Good evening, readers. This is a story I've been working on for several years - one of those fiendish things that starts as a simple idea, and somehow grows into an obsessive epic when one is not looking. I've been asked repeatedly to post it here at, and after at least a year of thought I've decided to go ahead for various reasons.

The story is, even after three years, unfinished. I know what the final chapters will contain, and have a finish in mind, but have not, as yet, come to it. Nevertheless, I am once again working on it after a long hiatus. For those who have already seen it, I apologize both for the redundancy and, as always, for the long delay. For those who are new to the story, be aware that although it is not yet completed as a whole, there are nineteen completed chapters in which to decide if you like it. I hope you will.

It's a new venue, and a new beginning for The Lost Wages of Sin, and for me. I can't think of a better time to start than New Year's Day. Happy new year to everyone, and may 2004 bring us all everything we hope for.

Thank you, Nyx Fixx

The Lost Wages of Sin - Chapter One

Chapter One

Buenos Aires: August, 1998

Hannibal Lecter was sitting on the terrace of his Beaux Arts mansion, enjoying the early morning sunshine and peering at the screen of his laptop. The sun was at an inconvenient angle and glared on the surface of the screen, partially obscuring the text of the particular personals ad he was reading.

Dr. Lecter was feeling lazy this morning; he had a natural inclination to be a late sleeper when circumstances permitted. He considered moving from the chaise he was currently ensconced in to a shadier seat beneath the big market umbrella across the terrace for a moment.

No. Not now. Too much trouble. The sun felt too good. Too early in the morning. Whatever. He could read the rest of the personals later.

He bookmarked the web page he was perusing, put his head back and closed his eyes, then kicked his slippers off his small, slim feet. He wanted to enjoy the feeling of the warm sunshine on his bare soles and toes.

It was far too early in the morning for a long, strenuous walk ALL the way across the terrace, a full SIX feet at least.

He smiled to himself. Clarice WOULD rise at the crack of dawn. Worse, upon arising, she would generally be in a horribly good humor, and would chirp bright conversation like a happy, noisy little bird as she attired herself in some ghastly running costume or other. Eventually, she'd leave him alone and go out and run. But not before ruining his sleep and vexing him no end and causing him to suspect that he would never, ever succeed in discouraging this unattractive milk-maid penchant for AM cheerfulness in her.

He'd tried everything. He'd complained. He'd tried to ignore her. He'd tried to distract her. He'd made insulting remarks.

Once, when she'd been particularly boisterous (and it had been particularly early) he'd observed that "You can take the hick out of the sticks, but . . . " and sighed.

"Do remember to plow the north forty while you're out there, Clarice. Better slop the hogs, too," he'd added and groaned as he covered his head with a pillow.

Clarice had risen a full hour earlier than normal for two weeks thereafter in retaliation, AND sang all of Hank Williams' greatest hits verse for verse on each of these mornings, all in her clear (and carrying) contralto.

The dismal truth was inescapable. She was a "morning person".

It was frightening what horrors a man in love will willingly endure.

The worst of it was, he could never go back to sleep after she was gone. He had been so fundamentally flabbergasted to have won her in the end, after so many lost years, that it had taken him weeks of concerted effort to make the huge leap of faith it took to stop covertly following her on these morning exercise runs.

He'd managed to put aside the patently mad notion that she might somehow disappear in a puff of smoke if he allowed her too far out of his sight fairly early on in their unexpected alliance. But it had proven far more difficult to put his cognizance of the very real dangers she was exposed to, alone, every time she left his side, into perspective. She was competent, alert, and smart. She could take care of herself, and would not appreciate him doubting that fact. And he could never protect her from every ill the wicked world contained, no matter how he might wish to. So, he'd made the effort and had stopped following her.

But he could never sleep when she was out running. That was still beyond him. He didn't worry, not exactly, but he was . . . vigilant . . . at least until her safe return. Vigilance and sleep, he'd learned over the past year, did not mix well. He'd toss and turn for a bit after she would leave, and finally would have to get up and go find something to do to occupy himself until she came home. It was really quite absurd of him.

