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La Vita Nuova

copyright 2000, by Mel

Disclaimer:    The characters Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling, and Ardelia Mapp were created by Thomas Harris.  They are used herein without permission, but in the spirit of admiration and respect.  No infringement of copyright is intended, and no profit, of any kind, is made by the creator, maintainer or contributors to this site.

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PART 1

Starling's vision blurred and she opened her eyes wider, wide as she possibly could to try to ward off the weariness that threatened to close them for the night. It was almost 7.30pm and she'd been in the office since 6 in the morning. She wasn't a natural jobsworth, wasn't usually the one her superiors found pounding her desk last thing at night. Or at least not until Lecter. Doctor Lecter she reminded herself. Referring to him by surname alone detracted from what he was somehow, and she was trying so desperately to hold onto that - whatever that was. With a deep sigh she turned her attention back to the cluttered mess that was her desk. She had been cross-referencing something... trying to lay her hands on a fax of a signed stub. She lifted piles of papers to look underneath, stacks of books, a pile of discs fell to the floor with a satisfying clatter; she left them there. Where was the damn fax?

The credit card had belonged to a David Binder, a 43 year old computer analyst from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, He had been reported missing by his hysterical wife two days after Lecter's escape from the ambulance in Memphis, where Mr. Binder had been conducting some business. During the two days in question the card had been used several times, but being uncertain of precisely when it had left Mr. Binder's possession Clarice couldn't be sure whether the purchases were Binder's... or somebody else's. The last debit on the card was for a plane ticket to Puerto Rico. Clarice chastised herself for the smirk that tugged at her lips as she recalled Chilton's last journey, following a lead down there himself, trying to save some face no doubt. The fax of the signed receipt was a long shot, but she was sure it had been Lecter. It could well have been David Binder who stopped at the airport to buy a bottle of Chateau d'Yquem and a quarter of fine tobacco and a pipe on that fateful day... but Clarice didn't think so. She added the items to her list of consumables to be watched.

"Clarice?"

She jumped at the voice from the doorway. She hadn't seen Jack Crawford draw back the curtain and step inside. "Uh - Mr. Crawford Sir-"

"It's OK," he said, gesturing for her to sit back down. "Just thought I'd come and check on you - it's getting late. You onto something new?"

"No," she breathed. "I don't think so, old news."

"Any new news?" Crawford shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and shuffled further into the room.

"Um, well, tomorrow I get some new reports on the monitored goods." She watched Crawford watching the floor. "So...." she let the syllable stretch on. He had come here to say something. "How about you?"

"Me?" he tried to feign innocence.

"Mr. Crawford?"

"You look tired Clarice." He seemed to consider something for a moment, then spoke again. "You haven't taken any of your leave this year. Why don't you take some time huh?"

"And leave all of this?" she tried to joke, not liking the way this conversation was going.

"I spoke to Bob over at Justice this afternoon." He still kept his eyes lowered.

"And?" Clarice shook her head, her mind beginning to stir with unwelcome postulation. "It's Krendler isn't it?" She didn't wait for him to reply. "What's he stirring up?"

"I don't know exactly Clarice," he sighed. Clarice was surprised at the lack of denial. Crawford was no fan of Krendler, but the Guru usually played office politics like a true professional. He spoke again,

"But I do know that what you need right now is time," he gestured to the general clutter, "to find him."

 "He's here Jack, um, Mr. Crawford. He's here, I know it. I just need to - I just need - " Clarice grimaced and pinched the bridge of her nose.

"I know Clarice. But that's gonna take time, and I don't know how long I can see them off."

Clarice was quiet. Crawford seemed genuinely distressed and concerned. Something in his tone suggested that she shouldn't fight, not this time. She nodded. Dammit. She was so close, she could feel it. Krendler and his goons were going to have her slung out of here, and soon, if Crawford's mood was anything to go by.

"So if I take my leave, this'll all be postponed until I get back?"

"Might even go in your favour."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Even as she asked she knew exactly what he meant. It was the picture of Pazzi and his innards hanging gruesomely from the balcony of the study room of the Palazzo Vecchio, the mugshots of Dr Lecter almost smirking at the camera, the crime-scene shots, the sign someone had stuck on her curtain - ‘Hannibal's House' - that she had kept and hung inside. Agents were frequently chastised for allowing themselves to become too close to a case, for getting too involved. Thing was, there was just no other way to get to Hannibal Lecter, and no other Agent who could. She felt keenly the familiar stab of disappointment, that in the higher echelons of this establishment, playing power games was more the order of business these days than apprehending criminals and serving justice, power games that even now were going to jeopardise the hunt for one of the world's most infamous predators. She was reminded briefly of that Tatler headline - ‘Bride of Frankenstein'. She'd been offended then. Now the phrase had more than a ring of truth to it.

***

"Clarice is that you??"

"No."

"Very funny Clarice. Could you come in here please?"

Clarice slung her bag in the corner and headed towards the kitchen, and her room-mate's voice. She found Ardelia bent over, a bottle of red wine between her knees, tugging at the corkscrew embedded in the stubborn cork.

"Could you-?" Ardelia made one last attempt at the cork and then handed it over.

"So-" Clarice gripped the bottle between her knees and took a good hold on the waiter's maid. "So what's all this about? You got company coming?" Whatever was in the oven smelled delicious.

"No, no. Just thought we hadn't had a night in for a while."

The cork exited the bottle with a satisfying ‘pop'.

"U-huh. No, really, you haven't cooked for me in ages."

"Clarice." Ardelia put on her best long-suffering voice, Clarice merely raised her eyebrows.

"Well?"

"Well it's a few things."

"Such as?" Clarice took the long-stemmed wine glass Ardelia offered and held it up to be filled.

"Remember my sister married that English guy?"

"Robert? Yes, I remember."

"Well they want me to go visit. I've got three weeks of leave coming and I'm gonna go see them in Oxford."

"Oh - that's great! When?"

"This weekend."

"Jesus Ardelia!" Clarice laughed. "You're not wasting any time are you?"

Ardelia merely winked and smiled. The two women regarded each other over the rims of their glasses.

"What? What is it? Something else?" Clarice was suddenly suspicious.

"Why don't you come along?"

"What?....Come....what to England? Oh...."

"Damn Clarice it would be great!"

"But I - I can't just...up and leave!"

Ardelia didn't answer and the pause stretched on interminably until the cogs in Clarice's mind finally clicked into place.

"Crawford called you didn't he?" She shook her head and tried to look stern.

"Yes but I was gonna ask you to come anyway, it's just... now there's an extra reason," Ardelia smiled brightly then laughed. "Oh come on Clarice."

Clarice pursed her lips.

"Oh alright."

Perhaps this was just what she needed to get back on track.

FIN

Part 1 of 3

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