Hannibal by Thomas Harris


  He would add to that impression very soon.

  CHAPTER

  20

  NOW THAT ceaseless exposure has calloused us to the lewd and the vulgar, it is instructive to see what still seems wicked to us. What still slaps the clammy flab of our submissive consciousness hard enough to get our attention?

  In Florence it was the exposition called Atrocious Torture Instruments, and it was here that Rinaldo Pazzi next encountered Dr. Fell.

  The exhibit, featuring more than twenty classic instruments of torture with extensive documentation, was mounted in the forbidding Forte di Belvedere, a sixteenth-century Medici stronghold that guards the city’s south wall. The expo opened to enormous, unexpected crowds; excitement leaped like a trout in the public trousers.

  The scheduled run was a month; Atrocious Torture Instruments ran for six months, equaling the draw of the Uffizi Museum and outdrawing the Pitti Palace Museum.

  The promoters, two failed taxidermists who formerly got along by eating offal from the trophies they mounted, became millionaires and made a triumphal tour of Europe with their show, wearing their new tuxedos.

  The visitors came in couples, mostly, from all over Europe, taking advantage of the extended hours to file among the engines of pain, and read carefully in any of four languages the provenance of the devices and how to use them. Illustrations by Dürer and others, along with contemporary diaries, enlightened the crowds on matters such as the finer points of wheeling.

  The English from one placard:

  The Italian princes preferred to have their victims broken on the ground with the use of the iron-tired wheel as the striking agent and blocks beneath the limbs as shown, while in northern Europe the popular method was to lash the victim to the wheel, break him or her with an iron bar, and then lace the limbs through the spokes around the periphery of the wheel, compound fractures providing the requisite flexibility, with the still-noisy head and trunk in the center. The latter method was a more satisfactory spectacle, but the recreation might be cut short if a piece of marrow went to the heart.

  The exposition of Atrocious Torture Instruments could not fail to appeal to a connoisseur of the worst in mankind. But the essence of the worst, the true asafoetida of the human spirit, is not found in the Iron Maiden or the whetted edge; Elemental Ugliness is found in the faces of the crowd.

  In the semidarkness of this great stone room, beneath the lit, hanging cages of the damned, stood Dr. Fell, connoisseur of facial cheeses, holding his spectacles in his scarred hand, the tip of an earpiece against his lips, his face rapt as he watched the people file through.

  Rinaldo Pazzi saw him there.

  Pazzi was on his second menial errand of the day. Instead of having dinner with his wife, he was pushing through the crowd to post new warnings to couples about the Monster of Florence, whom he had failed to catch. Such a warning poster was prominent over his own desk, placed there by his new superiors, along with other wanted posters from around the world.

  The taxidermists, watching the box office together, were happy to add a bit of contemporary horror to their show, but asked Pazzi to put up the poster himself, as neither seemed willing to leave the other alone with the cash. A few locals recognized Pazzi and hissed him from the anonymity of the crowd.

  Pazzi pushed pins through the corners of the blue poster, with its single staring eye, on a bulletin board near the exit where it would attract the most attention, and turned on a picture light above it. Watching the couples leaving, Pazzi could see that many were in estrus, rubbing against each other in the crowd at the exit. He did not want to see another tableau, no more blood and flowers.

  Pazzi did want to speak to Dr. Fell—it would be convenient to pick up the missing curator’s effects while he was this near the Palazzo Capponi. But when Pazzi turned from the bulletin board, the doctor was gone. He was not in the crowd at the exit. There was only the stone wall where he had stood, beneath the hanging starvation cage with its skeleton in a fetal curve still pleading to be fed.

  Pazzi was annoyed. He pushed through the crowd until he was outside, but did not find the doctor.

  The guard at the exit recognized Pazzi and said nothing when he stepped over the rope and walked off the path, onto the dark grounds of the Forte di Belvedere. He went to the parapet, looking north across the Arno. Old Florence was at his feet, the great hump of the Duomo, the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio rising in light.

  Pazzi was a very old soul, writhing on a spike of ridiculous circumstance. His city mocked him.