As Dr. Lecter was wiggling his toes in the sun and ruminating on the exigencies of diurnal circadian rhythms, Clarice Starling was in the street below, using her keys on the deadbolts of the front door and keying in the disarm codes for the alarms.

He heard her light, rapid steps on the stairs as she ran (actually RAN!) up the last flight to the top level of the mansion. Then the sound of her key in the lock to their top floor suite of rooms.

"Hi, honey," she called from the door, a comic Donna Reed lilt in her voice. "I'm home!"

He smiled, amused. He was out on the terrace, she wouldn't see.

In time, she bounced out onto the terrace, dressed in baggy sweats, chipper as a young dolphin. Appalling. Carrying two large steaming mugs of fresh coffee on a small tray. She looked flushed and glorious after her run, face glowing, hair in fetching disarray, the scent of fresh, clean perspiration clinging to her skin.

Even the worst impositions could sometimes present compensations.

"Want some coffee?" she asked, and perched on the foot of his chaise.


"I'll take that rather surly vocalization as a 'yes', how would that be? Here."

She handed him one of the mugs and moved his feet into her lap to make more room for herself on the chaise.

"Mmm," he said, trying not to smile.

"Drink," she said. "You obviously need some caffeine."

"Hmm," he replied, and earned an annoyed grimace that succeeded in making him laugh. He drank some of the coffee.

"Pretty cranky this morning, aren't you?" she said.

"I'm tired. Some pleasure crazed sex fiend got hold of me last night. It was very alarming."

Another irritated grimace. Ah. Excellent.

"Anyone I know?" she asked.

"I'm not sure. I haven't completely ruled out multiple personality disorder."

"I thought all that "Sybill" stuff was a myth."

"I'd have thought so too. Any blank spaces in your memory, Clarice? Any gaps in your recollection of last night's sordid escapades?"

"I don't recall you looking particularly alarmed. On the contrary. I remember that much."

"I was humoring you. It seemed best."

"Oh, you were, were you? Well, it's your own fault. I couldn't help myself. You ARE the fuck of the century."

That got him. He had to laugh. Such blatant flattery. Such forthright vulgarity. Such nonsense.

"Well, of course," he said. "What did you expect? Perhaps you should alert the media."

Now she was laughing. "Oh, God, the 'Tattler' would give me a million for an exclusive."

"I have no objection. Be sure to throw in some invention - say I may drink blood, have cloven hooves and a forked penis, but I'm still just another selfish pig in bed. You know, things like that. And hold out for two million."

Now they were both laughing.

"You know, I think you might actually like that, " she said, chuckling. She looked at the laptop. "What are you doing this morning? Besides lying around out here in the sun and thinking of aggravating things to say to me, I mean."

"Oh, 'Tattler' on-line. Odd you should mention it. Going through the personals."

"The international fugitive's social register. Anything for us?"

"Actually, yes. I've been giving it some thought while you were out."

"What's there?"

"Tell me, Clarice, do you ever miss the States?"

She stared at him for a moment.

"What's there?" she repeated. She took his feet in her hands, curling her fingers around the insteps. "Remember, your feet are in the hands of a pleasure crazed sex fiend. Tell me what's up or suffer the consequences."

"You don't scare ME, you little brute."

"Is that so?" she ran a fingernail up the sole of the left foot, slowly, causing the whole foot to curl. "Talk. Or else . . . "

"Is that the best you can do, Clarice? The truth is, I quite like that. Do that some more."

"I want to know what's in the 'Tattler', damn it!"

He smiled. This was developing into a good game.

"You haven't answered my question," he reminded her.

She lunged for the laptop, but was not quite quick enough. She was strong and fast, but he was faster. Even at this ungodly hour. It was short work to catch her in a restrictive embrace. The laptop slid off his chest, and fell a few inches to the terrace floor with a small plastic tap and an electronic beep. Now he had her in ear-whispering range.

