Kitty's ninth novel-length adventure takes her to San Francisco's Chinatown. Her world's about to get a whole lot bigger...
|Published by:||Tor Books|
|Released:||28 June 2011|
|Note: Clicking the cover takes you to that book at the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver. Please shop your local independent bookstore whenever possible.|
"I know," I said into my phone. "This isn't exactly standard--"
"It's impossible," said the poor, long-suffering office receptionist at the Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. He was too polite to just hang up on me. "It's absolutely impossible."
"Maybe you can give me the name and number of someone who might be able to authorize this kind of request? Is there any representative of the Sherman family on record?"
His responses were starting to sound desperate. "That information is confidential. In fact, I don't think you'll be able to get any further on this without some kind of a warrant or a court order."
I was afraid of that. I'd been hoping there'd be a friendly way to accomplish this. That I could find a sympathetic historian who would back up my request or explain the situation to one of the descendants and get permission that way. Surely they would want to know the truth as much as I did. Also, I didn't think I'd be able to convince a judge to issue said court order. The request was based on little more than rabid curiosity.
I soldiered on, as it were. "There has to be some kind of standard procedure for an exhumation. Can you tell me what that is?"
"Ms. . .Norville, is it?"
"Yes, Kitty Norville," I said, thinking calm. I could wear him down with patience.
"Ms. Norville--can I ask why you want to have General Sherman's body exhumed?"
General William T. Sherman, hero of the Civil War on the Union side, war criminal on the Confederate side, considered one of the greatest soldiers and strategists in American history, and all-around icon. And yeah, I wanted to dig him up. It was a little hard to explain, and I hesitated, trying to figure out what to say. Last week I'd received a package from the Library of Congress containing a copy of an interview transcript from the 1930s. It had been made as part of the Federal Writers' Project, a New Deal program that employed journalists and other writers to record local histories around the country. Many valuable stories were collected and preserved as part of the program. The one I'd been sent was an interview with a Civil War veteran--one of the last to survive, no doubt. He'd been sixteen when he joined the Confederate army in the middle of the war and was close to ninety when he'd been interviewed, and he claimed that he'd witnessed General Sherman transform into a wolf during the Battle of Vicksburg. A librarian who was also a listener and fan of my radio show discovered it and sent it to me. I had always had my suspicions about Sherman--he looked so rough and tumble in his photos, with his unbuttoned collar, his unkempt beard, and a "screw you" expression. If any Civil War general had been a werewolf, it would be Sherman. But was my hunch and a single interview proof? No. Which was why I wanted to exhume the body, to test any remaining tissue for the presence of lycanthropy.
Maybe it was best to lay it out there. "I think General Sherman may have been a werewolf and I want to run tests on his remains to find out."
Of course, a long pause followed. I kept waiting for the click of a phone hanging up, which would have been fine; I'd have just called one of the other numbers on my list. I hadn't expected this to be easy.
"Seriously?" he said finally. The same way he might have said, You're eating bugs?
"Yeah. Seriously. So how about it? Don't you want to help me rewrite American history?"
"I'm sorry, could I get your name one more time?" he said. "Could you spell it for me? And tell me where you're calling from?"
I felt a restraining order coming on. So in the end, I was the one who hung up.
Oh well. You can't win them all.
At home that evening I sat on the sofa, library books lying open on the coffee table next to me and my laptop screen showing a half dozen Web sites open. I was supposed to be researching Sherman. Instead, I was reading through the transcript for what must have been the twentieth time.
Tom Hanson had enlisted in the Confederate army at the age of sixteen. At several points during the interview he mentioned how young he'd been. How innocent, and how foolish. The interviewer kept having to prompt him to return to the focus of the story, his encounter with General Sherman under the light of the full moon.
One night while his squad was on patrol outside of Vicksburg, Hanson had gotten separated from the others and lost his way in the swampy forest some distance from where the Confederates were camped. Trying to find his way back, he'd stumbled across a pair of Union soldiers--an enlisted man arguing with an officer. The enlisted soldier kept calling the other man "General," and Hanson swore the officer was General William Sherman himself. He couldn't explain the argument because it hadn't made any sense to him--the enlisted man was telling the general that he'd overstepped his bounds, and that he wanted to challenge him. Hanson had heard that Sherman was crazy--he could understand anyone on the Union side wanting him out of command. But that wasn't up to an enlisted man, and they certainly wouldn't have been discussing it in the middle of a swamp.
