Hannibal by Thomas Harris

Dr. Lecter stopped by the passenger side of the Mustang, then changed his mind and went to the driver’s side, possibly intending to give the steering wheel a sniff.

  He looked around him and slid the slim-jim out of his sleeve.

  The van was broadside now. Carlo ready with the rifle. He touched the electric window button. Nothing happened.

  Carlo’s voice, unnaturally calm now in action. “Mogli, il finestrino!”

  Had to be the child safety lock, Mogli fumbled for it.

  Dr. Lecter plunged the slim-jim into the crack beside the window and unlocked the door of Starling’s car. He started to get in.

  With an oath Carlo slid the side door open a crack and raised the rifle, Piero moving out of his way, the van rocking as the rifle cracked.

  The dart flashed in the sunlight and with a small thock went through Dr. Lecter’s starched collar and into his neck. The drug worked fast, a big dose in a critical place. He tried to straighten up, but his knees were going. The package dropped from his hands and rolled under the car. He managed to get a knife out of his pocket and open it as he slumped between the door and the car, the tranquilizer turning his limbs to water. “Mischa,” he said as his vision failed.

  Piero and Tommaso were on him like big cats, pinning him down between the cars until they were sure he was weak.

  Starling, trundling her second grocery cart of the day across the lot, heard the slap of the air rifle and recognized it instantly as a muzzle signature—she ducked by reflex as the people around her shuffled along, oblivious. Hard to tell where it came from. She looked in the direction of her car, saw a man’s legs disappearing into a van and thought it was a mugging.

  She slapped her side where the gun no longer lived and began to run, dodging through the cars toward the van.

  The Lincoln with the elderly driver was back, honking to get in the handicapped spot blocked by the van, drowning out Starling yelling.

  “Hold it! Stop! FBI! Stop or I’ll shoot!” Maybe she could get a look at the plate.

  Piero saw her coming and, moving fast, cut the valve stem off Starling’s front tire on the driver’s side with Dr. Lecter’s knife and dived into the van. The van bumped over a parking median and away toward the exit. She could see the plate. She wrote the number in dirt on the hood of a car with her finger.

  Starling had her keys out. She heard the hissing of air rushing out the valve stem as she got to her car. She could see the top of the van moving toward the exit.

  She tapped on the window of the Lincoln, honking at her now. “Do you have a cell phone? FBI, please, do you have a cell phone?”

  “Go on, Noel,” the woman in the car said, poking the driver’s leg and pinching. “This is just trouble, it’s some kind of trick. Don’t get involved.” The Lincoln pulled away.

  Starling ran for a pay phone and called 911.

  Deputy Mogli drove the speed limit for fifteen blocks.

  Carlo pulled the dart from Dr. Lecter’s neck, relieved when the hole didn’t spurt. There was a hematoma about the size of a quarter under his skin. The injection was supposed to be diffused by a major muscle mass. The son of a bitch might die yet, before the pigs could kill him.

  There was no talking in the van, only the heavy breathing of the men and the quacking of the police scanner under the dash. Dr. Lecter lay on the floor of the van in his fine overcoat, his hat rolled off his sleek head, one spot of bright blood on his collar, elegant as a pheasant in a butcher’s case.

  Mogli pulled into a parking garage and drove up to the third level, only pausing long enough to peel the signs off the sides of the van and change the plates.

  He needn’t have bothered. He laughed to himself when the police scanner picked up the bulletin. The 911 operator, apparently misunderstanding Starling’s description of a “gray van or minibus,” issued an all-points bulletin for a Greyhound bus. It must be said that 911 got all but one digit of the false license plate right.

  “Just like Illinois,” Mogli said.

  “I saw the knife, I was afraid he’d kill himself to get out of what’s coming,” Carlo told Piero and Tommaso. “He’ll wish he had cut his throat.”

  When Starling checked her other tires, she saw the package on the ground beneath her car.

  A three-hundred-twenty-five-dollar bottle of Château d’Yquem, and the note, written in that familiar hand: Happy Birthday, Clarice.

