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Greener Pastures

copyright 2001, by horserider91271

Disclaimer:    The characters Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling, Jack Crawford, Bella Crawford, Mason Verger, Will Graham and Paul Krendler 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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It was a very sunny day outside, which I found to be encouraging; I was
probing for encouragement. After my long stay in the hospital, I was finally
home. I was in no hurry to return to work; I had plenty of vacation time
accrued in my position at the FBI and if that ran out, well, there was always
the Medical Leave Act.

I walked through my house; alone of course, since Bella is dead now. All my responsibilities right now border on the mundane but, having just returned
from my first heart attack, checking my mail and seeing about getting some groceries in the house is more than enough for me to do. The housekeeper I had arranged for had done a good job the week before; the house was cheery
and clean with no indication that it had been vacant for awhile.

I strolled outside to the mailbox. My mailbox is a large one, well suited to holding the large parcels that I often receive. This was helpful to my current situation, as I had called the post office requesting that any mail that was being held for me be delivered promptly to my box. The postmaster, being a sympathetic soul, had understood my not needing additional errands at present and indeed, the box looked stuffed to the hilt.

My arms heavily laden with envelopes, junk mail, periodicals and the like, I walked slowly back up to the house and proceeded to get quite comfortable on the sofa. There was enough mail in the pile I'd just placed on the coffee table to keep my secretary at the office constructively occupied
for a week.

I weeded out junk mail and expired sale fliers; great fodder for the the fireplace later. It would make getting the fire going ever so much easier.

I figured that bills should be gotten to first, since they were all most likely overdue or getting there. Utility bills, credit card bills, bank statements- and an official-looking manila envelope with no return address, my name and address typed neatly in the center.

Oh hell, why did the attorney have to do that, I thought. Why couldn't he just use his regular letterhead so that I would know for sure that it was
he. I don't like surprises. Probably it was more documents and such for me to file concerning Bella's estate. Well, better get after it, I thought. Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today; in my case, tomorrows might or might not come.

As I slid the letter opener through the top, I felt the concentration of the contents in the center. Odd, I thought-usually the lawyer uses envelopes
appropriate to the size of the stationary. This one was obviously oversized for its contents. My forensic mind had not been damaged by the heart attack, and now it prodded me.

As I opened the pouch, another envelope slid out. Pain whispered in my chest as I beheld the name, simply, Jack, written in a vaguely familiar script on the front of the packet.

Familiar, yet not so. I grasped at fleeing glance-thoughts as I tried to make sense of it all. Finding none, I flipped the envelope to its posterior

There, sealed in the scarlet wax sealing the envelope, was a capital L in copperplate script, all too familiar to me, which was a reality that slammed me full in my chest and sent painful butterflies aflutter. It was the seal of an engraved signet ring, like that used by a royal family to seal parchments, and it was pressed into the wax and speaking malice to me. Ah, I knew, would always know that hand.

I looked away, breathing slowly and controlledly. I let my long, deep breaths calm me. No angina now, Jackie boy, I told myself. Gotta keep the old ticker quiet and happy.

My thoughts turned to Clarice Starling as I turned the envelope back over, facing front again. Starling was missing, had been missing now since
the day awhile after I'd been hospitalized and helpless, disappeared from her last known location in Mason Verger's barn, not seen or heard from since.

It was also known that Hannibal Lecter had been at that scene, where the possible homicides had occurred. Possible, I scoffed to myself. The Bureau and its reluctance to ever say anything for sure; I was convinced that chaos and death walked hand and hand with Hannibal Lecter, and was well rooted in this belief. I'd seen to much evidence of it, and there was plenty of the forensic type at the scene.

The signet's impression had obviously been done by none other than Hannibal Lecter himself. But, it was not his writing on the front of the envelope. Suspicion tickled my subconscious at all corners, leaving prickly feelings that I couldn't place.

My impression became that Lecter had contacted me to gloat over Starling's murder, to brag about how delicious she'd tasted as he'd devoured her corpse; he had, after all, claimed title to Mason Verger's murder, and proudly.

All my training and experience screamed that I should not touch the envelope any more, should call the office and turn it over to them. But, I was hypnotized by the new writing-Lecter was very cunning, but could he so disguise his penmanship? Why would he? He would certainly take great pleasure in reading that I'd kicked over just from seeing his handwriting, for Christ's sake. What an ego trip that would be for him.

Come on, Jack, you're a big boy now, I chided myself. Open the damned thing and swallow whatever he's got to dish out to you. Be just like old times. You can tell the office later that you didn't realize what you were opening and they'll believe you, thinking you're still addled from your pumper stopping. Obviously, it's for your eyes only, or why the subterfuge?  No more Bella, no more Starling, what does it really matter if he shocks you to death? Who is left to really care?


I broke the wax and pulled the silky paper out, and began to read, breathing slowly and deeply so as not to lose control. The script, still not yet familiar, but yet whispering something from the past that I tried to grasp. And it read:

Dear Jack,

I surely hope that this letter finds you well again and without pain or disability. I do not wish you to be troubled with angst about me, and so therefore I am writing to you. ( I would not have done so, were your circumstances different.)