Hanson didn't understand it, but he described what happened next. "The general, he took his clothes off. I couldn't move or he'd of heard me, so I didn't dare. I just sat there and watched. So there he was, naked in the moonlight. And then he changed. Like his body just melted, and I heard his bones snapping. I can't say that I ever saw a wolf before, but that's what he turned into--big, shaggy, with yellow eyes. That other soldier, well--he just ran. Didn't do him any good. That big ol' wolf chased him down."
The door to the condo opened and closed--my husband, Ben, lawyer and fellow werewolf--arriving home. He set his briefcase near the desk of his home office, a corner of the living room, and regarded me where I sat on the sofa, papers on my lap, my head bent in concentration.
"Still on that transcript?" he said, his smile amused.
I sighed. Ben had seen me reading it every night this week, searching for some insight. "It's fascinating, isn't it? What if it isn't just a story? What if he's right?" I pulled one of the books over, referring to a timeline of Sherman's life. "Did you know that early on in the war Sherman had a nervous breakdown? He was relieved of duty, and the newspapers and everyone said he was crazy, that he couldn't take the pressure. But he recovered and when he came back he was this badass general. He and Grant started kicking ass and eventually Sherman marched the Union army through Georgia and won the war. What if that's when it happened? Somehow he got attacked and infected around the Battle of Bull Run, it knocked him for a loop, he took time off to deal with it, and when he came back he was a super soldier. A werewolf general."
"I suppose it's possible," he said. "But if you're right, he kept it really well hidden."
"Lots of people keep it really well hidden," I said. "I'm betting it was easier to keep it hidden then than it is now."
He sat on the sofa beside me, which was too tempting an invitation. I leaned toward him, pulling his arm over my shoulder and snuggling against him. As I hoped, he hugged me close and bent his head to my hair, breathing in my scent as I took in his. Our wolf sides, claiming each other.
I said, "I just keep thinking--who else is out there? What secret histories slipped through the cracks because people kept it hidden or no one believed it? I'm not talking about Vlad Tepes being Dracula. What if Sherman really was a werewolf? Who else might have been werewolves? Maybe there was a reason Rasputin was so hard to kill, and Jack the Ripper was so bloodthirsty--"
He stopped me with a kiss, which was okay with me. I touched his cheeks and smiled.
"What would it change?" he said. "If Sherman really was a werewolf, would it really change anything?"
"We'd know the truth."
He looked skeptical. It was a fair question. Did this mean any more than slapping labels on people? In Sherman's case, it meant a reinterpretation of his history--his nervous breakdown looked a whole lot different if he was a werewolf. But even that was speculation. He might have been infected with lycanthropy years before.
It wasn't just the labels. It meant history had a whole other layer to it, and that supernatural beings might have played an active role in guiding human events for centuries. I could almost get conspiracy minded about it.
"How can you even confirm something like this for sure? In a way that would hold up in court?" he added. Always legal-minded.
"I've been trying to find out how to get his body exhumed--"
He looked at me. "You haven't."
"Um, yeah. It's a lot harder than I thought it would be."
"Of course it is. You can't just go around digging up graves. Especially famous ones."
"Yeah," I said, wincing. "I know."
"You need to find a vampire who knew him," he said. "Get a corroborating eyewitness account from someone who wasn't a scared teenager confronting a guy like Sherman."
He probably meant it as a joke, but I turned thoughtful.
"You know," I said, "I could probably do that."
"Honey, if anyone can do it, you can."
"Good evening, it's Friday night which means it's time once again for The Midnight Hour, the show that isn't afraid of the dark or the creatures who live there. I'm your ever-eager host, Kitty Norville, and I hope you're ready for another illuminating evening of supernatural shenanigans."
Sitting at my table in the studio, in front of the microphone, headphones on, just a few lights glowing in the darkened space, I could imagine myself in the cockpit of an airplane or at the controls of a spaceship, commanding great power. Through the glass, I watched Matt, my sound engineer, at his board. Above the door, the on-air sign glowed red. Epic.
