copyright 2003, by
Dr. Hannibal Lecter was
created by Thomas
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Dr. Lecter whirls as Clarice brings the baton down. She knows how to fight, and she follows through, bringing it down with everything she’s got. This is her chance. He knows something is up; his reflexes are inhumanly quick.
But for once, luck is on Clarice’s side. The baton strikes Dr. Lecter just above the ear. Clarice follows through, putting every ounce of her body weight behind it. There is a meaty thud as she hits home. Her mouth sets firmly, her lips a thin line. This is not pleasant for her; she is deadly serious. This is her life.
Dr. Lecter staggers. He does not fall. Knocking someone out with one blow is largely the realm of movies and fantasy. Clarice knows better. Here in the shadowlands, when you hit someone there isn’t any nice way to do it, so once you do it, you don’t stop until they are down. He spins to meet her, but her first blow has struck home and struck hard. She does not waste her advantage.
Moving quickly, Clarice brings the baton down again on his temple. Another muted whock sounds in the air. His eyes are glaring at her, his face frozen in a snarl. Perhaps now he realizes that she is a worthy adversary. His Barbie doll to dress up in pretty clothes is gone; what is here is the warrior he once called her, and she will fight him as she has fought any other felon.
His hand reaches out to grab her wrists. A thin line appears at the side of his head where she struck him, and crimson begins to well in the edges. Hannibal Lecter may be regarded by many as other, the monster, something not human. Clarice now knows that he bleeds like any other man. She has only one more blow coming to her, and she takes it with the same cool viciousness that has saved her life in gun battles with Crips.
Clarice Starling backhands the man she has lived with for the past eleven years with the baton. Another full-force blow, and the job is done. His maroon eyes roll up in his head, and his lunge forward turns into a slow keel that leads him to the floor. His body lands with an undignified thump. Once there, he lies prone and does not move.
Her eyes are wide and her body fueled with panicky strength. Clarice raises the baton high again. His blood is splattered on her face. More blood from his wounds begins to seep into the carpet. Her mouth trembles. He is helpless at her feet, much as she was helpless in his grasp for all those years. She has done something no one has done, to her knowledge: she has won a fight with Hannibal Lecter. One final blow will end the monster’s reign.
He’s her father.
Where that thought comes from she is not sure. But she stops, holding the baton high overhead, staying the deathblow. She does not want to kill a man lying unconscious at her feet. She particularly does not want to kill the father of her daughter.
For a moment Clarice Starling thinks about what would happen if she did. Dr. Lecter might have had no compunction about withholding the truth about his origin from his daughter. But Clarice knows she could not hide it if she killed him. She could live with it herself, she supposed; she’d killed before. When you came down to it, she has killed more people than Dr. Lecter.
But how could she possibly live with her little girl she’d killed her father? Killed him not on the field of battle, but as he lay unconscious at her feet? That sort of secret would eat at her, leach at her insides like acid. She’s seen both regular cops and FBI agents eaten up over a previous shooting. They used to teach cops: Don’t shoot or the bullet will hurt you worse.
She would have always told people that her killings didn’t bother her. In some ways they didn’t; she never felt the urge to crawl into a whiskey bottle over them. She’d always made sure that there was no other way at hand; she hadn’t just shot people for the fun of it. Even now, knowing what he has done, knowing what he has done to her, she doesn’t want to kill him.
Her head cranes back and forth, looking for someplace to put him. Glancing through the open doorways of the mansion does not reveal much. She can make out the kitchen and decides to have a look there. Leaving him there is not something she wants to do, but not even he can come to without a sound. If he starts grunting and groaning and moving, she’ll hit him again until he stops.
The kitchen is far larger than anything she ever imagined. Her parents’ original house was only slightly larger than this. Black pots and pans hang from wrought-iron racks attached to the ceiling, arranged orderly by size. They gleam with the allure of nonstick coating. An expensive gas stove made of gleaming stainless steel rules over one corner of the kitchen. The top is burnished black, reminding her absurdly of the baton. The kitchen speaks of expense and order; the kitchen of a man who likes cooking and likes good cooking equipment.
The kitchen has a walk-in freezer, and Clarice finds herself staring at it. It, like the rest of Dr. Lecter’s kitchen is the best. There are shelving units inside it stocked with packages of meat wrapped in white paper and other things she doesn’t bother to identify now.
