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When the Devil Smiles Back

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Clarice Starling hadn’t expected a summons from Agent Crawford, but she went to see him immediately after receiving it. He wasn’t the sort of man you kept waiting.

Crawford wasn’t in his office when she arrived, but she was told to go on in. Clarice did so, leaving the door open behind her. She started to sit down, but her attention was caught by the board covered with information about the Buffalo Bill killings. Five girls, all partially skinned and each dumped in a different river.

It was a national headline, and the subject of much speculation at the Academy, but this was the first time she had seen anything official related to the case.

“Good, you’re here,” a brusque voice said.

Clarice turned around, directing her attention away from the board. “Good morning, Mr. Crawford.”

He nodded in reply, shutting the door behind him. Crawford sat at his desk and gestured for her to take a seat opposite as he set his coffee down.

“Clarice Starling,” he said, glancing at the open folder on his desk. “Double major in Psych and Criminology, graduated magna. This says when you graduate from our program, you want to work for me in Behavioral Science.”

“Yes, sir.” She nodded. “Very much.”

“I have to say you’re doing well here.”

“I’m glad to hear that, sir.”

Crawford closed the folder and crossed his hands over it. “But you’re wondering why I called you in. A job’s come up and I thought of you. Well, let’s call it an interesting errand. We’re interviewing all serial killers in custody for a behavioral profile, but the last name on the list—well, he’s not known for being cooperative. I want you to talk to him today.”

Clarice leaned forward in her chair. “Who’s the subject?”

“Hannibal Lecter.”

Her mouth fell open; she quickly closed it. “Hannibal Lecter,” she breathed.

“How familiar are you with the case?”

“I’ve done a fair amount of reading on it,” Clarice said, “both during my classes at UVA and after he was captured again. It’s an area of interest, and the most famous serial killer case of the modern era, not to mention being of local significance.”

She swallowed nervously as she finished, suddenly remembering that she was actually talking to a man who almost died in Hannibal Lecter’s kitchen. “I’m sorry, sir, I—”

“Never mind, Starling. You can see why I don’t expect him to be cooperative. But we have to report that we tried. It’s also why I want someone new to interview him.”

“I understand.”

“If he’s uncooperative, I want a basic report. How does he look? What did he say? Dr. Chilton hasn’t been as forthcoming with details as he once was, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to know as much about Hannibal as possible.”

“Yes, sir.” She nodded again.

Crawford handed her a stack of papers. “Here’s the information on Hannibal Lecter—reacquaint yourself with it. The questionnaire for him is here, as well as a special ID for you. I want your report on my desk by noon tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. But may I just ask, why the urgency?” Clarice glanced again at the wall covered with case notes. Dr. Lecter had once consulted for the FBI, before his incarceration. “Do you think he knows something about Buffalo Bill?”

Crawford shook his head. “I wish he did. No, I want your full attention on this. Get him to complete the interview. Keep the conversation on topic and don’t tell him anything personal. You want to get him talking, not the other way around. And never, never forget what he is.”

“Yes, sir. Is there anything else?”

There was a pause, and Crawford sighed. “Do not under any circumstances bring up the name Will Graham.”

-----

Clarice had been warned about Dr. Chilton beforehand. She knew, of course, about the burns he had suffered at the hands of the Tooth Fairy, but she was surprised at what four years plus the best skin grafts and plastic surgeons money could buy could do. The skin on his face was irregular, but skillfully applied makeup mostly gave him an even, if false, look. Dr. Chilton would never again be a handsome man, but he was far from what she was expecting.

He ushered her into his office in a manner that was subdued, yet condescending. “So Jack Crawford has sent you to do what all others cannot.”

“I don’t know about that, sir. It’s a very simple questionnaire.”

“And what does he hope to learn from this questionnaire?”

“I couldn’t say.”