"I've been thinking a lot lately about history and what to do with it. Vampires and werewolves and the like have only been public for a few years. Some of us are milking that publicity for all it's worth, I'm not ashamed to say. But we've been around for a lot longer than that. We must have been. What impact have vampires, werewolves, and magicians had on history? Were any historical figures--let's say General William Sherman, just as an example--supernatural creatures themselves? Those histories have been deeply buried, either because people didn't believe or because the stories were written off as folklore and fantasy. Let me tell you, when you start digging there are a lot of stories out there. What I'm looking for now isn't stories, but proof. That's where things get tricky, because traditionally, the supernatural doesn't leave a whole lot of proof lying around.
"That's my question for you tonight: what kind of proof should I be looking for, and what kind of proof would you need to be convinced that a beloved historical figure had a toe dipped in the supernatural world?"
Shows like this, where I threw open the line for calls right from the start in a freeform brainstorm, were often a crapshoot. I could get a lot of thoughtful discussion and gain some new insight. Or I'd end up yelling at people. NPR to Jerry Springer, my show ran the whole spectrum. Brace for impact. . .
"For my first call tonight I have Dave from Rochester. Hello, Dave."
"Hi, Kitty, thanks for taking my call, it's so great to get through." He sounded suitably enthusiastic--a good opener.
"Thanks for being persistent. What have you got for me?"
"Well. It seems to me you're just assuming that supernatural beings have been around for a long time. This stuff has only been making news for a few years now, and maybe that's because it hasn't been around that long. What if vampires and werewolves are actually the result of some government experiment that got loose and is totally out of control?"
"I can assure you that I'm not the result of some government experiment," I said flatly.
"Well, no, not directly, but maybe it's some virus that escaped and spread, and that's where vampires and werewolves came from. That's why we don't have any historical evidence."
"On the other hand we have five thousand years of folklore suggesting that these beings have been around for a long time. What about that?"
"Planted. It's all a hoax."
I blinked at the microphone. That was bold, even for this show. "You're saying The Epic of Gilgamesh is a hoax? That the story of King Lycaon isn't really an ancient Greek myth?"
"That's right. It's all been made up in order to convince people that supernatural beings have been around for thousands of years when they've really only been around since World War II."
"World War II?" I said. "Like some supernatural Manhattan Project?"
"Yes, exactly! In fact--"
Oh, yes, please say it, sink my show to this level in the first ten minutes. . . .
"--it was the Nazis," Dave from Rochester said.
I clicked the line to a different call. "And that's enough of that. Moving on now, next call please. Hello, you're on the air."
"Hi, Kitty, I'm a big fan of the show," said a female voice, cheerful and outgoing. Suze from L.A. "I just wanted to say, isn't most of history based on eyewitness accounts? People reporting what they saw? We should have evidence somewhere of people talking about this. But I'm not sure how you'd go about proving something that no one ever talks about."
I was right on the edge of whipping out that FWP transcript--a report that had lain buried and forgotten because no one believed it. I wanted my proof before I brought it into the light.
Instead I said, "Or maybe people have been talking about it, writing about it, whatever, but those accounts were buried because no one believed them. Which leads me to a big question: how trustworthy are eyewitness testimonies? We depend on them for historical accounts, memoirs, battlefield reports, so of course this is going to be high on the list. But is one eyewitness's story enough? How about two, for corroboration?"
"The more the better, I guess," she said. "But you still have the problem of separating truth from fiction."
"Exactly. Part of the reason I'm always trying to get vampires on the show is I figure they've got to be some of the best eyewitnesses out there. They've been around for decades, for centuries. Not only have they seen a lot, they often seem to be in the front row, watching events play out. But I gotta tell you, they don't seem particularly interested in sharing what they've learned. I think they really like keeping secrets from the rest of us. That's why we haven't had any vampire celebrity tell-all books yet. Oh, and if there are any vampires out there writing a celebrity tell-all book, please let me know. Thanks for your call, Suze."
Matt flagged a call on the monitor--from a vampire. Ooh, was I going to have my wish granted? I liked nothing better than to feature an exclusive. What were the odds?
"Hello, you're on the air."
"Kitty, if we keep secrets, perhaps it's for your own good." The woman had a faint accent, probably European, topped with a touch of finely aged arrogance.
"So you're a vampire," I said. "May I ask how old you are?"
"You may, but I won't answer."
The usual response; it didn't surprise me. "Oh, well, I always have to try. Thank you for calling. My second question for you: Why do you get to decide what should be kept secret? Don't you think everyone has a right to the truth? Even a dangerous truth?"
