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Dr. Hannibal Lecter was
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Okay. Okay. He knew you’d take the servants’ stairs. Doesn’t mean Jack Shit, Starling. It’s still cool. You’re still in the game.
Those thoughts spin across the fear coating Clarice’s mind. She stares blankly at him for several moments. Dr. Lecter reaches down and picks up his daughter unbidden, plucking her from Clarice grasp with the ease of a master thief. She is delighted and puts her arms around her father, resting her head on his shoulder and smiling at her mother. Sparks dance in her maroon eyes.
Clarice feels vaguely sick. A faint flicker of hope, extinguished in a second. And again, Susana just has to illustrate her adoration for her father. The sight of her daughter in Hannibal Lecter’s arms is disenheartening and terrifying.
Dr. Lecter shifts the girl to his one side and takes Clarice’s hand with the other. That same cold grin twists his lips as his hand closes on hers. It isn’t obvious enough to be a smirk. A smirk would be rude. This is his left hand, his bad hand. Yet it feels just as strong as the other. There may be a bit of stiffness, but it is not anything she can sense with her own nerves and skin. It feels hard and unforgiving, like iron. He could crush the bones of her hand like crushing a wounded bird, if he wanted to.
But physical torture is not on the menu for today. Dr. Lecter leads her to a table set for three. Fine china gleams on the table; covered chafing dishes help to ensure that the meal remains hot. Susana slides down her father’s hip, takes a moment to tug at her dress to ensure it has not ridden up, and takes her own seat unbidden.
Dr. Lecter leads Clarice to her chair. For a moment she expects him to shackle her to the chair, drug her, do something. Instead he simply sits her down and pushes her chair in. How does he expect her to just stay there?
Clarice’s eyes narrow in suspicion.
You still think I’m your little brainless doll, she thinks. Surprise.
Dr. Lecter lifts the top of one covered plate. A puff of steam arises from the plate. Clarice tenses, illogically sure that the dish below will be of human origin. It occurs to her that the last meal with Dr. Lecter she has any memory of at all is the dinner with Paul Krendler as guest and meal both. The thought makes her shudder.
She stares at Susana for a moment. The little girl has good table manners; she sits up straight and doesn’t play with her silverware. It occurs to Clarice that she has most likely eaten a meal with this little girl every day since her birth, and she remembers not so much as a single one. Her eyes are cast resentfully back at Dr. Lecter for a heartbeat. Then she remembers that she must cover her tracks.
Finely sliced strips of meat lie on the serving platter. Deftly, Dr. Lecter takes a fork and serves first his daughter. He looks at Clarice piercingly.
“Are you hungry, Maria?”
The name. What does that mean? He calls me Maria when someone else is around, even Susana. He calls me Clarice only when we’re alone. That means…
It takes a moment to come. Then neurons skip over and the connection is made. It means Susana doesn’t know who we really are. She thinks my name is Maria and his name is… Another shard breaks. Alonso. She thinks his name is Alonso Alvarez. She doesn’t know.
“Just one, please,” she whispers.
Dr. Lecter nods. He forks over one strip onto her plate. It is soaked in rich sauce. The smell is tempting and meaty. Then he serves himself. After that comes some mixed vegetables, and Clarice passes on that.
He pours juice for Susana and wine for himself and Clarice. Then he lifts a white china teapot and pours some tea into Clarice’s teacup. He takes none for himself. Clarice watches him serve, still feeling nerves eat at her.
“That tea is supposed to be calming for upset stomachs,” he says mildly. “Try it.”
If you think for one goddam instant I am drinking that tea, you have another thing coming, buster.
For a few moments things are quiet. Susana sets to eating. Her appetite is good and she makes progress enough to earn a compliment from Dr. Lecter. She beams under this praise in a manner that makes Clarice sourly jealous. She picks at her food. The meat is rich and good, but she is profoundly not hungry.
“So,” Dr. Lecter says, and his voice mimics a loving father’s so perfectly Clarice is almost fooled. “What did you do at the park today?”
