next day, to draw another sample and check for any conditions that might have accounted for the anomaly. He wasn't there. He'd been moved out of the ICU, because two days after this terrible accident, he was sitting up, off the ventilator, off oxygen, like he'd just had a concussion or something. I remember looking at his chart, then looking up at him, my mouth open with shock. And he smiled. Almost like he wanted to burst out laughing. He seemed to be daring me to figure out what had happened. I didn't know what he was at the time, but I'll never forget that look in his eyes. He was the only one who wasn't shocked that he was still alive. I never forgot that look. It made me realize that for all my knowledge, for all my studies and abilities, there was a whole world out there that I knew nothing about.”

“And the next time you saw that look"—the challenge, the call to prove one's dominance, like the one I'd just given him—"you recognized it.”

“That's right.”

“Did you ever find out more about him? Did he ever tell you what he was?”

“No. He checked himself out of the hospital the next day. He didn't have health insurance, so I couldn't track him. He probably didn't think he needed it.”

I'd seen werewolves die. It took ripping their hearts out, tearing their heads off, or poisoning them with silver.

“You wanted to find out how he'd survived. How his wounds had healed so quickly.”

“Of course.”

“Is that as far as your research goes? You mentioned once the possibility of a cure.”

“Every scientist who studies a disease wants to find the cure for it. But we don't even understand these diseases yet. Finding a cure may be some time off, and I don't want to raise any hopes.”

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