Disclaimer: Hannibal and Clarice belong to Thomas Harris. Emma and the little Munchkins are mine.
Chapter 2: Never Work With Children and Animals
It was a glorious morning in the Montero household. Having just arisen, Emma sleepily poked her head around her door, glancing warily up and down the hallway. A figure strode into view. It was Dr Montero in a blue velvet dressing gown, perfectly groomed despite the fact that he had just risen.
"Good morning Emma" he said courteously as he passed.
"Um, good morning, Doctor." She couldn't help sneaking a glance at his butt as he walked past. Closing her door, Emma flumped back down on the bed. Cute, she thought, amused.
By the time she was dressed, there were definite sounds of movement in the house, and by the shrieks, she guessed that, oh Dear Lord, the kids were up already. Emma glanced at the bedside clock. It was seven AM.
Leaving her room, she nearly collided with Gabriel. Still in his pyjamas, he was ferociously whacking his sister with a red plastic lightsaber. Jade was whacking back, giving as good as she got. Gabe spotted Emma and waved. Jade took advantage of her brother's momentary lapse in concentration, and in one swift move she pinned him against the wall and disarmed him.
"Isn't it a bit early to be playing Jedi Knights?" Emma asked mildly, stifling a yawn.
"Oh, we're not Jedi" Jade told her.
"Nah. We're Sith Lords. The baddies" Gabriel added. He retrieved his lightsaber and struck a pose. "I'm Darth Maul! I'm a Jedi killer!"
"That's nice. What time's breakfast around here?"
"About eightish. Mom and Dad have breakfast later" Jade said, giving her brother the Jedi Killer a withering glance.
Darth Maul glared back, then spun round and shot off down the passage, yelling a suitably Sith-like warcry and brandishing his lightsaber.
Breakfast in the Montero household was an interesting experience. At eight o clock sharp, in the Morning Room, the children assembled, washed, dressed and very hungry. Unusually, their parents opted to join them. They sat around a large oak table, waiting for the servants to bring breakfast in. Emma glanced around. She spotted the long-suffering Mog The Third lurking at the top of a dresser. A couple of the dogs - Hannibal and a new one - sidled in and heaped themselves in a corner, watchful brown eyes fixed on the table.
Emma's nostrils were suddenly assaulted by the mouth-watering smell of bacon and eggs as a full English breakfast was laid before them. "In honour of our guest" Dr Montero said, smiling at her. Emma refrained from mentioning that she only ever got a proper English breakfast in German hotels, and liberally helped herself to bacon. Tycho, wriggling in his chair, got cereal instead.
The children were amazingly polite at the table. Napkins tucked into collars, pleases and thank-you's, pleasant conversation. The subjects of Sith Lords, Britney Spears, whether or not it was possible to microwave a body, or Tycho's distressing cat-eating habit were not even touched upon. For Emma, veteran of gruesome dinner-table conversation, it was very nearly bliss.
The children were excited. Today, Daddy had promised them a trip to the Zoo. They talked endlessly about the animals they wanted to see. Gabriel wanted to see the monkeys until his sister informed him that they fed the alligators live goats.
"Cool! Daddy, will we see that?"
"I very much doubt it" his father told him.
"Aww. Can we go paintballing instead?" he asked hopefully.
"Gabe, baby, you're too young for paintballing" Mrs Montero said with a laugh.
"Too young, and probably too lethal" Dr Montero said in an undertone to his wife.
"Undoubtedly" she murmured, smiling.
Jade steered the conversation onto the topic of big cats. It seemed to Emma that she was angling to get one for her birthday. "They've got HUGE teeth" she enthused of tigers. "They can eat people in ONE GULP! What do you think of that, Daddy?"
"Very impressive" he admitted. "I'll remember that when I see one."
"It would probably run away," his wife said.
"Run away from lil' old me?" The doctor smirked. His children laughed. Emma got the distinct feeling that this was a joke they weren't sharing.
"It would if it had any sense," Mrs Montero added.
"Can I have one, Daddy? PLEEEEASE?" Jade bounced up and down in her chair hopefully.
"No, you cannot have a tiger - no not even if it IS a man-eater. What would poor Mog think? Now, go and get ready, all of you."
