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In Profundis

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The pity you mistake for fear...

 

Starling is accustomed to being asleep and awake at varying intervals. While it is true that she was able to settle into a kind of routine, she was always ready for that routine to be interrupted. Much of the time, she was up at six in the morning, sometimes earlier if she made breakfast. By seven she was usually at Quantico for fire arms training. She preferred the outdoor range, as did her roommate and friend, Ardelia Mapp.

Sometimes she received a call on her radio while cleaning her weapon—sometimes she did not. Sometimes she was well-briefed and familiar with the investigation—sometimes she was not. Sometimes the conditions were right for an arrest—sometimes they were not. Sometimes the suspects were taken in without incident—sometimes they were not. The work day often ended with paperwork, which always seemed to be when her exhaustion began to seep in. Not the training, not the inept briefing or the dick-measuring, not the negotiations nor the shouting nor the fighting; even the distinct thanklessness of the job did not exhaust her. No, it was always the paperwork; it was the drudgery. An unceremonious end to the unceremonious beginning. Things were not terrible, nor were they exceptional. They just were. She just was.

The plane she was on left on time, around 1:35 in the morning. It was on United, or as Starling called it privately, ‘Fucking United’. A flight with one stop from Quito, Ecuador to D.C. takes no less than ten and a half hours. They had been in the air for less than one hour, and Starling, in spite of an overwhelming fatigue, fidgeted in her seat. She attributed it to being without her firearm, which she would not retrieve until back in America. It was her first time leaving the U.S., and the most interesting thing that had happened to her since the events the previous year.

There are a number of visual memories which surface in Starling’s mind, memories from that time. They do not surface with the leisure of a cork or some other piece of litter in an ocean; they surface like jumping piranhas, as abrupt as they are vicious. They flicker in a corner of her mind, at all times. Sometimes she finds herself turning to that corner, other times she has the strength to show it her back. But it is warm on her shoulders, and sometimes she feels eyes moving over her. Sometimes they are Jame Gumb’s eyes, moving silently in the dark. A jumping, gnashing memory now, a crack of sound, a blinding clap of light, and in that instant moment of sight she can see his face obscured by night-vision goggles , surprise and pain. The incense of gun smoke, the stink of fear and body odor.
Sometimes the eyes are faceless, in the deeps of a dungeon. She did not look at those faces, only heard the shuffle of their hopeless shoes and their distant wails. She could not turn away from that. She could not turn away from the lecherous gaze of Dr. Chilton, or the sound her own shoes made in the acoustics of a corridor erected by iron and stone.

Least of all, she could seldom turn from the eyes of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. His eyes followed her now along the corridors of her own mind; he had escaped from the dungeon, and it seemed he had escaped from that flickering corner of her mind, too. He had free-range now, and his voice whispered to her through the walls, never far, never far. She didn’t know how many times she’d wondered where he was. What he was doing now, right now… What was he looking at? What did he smell…
He had his view, he’d given her that much. Did that make her glad? She wondered if he wondered that. She was glad in one room and sorry in another. There is room in Starling’s mind for disagreement. There are many Clarice Starlings here in this private house; sometimes they agree and other times, they can only agree to disagree and do their best to live in peace. There is room enough for that. Starling can stretch herself, sprawl out in the rambling, cluttered manor of her mind. There is room enough to not know every room. There is room enough to keep some wings locked and untouched, a thin film of dust collected over the draped furniture, ominous shapes in an unused atrium. She does not uncover those shapes, or go into those rooms, or unlock those doors, or even venture down those wings. They are unkempt and dangerous.

At the trembling of turbulence, Starling thought about piranhas. There had been an amusing moment while traveling near the Columbia/Ecuador border with a few members of the Ecuadorian military. They were in a log canoe on the river, looking for a kidnapped US citizen who was mining for gold in the area. How very far from Washington, indeed. Backup was, of course, nonexistent. Starling was used to that. Then she let her hand dip into the water, she couldn’t say why. The Ecuadorian Army major said “Don’t do that, Piranha.” For less than a second, she thought he’d called her a Piranha. She retrieved her hand and looked back at the infested water. She looked, looked deep.

