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Coda

copyright 2004, by EGL

Disclaimer:    These characters were created by Thomas Harris.  They are used herein without permission, but in the spirit of admiration and respect.  No infringement of copyright is intended, and no profit, of any kind, is made by the creator, maintainer or contributors to this site.

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PART 1 - Preamble


"Clariiice ! get in here will ya !"

Morton Amsterdam, breathed heavily through vermilion nostrils, shirt buttons straining over his bulging gut. He flashed a little gold through his smile. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. There was a crushed bagel sitting on top of a pile of papers on his desk and he had some cream cheese on his lower lip.

One stubby forefinger pointed at a gold edged card sitting on top of a pile of invoices. "Your boat just came in. Some guy who does business with Christies wants to see ya " Morton wiped the cream cheese from his lip with a tiny crumpled paper napkin and used a pencil to precisely rotate the business card so Clarice could read it.

Alexander Montefiore
Antiques

Followed by a discreet address that Clarice didn't recognise. The font was a variation of Engravers in matt black. Clarice ran her fingers round the edge of the card. It was thick and stiff.

"Ya see, education pays" Morton chuckled.

"I guess so, " replied Clarice. She didn't recognise the name from her antiques class nor from the sales pitch to the Boston chapter of the Antique Dealers Association.

"Go for it Clarice! The guy wants something shipped, by hand. So he knows the business when he sees it – what can I say? Besides, I can't fit into aeroplane seats any more." A huge laugh quivered the coffee in the polystyrene mug on the desk.

"Come on gal, you deserve a break. I smell money, hotel suites, champagne. Go see the guy tomorrow and find out what he wants and then we'll look at your caseload – OK? Ya know the trouble with Lutherans? They don't enjoy sinning enough". Morton licked his lips and pushed the rest of the stuffed bagel into his mouth.

Clarice had to smile. Morton and his partner Norman had been generous and warm when everything else around her had turned to ashes. Bluff and funny and claiming that they never read the National Enquirer, they had just given her a desk and told her to get on with her job. Her first assignment at Giffin and Amsterdam, "Discreet, Personal, Professional Service, Boston Mass." had been to vet the security at a clothing warehouse which had been suffering from 6 months of petty pilfering. A little covert surveillance and some cosy chats with a few of the girls who worked there had got a result in 2 weeks. Norm and Mort were deeply impressed by her protestant work ethic, but despaired at her lack of humour.

Clarice was impressed by their eternal sunny optimism and the complete absence of whispers, questions and sidelong glances in the office.

At the end of her first job, Norman had taken her out for a drink to Firmans, their local bar. It was full of well-worn fixtures and fittings, and regular slow drinkers in crumpled suits, fixed on the same stools, leaning on the same portion of polished mahogany, Monday to Friday. Clarice didn't appreciate the smoke but welcomed the warmth of the place, the gentle up and down of the conversation, the gleam of the glasses and old red leather.

Norman had leaned earnestly over his dewy glass of beer. "What this business needs Clarice, is a touch of class, and believe me, Mort and I know class when we see it ".

Clarice had received no compliments over the previous year and these words, voiced with complete sincerity, had been like a glimpse of sun in the middle of a long winter, even if she had difficulty giving any real credence to the sentiments. She felt mean about not being more gracious.

"Sure you've had a rough time, but I look at you and see a tall elegant cypress – bends in the wind, may lose a branch or two in a storm but grows straight and tall and beautiful."

Clarice forced a smile. Norman had a very determined wife and 3 rumbustious children. He wrote poetry on pieces of discarded paper in the office. He would try out stanzas on Clarice while eating his breakfast Danish. That was his escape.

Clarice reviewed her escapes. She was clear sighted enough to see, that they only served superficially, as distractions.

The excuse that she had made up for herself was "know thy enemy" so, with single minded devotion, she had, applied herself to that task – the antiques class, the trips to the auction houses to watch the business of trading, the subscription to the Boston Symphony and the distance learning package from Opera America. The discarded magazines in her tiny apartment and her CD's in the car, at the office and in her bedroom, all focused on her 24 hour per day vocation. At the weekends she "did" the galleries, and ran, and listened to more music. Twice a month she saved up and bought a couple of good bottles of wine or one expensive meal out. She caught sight of him occasionally, at the back of an auction room, in the bar at Symphony Hall – chimeras every time.

