Hannibal by Thomas Harris


  In clerk’s clothing, he was able to blend with the crowd, popping up from time to time as though the crowd were a prairie dog town. If the intended victim seized Romula and held her, Gnocco could trip, fall all over the victim and remain entangled with him, apologizing profusely until she was well away. He had done it before.

  Pazzi passed her, stopped in a line of customers at a juice bar, where he could see.

  Romula came out of the doorway. She judged with a practiced eye the sidewalk traffic between her and the slender figure coming toward her. She could move wonderfully well through a crowd with the baby in front of her, supported in her false arm of wood and canvas. All right. As usual she would kiss the fingers of her visible hand and reach for his face to put the kiss there. With her free hand, she would fumble at his ribs near his wallet until he caught her wrist. Then she would pull away from him.

  Pazzi had promised that this man could not afford to hold her for the police, that he would want to get away from her. In all her attempts to pick a pocket, no one had ever offered violence to a woman holding a baby. The victim often thought it was someone else beside him fumbling in his jacket. Romula herself had denounced several innocent bystanders as pickpockets to avoid being caught.

  Romula moved with the crowd on the sidewalk, freed her concealed arm, but kept it under the false arm cradling the baby. She could see the mark coming through the field of bobbing heads, ten meters and closing.

  Madonna! Dr. Fell was veering off in the thick of the crowd, going with the stream of tourists over the Ponte Vecchio. He was not going home. She pressed into the crowd, but could not get to him. Gnocco’s face, still ahead of the doctor, looking to her, questioning. She shook her head and Gnocco let him pass. It would do no good if Gnocco picked his pocket.

  Pazzi snarling beside her as though it were her fault. “Go to the apartment. I’ll call you. You have the taxi pass for the old town? Go. Go!”

  Pazzi retrieved his motorbike and pushed it across the Ponte Vecchio, over the Arno opaque as jade. He thought he had lost the doctor, but there he was, on the other side of the river under the arcade beside the Lungarno, peering for a moment over a sketch artist’s shoulder, moving on with quick light strides. Pazzi guessed Dr. Fell was going to the Church of Santa Croce, and followed at a distance through the hellish traffic.

  CHAPTER

  26

  THE CHURCH of Santa Croce, seat of the Franciscans, its vast interior ringing with eight languages as the hordes of tourists shuffle through, following the bright umbrellas of their guides, fumbling for two-hundred-lire pieces in the gloom so they can pay to light, for a precious minute in their lives, the great frescoes in the chapels.

  Romula came in from the bright morning and had to pause near the tomb of Michelangelo while her dazzled eyes adjusted. When she could see that she was standing on a grave in the floor, she whispered, “Mi dispiace!” and moved quickly off the slab; to Romula the throng of dead beneath the floor was as real as the people above it, and perhaps more influential. She was daughter and granddaughter of spirit readers and palmists, and she saw the people above the floor, and the people below, as two crowds with the mortal pane between. The ones below, being smarter and older, had the advantage in her opinion.

  She looked around for the sexton, a man deeply prejudiced against Gypsies, and took refuge at the first pillar under the protection of Rossellino’s “Madonna del Latte,” while the baby nuzzled at her breast. Pazzi, lurking near Galileo’s grave, found her there.

  He pointed with his chin toward the back of the church where, across the transept, floodlights and forbidden cameras flashed like lightning through the vast high gloom as the clicking timers ate two-hundred-lire pieces and the occasional slug or Australian quarter.

  Again and again Christ was born, betrayed, and the nails driven as the great frescoes appeared in brilliant light, and plunged again into a darkness close and crowded, the milling pilgrims holding guidebooks they cannot see, body odor and incense rising to cook in the heat of the lamps.

  In the left transept, Dr. Fell was at work in the Capponi Chapel. The glorious Capponi Chapel is in Santa Felicità. This one, redone in the nineteenth century, interested Dr. Fell because he could look through the restoration into the past. He was making a charcoal rubbing of an inscription in stone so worn that even oblique lighting would not bring it up.

  Watching through his little monocular, Pazzi discovered why the doctor had left his house with only his shopping bag—he kept his art supplies behind the chapel altar. For a moment, Pazzi considered calling off Romula and letting her go. Perhaps he could fingerprint the art materials. No, the doctor was wearing cotton gloves to keep the charcoal off his hands.

