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Practical Joke

copyright 2002, by AA Aaron

Disclaimer:    The characters of 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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After making their daily contribution to that splendid structure, sex, Hannibal and Clarice made a practice of remaining in bed for a while, conversing on random topics. Today the topic happened to be practical jokes. The good doctor had strong opinions on the subject.

“In its most primitive form the practical joke consists of getting a laugh over the contrived misfortune of others. Examples are numerous; for example, unscrewing the top of a salt shaker so that the next user spills the entire contents on his meal; or filling the sugar container with salt for the enlightenment of the next coffee drinker. Undoubtedly, our primitive ancestors devised similar sources of entertainment before they were able to walk upright.”

Clarice interrupted to comment, “Have you ever noticed that if you take the word
‘examples’ and move the first two letters to the back, you get ‘ample sex’?”

“No, I’ve never noticed that,” said Hannibal. “I’ve managed to get ‘ample sex’ without moving letters around, Getting back to ‘practical jokes:’ Unlike the primitive examples previously mentioned, an advanced practical joke can be a work of art. For example, I heard of a fellow who had a pet turtle. In a spirit of good fun, several of his acquaintances found they could enter his apartment in his absence. They bought a number of similar turtles varying slightly in size. Each day they would replace the turtle with a slightly larger one. The owner was amazed at the rapid rate at which his turtle was growing until it was about three times its original size. But he was even more amazed when they reversed the process and his turtle shrunk back to its starting size.”


The capture of Hannibal the Cannibal in Baltimore by an FBI team made headlines throughout the world. The self-congratulatory statements by the Bureau’s hierarchy dwarfed the plaintive comments by the suspect proclaiming his innocence. These comments were generally ignored. After all, the suspect was a well-known Lecter impersonator going by the name of Dr. Lucifer Fell, a known alias of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He had been perfectly willing to admit he was Dr. Lecter as long as no one believed him. Two eyewitnesses to Hannibal’s murders had positively identified him. His companion was former FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling who was designated in the FBI files as a Known Acquaintance of Dr. Lecter. This evidence of his true identity was sufficient to warrant taking him into custody. Once the FBI officially identified him by his fingerprints, Dr. Lecter would be formally arrested and charged.

Dr. Fell’s right hand fingers had at some time been subjected to some chemical reaction that destroyed his finger ridges. No usable prints could be obtained. His left hand, however, yielded a lovely set of prints that unfortunately bore no resemblance to those on record for Dr. Lecter. Furthermore, Dr. Fell’s hand had five fingers, and X-ray examination of the bone structure confirmed that it never had more than five. Dr. Lecter was known to have had a sixth finger.

The investigators never uncovered the fact that Dr. Lecter had once cut off his own hand to avoid capture; nor were they aware of Dr. Lecter’s stay at a well-known German clinic that had made remarkable advances in the field of limb transplants.

The eyewitnesses who had positively identified Dr. Fell as Dr. Lecter were now hedging. “There is a resemblance but they don’t really look like the same person.”

The FBI’s trace of Dr. Fell’s background showed him to be a solid citizen. He was released from custody with apologies, and with somewhat smaller headlines than those that accompanied his arrest. Dr. Fell was safe from further suspicion of being Dr. Lecter.


The highly successful movies The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon were followed by the equally popular sequel, Hannibal and Clarice. The TV documentary, The Casting of Clarice, drew high ratings. The Broadway production, Hannibal! The Musical was a hit, Anthony Hopkins displaying an unexpectedly seductive singing style. Afterward, Sir Anthony retired and the Hannibal franchise was sold to a syndicate. One of their projects was the development of a TV series featuring the exploits of Hannibal Lecter. The Executive Producer was Manny Spotz.


Manny Spotz was a former reporter for the National Tattler. Following the unfortunate demise of Freddy Lounds, Manny became the de facto resident expert on Hannibal the Cannibal. It was his determined snooping that first drew attention to Dr. Fell as a likely false identity of Dr. Lecter. When the FBI investigation cleared Dr. Fell, Manny Spotz decided it was time for a career change. He had realized some time ago that his talents as a snoop were not being fully compensated for in his present position. There was more potential profit in concealing rather than revealing the secrets he uncovered. He decided that the media offered a more lucrative field in which to exercise his abilities. That was when Spotz arranged to do lunch with Donald Ashburn, a member of the governing board of the CBC network, who owed him a favor.

