Arsenic is a chemical that has many unusual properties. An element in its own right, it can be used to kill weeds, rats, and various other forms of pests.
When Dr. Lecter had scattered out birdseed for the intrusive starlings that congregated outside of the large colonial house he had appropriated from a long deceased and unrecorded client, he had included a small measure of this particular chemical. In no time at all, one of the small unremarkable birds had tottered over.
Unmarked by the poison, it was a perfect specimen. The dark feathers gave off that familiar sheen of appearing to have been dipped in gasoline. He bent down and stroked its soft little breast before tucking it into his pocket.
Robin redbreast in a cage...
He smiled to himself as he drew a glass of fine sauvignon blanc and settled down into the high backed leather chair situated in front of the great marble fireplace. Around him were sculptures, busts and rolled up canvases. He avowed a preference to candlelight whenever possible, and so a selection of these were lined up over the hearth. Taking a small sip from the champagne glass, he watched the flames waver and flicker in time to the music that drifted creakily across the room.
He liked that, the dusty flaws in the old brass notes. It added an antique quality to the surroundings, a casual tastefulness that could sate his lust for high class for the time being. It would be unwise to venture into the opera houses and theatres just yet, although the measure was probably unnecessary. The FBI bureaucrats wanted nothing more than to forget the name Hannibal Lecter, but that certainly didn't mean they wouldn't hear something from a little bird.
Central Park. There was something cultured and intimate about running through the park at night. The surroundings were long ago manufactured, but everyone was deluded by its natural-feeling atmosphere. It was the busiest time of night at the park. The theatres were letting out and dinner dates were concluding. The diverse and eclectic group of neo hippies, casual thespians and penguin suit gentry flooding the walkways added to the surrounding din of traffic and talk as they meandered to homes and subway stations.
Soon after moving to the city, Clarice had found a less travelled route through the massive expanse of 'forest' which served as her personal mobile sanctuary.
A mild spring night yielded a multitude of small insects which buzzed around the dim lights that lined the pavement path. Pausing under a causeway of willow trees, Clarice bent down and grasped her knees, breathing heavily. She dropped down onto the asphalt and began to do cursory stretches to prevent cramping from happening later on when she sprinted the final home stretch. It was then that she noticed a dead bird placed directly in the centre of the path. Normally she didn't take notice other than to wince slightly and look away, but something caught her eye. She crouched down next to it to get a closer look.
The eyes were glazed and the feathers were mussed as is usual in dead birds, but the position in which it lay did not seem natural. It lay with its wings spread on its back, almost like a crucified Jesus. There was a small forget-me-not placed in its claws. Clarice frowned as closer inspection revealed a more unsettling fact: it was a starling.
Instantly she whipped out the knife she carried on her belt at all times, and glanced around wide eyed for any unusual movement. Still crouching, she moved off into the brush and waited for her assailant.
One minute. Two. Still nothing. Biting her lip, she moved back off over the great green lawn, through the trees and escaped onto the paths more travelled by the denizens of New York and ran the whole way home.
Starling had received but one correspondence from Dr. Lecter after his last escape, the day after he had fled. The postmark was local and the date was one day before. It was upon receipt of this letter that she made the decision to resign from the FBI, before they could dishonourably discharge her. That way, she didn't feel any guilt about not handing it over for analysis. The letter wasn't lengthy, but composed on a very expensive white sheet with fine black India ink. The copperplate handwriting was the same.
"My dear Clarice,
Do you ever wonder why they say the female is the deadlier of the species? Perhaps it is the utter reversal of all those stereotypes: the caregiver, the nurturer, the submissive. Your social indoctrination has led to a belief that a woman who is a serial killer is some kind of anomaly within the spectrum of criminality, while the male serial killer dots the landscape. Shall I clarify? Women are not typed as serial killers because while a motive may be underlined by some form of mental erosion, their reasons are almost always more tangible, and their victims less random. It's a matter of proximity and intent.
How much virgin blood did you bathe in this weekend?
In almost all cases, such perversity serves some kind of material purpose, no matter how obscure. Or so one would think, considering the media or lack thereof on the topic. What do you think? I'm interested to hear your hypothesis (soon to be ex) Agent Starling.
Necessity breeds re-invention, don't you think? You've killed at least nine men the past month, all of them murderers. Or at least, that is what you dearly hope, because if not- you're treading across that line that separates right from wrong. Even now it grows more indistinct. The press has linked your name indelibly with mine, which is not altogether inaccurate. The FBI will soon have to submit to this conclusion and would dearly prefer to terminate you before the fact. So much for your ambition. But I trust you will do the right thing.
