Categories > Books > Hannibal0 Reviews
Mrs Rosencranz recieves a visitor.
Disclaimer: The characters herein belong to Thomas Harris. I couldn't make money from writing if I tried, so please don't sue.
Age hung heavily over the gloomy lounge. Mrs Rosencranz nee DuBerry felt it keenly, both her own and that of the antiques lovingly collected here. She ran an elegant hand over the mahogany surface of a nearby occasional table. Her fingertips slid across the smooth veneer, finding the minute cracks that come with age regardless of generations of polish. She had all the polish of a lifetime of Society, yet she knew the cracks in her veneer were showing too, the faÃ§ade crumbling. Soon, this would all be gone and she would be left with nothing but a name.
She lifted the glass of sherry to her lips and took a sip, savouring the taste and the warmth it ignited within her. She had never considered herself a materialist, although she was aware that some might think otherwise. She felt that she was not defined by her possessions; the accoutrements of wealth and taste that she gathered around herself were kept because of their beauty and their elegance rather than their monetary value. She had never judged a man by the clothes he wore or the car he drove. She simply required that he comport himself with dignity and honesty. And, of course, that he allow her to pursue her own interests in life. Dear Franz, it transpired, had rather less of the former qualities that she had realised. He had, at least, never interfered in her own business, scant comfort though that was now.
No, the antiques here were not her, but it was hard to think of them as not hers. Not hers at all once the account books had been opened and examined. They were friends, these pieces, and next week they would go under the hammer, one by one, and leave her forever. Dear departed friends, just like Franz.
A bitter smile curved her painted lips for an instant. At least these friends could not cost her in gambling debts. At least these friends had not thrown away the work of generations for the sake of a pair of dice or a good hand at poker. What would great grandfather Ottokar think of his company and his household in pieces, mercy to the bailiffs and courts of law? It did not bear thinking about, but lately it was all she had to think about. No amusement had thus far proved sufficiently distracting; without things to occupy her mind she was steadily going up the wall.
How unlucky the dice must have been for poor Franz, and unfortunate that he did not see it. Unfortunate for her too. How had she missed the signs? By not being there, of course. By living her own life so separate from that of her husband.
Mrs Rosencranz lit a thin cigar and sank down onto the elderly leather couch, displacing Tiberius the grey Persian cat from his accustomed spot on the back. He came and put his forepaws up on her knee, regarding her with molten copper eyes. She petted him idly and he purred vigorously as coils of contemplative smoke wound their way to the ceiling.
A discreet tap at the door returned her to the present, and she turned her head towards the sound. "Yes?"
The door opened and the maid, the sole remaining servant, entered and curtsied. "Ma'am, there is a Mr Marchbanks to see you," she said. "I have taken the liberty of showing him into the parlour."
She came forward and proffered a polished silver tray, upon which a tastefully discreet business card lay. Mrs Rosencranz lifted it between two fingers and examined it without a great deal of interest. The sale of the household was already arranged, but she could at least do this Marchbanks of Marchbanks and Abbot the courtesy of telling him so in person.
"Very well, Elizabeth," she said with a weary sigh. "I will see him. Has he taken refreshment?"
"Yes, ma'am," the maid curtsied again and hurried out as quickly as her own advancing age would allow. Mrs Rosencranz wondered at that. She did not encourage plain speaking among her staff, but Elizabeth seemed - spooked.
She was another who must suffer from Franz's unfortunate habits. After all, unlike old furniture, one could not simply dispose of old servants at auction. Her lips thinned with distaste for the whole business. She was in no mood to deal with yet another dealer, no matter how discreet. She knew she should compose herself, smooth her frown and smile, yet she couldn't bring herself to continue the act. She must look an old battleaxe, she mused, as she crossed the chess-tiled hallway. This Marchbanks was in for the rough edge of her tongue today.
