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Wasting Words

copyright 2000, by bloodandivory

Disclaimer:    The characters Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling, Ardelia Mapp, Jack Crawford and Jame Gumb 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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Ardelia Mapp was looking forward to spending an evening with her roommate.  Though they’d shared a two-bedroom apartment since graduation, they rarely got to hang out these days.  Their respective schedules kept them pretty busy.  

After Quantico, Ardelia had gotten pegged for a prestigious assignment to the DC Field Office, whereas Clarice, whose meteoric rise had completely fizzled, seemed doomed to be Jack Crawford’s personal yo-yo.  Anytime a department needed a peon for some crummy detail, off Clarice would go.  When they didn’t need her any more, back she went to the Guru’s basement for another stretch in Lecter-land.

In Ardelia’s opinion the quasi assignment was very unhealthy.  Didn’t Crawford see how all that stuff with Lecter had affected her?  Keeping her there, month after month, prevented her from moving on.

Ardelia pulled into her parking spot a few minutes late, having agreed to pick up some empty calories for their “bourbon and bullshit” party.  Clarice had offered to spring for the liquor, and Ardelia knew that the generosity masked mistrust for her own thrifty habits.  Clarice had become a little high maintenance since graduation and had certain brand loyalties.

It had definitely been too long since they’d really had a chance to kick back and catch up, but here it was, Saturday night and neither of them had anything on for Sunday.  They’d agreed to make a night of it, sleep late in the morning, and have a big brunch in the lazy afternoon.  More than just an opportunity to relax, Ardelia felt a real need to connect with Clarice again and see what was up with her.  She was worried, and it wasn’t just the poor work.  Clarice was getting strange again.

After the whole Gumb incident, well, before that, really, Clarice changed.  The odd... depression had lasted for months, then seemed to level off.  Yes, she still lived like a nun, and worked like a horse.  She’d still seemed remote… but now…

She kept thinking of the heroines in those old vampire movies… they drifted around all day, pale and listless, but still infused with an unwholesome inner fire… that described Clarice all right.  And those chicks walked around that way until the vampire closed in and…

Ardelia dismissed the thought from her mind, as she hefted two shopping bags from the back seat and started in.  She determined that she was going to find out what was up with Clarice tonight, even if she had to lie, cheat and get her drunk to do it.

To start off, the evening was fun and low key.  After they’d eaten and watched the news, Ardelia put on a CD and Clarice got out the glasses and the bull session began.  For a while Ardelia forgot her scheme and just enjoyed her friend’s company.  They traded old Quantico stories and caught up on who’d been transferred where and why.  Clarice remembered to ask about Special Agent Marcos, hadn't Ardelia once spoken of him with some interest?  Yes, but by now, she’d learned enough, both of his politics and his tomcat reputation, and didn’t care for either.

You got your eye on anyone, Clare?” 

Clarice rolled her eyes.

Believe me, if I meet anyone I’m interested in, you’ll be the first to know!”

“Hey, I’m just concerned!  You work like crazy and you never go out!

Clarice said the last four words along with her, mimicking her tone.

“Okay, okay.  I know I bug you about it a little.”

"A little?  I’ve considered hiring an out of work actor to come over and make noises in my bedroom, just to get you off my back!”  Beneath the humor, Ardelia could hear the genuine annoyance.

"I just want you to be happy, you know.”

“I know,” she said, taking a large sip from her glass.  “Now… get it over with.”

“What?”

Clarice tossed her head.

“Whatever it is you’re waiting to ambush me about.”  Ardelia marveled at how well Clarice could read her.  She wondered if the reverse was true.

 “And hurry up… I wanna get drunk.”

Ardelia decided to back off for the moment. Giving Clarice time to get drunk was an excellent idea. 

“Nothing, Girl.  Just worried about you.”

“I’m fine, Ardelia.  I’m happy in my own way.  So… tell me all about your new Deputy SAC.  I’ve been waiting for the damn GJ for so long now and I’m all out of touch.”

Ardelia would have loved to tell her that Jasper Wells was thirty, handsome and single, but he was 48, married and somewhere to the right of J. Edgar Hoover.

After trashing the new D-SAC they moved to Clarice’s adventures with the ATF and her frustrations in waiting to give a small but important bit of testimony before a sluggish Grand Jury proceeding.  Though she told it all in an entertaining way, Ardelia silently cursed Crawford for making her deal with all this crap by not officially putting her on his staff.  It was as if he was ashamed of her.

As they chatted, Ardelia kept an eye on both the level in Clarice’s glass and the set of her shoulders, both excellent 'tells' to monitor her tension level.  After an hour or so, she decided it was safe to proceed with her agenda.

