Hannibal by Thomas Harris


  Her voice echoed down the corridor where so many had ranted their voices down to croaks and gummed the bars when their teeth were gone.

  Starling remembered the reassuring presence of the big orderly, Barney, when she had come to interview Dr. Lecter. The curious courtesy with which Barney and Dr. Lecter treated each other. No Barney now. Something from school bumped at her mind and, as a discipline, she made herself recall it:

  Footfalls echo in the memory

  Down the passage which we did not take

  Towards the door we never opened

  Into the rose garden.

  Rose Garden, right. This was damn sure not the rose garden.

  Starling, who had been encouraged in recent editorials to hate her gun as well as herself, found the touch of the weapon not at all hateful when she was uneasy. She held the .45 against her leg and started down the hall behind her flashlight. It is hard to watch both flanks at once, and imperative not to leave anyone behind you. Water dripped somewhere.

  Bed frames disassembled and stacked in the cells. In others, mattresses. The water stood in the center of the corridor floor and Starling, ever mindful of her shoes, stepped from one side of the narrow puddle to the other as she proceeded. She remembered Barney’s advice from years ago when all the cells were occupied. Stay in the middle as you go down.

  Filing cabinets, all right. In the center of the corridor all the way down, dull olive in her flashlight beam.

  Here was the cell that had been occupied by Multiple Miggs, the one she had hated most to pass. Miggs, who whispered filth to her and threw body fluids. Miggs, whom Dr. Lecter killed by instructing him to swallow his vile tongue. And when Miggs was dead, Sammie lived in the cell. Sammie, whose poetry Dr. Lecter encouraged with startling effect on the poet. Even now she could hear Sammie howling his verse:

  I WAN TO GO TO JESA

  I WAN TO GO WIV CRIEZ

  I CAN GO WIV JESA

  EF I AC RELL NIZE.

  She still had the labored crayon text, somewhere.

  The cell was stacked with mattresses now, and bales of bed linens tied up in sheets.

  And at last, Dr. Lecter’s cell.

  The sturdy table where he read was still bolted to the floor in the middle of the room. The boards were gone from the shelves that had held his books, but the brackets still stuck out of the walls.

  Starling should turn to the cabinets, but she was fixed on the cell. Here she had had the most remarkable encounter of her life. Here she had been startled, shocked, surprised.

  Here she had heard things about herself so terribly true her heart resounded like a great deep bell.

  She wanted to go inside. She wanted to go in, wanting it as we want to jump from balconies, as the glint of the rails tempts us when we hear the approaching train.

  Starling shined her light around her, looked on the back side of the row of filing cabinets, swept her light through the nearby cells.

  Curiosity carried her across the threshold. She stood in the middle of the cell where Dr. Hannibal Lecter had spent eight years. She occupied his space, where she had seen him standing, and expected to tingle, but she did not. Put her pistol and her flashlight on his table, careful that the flashlight didn’t roll, and put her hands flat on his table, and beneath her hands felt only crumbs.

  Overall, the effect was disappointing. The cell was as empty of its former occupant as a snake’s shed skin. Starling thought then that she came to understand something: Death and danger do not have to come with trappings. They can come to you in the sweet breath of your beloved. Or on a sunny afternoon in a fish market with “Macarena” playing on a boom box.

  To business. There were about eight feet of filing cabinets, four cabinets in all, chin-high. Each had five drawers, secured by a single four-pin lock beside the top drawer. None of them was locked. All were full of files, some of them fat, all of them in folders. Old marbleized paper folders gone limp with time, and newer ones in manila folders. The files on the health of dead men, dating back to the hospital’s opening in 1932. They were roughly alphabetical, with some material piled flat behind the folders in the long drawers. Starling skipped quickly along, holding her heavy flashlight on her shoulder, walking the fingers of her free hand through the files, wishing she had brought a small light she could hold in her teeth. As soon as she had some sense of the files she could skip whole drawers, through the J’s, very few K’s, on to the L’s and bam: Lecter, Hannibal.

