Hannibal by Thomas Harris


  “Grace? Yes.” Krendler closed his eyes. “Father, we thank Thee for the blessings we are about to receive and we dedicate them to Thy service. Starling is a big girl to be fucking her daddy even if she is southern. Please forgive her for that and bring her to my service. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

  Starling noted that Dr. Lecter kept his eyes piously closed throughout the prayer.

  She felt quick and calm. “Paul, I have to tell you, the Apostle Paul, couldn’t have done better. He hated women too. He should have been named Appall.”

  “You really blew it this time, Starling. You’ll never be reinstated.”

  “Was that a job offer you worked into the blessing? I never saw such tact.”

  “I’m going to Congress.” Krendler smiled unpleasantly. “Come around the campaign headquarters, I might find something for you to do. You could be an office girl. Can you type and file?”

  “Certainly.”

  “Can you take dictation?”

  “I use voice-recognition software,” Starling said. She continued in a judicious tone. “If you’ll excuse me for talking shop at the table, you aren’t fast enough to steal in Congress. You can’t make up for a second-rate intelligence just by playing dirty. You’d last longer as a big crook’s gofer.”

  “Don’t wait on us, Mr. Krendler,” Dr. Lecter urged. “Have some of your broth while it’s hot.” He raised the covered potager and straw to Krendler’s lips.

  Krendler made a face. “That soup’s not very good.”

  “Actually, it’s more of a parsley and thyme infusion,” the doctor said, “and more for our sake than yours. Have another few swallows, and let it circulate.”

  Starling apparently was weighing an issue, using her palms like the Scales of Justice. “You know, Mr. Krendler, every time you ever leered at me, I had the nagging feeling I had done something to deserve it.” She moved her palms up and down judiciously, a motion similar to passing a Slinky back and forth. “I didn’t deserve it. Every time you wrote something negative in my personnel folder, I resented it, but still I searched myself. I doubted myself for a moment, and tried to scratch this tiny itch that said Daddy knows best.

  “You don’t know best, Mr. Krendler. In fact, you don’t know anything.” Starling had a sip of her splendid white Burgundy and said to Dr. Lecter, “I love this. But I think we should take it off the ice.” She turned again, attentive hostess, to her guest. “You are forever an … an oaf, and beneath notice,” she said in a pleasant tone. “And that’s enough about you at this lovely table. Since you are Dr. Lecter’s guest, I hope you enjoy the meal.”

  “Who are you anyway?” Krendler said. “You’re not Starling. You’ve got the spot on your face, but you’re not Starling.”

  Dr. Lecter added shallots to his hot browned butter and at the instant their perfume rose, he put in minced caper berries. He set the saucepan off the fire, and set his sauté pan on the heat. From the sideboard he took a large crystal bowl of ice cold water and a silver salver and put them beside Paul Krendler.

  “I had some plans for that smart mouth,” Krendler said, “but I’d never hire you now. Who gave you an appointment anyway?”

  “I don’t expect you to change your attitude entirely as the other Paul did, Mr. Krendler,” Dr. Lecter said. “You are not on the road to Damascus, or even on the road to the Verger helicopter.”

  Dr. Lecter took off Krendler’s runner’s headband as you would remove the rubber band from a tin of caviar.

  “All we ask is that you keep an open mind.” Carefully, using both hands, Dr. Lecter lifted off the top of Krendler’s head, put it on the salver and removed it to the sideboard. Hardly a drop of blood fell from the clean incision, the major blood vessels having been tied and the others neatly sealed under a local anesthetic, and the skull sawn around in the kitchen a half-hour before the meal.

  Dr. Lecter’s method in removing the top of Krendler’s skull was as old as Egyptian medicine, except that he had the advantage of an autopsy saw with a cranial blade, a skull key and better anesthetics. The brain itself feels no pain.

  The pinky-gray dome of Krendler’s brain was visible above his truncated skull.

