Hannibal by Thomas Harris

  “Before that.”

  “Marine Corps.”

  “I see. And while you were working at the state hospital you saw Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter interacting—what I mean is, you saw them talking together?”

  “It seemed to me they—”

  “Let’s start with just exactly what you saw, not what you thought about what you saw, can we do that?”

  Mason interrupted. “He’s smart enough to give his opinion. Barney, you know Clarice Starling.”


  “You knew Hannibal Lecter for six years.”


  “What was it between them?”

  At first Krendler had trouble understanding Barney’s high, rough voice, but it was Krendler who asked the pertinent question. “Did Lecter act differently in the Starling interviews, Barney?”

  “Yes. Most of the time he didn’t respond at all to visitors,” Barney said. “Sometimes he would open his eyes long enough to insult some academic who was trying to pick his brain. He made one visiting professor cry. He was tough with Starling, but he answered her more than most. He was interested in her. She intrigued him.”


  Barney shrugged. “He hardly ever got to see women. She’s really good-looking—”

  “I don’t need your opinion on that,” Krendler said. “Is that all you know?”

  Barney did not reply. He looked at Krendler as though the left and right hemispheres of Krendler’s brain were two dogs stuck together.

  Margot cracked another walnut.

  “Go on, Barney,” Mason said.

  “They were frank with one another. He’s disarming that way. You have the feeling that he wouldn’t deign to lie.”

  “Wouldn’t do what to lie?” Krendler said.

  “Deign,” Barney said.

  “D-E-I-G-N,” Margot Verger said out of the dark. “To condescend. Or to stoop, Mr. Krendler.”

  Barney went on. “Dr. Lecter told her some unpleasant things about herself, and then some pleasant ones. She could face the bad things, and then enjoy the good more, knowing it wasn’t bullshit. He thought she was charming and amusing.”

  “You can judge what Hannibal Lecter found ’amusing’?” Dr. Doemling said. “Just how do you go about that, Nurse Barney?”

  “By listening to him laugh, Dr. Dumling. They taught us that in LPN school, a lecture called ‘Healing and the Cheerful Outlook.’”

  Either Margot snorted or the aquarium behind her made the noise.

  “Cool it, Barney. Tell us the rest,” Mason said.

  “Yes, sir. Sometimes Dr. Lecter and I would talk late at night, when it got quiet enough. We talked about courses I was taking, and other things. He—”

  “Were you taking some kind of mail-order course in psychology, by any chance?” Doemling had to say

  “No, sir, I don’t consider psychology a science. Neither did Dr. Lecter.” Barney went on quickly, before Mason’s respirator permitted him to utter a rebuke. “I can just repeat what he told me—he could see what she was becoming, she was charming the way a cub is charming, a small cub that will grow up to be—like one of the big cats. One you can’t play with later. She had the cublike earnestness, he said. She had all the weapons, in miniature and growing, and all she knew so far was how to wrestle with other cubs. That amused him.

  “The way it began between them will tell you something. At the beginning he was courteous but he pretty much dismissed her—then as she was leaving another inmate threw some semen in her face. That disturbed Dr. Lecter, embarrassed him. It was the only time I ever saw him upset. She saw it too and tried to use it on him. He admired her moxie, I think.”

  “What was his attitude toward the other inmate—who threw the semen? Did they have any kind of relationship?”

  “Not exactly,” Barney said. “Dr. Lecter just killed him that night.”

  “They were in separate cells?” Doemling asked. “How did he do it?”

  “Three cells apart on opposite sides of the corridor,” Barney said. “In the middle of the night Dr. Lecter talked to him awhile and then told him to swallow his tongue.”

  “So Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter became … friendly?” Mason said.

  “Inside a kind of formal structure,” Barney said. “They exchanged information. Dr. Lecter gave her insight on the serial killer she was hunting, and she paid for it with personal information. Dr. Lecter told me he thought Starling might have too much nerve for her own good, an ’excess of zeal,’ he called it. He thought she might work too close to the edge if she thought her assignment required it. And he said once that she was ‘cursed with taste.’ I don’t know what that means.”

