In June of 1999, Thomas Harris published his long-awaited sequel to the bestseller The Silence of the Lambs. From the moment that Hannibal Lecter’s finger stroked Clarice Starling’s through the bars of his detention cell in Memphis and “the touch crackled in his eyes,” fans of the novel and the film speculated about what might happen if the story continued beyond Starling’s capture of Jame Gumb and Lecter’s spectacular escape to Rio.
A Collaboration from RWD, horserider, drandmrslecter, and drpeter, c.2002
Rachel DuBerry floated across the expanse of her bubbling Jacuzzi and settled on a bench that afforded her a good view of the constellations. She squinted, trying once again to distinguish Cassiopeia , Orion, or even the Big Dipper.
But it was useless. Much as she hated to disappoint Hannibal, to her they were just rhinestones out of reach, and always would be.
The moon was better. At this not-quite-full phase, it was Hannibal’s face, open and inviting, but still somehow inscrutable.
She stretched her legs out to catch the pulse of the jets on her soles. The water felt so wonderful tonight. It was the first truly cold night of the fall. And for the second week of October in Baltimore, such a late chill was a rarity.
She forced herself not to wish too hard but the wish won out and she felt a mournful emptiness, having to languish alone in this incredibly erotic setting.
He’d call tomorrow, she was sure, but how frustrating that their contacts were always on his terms. She could never just call him up and invite him over, letting the evening go where it might. Their time together was always structured to shield him. Scheduled down to the minute. Drinks, followed by a limousine ride to the symphony or charity auction, followed by a late dinner, then a courteous goodbye at her door. The one time he had ventured any distance beyond the threshold, she’d felt that his attention was drawn not by her, but by the design and decor. He’d approved, she thought, but apparently not enough to want to linger.
The hot water swirled around her, tickling under her arms. She smiled, remembering the rash that had brought him into her life. Just after her 40th birthday, the welts had been an unwelcome harbinger. I’m falling apart, she’d thought, and sought out this renowned psychiatrist whose clientele was so rarified, he didn’t even accept insurance assignments, but required full payment, in cash, up front. She’d felt peculiar, counting out hundred-dollar bills like a penitent in a pawnshop. But something about the utter privacy of Lecter’s office–no receptionist, no bookkeeper, just the doctor himself–was enough to overcome her initial skepticism. Within fifteen minutes, she’d poured all of it out. Her fears of growing old, the speed with which her youth had passed by, and the shadowy black holes of her now-distant childhood.
She’d sat in a leather recliner; he’d brought her chamomile tea, and for the first time in days, she’d been able to remain still without feeling the burning itch at her armpits and nipple line. She’d wondered what it would take to cure the rash which she took for granted to be a psychosomatic reaction. Strong medication, or perhaps hypnosis? Even electric shocks? Surely not a lobotomy. Despite her convoluted life, she’d managed to navigate the decades without consulting a mental-health professional. As a result, she knew only what she’d seen in the movies and on TV. Lecter had a couch, but it was piled with pillows, so she was disinclined to lie on it. Lecter simply disarmed her with his interested, informal conversational style. She occasionally looked at her watch and realized that the doctor was running far over the conventional “fifty-minute hour.” He didn’t call a halt to the session until she began to feel bored with listening to herself. Then he’d prescribed not Valium, but calamine lotion, and advised her to change the chemicals in her new hot tub.
She’d left his office with tear-stiffened cheeks, yet feeling better than she could ever remember. In any other instance, she would have been mortified, having confessed the experience of her childhood that cast a shadow after everything that came later: The betrayal by James, and by herself.
James Pennington, five years her senior, had occasionally watched her while her parents were out for an evening. She’d loved and hero-worshipped him to the point that she’d have done anything for him. And in the six years between the advent of puberty and graduation from high school, she had–undressed for him, let him bathe her, posed for Polaroids. He’d asked her to keep it a secret, and so she had. Her life was neatly divided between what was hers — school, trips to Europe, weekends with friends and family — and what was his. The line was as thick and high as a wall, so that not even she could peer at what was on the other side. When he was gone, she forgot everything. So thoroughly did she forget that when the District Attorney’s investigators came to her house to confer with her, she smiled in bewilderment, wondering which of her friends was the author of this joke.
She had remained in blissful denial for another two months, until the day James was found hanging in his basement. The pictures of Rachel, a nicely developed high school junior, were small game. They remained forgotten at the bottom of the pile of other photos, whose subjects had become progressively younger over the years. James most recent studies had featured animals. Rachel understood he’d taken the coward’s way out but it took her years to stop missing him.
A part of her had died that day. A part having to do with trust, and a sense of invulnerability. She’d immersed herself in impersonal pursuits, earning two degrees, joining various Boards of Directors, and traveling. What shocked her later was the knowledge that she and Dr. Lecter were known in the same circles and had many mutual acquaintances.
Anyone else might have been suspicious, or at least on their guard, when the psychiatrist rang her up a fortnight after her first and only session to invite her to a play. The opening-night performance was a charity event. As Hannibal Lecter negotiated the Beltway, he’d pressed an envelope into her hand. Addressed in his fine script to the sponsoring organization, it contained the cash she had given him in his office, wrapped in a note that identified the donor as herself. The gesture moved her nearly to tears; she wouldn’t have dreamed of pocketing the bills. From that time, they had an unspoken agreement. Never would she consult him with any emotional problem or personal dilemma — though she often asked for his recommendations elsewhere. She never wanted him to think of her as a patient or client, because from that night on, she’d been in love.
The comparisons, for Rachel, were unavoidable, but she reassured herself that there were few or no similarities between James Pennington and Hannibal Lecter. Where James had been intrusive and manipulative, Hannibal was maddeningly distant. The only time they touched was when he offered his arm for a walk along a red carpet. She was actually a half-inch taller than he, but despite the height of her shoes and hair, his proud stature had her looking up into his eyes most of the time. Where James had been (in long retrospect) quite moody and troubled, Hannibal seemed utterly immune to the slightest weakness. There was something alien and rock-like about his unceasing calm. But oh, it was delicious to be near, and she longed to bathe in it.
