Wednesday, 19th July
The wound at my collarbone still itches. I can almost sense the skin slowly knitting together. It's like a reminder. He's in custody, he's behind bars again, but his needlework is walking around the J. Edgar Hoover Building, free as a bird. And it's good needlework too. The doctor at St Katherine's said I'll barely have a scar. Funny, how that doesn't seem right. I think I want the scar which goes with that particular brush with death.
The past two weeks or so have gone by like a dream. I've not been convinced I'm conscious, much of the time. Even now, doing something as mundane as walking into a debriefing, across the office carpet worn to shininess which threatens to make my pumps slip; even now, I feel a sense of non-reality. I have wondered, in the quiet moments when I have time to review, whether I might still be subject to some cocktail of drugs that Dr Lecter injected into me, back at the lake house. Then I think I might be looking too hard for a physical reason to explain my sense of falling.
Technically speaking, I don't need to report to anyone except my Section Chief regarding the recent, successful sting. That'll be Behavioural Science's Section Chief, to whom I've been seconded since my reassignment to the Lecter case. Jack Crawford, my former mentor. He really doesn't look well, at the moment. The debriefing is held in a conference room, and despite 'technically speaking', the large table is cluttered with suits, all wanting a piece of the action. A piece of me. I'm like a perk of the job now, the source of salacious gossip and unspoken fantasies. The colleagues I work with only ever have questions about my relationship with him. As if it's any of their damned business.
Last time I was in this situation, Paul Krendler led the talking. He always liked to talk, even right up to the end.
The memory makes me want to smile and I hide this, partly because it wouldn't do, to take my seat before this august gathering with a smirk on my face, but mainly because I shouldn't be smiling at the memory of a man's murder. Even when the man was a dick-led, low-life jerk like Paul.
There's a copy of my report, and those submitted by the other individuals involved, in front of everybody around the table. Everybody except me. Some of these nameless suits are pretending to flip through them. Most are shooting me looks, trying to discern what it is that Hannibal Lecter finds so fascinating. It creeps them out. They're face to face with a person who makes the doctor more than a psychopath, and the only way they can wrap their tiny minds around the concept, is to see another monster.
That's what I am to them. I share the doctor's taint now, because I've survived so many encounters with him. Fact is, in their eyes, I should be dead, and I'm not. That's all the proof they need. It's like a witch hunt. Throw the woman in a river - if she drowns, she isn't a witch. Throw the trainee at Hannibal Lecter - if she falls apart, she isn't a monster.
I didn't fall apart.
My healing wound itches, and it says, "I touched you here, Clarice."
They want me to go over the whole damned thing. It's like story time at kindergarten. Tell us a story, Aunty Clarice! Tell us a scary story about a monster, but make sure it has a happy ending!
A happy ending. Right.
Jack Crawford thinks I should be happy. The first thing he did when I stepped off the plane was to congratulate me. Like I ought to celebrate. He even lost that wary look he's cultivated with me over the last years; the look that demands to know why it is that I don't flinch from any mention of Hannibal Lecter, like he does. I know the look will come back soon enough, because I'm not very good at hiding what I feel. And I don't feel like celebrating.
I should hide the smile. I should be dead. I should be happy. Do I sense a pattern emerging, here?
Looks like I have the floor. Introductory chat is over and I didn't even notice it. Well, I'm still on the payroll, so I can't refuse. We'll start from the top.
"After the events at the late Mr Krendler's lake house, we had a manhunt on our hands. Dr Lecter had a slight head start on us, but only barely. We traced him on airline manifests and security footage, to Paris, via South America, and worked with Interpol to continue an investigation.
"I flew out as bait."
Oh ... they didn't like that. Why don't they like the word? It's pretty clear that it's the right word. I was there because they didn't have any other carrot to dangle on a stick. What is it with these suits? They never look at anything straight. They like to shroud it in euphemism. What happened to honesty?
"When the team assembled in France, Lecter had done a good job of disappearing. We knew he could have been anywhere; he's disappeared very successfully on previous occasions. But we decided to keep things in Paris for the time being. Lecter's last known location was in a central Paris hotel. We had people checking train stations, border checks, airports, accommodations, but to no avail. He should have been conspicuous because of his ... injury ..."
