He'd been described as many things over the years, both pre and post-incarceration. Some were complimentary, others far from it. His being a fool or acting dumb, however, had never been among them. If those who praised his intellect could only see him now, camped out and spying like a schoolboy. Not that he'd ever had much opportunity to enjoy life as a schoolboy. No sense dwelling on that, though. The past belonged compartmentalized just so in his memory palace. Memories needed to be accessible but not easily so as to avoid the risk they'd bleed into his every day thoughts.
He wasn't sure why it bothered him, seeing her out socially. He had never been prone to jealousy. There was always someone else if the woman he was with failed to keep his interest for very long. That was usually the case. There'd been only one who held his attention for any length of time no matter how much time she spent in his presence.
And here she was, kissing another man good night. He resigned himself to the fact she was young, attractive and single - not that he considered her to be the latter of the listed qualities. She had a right - so she thought - to date. The fact she'd met him here, driving her own vehicle, instead of having him pick her up spoke volumes. At least to Lecter.
He followed at a distance as she drove the light traffic-ridden streets of D.C., through Arlington to the duplex she shared with another agent and her friend, Ardelia Mapp. It was Ms. Mapp's presence that prevented Lecter from doing what he'd like to do. Call on her personally. He'd tried to lure her out of the house to no avail.
He continued to his hotel after she'd made the turnoff to her street. He palmed the cell phone he'd come by. He hadn't killed for it, but it had not been legally procured either. Cell phones could be traced, not that he believed she would actually do that.
This wasn't the first time he'd visited, watched her. It was the first time he'd taken steps to enable himself to actually have contact with her. Even if it was impersonal.
He entered the hotel through the parking garage, avoiding the lobby as much as possible. Coming here was the epitome of recklessness and yet he enjoyed it, knowing he was this close and still able to go undetected.
Off the elevator on his floor, he entered her telephone number into the cell phone as he made his way to his room. It wasn't the quality he usually went for, but he figured some caution was warranted while here. And it was a comfortable room. Of course, he had a whole new appreciation for comfort and spaciousness after his untimely incarceration.
He timed hitting the SEND button with opening the door, letting it close on its own behind him when he heard the ringing. It hadn't been that long since he'd seen her turn off to the duplex she shared with Agent Mapp, but when two rings turned into three he wondered if she had gone right to sleep.
Or turned around and gone out again. He doubted that, but anything was possible with his girl.
She answered on the fifth ring, just as he was about to hang up. She sounded out of breath, as if she'd rushed to the phone once she heard it ringing. Her place wasn't that big. He'd been inside of it once or twice. So, he imagined she had either been in the kitchen or the bathroom.
"Good evening," he said simply. "I'd apologize for waking you, but I know you don't fall asleep that fast."
"You haven't been home that long."
This was met by silence on her end. He could picture her, standing until now but having to take a seat. She would process the fact he had been close enough to watch her goings on and she hadn't been aware of him.
"What do you want?"
"Well, that should be rather obvious. Evidently, I've caught you off guard this evening. So, I'll be blunt. To talk with you, of course."
"Why not now?"
"If you were watching me tonight you know why."
He chuckled at that, kicking off his shoes before reclining on his bed. He slid an arm behind his head. "Come now, Clarice, you don't need an impromptu telephone call from me and how it might affect you to tell you that your relationship with Dr. Pilcher is doomed to fail."
"He's a nice man."
"Of course he is. I wouldn't think otherwise about someone you chose to spend your time with."
"And where do you fit in?"
"I didn't realize we'd spent time together already. Our time together could hardly be construed as being your choice."
"The last one was."
"Mm," he said simply, letting his eyes close. "Tell me what you're wearing."
"Excuse me?" He smiled at the drawl that came out when she sounded indignant.
"You're roots are showing, SPAN TITLE"my dear"am liebsten/SPAN."
There was a pause again. He imagined she was trying to figure out what he'd just said. It wasn't often he resorted to his native tongue, but once in a while it happened.
"As are yours."
"TouchИ." He smiled again. "Are you going to answer my question?"
"Which question was that?"
"What are you wearing?"
"I'm not sure I should."
"You could leave me to guess. I might dress you far differently than you ever would."
She laughed, sucking in a breath. "Sweats, a tank top, and my slippers."
"I'm surprised. I didn't picture you as the slippers type."
"My feet get cold."
"Were I there I could fix that."
"Something tells me you'd do more than warm my feet."
"And your caller, has he done more than warm them?"
"No, he hasn't even seen them without shoes on."
"Neither have I."
"You haven't had the chance."
"And he has?"