Starling opened her eyes and looked out of the airplane window. It was dark, but they were high above the clouds now, a soft bed of clouds below, and she looked across the rolling planes of the stratosphere. Below the incorporeal landscape was the lowest layer. The troposphere is an unstable layer where air is moving constantly. If airplanes were to fly in this layer it would be a much bumpier ride. Starling gazed out the window, looking deep.

It is midday when she gets home. Ardelia is not there, and Starling finds she is glad to be alone, for the time being. She considers showering, briefly. She intends to shower, but instead finds herself sprawled across her bedspread. Many hours later, she awakens to sounds and smells in the kitchen.

Ardelia looked over her shoulder when Starling came in. Giving her a quick once over, she nodded her chin to the chair nearest the door.

“Want some tea, Starling? I’m making shrimp,” she said, watching Starling sit. Ardelia smiled. “But you knew that already.”

“I think they can smell it back on the Amazon,” said Starling.

“And wishing they were here.”

“Oh, that’s for certain.”

Ardelia was working with her back to Starling for a moment. When she turned to pass her a cup of tea, she locked her gaze. Starling took the cup and braved Ardelia’s examination.

“Yeah? And?” she said, and Ardelia snorted with a smile.

“Well, what are you gonna do?”

“Eat, sleep and work.”

“You better be doing more than that.”

“Would that I could.” Starling took a sip of the tea and sighed long and deep.

“You make the time if it’s a priority,” Ardelia said, her back facing Starling, again. “We both know that. It’s like people who are always late. They know how to be on time, they just don’t care enough to do it. You don’t care enough to do it.”

“Well, I know we’re not talking about punctuality. So what are we talking about?”

“Depends,” Ardelia shrugged. The okra was beginning to brown and she added seeds and juice to the skillet. “What is it you want that you’re not getting? It’s different for everybody.” She decided to add more salt, and nodded in approval. “Some people need to socialize, some people need to knit. Some people need to fuck and others need to taste wine. What is it you want? What are you not making time for?”

“What do you like?”

“Cooking and fucking are pretty high up on the list.”

“Ever do both?”

“Sure.”

“Maybe I can multitask too.”

“But what are you multitasking?” Ardelia grinned over the browned okra.

“How long have you got?”

Ardelia was finishing, and was quiet while she made plates. When they were both sitting, and had taken a bite or two, Ardelia adjusted her position and pointed her fork towards Starling. “You know what I think?”

“Sometimes.”

Ardelia rewarded her with a wry grin. “I think you need to get laid.”

“And here I thought you’d tell me to take up stamp collecting.”

“Well, you did say you could multitask.”

They laughed with their mouths full.

Up at six the next morning, and Starling took a foot in her hand while braced against the banister. She pulled it back until her heel touched her thigh, stretching first one, then the other leg. After her run, she showered at the gym, and changed before heading to the firing range. Ardelia was already there. Today, she received a call on her radio. It was a Friday, and Starling had discovered that thieves had a strange habit of robbing banks on Friday afternoons. It was rather inconvenient for anyone who wanted to have a good time on a Friday night. Sometimes, it was alright. But other times, it was hard to drink and mingle with the sight of a bloodied mouth gaping open over the hood of a car fresh on the mind. Sometimes she thought, ‘Well, why not? Death happens every day whether I’m there for it or not. The world keeps spinning, time and space are indifferent. Wear the sad little party dress and get a fucking drink. Let a man look at you. Touch his arm. Let him probe and paw.’ But any time she tried, bulging, pleading eyes jumped forth, a memory piranha at the worst of times.

