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The Path Not Taken

copyright 2001, by Calico

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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Dr. Hannibal Lecter knelt in front of Clarice Starling and accepted her offered breast.  Both knew they had reached a point of no return.  She quietly slid down to her knees in front of him so that they were face to face.  Gently she reached her hand up to caress his head and he bent as if to kiss her, but she quickly placed her other hand on the other side of his head and pushed back rather roughly.

She gazed intently into his eyes and said deeply, “I know you are not an evil man.”  He smiled, but before he could reply she continued, “But you are a man who has done evil things.  These things have no place in my life, in our life.”

“Whatever makes you happy, My Dear,” he drawled in response and tried to kiss her again, but again she shoved him back to make her point clear.

“From here on there will be no more drugs.  To put a fine point on it, Doctor, if I sense any harmful intent from you in the future, I will nail your ass to the wall.”  She stopped, breathing deeply and wanting to close her eyes and surrender to the feelings inside.  “We’ll be straight with each other from this point forward, correct?”

“Of course,” he replied.

“And honest.”


“Now, Doctor, do think very carefully,” she said in a sultry voice, with fingers entwined in his hair, “Who do you really want?  Your sister, or me?”

Instead of answering, Lecter placed his hands on her waist, sliding them up towards her arms then down her back.  She moaned with the motion as he brought them down to her buttocks and gently massaged them.  Then without warning he hauled her toward him so that she was straddling his lap.  In order to keep her balance she had circled her arms around his neck as he held her tight.  It was now that he replied,  “Whom do you think?” as he kissed the top of her breasts then trailed the tip of his tongue up her sternum to the soft depression of her throat causing a sigh to escape her mouth.   He placed gentle kisses up to her chin and finally settled on her lips.  The first kiss was soft and questioning, tasting even.  Then the passion flowed freely and he rolled her over on the rug in front of the fire.  As the firelight flashed and danced on her skin he bent over her and whispered, “Clarice, don’t ever leave me.”

To which she replied, “Where would I go?”

Twelve hours later….

Clarice was in the guest bedroom sorting through the clothing Lecter had provided for her and placing them in the suitcases on the bed.  She smiled again at the thought that went into choosing such fine articles.  When the cases were full and stood at the foot of the bed she went down the hall to the master suite where he was doing the same.

She leaned against the door frame and asked him, “So where are we going?”

He turned away from her for a moment, and with the trained eye of an ex-FBI agent she noticed him furtively grab an item off of the bedside table and place it in his pocket as he picked up a book with his other hand.  He turned back around with a triumphant smile and waved the book at her.  “You really should read this sometime.”  He put the book on the bed by his suitcase then walked towards her.  “It’s a surprise.”

“I don’t like surprises,” she said, frowning as he took her arm and lead her into the room to sit on the bed as he finished packing.  She picked up the book and idly surveyed the title “The Collected Poems of Robert Frost”.  “Tell me.  Please.”

“Very well, we’re going to Greece.”

“Greece?  But I don’t even have my passport.”  She suddenly fearful at the thought of leaving the country so soon, but didn’t know why it bothered her.

“Not a problem.”  He walked over to his bureau and opened the top drawer taking out a small black book.  He tossed it in her direction and she caught it with ease.  Upon opening she determined it was a passport and even had her picture in it, but he name listed was Rene Beauchamp, from Montreal, Quebec.

“What is this?” she asked a little appalled at the obvious forgery.

“Clarice, you are officially a missing person, who either murdered four men while helping me escape, or are being held captive by me until I do something unspeakable.  Either way, you are being sought after.  If last night was just a product of drugs and booze then I invite you to walk out that door right now and not turn back.  But if you were sincere in your intentions, then, unfortunately, a few things are going to have to be handled my way.  What do you say?”

Clarice felt for a moment like fleeing.  The room, the house, everything that had been accomplished in the past weeks.  Instead she looked at him steadily and said, “Why Greece?”

“I thought it would be a fine place for a wedding.”

Clarice choked, “Wedding?  What are you talking about?”

“Just call me old-fashioned.”  His teeth flashed as he smiled at her and pulled the object out of his pocket.  It was a velvet jeweler’s box and he opened it as he came towards her.  She saw the most beautiful diamond and ruby ring.  She gasped at its intensity.  “It was my grandmother’s.  After the Nazi’s came everything was taken.  It took me years to track it down and it cost a small fortune, but well worth the effort, don’t you agree?”  She reached out to touch it with her fingertip and he grasped her wrist to pull her forward into his arms.  “I won’t pretend to profess something as mediocre as love, that grandiose idea so overused it has become an insincere sentiment used more as a bargaining chip than any real emotion.

