My Fair Agent
copyright 2002, by
These characters 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
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The most interesting specimen always emerged at night.
This could be said for many towns, each with their own unique societal views, levels, similar to others but never identical. The daytime crowd was very structured, straightforward, some waiting for the sun to dip out of the sky so they could turn their attentions to more extravagant affairs. Studying these people was always a comical pastime, as they spent most of the conventional life denying to others the wild side of nightly personalities.
There were, of course, those fundamentalists who looked down their noses at those who only pretended to be on good behavior during the sunlit hours. In studying the crowds downtown, Dr. Hannibal Lecter concluded that the type to socialize at pubs either had no use of God or were so fanatically religious that they didn’t know what to do with themselves.
Likewise, there were the cross dressers, prostitutes, all those commonly associated with darkened street corners and smoke-filled bars. These did not interest Dr. Lecter, as they could be found anywhere. No, he much preferred studying those with real emotional issues. The insomniacs, the manic-depressives, the obsessive compulsive…those who, if they did not follow the exact same routine every night might kill themselves. While pathetic, he found some entertainment in studying patterned human behavior. It worked well for his practice.
True, Dr. Lecter was not a fan of mingling in loud pubs, as such assaulted all five senses. He did not stay long; ultimately chased off by the sound they called music, the smoke as thick as molasses that assaulted his lungs, the same sob stories over and over. There was always some poor boozehound conversing with a disinterested bartender and determined not to see the bottom of his glass, always a woman recently abandoned with ten children to feed, always a dark and mysterious figure in the corner that ordered the exact same thing every evening, demanding nothing but the check and the same waitress to serve him.
Yes, the cases were similar, but not identical. While they were not altogether riveting, it did keep him occupied.
The truth was, while his practice was a success, Dr. Lecter was accepting that his profession no longer excited him. His patients were becoming tedious, their problems never progressing, most sob stories that didn’t want to get better. In fairness to a few, he had said goodbye to some he found reasonably cure. It would be fate’s intervention that the quickest to leave also had the most interesting cases.
All in all, it was a habit he was considering dropping. Tonight offered no more prospect than the thousands preceding it. Dr. Lecter made habit of sitting near the door, always ready to make an easy escape. He had a talent of tuning out the most annoying aspects around him, watching for that one special case that would put his boredom to rest. Though he wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking for, he was confident that he would know when he saw it. A project, something with which to occupy his numbed mind. It seemed impossible that with as many people as there were out there, so many mentally instable rambling morons, that the selection would be this slim.
It was. That, and then some.
Tonight, he had decided to retire early. Dr. Lecter never tested the beverage selection on these outings. Merely breathing its scent was displeasing. He was not a fan of hard liquor, and was glad to return home to a variety of fine wines for a nightcap.
There was no shame in going home early. Frequenting at these tasteless locations, aside from wasting time, reassured him that his own chosen seclusion was a much preferable way to spend his life. Dr. Lecter occasionally escorted a lady of high class to dinner or the opera, but as the crowd at these bars, the women in his life tended to be bland and dull, focused only on the material world. While he would never deny his enjoyment in what riches bought, he considered himself a philosopher of sorts, and deeply craved intelligent conversation that went beyond obvious observations and admiring jewelry in a passing window.
Aside from the usual, which was becoming more and more dreary, Dr. Lecter reflected that he did have something to look forward to. A friend was moving to town on a job offer that he had managed to arrange. The pay was good and beneficial to his friend, and it was also a momentary solution to his boredom.
Dr. Lecter did not like habit. In fact, he detested it.
As he gathered his numerous studies and placed them in his briefcase, most notepads blank except for a portrait he had started almost subconsciously of a young woman who looked truly miserable on the other side of the bar. Since arriving that night, he had found himself watching her, drawing almost subconsciously. She was drinking, though not much, looking to have the sense enough about her to save thorough drunkenness for the privacy of her home, where no one had to clean up after her. Rather than carry the image of a sloppy individual who didn’t care how others might judge her based on outward manifestation, she appeared well-groomed, perhaps a little worn, and very tired. Dr. Lecter had not seen her before, nor did he reckon he would see her again. Newcomers tended to stay only if the company was good. This woman was with a young, vivacious African-American, and looked to be trying to have a good time. Trying unsuccessfully.