How did Ardelia do it? Ardelia was a different person, she reminded herself. Maybe she did it to forget the pleading eyes. Maybe Ardelia was like the forces of nature, and was indifferent to death. Maybe that’s how you were supposed to be. Did compassion even help in saving lives? How many lives were lost to save lives?
Sometimes they’d reach. Reach with the last bit of life, look at her with the last bit of animal surveillance. Sometimes, they mistook pity for fear.

The following Saturday, Starling still woke up at six. She went for a run. She went to the firing range and cleaned her gun. She showered and went to the store. No one called. Ardelia came in wearing the clothes she’d worn the night before and went to sleep in them. Starling envied her, and did the laundry. When Ardelia woke up, it was Starling’s turn to offer narcotics and food. They talked about the reliability of DNA testing as evidence in criminal trials.
The next day came and went, and was discarded in the night by Starling’s subconscious, labeled as rubbish. The following week came. Up at six, running, showering, fire range, cleaning the gun. A radio call? Yes? No? Surveillance, dick-measuring, stuffy vans or negotiations? Studying of a map, in and out of cars, make an arrest with Brigham. No problems, no pleading eyes, thank you, thank you. Who did she thank? She supposed God.
Starling’s life is a castle in perpetual dusk. It is situated in a lonely, grim wood. Around the castle is a mote, and within, a brightly lit meadow. Starling inside is neither sad nor joyful. She only is.

...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

Beyond Starling’s castle walls, not far beyond the mote, something watches and waits. It’s eyes reflect light in pinpoints of red, and it likes to eat lunch outside, when the weather permits. It’s own castle is not so very far, and it moves within the walls with the silence of a specter. Whether it thinks is not in question, but whether it feels. At dusk, it sits near the terrace doors, which it has opened to let in the warm, April air. Summer will be here soon, and it lifts a glass of wine to its nose and sniiiiifs.

For a moment, it think it can smell Starling, but no—it is not a smell, but an effect of olfactory memory and incidental conditioning. For the last two months, it has sat outside at dusk sniffing wine, and thinking of Starling’s self-imposed limbo. The creature has developed a number of associations with Starling, the least of which is not the smell of almonds and fresh laundry, nor the color of blue and it’s reflection of the light in a facet of glittering ambition.

The creature inhabits the body of a man, and the man drapes one leg over the other and looks out at the fiery sky. He thinks of her hair in the sun. She was astute, he knew. But that was irrelevant. She was still merely a cub, rolling about with other cubs. She was growing fast, it was true. He had gotten easily lost in entertaining himself since his return to the new world, lost focus on what he wanted. The specifics of what he wants are hard to tell. The creature is not easily read. But, he reflects, she was growing fast. Perhaps it was better not to idle.

In the first months of escape, Dr. Lecter took the time to enjoy things only when it was both convenient and shrewd. A nice view here, a good meal there. He could not help but notice that Clarice Starling frequented his mind. It did not alarm him, nor did it intrigue him, in the beginning. She was fresh on his mind, the scent of her still lingering where he’d touched her. Her rich textures still prompting him to reach out and touch the smooth, cool marble of a passing column in the street, or linger his mouth along the skin of a grape. Once, after having brought home fresh raspberries for pork medallions, he found himself holding one and turning it over in his hands. He brought it to his face and touched it with the pointed tip of his tongue, running it slowly along the bumpy contours of its bright, blushing skin. He wondered how sensitive Clarice Starling was. Would she admit only a taste or perhaps a nibble? Could she tolerate a bite? He popped it into his mouth whole, and ate it with his eyes closed.

It was not until he had fed himself to satisfaction on the sights of his first destination that Dr. Lecter began to realize that he wanted to see her. To touch her would be ambitious, and nearly as bullheaded as the agent herself. No longer a trainee, he reflected. Soon, not even a cub. How much longer did he have before she was no longer so fetching in her cocksure tenacity? How much longer would her bites and scratches be darling? How much longer could he withstand those charming protests should he hazard a little fondle?

