Originally, I've written this story in Russian and then I translated it into English.
Many thanks to Major Bachman for being the first victim... I mean - reader of this translated version, for correcting mistakes and making lots of helpful suggestions.
He was aware of being followed. By that one – wearing a grey anorak, big sunglasses and a cap with some unclear logo – who was chasing him from Gallatin Field, then awaiting in a cafe across the street near Montana State University, then 'unnoticeably' driving after him through the city. The lack of professionalism, which was more than compensated by importunity and persistence, already began to bore the chased 'victim'...
Dr Hannibal Lecter, 36 years old, hardly ever left Baltimore and the whole East Coast when being in the States. The only reason for him to go this far would be some interesting psychiatric case. And it was. One acquaintance of his, a professor from the Psychology Faculty of Montana University, wrote to him about a young man being obsessed by changing his appearance, who had had more than twenty plastic surgery operations on different parts of his body. An addiction to plastic surgery was one of the main topics of Dr Lecter's scientific interest, so he took the first flight to Bozeman without delay.
Everything was going just fine, except that glaring and rude chasing. Dr Lecter didn't wish to leave it in such a condition. On his way to the airport he considered that he could well miss his flight home and take the next one. Dr Lecter's car turned off the main road and drove into a wide waste, overgrown with some bushes. A small clay-banked river was flowing not far away and on a hill one could see a massive two-storey building of red brick, looking like an odd mixture of school and hospital. Very little grass that could be easily explained by a season – the middle of winter. Yet the bushes, some dead, some with only thin darkened leaves, interlaced tightly while growing, making a kind of quick-fence. It blocked the vision from the road. And there was no living soul around. Fine, Dr Lecter thought, just fine.
Less than ten minutes passed before the follower appeared in sight. From that moment on everything went fast. Dr Lecter rushed at him, keeping his knife at the ready. The adversary was stronger than the Doctor had expected; however, he got a stab in the stomach after a short struggle; the man began to sink. Dr Lecter helped the adversary's body down to the ground carefully, in order not to stain his clothes with blood. After that he quickly scanned the area: everything remained empty and quiet. He estimated the distance to the red-brick building and considered the scene was impossible to be noticed.
Meanwhile, the failed pursuer bled to death. Dr Lecter carefully took the contents out of the man's inside pocket and was slightly surprised to find a private detective's certificate. He also found a local passport, a driver's license, and a wallet with 300 dollars and a small family photo in it. Putting everything into his coat pocket, Dr Lecter decided to consider these new circumstances later. The thought that somebody sent a sleuth, even such an unskillful one – this thought didn't worry the Doctor at all. He took a length of canvas out of his trunk, quickly wrapped the dead body in it, and then put the corpse back into the trunk, where besides many other useful things he was keeping a good spade.
He drove off a number of miles from the murder place and buried the detective's body in the forest. After that he washed his hands in a toilet at a gas station, and examined his clothes for stains of blood or soil.
At that very moment he realized what happened.
It had been in his jacket pocket. It wasn't there anymore.
His sister Mischa's bracelet was gone.
Again, with care and calm, Hannibal checked up his things: all pockets, a bag, a briefcase with papers. Then the car cabin.
No bracelet. Anywhere.
Hannibal recalled his short fight with the detective. Might it be that during the struggle the man got hold on the bracelet? If so, was it still gripped in a dead detective's hand, or was it still lying on the waste?
Hannibal knew he had to have the bracelet back. Not only because it was the only thing left after his sister. It also was a physical reminder of what happened. About Mischa's death. About his revenge for it.
Hannibal's memory had a unique quality that allowed him to visualise a picture in the smallest details, so that Hannibal could always come back to those pleasant moments of killing his enemies. However, all the vivid memories were not enough, and Hannibal prefered to keep something to hold in hand. Mischa's bracelet. He could not let it be lost.
Dr Lecter started the engine and returned to the place where he had killed the detective. Surface examination told him nothing at all. Then he put on a pair of linen gloves, squated down and began to look though the soil lumps and grass remains, in order to make sure the bracelet hadn't been trampled into the ground or got tangled somewhere. At the same time Dr Lecter was trying not to reveal blood stains he had covered with dry leaves just before he left this place. At that very moment he heard a child's voice:
Hannibal raised his head. Three steps from him, standing on a rising ground, there was a girl. She looked like nine or ten years old. Short hair put under a deep blue knitted cap; her eyes, serious and even sad, were not childlike; she was watching him attentively with those eyes.
"Mister, did you lose something?" she asked, "Maybe this?"
The girl was wearing no gloves, despite a rather chilly day. She raised her hand showing what was lying on it. Mischa's bracelet.
Dr Lecter quickly considered the possible options. Has she seen him an hour ago? If so, what did she exactly notice? And from what distance? Could he possibly convince the girl that everything just seemed to her? What he was going to do if she wouldn't believe? The knife was still inside Dr Lecter's coat pocket. But first of all he had to take Mischa's bracelet.