The parlour door was ajar, and a delicate music slipped out from within and hung in the air. Mrs Rosencranz halted in surprise, one hand outstretched to push the door wide. Tiberius, following her, blinked his orange eyes and wound himself about her ankles as the musician reached the end of his piece. Greensleeves, played well, not perfectly, but very well indeed.
The piano tucked away in the corner of the parlour was a guilty pleasure of hers. She did not play it as well as Marchbanks appeared to, but that had never bothered her. He gave the most exquisite gifts, and she had always enjoyed it for the elegance of its appearance and its age. Mrs Rosencranz closed her eyes against the thought of him. She did not like thinking about him at all, because there lay pitfalls and bear-traps for the stray, unwary thoughts to find. An image rose in her mind, as though the gates had been opened. His maroon eyes gleamed with wicked amusement above a crisp white shirtfront, his dark hair combed back in that ridiculous ponytail she had liked to tease him about. He winked and toasted her with his glass. The taste of green oysters from the Gironde...
Angrily she pushed the memory away. How dare this businessman come into her house and, unbidden, raise memories she preferred to keep hidden? No doubt he would like the instrument for himself. She gathered about her all the cold dignity she could muster, and flung the door wide.
Her uninvited guest rose smoothly to his feet and offered her a half bow as she strode briskly into the room and halted in the centre. He smiled, and the smile reached the maroon eyes that pinned her to the spot like a small mammal before a snake.
If she had not been so utterly alone in the room with him, she might have fainted. If the men of the house were still at her beck and call, she might have screamed. As it was, there was only Tiberius between herself and the person of Dr Hannibal Lecter, and the cat appeared to approve of him most highly, for he was rubbing his head against the doctor's ankle and purring loudly. There was no one here to save her, and this knowledge kept her on her feet. She was horribly conscious of her own breathing, loud in the silence that followed her entrance, conscious of the pounding of her heart and of the blood rushing in her ears. In all her privileged life, she had never experienced such fear as she did right now.
The doctor cocked his head at her. "I appear to have upset you."
She stared at him, mouthing silently, her voice deserting her.
"Perhaps a glass of water?" He moved to the sideboard and lifted the water carafe.
Frantically, Mrs Rosencranz searched for something, anything to say.
His brow furrowed slightly in concern. "Your maid was kind enough to provide coffee, but perhaps something stronger?"
"Coffee," she muttered weakly.
"Very well." He put the water down and poured coffee instead, leaving the full cup on the side and moving away from it. Mrs Rosencranz did not move.
"Maybe you should sit down," he suggested.
"I... prefer to stand, thank you." The pleasantries came from a lifetime of practice.
"It is your house, you may do as you wish." The doctor picked up his own cup from the table he had placed it upon and took a sip. Ever courteous, he remained standing. She knew he would do so until she sat herself, but she did not trust her legs to safely walk her to the nearest chair.
The sheer nerve of it amazed her. Here he was, in her house. What on Earth made him think he could just walk into her life once more, after he left it in such terrible, dramatic fashion? She found that she was becoming angry and she fought it, knowing anger was dangerous. Anger might make her say things that were better left unsaid between them, things that were dangerous for her to say, and not just because he might take... offence.
She took deep, steadying breaths and found control coming back to her. Slowly, but at least she might not say something she would regret. If she lived to regret it, she amended.
"This is a social call," he said, watching her. "I hope we can be civilised, Rachel."
The sound of her name stirred her to speak. "Civilised?" There. Calm.
"You should sit down. You look as pale as if you'd seen a ghost." He chuckled over his coffee, a rich, deep sound. She had always liked his laugh, rare as it was.
She bit off what she was going to say, her jaw closing with a snap, and glared at him. The veneer of calm began to crumble, if indeed it ever existed at all. "Civilised?" She was aware that her voice was reaching higher registers than usual, but she could not stop it. "Tell me, Hannibal, how civilised was that last little dinner party?" Internally, she cringed at what she heard herself say, but it was too late now. Her blood thundered in her ears. Fear kept her upright, kept her meeting his gaze. "How civilised was what you did to... No, I cannot say it. One simply does not sit down to take tea with a lion or a tiger."
