Lecter awoke to the unmistakable sound of muffled footsteps well before Barney the orderly noticed it, because shortly following it came the sounds of a scuffle, then of Barney choking for a few minutes before crumpling to the ground. Lecter’s interest was piqued, even more so when the footsteps travelled down his own corridor, stopped in front of his cell, and then turned into the insistent rapping of knuckles against plexiglass. Lecter breathed in sweat and stale cigarette smoke.
“Anybody home?” demanded a slightly rasping female voice.
Whomever was behind the voice was purposely treating him like a big cat on display in the zoo. And she was playing the part of the impudent little brat tapping at the glass of his cage.
Lecter did not move, did not open his eyes, as the tapping became less frantic and steadied to a consistent, incessant beat like a pulse. It was, if possible, even more irritating. Lecter could tell that that was his visitor’s intention. She was mocking him, and doing a decent job of it. Perhaps that meant she could see Lecter for what he was. Or perhaps she was just a one-dimensional maniac like any other Lecter had bent to his will in the past for his own amusement. Lecter found he wanted to know which it was, even more than he wanted to know how or why she’d managed to crawl up to meet him from the lower circles of the women’s ward of Baltimore State Hospital.
Still motionless, Lecter said, “Good evening.”
“There he is.” The voice was simpering now, like an indulgent mother’s or pet owner’s.
“You’ve gone to some trouble just to reach this destination by chance - or did you require my assistance with something?”
“Hmm . . . ” she considered, imitating to a tee Lecter’s prim, accented drawl. “When I began my journey out this evening I was looking for a lay. The violent men’s ward seemed the most appropriate place to begin my search. But then, perhaps I ought to have been looking for a shrink all along. What’s your professional opinion, Doctor Donner-Reed?”
“You are apparently lucid enough to follow the news. Though that, in my professional opinion, is not the clearest indicator of lucidity.”
She bared her teeth and sucked inward through them.
“Catty, Doctor,” she said. “Though I guess I would be, too, some of the things they printed about you. And that friend of yours, Graham something?”
“Oh, don’t deflect now, Ms. . . . ?”
“Call me Lisa.”
“Well, Lisa, you’re here for a shrink, aren’t you?”
Lecter finally stood, lithely, to face his visitor. His eyes, glinting specks of maroon in the few dim lights left on in the corridor at night, took her in at a glance. Her blonde hair was unwashed and standing up in many places, her pale patients’ scrubs rumpled, a glint of chaos in her sunken green eyes. Yet she couldn’t quite be described as dishevelled. There was beauty and magnetism in her full, if chapped, lips; her lazy, swaggering posture against the glass; her sharp cheekbones; even in those crazed eyes.
“Actually, I’ll take that lay,” she said, lewdly eyeing his dancer’s body up and down.
“Now, that won’t do,” Lecter said. “Hiding behind crassness. You were doing fine earlier, almost courteous.”
“False courtesy doesn’t blow my skirt up, sweet pea, and it doesn’t change the fact that underneath it all, you’re the same heartless son of a bitch who ate people’s guts just for kicks and tried to rip both of Nurse Margie’s eyes out.”
“I can assure you that discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me. And that if I’d been trying to rip both eyes out, I would have.”
Lisa smiled at that, an impossibly wide Cheshire Cat grin.
“Margie was engaged, you know,” she said. “He wanted to fuck her before they got married. I told her to fuck his brains out, use a rubber. I guess she lost that chance. Damn shame.”
“Yet you don’t seem much more bothered by it than I am. And, to be fair, I myself was rather fond of Barney, whom you just strangled to death as he was reading what I know to be his favorite part of Sense and Sensibility.”
“Mm. According to our files, we’re both sociopaths.” She widened her eyes and whispered the last word with mock fear, as if she had said the word “boogeymen.”
She straightened, pulled up her shirt in the back, and slid a pair of beige file folders out from where she’d had them tucked into the waistband of her pants.
“You broke into Dr. Chilton’s office,” Lecter observed. “Naughty.”
“Wanna look?” Lisa asked, waggling her eyebrows and waving the folders in her hand. “I already saw yours; it’s only fair you see mine.”
Lecter gestured impassively to his sliding food tray. Lisa sent the folders through and then turned away, humming “Downtown” to herself and taking stock of her surroundings as if giving Lecter a moment of privacy to review the files.
Lecter barely skimmed his own - he had already read the few works that had been published by psychologists trying to make a study of him. The file contained all the same drivel about violent tendencies and “pure sociopathy,” whatever that was supposed to mean. Lecter knew he could never be quantified, least of all by a mediocre psychologist like Frederick Chilton. Lisa’s file, Lecter found, looked similar to his own. It wasn’t just the shared “sociopath” label. It was the same weak, frustrated attempts to categorize and explain where no categorization or explanation was possible.
Hearing Lecter slide the folders back though the tray, Lisa turned and piped up, “So, doc, what’s your diagnonsense? You agree with Dr. Fuckface?”
“Nice, my old shrink liked to pull that one, make the patient diagnose herself. Kinda lazy, if you ask me. But, hey, you’re the professional. Sure, I’ll be a sociopath. It’s freeing. Nobody can press your buttons if you’re already dead inside.”
“Already dead inside? Oh, Lisa, you disappoint me. I thought you’d be above denial. Your file mentions you ran away from your last institution with a fellow patient in tow, a Susanna Kaysen. That wouldn’t be Susanna Kaysen the writer, now, would it?”
“You read that whiny, girly book of hers?”
“I’ve come across it. I haven’t much to do but read. Nor do you, as it would seem.”
“Yeah, well, reading’s all I can do to keep track of the bullshit people say about me, since no one has the stones to come and face me with it.”
“You’re no longer in touch with Ms. Kaysen?”
“Just like you’re no longer in touch with Special Investigator Will Graham.” Her tone was biting, but then turned mischievous: “Now there was a fucking slice, before he got sliced up. Those big puppy eyes, the mental instability. I wondered why you never ate him, but then I figured you were probably already choking on him.”
She had found Lecter’s button, and she knew it, even before the reddish gleam in Lecter’s eyes turned quietly murderous.
“Look, man, it’s cool,” she continued. “Not just the gay thing, I mean, hell, that’s even hot.” She grew morose now: “But you saw mine, I see yours. Now, I won’t - I will not - say I’ve got some big secret to spill and be cured. I don’t have any great trauma that made me the way I am - that’s why I’m a lifer. But I’ll admit I had my Susie-Q and I let her go and let her break my heart, or what was left of it. Just as long as you admit you let Puppy Eyes do the same thing to you, sweet pea.”
“I’m under no illusions that I’m a sociopath,” Lecter said somberly, but with control. “Nor am I the product of some trauma - nothing happened to me; I happened. I also loved Will dearly; I offered him a beautiful world to share in with me, but he didn’t want it.”
“We are in the same boat, then.”
“It appears so.”
Quiet tears had been running down Lisa’s cheeks but she wiped them off when orderlies’ urgent voices and footsteps started echoing closer and flashlight beams began searching down corridors for an escapee.
“In here, boys!” she called over her shoulder, regaining her swagger just as an orderly rounded the corner and found Barney on the floor.
“My ride’s here,” she addressed Lecter again. “But I’ll come by and visit again sometime, doc. Tonight’s session was real helpful.”
“Good night, Lisa. I wish you the best of luck.”
She winked at him, and then at the orderly who approached warily to restrain her and deliver her away to solitary.