  It was then that she understood what she had seen.



  STARLING HAD the numbers that she needed in her mind. Drive ten blocks home to her own phone? No, back to the pay phone, taking the sticky receiver from a young woman, apologizing, putting in quarters, the woman summoning a grocery store guard.

  Starling called the reactive squad at Washington Field Office, Buzzard’s Point.

  They knew all about Starling on the squad where she had served so long, and transferred her to Clint Pearsall’s office, she digging for more quarters and dealing with the grocery store security guard at the same time, the guard asking again and again for ID.

  At last Pearsall’s familiar voice on the phone.

  “Mr. Pearsall, I saw three men, maybe four, kidnap Hannibal Lecter in the Safeway parking lot about five minutes ago. They cut my tire, I couldn’t pursue.”

  “Is this the bus business, the police APB?”

  “I don’t know about any bus. This was a gray van, handicap plate.” Starling gave the number.

  “How do you know it was Lecter?”

  “He … left a gift for me, it was under my car.”

  “I see …” Pearsall paused and Starling jumped into the silence.

  “Mr. Pearsall, you know Mason Verger’s behind it. It has to be. Nobody else would do it. He’s a sadist, he’ll torture Dr. Lecter to death and he’ll want to watch. We need to put out a BOLO on all Verger’s vehicles and get the U.S. Attorney in Baltimore started on a warrant to search his place.”

  “Starling … Jesus, Starling. Look, I’ll ask you one time. Are you sure about what you saw? Think about it a second. Think about every good thing you ever did here. Think about what you swore. There’s no going back from here. What did you see?”

  What should I say—I’m not a hysteric? That’s the first thing hysterics say. She saw in the instant how far she had fallen in Pearsall’s trust, and of what cheap material his trust was made.

  “I saw three men, maybe four, kidnap a man on the parking lot at Safeway At the scene I found a gift from Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a bottle of Château d’Yquem wine from my birth year with a note in his handwriting. I have described the vehicle. I am reporting it to you, Clint Pearsall, SAC Buzzard’s Point.”

  “I’m going forward with it as kidnapping, Starling.”

  “I’m coming over there. I could be deputized and go with the reactive squad.”

  “Don’t come, I couldn’t let you in.”

  Too bad Starling didn’t get away before the Arlington police arrived in the parking lot. It took fifteen minutes to correct the all-points bulletin on the vehicle. A thick woman officer in heavy patent-leather shoes took Starling’s statement. The woman’s ticket book and radio, Mace and gun and handcuffs, stood out at angles from her big behind and the vents of her jacket gaped. The officer could not decide whether to enter Starling’s place of employment as the FBI, or to put “None.” When Starling angered her by anticipating her questions, the officer slowed down. When Starling pointed out the tracks of mud and snow tires where the van bumped over the divider, nobody responding had a camera. She showed the officers how to use hers.

  Over and over in her head as she repeated her answers, Starling told herself, I should have pursued, I should have pursued. I should have snatched his ass out of that Lincoln and pursued.



  KRENDLER CAUGHT the first squeal on the kidnapping. He called around to his sources and then he got Mason on a secure phone.

  “Starling saw the snatch, we hadn’t counted on that. She
’s making a flap at the Washington Field Office. Recommending a warrant to search your place.”

  “Krendler …” Mason waited for breath, or perhaps he was exasperated, Krendler couldn’t tell. “I’ve already registered complaints with the local authorities, the sheriff and the U.S. Attorney’s office that Starling was harassing me, calling late at night with incoherent threats.”

  “Has she?”

  “Of course not, but she can’t prove she didn’t and it muddies the water. Now, I can head off a warrant in this county and in this state. But I want you to call the U.S. Attorney over here and remind him this hysterical bitch is after me. I can take care of the locals myself, believe me.”



  FREE AT last from the police, Starling changed her tire and drove home to her own phones and computer. She sorely missed her FBI cell phone and had not yet replaced it.

