A newspaper was slid next to Clarice’s coffee cup as she typed away at her report on her laptop. She finished the sentence before finally looking up, unamused at Agent Jameson as he set his tray down across from her in the FBI cafeteria.
“What do you want, Jameson?” she asked with a sigh as she took a sip of coffee. “I’m busy.”
He just grinned at her as he unwrapped a tuna sandwich, leaning back in his seat. “Did you read the news, Starling?”
“What happened?” she replied, playing along for now. Jameson chuckled to himself as he bit into the sandwich and pointed at the headline.
“There was a pretty gruesome murder found in the outskirts of Quantico, I got put on the investigation,” he declared, as though that would phase her in some way. “Flesh peeled off the back so they look like wings or some shit. Pictures are up on Tattle Crime if you’re interested.”
“I’m not,” she said flatly. Agent Brigham, her partner on the Evelda Drumgo case, came up behind them and sat his own tray down at the table. He craned his neck and scanned over the headline before shrugging and biting into an apple, wiping at the juice on his mouth before speaking again.
“Come on, Jameson, an especially complex murder means especially complex paperwork, and you hate that shit,” Brigham reminded. “Why so interested?”
Jameson bunched up the Saran wrap from the sandwich and left it in a corner of the tray. “Because my case is being directed to the Lecter investigation, did you know that? I’ve been waiting to find an opening.”
Because you didn’t sign off on my recommendation, goes unsaid, but Clarice easily picked up on the subtly.
Yes, she had been Jameson’s supervisor on a previous investigation where he had done fairly well; yes, as of this moment, she was still technically his boss; and yes, he had put in an application to be placed on the Lecter case. Not only did she know that he wanted in because first of all, there was nothing to go on. It was an easy job, in a sense. It was the federal government's equivalent of a crazed individual with a map of red threads and magazine cutouts: hundreds of theories, barely any evidence. Sure, the amount of press and notoriety and fanfare that was promised for the one that could dredge the literal and metaphorical sea of the world was a great motivator, but deep down, everyone knew they were running in circles.
And Jameson had applied. And Clarice was asked for her opinion, as his supervisor. All she had to do was sign off.
She did not sign off.
Not because Jameson was incompetent (one could make an argument, however) or because he was lazy (again, arguments could be made.) She didn’t sign off because for all his rude, brash, and annoying qualities, she knew him. She knew him, they were in class together, and she wasn’t going to send someone she knew down that trail.
Technically, no one outside of the higher-up was supposed to know of her involvement. It was leaked to Jameson by one of his buddies, and it didn’t surprise her when that happened. There were snide comments, and little whisperings of rumors, but Jameson was all bark and no bite. It didn’t bother her much. She knew that he was just jealous that her career had accelerated while he was stuck trying to get there by himself. He made it no secret that he was pleased when Senator Martin’s term came to an end and was not reelected, as Clarice no longer had any sort of supposed pull in Congress. All of this, she could tolerate.
It didn’t mean that she appreciated the sneer he tried to hide behind a sip of Dr. Pepper. “Jealous?” he asked, almost innocently. Clarice just shrugged.
“Not really,” she answered simply.
“Aw, come on, Starling, don’t you wanna find them?” Jameson teased, leaning back farther in his seat. “Come on, spill, did Lecter get you to open up about your daddy issues or - awaken more of them? Did he-”
“Shut up,” she bit out, tapping hard at her backspace key before taking a breath to calm down before stating calmly, “Then sign off on the papers so you’re off my case and drop them off in my mailbox, please.”
Jameson got up as she said that, and didn’t even bother to hide his distaste as he looked down at her. “Yes, ma’am,” he mocked with an exaggerated bow, before picking up his tray and walking away. Clarice rolled her eyes and went back to her reports when Brigham nudged her shoulder. When she turned to look at him, he was smiling at her.
“He’s jealous, it doesn't matter what he thinks,” he said, picking up his can of Sprite. “He’s just bitter that you’re his boss and you’re famous.”
“Yeah well if he wants the fame, he can have it,” Clarice shot back. “It gets annoying to deal with. I never asked for it.”
“That’s because you’re the best at your job,” he reminded her. “And come on, if you want, I’ll take the credit when we get Drumgo, give you a little space. As long as we go for a steak dinner on your dime.”
Clarice couldn't hold back a laugh of her own, and he laughed as well. “Thank you for the gracious offer,” she thanked, sarcastically, “but we have to find her first.”
“Well, we’re getting close, Clarice. That’s half the battle right there.”
“Yeah,” Clarice nodded, eyes scanning over the one clear picture she had of Evelda Drumgo, the notorious drug kingpin that she'd been tracking all year. “Half the battle, right.”
Clarice had hoped to arrive at the apartment she still shared with Ardelia and take a long shower to relax, but when she checked the mailbox as she always did before Ardelia could get there first, there was another package for her. It always seemed hand-delivered, never a return address, always the same elegant script.
She ran through the other ones that had come since the first one was sent three years ago along with a phone call. There had never been another call since, but there had been several more packages.