He knew that when she’d grown, she would be all the more amusing. Everlastingly amusing, but at a certain sacrifice. Dr. Lecter has not known intimidation in many, many years. He could predict Starling would grow to be a rather large cat. He could no longer let the cub roll about at his feet, or rub her belly without consternation. If she nipped him in a few years, it could prove to be fatal.

It is important to acculturate a predator to one’s presence early on. One’s survival could depend on it—if one is inclined to associate with dangerous animals.
On the 20th of April, a trip to Arlington reveals to Dr. Lecter that Starling is out and her roommate is in. It is only a mild inconvenience, and Dr. Lecter goes to a nearby restaurant for a sandwich. Unless her routine was interrupted, she was either amidst an investigation or stuck in a hearing. Once the sun had gone down, he began to suspect that it was a hearing. Alternatively, she was in the middle of an investigation that had gone awry. Nothing much he could do, there.

He was sitting in his car down the street, when the roommate stirred in the house. A light came on, then another. Shortly after, she was leaving in her car.
Dr. Lecter pursed his lips, his eyes narrowing a fraction. Follow, yes or no? He started the car. They were halfway to their destination before Dr. Lecter knew they were headed to the airport. He did not follow her the rest of the way.

There were ways to surveillance her, which would reveal to Dr. Lecter every move she made. However, he considered this a breech in privacy. It was one thing to observe her as she shuffled along the fringes of her life, as a neighbor or colleague might. Beyond that was within the realm of stalking, and was evidence of the petty, derogatory existence of a dawdling nescient. He would not do that. However, Dr. Lecter considered going into her now empty home. If he were to do so, it would not be courteous to come empty-handed.

When he arrived home, he goes about undisturbed by the evening, but keeps watch over the news, on mute. He could not abide its blathering in this place of solitude. He does not have to wait long.

 

While Dr. Lecter had reclined in his chair one evening, perhaps composing a piece to later test his new piano, Starling had been arriving in Waco, Texas with a group of other agents in indignant cooperation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. By the time they arrived at the ranch in Mount Caramel Center, the ATF had already attempted a raid, resulting in the death of four government agents and six civilians.

The leader of the sect, which Starling had long since learned was named David Koresh, had his followers holed up inside, allegedly staying of their own free will. The group of civilians inside included children, and Starling scoffed at the idea that any child had free will. An echo down the halls of her mind wondered, Do any of us? She shook off the thought, and stayed focused during the debriefing.

After the ATF had withdrawn, they had at least established communication with Koresh and the others inside. They were met with Commander Rogers, who headed the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. In taking some reading in his eyes while he spoke, Starling saw both disgruntlement and defensiveness. He had previously been criticized for his actions at Ruby Ridge, and she could see it all, see the experience stuck in his eyes, watery and a little irritated without any tears. As at Ruby Ridge, Rogers overrode the Site Commander at Waco and had mobilized both the Blue and Gold HRT tactical teams to the same site. It ultimately created pressure to resolve the situation tactically due to lack of HRT reserves.

They had cut off Davidian communication from the outside world. There were 25 agents negotiating over the phone with those inside, and Starling was one of them. There were two battles raging on, and she did her best to balance between the two. Attempting to get Koresh to free the hostages, particularly the children, and attempting to do so while the tactical commanders undercut them. There quickly was a divide between agents: those who advocated the use of negotiation, and those who preferred force. There was one moment when Starling’s head came up when Rogers was arguing with Brigham.

“There are more than thirty children inside, and it needs to be-“

“This has been going on for 20 days-“

“-it needs to be the top priority to get them out.”

“Koresh has already released a statement publically that everyone inside is there of their own free will. When-“

“That’s irrelevant-“

“It doesn’t matter if it’s true, Agent. Listen to me. Listen,” Rogers was saying, using his incidental height over the seated Brigham, who wore both an earpiece and a firearm at his hip. “It doesn’t matter if it’s true, because he released a video, and it looks like we’re fucking with a bunch of praying religious people.”