"Not for lack of effort on his part."
"Yet you keep him at bay. Is he wolf to your lamb?"
"No, he's not. If anyone's the wolf in this picture┘"
"Now, now." He chuckled softly. "So, they're bothering you tonight?"
"You're not paying attention. Are you distracted?"
"I could be trying to do my job."
"You wouldn't do that." He heard her sigh. "Your feet, Clarice. We were discussing your feet."
"I hate wearing heels."
"You wear them for work."
"Well, sure, but those are low heels or flats. These were higher tonight."
"To show off your shapely legs."
"They are not."
"I will not waste what little time we have arguing with you. Do you think I am uneducated about such things?"
"Of course not. Your knowledge about such matters far exceeds mine."
"I think you're giving me far too much credit, but you're probably at least partially correct." He sat up then, heels resting on the rug with his legs stretched out in front of him. He poured himself a drink. "I could rub them for you."
"I think I would like that."
"Just say the word, Clarice."
"It's the after that scares me."
"You think I would force myself on you."
"No!" She took a deep breath and laughed through it. "That's the part that scares me."
"It's not that frightening."
"For you! You have nothing to lose."
"On the contrary. My entire existence is at risk. I will not get a chance again as the one presented to me if I found myself in that situation once more. I know this. So, my remaining free is of great importance to me."
"Then why are you here? Why are you watching me go out on dates?" She sounded flustered. Was she afraid for him? Or herself?
"I felt the need to check on you. To ensure you were doing all right. And you shouldn't be going out on dates. Your heart is not free for another man to win. It's already been captured."
"I admit there are some complications."
"Complications? Is that what you call them?"
"All right, obstacles of a rather serious nature. We will overcome those."
"I don't think so."
He chuckled, taking a sip of his drink.
"What are you drinking?"
"I didn't think you drank hard liquor."
"There are times. And it's a good Scotch whisky."
"Worried we have your wine interests flagged?"
"No," she said simply. "I should," she added almost as if she hadn't thought about it before now.
"I'm a man of many tastes."
"Nothing but the best."
"Of course," he said with a wide smile. "So, why then do you think I could settle for less than you?"
"Back to your feet."
"I think you're entirely too interested in my feet."
"They're a part of you so that goes without saying."
"Are you always this flattering?"
"When the mood strikes me." He set the hotel-issued tumbler down and returned to his reclining position on the bed. "I'd start with your toes."
"Of course. Where else would I start?"
"I don't know."
"You've never had your feet rubbed before?"
"Only by my own hands."
"Hmm, you really need to indulge yourself from time to time."
"Yes, on a new agent's salary."
"Let's not start on finances just now. I prefer to focus instead on the physical."
"Yes. You. And my touching you. If that's all right with you, our time on this call is limited after all."
Silence. And then.
"So, you'd start with my toes┘"
"Yes, and proceed to work over the length of your foot down to your heel. Top and bottom. If you have lotion nearby, I could apply that as well."
She groaned softly.
"You know it does."
He set that aside for later. "One foot taken care of, I'd switch to the other one."
"I can almost feel it."
"I've touched you, you know what that feels like."
"Are your blinds open?"
"My drapes are. It would be nice to think we were looking at the moon together."
"We'll never be able to do that. Not in the true sense."
"Never is a very long time. Now." He said, glancing out the window to the moon. "From your feet I'd be unable to stop there, of course."
"Of course," she said, sounding amused.
"So, I'd move to your ankles, your calves, your knees to your thighs. Slowly, of course, I'd take my time and get to know how every inch of your legs feel."
"And you'd stop there?"
"Would you ask me to stop?"
"You know the answer to that."
"Very well. Then I wouldn't stop. You'd be dressed far differently than you are tonight."
"Of course." There was that amusement again.
"Are you finding this funny?"
"No, just┘ Odd."
"That is a word that suits our relationship well."
"At least I can go out with Pilcher."
"You could go out with me as well."
"At what cost?"
He sighed heavily. "Your freedom, but only the freedom you believe you have at the moment. You aren't really free of me, Clarice, no matter the distance between us. And you won't ever truly be."
"It's just a piece of metal, Clarice. You've kept your heart guarded for so long. Are you willing to throw a chance at having a home, a family away?"
"A family? With you? You've never struck me as the white picket fence, two and a half kids, and Fido out back in the dog house type."
"You know what I mean. We'd be a family."
"I'm not ready for that."
"Which is why I'm talking to you with distance between us."
"Not that much distance if you saw me earlier."
"Would you prefer I leave you alone?"
"I can't answer that."