The handle of the freezer is only on one side; the outside. Someone locked in can be safely held for a while. Will he figure out a way to open it? Sure he will. The man figured out how to escape custody with a freaking ballpoint pen. But with some pleasure she realizes that’s just fine. If she can slow him down for a few hours, even perhaps the rest of the night, that is all she needs. It is cold in the freezer and her breath plumes. She turns it down a bit. He’ll be cold and uncomfortable, but not enough to freeze.
She returns and grabs Dr. Lecter by the arms. To haul him through the house is more work than she imagined. Apparently the Barbie-doll personality he constructed for her did not think much of exercising. Her muscles groan and complain as she drags him, but she is resolute.
The metal door slams shut. Clarice runs her hands through her hair and forces herself to think. She needs some information. She needs it now, too. She needs money. She needs passports for herself and Susana. She needs to put miles between herself and this house, this life, and this man.
The things she needs are here in this house. She knows Dr. Lecter well. Has he changed his stripes that much in eleven years? It’s doubtful. Somewhere in this house are papers and money. The money will be cash, in twenties, fifties, and hundreds. Large enough that he will be able to carry a pretty healthy chunk of change on his person, small enough that breaking the bills will not draw attention. The identities will be long established and will look excellent.
Dr. Lecter’s identities in the United States were all American identities; there was no reason for him to involve himself with the INS when he did not have to. Here in South America, things are different. Clarice does not think that the continent has cleaned itself up during her eleven-year slumber. Setting up false identities here has always been easy. They’d done enough tracking of drug kingpins to know that.
They have to be here in the house. There may be some other hiding place. In fact, there almost assuredly is. But in the house itself will be a few easy-to-access identities, in case Dr. Lecter needed to leave the house quickly.
She closes her eyes and forces herself to think. Dr. Lecter would have told her where one was, at the least. Perhaps there are more she doesn’t know about; that wouldn’t surprise the shit out of her either. But there is at least one and maybe more. She just needs to remember.
It sounds so easy.
She forces herself to think. Nothing comes. What about screwing the fake identity and just giving herself up? She ponders the idea for a moment and glances in the steel door that confines Dr. Lecter. It reminds her of the first time she ever met him, down low in the dungeon depths, that meeting that began with pleasant greetings and ended with a madman’s semen on her cheek.
Quit it with the nostalgia, she tells herself, and walks away from the freezer. For a moment she thinks of her office. Isn’t that…sort of obvious? It doesn’t seem likely for him.
All the same, it’s worth checking out. She heads upstairs, not knowing where to go. Directions come seemingly from nowhere; faint words whispered in her mind as if from the bottom of Buffalo Bill’s pit. Second floor…third door on the right…
Her office. For a moment she stares at it blankly. This room bears the clear stamp of her presence. There are pictures of her and Dr. Lecter, the type shot by paparazzi. There are a few pictures of her with her daughter framed on the walls. The background appears to be a yacht club. Behind Susana’s smiling face there are lines and poles she connects with sailboats. Behind them are the waters of the south Atlantic.
There are awards on the wall, too. It seems that her pleasant little doll personality was into charity. The International Red Cross, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo (and what the hell is that?), UNICEF, and a whole host of charities that try to aid the needy have all expressed profound thanks and gratitude to Maria Alvarez. That makes Clarice’s mouth twitch. Up until now, she has thought of her other personality as something bad. Another woman who she didn’t like who just happened to share her body. Seeing that Maria Alvarez, in her own way, has tried to care for the lambs, is disconcerting.
Well, once she is safe, maybe a psychiatrist can merge her memories with those of her alternate. Maybe Maria Alvarez can live, somehow, sort of, with Clarice Starling. Clarice was here first, after all, and for now Maria is going to have to stay in the darkness where Clarice Starling spent eleven years.
On one wall is a portrait – an oil portrait, not a photograph. It is well done and detailed, showing Dr. Hannibal Lecter sitting with his daughter on his lap. Dr. Lecter’s oil likeness smiles coolly at her, reminding her of an SS officer about to interrogate an unlucky victim. On his lap, Susana’s smile is warmer and truer.
Clarice approaches the portrait and tries not to shudder. Her right hand reaches out and touches the side of the frame. Is this some sort of false memory Dr. Lecter has implanted in her mind? Has he foreseen even this consequence? Shit, it could be.