Rachel sighed, stretching in the tub, positioning her naked body for maximum comfort, letting the pulsating water jets take away the loneliness for awhile
Which she did; although the effect of the water jets was soothing, there was still an edge left to her mood, even after she almost nodded off. She snapped awake, knowing it would be all too easy to slip below the surface if she fell asleep. This was getting nowhere quickly. Why couldn’t she take the part of a liberated woman for awhile? Her friends did it, and often too. True, none of them had landed trophy husbands as of yet, but somehow she didn’t think they were home alone in hot tubs on this romantic night either. She sat up, shaking her head as if to clear it and allow other trains of thought access. What if she did call Hannibal up, just like that, and ask him to go somewhere with her and do something, of her choice? She needn’t schedule it for right away; she knew he would at least need some time to prepare; Heaven knew what his schedule was with all of his various involvements. A fleeting hint of panic; what if he took offence? What if he didn’t like a forthright woman who took the lead? He could very well say no to any plans, and lose all his interest in her at the same time, what interest there was; then what? She reached over, grabbed her washcloth, and threw it into the water, letting the water saturate it and sink it as she wanted to sink that particular option to where it was out of sight and mind. This was foolishness; she was fretting and sweating like a schoolgirl! She’d wound men around her pinky before; why did this one have to be so different? She thought again; what if the reason he was so standoffish was because she wasn’t more forthright? He did have a slight hint of an accent in his voice occasionally; she never could place it, but what if wherever that accent came from, what if the women there were more vocal of their desires? She’d never asked him where he had been to sound that way, she’d thought it an intrusion, but perhaps, gentleman that he was, he was just being unassuming and waiting for her to provide a bit of direction, and remaining distant and providing a rather neutral lead until she did. This whole situation, in short, could merely be a cultural misunderstanding, a faux pas. How very silly she had been! Of course it was! Hannibal certainly didn’t seem the type to be inexperienced; well, what woman, or women, would have stuck around long enough for him to gain that experience if they persisted in allowing themselves to be led around by the nose like she had? She had heard it said that men didn’t like women who were doormats, and while she thought that she was far removed from that characterization, she wasn’t faring much better. All right, so it was settled then; she would make a plan, and then ask Hannibal to accompany her. They were on a friendly basis, weren’t they? Yes, they were, and if she gave him ample time there was no reason why he should refuse her; from what she’d noticed of him in the time they’d been together, he might well consider that rude, and he seemed to hold rudeness in contempt. And what gentleman would refuse a lady escort, when nicely asked? Then maybe, just maybe, she could edge in further, and perhaps an invitation for something afterward, his house or hers, could be made possible; Now all she needed was an idea; what to do? What would he like to do that they hadn’t done yet? It would have to be enticing to make sure he wouldn’t refuse. Dare she call Suzy and pick her brain? Suzy had a big mouth, true, but could sometimes be relied upon in a fix. Rachel contemplated the phone on the little table beside the hot tub.
Nothing said “hot sex with Hannibal Lecter” better than a night out on the town with him, preferably after hearing a concert by the Baltimore Philharmonic, followed by a dinner that consisted of at least one course that was practically unpronounceable.
Sure, they had done this before, but there was something about being on familiar ground with him that she figured would put her at ease.
She had recently been having some unsettling thoughts about Hannibal and wasn’t quite sure why–thoughts that went way beyond her insecurities. Women’s intuition seemed such a simplistic explanation, but the only one she could attribute these feelings to. She almost had the feeling that he was…dare she even think it?….enjoying some kind of guilty pleasure. The “cat that ate the canary” look he often had on his face. His eyes. His wry smile. His whimsy. That certain something’ that both scared and aroused her.
No time to dwell on that now. She had a phone call to make….but not out here.
She got out of the hot tub quickly and gripped the hand rail for balance as she toweled off and ran upstairs and put her robe on to make the call. She giggled at the thought of Hannibal Lecter talking to her on the phone while she was naked and knew it wouldn’t do. He would consider that rude.
He answered on the third ring.
“Hannibal, it’s Rachel. I know this is awfully short notice, but the Philharmonic has a performance tonight. I remember you saying a few weeks back that you weren’t sure if you could make it, but….Oh?…Oh?…I see. Well, I know Raspail is a bit, well, untalented, but what can I do? I’ve been trying to get him replaced for months now, but my hands are tied. Don’t stay away on his account.”
She could hear the disappointment in her own voice as she began to feel defeated.
“Rachel, he began, ” I would like nothing more than to be able to attend this evening’s performance with you, but that sorry excuse for a flautist has grated on my nerves one too many times. I’ll say to you now what I’ve already told the board. I refuse to attend one more performance while that uncultured swine sits on stage perspiring in that chair. Last month’s concert, during the third movement, I could smell him from where I was sitting and I assure you, it was not a fragrant bouquet. He stinks of fear and cheap aftershave. I despise that.”
“Hannibal, please. I know how adamant you are about this subject. I suppose it was a bit presumptuous on my part to think I could sway you. It was just an idea. I was thinking we could go to the concert and then perhaps get something to eat at Chez Rouge afterwards–
“Chez Rouge?” the cultured voice repeated, his interest obviously piqued.
“Why, yes. Chez Rouge.”
“I’ll be there in an hour.”
“Oh, and Hannibal?”
“Drive the Bentley, tonight, will you? It will go better with my frock.”
Rachel’s hands were shaking as she hung up the phone. She picked up the receiver after having collected herself a bit and called the owner of Chez Rouge to make sure a table for two would be ready and waiting for them after the performance.
Next, she called Suzy. She told her all about her upcoming evening and what she would be wearing.
“Yeah, you know, the light crimson evening dress with the spaghetti straps. Oh come on, Suzy, you know the one! Yes, that one. The one that practically has ‘fuck me, Hannibal’ written all over it.”
She giggled like a schoolgirl as she said goodbye and began to put on her makeup.
Too much? Too little? No. Perfect. Just right for evening. Well, maybe a bit more eye shadow.
Down? Up? Parted in the middle? Up on one side? Up, in a large bun right above the nape of her neck.
Cabochons? Studs? Drop? Cabochons. He likes that particular cut, preferably a non-faceted one.
She was almost ready. He’d be there in less than five minutes. And he was never late.
Let him do most of the talking? Confront him with her feelings of insecurity? Just enjoy the outing and let the night unfold? Shoot Benjamin Raspail in the head and curse the day he was born for making this evening so difficult to arrange?
“I’ll be right down, Hannibal.”
Rachel opened the door to find him perfectly groomed and tailored, as always. A fine, dark, fitted suit, more than appropriate for the evening’s events; an understated tie with matching handkerchief and light shirt contrasted nicely to the midnight blue of his suit.
“Hello, Rachel. May I say that you’re looking particularly ravishing this evening?”
“You just did.”
“You say that rather flippantly, and yet you still blush.”
She became even redder.
“Shall we go?” he suggested.
“Yes,” she said, clutching her purse and fumbling with her house keys. “Let me just get my wrap.”
Dr. Lecter helped her on with it as he escorted her to the car.
They made their way to the concert hall in a matter of minutes, the Baltimore traffic being particularly light this evening.
Lecter produced a large black umbrella, seemingly from nowhere, and suspended it over both their heads as they approached Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in the light autumn rain. Rachel peered through the mist, scanning the milling crowds, wondering who might be scanning them. Suzy had featured Hannibal in her columns before, she knew. He never sought the limelight, but when approached by the press in the past, he was unfailingly courteous. He knew how to work a room, although usually the room ended up working him as he stood in one spot like an emperor, receiving the compliments of fascinated strangers. One of the psychiatric journals had recently published his monograph, “Madness as Portrayed in Literature of the Victorian Era.” Though he dismissed it as “fluff,” it had nonetheless gained the attention of the mainstream press. She had seen it reviewed in the Baltimore Sun, complete with a flattering photo, so she had every confidence that eyes would be on them tonight.
Her soak in the hot tub had opened her pores, and now the cool air was making her feel quite invigorated. She squeezed Hannibal’s arm, hoping desperately that she’d get him into her house after dinner tonight. Maybe seduction was beyond realistic possibilities but if he’d only dance with her for awhile! On his one visit, he’d admired the polished wood floor of her dining room, even asking her if she’d ever waltzed upon it. Too bad her first date shyness had prevented her from extending an invitation then and there.
Lecter responded to the pressure on his arm by glancing down at her with a smile. “Rachel, I had no idea Rachmaninoff moved you so.” She felt herself redden yet again, and fumbled for some reply that wasn’t clichéd and clumsy. Obviously, he knew–or suspected–that her enthusiasm had little to do with the night’s musical entertainment. Neither of them was a garden-variety concertgoer. Sometimes their position on the Symphony board tarnished the experience somewhat, making them privy to the petty political undercurrents that swirled endlessly beneath the surface.