  The American FBI had given the knife a final twist in Pazzi’s back, saying in the press that the FBI profile of Il Mostró had been nothing like the man Pazzi arrested. La Nazione added that Pazzi had “railroaded Tocca off to prison.”

  The last time Pazzi had put up the blue Il Mostró poster was in America; it was a proud trophy he hung on the wall of Behavioral Science, and he had signed it at the request of the American FBI agents. They knew all about him, admired him, invited him. He and his wife had been guests on the Maryland shore.

  Standing at the dark parapet, looking over his ancient city, he smelled the salt air off the Chesapeake, saw his wife on the shore in her new white sneakers.

  There was a picture of Florence in Behavioral Science at Quantico, shown him as a curiosity. It was the same view he was seeing now, old Florence from the Belvedere, the best view there is. But not in color. No, a pencil drawing, shaded with charcoal. The drawing was in a photograph, in the background of a photograph. It was a photograph of the American serial murderer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal the Cannibal. Lecter had drawn Florence from memory and the drawing was hanging in his cell in the asylum, a place as grim as this.

  When did it fall on Pazzi, the ripening idea? Two images, the real Florence lying before him, and the drawing he recalled. Placing the poster of Il Mostro minutes ago. Mason Verger’s poster of Hannibal Lecter on his own office wall with its huge reward and its advisories:

  DR. LECTER WILL HAVE TO CONCEAL HIS LEFT HAND AND MAY ATTEMPT TO HAVE IT SURGICALLY ALTERED, AS HIS TYPE OF POLYDACTYLY, THE APPEARANCE OF PERFECT EXTRA FINGERS, IS EXTREMELY RARE AND INSTANTLY IDENTIFIABLE.

  Dr. Fell holding his glasses to his lips with his scarred hand.

  A detailed sketch of this view on the wall of Hannibal Lecter’s cell.

  Did the idea come to Pazzi while he was looking at the city of Florence beneath him, or out of the swarming dark above the lights? And why was its harbinger a scent of the salt breeze off the Chesapeake?

  Oddly for a visual man, the connection arrived with a sound, the sound a drop would make as it lands in a thickening pool.

  Hannibal Lecter had fled to Florence.

  plop

  Hannibal Lecter was Dr. Fell.

  Rinaldo Pazzi’s inner voice told him he might have gone mad in the cage of his plight; his frenzied mind might be breaking its teeth on the bars like the skeleton in the starvation cage.

  With no memory of moving, he found himself at the Renaissance gate leading from the Belvedere into the steep Costa di San Giorgio, a narrow street that winds and plunges down to the heart of Old Florence in less than half a mile. His steps seemed to carry him down the steep cobbles without his volition, he was going faster than he wished, looking always ahead for the man called Dr. Fell, for this was the way home for him—halfway down Pazzi turned in to the Costa Scarpuccia, always descending until he came out on the Via de’ Bardi, near the river. Near the Palazzo Capponi, home of Dr. Fell.

  Pazzi, puffing from his descent, found a place shadowed from the streetlight, an apartment entrance across from the palazzo. If someone came along he could turn and pretend to press a bell.

  The palazzo was dark. Pazzi could make out above the great double doors the red light of a surveillance camera. He could not be sure if it worked full-time, or served only when someone rang the bell. It was well within the covered entrance. Pazzi did not think it could see along the façade.

  He waited a half-hour, list
ening to his own breath, and the doctor did not come. Perhaps he was inside with no lights on.

  The street was empty. Pazzi crossed quickly and stood close against the wall.

  Faintly, faintly a thin sound from within. Pazzi leaned his head against the cold window bars to listen. A clavier, Bach’s Goldberg Variations well played.

  Pazzi must wait, and lurk and think. This was too soon to flush his quarry. He must decide what to do. He did not want to be a fool again. As he backed into the shadow across the street, his nose was last to disappear.

  CHAPTER

  21

  THE CHRISTIAN martyr San Miniato picked up his severed head from the sand of the Roman amphitheater in Florence and carried it beneath his arm to the mountainside across the river where he lies in his splendid church, tradition says.

