Hannibal by Thomas Harris


  Starling had seen it.

  Having come to doubt the religion of technique, where could Starling turn?

  In her tribulation, in the gnawing sameness of her days, she began to look at the shapes of things. She began to credit her own visceral reactions to things, without quantifying them or restricting them to words. At about this time she noticed a change in her reading habits. Before, she would have read a caption before she looked at a picture. Not now. Sometimes she did not read captions at all.

  For years she had read couture publications on the sly, guiltily as though they were pornography. Now she began to admit to herself that there was something in those pictures that made her hungry. Within the framework of her mind, galvanized by the Lutherans against corrupting rust, she felt as though she were giving in to a delicious perversion.

  She would have arrived at her tactic anyway, in time, but she was aided by the sea change inside her: It sped her toward the idea that Dr. Lecter’s taste for rarefied things, things in a small market, might be the monster’s dorsal fin, cutting the surface and making him visible.

  Using and comparing computerized customer lists, Starling might be able to crack one of his alternate identities. To do this, she had to know his preferences. She needed to know him better than anyone in the world knew him.

  What are the things I know he likes? He likes music, wine, books, food. And he likes me.

  The first step in the development of taste is to be willing to credit your own opinion. In the areas of food and wine and music, Starling would have to follow the doctor’s precedents, looking at what he used in the past, but in one area she was at least his equal. Automobiles. Starling was a car buff, as anyone who saw her car could tell.

  Dr. Lecter had owned a supercharged Bentley before his disgrace. Supercharged, not turbocharged. Custom supercharged with a Rootes-type positive displacement blower, so it had no turbo lag. She quickly realized that the custom Bentley market is so small, he would entail some risk going back to it.

  What would he buy now? She understood the feeling he liked. A blown, big displacement V8, with power down low, and not peaky. What would she buy in the current market?

  No question, an XJR Jaguar supercharged sedan. She faxed the East and West Coast Jaguar distributors asking for weekly sales reports.

  What else did Dr. Lecter have a taste for, that Starling knew a lot about?

  He likes me, she thought.

  How quickly he had responded to her plight. Even considering the delay from using a remailing service to write to her. Too bad the postage meter lead fizzled—the meter was in such a public place any thief could use it.

  How quickly did the National Tattler get to Italy? That’s one place he saw Starling’s trouble, a copy was found in the Palazzo Capponi. Did the scandal sheet have a Web site? Also, if he had a computer in Italy, he might have read a summary of the gunfight on the FBI’s public Web site. What might be learned from Dr. Lecter’s computer?

  No computer was listed among the personal effects at Palazzo Capponi.

  Still, she had seen something. She got out the photos of the library at the Palazzo Capponi. Here was a picture of the beautiful desk where he wrote to her. Here on the desk was a computer. A Phillips laptop. In subsequent pictures it was gone.

  With her dictionary, Starling painfully composed a fax to the Questura in Florence:

  Fra le cose personali del dottor Lecter, c’è un computer portatile?

  And so, with small steps, Clarice Starling began to pursue Dr. Lecter down the corridors of his taste, with more confidence in her footing than was entirely justified.

  CHAPTER

  43

  MASON VERGER’S assistant Cordell, with an example posted in a frame on his desk, recognized the distinctive handwriting at once. The stationery was from the Excelsior Hotel in Florence, Italy.

  Like an increasing number of wealthy people in the era of the Unabomber, Mason had his own mail fluoroscope, similar to the one at the U.S. Post Office.

  Cordell pulled on some gloves and checked the letter. The fluoroscope showed no wires or batteries. In accordance with Mason’s strict instructions, he copied the letter and the envelope on the copying machine, handling it with tweezers, and changed gloves before picking up the copy and delivering it to Mason.

  In Dr. Lecter’s familiar copperplate:

  Dear Mason,

  Thank you for posting such a huge bounty on me. I wish you would increase it. As an early-warning system, the bounty is better than radar. It inclines authorities everywhere to forsake their duty and scramble after me privately, with the results you see.

