More Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
copyright 2001, by
Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling were
created by Thomas
Harris. The character of Del Griffith is the property of John Hughes. 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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After everything they had gone through, every word, every discussion, every encounter, every incident of any sort, Dr. Hannibal Lecter was amazed that Clarice Starling could continue to surprise him. Without any scorn, he never suspected in a *thousand* years that she would come to any change of mind without a stern talking to, perhaps enforced incarceration, or another tremulous deed performed by her precious FBI. However, here he was, five months later, marveling at the proof of her liberation.
The reports and allegations surrounding this matter had experienced a steady climb in the months following their encounter, surprising him with the outbreak of public interest. It wasn’t usual to maintain such a spotlight without developments in new information. Without any provocation on either part, humanity’s own sense for romance, especially tragic, epic tales refused to dwindle.
There were, of course, the snide comments of a morally corrupted society. However, in following a series of online websites, chat logs, and message boards, Dr. Lecter was delightfully surprised to discover a respectful support of his now-notorious infatuation.
Though beyond this, it was the revelation within Clarice Starling herself that captured his full, stunned, undivided attention. In the weeks following their departure, she not only severed all professional ties with the Bureau, but also publicly proclaimed her reasoning, screaming neglect that in no way implied a plea for sympathy. Her techniques and resources never ceased to both amaze and amuse him. Only she could declare, rightfully, her abuse without shaping it as a cry for empathy. A variety of interviews on 60 Minutes, 20/20, the Today Show, and Barbara Walters were now on airing schedules across the country.
That, however, was not the best part. In perusing the various magazines he encouraged her to contact him through, he found a peculiarly enchanting article that read,
‘To Hannah: I refuse to let my home become my gallows. Be weary of public statements. The vultures are circling – A. A. Aaron.’
It sounded, of course, like a message directly from him, which would immediately discard any suspicion within the Bureau. Clever girl. Dr. Lecter understood her strategy and felt compelled to applaud, even if the technique was simple. Simplicity, often, was the best cover for the darker and more complicated truth. Of course, he didn’t *know* it was at her hand. The Bureau very well could have placed it in an attempt to poke him out of hiding. However, the message provoked him to watch her debut, even if it was his intention to do so in the first place. In the following days, he reviewed her television appearances, inspecting, waiting for whatever sign she was prepared to issue.
Starling professionally neglected to break in any prior indication, or post-reference as her signal was made. She was in animated speech, nodding and explaining her various scenarios concerning the FBI, stating bluntly, “I always felt the vultures were circling.”
Article. Connection. Bingo.
So here he was, prepared to fly across the country once more, eager to get there before the Thanksgiving holiday.
In the months since their last meeting, Dr. Lecter made a comfortable residence in Seattle, far enough away to avoid attracting attention, close enough to disqualify as a plausible location, with all the elegance to suit his otherwise impossible standards. Equipped with everything from fine dining to an exquisite symphony. All the luxuries of an ideal home away from home.
Yet, despite this, Dr. Lecter experienced no regret in leaving. Other trying issues were far too important.
By the time all was in preparation, he and Starling had traded several emails, never using real names, of course. He advised her to purchase a cell phone and keep it with her at all times, in case he had the urge to call with updates on progression. As if it was the most natural thing in the world, she obliged and issued her phone number, though he did not say when or if he would use it. Currently, they were not questioning each other’s motives; rather understanding the circumstantial events that threatened them both.
Getting out of Seattle was surprisingly the easiest part of the trip. Dr. Lecter detested flying in large American metropolitan areas, but was learning rapidly to make exceptions. The holidays only added to the maniacal rush. He had reservations to change planes in Chicago, and from there, it was home free to Washington.
All things considered, after all they had gone through together, every this and that, Dr. Lecter was both aggravated and oddly amused that the weather condition could restrict his plans. It was so endearingly domestic that he couldn’t help but laugh. The plane scheduled to depart at six o’clock the evening of November 20 was indefinitely delayed.