“Mm. Hannibal Lecter is the hospital’s most prized patient. We get a lot of detectives here, you know, still trying to unravel his psyche after all these years, even though more informed authorities have already spoken.” Dr. Chilton leaned on his cane as he ran his eyes over her. “Though I do not think the hospital has seen anyone as attractive as you since dear Dr. Bloom left for greener pastures with her wife. I would say Jack is being clever, but you are not Hannibal’s type.” He smirked. “Not nearly scruffy enough.”

He was talking about Will Graham, she realized with a start. Then she focused back on the matter at hand and forced a smile. “Well, then I’ll have nothing to worry about, will I?”

“Quite. Shall I show you the way?”

“Please do.”

Clarice followed him out of the office and started down the hall. Dr. Chilton talked as they walked.

“Of course he was imprisoned here before, though that was not under my care. Dr. Bloom got an extremely secure cell built specially to contain him, though she went overboard on the design, in my opinion. Still, it is here, so it must be used.” They came to a staircase, which Dr. Chilton began to descend slowly. Clarice measured her pace so as not to outdistance him. He continued talking. “He has been in my care for nine months, ever since he was recaptured in Florence. He slit a man’s throat and threw him off a bridge before police managed to subdue him. After the international transfer of custody, he was delivered to my door, where he belongs.”

They had reached the basement level, and the hallway ended in sets of bars. In front of them, there was a man sitting at a workstation.

Dr. Chilton turned to her. “Barney will buzz you in. Do not touch the glass. Pass him nothing but paper, and no paperclips or staples in his paper. If he attempts to pass you anything, do not accept it. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” He gave her a final smirk. “Also, your entire conversation will be recorded, though of course I would be delighted to hear whatever original insights you think you have gleaned from the exchange.”

Clarice nodded again, and with that, he turned his back on her and started up the stairs once more.

She turned around, and the man at the desk greeted her with a friendly smile. “Hi, I’m Barney.”

“Clarice Starling.” She held out a hand.

He took it. “Nice to meet you, Clarice. Are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

Barney pushed a button and the bars began to slide back. “You’ll do fine. And I’ll be right here.”

“Thank you.” Clarice smiled again and stepped through.

The bars began to shut behind her, and she started to walk down the brick hallway. Ahead of her there was another set of bars, and it slid open as she approached it. Beyond that, the hallway was a dead end.

To her left was a set of wooden doors. Clarice stood in front of them for a moment. Then she took a deep breath and pushed one open.

The room was nothing like a jail cell, and she had to remember not to stare. There was paneling on the walls, giving the air of an office from another age. But the illusion was shattered by the floor to ceiling glass that bisected the room, and the man who was standing beyond it.

Dr. Lecter stood in the center of his cell, his hands at his sides in a posture of attention. “Good morning.”

“Good morning, Dr. Lecter,” she said, approaching the middle of the room. “My name is Clarice Starling. May I speak with you?”

His eyes narrowed faintly as he studied her. “Jack Crawford sent you.”

“Yes, he did.”

“May I see your identification?”

“Of course.” She held out her badge.

The corners of his mouth turned up. “A little closer, if you please.”

Reminding herself that there was nothing he could do to her through the glass, she took two more steps.

He peered at her badge. “You’re not real FBI. Another gifted special investigator, perhaps?” The slightly mocking tone in his voice told her that he thought she was no such thing.

“I’m still in training at the Academy.”

That earned her a look of surprise, before a grin slid into place. “Jack Crawford sent a trainee to me? I hope he told you what I did to the last one.”

“I’ve read the file, yes.”

“It’s been a while since I heard from Uncle Jack. Whatever can he want now? The same as always, I expect.”

Clarice held out her papers. “I have a questionnaire, Dr. Lecter. I’d be pleased if you could answer it for me.”

“Why would I do that?” He folded his hands behind his back.

“I’m here to learn from you. If you’ll let me.”

“Have you no more instructors at the Academy?”

“None so accomplished as you, Doctor.”

