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All the World's a Stage

copyright 2001, by Glimmerdark

Disclaimer:    The characters Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling and Jack Crawford 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 is in the darkest hour of night, at three of the clock, when those souls who long for sleep and are denied wrestle with the demons of their conscience. Jack Crawford is no stranger to this hour. The streetlight outside his house casts familiar shadows on the pall of his bedroom. Bella’s chenille robe still hangs from the back of the door. 

Shades of the past perform behind his lidded eyes, engaged in a black comedy that only he, the author, fully understands. Will Graham’s screams echo from the bottom of a pit. The ragged sockets where his eyes used to be drip tears of ichor. Francis Dolarhyde parades about in the costume of a Chinese dragon, unaware his tail is gone. Dr. Frederick Chilton, wearing rags of tattered finery sits alone at a marble table, eating slime and begging for more. Jame Gumb hangs above, suspended from a wire, his gossamer wings on fire. And Clarice Starling stands stage center, dressed in garments of black and white, lost in the middle of a chessboard. Her face is a ghastly gray. A troupe of archers surrounds the board, arrows trained on her heart. 

Above the stage in a well-appointed box sits a figure. The gentleman’s face glows from the eerie lights illuminating the proscenium. Slowly, his hands move in faint, staccato applause. He leans over the edge of the box and says in his perfect diction, “Well done, Jackie Boy. But we’ll have to wait and see what the final act will bring.”  

Crawford looks up at the figure from his spot in the orchestra pit. Hannibal Lecter smiles down upon him. The Doctor holds up a manila file. “You see, so much depends upon the ending. And these actors have been known to improvise.”  

Crawford licks dry lips. His voice will barely pass through a throat closed with tension. “You’re on, Doctor,” he whispers. The sound carries in the perfect acoustics of the theatre of his mind. 

The shrill of a telephone jerks him out of his reverie. His hand, slick with sweat, fumbles for the receiver. Lifting it to his ear, he hears the story of the discovery of Krendler’s body. A sheaf of hair, tentatively assumed to be Starling’s, was found in the refrigerator door. Signs of a struggle are evident in the kitchen. As of yet, they have found no trace of Lecter’s whereabouts, or of his presumed victim. His presence is required in the office immediately. Assistant Director Noonan wishes to speak with him at once. “Aw, hell, Jack,” says the caller. “This has got to be a bitch for you. I know this isn’t exactly the best time. If I can do anything to help……” The voice trails away.

“No, no, I’ll be okay,” grates Crawford. “Gimme a few minutes to get dressed and I’ll be right there.”  

There is little traffic at 3 a.m., and Crawford is unfortunately free to design scenarios in his mind. He wonders about the dénouement of this evening, sick and desperate to know what ending his protégée has wrought. Mostly, though, he ponders what it must be like to be free. It has been so long…… even Lecter has tasted more freedom, he thinks. Lecter has no dark secrets, no hidden flaws. He is unafraid to face the world exactly as he is. Maybe that is why I hate him so much. 

Arriving at Quantico, Crawford is quickly briefed and taken to Noonan’s office. The Assistant Director looks at him sadly. “I’m sorry, Jack. But you and I both know what a strain you’ve been under. It wouldn’t look bad to anyone if you quietly backed out of this and took your retirement a little early. You could do some consulting work…… with Starling gone and Graham back in the hospital, you are our primary resident expert on Lecter, and that won’t change. Whaddaya say, Jack?”  

The kind look on Noonan’s face starts a fire of anger burning in Crawford’s belly. “Give me three days, and if there haven’t been any breaks in the case yet, well, I guess I’ll take your advice.” Crawford allows his voice to sound a little as if he is begging. “I’ve just got to give it one more shot, Peter.”  

Noonan sighs, and spreads his hands over the desk. “Okay, Jack. But you’ve got three days. After that, I want to have your resignation in my hand.”  

Crawford suppresses a surge of excitement. “Whatever you say. Thanks.” He gives Noonan a tight good ol’ boy handshake and quickly exits the room. He is almost jogging on his way through the corridors and stairs back to the basement of Behavioral Science. On the way, he cannot help but to remember Lecter as he first had seen him. A respected psychiatrist, a leader in his field, a dark and elegant figure who was charming and personable. Up to a point, anyway. Not for the first time, Jack curses the day he met him. 

Back in his own office, he drops himself into the old familiar chair and puts on a cardigan to ward of the chill of early morning. The years have not been kind to his joints, and they often ache in the cool damp of the underground facility. Taking a small key from his wallet, he opens the right hand drawer in his desk. From it he pulls a small envelope. The linen-fiber paper inside reads, 

“Jackie Boy——  

If all has gone well you’ll know it by our conspicuous absence, and the even more conspicuous presence of a colleague. No, I won’t tell you which one.

Now, I ask of you only one more thing. Route the search away from my Firenze. I’ve made it easy for you by planting a few clues in different directions. They should not be hard to find. But you’ve a talent for creating clever young pups, and I don’t want their noses on my trail before I’ve had a chance to wash off the dirt of the States. Use your acumen to persuade them away. I’ll only need a few days. Think you can handle that, Jack?

I find I must thank you again for this gift, by far the best yet. I didn’t know you had it in you, Jack. But weren’t you tempted? No, of course not. I’d almost forgotten. But I’m sure you haven’t. Why does it matter so much to you? Ah, well, if you’d felt like telling me you would have done so long ago.

If you are successful, you will receive that which you seek in one week’s time. 

Ta-ta, 

H.”  

