copyright 2003, by
Dr. Hannibal Lecter was
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For a moment, the park stands in tableau. Clarice Starling sits at a park bench with her newfound daughter, watching a dark figure unfold itself from behind the wheel of an equally dark Jaguar. Fear makes her shoulder shake. Her breath comes in ragged, stuttering gasps.
Okay. Okay. No problem. Just grab Susana’s hand and run. Run like hell. If he catches up with you, scream. No, wait. Pick up the kid and run, she isn’t running too fast with those little legs and those stupid patent-leather girly shoes.
Perhaps she should fight him. Her purse is innocent of gun or Mace, but she has car keys. Those can make a better improvised weapon than people think. If she gets the keys out and slashes at his face, it will definitely ruin his day. They’re not sharp, but they’ll make him lose interest in fucking with her very quickly.
Even so, she can feel her heart racing. Her stomach drops down low in a big dipsy doodle. For a moment she feels nauseous and pushes it away forcefully. She knows her technique. She has gotten down with felons and fought them in the dirt. Proper technique will make her invulnerable.
That’s crap and you know it, Starling, her mind informs her. Brigham had perfect technique and what did it get him? A dirt nap, that’s what.
But she has to fight. She has no choice. She cannot let Hannibal Lecter walk away with an innocent five-year-old in tow.
The man himself steps out from the car and stands in the sunlight, observing the two women in his life. Darts of light reflect off his glasses and strike her. Her tongue is not only dry with fear but positively scaly. She feels adrenalin dump into her system and feels somewhat lightheaded.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter wears a dark suit of beautiful cut, tailored closely to his slim frame. A black fedora and smoked-lensed glasses shield him from the sun. The years have been kind to him. His face is not wrinkled, but it is harder-edged than before. As if it was ever soft to begin with. His features are cast in cruel detail: the very picture of an Inquisition priest. She could easily see him leaning over a tortured penitent: Now then, confess and all this will be over with. His lips curl up in a cool smile as he observes wife and daughter.
Mother and daughter, Clarice Starling cries out to herself, as if to pound against the cold marble wall of the inevitable. I am not…I can’t be…the monster’s wife.
The time for action will be in seconds. He will expect her to approach. Grab her daughter and haul ass, or mark up that handsome mug with the car keys? Which course of action will get her own tender butt and her daughter’s out of harm’s way the quickest and most efficiently?
Her eyes lock on his. Even behind the glasses, she can tell his eyes are on hers. She swallows nervously and stares at him resolutely. Her nerves thrum like guitar strings as the knowledge of action swells. Her fingers tense. The time is now.
Susana’s hand slips from hers, the small warmth replaced by cool air against her empty, sweaty palm. Clarice sees a quick motion and gasps.
The young girl sprints across the space separating Clarice Starling from Hannibal Lecter, her dress flapping around her. An icy electric bolt thrills Clarice’s frame and for a moment she wants to scream. Don’t go there, it’s dangerous, is what she wants to shriek. But it is too late.
Susana leaps up into her father’s waiting arms. For a moment Clarice feels ill. Color drains from her face. Her little girl has put herself directly into the monster’s grasp, like a foolish little girl in a Grimms Fairy Tale.
Dr. Lecter is neither a tall man nor a physically imposing one. He is, according to Clarice’s best knowledge, seventy-one years old. One might expect him to stagger when his daughter jumps up, eager to be held. He does not. He catches the little girl and holds her easily, along his arms the sense of her light weight. She laces her arms around his neck.
The image of Dr. Lecter reaching down with his teeth and biting a huge chunk of bloody flesh from the girl’s silken throat is so strong and vivid that it takes Clarice a moment or two to realize it is not real. Susana sits content in her father’s arms, smiling like a cat with a saucer of sweet milk that it need not share. She favors Clarice with a satisfied smile that says all is right in her little world.
That’s just like I used to do, Clarice thinks, and she blanches gray. She’s daddy’s girl.
She cannot rip her daughter free from his arms. She cannot turn and run and leave her to Dr. Lecter’s tender mercies. For the moment, Clarice is outmatched. Her daughter has been his effective pawn, taking her queen.
Clarice’s stomach lurches. Dr. Lecter tilts his head and observes her bloodlessly from behind his dark lenses. He has won this round. She can feel the eyes behind those lenses probing at her; a master thief’s first attempts to probe a lock he has picked before and believes he has mastered.
“Is something wrong, Maria?” he asks. His voice is metallic and calm. Susana beams at her from in his arms. More than anything, Clarice wants to shriek Get down from there! It’s dangerous! Don’t you know what that man has done?
Susana adjusts herself in his arms. She is all smiles, her maroon eyes alight in a manner Clarice never expected to see in Dr. Lecter. The soft skin of her throat is but scant inches from Dr. Lecter’s mouth. But Dr. Lecter is not looking at his daughter. They are both looking at Clarice, seemingly one unit, four maroon eyes all focused on her.
Clarice holds herself trembling and submits to his gaze. Of course he can see that something is amiss. She is gray and pale and sweaty. As far as she knows,it was only a day ago that she sought to free Dr. Lecter from Mason Verger’s clutches. Now? Identity, personality, location, nationality, eleven years, and her daughter’s first five years, all stolen from her by this nimble thief standing ten feet away. And that daughter – a gift she never thought she would be given – sits in his arms, completely innocent of what her father actually is.
To say no is to invite suspicion. Dr. Lecter looks slightly thinner-fleshed through the face than he did eleven years ago, but there is no reason to think he is a doddering old man or that he cannot tell that she would be lying. Besides, even through it all, that would be…rude.