Before she could answer, a horn blared loudly from a side street to their left. Turning, Rachel saw a rather portly middle-aged woman staggering to avoid being struck by a sleek BMW. The car’s driver opened his window and his resonant voice rang out: “Don’t look at me, you cow!” They heard his derisive laughter as he rolled up his window and sped off, tires squealing.
They both knew the lady; she was on the Symphony board also. They waited on the steps as she hurried toward them, tearful and shaken.
“Mrs. Stauber!” Hannibal greeted her, with a linen handkerchief at the ready. The pale, wide-eyed woman looked at them with a pathetic degree of gratitude.
“I–I used to feel safe in this town,” she gasped. “There are just too many new people coming in, under cover of darkness. I’ve been reading about those murders, where people have been disemboweled. That little beast could be the Chesapeake Ripper!”
“No, Trudy,” said Rachel angrily. “I’m afraid not. That was Mason Verger, and I’ll be contacting his father first thing tomorrow morning–like the poor man doesn’t have enough to worry about!”
“That was Molson’s son?” the matron replied in a shocked tone. “How awful!” Molson Verger was a millionaire meat-packing mogul, and a board member emeritus.
“Unfortunately nowadays, breeding and manners no longer enjoy a direct relationship,” said Hannibal. His voice was calm and soothing for Mrs. Stauber, but Rachel sensed something like rage under the façade. She hoped this episode wouldn’t dampen the mood of the evening.
They ran a friendly gauntlet of acquaintances and social hangers-on before the usher escorted them to their seats on the aisle, Orchestra Row 7.
The selection was Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, and the orchestra was in fine form. Even Benjamin Raspail appeared less incompetent in his playing than in more recent performances. Rachel, at least, could detect no glaring errors. Her escort seemed to relax by slow degrees, and when the program ended and they rose, he met her eyes with a smile.
“You did save your appetite, I trust?” She assured him that she had.
The rain had ceased when they emerged, replaced by a light breeze. Rachel took some advantage of the weather as Hannibal held the car door open for her. Discreetly, she arranged the chiffon skirt of her gown so that the wind picked it up and drew it toward her midsection, affording an explicit view of sheer stockings and garter belt, with bare thigh in between. Only after Lecter’s dark eyes registered the sight, if only momentarily, did she exclaim in mock embarrassment and tuck the dress modestly under her. The pleasure of his gaze was tempered only by the stony smirk he showed her as he wordlessly closed the door. How could she possibly think she’d fooled him with such artifice?
The ride to Chez Rouge was brief and uneventful. Even this late in the evening, there was a knot of vehicles and pedestrians gathered in front of the brick building. Six valet parking attendants were a study in perpetual motion, but the body language of two of them told Rachel that Dr. Lecter was a familiar and coveted patron. The man who didn’t make it to the car in time registered disappointment at a lost chance to pilot the Bentley.
Rachel let Hannibal escort her from the car without any flirtatious antics. No sooner had she lifted her head than she was blinded by a photographer’s flash. Her pulse quickened: Suzy Knickerbocker* had been lurking in wait for them. Hannibal halted expectantly as the tireless society watchdog approached. Rachel felt a twinge of insecurity. Suzy was twice her age; her notoriety dated back to the waning days of the Algonquin Round Table, yet she was spry, self-assured, and, worst of all, better dressed than Rachel, in a sparkling beige gown topped with a silver fox stole.
Suzy Knickerbocker is a real person, though her words, actions and location here are entirely fictional. She assumed the byline for the New York society column that began in 1891, originally known as “Cholly Knickerbocker.” Written by numerous columnists, it has continued in various forms at different news outlets. Suzy is actually Aileen Mehle, and with a birth year of 1921, it is still remarkable that her comments in print and other news media, can still be occasionally found as recently as 2014. -RWD
“Dr. Lecter! And Miss DuBerry!” Suzy greeted them. Her voice carried for half a city block. Heads turned and conversations halted. “No doubt, you’ve just come from Symphony Hall. Howard Balcher just turned in his review — he raved. Do you agree with his assessment?”
Hannibal glanced at Rachel; his face was unusually animated. “We both still have our appetites,” he quipped, earning a tinkling laugh from the gossip maven.
“Tell me,” said Suzy, lowering her voice to what she probably considered a whisper, ”the Verger scandal has the whole town in thrall. Will you be playing a role on either side of the courtroom, Dr. Lecter? Off the record, naturally.”
Hannibal gave no reply, but Rachel could see from his face that he was puzzled by the reference. An odd sort of shiver went down her spine as she recalled his passionate reaction to the Verger heir’s abusive treatment of Mrs. Stauber. Could it be that Hannibal Lecter was unaware of the drama that currently gripped Maryland? Had he not heard about the charges leveled against young Mason…the accusations by his teenage sister of ongoing sexual abuse? Rachel thought perhaps not; he did seem to gravitate toward the more noble of life’s experiences, and for all their millions, the Vergers’ dilemma was little more than a well-publicized soap opera. She worried again that this unexpected information would throw a shadow over the evening.
But Hannibal’s face seemed to brighten; he leaned closer to Suzy in an almost conspiratorial fashion. “I must confess, you’ve scooped me, as it were,” he said. “What scandal are we talking about here?”
Fascinated to find someone who didn’t pay avid attention to gossip, Suzy eagerly fed him the details. As she spoke, Hannibal’s deep-set eyes grew distant and his lips parted slightly. He seemed to be not only listening, but intently mulling the possibilities.
“Thank you,” he replied softly to the columnist as he took Rachel’s arm and led her into the restaurant.
The maitre d’ orchestrated Chez Rouge with a calm and dignified composure that seemed to set things instantly aright. He knew Hannibal’s favored table and invited them to enjoy the bar for a few moments as that space was properly prepared for them. Predictably, Lecter ordered Lillet with a slice of orange, a drink Rachel had been unfamiliar with before taking up with him. She loved it now; for the rest of her days even the scent of an orange would conjure his image for her.
The wait for their table was brief, and the drinks were brought to their seats, along with the voluminous menus and wine list.
“What do you think you might be in the mood for, my dear?” he asked.
She drew a breath, striving to stay on the subject of food. “I’m not quite sure yet this is a new menu. But I can guess your appetizer, at least, will be something along the lines of foie gras? Sweetbreads?” She smiled, knowing these were mainstays of his culinary preferences.
His brow wrinkled slightly. “Ah, no, actually, I’ve been eating much too richly in the past few weeks. Just the other day I acquired a succulent pair of kidneys; I can taste them still. No, I think perhaps oysters would be a fine starter to the evening.”
Her thighs clenched. Oysters! Now who was being obvious? There was a God, she decided.
“Perhaps I’ll follow your lead, then,” she said.
“No, no, no,” he teased. “Let’s not overdo. Look. The lobster salad is back on the menu, and you must try the black truffle and white bean soup.”
Despite Hannibal’s request to not overdo things, it was not long before there was a tremendous repast laid on the table before them. Neither of them had monetary concerns, but Rachel shuddered nonetheless to think what all of this would cost.
There was the lobster salad, the black truffle and white bean soup, green oysters from the Gironde, and escargot, and those were just for starters. Rachel took a small plate and sampled a bit of each, ignoring what she thought of as just grotesque snails very purposefully. She paid careful attention to how much she ate, thinking back to when she’d seen Gone With The Wind, with Mammy scolding Scarlett for eating like a field hand. That was something she wouldn’t do in front of Hannibal, and she wanted to have a little bit of everything anyway. They could always take home what they didn’t eat.
Hannibal enjoyed the oysters himself after she took only one, and then he did what she thought couldn’t be possible: made eating the escargot seem like an elegant and polished thing to do.
