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Precession

copyright 2001, by Glimmerdark

Disclaimer:    The characters Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling, Paul Krendler, and Ardelia Mapp were created by Thomas Harris.  Dale Cooper, Laura Palmer, Wyndom Earle, and Annie were created by David Lynch and Mike Frost. 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

From the Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary:

precession (pre'ces'sion) n.:

1. the act or fact of preceding; precedence.

2. Mech.: the motion of the rotation axis of a rigid body, as a spinning top, when a disturbing torque is applied while the body is rotating such that the rotation axis describes a cone, with the vertical through the vertex of the body as the axis of the cone, and the motion of the rotating body is perpendicular to the direction of the torque.

3. Astron.: The slow, conical motion of the earth's axis of rotation, caused by the gravitational attraction of the sun and moon, and, to a smaller extent, the planets, on the equatorial bulge of the earth. See "precession of the equinoxes."

Starling awoke to the shriek of sirens and a blue red blaze through the windows. A foul, sickly sweet odor filled her nostrils and her mouth tasted like vomit. All at once, she realized where she was and jerked hard on her right arm. The bite of the handcuff tore into her wrist and she looked to see herself shackled to the bottom of the refrigerator. Tucked into her grasp was a handkerchief. Embroidered in blood-red floss, the initials 'HL' stained one corner. Folded neatly inside the square of linen was a handcuff key. Her left hand moved instinctively to her panties, where she'd stashed her key earlier. Of course, she found nothing there.

Shouts, then, as the incoming officers discovered Krendler's corpse. The beam of a flashlight found her lying on her back, blinking in the glare. She groaned as the irony of the ignominious position hit her. "I'm Clarice Starling!" she called out. Only the pressure of her teeth on her lip prevented the letters 'FBI' from following. Never again, she swore silently. Not if they came on their hands and knees.

Someone pressed a woolen rescue blanket around her shoulders as she sat on the steps of the lake house. The fabric felt rough against her exposed neck. Her head was too light as she recited her statement in a voice she barely recognized as her own.

"He forced me against the fridge and caught my hair in the door. I handcuffed his wrist to mine. There was nothing else to handcuff it to. He still had a knife. I informed him that he was under arrest for the murder of Paul Krendler. He laughed and put the handle of the knife in his mouth. He reached into his pocket and pulled something out. I couldn't tell what it was, sounded like plastic, probably a Ziploc bag. He pressed the cloth up against my mouth. That's all I remember. I woke up when you all arrived. What the fuck took you so long, anyway?" 'Why did I even call you?' went wisely unspoken.

Special Agent Cooper, not renowned for his tact, looked at her, looked at his notebook, looked at his watch, sighed, and looked up at her again. "Do you want your hair?"

"What?"

"Do you want your hair? That we got from the fridge? I don't think it will do us much good as evidence. I could probably get it for you, if you wanted."

Starling stared down at her Gucci shoes. She could not think of one single answer that ludicrous question. Apparently this was interpreted as an affirmative, as she was soon holding a plastic evidence bag containing the hair she had spent most of her adult life growing. All at once, she felt the tears come on, and had to pinch her arms hard to keep them from spilling down her cheeks. She'd be damned if she let them see her cry.

A young paramedic approached her as she sat alone on the steps, listening to the sounds of the life she'd never know again. "I'm supposed to take you on down to the hospital, ma'am. They'll want to run some tests and get that shoulder looked at." He

She nodded, eyes vacant. She stood, casting off the blanket from her shoulders and letting it fall. "Just a moment."

She walked over to Cooper, who was conferring with several other agents amidst a forest of antennas. "Is there any sign of him?"

"Now, Miss Starling, you know we can't"

"Fuck what we know, Cooper. None of this has been standard op, except as the biggest goddamned snafu you ever laid your eyes on. Very standard for the Federal Bureau of"

"Watch it, Starling. You got no one but yourself to blame."

Anger seethed through her pores like acid sweat. Her skin burned. True, and not true, she acknowledged to herself.

"Just tell me, Special Agent Cooper." She spat the title like an epithet. Her eyes bored into his.

He dropped his gaze. "We got nothing."

"Shit," she said. She walked away from the brightness of the lights and went down to the water's edge. Looking up through the trees, she saw the constellations stretched out overhead in the clear and cloudless night. She spotted the Big Dipper, and followed up from the two stars on the far edge of the basin, finding the North Star the way her father had taught her to do. Suddenly she reeled, and the stars seemed to spin around as she felt shock take over her system. She slapped her own face hard, twice, and walked to the ambulance, shaking off the paramedic's arm as he tried to help her.

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"Get me a CBC, Chem 7, tox screen, BAC, and draw some extra tubes. And a shoulder film, chest PA and lat, too," barked the emergency room doctor. He pulled on some gloves and examined the suture line carefully. Obviously impressed, he said, "So, this is Hannibal the Cannibal's work, huh? Awfully nice job. You won't have much of a scar, at least. Neat as you please. Tell me, were you awake when he worked on you? Weren't you scared he'd kill you instead of fixing you up?"

She glared at him, an expression known to cause abject fear in lesser individuals. "Why, no, Doctor, between the bullet wound, the blood loss, and the morphine I think I was pretty well out of it."

The physician was unamused by her sarcasm. "Do I need to do a rape kit?" he asked with just the tinge of a sneer in his voice.