“So, what’s next?  Back to BSing with the Guru?”

“Ardelia!” she exclaimed, with laughing reproach.  “You know perfectly well that they changed the name from Behavioral Sciences to Investigative Support!  But, yeah, I suppose so.”

She phrased the next question carefully.  Dr. Lecter would always be a touchy subject between them.

“Don’t tell me he’s gonna put you back on the cold file?”

“C’mon, 'Delia.  I like it down there.”

“In the basement.”

“Yeah,” Clarice said musingly.  “In the basement.  Story of my life.”

A new tack occurred to Ardelia, and good thing, too.  Relaxed she was, but Clarice was still sharp as a razor.  Maybe if she could get her to bring up the subject things would go smoother.

“Um, Clare?” she said, filling their glasses.

“Yeeesss?” she asked, the word dipping with exaggerated suspicion.

“I know I promised to lay off the whole love interest thing… but I was wondering… does Jack ever… you know… come on to you?”

“Christ, you have way too much time on your hands, Ardelia.”

“Oh, come on… you two spend all that time down there and I know you had a crush on him in school.  He’s a widower now and he obviously likes you.  You think he thinks about it?”

“Okay,” Clarice said, after a pause.  “Yes, he does.”

“Yes?” Ardelia asked excitedly.  “Has anything ever happened?”

“Oh, get serious!  What do you think we do down there, act out 'scripts from 'Young and the Restless'"?

“Well," she paused.  "Do you think about it?”

“You sound just like Dr. Lecter.”

Well, Ardelia thought, that didn’t take too long.  An uncomfortable silence followed, and Ardelia pondered on how to proceed.  Clarice seemed suddenly subdued and introspective.  She started gently.

“You still think about all that a lot, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Having those nightmares again?”

Clarice turned sharply. 

They’re not… nearly as bad as they used to be.  Don’t start Ardelia, okay?”  She took a large sip.  “Let’s just forget it and have a nice time.”

“I just… look, did something happened to start all that up again?”

Clarice said nothing.

“Well... the dreams... you being so damned solitary… it isn’t good for you!”

“Thank you, Mama,” she said curtly.

“Hey, don’t be that way.”

Clarice crossed her arms truculently over her chest. 

“I’m exercising my constitutional right to silence.” 

Ardelia decided on a strategic retreat to the bathroom… maybe a minute alone would help.  She got up.

“Okay… I… I’ll be right back.”

Ardelia spent own her moment of privacy marshalling her faculties.  No one was more stubborn than Clarice.  Whatever she said next, she’d have to be careful. 

Back in the living room, she found that Clarice hadn’t thawed.  She sat, knees tucked under her, watching CNN and didn’t look up when Ardelia entered.

She picked up the remote and pressed “Mute”.

“Do you mind?”

“Clare, come on!  Talk to me!  Something has happened, hasn’t it?  Tell me!  Has Lecter…?”

Clarice up sharply, and guilt flashed in her eyes.  Ardelia didn’t need to finish.

“Oh, shit, Clarice!  When?  What did he say, what did Crawford say, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Ardelia,” she warned, taking the remote from her, but Ardelia stepped into the path of its beam.

“Was it bad?”  She waited.  “Clare?

When Ardelia didn’t give ground Clarice put the remote down and sat back, mute herself, and sipped calmly.  Ardelia suddenly realized the import of what she wasn’t saying.

“He sent something and you didn’t turn it in?  You’ve gotta be kidding me!  When did you get it?  Where is it?  What’d it say?”

The defiant mask gave nothing.

“You didn’t show it to Crawford?  What are you thinking, Clarice?”

“It wasn’t for Mr. Crawford.”

Ardelia felt nausea crawl in her belly and it wasn’t related to alcohol consumption.

“Please, Clarice… “ Her voice sounded small.  “Tell me you’re just getting back at me for nagging you.  Please!  Tell me you’re joking!”  

Clarice raised her chin, and appraised her, impassively.  

“I’m joking,” she said flatly and without a trace of candor.  “Now let’s leave it at that.” 

She rose and gestured to the hallway.

“My turn.”

Ardelia reeled.  She knew more about her friend’s true feelings than she let on… like the dreams that weren’t always nightmares… but the fact that Clarice could actually enjoy dreaming about him was even more unhealthy than the worst night terrors could be.  Clarice was attracted, fatally so, in Ardelia’s mind, to Hannibal Lecter.  Their encounters had fascinated her on some primal level that Ardelia was unable to comprehend.  And it wasn’t just attraction.  She acted like the whole thing was some mystical experience.  All that was frightening enough, but this…

She heard water running and tried to gather her wits, which were blurred with sudden fear.  