  “Dr. Doemling, does he want to fuck her or kill her, or eat her, or what?” Mason asked, exhausting the possibilities he could see.

  “Probably all three,” Dr. Doemling said. “I wouldn’t want to predict the order in which he wants to perform those acts. That’s the burden of what I can tell you. No matter how the tabloids—and tabloid mentalities—might want to romanticize it, and try to make it Beauty and the Beast, his object is her degradation, her suffering, and her death. He has responded to her twice: when she was insulted with the semen in her face and when she was torn apart in the newspapers after she shot those people. He comes in the guise of a mentor, but it’s the distress that excites him. When the history of Hannibal Lecter is written, and it will be, this will be recorded as a case of Doemling’s avunculism. To draw him she needs to be distressed.”

  A furrow has appeared in the broad rubbery space between Barney’s eyes. “May I put something in here, Mr. Verger, since you asked me?” He did not wait for permission. “In the asylum, Dr. Lecter responded to her when she held on to herself, stood there wiping come off her face and did her job. In the letters he calls her a warrior, and points out that she saved that child in the shoot-out. He admires and respects her courage and her discipline. He says himself he’s got no plans to come around. One thing he does not do is lie.”

  “That’s exactly the kind of tabloid thinking I was talking about,” Doemling said. “Hannibal Lecter does not have emotions like admiration or respect. He feels no warmth or affection. That’s a romantic delusion, and it shows the dangers of a little education.”

  “Dr. Doemling, you don’t remember me, do you?” Barney said. “I was in charge of the ward when you tried to talk to Dr. Lecter, a lot of people tried it, but you’re the one who left crying as I recall. Then he reviewed your book in the American Journal of Psychiatry. I couldn’t blame you if the review made you cry.”

  “That’ll do, Barney,” Mason said. “See about my lunch.”

  “A half-baked autodidact, there’s nothing worse,” Doemling said when Barney was out of the room.

  “You didn’t tell me you’d interviewed Lecter, Doctor,” Mason said.

  “He was catatonic at the time, there was nothing to get.”

  “And that made you cry?”

  “That’s not true.”

  “And you discount what Barney says.”

  “He’s as deceived as the girl.”

  “Barney’s probably hot for Starling himself,” Krendler said.

  Margot laughed to herself, but loudly enough for Krendler to hear.

  “If you want to make Clarice Starling attractive to Dr. Lecter, let him see her distressed,” Doemling said. “Let the damage he sees suggest the damage he could do. Seeing her wounded in any symbolic way will incite him like seeing her play with herself. When the fox hears a rabbit scream, he comes running, but not to help.”



  “I CAN’T deliver Clarice Starling,” Krendler said when Doemling was gone. “I can pretty much tell you where she is and what she’s doing, but I can’t control Bureau assignments. And if the Bureau puts her out there for bait, they’ll cover her, believe me.”

  Krendler pointed his finger into Mason’s darkness to make his point. “You can’t move in on that
action. You couldn’t get outside that coverage and intercept Lecter. The stakeout would spot your people in no time. Second, the Bureau won’t initiate proactive unless he contacts her again or there’s evidence he’s close—he wrote to her before and he never came around. It would take twelve people minimum to stake her out, it’s expensive. You’d be better off if you hadn’t gotten her off the hot seat in the shooting. It’ll be messy, reversing your field and trying to hang her with that again.”

  “Shoulda, woulda, coulda,” Mason said, doing a fair job with the s, all things considered. “Margot, look in the Milan paper, Corriere della Sera, for Saturday, the day after Pazzi was killed, check the first item in the agony column. Read it to us.”

  Margot held the dense print up to the light. “It’s in English, addressed to A. A. Aaron. Says: Turn yourself in to the nearest authorities, enemies are close. Hannah. Who’s Hannah?”

  “That’s the name of the horse Starling had as a kid,” Mason said. “It’s a warning to Lecter from Starling. He told her in his letter how to contact him.”