He smiled at that, and in her mind she painted it in tones of diabolical amusement. "A lion? You flatter me, Rachel."
"I do nothing of the sort, and you know it," she snapped. Why was he simply standing there and smiling? "Perhaps I should have said a snake." She winced as she said it, but she could no more stop herself than Canute could hold back the tide. She had often been criticised for saying what she thought. Mrs Rosencranz pressed her sweaty palms against her skirts and waited, trembling, for the axe to fall.
"A snake is just as remarkable in its own way." The doctor placed his coffee back on the table.
Criticised, yes, but never by Hannibal Lecter.
The doctor moved, and she started warily, like a frightened racehorse. He ignored her, however, and inspected the silver on the authentic, antique Welsh dresser. "I heard the unfortunate news, Rachel," he said, lightly touching the engraving on a plate. "Since I was in the vicinity..." he trailed off, examining a particularly fine piece of Japanese lacquer work.
"You thought you'd drop by and offer your condolences," she finished for him, astounded. She had always known that the doctor did not see life in quite the same way as everybody else she knew. Singular, she had called him. So singular, in fact, that he would risk capture and execution simply to visit an old friend in need. She laughed, a high laugh quite unlike her own. "I'm touched, Hannibal."
"You're waiting for me to leave," he corrected, raising a sardonic eyebrow.
"What do you want?" she asked, a note of pleading in her voice. She hated that. "Money? I have none."
The doctor's face seemed to grow a little darker, and Mrs Rosencranz could not help but step backwards. Had she overstepped that fine line?
"I do not need your assistance," he said calmly. "I merely came to offer you mine."
She almost heard the clinking of silverware on fine china. If she closed her eyes, she could see the soft glow of candlelight, hear the hum of smugly wealthy conversation, the satisfied titters of laughter at some joke. The taste of green oysters, and the taste, the remarkable taste of a dark and glossy ragout. She swallowed hard. "What help do you think I need from you, Hannibal?" she asked at last.
He gave an elegant shrug, and drummed his fingers against the oak of the dresser.
"We were friends once, and that was long ago," she said. The constituents were never determined, after all. "I thank you for your concern, but it is hardly appropriate for you to come here like this. I only need to summon the servants..." she left it hanging, hoping he would leave.
"The /servant/, Rachel," he said. "Surely you do not intend to have poor Elizabeth apprehend me? That would be cruel, and most unlike you. You always used to fight your own battles."
"I can't fight you." She finally sank weak-kneed into the nearest chair.
He acknowledged the fact with a slight nod, and moved towards her. She froze to her chair, unable to move as he picked up her cooling cup of coffee. "I came here as a friend," he said. He moved again, and held the cup out towards her. "Let us not dwell on the past."
"I find it difficult not to dwell on the past when the past is standing in front of me," she said, surprised at the humour she injected into the words. He smiled.
He stood before her now, holding her coffee. It was a long moment before she could reach up and take it from him, but it satisfied the doctor. He retreated to his own chair as she took a sip. Over the rim of her cup, she studied him properly for the first time since the conversation began. He seemed fit and healthy, a far cry from the pale and thin Lecter she had seen on the television and in the newspapers.
"You look well, Hannibal," she remarked for the sake of polite conversation.
"I am very well, thank you," he replied. "But I see that you are not, and I suspect that the blame for that cannot entirely be laid at my door."
"I am as well as can be expected." She sipped her coffee, thinking fast. He had been free for over ten years now, and this was his first visit, and he came because of the death of her husband.
"Hmm," was all he said, and she looked up to meet that familiar, electric gaze. "Did you love him?"
Mrs Rosencranz stared at him, incredulous. "I'm sure you know me well enough to know that I will not answer that question," she managed to say after several beats of her heart.
