Hannibal by Thomas Harris


  Now I will show you a quality you have that will help you: You are not blinded by tears, you have the onions to read on.

  Here’s an exercise you might find useful. I want you physically to do this with me:

  Do you have a black iron skillet? You are a southern mountain girl, I can’t imagine you would not. Put it on the kitchen table. Turn on the overhead lights.

  Mapp had inherited her grandmother’s skillet and used it often. It had a glassy black surface that no soap ever touched. Starling put it in front of her on the table.

  Look into the skillet, Clarice. Lean over it and look down. If this were your mother’s skillet, and it well may be, it would hold among its molecules the vibrations of all the conversations ever held in its presence. All the exchanges, the petty irritations, the deadly revelations, the flat announcements of disaster, the grunts and poetry of love.

  Sit down at the table, Clarice. Look into the skillet. If it is well cured, it’s a black pool, isn’t it? It’s like looking down a well. Your detailed reflection is not in the bottom, but you loom there, don’t you? The light behind you, there you are in blackface, with a corona like your hair on fire.

  We are elaborations of carbon, Clarice. You and the skillet and Daddy dead in the ground, cold as the skillet. It’s all still there. Listen. How did they really sound, and live—your struggling parents. The concrete memories, not the imagi that swell your heart.

  Why was your father not a deputy sheriff, in tight with the courthouse crowd? Why did your mother clean motels to keep you, even if she failed to keep you all together until you were grown?

  What is your most vivid memory of the kitchen? Not the hospital, the kitchen.

  My mother washing the blood out of my father’s hat.

  What is your best memory in the kitchen?

  My father peeling oranges with his old pocketknife with the tip broken off, and passing the sections to us.

  Your father, Clarice, was a night watchman. Your mother was a chambermaid.

  Was a big federal career your hope or theirs? How much would your father bend to get along in a stale bureaucracy? How many buttocks would he kiss? Did you ever in your life see him toady or fawn?

  Have your supervisors demonstrated any values, Clarice? How about your parents, did they demonstrate any? If so, are those values the same?

  Look into the honest iron and tell me. Have you failed your dead family? Would they want you to suck up? What was their view on fortitude? You can be as strong as you wish to be.

  You are a warrior, Clarice. The enemy is dead, the baby safe. You are a warrior.

  The most stable elements, Clarice, appear in the middle of the periodic table, roughly between iron and silver.

  Between iron and silver. I think that is appropriate for you.

  Hannibal Lecter

  P.S. You still owe me some information, you know. Tell me if you still wake up hearing the lambs. On any Sunday place an ad in the agony column of the national edition of the Times, the International Herald-Tribune, and the China Mail. Address it to A. A. Aaron so it will be first, and sign it Hannah.

  Reading, Starling heard the words in the same voice that had mocked her and pierced her, probed her life and enlightened her in the maximum security ward of the insane asylum, when she had to trade the quick of her life to Hannibal Lecter in exchange for his vital knowledge of Buffalo Bill. The metallic rasp of that seldom-used voice still sounded in her dreams.

  There was a new spiderweb in the corner of the kitchen ceiling. Starling stared at it while her thoughts tumbled. Glad and sorry, sorry and glad. Glad of the help, glad she saw a way to heal. Glad and sorry that Dr. Lecter’s remailing service in Los Angeles must be hiring cheap help—they had used a postal meter this time. Jack Crawford would be delighted with the letter, and so would the postal authorities and the lab.

  CHAPTER

  6

  THE CHAMBER where Mason spends his life is quiet, but it has its own soft pulse, the hiss and sigh of the respirator that finds him breath. It is dark except for the glow of the big aquarium where an exotic eel turns and turns in an endless figure eight, its cast shadow moving like a ribbon over the room.

  Mason’s plaited hair lies in a thick coil on the respirator shell covering his chest on the elevated bed. A device of tubes, like panpipes, is suspended before him.

  Mason’s long tongue slides out from between his teeth. He scrolls his tongue around the end pipe and puffs with the next pulse of the respirator.

