The West Virginian countryside is quite magnificent. Price's rusty Ford putters through thick, green foliage and along the mirror-like lakes and rivers. She can smell the wet earth and the dew dripping off the leaves. After miles of tedious driving, she finally arrives at a small cottage, tucked between two thick trees.
She knocks on the door and is almost immediately answered by a woman. Her graying hair is tied at the base of her neck and soft wrinkles crowd her tired face but she smiles at Price anyway.
"Detective Price," she holds out her hand and Price takes it. "So nice to meet you. Please, come in."
The house is cold and quiet. Because it is so very dark and dismal, Price shivers and pulls her sweater closer. Starling leads her into the parlor, where two steaming mugs keep each other company on a mahogany coffee table.
"Sit, sit," Starling motions for Price to sit on the sofa while she sinks into an old, worn armchair. Price reaches for a mug, and finding it as hot as she'd hoped, eagerly takes a sip. "I understand you are on the Lecter case." It is more of a statement than a question. Price sets the cup of what seemed to be water sprinkled with a few tea leaves, not her particular favorite.
"Yes. Ah, my superior, Agent Gordon, advised me to speak with you." She pauses. "You would know the most about him."
Starling looks at her finger which is tracing the mouth of her cup, round and round. She sucks in a deep breath and looks up at Price, plastering a very fake, very tight smile across her pretty features. "I suppose that is true. I hope I can help. I want him caught just as badly as the next person."
Of course you do. Price matches the retired agents' fake smile. "I'm sure." She runs her fingers through her thin, brown hair. "I just need to know your experience with him. What you did, what you said. How you acted around him. He was really fond of you," she lets that sink in and Starling can't meet her gaze. "I need to get close to him, too."
Suddenly, Starlings head jerks up and her sad eyes flash. "You know that isn't the only way to catch him."
"I do. But I also know that it would be the easiest. You had him. You had him time after time but you never made that oh, so very important call. You couldn't. I can. I will."
"I never had that chance. He's a very dangerous man, Dr. Lecter is. He had me at every turn."
"But you almost had him? You were close?"
"Yes, I was, but-"
"But he got inside your head, didn't he?" She smiles as Starling squirms like a bug under a microscope. When she regains her composure, she looks Price dead in the eye.
"Margaret? Margaret, I cannot warn you strongly enough to stop now, before you get in too deep. This man, I don't know what you think of him, but I know that he is dangerous. Yes, he got inside my head. I didn't pay attention and that proved to be a fatal mistake, but what I was doing, trying to find him, was an even bigger mistake." Price opens her mouth to retaliate, but Starling won't let herself be interrupted again. "He would know if you were trying to con him. He may have aged. But I have absolutely no doubt that his mind is still as sharp as it was twenty years ago."
Price is silent for a moment, thinking about what Starling said. Much to her reluctance, she finds herself agreeing with her argument. It makes sense, that he would catch on to her true intentions. He is a genius, after all.
"You…you're right, I guess." Price frowns at herself as if disappointed at herself for thinking such a thing.
"Yes, I am." Starling smiles a sad smile. She knows the want and the desire of the hunt. She knows how Price feels. "I always think about how truly lucky I am to be alive. Every. Single. Day."
"Well, thank you, Ms. Starling." She stands. "This has been a very…educational…talk. I'd better be on my way, then, hm?"
"Wait," Starlings hand reaches out and grips Price's wrist. Price sits again, waiting. "Margaret, I see quite a bit of me in you. Now, that isn't a good thing. I know for a fact that if, ten years ago, I was in your shoes I wouldn't heed the advice of some old, crazy ex-F.B.I. agent. I would've jumped up and followed that trail until I got killed." She squeezes Price's hand harder. "Just drop this. Please."
Price's eyes flash. She jerks her hand out of the woman's grasp and angrily stands. "Why? So you can have another go? I'm not letting that happen. I have a good head on my shoulders. I would never share personal facts about myself with a maniac psychiatrist." She barks, her back to Starling, heading out the door. Her last words before she slams the door shut, "I'm not like you," echo in Starlings ears.
Starling stays quiet for a while, until she is sure that Price is miles away. Only then she allows herself to weep softly into her arms.
"Sir, I'm sorry, but that was a terrible idea."
Detective Price quietly fumes in front of Agent Gordon. He sits there, chubby fingers laced, and frowning. Starling had been asked to contact him and give a report on Price, which she had done, unhappily.
"Why is that, Price? You didn't give the poor lady a chance to talk. You just yelled at her."
"Sir, she wants me to stay away from him. I am stronger than she was. I know what he is. I know-"
"Enough, enough, enough!" He yells, his cheeks and nose turning the color of ripe tomatoes. He slams his fist on the table. "Price, I am damn tired of hearing about 'what you know'. As far as I'm concerned, you don't know shit." As he speaks, his anger slowly leaves him. His voice gradually gets softer and softer until it reaches its normal octave. "I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to dissuade you from this fantastic idea of you single-handedly bring down on of the most dangerous men of the twentieth century."
"But sir-" his hand cuts her off. He holds it up in from of her face, as if shoving the words back down her throat.
"No buts, Price." Sighing, he runs his fingers through whatever hair he has left. "Look, I get it. I really do. But I will not let you go alone."
Her ears perk up. "So I can go?"
"Of course. I'll have to come, too, you know." A voice Price has never heard, slick and smooth, worms its way into the room behind her.
Price turns and is face-to-face with one of the most beautiful creatures she has ever seen. Big, blue eyes fringed with dark, exploding eyelashes travel up and don her body, sizing her up. A full, wide mouth curls into a sexy smirk. Tussled blond hair falls into his eyes.
Despite herself, her heart flutters. Before she knows it, he clears his throat and she notices his outstretched hand, waiting to be shook. Suddenly professional again, she takes it and introduces herself as Meg Price.
"Jacob Barnes. Agent Gordon thinks it best I come along with you to Europe. I hope that will be alright." He smiles a toothpaste-ad smile and then says to Gordon. "Although, he never once told me what a pretty partner he would assign me to. I am grateful." Price feels her ears burn and hurriedly covers them with her hair.
"Oh, Barnes, you charmer, you." Gordon says, a stupid smile on his face. "Price, you're still leaving tomorrow, but Barnes here will keep you company. He's the most capable and jumped at the chance to look for Lecter."
"Yes," Barnes says gallantly. "I look forward to working with such…talent." It almost sounded like a hesitation and right away, Price knew. Like any perceptive person, Price can smell a rat. And although he may be pleasing to the eye, Jacob Barnes smells heavily of the sewer. That was fine with her, though. If all Barnes wanted was a free trip to France, that's what he would get. Just so that she got Lecter.
"As am I," she smiles tightly. "Will that be all sir? Barnes and I have some packing to do."