She still kept her attention rapt on his face, making small conversation between bites, and ignored the shells on the plate that were evidence of the snails having been living things not even an hour ago.
Then came the main course, a chicken dish that Rachel had given up trying to pronounce after three tries. She didn’t tire of the name, however; it rolled effortlessly from Hannibal’s lips, and she found she not only was gleaning more respect for the French language, but that perhaps chicken was an even better aphrodisiac than oysters were.
Imagine what he could say in the heat of passion, she mused to herself. That voice… what would it say? Passionate requests, or that delicious accent saying the most deliciously filthy things?
Rachel made up her mind in that moment that, if the evening came down to such things, she would have to have him say something in French; she wondered if he followed any French practices in the art of lovemaking as well.
She blushed furiously at the thought.
“Do you find the chicken spicy, my dear? You’re blushing…or is the room too hot?” Lecter smiled at her, his expression conveying that he didn’t believe either of those things were true. He paused his own preparations of his meal to ask.
Oh, the man was truly aggravating! She couldn’t look him in the face as she groped for an answer. Look at something, anything, not him.
And she did…she looked at his plate, his knife paused from its work on the entrée close at hand.
Such methodical work. The chicken was being as carefully butchered as one of those frogs from her high school biology class. Sliced straight down the middle, the meat pulled carefully away to the side like a dissection would be. Only these hands showed skill, and not the well-intentioned hacking of a student.
She felt a pinching in her gut then, as if the lobster had been resurrected and had become whole again. There was something there that she couldn’t put her finger on.
“Rachel?” His voice sliced straight into her stammer, bringing her back to the present.
What the fuck, he’s a doctor, isn’t he? Practice has become habit. Back to the present now, as she forced the impressions away to be examined later.
“The oysters. I was just thinking about a horrible joke that a truly tasteless comedian made once, about something that he thought they resembled. You wouldn’t like it, Hannibal, which is why even thinking of it embarrassed me.”
She forced the image of George Carlin ranting on the stage as he went through his routine into her mind’s eye, knowing that Hannibal Lecter would know if she lied.
“Really,” Hannibal commented. It was a statement, not a question.
She smiled. Just thinking of the night that she’d watched the routine brought it all back. “Yes.”
She looked into his eyes then, and they were as blank as the depths of space. As she continued to stare, the smile disappeared from her face, and the room melted away from her visual field; she felt like she was floating, and powerless to stop it.
Rachel snapped to, as suddenly as if she’d fallen asleep. “Huh? What happened?”
“You’ve dropped your fork, and it’s making a spot on the tablecloth.”
“Oh!” She grabbed the fork up and swabbed hastily at the cloth with her napkin, but it was too late; the chicken’s juices had left their greasy signature mark. She frowned.
“What is really bothering you tonight, Rachel? No fees now; this one is on the house.”
“You’re hardly The House, Hannibal, at least not to me.” She stopped suddenly, making an effort not to put her hand to her lips. The words had almost sidled out against her will.
“Oh? I see; well, progress for starters is a good thing.”
“Yes –I mean, no…I mean, oh, I don’t know what I mean!” Rachel stammered, fighting for words and blushing uncontrollably.
Hannibal Lecter’s eyes danced with mischief. Oh, he could be so infuriating!
“Why don’t we start over at the beginning then; those meddlesome oysters.”
“Well, first it was the oysters, and then it was the chicken.” How could she say what she meant?
“Do you think this could be a latent phobia of the zoo, perhaps?” It was hard to tell if the query was serious, or if he was joking.
“No. I love the zoo. It’s just that, well, the silliness of the oysters put aside, I got to thinking of Mrs. Stauber, and her wondering about the Chesapeake Ripper. The chicken made me think of it.” She looked to his eyes again, feeling sillier than she had ever imagined she might.
“The chicken. I see. That’s a rather abstract confluence of very different events, Rachel. Perhaps you could enlighten the path of your conclusion a bit further? This is quite fascinating,” he smiled.
“You were cutting up your chicken just like…like a subject on a dissection table. It’s been said that the Chesapeake Ripper has done something akin to dissection on some of his victims.” She winced. “Ugh, that’s disgusting; let’s not talk of it anymore, not with dinner still on the table.”
“What better time to talk about it?”
Rachel was almost certain that Hannibal was able to hear the loud gulp when she swallowed.
She toyed with her food a bit before he asked her,
“Rachel? Tell me. What’s troubling you?”
She looked up as his eyes widened at the site of her flushed face and blotchy décolletage area as she hesitated. She was obviously nervous, he observed, and the site of her discomfort aroused him.
“Cat got your tongue, Rachel?”
She was suddenly thrust into a cavalcade of emotions, ranging from fear to desire as she continued to fuss with her plate. Did she dare utter her suspicions, especially in such a public place? If they happened to be correct, what better or safer place to confront him, she thought to herself as she began to redden even more.
“I’m waiting, Rachel.”
She had to say something. He wasn’t letting it go. He was pushing.
Speak now or forever hold your peace, she thought.
Rachel sipped some wine and startled at the clang the glass made when it struck the ashtray as she set it down.
“Why so jumpy?” Hannibal asked, now even more excited than he already was as she began to act like a wounded animal caught in a bear trap.
There are moments in life when we become acutely aware that they will be remembered for life.
Rachel DuBerry was about to have one.
Before she could stop it, the words were out.
“Is it you?”
Hannibal raised an eyebrow.
“Beg your pardon?”
“You heard me. Is it you?”
“Is what me?”
She swallowed hard again before responding,
“The Chesapeake Ripper. Are you the Chesapeake Ripper?”
A distinguished chuckle escaped her dinner companion as he remained calm and poised.
He reached for his wineglass, took a sip and after setting it back in its place, summoned the waiter.
“A glass of brandy for the lady, please,” he requested.
“And cognac for me.”
“Why are you mixing drinks?” Rachel inquired, always remembering the rule of never mixing wine with grained beverages. It was considered both a practical and social faux pas.
He refused to answer her and at this point, she suddenly realized, it didn’t matter.
The waiter returned with his request within minutes. During those few moments, neither one of them said a word as they ate in silence.
They sipped their drinks as Hannibal Lecter responded clearly and concisely,
“Rachel, you’ve got more moxie than I gave you credit for. What a brave and clever girl you are.
“And exactly what would you say if I said to you, Yes! You’ve found me out! I AM the Chesapeake Ripper. Bully for you, you sly fox, you’ve discovered me! Call the FBI, the Maryland State Police and the CIA while you’re at it.
“Better yet, what would you do?
“Scream for help, crawl underneath the table and beg the Maître d’ to escort you home?
“Just think of the fun you’d have, Rachel. The press camped on your doorstep for years to come, exclusive interviews in the National Tattler, and more publicity than you could shake a stick at.
“Did you ever wish, my dear Miss DuBerry, that you could have the pleasure of killing someone and getting away with it? Sure you have. We all do. Everyone dreams of committing the perfect crime. Only trouble is, few people are capable of it. The population, as a whole, is weak. People think they are smarter than the average person, but when an opportunity arises to prove they have superior intelligence, they fail miserably. They crack like an egg under the weight of their own feelings of self-importance. They have the motivation, but not the wherewithal to follow through. That’s why a true serial killer is quite a splendid example of both insanity and brilliance. Few people have the courage to keep up their work once they’ve begun it. And the one who does, and fine-tunes their craft in the process is a rarity, indeed.
“How I’d love to get one on my couch.”
