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Cutting Up a Few Old Touches

copyright 2002, by Running With Deer

Disclaimer:    These characters of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Will Graham, and Frances Dolarhyde 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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        The elegantly dressed man blended in with other commuters in the long-term parking deck at St. Louis International Airport. As he stood alongside the new Acura, an observant passer-by might have wondered why it took him so long to get his car door open or, perhaps, why he had purchased such an expensive automobile without opting for keyless entry. But the hurrying strangers were intent on their flights, their children, their luggage. Lecter took his time, tapping flakes of rust and mud off the magnetized Hide-a-Key that he had found under the rear fender, just before he’d switched license plates with the vehicle in the next spot. He aimed the small box far from himself, intent on keeping his clothing unsullied. Finally, the small drawer gave way and he had the key in the lock. By the time Hannibal Lecter had seated himself behind the wheel, he was of interest only to an impatient man in a beat-up Pontiac, who coveted the conveniently located parking space.

        Lecter marveled once again at the smoothness of the engine and the intriguing dashboard features. This opportunity to sample a new era of automotive technology was one of the few small benefits of his cloistered years in the asylum.

        He glanced in the mirror at the other driver, who was fidgeting behind the wheel. Lecter pulled away, mildly surprised that the man had declined to honk his horn or shout exhortations through the open window. No matter…perhaps he was mute.

        Mute…Lecter barely noticed the ticket booth, the money he pulled from the late Lloyd Wyman’s billfold, or the digital “thank you” that flashed as the gate rose to allow him egress from the airport.

        It was a pleasant day, cool, with a slight breeze. Lecter consulted his mental atlas briefly, gauging the driving time to his cottage on the Susquehanna. Beyond that lay a new identity, and the brief interlude among tourists until he reached Brazil. Still, no hurry at all. His new face had set nicely and he had no sense of pursuers closing in.

        His thoughts reached out like pseudopods, caressing, exploring. Mute. Silence…lambs…no. Clarice Starling was not for him today. He had taken ample time in his quiet hotel suite to contemplate her, and knew that he was not finished with that subject. But at this moment he was absorbed with silence of another sort. The mute, surrendering helplessness of the rejected child, the deformed outsider, the freak…

        The Pilgrim.

        Yes. The Gateway Arch was nearing to his left, but he was not ready to cross the river and continue eastward. He wanted more time in the city. He remained in the travel lane, easing through the light Saturday traffic. The road took him, in its time. Without much difficulty he found the route, then the forlorn orchard, and not far beyond it, the ruin of the house.

Burned flat, it still loomed. Lecter’s extensive knowledge of architecture supplied the image of the intact structure, superimposed on the rubble, much like a lecture-hall transparency. Very little was left, but Lecter saw it all: the wooden wheelchair ramp, the stained-glass crescent over the front door, the ancient wringer washer, creaking canopied beds, an endless array of nooks, cupboards and concealed panels…so much time and space. This house had never been new. It had been built to offer darkness and fear, to Francis Dolarhyde certainly, but perhaps also to his perverse grandmother and the other family members who had shaped and molded, and ultimately twisted the boy into the man-thing he had become.

        He made his way around the perimeter of the site, pacing the dimensions, observing footprints in the mud and ash. Crime scene investigation -- he stopped, and his nostrils flared. It was dim with the years, but the scent of Will Graham reached him. Another inhalation and this time he caught Jack Crawford’s as well. He had no trouble imagining them. Crawford glad-handing the local law and firefighters. Making himself the authority amid the chaos. Graham, standing apart, eternally mourning.

        An afternoon in the city library had afforded him the use of microfilm newspaper archives, and he had steeped himself in the Red Dragon story. His secluded carrel muffled the laughter that escaped him upon reading of Dolarhyde’s ingenuity. The body of the service-station attendant as decoy; the anonymous tow-truck as getaway car. A man after his own heart, Dolarhyde. Brother under the skin, so to speak. The child cringing in the darkness.

        Lecter wandered the grounds, lost in thought. The inferno had touched nearly everything, charring the sides of the outbuildings, blowing large brown tunnels through the high privet hedges. He pressed on, leaving the shell of the house behind, until he came to the far reaches of the property, the last and largest of the storage buildings. This one was built of timbers, but the doors were metal.

        The heat had warped the doors so that, while the stout padlock held them together, the hinged edges had buckled, leaving gaps that a man could walk through. Lecter put out a hand and tested the wall; it shook slightly at his touch, but held fast to the foundation. He turned sideways and slipped in.

        The darkness was gentle and indifferent. In it he smelled old bat guano and turpentine. And older. Back. More. His eyes had already adjusted to the darkness, but he closed them to bring it back to three dimensions, adding smell and taste. After a moment, he was sure this was the right place. And in one corner, eyes open once again, he spotted a pile of burlap sacks. Getting warmer, he teased himself. Hot, hot. Gracefully, his back perfectly straight, he squatted by the sacks and began to lift them, one by one, at the corners. Soon a new pile had formed. A faint odor of mildew began to insinuate itself through the entire shed, and Lecter was soon forced to avert his face. But he went on, because of what his nose told him was beneath all of it.

        He was soon rewarded. Like the most disciplined of shoppers, he turned with his newfound item and left the old smokehouse without a glance back.