“But Clarice, I do believe in that enigmatic notion known as soul mates – two people who’s paths verge on the same destiny.  I’ve known it for ten years now, since I first met a wet-behind-the-ears FBI trainee, who had the cheek to come face-to-face with a monster.  I believe you know it too. Didn’t you feel that first spark, that inner temptation, the same one that whispers, ‘Jump from the balcony and see what happens,’ even as your fear and common sense told you to stay away?  What do you say, Clarice, are you going to follow your same path towards destruction as your daddy before you, or will you defy all those who want to keep you down and follow mine into the unknown?”  With a simple nod and a smile, she agreed.

Two weeks later….

In a small church on the shore of the Mediterranean at sunset, an Orthodox priest performed the ceremony.  The bride and groom spoke their vows:

“I, Clarice Starling, do take you, Hannibal, as my husband, from this day forward until death parts us.  I vow to explore and to share, to live and to learn, with honesty and respect.  I will forever be as open as you have shown me how to be.”

“I, Hannibal Lecter, do take you, Clarice, as my wife, from this day forward until death parts us.  I vow to respect and cherish you as my most prized possession.  With you in my life, even the darkest days will be of light, and even the sourest taste will be as sweet wine.”

He placed the ring on her hand and bent for a kiss.

Neither spoke of love.

Clarice woke with a start.  The dream wore heavily on her and she slowly readjusted to the present.  Here on the sofa in the drawing room, she had laid down for a moment after a long day of cleaning.  She quickly noticed her left hand was missing the ring, but then remembered removing it before she started the day’s chores.  The dream left a bittersweet taste.  The ceremony had been so beautiful, if not wholly legal.  The marriage license could never be filed in any municipality due to the inherent danger in having those two names linked.  But it was kept in the safe, real to the two parties involved.

The lengthening shadows revealed she had slept much longer than she had intended.  It was late and she had to prepare his evening meal.  In the kitchen she heated up some soup to be served with homemade bread and wild rice.  He would hate it, but he was having so much trouble keeping anything down these days.  As the soup simmered she went down to the wine cellar and retrieved a fine merlot.  She uncorked it and left it to breathe.  No reason he shouldn’t have a little luxury.  She gathered the good linen napkins, china, fine silverware, and a crystal goblet onto a sterling silver serving tray.  She ladled the soup into a bowl and put the rice on a plate with the bread, fresh baked that morning.  Finally she poured the goblet half full and added a small vase with a bud from the rose garden.  Everything perfect, she walked out of the kitchen through the fine dining room and up the large staircase.

The double doors to the master bedroom were not latched so all she had to do was nudge one with her foot to enter.  With the drapes drawn the room was gray with shadows.  The large bed in the far corner seemed very still in spite of the form that lay on it, propped up on pillows as if he fell asleep while reading.  The silence was deafening to Clarice and she rushed to the bedside, laying the tray down on a table.  She sat on the bed and placed her hand on the figure’s face.  Cool and moist, but most certainly still alive, as evidenced by the slow rise and fall of the chest.  But the breathing was shallow and labored.

After taking a deep breath she turned on the bedside light and shook the sleeping figure, saying, “Darling, wake up.  It’s time for your supper.”

Hannibal Lecter opened his eyes and at first seemed incoherent, glancing around desperately before his eyes fell on her face.  Then he closed his eyes slowly and deliberately, opening them again with a smile on his face and looked once again as he had for the last eight years.  “Good evening, Clarice.  What scrumptious wonders have you brought to torture me with tonight, I wonder?”

“Soup.  Rice.  And bread.  And you will attempt to eat it all.”  She finished as he grimaced.  She laid the napkin on his chest and brought the bowl over, beginning to spoon it for him, when he held her hand.

“I am not a child, nor am I an invalid.  Yet.”  He took the spoon from her hand, but allowed her to hold the bowl for him.  While watching him eat she was struck at just how old he had gotten in such a short time.  At no time during their marriage had the significant difference in their ages been a burden, or even an issue.  But now he looked every day of his 73 years and it almost broke her heart.  When he had finished most of the soup she handed him the goblet and enjoyed watching him savor the aroma and drink it as if it were of the gods.  “Excellent choice, My Dear.  Now I suppose I’ll have to try that soggy rice of yours.”  He had a few bites, but it was difficult for him to swallow.  She was cleaning up the dishes when he said, “Come over here and lay with me for a while, please.”