Despite this situation, which like any other was not without its humor, Dr. Lecter was discouraged. He debated phoning Starling to alert her of this newfound inconvenience, but decided it wasn’t necessary until there was something to report.
Dejected, he retired to the lobby to await updates. It was full of people, chatting idly, some complaining of their impossible situation. Children screamed down the isles, some crying, some giggling, all causing an unnecessary ruckus. A handful of delinquents were enjoying a dose of nicotine in the designated station, and disgruntled passengers were standing in line, awaiting a redirection or alternative options by the various staff.
The scene was distasteful though tolerable. Why was it that despite any situation, God managed to steal the last laugh?
Dr. Lecter would simply wait it out. What else was there? Conceding this momentary setback, he moved to take his seat.
An extremely overweight man assumed the chair across from him. Dr. Lecter wasn’t accustomed at gawking at the expense of others, and while gazing briefly in disbelief was hardly staring, he did scold himself to refrain from being rude.
He hadn’t been settled for two minutes before the large man looked up and said, tone hefty and friendly, “Hiya!”
A lack of interest was visibly betrayed as Dr. Lecter looked up. “Good evening,” he countered politely.
“Some weather we’re having, huh?”
“Yes…” agreed the doctor. “Not very beneficial for travelers.”
“Where you headed?”
He flinched at the lack of proper grammar, but declined to refer to it. “Richmond,” he invented spontaneously. “Though I’m flying into Washington. I had business to close in town. My wife expects me for the holiday, you see.”
The man nodded and smiled widely, as though granting his approval. Though his intentions and general happy-go-lucky mood seemed authentic, Dr. Lecter couldn’t help but find himself slightly annoyed. “Ah, home for the holidays!” he roared. “There’s no place like it.” A moment’s hesitation, then he lurched forward, extending a greasy hand. “I’m Del Griffith,” he greeted. “Best shower-curtain ring salesman this side of the Mississippi.”
Courteously, Dr. Lecter nodded and accepted the offered shake, grateful he was wearing gloves. “Dr. Haller O’Brien,” he greeted.
“Ah! Pleasure to meet you, Doc!”
If there was one thing in this world Dr. Lecter simply could not tolerate, it was being addressed as ‘Doc.’ Such reduced him to the likes of a cartoon rabbit, and *that* certainly would not do.
“Dr. O’Brien, if you will,” he corrected subtly.
“Dr. O’Brien, Doc, Haller, Hal, Obbie, Obe, whatever you like!”
Del’s eyes widened and he nodded, musing back thoughtfully. “All right, all right. I can take a hint. Just tell me if I get to be too nosy. Wouldn’t want to bore you.”
Other ordinary circumstances, Dr. Lecter would not have issued such bluntness on his true disposition. While he was a prisoner in the dungeons, politeness, though truth, was essential to save himself from boredom. In the public limelight, though, while he offhandedly in disguise, refraining from potential tear-jerking comments became indispensable.
In this case, it was better for Del’s self-esteem that the doctor decided to keep his mouth shut.
“Well,” he stated matter-of-factly, “I was going to indulge in some reading, to pass the time…”
“Ah. Don’t let me keep you.”
Conversation ceased, and while noise and natural pollution pulsed around him, Dr. Lecter eased into Dante without much difficulty. Having lived with the howls and wails of inmates and those truly disturbed by psychological issues, a few crying babies and assaulting body odors were easily dismissed.
He noticed immediately when Del stood, and while he hoped it was to relocate to another seat, he saw the abandoned luggage and concluded he was merely going in search of a drink. A few minutes later, he sensed the man’s contemptible scent returning, the hint of disaster carrying heavily in the air. Thus, when a young child crashed into the man’s leg, it was natural for Dr. Lecter to jump up in preservation of his fine clothing. However, his book, tragically, was not spared.
If that was not enough, Del’s annoyingly chirpy voice swooped in to save the day. “Oh man! I’m so sorry! Little bugger came out of nowhere.”