  It would be awkward at best. Romula’s technique was designed for the open street. But she was obvious, and the furthest thing from what a criminal would fear. She was the person least likely to make the doctor flee. No. If the doctor seized her, he would give her to the sexton and Pazzi could intervene later.

  The man was insane. What if he killed her? What if he killed the baby? Pazzi asked himself two questions. Would he fight the doctor if the situation looked lethal? Yes. Was he willing to risk lesser injury to Romula and her child to get his money? Yes.

  They would simply have to wait until Dr. Fell took off the gloves to go to lunch. Drifting back and forth along the transept there was time for Pazzi and Romula to whisper. Pazzi spotted a face in the crowd.

  “Who’s following you, Romula? Better tell me. I’ve seen his face in the jail.”

  “My friend, just to block the way if I have to run. He doesn’t know anything. Nothing. It’s better for you. You don’t have to get dirty.”

  To pass the time, they prayed in several chapels, Romula whispering in a language Rinaldo did not understand, and Pazzi with an extensive list to pray for, particularly the house on the Chesapeake shore and something else he shouldn’t think about in church.

  Sweet voices from the practicing choir, soaring over the general noise.

  A bell, and it was time for the midday closing. Sextons came out, rattling their keys, ready to empty the coin boxes.

  Dr. Fell rose from his labors and came out from behind Andreotti’s Pietà in the chapel, removed his gloves and put on his jacket. A large group of Japanese, crowded in the front of the sanctuary, their supply of coins exhausted, stood puzzled in the dark, not yet understanding that they had to leave.

  Pazzi poked Romula quite unnecessarily. She knew the time had come. She kissed the top of the baby’s head as it rested in her wooden arm.

  The doctor was coming. The crowd would force him to pass close to her, and with three long strides she went to meet him, squared in front of him, held her hand up in his vision to attract his eye, kissed her fingers and got ready to put the kiss on his cheek, her concealed arm ready to make the dip.

  Lights on as someone in the crowd found a two-hundred-lire piece and at the moment of touching Dr. Fell she looked into his face, felt sucked to the red centers of his eyes, felt the huge cold vacuum pull her heart against her ribs and her hand flew away from his face to cover the baby’s face and she heard her voice say “Perdonami, perdonami, signore,” turning and fleeing as the doctor looked after her for a long moment, until the light went out and he was a silhouette again against candles in a chapel, and with quick, light strides he went on his way.

  Pazzi, pale with anger, found Romula supporting herself on the font, bathing the baby’s head repeatedly with holy water, bathing its eyes in case it had looked at Dr. Fell. Bitter curses stopped in his mouth when he looked at her stricken face.

  Her eyes were enormous in the gloom. “That is the Devil,” she said. “Shaitan, Son of the Morning, I’ve seen him now.”

  “I’ll drive you back to jail,” Pazzi said.

  Romula looked in the baby’s face and sighed, a slaughterhouse sigh, so deep and resigned it was terrible to hear. She took off the wide silver cuff and washed it in the holy water.

  ?
??Not yet,” she said.

  CHAPTER

  27

  IF RINALDO Pazzi had decided to do his duty as an officer of the law, he could have detained Dr. Fell and determined very quickly if the man was Hannibal Lecter. Within a half hour he could have obtained a warrant to take Dr. Fell out of the Palazzo Capponi and all the Palazzo’s alarm systems would not have prevented him. On his own authority he could have held Dr. Fell without charging him for long enough to determine his identity.

  Fingerprinting at Questura headquarters would have revealed within ten minutes if Fell was Dr. Lecter. PFLP DNA testing would confirm the identification.

  All those resources were denied to Pazzi now. Once he decided to sell Dr. Lecter, the policeman became a bounty hunter, outside the law and alone. Even the police snitches under his thumb were useless to him, because they would hasten to snitch on Pazzi himself.

  The delays frustrated Pazzi, but he was determined. He would make do with these damned Gypsies….

