Hannibal by Thomas Harris


  “Mooooaaaahm, can I have some of his samwich?”

  The baby in Mother’s lap awoke and began to cry. Mother dipped a finger into the back of its diaper, came up negative, and gave the baby a pacifier.

  “What is it you’re trying to give him, sir?”

  “It’s liver, Madame,” Dr. Lecter said as quietly as possible. “I haven’t given—”

  “Liverwurst, my favorite, I want it, he said I could have some of it …” The child stretched the last word into a piercing whine.

  “Sir, if you’re giving something to my child, could I see it?”

  The stewardess, her face puffed from an interrupted nap, stopped by the woman’s seat as the baby howled. “Everything all right here? Could I bring you something? Warm a bottle?”

  The woman took out a capped baby bottle and gave it to the stewardess. She turned on her reading light, and while she searched for a nipple, she called to Dr. Lecter. “Would you pass it down to me? If you’re offering it to my child, I want to see it. No offense, but he’s got a tricky tummy.”

  We routinely leave our small children in day care among strangers. At the same time, in our guilt we evince paranoia about strangers and foster fear in children. In times like these, a genuine monster has to watch it, even a monster as indifferent to children as Dr. Lecter.

  He passed his Fauchon box down to Mother.

  “Hey, nice bread,” she said, poking it with her diaper finger.

  “Madame, you may have it.”

  “I don’t want the liquor,” she said, and looked around for a laugh. “I didn’t know they’d let you bring your own. Is this whiskey? Do they allow you to drink this on the plane? I think I’ll keep this ribbon if you don’t want it.”

  “Sir, you can’t open this alcoholic beverage on the aircraft,” the stewardess said. “I’ll hold it for you, you can claim it at the gate.”

  “Of course. Thank you so much,” Dr. Lecter said.

  Dr. Lecter could overcome his surroundings. He could make it all go away. The beeping of the computer game, the snores and farts, were nothing compared to the hellish screaming he’d known in the violent wards. The seat was no tighter than restraints. As he had done in his cell so many times, Dr. Lecter put his head back, closed his eyes and retired for relief into the quiet of his memory palace, a place that is quite beautiful for the most part.

  For this little time, the metal cylinder howling westward against the wind contains a palace of a thousand rooms.

  As once we visited Dr. Lecter in the Palazzo of the Capponi, so we will go with him now into the palace of his mind …

  The foyer is the Norman Chapel in Palermo, severe and beautiful and timeless, with a single reminder of mortality in the skull graven in the floor. Unless he is in a great hurry to retrieve information from the palace, Dr. Lecter often pauses here as he does now, to admire the chapel. Beyond it, far and complex, light and dark, is the vast structure of Dr. Lecter’s making.

  The memory palace was a mnemonic system well known to ancient scholars and much information was preserved in them through the Dark Ages while Vandals burned the books. Like scholars before him, Dr. Lecter stores an enormous amount of information keyed to objects in his thousand rooms, but unlike the ancients, Dr. Lecter has a second purpose for his palace; sometimes he lives there. He has passed years among its exquisite collections, while his body lay bound on a violent ward with screams buzzing the steel bars like Hell’s own harp.

  Hannibal Lecter’s palace is vast, even by medieval standards. Translated to the tangible world it would rival the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul for size and complexity.

  We catch up to him as the swift slippers of his mind pass from the foyer into the Great Hall of the Seasons. The palace is built according to the rules discovered by Simonides of Ceos and elaborated by Cicero four hundred years later; it is airy, high-ceilinged, furnished with objects and tableaux that are vivid, striking, sometimes shocking and absurd, and often beautiful. The displays are well spaced and well lighted like those of a great museum. But the walls are not the neutral colors of museum walls. Like Giotto, Dr. Lecter has frescoed the walls of his mind.

  He has decided to pick up Clarice Starling’s home address while he is in the palace, but he is in no hurry for it, so he stops at the foot of a great staircase where the Riace bronzes stand. These great bronze warriors attributed to Phidias, raised from the seafloor in our own time, are the centerpiece of a frescoed space that could unspool all of Homer and Sophocles.

