Every day for two months Lecter checked his e-mail with no word from Clarice. He realized it was expecting a lot, he was a realist but that didn't mean he still didn't have hopes and get frustrated when they were dashed. But as the days turned into a week and the week turned into a month he grew increasingly worried. Perhaps something had happened to her. Perhaps she discovered she wasn't really pregnant and was afraid to tell him. He tried to keep himself busy immersing himself in his work, both at the hospital and articles at home. One article normally took him over a month to complete the proper research and assemble it together. In his effort to keep busy he managed to author two complete articles and start on a third. At the hospital, he was merciless in his work schedule, taking on extra shifts when he could and staying later than required at the end of each shift to update charts.
"Dr. Billingsly," Susan's voice came from behind him as he got his cup of cheap coffee from the staff lounge.
"Susan," he said calmly as he set the stir straw aside. "Please call me Robert." He met her gaze and held it, the brown contacts he wore were not nearly as effective as his God given eye color at capturing and retaining attention.
"Robert," she smiled slightly. "I've noticed you're keeping yourself busy these days. I hope it's not in an attempt to avoid me." An errant piece of hair landed in her mouth and she brushed it aside.
"Hardly, I've just been busy. And I'm afraid things have changed a bit in my life since that night." He tried to cool the coffee by blowing on it as well as give himself some time to think. He glanced up at her realizing that she was nervous. "There's someone I'm involved with and I thought for a while that there was no chance for us. But things have taken an interesting twist I'm pleased to say. I hope we can remain more than just colleagues who pass one another in the halls here."
"Don't be silly, of course we can. I'm glad you told me the truth. I wish you told me from the beginning. It would have saved me from feeling I'd done something to offend you. I thought perhaps I had been too forward."
A light chuckle left his mouth. "Hardly, Susan. It's just rather complicated, I can't say I understand it myself." He extended his hand to shake her hand. "I'd love to have dinner sometime."
She smiled slightly. "I'd like that. But wouldn't your girl friend get upset?" She took his hand, surprised by the firmness of his grip.
"No, I can't say she'd get upset. As I said things are rather complicated, and having dinner with you is certainly no violation of anything."
"I suppose not, perhaps some unspoken things. But at any rate I'm glad we got this settled." She released her hand from his. "Please don't work so hard, Robert. I don't need to see you as one of my patients because you worked yourself to exhaustion."
Lecter laughed lightly as she left the lounge finally letting him sit to enjoy his coffee.
Later that morning home from work he stood before his computer resisting the urge to turn it on. He instead showered and went to sleep.
He woke mid-afternoon, made himself an omelet more for something to do then due to hunger. Out on his balcony he sipped a glass of wine enjoying the breathtaking view of Chicago's skyline his unit offered. The puffy clouds in the sky indicated rain may be in store for later, but they were so far apart that he doubted it would happen any time soon if at all. Chicago summers Lecter had learned were generally unpleasant, but were not unlivable. The days could prove uncomfortably hot, but there was always something to do to keep one's mind off the heat. Lecter found he lived close to the zoo and went there quite often to sit and watch the various animals. His favorite was the lion, so proud and regal. Always carrying himself as if he truly felt they were better than all the other animals, even in captivity.
He stood before his computer his lunch settled, his wine finished and a night off from work. Why was he afraid to turn the machine on? Because he didn't want to be reminded that Clarice may have turned her back on him. He knew that answer. And as tempting as the thought of going to see her once more was, he couldn't do it again without hearing from her first. And a thought entered his mind. Obviously she didn't and couldn't have planned on their meeting and what happened between them. But maybe in some odd way he had fulfilled a need she had and now she had no more need for him. There were plenty of women out there who raised children on their own without giving the father a second thought. And while Clarice didn't strike him as the type to just go out and find a man to satisfy that need, she hadn't exactly told him to stop for fear of pregnancy either.