  Standing over Krendler with an instrument resembling a tonsil spoon, Dr. Lecter removed a slice of Krendler’s prefrontal lobe, then another, until he had four. Krendler’s eyes looked up as though he were following what was going on. Dr. Lecter placed the slices in the bowl of ice water, the water acidulated with the juice of a lemon, in order to firm them.

  “Would you like to swing on a star,” Krendler sang abruptly. “Carry moonbeams home in a jar.”

  In classic cuisine, brains are soaked and then pressed and chilled overnight to firm them. In dealing with the item absolutely fresh, the challenge is to prevent the material from simply disintegrating into a handful of lumpy gelatin.

  With splendid dexterity, the doctor brought the firmed slices to a plate, dredged them lightly in seasoned flour, and then in fresh brioche crumbs.

  He grated a fresh black truffle into his sauce and finished it with a squeeze of lemon juice.

  Quickly he sautéed the slices until they were just brown on each side.

  “Smells great!” Krendler said.

  Dr. Lecter placed the browned brains on broad croutons on the warmed plates, and dressed them with the sauce and truffle slices. A garnish of parsley and whole caper berries with their stems, and a single nasturtium blossom on watercress to achieve a little height, completed his presentation.

  “How is it?” Krendler asked, once again behind the flowers and speaking immoderately loud, as persons with lobotomies are prone to do.

  “Really excellent,” Starling said. “I’ve never had caper berries before.”

  Dr. Lecter found the shine of butter sauce on her lip intensely moving.

  Krendler sang behind the greens, mostly day-care songs, and he invited requests.

  Oblivious to him, Dr. Lecter and Starling discussed Mischa. Starling knew of the doctor’s sister’s fate from their conversations about loss, but now the doctor spoke in a hopeful way about her possible return. It did not seem unreasonable to Starling on this evening that Mischa might return.

  She expressed the hope that she might meet Mischa.

  “You could never answer the phone in my office. You sound like a cornbread country cunt,” Krendler yelled through the flowers.

  “See if I sound like Oliver Twist when I ask for MORE,” Starling replied, releasing in Dr. Lecter glee he could scarcely contain.

  A second helping consumed most of the frontal lobe, back nearly to the premotor cortex. Krendler was reduced to irrelevant observations about things in his immediate vision and the tuneless recitation behind the flowers of a lengthy lewd verse called “Shine.”

  Absorbed in their talk, Starling and Lecter were no more disturbed than they would have been by the singing of happy birthday at another table in a restaurant, but when Krendler’s volume became intrusive, Dr. Lecter retrieved his crossbow from a corner.

  “I want you to listen to the sound of this stringed instrument, Clarice.”

  He waited for a moment of silence from Krendler and shot a bolt across the table through the tall flowers.

  “That particular frequency of the crossbow string, should you hear it again in any context, means only your complete freedom and peace and self-sufficiency,” Dr. Lecter said.

  The feathers and part of the shaft remained on the visible side of the flower arrangement and moved at more or less the pace of a baton directing a heart. Krendler’s voice stopped at once and in a few beats the baton stopped too.

  “It’s about a D below middle C?” Starling said.

  “Exactly.”

  A moment later Krendler made a gargling sound behind the flowers. It was only a spasm in his voice box caused by the increasing acidity of his blood, he being newly dead.

  “Let’s have our next course,” the doctor said, “a little sorbet to refresh our palates before the quail. No, no,
don’t get up. Mr. Krendler will help me clear, if you’ll excuse him.”

  It was all quickly done. Behind the screen of the flowers, Dr. Lecter simply scraped the plates into Krendler’s skull and stacked them in his lap. He replaced the top of Krendler’s head and, picking up the rope attached to a dolly beneath his chair, towed him away to the kitchen.

  There Dr. Lecter rewound his crossbow. Conveniently it used the same battery pack as his autopsy saw.

  The quails’ skins were crisp and they were stuffed with foie gras. Dr. Lecter talked about Henry VIII as composer and Starling told him about computer-aided design in engine sounds, the replication of pleasing frequencies.

  Dessert would be in the drawing room, Dr. Lecter announced.