"Do you ever miss the States?" he asked again, directly into her ear. "Talk, or suffer the consequences."

"You don't scare ME, you overbearing beast."

At this point, they were both laughing a little too hard to talk that easily. He nipped her earlobe and tasted the good, clean sweat of her run. Umm. Intoxicating. He licked her throat from base to chin. Delicious.

"Mmm," murmuring in her ear. "Salt . . . metal . . . open air . . . jacaranda pollen . . . you ran through the park, didn't you . . . hmm . . . and Clarice . . . just Clarice . . . "

"Mmm. Is that the best you can . . . oh!"

"Do you, Clarice?" he asked, seriously now. He stared into her face. "Do you ever miss it? The known, the familiar? I wonder, sometimes. You've given up so much."

She shrugged off his hands and sat up, then smiled, an astringent, not so good smile. "Oh, yes. I threw it all away. A dazzling career, a full rich life, the esteem of my peers, everything. All for you. I cry myself to sleep every night."

He did not choose to rise to this challenge. This was bitterness she'd have to resolve on her own. In time. It was still too soon, only a year since Muskrat Farm and the abominable betrayal by her former superiors. The destruction of the final shreds of her faith, the abrupt and rude termination of her world view. She was still angry, as well she should be. The ruinous death and consumption of just one symbolic tormentor was only a paltry restitution for the years of systematic abuse, in his opinion. He could spill a sea of blood on her behalf and never repay one tenth of what was owed.

A lucky thing for Jack Crawford that he'd died in bed a month ago. He'd had an outstanding account, to be sure. But there were others who owed. Clint Pearsall, for example.

Dr. Lecter put aside this line of speculation for the time being. He and Clarice were an odd couple. That either one would kill for the other was a given, something they'd both already done, several times over. In their skewed alignment, NOT killing for the other was the truer test of commitment.

But she had never asked him to promise that. This life they were leading was precarious. She was a realist. When he'd asked her about it, she'd told him she needed him at full effectiveness, unconstrained by some romantic vow to her, made in a thoughtless moment when danger seemed far away. Because danger was really never far away. The day might come when they'd have to fight to survive. She wanted him unencumbered on that day. Her first line of defense, lethally competent, relentlessly reliable. She now valued the very things in him that had once been the essence of the great gulf between them That had made him the media icon of dread he'd become.

"The whole world is afraid of you," she'd said. "That's good. When the time comes, they might not shoot so straight."

But none of that meant she approved of gratuitous slaughter. His old hobbies appalled her as much as they ever had. It was strange to him how that had not changed, when so much else had undergone such radical transformation. If the truth were known, he did not really understand it. There was still so much he could not fathom.

So, if he would not poison her emotions toward him, he must compromise, at least in this. Compromise. Not a familiar or easily attainable skill for him.

But not impossible. He had not felt as much inclination to the old ways over the past years, anyway. Not in his first stay in South America, not in Florence. That cold and compelling red rage, the bottomless greed for terror and blood, the terrible black ecstasy of the hunt and the kill - those hungers had become less acute over the years. Perhaps his stay in the asylum had taught him something of use after all. Such things need not define him. Not solely. There were other pleasures in the world. There were other passions. And there was the fragile freedom to pursue them.

And now there was Clarice. Only once before had he ever had anything of such value to defend. He had failed then, but he would never fail now. He would not feed his ego with petty diversions and futile vendettas and pointless dark jokes as he had when there had been nothing to lose; not now, when such indulgences created needless jeopardy for them both.

But he'd call down the lightning and make a charnel house of the world, had he the power, before he'd relinquish a single moment of the combined future they now shared.

Ah, well. It was too early, and far too nice a day, to be gloomy. And they still must decide what, if anything, to do about the ad.

He took one of her hands and brought it to his lips, just grazing the skin, an oddly courtly gesture. "Clarice, I'm distressing you. Forgive me. Here, read this."

