copyright 2003, by
Dr. Hannibal Lecter was
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The silence in the car hangs heavy for a long moment after the little girl scurries inside to obey her father. A drop of sweat begins on tbe back of Clarice’s neck and runs maddeningly down her back. She is in the car, alone, with the monster.
Her muscles are electric with tension. Her hands clench and unclench. How the hell do you fight someone in a car? Is fighting even the best thing to do? He hasn’t made any active moves against her. That is the truly frightening part of this: she doesn’t know. Dr. Lecter has always been extremely talented at keeping his cards extremely close to his vest.
What she does know is disenheartening: there is an innocent little girl in the house, and Clarice must take her along. The thought of Dr. Lecter raising a little girl alone makes her shudder. Clarice is far from entirely selfless; she knows perfectly well that for the short term, her ass is in greater danger than her daughter’s.
“So, tell me, Clarice,” Dr. Lecter says, calm as a shark passing through dark water. “What is wrong?”
Hearing her real name makes her hiss in breath. In some ways, that is worse. He called her Maria at the park, and that was the name on her license. That was only to be expected. But the thought of him sitting there calling her ‘Clarice’ in private is worse. It illustrates that Dr. Lecter knows exactly what he has reduced her to.
What’s wrong? You brainwashed me and took my life away from me. You turned me into some piece of fluff to march around in stiletto heels and a party dress on your arm. You gave me a daughter and then took away the first five years of her life. Everything I’ve ever tried to do in my life, everything I’ve wanted – you took that away and overwrote what you wanted me to be like I was a fucking Microsoft Word document.
“I just…I don’t feel well,” she whispers, wanting more than anything to be out of this car.
“Are you febrile? Nauseous? You seem to be sweating.”
Of course I am, she thinks. I’m in a car with a…monster.
“I’m not sure what’s wrong with me,” she says, the first thing she says that is a lie.
“I see,” he says. He is calm and bloodless, his eyes hidden. That same sardonic grin plays on his lips. “Come inside, then. I will arrange for some medication before dinner.”
If you think I am taking medication from you, buster, Clarice thinks, then you belong right back in that insane asylum.
Dr. Lecter opens his door and stands, the crushed rock clicking under the soles of his shoes. He crosses around to open Clarice’s door. Politely, he holds out his hand to assist her in alighting from the car. Clarice shudders and offers him her hand. Gotta save the kid. I can’t leave her here. Then, after that, Goddam mothering instinct.
Her own heels click on the rocks under her feet as she observes the house. Dr. Lecter shifts his position to hold her upper arm. His grip is soft and does not hurt, but she can sense the power in his fingers. At any moment, they could clamp down on the slack muscle of her upper arm. Could he rip her arm right off if he wanted to? It wouldn’t surprise her. At the least, he could yank it out of his socket without a second thought. Even as old as Dr. Lecter is now, she has no doubt of that.
Calmly, he walks her forward to the house. She is slightly forward of him. He is simply a shade in her peripheral vision. That is uncomfortable; he can see what she is doing but she can’t see him. The unpleasant feeling of being a puppet on his strings courses through her. Their footsteps echo in her ears.
The door is stout and polished black. Brass hardware gleams mellowly. As she approaches the door, it opens seemingly by itself. She sucks in air and feels her stomach quiver. Behind the door is a darker-skinned man in a morning coat, white gloves, and stiff-fronted white shirt, his black hair slicked back into perfect submission.
“Good evening, señora, señor,” he says calmly. “Señorita Susana entered a few minutes ago; she has gone upstairs to take her bath. Her nanny is drawing it for her.”
Clarice simply stares at him uncomprehendingly for a moment. Butler? Nanny? She has a butler and her daughter has a nanny?
Man, oh man, what would Daddy think if he knew I had a nanny for my kid? She imagines his stunned snort. Clarice Starling, can’t you take care of your own daughter? Momma and I did fine and we had three.
Dr. Lecter takes his servants in stride. “Thank you, Joachim,” he says directly. “I’m afraid the señora is not feeling well. Would you bring some Pepto-Bismol, please? Then you are dismissed for the night.”
“Of course, señor,” the butler says, and silently vanishes into the depths of the manor.
Pepto-Bismol. Dr. Lecter plans to give her the usual pink stuff you give anyone who has an upset stomach. Or maybe the butler is in on it, and ‘Pepto-Bismol’ is just a code word for Mind Control Drug Number Three. Clarice swallows nervously. The door slams closed, and Clarice notices with mounting dread that the locks on the doors are quite sturdy. Dr. Lecter smiles coolly as he slides the deadbolt home.
