Theirs was a marriage of convenience first, inevitability second, respect and duty third, and love somewhere amidst all the rest. Some wives can tell you the very moment when they fell in love with their husbands. Clarice could not. All she knew was that she had always respected him, he had always annoyed and affected her on a level that felt far too personal even when he was just Mr Crawford, and his approval was one of the only ones worth earning. He also made her feel a certain way, like summer and winter all at once, like longing and restraint and understanding and absolutely no understanding at all, but that was something to be locked away in the stronghold of her heart.
Nobody was surprised by the news of their engagement. It seemed like half the FBI showed up at the wedding. Nobody was critical or hesitant. They were separated in age by over twenty years, and nobody said a word. It must have been clear that this was not a union at risk of ending in tears and wrath after only six months' time: this was the real deal, this was reality and hardship, this was not girlish love or recklessness, it was two people making a mutual decision of mutual benefit. For those closest to them, it was the obvious truth that Clarice and Jack would remain friends all of their lives. Their past, their sense of responsibility, and a certain affinity, a recognition of self in each other, bound them together. Why not take the obvious step and bind themselves legally? It didn't seem much of a stretch to elevate this relationship of two close friends to one of husband and wife.
They had started out with coffee and quiet conversation. Once the dust had settled on the Buffalo Bill case, they found that time spent together was time which allowed them to remain anchored to a crazed world. Jack was guilty for what Clarice had put herself through to catch Bill and felt he should make it up to her in some way. Clarice appreciated being a friend to a respected member of the FBI hierarchy. And after months of giving constant and intensive care, Crawford did not want time to let the finality of his first wife Bella's death sink in. He was a hard man, but he needed companionship and normality just like any other widower. That was why he had kept working, kept himself busy.
If they were together it meant that both of them could avoid subjects best left forgotten, which would otherwise spring freely to mind. It's an odd fact of life, how close a dramatic experience can bring two people. They began taking lunch breaks together. Clarice would talk through her newest cases, and Jack would listen, sometimes offering advice. Mostly he just listened.
Clarice could tell he had things to say, under the surface. She could not expect much from him. He was only being cordial with her because he felt some sort of embarrassed responsibility for her career at the FBI, which he had damaged almost before it had begun. She would pause with a coffee cup in her hand - he would be looking out of the café window, staring at the cars and people beyond, but his sight would catch on something on a different level altogether. She felt that if she shut up and drank her coffee, maybe he would feel the courage to speak. He never did.
One night he called her up for dinner in a proper restaurant. He said if they were going to eat so many meals together they may as well eat something half-decent. She wasn't busy. Clarice didn't know what to wear, so she wore a work suit. So did he. He actually smiled when he saw her, because they were both awkwardly uncomfortable and he had expected nothing less. They stood evaluating one another before they sat at a table, both of them dressed in the only attire they knew how to wear, dark grey and oppressive.
They never acknowledged it or spoke the words to each other as their relationship progressed, but it did, as steadily as a river erodes through rock. From then on they dined together every few weeks. Once they even went to see a movie on impulse, at Clarice's behest. It had been raining heavily. They stood just outside the theatre doors for shelter, watching lights bounce in waves off car windshields, and she pulled him inside, laughing. Something in her brain was bemused by this behaviour around him but she pushed it aside. She wanted to remember that moment, standing out of the rain with Jack Crawford. Clarice did not remember much of the film: instead she recalled the face in the darkness beside her, and how she tried to read anything in the blank granite of its long features.
At work they maintained a professional distance. Clarice finished her training and found her way into Behavioural Science, partly or largely thanks to her connection to Crawford. She told herself that she had earned the position on her own merit. That was an easy thing to believe, because she was hard-working, staunch, had a healthy sense of self interest, and she had almost single-handedly caught Jame Gumb for God's sake.
But in the FBI it was widely known that Jack Crawford had taken Clarice Starling under his wing, whether she had asked him to or not.
It was a long time, months, before they advanced their relationship beyond simply the attraction of shared company. At that point Clarice had come to view Crawford as a valuable ally, a candid friend, and a link to her roots, perhaps lurking in the back of her thoughts like a mentor might, but of no greater significance. This was, after all, Jack Crawford, the man whom she first laid eyes upon in a guest lecture at the University of Virginia.