  Instantly a voice responds from a speaker on the wall. “Yes, sir.”

  “The Tattler.” The initial t’s are lost, but the voice is deep and resonant, a radio voice.

  “Page one has—”

  “Don’t read to me. Put it up on the elmo.” The d and m and the p are lost from Mason’s speech.

  The large screen of an elevated monitor crackles. Its blue-green glow goes pink as the red masthead of the Tattler appears.

  “DEATH ANGEL: CLARICE STARLING, THE FBI’S KILLING MACHINE,” Mason reads, through three slow breaths of his respirator. He can zoom on the pictures.

  Only one of his arms is out from under the covers of his bed. He has some movement in the hand. Like a pale spider crab the hand moves, more by the motion of the fingers than the power of his wasted arm. Since Mason cannot turn his head much to see, the index and middle fingers feel ahead like antennae as the thumb, ring and little fingers scuttle the hand along. It finds the remote, where he can zoom and turn the pages.

  Mason reads slowly. The goggle over his single eye makes a tiny hiss twice a minute as it sprays moisture on his lidless eyeball, and often fogs the lens. It takes him twenty minutes to get through the main article and the sidebar.

  “Put up the X ray,” he said when he had finished.

  It took a moment. The large sheet of X ray film required a light table to show up well on the monitor. Here was a human hand, apparently damaged. Here was another exposure, showing the hand and the entire arm. A pointer pasted on the X ray showed an old fracture in the humerus about halfway between the elbow and the shoulder.

  Mason looked at it through many breaths. “Put up the letter,” he said at last.

  Fine copperplate appeared on the screen, the handwriting absurdly large in magnification.

  Dear Clarice, Mason read, I have followed with enthusiasm the course of your disgrace and public shaming…. The very rhythm of the voice excited in him old thoughts that spun him, spun his bed, spun his room, tore the scabs off his unspeakable dreams, raced his heart ahead of his breath. The machine sensed his excitement and filled his lungs ever faster.

  He read it all, at his painful rate, reading over the moving machine, like reading on horseback. Mason could not close his eye, but when he had finished reading, his mind went away from behind his eye for a while to think. The breathing machine slowed down. Then he puffed on his pipe.

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Punch up Congressman Vellmore. Bring me the headphone. Turn off the speakerphone.

  “Clarice Starling,” he said to himself with the next breath the machine permitted him. The name has no plosive sounds and he managed it very well. None of the sounds was lost. While he waited for the telephone, he dozed a moment, the shadow of the eel crawling over his sheet and his face and his coiled hair.

  CHAPTER

  7

  BUZZARD’S POINT, the FBI’s field office for Washington and the District of Columbia, is named for a gathering of vultures at a Civil War hospital on the site.

  The gathering today is of middle-management officials of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI to discuss Clarice Starling’s fate.

  Starling stood alone on the thick carpet of her boss’s office. She could hear her pulse thump beneath the bandage around her head. Over her pulse she heard the voices of the men, muffled by the frosted-glass door of an adjoining conference room.

  The great seal of the FBI with its motto, “Fidelity,
Bravery, Integrity,” is rendered handsomely in gold leaf on the glass.

  The voices behind the seal rose and fell with some passion; Starling could hear her name when no other word was clear.

  The office has a fine view across the yacht basin to Fort McNair, where the accused Lincoln assassination conspirators were hanged.

  Starling flashed on photos she had seen of Mary Surratt, walking past her own casket and mounting the gallows at Fort McNair, standing hooded on the trap, her skirts tied around her legs to prevent immodesty as she dropped through to the loud crunch and the dark.

  Next door, Starling heard the chairs scrape back as the men got to their feet. They were filing into this office now. Some of the faces she recognized. Jesus, there was Noonan, the A/DIC over the whole investigation division.

  And there was her nemesis, Paul Krendler from Justice, with his long neck and his round ears set high on his head like the ears of a hyena. Krendler was a climber, the gray eminence at the shoulder of the Inspector General. Since she caught the serial killer Buffalo Bill ahead of him in a celebrated case seven years ago, he had dripped poison into her personnel file at every opportunity, and whispered close to the ears of the Career Board.