If she’s concealing a letter she’s way more far-gone than you thought.  She could do anything… 

She’s dangerous.

She tried to shed the disloyal thought as she heard Clarice leave the bathroom.  Maybe there was still something she could say.

A moment later, Ardelia heard her rummaging through the cluttered desk in her bedroom. 

Thank God!  She’s going to get it and show it to me.  Alright, Girl!  Maybe it’s not too late.

But when Clarice returned she held, not a letter, but a crumpled pack of cigarettes.  She plucked a saucer from the drainer on her way through the kitchen.  Ardelia had quietly disposed of all the ashtrays when, two months ago, Clarice had promised to quit smoking in the house.

“Oh,” Clarice exclaimed, dropping to the couch.  She spoke as if picking up the former thread.  As if nothing had happened.  “You won’t believe what that idiot from DEA said the other day!  Get this!” 

“Clarice!”

“Now you know this guy’s number two on NOW’s Male Chauvinist Pig Hit Parade, right behind Paul Krendler, right?    So he comes up behind me and…”

“Damn it! You cannot be thinking I’m gonna pretend this conversation never happened!”

The animation drained from Clarice’s face; she looked tired, and a little sad.

“It’s not a good idea, Ardelia,” she said, reasonably.  “and it won’t change anything.  You’re my friend and I don’t want this to come between us.  Just leave it alone.”

“Clarice!” Ardelia shouted.  “You’re a Federal Agent carrying on a correspondence with an escaped serial killer!  Are you crazy?”

“I suppose I’m splitting hairs, but I’m not carrying on a correspondence.  I haven’t answered them.”

“Them!” she exploded!  “Jesus!  How many?”

“Does it matter?”

“Where are they?”

“They’re safe.  They’re not here.  Don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry?  That’s it?”

“Stop, Ardelia.  There’s nothing here that’s traceable to him.  No handwriting, no postmarks, no fingerprints… ”

“In other words you’ve destroyed everything that could have helped trace him!”

“He’s not stupid, Ardelia.  And neither am I.”

“No?  You could ‘a fooled me!  Clarice… what the hell could he say to make you turn your back on everything you’ve ever cared about, ‘cause I’d like to know!”

“It’s private, Ardelia.  Meant only for me.”

“That’s it?  That’s all you’ve got to say?

“If you want it clearer than that, you force me to be rude.”  She filled her glass.  “It’s none of your fucking business.  Happy now?”  She tilted the bottle in her direction.  “Would you like…?

Ardelia pushed her hand hard and would have knocked the bottle to the floor if Clarice had not reacted quickly.

“Look!  You’ve got a cannibal serial killer who’s apparently as obsessed with you as you are with him.  Tell me that doesn’t fucking terrify you?”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Then you must be as insane as he is!”

“Maybe.”

“Just stop it!” Ardelia screamed, grabbing Clarice’s shoulders roughly, ignoring a splash of whiskey spreading on her thigh.  “Stop this fucking, coy, I’ve-got-a-secret shit!  This isn’t a note from the quarterback in your goddamned locker!  You’re telling me you’re in love with a serial killer!”

“No…” she said, removing Ardelia’s hands from her firmly.  “That's what you're telling me.”  She leaned forward and crushed out a partially drenched cigarette.  The acrid smell pinched Ardelia's nose as Clarice calmly dried her hand with a napkin from dinner.  “In fact, you’ve been yelling about it for the last ten minutes.”  She turned the napkin over, refolded it, and dabbed at the spreading stain on the couch beside her.    “I really think you out to get out more."  

"Now," she lit another cigarette, inhaling deeply, "do you want to get back to a pleasant conversation?”

“Why not?” she said, tersely, staring at Clarice through a veil of smoke.  “I’ve got one hell of a topic for you…”

“Ardelia… ”  Now there was genuine warning in her tone.

“All right.  Look…” she said, desperate to stay calm and keep Clarice talking.  “You've gotta see that he’s manipulating you.  I’ll tell you why you haven’t answered his letters!  You’re protecting him!  God, Clare!  I know all that shit traumatized you but I never took you for a fool!”

“I’m not a fool, Ardelia.”

“Then why can’t you see there’s something wrong with you?  You’re obsessed with a twisted piece of human garbage!  He’s just like every other serial killer, no matter how fucking polite he is!  And you’re playing the victim!  Playing right into his hands! 