There had been some rumours circulating in Behavioural Science. Clarice laughed them away. It was amusing to her that somebody would take the time to envision adulterous relations between members of department. Ardelia was the only one who would dare confront Clarice about such gossip, and she did. Clarice denied it all.
It hadn't been true, but it had shown Clarice the first glimmer of realisation in her mind that, perhaps, Crawford meant more to her than she had assumed. Assume. Crawford would have hated that. "You'll make an ass out of u and me both," he always said. So instead she tried to stop assuming, tried to pause and analyse her feelings critically, honestly, without embarrassment or the flush of self-comprehension. What Clarice found was something fragile, flighty, and difficult to accept.
Perhaps nothing would have happened between them had it not been for something Clarice did one evening when they were sitting in an all night diner. He had been working late in his office, poring over some files. She had spotted his light on as she walked past to head home, poked her head in, seen him hunched there in the pool of light from his desk lamp, and asked him if he wanted to give it a rest and grab something to eat. Maybe it was odd that she worried sometimes about his sleeping and eating patterns, worried if it was hard for him to stick to a routine now that his wife was gone.
Crawford had ordered an omelette. Clarice just asked for decaf coffee. Crawford had some files with him and he was still studying them at the table.
She watched him read. His eyes were small, tired, bouncing in little staccato leaps over the lines of text. His fists were clenched unconsciously around his untouched omelette on the tabletop. He reminded her of an ox, yoke resting across his shoulders, body bowed under the weight of all that he chose to take upon himself. Clarice had not expected it - but he had been close and she had felt an overwhelming urge to touch him in that moment, to know if he really was made of stone and steel or if warm blood ran under that skin. She had moved her hand forward and rested it upon his own. Men didn't get much better than Crawford in her eyes. She needed to feel him, feel the man behind this beast of burden. It felt strange to be so bold and so chaste. Clarice had held onto Crawford's eyes, forced herself not to smile.
Crawford looked up from his papers. He looked at her like she was door which he had thought shut, now suddenly opened.
From then on things changed between them in a way that could not easily be reversed. The rumours abounding in the FBI had become a reality. They took coffee together still, but it was no longer about the coffee: it was about other heady aromas swirling between them, something lingering on the air which was hard to define. Clarice did not want to define it. She simply wanted it to be, wanted it to develop and grow, she wanted to nurture it like she had nurtured some of her father's garden plants as a child. She wanted to pour a little water, add some fertile soil, let the thing take shape and take form - and then say, look what we have created. Look at this thing of beauty.
But Crawford was not sentimental, and Clarice did not expect him to be. In fact, it was one of the traits which had first attracted her to him. After far too many men far too willing to proclaim everlasting love to get into her pants, it was refreshing to find someone more concerned with rational thinking than schmaltz and empty promises. And more concerned with rational things in general. Sometimes it seemed like Crawford lived on an entirely different plane, a higher plane than other mere mortals. Whilst people around the world let themselves succumb to passion and wild fancies and dark desires, he was a bastion of judicious self-discipline. It was admirable, but could a man really live like that? Did he ignore his emotions or was it just that he did not have any, that after years of disregard they had withered away entirely as the unnecessary appendages of a man of morals? When she first kissed him - when she let her own desires take hold - and he had returned the kiss with lips as hard and cold as marble. Where was the heart pumping within?
When she asked herself what she was doing with this golem, this automaton man, he would stop the question in its tracks. He was there for her when she needed him. He treated her like an adult capable of making her own decisions, capable of handling her own feelings. He made it clear he envisioned a future for the both of them, that he was not interested merely in short-term benefits. Really, what more could she ask? He invited her to dine in his big empty house and they made love for the first time on his sofa. He murmured things in her ear that she could not hear. She pulled him closer and called him Jack. She knew why the double bed was left unmentioned and unoccupied: because that was where he had lain with his wife Bella, and that was where, only a year ago, she had died.
Clarice could not help but be drawn to Crawford. Everything about him was of interest to her, even the stupid things, even the little things. Although she could not pinpoint the instant when she learned what it meant to love Jack Crawford, over time Clarice had come to understand that love was about wanting to know everything there was to know about a person, to know even the things they didn't know themselves, to know them so fully you could feel them there even when they weren't. Love was like having that person inside your head at all times, fully formed, and not being afraid to share the space.