Running his fingers over his goatee he waited for his dialup connection to sign on so that he could check his mail. Amazing, when he was practicing he shied away from computers. Of course you couldn't do half the things with them then that you could do now, but he had left that up to his secretary and done everything on his end with pen and paper. Now he felt as if it was his lifeline, and in some ways it was. It was amusing, at best, to read about himself. People's hypotheses as to why he was what he was proved interesting at times though none had proven to be accurate. He checked his regular email, sorting through the junk mail and wading through the professional inquiries from people asking for his theories on this or that. He then accessed the email account that was for Clarice, he chuckled lightly as he typed it in - OldHuntedBull. His father had told him the story of the old bull and the young bull when he was a boy and he thought the slight parody on it was amusing. He wondered if Clarice understood it, or if she was even familiar with the story.
His mind quickly pushed aside thoughts when he saw he had mail from a government address. His eyes widened as he clicked on the message, disappointed when it simply read: "Will email you later from personal address." Not that he could blame her for not wanting to email him from work, but still he hoped it wasn't indicative of anything to come. He checked the time, she of course would have no way of knowing what hours he worked. It was closing in on five o'clock, six her time. He'd go to the Planetarium for a while and perhaps by the time he returned she'd have contacted him again.
It was after ten o'clock by the time he returned to his unit. He hadn't planned on being gone for so long, but after leaving the planetarium he had gone for a walk. The first night he had been to this area had been with Susan, but he hadn't explored the other side of it until now. He walked a ways to an area along Lake Michigan, an indentation into the land that he wondered whether it had been a lock at one time. And if it had been where the canal had disappeared to. Obviously something he wouldn't be sticking around Chicago long enough to find out, so he pushed it from his mind as he sat on a bench. It was a warm night, but for the first time in over a week the humidity was gone and he obviously wasn't the only one who had the idea of sitting by the lake.
His attention was drawn from the sunset to a group of people in their twenties who seemed to be preparing for making a night of it here. When the fishing net came out he recognized what they were doing and chuckled, smelt fishing. He hadn't thought about smelt fishing in years, not that he had ever done it but he recognized that's what they were doing. Before he knew it more than ninety minutes had passed as he sat and watched the dozen or so people drink beer, grill hot dogs and hamburgers on a portable grill, talk and laugh, and occasionally toss the net into the water hoping to catch some smelt. As far as he could tell, they'd caught nothing when he stood to leave but none of them seemed to notice. And if they did it certainly hadn't ruined their good mood.
Friendship. Hannibal had friends, of course, business associates. Men and women he could meet for a drink or have dinner with. But did he know anyone that he could just sit with? No, aside from Clarice, and at this point he didn't even know if he still had her. He had worked so hard, he realized, that he had forgotten what life itself was about. What did his doctorate degree do for him now? Basically nothing. Sure he was able to work as a doctor even as a fugitive, but it wasn't doing what he was good at. He had a knack for being a psychiatrist, Clarice wasn't the only person he could get to talk to him. And as much as he would like to work as one again, he knew it was an impossibility. That would set off too many red flags somewhere, he was sure of it. Somewhere in the FBI, probably because of something Clarice had inputted in a computer months ago, applications for psychiatric doctors would be red flagged by the FBI.
He flipped on the ten o'clock news and turned it off immediately. He didn't care about the Cubs losing streak, the Bears training camp, or about the heat index. He knew it was going to be hot enough tomorrow to require anyone with breathing problems to stay indoors. He didn't know anyone well enough to check on them even if they lived alone. Finding nothing else on he decided to turn the television off entirely and settled in his office. He clicked on his dial-up connection and went to the other room to pour a drink while it connected. He sat in his leather chair working the buttons on his shirt as he clicked on his mailbox. It was too hot to be sitting around his unit fully clothed, and it was not like he was going to get any visitors. Draping his shirt over the arm of the chair he sorted through his mail, most of it was garbage. He exhaled sharply as he started up his browser to check the email Clarice would know.
He clicked on the message with a chuckle, her chosen email address of BigGameHunter was amusing. The message was sent about an hour ago and asked him to call her on a number he didn't recognize that night. The area code and prefix indicated it was probably the same area as her number but as he looked at the screen he was honestly unsure of what to do. He could move again if it was a trap but he honestly didn't want to at least not for a while. He realized there was at least one way he could exercise caution and still call her. He copied down her number and then redressed.