Not that Manny resorted to blackmail. It was simply that he became known as someone who knew where the dog was buried. Thus, when opportunities arose for advancement from his initial position of associate producer of Saturday Cartoon Club he was given first consideration, and when screw-ups occurred he was not among those considered for the role of scapegoat. And indeed, as he was capable as any of his colleagues, the board members remained quite satisfied with his performance. When the network acquired development rights for a TV series based on Hannibal the Cannibal, Manny Spotz was the logical choice for Executive Producer.


Donald Ashburn, member of the governing board of the CBC network, was a financial whiz who fancied himself a creative whiz. On Monday, January 12, during lunch with his protégé, Manny Spotz, Ashburn offered a suggestion on the Hannibal project.

“Manny, that fellow, whatsisname, Dr. Fell? You think we could get him as an expert consultant on the project?”

“I don’t know, Don. We’ve pretty much settled on the pilot script, and we have enough story lines to cover the first season. Fell is a civilian who doesn’t know the business. If he gets any notions for changes he could really screw up our shooting schedule.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Ashburn produced a pair of Havanas, and they paused to light up. “We don’t have to do anything with his input. Just let him think he’s being useful. It’s for the publicity. A large part of the population doesn’t trust government investigations. They’ll be happy to ignore the evidence and stick to their notion that Fell is really Lecter. We’ll have tons of rumors being passed around the net that we have the real Lecter working on the project. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.”

Spotz was reassured. “I’ll get right on it.”


Dr. Lucifer Fell and his lady, Clarice Starling, were bemused by the invitation.

“Do you have any hitherto unexpressed desire to become a television consultant, my love?” he inquired.

“Hell, no!” she stated, glancing again at Manny Spotz’s letter. “Wait a sec. Isn’t he the same bloke who used to make up all those stories about us in the Tattler?”

Dr. Fell raised one eyebrow. “Bloke?”

“…or dude, if you prefer.”

“No, no,” he muttered hastily. “Bloke will do fine.”

“Very well, then. Is he the bloke?”

“The very same,”

Clarice grew thoughtful. “I think we could have a bit of fun with this Bozo,”

Dr. Fell smiled unpleasantly. He did so love his bit of fun.


The following morning Dr. Fell (a.k.a. Dr. Lecter) and Ms. Starling flew from Washington to New York’s Kennedy Airport. They were picked up by a CBC limousine and driven to CBC headquarters in lower Manhattan. Manny Spotz met them there. Although Dr. Fell and Manny Spotz behaved courteously toward one another, Clarice could sense the palpable animosity that existed between them. She correctly attributed this to their past history: Dr. Fell/Lecter despised the flagrantly fallacious articles that Spotz had written about him during his Tattler days; Spotz was angry with Dr. Fell for having wasted his time and embarrassing him during those Tattler days by pretending to be Dr. Lecter.

Manny Spotz showed them to a conference room that could conveniently seat forty. Don Ashburn joined them and his secretary brought in coffee and assorted Danish. Having observed the amenities, Ashburn opened the meeting.

“As you know, CBC has the option on a TV series on Hannibal. Manny here is the Executive Producer and has the project well under way. What we’d like to do is hire one or both of you as expert consultants. Probably no one else in the world knows as much about Hannibal as you do. You’d be reviewing the show for us and recommending changes required for accuracy. I’ll let Manny fill you in on an overview of where we stand.”

Spotz stood up. “Thank you, Don. The project is at present going under the working title of The Hannibal Project. The show itself is tentatively titled Hannibal’s Way. We have a script ready for the pilot episode. The episode begins with Hannibal musing about Rome. The voice-over relates his hatred of Rome and his plans to lead the Carthaginians to victory…”

“Whoa! Back up a minute,” Clarice interjected, incredulously. “Are you telling us that you’ve been talking all along about the Hannibal who crossed the Alps with elephants? Of all the fat-headed…” She paused, as Spotz and Ashburn broke out in delighted grins.