  Krendler was on his feet. “Goddammit. She couldn’t have known about Florence. If she knows about that, she must know I’ve been showing you the stuff.”

  Mason sighed and wondered if Krendler was smart enough to be a useful politician. “She didn’t know anything. I placed the ad, in La Nazione and Corriere della Sera and in the International Herald-Tribune, to run the day after we moved on Lecter. That way if we missed, he’d think Starling tried to help him. We’d still have a tie to him through Starling.”

  “Nobody picked it up.”

  “No. Except maybe Hannibal Lecter. He may thank her for it—by mail, in person, who knows? Now, listen to me: You’ve still got her mail covered?”

  Krendler nodded. “Absolutely. If he sends her anything, you’ll see it before she does.”

  “Listen carefully to this, Krendler: The way this ad was ordered and paid for, Clarice Starling can never prove she didn’t place it on her own, and that’s a felony. That’s crossing the bright line. You can break her with it, Krendler. You know how much the FBI gives a shit about you when you’re out. You could be dog meat. She won’t even be able to get a concealed weapon permit. Nobody will watch her but me. And Lecter will know she’s out there by herself. We’ll try some other things first.” Mason paused to breathe and then went on. “If they don’t work, we’ll do like Doemling says and ‘distress’ her with this ad—distress her, hell, you can break her in two with it. Save the half with the pussy, is my advice. The other end is too goddamned earnest. Ouch—I didn’t mean to blaspheme.”



  CLARICE STARLING running through falling leaves in a Virginia state park an hour from her house, a favorite place, no sign of any other person in the park on this fall weekday, a much-needed day off. She ran a familiar path in the forested hills beside the Shenandoah River. The air was warmed by the early sun on the hilltops, and in the hollows suddenly cool, sometimes the air was warm on her face and cool on her legs at the same time.

  The earth these days was not quite still beneath Starling as she walked; it seemed steadier when she ran.

  Starling running through the bright day, bright and dancing flares of light through the leaves, the path dappled and in other places striped with the shadows of tree trunks in the low early sun. Ahead of her three deer started, two does and a spike buck clearing the path in a single heart-lifting bound, their raised white flags shining in the gloom of the deep forest as they bounded away. Gladdened, Starling leaped herself.

  Still as a figure in a medieval tapestry, Hannibal Lecter sat among the fallen leaves on the hillside above the river. He could see one hundred fifty yards of the running path, his field glasses proofed against reflection by a homemade cardboard shroud. First he saw the deer start, and bound past him up the hill and then, for the first time in seven years, he saw Clarice Starling whole.

  Below the glasses his face did not change expression, but his nostrils flared with a deep intake of breath as though he could catch her scent at this distance.

  The breath brought him the smell of dry leaves with a hint of cinnamon in them, the molding leaves beneath, and the gently decaying forest mast, a whiff of rabbit pellets from yards away, the deep wild musk of a shredded squirrel skin beneath the leaves, but not the scent of Starling, which he could have identified anywhere. He saw the deer start ahead of her, saw them bounding long after they had left her sight.

  She was in his view for less than a minute, running easily, not fighting the ground. A minimal day pack high on her shoulders with a bottle of water. Backlit, the early light behind her blurring her outline as though she had been dusted with pollen on her skin. Tracking with her, Dr. Lecter’s binoculars picked up a sun flare off the water beyond her that left him seeing spots for minutes. She disappeared as the path sloped down and away, the back of her head the last thing he saw, the ponytail bouncing like the flag of a white-tail deer.

  Dr. Lecter remained still, made no attempt to follow her. He had her image running clearly in his head. She would run in his mind for as long as he chose for her to. His first real sight of her in seven years, not counting tabloid pictures, not counting distant glimpses of a head in a car. He lay back in the leaves with his hands behind his head, watching the thinning foliage of a maple above him quiver against the sky, so dark the sky that it was almost purple. Purple, purple, the bunch of wild muscadines he had picked climbing to this spot were purple, beginning to shrivel from the full, dusty grape, and he ate several, and squeezed some in his palm and licked the juice as a child will lick its hand spread wide. Purple, purple.