"Your attitude about the truth is a bit naïve, don't you think? The truth isn't an artifact you can put in a box and study."
"But I don't want to be lied to outright," I said. "I especially don't want to be told I'm being lied to for my own good."
"Tell me this: What if you did find the definitive proof you were looking for--a DNA test for lycanthropy for example, or a photograph of someone shape-shifting, or proof that someone was killed with a stake or a silver bullet. What would change? Why would it matter? The events surrounding that person's life wouldn't change. Their identity wouldn't really change--just your knowledge of it."
Ben's question again. I kept saying I just wanted to be treated like a human being--that vampires and lycanthropes of any stripe should be allowed to live normal, law-abiding lives. Would exposing any supernatural secret identities damage that? Make them freaks instead of the historical figures they were?
"I guess I'm looking for a connection," I said. "I've been floundering, wondering where I fit in the world. Would having a role model be too much to ask for?"
"I thought being a role model was your job," she said, with that haughty amusement that only vampires could manage.
"Oh, heaven help us all," I replied. "But I have to say that yes, it is important. Being a werewolf is an important enough part of my identity that I've been basing a show on it and writing about it for the last five years. If I'm going to be an authority on the subject I really want to be an authority. And that means speculating like this."
"As long as you're aware that you may never find the answers you're looking for," the vampire said.
"Yeah, I'm used to that. Maybe the important thing is to keep asking the questions anyway."
And get other people asking them, too. Keep knocking on the door until someone answered. Or until they hauled me away and locked me up.
After the show I invited Rick, Master of the local vampire Family, to meet me at New Moon, the bar and grill that Ben and I owned. I was careful not to say anything like, "Let's go for a drink," or "How about we grab a bite." Not that Rick would have taken me literally, but I didn't want to open myself up for the kind of teasing I'd get. Rick was a vampire, feeding on the blood of the living, although I was pretty sure he only drank from volunteers and just enough to stay functional. Still, you had to be careful about what kind of invitations you offered to vampires.
Rick was a friend, and I trusted him. That didn't mean he told me everything.
He was handsome, with a hint of old-world aristocracy to his fine features and straight bearing. From what I could gather, he came by it honestly--he'd been the younger son of a Spanish noble family who traveled to the New World seeking his fortune in the first wave of immigration in the sixteenth century. I didn't know if he ever considered his fortune found. He wore an expensive trenchcoat even in summer, a button-up silk shirt, and well-tailored trousers. Perfect, elegant. You couldn't help but respect him.
"Hi," I said, letting him through the glass front door. "I'm not even going to ask if I can get you anything to drink."
"I'm fine, thanks," he said, glancing around. "Business seems to be doing well."
The place wasn't crowded--not surprising at this late hour--but enough people sat here and there to create a friendly buzz.
"Lack of pretension," I said, guiding him to a table in the back, where my beer was waiting for me. We took seats across from each other. "I think that may be the secret."
"I think you may be right," he said. "Now, what's the problem?"
"Everyone always assumes there's a problem."
"This is you we're talking about," he said, perfectly good-natured.
"I just wanted to have a nice, friendly chat," I said. "How's life--er, unlife--been treating you? What's new in your neck of the woods?"
"Is that a pun?"
I had to think about it a minute, my brow furrowed. "Ah. Not intentionally."
If Rick wasn't laughing at me, he was at least chuckling, and I scowled.
"Nothing to report," he said. Gaze narrowed, I studied him. "Kitty, I don't ask about every detail of the workings of your werewolf pack, I'm not going to tell you every detail about my Family."
"You can't blame me--I've built a career out of gossip."
"All the more reason for me to keep my mouth shut."
That wasn't what I wanted to hear. I blundered on. "I'd like to ask you about a story I'm tracking down. Did you know Sherman?"
"As in General William T.?"
"I'm afraid not, though I'm sure he was fascinating."
I must have looked deflated.
"It's not like I knew every public figure who lived for the last five hundred years," he said.
"But you knew Coronado. And Doc Holliday. That's a pretty amazing roster right there. Five hundred years is a lot longer than most of us get. Do you know anyone you might have known Sherman?"
"Any vampires, you mean?"
"Anyone who might be able to tell me if Sherman was a werewolf."
He pursed his lips, considering, making him the first person who hadn't looked at the claim with outright skepticism. "What's your information?"