“Gotcha!” said Spotz.

Dr. Fell turned toward Clarice. “I’m afraid we’ve been the victims of a practical joke.” His face remained passive but his eyes sparkled, reflecting his annoyance.

“Now, now. Let’s not get stuffy,” said Ashburn. “Where’s your sense of humor? Manny is always pulling stunts like that. Keeps us all in stitches. But he’ll be giving you the real presentation now.”

Spotz resumed his presentation. His voice assumed an evangelical quality. He was speaking of his baby - something he had nurtured that he sincerely believed in.

“As I stated earlier, the show is tentatively titled Hannibal’s Way. We have a script ready for the pilot episode. This will be an intermediate episode rather than the opener - the characters and set-up will have already been introduced.

“The series premise: Hannibal Lecter is on the run, pursued by FBI Agent Clarice Starling. For each weekly episode he is at some other location, like The Pretender or The Fugitive.

“The Gimmick: He is a Master of Disguise, and in every episode a different popular actor doing a guest spot plays him.”

Starling interrupted,

“Hasn’t that been done before?” she asked.

“ Nah, doesn’t matter,” Spotz said. “Nobody remembers that far back.”

Spotz continued, “The character Clarice is ambivalent; she is out to capture Hannibal but is also in love with him. Each week she (or occasionally some other female) appears in a nude and/or sex scene (as in NYPD Blue). We’ll test the limits of how far we can go.

“A typical plot is used in the pilot script. A UN delegate from an Arab country who plans to ship her home to be his sex slave captures Clarice. He is aided in trapping her by Krendler of the FBI who enjoys imagining what is going to happen to her. The delegate has diplomatic immunity but Hannibal isn’t bound by that and rescues her. He also harvests the guy’s sweetbreads, cooks and eats them. He features a different recipe for each episode. In general, he goes after guys who are immune to the law.

“There are different villains every one to three weeks but there is also a background set of supervillains manipulating the strings. They are known as the Faceless Fiends. Over the course of the series their identities are gradually revealed as people who in the past have had their faces ruined with Hannibal responsible. They turn out to be Mason Verger, Will Graham, and the nurse at the Baltimore Asylum.

“That should give you an overview of where the project stands. If you have any questions, I’ll be glad to answer them.”

After a moment’s thought, Clarice asked, “Will you be able to find enough popular actors willing to play Hannibal for only one episode?”

“No problemo,” Manny said. “Are you kidding? We already have enough of them lined up to cover the first season. The word has gotten around how it’s a great honor to be one of those selected.”

Dr. Fell commented, “With all these different actors playing me, will you be able to obtain consistency in characterizations?”

“Whoa, time out,” Manny said. “What do you mean, ‘…Actors playing me?’ The FBI has pretty well established that you’re just a Lecter impersonator, so don’t start pulling that crap around here about being the real thing. I wasted enough time ten years ago tracking you down when there was still some likelihood that you would turn out to be the genuine article. I became a laughingstock when you were shown to be a phony after all.”

Manny and Dr. Fell sat scowling at one another. Ashburn spoke to them soothingly. “Now, now, boys; play nice. We’re all on the same side here. If Dr. Fell says he’s really Dr. Lecter, then who’s to say different? As long as he’s not wanted by the police or FBI, where’s the harm?”

“Sorry. Won’t happen again,” Spotz mumbled. Then getting back to his professional demeanor, “”You asked how we maintain Lecter characterization consistency with a different actor each week. First of all, I maintain strong control over the writing staff, and the director maintains similar control over the ensemble. Secondly, we have a check list of Lecter’s personal qualities and tastes as well as a list of his favorite quotes; we assure that a certain fraction of these are used in each episode, but that we avoid excessive duplication among episodes. Believe me, we have the generation of TV series episodes down to a science.