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
ps. I expect I shall be seeing you quite soon. Pity you've lost all those federal friends and resources- not that they would've helped you anyway.
As usual, the thesis was designed to prick, but that didn't mask the truth of it. Lecter preferred it that way. The truth, after careful forging and precise honing, made a far sharper point capable of piercing her to the very core. And so she did the only thing she could. She found the truth in the taunting and used it to the best of her advantage. She resigned before anyone could ask any questions, and managed to avoid a full fledged inquiry.
Glancing at her watch, she folded up the letter and tucked it inside her pocket. She quit the bench, and hailed a cab, detailing JFK airport as the destination.
As the aircraft began its descent, Will Graham was having similar consternation. On his lap a letter was folded. From the same person, it was dated six years back. It was brief and remotely personable.
I hope I find you in good health. No doubt you have read of my recent departure from incarceration, but don't let that trouble you. I would much rather meet you on even ground, keeping in mind that I find Praetorian assassination far too easy, and therefore less tasteful. You need not expect me at home any time soon.
However, I must extend to you a small ultimatum. If you attempt to pursue me, I will be forced to take defensive action. Stay home, Will. Repair your boat motors. Live out your days in whatever fine vicinity you have chosen to relocate yourself due to my reinstatement into society.
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
ps. Give my regards to Molly and Willy. The boy is growing rather quickly, don't you agree? By now I would say he's nearly six feet tall.
Graham stuffed the letter unceremoniously into his duffel bag and tried to relax as the grind of the plane's landing gear sent vibrations through his skull. After he received the letter, he had called up Crawford and asked to be relocated a second time. Graham no longer trusted the Witness Protection Program, and trusted anyone affiliated with the FBI even less. He closed his eyes and did not open them until his senses were greeted by the rumble of the tarmac. Even then it took him a moment to clear the memory from his vision.
You're going into shock, Will. I'm sure you can't even feel the pain. I'm sorry it had to come to this. I admired you.
Ex-Agent Staring was dozing in one of the ubiquitous uncomfortable plastic chairs, oblivious to the people offloading through the gates. Graham recognized her from the FBI profile he had accessed before leaving. And from the newspapers, of course.
Gently, he nudged her elbow.
She stirred, and then blinked sleepily up at him. Regaining her senses, she sat up quickly.
"Oh, I'm sorry! Mr. Graham. Can I call you Will?"
"Please do. Didn't get a whole lot of sleep last night, huh."
"You too, huh? Come on, it'll be hell trying to get a cab, and I never saw the point of owning a car."
The curb was bustling with touring pedestrians. A slow procession of cabs wheeled along the pickup strip, each being commandeered in turn by visiting relatives, business-trip executives and returning vacationers. After three tries, Starling managed to snag a taxi, not bothering to make apologies or offer to wait for the next cab as she would've done years ago. Her southern hospitality had been dimmed somewhat by the dog-eat-dog climate of New York, but the accent that Dr. Lecter had long ago mocked still remained. It had been tightened, and her vernacular had become far more succinct.
It was both a habit and a boon. She found that by speaking less she not only observed more, but people observed less about her. Dr. Lecter's painfully intimate analyses of her heart and soul caused this trait to flourish. In the back seat of the yellow top, she and Graham kept their own council, each reminded by eachother of their mutual acquaintance.
Clarice remembered with startling clarity the intense, unblinking stare of Hannibal Lecter through glass so polished it might not have been there at all. Her body remembered the tense, visceral feeling of being trapped as he closed the refrigerator door on her hair. She remembered the taste of parsley and white wine on his lips. That cruel stolen kiss lingered in her memory, taunted her, haunted her and filled her with the shudder of revulsion. A chaste kiss, but he had done it because he knew nothing would make her feel so violated. A gesture of affection, but it made her insides twist. It frightened her more than any of the unsettling truths that had graced those insincerely smiling lips.
After she handcuffed him, he had threatened her with a cleaver, caressing her wrist with the razor edge. When he brought the blade down on his own wrist, she screamed. Blood had flooded the countertop, staining the fresh white leeks that had been recently chopped. But no sound came from him. No anguished howl. The expression on his face was constrained. He had said nothing, but picked up his own cleanly severed hand and put it in his pocket.