The portrait on his sketchpad was flattering. Dr. Lecter found himself curious, but fed up enough with inconclusive studies. Perhaps if she was back the next night, when he could make more observations.
Just as he was trotting for the door, a crude comment directed visibly to the young woman caught his ear, and he lent himself pause. Discourtesy, especially when unprovoked, annoyed him to the extreme. Though standing there, it wasn’t in irritation that kept him from walking out the door. It was general curiosity and wonder, waiting to conclude if his surface-assumptions on the girl were accurate. If she responded in kind, then he was out of luck and would have to wait for the next prospective specimen, or quit altogether. Those desperate for love will look anywhere and respond to anything. Pathetic. Dr. Lecter need not waste efforts on the needy. Still, his irritated senses beckoned him to turn and address the pawning whelp, and he well might have had the abrupt, harsh reverberation of flesh against flesh not interrupted the noise of the bar. There was a sudden foray of cursing and the sound of wood snapping. He turned to observe the man, positioned in the middle of a busted table on his spine, rubbing his jaw in bewilderment. The woman was shaking her head in disgust, absently caressing her right hand, and turning back to address the shocked expression on her friend’s face.
Dr. Lecter smiled to himself. “Well, she is a fiery little vixen, isn’t she?” He mused, barely aware that he spoke. Hmmm…potential? Dare he hope? He decided to wait around a bit. There was a comfortable nook by the door where he could disappear and observe. Should the possible venture disappoint him, there was still an easy way out.
All the while, he offhandedly occupied himself by noting with a wince the lack of constructive grammar or sentence structure that surrounded him. Though he had noticed this before on several occasions, it somehow never ceased to amaze him how many Americans could not comprehend the language.
Indeed, the young woman did have potential. After a bit, Dr. Lecter reclined, comfortable, and started to listen. Every word, syllable, phrase would be recorded in his memory palace. Though he was not a fan of eavesdropping, he logically assumed it might be even more offensive to approach her without coming to a conclusion and inform her that she was in the running for a good psychological teardown. Sometimes, there simply was no other way.
The first voice he heard was her friend’s, surprised and ringing of odd admiration.
“Shit, girl…break every bone in your hand, why dunncha?”
“Damn bunch of self-satisfied pricks,” the woman replied, voice coated in thick accent. “As if I don’t have enough to worry about. I’m so tired of this!”
“Girl, you know that you’ve done all you can.”
“…You don’t understand, ‘Delia. You can’t…you weren’t there. I don’t know why he had me on this fucking thing anyway.” There was an exasperated grunt, and his mind depicted the image of her combing her fingers through her hair, elbow propped on the table. He wondered, briefly, if this was accurate, and was tempted to turn and investigate, but held himself immobile. “No one saw it,” she continued a minute later, tone softer, almost dead. “He expected me to…goddammit…I don’t know what he wanted. I’ve never felt so…so fucking helpless.”
Dr. Lecter winced. Profanity. He wasn’t a fan, though had used it on occasion. Suggested primitive upbringing, but it was cultured. More the product of anger and self-resentment. He made a side note about that. Fiery little vixen, indeed.
More than that, she was distressed, seriously distressed. Hmmmmm...
“He trusts you,” her friend replied earnestly. “And he should. You’re one of the best students.”
“Best students? I couldn’t save her. And if that isn’t enough, they’re sayin’ shit. Are you gonna just sit there and ignore the rumors? What they’re sayin’…”
“’Bout Bella?” There was a short pause. “Come on, Starling, you don’t actually listen to that bullshit, do you? It’s crap…absolute crap. He wouldn’t waste his time. Not like this. Not when there’s too much to lose.”