  Actually, I’m writing to refresh your memory on the subject of your former nose. In your inspirational antidrug interview the other day in the Ladies’ Home Journal you claim that you fed your nose, along with the rest of your face, to the pooches, Skippy and Spot, all waggy at your feet. Not so: You ate it yourself, for refreshment. From the crunchy sound when you chewed it up, I would say it had a consistency similar to that of a chicken gizzard— “Tastes just like chicken!” was your comment at the time. I was reminded of the sound in a bistro when a French person tucks into a gésier salad.

  You don’t remember that, Mason?

  Speaking of chicken, you told me in therapy that, while you were subverting the underprivileged children at your summer camp, you learned that chocolate irritates your urethra. You don’t remember that either, do you?

  Don’t you think it likely you told me all sorts of things you don’t remember now?

  There is an inescapable parallel between you and Jezebel, Mason. Keen Bible student that you are, you will recall the dogs ate Jezebel’s face, along with the rest of her, after the eunuchs threw her out the window.

  Your people might have assassinated me in the street. But you wanted me alive, didn’t you? From the aroma of your henchmen, it’s obvious how you planned to entertain me. Mason, Mason. Since you want to see me so badly, let me give you some words of comfort, and you know I never lie.

  Before you die you will see my face.

  Sincerely,

  Hannibal Lecter, MD

  P.S. I worry, though, that you won’t live that long, Mason. You must avoid the new strains of pneumonia. You’re very susceptible, prone as you are (and will remain). I would recommend vaccination immediately, along with immunization shots for hepatitis A and B. Don’t want to lose you prematurely.

  Mason seemed somewhat out of breath when he finished reading. He waited, waited and in his own good time said something to Cordell, which Cordell could not hear.

  Cordell leaned close and was rewarded with a spray of spit when Mason spoke again:

  “Get me Paul Krendler on the phone. And get me the Pigmaster.”

  CHAPTER

  44

  THE SAME helicopter that brought the foreign newspapers daily to Mason Verger also brought Deputy Assistant Inspector General Paul Krendler to Muskrat Farm.

  Mason’s malign presence and his darkened chamber with its hissing and sighing machinery and its ever-moving eel would have made Krendler uneasy enough, but he also had to sit through the video of Pazzi’s death again and again.

  Seven times Krendler watched the Viggerts orbit the David, saw Pazzi plunge and his bowels fall out. By the seventh time, Krendler expected David’s bowels to fall out too.

  Finally the bright overhead lights came on in the seating area of Mason’s room, hot on top of Krendler’s head and shining off his scalp through the thinning brush cut.

  The Vergers have an unparalleled understanding of piggishness, so Mason began with what Krendler wanted for himself. Mason spoke out of the dark, his sentences measured by the stroke of his respirator.

  “I don’t need to hear … your whole platform … how much money will it take?”

  Krendler wanted to talk privately with Mason, but they were not alone in the room. A broad-shouldered figure, terrifically muscled, loomed in black outline against the glowing aquarium. The idea of a bodyguard
hearing them made Krendler nervous.

  “I’d rather it was just us talking, do you mind asking him to leave?”

  “This is my sister, Margot,” Mason said. “She can stay.”

  Margot came out of the darkness, her bicycle pants whistling.

  “Oh, I’m sorry,” Krendler said, half-rising from his chair.

  “Hello,” she said, but instead of taking Krendler’s outstretched hand, Margot picked up two walnuts from the bowl on the table and, squeezing them together in her fist until they cracked loudly, returned to the gloom in front of the aquarium where presumably she ate them. Krendler could hear the hulls dropping to the floor.

  “Oookay, let’s hear it,” Mason said.

  “For me to unseat Lowenstein in the twenty-seventh district, ten million dollars minimum.” Krendler crossed his legs and looked off somewhere into the dark. He didn’t know if Mason could see him. “I’d need that much just for media. But I guarantee you he’s vulnerable. I’m in a position to know.”

  “What’s his thing?”

  “We’ll just say his conduct has—”

  “Well, is it money or snatch?”