Rachel felt her eyes beginning to well up, but the hot tears refused to fall. She sipped her brandy before quietly rephrasing her question,
“Well, are you?”
He smiled before responding,
“What I’m about to tell you now is not only a testament to your uncanny instincts but to the fact that I meant it when I told you awhile back that I never lie.
“Yes, Rachel. I AM the Chesapeake Ripper. And you can take that confession to whomever you like. But somehow, I seriously doubt that you will.
“Congratulations! You’ve done it! You’ve unmasked me. And what lovely timing you have, too. I was just about to decide who lucky number seven was going to be.
“I think you may have just made up my mind for me.
“Care for another brandy?”
Rachel’s legs felt unsteady as Hannibal Lecter handed her into his supercharged Bentley. She was very grateful for the fresh air. The divine aromas of the restaurant invariably became oppressive by the end of dessert. Her alcoholic miasma only made it worse.
Lecter drove at a moderate speed and declined to converse. He appeared lost in thought. None of this eased her nerves any; she was waiting for his next biting comment, confused and not a little frightened by their dinner conversation.
When they reached her house, he surprised her by turning into the long driveway, rather than parking at the curb, as was his usual custom. She saw that he locked the doors of the Bentley, as though he might not be planning to get into it for awhile. By now, her head felt clearer and her mood slightly improved. She resisted the temptation to ask him if he’d like to come in for awhile. Better to let his actions speak, she decided.
As they entered the house, she sensed something quite different in his body language. Usually, he chose one spot near the door and stood there, keeping a distance, until ready to leave. Tonight, however, he moved wherever she did, and never let more than a foot or two of space intervene. How she’d yearned for this kind of closeness in all the many weeks she’d known him, but the unexpectedness of it took away some of the pleasure.
They were near the foot of the stairs now, and she opened the spacious closet beneath.
“May I take your coat, Han–?” but he had it off already and was handing it to her with a smile. She began to unbutton her own, but he did the honors, looking into her eyes the whole time. He had never before let her get close enough to really study his eyes, but she concluded with some surprise that they were not dark brown, as she had assumed, but rather a smoky maroon.
The unbuttoning completed, he let his eyes roam over her bare shoulders, throat and bosom. The house was well heated, but she felt her nipples harden.
He leaned in closer, then shut his eyes and inhaled through his mouth. “Arpege,” he murmured. “It suits you, Rachel.”
“Not too strong, I hope?” she replied, hearing the weak sound of her voice and unable to do anything about it.
“Oh, no,” he responded, “not at all.” She recognized the low, intimate tone of his voice: It was that of a man who would say anything and agree with her on any point, in the hopes of getting her undressed and into bed as quickly as possible. She wondered what she had done to inspire such a mood. Or perhaps the cognac had loosened his inhibitions as well as his tongue.
He lowered his head. She felt the warmth of his lips on her throat, his breath against her collarbone, the whisper of his hair along her jaw line, and was grateful that he caught her with a steel grip on her upper arm. Otherwise, she might well have fallen backward. If she’d wanted him urgently a few hours ago while musing in her Jacuzzi, the desire was now far beyond the bonds of sanity.
He jolted her to open-eyed awareness with a strong tug at the nape of her hair. It didn’t hurt — quite — but her breath caught midway. He now had her full attention.
“Where do you want me to do it to you, Rachel?” he hissed. “In your bedroom, on the floor? Perhaps that lovely polished parquet in the other room?”
“No!” she murmured. “Too cold. Please. Come outside. We can use my hot tub. The moon is still out.” Again she astonished herself by yanking at Lecter’s silk tie and leading him to the back of the house.
Halfway to the patio door, she had to see his face. Had she shocked him? But in the dim hall light, his expression was serene and mildly amused. Encouraged, she continued on, unlocking the sliding glass doors. She finally released her grip on the necktie, bending to pull back the heavy vinyl cover of the tub.
“Help me with this,” she commanded him in her most no-nonsense tone. He obliged her, and only then she did she lose momentum, wondering who should make the first move. After a moment, she reached for the first button on his midnight blue jacket.
Like a Venus flytrap, he caught her hand, spun her around with dizzying speed and seized the zipper on her dress, yanking it down with such ferocity, the fabric ripped. She laughed out loud, in spite of herself, delighted that the expensive frock had met such a worthy end. He came up close behind her, and she arched against him. His fingers came up to stroke her earlobes, then suddenly snatched the clip-on ruby earrings away and tossed them into a potted ficus in the corner.
Then, as quickly as he had closed the gap between them, he stood back from her. She turned to him, clad in her high-heeled red pumps, the sheer stockings and garter belt she’d flashed at him just hours ago, when she actually considered herself daring. That child had known nothing, apparently.
“You’re going to get very cold, Rachel” he told her. “You’d better undress me quickly but carefully. My clothes are not for the trash heap.”
She smiled. “No. First I have to heat the water.” She turned away and bent at the waist, adjusting the force and heat of the water jets. She stayed that way for a long time, giving him a full view of her from the rear. Then she straightened with the easy grace that came from fifteen years of ballet lessons, and approached him as he stood rooted to the wide deck planking. She glanced down for an instant, reassuring herself that the desire she sensed was not contained entirely in his voice.
The cold air and brief separation from him had done a good job of clearing her head. She felt in control again, and stepped out of the shoes, stifling a gasp as her bare soles came in contact with the near-freezing rainwater that remained from earlier in the evening. She applied herself to the task of undressing him, draping his clothing neatly over a redwood lounge chair, hoping he wouldn’t mind if they came away slightly damp.
She took his hand and led him to the corner of the tub from which it was easiest to enter. Facing him, she stepped backward and descended the textured steps. She was two levels below him when he plunged his bare feet and ankles into the frothy water. It was hot, but not too hot, and she could see him enjoying the sensation. He progressed further into the tub, and when she realized where his body was in relation to her face, she floated forward and brought her lips around his erection without a moment’s consideration. It never occurred to her conscious mind that Hannibal was one of only two men she’d ever done this for. The other, of course, was James.
She let the moving water help her; it was so much easier here, she reflected, than in a bed. She could stay this way all night.
But after several minutes, in which the bubbles and the whine of the jets only partially masked his low groans of pleasure, he reached down and gently stroked her face, moving her away from him so that he could immerse himself.
“Who’s cold, Hannibal?” she teased. In this steamy pot, the elements were kept far at bay.
He took her in his arms and kissed her deeply. She wrapped her legs around him and climbed his torso, glorying in the taut body of the man she’d craved for so many weeks. He moved her toward one of the seats, and keeping one arm around her waist, used the other hand to stroke her nipples. Soon she was moaning, surging her body toward him instinctively, sucking at his throat.
The hot tub was hexagonal, one side fitted with a full body-length bench. Lecter waltzed her to it and laid her down, cradling her head above the water, arranging her legs to reach his shoulders. Only a small portion of her back was touching the bench, and this gave her a sensation of floating.
“Fuck me. Fuck me all night. Just do it. Do it now!” Her voice had become thick and feral; she scarcely knew what she was saying, but could not stop herself from repeating the words over and over.
He had her pinned underneath him. The stockings and garter belt were still on; they suddenly felt tight, constricted. She became frantic with wanting to shed them. But all the circuits in her head had blown and she was unable to articulate. Her words deteriorated into grunts. She writhed beneath Lecter, who lay still atop her, watching with his disturbing, inscrutable eyes.