“I don’t feel well,” she says. It is a stretch but not a lie. She cannot make out his eyes or his expression. Of course she doesn’t feel well. Who would, in her situation?
A moment’s pause in which Clarice tries to figure out how much strength he may have lost and if she has any hope of prying Susana from his arms. His glacial reserve is as impenetrable as ever. His voice is calm. Amused? Hard to tell.
“She was feeling sick at the park,” Susana informs him happily. Dr. Lecter’s head turns to examine his daughter for a few beats. She clearly brightens under his attention. Clarice’s mind boggles. It is not that the idea is alien to her. That would be far too easy. Her mind boggles because she does understand. Never once had she ever been willing to acknowledge her own father’s faults. She would have fought in an instant over a slur on his memory. He had been on a pedestal, the epitome of masculinity for her. No man could have measured up to him.
Susana is the same, but the father she admires so is a cold, cruel killer.
Oh man, what am I up against? she thinks.
“I see,” Dr. Lecter says, still the uncarved block. “Well, come, then. I can examine you once we get home. Perhaps start you on some medication.”
Chills run up and down her spine. Get in a car? With him? Is this a clever bit of play or is he serious? Does he know?
She can’t tell. Dr. Lecter’s insight into her is profound; her insight into him is limited. She can predict what he might buy, sure, but the man himself is granite to her crystal. She cannot see inside him.
For the time being, though, she has no other choice. Maternal instinct and amnesia have fought within her, but maternal instinct has won the day. Leaving her daughter behind is simply unthinkable. The very idea cuts at her as tearing the flesh from her body would. If she flees alone, Dr. Lecter will disappear with her daughter. And God only knows what he knows now about staying hidden.
He carries the little girl to the car and sets her down. She scrambles into the black depths of the back seat of the Jaguar. Clarice shudders and bites at her lip. It’s bad enough that her daughter has to be in the monster’s grasp; does she have to be so eager about it?
With his hostage safe and sound in the back seat, where Clarice cannot get to her easily, Dr. Lecter observes her with a smile playing about the corner of his lips. The smile fades a bit as he watches her, replaced by a look of concern. She watches him warily. Is he going to try and grab her? He might. You never knew with him.
“Maria, you don’t look well at all,” Dr. Lecter says. “Come, please. The servants have dinner waiting.”
Clarice doesn’t want to get in the car. She’s already lost so much. Get in the car with Dr. Lecter? Might as well walk through the bad areas of DC with no gun and a picket sign reading I AM THE COP WHO KILLED EVELDA DRUMGO.
Actually, worse. The Crips would just kill her. Dr. Lecter had done something worse; he had stolen her mind and replaced it with…what? After all she’d suffered, after all her determination, was it Dr. Lecter’s desire that she be a combination of arm candy and broodmare? Had he wanted to get that hardy rural hardscrabble blood into his offspring? And then dress her up to tote around with him to the opera and all that tea-party crap?
Her blood boils at the thought, but now is not the time. One must pick and choose one’s battles so that one wins.
He’s got my baby is the thought that flashes across Clarice’s mind.
All right. She can do this. Think of it as an undercover assignment. Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to get in the car and pretend to be Dr. Lecter’s Barbie doll. You should be well prepared for this assignment, Agent Starling, you’ve only been that brainwashed Barbie doll for eleven fucking years. Now if only you could remember a tenth of that stuff you’ll be fine.
“All right,” she says tonelessly, her eyes locked on his dark lenses. Is he laughing at her behind them? She can’t tell.
She will have to be wary and careful always; her foe is sly beyond measure. But for now her course is set.
Calmly, Clarice Starling walks over to the car. Her mind shrieks at her not to do this; she may risk falling back into the velvet pit of Lethe that she has lived in for the past eleven years. But she must play the hand she has and hope for better cards in the next draw.
The door closes. The Jaguar’s air is aromatic with the scent of a new car. Clarice sighs and clenches her hands hard enough that her fingers begin to cramp. Dr. Lecter settles himself down behind the wheel and closes his own door. The Jaguar is well made and the door closes with only the slightest thump, but it sounds to Clarice like a prison gate closing. Susana is calmly settled in the back, the seat belt a black stripe across her white dress.
Then the Jaguar zips back into traffic with the ease of long skill, and vanishes into the metal river of traffic on the avenida. Clarice takes a moment to glance over at him. He seems focused mostly on driving. The silence in the car seems oppressive to her, bearing down on her like a lead vest.
Supercharged Jaguar. I was right on that. Good. Means the SOB isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. I gotta be able to use that.
Dr. Lecter drives fast but well. The Jaguar zigs in and out of traffic and finally turns in at a building near the French embassy. Clarice can see the tricolor flapping in the wind. A tall fence ensures that anyone who might wish to do the French harm will not be able to. Where is the American embassy? Is that locked up somewhere in the vault her memories of the last eleven years are locked in?
The Beaux Arts mansion that he turns into takes Clarice’s breath away, even knowing where and with whom she is with. Is that a house? Does she actually live there? The place is easily the size of a small office building.
And so does he, and odds are I wouldn’t look in the basement if I were you, she reminds herself.
The Jaguar glides to a silent stop in front of the home. The ignition cuts off cleanly. Dr. Lecter turns and offers her a smile.
“Home again, home again,” he says drolly, and glances back at the five-year-old in the back seat. “Susana, be a good girl and go upstairs and prepare your bath. I wish to…see to your mother’s illness.”
Part 3 of 10
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