Hannibal by Thomas Harris


  The lights were out in Mason’s room and in the black air above the farm the stars hung close.

  “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!”

  How still we see thee lie.

  How still we see thee lie.

  The mockery of the line pressed down on him. How still we see thee lie, Mason!

  The Christmas stars outside his window maintained their stifling silence. The stars said nothing to him when he looked up to them with his pleading, goggled eye, gestured to them with the fingers he could move. Mason did not think that he could breathe. If he were suffocating in space, he thought, the last thing he would see would be the beautiful silent airless stars. He was suffocating now, he thought, his respirator could not keep up, he had to wait for breath the lines of his vital signs Christmas-green on the scopes and spiking, little evergreens in the black forest night of the scopes. Spike of his heartbeat, systolic spike, diastolic spike.

  The nurse frightened, about to push the alarm button, about to reach for the adrenaline.

  Mockery of the lines, how still we see thee lie, Mason.

  An Epiphany then at Christmas. Before the nurse could ring, or reach for medication, the first coarse bristles of Mason’s revenge brushed his pale and seeking, ghost crab of a hand, and began to calm him.

  At Christmas communions around the earth, the devout believe that, through the miracle of transubstantiation, they eat the actual body and blood of Christ. Mason began the preparations for an even more impressive ceremony with no transubstantiation necessary. He began his arrangements for Dr. Hannibal Lecter to be eaten alive.

  CHAPTER

  15

  MASON’S EDUCATION was an odd one, but perfectly fitted to the life his father envisioned for him and to the task before him now.

  As a child he attended a boarding school, to which his father contributed heavily, where Mason’s frequent absences were excused. For weeks at a time the elder Verger conducted Mason’s real education, taking the boy with him to the stockyards and slaughterhouses that were the basis of his fortune.

  Molson Verger was a pioneer in many areas of livestock production, particularly in the area of economy. His early experiments with cheap feed rank with those of Batterham fifty years before. Molson Verger adulterated the pigs’ diet with hog hair meal, mealed chicken feathers and manure to an extent considered daring at the time. He was regarded as a reckless visionary in the 1940s when he first took away the pigs’ fresh drinking water and had them drink ditch liquor, made of fermented animal waste, to hasten weight gain. The laughter stopped when his profits rolled in, and his competitors hurried to copy him.

  Molson Verger’s leadership in the meatpacking industry did not stop there. He fought bravely and with his own funds against the Humane Slaughter Act, strictly from the standpoint of economy, and managed to keep face branding legal though it cost him dearly in legislative compensation. With Mason at his side, he supervised large-scale experiments in the problems of lairage, determining how long you could deprive animals of food and water before slaughter without significant weight losses.

  It was Verger-sponsored genetic research that finally achieved the heavy double-muscling of the Belgian swine breeds without the concomitant drip losses that plagued the Belgians. Molson Verger bought breeding stock worldwide and sponsored a number of foreign breeding programs.

  But slaughterhouses are at base a people business and nobody understood that better than Molson Verger. He managed to cow the leadership of the unions when they tried to encroach on his profits with wage and safety demands. In this area his solid relationships with organized crime served him well for thirty years.

  Mason bore a strong resemblance to his father then, with dark shiny eyebrows above pale blue butcher’s eyes, and a low hairline that slanted across his forehead, descending from his right to his left. Often, affectionately, Molson Verger liked to take his son’s head in his hands and just feel it, as though he were confirming the son’s paternity through physiognomy, just as he could feel the face of a pig and tell by the bone structure its genetic makeup.

  Mason learned well and, even after his injuries confined him to his bed, he was able to make sound business decisions to be implemented by his minions. It was Son Mason’s idea to have the U.S. government and the United Nations slaughter all the native pigs in Haiti, citing the danger from them of African swine flu. He was then able to sell the government great white American pigs to replace the native swine. The great sleek swine, when faced with Haitian conditions, died as soon as possible and had to be replaced again and again from Mason’s stock until the Haitians replaced their own pigs with hardy little rooters from the Dominican Republic.