  “Would Gnocco do it for you, Romula? Can you find him?” They were in the parlor of the borrowed apartment on the Via de’ Bardi, across from the Palazzo Capponi, twelve hours after the debacle in the Church of Santa Croce. A low table lamp lit the room to waist height. Above the light, Pazzi’s black eyes glittered in the semidark.

  “I’ll do it myself, but not with the baby,” Romula said. “But you have to give me—”

  “No. I can’t let him see you twice. Would Gnocco do it for you?”

  Romula sat bent over in her long bright dress, her full breasts touching her thighs, with her head almost to her knees. The wooden arm lay empty on a chair. In the corner sat the older woman, possibly Romula’s cousin, holding the baby. The drapes were drawn. Peering around them through the smallest crack, Pazzi could see a faint light, high in the Palazzo Capponi.

  “I can do this, I can change my look until he would not know me. I can—”

  “No.”

  “Then Esmeralda can do it.”

  “No.” This voice from the corner, the older woman speaking for the first time. “I’ll care for your baby, Romula, until I die. I will never touch Shaitan.” Her Italian was barely intelligible to Pazzi.

  “Sit up, Romula,” Pazzi said. “Look at me. Would Gnocco do it for you? Romula, you’re going back to Sollicciano tonight. You have three more months to serve. It’s possible that the next time you get your money and cigarettes out of the baby’s clothes you’ll be caught … I could get you six months additional for that last time you did it. I could easily have you declared an unfit mother. The state would take the baby. But if I get the fingerprints, you get released, you get two million lire and your record disappears, and I help you with Australian visas. Would Gnocco do it for you?”

  She did not answer.

  “Could you find Gnocco?” Pazzi snorted air through his nose. “Senti, get your things together, you can pick up your fake arm at the property room in three months, or sometime next year. The baby will have to go to the foundling hospital. The old woman can call on it there.”

  “IT? Call on IT, Commendatore? His name is—” She shook her head, not wanting to say the child’s name to this man. Romula covered her face with her hands, feeling the two pulses in her face and hands beat against each other, and then she spoke from behind her hands. “I can find him.”

  “Where?”

  “Piazza Santo Spirito, near the fountain. They build a fire and somebody will have wine.”

  “I’ll come with you.”

  “Better not,” she said. “You’d ruin his reputation. You’ll have Esmeralda and the baby here—you know I’ll come back.”

  The Piazza Santo Spirito, an attractive square on the left bank of the Arno gone seedy at night, the church dark and locked at that late hour, noise and steamy food smells from Casalinga, the popular trattoria.

  Near the fountain, the flicker of a small fire and the sound of a Gypsy guitar, played with more enthusiasm than talent. There is one good fado singer in the crowd. Once the singer is discovered, he is shoved forward and lubricated with wine from several bottles. He begins with a song about fate, but is interrupted with demands for a livelier tune.

  Roger LeDuc, also known as Gnocco, sits on the edge of the fountain. He has smoked something. His eyes are hazed, but he spots Romula at once, at the back of the crowd across the firelight. He buys two oranges from a vendor and follows her away from the singing. They stop beneath a streetlamp away from the fire. Here the light is colder than firelight and dappled by the leaves left on a struggling maple. The light is greenish on Gnocco’s pallor, the shadows of the leaves like moving bruises on his face as Romula looks at him, her hand on his arm.

  A blade flicks out of his fist like a bright little tongue and he peels the oranges, the rind hanging down in one long piece. He gives her the first one and she puts a section in his mouth as he peels the second.

  They spoke briefly in Romany. Once he shrugged. She gave him a cell phone and showed him the buttons. Then Pazzi’s voice was in Gnocco’s ear. After a moment, Gnocco folded the telephone and put it into his pocket.

  Romula took something on a chain off her neck, kissed the little amulet and hung it around the neck of the small, scruffy man. He looked down at it, danced a little, pretending that the holy image burned him, and got a small smile from Romula. She took off the wide bracelet and put it on his arm. It fit easily. Gnocco’s arm was no bigger than hers.

  “Can you be with me an hour?” Gnocco asked her.

  “Yes,” she said.

  CHAPTER

  28

  NIGHT AGAIN and Dr. Fell is in the vast stone room of the Atrocious Torture Instruments show at Forte di Belvedere, the doctor leaning at ease against the wall beneath the hanging cages of the damned.

