Dec. 22, 1992
"Junk, junk, water bill, card for me, junk, coupons, oooh card for you!" Ardelia tossed the junk mail on the kitchen table and held out a slightly bulging envelope. "You think they sent pictures or something for Christmas?"
Clarice took the envelope with some curiosity; she had no one to send her Christmas cards. The return address indicated it had come from the Lutheran Home in Bozeman. Ridiculous. I haven't lived there in nine years, and they decide to send a card now? No.
She had to fight to keep the dawning understanding off her face. There's only one person in the world who might send me a card and need to disguise it.
"Could be pictures, but I doubt it." Clarice shrugged, as though the envelope held no interest, even though her fingers burned to tear it open. More than three months with no word, Doctor? You expected they'd be scanning my mail. "Probably a request for end-of-the-year charity donations. There's never enough money to go around."
"Bummer," Ardelia offered. She added her latest card to the collection on the refrigerator, all addressed to her, all from friends or family wishing her a happy holiday season. "You know you're still welcome to come home with me – heading out tomorrow morning, back Sunday."
"Naw, you deserve to spend time with your folks and everybody without worrying about me, Dee." Clarice gave her roommate her best apologetic smile. "Besides, the whole family thing at Christmas … it's just not me. It's not the same, you know?"
"Yeah, I know." Ardelia gave her a sideways hug. "I gotta get my gifts wrapped. You good?"
"I'm good. Go, go." Clarice made shooing motions with her hands. "I don't want the blame when your nieces and nephews don't get their presents on time."
"If they don't say 'thank you' this year, I'm gonna take the presents right back outta their hands. Greedy little urchins, the lot of 'em." Clarice laughed as Ardelia headed down the hallway to her upstairs apartment. "Why'd my sibs have to be so damn prolific?"
"You know you love 'em all."
"Ain't that the truth."
Ardelia disappeared up the stairs. Clarice sat at the table for a few more minutes, tapping the edge of the envelope lightly against the wood until she heard the floorboards shift as her roommate moved about upstairs. Then she walked – no, don't run, Clarice, show some restraint – into her own space and closed the door behind her.
She found it took effort to regulate her breathing. Nothing on the outer envelope even hinted that it was him, that the doctor had broken his months-long silence, yet she knew it could be no one else.
The living room didn't feel private enough for such communication; she bypassed the plush chairs and headed straight for her bedroom, closing that door, too. Now she was alone, alone in the last place she had seen him, alone enough to remember the feel of his lips and the warmth of his hand sweeping over her back.
She piled the pillows behind her and curled up against the head of the bed. The envelope flap peeled away with help from eager fingers. The contents slid out into her palm.
It was… a Christmas card. A small-town church with a bell tower, snow lightly blanketing the surrounding fields… as traditionally bucolic an image as one might expect on such a card. Clarice half-expected to hear a choir break into Silent Night at any moment.
The card wasn't quite closed; something tucked inside prevented the thin cardstock from lying flat in her palm. She tipped the card, dropping its hidden cargo into her other hand. The card itself merely contained a standard verse and Christmas wishes purporting to be from the Lutheran Home. Clarice let it fall to the comforter. She would take it out to the kitchen later, place it on the refrigerator next to Ardelia's collection, and allay any lingering suspicion.
For now, though, her eyes fixed on the other object – an icy blue envelope with her name precisely centered in flowing script. The paper had a richness to it, a thickness and weight that her fingers rushed to embrace.
Seeing her name in his handwriting again, even not knowing what his message would be, was enough to unleash an emotional cascade. There had been… call it what it is, Clarice… a fear in the back of her mind.
She knew, rationally, that he could not have contacted her immediately. In those first few days, there had been talk of protective custody, concern for her safety, countless discussions with Jack Crawford, and uncomfortable profiling sessions with the rest of the BSU team. But knowing it and feeling it were two entirely distinct entities.
As the weeks passed, it became impossible to ignore the voice that suggested he might have found other interests. Their talks had amused him when his entertainment options had been strictly limited, but now he had the world at his disposal. What need did he have for her?
