Shifting the Blame
copyright 2003, by
These characters were created by Thomas
Harris. They are used herein without permission, but in the spirit of
admiration and respect. No infringement of copyright is intended, and no
profit, of any kind, is made by the creator, maintainer or contributors to this
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Ardelia tapped the card on her index finger as she walked slowly towards the brownstone. Her pace was hesitant as the thoughts racing through her mind filled her with uncertainty and concern.
She had just earned her law degree, the college tuition was courtesy of the Bureau; and with the newly acquired degree, there came a new, broader acceptance of the boundaries of right and wrong and the doubtful morality and infallibility of criminal justice. With these mind- broadening concepts, she experienced a certain mellowing and relaxation of her own standards.
"Still," she said to herself, "there are limits. With this, plus other convoluting thoughts in mind and the card burning in her hand, she decided it was time to pay Starling a serious visit and put the proverbial cards on the table.
Clarice's side of the brownstone was dark, except for the dim light of a solitary lamp in the corner of the living room. Ardelia paused briefly at the entrance. "I'm home." She announced, making an effort to sound cheerful as she walked towards the figure sitting on the far end of the room, practically in the dark. "What on earth are you doing sitting here in the dark, girl?"
As she approached the chair she heard a sob, and a weak "Hi, Delia."
The tone of Starling's voice increased her apprehension and in that moment, filled her with a sudden sense of impending gloom. Ardelia knew with frightening certainty that her life was about to change forever.
"What you need, girl, is some of my grandmother's tea. You just wait here while I heat up some water." Her words, spoken with her ever- present common sense, prompted a groan from her friend followed by "Thank you, Delia," whispered in a toneless voice.
When Ardelia returned, carrying a tray with her grandmother's teakettle, two mugs and a plate of her homemade cookies, Clarice had turned on another lamp; the light perfunctorily dispelled the bleakness in the room. Carefully, Ardelia put down the tray on the coffee table, poured two cups of tea and after handing one to her friend; she sat down in a straightback, winged chair near Starling.
"All right then, Clarice," she started with unusual warmth in her generally no-nonsense voice, "Maybe it is time that you open up and tell me the whole story, in total confidence and without restraint." She paused, but not long enough for Clarice to object, and chuckled, "If you are going to confide in someone, it might as well be your best friend, hmm?"
"Right," Starling sighed softly. "But I'm afraid that once the words are spoken, I might see things that I have avoided acknowledging for a long time."
Ardelia let that pass, took a sip of her tea and picked up a cookie, then said gently, "Start from the very beginning."
Clarice started talking. For the first time since the night at the Chesapeake, she allowed herself to verbalize the actual events as they occurred. She told Ardelia about her suspension and her suspicion of Paul Krendler's wrongdoings, the Doctor's phone call, and the drive to Union Station, the kidnapping and Pearcell's reaction to her call. Then her decision to drive to the Verger estate on the certainty that Dr. Lecter was being held there to be tortured to death in some hideously sadistic manner.
She proceeded to tell Ardelia about rescuing him and how he, in turn, saved her from the pigs, operated on her to remove a bullet and left her possessions within her reach, including her gun. She told her about the entire dinner and about Krendlers situation and then, very slowly, described every detail of the events in the kitchen. She didn't hold anything back.
Ardelia remained silent and hardly moved during the narration until Clarice told her about the kiss and the events that followed. Then she leaned forward on the chair and cried out almost breathlessly, "He cut off his own thumb?"
Clarice nodded and began to cry. Sobbing, she explained how Lecter calmly with complete composure made a quick tourniquet and wrapped his hand in paper towels.
He looked around and found a large insulated mug with a snap-on cover and put his thumb in the cup. Then he opened the refrigerator to get some ice which freed my hair but I just stood there in shock and fell to my knees like an idiot. Her speech was choppy and slightly inarticulate now and her body wracked with sobs but she made herself go on.
"I wanted to help him. He was bleeding through the wad of paper and I really wanted to help him, Delia, but I just couldn't stand up." She paused for just a few beats.
Ardelia was leaning forward, her arms extended, elbows leaning on her knees, her fingers interlaced, waiting for Clarice to continue.
"He filled the cup with ice cubes, snapped the lid in place then calmly looked at me and whispered, "Bye for now, Clarice," and walked out."
