copyright 2001, by
The characters Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling
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,
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For the first time in her adult life, Clarice Starling does
not have a plan. No goal, no mission to guide her. For weeks without a
job, she lurks around her duplex like a prowler. The naked white walls
reflect every thought a thousand times until the echoes dissolve into a
mocking cacophony. She can do only so many loads of laundry before the
chaos in her head becomes maddening. When she finds herself stuffing
clean clothes into the washer, she knows it is time to leave. Time to
get out, time to get anywhere, she thinks to herself. She has ceased to
fight the voice that rolls through her mind like a fog.
into the Mustang provides no relief. She places her hands on the
steering wheel and grips it until her knuckles turn white. She dares not
look over to the passenger seat for she knows she will see the rusty
stains of memory. The roar of the engine as she turns the key surprises
her. She has forgotten how to scream.
Driving, she is able to lose
herself for a while. Her hands remember the feel of the gearshift; her
feet recall the vibration of the pedals. She does not care where she is
going, only that she is getting there. Miles fly by like black-winged
crows as she stares into the void beyond her windshield.
She is unsurprised to find herself
at the Chesapeake shore. The water is gunmetal gray in the cloudy
predawn, and the salt tang of the sea reminds her of the tears she has
been unable to shed. As she watches the rising of the sun, she realizes
that she was holding her breath, not certain that it would come. She is
unsure of most things now. Sometimes, even gravity seems to fail.
The foul, sticky taste of regret
washes through her mouth like a hangover. She knew now what she had
wanted, what she had not had the balls to admit, what she could not go
on without. And if she could not let herself in on her dark secret, how
was she supposed to have told him? He had always known, always. Don’t
lie, or I’ll know, she thought bitterly. Not this time, Doctor.
And did he really think she would
ever ask him to stop? Ever ask him for anything? She had asked him for
something small, once. Only a little information, costing nothing,
meaning everything. He had turned it into a deadly game where Catherine
Martin’s life had been tossed like a chip onto a green felt table. How
dare he believe she would let him do that again? How dare he think he
could play her like cards?
“Not in a thousand years,” she
rasps, her voice as harsh from disuse as the one she had heard so long
ago. The stakes had been high, she had gambled and lost. No matter that
he had stacked the cards, putting her in a situation where the war of
duty and desire was inescapable. She could still hear the click of her
ace in the hole locking around his wrist. She could not believe that his
eyes had failed to penetrate the misty wisps with which she had covered
her dignity, the poker face she wore. Had he wanted her to beg to go
with him? Was linking her life to his not enough? She should have known
that only stark honesty would suffice. He could allude, foreshadow,
misdirect. She could not. Those were the rules, and she had broken them.
In return, he had severed them completely. She saw the glint of the
butcher knife crashing down, heard the scream ringing in her ears, felt
the shock of seeing the blade embedded in the countertop, and the cold,
hard gleam in his eyes as he picked the lock on her wrist. He had not
spoken again, merely turned and left her there, her hair still clasped
in the refrigerator door.
But she could not be the first to
say ‘‘I love you.’’ Love, for Clarice Starling, was not a game
she could play and win.
The drive home is interminable, the
traffic impenetrable. By the time she wearily pulls into her driveway,
it is midafternoon. She mechanically picks up the newspaper and her mail
and walks inside. The answering machine blinks incessantly, full of
messages from former colleagues, reminders of a world she longs to
forget. She tosses her bundle on the coffee table and goes to the
kitchen. From the cabinet above the fridge she takes a half-empty bottle
of Jack Daniels. Pouring two fingers into a glass, she wanders back into
the living room, dropping her fatigued body onto the couch. It has been
more than forty-eight hours since she has last slept.