She smiled and went to the other side of the large bed and crawled over on top of the coverings toward him.  She settled in the crook of his arm while he stroked her hair absently.  “You are still very angry with me, Clarice.”  It was a statement, not a question.

“Not anymore.  I don’t think I feel anything anymore.”

He chuckled.  “Come now, that was a false statement wasn’t it?”

“I guess.”

“No, don’t guess.  What are you feeling right this moment?”

“I’m scared as hell.”

“So am I.  So am I.  Do you know why?”

“You’re afraid to die?”

“Hardly.  I’m afraid to leave you.”  She rose up to look at his face and he looked back at her.  “I’d be a fool to worry about your safety.  You are perhaps the second most deadly person I know.  But I worry about how you will take my going.  Will you feel cheated?  Will you feel abandoned?  Will it be like your father’s death all over again?”  She closed her eyes and buried her face in his chest.  She didn’t like crying in his presence, especially over this.  It was weak.  “Clarice?  Look at me.”  She obeyed, the tears shiny on her cheeks but her face otherwise composed.  “You will be fine.  You are stronger than anyone else gives you credit for.  Don’t let your pain rule you.”

“But what will I be without you?” she asked in a whisper that she didn’t recognize as her own voice.  For the last eight years she had been at his side, student, lover, wife, mother, and now nurse.  With the FBI and her past life totally and irrevocably discarded, she had no idea what to do.

“You will simply be the person I know you are.  What you do is irrelevant.  I am not the yardstick of your life, I simply changed your path.”  She nodded her understanding.  “There is one more thing I want you to know.  Now listen carefully because this is terribly important.  Never doubt my feelings for you.  When I die, and we both know that is inevitable, you may be tempted to re-enter life as yourself.  That is fine.  The authorities will surely not give any serious thought to apprehending you now.  But they may question you about me, and they may question my motives, say that I was toying with you and that you amused me.  Perhaps to force you to confess certain secrets or whatnot.  But the point, My Dear, is that I love you and you must always remember that.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in love, that it was an insincere sentiment.”

He laughed outright.  “Perhaps, but it’s the closest I can come to explaining to you that you should never doubt my intentions.”

She smiled and said, “I never would.”  Then she kissed his check and lay back down.

“Where is your ring?” he asked after a while.

“I took it off this morning before cleaning the oven,” she replied.

“It’s been rather hard on you since we dismissed the help hasn’t it?”

“I don’t mind.  It keeps me busy.”

“Do you have any regrets, Clarice?”


“You know, don’t you ever wish you had chosen the lady instead of the tiger?”

“You’ve gotten it backwards.  Besides, where else would I have learned how to distinguish between a fine Botticelli and a cheap imitation?  Every girl needs to know that.”

He didn’t answer.  In moments his even breathing told her he had gone back to sleep.  She closed her eyes enjoying having him close and thought back.  This last month had been difficult, but the worst moment had come five months prior. 

They were getting ready for a reception at a nearby museum, hosting a touring collection of paintings.  Hannibal had been very interested in getting a close look at a rare Degas.  She was still in the master bedroom putting the finishing touches on her hair when she heard the thud.  She immediately went to investigate and found him in a heap at the bottom of the stairs.

“Oh my God, Hannibal, are you alright?”  She helped him to his feet.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine.  Nothing broken.”

“What the hell happened?” she demanded.

“Is the vulgarity necessary Clarice?” he asked testily.  “I was coming down the stairs when I became lightheaded and lost my footing.  Nothing to worry about.”

“That’s what you’ve been saying about those horrible headaches you’ve been getting the last few weeks.  Well I AM worried, and you are going to the doctor’s first thing tomorrow.”

He smiled at her and said, “Of course, if that’s what you want.  But tonight, we still have plans, and a rather long drive ahead.  Shall we?”  He offered her his arm and she reluctantly accepted as he led her out to the car.

The following day, sitting in the doctor’s office, their future was told in the shadows and light of the MRI film on the light box behind the desk.

“Quite frankly, Dr. Herchshire, with the mass of this tumor I would find it hard to believe you have been having symptoms for only…”

“Eighteen months,” Lecter responded.  Clarice was speechless.  It was only the last few weeks that he had been complaining of pain. 

“Well,” the doctor cleared his throat and tried to continue, “If you had come in even nine months ago we could have discussed treatments and surgery, but now it’s completely embedded in your parietal lobe and removal is impossible.  Plus I believe it has started metastasizing, but we’ll need more tests.  Honestly, I would be generous to give you even six months to live.  I’m sorry.”