“Try to get away from me now, Rachel,” he whispered. His face now terrified her. She tried to slide away, but the sides of the tub had her closed in, as did Lecter’s muscular arm. And however she moved, she felt his hot, naked body, and was reminded of how much she had wanted him for so many weeks … wanted him still. She felt deep shame at succumbing to a rape fantasy. Despite her surging emotions, there was an icy mental clarity that flashed back through their evening. The conversation…the knife incising the meat.
Rachel DuBerry was a survivor, and as she reached this deductive conclusion, the clarity brought a calm that was somehow more than resignation. It was as if she had seen her own death and somehow passed it by. She saw her coupling with Hannibal Lecter as something that needed to be gotten done, realizing on a deep level that her life and thoughts would be back in her control once this hunger-monster had been fed. She relaxed, letting herself go with the feeling, and soon the desire was again flowing freely.
She looked boldly into his face, and even let herself smile a little. The look she got from Lecter eluded her understanding for the most part. But she thought she saw admiration there.
He held her tightly; their lips locked, and she felt safe again. Her arms were around his neck, and it was a quiet inner voice that assured her that he was as easily drowned as she.
Lecter lowered his head and seized her earlobe between his teeth. She held very still and soon the gentle bite transitioned to a teasing flick of the tongue, followed by an insistent, wet sucking. His body relaxed, seeming to go where it wanted, and just as she realized she was no longer frightened, he penetrated her, and the heat surpassed that of the steaming water. She came almost immediately, and felt him letting himself go a moment later.
How long they might have lain there recuperating was impossible to say, but just then it started to rain again. Rachel stared into Lecter’s face until he opened his eyes; she smiled and pushed him away from her, feeling no resistance on his part. She sat up, enjoying the refreshing raindrops, feeling in control again. She looked at him once more, and he appeared composed as always. Even his hair was relatively tidy, and she inwardly cringed to think how she must look.
“I need some help covering the tub,” she told him, and swam to the steps before he could answer.
She led him upstairs to her bedroom and left him to his own devices while she relaxed for a few minutes in the large adjoining bathroom . She tried to sort out her thoughts after this very strange evening, but realized she was too tired.
Lecter was under the covers when she emerged. “Thank you for your hospitality, Rachel,” he said.
“Do you need a drink? Something to eat?” she asked.
He smiled. “Later, perhaps.”
She got into bed and turned out the light. Neither of them lunged for the other. It was time to sleep; there was no need to hurry.
Lecter made no special effort to be quiet when he rose at dawn. Rachel must have gotten up as soon as he started the shower. She had coffee waiting for him downstairs. He sat patiently through her first two cups, waiting for her to become fully awake. When she declined to initiate conversation, he stood and cleared the table for them.
At the door, he turned to her. “Rachel, I owe you a debt of gratitude for a most delightful evening. I daresay we’ll both remember it for a long time.”
“Yes…well” She was still at a loss for words, and seemed distracted, fumbling in the pockets of her dressing gown, glancing around the kitchen.
“Here you are,” he said, tossing her a pack of cigarettes that she’d left on the counter. She reddened as they landed on the table and skidded toward her. She offered him a sheepish nod and a smile but nothing else, as he went out the door.
Hannibal Lecter’s house was older and smaller than Rachel DuBerry’s, but he’d put considerable time and money into upgrades, and found the place suited him quite well.
Today he entered through the front door. He varied this routine from day to day, alternately using the kitchen entrance and the back patio door. Regardless of his point of ingress, his sensitive nostrils were never assaulted by any telltale odors coming from the basement. It paid to keep a good supply of lime; it also helped to have strategically located the greenhouse on the floor immediately above his underground workshop. Orchids, lilies, and gardenias were effective, if passive, accomplices.
He shed the evening clothes, preparing to dress for the day. The slightly rumpled look of the attire made him think of Rachel. He would be surprised if she called him again anytime soon. He would ring her up every now and then; to do otherwise would be rude. He knew her taste now, and several of the better shops carried items that would make exquisite gifts for her.
Once dressed, he went into his study and saw the light blinking on his answering machine. There was one message, and it was a long one, delivered in the weary, graveled voice of a defense attorney he’d been helpful to in the past.
“Ah, hello, Dr. Lecter. Michael Montwill here. I’m hoping we can meet for lunch tomorrow or the next day. I have a new client and we’re going to need your services, I think. It’s an ugly, complicated case, but his father is a friend of mine, and he’s sparing no expense.” A sigh. “You’ve followed the story in the papers, I’m sure. It’s young Mason Verger. Actually if I can do this without creating some conflict-of-interest mess, I’d like to arrange for you to talk to the sister, as well. Might make a difference. I don’t know, you can tell me. Call me when you can. Here’s my number…”
Hannibal Lecter turned off the machine and smiled.
(Author’s Note: Mr. Fairfax makes a guest cameo from the movie Payback, although this setting would take place when he was younger. Robert Pelham is an original character.)
At the same moment in time that Dr. Lecter’s machine clicked under his slender finger, Rachel DuBerry was stabbing out her cigarette in the objet d’art that also served as an ashtray. The stick of tobacco was one in a series, and she lit another one without pause after laying the dead end down in the ceramic bottom. Her thoughts swirled as aimlessly as the smoke that permeated the air.
She had to do something…But what?
She was certain that it had been made obvious to her that there would be no repetition of the preceding night, and the knowledge cut her to the quick. She had partaken of that which slaked something within her that she did not understand, and while she felt sated for the moment, it did not prevent her from wanting more and she did not doubt that she would be needful of it again. It bordered upon the feeling of something supernatural, something that she did not want to entertain the thought of any more than the confession that she had unwittingly received.
She harbored the thought briefly that the confession was in jest, and knew with a part of herself that she did not have the time to pause to understand that it was not. Hannibal Lecter was many things, but a liar was not one of them.
All the cliché thoughts ran through her head. What more could she have done? Nothing that she knew of. Perhaps there was something she could have done differently that would have yielded a different result, made him someone other than who he was and she knew there was not, any more than she wanted him to be anything different. It was his different nature that had attracted her, after all.
Setting the lit cigarette into the ashtray, she flung it to the floor and shattered it. She stared at the pieces as she ground the butt into the hardwood of the floor.
This is an example of what your life is going to look like if you don’t do something. She had to take some sort of action, because if she continued to hash it over and over, she was going to scream.
She strode into the study and sought her rolodex. Flipping through the pages, she came upon a number that might be a means to some sort of end of this debacle. What end, she did not know, nor did she know what would come out of her mouth when she spoke, but this had helped once before.
She dialed the number, and waited for the line to be answered.
A mans voice answered gruffly. “Fairfax.”
Rachel smiled her most charming smile, the one that produced the desired voice to go along with it. “Well hello. So serious. Its been awhile, hasn’t it?”
“Rachel?” A pause, and something that sounded muffled like a hand over the other receiver, murmuring at someone.
“Rachel?” The voice again. “What a surprise. It has been a long time.”
“Sorry to bother you. I could call back if you’re busy.”
“Ah, you know business. A little problem, that’s all. Easily taken care of.”
Rachel shuddered as she recalled how business was normally taken care of in the line of work her old friend was in. He had been whispered about even before she’d danced with him as a debutante, and things were obviously no different. Her most recent beau might have remarked that things had progressed.
She gathered herself. “Today’s a terrible day then, because I have a problem too, and I need some help with it.”
“Of course. You know I told you to call me anytime, Rae. Is somebody bothering you? Should I have some of the boys pay them a call?”