Reflex causes her to pick up the
mail. Credit card offers, extra-value coupons, pleas for money, she
discards them all into a heap beside the sofa. There is no anonymous
package, no mauve envelope, no scent of skin cream and no copperplate
communion. Desperate for some surcease from the sibilant whispers of
loneliness that creep through her consciousness like snakes in grass,
she reaches for the newspaper and resolves to read every single word
until she is asleep or dead. She struggles through stories of corruption
and greed, tales of hope and despair. She reads advertisements for
salons and get-rich-quick schemes, windows and weight-loss, furniture
and fashion. At last she comes to the personals. As always, her breath
catches in her chest, her spine freezes, and her mouth goes dry. She
scans the “H” section quickly, and the knot in her stomach dissolves
into acid when she sees there is nothing addressed to
‘‘Hannah.’’ God damn me for a crazy fool, she thinks. He is in
Europe, by now, or South America. If I cross his mind at all, it will be
only as the vaguely dissatisfying ending to a shabby chapter in his
Starling has never been a serious
drinker, but she is finding the idea more attractive with every
mouthful. She takes the bottle now, not bothering with the glass, and
gulps the amber liquid in great draughts. The shadows grow longer on the
floor until the table lamp beside the couch creates the only remaining
illumination. Cast adrift on a raft of light in a sea of darkness, she
sits Indian-style on the sofa, the empty bottle resting in the hollow of
her lap. She nods occasionally, floating in and out of sleep in a kind
of Brownian motion. All her inhibitions have vanished into the oubliette
the alcohol has kindly created in her mind. She feels a heat between her
legs as his voice rings in the vaults of her brain. “A well-scrubbed
hustling rube with a little taste.” Oh, how she had tried to prove him
wrong. What a fool she was for thinking that she could ever be more than
that. In the Bureau. Or to him. His words keep flowing like a broken
water main. She hears them all, everything he has ever said to her,
everything she listened to on Barney's tapes. They are etched like an
engraving on her heart.
Suddenly, she laughs, a sound
eerily like the cackling of a crow. She has found one answer, anyway,
and it is the only one she will ever need. She stands up suddenly, the
bottle toppling to the floor. Her vision darkens for a moment as her
dilated blood vessels adjust to the new demands she is placing upon
them. Sliding through the dark, she makes her way into her bedroom and
reaches up to the top shelf of her closet. There is one firearm left in
her arsenal, a little Saturday night special with a mother of pearl
grip. Ardelia had given it to her while they were still in school as the
punch line to a joke she can barely remember. No matter, though the
weapon is hardly appropriate for the job at hand, it will do. “Fuck
taste,” she mutters, slurring the words a little. Apparently I’m not
even good enough to eat.
She checks the tiny gun……
loaded and ready. She walks slowly back to the living room and resumes
her position on the couch. Her hand shakes only a little as she polishes
the gleaming nacre. She speaks the answer she has found as an
affirmation of her intent. “My father was indeed a deep roller, Dr.
Lecter,” she speaks into the darkness. “Now I know my mother was,
She thinks of all the cases she has
studied, the methods she has seen. The idea of putting the gun into her
mouth repulses her, so she settles for pressing the cold barrel against
her right temple. Hopefully this will be one endeavor in her life she
will manage to not screw up.
As she takes a deep breath to
steady her arm, her last thought is of the Doctor. She wonders if he
will feel anything when he reads of this in the papers.
The tinny pop of the small weapon
is sadly anticlimactic, thinks Dr. Hannibal Lecter as he watches her
slump. Brain matter and blood splash the clean white walls. Her body
jerks once, then is still. Slowly he arises from his position deep in
the corner shadows of the room and moves over to the couch. The camera
rolls film deep in the bowels of his memory palace. He extends one
perfectly manicured hand and touches a finger to the gore dripping down
her twisted face. He raises the finger to his nose and inhales the
scent. He inserts the very tip of the blood-covered digit into his
mouth, his saliva gushing as he tastes her agony. It is delicious raw.
But Clarice Starling deserves more.
He arranges her still warm corpse
on the couch as if she were lying asleep. Smoothing the lines from her
face, he caresses her gently, then spreads her eyelids open, gazing deep
into her empty eyes. With the skill of a practiced lover, he eases the
buttons of her blouse open. Reaching into a pocket, he pulls out the
Harpy and puts it to the center of her chest, at the bottom of her
sternum. With a quick upward flick, he severs her brassiere. The weight
of her breasts pulls it open. He bends his head down, breathing in the
scent of her. He lets his lips press against her skin, feeling the ribs
beneath. His tongue traces the line his incision will take. Leaving her
briefly, he returns to the corner and picks up a small black leather
case. He places it on the coffee table and snaps open the clasps. Inside
lies a silver charger, a linen napkin, a crystal flask shaped like a
heart, a box of matches, and a fine set of antique silverware. He walks
around the table to the couch, and takes a deep breath.