“No need to be.  We just came to put my wife’s fears at ease.  Thank you for you for your help.  Darling let’s go.”  He stood and waited for her, but all she could do was stare mutely forward.  He placed is hand on her shoulder and squeezed, saying, “We need to leave now.”  She blinked and started to rise.  She followed him out of the office, mumbling farewell to the doctor.

“But Dr. Herchshire, we need to discuss you plan of treatment, pain management and all that.”

“No need.  Thanks again.”  He waved as he escorted his wife out.

The ride home was thick with silence.  Lecter drove while Clarice stared blankly out the window.  He did not try to engage her in conversation.

They entered the home through the garage and she went straight to the bar in the drawing room to pour herself a drink.  One very large Scotch straight.

“Don’t you think it’s a little early for that, My Dear?” he inquired dryly as he entered the room.

“Oh, no,” she replied with an airy wave of her hand.  “I think it’s actually about nine fucking months too LATE!” she finished while shouting at the top of her voice.

“There is no need to let this degenerate into a brawl.  We can discuss this civilly.”

“Civilly?  You self-important bastard!  When WERE you going to tell me?  You knew for over a YEAR that you had this, this disease in you and you kept it from me?  Why?  Why wouldn’t you seek help?  You could have gotten it taken out for God’s sake!  And now you are going to DIE!”  She slammed her tumbler on the bar so hard it shattered in her hand.  She looked down and saw blood from the shards of glass imbedded into her flesh but was too numb to feel it.  The blood just dripped onto the mahogany surface.

He came around to join her and took her hand in his own.  Gently he removed the glass then rinsed the wounds.  He took a towel and wrapped it around as a makeshift bandage.  “These will require stitches.”

“Well,” she said quietly, not meeting his eyes.  “I don’t think I’ll do anything about that.  I’ll just let myself bleed to death.”

“When did you become a self-pitying bitch?” he asked in a deceptively calm voice.

That caused her to look at him.  “Self-pity?  Is that what you think this is?  You’re the fool who’s just thrown his life away.  I’m just your goddamn wife who’ll have to pick up the pieces afterwards.”

“Clarice, listen to me.  Do you really think I would check myself into a hospital and allow some second-rate hack muck around in my brain?  How safe do you think I’d be?  What would you do, stand guard outside the OR with weapons drawn?  And if someone did recognize me and call in the authorities, then what?  Or maybe they wouldn’t even do that.  Just a snip here and there, and I’d be gone on the table.  I haven’t lived this long by putting myself at risks like that.”

“But you had your finger removed and the plastic surgery…?”

“All with local anesthetic.  I was completely in control of those situations.”

She turned away from him, the anger dissipated, but the hurt remained.  “Please just leave me alone for awhile.”  She walked to the large window facing the maple trees in the back lawn and sat down in the large chair facing it.  He liked to sit there and read for hours on end and it held his scent.  She curled her legs under her and cradled her injured hand as it began to throb.

“Fine.  When you find yourself ready to carry on please join me in the study.  We have matters to discuss.  But I warn you, Clarice.  I will not indulge this for very long.”  He turned and strode out of the room.

Six months, she thought to herself.  He’ll be gone before Christmas.

Two hours later…..

Clarice wandered into the study and found him at his desk sorting through papers.  He smiled up at her as she entered.  “Well, My Dear, are we feeling better.”

She simply glared at him and sat in the chair in front of the desk.  “What matters do we have to discuss?”

“For quite sometime now I’ve been transferring all my holdings and assets into your name.”


“Well simply, I don’t think you could claim them in probate court could you?”

She closed her eyes.  “You’re planning for your,” she stopped to swallow, “death?”

“Of course.  One should always be prepared.  All the papers are here, the passwords, which you should change immediately, the account codes.  You will be well off.”

“Fine.  Anything else?”

“Well, there is the matter of dealing with the disposal of the body.”

“Christ!  I’m not going to do this now.”  She started to stand up.

“Sit down!  You can and will do this now.  I know you and your great need for honesty.  You’ll want to do the right thing.  Tell them if you must, but don’t put yourself in a position of danger.  And I wish to be cremated.  Take my ashes back to Lithuania.  Remember that spot I showed you?  Place them there.” 

Clarice went to the safe hidden behind her portrait on the wall in the study.  She felt the need to go through the papers before she made the call.  Everything was in perfect order.  There were even several stacks of bills, for use in an emergency, which she put in her purse.  At the bottom she found the envelope.  It was of the fine cream stationery he favored, and her name was written across the top.  Under it was written, “To be opened when you feel ready.”  She choked back a sob, and put it in her purse as well.