"Yes," he confirmed, "I lost this. And I see you found it?"
The girl nodded in agreement.
"This is my sister's bracelet," Hannibal explained, "She died long ago, and I keep this little bijou in the memory of her. This bracelet is of the great value for me. Do you understand?"
The girl nodded once more, though didn't hurry to give up the bracelet. There still was a three-step distance between them and Dr Lecter, had he such a desire, could easily grab the girl and stop her mouth. Even if there was someone around, she wouldn't be able to cry for help.
"Did you find it long ago?" he asked.
"No. Just before you arrived. I'm walking here, waiting for Dad. He's a policeman".
Mentioning the police made Dr Lecter alert. Even if there was only a local officer, meeting him at the murder scene didn't seem like a good idea. I'd better get out of here before your Daddy shows up, replied Dr Lecter in his mind but said aloud instead: "Look, I have to go now. Thank you for finding the bracelet, I really appreciate that".
This time he unambiguously stretched out his arm. The girl stepped closer and put Mischa's bracelet in his open hand. They were standing this way for a moment or two: he – bended forward with his arm reached out, and she – on tiptoes, eyes absorbed to the bracelet she was returning. And for a moment, like a flash in his mind, Hannibal felt a sudden impulse to take the girl's hand. Just the same as he used to hold Mischa's little hand.
The moment passed. The bracelet was in the Doctor's pocket again, and a pair of carefully serious eyes was still in front of him. The girl didn't move, somehow standing closer this time. An observer could probably say they looked like they would get into the car and leave together.
Dr Lecter shifted his gaze to the massive red-brick building he noticed the first time.
"What's that over there?" he asked.
The girl shrugged her shoulders without even turning her head.
"That's the Lutheran orphanage", she answered, "Kids who have no family live there".
But this is not about me, her pose, tone of her voice and a turn of her little head were like saying these words.
Dr Lecter's quick glance ran over her old oversized cap, her shabby coat with different buttons, her scratched boots and her gloveless hands. He had no doubts the girl lived in that orphanage. Then, father the policeman was also nothing but a fruit of her imagination.
When the girl noticed Dr Lecter's penetrating glance, she dropped her eyes and shivered as if with cold. Maybe she really was frozen.
The whole picture of her life – whether real or imagined – appeared in front of Dr Lecter's mental sight. Plenty of details could be seen due to his personal experience. He wondered whether this little girl with her unchildlike eyes would be able to imagine what it meant to live in an orphanage established within the walls of your former home. Your former world, from which the only thing left was the child's bracelet in your pocket.
Hannibal felt there's too much for him to stay there any longer, though his face and voice gave no sign of the man's feelings.
"Okay then", he said, looking at the girl with a smile, "Thank you for saving my little treasure. I really have to go. Bye!"
He turned around and headed for his car. The girl remained motionless and speechless as he crossed the distance. Dr Lecter started the car engine and soon after was far away from that place – where he killed the private detective, lost Mischa's bracelet and met the little girl who found it.
And again an unusual thought flashed across Hannibal's mind. He should have left Mischa's bracelet. Should have given it to the girl dressed in the old deep blue cap. Why – he didn't know. It just seemed right.
Another thing was a memory. Hannibal painted the brown and black of the ground and bushes. He brought some drops of white – like Mischa's bracelet and that girl's hands, frozen without gloves. He also added a touch of blue – like her old cap and a piece of winter sky above... It seemed to Hannibal this little picture should remain untouched in his constantly growing Memory Palace.
But then, a measured sound of an engine rumbling, accompanied with soft piano music from loud speakers, led his thoughts to another course. Dr Lecter focused on the plastic surgery addicted patient he examined; afterwards he completed the text of his article for Bulletin of Psychiatry; having finished that, he composed a menu of an upcoming dinner with his collegues from Baltimore. By the time Dr Lecter got to the airport he had the bracelet in his pocket and no thought in his mind. No single thought about what happened during the last two hours.
Nothing except the picture in his Memory Palace.
The girl dressed in the blue cap approached the roadside. She watched Dr Lecter's car disappeared far away. Then she put her frozen hands into her pockets, turned around and went back. She went towards that massive red-brick two-storey building which seemed to her larger then ever before.
She returned several times to the place where she found a beautiful bracelet and met the man who had lost it. She didn't know herself what she was looking for, but came back again and again.
A week later she and the other kids were watching through the window several policemen inspecting the waste near the orphanage. A police dog was sniffing at the ground and nearby bushes, one of the officer's hands were covered with white gloves. For an instant a vague memory of the man ran through the girl's mind. Later the elder children explained: police was looking round that place because of the dead body found in the forest nearby. The younger ones got terrified, especially at nights, and the sisters in the orphanage were angry with that nonsense.
But the girl was not scared. And the reason why she stopped going to the waste was not the murder. The girl just realized the man with the bracelet would never come back again.