“Some of the aspects of Lecter we use to describe and define him are: An extra finger; an eidetic memory; an uncanny sense of smell; exceptionally strong; gourmet chef; wine connoisseur; glowing maroon eyes; psychologist; psychiatrist; medical doctor; piano and other musical instruments virtuoso; opera and classical music aficionado; linguist; Dante expert as well as other art, literature, math, sciences abilities; skilled in the martial arts, particularly knives; exquisite taste, style, manners, wit, charm, a babe magnet. A genuine Renaissance man, like Leonardo daVinci or Cesare Borgia.”

Dr. Fell stroked his chin reflectively. “Although I have reservations regarding any attempt to quantify Dr. Lecter, I believe that for purposes of defining his TV character your approach is reasonable.” He turned toward Clarice. “What do you think, my dear?”

She seemed bemused. “A babe magnet?” she remarked.

“It means he attracts the ladies,” offered Dr. Fell, helpfully.

“So I gathered,” she said dryly.

“I’ll get both of you copies of the pilot episode’s current working script and the check lists,” said Manny. “I had an office cleared for your use. Great having you on board,” he muttered sourly.


At their hotel, there was a mix-up with the room keys. Clarice suspected another practical joke by Spotz.

She placed a call from their hotel room to her long-time friend, Ardelia Mapp.

“Delia, hi. Haven’t spoken to you for a while. How long has it been?”

“Must be at least two days. What’s up? How’s the monster?” For some time there had been an uneasy truce between Hannibal the Cannibal and FBI Special Agent Ardelia Mapp. She no longer classified him as pure evil. As long as Dr. Lecter was officially dead and no longer committing murders, Ardelia felt no compulsion to turn him in. Dr. Lecter, in turn, felt no compulsion to harm Agent Mapp as long as she didn’t annoy him. The women chatted a while; then Clarice asked Ardelia for a small favor. Ardelia promised to call back with the information and did so two hours later.

“Manny Spotz has a clean sheet. However, he is an inveterate practical joker and some of his pranks have skated pretty close to the limit. One recent example: a $120,000 diamond necklace was brought on the set of a fashion program Spotz was producing. He asked Libby Ross, a member of the crew, to keep an eye on it. At the end of the shift, the necklace couldn’t be found. Spotz convinced Libby that she would be held responsible for the full value of the jewelry. She ran off in tears. Then Spotz revealed that it was a practical joke. The necklace was a fake and had been palmed by Spotz. It was still a fine looking piece of jewelry worth several hundred dollars, and he planned to present it to her for being such a good sport. He had taped the whole episode and was planning to sell it to one of the would-be Candid Camera rip-offs. That deal was shot when she was found with her wrists slashed, The medics managed to patch her up so she survived. The studio contrived to settle the matter with no one serving any jail time.”

“Thanks, Delia. I owe you.” Clarice hung up and turned to her companion. “It looks as though Manny-boy may use his practical jokes to cover a really nasty sadistic streak.”

“And you, of course, would never associate with such a person,” Hannibal murmured, wryly.

“Oh, you! You’re not at all like that,” she laughed as she nibbled lightly on his ear.

“So, you still think that I am predictable.” With a sudden blur of movement he had her pressed against the wall, one arm pinned behind her back, his harpy caressing her throat, the sharpened point threatening to pierce the delicate skin. She stifled a startled gasp as the point drew a few drops of blood.

“Okay,” she muttered. “I admit you caught me off guard and I was terrified for a moment. You won that one. I’m ready to accept my punishment.”

As he moved his face toward hers, she separated her lips in anticipation. Their mouths met and probing tongues hungrily explored each other. They remained clinging together as they sank to the welcoming bed.


The following morning, there was a mix-up with the room service breakfast orders. They had definitely not ordered pizza. Hannibal grimaced as he beheld the extra large with everything on it. Actually, Clarice would not have minded that change in breakfast but she knew better than to voice that opinion.

Hannibal sighed. “Manny-boy is becoming quite tedious with his practical jokes. In the good old days I would have applied my own penalty for such rudeness. However, for the sake of our unwritten agreement, I will defer to your decision as to how far such behavior should be tolerated.”

