Clarice sat on the bench eating her lunch. She had taken a well deserved day off although she hadn’t enjoyed much of it yet. She had been running errands all morning and at 1:00 decided to stop at the local deli for a sandwich. She had planned to head home to eat it but realized it was too beautiful a day to miss so she crossed the street to the park and layed into the veggie sandwich with gusto.
She congratulated herself for picking such a fine day. The digital display at the bank across the street read 77 degrees. The sun was shining and there was a warm breeze. She watched as people rushed about on their lunch hour, looking at their watches, honking their horns. Ha! She could sit here all day if she wanted. She observed a man strolling the sidewalk across the street from the park. Like her, he didn’t appear to be in a hurry to get anywhere either. He wore a black fedora with the brim just slightly turned downward on one side and carried a walking cane. A little alarm went off in her head. She sat frozen on the bench watching as the man stopped at every other shop window to gaze at the fineries enclosed inside. The pickle slice slipped unknowingly from her fingers onto the paper sandwich wrapping. Her hand slowly found its way to her mouth and her fingertips unconsciously stroked her lips. She couldn’t take her eyes off of the man. She watched him carefully waiting to see if she could manage to catch his reflection in the plate glass window of Park Avenue Jewelers. No. Now he was in front of the window of Flowers and Things. No, she still couldn’t make out his features. You’re too far away Clarice.
She gathered the remains of her lunch and deposited them in the nearest trash can before darting across the street. Where did he go? She looked left, then right. Did he wander into one of the shops? Damn. He’s gone. Double damn. She realized she had left her dry cleaning on the back of the bench. She darted back across the street and was glad to find it still there. She sat back down on the bench and trained her eyes across the street again. She didn’t see him anywhere.
Could it have been him? Don’t be silly, why would he be here? There’d be only one reason Clarice. You.
Her name had been in the papers again. Two weeks ago the task force she’d been assigned to had made a huge drug bust. The largest haul of cocaine ever. There was no smell of scandal attached to this one, everything had gone by the book. Despite that, the press refused to be kind. They paraded out their file photos of Lecter and the one of her that had been dubbed The Bride of Frankenstein.
Could that have drawn him here again? She wondered if she could expect another letter. He’d been on her mind. He was on her mind more often than she’d like to admit. Had it been him she’d seen?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He had been following her all morning. Watching her perform her mundane errands. He was glad when she finally sat down in the park. He wished to observe her at rest. It might help him decide his next move. If there was to be one.
He kept his eye on her via the reflection in the glass. Too bad he couldn’t get closer but she seemed to be looking in his direction. He watched her discard her lunch and head his way. Time to disappear. He wasn’t quite ready to talk to her yet. He hadn’t decided if it would be wise to ever talk to her again. If only because he wasn’t sure he’d be able to leave her again. He thought about the last time he saw her. Remembered how she looked in the dress. Remembered how she tasted when he kissed her. Maybe he’d write first....
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The next day the task force had assembled in Agent Tindrall’s office. They listened as he filled them in on tomorrow’s operation.
“Agent Tindrall? If I could say something?”
“Wait til I’m finished Starling.” He wrapped it up in about five minutes then said, “Thanks everyone. Dismissed.” Chairs scraped back from the conference room table and people started filing out.
“Agent Tindrall. Wait a minute, we can’t proceed with this---“
“Starling, what exactly isn’t clear here? You’ve been given your orders and you are dismissed.” He realized he had spoken too sharply and shook his head. “Listen,” he said, in a somewhat milder tone, “this is going down tomorrow whether you like it or not. There’s a lot of pressure on us right now to—“
“Tom, please hear me out.” Now that the others were gone she used his first name. The old guard had changed. They were all retired or dead. Tindall was only five years older than her. “You know we haven’t heard from our informant in three days. He’s disappeared.”
“So what? He’s probably laying low right now. He’s given us the who, the where and the when Starling. Now I’m asking you to go out there and do your job.”
She felt her blood beginning to boil. “Damnit! You don’t get it! If you send us in there tomorrow people might get killed.” She held out her hands. “I’ll plead if I have too. Please, just give us another day or two to try to find our snitch. If you don’t, this has the potential to turn out even worse then the Evelda Drumgo bloodbath. Just how many lives are you willing to sacrifice?”
“Starling, enough. God, if you bring Drumgo up one more time….” He rubbed his eyes. She opened her mouth but he held up his hand to silence her.
“If you don’t feel up to it, well… it’ll be hard to get a replacement up to speed in time but--”
“No. No, I’ll be here.” She couldn’t allow him to put somebody else in her place. Not in less than 24 hours. It would be irresponsible. And if anything happened….. She walked away in defeat.