I love you Jack, I love you Jack. She whispered it to him when he was asleep in her arms. She was once brave enough to tell him when he was conscious, when they were driving home from dinner. It is hard to say a thing which you know to be true, which you believe more deeply than any other thing in the world, which has burrowed far inside your chest cavity and made a home there, when you also know you will receive no response.
For Crawford was not a man who found it easy to say I love you. Not even when he proposed to her: that was "Clarice, will you be my wife?"
Nor did Jack smile frequently, as a rule. Clarice remembered all the times she had seen him smile freely, openly, without the usual mask of restraint he imposed over his every waking moment. The most memorable had been at their wedding. But he had not smiled at her: standing at the altar with her he had been stony-faced and subdued, almost like he felt nothing at all. No, he only smiled once the vows had been said and her role essentially completed, when he could step down and step away from her, leaving her watching after him, alone on the platform in a rented dress, clasping flowers, her eyes fixed on his tall, straight back as he shook hands with the guests and allowed his face to break into a true smile.
It had been an uncannily beautiful day. The whole time, Clarice had felt like a mannequin. She posed for photographs, made idle conversation, and Jack did not smile at her once. Another memory to be confined to her mind's own personal jail.
Did she resent him? Of course she did, a little. There isn't a wife alive who doesn't resent her husband to some extent, for what he has taken from her and what he can continue to take. But she also loved him, and she knew there was an irresistible force inside her which wanted to please him and always be the one to please him. Jack was still suffering the death of his first wife, even if he showed few outward signs. Clarice had never quite imagined herself playing the role of little lady, but whilst her career spluttered and stalled she could at least expend some energy on being a wife, and all the strange mysteries that entailed.
Clarice tried not to think about Bella. She knew that was a dangerous path to follow. Yet the unspoken thought always lingered in the back of her mind, taunting her at the most inappropriate moments, clenching a tight fist around her heart when she least expected it. If she held her husband's hand she would wonder if the hand of his late wife had fitted more naturally into that broad palm. What were Jack and Bella like together? Did they move together with more ease, did their rhythms match, did their lives slot effortlessly into one like two pieces of the same puzzle? Was hers the heart that could spur his into action? Did he love her more, that woman he had lost, the woman she had never known, the woman she compared herself to every day?
Sometimes Clarice thought of Lecter. It had been a long time since they had last spoken. But he was still not captured - he was still free somewhere in the world, still lurking somewhere doing Lecterish things and smiling disarmingly Lecterish smiles. He had tried to send her the occasional letter, but the FBI had always stolen away the evidence for investigation and analysis without allowing her to read them. Lecter was better than that. If he truly wanted to contact her, she knew he would find a way.
Clarice did not shy away from these contemplations. She knew it was natural for a woman to look back on the momentous moments she had experienced, those moments which had shaped her and whose echoes still reverberated like ripples in the pool of her life. And Lecter had indeed shaped her. Still, hadn't there been a something - just a little something - a spark of static, a jerk in the guts - as his finger brushed hers and as he stared into her eyes with his ruby-red pinpricks, telling her things which nobody else had ever dared to say -
Yes, she did think of him occasionally, but never to as great an extent as she did one fateful Saturday morning.
Jack and Clarice held dinner parties occasionally. They had sold his old house and moved into a new one after the wedding. It was a little more modern, more spacious, well-suited for dinner parties. But none of these factors were the real reason behind the new home. They had a new home because Jack could not stand to have the memory of his old wife haunting his every waking moment as he tried to build a new life with his new wife. Still, even this new house, when quiet, reminded Jack of those long lonely days when Bella could not speak to him and he had only the threatening pulse of silence for company. It was for this reason that he always had music playing, or the radio on. Jack would leave the television talking to itself even when he left the room. Clarice did not have the heart to turn it off.
So dinner parties, the noise and the atmosphere, were good for them. They would invite work friends and acquaintances they did not usually have time to spend with. Jack and Clarice did the cooking together, although Clarice often felt like she got in the way and relegated herself to chopping vegetables. It was like Ardelia's recipes all over again. Jack was a far better cook than she. He'd had to learn while Bella was sick, whereas it seemed like Clarice had inherited none of her mother's knack for stoves and skillets.