Clarice does not answer. She simply stares at her tea. Susana puts her fork down and laces her fingers.
“We played on the swings,” she recites. “And we rode the see-saw and the slide too.”
Dr. Lecter chuckles. “Did you see any friends there?” he asks. His voice is pleasant. He observes his daughter with an amused mien.
“I saw Clara,” Susana says promptly. “We played for a little bit. Mama and Clara’s mama talked for a while.”
Clarice watches her daughter. She doesn’t have the faintest idea what her daughter is talking about. For a moment she is furiously angry again. Who was he to take all that from her? Her daughter’s friend, her daughter’s friends mother. A pleasant chat between two mothers. Even that he has taken away from her.
“What else happened?” Dr. Lecter asks his daughter curiously.
Their daughter details the day that they’d had at the park. “We played a lot. Then we got ice cream. And that was when mama got sick.”
Dr. Lecter tilts his head and stares at his daughter with interest. “Was there anything around you when your mama got sick? Anything unusual?” he asks.
Clarice’s heart leaps. Has he found her out?
“We saw people shooting arrows,” Susana says eagerly.
Dr. Lecter’s silver fork freezes midway between his dinner plate and his mouth. For a moment, a sly smile crosses his lips like that of a wolf who has spotted his prey. A faint spark appears in the depths of his maroon eyes and is immediately sucked into the dark.
“Arrows,” he observes.
“Uh-huh,” Susana says happily. “They were shooting arrows like Robin Hood. Into targets.” She mimics the gesture of an archer, just in case her father is too dull to realize otherwise. He simply nods, regarding the gesture as cute.
Clarice Starling feels a ball of ice suddenly form in her stomach. The crazed bastard has what he wants. He knows. He knows.
What should she do? She can rise and flee before he can reach her. But that will leave Susana in his grasp. All the same, maybe she can reach the authorities and get Susana that way. But a nauseated hand touches the inside of her throat, and another image occurs to her. She sees herself, standing in the driveway of this house. Police cars line the street, their red lights flickering and lighting up the expensive homes. Some FBI personnel are there, even though she doubts they could get down here that fast.
A uniformed man comes out of the house. I am sorry, he says to her. The servants are here, but Dr. Lecter and the little girl are not. The butler says there was an emergency.
She cannot let that happen. This little girl may be a stranger, but she is Clarice’s daughter nonetheless. She knows what will happen if Dr. Lecter disappears with her. The world is a big, big place, and she could spend her entire life searching for her daughter.
“Susana, dear,” Dr. Lecter says, “it is time for bed.”
He pushes back his chair and rises. Susana appears displeased at having to go to bed, but doesn’t protest his decision. He pads it by smiling patiently at her. “I shall tuck you in. Come along.”
That appears to mollify her enough that she goes along without complaint. At the door, Dr. Lecter turns back. He smiles.
“I’ll just be a moment,” he says. “Then…we can talk.” Then he is gone, his hand in his daughter’s.
Clarice sits in the dining room, waiting. The old saying “on pins and needles” was never so apt as now, she thinks. Her arms and legs thrum with nervous energy. She can feel her guts pricked with invisible sharp needles, as if some cruel surgeon was operating on her without benefit of anesthesia. Glancing down at the floor indicates expensive Berber carpet. In a small, mean gesture, Clarice pours the tea on the floor, under the table so he will not see.
Take that, Mr. I-love-expensive-carpet. I am not lost yet. I’ll fight you and I will win.
A click comes from the wall. Clarice glances at it. The house is large, and there is an intercom system so that people could communicate. His voice comes from it.
She tenses. This is not accidental; it is deliberate. He wants her to hear what he is going to tell the little girl. For now, Clarice stays put. She will be the silent witness he wants her to be. It serves her own purposes to do so.
“All right, Susana,” he says, “it is time for bed.”