Had she been in her right mind, she might've come to conclusion that he would seek medical help, and fast. If the cut was clean enough and the time frame was right, a severed limb could be surgically reattached. No emergency room doctor would be looking at his face, and Starling summarily forgot to tell the FBI that he had cut off his own hand. Part of her didn't want them to catch him. Part of her believed that if he escaped, he would never come back into her life again. Never take the chance of capture again.
A foolish notion, really.
"Will...did he ever write to you?"
"Three times. A Christmas card after I caught him, a letter after Dolarhyde, and one after he escaped from Tennessee State Pen. Warning me that my family would be in danger if I went after him."
"Jesus, Graham, I wish you would've told me that earlier."
"No, no. I need to do this. I can't handle it any more, knowing he's out there."
"Your family, they're safe?"
"I sent them to Washington State. Molly likes seafood. Willy's going to the university in Seattle, but he's got a beach house on the peninsula. A friend of his left it to him."
"What's he going to major in?"
Graham glanced out the cab window at the slowing mass of cars.
"Psychology, ironically enough. Top of his class, he's going to graduate summa cum laude."
"It seems like it bothers you," Clarice said distractedly as she looked around for the street corner that was their destination.
"No, not really. Willy's just...he's sort of got that gift of being able to tell what you're thinking. He wants to work with kids."
The cab had reached a crawl as it hit rush hour traffic.
"It's solid, lady." The cab-driver said with the usual unaffected commiseration.
"That's okay, we're getting out here anyway."
"We are?" Graham asked.
"We'll get the subway back to my place. It's not far from headquarters."
Starling paid the cab driver while Graham got his bags out of the trunk. They dodged the slow moving traffic jam to the sidewalk.
"Here, I can take one of those."
Graham handed her his smaller carry-on bag and followed her down the stairs to the underground subway station.
The subway rattled down the tunnel, each seated person swaying to its Monday evening beat. It wasn't clean, but serviceable. The lights made everyone seem sickly. It was another chance to observe Clarice Starling. She didn't speak too much, and certainly didn't say a lot about herself.
There was an inner strength to her, but also a quiet resistence. Like him, she seemed tired, displaced and dazed. She wasn't actively trying to avoid looking at his scars, and he liked that. She didn't hide the fact that she was interested in the long pink marks that crisscrossed his face. When he noticed her looking, she pulled the collar of her shirt away from her shoulder, revealing a long straight line of scar tissue.
"He gave me one, too. While I was sleeping. He could've sewn it up so it didn't scar, but he wanted me to remember. Remember how close he was to me when he did that."
He wanted you to remember that he saved your life and you saved his, and together forged a terrible bond.
Will didn't say anything, but nodded solemnly. He could see now why Lecter took such an interest in this small self contained woman. She was bright, quick, and sharp. There was power underneath those sloe eyes and auburn hair. It was uncertain, unknown, but it was there. Graham could see it. He envied it. He wished he had some of the confidence, some of the independence. But that only came with complete detachment from family life. Half of every thing he did was motivated by his need to protect Molly and Willy.
She was alone. Alone with her thoughts too often. Hannibal Lecter had dominated her professional career. Unlike Graham, she had been almost aerodynamically honed to pursue Lecter the way a hunter pursues a man eating tiger. Like a prize fighter, Clarice Starling was anxious to do battle.
Lecter was her professional focus, but neither of them were kidding themselves. This was personal.
Each had similar self doubts on the opposite sides of the map. Clarice wasn't sure if she could pull the trigger. Graham wasn't sure if he could stop himself.
How very quaint.
His two greatest enemies joined forces to create one exquisite double edged threat. Dr. Lecter lingered at the other end of the subway car, made completely invisible by his baseball cap and seedy clothing. Neither were his preference, but if one wanted to hide in plain sight, it became a necessity. When Clarice had pulled away her shirt collar to show Graham the long scar, he couldn't suppress a pleased intake of breath. Both of them were so confident that they were secure in their discussions. It was a delightful opportunity to study the investigators in their native habitat. Lecter idly stroked the thick scar that traced around his wrist. That was something they all had in common. Scars.
Graham was anxious, but he was hiding it well. He feared for the safety of his family, feared that Lecter would somehow find them, and rightfully so. Lecter had always admired how Will managed avoid being crippled by his fear, instead turning it to good investigative use.
Clarice was afraid, too, but in a far more dangerous way. She was uncertain, emotionally conflicted, uncertain of her goal. Exploitable, to be certain.
Lecter disembarked at the next stop, following the concealing crowd of chattering people. Once on the street, he casually withdrew a thin brown clove cigarette, lit it, and slipped away down 5th Avenue through a curling haze of smoke.