  CHAPTER

  101

  A SOUFFLÉ and glasses of Château d’Yquem before the fire in the drawing room, coffee ready on a side table at Starling’s elbow.

  Fire dancing in the golden wine, its perfume over the deep tones of the burning log.

  They talked about teacups and time, and the rule of disorder.

  “And so I came to believe,” Dr. Lecter was saying, “that there had to be a place in the world for Mischa, a prime place vacated for her, and I came to think, Clarice, that the best place in the world was yours.”

  The firelight did not plumb the depths of her bodice as satisfactorily as the candlelight had done, but it was wonderful playing on the bones of her face.

  She considered a moment. “Let me ask you this, Dr. Lecter. If a prime place in the world is required for Mischa, and I’m not saying it isn’t, what’s the matter with your place? It’s well occupied and I know you would never deny her. She and I could be like sisters. And if, as you say, there’s room in me for my father, why is there not room in you for Mischa?”

  Dr. Lecter seemed pleased, whether with the idea, or with Starling’s resource is impossible to say. Perhaps he felt a vague concern that he had built better than he knew.

  When she replaced her glass on the table beside her, she pushed off her coffee cup and it shattered on the hearth. She did not look down at it.

  Dr. Lecter watched the shards, and they were still.

  “I don’t think you have to make up your mind right this minute,” Starling said. Her eyes and the cabochons shone in the firelight. A sigh from the fire, the warmth of the fire through her gown, and there came to Starling a passing memory—Dr. Lecter, so long ago, asking Senator Martin if she breast-fed her daughter. A jeweled movement turning in Starling’s unnatural calm: For an instant many windows in her mind aligned and she saw far across her own experience. She said, “Hannibal Lecter, did your mother feed you at her breast?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did you ever feel that you had to relinquish the breast to Mischa? Did you ever feel you were required to give it up for her?”

  A beat. “I don’t recall that, Clarice. If I gave it up, I did it gladly.”

  Clarice Starling reached her cupped hand into the deep neckline of her gown and freed her breast, quickly peaky in the open air. “You don’t have to give up this one,” she said. Looking always into his eyes, with her trigger finger she took warm Château d’Yquem from her mouth and a thick sweet drop suspended from her nipple like a golden cabochon and trembled with her breathing.

  He came swiftly from his chair to her, went on a knee before her chair, and bent to her coral and cream in the firelight his dark sleek head.

  CHAPTER

  102

  BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, three years later:

  Barney and Lillian Hersh walked near the Obelisk on the Avenida 9 de Julio in the early evening. Ms. Hersh is a lecturer at London University, on sabbatical. She and Barney met in the anthropology museum in Mexico City. They like each other and have been traveling together two weeks, trying it a day at a time, and it is getting to be more and more fun. They are not getting tired of one another.

  They had arrived in Buenos Aires too late in the afternoon to go to the Museo Nacional, where a Vermeer was on loan. Barney’s mission to see every Vermeer in the world amused Lillian Hersh and it did not get in the way of a good time. He had seen a quarter of the Vermeers already, and there were plenty to go.

  They were looking for a pleasant café where they could eat outside.

  Limousines were backed up at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires’ spectacular opera house. They stopped to watch the opera lovers go in.

  Tamerlane was playing with an excellent cast, and a Buenos Aires opening night crowd is worth seeing.

  “Barney, you up for the opera? I think you’d like it. I’ll spring.”

  It amused him when she used American slang. “If you’ll walk me through it, I’ll spring,” Barney said. “You think they’ll let us in?”

  At that moment a Mercedes Maybach, deep blue and silver, whispered up to the curb. A doorman hurried to open the car.

  A man, slender and elegant in white tie, got out and handed out a woman. The sight of her raised an admiring murmur in the crowd around the entrance. Her hair was a shapely platinum helmet and she wore a soft sheath of coral frosted with an overlayer of tulle. Emeralds flashed green at her throat. Barney saw her only briefly, through the heads of the crowd, and she and her gentleman were swept inside.

  Barney saw the man better. His head was sleek as an otter and his nose had an imperious arch like that of Perón. His carriage made him seem taller than he was.