  None of these men had ever been on the line with her, served a warrant with her, been shot at with her or combed the glass splinters out of their hair with her.

  The men did not look at her until they all looked at once, the way a sidling pack turns its attention suddenly on the cripple in the herd.

  “Have a chair, Agent Starling.” Her boss, Special Agent Clint Pearsall, rubbed his thick wrist as though his watch hurt him.

  Without meeting her eyes, he gestured toward an armchair facing the windows. The chair in an interrogation is not the place of honor.

  The seven men remained standing, their silhouettes black against the bright windows. Starling could not see their faces now, but below the glare, she could see their legs and feet. Five were wearing the thick-soled tasseled loafers favored by country slicksters who have made it to Washington. A pair of Thom McAn wing tips with Corfam soles and some Florsheim wing tips rounded out the seven. A smell in the air of shoe polish warmed by hot feet.

  “In case you don’t know everybody, Agent Starling, this is Assistant Director Noonan, I’m sure you know who he is; this is John Eldredge from DEA, Bob Sneed, BATF, Benny Holcomb is assistant to the mayor and Larkin Wainwright is an examiner from our Office of Professional Responsibility,” Pearsall said. “Paul Krendler—you know Paul—came over unofficially from the Inspector General’s Office at Justice. Paul’s here as a favor to us, he’s here and he’s not here, just to help us head off trouble, if you follow me.”

  Starling knew what the saying was in the service: a federal examiner is someone who arrives at the battlefield after the battle is over and bayonets the wounded.

  The heads of some of the silhouettes bobbed in greeting. The men craned their necks and considered the young woman they were gathered over. For a few beats, nobody spoke.

  Bob Sneed broke the silence. Starling remembered him as the BATF spin doctor who tried to deodorize the Branch Davidian disaster at Waco. He was a crony of Krendler’s and considered a climber.

  “Agent Starling, you’ve seen the coverage in the papers and on television, you’ve been widely identified as the shooter in the death of Evelda Drumgo. Unfortunately, you’ve been sort of demonized.”

  Starling did not reply.

  “Agent Starling?”

  “I have nothing to do with the news, Mr. Sneed.”

  “The woman had the baby in her arms, you can see the problem that creates.”

  “Not in her arms, in a sling across her chest and her arms and hands were beneath it, under a blanket, where she had her MAC 10.”

  “Have you seen the autopsy protocol?” Sneed asked.

  “No.”

  “But you’ve never denied being the shooter.”

  “Do you think I’d deny it because you haven’t recovered the slug?” She turned to her bureau chief. “Mr. Pearsall, this is a friendly meeting, right?”

  “Absolutely.”

  “Then why is Mr. Sneed wearing a wire? Engineering Division quit making those tiepin microphones years ago. He’s got an F-Bird in his breast pocket just recording away. Are we wearing wires to one another’s offices now?”

  Pearsall’s face turned red. If Sneed was wired, it was the worst kind of treachery, but nobody wanted to be heard on tape telling Sneed to turn it off.

  “We don’t need any attitude from you or accusations,” Sneed said, pale with anger. “We’re all here to help you.”

  “To help me do what? Your agency called this office and got me assigned to help you on this raid. I gave Evelda Drumgo two chances to surrender. She was holding a MAC l0 under the baby blanket. She had already shot John Brigham. I wish she had given up. She didn’t. She shot me. I shot her. She’s dead. You might want to check your tape counter right there, Mr. Sneed.”

  “You had foreknowledge Evelda Drumgo would be there?” Eldredge wanted to know.

  “Foreknowledge? Agent Brigham told me in the van going over that Evelda Drumgo was cooking in a guarded meth lab. He assigned me to deal with her.”

  “Remember, Brigham is dead,” Krendler said, “and so is Burke, damn fine agents, both of them. They’re not here to confirm or deny anything.”

  It turned Starling’s stomach to hear Krendler say John Brigham’s name.