  Starling pulled out the long manila folder, felt it at once for the stiffness of an X ray negative, laid the folder on top of the other files and opened it to find the health history of the late I. J. Miggs. Goddammit. Miggs was going to plague her from the grave. She put the file on top of the cabinet and raced ahead into the M’s. Miggs’s own manila folder was there, in alphabetical order. It was empty. Filing error? Did someone accidentally put Miggs’s records in Hannibal Lecter’s jacket? She went through all the M’s looking for a file without a jacket. She went back to the J’s. Aware of an increasing annoyance. The smell of the place was bothering her more. The caretaker was right, it was hard to breathe in this place. She was halfway through the J’s when she realized the stench was … increasing rapidly.

  A small splash behind her and she spun, flashlight cocked for a blow, hand fast beneath her blazer to the gun butt. A tall man in filthy rags stood in the beam of her light, one of his outsize swollen feet in the water. One of his hands was spread from his side. The other hand held a piece of a broken plate. One of his legs and both of his feet were bound with strips of sheet.

  “Hello,” he said, his tongue thick with thrush. From five feet Starling could smell his breath. Beneath her jacket, her hand moved from the pistol to the Mace.

  “Hello,” Starling said. “Would you please stand over there against the bars?”

  The man did not move. “Are you Jesa?” he asked.

  “No,” Starling said. “I’m not Jesus.” The voice. Starling remembered the voice.

  “Are you Jesa!” His face was working.

  That voice. Come on, think. “Hello, Sammie,” she said. “How are you? I was just thinking about you.”

  What about Sammie? The information, served up fast, was not exactly in order. Put his mother’s head in the collection plate while the congregation was singing “Give of Your Best to the Master.” Said it was the nicest thing he had. Highway Baptist Church somewhere. Angry, Dr. Lecter said, because Jesus is so late.

  “Are you Jesa?” he said, plaintive this time. He reached in his pocket and came out with a cigarette butt, a good one more than two inches long. He put it on his shard of plate and held it out in offering.

  “Sammie, I’m sorry, I’m not. I’m—”

  Sammie suddenly livid, furious that she is not Jesus, his voice booming in the wet corridor:

  I WAN TO GO WIV JESA

  I WAN TO GO WIV CRIEZ!

  He raised the plate shard, its sharp edge like a hoe, and took a step toward Starling, both his feet in the water now and his face contorted, his free hand clutching the air between them.

  She felt the cabinets hard at her back.

  “YOU CAN GO WITH JESUS … IF YOU ACT REAL NICE,” Starling recited, clear and loud as though she called to him in a far place.

  “Uh huh,” Sammie said calmly and stopped.

  Starling fished in her purse, found her candy bar. “Sammie, I have a Snickers. Do you like Snickers?”

  He said nothing.

  She put the Snickers on a manila folder and held it out to him as he had held out the plate.

  He took the first bite before he removed the wrapper, spit out the paper and bit again, eating half the candy bar.

  “Sammie, has anybody else been down here?”

  He ignored her question, put the remainder of the candy bar on his plate and disappeared behind a pile of mattresses in his old cell.

  “What the hell is this?” A woman’s voice. “Thank you, Sammie.”

  “Who are you?” Starling
called.

  “None of your damn business.”

  “Do you live here with Sammie?”

  “Of course not. I’m here on a date. Do you think you could leave us alone?”

  “Yes. Answer my question. How long have you been here?”

  “Two weeks.”

  “Has anybody else been here.”

  “Some bums Sammie run out.”

  “Sammie protects you?”

  “Mess with me and find out. I can walk good. I get stuff to eat, he’s got a safe place to eat it. Lot of people have deals like that.”

  “Is either one of you in a program someplace? Do you want to be? I can help you there.”

  “He done all that. You go out in the world and do all that shit and come back to what you know. What are you looking for? What do you want?”

  “Some files.”

  “If it ain’t here, somebody stole it, how smart do you have to be to figure that out?”

  “Sammie?” Starling said. “Sammie?”

  Sammie did not answer. “He’s asleep,” his friend said.