“Oh no…no. Nothing like that. I was just wondering if you knew anybody in law enforcement that was trustworthy… someone who I could talk to a bit, that could keep their mouth shut and just listen, and maybe the answer to this particular problem could present itself without my having to become any more involved or entrenched in it than I have to. This is bad; really, really bad, and I’m just not quite sure how I should handle it yet, or even if I should handle it at all. That’s really all I can say about it right now.”
She blinked, hating to have to be so evasive with him, when she knew she could ask anything and it would be done. “I’m sorry, but that’s just how it is. I hope you understand.”
“Certainly. Can I call you back in a few minutes?”
The line clicked, and she was left wondering if it was because resources had to be located or the task at hand on his end had to be dealt with.
She did not ponder long before the phone rang again, and she caught it on the first ring.
“Yeah, I have someone who might be able to help you. He isn’t really the G, even though he’s worked for them. Some sort of mess, I don’t know what at the moment, but he isn’t one of them. My people have said he’s good and has a real practical side. Not a rat that I know of. Been a bit high profile before, you might have heard of him.”
“Who is he?
“A Mr. Will Graham. Had some notoriety because his skill nabbed a serial killer, and got himself almost killed in the process. You know, actually, now that I think about it, this might not be the best guy, he—“
“He’ll be perfect,” she stammered before he could finish. “What’s his number?”
“Are you sure? He’s drawn some media hype, and that might not play so well if they’re dogging him hard.”
Rachel, the number curled in her fist, expressed her gratitude and promised a dance that would likely have little chance to get claimed, if she had anything to do about it. It was not well to associate with such types overly much, no matter how much they might flatter or assist.
Mr. Graham, on the other hand… would he require a bribe to keep his mouth shut? Perhaps a fee for his time off the clock? It would behoove her to see how much money she had on hand, if so.
The purse did not yield satisfactory results, as she’d suspected it wouldn’t. Hannibal, ever the gentleman, had treated for dinner as she’d known he would, and the money it would have cost for dinner would not cover a suitable bribe anyway.
There was plenty of money in her safe. That would do, many times over.
Quickly turning the combination she knew so well, even though she did not use it overly much, she contemplated just how much she might need for such a consultation. She would take small and large bills; she was frugal in her business and knew better than to reveal just how much she had, and cash was untraceable to her accounts. No large transactions would be recorded for prying eyes. Hopefully this could be accomplished in one meeting and not more.
The door ajar, she reached in, searching, searching for greenbacks that were absent. Not a one.
Frantic panic hit; the stock records, bearer bonds, a few gold bars and other wealth was disturbed from its rest as she clawed, looking for the money she would not find. As the disarray was moved, she noticed the bound sheaf of bond certificates was suspiciously thin and light, not as she’d left it. As she removed the band and began to count, the light that glinted off the bars colored her vision in a golden hue with the tears produced by the treachery.
Sobbing heartbreak heralded her hand on the last treasure to meet the light from its keep.
The eight-by-ten was handsomely done in its matte. The figure in the black suit, wickedly winsome grin and maroon eyes oblivious to tears, yielded her no mercy. The lipstick that had previously smudged the lips, absent now, yielded no doubt.
How could you? Bastard! Hateful creature! I hate you! I hate you! I — I
The portrait clenched to her chest, she sank to the floor with her guilty keepsake protectively cradled.
I–I love you Why? Oh dear God, why?
The currency paled in her thoughts as she wept bitter tears over the photo that did not care, and the realization crept as the muffled cries escaped her. She couldn’t do it. She wouldn’t. Not now, not ever, despite the finality Hannibal had seemed to communicate with this betrayal. Hell’s maw could yawn before her, but she would not yield her doomed love to the fate that surely awaited him were his unspeakable crimes pinned on the correct perpetrator. And they would be — of that she was certain. But she would not be the one to do it. She would not guide the hounds to the field of the chase.
The gift arrived with the morning paper.
Billionaire Heir Found Mutilated Alive! Gruesome Carnage, But No Suspects, Say Police blared in seventy-two point type from behind the plain brown wrapper on the package.
Rachel DuBerry opened it, knowing the sender by the fine copperplate script. What could it be? An apology? An absolution of some type? Better still, a token to hark a reunion?
It was none of those. The monster had the utter cheek to send expensive Italian perfume that she knew she would never wear at his side. It was even the color of his eyes, and in a crystal atomizer. Fine soaps, too, of the same color: dried blood.
Happy Birthday, Rachel.
I thought you might like this. It’s a bit less telling than the lipstick, don’t you think? The hue is less risqué. The soaps have the effect of heat when rubbed into the skin. I suspect you will like them.
She considered crumpling the note, but held it to her face instead and was not disappointed when the musky cologne stroked her nasal passages.
Bastard. Always have the last laugh, huh? That million plus could probably buy the whole factory where this was made. Did you even really need that money? Ill bet you didn’t.
But she knew her words were of as much effect as pebbles in a pond. The letter would accompany her to bed that night.
She turned her attention to the newspaper, and surveyed the picture of the stretcher approaching the hospital, with Molson Verger spread-eagled before it with a sheet to shield his precious son from the press’s critical eyes. Another photograph showed two dogs confused by the glaring flashbulbs, with their bloody muzzles agape in a nervous pant.
At least you got someone worthy this time. I have to admit that things improve with practice. You once said that too, didn’t you?
She pondered the color of the perfume, and thought.
She would wear it tonight. Perhaps it would be a bad omen, but maybe not. It was certainly better than much that she had, and she had a lot riding on tonight’s date with Franz Rosencranz.
While it was true that the man was frightfully boring and stuffy, testing her patience mightily with talk of his smelly horses, the fact that he belonged among the old money interested her greatly, and it was high time she found a husband. Too much time had passed already. Children bore no importance, but the necessity of getting herself under another name did, for when the world found out the secret she knew, she would be forever tainted, and interested suitors would be in short supply. And perhaps another name would have a bit of a sheltering effect, for whatever it was worth.
She spritzed the cologne onto a finger, daubing a bit under each ear. When she was on Franz’s arm later, she might close her eyes and pretend it was another; she would wash herself in the soap before he arrived, and think of the time in the hot tub.
The Chesapeake Ripper ceased to have such personal meaning to Rachel DuBerry until the paper bearing the news of the ninth victim arrived. The picture of the late flautist, in a surprising twist of fate, had been taken the night she’d last seen him, according to the paper. The authorities remained baffled; the only thing perplexing Rachel was how much longer this could continue.
Would she be doomed to continue on like this, with the reliable chronicles and the tabloids both reminding her of her guiltiest secret, for the rest of her days?
She recalled one of the last times she’d seen the unlucky flute player, before she’d had to talk Hannibal into seeing the orchestra once more. It had been the night that he had been selected, in fact.
It had been an odd and diabolical affair, now that she recalled it. Hannibal had been the major plaintiff against Raspail being selected when the board had voted. He had been all in favor of a Judy Ingram, a young but rising star in the playing of the instrument. It was whispered that her personal preferences ran toward her own sex. Although the same was said of Raspail, somehow that seemed to only bother the old boys club of the Orchestra where Ms. Ingram was concerned.
That night, before the audition that the board’s decision would be based upon took place, what was to Rachel an unsettling event occurred. Hannibal had escorted a weeping Judy Ingram away from Raspail and another man in the corridor.
The other man had been creepy in his leer and manner Hannibal had seemed to know him, although he had never said from where. A Mr. what was it? Jame. Jame Gumb. An odd name for an even odder man. He gave one the impression he was not really a man, somehow. His chest had seemed feminine, but not, under the tight fitting shirt. The pectoral muscles had wiggled when he laughed at something Raspail had whispered to him, very strange. They had not been noticeable to her until that, and then she had gotten a shiver up her back. The voice had been nasal and nondescript — had she heard it without the face visible, she would have questioned whether it belonged to a woman or to a man.