Clarice patted his hand. “As far as I’m concerned, you can deal with him as severely as you care to. The world would be a much pleasanter place without him in it. However, we’ve invested a great deal of effort in our current identities and it would be a shame to waste them if we can find some simpler way of handling it. Remember Miggs? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to persuade Mr. Spotz to swallow his tongue and kill himself?”

“Hmmm. There’s a thought. I could try . . . but no . . . I need more to work on. Clarice, do you think you could persuade Ms. Mapp to obtain more information from the FBI files for us? It’s about Donald Ashburn . . .


Dr. Fell arrived alone at the temporary office he and Starling shared in CBC headquarters in New York. Starling was attending to a personal errand and would show up a little later.

Dr. Fell opened his office door and was greeted by the sight of a pig seated at his desk. He stared at the pig and the pig stared back. Dr. Fell picked up the phone and called Security.

“There’s a pig in my office.”

“Can you describe it?”

“White, male, about two years old, about two-foot-five, about 40 pounds, no tattoos or distinguishing marks. I could probably pick him out in a line-up,” he added, helpfully,

“That sounds like Elmer. We’ve been looking for him all morning. He’s supposed to be guesting on the RolyPoly KartoonKorner. I’ll have Jake pick him up. Thanks for calling.”


Dr. Fell and Clarice Starling were in their temporary office in CBC headquarters in New York. Ardelia had come through with the information they requested. The true test would be how to apply it. A check of Manny Spotz’s computer calendar showed that he would be taking a morning flight to LAX on the following day. That flight would be a memorable one.

The travel details showed that Spotz would be accompanied by two security guards.


Dr. Fell joined Ashburn for lunch at the exclusive Sportsman’s Club. It was fairly noisy and conversations remained private. Dr. Fell began, “Mr. Ashburn . . .” Ashburn interrupted, “Please, call me Donald or Don.”

Dr. Fell said, “Okay, and you may call me Lucifer, as long as you don’t call me Lucy.”

Ashburn chuckled and asked, “What can I do for you, Lucifer?”

“Just listen to a short tale I have to relate. Please don’t say anything until I’ve finished. I assure you that you’ll be pleased you did.” Dr. Fell paused a moment, then continued. “Ten years ago your first wife was divorcing you and you were secretly seeing a woman named Abby Teasdale. You were in love and would soon be free to marry her. Then one morning you awoke and found that Abby, lying next to you, was dead. You were dazed and afraid of the publicity; you fled. The next day a reporter approached you. He reassured you that he had covered up for you and that you were safe from being connected with the death. He refused to accept any remuneration from you; he was only doing it out of respect. In gratitude, you sponsored him at CBC and he became your protégé.

“What you are not aware of is that Abby did not die. Although you did not detect breathing or a pulse, the paramedics did and they managed to save her life. She was under the impression that you were dumping her and she was too proud to confront you. She married a couple of years later and was recently widowed in a car accident. You should have no trouble wooing and winning her again.

“I have documented evidence that verifies all the main items of this report. The main point is that your protégé, Manny Spotz, instead of saving you, actually deliberately robbed you of ten years that you could have spent with the love of your life.”


Clarice listened as Hannibal brought her up to date. She felt slightly disappointed for some reason.

“So that’s how you got Manny-boy. It’s okay, I guess, but I was hoping for something more in the nature of a practical joke.”

“The game isn’t quite over yet, my love,” said Hannibal. “What I’ve accomplished thus far could have been performed by any competent investigator. It is just the set-up for what may be my ultimate practical joke.”

“And what would that be?”

“Never ask . . .” he began.

“. . . it spoils the surprise,” Clarice completed the mantra.

Hannibal glanced at his watch. “We should be getting to it in about half an hour.


Hannibal, calling as Dr. Fell, connected to Spotz’s cell phone at about mid-flight. Clarice could hear Hannibal speaking at his normal volume. The voice at the other end was a muted babble that Clarice could barely make out when Spotz raised his voice.

Fell: Well, hello Manny.

Spotz: gobble gobble

F: I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.

S: gobble gobble?

