Kitty Goes to Washington Page 74

She smiled and lowered her gaze, giving a hint of amusement. “I'll tell you the short version. I was desperate. I was poor, I had two children, and lived in a world where no one blinked at poverty. An opportunity presented itself, and I took it. I vowed that I would never leave my children, like their father did. Not even death would take me from them.”

After a pause I said, “I suppose it worked.”

“I have never regretted it.”

Alette had very much proven herself adaptable to circumstance. The centuries would stretch on and she would still be here with her parlor, her pictures, and her children.

I fidgeted with the cup and saucer. “I should get going. I sort of have a date.”

“With that jaguar fellow, I presume?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Wait just a moment.” She left me to fidget with my tea. When she returned, she held a small jewelry box. She offered it to me. “I'd like you to have this.”

I opened it and found the diamond teardrop pendant on its gold chain. “Oh, Alette, you shouldn't—”

“It's something to remember me by. Do come and visit sometime.”

She clasped my hand, kissed my cheek, and we said goodbye.

Earlier that afternoon, I'd had one last room-service lunch with Ben. Cormac had already left town, without even saying goodbye. I was simultaneously offended and relieved.

As usual, Ben ate while he worked, shuffling through papers, turning away just long enough to open the door. He'd ordered a steak for me. Rare.

I sat at the table and nodded at the current folder. “What's this?”

“The FCC wants to investigate you for indecency.”

“What?”

“Apparently, somewhere between fully clothed human and fur-covered wolf, you flashed breast on national broadcast television. They've gotten about a dozen complaints.”

“You have got to be kidding me.” Flashing the TV audience had been the last thing on my mind.

“Nope. I rewatched the video, and sure enough, it's there. You have to be pretty fast with the pause button to catch it.”

I loved the idea of all the prudish reactionaries who must have taped the show, then sat there with their thumbs poised over the scan and pause buttons, searching for something to complain to the FCC about. And they're charging me with indecency?

“I'll tell you what—forward the complaint to Stockton. No, better—forward it to Duke.”

“Already done. I think it'll be pretty easy to argue the complaint and prove you had no responsibility for the broadcast.”

Damn straight. “I got a message from Stockton.” He'd left it on my cell phone during the hearings, like he'd called specifically at a time he knew I'd have my phone turned off so he could leave a message without having to talk to me. He'd sounded downright obsequious: “Kitty. It's Roger. Look, I'm probably the last guy you want to hear from. You'll probably never speak to me again. But I really wish you'd call me back. I've been asked about a follow-up show. I see us laying down a commentary track on the coverage from last night, you know? It could be a big move for both of us, career-wise. I really think you have a future in television. I want to do right by you. Thanks.”

That maniac. If I ever decided to make a go at television, it would be without his help. “You think you can sue him a lot?”

“Oh, yeah, about our good Mr. Stockton. Cormac did some digging on our behalf. Have a look at this.” Ben handed me a manila folder out of his stack.

I opened it and started reading. There were a half-dozen pages of official-looking forms, spaces with names and dates filled in, and a few mug shots of the same person, a skinny kid with a doped-out gaze and wild hair.

It was Roger Stockton. A younger, crazier Roger Stockton.

“These are arrest reports,” I said, awestruck.

“Mr. Stockton put himself through college by dealing hallucinogenic drugs. Not the usual weed, but exotic stuff: opium, peyote, frog-licking, that sort of thing. It seems he was into experimentation, looking for a higher power, saying it was all part of some religious ceremony that he and his friends were conducting. You know how it goes. The charges never stuck. He never served time. But it still makes for fascinating reading, don't you think?”

If this information was leaked, Stockton might be able to talk his way out of it and salvage his career. But until he did, his life would become very interesting.

“Revenge or blackmail?” I said.

“Blackmail? That's illegal. Persuasion, on the other hand—I'm betting Stockton would sure hate to see this stuff come out in a civil trial. He'll settle out of court, or his network will.”

Politics. Playing each other to get what we wanted. Was there any way to avoid it? Couldn't we all just get along?

“This is never going to be over, is it?”

“I think your place in American pop culture is assured. You're going to end up as a question on a game show, you realize.”

I might have groaned. Ben chuckled.

“Sure, go ahead and laugh. It just means job security for you.”

He sat back in his chair, abandoning the paperwork for a moment. He wore a vague, amused grin. “I know what Cormac sees in you.”

“What, a target?”

“Not at all. He's downright smitten.”

“Huh?” Constantly making veiled threats constituted smitten? To an eight-year-old, maybe. And how many times had he come to my rescue now? Urgh…

“It's true. I've known him since we were kids.”

“Kids? Really? How?”

“We're cousins. I probably shouldn't even be saying this—”

Cousins? Had to keep him talking. “No, please. Say this. What does Cormac see in me?”

“You're tough. Tough and whiny at the same time. It's kind of cute.”

I couldn't tell if he was making fun of me or not. Time to change the subject.

“So you've always known Cormac. Was he always like that?”

“Like what?”

“Hard-nosed. Humorless.”

“No, I suppose not. But you have to go back a long way to see him any different. He lost both his parents pretty young. I figure he deserves to be as humorless as he wants.”

Even saying “I'm sorry” sounded lame at that point.

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