Whenever she rounded a corner or saw a parting in the crowd, she expected to see him. She wasn't really sure if he planned to reveal himself at the end of this little game of cat and mouse or if he was simply using this as a safe means of communicating with her. But she guessed it was the latter. They wouldn't be meeting face to face, at least not today. She let out a sigh.
"Tired of our little game already Agent Starling? Why we've only just begun…" She could tell from the sound of his voice he that was enjoying himself, even if she was not.
He didn't wait for her to answer, instead he continued asking more questions.
"How are you coping with your latest fall from grace? Now that they've taken away everything that you worked so hard for, what do you think you'll do next?"
"I don't know Dr. Lecter."
"Tell me Clarice, do you ever think about harming those who've harmed you?"
She only half listened to him, trying as she was to match the background noises coming through her receiver with his location. She stopped for a moment to get her bearings, and turned slowly 360 degrees. That's when she spotted them. Although the two men looked quickly away they knew she had spotted them.
"We're being followed Dr. Lecter."
"Yes, I know Clarice. Not to worry, just a few of Mason's goons. Now where were we?"
"You asked if I wanted to harm those who've harmed me-"
"Yes, that's right. So what's your answer?"
She kept one eye ahead of her, continuing to track Doctor Lecter, and one eye behind her, tracking the two men who were following her. As much as Doctor Lecter was unconcerned with their presence here, she was afraid of leading them to him. She should abandon her pursuit?
"Hello? Clarice? I do wish you'd concentrate on the conversation at hand."
She quickly made her decision. She wanted to follow him, wanted to continue this conversation with him, despite the unanswered question that lingered. The one she was avoiding answering. She decided to try to lose the tail and try to persuade him to leave also.
"I'm sorry Doctor. All of this hide and seek is a bit distracting. Why don't we continue this discussion later? We could-"
"Sounds to me like you're avoiding your feelings on the subject."
"No." Suddenly she saw one of Verger's men point. The other one's eyes followed and their conversation became more animated. They were pointing to a spot just on the opposite side of the carousel from where she was standing. From their vantage point on the upper balcony they were able to spot Lecter before she had. She began to circle her way around, looking back she watched as they descended the escalator. Her pace quickened as she saw them heading towards an Exit sign. She followed.
"Dr. Lecter? They-"
She heard him give an exaggerated sigh.
"Really Clarice. Do try to keep up. Not with me you understand, but the conversation. Will you answer the question? Do you want to harm those who have harmed you, those who've ruined your career, your carefully planned life? I'd like your answer soon Clarice, I have to be going."
She exited the doors 30 seconds after the men. Just ahead of them she saw a man walking quickly towards the street. Was it him? It was hard to tell at this distance especially with the baseball cap covering his head. She couldn't picture Doctor Lecter wearing a baseball cap but….
Then she saw one of the henchmen raise his arm and before she could react she saw the man in the baseball cap fall over the curb and land face first in the street between two parked cars.
"No!" She screamed at the same time she reached for her gun. She broke into a run and watched helplessly as a van raced up and Verger's men hauled the man up by the arms just as the van braked and the rear doors swung open. "Stop! FBI!" Clarice ran even faster but in 5 seconds it was over and the van was moving. She veered her direction towards the Mustang, jumped in and peeled out after the van.
The van fishtailed away, tires squealing, forcing several pedestrians to jump out of it's way. Not surprisingly there was not one PA cop in sight. Never there when you need them, damnit. The van speeded towards the highway ramp unimpeded. The Mustang had no trouble keeping up and was in fact closing in on the van by the time it reached the busy highway. Clarice barely glanced over her shoulder before merging in to traffic at high speed and was rewarded with an angry horn blast. Normally she would give a wave of apology but right now she didn't give a damn about any of the other motorists on this road except the one immediately ahead of her - the one holding Doctor Lecter prisoner.
She kept on the tail of the van, knowing she could do nothing but follow closely for the time being. There was too much traffic on this Friday afternoon to try any fancy maneuvers without risking a serious accident. As they left the city behind, the traffic began to thin and the van picked up it's speed. Clarice matched it. She knew they were heading towards the Verger estate and she'd have to do something before they reached it. Once they had Lecter behind it's gates, attempting a rescue singlehandedly would be much more difficult. It would be best to force a confrontation now when it was only three against one.
She decided her best bet was to try to force them off the road. A tricky proposition at the speed they were going but desperate times call for desperate measures. She waited until they were on a straight-away and the closest car behind or in front of them was at least a mile away. She squeezed the gas pedal even further to the floor and began easing the Mustang up along side the driver's side of the van.
She was prepared for the moment the driver saw her coming, knowing he would try to swerve wide to try to catch her bumper. Her anticipation paid off - she laid off the gas and easily slid to her left, avoiding the metal upon metal contact. She saw that the straight-away would be ending soon and decided she'd have to back off temporarily until another opportunity presented itself. She began steering the Mustang back to the right in order to fall in line behind the van. But the other driver mistook her movement to be a second attempt at contact and pulled the wheel hard left again. She braked to avoid it and watched as the van fishtailed out of control and sailed straight instead of turning when it reached the bend in the road. She heard several loud bangs as she hit the brakes hard and jerked the steering wheel hard left. The Mustang did a complete 360 and came to rest on the right shoulder as if she had planned it that way. She threw the car into reverse and backed up.
She jammed the car into park and jumped out, gun drawn. Running to the guard rail she looked down the steep embankment at the van laying on its side below. The shifting weight inside the van had allowed it to flip over the rail and roll to it's final resting spot. She climbed over the metal barrier, gun still drawn, and tried to discern any movement. As she inched closer she saw the driver slowly raise his head and peer out the broken driver side window, now pointing skyward.
"Freeze! FBI!" Get out of the van NOW!"
She trained her gun at the driver as he met her gaze. He looked to his left towards the back of the van. "NOW asshole or I shoot!" He pulled himself up through the opening and jumped to the ground. There was blood running down his right temple and he sank to his knees.
"Hands on your head. NOW!" she screamed again when he didn't react fast enough.
He placed his hands on his head and leaned his forward until his forehead touched the grass.
"Don't move." She descended the remainder of the grassy hill slowly, careful not to lose her footing, and kept her eyes alternately on the man and the rear of the van. The silence was eery.
"Get up", she ordered as he looked up and glared at her. He blinked once as the blood began to run down to his eye but did as she said. "Turn around." Once again, he followed her orders. When she was just behind him she cocked the gun, close to his ear for effect. She patted him down for weapons, finding none. Probably still in the van.
"Now walk to the back of the van and call your friends."
He began to walk calling "Piero? Carlo?" in a thick Italian accent. "Hey, you okay in there?" There was genuine concern in his voice. But no one answered him. She ordered him to open the rear bottom door of the van as she remained behind him, using him as a shield.
The site that greeted their eyes drew a simultaneous groan from both of them. Three men were laying in a heap on what was now the floor of the van and none of them were moving.