She drove home on auto pilot. How long can I keep doing this? Keep allowing them to put all of us in dangerous situations? Keep going along with the plan when they don’t allow my voice to be heard? Things hadn’t really changed that much, had they? How long before I end up dead, killed in the line of duty like my father, like John Brigham? She’d already noticed that her reflexes weren’t as good as they used to be. They were still better than most, good enough she hoped to keep her from getting killed. But she wasn’t getting any younger.
After arriving home she got into the shower and pushed the thoughts out of her head. She emerged, dried her hair and walked into the kitchen dressed in a two piece set of light blue Fitigues. She poured herself a tumbler of Jack Daniels.
She carried it into the living room and stopped dead in her tracks. Dr. Lecter was sitting on her couch, legs crossed, an impenatrable look on his face. She fought to keep her composure.
“Hello Dr. Lecter. “
“Hello Clarice. Have a seat.”
“I was about to.” She tried to act casual as she sat in the chair and tucked one leg beneath her. She lifted her glass. “Can I get you one?” He shook his head. “No? So, to what do I owe this visit? Did you see my name in the paper again?”
“Yes, congratulations. So glad to know you’re still out there protecting the good citizens of Washington. You don’t seem surprised to see me, Agent Starling. “
“I saw you only yesterday Doctor.”
“Yes, I’d thought as much. You’ll have to forgive me for not saying hello.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“That’s a fair question. Maybe I’ll give you an answer one day.”
“How mysterious. So, where’ve you been? Athens, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong?”
“Yes, yes and no.“ He smiled.
Despite the feeling of shock that lingered she found herself enjoying their little repartee.
“You look well.”
“As do you Agent Starling. How is the job? Still making D.C. drugs raids....hit the glass ceiling have you?”
“You know I hit it a long time ago. Does that make you happy?”
“No, of course not. I want only what you want Clarice. By the way did you go to Krendler’s funeral?”
She shot him a warning look. “Dr. Lecter, do you think we could keep the conversation focused on more pleasant subjects?”
“Oh don’t be so prickly Clarice.” He got up from his seat and began inspecting various objects on the fireplace mantle. He picked each one up, turned them over, put them down.
She stared at his back. “How long will you be in town?”, she asked.
“Oh, not long I’m afraid.”
“Did you come to see me?”, she asked quietly.
He turned suddenly to face her. “Yes.” A simple answer yet not so simple when she saw the look in his eyes. The temperature in the room went up a few degrees as they silently surveyed each other. At a total loss for words she looked away first.
She reached for her glass. “Sure I can’t get you a drink?” , she asked more brightly than necessary.
“No. Thank you.” He picked his hat up from the coffee table. “I should be going now.”
She threw all caution to the wind. “Could you stop by again before you leave town? I...I could make dinner tomorrow night.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Has all been been forgiven then Clarice? You were somewhat combative when I saw you last. I might be persuaded to come for dinner, that is if you put the candlesticks away.” He made a gesture towards the mantle.
“Of course.” She laughed and then remembered her assignment tomorrow. “Oh wait, I might be home a little late tomorrow.” He looked at her, not voicing the question. “Work.”
“Ah, yes. Brave Clarice. Another big drug raid, hmmm?”
“That’s alright. I’ll wait for you here if you don’t mind.”
“Sure, just let yourself in.”
He chuckled and showed himself out.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Everything went awry the next day. I told you so Tindall, she thought as she lay in the ambulance. There was no consolation in knowing she’d been right. God, my leg hurts. I hope Knox is going to be okay. None of the agents had emerged unscathed, but Knox had the most life threatening injuries.
Much as she didn’t want to, she couldn’t help but rewind the day’s events in her mind. When they entered the apartment they found they were outnumbered two to one. That was the first problem. The five trained-to-kill pit bulls had been the second problem. The four children sitting amongst the adults in both the dining and living rooms had been the third problem. One of them was dead. As well as three adults. Goddamnit!
“Ow!” she screamed when the EMT used a knife to slit her pants leg from her ankle to the top of her thigh. Please let Knox be okay, she prayed. And may God rest that little girl. She remembered how they had all frozen when they saw what awaited them in the apartment. That scum Horton had fired the first shot as soon as he'd ordered the dogs to attack. Then all hell broke loose. She knew she had taken down one person, and was positive that so called ‘friendly fire’ had erased that little life.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Hannibal Lecter paced the apartment. Where the hell is she? He wondered how long he’d wait but he knew the answer to that question. He missed the evening news so there was nothing to do but wait. He poked around the place, looking in her closet, allowing himself to inhale her scent on the clothes hanging there. He eventually found himself in the kitchen. He opened all the cabinets, noticing the sparce contents. He found the bottle of Jack Daniels and by the time 8:00 had rolled around he had poured himself a generous glass. He made a face when he tasted it, then drained the glass. He paced some more. Everytime a car went down the street he parted the curtains. Not her. At 10:00 he turned on a local channel for their news broadcast.