I am doing very well and have started a whole new life. I want for nothing except a public life, but that in and of itself is of no consequence when you consider the rewards that I now glean. I have found true happiness where I am now, true love, and more beauty in life than I ever imagined possible.

You will not recognize my writing as my own; I have waxed much more literate even than I was before, and my calligraphy as kept pace as well. A fine teacher I have, the very best there is. Not to slight you, Jack; I merely give credit where it is due. Be assured, it is my hand and these words freely said by my own clear mind.

I have complete confidence that, as my former mentor and friend, you will not reveal me. I still hold all that I was taught before dear, but hold
my new paradise even more so. Let me stay gone, Jack. Neither you, or anyone, will ever see the person you knew as me again. I live, but I will never return. I can no longer live as a pathetic pawn at the beck and call of something that I love that does not love me in return. I am now , and shall always be, free to be whom I wish; not someone else's idea of what I should
and should not be.

You once asked me if I spooked easily; it has been most fortunate for me that I did not, nor do I now.

I trust the significance of the signet's stamp on the envelope will not be lost on you. Do not fear; the old days are long gone now, Jack. People change, none of us are as we were anymore. Many things in life turn out to to not be as they once seemed.

Perhaps, one day, I will even have a family again.

In my new life, love does reign, and it is upon the plank of this mood that we now proceed.

Keep you well, Jack, and my confidence, sacred. You will not hear from me again, but always, my prayers include you. I sign myself as only you once
named me,

My mind reeled in shock and disbelief, at first. Clarice! In Lecter's clutches, and alive. But even as I read the letter again, fearful I that would find an incongruency that would show the letter a falsehood, an eerie calm fell over me. My chest netted all its butterflies, and was still.

So Clarice and Lecter were lovers, now, and she was learning new things from him, thus the similarity her handwriting had with his; it was this that had startled me before. I could only hope that he was learning things from her too; among these, Mercy. Clarice seemed to think so. She had never been wrong before, although I'd always felt she was way too far gone into his mind. My own experience had always proved the old adage, "When you dance with the Devil, the Devil don't change. The Devil changes you."

True, no murders had been linked to him very recently, not since Verger.  Some had always thought that that was a score that would one day be settled, anyway. Had Pazzi not tried to catch him without the Questura, it was doubtful that Lecter's cover would ever have been blown, provided he'd kept his hands to himself . Even Krendler's  disappearance was without trace or clue. Not that I really cared about Krendler; the man was a loose cannon, with ways of dealing with people that only a lobotomy would cure.

What was I thinking?!?

I had been the next best thing to powerless when Starling had hit the glass ceiling at the Bureau. I suppose my own latent training as a male in a male's world had played some part, some responsibility for her fall in the Bureau. I hoped, rather foolishly, that my penitence now would somehow make a difference to Clarice, wherever she was.

I sure was guilty as sin for her current state of affairs; I had recognized in her Will Graham's brand of talent, and my knowledge of Will's problems notwithstanding, had sent Clarice into the dungeon to the monster anyway. I knew that my warnings and admonishments had fallen on deaf ears the
moment I'd made them, but so hungry for victory was I that I'd ignored that knowledge.

I really should turn the letter over to the Bureau, I thought. But what could anyone really do?  What had anyone been able to do in the last seven
years, except for Clarice?

If I turned in the letter and its contents got leaked, Clarice would then become a target for any assassin's or bounty hunter's bullet. The public would reel with outrage if they found out that the once touted female agent was now the quintessential Bride of Dracula. I could read the Tattler's headlines in my mind's eye, clear as the day was long. And, ( God forbid ), if Clarice was already pregnant-another innocent baby could wind up a witness to the fallout of another bloody scene in the street, parentless and being washed in a fountain, victim of the crazy circumstances that surrounded it.

My mind was amazingly cleared as I visualized these scenarios, and many more; my chest, surprisingly lightened by a new resolve that came to me in those moments.

I would absolve myself of the situation, once and for all. I would not be party to anymore pain or bloodshed on this matter, not even Lecter's. I had to trust in Clarice; no choice was left to me, to my way of thinking.

I would leave this world with my conscience clear, I swore.

The errand of the groceries was to be put off until tomorrow. My stomach was empty, but mind was full enough to sate both.

Later that night, the junk mail is indeed excellent tinder for the fire at my hearth; I find, so also, is the letter. Hannibal Lecter buys very fine and expensive ink, which in this case also happens to be very flammable.

Clarice writes abundantly with it and the fountain pen, as does he; the flames devour this delicacy eagerly.

The cheery glow warms my face. For once, I indulge myself in the luxury of congratulating Hannibal Lecter on his excellent sense of taste, even if the words are in my mind only.

People who have looked death in the face once and survived are known to revise their view of the world; I am no exception. The black and white in my mind is now a hue of grey.

I feel I may not be long for this world, but I am strangely at peace. I shall let all old ghosts rest. I, for one, shall go in peace, let the rest of the world get on by themselves as best they can. My eyes close and I sleep sweetly, with a short dream of, of all things, a young lamb bounding gaily in a lush pasture. This vision graces my mind until I am deeply asleep.

The secret of the letter will go to my grave with me. Bella would have approved.


copyright 2001, by horserider91271  

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