Disclaimer: Lecter and Starling belong to Thomas Harris. No copyright infringement is intended.
It Shouldn't Happen to an Au Pair.
Predictably the children showed little sign of worry. But then Emma thought sourly, finding policemen stuffed behind the furniture were probably an everyday occurrence in their household.
Tycho changed the TV channel, looking for cartoons, and Jade sat on the sofa, kicking her heels against the base. Every now and again, the sofa emitted a quiet snore.
The rhythmic drumming was becoming an annoyance. "Stop that," Emma snarled, rapidly losing patience. She could feel her control slipping, and was fighting the incredible urge to sit down and cry.
Gabriel was still trying to phone his parents. Minutes crawled painfully by. Jade moved from the sofa to the armchair, to better use the laptop computer. Tycho curled up in the space she had just vacated.
Finally, Gabriel looked up from his furious speed dialling. "It's ringing," he announced.
Emma fairly flew across the room and snatched the cell phone from his outstretched hand.
As if a dam had burst inside her, she was spilling out the sorry tale over the phone before the person on the other end had even had a chance to speak.
During the intermission, Starling had switched on her phone, intending to call Emma and check up on her little darlings. Given that the little darlings in question were all possessed of short tempers and a certain proficiency in edged weapons, she was hardly surprised to be the called, rather than the caller.
She was, however, somewhat surprised to be the recipient of what at first sounded very much like a transmission from Mars. It was not until the caller paused for breath for the first time in five complete sentences that Starling was able to attempt a translation.
She did not like what she thought she heard.
Repeated instructions to Emma concerning both the speed of her speech and the lack of sense she was making went entirely unheeded, Emma simply told the whole garbled story again.
Giving up, Clarice thrust the phone at Dr Lecter, and gathered her coat and purse. Whatever had happened, it did not sound like they would be seeing the rest of the show.
Dr Lecter had the phone now, and when Dr Lecter spoke, people tended to listen. Something about that metallic voice sent sparks whizzing along near- forgotten neural pathways, ultimately pushing the button marked 'Primal Fear' deep inside, and often making the acquaintance of 'Thoroughly Unnerved', 'Base Lust' and 'Swallow own Tongue' en route.
"Emma, listen to me."
Like a slap in the face with a dead trout, Lecter's voice snapped Emma out of panicked incoherence and back into moderate terror, her ground line state of existence since leaving Brazil.
The silence at the other end was nervous.
"Now, tell me slowly and clearly what the problem is."
So Emma told him, at great length. When her voice once again threatened to become a piercing shriek, Dr Lecter cut her off. He turned back to Clarice, who was waiting with a great deal of impatience.
"It appears that the police have had some success in tracing Emma and myself, thanks to that CCTV tape appeal. An individual has come forward claiming to have seen us getting into a rental car. Apparently, anyway." His eyes narrowed. "Unwise of the police to release such details to the local television network."
Starling shook herself free of the chill that had spread through her bones. "Someone probably leaked," she said. In Starling's experience, local police forces often had almost as many holes as your average tea strainer.
"We should be grateful that somebody did," Dr Lecter remarked. "You haven't heard the best of it yet. Brace yourself, my dear."
Clarice groaned. "What have they done?"
"What haven't they done? A policeman came to the house to check on our rental. Between the four of them, they concocted a fantastic plan that ultimately led to Emma rather heartlessly braining the unfortunate young man with the ornamental poker. It has Jade and Gabriel's fingerprints all over it, I don't need an FBI education to tell me /that/."
She visibly flinched. "Oh no. I'm almost afraid to ask..."
"No, he is not dead, merely unconscious and rather tied up, or so I understand. Emma was rather hysterical. But the children are behaving."
Although it was obvious that Dr Lecter found his sense of humour rather tickled by the misadventure, his wife was not in the slightest bit amused.
"We have to get the kids out of Italy," she said, horrified. The police might not have continued that line of investigation, and the family would have been safe, but now it seemed very likely that there would be unpleasantness for all concerned if the Lecters remained in Florence. If she and the doctor were captured or worse, then God only knew what would happen to the children, and Starling highly doubted that He cared very much at all.
"Of course," Dr Lecter assured her soothingly. He began to make another call.
Emma paced the room again, playing catch with the cell phone in one hand, gnawing on the thumbnail of the other and muttering under her breath.
"It shouldn't happen to an au pair."
"What?" Jade looked up momentarily from the computer.
"Nothing" Emma snapped, continuing to wear a groove in the carpet.
The phone buzzed in her hand. She clapped it to her ear, sighing in relief as Hannibal Lecter's suddenly welcome voice began issuing instructions.
"We're going," she announced flatly after the doctor had hung up again. "No time to pack. Outside and in the car, move it."
Gabriel grabbed Yoda despite Emma's injunction to leave everything. Jade clutched her laptop to her chest with a determined expression.
