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Propriety: Emily Post and the Art of War

copyright 2002, by Glimmerdark

Disclaimer:    The characters Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling 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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Prologue: Salutations of Courtesy

            Hands up and freeze. Turn off the motor.

            While there might be lovelier, more perfect sentiments uttered in the English language, Lecter could not think of one in that long moment.

            He had been stretching time like a tightrope, as he was wont to do whenever an occasion called for that certain bit of savoring.  In what might possibly have been the last minutes of his life, it had seemed particularly appropriate.

            Not that the swine, Mason among them, were commanding much of his attention.  Except perhaps peripherally, as he considered them amidst the context of one of his favorite books, Emily Post’s classic 1922 Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home.  The whole setup frankly amused him.  Trust Mason to engineer the right imagery for all the wrong reasons.

            He had been wondering what Miss Post’s reaction to this most informal of dinners might have been when the one voice in all the world he least expected and most wanted to hear had echoed in the barn like a crow screeching “Agnus Dei.”

            According to Post, a gentleman always rises when a lady enters the room.  The fact that this was impossible was more uncomfortable than his bonds.  Not to be daunted, he cast about for an equivalency of sorts.

            Fermate il motore,” Dr. Lecter said helpfully.  It was not quite enough, but he did feel better.  Perhaps another opportunity to be of assistance would present itself.

Chapter One: Parole

            Two?” he said.  Watch it, there ought to be three.

            As he spoke, the dart from Tommaso’s rifle flew, a silver streak under the floodlights, and shivered past Starling’s ear to thud into the wooden wall behind her.

            But before that sound had time to travel to her brain, her hands had defied gravity, inertia, and the laws of common sense. She pulled up hard on the gun as she whirled around.  Her only target was a shadow’s motion in the blackness above her. She heard John Brigham’s voice counting her shots.  “One, two, three, four.”  Her empty clip clattered to the ground, followed closely by a body tumbling out of the hayloft.

            Breathe.  Breathe.  Scan.  Dr. Lecter had almost removed himself from the slick ropes.  Only the bindings on his left leg still kept him captive.  “Is there anything else you think I should know, Doctor?”

            “In Dante’s Inferno, those who betray their benefactors are punished in the place called Judecca, in the Ninth Circle of Hell.  Satan resides there.”

            “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind, Dr. Lecter, but I was thinking of more immediately useful information.”

            He smiled at that, and her heart thrummed against the wall of her chest.  Keep the gun up.  Two hands.  Steady.

            “Just one more moment, Agent Starling…” He sliced through the last coil, and was free.  He turned to her, hands extended, still holding the knife.  “And now?”

            She reached down to her pocket and pulled out a set of cuffs.  She tossed them, underhand, in a shallow arc.  They skidded across the floor and landed at Lecter’s feet.  “Cuff those two to the forklift.”

            He picked up the cuffs and walked over to the men.  Carlo shuddered and thrashed in his bonds.  Lecter squatted down beside him, looking for all the world like a parent speaking to a child.  “When you get to Hell, say hello to your brother from me.”

            Two flashes under the hot lights, and blood spurted from carotids neatly severed.  Clarice watched, frozen, as their kicking stopped.  Swallow.  Breathe.  The pigs strained against the wooden fence, and the creaking brought her back to her senses.  “Due respect, Dr. Lecter, but I think it’s time we got out of here.  Drop the knife and cuff yourself.”  She trained her sight on the center of his chest.  For a variety of reasons.

            He made no motion, but spoke instead.  “Would you permit me a question, Clarice?”

            “Drop it now, Doctor.”  Her voice sounded harsh and timid to her ears.

            Thunk.  “Whatever possessed you to come here this evening?”

            “I wanted to thank you for the wine.  Though I haven’t had the chance to enjoy it, yet.”

            He looked at her, and dropped his hands to his sides, palms facing back, fingers curled.  All at once, her mind jerked back to the asylum.  “Quid pro quo, Doctor.”

            “I believe I’ve already done my part, Clarice.”  He motioned to the knife at his feet.

            She spared a quick glance over her shoulder.  The fence was shaking now as the pigs hurled their massive bodies against it.  The smell of their blood lust was overpowering even to her less discriminating nose.

            “And I believe I earned your full cooperation when I saved your felonious ass from becoming hog swill, Dr. Lecter.  Now put on the cuffs and let’s blow this pop stand.”

            He grimaced slightly, and his nose wrinkled.  It was oddly amusing.  “If it makes you feel better, Agent Starling.”  He turned and made quite the demonstration of joining his wrists behind his back.

            “Thank you, Dr. Lecter.  I appreciate the courtesy.  Now, out.  That way.”  She jerked her head in the direction of the fire road.

            “Ladies first.”

            “I don’t think so.”

            “Suit yourself, Clarice.”  He moved swiftly, even unshod, apparently unaffected by the transition from the blinding lights of the barn to the cool, silky midnight outside.  Starling struggled to keep up.  Her efforts unfortunately spared her little leisure to contemplate what in the hell she was going to do when they reached her car.

            They proceeded in near silence on the fire road; the only sound the faint crunching of the gravel beneath their feet.  She caught a flash of his white skin treading the sharp pebbles, and winced.

            “Are you okay, Doctor?”

            “I’ll be fine.  Thank you.”

            And those were the only words they spoke.  If it had seemed an eternity to Starling before, it felt twice as long now.  When she finally saw her Mustang’s shape looming in the distance, she felt the urge to kiss the hood.  Breathe.  Breathe.

            Dr. Lecter walked straight up to the rear bumper and turned around.  One eyebrow eloquently rose.

            Her original plan of stuffing him in the trunk seemed ludicrous now that she was face to face with him once more.  It would be an unspeakable discourtesy.  She hesitated, the uncertainty plain on her face.

            “I give you my word, I’ll not harm you.  Unless…”

            She cut him off bitterly.  “It’s the ‘unless’ that has me worried, Doctor.”

            They stood there in silence again.  Her arms ached from holding her gun up so long.

            Finally, he spoke.  “You need to make a decision, Clarice.  But you don’t need to make it right now.  Come with me, to my home.  Or someplace else, somewhere neutral, it doesn’t matter.  Take the time to think this through.  I would hate for you to rush into something you’ll regret later.”

            She smirked.  “Your concern is hardly altruistic, Dr. Lecter.”

            “I never said it was.  But the offer stands, nonetheless.”

            Her mind roiled.  Out of the tumult came one thought that made sense.  She knew she was in no shape for a fight with Lecter at the present moment.  There was nothing to be lost in putting it off.  She hoped.  What the hell, she had nothing to lose to begin with.

            Their eyes locked, and she lowered the gun.  With a hand suddenly very heavy, she snapped it into her holster.  “Turn around,” she said, and was gratified when he did.  She’d earned the trust of a killer.

            She slipped her keys from her trouser pocket and clicked the handcuffs free.  He turned again, fast, and faced her.  Their bodies were no more than a foot distant.  Before she had time to step away, he caught her hand in his.

            Her intake of breath was sudden and audible.  He smiled, and her whole spine tingled.  He brought her hand up to his face and brushed it lightly with his lips.  “Thank you, Clarice.  I give you my parole.”

            Her extremities went numb, and her vision began to tunnel.  Don’t go there, Starling, she admonished herself.  Swallow.  Now.  Breathe.  Good.  Very, very slowly, she pulled her hand away.  “I accept your parole, Doctor.  Now get in the car, and tell me where we’re going.”


Part 1 of 10

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copyright 2002, by Glimmerdark

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