Ten Days Later

        The dogs had come back, after all. Will Graham kicked sand at them on the way back to the house, but they stayed at his heels, and after awhile he let them be. Ugly knows ugly, he supposed.

        The sun was well up now, so the best fishing time was past. The wind whipped his hair as he made his way around the side of the house to the road. The flag on the mailbox was up. It had been up for a couple of days, but he had been first too drunk and then too hung over to make the trip. This morning he’d gone in too far, and an errant wave had knocked him into the drink and gone down his throat. Somehow he felt cleansed.

        The mailbox was not full, but it was crammed. He’d expected something from Molly. Her usual interval was three weeks, but lately it had been getting closer to four. Phone calls were about the house. She didn’t put Willy on any more. The last time the boy had answered the phone, Graham had thought he’d dialed wrong. Willy’s voice had changed; he cracked out “Hang on a minute” and there had been a long silence after the receiver thumped on the table.

        The package wrapping suggested an expensive department store. No return address; just an Asheville, North Carolina postmark. Graham stood in the breeze, holding the box, trying to guess the sender. Molly’s people were from the Smokies. Perhaps she’d decided to drive across the country to see him and made a stop back home? He walked slowly back to the house, scandalized at his level of indifference.

        Inside the screened porch, he tossed the box onto a picnic table. It was light, and he doubted it contained anything breakable. Graham slit the paper with an overgrown fingernail. A plain white shirt box. He lifted it free of the paper, which was caught by the wind, sailing off until it hit the screen.

        He sat down heavily as soon as he removed the box lid and saw the sheet of mauve stationery. His hand trembled slightly as he put the paper aside to examine what was underneath, knowing this would be the best way to prepare for whatever Lecter’s note had to say.

        The constant sea breeze kept the air clean, but as he upended the box and dumped the article onto the table, a peculiar combination of odors reached his nostrils. Blood, certainly, but it had probably been spilled years, if not decades, earlier. Graham leaned back with his eyes closed and mouth slightly open, mercifully unaware of how much his mannerisms resembled those of his correspondent.

        The garment was slight--a dress, he thought at first, but on closer examination, he determined that it was a nightshirt. The old-fashioned sort more common nowadays to nursery rhymes. Wee Willie Winkie. This one would have been worn by an older child. Another whiff…sweat and something else that gave him reasonable confidence that the wearer had been an adolescent boy.

        A flash of alarm--could it have been Willy’s? No, the smell was just too wrong. He held the shirt out at full length, turned it. Something detached itself from the front of the garment and drifted away. A feather. The association brought it together for Graham. Blood and feathers. Someone had killed a chicken while wearing this shirt. And Lecter had wanted to share it with him.

        His tired mind tried to calculate the passage of time -- he knew Lecter had fled Memphis what? A week or two ago, he thought. Asheville. A mental map. How long would it take the monster to reach the Keys if he were traveling by car? And what if he hired a private plane? Could Lecter pilot a plane? He didn’t know.

        He dropped the shirt, picked up the note. His stomach went sour again at the sight of the ornate copperplate script.

Dear Will,

        My travels would not be complete without a visit to the home of a mutual friend. I do believe the City of St. Louis has overlooked a rare opportunity to promote tourism. The old Dolarhyde manse has everything a devotee of the National Tattler could hope for: Despair, destruction, decay, and the rich scent of murders being born. I urge you to place the site on your itinerary. Doubtless, you will discover some new delights that you overlooked the first time, especially if you explore the outbuildings. I very nearly got drunk on the atmosphere, Will. From what I’ve gleaned via the drums, you might be ripe for a change of vintage. Place the shirt against your face, Will, and inhale deeply. Little Francis lives. His adult counterpart did not, alas, thanks to your trigger-happy, soon-to-be ex-wife. I trust she is enjoying the part of the country that is as far away from yours as she could possibly get.

        Should your limited resources prevent you from journeying west, however, my recommendation would be a short jaunt to the Capitol and its environs. Perhaps the end of your road lies there. Women with a talent for marksmanship are apparently no longer in short supply. Should you doubt me, I encourage you to confront a certain young agent named Clarice Starling. Show her your true nature, as revealed in your visage, and she will be delighted to end your miseries for all time, thereby finishing the job that I started.

        How many more can you grieve for, Will? Hobbs, Lounds, Dolarhyde, not to mention the unfortunate Leeds and Jacobi clans, and, of course, yourself.

        Rest assured that you need not grieve for me. Still walking up and down, to and fro in the earth, I remain

Your friend,
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.


        Graham burned the shirt that night out on a dune. He woke, covered with seaweed and sand fleas, to find that the tide had extinguished the fire and drawn the tattered rags out to sea.


Author's Note: Seems I can’t stay away from St. Louis. The inspiration for this came from the novel Red Dragon, at the part where Dolarhyde decides to go to Brooklyn. His careful turn off the highway to the airport reminded me of Lecter driving the ambulance into the parking deck of the Memphis airport. And since he ended up in St. Louis, I thought he might be interested in visiting one of that city’s lesser-known landmarks. Therefore, this takes place after SOTL, and long before HANNIBAL. Red Dragon reference is the middle of Chapter 27.

copyright 2002, by Running With Deer

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