  Now, with a lifetime of knowledge and experience, Mason felt like Stradivarius approaching the worktable as he built the engines of his revenge.

  What a wealth of information and resources Mason had in his faceless skull! Lying in his bed, composing in his mind like the deaf Beethoven, he remembered walking the swine fairs with his father, checking out the competition, Molson’s little silver knife ever ready to slip out of his waistcoat and into a pig’s back to check the depth of back fat, walking away from the outraged squeal, too dignified to be challenged, his hand back in his pocket, thumb marking the place on the blade.

  Mason would have smiled if he had lips, remembering his father sticking a 4-H contestant pig who thought everyone was his friend, the child who owned it crying. The child’s father coming over furious, and Molson’s thugs taking him outside the tent. Oh, there were some good, funny times.

  At the swine fairs Mason had seen exotic pigs from all over the world. For his new purpose, he brought together the best of all that he had seen.

  Mason began his breeding program immediately after his Christmas Epiphany and centered it in a small pig-breeding facility the Vergers owned in Sardinia, off the coast of Italy He chose the place for its remoteness and its convenience to Europe.

  Mason believed—correctly—that Dr. Lecter’s first stop outside the United States after his escape was in South America. But he had ever been convinced that Europe was where a man of Dr. Lecter’s tastes would settle—and he had watchers yearly at the Salzburg Music Festival and other cultural events.

  This is what Mason sent to his breeders in Sardinia to prepare the theater of Dr. Lecter’s death:

  The giant forest pig, Hylochoerus meinertzhageni, six teats and thirty-eight chromosomes, a resourceful feeder, an opportunistic omnivore, like man. Two meters in length in the highland families, it weighs about two hundred seventy-five kilograms. The giant forest pig is Mason’s ground note.

  The classic European wild boar, S. scrofa scrofa, thirty-six chromosomes in its purest form, no facial warts, all bristles and great ripping tusks, a big fast and fierce animal that will kill a viper with its sharp hooves and eat the snake like it was a Slim Jim. When aroused or rutting, or protecting its piglets, it will charge anything that threatens. Sows have twelve teats and are good mothers. In S. scrofa scrofa, Mason found his theme and the facial appearance appropriate to provide Dr. Lecter a last, hellish vision of himself consumed. (See Harris on the Pig, 1881.)

  He bought the Ossabaw Island pig for its aggressiveness, and the Jiaxing Black for high estradiol levels.

  A false note when he introduced a Babirusa, Babyrousa babyrussa, from Eastern Indonesia, known as the hog-deer for the exaggerated length of its tusks. It was a slow breeder with only two teats, and at one hundred kilograms it cost him too much in size. No time was lost, as there were other, parallel litters that did not include the Babirusa.

  In dentition, Mason had little variety to choose from. Almost every species had teeth adequate to the task, three pairs of sharp incisors, one pair of elongated canines, four pairs of premolars, and three crushing pairs of molars, upper and lower, for a total of forty-four teeth.

  Any pig will eat a dead man, but to get him to eat a live one some education is required. Mason’s Sardinians were up to the task.
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  Now, after an effort of seven years and many litters, the results were … remarkable.

  CHAPTER

  16

  WITH ALL the actors except Dr. Lecter in place in the Gennargentu Mountains of Sardinia, Mason turned his attention toward recording the doctor’s death for posterity and his own viewing pleasure. His arrangements had long been made, but now the alert must be given.

  He conducted this sensitive business on the telephone through his legitimate sports book switchboard near the Castaways in Las Vegas. His calls were tiny lost threads in the great volume of weekend action there.

  Mason’s radio quality voice, minus plosives and fricatives, bounced from the National Forest near the Chesapeake shore to the desert and back across the Atlantic, first to Rome:

  In an apartment on the seventh floor of a building on the Via Archimede, behind the hotel of the same name, the telephone is ringing, the hoarse double-rumpf of a telephone ringing in Italian. In the darkness, sleepy voices.