Dr. Lecter seemed amused at that. “May I see the questionnaire?”

“Of course.”

“Pass it through, please,” he said, nodding at the metal carrier on one side of the room.

“Yes, thank you.” Clarice readjusted the strap of her bag and walked to the carrier. She put the papers inside, closed the drawer, and stepped back.

He moved to retrieve the papers and began perusing them. “Jack must be busy indeed if he can’t spare a real agent for this task. Or perhaps he’s just falling back on old habits.”

“What habits would those be?”

“To catch a killer, one must be able to enter a unique headspace. To succumb and see the world from a completely different point of view.” Dr. Lecter idly flipped a page and then looked up at her. “I can smell Jack’s desperation from here. He will never be able to perceive Buffalo Bill himself, and so he comes running in the guise of you, desperate to get the opinion of his last resort.”

“I’m—I’m here to interview you,” she stammered. “I’m not here for Buffalo Bill.”

“Of course you are,” Dr. Lecter said dismissively. “You just didn’t know it. Or perhaps you guessed, but then were misdirected.” Then he folded the papers and put them back in the carrier, before taking a few steps away. “Please tell Jack that this questionnaire was lacking in fundamentals. Even Frederick has asked better questions than that.”

Clarice moved to take the questionnaire back. Since he had brought it up, she was compelled to ask, “Do you know something about Buffalo Bill, Doctor?”

“I’ve read about him. What a naughty boy he is. I don’t expect to be getting any phone calls from him, but one never knows.”

Clarice pressed her lips together. “Is there anything you could tell me about him? Any thoughts or insights you might share?”

Dr. Lecter simply looked at her for a long moment, before stepping close to the glass. She forced herself not to move back and met his gaze squarely. His expression barely changed, though there was a shift in his features nonetheless—but it was something indefinable, something she couldn’t classify.

“How many girls has he killed so far?” he asked.

“Five.”

“There will be another one soon.”

“Yes, probably. Very soon.”

The corners of his mouth turned up, and his eyes glittered in a peculiar way. “Wouldn’t you like to stop him?”

“Yes.” She swallowed. “Yes, I would.”

“Bring me the case file. Tomorrow.” He leaned forward and added in a conspiratorial whisper, “I’ll help you catch him.”

Clarice’s heart sped up, and she stared at him in surprise. “Thank you,” she said, recovering herself. “I appreciate it very much. I will. But may I ask why you’d do that?”

Dr. Lecter regarded her evenly. “I have little to delight myself with here, as you can see. But serial killers always seem to liven things up nicely.” A pleased smile settled over his face. “The Red Dragon certainly did.”

-----

Clarice typed up her report that afternoon, describing Dr. Lecter’s physical state and summarizing his comments and displayed emotions to the best of her ability. She took a copy to Crawford’s office before five o’clock. She hoped he would appreciate the quick and thorough turnaround, but more than that, since Dr. Lecter had offered his assistance on the Buffalo Bill case, time was now a factor.

Afterward, she changed into her sweats to go for an evening run on the course, making a mental note to follow up on her report tomorrow morning.

She needn’t have bothered; when she got off the course, there was a voicemail on her phone telling her to be in his office tomorrow at eight sharp.

Clarice spent the rest of the evening reading articles that had been written during Dr. Lecter’s trial. His capture and subsequent imprisonment had been the top news story for months. Every media outlet in the Western world had covered it in some form or other. The articles were littered with the expected gruesome details, and many educated opinions about why Dr. Lecter was what he was.

Throughout all of them, two things remained constant—Dr. Lecter’s unapologetic and almost gleeful countenance, and the stony glare of Will Graham.

-----

“I want you to go back and talk to Hannibal today,” Crawford said, immediately after she was seated. “I don’t expect him to give us anything useful, but we have to try.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Since you got him talking, you’ll be the one to continue with him. You’ll take the full Buffalo Bill case file to him. See what he makes of it.”