  Dr. Lecter could have the bronze faces speak Meleager if he wished, but today he only wants to look at them.

  A thousand rooms, miles of corridors, hundreds of facts attached to each object furnishing each room, a pleasant respite awaiting Dr. Lecter whenever he chooses to retire there.

  But this we share with the doctor: In the vaults of our hearts and brains, danger waits. All the chambers are not lovely, light and high. There are holes in the floor of the mind, like those in a medieval dungeon floor—the stinking oubliettes, named for forgetting, bottle-shaped cells in solid rock with the trapdoor in the top. Nothing escapes from them quietly to ease us. A quake, some betrayal by our safeguards, and sparks of memory fire the noxious gases—things trapped for years fly free, ready to explode in pain and drive us to dangerous behavior….

  Fearfully and wonderfully made, we follow as he moves with a swift light stride along the corridor of his own making, through a scent of gardenias, the presence of great sculpture pressing on us, and the light of pictures.

  His way leads around to the right past a bust of Pliny and up the staircase to the Hall of Addresses, a room lined with statuary and paintings in a fixed order, spaced wide apart and well lit, as Cicero recommends.

  Ah … The third alcove from the door on the right is dominated by a painting of St. Francis feeding a moth to a starling. On the floor before the painting is this tableau, life-sized in painted marble:

  A parade in Arlington National Cemetery led by Jesus, thirty-three, driving a ‘27 Model-T Ford truck, a “tin lizzie,” with J. Edgar Hoover standing in the truck bed wearing a tutu and waving to an unseen crowd. Marching behind him is Clarice Starling carrying a .308 Enfield rifle at shoulder arms.

  Dr. Lecter appears pleased to see Starling. Long ago he obtained Starling’s home address from the University of Virginia Alumni Association. He stores the address in this tableau, and now, for his own pleasure, he summons the numbers and the name of the street where Starling lives: 3327 Tindal Arlington, VA 22308

  Dr. Lecter can move down the vast halls of his memory palace with unnatural speed. With his reflexes and strength, apprehension and speed of mind, Dr. Lecter is well armed against the physical world. But there are places within himself that he may not safely go, where Cicero’s rules of logic, of ordered space and light do not apply….

  He has decided to visit his collection of ancient textiles. For a letter he is writing to Mason Verger, he wants to review a text of Ovid on the subject of flavored facial oils which is attached to the weavings.

  He proceeds down an interesting flat-weave kilim runner toward the hall of looms and textiles.

  In the world of the 747, Dr. Lecter’s head is pressed back against the seat, his eyes are closed. His head bobs gently as turbulence bumps the airplane.

  At the end of the row, the baby has finished its bottle and is not yet asleep. Its face reddens. Mother feels the little body tense within the blanket, then relax. There is no question what has happened. She does not need to dip her finger in the diaper. In the row ahead someone says “Jeeeezus.”

  To the stale gymnasium reek of the airplane is added another layer of smell. The small boy, seated beside Dr. Lecter, inured to the baby’s habits, continues to eat the lunch from Fauchon.

  Beneath the memory palace, the traps fly up, the oubliettes yawn their ghastly stench….

  A flew animals had managed to survive the artillery and machine-gun fire in the fighting that left Hannibal Lecter’s parents dead and the
vast forest on their estate scarred and blasted.

  The mixed bag of deserters who used the remote hunting lodge ate what they could find. Once they found a miserable little deer, scrawny, with an arrow in it, that had managed to forage beneath the snow and survive. They led it back into the camp to keep from carrying it.

  Hannibal Lecter, six, watched through a crack in the barn as they brought it in, pulling and twisting its head against the plowline twisted around its neck. They did not wish to fire a shot and managed to knock it off its spindly legs and hack at its throat with an axe, cursing at one another in several languages to bring a bowl before the blood was wasted.

  There was not much meat on the runty deer and in two days, perhaps three, in their long overcoats, their breaths stinking and steaming, the deserters came through the snow from the hunting lodge to unlock the barn and choose again from among the children huddled in the straw. None had frozen, so they took a live one.