Jade looked down at the table for a moment. Then she rose, smiling sweetly at her father. "Come on, boys," she said to her brothers. Gabriel hopped up eagerly, exited by the prospect of seeing alligators and poisonous spiders. Tycho held his arms up, and Emma lifted him out of his chair. She set him on the floor and he ran off after the other two. A door slammed upstairs, then loud pop music started. Emma could just make out the words. She glanced at Dr Montero. He covered his face with his hands and groaned. His wife seemed to be having trouble keeping her composure.
"Jade: one, Daddy: nil" she murmured, trying not to laugh. Her husband glared at her. Emma decided it was time to make a tactical withdrawal and see if she could somehow sabotage the playroom stereo. She understood the Doctor's dislike of pop music, but she somehow just could not fathom why he seemed to take Britney Spears as a personal affront.
As the au pair left, Clarice rose and closed the door behind her. "She won that round pretty fairly, you have to admit." Starling grinned. Lecter merely grunted.
"I should never have bought them that stereo." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Maybe I could remove the plug."
Clarice shook her head. "You know perfectly well they'll just try to replace it - and probably electrocute themselves in the process. You should never have bought the CDs."
He grunted again.
Starling decided to needle a bit more. "You're too soft with her, Han. She's walking all over you." She sighed. "I never thought I'd see it - Hannibal Lecter going soft in his old age."
Dr Lecter jumped to his feet, eyes afire. "I am not the pushover you seem to think I am," he growled. "And I'm not in my dotage either. I'm going to confiscate those infernal CDs of hers. And if she says just one word...." He left it hanging.
"Won't work" his wife drawled, amused.
"Because, dearest, as far as that young lady is concerned, you are just a big, cuddly teddy-bear of a Daddy who happens to have some intriguing dietary habits. She'll never believe you. And face it, she's got you riiiiight where she wants you."
Lecter scowled. She was right, and he knew it. There was no way he could argue with his daughter and win. He turned to the door. He was in a perfect frame of mind for the nightmare of a Family Outing.
"Hannibal, where are you going?" Clarice asked carefully. He looked mildly explosive, not unlike a bees nest before some bright spark hits it with a stick.
"I'm going to take the autopsy saw out of the picnic hamper," he snapped. "We have company." With that, he strode off down the passage.
Once the children had been rounded up and frisked for contraband items - Gabriel was relieved of his lightsaber and Jade of the largest collar and lead she could find, cunningly hidden in her doll, the entire party exited the house. Outside, a blue and silver Mercedes waited, having been brought out of the garage by Bernado. Dr Montero and his wife sat in the front, Emma squeezed in the back with the children. Tycho grinned and hit her on the head with a cuddly chicken.
Mercifully for all concerned, the journey was short. Upon arrival, the children poured out of the car and through the gate as Mrs Montero purchased tickets.
Emma dived for Tycho as he ran off towards the Monkey House. Gabriel was heading for the Reptile House and Jade was hopping up and down excitedly, tugging at Emma's sleeve.
"Look!" she cried. "Hippos!"
In a nearby pen, three hippopotami lounged in a deep pool. As they watched, one yawned, exposing an impressive set of teeth.
"Can we go see?" Jade wanted to know.
"In a moment. Where's Gabe?" Emma glanced around frantically. Already missing one of her charges, she felt that this did not bode well for the rest of the trip.
"Dunno. Can we see the hippos?"
Emma continued to look around. Fortunately, Gabriel had been accosted by a park guard. Mrs Montero was standing motionless, observing the penguins. Dr Montero was nowhere to be seen.
"Hey Jade, where's your father?"
Jade looked up and down the path. Then she pulled Emma down to her level. "Sometimes he likes to stay in the car and lick the steering wheel after Mummy's been driving" she confided in a giggly whisper.
"Riiiiight. Okay. Ummm..." It was an interesting mental picture, and one she could have done without.
Dr Montero sauntered through the gate towards them. He was obviously feeling more cheerful after saying 'hi' to the steering wheel, as he winked at Emma. She kept her eyes firmly fastened on the distant treetops of the giraffe enclosure.
Emma released Tycho, who grinned at her and dashed off to his father. As the Monteros joined them, the three children all spoke up at once.