She nodded. “Sir, what do you make of his offer to help with this?”

“Most likely, he’s bored. Don’t get the wrong idea, that doesn’t mean he’s going to be satisfied with analyzing a new killer. There’s every chance that the real game here is going to be misdirection. Pay close attention to what he actually says. Get anything you can from him, but don’t take it at face value. And I want a detailed report on all of it. We may be able to dig a kernel of truth out, and that could make all the difference.”

“Yes, sir.” Clarice paused. “That’s really why you sent me there, isn’t it? To get his help on Buffalo Bill? If that was the case, I just wish I was in on it, sir, that’s all.”

Crawford gave her a hard stare. “If you’d gone in with an actual agenda, Hannibal wouldn’t have cooperated. He would have toyed with you and then turned to stone. We needed to bait him.” Crawford pushed a set of folders across the desk to her. “Two copies of the Buffalo Bill file. You’re talking to Hannibal Lecter about it, so get familiar with all the details.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, Dr. Chilton is expecting you at one this afternoon. He hinted that getting a peek at the details of this newest killer would only be fair in exchange for the access he’s providing us. If he says as much to you, let him see everything we have on Buffalo Bill. It’s a small price to pay if it leads to anything that helps us catch him.”

-----

Clarice was greeted at the hospital by Dr. Chilton, who intimated to her that he would be most gratified if he had an opportunity to satisfy his professional curiosity about Buffalo Bill, and that he might even have his own insights to contribute to the profile.

She handed him her file with a smile before finding her own way down to Dr. Lecter’s cell.

Barney smiled and let her in, and moments later she was once again standing before the glass.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Lecter.”

“Good afternoon.”

“I’ve brought the file on Buffalo Bill,” she said, putting it in the carrier.

“Thank you. If I could have perhaps half an hour to review it, then we could discuss it.”

Clarice nodded. “That would be fine, Doctor.”

She left him then, closing the door behind her and going back down the hallway, pausing to wait for the bars to slide open. She ended spending the time chatting amicably with Barney, asking him about his experiences at the hospital and how he found Dr. Lecter.

“Just follow the rules, and things go fine with him,” Barney said. “I do the restraints anytime someone needs to go into his cell or he needs to be moved. He knows the procedures, and he’s never given me any problems. You be polite, and he’ll be polite back.”

“Were you working here when he was here before?”

He shook his head. “No. I’ve been here three years. But I’ve been in charge of Dr. Lecter’s care since he was brought back in. We get along fine.”

After the half hour was up, Clarice thanked him and returned to Dr. Lecter’s cell.

Instead of using the table in the center of the room, Dr. Lecter was sitting crossed-legged on the floor a short distance from the glass, with various pages from the file spread out around him. He looked up at her as she approached.

“Please, sit,” he said, gesturing in front of him. “I would offer you a chair, but circumstances have made me a poor host, I’m afraid. There was once a chair there, but Frederick had it removed.”

Not about to do anything that would jar Dr. Lecter out of his helpful mood, Clarice sat on the floor facing him. She found her eyes wandering over the papers he had spread out. She belatedly wished that she hadn’t given Dr. Chilton the second copy of Buffalo Bill’s file after all. Then she realized that most of the pictures were facing her, not Dr. Lecter, and that he had arranged them for her viewing.

“Tell me what you see,” he said, resting his elbows on his knees. “Paint a picture of the man behind these acts. Describe him to me.”

Clarice swallowed the reply that she was here for him to do that, not the other way around. She was willing to do whatever she needed to keep him talking. If he wanted to test her, then she was game.

“He’s a white male,” she started. “Serial killers tend to hunt within their own ethnic groups.”

“I didn’t.”

“You’re an exception, Dr. Lecter. This killer is not.”

Amusement flickered across his face, but it was tempered with the expectant look that many of her instructors wore, and he clearly wanted her to continue.

She did. “He’s not a drifter. He’s got his own house. He couldn’t live in an apartment.”