They were both silent. Ardelia, with her legal training and her brilliant mind, tried to sort out all the information in a manner that would allow her to prioritize the issues; while Clarice leaned back on the chair exhausted, giving in to her grief with an occasional sob.
Finally, Ardelia leaned closer and reached for Clarice's hand. "From the legal standpoint, everyone involved broke the law. EVERYONE! Krendler, Verger, yourself, Lecter, Cordell Dumig, the Sardinians. Everyone."
She paused then to ponder within herself and determine which part of her was predominant in this issue: the friend, the lawyer, the law enforcement agent, or the self-made philosopher. She decided that they all combined into one to form The Philosopher.
"How ironic," she commented, "that Lecter would be the only one hunted down for punishment, while the others could have gone on with their lives as respected members of society." The more she thought about it the more outraged she became at the significance of the whole episode.
"Wasn't Lecter declared insane by the courts?" she asked as an afterthought.
"Yes," informed Clarice, "He never pleaded anything. Indeed, he was declared insane by the court."
"So, technically, he was the only one with an excuse for his actions." Ardelia observed for her own benefit. "The others, sanely premeditated their criminal activities, for revenge and personal gain ." Chuckling, she added, "Except for you who reacted out of an overdeveloped, overzealous sense of right and wrong."
Clarice was staring at her friend in sheer disbelief. She had not expected such an open-minded reaction from Ardelia. Then, on second thought, she realized that her friend had never been a close-minded person and in a further epiphany, Clarice came to the conclusion that it was her own guilt that had projected a condemning reaction to her feelings.
"Are you saying that you suddenly see Dr. Lecter as the good guy?" she asked lightly.
"No, I'm saying that of all present, he is the only convicted criminal but not the only criminal in this whole fiasco. Paul Krendler could have continued his criminal activities forever under the guise of respectability. Mason Verger and his cronies all committed criminal activities under the umbrella of the law." She was growing increasingly incensed.
"I'm saying that if you would have waltzed in and declared that you were marrying one of the Paul Krendlers of this world, everyone would have applauded, cheered and been delighted at the event. You might have been married to the guy for years before discovering who he really was. And then I'd have go in the middle of the night to pick you up along with your kids, a dog and a canary. " She took a deep breath here because she still had difficulty accepting the implications of her own conclusions.
"I'm saying that while you sit here torturing yourself endlessly, horrified to contemplate the thought that you might have feelings for a criminal, at least you can make a sound decision with the true foreknowledge of what he is."
"What are you saying, Ardelia?" Clarice asked, incredulous. "Are you saying that I should contemplate the possibility?"
"I'm saying the more you ignore it, the bigger it is going to get and the more it is going to grow out of control. Sooner or later, you are going to have to deal with it. You should start looking in that mirror of his and question just what you could and could not live with." She was using her common sense tone again and felt she was giving solid advice.
"I'm saying that this monster of yours doesn't seem likely to hurt you. In fact, he clearly demonstrated quite the opposite. Shit, Starling, you better look at this note someone left on the windshield of your car."
She dug in her pocket and handed over the card. "And please, don't hide your head under the covers and hand it over to the Bureau, along with the responsibility for your fate. Read the darn thing and put it in your bra for a few days and see how it feels," she chuckled. "Heck, Clarice, you know the man, now deal with the issue!" She was growing disgusted, not so much at the possibility of her friend running away with a criminal, but at her refusal to take ownership of her feelings.
Suddenly she blurted, "What would you have done if he just threw you over his shoulder and took you with him?"
Clarice looked up, a sly smile in her face; "I guess I'd fought him with everything I got and hoped he'd initiate the action so I could always blame it on him." She chuckled, amazed at her own duplicity.
Ardelia reached for her hand. "In all fairness, when it comes to you, he couldn't have been more patient, proper and dedicated. If he wasn't a serial killer, I might say he is a very good catch." Laughing now, Ardelia added, "Then again, Clarice..nobody is perfect." At that, they both began to laugh enthusiastically.
"Don't you want to read your note?" Ardelia asked when they stopped laughing.
Slowly, Clarice turned over the card. It was written in the familiar copperplate.
I hope you are well.
I am fine and mending.
One single tear rolled down her cheek as she read the note twice then folded the card in half, folded it again, and carefully placed it in her bra.
She looked up at Ardelia and smiled weakly. Then her smile widened as she declared, "OK, now whatever I decide, I can always blame it on you."
copyright 2003, by
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