“All the more reason to keep talking to them.”

“You keep trying to handle this like it’s a hostage crisis, but-“

“This is a hostage crisis, there are children in there, some of which are likely being physically and sexually abused.”

“-Meanwhile, Koresh is spouting off Biblical garbage and claiming he needs more time to write religious documents. He’s just stalling. If they’re stalling and we’re stalling, this is going to go on and on and on.”

“The last time someone chose to go in with force, ten people were killed. We were brought in because of that failure.”

Starling cleared her throat to prepare them for her interruption. They stopped and looked at her, one with testy civility and the other with exhausted hostility. They waited, and she knew she only had one moment.

“If we want to make progress, and we want the kids out of there, let’s offer him something he wants in exchange for the kids. If we get at least some of them out, assuming Brigham’s right about the abuse, we can get them on record. If it comes to force, we’ll have more than pity for the Davidians.”

Rogers considered it, to Starling’s relief. Brigham gave her a quick smile. Rogers looked at her again.

“How do you propose we get him to release them, then? Isn’t that what you’ve been trying to do for the last week?” he said.

“Yes, but it’s been since we cut off their communication. That’s what he wants the most. He wants a platform. Let’s give him one. We offer him the chance to release one message and broadcast it on national radio. One message in exchange for the kids. Have we got child care professionals?”

“No,” Rogers shook his head. “We’ve got agents and the Texas rangers. But they know how to interview children.”

“Alright, then I say we give it a shot,” offered Brigham,” If we get them out here, we should have professionals called out, though. If there’s been abuse, they’ll need more than rangers.”

Rogers considered. “Let me make some calls, and I need to talk to Jeff. I’ll be back,” he said, and with that he was gone. Brigham gave Starling a thumbs up, and she gave him a half-hearted smile. They were exhausted in every way imaginable. And it was only the beginning.

It worked. With the release of nineteen of the children, everybody seemed to feel as though they’d made a breakthrough. No one mentioned Starling’s name, but she didn’t notice. In the hours afterwards, it was confirmed that the children had been abused long before the standoff. It turned out to be the key justification of the FBI, the President and the Attorney General to launch an attack.

It had started with tear gas. As the siege wore on, more aggressive techniques were used, including sleep deprivation. They played all-night broadcasts of recordings of jet planes, pop music, chanting, and the screams of rabbits being slaughtered. Starling slept during that time, but it was a raging, sweaty sleep from which she woke again and again, thinking she heard roaring and screaming.

One morning, Starling had been standing with Brigham and two others. She was shaking her head.

“This is absurd. They’re using techniques to drive someone crazy, someone who they view as unstable to begin with. And they want to drive that person crazy. I wonder how mad they’ll all be when he does something irrational.”

Brigham gave her a tired, sad smile.

It was not the only problem. It was true that the people inside were not traditional hostages. And the children that remained inside did not want to leave. It threw everything off, and they were all unprepared to work around religious zeal. Their training and techniques were alienated by religious imagery. By the end of the month, Starling had never wanted to be home so badly.

Ardelia had come to see her, on the twentieth. It was the day after the last day of the siege. Once there was tank activity, it was a matter of time before there was noise and fire. Starling summoned everything she had to—to—to what? She wondered.

The entire building was gased. The FBI HRT fired plastic, non-incendiary tear gas rounds through the windows and the Branch Davidians fired shots at CEV1. CEV2, with battering ram, ripped a hole into the second floor of the compound. Davidians unfurled a banner that read, ‘We want our phone fixed.’