  There was a message from Mapp on the answering machine: “Starling, season the pot roast and put it in the slow cooker. Do not put the vegetables in yet. Remember what happened last time. I’ll be in a damn exclusion hearing until about five.”

  Starling fired up her laptop and tried to call up the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program file on Lecter, but was denied admission not only to VICAP, but the entire FBI computer net. She did not have as much access as the most rural constable in America.

  The telephone rang.

  It was Clint Pearsall. “Starling, have you harassed Mason Verger on the phone?”

  “Never, I swear.”

  “He claims you have. He’s invited the sheriff up there to tour his property, actually requested him to come do it, and they’re on the way to look around now. So there’s no warrant and no warrant forthcoming. We haven’t been able to find any other witnesses to the kidnapping. Only you.”

  “There was a white Lincoln with an old couple in it. Mr. Pearsall, how about checking the credit card purchases at Safeway just before it happened. Those sales have a time stamp.”

  “We’ll get to that, but it’ll …”

  “… it’ll take time,” Starling finished.


  “Yes, sir?”

  “Between us, I’ll keep you posted on the big stuff. But you stay out of it. You’re not a law officer while you’re on suspension, and you’re not supposed to have information. You’re Joe Blow.”

  “Yes, sir, I know.”

  What do you look at while you’re making up your mind? Ours is not a reflective culture, we do not raise our eyes up to the hills. Most of the time we decide the critical things while looking at the linoleum floor of an institutional corridor, or whispering hurriedly in a waiting room with a television blatting nonsense.

  Starling, seeking something, anything, walked through the kitchen into the quiet and order of Mapp’s side of the duplex. She looked at the photograph of Mapp’s fierce little grandmother, brewer of the tea. She looked at Grandmother Mapp’s insurance policy framed on the wall. Mapp’s side looked like Mapp lived there.

  Starling went back to her side. It looked to her like nobody lived there. What did she have framed? Her diploma from the FBI Academy. No photograph of her parents survived. She had been without them for a long time and she had them only in her mind. Sometimes, in the flavors of breakfast or in a scent, a scrap of conversation, a homely expression overheard, she felt their hands on her: She felt it strongest in her sense of right and wrong.

  Who the hell was she? Who had ever recognized her?

  You are a warrior, Clarice. You can be as strong as you wish to be.

  Starling could understand Mason wanting to kill Hannibal Lecter. If he had done it himself or had hired it done, she could have stood it; Mason had a grievance.

  But she could not abide the thought of Dr. Lecter tortured to death; she shied from it as she had from the slaughter of the lambs and the horses so long ago.

  You are a warrior, Clarice.

  Almost as ugly as the act itself was the fact that Mason would do this with the tacit agreement of men sworn to uphold the law. It is the way of the world.

  With this thought, she made a simple decision:

  The world will not be this way within the reach of my arm.

  She found herself in her closet, on a stool, reaching high.

  She brought down the box John Brigham’s attorney had delivered to her in the fall. It seemed forever ago.

  There is much tradition and mystique in the bequest of personal weapons to a surviving comrade in arms. It has to do with a continuation of values past individual mortality.

  People living in a time made safe for them by others may find this difficult to understand.

  The box John Brigham’s guns came in was a gift in itself He must have bought it in the Orient when he was a Marine. A mahogany box with the lid inlaid in mother of pearl. The weapons were pure Brigham, well worn, well maintained and immaculately clean. An Ml9llA1 Colt .45 pistol, and a Safari Arms cut-down version of the .45 for concealed carry, a boot dagger with one serrated edge. Starling had her own leather. John Brigham’s old FBI badge was mounted on a mahogany plaque. His DEA badge was in the box loose.

  Starling pried the FBI badge off the plaque and put it into her pocket. The .45 went in her Yaqui slide behind her hip, covered by her jacket.

  The short .45 went on one ankle, the knife on the other, inside her boots. She took her diploma out of the frame and folded it for her pocket. In the dark somebody might mistake it for a warrant. As she creased the heavy paper, she knew she was not quite herself, and she was glad.