Let the games begin.
"Bathroom's down the hall, just next to your room. I'm hardly ever here, so the place stays clean."
Graham followed Clarice down the hallway through the sparsely furnished apartment. A ground floor suite, it was dark but secure. A black leather lay-z-boy sat perpendicular to the futon couch while a tv was positioned behind a plain wooden coffee table. The coffee table was populated with photographs, files, reports and Starling's laptop computer. A desk in the corner seemed forsaken, but Clarice quickly swept up all the materials and piled them on the desk.
"Sorry. Can't seem to work up the discipline to work at the desk," she explained.
"Takes a lot of effort to keep the office from coming home with you." Graham yawned as he shuffled down the hall to deposit his bags in the guest room.
"Speaking of which, would you like some coffee before we head over?" Clarice called from the living room as she sorted through gristly murder scene photos.
"That sounds great, actually," Graham said as he made his way through to the kitchen, the brightest room in the house. It was a little haven of oak panelled cupboards, warm blue walls and old fashioned appliances. Graham dropped down at the scrubbed wooden table and stared blearily at the cheery bouquet of dried white roses in the centre. Clarice bustled in, dumped a file folder on the broad table and went to the counter to make coffee.
"You like Colombian?"
"Colombian's fine. Can I have a look at this?" Graham indicated the folder. Clarice sucked a bit of spilled java off her finger.
"Please do. You take sugar in yours?"
While Clarice doctored the coffee, Graham flipped open the folder and swallowed. A familiar photograph was attached to a pathologist report dated 1975.
"This is Benjamin Raspail," he murmured, a ripple of anxiety bubbling through him. The photograph of the precisely dissected corpse seated on a church pew left him cold.
"That's the whole case file, all the information from...before," Clarice said hesitantly. Clearly it still pained her to speak of the FBI.
"They really did a number on you, didn't they?" Graham asked as he tossed the folder back onto the table.
Clarice didn't say anything for a moment, but set Graham's coffee down in front of him and retreated to the other side of the table.
"I think," she began, looking down into her black coffee. "It's because everything Dr. Lecter predicted, all the contempt he had for the FBI turned out to be justified. That bothers me more than anything."
"Starling, anyone could've told you the FBI is a bureaucratic pack of lying ingrates and political lobbyists. Lecter doesn't have any kind of special monopoly on the truth."
"No, but he enjoys using it against you. Using it against me. Will, when you first met him...what was it like for you?"
"Mr. Graham, you look quite exhausted. Can I offer you something to drink? Eat?"
Dr. Lecter's rich drawling tones were benevolent, but there was something reptilian in his gaze. His face was skull-like, and there was something menacing about his deep set eyes. Special Agent Will Graham fingered a small hole in his jacket. The grand mahogany office and its occupant clothed elegantly in grey smoking jacket made him feel small and pedestrian. Dr. Lecter's broad mahogany desk was flanked by an old fashioned brass globe and a tall Tiffany lamp. Behind him, a potted vine plant crawled over the window frame and over the transom, its small purple flowers adding a slightly tangy scent to the air. Book shelves lined the elongated room, filled with classic volumes on psychology and physiology, handsomely bound encyclopaedias and 19th century cookbooks. The lights were low and elegant, and the couch on which Graham sat stiffly was a practical leather appointment. Outside, snow had begun to fall for the second time that night, adding to the picturesque scene.
Graham shifted uncomfortably. He liked this room. It should have relaxed him, made him feel welcome. He couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was, but the affluence only added to his discomfort. Or perhaps it was the unblinking way that Dr. Lecter was looking at him, those clear blue eyes steadily surveying him under a defined brow. Graham licked his dry lips and pulled out a well worn notebook from his inner pocket.
"No thank you, Dr. Lecter. I'd just as soon as get going before the Baltimore PD start in at the crime scene."
"Very well, Mr Graham. May I call you Will?"
"Sure." Graham noticed that Dr. Lecter did not invite him to call him by his first name.
"Excellent. Shall we get started? I understand you're anxious to get back to work."
"Okay. Here is the M.E. report, along with a profile of the crime scene and photographs."
Accepting the folder, Dr. Lecter set it on his desk and flicked it open. The distorted face of Louis Whitter, metal worker, stared back up him, terrified expression twisted permanently into onto his face- at least, until the body was released to the family. It remained to seen as to whether they would pay to have the bronze metal casting removed from his head.
A small upward twitch at the corner of Dr. Lecter's mouth was the only reaction Graham noticed. Other than that, the psychologist betrayed nothing. Casually he tossed the photos back onto the blotter and leaned back into his chair.