  “Barney? Oh, Barney,” Lillian was saying, “when you come back to yourself, if you ever do, tell me if you’d like to go to the opera. If they’ll let us in in mufti. There, I said it, even if it’s not precisely apt—I’ve always wanted to say I was in mufti.”

  When Barney did not ask what mufti was, she glanced at him sidelong. He always asked everything.

  “Yes,” Barney said absently. “I’ll spring.” Barney had plenty of money. He was careful with it, but not cheap. Still, the only tickets available were in the rafters among the students.

  Anticipating the altitude of his seats, he rented field glasses in the lobby.

  The enormous theater is a mix of Italian Renaissance, Greek and French styles, lavish with brass and gilt and red plush. Jewels winked in the crowd like flashbulbs at a ball game.

  Lillian explained the plot before the overture began, talking in his ear quietly.

  Just before the houselights went down, sweeping the house from the cheap seats, Barney found them, the platinum blond lady and her escort. They had just come through the gold curtains into their ornate box beside the stage. The emeralds at her throat glittered in the brilliant houselights as she took her seat.

  Barney had only glimpsed her right profile as she entered the opera. He could see the left one now.

  The students around them, veterans of the high-altitude seats, had brought all manner of viewing aids. One student had a powerful spotting scope so long that it disturbed the hair of the person in front of him. Barney traded glasses with him to look at the distant box. It was hard to find the box again in the long tube’s limited field of vision, but when he found it, the couple was startlingly close.

  The woman’s cheek had a beauty spot on it, in the position the French call “Courage.” Her eyes swept over the house, swept over his section and moved on. She seemed animated and in expert control of her coral mouth. She leaned to her escort and said something, and they laughed together. She put her hand on his hand and held his thumb.

  “Starling,” Barney said under his breath.

  “What?” Lillian whispered.

  Barney had a lot of trouble following the first act of the opera. As soon as the lights came up for the first intermission, he raised his glass to the box again. The gentleman took a champagne flute from a waiter’s tray and handed it to the lady, and took a glass himself. Barney zoomed in on his profile, the shape of his ears.

  He traced the length of the woman’s exposed arms. They were bare and unmarked and had muscle tone, in his experienced eye.

  As Barney watched, the g
entleman’s head turned as though to catch a distant sound, turned in Barney’s direction. The gentleman raised opera glasses to his eyes. Barney could have sworn the glasses were aimed at him. He held his program in front of his face and hunkered down in his seat to try to be about average height.

  “Lillian,” he said. “I want you to do me a great big favor.”

  “Um,” she said. “If it’s like some of the others, I’d better hear it first.”

  “We’re leaving when the lights go down. Fly with me to Rio tonight. No questions asked.”

  The Vermeer in Buenos Aires is the only one Barney never saw.

  CHAPTER

  103

  FOLLOW THIS handsome couple from the opera? All right, but very carefully …

  At the millennium, Buenos Aires is possessed by the tango and the night has a pulse. The Mercedes, windows down to let in the music from the dance clubs, purrs through the Recoleta district to the Avenida Alvear and disappears into the courtyard of an exquisite Beaux Arts building near the French Embassy

  The air is soft and a late supper is laid on the terrace of the top floor, but the servants are gone.

  Morale is high among the servants in this house, but there is an iron discipline among them. They are forbidden to enter the top floor of the mansion before noon. Or after service of the first course at dinner.

  Dr. Lecter and Clarice Starling often talk at dinner in languages other than Starling’s native English. She had college French and Spanish to build on, and she has found she has a good ear. They speak Italian a lot at meal-times; she finds a curious freedom in the visual nuances of the language.

  Sometimes our couple dances at dinnertime. Sometimes they do not finish dinner.

  Their relationship has a great deal to do with the penetration of Clarice Starling, which she avidly welcomes and encourages. It has much to do with the envelopment of Hannibal Lecter, far beyond the bounds of his experience. It is possible that Clarice Starling could frighten him. Sex is a splendid structure they add to every day.

 
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