Dr. Lecter leads her to a sitting room and bids her to sit. Susana is nowhere to be seen, and Clarice cannot hear water pipes that might give her some idea of where in this place her daughter is. She blinks. How can she have lived in this house for so long and not know where anything is?
But that shard will not break so easily. There are greater problems. The sitting room, like the rest of the house, is majestic. Wood-framed artworks loom on the walls. A portrait of her sitting with Dr. Lecter standing over her graces one wall. She is smiling in the portrait. She is not smiling now.
Acid burns sourly in her stomach as Dr. Lecter looms over her. His hand touches her forehead and his head tilts. It takes all her willpower not to shrink away from the touch.
“Something is wrong, Clarice,” he says, and that same droll touch of patronized amusement is in his voice. “What is it?” He pauses. “You’ve never needed to hide from me before.”
Her voice is trembling as she speaks and she doesn’t like it. Showing weakness around him is never a good idea. “I…I don’t know,” she repeats. “You’re the doctor.”
Dr. Lecter nods fractionally as if acknowledging that she will not tell him the truth. “Well, then,” he says. “Hopefully you’ll feel better for dinner. But if you’re off your appetite…I understand.”
The butler returns with a small silver tray in hand. On it is a wine glass one-third full with shockingly pink liquid. Silently he offers it to her. Clarice stares at it and blinks.
He brought me Pepto-Bismol in a fucking crystal wine glass, she thinks dazedly.
“Thank you,” she says, her voice shaky. Dr. Lecter’s eyes lie on her. She can almost feel his gaze physically on her skin, as unwanted a touch as a hand on her thigh might be. She stares at the glass for a long moment before taking it.
The image of Dr. Lecter pinning her down and pouring it down her throat occurs to her. After all, he’s had experience in forcing people to do his bidding. Her eyes lock on his and she wonders what else might be in the glass.
“Is there a problem with the Pepto-Bismol, Maria?” he asks easily.
She shakes her head. No real way out of this. She closes her eyes and prays to her Lutheran God that what she is about to do is not monumentally stupid. Then she takes the glass and drinks from it.
The taste is the normal taste of the well-known stomach drug: that is to say, it is godawful and spills into her sinuses. She swallows convulsively and frowns. Lots of drugs are tasteless, she knows that. But she does not keel over unconscious. The butler takes the glass and vanishes with it.
For a time, they stare at each other like gunslingers. A grandfather clock ticks in the corner, beating time. It is the only sound in the room. It doesn’t take long before the ticking is driving her bugshit. Dr. Lecter stands a few feet away from her, watching her from behind his glasses. The pink liquid may be coating her stomach, but it isn’t doing anything for her nerves. Then the butler reopens the door and looks in at them. He seems able to sense the tension in the room, and for a moment the smooth butler’s mask on his face cracks, but just for a moment.
“Would señor and señora prefer that dinner be put away?” he asks calmly.
Dr. Lecter smiles tightly. Clarice tenses, knowing something is up. He is toying with her, just as he did so long ago when he was locked away behind Plexiglass walls. She can almost see his lips forming the words Not yet.
“No, Joachim,” he says. “We’ll be up shortly.”
Clarice stares at the empty fireplace, a great dark hole in the wall surrounded by black iron hardware. On the floor in front of it is a soft carpet. The image of herself lying naked on it, Hannibal Lecter above her, crosses her mind and makes her shudder. She would like, more than anything, for that to be a phantom conjured up by her own tortured mind. But it is too real, too vivid, and too tactile for it to be anything other than a memory shard. Clarice closes her eyes and forces herself to drop the thought.
The butler nods and closes the door. Dr. Lecter crosses the space between them and touches her arm briefly.
“Well, Maria?” he prods.
“All right,” Clarice says helplessly, and stands. Part of her still trembles, wanting to get Susana, get out, get free. But another part of her is curious to see what her life was like. She does not seem drugged, and she needs to pick the right time.
He knows something is up, but he doesn’t know what, Clarice realizes. If he did, he’d have drugged me right off the bat. He’s toying with me because that’s what he does. He wouldn’t let me be me again if he knew. He’d stop it right off, make me back into…whatever I was before. He still thinks he’s in control. Shit, he’s probably right. Mr. Butler would probably help him drag me upstairs. Susana isn’t here and it was just us. If I can just act calm, act like his…wife…I can get by. For the time being.
Christ, I hope I’m not telling myself this so I’ll believe it.
“As I said,” Dr. Lecter says calmly, “I will not consider it an insult if your appetite is poor.”
The stairs leading to the upper floors of the manse are absurdly wide. Dr. Lecter could have driven his Jaguar up the stairs, if so he wanted, and perhaps had another one beside it, just for fun. The wood is well varnished and glows. Some servant has had their hands full polishing it.