He retrieved the small computer from where it had fallen, and showed her the screen.

"The third one in the right column. Read it aloud, if you would," he said.

She located the ad and read it : "'Remember what I said? It's a boy. US October 15. RSVP, BYOB, all that good shit. Details later. MV'"

"'MV'?" Clarice, ever the investigator, thought first of the signature. "Margot Verger?"

"You are astute, Agent Starling. What else does the message tell you?"

"It sounds like an invitation of some kind. But to what? And what does 'it's a boy' mean?"

"She and her beloved have had a blessed event, it seems. The in-vitro fertilization procedures must have worked. A boy, a male heir to the Verger fortune."

"How is that possible? Who's the father?"

He laughed, an ugly, serrated laugh. "Mason. In a manner of speaking. I wonder if the child looks like him?"

He saw that Clarice would not ask him more about this. There were some details of his prior business dealings with Margot Verger that she preferred not to know. And his continuing virulent contempt for the late Mason, well beyond the grave, was a personal boundary of his that she chose not to breach. The art of compromise. She'd had to learn it too.

"So . . . the invitation . . . it's to a . . . "

"To the christening, " he confirmed. "Margot promised she'd invite me, should the child be male."

"Why? Why would she do that?"

"She intended to name the babe after me," he said, smiling, still intensely amused by Margot's wickedly funny practical joke, even a year later. "That being the case, she could hardly fail to extend an invitation. It would be the worst kind of rudeness."

"Oh. Okay, " Clarice said. "I see that, even if I don't quite understand why she'd name her boy after you. No, don't tell me. Do you think she REALLY wants you to come, though?"

"Hmm. Yes . . . I think perhaps she does. Margot is . . . well, she's a friend, in an odd sort of way. I like her. And she'd never do something like this just out of empty courtesy. Or even to appease me. It's not her style. She has no patience for such things. You met her once, didn't you? Wouldn't you agree?"

"Very short acquaintance. But yes, she did strike me as unusually straightforward."

"Yes. Pragmatic. So, the question before us, dear Clarice, is not whether Margot really wants us to come, but whether we really want to go. Yes or no? Should we or shouldn't we? I'll ask you again: do you ever miss the States?"

Clarice thought for a moment.

"It's a risk," she finally said.

"To be sure. But not an unmanageable one. And that's still not an answer. Put that aspect of the problem aside, for the moment, please. Ask yourself what you'd LIKE to do, were there no difficulty involved. Don't you ever wish to hear your own native tongue on every stranger's lips? To be where you know the cultural 'short-hand', the idiom, the slang, the referential sets? Don't you miss it? Apple pie and the American Way? Sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll?"

"Now you're making fun of me."

"Not entirely. Tell me what you want, Clarice. And that's what we'll do."

She sighed. "Why ask me? She's YOUR friend."

"You DO miss those things. I thought so."

"Goddamnit, why the hell ask if you already know! People say you're the most dangerous man on the planet. Has anyone ever told you you're the most annoying man on the planet too?"

"You have. Frequently. And you still haven't answered me. Shall I tell you why you haven't?"

"Do tell," she said, sarcastically. "I can hardly stop you."

"You think I'll be unhappy if you do. That I'll take it as a kind of rejection if you miss your home, because now your home is here. We've gained so much, beyond any reasonable expectation, you and I, but you've begun to want more. You do not wish to admit that. Not to yourself, still less to me. And you believe I'll think less of you for wanting a taste of what's familiar."

"Will you?"

"Of course not. It's natural, you're human. I think. I sometimes think you might be an earth elemental, cleverly disguised as a renegade FBI agent, but that's probably because I'm a nut, as the 'Tattler' regularly reveals. In addition to being the most annoying man on the planet."

She barked a quick laugh and pecked his cheek. "I KNEW you wouldn't let that one pass!"

