Twelve years after Jame Gumb, two years passed her latest dramatic experience with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling, thirty-five year old veteran of the FBI, Special Agent Starling to those in the big office, sighed a deep breath as the van rumbled across the pavement in the slow approach to the old abandoned warehouse on Lincoln Street. Once the host of two local shoe-shops, a coca-cola factory, and a Sears Department Store, now was known as the headquarters for the most notorious drug-dealers in Washington DC.
The FBI had good reason to believe it was empty of dealers now as reports and informants concluded all business arrangements were composed and executed in the daylight. These dealers were especially intelligent, for not only did they have the knowledge to remain inconspicuous, they did it in broad-daylight, sometimes right outside the police stations. At night, all activities ceased.
It was luck that an accomplice on a recent drug-related homicide was easy to break with petty threats and empty promises. Within ten minutes, the FBI had the knowledge they had been searching for continuously for the past five years.
They had a warrant and under the advice of the informant, were moving in after hours. This was the first drug-bust Starling had been assigned to since the disastrous shooting of Evelda Drumgo. She was being carefully supervised.
Watching each street light pass at a comfortable speed, Starling was beginning to feel the affects of her age, and she didn’t like it. It was a miracle she was here, and she supposed she should wake up every morning and kiss the .45 that had almost been confiscated, but gratitude to the FBI seemed like an oxymoron.
A voice nearly two years silenced arose within her once more unwillingly. As she did on a regular basis, Starling blocked this out, refusing to acknowledge what she had kept marvelously to herself for so many years.
Clarice Starling was someone who should feel very grateful to be where she was, in any circumstance. The disastrous run-in with Dr. Hannibal Lecter two years ago could have broken her, and in all rationality, should have. Somehow, she eluded criminal charges in the deaths inflicted at the Muskrat Farm, even though she had been a civilian when matter was taken into her own hands. Even what proceeded, events that resulted in the death and consumption of Special Agent Krendler were forgiven.
One thing she did learn; there was no forgive and forget in the FBI. They could forgive, sure, that was easy. But they never, ever forgot.
She didn’t know how or why, or even if it was something she wanted, but somehow Clarice Starling found herself recycled and back in the position she had been willing to forgo all for the life of one man. They very existence of he called a monster.
Shaken like a limp doll by the tabloids, Starling felt her honorary title of “Lady Lecter” slipping away as a very uneventful two years came to an end. As something of a joke, an anonymous patron saved every magazine and trash tabloid article concerning her and her feelings and possible relations with Dr. Lecter, boxed them, and left them on her doorstep for Christmas. At first, Starling thought it might have been from Lecter himself, but dismissed it for the lack of taste.
The unsigned Hallmark cards filled with cash went unexplained. Starling was sure those were the product of Dr. Lecter’s generosity, but still questioned the absence of a note or signature for clarification.
There wasn’t any direct contact with Dr. Lecter, nothing they could have complete faith in. Suspicious packages came and went, unusual charity from anonymous donors; things most knew to be from him going without research for the lack of evidence.
Every day, Starling held her breath when the mail arrived, and cursed herself for the disappointed air it escaped in when no packages from Dr. Lecter received. Of course, that could easily be taken as the devotion to FBI, wanting a lead to catch a criminal. Many would testify that Starling had never worked harder since her near-suspension and salvation, but in truth, her newfound dedication was the simple result of boredom. Nothing held her there, and she supposed at the end of the day that her determination to stick it through was something idiotically spawned in college, when she developed the uncanny sense that what was started must be complete. Otherwise, she had to believe it was the simple idea of masking herself under an interesting career to avoid the stereotype of being ordinary.
Starling was a strong woman; she needed no reassurance of that. The words of Dr. Lecter, whether by letter or phone or in person, often encouraged her and gave support and enlightened her worried soul. She didn’t want to think of how much she missed him, even though there wasn’t much left to miss. A kiss perhaps, but that was over and done with, not entirely passionate in the first place, but enough to remember and dream about.
These thoughts were dismissed from her mind and were refused admittance into existence.
It was nights like this that Starling wished she had the courage to leave the FBI. Put on the same mission over and over, with or without the added pleasure of it concerning drugs, she was tired of doing these useless tasks. She wasn’t needed; that much was obvious. All she was now was an added bonus to those the Bureau felt comfortable with putting in the front lines of danger.
The bus came to a screeching halt, and her command crew spilt out hurriedly. Starling readied her .45 and made sure her back-up firearm was intact before nodding to Special Agent Mapp, her supervisor in this case, that they were ready to proceed.
Behind them, the bright night-lights of the city shone to all their glory. Police sirens for local troubles as well as screeching tires signifying near-wrecks on the busy streets rang behind them; all the evidence of their stay in a dangerous, high-crime city. Crickets didn’t chirp, and even if they did, they couldn’t be heard. Walking under the shadow, whether created by actual overlapping of streetlights or simply a fictitious silhouette, of the old warehouse, it occurred to Starling how much she missed the ranch in Montana.
Another screeching tire made her shudder in reminisce of a lamb wailing into the night, and Starling dismissed that thought as though it never were.