He drove about ninety minutes north to Milwaukee. If it was a trap it would at least give him some time, some advance warning. If not, well, she could hardly blame him for being cautious. Finding a pay phone inside the local Greyhound bus terminal which was surprisingly on this night empty. He dialed the number and for a brief moment expected someone other than Clarice to answer the phone. When he heard her voice, he had to fight back the urge to express how worried he had been. "I got your message," he said simply.
"I see that," Clarice said just as simply. She lay on her bed staring at the ceiling. She had sent the email to him over two hours ago and had waited for him to call since that time. The number she had given him was a number only the phone company had, the FBI could have it if they really looked but Clarice had it installed as a computer line when she bought her new computer and she had requested it be unlisted. She resisted the urge to get caller ID on the line, she had to respect his need for anonymity. And she also had to realize that somebody, someday, somewhere might come across the caller ID unit when she wasn't here. She didn't want to be responsible for his being caught.
"A new phone number, Agent Starling?" He resisted the urge to set the phone down and wash his hands. He could feel the dirt and the grime on the receiver even for the brief amount of time he held it in his hand. Foolish it had been to come to such a public place, but he could think of no place else and this seemed to call to him.
He thought I was trying to trap him. Her heart sunk a little at the realization. Then again what else was he supposed to think when I took over two months to contact him? "Yes," she said simply unsure what else he would expect her to say. "I bought a computer. So that I wouldn't have to use my work computer and had a phone line installed for it. One the FBI doesn't have on my employment application. One that's unlisted," she added.
"I see," he said in an aloof voice. He wasn't sure if he wanted to trust her yet. Too much time had gone by since they had seen one another. She wouldn't be showing yet, only about three or four months along by this point. He was sure he'd notice the changes in her if he saw her without clothes. "And you took so long to contact me because?"
A long silence followed. What did he expect her to say? I was having second thoughts? That's probably what he did expect her to say. "Because I had to put things in order before I contacted you. I didn't like having things up in the air."
"What things, Clarice?"
"Decisions. My job. My life. Our baby."
He breathed in sharply. "You've reconsidered having the child then?"
Does he really think I'm that heartless? He must. Or is he just trying to prevent me from knowing how he feels. "No," she said adamantly. "Never. Not that." She paused, the silence was unbearable and so she blurted. "I turned in my notice today."
Normally calm, surprised at very little human beings do Hannibal Lecter almost dropped the receiver. "Excuse me. I don't think I heard you correctly, Clarice. You turned in your notice to whom, the FBI?" His voice was calm until he uttered those three letters with disdain and obvious disregard for the authority they were supposed to represent.
"I don't know who else I'd be turning a notice into. But yes the FBI. My job. In a month I will no longer be an FBI agent." She placed her hand on her stomach. There had been little choice for her when she found out she was pregnant. Despite who he was, what he did, Hannibal deserved to help raise his child. And Clarice honestly didn't know if she would know what to do. Better to have both of them together she reasoned. Her pregnancy was no secret any longer around the Bureau. She had tried for the first three months, but two days ago she had to have Ardelia take her to the hospital when she discovered she had bled. Luckily, her midwife assured her she and the baby were fine that she needed to rest for a while, take some time off from work. There was no lying about her need for bedrest. So she decided to turn in her notice at the same time, hoping Hannibal had been sincere in his offer of her coming to be with him. If not, she'd feel like a fool. "I have vacation time I'm using, then I'll be a civilian once again."
"Amazing," he said quite truly amazed. He never would have thought she'd leave the FBI behind for him. It had been a joke when he extended the offer for her to join him. "What were you planning on doing then, Clarice? Getting a job as a secretary?"
"Well, you had mentioned my being with you," she said softly wondering if he could even hear her. She'd feel like a fool if he hadn't been serious.
"Of course. The offer still stands. Are you sure that's what you want to do, though?"
"Yes. I've thought about it quite hard. That's why I haven't contacted you. I didn't want you in my mind influencing my decision. Not that you would do it intentionally. I know you wouldn't want me to come to you unless it was what I wanted. But still, I needed to think. And then my midwife put me on bedrest, so I decided to take my vacation time and put in my notice."
"Bedrest?" His ears perked up at that word. "What do you mean bedrest? And have you seen a real M.D., Clarice?"