Then she went to the phone.

“Federal Bureau of Investigation, how may I direct your call?”

“Violent Crimes Unit, please.”

“One moment.”

“Agent Black, how can I help you?”

“Dr. Hannibal Lecter is dead.”

“Excuse me?  You mean Hannibal the Cannibal?”


“I’m sorry ma’am, what is your name?”

“Clarice Starling.”

Soft whistle.  “The FBI agent?  Well Miss Starling, we’ve been looking for you for eight years.  Now how do you know he’s dead?”

“I was with him.”

“And how did he die?”

“He’s been very ill.”

“With all due respect ma’am, we get a lot of crank calls.  How can you expect me to believe you?”

“I don’t.  But if you want to see for yourself, his body is at the morgue in the basement of Elkins Memorial Hospital in Vermont.”

“Vermont?  You mean he’s been in the states?”

“For almost 2 years now.”

“We’ll be there by tomorrow afternoon.  We’ll need to ask you some questions.  How’ll I find you?”

“It’s a small community Agent Black.  Using your superior FBI techniques I’m sure you’ll find me.”


Special Agent Greg Black looked across the room to his partner, Special Agent Paul Clemons.  “Paul, we’re going to the Green Mountain State.”

Next day….

In the hospital the two agents went to the reception desk and were directed down to the morgue.  The attendant was an elderly man who shuffled as he led them to the sheet draped body.  “Normally he would’ve been sent directly to the mortuary, but his missus demanded we keep him here until you folks came.”

“Did you know him?” Agent Clemons asked.

“Not too good. Knew his missus though.  She volunteered here at the hospital up until he fell ill and got laid up in bed.  It’s a sore shame, poor man.  Disease just ate him up from the inside out.  What do you boys want with him anyhow?”  They ignored the questions and removed the sheet looking down at the face that looked a little, but not exactly like the man the FBI had been pursuing for almost 20 years.  They took fingerprints to make a solid determination.

“Do you know were we can find his wife?”  Agent Black asked.

“Sure do.  You must have passed the house comin’ into town.  Big old house on the hill on the south side.   Can’t miss it.”

They thanked him and left.  The old man had been right.  The large home dominated the southern view.  Walking up to the front door Agent Black told his partner, “We’ve got to be alert.  She’s been with him for almost a decade.  Who knows what he’s done to her mind.”  He rang the doorbell.

The door opened and she looked at the two men.  “’Bout time.  Lunch is getting cold.”  She turned and walked back inside.  They looked at each other skeptically and followed the lady into her home.  She was dressed in a silk navy pantsuit and her auburn hair was coiled at the top of her head.  Both had seen pictures of Starling, but neither expected the stunning vision that walked ahead of them.

At the large table in the dining room, were three place settings.  “Have a seat gentleman, you must be starving.”

“With all due respect, Ms. Starling, or would you prefer Mrs. Lecter?”

“You must be Agent Black,” Clarice said smoothly, ignoring the sarcasm.  “I recognized your voice.  Starling is fine.  And you are?” she turned to the other man.

He reached to shake her hand, “Um, Agent Clemons, ma’am.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Agent.”

“Ms. Starling, we did not come here for lunch, and please don’t be offended if I say that we would not eat anything you prepared.”

“Why, because you think it might contain human flesh?”  Sadly she shook her head.  “At least sit down while we talk.”  She chose the end chair, while the men sat at either side.

Agent Black pulled a recorder out of his inner pocket and set it on the table.  “Do you have any objections to being taped?” he asked.

“Of course not.  But are you going to read me my rights?”

“You are not under arrest, yet,” Agent Clemons said.  “We just want to get the facts straight.”

“Fine, please proceed.”

Black spoke into the recorder, “This is Special Agent Gregory Black and Special Agent Paul Clemons, questioning Clarice Starling.  Ms. Starling has not been Mirandized and is speaking of her own free will.

“You were formally an agent with the Bureau, were you not?”


“And shortly after being placed on Administrative Leave you disappeared.  Can you tell me about the events at Mason Verger’s estate?”

“I had observed the man known as Hannibal Lecter being kidnapped.  As I believe Mr. Verger wanted to harm him, that is the first place I looked.  When I arrived I found Dr. Lecter strapped to a forklift and being maneuvered towards a pin containing large carnivorous swine.  I attempted to take control of the situation…”

“We found John Brigham’s gun at the scene with your prints on it.  Is that the weapon you were using?”

“Yes.  I was forced to shoot one man, and then I got two others secured on the ground.  As I was freeing Dr. Lecter from his bonds, I was shot with a dart containing a powerful sedative.  I blacked-out very quickly.”

