Disclaimer: Lecter and Starling belong to Thomas Harris. No copyright infringement is intended.
Another Fine Mess
To Emma, the sight of Clarice and the children clustered around the rental car was heaven-sent. The doctor quickened his pace so that she was forced to hurry to keep up with him as he strode across the parking lot.
Clarice saw them coming and ran to meet them, hauling up short when she saw the state Emma was in
"Oh my God, Emma. What happened?" she demanded, concerned. "Are you all right?"
"She was attacked," Dr Lecter said quietly, relinquishing the au pair to Clarice's arms. "The attacker has been...dealt with"
Emma found herself being hugged fiercely as Clarice fired off questions to Lecter, who fended them off with a tiny shake of his head. For the children were approaching, and discussing the misadventure with them was the last thing he wanted to be doing.
The three children broke out in a babble of excited questions as Clarice led Emma to the car. Where had she been? Why had she wandered off? Why was there mud and bruises on her face?
Dr Lecter opened the front passenger door for Emma. Shivering, she climbed gratefully inside, pulling her tattered jacket tightly around herself. The car's smell, of leather, polish and cheap petrol, was oddly comforting. More comforting than the dangerous darkness outside, at any rate. Even Lecter was less frightening at the present moment.
The good doctor himself had lined his offspring up beside the car.
"Emma merely got lost," he said in answer to their questions.
"But - the mud," Jade protested.
"Is not open to further discussion," he snapped. "In the car, please. This is not the Spanish Inquisition."
Mildly surprised, Emma watched as they did exactly as they were told. Faced with that tone of voice, that carried with it the threat of punishment should its wishes not be obeyed instantly, the children were remarkably quick to comply.
I'll have to remember that, she thought, amused despite herself.
Once Clarice was settled in the back, Tycho on her lap, Dr Lecter slid into the driver's seat. He started the engine, and then turned to look at Emma.
"All right?" he asked quietly.
Faced with the monster's concern, Emma could only nod. The sudden lump in her throat did not make speech a viable option.
The drive home was accomplished in merciful silence. Only when they entered the house did somebody speak.
"Go and run a bath for Emma, please."
"Yes mom," Jade hurried off to the big bathroom, Tycho in tow.
Emma had half a mind to hide in her room, but Clarice had other plans, and Emma was soon seated in the kitchen with a large cup of coffee. Any attempt to relieve her of her torn and stained jacket, however, met with failure.
"I'm cold," she muttered, after Clarice had given up.
Dr Lecter bent to look her in the eyes. There was only so much of that uncanny gaze that Emma could take, especially when cold, frightened and lacking in nicotine. With a nervous smile, she studied the tile pattern on the floor and twisted the coffee mug around in her hands.
Strong fingers under her chin forced her head up, and there she was, nose to nose with Hannibal Lecter. She couldn't help it. She crossed her eyes, and rolled them.
Dr Lecter grinned. "That's my girl. No permanent damage, I think. A few cuts and abrasions. Bruises. Time will heal those. You are understandably in shock, but at least you can still pull faces."
Clarice huffed. "Huh. And here I thought I was your girl. Or was that just the heat of the moment?"
"Bondage brings out the romantic in me," Lecter smirked, turning his attention back to Emma. "How about it, my dear?" he said to her. "I'm sure I can find some good vacuum cord..."
Emma stared at him, speechless.
"...Or handcuffs. Clarice, darling, do we have cuffs?"
"Oh, definitely," she replied, getting up. "Shall I get them, do you think?"
Emma mouthed silently, goldfish fashion.
It was Clarice who cracked first. She flung herself back into her chair, hunched over in a fit of uncontrollable giggles, in which the words 'your face' and 'Hannibal, you old bastard' were just distinguishable.
Emma breathed a huge sigh of relief as the doctor allowed his poker face to slip as he chuckled and patted her on the cheek, like a parent with a favourite child.
"Try not to be too patronising, darling" Clarice advised him as she got her breath back, and passed him a small brown bottle.
Emma braced herself for the sting of the antiseptic liquid, but hissed nevertheless. After a few moments, Dr Lecter stood back to admire his handiwork.
"Not quite the Mona Lisa," he observed, "but you'll do."
There was a cough from the doorway. They turned.
"Your bath awaits," Gabriel announced with an impudent bow and a British accent you could etch glass with.
Glad of the opportunity to escape from the good doctor's sense of humour, Emma retired to the bathroom and that ancient female occupation, a very long bath. Unhappily, she could not escape the bathroom mirror so easily. She stared blankly at the puffy face reflected there. Split lips, a pair of spectacular black eyes and fetching smears of orange iodine on her scraped nose. The full works.
Mona Lisa? More like the Portrait of Dora Maar. One might even go as far as the Bride of bloody Frankenstein, she thought ruefully, touching one orange- stained cut. If only Auntie Enid and Uncle Peter could see her now... She hissed in pain, as, in prodding a fresh scab, she inadvertently made it bleed.