And doesn't that bring back memories. I screamed when he did it, not because I was braced for my own pain, but because I suddenly saw his. I knew what he'd do before the cleaver hit. And I knew what his choice meant.
I think I'd rather have been missing a hand, in that instant.
"The plan was simple. I took up almost permanent residence at a sidewalk café on the Champs Élysées, nice and visible, drank several gallons of coffee and mineral water, and waited.
"Lecter let me see him on the third day, walking along the opposite sidewalk. His arm was still in a sling. It was only the briefest flash, but it was intended. Nobody else on the team saw him."
Shuffling there from Agent Thompson. Unsurprising, really. He'd been undercover, his Bureau-trained head in a newspaper, on the very sidewalk along which Lecter had walked, and he hadn't even seen the doctor when he sauntered past.
"I saw him twice more, for longer periods, on the next two days. This time, other team members saw him. It was after the fourth sighting that he approached the café.
"He sat down with me, ordered an espresso and offered me a refill, which I didn't accept. I kept him talking as the other team members moved in. Once the signal was given, I prepared myself. But I saw a blade in Lecter's hands, and as soon as I knew he was prepared to fight, I couldn't risk any innocent member of the public being taken hostage. So I pushed him out of his chair to the sidewalk and held him until an arrest could be made."
That's all she wrote, boys. In this report, anyway.
They're looking at me expectantly. What do they want, a word by word account of the conversation? Thinking about it, that's probably exactly what they want. But I'm not going to give them that, because it was private. And there's no recording for them to pick over. I refused to wear a microphone because Paris in July is warm, and concealing a wire would have been too darn tricky.
What the hell am I talking about? I'm getting as hypocritical as they are, all of them, with their greedy eyes and shuffling excitement as they look at me and imagine my body lying across Hannibal Lecter's.
I wouldn't wear a microphone because I knew the things we'd discuss would make my continued career with the Bureau impossible, were they to be overheard.
Questions. They're asking questions. And none of the questions are remotely perceptive. I could really use a friendly face here, someone to share a glance with, smile with, someone who'd be rolling their eyes right along with me, if they could. But the only face which might have qualified is my boss's, and he's beginning to get that wary look again. Didn't take long for it to come back. He's no friend. He has no idea what's going on in my head, and that fact scares him stupid.
Shame. It makes me feel good.
Show's over. Nothing more to see here, folks. They file out, vaguely disappointed that I didn't treat them to anything more scandalous than a professional summary of the capture.
Crawford wants to talk some more. He tells me he's going to score us some coffee, like it's some major achievement, a serious favour he's doing for me. It's about all he has done for me in ten years. All he can do. He leaves the conference room.
I'm smiling now. And my memories tumble back to the events at that Parisian café, only this time I don't restrict myself to the official version.
... 6 days earlier
"May I join you, Clarice?"
I should hide how his voice makes me feel, but I can't. And I don't want to. Fuck 'should'. I never needed 'should' with him.
"By all means, Dr Lecter."
He's always so graceful. Even when he's incapacitated by an injury, he's elegant and controlled. He smiles at me. I'm not sure I deserve that, after the lake house.
"How's your arm doing?" I ask.
"It's fine, thank you, Clarice. The fracture is healing nicely."
We're quiet as the waiter comes over and Lecter orders a coffee. He looks at me, politely offering me further refreshment, but I decline with a shake of my head. If I never drink another cup of coffee, I'll be glad. I'm coffee-d out. Thank heavens for decaf, or I'd be buzzing like a bee right now.
And we're alone again. I feel there are things I ought to tell him, but I don't know where to start. I feel like crying.
I'm hardly aware of the next words I speak.
"Dr Lecter, you realise that this is a trap, don't you?"
I wonder where the warning came from, then I shrug off the whisper of concern. Never mind. It felt right to tell him.
"Of course, Clarice. How long do we have?"
"Not long. Minutes."
"Then you'd better hurry up and say what's on your mind."
How can he be so calm? He pauses to look up at the blue sky, and he loosens his tie. He looks like a tourist enjoying the Parisian summer sunshine. He cut Paul Krendler's head open and sliced pieces of brain for sauté. He cut the cuffs so that he sustained the injury, rather than me.
He came half way around the world to watch me run.
"Doctor," I begin, and the tears are too close. My throat is too tight. I don't know what to say, so I tell him just that with my eyes.