  Purple the eggplant in the garden.

  There was no hot water at the high hunting lodge during the middle of the day and Mischa’s nurse carried the beaten copper tub into the kitchen garden for the sun to warm the two-year-old’s bathwater. Mischa sat in the gleaming tub among the vegetables in the warm sun, white cabbage butterflies around her. The water was only deep enough to cover her chubby legs, but her solemn brother, Hannibal, and the big dog were strictly set to watch her while the nurse went inside to get a receiving blanket.

  Hannibal Lecter was to some of the servants a frightening child, frighteningly intense, preternaturally knowing, but he did not frighten the old nurse, who knew her business, and he did not frighten Mischa, who put her star-shaped baby hands flat on his cheeks and laughed into his face. Mischa reached past him and held out her arms to the eggplant, which she loved to stare at in the sun. Her eyes were not maroon like her brother Hannibal’s, but blue, and as she stared at the eggplant, her eyes seemed to draw color from it, to darken with it. Hannibal Lecter knew that the color was her passion. After she was carried back inside and the cook’s helper came grumbling to dump the tub in the garden, Hannibal knelt beside the row of eggplants, the skin of the bath-soap bubbles swarming with reflections, purple and green, until they burst on the tilled soil. He took out his little penknife and cut the stem of an eggplant, polished it with his handkerchief, the vegetable warm from the sun in his arms as he carried it, warm like an animal, to Mischa’s nursery and put it where she could see it. Mischa loved dark purple, loved the color aubergine, as long as she lived.

  Hannibal Lecter closed his eyes to see again the deer bounding ahead of Starling, to see her come bounding down the path, limned golden with the sun behind her, but this was the wrong deer, it was the little deer with the arrow in it pulling, pulling against the rope around its neck as they led it to the axe, the little deer they ate before they ate Mischa, and he could not be still anymore and he got up, his hands and mouth stained with the purple muscadines, his mouth turned down like a Greek mask. He looked after Starling down the path. He took a deep breath through his nose, and took in the cleansing scent of the forest. He stared at the spot where Starling disappeared. Her path seemed lighter than the surrounding woods, as though she had left a bright place behind her.

  He climbed quickly to the ridge and head
ed downhill on the other side toward the parking area of a nearby campsite where he had left his truck. He wanted to be out of the park before Starling returned to her automobile, parked two miles away in the main lot near the ranger booth, now closed for the season.

  It would be at least fifteen minutes before she could run back to her car.

  Dr. Lecter parked beside the Mustang and left his motor running. He had had several opportunities to examine her car in the parking lot of a grocery near her house. It was the state park’s annual discount admittance sticker on the window of Starling’s old Mustang that first alerted Hannibal Lecter to this place, and he had bought maps of the park at once and explored it at his leisure.

  The car was locked, hunkered down over its wide wheels as though it were asleep. Her car amused him. It was at once whimsical and terribly efficient. On the chrome door handle, even bending close, he could smell nothing. He unfolded his flat steel slim jim and slid it down into the door above the lock. Alarm? Yes? No? Click. No.

  Dr. Lecter got into the car, into air that was intensely Clarice Starling. The steering wheel was thick and covered with leather. It had the word MOMO on the hub. He looked at the word with his head tilted like that of a parrot and his lips formed the words “MO MO.” He sat back in the seat, his eyes closed, breathing, his eyebrows raised, as though he were listening to a concert.

  Then, as though it had a mind of its own, the pointed pink tip of his tongue appeared, like a small snake finding its way out of his face. Never altering expression, as though he were unaware of his movements, he leaned forward, found the leather steering wheel by scent, and put around it his curled tongue, cupping with his tongue the finger indentations on the underside of the wheel. He tasted with his mouth the polished two o’clock spot on the wheel where her palm would rest. Then he leaned back in the seat, his tongue back where it lived, and his closed mouth moved as though he savored wine. He took a deep breath and held it while he got out and locked Clarice Starling’s Mustang. He did not exhale, he held her in his mouth and lungs until his old truck was out of the park.

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