  Another three minutes at her laptop. From the Mapquest Web site she printed out a large-scale map of the Muskrat Farm and the national forest around it. For a moment she looked at Mason’s meat kingdom, traced its boundaries with her finger.

  The Mustang’s big pipes blew the dead grass flat as she pulled out of her driveway to call on Mason Verger.



  A HUSH over Muskrat Farm like the quiet of the old Sabbath. Mason excited, terribly proud that he could bring this off. Privately, he compared his accomplishment to the discovery of radium.

  Mason’s illustrated science text was the best-remembered of his schoolbooks; it was the only book tall enough to allow him to masturbate in class. He often looked at an illustration of Madame Curie while doing this, and he thought of her now and the tons of pitchblende she boiled to get the radium. Her efforts were very much like his, he thought.

  Mason imagined Dr. Lecter, the product of all his searching and expenditure, glowing in the dark like the vial in Madame Curie’s laboratory. He imagined the pigs that would eat him going to sleep afterward in the woods, their bellies glowing like lightbulbs.

  It was Friday evening, nearly dark. The maintenance crews were gone. None of the workers had seen the van arrive, as it did not come by the main gate, but by the fire road through the national forest that served as Mason’s service road. The sheriff and his crew had completed their cursory search and were well away before the van arrived at the barn. Now the main gate was manned and only a trusted skeleton crew remained at Muskrat:

  Cordell was at his station in the playroom—overnight relief for Cordell would drive in at midnight. Margot and Deputy Mogli, still wearing his badge from cozening the sheriff, were with Mason, and the crew of professional kidnappers were busy in the barn.

  By the end of Sunday it would all be done, the evidence burnt or roiling in the bowels of the sixteen swine. Mason thought he might feed the eel some delicacy from Dr. Lecter, his nose perhaps. Then for years to come Mason could watch the ferocious ribbon, ever circling in its figure eight, and know that the infinity sign it made stood for Lecter dead forever, dead forever.

  At the same time, Mason knew that it is dangerous to get exactly what you want. What would he do after he had killed Dr. Lecter? He could wreck some foster homes, and torment some children. He could drink martinis made with tears. But where was the hard-core fun coming from?

hat a fool he would be to dilute this ecstatic time with fears about the future. He waited for the tiny spray against his eye, waited for his goggle to clear, then puffed his breath into a tube switch: Anytime he liked he could turn on his video monitor and see his prize …



  THE SMELL of a coal fire in the tack room of Mason’s barn and the resident smells of animals and men. Firelight on the trotting horse Fleet Shadow’s long skull, empty as Providence, watching it all in blinders.

  Red coals in the farrier’s furnace flare and brighten with the hiss of the bellows as Carlo heats a strap of iron, already cherry-red.

  Dr. Hannibal Lecter hangs on the wall beneath the horse skull like a terrible altarpiece. His arms are outstretched straight from his shoulders on either side, well bound with rope to a singletree, a thick oak crosspiece from the pony cart harness. The singletree runs across the doctor’s back like a yoke and is fastened to the wall with a shackle of Carlo’s manufacture. His legs do not reach the floor. His legs are bound over his trousers like roasts rolled and tied, with many spaced coils, each coil knotted. No chain or handcuffs are used—nothing metal that would damage the teeth of the pigs and discourage them.

  When the iron in the furnace reaches white heat, Carlo brings it to the anvil with his tongs and swings his hammer, beating the bright strap into a shackle, red sparks flying in the semidark, bouncing off his chest, bouncing on the hanging figure of Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

  Mason’s TV camera, odd among the ancient tools, peers at Dr. Lecter from its spidery metal tripod. On the workbench is a monitor, dark now.

  Carlo heats the shackle again, and hurries with it outside to attach it to the forklift while it is glowing and pliable. His hammer echoes in the vast height of the barn, the blow and its echo, BANG-bang, BANG-bang.

  A scratchy chirping from the loft as Piero finds a re-broadcast of the soccer game on shortwave. His Cagliari team is playing hated Juventus in Rome.

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