“But I’m not tired,” Susana objects. The speaker is good quality and both voices are reproduced faithfully. The distortion levels are low enough to impress former technical agent Starling.
He is not fazed. “Then you may read quietly in bed,” he says. “Remember, your mother is sick.”
A moment’s pause. Clarice gets the idea that the girl would have protested further if she had been the one mandating bedtime. For him, she will not.
“Will you tell me a story first, papa?” Susana coaxes.
Oooogh. You do not want Hannibal Lecter telling you bedtime stories, Clarice thinks.
“Very well,” Hannibal Lecter says. “First, get into bed.” The rustling of bedcovers follows. Clarice finds herself glued to the speaker. Just what would a man like him tell a child?
“Once upon a time,” Dr. Lecter says, “there was…a bird. And this bird was unhappy.”
“Why was the bird unhappy?” Susana asks, her voice high and clear.
“When the bird was just a little baby bird,” Dr. Lecter explains, “she saw a lamb…crying. The bird wanted to help the lamb, but she was too small. Her wings were not strong enough. There was nothing she could do.”
“Then that wasn’t the little bird’s fault,” Susana says with the surety of a little girl’s sense of justice.
“Quite true. Nonetheless, the bird never forgot the lamb, and she was not happy. In order to make herself feel better, she tried to go out in the world and do good and help people. She thought that it would make her happy…but it didn’t. No matter who she helps, there were so many more, and nothing quite took away the crying lamb from her memory.”
Clarice’s arms tense and her fingers clench, anxious for the old friendship of her .45. Her lips skin back from her teeth.
You sick bastard.
“But she should have known it wasn’t her fault,” Susana observes.
“The bird didn’t see things that clearly,” Dr. Lecter answers. “The bird wants so very badly to help people. There were people who did not like the bird, and so they got in her way. There were others who sought to take advantage of the bird, and they used her for their own purposes. They told her to do things that they told her were good, but in actuality they only helped themselves by fooling her.”
“That was mean,” Susana objects.
“Quite so. One day, an evil troll kidnapped a princess.”
“Was she a pretty princess?” Susana wants to know.
“Actually, she was a big girl. Roomy. And her face wasn’t really that attractive, if you ask me.”
“Oh.” Susana sounds miffed, as if all princesses were supposed to be pretty.
“The bird wanted to help the princess. Someone told the bird that there was an old, evil monster who knew the troll’s secret weakness. The monster lived in a cage at the bottom of a dungeon. They said that the old monster was very very dangerous. He supposedly ate people up when he was angry with them. He chopped them into pieces and made them into gourmet meals which he served to his friends.”
Susana gasps. Clarice can almost see her eyes wide with fear. God knows hers are.
“So the bird flew down to the dungeon to talk with the monster,” Dr. Lecter goes on. “The monster was not so evil as people thought him to be. He was interested in the bird, and why she sought to do good when it did not make her happy. So he traded with her. He told her of his knowledge of the evil troll and she told him about herself.”
“The monster was frightfully smart, and the people who kept the monster in the cage were…not so smart as they believed themselves to be.” Clarice can almost see the smug smile on his face, and knows it will go over Susana’s head like a 747. “In trying to help the…knights of the kingdom defeat the evil troll and rescue the princess, the monster was able to escape from the dungeon. Then he went off to live in faraway lands. You see, the monster would have been perfectly willing to live in peace, had he been left alone.”
“So was he a good monster?” Susana sounds puzzled. At the age of five, the concept of a good monster was something she has trouble with. Clarice doesn’t blame her; she doesn’t quite grasp the idea either and she’s forty-four. And Dr. Lecter is certainly not good.
“Perhaps not good, but capable of good. Capable of stopping himself from doing the horrible things he had once done. The monster felt that he had been punished enough. If he was left alone he would leave others alone.”
“The monster continued to live in faraway lands, learning about history and other things that he held dear. But he never quite forgot the bird. He knew the bird was still out there, fruitlessly trying to make herself happy. An evil prince who did not like the monster tried to capture him and do bad things to him. He believed he had a grievance against the monster, you see.”