  Certainly San Miniato’s body, erect or not, passed en route along the ancient street where we now stand, the Via de’ Bardi. The evening gathers now and the street is empty, the fan pattern of the cobbles shining in a winter drizzle not cold enough to kill the smell of cats. We are among the palaces built six hundred years ago by the merchant princes, the kingmakers and connivers of Renaissance Florence. Within bow-shot across the Arno River are the cruel spikes of the Signoria, where the monk Savonarola was hanged and burned, and that great meat house of hanging Christs, the Uffizi museum.

  These family palaces, pressed together in an ancient street, frozen in the modern Italian bureaucracy, are prison architecture on the outside, but they contain great and graceful spaces, high silent halls no one ever sees, draped with rotting, rain-streaked silk where lesser works of the great Renaissance masters hang in the dark for years, and are illuminated by the lightning after the draperies collapse.

  Here beside you is the palazzo of the Capponi, a family distinguished for a thousand years, who tore up a French king’s ultimatum in his face and produced a pope.

  The windows of the Palazzo Capponi are dark now, behind their iron grates. The torch rings are empty. In that pane of crazed old glass is a bullet hole from the 1940s. Go closer. Rest your head against the cold iron as the policeman did and listen. Faintly you can hear a clavier. Bach’s Goldberg Variations played, not perfectly, but exceedingly well, with an engaging understanding of the music. Played not perfectly, but exceedingly well; there is perhaps a slight stiffness in the left hand.

  If you believe you are beyond harm, will you go inside? Will you enter this palace so prominent in blood and glory, follow your face through the web-spanned dark, toward the exquisite chiming of the clavier? The alarms cannot see us. The wet policeman lurking in the doorway cannot see us. Come …

  Inside the foyer the darkness is almost absolute. A long stone staircase, the stair rail cold beneath our sliding hand, the steps scooped by the hundreds of years of footfalls, uneven beneath our feet as we climb toward the music.

  The tall double doors of the main salon would squeak and howl if we had to open them. For you, they are open. The music comes from the far, far corner, and from the corner comes the only light, light of many candles pouring reddish through the small door of a chapel off the corner of the room.

  Cross to the music. We are dimly aware of passing large groups of draped furniture, vague shapes not quite still in the candlelight, like a sleeping herd. Above us the height of the room disappears into darkness.

  The light glows redly on an ornate clavier and on the man known to Renaissance scholars as Dr. Fell, the doctor elegant, straight-backed as he leans into the music, the light reflecting off his hair and the back of his quilted silk dressing gown with a sheen like pelt.

  The raised cover of the clavier is decorated with an intricate scene of banquetry, and the little figures seem to swarm in the candlelight above the strings. He plays with his eyes closed. He has no need of the sheet music. Before him on the lyre-shaped music rack of the clavier is a copy of the American trash tabloid the National Tattler. It is folded to show only the face on the front page, the face of Clarice Starling.

  Our musician smiles, ends the piece, repeats the saraband once for his own pleasure and as the last quill-plucked string vibrates to silence in the great room, he opens his eyes, each pupil centered with a red pinpoint of light. He tilts his head to the side and looks at the paper before him.

  He rises without sound and carries the American tabloid into the tiny, ornate chapel, built before the discovery of America. As he holds it up to the light of the candles and unfolds it, the religious icons above the altar seem to read the tabloid over his shoulder, as they would in a grocery line. The type is seventy-two-point Railroad Gothic. It says “DEATH ANGEL: CLARICE STARLING, THE FBI’S KILLING MACHINE.”

  Faces painted in agony and beatitude around the altar fade as he snuffs the candles. Crossing the great hall he has no need of light. A puff of air as Dr. Hannibal Lecter passes us. The great door creaks, closes with a thud we can feel in the floor. Silence.

  Footsteps entering another room. In the resonances of this place, the walls feel closer, the ceiling still high— sharp sounds echo late from above—and the still air holds the smell of vellum and parchment and extinguished candlewicks.

  The rustle of paper in the dark, the squeak and scrape of a chair. Dr. Lecter sits in a great armchair in the fabled Capponi Library. His eyes reflect light redly, but they do not glow red in the dark, as some of his keepers have sworn they do. The darkness is complete. He is considering….

