copyright 2003, by
Dr. Hannibal Lecter was
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Clarice Starling stands staring at a speaker, her eyes wide. Her heart races. Blood hammers in her ears. Dr. Lecter is one floor above her, but he is coming.
In her years seeing ghettos over a shotgun barrel, Clarice has learned well. There are times in the field that you know your objective – what the goal of the op is. What is not always so clear is your next move. You know what the end task is, but how to get there is often fluid and changing. In such a circumstance, given no other option, you move your ass when you need to. You do so cool-headedly and sizing up the situation. But if running around like a beheaded chicken can get you killed, so can standing around with your thumb up your ass when the gunplay starts.
He knows where she is. She does not. It is time to deprive him of that advantage. Clarice bends down and yanks at the stupid high-heeled shoes; they will get in her way and their sound on the stairs will give her away. The straps are tiny and hard to unbuckle and she ends up yanking the second one off, breaking the strap. It doesn’t matter.
Flat shoes would help, she thinks, but I’ll get them when I have time.
Clarice moves swiftly, leaving the dining room for a sitting room upstairs. A large television dominates a corner of the room. A couch a few feet away offers television watchers a comfortable place to rest. DVD’s stand like soldiers in a rack, a pristine set of right angles. The ones on the bottom row are children’s movies. The only sound in the room is the larruping of her own heart and the gasping of her own breath. Her head whips back and forth.
Dr. Lecter is somewhere in this house with her and he plans to erase her memory. Clarice has already lost so much. Eleven years of her life. Her daughter’s first years. Someone else has existed in her place all that time. Some alternate personality, constructed to order by Dr. Lecter. Susana’s birth, her first words, her first steps. All those milestones locked away from her, and given instead to some mindless ditz created by and for Dr. Lecter.
She will get them back. Every one. But for now she has to evade him. Her list of objectives seems so long. His is simple: recapture her. For a moment she wants to scream with frustration.
Think, goddammit, she tells herself. What do you need right now, Clarice? Susana is safe. He won’t hurt his own daughter. Think of now. What do you need now?
Shoes would help. Fighting barefoot is a pain in the ass. They’d help, but they weren’t necessary. No, what she needs now is a weapon. Something that will give her an edge on him.
Clarice’s eyes flick back and forth. Nothing in this room that will serve as a weapon; she can’t fight him with a DVD of Muppet Treasure Island. Odd that he even lets his daughter have that. How could a man like Hannibal Lecter deal with Muppets?
There is no time for fucking around; otherwise he will find her and make her into his little Muppet again: soft, unassuming, and controlled utterly by him. She moves to the stairs and pauses. Is there the creak of a riser, maybe? The sound of his breathing? Her ears strain for sound, seeking it out as a bat seeks its own radar. Yes? No? Her own breath catches in her lungs for one, two, three beats. No.
Yes, ditching the heels was a good idea; her feet are silent on the stairs as she descends. Slap-slap-slap on the risers, and she is at the ground floor of the mansion. She pauses again and listens. No sound. Good deal.
Then there is a metallic click. The intercom again; she recognizes it. Her blood chills as he speaks.
“Hello, Clarice,” he says. A chuckle escapes him. “Awake again after all these years? So tell me. How does your life strike you?”
Her lips twist. Anger inflames her face. You son of a bitch, this isn’t my life, it’s the life of the…slave doll you made me into.
The part of her that is still an FBI agent, even after all these years, does her a great favor by catching her lower lip between her teeth and seering down hard until she can taste her own blood.
He’s trying to freak you out, that part of her mind tells her. He’s trying to flush you out, too. He wants to make you mad, to scream, to do something so he can find you. Don’t let him.
“I’m not sure where you are, Clarice, so I’ve directed this message to all the intercom units in the house,” Dr. Lecter admits, as if unconsciously verifying her inner Brigham. “I took the liberty of turning the intercom in Susana’s room off. A small child shouldn’t see her parents fight, hmmm?”
Tap, tap, tap. Clarice can hear his footsteps on a wooden floor somewhere in the house. He is moving. After a moment, she starts too. Dr. Lecter is rumored not to lie, and the rumor holds true; wherever she goes, there is a speaker active speaking to her in his voice.