"Clarice, this is an insular life we're leading. Perhaps too insular. I love you. I want you to be pleased and I do whatever I can to amuse you. But I am not the beginning and the end. There's more to the world than just us."

"Is there? Air and earth - "

"Fire and ice," he finished. "Everything there is, in the alchemist's view. We hold an embarrassing surfeit of riches, certainly, the veritable Philosopher's Stone. But this is the age of technology; there are more elements than just the four. We could be in the US in a matter of hours. Would you like to go?"

"Do YOU want to go?"

"Clarice - "

"No, it's a fair question. Do you ever miss the States?"

"No. I sometimes miss Europe, in that way. Florence. But that's not really the issue. I don't want us to spend the rest of our lives cringing at the sound of an unfamiliar step. We cannot make every decision based on the malice of our enemies. You say it's a risk, and so it is. But life IS risk. Should we decline this invitation, I want to be certain it's because we don't really want to go. Not because we're afraid to."

"No fear. Damn the torpedoes - full speed ahead?"

"Soon or late, we all must face the same end. Just passing through, all of us. Why creep by, when one can run? Yes, Clarice, I do want to accept this invitation. I want to see my namesake. I'd like to see Miss Margot again. I'd like to see the world you left behind, through your eyes. Is that so strange?"

"No, not strange. You're not unfriendly. You used to maintain an active social life."

"Yes. I enjoyed entertaining, once upon a time. But we're not talking about me."

"God almighty, you're like a rat terrier with a bone. All right. What are we talking about?"


She stared at him for a time, thinking.

"Mr. Crawford used to say that's what it was always all about, for you. Fun."

A direct challenge, mentioning Crawford. And in this context. She knew full well what he thought of her residual loyalty to the deceased section chief. A faithless and craven would-be puppet master who would send his best and brightest unarmed into battles he himself would shun.

But not unintelligent. The assessment was not without merit, as far as it went. Jack had always been just a little too smart for his own good. And for the good of those he commanded, of course.

To Clarice, Dr. Lecter said nothing. He wanted an answer, and he was prepared to wait to get it. It wouldn't be the first time. It wouldn't be the last.

Finally, she spoke, a small, unhappy voice. "Is that what this is? Fun? Some reckless adventure with the razor's edge, because things here are getting too quiet for you? You still scream in your sleep, sometimes, you know. Don't think I don't notice. I guess I'm not the beginning and the end either."

She sighed again, a painful sound. Then raised her direct gaze to him, chin lifted.

"Am I starting to bore you?"

He understood that this was an honest concern on her part, and not entirely unwarranted. She knew he did not tolerate boredom well, there were case files to prove it. He also understood that she was projecting her own nebulous guilt and sense of aimlessness onto the nearest available target. He also understood that for all the steel in her, she still sometimes craved reassurance.

But he could not entirely suppress the surge of injured anger her question engendered in him.

He sometimes craved reassurance too.

He was also human. And none in all the world knew it better than she.

He saw the hardening and drawing of his own expression mirrored in her eyes, in the look of instant regret that clouded them. Love was a blade. They'd both had cause to learn it well, over the past months. And all the years before.

She took his hands, lying still at his sides, and brought both to her own mouth. Again, an oddly courtly gesture. She shook her head.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

"Clarice, in what way, exactly, in thought, or deed, or omission, do I give you the impression that I'm bored with you?"

He heard the cold edge in his own voice, but was powerless to soften it.

"Stop. Let's back up, okay? I am sorry."

"But - "

"No. No 'buts'. Just listen, a minute. There's nothing you do, or don't do, that gives me any such idea, and it was damn clumsy of me to say it, like that," holding his hands firmly, to keep his attention.

"But I'm a clumsy gal. Just a 'rube' from the boonies, you pegged ME all right, eight years back. And sure. . . sometimes I do want hot dogs and beer and all that. So, what I have to ask myself, sometimes, is WHY the hell you're NOT bored with me? Can you understand that? Sometimes I feel like a plain old barnyard mutt, trying to run with the wolves."

