Technically, Thomas Harris owns it, but I doubt if he's gonna want to claim it.

If You Give a Grizzly Bear a Beer

What's a nice girl like me doing in a place like this? Funny, Senor, this isn't the first time in my life I've asked myself that question. Okay, so this little south of the border bar isn't exactly the Tavern on the Green. It's really not that bad. It's got the right kind of atmosphere...I smell tequila and cigars and maybe a hint of goat, but what the hell, there's a nice view of the marketplace from here, and we could always leave and go somewhere else. There's nothing keeping us here. Believe me, it could be much worse.

There's something about sitting in stinking darkness, knowing you're going to die through that, and I guarantee you won't sweat the small stuff any more. Petty annoyances like having bad service or a sticky table are suddenly a whole lot less important in the general scheme of things. The things that are supposed to be important aren't any more.

For instance, it didn't matter that my mother was a U.S. senator and a wealthy woman in her own right. Having the Speaker of the House on speed dial was useless. My perfect grades at Virginia Polytechnic were irrelevant. My $45K entry level job with a multi-national electronics firm meant squat. The only thing that might save my life was MacGyvering a chicken bone, a string, and a plastic bucket into a device that would drag a fat miniature poodle down into the hellpit I was sitting in, so that maybe, just maybe, the sick fuck who'd imprisoned me would trade me for the dog. I got Precious, all right, but in the end, what saved my life was the good luck and persistance of another young woman about my own age named Clarice Starling.

The name I was given at birth: Catherine Martin. Faintly rings a bell? Someone you went to school with, maybe? Or maybe what you half-remember are news stories from the time I was kidnapped by the psychotic killer Buffalo Bill and nearly skinned alive. Yes, that Catherine Martin. It's a common name; occasionally true crime buffs pick up on it, but even they rarely recognize me, since I cut my hair much shorter and lost forty pounds. I'm still no beauty; nothing makes me stand out in a roomful of other women my age, although if raw IQ scores could be factored in somehow, I'd probably rank in the top two.

People say that who you are is formed by the time you become an adult. Bullshit, I say. I grew up spoiled and complaiscent and naiively trusting. I'm 38 now, and I'm none of those things anymore. Before Buffalo Bill took me, I was sweet and gentle and caring--those were a few of my mother's adjectives when she made a public appeal for my life. I'm glad she didn't live to see the bitch I've become. The day she was buried, I let go of all attempts to be sweet and loveable. He may not have made me into a girl suit, the way he wanted to, but Buffalo Bill made me what I am today.

Before those crucial days, I was talented with computers and electronics and if I'd stayed in the field, I'd probably be filthy rich in my own right. But after my release, I took a leave of absence from my job. No one questioned that; poor thing, they'd say, she's been through so much! I poured some serious trust fund money into learning how to take care of myself. I got a personal trainer, a martial arts coach, self-defense and security consultants -- I lost forty pounds in a little less than five months; I had the hard body of my dreams, except that I was still having nightmares about being down in that hole with that yappy dog.

So, what am I doing here? That's a long story. Being kidnapped completely derailed my life, you know? I applied to the FBI, thinking if I could repay them for saving my life, if I could save somebody else, that would balance the kharmic scales. Well, guess what--they wouldn't take me. Not even Senator Mommy and all the strings she could pull would get them to let me in after they looked at my psych evaluation. No, we're sorry, you're too screwed up. Yes, we understand what made you that way, but we can't allow someone who doesn't meet our criteria--etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

After that, while I was weighing my options--go back to work, look for a different job, travel for a while--my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was dead three months later, and I was left with an eight-figure bank account, no pressing responsibilities, and a burning desire to do more than sit on my ass regaining weight.

I traveled a lot, in the U.S. and abroad. I took a lot of classes--high speed driving courses taught by auto racing professionals and retired stunt drivers (I got good at both kinds), classes to qualify for a private investigator's license, locksmithing, a couple of those boot camp-type places, survival techniques in the wilderness---by the time the 10-year anniversary of my captivity occurred, if you locked me in a room with a grizzly bear, a six-pack of diet Coke and a paperclip, I would've walked out in under ten minutes, leaving a dead grizzly behind me and carrying the other five cans of soda. Ever seen a bear choking on an unopened soda can? Okay, actually it was a beer can, but it was funny as hell. Don't tell the tree huggers, okay?

Aww, what? It's a predator the size of a Chevy 4x4! And don't give me any crap about recycling cans, either. I recycled the other five on the trek out. Damn bleeding heart eco-pansies...the paperclip? I said, if I was locked in a room with a grizzly bear. Obviously, out in the middle of the Idaho wilderness, I didn't need to pick any freaking locks!

Yes, senorita, my friend and I would like another round...doubles. It's okay, don't worry, I'm getting this one. What, you thought I lived on soy smoothies and wheat germ? Hah! Oh shit! Wait--I got it! How's that for reflexes? Didn't spill more than a drop! Here's blood in your eye! Blood in your eye, mud in your eye--whatever! It's better than a sharp stick in your eye...drink up!

I gave up on political correctness somewhere along the way. Now I look at it like this: is doing -whatever- gonna get me killed? Is it gonna get anybody else killed? If so, will that somebody be missed? Am I going to be blamed? Can I stage it so that someone even worse gets framed for the death? The correct answers are no, no, no, no and yes. (Unless it's business, in which case, change the second no to a yes....)

That's right, business. Several years ago, during a vacation side-trip that got...interesting I met RC. RC retired from the CIA, and now runs an outfit called Millenium Consulting. Most of what Millenium does is security-related, but once in a while, something comes up that requires extreme measures. I started out as an apprentice for the electronics end of things; I'm valuable as a security technician, but RC had an eye on me, and started using me in the field.

If the bear bothered you, trust me, you don't want details. Look, I know you're not wearing a wire, and anyway, I've got a jammer on that no one is going to sweep. Yes, I've killed people. Mostly from a distance, but a few of them were up close and personal. And, like I said, that was business. I don't go out grabbing innocent kids at random just for jollies.

It's nothing personal, you know. You screwed with the wrong people. I'm their answer. I can see the panic in your eyes--you just realized you can't move, right? Uh-huh. It's a derivative of blowfish toxin. Nasty stuff, but the autopsy results will look like a heart attack. I'm just going to sit here for a moment longer, then I'm going to scream bloody murder that you're in distress. Hope nobody gets too helpful and tries to do CPR...that could get ironic. Anyway, while everyone is running around calling for a doctor and all that, I'm going to be strolling out the front door of this charming cantina. They can frisk you for the tab.

Oh my God! Help, somebody! Is there a doctor in the house?