"Why not? It's a simple enough question. Yes or no, Rachel." The doctor leaned back in his chair and regarded her calmly.
"A simple question?" she exclaimed. "I hardly think so."
"I'll take that as a no, then," he said, amused.
"I..." She changed her mind over what she was about to say, asking instead, "why?"
The doctor shrugged again. "Curiosity. I hoped you might find some... happiness."
Mrs Rosencranz lowered her cup, toyed with the handle. He really did see everything, but she had known that for a long time. "If you had asked, I would have said yes," she said finally. "But that was a long time ago."
"I know. And you know I would never have asked." There was a gentleness in his voice that she had not heard often, and had not expected to hear now.
"Good," she said briskly. "Because I hope you don't entertain any hope of renewing our acquaintance..."
He smiled. "That would be injurious to both of us, I fear." He chuckled again.
Mrs Rosencranz leaned forward, intrigued. "You mean I would drive you mad? Or more so?"
Dr Lecter laughed. "My dear, every lion must have his lioness," he said. "I fear she would disapprove. She can be rather fierce." There was a faint note of pride in his tone that amazed her.
"Lioness?" she exclaimed. "My /God/..."
"Thanks..." he said dryly, raising his cup in mock toast.
"Is it Starling?" Like everyone with access to the news, be it television or newspapers, Mrs Rosencranz was familiar with the published facts regarding Agent Starling's disappearance and the shoot-out at Mason Verger's barn.
He merely gave her one of his best enigmatic smiles.
"Well," she said, "I would say she has landed quite the catch, but I could not say in all honesty that I know whether you count as a salmon or a pike."
The doctor laughed once more. "First a lion, then a snake, now a pike. Rachel, I think you want to put me in a zoo." Although his tone was light, Mrs Rosencranz became horribly aware of the tightening around his eyes, and the darkness therein.
She shivered. "Not I, Hannibal."
"I take it that you disapprove," he said, choosing to pretend that that moment had never happened, and that he had not seen her fear.
"After the things you have done? It would hardly be proper of me to wish you health and happiness."
"But we don't have to be proper anymore, do we, Rachel?" He leaned forward, and she resisted the urge to lean back "But still, if you want to relive the past so much, let us talk of it now."
"I don't want to," she said flatly.
"Yes, you do. You have dreams, don't you?" She wished he did not sound so kindly about it, like an uncle with a favourite niece. Rich of him, considering she had several years on him, at least.
She shifted uncomfortably in her chair. The clink of elegant tableware rang in her ears. "I hardly call them dreams..."
The doctor regarded her closely. "The things I have done bother you greatly, but I do wonder why. I have not hurt you, not like Franz and his unlucky dice."
She could only stare at him, open mouthed in shock. "You wonder why?" she echoed, astonished.
"Yes," he sat back once more and crossed his legs at the ankles. Elegant and deadly.
He cut her off with one upraised hand. "I wonder why you care, Rachel. You never met most of them, and those you did meet, well. Even you have to agree that Benjamin Raspail was not exactly a shining example of humanity."
This coming from Hannibal Lecter had her gasping like a stranded goldfish. She knew she must look ridiculous, staring at him with her mouth hanging open, but she couldn't seem to form a coherent reply of any kind. He truly is a monster, she thought, aghast. She had read that men like him possessed no conscience or empathy for those they preyed upon. Reading about it was disturbing enough, but to see it in the flesh was terrifying. For all his civilised conversation, for all the banter that had just passed between them, he could not hide what he was. His nature was suddenly visible to her as it never had been, it broke the water like the fin of a hunting shark and she could suddenly see it. She had known, although it had taken her years to accept it, but she had never seen. Until now.
She put the coffee cup down, conscious once more of the sweat on her palms, under her arms, of the shaking of her hands. "You killed many people, Hannibal. And you tortured them, ate them. That is evil."