Of course, he knows better than I. "This is the price of your reinstatement, I take it?"
I nod, glumly. "Yes. I have a lot to make up for after my unauthorised assault on the Verger Estate."
"I seem to be more important to them now, that I was ten days ago."
"You killed a Justice Department employee in the meantime."
"Hmmm. So I did." He smiles at me, and the sight doesn't make me shudder. It makes me ache. I bite my lip. "Tell me, Clarice. How does this sit with you?"
I don't hesitate. "It's making me feel dirty."
"Is feeling dirty worth reinstatement?"
"I don't know."
"I think you do. I think you're just not quite ready to admit it, yet."
"You may well be right. In the meantime, can I ask a favour?"
Lecter laughs at that, and it is funny, I suppose. I'm sitting here, crafting his doom, and I'm asking for favours. "Ask, Clarice. I'll grant it if I can."
I look him straight in the eye. "If you're going to run, try not to hurt any of the sheep."
They were his words. "You feel it is your duty to protect the sheep." It always comes back to his words. Nothing in my life has greater durability.
"I'm not going to run, Clarice."
I flush cold. "You're not?"
"Why no, I'm staying right here until your rather conspicuous colleagues creep close enough to give you a signal that they're ready to arrest me. Then I'm going to come quietly."
"You're turning yourself in?" It doesn't seem at all likely. It doesn't seem real.
"That's what I said." He tosses his head to one side and accepts the coffee placed before him with a murmured thank-you.
He looks at me for a long moment, and his eyes are so utterly compassionate that he takes my breath away. I've never seen him look that way before. "I wanted this chance to talk, Clarice. I wasn't prepared to wait another ten years."
I know it's only half an answer, and Lecter sees my understanding, because he smiles in acknowledgement.
"Why?" I repeat.
"I'm sorry, our time is up," he murmurs. He shoots a momentary glance to his left and I note the approaching cavalry. A tear falls down my face. I'm close to panic because I don't know what to do or feel. I'm here to bring a killer into custody, and my overriding urge is to tell him to run fast and run far.
He seems unhappy about my tears. "Please, Clarice. It's not so very important."
"I hate this."
"I hate it too, but we must live with it."
I sneak another glance at my back-up, now mere seconds away, and I see the glint of weapons being drawn. I suddenly realise that the intention is not to let Lecter 'live with it'. Not to let him live at all. It'll be too easy. A man like Lecter in a public place, no doubt armed, ready to kill rather than subject himself to further incarceration ...
Before I can think, I stand up and throw myself over the table. Hot coffee scalds me through my T-shirt but I barely notice. Lecter's good arm comes up to catch me automatically, and then we're both falling backwards in his chair. The impact throws us out, on to the sidewalk, but by that time it's too late for the approaching agents to take a shot. Not unless they want to shoot him through me.
We have seconds. There's only seconds. The doctor's body is warm under mine.
"Your blade. If they see I've disarmed you then ..."
"... they have one less reason to shoot me."
We've merged, in that instant. The line separating Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter is blurred. Lecter jerks his arm and then presses the furled Harpy into my left hand. I remove my firearm from the small of my back and reach it to his jaw. I don't thumb the safety off, because I have no intention of using it. It's all for show. All an act, for the benefit of others.
One of my tears falls on to his face, just above his upper lip, and he flicks with his tongue to lick it. I almost laugh, at the symbolism, and I see his eyes sparkling in return, even now, as we lie in a winded heap on a Parisian sidewalk with people beginning to shout in alarm as they see officers with weapons drawn to point at us.
There's no more time. I feel like I should say something, offer a lasting epitaph befitting this final chapter of the most significant relationship I have ever known. But every phrase I think of seems trite and unworthy, so I hold my peace and just look at him. He looks back.
I'm hauled off him by an irritated officer. Too much attention has been drawn now, and they won't shoot him. Lecter is pulled to his feet and handcuffed, despite his strapped wrist. People are asking me if I'm all right, and I offer the Harpy as evidence, telling them that I saw him pull it and acted immediately. They believe me. When I glance at the doctor, I see an amusement in his eyes, and I wish I could interpret it.
There's coffee all over my T-shirt. I sit down and lower my head to my arms because it's all too much and my legs are ready to give way. A police van draws up with a screech of brakes, and Lecter is piled into the back. I know they won't let me go with him, so I don't even ask. I just hope they don't come up with a reason for shooting him between Paris and the States.