  He is registering aspects of damnation from the avid faces of the voyeurs as they press around the torture instruments and press against each other in steamy, goggle-eyed frottage, hair rising on their forearms, breath hot on one another’s neck and cheeks. Sometimes the doctor presses a scented handkerchief to his face against an overdose of cologne and rut.

  Those who pursue the doctor wait outside.

  Hours pass. Dr. Fell, who has never paid more than passing attention to the exhibits themselves, cannot seem to get enough of the crowd. A few feel his attention, and become uncomfortable. Often women in the crowd look at him with particular interest before the shuffling movement of the line through the exhibit forces them to move on. A pittance paid to the two taxidermists operating the show enables the doctor to lounge at his ease, untouchable behind the ropes, very still against the stone.

  Outside the exit, waiting on the parapet in a steady drizzle, Rinaldo Pazzi kept his vigil. He was used to waiting.

  Pazzi knew the doctor would not be walking home. Down the hill behind the fort, in a small piazza, Dr. Fell’s automobile awaited him. It was a black Jaguar Saloon, an elegant thirty-year-old Mark II glistening in the drizzle, the best one that Pazzi had ever seen, and it carried Swiss plates. Clearly Dr. Fell did not need to work for a salary. Pazzi noted the plate numbers, but could not risk running them through Interpol.

  On the steep cobbled Via San Leonardo between the Forte di Belvedere and the car, Gnocco waited. The ill-lit street was bounded on both sides by high stone walls protecting the villas behind them. Gnocco had found a dark niche in front of a barred gateway where he could stand out of the stream of tourists coming down from the fort. Every ten minutes the cell phone in his pocket vibrated against his thigh and he had to affirm he was in position.

  Some of the tourists held maps and programs over their heads against the fine rain as they came by, the narrow sidewalk full, and people spilling over into the street, slowing the few taxis coming down from the fort.

  In the vaulted chamber of torture instruments, Dr. Fell at last stood away from the wall where he had leaned, rolled his eyes up at the skeleton in the starvation cage above him as though they shared a secret and made his way through the crowd towa
rd the exit.

  Pazzi saw him framed in the doorway, and again under a floodlight on the grounds. He followed at a distance. When he was sure the doctor was walking down to his car, he flipped open his cell phone and alerted Gnocco.

  The Gypsy’s head came up out of his collar like that of a tortoise, eyes sunken, showing, as a tortoise shows, the skull beneath the skin. He rolled his sleeve above the elbow and spit on the bracelet, wiping it dry with a rag. Now that the silver was polished with spit and holy water, he held his arm behind him under his coat to keep it dry as he peered up the hill. A column of bobbing heads was coming. Gnocco pushed through the stream of people out into the street, where he could go against the current and could see better. With no assistant, he would have to do both the bump and the dip himself—not a problem since he wanted to fail at making the dip. There the slight man came—near the curb, thank God. Pazzi was thirty meters behind the doctor, coming down.

  Gnocco made a nifty move from the middle of the street. Taking advantage of a coming taxi, skipping as though to get out of the traffic, he looked back to curse the driver and bumped bellies with Dr. Fell, his fingers scrambling inside the doctor’s coat, and felt his arm seized in a terrific grip, felt a blow, and twisted away, free of the mark, Dr. Fell hardly pausing in his stride and gone in the stream of tourists, Gnocco free and away.

  Pazzi was with him almost instantly, beside him in the niche before the iron gate, Gnocco bent over briefly, straightening up, breathing hard.

  “I got it. He grabbed me all right. Cornuto tried to hit me in the balls, but he missed,” Gnocco said.

  Pazzi on one knee carefully working the bracelet off Gnocco’s arm, when Gnocco felt hot and wet down his leg and, as he shifted his body, a hot stream of arterial blood shot out of a rent in the front of his trousers, onto Pazzi’s face and hands as he tried to remove the bracelet holding it only by the edges. Blood spraying everywhere, into Gnocco’s own face as he bent to look at himself, his legs caving in. He collapsed against the gate, clung to it with one hand and jammed his rag against the juncture of his leg and body trying to stop the gouting blood from his split femoral artery.

 
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