"This was improvised, not planned. That will make things substantially more difficult for you in a traditional respect. You have no controls with which to compare or make predictions."
"We don't know if this is the first or the second or...whatever," Graham said with a shrug. Dr. Lecter could see the idea genuinely unsettled his guest, sent a worm of fear crawling up his spine. Will Graham didn't like serial killers. He didn't like fear. But he was well acquainted with both and needed his neurotic impulses in order to function effectively.
"Tell me, when will you begin interviewing character witnesses?" Dr. Lecter inquired as he drew the pathologist report out of the folder, licking his finger and lifting the first page.
"The police are rounding up names and numbers, but I've already talked to a few people. Apparently, Whitter was reported missing two weeks ago by his employer. They found him behind a big mixing vat."
"A smelting vat," Dr. Lecter corrected briskly. Graham frowned. The doctor smiled coyly and tapped the report. "Very unorthodox."
"Excuse me, sir, but just what is orthodox?"
"Touche" the doctor conceded, his eyes flickering across the typewritten words. "Our friend here doesn't mind getting attention, but I doubt that is his original intent. Tell me about Mr. Whitter."
Graham shifted again in his seat, trying to find some measure of comfort under the stare of the curious doctor.
"His coworkers all said he was very much a man's man. No one said anything excessively positive or negative about him, but I got the impressions he wasn't well liked."
"Brash. A loner. Prone to violence, perhaps?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"Did you consider that a woman might be your perpetrator? Perhaps this isn't serial at all, considering the convention it defies."
"You mean maybe a girlfriend or something? I wish it was that simple, but instinct tells me it isn't."
"Very wise. Tell me, do you have any photographs of the deceased prior to death?"
Graham flipped open his notebook and extracted a creased photograph of the industrial plant's smelting staff.
"He's the one to the side."
Dr. Lecter smoothed it out and peered down at it.
"I believe, Will, that his father used to beat him. Look at the way he shies away from contact with the large fellow next to him. His smile is slack, and his eyes are sour. He's watching the small blonde woman in the centre. He wants to hurt her. He remembers the nights lying awake listening to discordant screams from below. The days spent in adolescent despair, rejected by the girls after high school football rallies. His first love lost, he knows now what he believes he must do to keep them in his power."
The delivery of this diagnosis left Graham with chills. The lilting poetry of the description was disturbing, but gave Graham a vivid image of the victim.
"You can tell all of that from a photograph?" he ventured finally, forcing himself to meet the good doctor's gaze.
"It's a gift. Like your fear. Yes, I can tell you are afraid. You step across the threshold of madness each time you walk over a crime scene. Trust your fear, Will. It will serve you."
Lecter's hungry eyes bore into him. Graham fought the urge to fidget.
"Is there anything else you can tell me, Dr. Lecter?"
"He had a lover. She probably left him recently. A professional woman with a measure of style, and perhaps artistry. I predict that her income was about to become higher than his."
"Thanks, doctor. I'll get back to you with our information," his body creaking wearily, Graham labouriously stood and started for the exit.
"You're welcome." Dr. Lecter tilted his head in a catlike gesture as he stood politely. "Will, before you leave, may I ask you a personal question?"
Graham paused at the door, and turned to face the lean, wiry man with his cunning eyes.
"Do you dream much?"
Graham carefully debated for a moment on how he would compose his answer, and then decided that succinctness would serve him best. He couldn't explain it, but to omit the content of his nightly terrors seemed like it would be less hazardous to his health.
"All the time."
Graham left, his worn black shoes devoid of shine, silent on the hardwood floors. Dr. Lecter returned to his seat and shifted the case file to the side. Pulling open a drawer, he extracted an antique telephone, and began to twist the dial one handed. After a few rings, the annoying whine of a secretary met his ears. He winced, but then fought back the urge to start verbally dissecting whatever specimen this was.
"I would like to speak to Gabriel Bath."
Eagle Investigations was situated in a backwater ghetto down the river from Clarice's apartment complex. The towers of down town New York seemed somewhat distant from here, and the vicinity was an immediate departure from the budding gentry where Clarice lived despite its close proximity. However, the inside of the office space was far more personable- there were no cubicles, but a grouping of desks under a series of skylights. The carpet underfoot was a muddy brown, and the majority of the furniture was mismatched, but comfortable looking and free of rents. Laptop illuminated the young faces of dedicated people, disheartened by the FBI, no longer charmed by the police force. Here, they were given the opportunity to do good work and advance without suppressing their ideals. There was nothing orthodox about Eagle, and it got results.