As I watch the van move off and prepare myself to return to my hotel and clean up, I feel something inside me shift, turn, and resettle in a new alignment. The feeling is quite physical.
I dry my tears and I leave.
"Here we go, Starling."
Crawford sets a tray bearing coffee on the conference table. He and I are alone, now. I come back to myself. I'd been lost in memories.
I have to wipe the tears away before my boss notices them.
He offers me a coffee and I know I won't touch it, because the smell alone is enough to make me feel sick. I wait to learn the point to this extended meeting.
"So, how are you holding up? You've had a rough couple of weeks," he says. The comment is made all the more inane because I know that he doesn't want me to answer honestly.
"I'm fine, sir," I reply.
"That's good." He coughs, stirs sugar into his coffee and then smiles. "You did yourself a lot of good, in the Paris sting."
I nod. I can't find the words to respond to a statement like that. Not words that I can speak out loud, anyway.
Then he tells me there's to be a retrial. New evidence will be brought to bear on Hannibal Lecter's further crimes since escaping custody, and on his mental state. I think Crawford intends the news as consolation. It doesn't console, or reassure. It enrages me. I try to keep my feelings to myself.
He mutters on and I toy with the warm cup in front of me. He mentions the federal prison serving as the doctor's current residence, and makes a reference to the now defunct asylum in Baltimore, where Lecter and I first met.
"Starling? Sorry, did you say something?"
I stir from my reverie. "We never discovered what happened to Chilton after he disappeared, did we?"
"No, we didn't."
My thoughts catch up with the more abstract mental processes which have already told me what I need to do. "We could add Chilton to Lecter's rap sheet."
Crawford closes his eyes against the name, briefly. "We don't need anything more."
"But don't you want to know the truth?"
Crawford looks at me as though I'm speaking in Swahili. His goal is clear, now. He wants Dr Lecter to face the needle, and to be done with it all. He doesn't care about Chilton and he doesn't care about me, particularly. The wary look is back with a vengeance.
"Sir," I begin, and the honorific leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. "I joined the Bureau to serve a force for good, for order. To protect the innocent." The words which have been rendered meaningless since Paris flow easily from my tongue. "Now I wasn't able to protect Dr Chilton, but I can at least let him rest in peace. I think this would be a good time to close out some of the unresolved case files, and we can do it."
"Do it how?" Crawford asks, but he already knows.
"Let me speak to him. I'll get as much information out of him as I can."
"No." The answer is unequivocal. "You aren't going head to head with him again. I won't allow it."
"Has he spoken?" I demand. "Since he was dragged up off the sidewalk and packed into a van, has he uttered one single word?"
Crawford looks down and, after a long moment of reflection, shakes his head slowly.
"So how are you going to try him?" I continue, on stronger ground, now. "How are you going to prove him sane? How are you going to do anything, if he won't even speak?" I feel a new resolution inside me, but I don't pause to try to identify it. "You know that Lecter will speak to me."
This time, the name makes him swallow. "He'll speak to you, even after you betrayed him?" he asks, in a low voice. And the question is so loaded that I almost forget to breathe.
There's a pregnant pause as I wonder how the hell to answer it.
"You can't betray someone you never had any allegiance to," I state firmly, and I look at Jack Crawford with every ounce of conviction I've ever possessed, simply because if I don't, I know my contempt will shine through. "I think you've been reading the tabloids too much, sir."
He apologises, flustering. I'm glad, because now he thinks he owes me, for a slip of the tongue which, technically, was tantamount to slander. He agrees to let me try to open a dialogue with Dr Lecter, ostensibly to get the details of Chilton's death plus any others not already on his case history, but mainly, I know, to help prove the doctor sane and fit to stand trial. I pretend not to realise this.
My coffee is still untouched as we part. Crawford will contact me with the details of the visit; he seems to think it will take at least a week for the paperwork to go through. I go back to the new desk I've been assigned. It's another dead-end secondment, this time helping with background checks, as far from Behavioural Science as they could sling me. As I walk, wrapped in memories, I find myself answering a question in my mind.
"Tell me, Clarice. How does this sit with you?"
"The price was too high, Doctor," I murmur to myself. "And I think I want a refund."