“Do you know what happened afterwards?”

“Um, he told me he released the pigs.”

“ ‘He’?”

“Dr. Lecter.”

“So you were with him after you woke up?”

“Yes.  He apparently carried me to my car and drove me to the house where he had been staying.”

“And did you attempt to escape when you woke up?”


“You mean you stayed there of your own free will?”

“Um, he sort of used a mild hypnotic drug on me.”

“You were drugged?”

“For a while.  We developed a rapport.”

“And when did you start fucking him?”

“Agent Black, that’s enough,” Clemons said.

“I’m sorry, let me rephrase that.  When did your relationship become intimate?”

“It was a few weeks I think.  I don’t have a very good recollection of time passing then.”

“Because of the drugs?”


“Ms. Starling, around that time Paul Krendler disappeared.  You remember him don’t you?”


“Do you have any idea what happened to him?”

Clarice chewed on her lower lip for a moment then replied, “He’s dead.”

“Dead how?”

“I believe a crossbow bolt to the heart.”

“Did Lecter kill him?”


“And where is the body?”

“I don’t know.”

“Fine, let’s move on shall we.  You left the country with Lecter.  Where did you go?”

“First we went to Greece, for the wedding, then traveled Eastern Europe for the honeymoon.  He showed me his childhood home in Lithuania.  We lived in Buenos Aires for a while, then London.  We went to Spain for a short time, but I was becoming homesick for the States.  That’s when we came back.  He didn’t like it too much, but insisted we live next to the Canadian border.  Vermont was really perfect.  Very small and remote, the residents don’t pay you any attention, and we were just 45 minutes from Montreal.   There’s a lot of culture up there.”

“Did you kill anyone during this jaunt around the globe?”

“No, of course not.”

“What about the good doctor?”

“No.  That wasn’t how things were.  I wouldn’t allow that.”

“Were you afraid of him?”


“Were you afraid he would kill?”

“No,” Clarice came close to a shout, but made herself relax.

“Never in the whole time you spent with him, save Mr. Krendler, did you suspect he might have murdered?”

Clarice closed her eyes.  It was still there, no matter how hard she tried to forget it. 


“Doctor and Mrs. Maplewood!” the Duchess exclaimed as the couple entered her palatial home.  “So good of you to come.”

“We never miss the opportunity to come to one of your fabulous soirees, my dear lady,” the doctor said sweeping her hand up in a kiss.

“Oh, he’s a charmer, Penelope, don’t let him out of your sight,” she said in an aside to Clarice.

“Your home is beautiful, Your Grace,” she replied with a smile.

“Oh, posh!  You must call me Natalie.  We are old friends are we not?”  The Duchess took her arm and walked into the room milling with people.  “There are so many people I want you to meet.”  Clarice glanced over her shoulder and saw that her husband had quietly moved off.  She wasn’t alarmed.  Early in the relationship they discovered the mutual need for personal time.  He liked to move about unattended while examining objets d’art and people in equal quantities.

After a dreadful 30 minutes of meeting dreadful people, Clarice managed to move off to do some exploring of her own.  Mostly she just wanted a little quiet time.  In an adjoining room she found a lovely piano with an antique Tiffany lamp on it in one corner.  Other than the soft light of the lamp the rest of the room was dark.  She walked over and gently touched the beautiful shade on the lamp.

She smelled him first and turned around.  A man walked towards her from the party room.  He stumbled and caught himself on the piano, almost toppling the lamp.  “’Scuse me,” he said obviously drunk.  Clarice turned to leave.  “No, no. Wait.  Don’t mean to run you off.  Listen.  M’name’s Benjamin Thomason.  Nat’s me sister.”

Not wanting to be rude to the host’s brother, Clarice put out her hand, “Penelope Maplewood.”

“Oh the pleasure’s all mine, Penelope,” he leered, lingering over her hand and rubbing his thumb across her skin.  As gently as she could she pulled it back.  “Hey I know you.  You’re married to that old queer ain’t you?”

“Excuse me?” she said shocked.

“It’s so obvious what a dandy he is.  An’ he’s gotta be twice your age.  I know he can’t satisfy you the way a woman needs.”  His hand found her rear end and gave it a squeeze.  “I’d be more’n happy to help you out in that area.”

Pushing aside his wayward hand, she said through gritted teeth, “With all due respect, Mr. Thomason, I must tell you this sort of behavior is totally unacceptable, and my husband would be greatly offended by your rudeness.  Please leave me alone if you know what’s good for you.”  She attempted to leave when he caught her arm and pulled her back towards him.