She valued the solitariness of these pursuits. She went out of her way to be merely polite and distant at the antiques class and all the activity gave her an excuse not to join Morton and Norman's families at the weekends.

When she had trouble sleeping she would listen to the tapes. She could recite what they said, verbatim, it was the sound of his voice, relaxed with Barney that calmed her too.

The fall out of all this education, for Giffin and Amsterdam, was on the security side of the antiques business. It brought in a little extra money and raised their profile. This salved Clarice’s conscience to a degree, as in truth, she really felt she was marking time – for her, this job was simply a means to an end.

The nightmare had receded and what had been an all-consuming fire was now almost at the ice cold stage – perfect for incisive planning, reasoned Clarice. She could feel her resolve, like a tight, steel spring, in the pit of her stomach, every day.

She viewed losing Dr Lecter very much as unfinished business – the manila folder still poking out of the filing cabinet drawer. She had been tutored almost from birth with the standard Protestant craftsman maxims - "If a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well" "Always finish what you are doing before you sit down to supper". She viewed what had happened at Muskrat Farm and the aftermath as a messy piece of work – she took exception to her sloppiness. She chose not to examine her motives any deeper than that, even though they sneaked out and winked at her from time to time after a bottle of wine.

After the night on the Chesapeake the storm had lashed around her for a good 3 months. The FBI had done what embarrassed public organisations do best. There was the examination that night, conducted by a zealous ER attending with greasy hair - a man who clearly enjoyed his work. He asked her to strip first of all, licking his lips under the examination light.

"Have to check for bruising" he explained. Then the photographs. Then the internals. Clarice had concentrated on the flickering light in the ceiling. 'That light needs seeing to,' she thought as Dr. Webster inserted the speculum and enthusiastically probed and fingered, with a fixed smile on his lips. "Well, no sign of any interference Clarice ". He hissed his sibilants. "But I won't know for sure until the path people peep down their microscope tomorrow morning." He smirked. An image rose unbidden in Clarice's mind - a crimson knife cut extending the smile up both cheeks, to the ears.

Ardelia had got hold of the confidential report through one of her ex boyfriends – "no evidence of any penetrative sexual assault, vaginally, rectally or intraorally". The spokesman for the FBI had hesitated in the first press conference – "Ms Starling remembers very little of her encounter with Dr Lecter, at the moment, as she was drugged at the time. We will be running further physical and psychiatric tests." Which they did, with a series of bruising interrogations.

There was the public blaming and shaming, the tapped phone, the vetted post, the selected leaks from her service record, the press camped on her doorstep and the subtle spinning by the FBI press office. "Ms Starling has been under a lot of strain over the last 2 years; she has been a little free with the use of force culminating in the attempted arrest of Evelda Drumgo … lack of cool judgement … over-emotional… vulnerable state … got very involved with the Lecter case – working alone in a basement office to all hours; and so on and on. The word "obsession" appeared damningly in the final report to the DA's office. They didn't want to prosecute – too much visibility, time and money. Both the FBI and Clarice were convinced that Lecter had left the USA. "Off our turf, let someone else worry about him, let all this die, let Clarice Starling die"

Ardelia had taken the bull by the horns and had called Clarice.

"What the fuck do you think you were doing? What's the matter with you? Jesus H Christ Clarice do you have a death wish or something? You know they're going to crucify you for this, “ and then after a small pause "Do you need somewhere to stay?"

Clarice was hypersensitive to the position Ardelia was putting herself in, with the Bureau, by making this offer.

"Thanks Ardelia. Believe me I appreciate the offer but I just don't think it would be a good idea right now. Mud sticks"

"Yeah…. I guess” Comically, Ardelia sounded simultaneously relieved and uncertain.

"What the fuck are you going to do Clarice?"

"Don't worry Ardelia. I'll survive and maybe even thrive out of the swamp"

Clarice had found her coping mechanism. It was to concentrate on what she did best – hunting.

FIN

Part 1 of 12

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7 of 12 l 8 of 12 l 9 of 12 l 10 of 12 l 11 of 12 l 12 of 12


copyright 2004, by EGL

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