Dismally, Dr. Lecter eyed his book, picking it up from an unscathed corner with an arched brow. “Hmmm…yes. I see.”
“Let me make it up to you. Hotdog and a beer?”
This man was a stroke waiting to happen. “No thank you.”
“Hot dog, then?”
With a sheepish smile, Del gave up with a shrug and shook his head. “Just let me know, I’m here!”
Within time, the flight to Washington reopened, and Dr. Lecter jumped up, perhaps a bit too eagerly for even his tastes. Much to his relief, Del was no longer stationed across from him. Hopefully, without further ado, he would be on his way to see Starling, to put the past behind them, and start anew on the Puritan holiday.
The flight attendant that checked his ticket instructed him to sit in coach. When he indicated he held a first class seat, she snidely remarked, “This is something you should have mentioned to your ticket agent.”
“I didn’t find it necessary. I paid for a first class seat, Madame.”
“You have a coach seat assignment,” the flight attendant snickered, tapping insistently on the seat aligned in a large black marker. “Save your boarding pass, and you’ll get a refund for the cost difference.”
“I would prefer to sit in first class, where I was booked and ticketed.”
“There’s nothing I can do about it, sir. You’ll have to take your seat.”
Though he did not like to consider himself a picky traveler, Dr. Lecter positively detested coach. In all the years prior to and following his capture and escape, never had he willfully sat in the constricted, second-rating seats, mainly for he knew the treatment they received. A few added dollars in this democracy shouldn’t take or add anything to the flying experience, but as it was, first-class passengers had the go.
All things considered, it couldn’t be *that* bad.
…Then he saw whom they seated him by.
Approvingly, Del smiled. “Is this coincidence? I think so!”
Dr. Lecter denied himself a rumble of disinterest, and quietly took his seat.
They weren’t in the air for three minutes before Del turned to him and said, “You never said what sort of doctor you are, Hally!”
“That’s Dr. O’Brien. I’m a psychiatrist.”
Nodding, Del muttered, more to himself, “Fabulous. Isn’t that nice?”
Dr. Lecter considered. It had the potential of being a very long, tedious ride if his neighbor insisted on pushing him with questioning. There was much to consider, and silence was essential. Bearing that in mind, he drew in a breath and said as nicely as he could manage, “Hmmm…I don’t mean to be rude, however, I am terribly fatigued, and not much of a conversationalist. Do you mind…?”
The man was already nodding his understanding. “The last thing I want to be remembered as is an annoying blabbermouth.” A pause. “You know, nothing grinds my gears worse than some chowder head who doesn’t know how to keep his trap shut.” A pause. “If you catch me running off at the mouth, just give me a poke in the chops.” A conclusive pause as Del knelt forward and reached to undo his shoes. Dr. Lecter frowned and prepared to be hit with a powerful wave of foul-smelling air.
Foot released, Del sighed appreciatively. “Man! That feels good. My dogs are barking today.” Then came the sock, and a louder groan. “Ahh…that feels better!” He proceeded to whip it in the air to get some circulation started.
While he patience was provoked, Dr. Lecter forced himself to calm. All he had to do was endure this flight, and everything would be worth it. So very worth it.
Even if his noisy neighbor insisted on gabbing the entire time, despite the prior issued request, showing him a collection of shower rings, and calling him anything but the requested ‘Dr. O’Brien.’
Halfway through the flight, while all the passengers were asleep, Del turned to him and said, with a strangely serious look on his face, “Six bucks and my right nut says we’re not landing in DC.”
Of course he was right. Instead, the plane made landing in Knoxville due to a storm brewing over the Washington skyline. More than irritated, Dr. Lecter exited with the horde of dazed, angry, sleepy people, deciding at last to call Starling. Chances were, he would not make it in that evening, and in following their plans, it was only courteous to tell her waiting up was not necessary.
After a few rings, an audibly weary Starling answered. “Hello?”