  “Còsa? Còsa c’é?”

  “Accendi la luce, idiòta.”

  The bedside lamp comes on. Three people are in the bed. The young man nearest the phone picks up the receiver and hands it to a portly older man in the middle. On the other side is a blond girl in her twenties. She raises a sleepy face to the light, then subsides again.

  “Pronto, chi? Chi parla?”

  “Oreste, my friend. It’s Mason.”

  The heavy man gets himself together, signals to the younger man for a glass of mineral water.

  “Ah, Mason my friend, excuse me, I was asleep, what time is it there?”

  “It’s late everywhere, Oreste. Do you remember what I said I would do for you and what you must do for me?”

  “Well, of course.”

  “The time has come, my friend. You know what I want. I want a two-camera setup, I want better quality sound than your sex films have, and you have to make your own electricity, so I want the generator a long way from the set. I want some nice nature footage too for when we edit, and birdcalls. I want you to check out the location tomorrow and set it up. You can leave the stuff there, I’ll provide security and you can come back to Rome until the shoot. But be ready to roll on two hours’ notice. Do you understand that, Oreste? A draft is waiting for you in Citibank at the EUR, got it?”

  “Mason, in this moment, I am making—”

  “Do you want to do this, Oreste? You said you were tired of making hump movies and snuff movies and historical crap for the RAI. Do you seriously want to make a feature, Oreste?”

  “Yes, Mason.”

  “Then go today. The cash is at Citibank. I want you to go.”

  “Where, Mason?”

  “Sardinia. Fly to Cagliari, you’ll be met.”

  The next call went to Porto Torres on the east coast of Sardinia. The call was brief. There was not a lot to say because the machinery there was long established and as efficient as Mason’s portable guillotine. It was sounder too, ecologically, but not as quick.

  II

  FLORENCE

  CHAPTER

  17

  NIGHT IN the heart of Florence, the old city artfully lighted.

  The Palazzo Vecchio rising from the dark piazza, floodlit, intensely medieval with its arched windows and battlements like jack-o’-lantern teeth, bell tower soaring into the black sky

  Bats will chase mosquitoes across the clock’s glowing face until dawn, when the swallows rise on air shivered by the bells.

  Chief Investigator Rinaldo Pazzi of the Questura, raincoat black against the marble statues fixed in acts of rape and murder, came out of the shadows of the Loggia and crossed the piazza, his pale face turning like a sunflower to the palace light. He stood on the spot where the reformer Savonarola was burned and looked up at the windows where his own forebear came to grief.

  There, from that high window, Francesco de’ Pazzi was thrown naked with a noose around his neck, to die writhing and spinning against the rough wall. The archbishop in all his holy vestments hanged beside Pazzi provided no spiritual comfort; eyes bulging, wild as he choked, the archbishop locked his teeth in Pazzi’s flesh.

  The Pazzi family were all brought low on that Sunday, 26 April, 1478, for killing Giuliano de’ Medici and trying to kill Lorenzo the Magnificent in the cathedral at Mass.

  Now Rinaldo Pazzi, a Pazzi of the Pazzi, hating the government as much as his ancestor ever did, disgraced and out of fortune, listening for the whisper of the axe, came to this place to decide how best to use a singular piece of luck:

  Chief Investigator Pazzi believed that he had found Hannibal Lecter living in Florence. He had a chance to regain his reputation and enjoy the honors of his trade by capturing the fiend. Pazzi also had a chance to sell Hannibal Lecter to Mason Verger for more money than he could imagine—if the suspect was indeed Lecter. Of course, Pazzi would be selling his own ragged honor as well.

  Pazzi did not head the Questura investigation division for nothing—he was gifted and in his time he had been driven by a wolfish hunger to succeed in his profession. He also carried the scars of a man who, in the haste and heat of his ambition, once seized his gift by the blade.

  He chose this place to cast his lot because he once experienced a moment of epiphany here that made him famous and then ruined him.