The envelope in her hands, whatever message it contained, was proof that he hadn't forgotten her.
The flap was sealed with wax, an "L" imprinted in the center. Clarice smiled, tracing it with her finger. So formal, Doctor?
The wax cracked as she lifted the flap and extracted the letter. A single sheet, as usual. Some things never change.
You know, of course, the difficulties inherent in such communication between us. Would it ease your mind to know that you are daily in my thoughts? Perhaps instead it disturbs you. Know this, then: The uncertainties that absence and distance bring into sharp clarity, the thoughts that plague you, plague me also.
I shall not intrude upon you again, Clarice. Correspondence presents a danger to us both, and I would not have you turn to me only because my actions have brought about your downfall in the halls of the FBI. If our relationship is to develop, it must be a positive choice on your part, Clarice.
Lest you think me unaffected, I say to you now, I believe in the power of the music building between us. As of yet, we have heard only the overture. Will you initiate the first steps of Act I, Clarice?
Should you choose to do so, a personal ad on the first of any month in the Times or the International Herald Tribune will find me.
Perhaps Dante best captured the swirl of emotions one cannot entirely suppress. Tutti li mei penser….
I remain, always,
She shook with mingled relief and fear.
My choice. You knew that would make it harder… and ultimately, more meaningful, didn't you, Doctor? You're asking for a leap of faith.
This wasn't an answer she could come to overnight. Too many variables already raced to be the first to draw her attention.
Was the burning under her skin love or mere curiosity? She had always appreciated a challenge. What if it was nothing more than that for both of them? Even now, he might be playing an elaborate game with her disillusionment and death as its final move. No matter how dissatisfied she might be with her career or how alone she might be every damn day, there was no way to hide the fact that walking away would mean putting her life in his hands.
Was it naïve to believe he would accept such a gift gently, with courtesy and grace?
It seems you have some thinking to do, Clarice.
"I guess I do, Doctor."
June 1, 1993
Hannibal Lecter rose with the sun, as was his habit. Breakfast on the balcony gave him ample time to witness the myriad changes in the city below as the light expanded across homes and shops and parks and danced along the river. The view served as a reminder of his freedom.
The Baltimore asylum was nearly nine months behind him, but its effects lingered, an irritant not unlike a grain of sand in one's eye. He lived quietly for now, avoiding old haunts, old behaviors, with meticulous care. Today, his balcony was in Salzburg; its towering baroque beauty was lovely in spring, before the summer brought unwelcome humidity.
At his request, the hotel had left papers for him this morning - the Times and the International Herald Tribune - and he turned his attention to them as he sipped his tea. It was the first of June. He had kept up his customary perusal with faithful attention, though in five months he had yet to receive an answer from the ambitious young FBI agent whose intelligence and beauty had so captivated him.
But today was different. Today, his blood hummed with the promise of excitement. There, in the personals, he found her voice.
Act I awaits. Will you make your entrance?
The phantom taste of her lips sent a current of satisfaction coursing through him as he contemplated this new development. Was she in earnest, or had she turned over his letter to Jack Crawford in a misguided attempt to please her dead father? Mmm. Finding out may be a fun adventure for us both, Clarice.
He rose from the breakfast table, outwardly unhurried but inwardly crackling with energy. There was much to be done.
Note: Although Clarice will have to search out the reference to Dante that the doctor makes in his letter, I'll include it here in the interest of completeness. The opening he quotes, "Tutti li mei penser," comes from La Vita Nuova, the sonnet in Section XIII: Every one of my thoughts speaks of Love: / and they have in them such great variance, / that one makes me wish for his ruler-ship, / another claims that his worth is nothing, / another by hoping brings me sweetness, / another makes me weep constantly, / and they only agree in asking pity, / trembling with the fear that is in the heart.
Author's note: Thank you to everyone who followed along on this adventure, particularly those who chose to share their thoughts and reactions with me through their comments and reviews. I hope it's been an entertaining ride. If you're interested in continuing, stick around and join me for the sequel, Playing House.