Starling felt her stomach plummet to the floor as she remembered the handcuff key and its secret location. "I don't think that will be necessary," she said coldly.

"Fine by me," said the doctor. She heard him mutter as he walked away. "I wouldn't have bothered to do you, either."

Her tests came back within normal limits with the exception of mild anemia and a positive urine for opiates. After a liter of saline, she was discharged through the back door into an unmarked squad car. The flashes of cameras blinded her anyway. Someone had obviously tipped the press.

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Back at the duplex, Starling and Mapp engaged in an ancient ritual: Ardelia made tea, and Clarice held the cup without drinking a drop. The heat on her hands was the first good sensation she could recall since waking up on the floor thirteen hours before. Since then she had told the story of Muskrat Farm and the lake house to no less than twenty-seven different representatives of various federal agencies. She hoped each version differed enough to be credible; she had gone into a semi-hypnotic state at one point and felt as if she were reading the telephone book instead of making a statement. It was as Clint Pearsall had told her, somewhere around the seventh hour of questioning when he had brought her a cold Coke. "Your boy Lecter, he knows how to make a comeback."

"You know, they'll have to take you back after this, no matter what. The shit has really hit the fan, and they'll be coming for Lecter with both barrels blazing. And no one can argue that you are the world's foremost authority on Lecter," said Mapp, carefully watching Starling's face.

"Yeah, so?"

"So? You almost had him, girl. You would have nailed him if Krendler hadn't fucked you over." Krendler's flunky had come forward, wet with fear, giving information about the corruption of the investigation, and the lab had concluded that the postcard supposedly from Lecter was in fact a forgery.

"I did, didn't I," said Clarice, her voice distant. "I almost had him." She let out a long breath, releasing the net of tension that had held her together through the endless ordeal. "I think I need to go to bed."

"You do that. I'll take care of the phone. You need to sleep." Mapp saw something different in Starling's eyes, and hoped that a good rest would erase it.

Starling walked into her bedroom and turned on the fan. The gentle rhythm of the motor and the soft breath of the wind soothed her strung-out senses like a pacifier. Only when she turned down the covers did she realize she was still dressed in a black silk evening gown. She looked up then and saw a stranger in the mirror above her dresser. A woman with deep auburn hair like the embers of a fire, locks cut short in a razor sharp bob, looked back at her. Clarice slipped out of the dress, wadded it up into a ball and hurled it under the bed. She sat down on the edge of the bed and slipped off the high-heeled black shoes. She threw them, one after the other, into the corner. Each one made a satisfying thump when it hit the wall. Naked, she crawled under the covers and switched off the light. Only then did she allow herself to cry. The last twenty-four hours had changed everything. They had changed her.

Ardelia heard the thumps. She walked silently to Clarice's door, listening. She heard the sobs, muffled by pillows. She nodded then, whispering, "She'll be okay now. She just needs to get it out. She'll be okay."

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Two weeks later, Clarice was still not okay. She had sat in her living room, holding cup after cup of tea, trying to find some sense of herself in the hollow shell she called a home. He few friends had come and left unseen. Letters stacked up on her end tables until they toppled, sending cascades of junk mail and well-wishes to the floor. Only one did she open, a letter from Assistant Director Noonan expressing his apologies for her suspension. She was invited back to the Bureau, only this time in a position "befitting her unique capabilities." She had laughed at that, then cried until Ardelia had come home and taken the letter from her hands. Her anger lay sleeping under her breasts, until it could find a way out.

Night after night she had gone naked to her bed, trying to summon a dream, anything, that would link this person she'd become to the life she remembered. Her thoughts wandered as she groped through the few drawers and boxes that held the sum of her thirty-three years. She tried to set her things in order, and failed. She would hold a sweater, a book, an earring for hours, attempting to conjure associations, connections, meaning. Seeking a talisman, she came up empty. Any remnants she found had been tarnished and defiled somehow, either by the Bureau or by him. Finally she called together in her mind all her memories and wrapped the emptiness around them like a shroud. She took a blank piece of paper and a candle to her bedroom and set them on her dresser. She opened a drawer and removed the plastic bag full of her hair. She slid a few strands out and put the bag away. She set the hair in the center of the paper and folded it into a neat package. She lit the candle then, and gazed into her reflection for the space of a few moments. Inhaling deeply, she grasped the paper by the corner and placed it in the heart of the candle's flame. She felt the heat on her hand, smelled the bitterness of burning hair, and watched gray ashes drift down. Her skin sizzled slightly as the last bit of her package was consumed. The pain cleansed her. She looked again into the mirror at this being she'd become. This person was as strong and hungry as fire, and as single-minded of purpose. She wanted only one thing - to kill the man who had done this to her.

She left the bedroom and did not look back. In the living room she took her laptop from its dusty resting place and opened it up. A few keystrokes and she had composed the letter accepting her reinstatement into the FBI as head of the hunt for Hannibal Lecter. She closed the letter with 'Special Agent Clarice Starling' and smiled. The title that had once defined her now sounded like a bad joke in her ears. She walked out of the house for the first time in a fortnight, and looked up at the sky. The stars glittered there, cold and remote. She recalled the old passage, and quoted it to herself.

"There is a time for every purpose under Heaven," she said aloud, enjoying the feel of the words in her mouth. And her purpose at this time coincided with the Bureau's, so her path would lead her back. Not for long, she wagered, but for now.

FIN

Part 1 of 15

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copyright 2001, by Glimmerdark

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