I told him about the interview with the Confederate soldier, and my own hunch, which couldn't exactly be called information. You couldn't tell a werewolf in human form just by looking. Unless maybe you were psychic, which was something to consider. Maybe I could call my friend Tina, a psychic with the TV show Paradox PI, and see if she could channel Sherman.
"That would be amazing if you could prove it," he said. "We'd have a whole new perspective on his career."
"But the only way I can really prove it is to test a tissue sample, assuming a testable sample still exists, or talk to someone trustworthy who might have known him."
"And no one's very excited about exhuming the general's body, I'm guessing."
"Alette's the only one I can think of who would know. She has her fingers in everything, even going back to that period. If Sherman spent any time in D.C., she would know."
"Sherman spent a ton of time in D.C. She'd have to know," I said, excited. Alette was the Master vampire of Washington, D.C., and had been in the 1860s. She was already on my list of people to call after talking to Rick. If she didn't know, I'd probably never find out.
"Something to consider," Rick continued. "Even if she does know, she might not tell you. You're not the only one who's been asking these sorts of questions since lycanthropy and vampirism went public. Alette could have leaked the information herself if she wanted people to know."
That vampire sense of superiority again. I shook my head. "She shouldn't be the one to get to decide what people know."
Rick made a calming gesture, forestalling the rest of my rant. "Consider this: if Alette knew Sherman, knew that he was a werewolf, but hasn't told anyone, it may be because Sherman didn't want anyone to know. The secret may be his, and Alette--or anyone else who has the information--may be keeping a promise with him."
Sherman was dead and gone; he shouldn't get a say in it. Historical public figures were fair game for all kinds of digging, as far as I was concerned. But a vampire's promise went on forever, didn't it? I had a thing about exposing people who didn't want to be exposed. My own lycanthropy had been made public against my will. Afterward, I took the publicity and ran with it as a survival mechanism, but I could understand why Sherman wouldn't want something like this made public. It would overshadow his entire record and all that he'd accomplished. His autobiography--considered one of military history's great memoirs--would become next to meaningless because it doesn't say a word about it. Which meant that maybe he didn't want anyone to know. If Sherman's ghost appeared and asked me to drop the question, what would I do?
Thoughtful, I rested my chin on my hand and said to Rick, "How many promises like that are you keeping?"
Smiling, he glanced away.
"Oh my God, you are," I said, straightening. "You know. You've got something juicy on somebody famous. What is it? Who?"
"You've gone this long without knowing, why should I say anything now?"
"I just want to know," I said. "It's important to know that people like me have existed for thousands of years, living their lives, surviving. Roman's been recruiting vampires and lycanthropes for his secret supervillain club for two thousand years. I have to assume that vampires and lycanthropes have been opposing him as well, like us. To know who they were, to have some kind of history--who knows what it could tell us about his methods? You know Roman would have tried to recruit Sherman. I'd love to imagine that Sherman told him to shove it."
Rick sat back. He seemed amused, thoughtful, studying me through a narrowed gaze. As if he was considering.
"What?" I said. I got the feeling I'd said something funny or strange.
"It's a cliche, you know," he said. "Eternal life being boring. Maybe for some of us it is, the ones who lock themselves away in mansions or castles, cut themselves off from the world and the people in it. For the rest of us, there's always something new coming along, if we know where to look. We stay interested by having a stake in the game."
"The Long Game?" I said. The Long Game, a conspiracy among vampires. The few people who knew about it spoke of it in whispers, in hints, if at all. Near as I could figure, it really was a game, but one that dealt in lives and power. And the one who dies with the most toys wins.
Rick shrugged. "Not always. After all, Kitty, you're one of the people who keeps life interesting."
He gazed over the dining room and bar, waiting for me to respond. I'd already finished my beer or I would have taken a long drink. "I'm flattered, I think."
"If you want my advice, you're narrowing your focus too much," Rick said. "Don't just look for the secret vampires and lycanthropes. Look for people who might have hunted them. People like your friend Cormac."
Now there was an idea. "You're not going to give me any hints about where to start, are you?"
"Think about it for a minute. If I met Doc Holliday, who else do you think I might have known?"
Western history wasn't my strong suit, but my knowledge was better than average. I remembered the stories of the Wild West and the O.K. Corral, and a few choice Hollywood treatments of the same, and my eyes grew wide.
Rick just smiled.
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