If before there were any lingering doubts that this insufferable journey was not worth the prize, Dr. Lecter rapidly discontinued them. Merely hearing her voice was compatible to a musical reassurance that the price was nothing in comparison to the reward. “Good evening, Clarice,” he replied softly.
“Dr. Lecter?” She jumped to alertness immediately. In his mind, he etched her leaping out of bed, or off the couch, aching to stand and wake herself to offer him her undivided attention. “Where are you? Are you on your way over? Are you at the airport? Do you need me to pick you up?”
Her eagerness excited him to no extent. How he despised disappointing her, though on a level, this prolonged anticipation might do them good when he arrived. “No, I’m afraid not,” he reported regretfully. “The weather seems to disagree with us, Clarice. The plane could not land in Washington.”
A short pause, followed by her tone in obvious disappointment that only succeeded in further pleasing him. “I see. Where are you now?”
At that, she chuckled. “Tennessee,” came the dry echo.
“Hmm…yes. Any situation that befalls us, Clarice, is certainly not without its irony. This is no exception.”
“I’m seeing that.”
“You know I would be there if I could.”
He could see her smile, and the image excited him. A breath of exhilaration was released before she answered slowly, “Yes…”
“Good. I doubt I will catch a flight this evening, however, I will continue to persist.”
“All right. See you soon, Dr. Lecter.”
“Please, Clarice. Hannibal.”
Ahh, there was that smile again. Almost preferable to the real article. Almost. “Hannibal,” she repeated before hanging up. The sound of his given name on her tongue was liberating, so much to the point that he momentarily forgot his location and all that had caused him a degree of annoyance in the past few hours.
Then Del approached and the image shattered.
“Problems on the home front?” he asked innocently.
Dr. Lecter’s eyes narrowed. He simply couldn’t tolerate a person who stuck their nose uninvitingly in others’ business, even if the allegation was false. “I don’t believe that’s any of your concern,” he replied.
“I gotta motto,” the man announced as though he had not heard him. “Like your work, love your wife. Was that your wife you were talking to?”
Instead of countering with another observation of his overly curious mind, Dr. Lecter decided to avert topics. “How is the flight situation?”
“Simple. There isn’t one. There ain’t a day’s wake in hell chance we’re getting outta here before tomorrow. If even then. Storm doesn’t look too good. And…” Del seemed to consider. “By this time, I think you’d have more of a chance finding a three-legged auto-repairman than a hotel room.”
Dr. Lecter blinked. This could not be happening. “You’re saying I could be stuck in Knoxville?”
“I’m saying you *are* stuck in Knoxville. Did you try to book a room yet?”
“No. I hadn’t intended to. It is essential that I get on the first available plane.”
A frown of disapproval and Del shook his head. “That’s no good. Listen, I got reservations at this place across town. I know the owner. I sold him shower curtain rings a few years back. I can try to get you a deal, if you pick up the cab fare.”
Shaking his head, Dr. Lecter waved a hand to indicate it wasn’t necessary. “It’s very kind of you to offer, and for that, you have my thanks, but…” Then his eyes wavered and landed on a man sleeping in the walkway, curled defensively in the fetal position, no doubt awaiting word on his flight. Though the doctor wasn’t one for rapid changes of mind, the sight provoked him to sway in the other direction. Nodding slowly, he offered a kind smile, a sight that frightened some, and reestablished eye contact. “Yes, yes. That would be nice.”
Del grinned enthusiastically. “Excellent! Here; gimme a hand with this, would you?” He indicated with a nod to his large trunk, decoratively covered with various stickers to highlight his travels. It was loud and obnoxious, and Dr. Lecter avoided the temptation to hide his face in humiliation in being seen in association with such a chest.
Nevertheless, he obliged and kindly claimed one end.
The cab ride to the Baymont motel was over-pronounced, loud, and frankly uncouth. Jerking from one side of the road to the other, filled with the atmosphere of stereotypical sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. Dr. Lecter caressed his brow, overwhelmed with a spontaneous and uncharacteristic headache at the violent motion. However, he did not comment or complain. Instead, he reminded himself repeatedly that this was for Starling, and similarly, his sense of tolerance elevated.