He leaned forward now, his eyes suddenly alight. She wanted to push her chair back as far as it would go. "Evil by some standards." He waited.
My God, she thought. He's treating the subject like an interesting intellectual debate. She recognised the signs, she had debated enough with him in the past. "By everyone's standards except yours, I think," she said. She was falling into the old pattern too, she realised with some horror. Statement, refutation, explanation. He had always liked the fact that she liked to debate. She had never bothered to hide her intelligence around him, unlike many women of her class.
"So society says, yes." He flashed her a smile, and she found it chilling. "Society also says that smoking is bad, but I note that you still smoke."
"You cannot compare smoking with the things you have done!" She leapt into the silence after his words, willing him to see.
"No? How about nuclear weapons? Society surely agrees that they are the worst evil, yet no government is rushing to dismantle them. Think for yourself, Rachel. Society's point of view on any subject has no meaning whatsoever because society is a hypocrite. We must make our own judgements on what is evil." The doctor paused to sip his coffee. "Society is so hypocritical that they allowed me to live, Rachel. Think about that. You can't even have a good, honest eye-for-an-eye these days." His disappointment in her was evident. Incredibly, it stung.
"You'll be executed if you're caught now," she said quietly.
He smiled briefly. "Then I will have to ensure that I am not caught. Now, why do my hobbies bother you so much? I would like the truth."
Mrs Rosencranz stared around the parlour, hopeful for some inspiration but nothing leapt out at her from among the silverware. "Because," she said slowly, "I feared that it might happen to me, I suppose. I imagined what it might feel like to be... well, you know. And I hoped it never would come to me." It sounded even more callous hanging in the air between them than it did in her head. She had not felt sympathy for the victims because of their suffering, she had felt relief that it had not been her, and admitting this to their murderer only made it worse.
He leaned back, satisfied with her answer. "Of course, you are only human. It bothers you because you feel guilty. Society has nothing to do with it at all"
She glared at him, angry but powerless to vent it upon him. What could she possibly do? "It does not change the fact that what you did was vile. I personally find it so, regardless of what anyone else might think about it. What on Earth gave you the right, doctor?" she snapped.
"The right to strip away your comfortable illusion, or the right to serve poor Benny's sweetbreads to the Board?" he asked. "Come now, be specific."
Her gorge rose at the confirmation of what she had always known to be true, but had always hoped was not. Grey-faced, she clutched the arms of her chair and fought the urge to empty her stomach all over the priceless Chinese rug. "The right to do any of it," she managed to say.
He spread his hands, offered her a smile. "Why, God, of course. He gave us the free will to choose the course of our lives, and we have both chosen. I imagine you would protest most mightily if I were to imply that your life was predetermined and laid out for you before you were born?"
When she did not reply, he continued. "Of course, if our lives are ordained and directed by God, then obviously He intended me to be."
It was typical of him, she thought, that he had an answer for both sides of the argument. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, knowing that it was useless.
"That's five to you and eighteen to me, I think," he said, all smiles once more. "You put up a good fight, my dear, but I think your skills have become rusty in the company of cloth merchants."
It was the traditional end to their debates, and she found her voice at last. "Hannibal Lecter, you are the utter... you are... incorrigible."
He grinned. "One does one's best. As epithets go, I've had far worse."
Mrs Rosencranz laughed weakly, amused despite herself. "I suppose at least your lioness knows what she's let herself in for."
"Sometimes I think she knows that far more than I, and that is a very refreshing change indeed." He rose to his feet. "And now I fear I must cut our conversation short. I have pressing business elsewhere this afternoon."
The relief that coursed through her was almost obscene, although she had, in a way, enjoyed the conversation. He was always interesting, she thought. Never a dull moment, indeed. She refrained from asking after his business. The least said, the better. Instead, she pressed the bell that would summon Elizabeth with his hat and coat.