Her questing fingers find a slim metal catch. Pressing it causes the picture to swing out on its hinges. Behind it is the blank face of a wall safe with a black dial.
Bing fucking go.
But first she has to figure out the combination. It has to be there; it’s in that black hole that has replaced her memory of the past decade. Clarice sighs. This looks like a good make; going after it with a crowbar will take too much time. When a woman knocks her husband out and locks him in the freezer, it is generally good strategy to depart the premises before he is free.
She tries her own birth date and presses down on the lever. It holds fast. She tries his, grimacing as she does. Nope, not that either. Frustration makes her slam her fist against the desk. Whatever is in that safe has got to be good, and she wants it.
Maybe Susana’s birthday. Clarice closes her eyes. It doesn’t come at first, and she finds her vision growing red with anger. What he has done is not right, dammit, just not right. Having a child was something she never thought she would do, in her old life. That, alone among her current circumstances, is not unwelcome. Back in Virginia, the ghosts of barrenness had whispered into the ears of Special Agent Clarice M. Starling at night as they have whispered to any woman who has not had children and knows the opportunity is passing her by.
But to have a child now and not even be able to remember the day she was born? That is wrong, just plain wrong.
Quit whining. You know when Susana was born; it’s got to be in there somewhere. Just relax and think. You’re blocking on it. Susana’s first birthday, can you remember that?
An image rises to her mind. Dr. Lecter is holding a small girl, almost one. She has shorter hair than she does now, but the same girly stuff Dr. Lecter seems to like her in: a little dress, tights, pierced ears. He is telling her that he wants to go all out: kiddie food for the kids, a gourmet meal for the adults, pony rides, magicians, clowns. Her own arms are crossed and she is smiling patiently at him and at her small daughter. I know it’s her first birthday, and I do want to do something, but don’t you think that’s a little much? Her own voice sounds soppy in her ears and she forces herself to ignore it. That was just…that was just how Maria talked. Maria is not Clarice. She doesn’t have to be, either.
Is there a calendar in this image? Yes, there is; it takes place in this very room. There is a calendar on Clarice’s desk. She flips through it, each day flashing by for a second.
5 Marzo 2009. Susana’s birthday. Great. What year? 2004 or 2005, Clarice thinks. She flips to the next year. 5 Marzo 2010 is labeled Susana turns six. It hasn’t happened yet. Her cell phone helpfully told her the date when she first woke.
Okay. Not bad, Starling. Your daughter’s date of birth is March 5, 2004.
But 03-05-04 does not work. Neither does 05-03-2004, or any permutation thereof. Clarice’s lips twist in frustration. Maybe it’s time for Mr. Crowbar to have a go at it after all.
Him/her, a voice spins out of her mind.
Clarice stops and blinks. Him/her? What the hell is that supposed to mean?
Wait. Birth years. Now she knows.
Clarice twists the dial. Nineteen, then thirty-eight, then twenty, then four. She holds her breath. Was that a sound below? Nah, Dr. Lecter couldn’t be out already…could he be?
The lever goes down, and the door opens. Clarice closes her eyes and thanks the God that she still only half-believes in. A few things are breaking her way. It’s about time, too.
The safe holds a few papers and detritus. Nothing that interesting. At the back, though, is what she needs for right now. A thick bundle of bills, all American twenties. She grabs that and puts it on the desk. In the back is a manila envelope. She tears that open and several folders of different colors tumble out. Passports of the best manufacture. Argentine passports, Brazilian passports, Guatemalan passports, Mexican passports. Three of each. Opening each reveals either her own picture, his, or Susana’s. She paws out hers and her daughter’s and leaves his.
She knows he will pursue her. But she is Clarice Starling, and she knows what she can do. She can find a way to hide. For now, it is time for a quick trip to the airport. It is late, but there has to be something. All she needs are two tickets on the first flight north.
Clarice grabs her equipment and puts it in a black leather purse she finds on the table. There are no weapons, and that troubles her. Still, that may be for the best. If she can get to the airport, she won’t want weapons. Airport security will raise questions, and that is not what she wants.
He can pursue her but he won’t find her. She has her own tricks. Clarice takes a deep breath and throws the purse over her shoulder.
Now all she needs is Susana. She heads out of the office and towards the stairs. A swell of emotion catches her unexpectedly. At long last, she will be free.
Part 7 of 10
copyright 2003, by
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