Someone waved a white flag on the southeast side of the compound amidst the increasing wreckage and rage. He was told over a loud speaker that if he was surrendering, he should come out. He did not. Meanwhile, through the audio communication with the people inside, someone was saying, “I want a fire,” and then, “Keep that fire going.” They were setting the building on fire from the inside. The first evidence was a wisp of smoke on the second floor, then a small flicker. One of the walls began to collapse, and shortly after a woman exited, holding something. Starling and five others approached her, with Starling taking point. She did not question that it was because she was the only female in that moment. She put the woman on the ground quick and clean, frisked her, retrieved the computer disk inside her jacket and handed it off to someone.

The woman looked at her from behind her shoulder, her eyes hot and angry. Nothing had prepared Starling for being resented for saving someone. Nothing prepared her for being unsure of whether or not she had saved someone. Behind them, the flames spread quickly with high winds, and it roared as loudly as it burned at her back. Another Piranha in the deep, another flicker in the corner. The astringent tears of a lamb, screaming in her arms. Could you save someone whom does not wish to be saved?

Afterwards , in the hotel room, Starling cried while she was in the shower. She didn’t want Ardelia to see. They couldn’t get seats next to each other on the plane ride back. When they got home, they sat in the kitchen, and Ardelia made tea. Ardelia found many new splinters in Starling’s expression. She was hurting; she knew her brave face.

The siege had lasted 52 days, and Starling had been there for half of it. The bad half. Ardelia wondered if at any point, Starling would get the good half. She also wondered if karma was such a thing, and what Starling could have done to earn the specific torment she seemed to endure. It was not the deepest perils of hell, to be sure. It was more like the outskirts--the shallow end of misery.

“Would you consider some time off to recuperate? Beyond this weekend, I mean.”

Blessedly, she and Brigham had the next two days to rest, provided there wasn’t a national crisis.

“I don’t know that sitting quietly with it will do much good.”

“And laying over it with more noise would be better?”

“I don’t know,” Starling shook her head and looked away. She was tugging on the tea bag’s string, the water becoming murkier as she did so.

It was almost eleven by the time she was crawling into bed. She found a pretty bottle of lotion there, and took some of it into her hands, spread it up her arms and sniffed the newly perfumed air. It was divine, and she decided to ask Ardelia where she’d gotten it. Not to mention why she’d left it in her room.
The next day, Starling headed to the grocery store. It was early enough that it was still dark out. She had woken in the night four different times. On the fourth, she could not return to sleep. She went for a run in the nearby park, showered, dressed and then paced the kitchen. She could not stop moving. Ten minutes later, she was parking her car in the grocery store parking lot.

By the time she was finished, there was a dull light at the horizon, a sooty blue in the east. She shifted the bags into one hand when she shuffled between the cars, dipped the other in her purse to retrieve her key, and frowned. The faintest sting on her arm caused her to glance over, expecting to see an insect, or perhaps something stuck between her sleeve and arm. Before she could register anything, an arm came around her waist, the other dropping a syringe into a pocket and came quickly around her mouth as she screamed into the palm of a hand.

She dropped her bags and purse and launched backwards, using the side of her own car to propel their bodies. They knocked into the car behind, which rocked and complained, noisily. The sound of feet scuffling as she reached behind her, caught a bit of hair and tore. The assailant did not react.

She bit at the hand which held her mouth, attempted to kick the groin with the heel of her feet. She kicked and kicked, one of her feet knocking into the side mirror of her car, and wrenched it into the window. She dented the driver’s side door. As she began to lose strength, she could feel the assailant’s cheek pressed against hers, almost affectionately.

This came as no surprise to her. Physical fights had strange, intimate moments. Hot breath on the back of the neck. Lips, warm and wet against a palm. Hands grappling with limbs. Eyes locked, hearts pounding. The cheek was warm and she smelled fresh clothes and an oud bouquet, sweet and woodsy. She had her fingernails embedded into the back of his neck, and she could feel it slick with blood. She could smell it, too. Her grip was relaxing though, and panic began to settle in her stomach, a heavy sense of dread. Her feet were giving out, and she heard a voice, calm and rich.

“Shhh,” he said. “No pain.”