  “I’m not likely to forget John Brigham is dead, Mr. Krendler, and he was a good agent, and a good friend of mine. The fact is he asked me to deal with Evelda.”

  “Brigham gave you that assignment even though you and Evelda Drumgo had had a run-in before,” Krendler said.

  “Come on, Paul,” Clint Pearsall said.

  “What run-in?” Starling said. “A peaceful arrest. She had fought other officers before at arrests. She didn’t fight me when I arrested her before, and we talked a little—she was smart. We were civil to each other. I hoped I could do it again.”

  “Did you make the verbal statement that you would ’deal with her’?” Sneed said.

  “I acknowledged my instructions.”

  Holcomb from the mayor’s office and Sneed put their heads together.

  Sneed shot his cuffs. “Ms. Starling, we have information from Officer Bolton of the Washington PD that you made inflammatory statements about Ms. Drumgo in the van on the way to the confrontation. Want to comment on that?”

  “On Agent Brigham’s instructions I explained to the other officers that Evelda had a history of violence, she was usually armed and she was HIV positive. I said we would give her a chance to surrender peacefully. I asked for physical help in subduing her if it came to that. There weren’t many volunteers for the job, I can tell you.”

  Clint Pearsall made an effort. “After the Crip shooters’ car crashed and one perp fled, you could see the car rocking and you could hear the baby crying inside the car?”

  “Screaming,” Starling said. “I raised my hand for everybody to stop shooting and I came out of cover.”

  “That’s against procedure right there,” Eldredge said.

  Starling ignored him. “I approached the car in the ready position, weapon out, muzzle depressed. Marquez Burke was dying on the ground between us. Somebody ran out and got a compress on him. Evelda got out with the baby. I asked her to show me her hands, I said something like ‘Evelda, don’t do this.’”

  “She shot, you shot. Did she go right down?”

  Starling nodded. “Her legs collapsed and she sat down in the road, leaning over the baby. She was dead.”

  “You grabbed up the baby and ran to the water. Exhibited concern,” Pearsall said.

  “I don’t know what I exhibited. He had blood all over him. I didn’t know if the baby was HIV positive or not, I knew she was.”

  “And you thought your bullet might have hit the baby,” Krendler said.

  “No. I knew where the bullet went. Can I speak free
ly, Mr. Pearsall?”

  When he did not meet her eyes, she went on.

  “This raid was an ugly mess. It put me in a position where I had a choice of dying or shooting a woman holding a child. I chose, and what I had to do burns me. I shot a female carrying an infant. The lower animals don’t even do that. Mr. Sneed, you might want to check your tape counter again, right there where I admit it. I resent the hell out of being put in that position. I resent the way I feel now.” She flashed on Brigham lying facedown in the road and she went too far. “Watching you all run from it makes me sick at my stomach.”

  “Starling—” Pearsall, anguished, looked her in the face for the first time.

  “I know you haven’t had a chance to write your 302 yet,” Larkin Wainwright said. “When we review—”

  “Yes, sir, I have,” Starling said. “A copy’s on the way to the Office of Professional Responsibility I have a copy with me if you don’t want to wait. I have everything I did and saw in there. See, Mr. Sneed, you had it all the time.”

  Starling’s vision was a little too clear, a danger sign she recognized, and she consciously lowered her voice.

  “This raid went wrong for a couple of reasons. BATF’s snitch lied about the baby’s location because the snitch was desperate for the raid to go down—before his federal grand jury date in Illinois. And Evelda Drumgo knew we were coming. She came out with the money in one bag and the meth in another. Her beeper still showed the number for WFUL-TV. She got the beep five minutes before we got there. WFUL’s helicopter got there with us. Subpoena WFUL’s phone tapes and see who leaked. It’s somebody whose interests are local, gentlemen. If BATF had leaked, like they did in Waco, or DEA had leaked, they’d have done it to national media, not the local TV.”

  Benny Holcomb spoke for the city. “There’s no evidence anybody in city government or the Washington police department leaked anything.”

  “Subpoena and see,” Starling said.

  “Do you have Drumgo’s beeper?” Pearsall asked.

 
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