"It's nothing, she told me I had just been working too hard. On my feet too much. I don't know how many female FBI agents there are who get pregnant, but I imagine there aren't many of them who are in the field. I'm fine."
"Very well. I trust you to be safe. I don't care about the baby. If you truly want to be with me there is plenty more where the child came from, but there's only one of you."
"I know. I know. I'm going to stay home. Ardelia has already promised to be my personal chef. So I'm set."
"I'd much prefer to be your chef, Clarice. It bothers me that you're there and I can't be."
"You could come get me," she offered. "Ardelia will still be working during the day. You told me I'd have to leave everything behind anyway. So what difference does it make if I leave a month from now or tomorrow without a good bye."
"And I should know this isn't a plan of Krendler's because …" he trailed off.
"Because I want my child to have a father, one he or she can touch."
He paused, he believed her. God help him if he was foolish to believe her but he did. "All right. I'll see what I can work out." He looked around the bus terminal, not really looking at the bus terminal but thinking about where he was. "I guess staying where I'm at is out of the question. I myself may be able to change enough to blend in, the two of us together I'm afraid would stick out like a sore thumb."
"Not if I'm in bed for the next month," she said quietly.
"If you're having problems, Clarice, the last place I need to be thinking about you being is in my bed. I hope it wasn't our last time together that brought this on. I realize that was a while ago, but still."
"No, it's not. It's not your fault at all. So are you going to come get me? I'm assuming you have pretty much everything, as far as a bed and so forth goes so all I'd need is my clothes."
"That's a safe assumption. Yes, I'll come. I don't know when. Ardelia you say works days?"
"Yes, days. You can call on my other number, I've taken the caller ID off it. I didn't want to take the chance you'd call."
"Well, I wouldn't have. Not without knowing what you were thinking."
"Yes, I'm sorry. It was never a question about you. I had to figure out what I wanted to do." She paused. "So you will come get me? Will you let me know when? Or will I be leaving everything behind. I just bought this computer."
"Welcome to my life, Clarice. You can bring the computer. Pack anything else of necessity you want to bring with you, store it in your closet. Otherwise, I'm afraid you'll have to leave the rest behind."
"All right. No hints on when you'll come?"
"No, I don't know." He paused, his mind working quickly. "You'll know. It won't be me coming for you. But you'll know. You do trust me, Clarice?"
"Yes, of course." She laughed at the irony of his question. "I know you would never hurt me."
"Very well. I'll see you soon. As soon as I've figured out what to do. Good night, Clarice."
"It's late," he said softly unsure exactly why he felt the need to hang up.
"Yes, I suppose it is. I don't suppose you can tell me where you are?"
"All right. I won't ask again. I hope you'll tell me, though. I'd like to know what you did."
"I survive, Clarice. That's all I've been doing since my escape. Perhaps with you by my side I can start living."
"But you mentioned a woman."
He frowned slightly at the statement. "I did? I don't recall it."
"The first time you came to see me. You mentioned a woman warming your bed."
Hearty laughter followed her statement. "Jealous, Clarice?" He chuckled lightly. "I'm no saint, Clarice. If you're asking me if there's been anyone since our relationship took a more intimate turn, I can answer you truthfully no. I told you about the date I'd had, and that was the last contact I've had with someone of the opposite sex personally."
"No, I was just wondering who you were leaving behind."
"No one. It's only been a few months since Memphis, Clarice. You give me far too much credit if you think I can establish something so quickly."
She laughed. "I doubt that. You could charm a girl quite easily I'm sure."
"It seems I've charmed the one I wanted to catch so I have no need to look further."
"So it seems. Get a girl pregnant and it's amazing what she'll do."
"I didn't," he paused. "Clarice."
"I know it wasn't intentional. You need to learn to lighten up. It was a joke."
"Very well, Clarice. I'll see you soon."
"Clarice?" He said softly. "Have you ever fished for smelt?"
She pulled the phone away from her ear and stared at it for a moment. "No, I can't say that I have."
He laughed lightly. "Good night, Clarice."
"Good night," she was unwilling to say his name over the phone but she knew it didn't matter because he had already hung up.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com