  It is true that Dr. Lecter created the vacancy at the Palazzo Capponi by removing the former curator—a simple process requiring a few seconds’ work on the old man and a modest outlay for two bags of cement—but once the way was clear he won the job fairly, demonstrating to the Belle Arti Commission an extraordinary linguistic capability, sight-translating medieval Italian and Latin from the densest Gothic black-letter manuscripts.

  He has found a peace here that he would preserve—he has killed hardly anybody, except his predecessor, during his residence in Florence.

  His appointment as translator and curator of the Capponi Library is a considerable prize to him for several reasons:

  The spaces, the height of the palace rooms, are important to Dr. Lecter after his years of cramped confinement. More important, he feels a resonance with the palace; it is the only private building he has ever seen that approaches in dimension and detail the memory palace he has maintained since youth.

  In the library, this unique collection of manuscripts and correspondence going back to the early thirteenth century, he can indulge a certain curiosity about himself.

  Dr. Lecter believed, from fragmentary family records, that he was descended from a certain Giuliano Bevisangue, a fearsome twelfth-century figure in Tuscany, and from the Machiavelli as well as the Visconti. This was the ideal place for research. While he had a certain abstract curiosity about the matter, it was not ego-related. Dr. Lecter does not require conventional reinforcement. His ego, like his intelligence quota, and the degree of his rationality, is not measurable by conventional means.

  In fact, there is no consensus in the psychiatric community that Dr. Lecter should be termed a man. He has long been regarded by his professional peers in psychiatry, many of whom fear his acid pen in the professional journals, as something entirely Other. For convenience they term him “monster.”

  The monster sits in the black library, his mind painting colors on the dark and a medieval air running in his head. He is considering the policeman.

  Click of a switch and a low lamp comes on.

  Now we can see Dr. Lecter seated at a sixteenth-century refectory table in the Capponi Library. Behind him is a wall of pigeonholed manuscripts and great canvas-covered ledgers going back eight hundred years. A fourteenth-century correspondence with a minister of the Republic of Venice is stacked before him, weighted with a small casting Michelangelo did as a study for his horned Moses, and in front of the inkstand, a laptop computer with on-line research capability through the University of Milan.

  Bright red and bl
ue among the dun and yellow piles of parchment and vellum is a copy of the National Tattler. And beside it, the Florence edition of La Nazione.

  Dr. Lecter selects the Italian newspaper and reads its latest attack on Rinaldo Pazzi, prompted by an FBI disclaimer in the case of Il Mostro. “Our profile never matched Tocca,” an FBI spokesman said.

  La Nazione cited Pazzi’s background and training in America, at the famous Quantico academy, and said he should have known better.

  The case of Il Mostro did not interest Dr. Lecter at all, but Pazzi’s background did. How unfortunate that he should encounter a policeman trained at Quantico, where Hannibal Lecter was a textbook case.

  When Dr. Lecter looked into Rinaldo Pazzi’s face at the Palazzo Vecchio, and stood close enough to smell him, he knew for certain that Pazzi suspected nothing, even though he had asked about the scar on Dr. Lecter’s hand. Pazzi did not even have any serious interest in him regarding the curator’s disappearance.

  The policeman saw him at the exposition of torture instruments. Better to have encountered him at an orchid show.

  Dr. Lecter was well aware that all the elements of epiphany were present in the policeman’s head, bouncing at random with the million other things he knew.

  Should Rinaldo Pazzi join the late curator of the Palazzo Vecchio down in the damp? Should Pazzi’s body be found after an apparent suicide? La Nazione would be pleased to have hounded him to death.

  Not now, the monster reflected, and turned to his great rolls of vellum and parchment manuscripts.

  Dr. Lecter does not worry. He delighted in the writing style of Neri Capponi, banker and emissary to Venice in the fifteenth century, and read his letters, aloud from time to time, for his own pleasure late into the night.

  CHAPTER

  22

  BEFORE DAYLIGHT Pazzi had in his hands the photographs taken for Dr. Fell’s state work permit, attached with the negatives to his permesso di soggiorno in the files of the Carabinieri. Pazzi also had the excellent mug shots reproduced on Mason Verger’s poster. The faces were similar in shape, but if Dr. Fell was Dr. Hannibal Lecter, some work had been done on the nose and cheeks, maybe collagen injections.

 
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