"I also told you, eight years ago, that you were anything but common; that you just had the fear of it. Will you never believe me?"

"There's common, uncommon, and then there's nothing even remotely similar, before or since. You're in the third category. The might-as-well-be-from- Mars category. It can be intimidating. And I'm not talking about your case file."

"A freak, in other words. Darling! You say the sweetest things!"

"Oh, bullshit. You're not equipped to play dumb convincingly. You know perfectly well what I'm talking about."

They locked gazes a moment, matching wills. He shook his imprisoned hands a bit, not too hard, just testing. Her grip remained steady.

Finally, he smiled.

"Hard work, isn't it?" he commented. He did not need to elaborate.

"Rough magic," she agreed.

"Perhaps I am a bit cranky," he conceded. "It is VERY early."

"And you've barely touched the coffee I brought you. With my very own dainty white hands."

He laughed. "And I never thanked you for it. Criminally remiss."

"Yes," she said, and grinned, a big, daffy grin.

"Yes, I was remiss? Or, yes, something else?"

"Yes, sometimes I do miss the States. Yes, let's go see Margot and the baby. Yes, it'll be fun. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll! Cowabunga!"

"Oh, I see. Yes, yes, and yes. Mmm. If only you could be this compliant more often."

"Wish in one hand - "

"No! Do not say that awful thing. Stop at once!"

She giggled like a naughty child. Both enchanting and vexing, in equal measure. Rough magic, indeed.

"So, stop me, baby," she said, and peremptorily made room for herself on the chaise by nudging sharply with her hip, knee and elbow. He was obliged to move over, if he did not wish to be poked further. But he didn't mind so much, were the truth to be known.

He waited until she was comfortably nestled in, and close enough to rub noses with.

"Well, that's settled, then. We'll attend. I'll go start making the arrangements right now."

He sat up abruptly, eliciting another gratifying annoyed grimace from Clarice, and, incidentally, bumping her halfway off the narrow chaise.

But not quite breaking her grip on his shoulder and arm. When playing games, it's very important to leave your opponent some options to exercise, lest the game end too soon.

"Just a darn minute," she growled, gripping, pulling. Hard, too. "'Make the arrangements later."

"When, later?" he asked, trying very hard not to smile. Her eyes were sparkling, a coral flush had risen in her cheeks.

He turned and seized her arm, then, and with three quick, counter-balanced moves, had succeeded in flipping her onto her back. From there it was a simple matter to pin her to the chaise with about half of his weight. Not that her struggles to escape seemed a hundred percent in earnest. A quick kiss on her nose, mostly because he couldn't resist, and then ear- whispering range again.

"When, later?" he repeated, lips brushing her ear. "Ten minutes later? An hour later?"

No answer. Just giggling and wriggling. That wouldn't do.

"Two hours later? Three? Talk, or suffer the consequences . . . "

He had already put quite a few of the consequences in motion before she bothered to talk. Perhaps he was taking the wrong approach. If forced confession was his goal, that was. Alternate goals presented themselves to his thought. And it would take three hours, at least, possibly four or five, to realize them all.

"What's the hurry?" she asked, and her voice held that uniquely feminine husky quality that plugs directly into certain receptors in the male brain. "Make the arrangements . . . oh, make 'em tomorrow, how's that?"

"Suitable," he replied, voice slightly muffled. "I don't really like this sweatshirt, Clarice, have I told you that?"

"Often," she said. "Want me to take it off?"

"Yes, eventually. And then later we can burn it."

More giggling, more wriggling. Perfection. Even if it WAS very early.

There were always compensations . . .

It was not until several hours later that either one of them thought to wonder just exactly where, in the United States, Margot's christening party was to be held. But it seemed a moot point, then. They'd placed an ad in the Tattler to RSVP the invitation, and to give Margot a mail drop for the specifics, on the following day, without giving the matter further consideration.

A lapse in caution on their part, that, in time, they would both have cause to regret.