Hannibal had been positively furious as he led Ms. Ingram away toward the entrance to the area where she would present her piece to be heard. Rachel had joined them on Hannibal’s other arm, and as she sat with Hannibal prior to the audition, he had been noticeably agitated. He had seemed pleased when Ms. Ingram played, but his face had taken on what Rachel thought of now as a definitely murderous look when Raspail presented, which was not helped by the flautist’s obviously inferior playing and his seeming to slobber when he was finished.
Most everyone else had voted for Raspail; even Hannibal did not have enough sway to convince enough to tip the scales toward Judy Ingram. He had insisted on leaving straight away that evening; the unfortunate Ms. Ingram had seemed to take her leave right after, and Hannibal had been short and rather pointed when he dropped Rachel at her door that night.
Rachel had gone to bed with the feeling that the matter was not finished, not at all, and as she sat staring at her morning paper she knew that that feeling had now come to bear.
She wondered if Judy Ingram would now receive her due, or if, like so many rejected starlets, she had already faded into the woodwork to never be heard from again.
Horserider’s Note: And now it’s time for the ending of our little tale…or is it just the beginning? Either way, it’s been fun, and thanks to all who have followed along with us, I hope you enjoy!
The door chime announced the caller, and Robert Pelham hurried down the grand staircase to attend it. Visitors had the most inconvenient way of ringing when there were morning cleaning staff to be supervised, he mused, annoyed. Things were never properly dusted unless his careful eye was ever watchful. Maids would rather gossip than clean.
At least it was what Robert considered a proper caller this time, and not a lowly salesman. But he would be just as unlucky; he might have called first and saved himself the trouble.
“Good morning, Mr. Rosencranz.”
“Good morning, Robert. Is Rachel at home?”
“She is, but is not taking callers at this time, Sir. She specifically requested that she be left in privacy this morning.”
“Oh. I see.” Franz Rosencranz’s voice fell several tones. This had happened several times now. “Well, when she is up and about again, would you let her know that I came by?”
“That I will, Sir.” And Robert Pelham meant it, too. His antennae had been attracted to the slight lump in the billionaires breast pocket, and the square shape did not have many other meanings, in his experience. It was high time his employer found suitable company permanently; already the gossips’ tongues were a-wag, and it would not be long before the social columns began their own speculations. He knew this well, he had been managing households since Ms. DuBerry would have been a child.
“Thank you.” Franz knew when it was time to take his leave.
Franz would have to make his proposition, and soon. Rachel had been having way too many of these episodes lately. Worse, he was aware that she also saw a few other men in her spare time besides him, on occasion. He worried that she might be withdrawing because of the fear afoot with the Chesapeake Ripper still on the loose, or worse yet, she was isolating herself in the aftermath of her mysterious parting of ways with the up-and-coming psychiatrist. Franz distrusted the man, and it was a shame for such a comely woman to be staying at home like a spinster.
When next they had dinner, he would ask. It was high time he got his personal life in order; he was no spring chicken, after all.
If she accepted, he would hire someone to watch her when he was not around. History had shown that it was always good policy to protect his investments.
*One Day Later*
Rachel DuBerry sat alone in her study in utter shock, taking no callers. She had known the day would arrive, but the previous night’s news and now the paper, still had the effect of receiving a two-by-four across her face from a full swing.
Ironically, it had been one Will Graham who had finally broken her vigil of hiding the unbearable. One and the same, she was sure, as the one her old friend of organized crime history had provided her. The story was messily in every media available, as stark as the crimes themselves.
In a zombie-like state, she turned the combination to her safe.
It boded well that she’d dated a few men since Hannibal, she thought to herself. She would fly to Dubai tonight and pursue the final strokes on a matrimony with another while he was on one of his business trips. It was doubtful, to her mind, that Franz Rosencranz would want anything to do with her now, although she had to admit to herself that he had been her best candidate, and the one she would be most apt to be able to stay with.
She picked up the passport, then dropped it to favor the portrait. She stood in this manner, she knew not how long, until a knock came at the door.
“Ms. DuBerry, Mr. Rosencranz paid you a call again this morning,” Robert Pelham intoned, standing stiffly within the door of the study. “However, I told him that you did not wish to be disturbed. He asked that I let you know that he came by again, and expressed the wish that you call him tonight when you are up to it.
“Thank you, Robert. That will be all.” Rachel dismissed the butler, not wishing to be observed at any length just then. I bet he did, she thought.
She was glad that she would not have to face him, and what would obviously be a rejection, today. She would take the next available plane out.
With a kiss to the picture of the only one in the world to win her true love, she took the passport out and locked the safe behind her.
* Years Later *
Franz stood outside Rachel Rosencranz’s study, listening intently and fuming to himself.
He had come by the hateful knowledge from the use of much subterfuge. He’d known from the very beginning of his marriage to Rachel, but it still stung every time one more little nail of truth was driven home into his brain.
He’d been foolish to continue his pursuit of her; hindsight was always perfect, but it should have set off a warning bell rather than invoked his pity the day she flew out of the country. The two now-defunct weddings had been ill-considered on her part, and to people who could not hope to match him in quality nor wealth. He’d continued, though, and his second largest resolve in life was not to become the next male divorcee on Rachel’s belt.
He’d hired only the best, and it had proven child’s play for the ex-commando to dig up every bit of dirt on Rachel undetected. He almost hadn’t even accepted the bonus Franz had paid – almost stating that the job had been too easy to begin with. Franz had kept him on retainer, but what was taking place now didn’t require anyone skilled in the art of combat stratagems to bring it to light.
The portrait in the safe and the continued letters from the monster had been more than enough. He’d had to chuckle at the contents of one, where the cannibal had openly mocked Rachel, stating that she had all the ethics of a Siamese cat. But humor still did little to cushion the blow of reality, especially when his liaison had taken the date-stamped photo of her entering the door of the Baltimore hospital, package in tow.
He put his ear right up against the door now. The woman’s treachery knew no bounds.
“He was an extraordinarily charming man, absolutely singular. Sort of made a girl’s fur crackle, if you know what I mean. It took me years to believe the other side of him…”
Franz drew back, beet red in the face. He held little doubt of which fur she was referring to; certainly not that of her mink. The concept of believing and refraining from certainly never meshed for you though, did they, Rachel? You’re still as hot for him as a whore from a red-light district. You probably do more with that damnable portrait than just kiss it, don’t you?
He was still stunned at the knowledge being revealed to a total stranger: she hadn’t even told the truth of her true birth date to him. No wonder she’d seemed a tad uncomfortable when he’d planned her birthday celebrations.
Well, he’d not suffer the next divorce in the society pages, cuckolded by her fascination for an incarcerated cannibal, that was for certain. Already he’d sent the mercenary to his next task. Soon, if all played well, Mason Verger’s lackeys would have a bit of information dribbled into their hands; his operative would make sure that it could never come back to haunt the Rosencranz name.
Rio de Janeiro would prove an excellent blind alley for the X-ray to begin its journey from, he was certain of that. Endless mazes of information could possibly be created outside the technical means of the States.
Hopefully the next date Dr. Lecter would be familiar with would be that of his own death. Franz would take great pleasure in it.
He heard the phone receiver hit the cradle within the room and withdrew, reassuring himself that Rachel’s little game of Guess Who would soon come to an end that she had not imagined.
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