“Why not give in, Clarice? It’s so much easier when you don’t fight.”
She dodges around a hallway, a flickering shadow in the midst of shadows. Should she turn off the light? Where the hell is the kitchen? Dr. Lecter’s kitchen will almost assuredly have knives; he is a knife aficionado. Dr. Lecter likes his knives.
A locked room. She doesn’t try to force the door, just goes on to the next one.
“You didn’t fight me before, Clarice. You welcomed it. Your life is here.”
Was here, Clarice Starling thinks viciously.
“Your daughter needs you, Clarice. How fitting that she was the first thing you saw. Your own child, Clarice. You never would have had a child in your prior life. Do you recall when she was born? I do.”
You took that away from me, you…you cemetery mink, she thinks. If he intends to make her angry, he has succeeded. Anger colors her face with red fingers and makes her heart beat faster. If he thinks she will do something stupid, he is wrong. She will control herself. She knows his game.
“You cried when they first put her in your arms, Clarice. You cried and said she was the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen in your entire life.” His voice shifts from the same cold, mocking tone he normally uses. The sham emotion in his voice is quite good, but it is a sham.
“Wasn’t she just what you’d always wanted, Clarice? Wasn’t this just what you’d always wanted? You were happy. So very happy. The lambs were silent for eleven years, Clarice.”
I may have been happy, but I wasn’t Clarice, she thinks in response. Now she is into the parlor, and she stops. Something tells her to wait. There is something here. Something tells Clarice that there is something in the room that she can use.
“You and I were happy,” he continues. The speaker is higher on the wall here, and for a moment it seems like the voice of God. “Come, Clarice. Do you not think it likely you told me all sorts of things that you don’t remember now? You have…no secrets from me.” A cold chuckle. Clarice waits, frustrated, knowing there is something in this room that she needs, but not what.
“What did you have in mind, Clarice?” the voice is both mocking and coaxing from the white-grilled speaker. “Were you going to take my daughter in your arms and fly away to Washington? Were you going to get a babysitter to watch Susana and go into Jack Crawford’s office and say ‘Hi, I’m sorry I was eleven years late for work?’ It won’t do. They won’t accept you back, Clarice. They only grudgingly accepted you the first time. Your life as you knew it is over. You must accept that.”
The curtain. Another shard. About damn time, too. The curtain is off-white and hangs to the floor; a veritable bridal dress for a window. Clarice pushes it out of the way. There. Leaning in the corner. Clarice reaches down and lifts up a police side-handle baton. The original PR-24, made with pride by the Monadnock company. They have made the same side-handle baton for twenty years. Actually, thirty, Clarice thinks. Dr. Lecter is familiar with these batons; he used one in Memphis to beat a prison guard to death. The Monadnock company prides itself on being pro-law enforcement and has refused to ask Dr. Lecter for a celebrity endorsement. Clarice takes it out and looks at it. A single piece of strong black polycarbonate, made for a cop to use in a fight and stake his life on. No one has ever made them better.
Clarice lifts the baton with a cold smile on her own face. She is no stranger to violence. If Dr. Lecter thinks she will swoon into his arms, trembling and fearful, he is going to get a big old surprise. Perhaps the Barbie-doll personality he created would do that, but not Clarice. She is back and she will fight.
And if Dr. Lecter doesn’t know that the most dangerous creature in the world is a mother whose children are threatened, he’s about to find that out real quick.
As the silence grows over Dr. Lecter’s words, Clarice realizes that she has been here before. Not this house; that is merely the scenery. She has been here before, down in the darkness where civilization is a cynical joke and the concept of the rule of law is worthy of snorts and derision. Be it a ghetto in D.C., pretty much the entire damn city of Newark, or a mansion in Buenos Aires, it is the same darkness, the same land of shadow and mayhem. Down here in the shadowlands, you either move or you don’t, you either strike or you don’t, and if you make the wrong choice you can pay with your life. Clarice knows it well. Does he? She isn’t so sure he does.
That doesn’t mean he can’t piss her off, or scare the piss out of her, though.
She pauses. Is that a sound behind her? She isn’t sure. It is not repeated. The speaker clicks to life again. Clarice raises the baton to shoulder height, just in case he is nearby.