"If you pick it, it won't get better," Emma sternly told the face in the mirror.
Good grief, now she was talking to herself. Wondering if mental illness was contagious, she slipped out of her clothes and into the bath.
Four hours later, peace of mind had not yet materialised.
Emma lay in bed, staring at the dark ceiling. Outside, screech owls did their best to impersonate express trains in their noisy hunt for their evening meal. Restlessly, Emma sat up and flicked on the bedside light. She wanted someone to talk to. To talk at, really. Sighing, she got up and dressed, padded to the door and eased it open. Clear. Emma slipped out into the hallway, tiptoed downstairs and let herself out via the only slightly creaky back door in the kitchen.
The stables were quiet at night. Not silent - with occasional rustling, and the snoring of an elderly cat - but blessedly quiet. She took a bucket from beside the old bath that served as a washing trough, upturned it and sat down outside Saran's stable. The bad-tempered animal was not asleep, and stuck his head over the half-door in hopes of a carrot. When one was not forthcoming, he snorted irritably and went back to eating his bed.
Horses were nice, uncomplicated creatures, Emma mused. Possessed of only four goals in life - eating, sleeping, procreating and avoiding as much work as possible - they were incapable of offering unwanted advice, making unwelcome personal observations and, as far as Emma knew, had never seen Star Wars, thus making them better listeners than most of the humans around here.
"I just don't know what to do," she told Saran. Unimpressed, the horse ignored her and munched away on his straw.
"One the one hand," she continued after a moment "they're both wanted criminals. They're dangerous. I've seen the news. I've seen it up close," and she shuddered.
Saran chose not to comment.
"But on the other hand, they're devoted to each other and the kids, and whatever I do, I don't want to split them up. Understand? It would be - cruel. I can't deprive children of their parents. Besides, anyone planning to betray Dr Lecter better get funeral arrangements made beforehand. Upsetting him doesn't seem to lead to a long and healthy life."
Here she paused to light a cigarette. Saran stuck his nose over the door and huffed inquiringly at her.
"I know, I know. Shouldn't smoke around the stables."
Anyone watching would have perceived that she was wrestling with a sumo- sized problem.
Finally, Emma stubbed the dog-end out on the concrete and slumped down on her bucket with a heartfelt little groan.
"There's no way I can go to the police after he saved my life, Saran."
"What most people forget is that when one falls off the moral fence, one is going to get a bruised behind, no matter what choice is made," Dr Lecter observed lightly from the tack-room door.
"Ohmygod! Dr Lecter! Don't sneak up on me like that!" Emma gasped, falling off her bucket.
Chuckling, the doctor came forward and helped her to her feet. "The trick is to know how to land," he told her calmly. "If you're careful, you can land on your feet."
"And if I'm not careful?" Emma wanted to know, recovering from her surprise. "Do I get a nice funeral? I know you can afford it. I'm five foot three and I want a nice hardwood coffin..."
He shrugged. "It's up to you now."
She sat down again. "You heard everything?"
"Of course. The back door is creaky for a reason. And I'm impressed. Not everyone would be able, or inclined, to think things through logically."
"Hah. I did my panicking back in Buenos Aires."
Dr Lecter smiled slightly. "And you've decided...?"
"I've decided that when this is over, I'm going to forget I ever knew the Monteros. Dammit, you knew anyway. You heard it all."
"I wanted you to tell me, not the horse. Good girl."
Yes, good girl. Would Emma like a biscuit? Would Emma like to be patronised some more? She shook her head in resignation, and fumbled for another cigarette.
Dr Lecter made as if to leave, before changing his mind and turning back to face her.
"I must impress upon you, Emma, the nature of the trust Clarice and I are placing in you. One wrong word anywhere could leave the children without parents."
Emma nodded. He raised a hand to forestall any comment, and continued. "I will also warn you that I take any threat to my family and my freedom very personally indeed."
The air seemed to have grown chill. Emma swallowed hard as he went on.
"Likewise, threats to my friends will be met with reprisals. Now. I hope we understand each other. Good night, Emma." The doctor smiled, stepped back a pace and disappeared into the dark.
She licked lips gone suddenly dry.
The night-time noises seemed to have grown louder and closer, while the darkness pressed coldly upon her. Enough was enough. She pulled her dressing gown around herself and hurried back to the relative safety of her bed.
It was when she turned that nocturnal conversation over in her mind during those next few days that Emma came to realise something. If Hannibal Lecter liked you - and there were apparently few he liked - then you had a friend who would kill for you, if necessary. She was safe, actually safe among these people. It was a novel idea, but proof of it lay in an alley somewhere in Florence.
However, the realisation of the fact that being friends with Dr Lecter also made her fair game in the eyes of the rest of the world had not escaped her either, and that fact came home with bells on the night that Dr Lecter and Clarice had decided to take a trip to Florence, as there was an opera the doctor was particularly interested in seeing. They had left, formally dressed, in the Mercedes. Emma had the use of the rented Jag, should she need it.