  Krendler didn’t feel comfortable saying “snatch” in front of Margot, though it didn’t seem to bother Mason. “He’s married and he’s had a longtime affair with a state court of appeals judge. The judge has ruled in favor of some of his contributors. The rulings are probably coincidence, but when TV convicts him that’s all I’ll need.”

  “The judge a woman?” Margot asked.

  Krendler nodded. Not sure Mason could see him, he added, “Yes. A woman.”

  “Too bad,” Mason said. “It would be better if he was a queer, wouldn’t it, Margot? Still, you can’t sling that crap yourself, Krendler. It can’t come from you.”

  “We’ve put together a plan that offers the voters …”

  “You can’t sling the crap yourself,” Mason said again.

  “I’ll just make sure the Judicial Review Board knows where to look, so it’ll stick to Lowenstein when it hits him. Are you saying you can help me?”

  “I can help you with half of it.”

  “Five?”

  “Let’s not just toss it off like ‘five.’ Let’s say it with the respect it deserves—-five million dollars. The Lord has blessed me with this money. And with it I will do His will: You get it only if Hannibal Lecter falls cleanly into my hands.” Mason breathed for a few beats. “If that happens, you’ll be Mr. Congressman Krendler of the twenty-seventh district, free and clear, and all I’ll ever ask you to do is oppose the Humane Slaughter Act. If the FBI gets Lecter, the cops grab him someplace and he gets off with lethal injection, it’s been nice to know you.”

  “I can’t help it if a local jurisdiction gets him. Or Crawford’s outfit lucks up and catches him, I can’t control that.”

  “How many states with death penalties could Dr. Lecter be charged in?” Margot asked. Her voice was scratchy but deep like Mason’s from the hormones she had taken.

  “Three states, multiple Murder One in each.”

  “If he’s arrested I want him prosecuted at the state level,” Mason said. “No kidnapping rap, no civil rights violations, no interstate. I want him to get off with life, I want him in a state prison, not a maximum federal pen.”

  “Do I have to ask why?”

  “Not unless you want me to tell you. It doesn’t fall under the Humane Slaughter Act,” Mason said, and giggled. Talking had exhausted him. He gestured to Margot.

  She carried a clipboard into the light and read from her notes. “We want everything you get and we want it before Behavioral Science sees it, we want Behavioral Science reports as soon as they’re filed and we want the VICAP and National Crime Information Center access codes.”

  “You’d have to use a public phone every time you access VICAP,” Krendler said, still talking out into the dark as though the woman weren’t there. “How can you do that?”

  “I can do it,” Margot said.

  “She can do it,” Mason whispered from the dark. “She writes workout programs for exercise machines in gyms. It’s her little business so she doesn’t have to live off of Brother.”’

  “The FBI has a closed system and some of it’s encrypted. You’ll have to sign on from a guest location exactly as I tell you and download to a laptop programmed at the Justice Department,” Krendler said. “Then if VICAP hides a tracer cookie on you, it will just come back to Justice. Buy a fast laptop with a fast modem for cash over-the-counter at a volume dealer and don’t mail any warranties. Get a zip drive too. Stay off the Net with it. I’ll need it overnight and I want it back when you’re through. You’ll hear from me. Okay, that’s it.” Krendler stood and gathered his papers.

  “That’s not quite it, Mr. Krendler …” Mason said. “Lecter doesn’t have to come out. He’s got the money to hide forever.”

  “How does he have money?” Margot said.

  “He had some very rich old people in his psychiatric practice,” Krendler said. “He got them to sign over a lot of money and stocks to him and he hid it good. The IRS hasn’t been able to find it. They exhumed the bodies of a couple of his benefactors to see if he’d killed them, but they couldn’t find anything. Toxin scans negative.”

  “So he won’t get caught in a stickup, he has cash,” Mason said. “We’ve got to lure him out. Be thinking of ways.”

  “He’ll know where the hit came from in Florence,” Krendler said.

  “Sure he will.”

  “So he’ll want you.”

  “I don’t know,” Mason said. “He likes me like I am. Be thinking, Krendler.” Mason began to hum.