  The Italian sense of irony was strong in Pazzi: How fitting that his fateful revelation came beneath this window, where the furious spirit of his forebear might still spin against the wall. In this same place, he could forever change the Pazzi luck.

  It was the hunt for another serial killer, Il Mostró, that made Pazzi famous and then let the crows peck at his heart. That experience made possible his new discovery. But ending of the Il Mostró case was bitter ashes in Pazzi’s mouth and inclined him now toward a dangerous game outside the law.

  Il Mostró, the Monster of Florence, preyed on lovers in Tuscany for seventeen years in the l980s and 1990s. The Monster crept up on couples as they embraced in the many Tuscan lovers’ lanes. It was his custom to kill the lovers with a small-caliber pistol, arrange them in a careful tableau with flowers and expose the woman’s left breast. His tableaux had an odd familiarity about them, they left a sense of déjà vu.

  The Monster also excised anatomical trophies, except in the single instance when he slew a long-haired German homosexual couple, apparently by mistake.

  The public pressure on the Questura to catch Il Mostró was intense, and drove Rinaldo Pazzi’s predecessor out of office. When Pazzi took over as chief investigator, he was like a man fighting bees, with the press swarming through his office whenever they were allowed, and photographers lurking in the Via Zara behind Questura headquarters, where he had to drive out.

  Tourists to Florence during the period will remember plastered everywhere the posters with the single watching eye that warned couples against the Monster.

  Pazzi worked like a man possessed.

  He called on the American FBI’s Behavioral Science section for help in profiling the killer and read everything he could find on FBI profiling methods.

  He used proactive measures: Some lovers’ lanes and cemetery trysting places had more police than lovers sitting in pairs in the cars. There were not enough women officers to go around. During hot weather male couples took turns wearing a wig and many mustaches were sacrificed. Pazzi set an example by shaving off his own mustache.

  The Monster was careful. He struck, but his needs did not force him to strike often.

  Pazzi noticed that in years past there were long periods when the Monster did not strike at all—one gap of eight years. Pazzi seized on this. Painstakingly, laboriously, dragooning clerical help from every agency he could threaten, confiscating his nephew’s computer to use along with the Questura’s single machine, Pazzi listed every criminal in northern Italy whose periods of imprisonment coincided with the time gaps in Il Mostró’s series of murders. The number was ninety-seven.

  Pazzi took over an imprisoned bank robber’s fast
, comfortable old Alfa-Romeo GTV and, putting more than five thousand kilometers on the car in a month, he personally looked at ninety-four of the convicts and had them interrogated. The others were disabled or dead.

  There was almost no evidence at the scenes of the crimes to help him narrow down the list. No body fluids of the perpetrator, no fingerprints.

  A single shell casing was recovered from a murder scene at Impruneta. It was a .22 Winchester-Western rimfire with extractor marks consistent with a Colt semiautomatic pistol, possibly a Woodsman. The bullets in all the crimes were .22s from the same gun. There were no wipe marks on the bullets from a silencer, but a silencer could not be ruled out.

  Pazzi was a Pazzi and above all things ambitious, and he had a young and lovely wife with an ever-open beak. His efforts ground twelve pounds off his lean frame. Younger members of the Questura privately remarked on his resemblance to the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote.

  When some young smart alecks put a morph program in the Questura computer that changed the Three Tenors’ faces into those of a jackass, a pig and a goat, Pazzi stared at the morph for minutes and felt his own face changing back and forth into the countenance of the jackass.

  The window of the Questura laboratory is garlanded with garlic to keep out evil spirits. With the last of his suspects visited and grilled to no effect, Pazzi stood at this window looking out on the dusty courtyard and despaired.

  He thought of his new wife, and her good hard ankles and the patch of down in the small of her back. He thought of how her breasts quivered and bounced when she brushed her teeth and how she laughed when she saw him watching. He thought of the things he wanted to give her. He imagined her opening the gifts. He thought of his wife in visual terms; she was fragrant and wonderful to touch as well, but the visual was first in his memory.

 
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