Thankfully Ardelia wasn’t back, her own work in the FBI tended to run late. When she worked, she left it at work. She never brought it home. Clarice always brought it home, like gum stuck to her shoe. She couldn’t help it. So she went into her bedroom, shut the door, and used her pocketknife to cut through the tape at the top of the box before opening it.
A letter, folded over once, was inside, beside a small, handcrafted jar that contained lotion. The scent of roses and apples was strong enough to leak through the jar and she placed it on her bedside table before unfolding the letter to read.
Did you know that that starlings first came to America because an individual wished to have at least one of every bird mentioned in Shakespeare in the country? Ever since, they have never left. I find it quite fitting; a desire to bring beauty and art to a blank canvas of a land. An apt metaphor for your placement in the FBI. They have severely lacked a bright spot for quite some years now.
I write to you to congratulate you on your accomplishments, and to reassure you to avoid the criticisms of your peers and from outsiders. Fairytales continue even after the happy ending. Every hero loses their way after their initial journey, but you are still staying true. I would advise, however, keeping your eyes and ears open. There are always those looking to use you as a pawn in your game. You are not a pawn, Clarice: you are always the queen on the chessboard.
I do hope you enjoy the lotion, it is handmade. It is important to take care of yourself, Clarice, even when the job seems too much to handle at times. Sometimes I wish that it were possible for you to contact us in return, but I know that you will turn in that information as soon as the opportunity presented itself. A pity; I should like to see you again, soon. Perhaps we will, one day.
P.S. Will sends his best, as well.
P.P.S. Happy anniversary, Clarice
Shaking her head, she takes that letter, folds it back up again, and tucks it away in an old shoebox with the others. She could never predict when they letters or packages would be sent, it was seemingly impossible to track.
But today was the day she had first walked into the BSHCI. This was a day she could track, if she so chose. It would be futile to look for them, she knew that. They enjoyed toying with her. but she doubted they would show mercy if she managed to track them down.
Instead, she took a hot shower, put on the patterned silk robe from Romania that she had never bought and probably cost triple the fluffy blue one from Target in her closet, and went out to the living room. Ardelia was home, she had picked up Chinese takeout and they ate it on the couch as they watched TV and giggled and laughed together.
“Anything happen today?” Ardelia asked in between bites of orange chicken. Clarice shrugged, fiddling with her chopsticks.
“Not really,” she responded as she lifted a piece of stir-fried beef to her mouth.
She was getting better at believing her own lies.
“What do you mean, you want to talk to Starling?” Jameson whined over the phone, checking to make sure the bathroom door was locked as he talked. “I thought I was your guy, doc.”
“Would you like me to let go of my strings and stop helping you rise the ranks? Quid pro quo, Aaron,” the smooth, measured voice slightly threatened. “I would like to speak to Clarice as soon as possible, and I’d like you to find an excuse for her to do so.”
“But - but -”
“One million dollars,” the voice reminded. “A million, Martin.”
Jameson sighed, leaning against the door. “Alright, you got it. I’ll deliver Starling, you help me move through the ranks.”
“Thank you. And remember: an extra two million if you find them. Dead. I don’t want them alive.”
“You got it, Dr. Bloom,” Jameson agreed, unlocking the door and heading outside to finish his sentence. “But why do you need Starling, I can probably find him with the evidence you’ve collected.”
A pause, then Alana Bloom spoke again. “You can’t just shoot at the water, Martin. We need to bait the hook to draw them out.” Then she abruptly hung up on his, and he scoffed at the phone in his hand.
Typical, he thought.
To make an already great day even fucking better, his car was in the shop and he had to take the goddamn bus back home. Fuck.
He paid the fare, nodded to the bus driver, and turned to look for a good seat. It was fairly busy, which was just worse. He could either sit beside the woman with a bratty child screeching every five minutes, the guy taking up another half a seat with his guitar case and his dirty shoes off, or the guy in the back with sunglasses and an expensive-looking black coat staring off into seemingly nothing. He could have been asleep, and honestly, Jameson’s best option was to take the seat beside him.
The guy said nothing when he sat down beside him, so Jameson broke the ice: “I get off in three stops, you?”
“The same,” the man said smoothly. “You’re at Quantico.” It was a statement, not a question. Jameson nodded.
“Yeah, I am. How could you tell?”
“Your badge is about to fall out of your pocket,” the man pointed out, and Jameson quickly adjusted shoved it back down, deeper than before.
“Not a problem. Tell me: do you work in cases or are you the one that does all the paperwork?” the man questioned, and that touched on a rather sensitive nerve for Jameson.
“Cases, thank you,” he snapped before he could stop himself, then he quickly covered that with a smirk. “And I’d love to tell you about my current case.”
“Why don’t you?”
“Because if I told you,” Jameson condescended, his smirk turning joking, like he was enjoying this little power play over the well-dressed man on the back of the bus. “Then I would have to kill you.”
Jameson didn’t notice that when the man smiled, the cheek scar well-hidden under his beard crinkled ever so slightly.