“But they’re sayin’ it, ‘Delia. Don’t you get it? Even if this thing does work out…even if by some strange will of God everything turns out all right…they’ll always be sayin’ it.” Her voice dropped more, but Dr. Lecter did not need to strain to hear, his senses being superb without need of coaxing or additional influence. “They’ll always be sayin’ why.”
A few minutes of tossed dialogue, and he was enthralled, mind working faster filing and listening, waiting for an unwilled signal. It wasn’t until an alien voice interrupted that he forced himself to pause.
“Ladies…” a male voice, and he wondered, briefly, if more unsuspecting furniture was about to meet its fate. “Check for the drinks, and the busted table. Thought you might like to know…there's a dude there in that nook behind you, listening to every blessed word you're saying.”
Dr. Lecter did not know which was more humiliating: being captured, or being called a ‘dude.’
He did not have much time to consider. Soon, he found himself face to face with the woman, and there was fire in her eyes.
“Who the flying fuck do you think you are, spying on me?” she spat. Her jaw set and her pupils widened in rage. “Oh no. I shoulda known Krendler’d send someone after me. He’d just *love* to catch…” The thought was left incomplete, her mind switching to more immediate tactics. “How much is he paying you? One hundred? Two? Tell him he shouldn’t worry about my destruction. I’m—”
Torn halfway between shocked and amused, Dr. Lecter merely arched his eyebrows and chuckled, cutting her words off. He considered in denying her allegations, just to ruse her, but he was not one to exercise blatant dishonesty. The notion was dead in the next instant. “Not meaning to offend, I assure you. Merely conducting some random observations.”
“A likely story. He much is he paying you?”
“Who? This Krendler you mentioned? Nothing at all. I do not know him.”
“Why should I believe that?”
“You’re not obligated to believe anything, but it is the truth, nonetheless.”
“And you expect me to believe that you’re just listening to my conversation for an experiment? Ever heard of invasion of privacy? Ever heard of decency? Ever heard—”
“I admit I had a less-than-orthodox approach, and for that, you have my apologies.” The woman she identified crudely as ‘Delia came into view, but he did not look to her.
“Your apologies?” she scoffed. “What the goddamned good does that do me? I don’t know who you are!”
Ohhh, this *was* fun!
“I’m Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and I was indulging in a little field study. An observation on patterned behavior.” A look of perplexity overcame her features, and some of the fire quenched from her eyes. “Again, I intended no offense. As for listening to your conversation, I am merely taking bits here and there. If I intended to publish your confessions, don’t you imagine I would have relied on paper to be sure my facts were accurate?”
Of course, this whippersnapper didn’t know that such notes were unneeded.
“Then why listen at all?” she asked a minute later. “What good could it do you?”
“Simple observations. Life is too slippery to trust with ink and paper.” Dr. Lecter chuckled once more, turning his eyes to the bartender, who was completely spellbound with the conversation. “How are all your people down at Selsey?” He asked with arched brows, as though he had known this man all his life.
The bartender blinked his surprise. “Who told you my people come from Selsey?”
“Never mind. They do. How do you come to be up so far east? Your dialect betrays you as Lisson Grove.” Subtly, Dr. Lecter glanced back to the girl in front of him…Starling, as her friend had identified her. “You see? Simple research and a trained ear will do you wonders.”
Starling’s friend stepped forward, eying him untrustingly. “Where do I come from?”
He considered. “Richmond, I believe, though not originally.”
“Well, who said I didn't?” she retorted, as though unimpressed, which was betrayed by her eyes.
The bartender, recovered from his former surprise, leered forward and asked, “Do you do this sort of thing for a living at a music hall? Predict where people come from?”
“No. As I said, simple research and observation. Anyone could do it.”
Starling scowled, not convinced, and stepped back, shaking her head. “He's no gentleman. Listening in on random people’s conversations…acting so casual about it…” Her eyes were an inferno once more, and he found his amusement rising again. “You asshole,” she accused.
Completely rapt in this stunning ability, the bartender leaned forward with interest, all former doubts pushed aside. “So that’s what you do here! I’ve seen you before…come in, stay a bit, and leave. Never ordering nothing. How do you do it, guess people’s hometowns like that?”