His hand is always on her upper arm, reminding her that he is in control. Even without that reminder, Clarice knows it. He knows where Susana is; the floorplan of this house is blank to her. It is as if she has never seen it before.
“Are you up to checking on Susana?” he asks, smiling pleasantly. Yes, Clarice thinks, he is toying with her.
“Sure,” she says, the sibilants hissing over her teeth.
She stops at the stairs. Another image passes through her mind; the third floor. Their bedroom at the end of the hall. She shivers. Susana’s room is at the other end of the hall, facing out over the back of the mansion. Between them some closets, guest rooms, and a bathroom. She continues up the stairs alone.
Did you just give me an out, buster? I think you might have.
Now memories of the home flicker to life like embers blown by her hope. The third floor of the manse is simple in layout. The one central hall that she saw in her mind before is indeed there. She stops at a large white door and her hand freezes. Inside that room is her daughter. But that isn’t what has stopped Clarice.
She wants you to knock, a voice advises her. Clarice smiles nervously. Hannibal Lecter may be dangerous, but his daughter seems relatively innocent. She crushes that thought off. Her daughter. She can begin coping with who Susana’s father is later. Once she’s in the US, she’ll go to every damn support group for Women Whose Children Were Fathered By Serial Killers that she can find. Her mission for now is the same as it has been since the crossbow string set her free: get herself and her daughter out of Hannibal Lecter’s clutches.
She knocks on the door, twice. Her daughter’s voice echoes from behind the door. “Come in.”
Clarice opens the door and blinks for a moment; her daughter’s room is about the size her house was growing up. Great bay windows and a terrace take up one wall. A large four-poster bed occupies one corner of the room. There is a child-sized couch, desk, and table that make Clarice grin.
Susana herself sits at a small vanity. In one small hand is a hairbrush. She wears a small silk robe and is engaged in brushing out her hair, observing herself carefully in a lighted mirror. She glances at her mother and smiles pleasantly.
“Hello, Mama,” she says, continuing her grooming. “Is it dinnertime?”
Clarice swallows. “Yes,” she says. Don’t take it personal if I don’t eat, kiddo. Mama’s a little on edge right now.
“Okay.” Susana puts down the brush and walks over to her closet. Clarice watches her curiously. The door opens to reveal a walk-in closet with dresses hung up neatly on hangers. For a moment Clarice chokes; her daughter’s wardrobe is both vaster and far more expensive than her own childhood clothing. Susana waits for a moment before picking out another dress and socks. She closes the door briefly so she can change in privacy, and then emerges fully dressed.
“Do you ever wear pants?” Clarice asks curiously.
Susana wrinkles her nose and shakes her head. “I don’t wear pants,” she says, as if the very idea is laughable. “I’m a girl.”
“I wear pants,” Clarice points out.
Puzzlement crosses the little girl’s face. “No, you don’t,” she protests. “You wear dresses like me.”
A vague distaste crosses Clarice’s face. So he didn’t like me in pants. Just part of the dress-her-up routine. Balls. It doesn’t matter. Once Susana and she are both safe, she can worry about introducing the girl to the joys of trousers later. Right up there with signing up for the support groups.
Does this house have servants’ stairs? Closing her eyes and forcing it to come actually helps. Score one for Clarice. Yes, at the one end of the hall near their room. The lower-ranking stairs are just fine for Clarice. So long as they get her to the ground – and the car – quickly, the servants’ stairs will do just as well as the master’s stairs.
“C’mon, now,” Clarice directs her daughter, and holds out her hand. Susana offers it and takes it readily enough. She seems surprised when Clarice does not walk to the main stairs, but she doesn’t argue. Thank God for small favors.
Okay. Got my purse. Got my car keys. Out the door and to the car and haul ass. I can explain it to Susana later.
Calmly, Clarice Starling opens the door. The servants’ stairs are dimly lit, but it is enough. Clarice heads down to the landing. Adrenalin is pumping through her, giving her strength to fight the monster. Her stupid heeled shoes make more noise on the stairs than she would like, but she has her daughter and she knows what is going to happen next. Susana obediently goes down the stairs with her.
American embassy or Uruguay? The border isn’t that far away, and I’ll bet Jeeves the Argentine Butler keeps the cars gassed up. Put it off. Get out, that’s what matters. There’s the landing. Down to the first floor and good-bye Hannibal, it’s been fun, but you’ll need to find some other fluff for now. I’m taking Susana. You can go after me in court for visitation rights.
Then she comes face to face with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, standing before her in the dim light like a shadow given malevolent substance, and she gasps. His maroon eyes gleam at her and he smiles.
“Ladies,” he says. “Come, please. It’s dinner time.”
Part 4 of 10
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