The razor sharp knife glides
through her skin like it is tissue paper. He cuts between her third and
fourth ribs on the left side. He pauses and examines his work.
Whimsically, he extends the superficial incision up on a diagonal plane
until it meets the wound on her shoulder. He reflects the skin back,
using the back of the blade in a blunt dissection. Uncovering bone, he
sets the knife down on her belly and plunges both hands into the gaping
wound. Blood is falling all around him as his powerful hands crack her
ribs. He feels a jolt down deep in his stomach every time he hears the
popping sound. When he has removed her third, fourth, and fifth ribs he
takes a moment to clean the bones, blood dribbling down the front of his
elegant white shirt. Quickly removing the rest of the intervening
tissue, he uncovers her pericardial sac, the membrane surrounding her
heart. He looks around him then, seeking something. His eyes fall on her
jewelry, a thin gold necklace and bracelet. Removing them quickly, he
uses them to neatly ligate the major vessels and lifts out her heart,
still surrounded in its fibrous sheath.
He places it on the silver charger,
cutting and folding the sac until it has formed a small basin around the
base of the organ that gave her life. He opens the crystal flask and
sniffs, the scent of cognac filling his nostrils. He carefully pours it
over her flesh, making sure not a drop escapes. Lighting a match, he
sets aflame the delicacy before him. Blue fire surrounds the heart of
Clarice Starling. He regrets only that he cannot eat it whole, but must
slice it into manageable pieces. The meat is tough, he reflects. But the
flavor is incomparable.
When he has swallowed the last
morsel, he bends his head to drink the fluid left upon the charger. A
stranger viewing him now would see not man but monster, his matchless
apparel soaked with blood, his face streaked with gore, his hands
crimson past the wrists. That same stranger might wonder at the tears
that are slowly working their way through the stains on his cheeks. He
takes up the linen napkin and wipes his hands. From his breast pocket he
removes two slips of parchment. One slip he rolls up and inserts into
the crystal flask. The flask he places within her breast, to take the
place of her consumed heart. The other piece of parchment he leaves upon
her chest like a sign. He bends to her face once more and kisses her now
cold lips. He moves to the door. He does not need to look back. The mad
tableau is forever enshrined now in the entry hall of the palace in his
When the authorities arrive, they
discover the paper on her chest. The words ‘‘Mischa, welcome
home’’ mean nothing to them. When the medical examiner, a
well-educated, elderly man, performs the autopsy, he opens the crystal
flask and draws out the parchment from within. Upon reading the words,
he is unable to contain the flood of tears that well within his eyes.
If Love himself weep, shall not
Learning for what sad cause he pours his tears?
Love hears his ladies crying their distress,
Showing forth bitter sorrow through their eyes
Because villainous Death has worked its cruel
Destructive art upon a gentle heart,
And laid waste all that earth can find to praise
In a gracious lady, save her chastity.
Hear then how Love paid homage to this lady:
I saw him weeping there in human form,
Observing the stilled image of her grace;
And more than once he raised his eyes toward Heaven,
Where that sweet soul already had its home,
Which once, on earth, had worn enchanting flesh.
Villainous Death, at war with tenderness,
Timeless mother of woe,
Judgment severe and incontestable,
Source of sick grief within my heart –– a grief
I constantly must bear ––
My tongue wears itself out in cursing you!
And if I want to make you beg for mercy,
I need only reveal
Your felonies, your guilt of every guilt;
Not that you are unknown for what you are,
But rather to enrage
Whoever hopes for sustenance in love.
You have bereft the world of gentlest grace
Of all that in sweet ladies merits praise;
In youth’s gay tender years
You have destroyed all love’s lightheartedness.
There is no need to name this
Because her qualities tell who she was.
Who merits not salvation,
Let him not hope to share her company.
The coroner ruled the case a
*The above is from the Musa Viking edition of
Dante’s La Vita Nuova
copyright 2001, by
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