This experience was potentially beneficial for reacquainting himself with rural America. Had he not trusted Del’s presumably accurate assumption that every inn was booked for the evening, he would have cheated himself this liberating trial.
It was moments like this that reminded him of the remuneration of wealth.
A short, stoutly man with a nametag identifying him whimsically as ‘Gus’ awaited on the other side of the counter. Dr. Lecter saw him through the outer windows as he provided the tab for the cab ride.
He heard Del’s exchange with the owner before entering the establishment. It wasn’t often he regretted his prominent senses, but the man’s voice, despite the doctor’s infallible patience, was wearing on his nerves.
“How you doin’, Del?” Gus was asking as Lecter entered.
“Still a million bucks short of being a millionaire,” returned the bear of a man warmly. “Say, could you set up ole Doc here with a room? Plane’s delayed until tomorrow at the very least, and I told ‘em…”
“Got a credit card?” Gus asked, directing his gaze to Dr. Lecter. If any notice was taken at his darkened eyes at being addressed as ‘ole Doc,’ it wasn’t made obvious.
“Will cash do?” he asked softly, not wanting to leave a possible trail, however unlikely it was that his sources would be discovered as counterfeit.
“Fine, fine, just fine.” Gus redirected his attention to the register and rang up the total. “You boys are lucky here, t’night. Last room in the bunch.”
The words hung over them like a pregnant cloud. Dr. Lecter allowed himself an internal groan.
…but that wasn’t the worst part.
Upon entering the room, term used lightly, the doctor and Del found themselves confronted with a single bed.
Slowly, Lecter looked to his current, however unfortunate travel companion, and a frown creased his brow. No words were traded.
There were certain things in life that Dr. Lecter blatantly refused to do. Sleeping on the floor of an untidy motel was one of them, but likewise, so was sharing a bed with a male that was not relative. This, naturally, arose a problem. The doctor did not want to suggest Del sleep on the floor, but it seemed fair, given his willingness to provide monetary supplicants on both the cab ride and the room itself.
“Do you want to take a shower?” Del asked.
“No,” Lecter sniped, suddenly defensive.
They locked eyes, and the larger man began chuckling nervously. “No! Not together, of course. Not together. I mean do you want to go first?”
“Ah. Yes. Thank you.” The thought of showering in this distasteful place was not attractive. However, the plane ride spent in the discomfort of roach left him feeling groggy and unclean. It was better than nothing.
Predictably, halfway through his shower, the annoyingly temperate water abruptly ceased flow. Lecter growled his frustration, blinking and pushing the curtain back (supported by a collection of Del’s shower rings). When he looked into the bathroom, he felt a strong surge of irritation. Every towel available was used, soaked, wadded up and thrown randomly, bunched up against tiles and walls, in and over the sink. Lecter was overwhelmed with the impulse to simply end Del’s life, save them both the misery, but forced himself to calm. A murder would do nothing but provoke unwanted attention, and despite his annoyingly noticeable flaws, Del was doing his best to be of assistance.
Glancing to the towel rack, Lecter saw he was mistaken. There was one, tiny washcloth at his disposal. Hmm. How very thoughtful of Del! Arching an eyebrow, he shrugged and stepped forward, taking the flimsy material in his hands before applying it to wet skin.
An array of reprimands were on his tongue as he stepped out of the bathroom, adorned in one of his high-quality robes. Despite his questionable surroundings, he was determined to maintain that air of dignity.
Del had presumptuously claimed the bed, leaving enough room for him, evidently under the assumption that sharing it was a tolerable alternative.
“You didn’t spare me a towel,” Lecter observed casually, moving to seize a pillow. He set himself up at the table/chair combination by the window, resorting to the spare blankets stored in the closet.
“Yeah. Had an accident. There was a lot to dry.”
“Sleeping on the floor? I would…but I have a bad back.”
