Kitty Goes to War Page 7

“Is this a werewolf problem?” I said, fishing.

After a hesitation, she said, “Yes.”

Color me intrigued. “It’ll take me a couple of hours to get there, but I think I can make it.”

“That would be wonderful,” she said, clearly relieved.

I agreed, and she gave me directions about getting to the huge army base south of Colorado Springs, then what to do when I got there. I had the impression she’d set up a temporary office at the hospital there. This made me think that her problem was military in nature—or maybe she just felt more at home at any government installation, whatever the flavor.

THE NOONTIME drive to Colorado Springs was crisp, wintery, and clear. I managed to miss rush hour.

I didn’t spend much time in the Springs. It had started life as a quiet, respectable enclave for the state’s nouveau riche a hundred-plus years ago, and since then had turned into an almost Lovecraftian behemoth of urban sprawl. It’s also home to something like half a dozen major military bases and even more fundamentalist Christian organizations, which established a rather dubious reputation for ultraconservatism, giving the place a weird vibe. A couple of our pack members lived here, and it marked what we considered the southern boundary of our territory.

After pulling off the freeway, I wound my way along side roads to the main gate at FortCarson, which looked simultaneously innocuous and aggressively military. Chain-link fence strung with barbed wire, then tall black fences, lined the street. But behind the fences lay normal-looking suburban tract housing. The gate looked like a toll plaza, but the attack helicopter parked on display outside it indicated that this wasn’t so ordinary.

Dr. Shumacher had given my name to the security guards on duty. I still had to hand them my ID and car registration, and they inspected my car’s trunk and undercarriage. I supposed it was comforting, but I still felt twitchy. There didn’t seem to be any problems, though. The guy handed my driver’s license back, gave me helpful directions to the hospital, and ordered me to have a good day.

Very carefully, I pulled away. Five minutes of driving on a long, winding road brought me to a modern building of tan brick and narrow windows. Again, I might have mistaken the area for a typical suburban hospital and neighborhood, except that in the parking lot, a lot of the cars had “Army” and “Infantry” stickers in their windows.

Dr. Shumacher was waiting for me outside the building’s glass front entrance.

She looked like a scientist, in a cool way. In her fifties, she was short and brisk, her dark hair going gray, cut in a bob around her ears, and had smart wire-rimmed glasses. Her gaze was intense, her expression serious. She wore a dark fitted sweater, a skirt, and sensible shoes.

When she saw me, she smiled. “Kitty, it’s so good to finally meet you in person.”

“Likewise.” I offered my hand for her to shake.

Inside, she guided me down a hallway to a windowless conference room, with a tile floor and off-white walls, white boards, signs of AV equipment, and a table. Nothing too sinister yet, except maybe the guy sitting at the table. He wore a crisp green army uniform, with all the bells and whistles, lots of insignia I didn’t know the meaning of. He had eagle pins on his shoulders. He was tall, broad, with short cropped hair and a drill-sergeant stare. He stood when we entered the room. His stance was aggressive, shoulders back, spine straight, ready to leap. He was probably never anything but aggressive.

“Kitty, this is Colonel William Stafford. Colonel Stafford, this is Kitty Norville.”

As I had with Shumacher, I reached my hand for him to shake before he could decide not to offer me his. He studied me hard, assessing me, and seemed skeptical. Worried. But maybe he wasn’t worried about me.

“Thank you for coming, Ms. Norville,” he said, firmly and politely, and some of the tension left me. He sounded genuine. We all sat at the table.

“I’m happy to help, but what is this all about?” I said, my curiosity becoming overwhelming.

They glanced at each other, the confident scientist and assured colonel, and looked chagrined. As if they were debating over who was going to explain it. As if they were embarrassed. The colonel fidgeted with the corner of a manila folder in front of him. I waited. I could stare them down.

Dr. Shumacher started. “You remember Dr. Paul Flemming, don’t you?”

“As much as I would like to forget about him, I remember.” Dr. Flemming had been Shumacher’s predecessor at the CSPB and one of my least favorite people ever.

“I believed that none of his projects had advanced past the conceptual stages. My intention had been to start the center on a clean slate, with complete transparency. Do some real science instead of Flemming’s secret project version of it.” Her half-smile was too pained to show real amusement.

I waited, keeping my mouth shut. What monster had they discovered frozen in some forgotten NIH closet? My imagination failed me.

Shumacher continued carefully. “You remember that Flemming was particularly interested in military applications, and whether the military could effectively utilize soldiers possessing paranatural traits?”

I might not have figured it out if Stafford hadn’t been sitting next to her looking guilty. But the pieces fell into place. Shumacher was talking about nearly indestructible werewolf soldiers, immune to gunfire, physically strong, possessing immense stamina and wicked killer instincts. When the CSPB went public, Flemming had been disgraced before Congress and vanished. All his secret projects had supposedly been shelved. That had been my understanding. Weaponized werewolves were such a bad idea.

I tried not to be furious. “Are you telling me Flemming’s lycanthrope soldier program went forward?”

“No, it didn’t,” Shumacher said quickly. “At least, not officially.”

“But unofficially?” I said. I was starting to understand the looks of chagrin.

Colonel Stafford pulled a five-by-seven black-and-white photo from his manila folder and slid it across the table to me. Looking like a snapshot that had been cropped and blown up, it showed a youngish man, maybe thirty, supremely confident, his shoulders square and solid. He looked at the camera lens with an adventurous glint in his eyes and a curl on his lips. He wore a beret, a dark T-shirt, and camo fatigue pants. The colonel didn’t have to tell me—this was one of the army’s best and brightest. The photo radiated it.

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