It was the top story. The graphic at the top of the screen read “FBI Bloodbath”. He put his face in his hands but quickly looked back up to scan the footage for any trace of her face.
“This is Mike Lee standing outside of the Harrison apartments where this afternoon five federal agents and two D.C. police were engaged in a shootout with known drug lord Emil Horton. From what we can gather so far, three adults and one child are dead. All of the law enforcement officers have been transported to local hospitals with various injuries.”
He jumped from the chair and pulled the phone book from a kitchen drawer. He went directly to the yellow pages and picking up the phone started dialing. The first two hospital’s switchboards were busy. He got through to the other two. He found her on the second try. He was informed that Miss Starling was out of surgery. Her condition was serious but stable.
She lay in the hospital bed, wondering if he was worrying about her. I’ll request a phone tomorrow she thought as she slipped into sleep.
He called early the next day. “How are you?” She could hear the edge in his voice.
He cursed. “What are your injuries?”
“Well, I was shot in the thigh, the neck – but that’s only a flesh wound – and my chest and shoulder hurt like hell. The vest stopped most of the bullets. I’ve been told the other agents are going to be fine too. But..”, she fought back tears, “a… a little girl is dead.”
He didn’t reply at first, trying as he was to hold his anger in check. “I’m sorry about that Clarice. But I can’t help but think that it could have easily been you.”
“Well, it wasn’t.” Now she was angry.
He switched gears. “Do you know when they plan on releasing you?”
“Day after tomorrow I think. “
“I’ll be waiting for you at your apartment.”
“Alright. Thank you Doc—“
“Don’t thank me Clarice.” He hung up abruptly.
Whew - he’s pretty angry she thought. She tried to imagine herself in his shoes and found it impossible to do.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The taxi dropped her off at 3:30.
“You be alright miss?”
“Yes, thank you. A friend is coming over later to help me.” But she knew he was already waiting inside. She would have skipped up the steps if she could have.
She hobbled on her crutches to the front door and inserted the key. It was unlocked. When she opened it she found him standing just inside the foyer. She looked up at him and found his steely countenance staring back at her. He didn’t say a word as he looked at her face, his eyes travelling down to her bandaged neck next and then her leg where one pants leg was flapped wide open. The blood had crusted all over them.
He finally spoke. “You look like hell.”
“Thanks. I missed you too.” Bastard. She turned and slammed the door behind her, letting out a cry as she pitched forward, literally tripping over her own feet. He caught her under the armpits as she struggled to hold onto the crutches.
“Let them go”, he commanded. She allowed them slip from her grasp to the floor. He scooped her up into his arms and carried her to the bedroom, laying her down gently on the bed.
He sat down next to her carefully. She looked up at him and saw a face as familiar to her as her own. Time was erased. He was here when she needed him most. Seems he always was. She wanted to weep but she didn’t know why.
She broke the silence as she reached for a pillow. “Could you help me with this?”
“It would be nice if just once you’d help yourself Clarice.” He barked at her, his face full of thunder.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? And why are you so angry with me? I didn’t shoot myself!”
“No you didn’t. You just enjoy lining yourself up for target practice.”
She squeezed her eyes shut. No tears Clarice. “What makes you think you can just waltz in here and tell me how to live my life?”
“And what a life it is Clarice. Tell me exactly what you like best about it? What gives you the most pleasure? Getting shot at in general, or only when the bullets hit their mark?” His voice was hard, dripping with sarcasm. “Or maybe the best part of your day is coming home and sitting in the dark drowning your pain with your friend Jack.”
Her eyes flashed open. “Who the hell do you think you are to pass judgment on me? I didn’t ask for you to come here.”
“No you didn’t. I think we can both agree that it’s time for me to go.” He walked out into the living room and retrieved her crutches. He walked back into the bedroom to find her back to him, laying on her side, the good leg beneath her. He leaned the crutches against the foot of her bed and walked back up to the head of the bed, studying the back of her head. Her hair was knotted and full of dried blood.
“Did they give you a prescription? “
“I think you should just go like you said.”
He tore back the covers she had burrowed herself under. She reached around behind her to pull them back. She heard him growl before he grabbed her wrist and bent it backwards forcing her to turn and look at him. What she saw was his face twisted in anger.
He leaned over her, pressing both shoulders into the mattress. She grimaced in pain.
“Does it hurt Clarice? I thought you enjoyed pain.”
“Come on, you want to wallow in it, don’t you? You invite it, you REVEL in it.”
“Could have fooled me.” He released her.
“Damn you.” She turned away again.
“Damn you too." He walked to the door then stopped. "I can’t very well leave you here like this. You’re virtually helpless.”
“I am not. And I don’t want your help.”