  “If I leave some money out here, will you buy some food?” Starling said.

  “No, I’ll buy liquor. You can find food. You can’t find liquor. Don’t let the doorknob catch you in the butt on the way out.”

  “I’ll put the money on the desk,” Starling said. She felt like running, remembered leaving Dr. Lecter, remembered holding on to herself as she walked toward what was then the calm island of Barney’s orderly station.

  In the light of the stairwell, Starling took a twenty-dollar bill out of her wallet. She put the money on Barney’s scarred, abandoned desk, and weighted it with an empty wine bottle. She unfolded a plastic shopping bag and put in it the Lecter file jacket containing Miggs’s records and the empty Miggs jacket.

  “Good-bye. ‘Bye, Sammie,” she called to the man who had circled in the world and come back to the hell he knew. She wanted to tell him she hoped Jesus would come soon, but it sounded too silly to say.

  Starling climbed back into the light, to continue her circle in the world.

  CHAPTER

  12

  IF THERE are depots on the way to Hell, they must resemble the ambulance entrance to Maryland-Misericordia General Hospital. Over the sirens’ dying wail, wails of the dying, clatter of the dripping gurneys, cries and screams, the columns of manhole steam, dyed red by a great neon EMERGENCY sign, rise like Moses’ own pillar of fire in the darkness and change to cloud in the day

  Barney came out of the steam, shrugging his powerful shoulders into his jacket, his cropped round head bent forward as he covered the broken pavement in long strides east toward the morning.

  He was twenty-five minutes late getting off work— the police had brought in a stoned pimp with a gunshot wound who liked to fight women, and the head nurse had asked him to stay. They always asked Barney to stay when they took in a violent patient.

  Clarice Starling peered out at Barney from the deep hood of her jacket and let him get a half-block lead on the other side of the street before she hitched her tote bag on her shoulder and followed. When he passed both the parking lot and the bus stop, she was relieved. Barney would be easier to follow on foot. She wasn’t sure where he lived and she needed to know before he saw her.

  The neighborhood behind the hospital was quiet, blue-collar and mixed racially. A neighborhood where you put a Chapman lock on your car but you don’t have to take the battery in with you at night, and the kids can play outside.

  After three blocks, Barney waited for a van to clear the crosswalk and turned north onto a street of narrow houses, some with marble steps and neat front gardens. The few empty storefronts were intact with the windows soaped. Stores were beginning to open and a few people were out. Trucks parked overnight on both sides of the street blocked Starling’s view for half a minute and she walked up on Barney before she realized that he had stopped. She was directly across the street when she saw him. Maybe he saw her too, she wasn’t sure.

  He was standing with his hands in his jacket pockets, head forward, looking from under his brows at something moving in the center of the street. A dead dove lay in the road, one wing flapped by the breeze of passing cars. The dead bird’s mate paced around and around the body, cocking an eye at it, small head jerking with each step of its pink feet. Round and round, muttering the soft dove mutter. Several cars and a van passed, the surviving bird barely dodging the traffic with short last-minute flights.

  Maybe Barney glanced up at her, Starling couldn’t be positive. She had to keep going or be spotted. When she looked over her shoulder, Barney was squatting in the middle of the road, arm raised to the traffic.

  She turned the corner out of sight, pulled off her hooded jacket, took a sweater, a baseball cap and a gym bag out of her tote bag, and changed quickly, stuffing her jacket and the tote into the gym bag, and her hair into the cap. She fell in with some homeward-bound cleaning women and turned the corner back onto Barney’s street.

  He had the dead dove in his cupped hands. Its mate flew with whistling wings up to the overhead wires and watched him. Barney laid the dead bird in the grass of a lawn and smoothed down its feathers. He turned his broad face up to the bird on the wire and said something. When he continued on his way, the survivor of the pair dropped down to the grass and continued circling the body, pacing through the grass. Barney didn’t look back. When he climbed the steps of an apartment house a hundred yards farther on and reached for keys, Starling sprinted a half-block to catch up before he opened the door.

  “Barney. Hi.”