"Can we see the hippos?" Jade begged.
"The snakes!" Gabriel made lightsaber whooshy noises. "Pleeeease?"
"Munn-keys" Tycho said firmly.
"Dr Montero picked up his youngest son. "Hippos, monkeys, snakes" he said in a tone that brooked no argument. Jade grinned.
"The hippos were, Emma thought, decidedly boring. Far more stimulating was the challenge of keeping all three overactive Montero children together in the same place at the same time. The three adults came to an unspoken agreement. Dr Montero was to keep a close eye on Tycho, his wife kept hold of Jade, and Emma was left with little Gabriel and his well-worn cuddly Yoda.
Tycho happily jabbered away on his father's shoulders as the family headed for the monkey house. The monkeys, a sight more lively than the sluggish hippos, didn't quite know what to make of Tycho. For one thing, the faces he pulled were quite alarming, even to the monkeys. As he amused himself by shrieking baboon-style and attempting to stare out the ferociously fanged alpha male, other parents dragged their children out the exit, away from the strange child and his unnatural maroon gaze.
The Montero children were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Winding up the monkeys was a great success. As the family turned to leave, the monkeys regained their courage and started throwing stones, food and more unpleasant items through the bars. Tycho and Gabriel reacted fairly predictably. Gabriel stooped for a stone and flung it at the leader, hitting the ape in its scarlet hindquarters. The infuriated baboon shot towards the bars, howling. Undaunted, Gabriel and his little brother slammed themselves against the bars with spine-chilling snarls. The baboon pulled up short and retreated to the back of its cage, shaking. Dr Montero smiled at his sons, and then treated the cowering ape to an unpleasant hiss. It whimpered.
Emma consoled herself with the cheerful thought that next to monkeys, the Reptile House was going to be a pushover because there was no way they could reduce snakes to catatonia. She gave a little shudder and pushed Gabriel out ahead of her.
"I like snakes" he announced.
"Why's that Gabe? I never liked them much myself."
"They're funny." Gabriel laughed. "I barbecued one once."
"Oh. That's... nice." Her mind shrieked warnings about miniature psychopaths, but she chose not to listen. The pay cheque was rather substantial, after all...
"Yeah. It was cool. The skin went all crackly and..."
"That's lovely. I really don't want to know, alright?"
Gabriel looked disappointed. "Awww. It was funny."
"I'm sure. Leave the zoo ones alone, okay?"
He gave her a withering look. "I know that, Emma."
The keeper at the Reptile House gave them a few do's and don'ts before they went in.
"Do not go near the glass. Do not touch the glass. Do not attempt to stick your fingers in the air holes. The big ones can make a snack of a small boy in minutes." He mock-glared at Tycho, who stared steadily back. After a few seconds, the man could take no more of that intense gaze. He blinked, dazed, and waved them inside.
It was dim in the Reptile House, with a greenish light that came from the massive tanks surrounding them. Naturally, the children had found the biggest monster in the place, and were trying to tease it. It was long, thick and beautifully patterned in brown, black and grey. It was a Brazilian Boa Constrictor, capable of consuming a fully-grown man, and it was currently eye-to-eye with Jade. Going cross-eyed, she was trying to intimidate the snake by snarling at it. But the snake was no monkey. It lunged against the side of the tank, smashing its blunt nose into the glass. Jade laughed and stuck her finger in one of the air holes. It lunged forward again and the girl yanked her finger out of harms way. There was a 'crack!' and a split appeared in the glass.
"Oh FUDGE! Mother! It's trying to get out!"
Mrs Montero turned away from the fascinating bird-eating spiders and examined the crack. The snake drew back for another go. Rolling her eyes in exasperation, she shepherded her daughter away. "Better get out of here" she said in an undertone to the doctor. "We don't want to be detained."
Dr Montero merely nodded. They dragged the boys away from the Bat Cave and made it to the exit seconds before the first scream. People poured out of the Reptile House, screaming. Keepers dashed to and fro with nets and nooses, trying to recapture the snake. The Monteros sat on a grassy bank, the children reduced to giggles. "Ooops" Jade murmured, watching the chaos.
"Ooops indeed, young lady" her mother agreed, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes.