Clarice would leave the cleaning up for the next day. She was no wonder at keeping the house tidy, and she had to cajole herself into the chore. One morning, after a dinner party, Clarice woke up with the taste of the previous night in her mouth and resigned herself to the fact that there were dishes to clean downstairs. The bed was empty beside her. Jack always rose early. It was a habit acquired over many years, and she had grown accustomed to waking up alone. She slipped on a dressing gown and headed to the kitchen to tackle the pile of washing up looming beside the sink. She could hear the quiet drone of the radio coming from along the downstairs corridor. Jack was in his study.
Dirty glasses were still scattered around the dining table. Crumbs and napkins littered the floor. Clarice was picking up the glasses when the phone rang. She went to answer it in the kitchen, held the receiver in the crook of her neck as she juggled the wine glasses and tumblers with her elbows.
"I did consider calling on the wedding night, but that would have been just too callous."
Clarice felt her fingers slip, felt the floor melting away under her feet, but she was careful to place the glasses down before allowing cold shivers to overcome her.
"Hello, Clarice," said the voice on the phone.
She rested her palms heavily against the kitchen worktop and exhaled, long and slow. "How did you get this number, Dr Lecter?" Yes. Good. Stick to the facts and the important things. Stall him from what he has inevitably come to do.
"No Clarice, we're not playing this game. You know it was a trifling thing. Shamefully easy, in fact. I thought the FBI were more responsible with the confidentials of their employees, but then that was probably rather naïve of me."
Clarice glanced about the kitchen, trying to find an escape route. She should alert the FBI of this phone call. Jack was too far away. The phone had a short cord. But of course Lecter would have considered all eventualities anyway, he would have covered all of his tracks. Would it be wretched of her to give up now, or just wise?
"I have missed you, Clarice" said Lecter. "I wish we could see each other more often, but you know I've had to move away. I'm sorry about that. I always thought there was potential for us. You would love it here."
She said nothing yet. Think, think. Ignore the mocking and think. Clarice had told the man on the line things she had told nobody else, things not even her husband knew. He had glimpsed deep into the heart of herself, seen the pink and fleshy and unimpressive truth sitting inside. Lecter knew all that she was. And what did she know of him? Doctor, psychiatrist, cannibal, mass-murderer - but what was he? What was he made of? Her mind was drawing a blank.
He had promised not to come after her if she didn't come after him. She had kept her promise, so far. Even if she'd wanted to break it, the FBI was clueless as to his whereabouts. He had slipped through their fingers, slipped through hers. She didn't want to break it. He was one step ahead of the game. He called her up and said he missed her. He knew everything about her. She knew precious little about him. She felt like she was back in the schoolyard being taunted by demonic children with his face. Clarice, Clarice, where's your daddy now?
"I'm surrounded by culture, Clarice. I take walks up and down the river, I visit museums, and in the evenings I go to the theatre - just imagine! After years in that cell. And I know that you're trying to dig up a little culture of your own. Do the parties make you feel cultured? But supermarket wine and cheese on sticks isn't quite sophistication, is it Clarice?"
He seemed positively excited to speak to her. He wanted to tell her about his life of freedom. What was he playing at? She knew that he was giving her clues, taunting her. After a year she was still the trainee agent in way over her head.
"I suppose I ought not dodge the question any more. How is old Jack? Or to be more pertinent - how is married life? Just as dull as you were afraid to suspect?"
Finally she took control of her tongue and spoke. "It's something new."
"Ah, I see. Clarice, ever the intrepid explorer, eager to try something new. Did you propose or did he?"
"Interesting. I might have wagered the other way, but I suppose your values are a little too traditional for that. And do you fuck often?"
"I said do you fuck often."
A pause. "I don't know how to reply to that, Dr Lecter."
"Well of course you don't, you've been conditioned to believe that such things are crude and animalistic to talk about. Luckily I am an expert in both areas. You needn't worry about my credentials. Oh come Clarice, please don't tell me your husband has turned you into a prude and a bore."
She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to will her brain into action. Attack, parry, riposte. You just have to play his game. But before she could reply he was speaking again, beating her to it, pouring more of his poisonous words down the receiver.
"Do you remember what I said to you about Jack Crawford the second time we met? Specifically, what I imagined he thought about you?"