The company was started by former Detective Jaime Rodriguez, a disenchanted ex-con whose hardline policies and disregard for suspect rights had resulted in his permanent suspension from the Chicago PD and a three year stint in Joliet. During his incarceration, the large African/Cuban passed his time with mail order college courses, and achieved an applied science degree in private investigation. He consumed vast amounts of psychological literature and practiced Tai Chi in his five by eight cell. He had met Clarice Starling two days after she took up residence in New York: she had been tearing down 5th Avenue after a mugger who had stolen her leather side bag. Rodriguez, who at the time had been waiting for the bus, halted the incident by cuffing the unfortunate thief around the ears with his two bearlike hands. The man had dropped like a stone, and a winded Starling offered her thanks. The two had set to talking, and when Rodriguez discovered Starling's identity, a beautiful friendship was on the verge of commencing. He offered her a job which she gratefully accepted, and promised her leeway to work on the case that the FBI would just as soon forget. Plus, he liked her, and she liked him- she'd made it clear that work and play were separate, and he'd made her a happy woman by confiding that he wasn't interested in her, or any other woman, for that matter.
"Listen, Starling, catch 5. It's Herman in records," Rodriguez boomed from his office door.
"Thanks, R," she called back without slowing her pace.
Starling waved to a few people as Graham tailed her to a desk situated in the corner. A large number of photographs had been stapled to cardboard presentation stands. Some were of Hannibal Lecter, ranging from newspaper coverage for citations in psychological advancements, to tabloid headers, mug shots, and finally, possible sightings- none of which looked promising.
"Grab a chair. The conference room is over through there, and there's a kitchen through that door," Clarice said, waving a hand in a vague direction. Graham slid one of the stray leather chairs up to the opposite side of the desk, a shiver of discomfort running down his spine as those same cold blue eyes with their maroon specs of light stared down at him from a hundred different photographic windows.
Clarice snatched the phone up out of its cradle and punched the line. Graham listened intently to the one sided conversation as he studied one of the more gruesome photographs- that of the former head of the Justice Department, Paul Krendler. The man's cranial cap had been removed, and his brain, a bloody wrinkled gob of grey matter, was made obscenely visible by the scrutinising FBI flashbulb.
"Are you absolutely positive? What about hospitals in Mexico? No records anywhere of a missing hand. No, I guess not. Well, thanks anyway, Herman, I owe you some bagels."
Clarice hung up with a click, and stared at the phone with frustration.
"Clarice, if you don't mind my asking, why are you so sure that he's still in country?"
She glanced up at Graham, and didn't say anything for a moment. Then she pulled open one of her desk drawers, and removed a glossy colour photograph. It depicted an oddly positioned dead starling. The reflection of the camera could be seen in its dead eyes.
"It's a dead bird, Clarice. Sad, but hardly something to get worked up over."
"Look at the claws."
Graham squinted, holding the photograph closer to his face. A small blue flower could be seen clutched in the minute claws of the bird.
"What is that? That flower?"
"It's a forget-me-not."
Graham set the photo down on the scratched blotter and muttered, "Jesus."
"He waited until the FBI closed down the case on him. He wants me to know that he's still here, and he's waiting for me to find him. I'm just having a hell of a lot of trouble at the moment."
Clarice propped her elbows on her desk and pressed her forehead into her palms.
"What was that about Mexican hospitals?" Graham asked, indicating the phone as he began start compiling a mental dossier on the case.
"When he..when Lecter escaped the last time, he cut off his own hand."
"Romantic." Graham interjected wryly.
"Anyway, I was really doped up at the time, so I forgot to report it. When I finally remembered it and went to call it in, they basically told me to shut up about it. The bureaucrats weren't interested in pursuing him, not after Krendler. They never added it to the profile."
"You think that after he split...he did what? Went to a hospital to have his hand surgically reattached?
"Maybe. I don't know. There absolutely no records in any hospitals here, Canada, or Mexico that show a man came in for appendage repair in any time the last year."
"Maybe he didn't bother trying to get it fixed. Is there any reason to believe otherwise?"
Starling stared at her blotter, and fingered a burn mark in the middle.
"I don't think he would've gone without his hand if he could help it. One handed, he's more distinctive. Plus, he becomes less mobile. Remember, he has a comprehensive knowledge of medical procedures. He'd know that he'd have to keep his own hand on ice, and he'd have about a 24 hour time frame."