  All Deputy Assistant Inspector General Krendler heard was humming as he went out the door. Mason often hummed hymns while he was scheming: You’ve got the prime bait, Krendler, but we’ll discuss it after you’ve made an incriminating bank deposit—when you belong to me.

  CHAPTER

  45

  ONLY FAMILY remains in Mason’s room, brother and sister.

  Soft light and music. North African music, an oud and drums. Margot sits on the couch, head down, elbows on her knees. She might have been a hammer thrower resting, or a weight lifter resting in a gym after a workout. She breathes a little faster than Mason’s respirator.

  The song ends and she rises, goes to his bedside. The eel pokes his head out of the hole in the artificial rock to see if his wavy silver sky might rain carp again tonight. Margot’s raspy voice at its softest. “Are you awake?”

  In a moment Mason was present behind his ever-open eye. “Is it time to talk about”—a hiss of breath— “what Margot wants? Sit here on Santa’s knee.”

  “You know what I want.”

  “Tell me.”

  “Judy and I want to have a baby. We want to have a Verger baby, our own baby.”

  “Why don’t you buy a Chinese baby? They’re cheaper than shoats.”

  “It’s a good thing to do. We might do that too.”

  “What does Papa’s will say … To an heir, confirmed as my descendent in the Cellmark Laboratory or its equivalent by DNA testing, my estate entire upon the passing of my beloved son, Mason. Beloved son, Mason, that’s me. In the absence of an heir, the sole beneficiary shall be the Southern Baptist Convention with specific clauses concerning Baylor University at Waco, Texas. You really pissed Papa off with that muff-diving, Margot.”

  “You may not believe this, Mason, but it’s not the money—well, it is a little bit, but don’t you want an heir? It would be your heir too, Mason.”

  “Why don’t you find a nice fellow and give him a little nooky, Margot? It’s not like you don’t know how.”

  The Moroccan music is building again, the obsessive repetitions of the oud in her ear like anger.

  “I’ve messed myself up, Mason. I shriveled my ovaries with all the stuff I took. And I want Judy to be part of it. She wants to be the birth mother. Mason, you said if I helped you—you promised me some sperm.”

  Ma
son’s spidery fingers gestured. “Help yourself. If it’s still there.”

  “Mason, there’s every chance that you still have viable sperm, and we could arrange to harvest it painlessly—”

  “Harvesting my viable sperm? Sounds like you’ve been talking to somebody.”

  “Just the fertility clinic, it’s confidential.” Margot’s face softened, even in the cold light of the aquarium. “We could be really good to a child, Mason, we’ve been to parenting classes, Judy comes from a big, tolerant family and there’s a support group of women parents.”

  “You used to be able to make me come when we were kids, Margot. Made me shoot like a belt-fed mortar. And pretty damn fast too.”

  “You hurt me when I was little, Mason. You hurt me and you dislocated my elbow making me do the other—I still can’t curl more than eighty pounds with my left arm.”

  “Well, you wouldn’t take the chocolate. I said we’ll talk about it, Little Sister, when this job is done.”

  “Let’s just test you now,” Margot said. “The doctor can take a painless sample—”

  “What painless, I can’t feel anything down there anyway. You could suck it till you’re blue in the face, and it wouldn’t be like it was the first time. But I’ve made people do that already and nothing happens.”

  “The doctor can take a painless sample, just to see if you’ve got motile sperm. Judy’s taking Clomid already. We’re getting her cycle charted, there’s a lot of stuff to do.”

  “I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Judy in all this time. Cordell says she’s bowlegged. How long have you two been an item, Margot?”

  “Five years.”

  “Why don’t you bring her by? We might … work something out, so to speak.”

  The North African drums end with a final slap and leave a ringing silence in Margot’s ear.

  “Why don’t you manage your little hookup with the Justice Department by yourself?” she said close to his ear hole. “Why don’t you try to get in a phone booth with your fucking laptop. Why don’t you pay some more fucking guineas to catch the guy that made dog food out of your face? You said you’d help me, Mason.”

 
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