“Clarice, you’re right back to where you started,” he says. “Fighting a battle you can’t possibly win. Fruitlessly struggling to save a lamb that died thirty years ago. Why take up that cross again? Unnecessary suffering isn’t heroism; it’s masochism. Since you came to be with me, you were happy. You didn’t worry about such things any more. Why start again? I assure you, you’ve done more than your share for the rest of the teeming insectoid mass of humanity – none of whom appreciate your sacrifices.”
A creak of wing tips on wood. Clarice whirls and tenses. The baton whistles through the air. But Hannibal Lecter is not there; his voice comes only from the speaker. If he were close enough to get her she would have heard him. Wherever he is, she can picture him: head tilted, waiting to see if his words have struck home. After a few moments, he goes on to another tack.
“You’re a work of art naked, Clarice. One that rivals the finest sculptures Michelangelo ever sought to create.” Another cool chuckle, like bones rattling down the side of a cliff. “Trust me, Clarice…I know. Did you remember the sitting room? The fireplace? That should bring back some memories. That’s where Susana was conceived. Do you remember? I do.” His voice drops down to a gaunt whisper, barely enough to be picked up by the intercom’s microphone. “We’d gone to the opera, and when we got back we tore at each other like animals, base in our needs and our hungers. I’m afraid I broke the zipper on your dress getting it off you, and you tore my shirt straight down the back. But we didn’t care then, did we?” She hears him hiss in air, sucking it over his tongue to taste it. Shame and anger war on her face. Yes, the monster has known her even in the biblical sense. Susana’s existence is proof of that.
“Your hair was like fire, Clarice, and your lips like silk, and when we were done you’d clawed my back bloody…and when we were done, you were pregnant.”
The reminder sends another pulse of red-white rage through her, but she clamps down on it mercilessly. Her fingers grip the baton until they are mottled white, but she does not do what he wants, which is to lose her head. Yet his words cut her and she has to physically force herself to maintain control.
“Come out, come out, Clarice. You can’t escape the house. The burglar alarm will give you away. You know I’ll find you eventually. You have no secrets from me, neither psychological nor physical. Just give in. It’s much easier that way.”
Her face clenches and angry tears well in her eyes. Yes, all right, you…you did what did. You don’t have to remind me of it.
Footsteps. This time they are not from the speaker. Clarice tenses and looks around. Where is he? Her ears pick up the sound of an inhaled breath.
“You’re close,” he says. “I can smell your perfume, Clarice. L’air du temps. Your favorite.” The air, not the speaker, carries his voice to her. Clarice clamps her lips together and grits her teeth. This is it. Showtime. If she wins, she will be free. If he wins…she won’t be around to think about it. She will be replaced by the slave doll she once was.
But that’s not going to happen, is it, Clarice? She chokes up on the baton and firms up her grip. The black polycarbonate is hypnotically shiny. The light from overhead dances along its glossy service. Quit it. Concentrate on your job, dammit.
A shadow moves on the floor in front of her. Clarice moves swiftly to flatten herself against the wall by the door. She raises the baton to shoulder height. Has he seen her? Her pulse pounds in her ears as she waits. The shadow grows longer and she can hear his breathing. It is calm. He isn’t moving fast, and Clarice finds herself thinking he does not know she is there. She is in cover, behind the door.
You’re smart but not perfect. Just a little closer. Once you get a little bit closer….
In her mind she choreographs what will happen. He will come through the doorway. She will move out from behind the door where she is camouflaged. Then she will bring the baton down on Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s skull with everything she has.
She takes a deep breath and holds it. The shadow lengthens further and forms into the shape of a man. His back is to her; she can see the side of his head and his small, delicately shaped ear. His hair is neatly cut. It still resembles a pelt, and Clarice thinks it is dyed. Will she have to kill him? She doesn’t know. For now she has no choice but to fight. The alternative is the worst sort of murder: her body will live with a mindless, grinning doll-mind in it, while everything that she is will sleep.
“Where are you, Clarice?” Dr. Lecter asks.
Now is the time. For herself. For her daughter. For the person she was, even if she can’t be that person anymore. Now is the time.
Clarice steps forward and brings the baton down with all of her strength.
Part 6 of 10
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