copyright 2002, by
These characters were
created by Thomas
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With the echo of Dr. Lecter’s voice ringing in her ear, Clarice Starling jogged out of Union Station. She knew he was just steps ahead of her. In the parking lot, she could get the jump on him. At the very least, she could see what vehicle he was driving, get the plate number and haul ass after him until she could call for backup. But then there were the greasy thugs, most likely Mason Verger’s henchmen, who had been on their trail since she left her house.
It would be best to get to the Doctor before they did.
The parking lot was as jumbled with people as the mall. Moving amongst the parked cars, sunlight glinted off windshields into Starling’s eyes as she searched vainly. Near the fountain, a scuffle caught her eye. She saw a man dressed in drab green fall to the pavement between parked cars. Two of the same ruffians that had followed her and Dr. Lecter closed in on the fallen man, one holding a stun gun. Immediately, she understood.
The distance between Clarice and the mêlée was only about a hundred yards. Though she had always been a good runner, she felt lethargic as she started for the van, the parking lot stretching out in front of her. Or maybe it was the earth itself that had slowed its revolution. Her legs were jello. Pulling out her gun as she went, Clarice heard herself yelling, “Freeze! FBI.”
As the brutes loaded Dr. Lecter into the back of their van, his body still limp from the tazer jolts, Clarice’s eyes met his. It was as if, at that moment, a pact had been sealed between them. Like the tenuous bond between a snake and its charmer.
From the corner of her eye, she saw the Sardinian coming for her. It was the driver. The one she had forgotten about. By the time she was able to unlock her gaze from Dr. Lecter’s, it was too late. The man’s sweaty body slammed into hers, pushing her to the pavement. The side of her face smacked hard on the asphalt and the last thing she remembered was the smell of tar and shoe leather.
Clarice wasn’t out long. She awoke to the vibrations of the traveling van, the thin metal floor rattling beneath her. Like an ice cream headache that wouldn’t fade away, the spike of pain on the side of her face forced her head off the cheap carpet. It was difficult to see. Her arms ached. They were twisted behind her back, wrists locked together with what felt like a plastic cable tie. Apparently her captors hadn’t planned for more than one prisoner.
She heard a voice from the opposite corner of the van.
“Looks like your girlfriend woke up, Doctor.” The man’s words were thick and coarse. No doubt he was inarticulate in his mother tongue as well.
Clarice managed to push the pain to the far reaches of her head and open her eyes wider. She was balled up in the back of the van, just behind the passenger’s seat. Not far from her feet was Dr. Lecter’s head. He was lying supine on the floor, his arms outstretched, wrists manacled to long-chained cuffs suspended from the ceiling. The biggest of the three Sardinians was propped on a milk crate backed against the door. Clarice could smell him. Oily splotches of spilled food covered the front of his shirt and ovals of sweat soaked the cloth underneath his arms. The assail on Dr. Lecter’s acute senses must have been nearly unbearable.
She hadn’t done a very good job of apprehending him, had she?
When the van finally stopped its jouncing, Clarice felt like maybe she could walk. She would have to. The whole side of her body where she had been slammed to the pavement was sore. She shuddered to look at the bruise that was already forming there.
As the van rolled to a stop, she heard the front doors open and close. After a moment, one of the Sardinians, chewing on a stag’s tooth that hung from a chain around his neck, opened the back doors, throwing light into the bowels of the van. The driver, a little skinnier than him, stood next to a hand truck equipped with mesh straps like a backboard used for trauma injuries.
From the corner of the van, the big oaf got off his milk crate and hunched over Dr. Lecter, ignoring his bared teeth. His wide fist eclipsed Lecter’s mouth as he punched him, just as he had done when they loaded the Doctor in the van. Clarice cringed at the sight, but said nothing. The punch was not enough to knock Dr. Lecter out, but it subdued him nonetheless. Unhooking the manacles from the ceiling, the man yanked Dr. Lecter from the floor of the van and pushed him outside where the other two caught him, swiftly binding him to the handcart.
When the three were satisfied that Lecter was secure, Stag’s Tooth turned back to the van.
“So, the bitch is awake, huh?” He spit on the ground. “Can you walk? Get out here.”
Clarice set her jaw and rolled onto her knees. The last thing she wanted was him coming in to get her. With her hands lashed behind her back, she did not trust her balance enough to attempt standing in the van. She scooted to the open doors on her knees.
Once at the threshold, she looked up and met Dr. Lecter’s eyes again. Pink fist marks peppered his face and a tiny rivulet of blood trailed from the corner of his mouth. His eyes were sad, as if he were sorry for bringing Clarice into this.
As much as she wanted Dr. Lecter in the FBI’s custody, she knew she could not bear to see him harmed at the hands of these thugs. Particularly knowing that Mason Verger was behind it. Stag’s Tooth tugged her out of the van, her eyes never leaving Dr. Lecter’s. She hoped he understood she would have been here anyway. Having her hands tied and her gun taken away was a minor inconvenience she would have to deal with. Once their escape from the Verger estate was accomplished, she could concentrate again on bringing Lecter in.
The irony of the situation occurred to Starling the moment the Sardinian yanked her arm and began to lead her to the mansion, following the other two as they wheeled Dr. Lecter. If she were to apprehend Lecter and turn him in, she would rob him of the one thing he cherished the most. His freedom. In a way, wouldn’t that be more harmful to him than anything Mason Verger had in store? And would that bring her satisfaction?
Perhaps she could resume her talks with him, like old times, in whatever cell they kept him in until they fried his ass. Quid Pro Quo.
Or she could turn him loose. She, the heroic FBI agent saves the cannibal from certain death at the hand of one of his victims then haphazardly sets him free to once again escape the consequences of his crimes and live on some balmy island sipping a nice fifty year old Courvoisier under a palm tree while she returned to her duties.
Okay, so neither plan would work.
Clarice rubbed her sweaty wrists together, trying to slip them from the cable tie, but the motion served only to make the plastic dig further into her skin. Staring at the back of Dr. Lecter’s head, Stag’s Tooth’s dirty fingers gripping her arm, Starling realized she had more than one noose around her neck.
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