F: Yes. (assumes mocking accent) It seems that Don has found out about your little deception with regard to Abby Teasdale. You’ve been a naughty boy, haven’t you.

S: gobble gobble son of a gobble!

F: (drops accent) You’re out of the Hannibal Project.

S: gobble gobble

F: You might as well give it up. Don is turning the Producer’s hat over to me. As soon as the board makes it official I’ll start taping the demonstration episode. (assumes accent) You’ve been sitting on the script long enough, Manny-boy.

S: (shouting) gobble you, you bastard! I’m gonna shoot the pilot and you can’t stop me! (confusing noises followed by dead silence)

“What happened there?” Clarice called out.

Hannibal wore an expression of saintly innocence as he hung up. “Apparently the bloke went berserk and started making terrorist threats. Fortunately, his own bodyguards as well as the other passengers managed to subdue him. They were understandingly a bit pissed, although no one on board was injured.”

“Except for the bloke, of course,” said Clarice.

“Of course,” said Hannibal.


Later, Dr. Fell met with Donald Ashburn and gave him a sanitized version of the episode.

“I didn’t realize how hard he was taking it,” said Ashburn. “When he realized that he had destroyed his own career he must have just snapped.”

“Well, after the way he betrayed you, it’s difficult to feel compassion for him,” said Dr. Fell. “Have you heard anything more from the hospital?”

“They said his condition was serious but stable. He is expected to heal physically but my never regain his full faculties.”

“It was quite a beating he took from his bodyguards. It seems ironic that he insisted on their being well trained to respond to any emergency.”

There was a minute of silence while they contemplated the irony. Then Ashburn remarked, “On a related subject, I have been giving serious consideration to offering you the newly vacated position of Executive Producer of the Hannibal Project. What do you say?”

For the first time since his arrival at Los Angeles, Dr. Fell felt flustered. “I appreciate the offer but I really don’t feel qualified to accept such a position. I admit that I taunted Manny by pretending that I was taking over, but . . .”

“Nonsense,” Don interrupted. “It’s your expertise on Hannibal and Clarice that I want. The nuts and bolts of producing a TV series can be left to the assistant producers. You would be looking at the big picture. Think top ratings. Think Emmy!”

“It would certainly be a challenge. I must admit that my ambitions never extended beyond being Number One on the FBI’s Most Wanted List . . .”

“Oh, you’re pretending to be the real Hannibal Lecter again,” Ashcroft interjected. “That’s so cute.”

“. . . the FBI’s Most Wanted List, but a career as a TV producer might give me even broader scope to present my view of the human race. Very well, I accept your offer.”

“Stout fellow,” said Ashcroft.


Back in their hotel room, Clarice confronted Hannibal, “Okay, Buster. How did you do it?”

“Do what?” he asked innocently.

“You know damned well what. How did you get Spotz to stand up during a commercial flight and yell, ‘I am a terrorist. Let’s all beat me up!’ or words to that effect. Actually, you know, I can almost figure out what you did.”

“This should be interesting,” he said. “Please present your explanation. Dazzle me with your acumen.”

“All right,” she said. “You observed several characteristics of Manny-boy’s speech patterns. One was his habit of raising his voice when you mocked him by imitating his Brooklyn accent. Another was his reaction to misuse of the jargon of his profession. He would correct the misuse in his response. Thus, ‘taping the demonstration episode’ became ‘shooting the pilot,’ ”

Once more she had managed to surprise him. Hannibal beamed at her (that consisted of raising the corner of his mouth about one-quarter inch). “But that is exactly what I did. What puzzles you?”

“It’s that I don’t think there’s another bloke on earth that could have intentionally accomplished that. It’s at a time like this that I’m reminded that you are something more than human.”

“I believe we’re agreed that I won this little skirmish and am therefore entitled to a reward,” Hannibal murmured.

“What do you desire, O Mighty one?”

“My desire is that you purge the word bloke from your vocabulary,”

“Granted,” said Clarice, “but wouldn’t you like to accept your usual reward as a bonus?”

“I was counting on that,” Hannibal said as they embraced.


copyright 2002, by AA Aaron

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