She was ashamed, and proud, to admit that she remembered every word he had ever spoken to her. "You asked me… if I thought he visualised scenarios or transactions. Fucking with me."
"Precisely. I was very pleased to know I'd been right all along. Of course, I'm sure there were reasons quite apart from sex for your marriage, but you can't deny that he must appreciate the unique benefits of having you as a wife. It's like buying the cow for the milk, isn't that right Clarice?"
She was crying now. The tears came hotly down her cheeks. Clarice tried to swallow the sound, but she knew Lecter had heard. She hated this man, she hated Hannibal and she hated Crawford, both of them as badly as each other.
She wondered if he was disappointed with her. Was that why he had called? Was that why he was stinging her with these cruel barbs? Because she had taken the easy option, she had submitted and said yes to a bland, safe domestic life, and it was all terribly boring. Perhaps he had expected more from Starling, his precious little Starling, so different and unique. But had she honestly had a choice? What else was there to choose out of life, really? What was there other than marriage, work, and society - people simply did not run away and leave it all behind. She was still living by the same principles that had always sustained her. She still had her job, even if her marriage had changed things. She was still the same old Starling, even if she was really Mrs Jack Crawford.
But she could not ignore that she felt tired, she felt wasted. She felt drained by the daily monotony of submitting to fate. Her job was run aground, her marriage was marooned. Too soon in life, all of her youthful blossom had fallen to the ground. And Crawford ate her like a peach. He had consumed all of her.
Lecter's voice cut sharply through her thoughts. "Does he love you, Clarice?" She had never heard him say the word love before. There was something terrifying in the way he said it.
"I don't know," said Clarice, in the smallest of voices.
"But you hope so, don't you? You lay awake at night sometimes, wondering what you're doing wrong, why you're unable to feel the body lying beside you?"
A low humming came from the other end of the phone. Clarice swallowed thickly.
"Hmmm. Do you think you are trying to replace your father with Jack Crawford?"
He was barely asking her at all, like he could cut out the middleman of her consciousness with nothing more than a tone of voice. It was not she, at least as she perceived herself, whose reply Lecter waited patiently for: it was her inner self, the combined inevitability of all her values and impulses, the small girl who used to sit at her family's kitchen table.
"Yes," said Clarice.
Crawford did not wear a hat in the same way her father had done. When she was very young she had thought her Pa a cowboy, mainly because of the hat. When Crawford wore a hat it would sit low, covering the eyes in shadows. Sometimes he gave her a look though, like burning fire, which reminded her of her father and that charcoal spark in the eyes. And the qualities she admired in her father - bravery, dedication, perseverance - were all present in Jack too. Did that mean she was trying to make him a substitute? Did the ghost of her father live on in Jack Crawford?
"Yes," she said, again, pointlessly.
"Thank you, Clarice. Thank you for your honesty, which you have always endeavoured to show me. That is all I wished to know."
She maintained a grim silence.
He made a short noise, as if about to draw the conversation to a close, then checked himself. "Actually, one more thing, Clarice. The lambs. I'm afraid I must ask about the lambs."
So there it was. That was what he really wanted, he really burned to know, miles away on the other side of the world.
"They're not quiet. They haven't been quiet for a while now."
"Ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes homines," said Lecter.
"What does that mean?"
"As fire tests gold, adversity tests strong men. Seneca's words. I'm sure even the feminist in you can appreciate the sentiment."
Clarice rolled her eyes upwards, as if willing some universal power to grant her strength. "Goodbye, Dr Lecter."
She hung up the phone.
Jack was reading a newspaper in the study, his glasses low upon his nose, the early morning sun slinking through the drapes and catching on the framework. She came to him, pale and shuddering. She stood before him like a phantom.
"What's the matter? Clarice? What's happened?"
She crumpled into his arms, messing up the newspaper, messing up his shirt and his jacket, messing up everything. He shifted to accommodate her, curled his arm around her.
"Hold me, Jack," she said into his shoulder.
He extracted the remains of the paper and threw it to the floor.
She didn't care if he was cold or reserved, she didn't care if he could never tell her that he loved her. None of that mattered, so long as he could hold her like he held her now and keep the screaming lambs away, keep Hannibal Lecter away, keep all of it far far away.