copyright 2002, by
These characters were
created by Thomas
Harris. They are used herein without permission, but in the spirit
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The butter-coloured police line greets me when I arrive, flapping in the wind like a fragment of a flag. Otherwise, the house from the outside looks just as I had left it a little over a year ago. I arrived back from Munich six days ago and today I am finally permitted to cross the yellow line and peruse the innards of my home. It is a relief to have this time alone and to be rid of the FBI agents and others who have questioned me incessantly this past week. The officer with the lone patrol car which transported me here remains parked on the far side of the road, apparently "for my protection" if the need should arise. Otherwise, I have the privacy which has been promised me.
It has taken me several readings through both the German and American newspapers to understand what has happened. Even now, I cringe inwardly as I recall the bold headline of that damned National Tattler proclaiming "German Lobbyist Unknowingly Rented House to Hannibal the Cannibal". At least they had the decency to insert the word "unknowingly". My stomach tightens when I repeat the news headline to myself. It tightens even more as I recall the two brief conversations I had with my notorious fugitive tenant. He was of course charming and intelligent, but what swayed me was his flawless spoken German. The telephone numbers he provided me for contacting personal references checked out. I had no reason to believe that he was hiding anything. In hindsight, I know I could have - *should* have - been more vigilant. I should have asked for a police background check, a credit audit, a birth certificate….. I could have flown back to the States to conduct a personal interview. But no. I just turned over my million dollar estate on the Chesapeake shore to the most vicious serial killer of all time, based only on two brief telephone conversations and my own naivety. Now I feel I'm a criminal myself, despite the authorities reassuring me more often than necessary that "there was no way you could have known it was him" and "don't blame yourself". I can't stop blaming myself for the crimes the monster bestowed upon innocent people during the time he was living in my home.
Now, as I step over the yellow plastic sash that winds it's way around the house, I force myself to take a deep breath and clear my head. I try not to think about what may await inside the heavy double doors. I slowly, counting each step out loud, climb up the front entrance and pull on the dulled brass doorknob which has been left unlocked for me. I keep my eyes closed as I push the door inward and open.
I don't open my eyes again until the door is closed behind me. I step forth from my once-familiar foyer and allow my eyes to roam over the surroundings. The walls are still a pale creamy eggshell shade. There are no angry reddish-brown welts of dried blood and gore as I had feared. Apparently everything in the house has remained exactly the same since the discovery of Hannibal Lecter having lived here. The furnishings have been dusted for fingerprints but none have been removed. I can't decide which room to venture into first. As if they have a will of their own, my feet choose the direction of the kitchen.
While passing through the dining room, I notice that almost every one of my cherished paintings depicting Leda and the Swan are draped. All but one; my favourite which is a masterpiece of Anne Shingelton's. A tiny place in my heart is almost secretly proud that Dr. Lecter and I share at least one taste in common. I quickly shove the feeling away and proceed into my kitchen.
The kitchen is neat but not spotless. It definitely has the look of being recently lived in. As I scrutinize the countertops, I see several items of kitchenware that I know do not belong to me. However, they are items I would have purchased myself had I not moved to Munich for the past year. Among the items that catch my attention are an electric silverware warmer, a pile of linen placemats and napkins, several vases and bowls that no doubt once held elaborate arrangements of flowers, and a bright copper saucepan of the type I always wanted to buy but just never got around to it. I'm secretly hoping that the authorities will have no way of distinguishing which purchases were made by Dr. Lecter and which items in the house belong to me. I would really like to try out that beautiful copper saucepan.
I quickly pick through the remains in the cupboards and fridge - fortunately nothing perishable has been left behind to spoil. I only feel a minimal degree of apprehension at the thought of discovering what "delicacies" Hannibal Lecter may have left behind. However, the only unidentifiable food item I find is some kind of greyish-pink ground meat sealed in a tupperware container at the back of the freezer. Phew......for a minute there I thought I might find a whole human heart nestled in ice. Among Bird's Eye peas and ice cubes, the container looks rather innocent. I'm fairly confident it's either ground veal or pork. The Doctor would probably consider it *rude* to leave human organ meat in my freezer...wouldn't he?
It's now time to investigate the rest of my house. On the way to the drawing room I open two windows and gratefully suck the cool late January air into my lungs.
The lived-in look is even more pronounced in the drawing room, even though it's obvious that somebody took care to leave the place reasonably tidy. I'm glad to see that at least Dr. Lecter had the chance to enjoy the fireplace. I myself never had the time. There are a few things different about the room that I can't quite pinpoint at first. Not only has some of my furniture been rearranged, but there are also a few additions. I'm delighted to see that both a harpsichord and a theremin grace the room. I'm dismayed to find that again the doctor and I have something in common. I have always longed for a theremin but it was yet another whimsy that I never found time for in my busy life. How many people in the world even know what a theremin is? It's almost as if Dr. Lecter has been living out my indulgences for me. I must admit that I am beginning to dislike him less. Besides the physical aspects of the drawing room, I also feel something here. Almost like the presence of ghosts but not quite. I feel the imprints of those who lived here left behind in the room. I can feel that Hannibal Lecter wasn't living in this house alone.