"I've just got to the good bit. I'm not leaving it here" she declared stubbornly.
"Fine, whatever," Emma growled in exasperation.
She bent over Tycho, curled up on the sofa. Fast asleep with his thumb in his mouth, if Emma hadn't known better, she would have thought him cute. She decided to carry him rather than wake him up, as it seemed to be an infinitely easier option than having a hyperactive child running around during a crisis. Scooping him up in her arms, Emma headed for the door, shepherding the elder two out ahead of her.
They elected to leave via the tradesman's entrance, and in doing so earned a smile from the housekeeper, watching a football game in the kitchen. In Emma's paranoid state, the smile seemed knowingly sinister, and she suppressed a shudder, shooing Jade and Gabriel out of the back door and into the welcome cool of night.
Installing Tycho and his elder brother in the back seat, Emma and the (supposedly) more responsible Jade got into the front.
The engine purred to life with well-maintained ease. Emma released a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding. She was well versed in that clause of Sod's Law that states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and invariably as spectacularly as possible. It was a relief to know that the car, at least, was going to co-operate. However, Emma couldn't help entertaining the sneaking suspicion that the Sod who wrote the Law was saving it up for later.
The long driveway seemed to stretch on for miles. They passed the parked police car with muffled giggles from the two older children. Emma sternly told herself not to feel sorry for PC Plod, bound up with electrical cord in the Lecters' sitting room. She also tried not to think too hard about all the police thrillers and prison movies she had seen, without great success. Visions of herself and the kids in chains presented themselves for her immediate consideration.
She tried instead to think about protecting her charges. It was her duty to do so, she reminded herself sternly. They were all quiet, and slowly falling asleep despite the excitement.
They were just kids, and not accountable for the sins of the parents.
She flashed for a moment onto Tycho attempting to eat the poor cat, and Jade brandishing her crossbow, and on Gabriel's impromptu Gun 101.
They're not normal, she mused. They need proper help and care.
She thought again of Psycho Tycho, sitting on his father's shoulders, of Starling's proud smile as her precocious daughter played a piece of difficult music almost perfectly, of Gabriel with that ridiculous Yoda toy. She thought of Clarice Starling doting over her horses and dogs, and of Hannibal Lecter in that damn tutu.
They're only kids, and kids need their parents.
Dr Lecter's voice echoed in the vaults of her mind. When you fall off the proverbial fence, you are going to get a bruised behind no matter what side you end up on.
I'm not paid enough for this, she thought angrily. Then a vision of her last paycheque presented itself for her consideration. Okay, maybe I am, she relented on that score. That is hardly the point, though... she could've gone to California with Rhiz and Leah, and be sitting on a beach drinking iced gin and enjoying a relaxing holiday. Instead, she in Florence enjoying an exciting flight from the law with the Family Lecter.
Okay, maybe no one was actually pursuing yet, but she felt that it was surely only a matter of time.
The furious honking of a shrill motor horn dragged Emma away from the examination of her conscience. A pair of bright headlights appeared to be on a direct collision course with their own car. It took Emma a second to realise that, in her somewhat flustered state, she had forgotten herself and been driving on the left hand side of the road.
Swearing at her own stupidity, she yanked the car over hard. The powerful vehicle responded smoothly and quickly, so smoothly that they nearly ended up in the hedge, but happily preventing farce from becoming tragedy. White- faced, Emma slunk down in her seat and tried to look nonchalant as the other car swept past, still hooting angrily. Fortunately, the children slept.
The phone buzzed and Emma answered, grateful for the car-plug.
"Emma?" The smoothly cultured voice issued from the car's speakers in what was practically surround-sound.
"Hello, Dr Lecter."
"How are the children?" he asked at once.
"They're sleeping, sir," she told him. "We're almost there."
"Excellent. I have booked six tickets for Gatwick, London. It was the earliest flight I could get. I think that you are accompanying us, yes?" It wasn't exactly a question, but the doctor was polite enough to dress it up as one.
If Emma had seen her life flash before her eyes moments ago, she now saw dozens of future ones, and none of them looked Lecter-free. England? The Family Lecter in that green and soggy land? The car nearly veered off the road again as she contemplated that fearful thought.
"Yes, don't you approve? You can visit your family..."
"But..." Emma's surprised expression was very similar, as a friend had once pointed out, to that borne by a concussed goldfish.
"But you'll hate London," she told him, frantically searching for reasons why. "The Crown Jewels are just so tasteless..." The straws she was groping at slipped through her fingers as the phone emitted amused silence. The Sod struck at last.
God save dear old Blighty.
Back on course, Emma glared at the phone. It contrived to look as smug as only an inanimate object that is a source of irritation can.
"Okay," she said wearily. "We'll be at the airport shortly."
"Very good. We will meet you there." And then he was gone.
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