“What’s a grievance?” Susana asks.
“He thought the monster had done him wrong, so he intended to do horrible things to the first monster,” Dr. Lecter explains. “But the bird was there for him as she had been for so many others. She knew that even a monster should not be treated so. She saved the monster. However, the evil prince’s men shot the bird with a magic arrow that put her to sleep.”
“Was she all right?” Susana asks, sounding alarmed.
“Oh, yes. The monster was grateful to her for saving him, even though gratitude was not something he commonly shows. He carried the bird from the evil prince’s kingdom and brought her to his lair.”
“He didn’t eat her, did he?” Susana asks anxiously. Clarice tenses.
“No, no,” Dr. Lecter assures his daughter. “He knew what the bird did not know. He knew that the bird’s quest to stop the crying of the lamb was fruitless. That she could never succeed. That she would always be unhappy, and that her enemies would ensure her failure. It was sad, but that was the truth. So the monster…the monster cast a magic spell on the bird. He took away the things that made her sad, and he made her realize that what matters most was not helping other people; what matters most was making herself happy.”
“So was the bird happy?” Susana asks, sounding interests.
“Oh yes, she was. She forgot certain things as the result of the spell. She did not remember the lamb crying. She did not remember other things that had helps to make her sad. As a result, she was happy. The monster took her to a distant land and…turned himself into a handsome prince.”
You may look good in a tux, buddy, Clarice thinks coldly, but you are by no means a handsome prince. But she cannot move now. Susana is the prize, and he has her for right now.
“Then the monster-prince and the bird lived together for years,” Dr. Lecter continues, “and they were very, very happy. The bird did not think about things that made her sad. She was happy, and she’d already done more than most people ever did for others, so all was well. They had a little girl, just like you.”
Susana, old enough to grasp certain elements of biology, sounds dubious. “How could a monster and a bird have a little girl together?” she asks. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Dr. Lecter appears not to have expected the question. “Er, it was magic,” he says offhandedly. “So for years, the bird was happy. But then…an accident happens. The bird began to think of things she should not have. She began to think the monster was still a monster. She began to be…unhappy again, and planned to leave the monster and take the little girl away and never see him again.” His tone makes it clear that that was the end of the story. “Good night, Susana.”
The mattress creaks as Susana sits up. “That’s awful,” she protests. Clarice can see her displeased expression in her mind’s eye: small brow furrowed, eyes lit with protest, arms folded. It is an expression she knows herself all too well. “That’s not the ending, is it? The bird should be happy. That’s not a happy ending, papa.”
Dr. Lecter sounds amused, the way Clarice suspects he normally is with his daughter. It seems that Susana is the apple of his eye. “Then what ending would you like to see?” he asks.
“I think the monster should cast the spell again and make the bird happy,” Susana declares.
A cold chuckle emits from the intercom speaker. He knows she has been listening; this had all been for her benefit. Clarice feels icy needles probing at her gut.
“I think that would be a splendid ending, Susana,” Dr. Lecter says. His voice was amused and pleased. Clarice swallows and looks around.
I have to get out of here. No, wait. I have to get Susana. Shit. There’s a ton of house I can keep between him and me. And I have to. No arguments, no bullshit. I have to win this one. Please God, just let me have my daughter.
“Good night, Susana. Sleep tight.” Click of the intercom. Then another click as Dr. Lecter turns on the intercom in the upstairs hallway. A few soft electronic beeps sound. A synthesized female voice advises both of them.
“Burglar alarm activated,” it says.
Then his voice came from the speakers, cool and collected and amused.
“So,” he says. “How did you like the bedtime story…,” She can picture his lips, pursing in a grin, close enough to the intercom so that she will hear but Susana will not. His tone betrays amusement. A sound like a snake’s hiss as he pulls in air. Slim lips slip over his teeth as he finishes his sentence.
“…,Special Agent Starling?”
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