“Stop acting like a child. I’m going to go into the kitchen and I’m going to fix you something to eat. In the meantime, I suggest you take a bath. It’s not impossible if you’ll allow me to prepare you.”
She sighed. “Do whatever you want. You will anyway.”
He walked from the room and returned a moment later with a roll of saran wrap. She had managed to sit up and her fingers were picking at her hair.
“I’ve got dried blood everywhere—“
“I’m aware of that.”
He helped her to the bathroom and sat her on the toilet lid, leaving her bathrobe draped over the sink. After he had closed the door she gingerly removed her clothes, wincing when she reached back to unhook her bra. She left the clothes in a heap on the floor and donned the robe, adjusting it so that only her wounded thigh was exposed. She called out “ready”. He came back in holding the roll of saran wrap. He bent on one knee in front of her and wrapped up her thigh with it, using another piece to cover the dressing on her neck. Then he reached over to turn the bath taps on.
She was about to tell him that she could take it from here but she felt strangely comforted by his presence and didn’t want him to leave just yet. She looked down at the top of his head as he ran his fingers over the saran wrap making sure it was airtight. She resisted the urge to take his head in her hands and pull it to her breasts. She felt her pulse quicken and a flush rise to her face when he stopped his ministrations and met her gaze. He knows what I’m thinking.
“Enjoy your bath Clarice.” He walked out, closing the door behind him.
It took her a long time to bathe and clean her hair. When she was done she combed her hair out, brushed her teeth and hobbled back into her room. She took her newest nightie from the dresser, avoiding the mirror. The nightgown was somewhat plain but it was soft and comfortable.
She picked up the crutches again and made her way to the kitchen. The table was set, fresh flowers adorned the table and he was still here. Had she thought he’d leave? He glanced over his shoulder at her as she sat down. He spooned the hot pasta into a bowl, setting it down in front of her.
“Feeling a little better?”
“Yes, thank you.” She didn’t realize how hungry she was until she tasted the al dente noodles, covered in what tasted like a homemade vodka sauce. She went to work on it.
He disappeared for a moment, and when he came back he was holding her ruined clothes in his hands. He pressed the lever at the bottom of the kitchen garbage can with his foot, so forcefully the lid banged on the wall, and hurled the clothes inside. He removed his foot and the lid clanged shut. The look of anger was back on his face as he walked over to the sink and began washing his hands.
“Where’s your prescription Clarice?”
“I put them in my pocket.” He bit his lip and counted to ten before opening the garbage and retrieving the vial from her torn pants. He washed his hands again.
She watched him stalk around the kitchen from the corner of her eye. “I warned him. I knew it was too dangerous so I asked him to call it off. But he wouldn’t listen to me.”
In a cold voice he asked. “What’s his name?”
She could guess what he had on his mind. “Oh no! No way Doctor.”
He slammed a dish on the counter so hard it broke. “Stop calling me Doctor!”, he bellowed.
She sat there in stunned. “I’m sorry”, she whispered.
He remained at the sink, his back to her. “Are you finished eating? If so, I think you should go to bed.”
She didn’t argue. She reached for her crutches leaning against the table and pushed her chair back. She had never felt so physically and mentally exhaused. The tears finally began to fall. She stood up shakily and placed the crutches under her arms. Damn, she didn’t want him to go. Not like this. “Will you be here tomorrow? Or could you stay? The couch pulls out. There’s blankets and pillows in the hall closet.”
“Stop crying Clarice. If that’s what you want, I’ll stay.”
She nodded, and made her way back to her room as quickly as she could. She fell onto her bed and cried herself to sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
She was awake. She heard his steady breathing. She turned her head to find him next to her. He had joined her while she slept. She carefully slid closer to him, closer to the warmth of his body, hoping not to wake him. Too late, he raised one arm as she got closer, allowing her to rest her head on his chest. She let one arm wrap across his middle and let out a sigh.
“Go back to sleep Clarice.“
“Would you ever say to me ‘If you loved me, stop’?”, she whispered.
He lay silent and still for a long moment.
“I always thought of myself as a man with infinite patience Clarice. Except you try it sorely. I’m afraid my emotions get in the way where you’re concerned.”
She opened her eyes at this revelation.
“It’s time for confessions Clarice.” He rested one finger lightly on her chin and used it to turn her face to his. “Have you any to make?”
She met his gaze steadily. “I love you.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. “If you love me, stop. Stop Clarice.”
“Yes.” She hugged him fiercely. “I’ll hand in my resignation first thing in the morning. Is that what you want?”
“And then what?”
“You’ll come with me of course.”
“Wherever you want. Athens, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes." She reached up to touch his face. "Please, make love to me now Hannibal.”
He smiled at the sound of his name on her lips. Careful of her injuries, he did as she asked.