“Simple phonetics. The science of speech. It’s a hobby, really. Anyone can spot an Irishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue, but I can place a man within six miles.” Dr. Lecter smiled pleasantly. “A matter of listening and understanding dialect. This young woman,” he nodded to Starling, “is distinctively from West Virginia. Yes…but that was not what interested me. You are distressed, are you not? Something to do with your career?”
“You get all that just from listening to me?”
“Yes. Dissatisfied, worried about what others think of you. It’s a natural complexion. Coping in a man’s world.” He studied her hands for a minute, then drew in a deep breath. “You handle firearms, I see. What is it you do, Ms. Starling? Police work?”
She looked down, as though stung. “Student…I’m a student at Quantico.”
The particular annunciation of her profession brought her back to reality. He was sure to make it short and pointed. “Well, from your aggressive behavior, I do believe I can summarize why you might have difficulty. Perhaps repressed anger toward this…Krendler you mentioned?” Dr. Lecter stood and saw her tremble a bit in reflex. “Perhaps you don’t manage your rage?”
“If you’re suggesting that I act the way at work the way I act at bars, you got another thing coming,” she said strongly, despite the dawning realization. “You don’t know the half of it.”
“Let me tell you something now, with what I’ve seen.” He knew his voice was affecting her, soft and metallic, though assertive. “Carry on as you are, and you will continue to be dissatisfied, shunned, overlooked. You indeed do not portray yourself here as you would at school. That much is abundantly clear. You’re not fitting the role they expect, which is well played on your part. However, that is not to say you are avowing yourself correctly. I would suggest—”
“Hey, lay off her, man!” her friend quipped defensively. “She’s had a rough week.”
“In six months,” Dr. Lecter continued, glancing to the bartender, who was hanging onto his every word, “I could have this young lady coached in ways they do not fathom at the FBI. In six months, I could pass her off as a duchess at an Embassy ball.”
Starling snickered her disbelief. “Whatever.”
“You doubt it?”
“Who says I want to be a duchess?”
“I said I could pass you off, I never said that you would be one.” Dr. Lecter grinned.
The conversation could have continued forever, and he found he was enjoying himself. Starling betrayed no emotion through her face, and in spite the logicality of rationale, he was curious. Curious about her conversation with her friend, before the interruption, about what was upsetting her so. Had this sustained, he might have asked, but in the next instant a familiar face pushed through the front doors. Dr. Lecter smiled at the sight. His friend from out of town was a large black man; large enough for some of the other customers to pause and gaze at him in scrutiny. His eyes were unnaturally far apart, but they held great wisdom.
“Barney!” Dr. Lecter exclaimed, smiling as the man turned to wave at him. “How ever did you find me here?”
“Called your office…they said you might be doing some research here.” He turned to examine the crowd. “I can see why. Interesting place.”
“Interesting, yes. However, I believe I have outworn my welcome. It seems my studies were upsetting these young ladies.” Dr. Lecter turned back to Starling. “What is your name? Your first?”
“May I call you Clarice, or do you prefer Ms. Starling?”
She shrugged. “What’s the point of asking? You won’t be seeing me again…you could call me Belinda if you wanted. It’s all the same to me. What was your name again? Hannibal? I—”
“Dr. Lecter, please. It seems most appropriate for your age and station.” He smiled a bit as she flustered. “No harm done. Goodbye, Clarice.” Courteous to the last, he smiled before gathering his briefcase and moving passed her to pat Barney lightly on the back. “So glad you made it. Come now, I tire of this crowd.”
“What about this job?”
“Ah yes, the job. Wonderful position; you’ll enjoy it.”
They walked out of the pub with no epilogue or reference to the conversation he abandoned, though Dr. Lecter did steal a gaze through the outer windows, studying Starling for a brief second before continuing. Her face was animate and she was visibly irritated, ignoring her friend’s attempts to calm her. Finally, she threw up both hands in defense and retreated toward the back of the bar, out of sight.
Fiery little vixen. If only every night could be this productive.
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