"So he would've hitched a ride back to DC, somehow. Maybe there was an ATV stashed in the woods, something like that?"
"We thought bicycle, but that's too...pedestrian."
"Maybe we should cast the net wider. You're overlooking personal acquaintances. Did he know anyone in DC who might've helped him out?"
"He's a sadistic, psychopathic serial killer, who would..." Clarice trailed off in the middle of her diatribe. "Oh my god?"
"What? What is it?"
"We gotta go. We have to go back to DC."
Barney Jackson found that the best things came to him through quiet cooperation. When asked for something, he generally gave it without question, providing it wasn't too large or unusual a request. He enjoyed making people happy. This quiet contemplative methodology served him well when was an orderly at the mental institution. For all he knew, his polite deference to Dr. Hannibal Lecter was the only reason he was alive right now. Now an intern at Washington General, he found that simplicity cut down the stress levels most medical students suffered on a daily basis. This, in turn, made him a far more skillfull physician. He hoped that the means by which he had paid for medical school were not begrudged by the good doctor, but he didn't think they would be. Lecter probably found the idea amusing, and trusted Barney not to waste his ambition by becoming anything less than brilliant. Another contributing factor to Barney's continuing quality of life as one absent from the missing persons list.
When Clarice Starling and a scar-faced stranger showed up at his doorstep past three am, he was not only prepared to cooperate, he had been expecting them for quite some time.
"Agent Starling. Or Miss Starling, I guess it is now. I've been waiting for you."
"Barney, this is Will Graham, he's a friend of mine."
"How do you do?" Barney said politely in his measured voice, his dark countenance humble and accommodating. "Come on in, we've got a lot to discuss."
"You knew we were coming?" Graham asked, glancing around at the shabby, but clean ground floor apartment. An owl-shaped wall clock chimed 3:30.
"Yes sir, Mr. Graham. I knew Miss Starling would be along any day now."
"How'd you know that, Barney?" Starling asked as she took the proffered seat on the couch. Graham chose to remain standing, but Barney sat back in his chair, adjusting the collar of his slightly blood stained scrubs.
"When Dr. Lecter showed up here with one hand in an ice chest, I figured you had something to do with it. Later he told me I was free to call the police."
"You sewed his hand back on?" Graham asked. "You weren't afraid of him?"
"Dr. Lecter has always been civil to me. I came home from work and found him standing just where you are, looking at my diplomas. He said he needed my help, but would understand if I didn't want to give it. I told him it would be right uncivil of me not to. Didn't bother going to the police, 'cause they wouldn't be no use anyway. You know how they are. Didn't want to give him a reason to dislike me."
"Did he say anything else, Barney? Anything about me?" Clarice asked avidly.
"Well, funny you should ask. I tried to get in touch with you a month later, but the Bureau said you'd resigned. Dr. Lecter left you a tape, under the magazine there."
Baffled, Clarice moved the National Geographic aside from the coffee table and lifted a regular compact audio tape, holding it as if it were a hot coal. This was a familiar feeling, very similar to the excited apprehension that had seized her when she had first received a letter from Dr. Lecter in the Behavioural Sciences evidence basement.
"Barney," she said softly. "May I use your stereo?"
"Certainly, Miss Starling. It's just here, I'll put it in. I haven't listened to it before now, it being not my business."
Graham could see Clarice visibly shiver. There was something more personal between her and Hannibal Lecter, something he had not been privy to. The exchange of information that had passed between him and the doctor was a game of wills, meaningless when it came to real life circumstances. Lecter had already proven that he would kill Graham given the opportunity. But for Starling he had very nearly sacrificed his own left hand. What possible reason could he have? What twisted affection did he feel for her that caused him to jeopardize his own safety?
Graham couldn't pin it down, but something about that fact bothered him greatly. Was it a boon, a tool they could use to lure the tiger into the trap? Or was it a liability?
Guess I'll find out.
Barney pulled out a Queen tape and tossed it onto the coffee table. Carefully, he slipped the unmarked cassette into the stereo, closed it, and pressed the 'play' button. A moment of static, bated breath, and then the sibilant tones rippled through the room.
"Hello, Clarice. Has the screaming ceased? Do the orange slices taste any fresher in your mouth? I didn't think so. But I digress.
You have found this tape because your unceasing determination to do The Right Thing and fulfill the demands of so-called justice have motivated your intellect. I am of the opinion that it could be better spent, but then, our last meeting wouldn't have been half as entertaining. Blood stains are hard to wash out, aren't they?