“Yes. I’m sure. Very well. Goodnight.” Set up now, Dr. Lecter cast a blanket over his lap and propped the pillow behind him. He felt Del’s gaze lingering for a minute as he sent himself into a fake slumber.
The night was not without its annoyances. Prior to succumbing to rest, Del felt compelled to vocally clear his sinuses and methodically pop knuckles on each hand. He exercised creaks from his neck, and resumed loud breathing routines.
After an hour, Lecter his control snap. In a forage of sudden movements, he jumped to his feet, considered the dazed man as he sat up, and forced himself to the door before ending the problem for good.
“Where are you going?” Del asked, though audibly aware of the source of Lecter’s irritation. “If I don’t clear my sinuses, I’ll snore all night. I have allergies!”
“Amongst other things,” the doctor retorted, tone controlled though strained, eyes flaring. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Griffith, but permit me to observe. You are quite the walking health hazard, aren’t you? One of those miserable characters convinced a gray cloud is cast over your dismal life. I am a very tolerant man; more so than others credit. However, I simply cannot abide this childish behavior any longer.”
“Hey…just wait a second there…”
However, the doctor was determined to say this, observe him as he observed Starling so many years ago. To make him hurt, even through the kindness exhibited. There was only so much a man could take, despite generosity. “Your happy-go-lucky outlook on life has led me to several conclusions, Del. Would you like to hear them? You were mocked constantly as a child, weren’t you? You repressed yourself by exercising the very opposite of what you saw, an admirable state, yes, but you have most definitely crossed that definitive line separating respectable and tolerable. The scent of cigarettes on your breath leads me to conclude you attempted the habit in a radical motion to be among the popular faces at school, and sadly, once you realized no amount of bad inclinations would ever help you gain acceptance, the addiction was set. You did not know how to control yourself. Incidentally, you were discouraged to discover one nasty habit does not out rule another, rather cost you more of your squabbled savings every week. So you gained and spent, smoking another seven minutes off your life with each drag. If unattractive exteriors were not enough, you damaged my book, which I admittedly can accept. Books are replaceable, you see, and I am rather reasonable. You bore me with your endless stream of pointless anecdotes on the plane, ignoring my vocal requests not be addressed as ‘Hal’ or ‘Doc’ or ‘Obbie’ or whatever nickname strikes you on a whim. You never noticed my attention averted to the vomit-bag instructions and that I read them through several times, both in English and Spanish. You claim the only bed available prior to any discussion on the matter, literally ruin the lavatory, and now…” Dr. Lecter’s eyes blazed. “As I said before, I am a sensible fellow, though I must confess, you should consider yourself very fortunate for both the nature of my position and your otherwise formidable hospitality. Which is why I will refrain from further insights. Goodnight, Mr. Griffith. It has been a true anti-pleasure.” With that, though his raw instincts pushed him to a complete psychological profile, he shook his head and turned to leave.
Del had sat up, eyes large and brimming with hurt, swelling with perhaps tears at the proximity of the unexpected attack. It was the natural reaction to being issued the dirty truth, especially by a stranger who couldn’t possibly know that much about you. When he spoke, his voice was low and broken. “You wanna poke fun at me? Fine. Go ahead. I’m an easy target. Yeah, I talk too much. But I like me. My wife likes me. Geez, a guy can’t even offer anyone help in this world anymore. I let you come with me and use the room when I knew there wouldn’t be any others. I even let you pay for it so you wouldn’t feel bad.”
Dr. Lecter’s eyes narrowed and he chuckled without humor. “Yes. You obtained both a costless taxi ride and a free room, and all I request in return is quiet so I might sleep. How very selfish of me.”
“Fine. Go on then.” Defeated and hurt, Del’s shoulders slumped as he retreated to the bed. Lecter watched him cynically, inwardly comparing him to a pouting toddler.
It was only the knowledge of what awaited him outside that persuaded the doctor to return to his chair. No further dialogue was exchanged, and a few motionless minutes, both were asleep.
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