Once the fun was over, they continued in a leisurely stroll around the park. Jade was utterly fascinated by the big cats, and it took the entire family to drag her away from the tiger cubs.
"They are so SWEET!" she said rapturously as they headed for the petting zoo, pausing to buy ice-creams from a man dressed in the loudest, vilest Hawaiian shirt they had ever seen.
"Things like that shouldn't be allowed" Dr Montero said, looking with distaste at the monstrous shirt. The shirt, Emma mused, was more than loud. Rather, it was screaming so hard she was surprised she wasn't deaf.
Clarice Starling glanced around. Emma was busy mopping up Tycho's ice-creamed shirt.
"I know you're tempted, dearest," she whispered to Dr Lecter. "I know its offended your sense of taste, I fail to see how it can't. But you are not to do anything in the middle of a crowded zoo. What if Emma was to see?"
Dr Lecter grinned mischievously. "It'd be a challenge," he noted.
"Yeah. And the kids will want to join in. You DO remember what happened last time?"
Dr Lecter chuckled. 'Last time' had featured Gabriel's kindergarten teacher, a roll of duct tape, a set of carbon steel kitchen knives, and a small camping stove, not to mention three children hidden in the shrubbery.
"Actually, dealing with the questions afterwards was the hardest part" Clarice reflected. " 'Where babies come from' should be a walk in the park compared to 'Why Daddy grilled Mrs Maplestowe' or 'When can I do the things Daddy does?'"
Jade tugged at her father's sleeve. "Can we go and stroke the goats now?" she asked.
"Of course Sweetie." Dr Lecter resumed the guise of Dr Montero with a doting smile upon his daughter.
Retrieving Tycho and Gabriel, they approached the pen of goats. Big, dusty and mean-eyed, these beasts were intended to give city children a chance to get closer to nature. The goats saw the arrangement as a chance to get closer to lunch; ice-creams, fingers and clothing being their food of choice.
Tycho climbed into the pen and looked around. The head of the largest goat came up. Its nostrils flared. It was an old goat, cunning and tough. Its prey lounged casually against the fence, foolishly licking an ice-cream.
Predator and prey faced each other across the straw pen.
Tycho waved at the big black goat that was staring at him, then turned away to speak to Emma. The old goat saw its chance and charged. They prey, all unawares, would soon lose its ice-cream, and possibly half its shirt.
Emma clapped her hand over her mouth as the goat charged. "Tycho!" she cried.
Tycho turned, saw the goat bare its yellow teeth, and bit it smartly on the nose. The startled animal scrambled away, snorting and shaking its head. Tycho walked forward into the pen, goats milling all around. They backed away from him, dark eyes fixed greedily on his ice-cream, but they did not dare come any closer.
The tense moment was broken when Dr Montero stepped into the pen and picked up his son. Emma watched in amazement as the tough old goats clambered over themselves to get away from the man.
"Right. Time to go home, I think," he said, settling Tycho on his shoulders and declining to comment upon his bizarre control over animals. Emma desperately wished she had the courage to ask, but something about the doctor was just a little... creepy. She shivered.
The car journey home seemed to take even longer, possibly because Jade never stopped talking.
"Dad, its my birthday next week."
"Yes honey, I know."
"Can I have a tiger?"
"Can I have a leopard then? They're smaller."
"A giraffe? Pleeeease?"
"No. No giraffes."
"No. Anyway, we've got three horses."
"But they're Mum's and they live in Italy."
"I said NO, Jade"
"Ohhh. Can I have a rabbit then?"
"NO. You dissected the last one."
"But nothing. You have five dogs, three horses, one long-suffering cat, a parrot and a pond full of koi carp."
"And Britney" Jade giggled.
"Oh yes, the lawn ornament." Dr Montero scowled at a cyclist who dared come close to his car.
"And you can't cuddle fish" Jade noted.
"I know, Sweetie. I've seen you trying."
Home had never seemed so welcome to Emma. They had to disable a sizable number of security alarms just to get in the front door, but once they were in, Emma could think of nothing but bath, food and sleep. From upstairs came the echo of Britney Spears's latest single. The au pair sighed and headed upstairs to talk Jade into listening to something else.
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