He chuckled. "I suppose I should apologize for putting you in such a quandary."
"I'm just not sure I can be intimate with you."
"We've already been intimate."
"You know what I mean."
"Sex does not equate intimacy, Clarice. I am closer to you than to anyone I've had sex with."
"By your choice."
"I wouldn't know."
"Oh," he said simply, not expecting that answer.
"I've been rather busy putting myself through school and getting into the Academy. I haven't had time for dates."
"You don't have to go on a date to have sex."
"Maybe you don't. And if that's true, my estimation of you has dropped considerably."
"And Dr. Pilcher? Where does he fit in while you attempt to claw your way through the red tape that is your dream of a successful career?"
"I don't know. He doesn't push me."
"And I am?"
"Yes. No. Sort of. You shouldn't call me like this. It's not right."
"It puts you between a rock and a hard place. If you tell someone I won't call again, which I'm sure is tempting."
"No, that's not it. It confuses me. All of my life I've had a plan."
"And it didn't include me."
"And how is that dream working for you, Clarice? Any big cases lately handed your way?"
"You already know there haven't been or you wouldn't ask with that mocking tone of yours."
"I would never mock you."
She scoffed. "Right."
"So what's holding you here?"
"Yet you've had a rather lengthy conversation with me."
"I'm not perfect."
He sighed softly. "You're as close as I've found."
"I'm sorry if I ruined the conversation."
"You did not."
"I think you wanted something from me I can't give you."
"You gave me more than I anticipated. Next time I won't stop at your legs."
"Maybe next time I'll be prepared for more than that."
"Are you going to see him again?"
"Is he going to disappear if I do?"
"Are you planning on sleeping with him?"
"Then I think he's safe from disappearing. For now."
"You wouldn't really, would you?"
"If he hurt you┘"
"I'm an adult."
"That does not prevent you from getting hurt and it certainly won't stop people from taking advantage of you."
"Good night, Clarice. Pleasant dreams."
"Are you still there?"
"Yeah, I think I might actually have some pleasant ones tonight."
"Whenever you're ready for me to insure you do, please let me know."
"That's better than a never."
"You said yourself never is a long time."
He disconnected the call. If he was smart, he'd get rid of the phone tonight and come by another one. He didn't think she'd betray him, but she was confused and seemingly unwilling to admit yet what her feelings for him were. He shut the phone off, sat up once more and finished off the last of his whisky. He slid his shoes on once again, realizing he could not underestimate the Bureau in tracing her calls. Of course, they'd spoken long enough that were they actually tracing her calls they would have burst through the door already. The phone service would most likely be canceled in the next twenty-four hours anyway.
Clarice sat in bed, staring at the phone. They'd hung up at least ten minutes ago. She couldn't believe she had an actual conversation with him. A very civil - and personal - conversation. One about his rubbing her feet and the fact she was inexperienced no less. She rolled her eyes with a shake of her head, coming out of her thoughts at the sound of a knock at her bedroom door. She set the phone back in its cradle and got up to answer the door.
It was Ardelia. Of course it was. Whom was she expecting? Paul Krendler to burst through her door? Lecter had already dropped off Justice's radar to some extent. Wherever he was, he wasn't leaving a bloody trail of death and destruction with missing organs in his wake. He'd done his damage in Memphis and no one had seen anything resembling his MO since.
She wanted to believe lack of his MO meant he wasn't out there killing. She had to believe that, because whether she meant to or not she just let him into her life for real tonight. He wouldn't stop at one call. She wasn't stupid enough to believe he would stop at phone calls. He would continue to call her, to woo and charm her into meeting him somewhere.
What was more, she wanted to go. If he'd asked her tonight she'd have gone. She was so tired. She was losing the game. She was in a man's world, had proven she was tough enough to belong there but she'd broken some unspoken rule during the Buffalo Bill case. That and she was sure people didn't believe she had no interest in Hannibal Lecter. She'd told no one of his phone call to her congratulating her on achieving agent status.
She was a pariah. Maybe not in the same context he was, but she didn▓t belong and was beginning to realize she never would. Not unless she started playing the game. She refused to compromise herself to do that. She was better and deserved better than that. She had to know her achievements were based on merit not on her dating or sleeping with someone.
"Hey, Clarice, I saw your light on. I was going to watch a movie. Care to join me?"
"I have nothing else planned."
"You sure? You look a little out of it?"
"Nah, I'm fine."
"Bad date with Pilcher?"
"No, it was a nice time. I always have a nice time with him."
And that was the problem, she was no longer sure she could settle for nice. One phone call and she was questioning her needs, her plan. She was so doomed.