If you are utilizing your resources, you will have enlisted the help of Will Graham. Know that he joins you at the risk of two individuals that are very close to him. You should feel flattered- I know I would.
"On that note, Will, the suburbs are full of terribly conspicuous people. I'm pleased that Willy has made such an admirable career choice, though his taste in music could use fine tuning. Molly's associates are of such charming character. Red hair suits her. I took the liberty of purchasing you some better aftershave, which you may find in locker 1279 at Union Station."
"Clarice, even in these functional times, you can still find comfort in fine quality footwear. I know you're not lacking in funds. Thoraby's Boutique ought to serve you nicely, they have a broad selection of Gucci leather. Remember our first meetings, Clarice? I know you do. I'd venture to say you think of them often. Think of them now. You're always in my thoughts, little Starling. Thank Barney for me- I appreciate his discretion. Arrivederci."
The audio ceased and the buzz of unrecorded tape proceeded to fill the room. Clarice exhaled a breath she wasn't aware she had been holding.
"Graham, if you want to bail out now..."
Graham sat down abruptly.
"I think he's reaching. Molly's hair is brunette now. He's not on to them."
Barney cocked his head. "Wonder what he meant by locker 1279."
"What do you mean?" Clarice asked shakily. The others didn't know it, but the abstractions Lecter's insidious voice had brushed upon had touched deep seated nerves and rubbed them raw. She felt exposed. She wrapped her arms around herself.
"Well, the lockers at Union Station only go up to 1000."
Graham frowned. "Clarice?"
"Huh?" she blinked at them like a deer in the headlights. "Sorry?"
"You've got more experience with Lecter than I do...can you make sense of any of this?"
"Sometimes he would play word games, but not with numbers."
"Dr. Lecter once talked about the universal language of code...hang on," Barney wandered into his kitchen and returned with a notebook in one hand. "Jung's theory on symbolic language. He mentioned that many codes are based on the basic connection of letters and numbers. I took this down for the psychology class at Berkley:
"I once came across a patient during my internship who spoke in only in numerical terms. He had spent so much time translating code for a military operation during Desert Storm that the stress became unbearable. He became catatonic for months- when he returned to consciousness, he spoke in numbers and nothing else. The poor fellow's distress increased quite exponentially when he realized no one could comprehend anything he said. His background as a code-breaker made it apparent that there was a way to break the code of his speech, and if I could so, it would be a significant step in effecting a cure for his particular psychosis."
"Numbers and letters..." Graham trailed off, frowning. Clarice pulled a small writing pad from her inner pocket. The two men bent their heads to look over her shoulder as she wrote out 1-2-7-9, quickly scribbled the alphabet and began to count under her breath. After a moment, she came up with the letters 'ABGI'.
"Pardon me, Miss Starling, but I can't say that makes a whole lot of sense." Barney said morosely, looking sideways at the piece of paper.
"Well, we'll try it later."
"What the hell was he talking about, footwear?" Graham wondered aloud, borrowing Clarice's notepad and flipping absently through it.
"Just something he said at the Baltimore hospital. He said I had a good bag, but cheap shoes."
"He had some discriminating tastes, did Dr. Lecter." Barney interjected, going back to the stereo to remove the tape. "He showed up here asking if I was up for some micro surgery, he was wearing a fine tuxedo and silk shirt. Thing must've cost more than my rent."
"Thoraby's. I've never heard of a Thoraby's Boutique, have you?" Graham asked.
Clarice shook her head. "No, but I'm no paragon of apparel. Barney?"
"Can't afford Gucci on my salary."
"I hate to be the one to say it, but back to the drawing board."
The plane ride back to New York was uneventful and dreary. Graham toyed with his laptop computer, trying to pick up an internet signal, while Clarice tried in vain to get some sleep. After a few hours, she finally voiced a nagging inquiry.
"What did Lecter say about the shoe store, Thoraby's?"
"I haven't been able to find any 'Thoraby's Boutique' anywhere, Clarice."
"No no. What did he say...after that."
Graham recalled the words, his photographic memory serving him well. "A broad selection of Gucci leather."
"Where is Gucci's North American headquarters?"
Graham keyed the laptop and hummed for a minute as he rolled down the FAQ.
"685, 5th Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY...10022," he added as an afterthought.
"Well, they probably have a list of shoe wholesalers, so maybe Thoraby's is on the list."
"We'll check them out tomorrow. Get some sleep, huh?"
But every time she closed her eyes, the vision of Lecter's cruel kiss played over and over in her mind's eye.