  He turned on the stairs in no great haste and looked down at her. Starling had forgotten that Barney’s eyes were unnaturally far apart. She saw the intelligence in them and felt the little electronic pop of connection.

  She took her cap off and let her hair fall. “I’m Clarice Starling. Remember me? I’m—”

  “The G,” Barney said, expressionless.

  Starling put her palms together and nodded. “Well, yes, I am the G. Barney, I need to talk with you. It’s just informal, I need to ask you some stuff.”

  Barney came down the steps. When he was standing on the sidewalk in front of Starling, she still had to look up at his face. She was not threatened by his size, as a man would be.

  “Would you agree for the record, Officer Starling, that I have not been read my rights?” His voice was high and rough like the voice of Johnny Weismuller’s Tarzan.

  “Absolutely I have not Mirandized you. I acknowledge that.”

  “How about saying it into your bag?”

  Starling opened her bag and spoke down into it in a loud voice as though it contained a troll. “I have not Mirandized Barney, he is unaware of his rights.”

  “There’s some pretty good coffee down the street,” Barney said. “How many hats have you got in that bag?” he asked as they walked.

  “Three,” she said.

  When the van with handicap plates passed by, Starling was aware that the occupants were looking at her, but the afflicted are often horny, as they have every right to be. The young male occupants of a car at the next crossing looked at her too, but said nothing because of Barney. Anything extended from the windows would have caught Starling’s instant attention—she was wary of Crip revenge—but silent ogling is to be endured.

  When she and Barney entered the coffee shop, the van backed into an alley to turn around and went back the way it came.

  They had to wait for a booth in the crowded ham and egg place while the waiter yelled in Hindi to the cook, who handled meat with long tongs and a guilty expression.

  “Let’s eat,” Starling said when they were seated. “It’s on Uncle Sam. How’s it going, Barney?”

  “The job’s okay.”

  “What is it?”

  “Orderly, LPN.”

  “I figured you for an RN by now, or maybe medical school.”

  Barney shrugged and reached for the creamer. He looked up at Starling. “They jam you u
p for shooting Evelda?”

  “We’ll have to see. Did you know her?”

  “I saw her once, when they brought in her husband, Dijon. He was dead, he bled out on them before they ever got him in the ambulance. He was leaking clear IV when he got to us. She wouldn’t let him go and tried to fight the nurses. I had to … you know … Handsome woman, strong too. They didn’t bring her in after—”

  “No, she was pronounced dead at the scene.”

  “I would think so.”

  “Barney, after you turned over Dr. Lecter to the Tennessee people—”

  “They weren’t civil to him.”

  “After you—”

  “And they’re all dead now.”

  “Yes. His keepers managed to stay alive for three days. You lasted eight years keeping Dr. Lecter.”

  “It was six years—he was there before I came.”

  “How’d you do it, Barney? If you don’t mind my asking, how’d you manage to last with him? It wasn’t just being civil.”

  Barney looked at his reflection in his spoon, first convex and then concave, and thought a moment. “Dr. Lecter had perfect manners, not stiff, but easy and elegant. I was working on some correspondence courses and he shared his mind with me. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t kill me any second if he got the chance—one quality in a person doesn’t rule out any other quality. They can exist side by side, good and terrible. Socrates said it a lot better. In maximum lockdown you can’t afford to forget that, ever. If you keep it in mind, you’re all right. Dr. Lecter may have been sorry he showed me Socrates.” To Barney, lacking the disadvantage of formal schooling, Socrates was a fresh experience, with the quality of an encounter.

  “Security was separate from conversation, a whole other thing,” he said. “Security was never personal, even when I had to shut off his mail or put him in restraints.”

  “Did you talk with Dr. Lecter a lot?”

  “Sometimes he went months without saying anything, and sometimes we’d talk, late at night when the crying died down. In fact—I was taking these courses by mail and I knew diddly—and he showed me a whole world, literally, of stuff—Suetonius, Gibbon, all that.” Barney picked up his cup. He had a streak of orange Betadine on a fresh scratch across the back of his hand.

 
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