Crawford feels the pangs of guilt stab his stomach. Reaching for his ever-present Rolaids, he replaces the letter and locks the drawer. Wearily, he bends over his desk, starting the paperwork and crafting the vision that will lead the brightest young minds in the F.B.I. on a wild goose chase to Paris. It is not difficult. Crawford laughs bitterly. It has not been for nothing that he has been section chief all these years. He was the best of them all once, better than Clarice, certainly. Even better than Will Graham. Before Lecter……  

He shakes his head sourly. A lot of things were different before Lecter. Dwelling on the past would not help him now. Not that it mattered…… He thought about Lecter’s question. Why does this secret still haunt me? Bella is gone; I’ll be out of the Bureau soon. There is no one left to care. No one but me. 

“Pride is the foundation of all sin, Jack.” He hears the Doctor’s voice inside his mind. He was younger then, the timbre less rich, but the razor sharpness was still present under the velvet vowels. 

Too late for choices now, Crawford tells himself. This is life, not dress rehearsal. The players are already in their places. Hell, the curtain is about to fall. All I can do now is watch. 

He folds his arms on the desk and drifts into a troubled sleep. 

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> 

Jack Crawford is still in his pajamas, though the clock reads three in the afternoon. There is no reason to dress, no stimulus to jerk him out of his sloth. He sits at the kitchen table, holding the newspaper. The headline reads “LECTER STILL AT LARGE.” A large photo of the Doctor from his prison days graces the front page. A smaller picture of Starling lies below the fold. 

The sound of a truck pulling up causes Crawford’s heart to skip a beat. As he races to the door, he sees the FedEx driver through the window. Acid pours into his stomach. He greets the man, signs for the medium-size package, and resists the urge to slam the door shut. He closes it calmly, unworriedly, then shoots the bolt and hurries back to the kitchen. Placing the package on the counter, he grabs a knife and slices through the tape. Packing peanuts fountain onto the floor as he lifts a bulky manila file out of the box. 

Shuffling through the peanuts, he takes the file to the table, sits down, and breathes heavily for a moment. A shiver goes up his spine as he opens the cover. Atop a stack of yellowing papers is an envelope of fine parchment. A warm, familiar scent rises to his nose. He takes the envelope into his hand, rips it open with callous disregard for the quality of the presentation, and begins to read. 

“Jackie Boy——  

I myself would have considered this payment in full. But when I asked Clarice for her opinion –– oh, dear, I do hope you understand that I had to tell her –– she felt that a small stipend should be paid on her behalf as well. So I hope you enjoy the photo she insisted I enclose. I know you will keep it to yourself. 

I trust all is in order between us now. Thank you again for your many years of service. I remain, 

Your most amused admirer,

Hannibal Lecter, M.D.”  

Crawford dares not even glance at the photo that had fallen into his lap. He shuffles quickly through the papers, ensuring that everything is there. And it is. Every piece of correspondence over the last twenty-five years is neatly stacked. At the bottom of the pile are the records from when a young Crawford, desperate to solve his problem yet afraid that the Bureau would discover it, sought treatment from an as-yet-unknown psychiatrist in Baltimore. Close enough to be reasonably convenient, and far enough away that no one who knew him could possibly walk into the waiting room of the small clinic where Lecter had treated him for the impotence that had nearly shattered his marriage. 

A long sigh of delayed relief issues from Crawford’s mouth. Lecter had been unsuccessful in his attempts to solve the problem, and Crawford had lived in fear that someday, someone from the Bureau would discover that he was less than a man. A slippery slope that became deadly when Lecter began blackmailing Crawford with the information. Only a section chief, Crawford had had limited power to aid Lecter during his incarceration, but he had managed to slip the Doctor a few tidbits here and there. Some good books, better music, an occasional gourmet meal, the chance to revenge himself on Graham, the sterling young mind of an innocent girl. Never enough, though, to fully satisfy Lecter’s taste. Not until the fiasco in Memphis. Crawford almost smiled at the recollection. That had been a delicate piece of work, to engineer the circumstances that made possible Lecter’s escape while all the time seeming to fight it madly. Crawford had thought that would be the end. He had not foreseen that Lecter would become quite so taken with Starling. 

Ah, yes, Starling. Crawford had known at once that she would make an excellent installment payment on his debt of shame, once he had convinced himself that he could not rise to the occasion himself. Even Clarice, he thought, no matter how much he lusted for her in his heart, could make his renegade body perform. 

He remembers the photo then, and his cheeks burn. How like Lecter to tell Starling the whole story, to disgrace him in front of the one person who still cared for him. She would hate him now, that’s certain. 

He picks up the picture from his lap. Gazing upon the lurid depiction, he feels the breath stop in his chest. Clarice, naked, flushed with sex, looks directly into the camera lens. Her auburn hair is disheveled in the throes of passion, falling like a veil over her peaky breasts. Between her legs a dark head rests, his face shiny with her wetness. Hannibal Lecter is smiling, and it is not a nice smile. 

For the first time in more than thirty years, Jack Crawford feels the insistent surge of an erection press against his pajamas. Furtively, he looks around, as if there could be anyone there to see him. Sliding a hand under his waistband, he begins to stroke himself, slowly at first, then faster and harder as the excitement builds. In barely longer than a moment, he is done, the semen dampening the crotch of his pajama bottoms. He turns the picture over then, not surprised to see an inscription in Clarice’s hand. 

“Poor Jack,” it reads. “At least when Hannibal fucks me, I know I’m being screwed.”

FIN

copyright 2001, by Glimmerdark

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