While he waited, the doctor lavished some attention upon Tiberius, who had emerged from under the table once they had stood up. "Charming," he murmured as the cat fell over himself to be scratched under the chin.
"Yes," she agreed. "He will need a home soon, too." She sighed, weary once more.
"I am sorry," he said, straightening up so suddenly that she jumped and hoped he hadn't noticed. "And I almost forgot. I have a message for you."
Mrs Rosencranz raised an eyebrow. "Oh yes? From whom?"
"The lioness we were just discussing. She thanks you for your advice and says that she has found it excellent. I have no idea what she means; she chose not to enlighten me. Ah, thank you." He took his outdoor clothing from the waiting Elizabeth and donned them swiftly. The maid herself beat a hasty retreat.
Mrs Rosencranz nearly laughed. "Then you may tell her that I... wish her well. I wish you both well. I don't know why, but there it is."
Dr Lecter paused on his way to the door, and looked at her for what seemed like an eternity. "Thank you, Rachel," he said.
When they were at the door, Hannibal Lecter turned to her once more. "It has been a delight and a pleasure, Rachel," he said.
"It has been unique," she said dryly. "You'll forgive me, I'm sure, if I say that there are few circumstances in which you would be welcome in my house again."
"Of course." He squinted up into the afternoon sun, then looked back at her with a devilish grin. "When I work out what those are, I'll be sure to drop by and let you know."
Years ago she would have swatted at him for such a reply. Now she smiled weakly and let it go.
He laughed that rich laugh she loved, and it made her tingle. "By the way, when is the auction?"
Surprised, she frowned. They had not discussed the subject at all in the parlour. "Next Thursday."
He nodded his dark sleek head, and suddenly Mrs Rosencranz found that he had her hand in his. Hypnotised by his eyes, she watched as he raised it to his deadly mouth. A shiver part formed of fear and partly something... else raced through her as he brushed his lips across the delicate skin on the back of her hand. The hair on her neck and arms rose in sheer fright, but she burned.
"Life has a funny habit of working out," he said, staring into her eyes. "Adieu, dear Rachel." He released her hand and she drew it back slowly, holding it close.
He set his hat to a jaunty angle and tipped her a wink with those devil eyes. She watched him saunter down the wide drive to his waiting car. She did not watch him drive away. She couldn't.
Later, curled in an armchair in the lounge with the cat, Mrs Rosencranz stared into the log fire and considered her address book. It lay in her lap, and she ran her fingers across the ageing leather of the cover. Finally, she drew her gaze away from the flames and opened it. She passed by pages and pages of acquaintances past and present. Known acquaintances indeed, years and years of them. Past those, past the blank pages at the very end, past those until she came to a telephone number in splendid isolation from the rest. She remembered the occasion upon which she had noted it down very well. She thought of Clarice Starling, now thirty-three, and wondered if she truly could keep up with Hannibal Lecter. She thought of Starling, and wondered how the hunt for the doctor must be going now she was not there to direct it.
Badly, she assumed, since he was dropping in to visit US citizens on US soil. Badly, especially since he had all the expert knowledge of one who had served the FBI for years at his very fingertips. Oh well, she thought.
Slowly, she tore the page from the book and crumpled it into a ball. Never mind, she mused. They surely had enough Lecter sightings to keep them amused without adding hers to the list. She chose to ignore the fact that her sighting would likely be taken more seriously than the rest.
"Known acquaintance indeed," she said to Tiberius. "Presumptuous of them to assume that I ever really knew him at all."
Tiberius chose not to comment, and she negligently tossed the thick ball of paper into the fireplace, where she watched it smoulder and finally ignite.
She had to admit that she was not entirely surprised when, a week later, a truckload of her former household goods arrived at her new flat, back in Baltimore. The buyer chose to remain anonymous, but a new seat cover had been placed upon the stool for the piano, and embroidered upon it was a scarlet lion rampant. She had to laugh. What else could she do?