“Why not?”

“Because what he does takes privacy, both before and after. He keeps them alive for three days; then he shoots them and skins them. He lives somewhere that’s isolated, or at least has a fair amount of land around it.”

Dr. Lecter smiled. “Oh, but it’s astonishing what one can do with the proper soundproofing.”

Clarice immediately thought of what was found in Dr. Lecter’s own basement—as he obviously intended her to, given the keen way he was watching her for a reaction. She focused on the matter at hand. “Do you think he has the financial resources for that?”

“No. So you are correct. What else?”

“He’s in this thirties or forties. He’s got real physical strength, combined with an older man’s self-control. He’s not impulsive. He’s cautious, precise… And he’ll never stop.”

Dr. Lecter brought his fingers together. “Because?”

“Because he’s got a real taste for it now.” Her eyes darted back to the pictures, the line of girls so similar and dead. “And he’s getting better at his work.”

“Very good, Clarice. A profile without error, though it will do little to help you catch him. But please indulge my curiosity for a moment—can you tell me why they call him Buffalo Bill? It hasn’t been in the papers, nor is it mentioned here.”

“It started as a bad joke in Kansas City Homicide,” she said bluntly. “They said, ‘This one likes to skin his humps.’”

“Vulgar. And quite erroneous.” Dr. Lecter looked down at the papers again, reaching out to adjust the placement of one of them. Still glancing away, he said, “It occurs to me that you know a great deal about me, but the reverse is not true. Given the assistance I’m providing, perhaps we should remedy that.” He raised his head, his eyes meeting hers.

Clarice was immediately on her guard, the warning about not telling him anything personal ringing in her ears. “Maybe it would be better if we stick to the topic on hand.”

“You’re hungry for advancement, ready to make a name for yourself. Hungry enough to sit here with me and collect whatever insights I offer like a scavenger pecking at the bones. Yet not hungry enough to trade a few simple pleasantries?” He shook his head in mock disappointment. “Then I suppose I shall just have to take what I see without clarification.”

“And what do you see?”

His eyes narrowed fractionally, as if examining her for the first time. “You’re not more than a generation removed from poverty. Your cheap clothes and your accent say as much. All you dreamed about growing up was getting away. Now you’ve earned a college degree and are well on the way to a distinguished career, but that poor little girl still remains, like the currents that churn under calm waters.” He tilted his head. “Formative childhood experiences are difficult to overcome, no matter how much we achieve. The desire to reach for more becomes a background to the entirety of your life, something ever-present and inescapable.”

Clarice swallowed, taking a deep breath. She knew she was here because he was, though insane, a gifted psychiatrist, but it was another thing to have that keen intellect dissecting her. “You see a lot, Doctor,” she said. “You do. So I can’t imagine what you need my input for.”

“Conversations are more interesting if two people take part in them. It’s been a while since I had the pleasure of a good conversation.”

“Yesterday you implied that you would help with this case for your own amusement, nothing more.”

Dr. Lecter folded his hands, and his shoulders moved in a slight shrug. “And as I said, I have little here in the way of amusements. You’ll forgive me if I seize any opportunity of adding to them.”

Clarice pressed her lips into a thin line, quickly weighing the options. He was pushing her to see what she would do, and she knew it. But if she could find out anything about Buffalo Bill, a few personal details were irrelevant. “We will talk about me and then we will talk about the case,” she said, frank. “Agreed?”

“Agreed.” There was something dark and pleased in his eyes.

Clarice raised an eyebrow, still trying to figure out what he was playing at. “Am I really so interesting, Doctor?”

“It merely brings me joy to see your dedication to the task at hand,” he said smoothly. “What lengths would you go to in order to get the information you need, I wonder. So tell me, where does such drive come from? Why the FBI?”

“My father was the town marshal.”

“And he encouraged you to go into law enforcement?”