She had no intention of going out, though, and was lounging on the couch with her nose in a book. Gabriel was sticking an X-Wing model together, and Tycho was watching TV. Emma did not understand much Italian, so she was mildly surprised when Jade announced that the police were looking for their car.
"Fucking hell!" Gabriel swore.
"You watch your language, my lad," Emma told him, marking her place.
"I've stuck the bottom to the carpet," he complained, tugging at the completed model. Emma sighed.
"Wait a moment, Gabe. Jade, what makes you think the police are looking for our car?"
She shrugged. "Green rental Jags aren't that common around here."
"Am not!" she said indignantly.
Emma switched channels until she found a local news broadcast. It was unintelligible.
"Gabe, love, what are they saying?"
Gabriel watched for a moment. "It's an appeal for a man and a girl seen near the scene of a murder in Florence to come forward. They were seen on CCTV crossing a square moments after a murder nearby."
"And how exactly did they get the car part?"
"I dunno. D'you think I could borrow a knife from Dad? Mom'll kill me if she finds this stuck to the carpet."
"Get one from the kitchen" Emma answered absently. "So can they trace the car, then?"
"Dunno." Gabriel disappeared to the kitchen.
"Did they say what car-park?" she called after him.
"DUNNO," he yelled back.
"Why are you so worried about the car?" Gabriel asked curiously when he returned.
Emma stared at him helplessly. "Well, you know when I got lost in town?"
"Yeah?" He sawed at the model,
"I was attacked," she said in a rush. "Your father rescued me, he killed the man who attacked me. And now the police are looking for us."
Gabriel's eyes grew round.
"Your dad's low opinion of the local Questura could do with revision," she continued acidly. "They seem to be a bit sharper than he said they were. And it doesn't take a genius to trace rental Jaguars. They'll check the rental companies, and that will lead them... here."
A brisk knock on the door interrupted that unpleasant train of thought.
"Come in" Emma called.
The resident housekeeper entered. A middle-aged woman, she spoke English well, and it was Emma she addressed.
"Miss Emma, there is a policeman here to speak with you. Shall I send him in?"
If Emma looked how she felt at that moment, she would have been a lovely shade of green.
"Um, yeah. Thank you," I think...
The housekeeper withdrew, and Emma turned to the boys. "Now what?" she demanded, getting up and pacing nervously.
"The car. It's out back. Dad moved it to get the Merc out of the garage" Gabriel told her. "He left it out."
"Outside? Oh hell."
"You can't see it from the front of the house," he assured her.
"Even so..." Emma looked wildly around the room. Her gaze fell on the ornamental fireplace - and its resident set of brass fire tools. She strode over, picked the poker up and swished it experimentally.
"You're not!" Gabriel exclaimed.
"I probably am," she admitted grimly. There were footsteps outside.
"When the cop comes in, say something in Italian" she instructed the boys, and tucked herself in behind the door.
It opened to admit a young, pimply-faced officer. Gabriel immediately bombarded him with childish questions about his gun, handcuffs and how many people he had arrested. The young man smiled, bent to show the boys his badge, and that was when Emma hit him over the back of the head with the poker.
There was a sickening crunch as metal connected with bone. The policeman grunted in surprise, and folded up face-first on the carpet.
Gabriel looked carefully at Emma. "You can open your eyes now," he told her.
She did so, dropped the poker and tried to quell the rising feeling of panic inside her.
"Wow," Tycho breathed, looking up at her in awe.
"Never mind that," she snapped, seeing Gabriel trying to get the policeman's gun. "We need to tie him up. String, rope, anything. Quick!"
They made do with a length of electrical cord, while half a tablecloth served as a gag. Still running on adrenaline, Emma elected to hide him behind the couch, and push it as far back against the wall as possible so he couldn't move. She was thankful that it was an old, and above all, heavy couch.
"Okay. Now what?" Emma asked, checking that the hallway was clear. "Oh, Gabe, try and get your mom on her cell phone," she ordered, answering her own question.
Gabriel opened his mouth to say something, but Tycho chose that moment to point the purloined gun at Emma and shout 'bang!'
"Tycho, you little sod! Give me that!" Emma shrieked, swooping down on him and snatching the weapon from his hands.
"Watch it!" Gabriel cried. "It's loaded, you know..."
"I am not stupid, Gabriel," she snapped, shooing Tycho away. The gun in her hand was ugly, with a no-nonsense air about it. She looked at it blankly.
What in Heaven's blessed name was she doing out here in Tuscany with an unconscious policeman behind the sofa and Hannibal Lecter's children in her charge?
"It's a gun," Gabriel was saying helpfully. "You point it, pull the trigger, and hopefully the bullet goes in the other guy."
"Strange as it may seem to you three, but I have never actually SHOT ANYONE BEFORE. And I don't mean to start now. Why aren't you phoning your parents?"
Gabriel's face fell. "They won't be even halfway through the show yet, their phones are switched off."
Emma's language at that point did not bear repeating.
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