“Listen love, is that supposed to be some kind of threat?  I ain’t scared of that pansy.  Let’s you and me go upstairs so you can be properly satisfied and no one will be the wiser.”

“You listen to me you pea-brained imbecile:  My satisfaction is none of your concern.”  She looked over her shoulder into the next room to see if he was nearby.  She couldn’t see him anywhere and turned back to Thomason.  “Let me go this instant.”

His hand squeezed her even tighter.  “What are you, some kind of dyke?  I heard about you queers getting married just to make look like you’re normal.”

Clarice narrowed her eyes and, using a simple technique learned at Quantico, grabbed Thomason’s thumb and began applying pressure.  He immediately let go and started crying in pain.  “You, sir, are beyond good manners.  But I will give you one last chance. Leave. Me. Alone.”  She punctuated each word with further pressure on his hand.  She was certain something had broken.  She let go of his hand and he fell into a blubbering heap.  Again she surveyed the party in the next room before joining it, but there was still no sign of her husband.

However had she just looked in the corner opposite of where she and Mr. Thomason had their encounter, she would have perhaps seen the flashing of maroon eyes as Hannibal Lecter watched the whole sordid scene.  One thing Clarice never knew was that he sometimes followed her and watched her, not out of suspicion, but out of a genuine fascination.  As she faded into the crowd his eyes turned back to the crying heap on the floor and he decided that Mr. Benjamin Thomason sorely needed a lesson in etiquette.  

“Natalie called me a few days later.  Her brother had been missing since the party.  It seemed at first that he’d just gone away with some woman, but there was no sign of him.  As far as I know he was never found.”

Agent Black was incredulous.  “You mean to tell me it didn’t occur to you that Lecter had done something to that man.”  Clarice was silent.  “So you did suspect.  Why didn’t you confront him?”

“Because she was afraid of the answer, weren’t you Ms. Starling?” Clemons answered.  She nodded.  “Because he would have told you the truth right?”  Another nod.  “And what would have happened if he confessed that he did indeed do away with your unwanted suitor?”

“I would have left him.”

“So you ignored the truth?” Black said.

“It’s not unlike many wives who choose not to acknowledge their husband’s infidelities, Agent Black,” she said quietly.

“Except this is cold-blooded murder.  I think we’re through for now.  We’re going to move this to DC.  I assume you have no conflicting plans, Ms. Starling.”  Black turned to his partner.  “I’ll call and make arrangements for the body to be transferred.”

“No!” Clarice said.  “That isn’t necessary, is it?  Didn’t you make a positive ID?”

Clemons said, “Well his face doesn’t really match, but we did get the prints.”

“There, that should be proof enough.  He died of natural causes, there’s not question of that.  There is no need to transfer his body.”  They looked at her.  “He had a last request, I’d like to fulfill it.  Please.”

Black and Clemons looked at each other.  Finally Clemons said, “HQ won’t be happy, but I guess that’s all right.”

Black said, “Can it be done by tonight?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

“Fine.  Do what you need.  But be ready at 8 am sharp.  And Ms Starling – don’t run.”

“I’ll be waiting.  Good day, gentleman.”  She showed them the door.

Once they were gone she went to the phone to call the morgue.

“Jake, this is Mrs. Herchshire…I’m doing very well thank you.  Can you please contact the mortuary and have them pick up my husband?…Thank you.  And tell them I’ll be bringing a suit over in about an hour.  I want it done tonight…Yes tonight…Thank you for you sympathies Jake.  Good night.”

After collecting his things, Clarice drove to the mortuary.  The mortician was waiting and gently took the items from her.  “It’ll take about an hour, if you’d care to sit down, ma’am.  Would you like some coffee while you wait?”

“No thank you, I’m fine.”  She drifted off for a while, traveling through her memory palace greeting those loved ones she couldn’t see anymore.  Her mother and father, John Brigham, Jack Crawford, and finally Hannibal Lecter.

“Mrs. Herchshire?”  She looked up as the mortician’s assistant motioned for her to follow him down to the basement crematorium.  There was a simple coffin waiting on the tracks, the top opened.

“I’d like a few minutes, please.”

“Of course, ma’am.  But wouldn’t you like a memorial service for the doctor?” the mortician asked her.

“Trust me, in a few days no one will want to memorialize him.  Excuse me.”  She walked to the coffin and saw him lying there in a charcoal gray Armani suit and burgundy tie.  She reached in and touched his face.  There were no tears.  She whispered, “Well I guess this is goodbye.  Don’t worry about me; I’m going to be fine.  I have to go to Washington and meet with the FBI to dissect your life.  As long as they don’t charge me with anything, I’ll be able to do as you asked by the end of the month.  I just want you to know that I have no regrets.”  She bent in and kissed his forehead.