  They felt Hannibal Lecter’s thigh and his upper arm and chest, and instead of him, they chose his sister, Mischa, and led her away. To play, they said. No one who was led away to play ever returned.

  Hannibal held on to Mischa so hard, held to Mischa with his wiry grip until they slammed the heavy barn door on him, stunning him and cracking the bone in his upper arm.

  They led her away through snow still stained bloody from the deer.

  He prayed so hard that he would see Mischa again, the prayer consumed his six-year-old mind, but it did not drown out the sound of the axe. His prayer to see her again did not go entirely unanswered—he did see a few of Mischa’s milk teeth in the reeking stool pit his captors used between the lodge where they slept and the barn where they kept the captive children who were their sustenance in 1944 after the Eastern Front collapsed.

  Since this partial answer to his prayer, Hannibal Lecter had not been bothered by any considerations of deity, other than to recognize how his own modest predations paled beside those of God, who is in irony matchless, and in wanton malice beyond measure.

  In this hurtling aircraft, his head bouncing gently against the headrest, Dr. Lecter is suspended between his last view of Mischa crossing the bloody snow and the sound of the axe. He is held there and he cannot stand it. In the world of the airplane comes a short scream from his sweating face, thin and high, piercing.

  Passengers ahead of him turn, some wake from sleep. Some in the row ahead of him are snarling. “Kid, Jesus Christ, what is the matter with you? My God!”

  Dr. Lecter’s eyes open, they look straight ahead, a hand is on him. It is the small boy’s hand.

  “You had a bad dream, huh?” The child is not frightened, nor does he care about the complaints from the forward rows.

  “Yes.”

  “I have bad dreams a lots of times too. I’m not laughing at you.”

  Dr. Lecter took several breaths, his head pressed back against the seat. Then his composure returned as though calm rolled down from his hairline to cover his face. He bent his head to the child and said in a confidential tone, “You’re right not to eat this swill, you know. Don’t ever eat it.”

  Airlines no longer provide stationery. Dr. Lecter, in perfect command of himself, took some hotel stationery from his breast pocket and began a letter to Clarice Starling. First, he sketched her face. The sketch is now in a private holding at the University of Chicago and available to scholars. In it Starling looks like a child and her hair, like Mischa’s, is stuck to her cheek with tears….

  We can see the airplane through the vapor of our breath, a brilliant point of light in the clear night sky. See it cross the Pole star, well past the point of no return, committed now to a great arc down to tomorrow in the New World.

  CHAPTER

  49

  THE STACKS of paper and files and diskettes in Starling’s cubicle reached critical mass. Her request for more space went unanswered. Enough. With the recklessness of the damned she commandeered a spacious room in the basement at Quantico. The room was supposed to become Behavioral Science’s private darkroom as soon as Congress appropriated some money. It had no windows, but plenty of shelves and, being built for a darkroom, it had double blackout curtains instead of a door.

  Some anonymous office neighbor printed a sign in Gothic letters that read HANNIBAL’S HOUSE and pinned it on her curtained entrance. Fearful of losing the room, Starling moved the sign inside.

  Almost at once she found a trove of useful personal material at the Columbia College of Criminal Justice Library, where they maintained a Hannibal Lecter Room. The college had original papers from his medical and psychiatric practices and transcripts of his trial and the civil actions against him. On her first visit to the library, Starling waited forty-five minutes while custodians hunted for the keys to the Lecter room without success. On the second occasion, she found an indifferent graduate student in charge, and the material uncatalogued.

  Starling’s patience was not improving in her fourth decade. With Section Chief Jack Crawford backing her at the U.S. Attorney’s office, she got a court order to move the entire college collection to her basement room at Quantico. Federal marshals accomplished the move in a single van.

  The court order created waves, as she feared it would. Eventually, the waves brought Krendler….

  At the end of a long two weeks, Starling had most of the library material organized in her makeshift Lecter center. Late on a Friday afternoon she washed her face and hands of the bookdust and grime, turned down the lights and sat on the floor in the corner, looking at the many shelf-feet of books and papers. It is possible that she nodded off for a moment….