“You’ve said enough.  You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, and you do?  You’re risking your life, you know that?”

“Dr. Lecter doesn’t want to hurt me.  I’ve told you that.”

“Yeah, right!  Look, listen to me… even if that’s true, and I’m not saying it is… but just to play devil’s advocate… Dr. Lecter will never do anything worse than send you roses…”

Contempt showed on her face, and she braced against Clarice’s strange eyes… hurt and hard at the same time.

“So what?  He’s on the goddamned Ten Most Wanted!  You’re in danger of losing everything you’ve worked for, all your life!" 

“Don’t you think I know that?” she asked, quietly.

“Then why don’t you stop?  Turn them in tomorrow, we’ll think of something…”

“You can’t understand, Ardelia,” she said, seeming terribly sober.  “I won’t even try to explain it, I can't.”

“Clarice, you have to… ”

“It isn’t your decision.”

Ardelia felt fury heat her face.  Clarice’s lack of shame, of… self-defense… was a complete affront to her.  

“That it?  You’re just going to keep corresponding with him?”

“I told you, I’m...”

“Yeah,” she said, with all the considerable sarcasm at her command.  “You also told me you weren’t obsessed with him, that you weren’t in love with him!”

Clarice didn’t look up, nor did she look away, and Ardelia dropped to a crouch to meet her eyes… she didn’t like what she saw one bit.  

She thought Clarice might actually be relieved to have it out.

“My God.  You don't even deny it anymore."

“What would be the point?”

“You’re in love with Hannibal Lecter?”

“I suppose that’s what you’d call it.”

“What’s happened to you?  You’re sick, Clarice.  Mentally ill.”

“So,” her eyes glittered with amusement, “you’re saying I need a good psychiatrist?”

“Clarice I am deadly fucking serious here!”

“So am I.  Shut up, Ardelia.  You’re boring me.”

As upset as she was, these words shocked her.  She’d expected Clarice to get angry, but this was so damned… creepy.

“Look, if you don’t care about yourself, at least care about me!  You’re just going to drag me right down with you?  I know about this… I’m a party to it!”

Clarice gave her a small, unsettling smile.

“Forgive me… I won’t force my confidence on you again.”

“My God, you’re even beginning to sound like him!”

Clarice sighed. 

“I’m tired… "

She rose, and despite Ardelia's proximity, she did not touch her.  She picked up the bottle of Jack Daniels.  

"I’m going to bed.”

“Clarice, you can’t do this!”

“Goodnight, Ardelia.” She turned to go.

Ardelia was close to panic.  Her best friend was going down for the third time and she had to try something. She was fully aware that she was about to play a dangerous card now.  Not dangerous because of Clarice’s reaction, but because she might learn something she really didn’t want to know.

“Please, wait.  Don’t you realize you’re putting me in danger?”

Clarice stopped, but didn’t turn around.  

“What if he just happens to drop by here one night, huh?  Maybe he won’t be coming to hurt you, but what about me?  You think he’d let me live, Clare?  

Ardelia clamped down on a chill as Clarice turned to her.  Her eyes were ice, and the fingers holding the glass were white with strain.  

“You know I'd have to try to apprehend him.  You don’t think you can control him, do you?”   

She watched her friend’s hand tighten on the glass still more, until she was certain it would shatter.  

“Or don’t you even care?”  Ardelia was crying now.  “Maybe I'll make a nice romantic dinner for the two of you.”

She imagined shards of glass bursting in Clarice’s hand.

“Clarice, do you realize if he tells you about some murder, that makes you an accessory after the fact?”

She could almost see the blood soaking into the carpet, but something compelled her to continue, even though, mentally, she was already dialing 911.  Maybe if she could drive the madness home to Clarice it might just save her and a badly cut hand was a small price to pay.  

“You’d be like his accomplice, do you understand that?”

The glass didn’t break, but suddenly Ardelia was certain she was going to throw it at her… and she wouldn’t have missed… there was deadly accuracy in her eyes.  

“Clarice!  It’d be just a bad as if you were actually with him!” 

Later, she realized that it would have been better if Clarice had thrown the glass.  But she only set it gently on the coffee table, with nothing but a kiss of glass on glass to punctuate her last word.  Then she was gone, and the quiet, controlled sound of her door closing seemed loud and final in her ears.

Ardelia sat where she was for a long time.  She was thinking about those last sounds, and more, about her friend's final words.  She replayed them in her head, over and over, trying, and failing, to hear something in them other than that simple, terrible message.

“Well, then.  Maybe I should be.”

FIN

copyright 2000, by bloodandivory

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