She walked back to the mortician, who motioned to his assistant to start the process.  “Are you sure you want to be present, ma’am?  It can be kind of disturbing.”

“I’m fine.”  She watched them roll the coffin into the crematorium and close the door.  The turn of a switch started the gas-fed flames, who’s whooshing could be heard along with the crackling of burning wood.  It took about 15 minutes to complete the process.  Once the fires had been banked the assistant opened the door and used a hand-held broom to sweep the ashes forward and into the brass urn she had chosen.   He respectfully handed it to her and she followed them out.

“It’s a shame about the doctor,” the mortician said as she was paying for their services.  “He was a good man.”

“Remember that when you read the papers tomorrow,” she replied before walking out the door.

Once home, she placed the urn on her dressing table as she packed her bags for Washington.  In the weeks prior she had moved most of the valuables in the house and her memorabilia to a storage unit.  All that remained would be sold with the house after she had left, as she never intended to return.

After her bags were packed, she sat down at the dressing table and pulled out of her purse the letter she had found in the safe.  It read:

“My Dearest,

Well if you are reading this, all is done.  I do not wish to be morbid about my death, only to wish you well on your new journey in life.  There is so much more out there for you to see.  I will miss you terribly, Clarice.  The fire in your eyes, the gentleness in your touch, even that streak of vulgarity you refuse to suppress.  Be happy.  Until we meet again,



True to their word, the FBI agents rang her doorbell at 8 am.  They drove to the airport and arrived in Washington three hours later.

It took two weeks, but finally Agent Black was called into his superior’s office.

Phil Decker tossed the file on his desk and said, “That’s it Greg, let her go.”

“What do you mean?  She can’t go free.”

“We’ve got nothing on her.”

“She admitted to killing a man on Verger’s estate.”

“That is an inadmissible confession and you know it.  The plain fact is that there is no physical evidence, no bodies, nothing.  A gun that had been discharged with her fingerprints does not prove she killed someone, if you have no corpse.”

“What about harboring a fugitive.  She ran off with him, Phil, for Christ’s sake!”

“Greg I know that bothers you, but she admitted he used some kind of drug on her.  Any lawyer will claim she was brainwashed, and they’d win.  Listen we even had the IRS snoop around.  All they could find is the money Lecter earned legitimately in his practice.  It was well invested.  All the taxes paid up and the interest claimed.  He dotted his ‘i’s’ and crossed his ‘t’s’.  There is no sign of the money he embezzled from his clients.  I’m sure it’s offshore somewhere.  Cut her loose and back off, Greg.  There’s nothing we can do.  Besides, the man’s dead.  It’s over.”

Agent Black stormed down the hall to the room where Clarice was sitting waiting for the end to come.  He strode in and slammed the file down on the table in front of her.  Pushing his hand through his hair he said, “Well, Ms. Starling that’s it.  I gotta let you go.”

“Thank you Agent Black,” she said as she rose from her chair.

“Wait a minute,” he said to her.  He opened the file and tossed out several photographs.  She recognized all of them.  The murdered cops in Tennessee, the nurse whose tongue was ripped out, Inspector Pazzi.  She’d seen them when she worked the case.  “Look at the man you married.  Look at what he was,” he pointed to the pictures as he spoke.  “From one Fed to another, you disgust me.  Brainwashed, bullshit.  You knew exactly what you were doing.”

She looked down at the photos and let her hand hover over each one as if divining their true meaning.  Finally she slammed her hand on top of them and shoved them across the table.  “Those horrible things were what he did, not who he was.  I killed a woman holding her baby to her chest.  What does that make me Agent Black, less or worse than him?”  She picked up her purse and left the room.

One week later…

The farm in Lithuania was as she remembered from their previous visit.  The family even recognized her even though it had been eight years, and invited her for tea, which she politely declined.  They were saddened to hear of her loss and after gaining their permission, she walked towards the back and hiked to the spot he had shown her.  In her memory she saw the picnic they had set up and the sadness in his eyes as he recounted the story to her once again, but that time it was so much more real.

She walked over to the tree that had given them shade that day and knelt beside it.  Taking the urn out of her bag, she opened it and poured out the ashes at the base of the tree.  She stood and watched the breeze scatter the fine ash along.  Then she said:

“TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both…

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”


copyright 2001, by Calico

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