I detour into the hall to inspect the state of my most priceless antique, my 18th century mirror. It cost me a small fortune and I'm relieved to see that no harm has come to it. It could use a good cleaning though. Are those fingerprints on it's surface?
Now I take the steps two at a time to reach the second floor.
Nothing unusual in the hall bathroom. It doesn't look as if it's been used. Of the four bedrooms, the smallest one looks completely untouched. The room next to it doesn't look like anybody has slept there but looks used to some degree. One of the twin beds is rumpled and there are three candle holders containing half-melted candles on the end table. In the second largest bedroom, the one that I consider "mine", there's a strange bleakness. I feel sterile and detached as I stand here. The bed looks like it was slept in for a short time but then decidedly abandoned. The bathroom is by far the messiest room I've encountered in the house. The countertop is a graveyard of towels and toiletries. I make a hasty exit and head towards the master bedroom.
I stand outside the forbidding closed door with a sense of dread and guilt. I feel like I'm an intruder. I have to tell myself to not be ridiculous - this is after all MY home. Still, I hesitate to open this door. What am I so scared of? Do I think that I'll find a severed head perched primly upon one of my plump goose down pillows? I know that won't be the case, otherwise the police surely would have removed any such grisly findings. I find it unsettling that I entered the house hating Hannibal Lecter, then as I progress through the rooms and feel his presence still imbedded within my walls, I start feeling a certain kinship with him. I'm just short of allowing myself to feel relieved that he escaped.
I steel myself and swing open the door to the master suite. The previous rooms that I felt a profound presence in are nothing compared to this. I almost hallucinate that I'm not alone, but of course I am. The king-sized bed is neatly made up but the room as a whole has the look of its occupants having left in a hurry. There are half-burned candles on every available surface. Most of the drawers in the dresser and the nightstand are empty and pulled all the way out. The closet door is ajar. When I investigate the closet more closely, I see it is empty but hasn't always been so - there are more empty hangers than I thought could possibly fit. I venture into the bathroom and discover yet more candles, and dozens of exotic toiletries lining the open shelves. I catch a mixture of scents in my nostrils; amber, vanilla, almond and some others that I can't identify. Walking back into the bedroom, I smell something else. It smells like….like….passion? Having never experienced passion, I'm not sure what it should smell like but I can bet this is close. No, Hannibal Lecter definitely was not living in my house alone.
My eyes finally settle on the small writing desk in the corner. It looks unscathed except for a small pile of mail stacked neatly in the tray at the back. I force myself to sit down at the desk and sift through the envelopes. Most of it is mundane pieces of mail addressed to me - statements, advertisements, and bills. However, there is one item that snags my attention. It’s a plain but thick white stamped envelope with my name and address typed on the front, and no return address. Curious, I open it and pull out a single sheet of white stationary and a wad of money.
I imagine that by the time you find this envelope you have reclaimed your home and no doubt discovered the true identity of your tenant. Allow me to extend my most sincere apology for any undue difficulties I may have caused you. I appreciated your courtesy and friendly manner in our brief dealings and will cherish the memory of occupying your lovely home. Of the many houses for rent along the Chesapeake shore, I couldn't have chosen better.
I have made every effort to leave your home as flawless as it was when you left; forgive me if there is a slight general untidiness but I had to leave in a bit of a hurry. Hopefully the police have not destroyed anything. If you find any of my belongings I was forced to leave behind, I hope they will remain in your hands rather than fall into the evidence rooms of the FBI.
Enclosed is a small token of my appreciation in addition to the rent I have paid for the use of your exquisite abode. Its many charms will be greatly missed. It has served us well.
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
I know I should find a plastic bag to drop the letter in and hand it over to the officer who waits for me outside. But somehow, I can't bear to part with this one single link to a man I could very well have turned out to be. I think any one of us on this earth has the ability to become another Hannibal Lecter. He and I are very much alike except for the fact that I've never filleted anyone.
The money doesn’t mean anything to me, but I place it along with the letter back in the envelope and hide it in my inner coat pocket just as the officer who accompanied me here is calling up the stairs.
"Mr. Eberdt? Are you okay up there? Did you find anything I should know about?"
I button up my coat while keeping my hand over the area where the envelope is contained.
"No officer. Nothing."
I make my way downstairs and follow the officer back to the patrol car.
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