Her breath appeared before her as she looked up at the warehouse, finding herself thinking of Jame Gumb’s two-story house and her dark journey to the front page, the knowledge that by the aid of the night-vision goggles, she was being watched and that very close to death.
Memories, memories, why do you haunt me now? No doubt, I’ll be tossing and turning later tonight, so take your cheap shot then. I have a job to do.
“Starling?” It was Ardelia’s voice, tiresome and expectant.
She nodded. “Let’s go.”
With that, they started the parade for the old building, tired yet alert, ready to do what they did best, what they had done a hundred times and more. Letting out a deep breath, Starling felt her feet moving and didn’t realize she was inside until greeted with a poof of dust as the door screeched open.
Starling and Mapp assumed positions on opposite sides of the entrance hallway, both controlling their personal emotions enough not to look at each other. There were very few times in which they were asked to go in together, mostly due to their friendship. It was dangerous putting two agents with a relationship such as theirs together as it might provoke personal reactions to situations.
However, with as long as they had been friends, Starling and Mapp weren’t as close as they used to be. Ever since the events at the Muskrat Farm, it was as if they were strangers. Mapp couldn’t understand her closeness to Dr. Lecter, and by far couldn’t respect it. The entire idea that she had risked everything up to and including her life for him was beyond her.
Mapp wasn’t alone in these ideas. For months afterward, the world questioned her feelings for Dr. Lecter.
Starling crept along the wall, keeping her eyes ahead of her as she stopped at a doorframe. There, she turned and peered in, one eye at first, then fully to check behind the door. There was nothing; an empty room with some dust-bunnies to its name. When she proceeded, Mapp wasn’t in front of her, trailing up the staircase no doubt. Several other agents were making their way inside, leaving Starling to sigh as she scooted toward the kitchen.
It was then Mapp’s voice rang out, loud and clear, and all cautions to remain unknown were put aside. “FBI! IF THERE IS ANYONE IN HERE, YOU’RE LIVING HERE ILLEGALLY. GET OUT NOW OR I’LL GOING TO BUST A CAP ON YOUR ASS!”
Starling’s teeth clamped tightly on the inside of her mouth to keep from smiling. There was a certain air about Mapp that was unmistakable, and very funny to those who knew her well.
The sound of her voice rang for a minute before it died to a still nothingness. Starling entered the kitchen and was surprised not to find the meth lab. There were several syringe needles, left carelessly, though arranged in such a manner that suggested they were supposed to be discovered.
Warning bells sounded immediately and Starling found her awareness jump several degrees. Criminals, even ones such as these, were not careless creatures. They wouldn’t leave incriminating evidence lying around in case the authorities were tipped. Starling smelled trouble and the odor was foul.
Mapp entered the kitchen then, startling her so terribly she jumped with an exasperated gasp. “We found the lab,” she announced. “It’s downstairs.” She looked her over once again and blinked. “A bit jumpy?”
Starling shook her head, moving passed her and stopping just in front of the backdoor. “Something’s not right here, Ardelia. We –”
The words never came out. Before she knew what was happening, Starling’s form was forced out the door with terrible impact, a sharp pain shooting to her right side. Her skin felt as though it were on fire, her entire body screaming in an excruciating throbbing sensation. Her head jolted back and forth, and when she landed, her entire body felt the impact of the crash.
Starling didn’t realize she was lying on the ground until a heavy sensation pressed against her lower torso. As she sat up, her body ached and she felt blood oozing through broken skin. Her eyes, desperate to close to shield the light, were forced open to see the horrible sight.
The explosion hadn’t taken the whole building down; but most of it was crumpling to the ground in a mass of flames.
A terrible pain struck her left shoulder, the shoulder Dr. Lecter had treated two years before for its gunshot wound. Without looking at it, she knew it was suffering the scraping effect of being burnt. The taste of her blood ran into her lips, and she felt the salty sensation of tears tickle her eyes without being informed that she indeed needed to cry.
Then, a slow cry emitted from her lips. “Ardelia…”
Ardelia Mapp and the others had not been close to an exit. The last memory was that of Mapp standing in the kitchen, watching her, listening to her explain her discomfort.
It struck her violently and caused more tears to come. Mapp was dead.
Slowly, Starling felt herself stand, though her legs were screaming in pain. Across the lot she went, hearing the sirens in the distance yet not registering them. The scene before her was not true vision, it couldn’t be. Something had snapped in her, and she proceeded as though she had no control over her actions.
Starling didn’t stop until she reached the parking lot of a convenient store. There, she ritualistically checked every car until finding one that left the door unlocked. Slipping inside, Starling’s eyes were glossy as though under the influence of drugs. Discovering the keys in the sun visor, she started the ignition and pulled away.
The sirens behind her stopped at the explosion, but Starling didn’t pay attention to them. She was not herself, she didn’t know who she was. A physician might have diagnosed her with being in dramatic shock; but she wasn’t in shock. A small part of her knew what she was doing, yet had no control.
The car continued at a leisurely 35 miles per hour, until crossing the Potomac River and speeding away as quickly as possible.