“No.” Clarice shook her head, wondering how he had managed to unearth such a painful memory so quickly. “No, he was killed when I was ten years old. One night he surprised two burglars coming out the back of a drugstore. They shot him.”

Dr. Lecter was looking intently at her. “And so you honor his memory by carrying forward with his occupation, walking in his shoes.”

Clarice swallowed. “I never put it quite like that to myself, but I suppose. It felt like a calling.”

“And what of your mother?”

“My mother died when I was very young. When my father was gone, I had nothing. No one.”

“Orphaned,” Dr. Lecter said. “I was orphaned myself, for a time. Were you sent to an orphanage? Or into foster care?”

“Not immediately. I lived with my mother’s cousin and her husband in Montana. They had a ranch for sheep and horses.”

“How long did you live there?” Dr. Lecter was leaning slightly forward, the expression on his face attentive and calm. She imagined that was the face he wore so many years ago when he gave therapy.

“Two months.”

“Why so briefly?”

“I ran away.”

“For what reason?”

“I’ll tell you,” she said, holding his gaze, “after I use what I’ve learned here to catch Buffalo Bill.”

Dr. Lecter’s lips quirked, but there was something more contemplative than amused in his eyes, though amusement still lurked. “Very well,” he finally said. “I will hold you to that, Clarice.”

“You may, Doctor. Now, back to Buffalo Bill.”

He glanced down at the pages, before steepling his fingers. “You said he won’t stop, that he’s getting better at his work. What else?”

“I—I don’t know.”

Dr. Lecter stared at her through the glass. “Every killer has a unique pathology. Why do you think he removes their skins?”

“Because it excites him. To keep as a trophy.”

“No. He has no need of trophies.”

“Because he wants to get inside, to see what’s underneath.” Even as she said it, she knew it was wrong. Buffalo Bill had shown no interest in playing with anatomy or taking bodies apart.

Dr. Lecter gave a miniscule shake of his head. “No. Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself?” He paused. “What does he do, the one you seek?”

“He kills women.”

“That is secondary to his purpose. What need does he serve by killing?”

“Anger. Sexual frustrations. Dominance.”

He stared at her for a long moment, and again she knew none of that was the right answer.

Dr. Lecter gave another small shake of his head, as if he were dismissing her words while at the same time hoping for the correct ones. “You’re not as good at this as Will.”

He said it offhandedly, but her mouth fell open at the name. It was a name she knew better than to mention, something that was completely irrelevant to the task at hand as well as something that would make an enemy of him. So she couldn’t fathom why he would bring it up himself. But it seemed rude to let it sit there unacknowledged, not when he had spoken it first, and not when he was patiently waiting for a reply.

“No, I don’t expect so,” Clarice said slowly. “I don’t think anyone is.” She paused. “Not even you, if you’ll pardon me for saying so.”

“It is a truth, and one I would hardly take offense to. Will had pure empathy and a point of view that was his alone.” Clarice noticed the past tense, but didn’t know if it truly meant anything, or if he had merely used it to be misleading.

“I wandered the corners of his mind many times,” he continued, “but there were turns there that could be navigated only by him.”

After another moment of silence, Clarice asked the question that she couldn’t stop from escaping her lips. “What happened to Will Graham, Dr. Lecter?”

“I did what I thought was best for him, and prevented what my compassion would not allow. But our parting was chaotic, our journey unfinished.”

“You don’t know where he is, do you?” she said softly.

“I have spent many hours imagining his future days.” He smiled fondly, a look that was matched in his eyes and that completely changed his face. It was wholly different from the amused grins she had seen earlier. “He is never far from my thoughts. I have ideas of the places he would go, the people he would encounter, and I envision us walking there together.”

“Would you share any of these ideas with me, Doctor?”

“Perhaps when we next continue our conversation. May I keep the file?” It was a dismissal.

Clarice was disappointed, but she nodded politely. “Yes, of course.”

She took her leave from him, shutting the door to his cell softly behind her.