  A smell awakened her, and she was aware that she was not alone. It was the smell of shoe polish.

  The room was semidark, and Deputy Assistant Inspector General Paul Krendler moved along the shelves slowly, peering at the books and pictures. He hadn’t bothered to knock—there was no place to knock on the curtains and Krendler was not inclined to knocking anyway, especially at subordinate agencies. Here, in this basement at Quantico, he was definitely slumming.

  One wall of the room was devoted to Dr. Lecter in Italy, with a large photograph posted of Rinaldo Pazzi hanging with his bowels out from the window at Palazzo Vecchio. The opposite wall was concerned with crimes in the United States, and was dominated by a police photograph of the bow hunter Dr. Lecter had killed years ago. The body was hanging on a peg board and bore all the wounds of the medieval Wound Man illustrations. Many case files were stacked on the shelves along with civil records of wrongful death lawsuits filed against Dr. Lecter by families of the victims.

  Dr. Lecter’s personal books from his medical practice were here in an order identical to their arrangement in his old psychiatric office. Starling had arranged them by examining police photos of the office with a magnifying glass.

  Much of the light in the dim room came through an X ray of the doctor’s head and neck which glowed on a light box on the wall. The other light came from a computer workstation at a corner desk. The screen theme was “Dangerous Creatures.” Now and then the computer growled.

  Piled beside the machine were the results of Starling’s gleaning. The painfully gathered scraps of paper, receipts, itemized bills that revealed how Dr. Lecter had lived his private life in Italy, and in America before he was sent to the asylum. It was a makeshift catalog of his tastes.

  Using a flatbed scanner for a table, Starling had laid a single place setting that survived from his home in Baltimore—china, silver, crystal, napery radiant white, a candlestick—four square feet of elegance against the grotesque hangings of the room.

  Krendler picked up the large wineglass and pinged it with his fingernail.

  Krendler had never felt the flesh of a criminal, never fought one on the ground, and he thought of Dr. Lecter as a sort of media bogeyman and an opportunity. He could see his own photograph in association with a display like this in the FBI museum once Lecter was dead. He could see its enormous campaign value. Krendler had his nose close
to the X ray profile of the doctor’s capacious skull, and when Starling spoke to him, he jumped enough to smudge the X ray with nose grease.

  “Can I help you, Mr. Krendler?”

  “Why’re you sitting there in the dark?”

  “I’m thinking, Mr. Krendler.”

  “People on the Hill want to know what we’re doing about Lecter.”

  “This is what we’re doing.”

  “Brief me, Starling. Bring me up to speed.”

  “Wouldn’t you prefer Mr. Crawford—”

  “Where is Crawford?”

  “Mr. Crawford’s in court.”

  “I think he’s losing it, do you ever feel that way?”

  “No, sir, I don’t.”

  “What are you doing here? We got a beef from the college when you seized all this stuff out of their library. It could have been handled better.”

  “We’ve gathered everything we can find regarding Dr. Lecter here in this place, both objects and records. His weapons are in Firearms and Toolmarks, but we have duplicates. We have what’s left of his personal papers.”

  “What’s the point? You catching a crook, or writing a book?” Krendler paused to store this catchy rhyme in his verbal magazine. “If, say, a ranking Republican on Judiciary Oversight should ask me what you, Special Agent Starling, are doing to catch Hannibal Lecter, what could I tell him?”

  Starling turned on all the lights. She could see that Krendler was still buying expensive suits while saving money on his shirts and ties. The knobs of his hairy wrists poked out of his cuffs.

  Starling looked for a moment through the wall, past the wall, out to forever and composed herself. She made herself see Krendler as a police academy class.

  “We know Dr. Lecter has very good ID,” she began. “He must have at least one extra solid identity, maybe more. He’s careful that way. He won’t make a dumb mistake.”

  “Get to it.”

  “He’s a man of very cultivated tastes, some of them exotic tastes, in food, in wine, music. If he comes here, he’ll want those things. He’ll have to get them. He won’t deny himself.

 
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