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A Dark Adapted Eye

copyright 2004, by EGL

Disclaimer:    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 site.

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“A dark adapted eye only uses the rods in the retina to collect light. They are situated away from the fovea, so, to see in the dark, ladies and gentleman, you need to look a little to the side of the item of interest.” So said the instructor, so long ago in Quantico. So very far away from an enclosed storm drain in Buenos Aires.

“Bats are neat”, thought Agent Starling – “Don’t need eyes to see and can fly over all this shit”

Calling up the mental map of the storm drain, Clarice knew there were three turnoffs to the left and two to the right, alternating. Her quarry could be meeting in any of them. Backup was on its way, but her blood was up, she wanted to be in at the kill, not languishing in an airless van with the radio and tapes, not lounging on some street corner in high heels and a short skirt with a camera in a snake skin bag.

DEA work was all Clarice could get after she had committed professional suicide, by the Chesapeake. They were looking for rogue agents with a feckless attitude to love, life and the pursuit of happiness for particularly dirty jobs. As the only female in the squad, despite her proven firearm skills, she found herself at the bottom of the pile – useful as decoy meat but untrustworthy until blooded.

Equivocation wasn’t in Clarice’s nature. Ardelia had pleaded with her but Clarice’s mind was made up. Perversely, she felt that she was due some punishment. She had failed the system but chiefly herself. In Clarice’s universe, now, she had to pay the piper. Creeping along a stinking drain, in the dark, seemed entirely appropriate.

“Fuck it. Can’t see. Can’t hear” There was water running in the base of the drain – loud enough to mask any clumsy movements Clarice might make but also preventing her from hearing any voices or footsteps. There was a long echo in the drain, as well, making judgment of distance or direction of any sound almost impossible. Clarice gritted her teeth. “They must use a light to count the money and examine the goods” she reasoned, hopefully. She continued to look a little to the right and then the left to maximise her chances of picking up a single photon.

Grating of metal on concrete froze her to the spot. Had that come from behind her or up ahead ? Then running splashes and imprecations in Spanish. She had been seen. The running feet were behind her. To her dismay she saw a light reflecting off the walls of the tunnel a long way ahead.

Hunter turned to quarry. How predictable, thought Clarice. How fitting to die face down in a tunnel. One chance – the side branch a little way ahead to her left. Heart hammering. Buy time.

Instant action had always been a saviour for Clarice. It allowed the purest part of her to surface - her physical subconscious.

Jumping over a pile of twisted metal and plastic bottles she entered the side tunnel. It was darker still. She daren’t turn her light on. She kept her left hand in contact with the wall while feeling with her feet. She had to keep moving. She could taste the fear at the back of her throat. Her hands and knees were trembling. The gun in her hand felt heavy and not at all reassuring. There was light now, behind her, reflecting off the heap of rubbish at the junction. She was about to start running when she felt something grab her left wrist and wrap around her waist. Clarice was jerked sideways into a void.

“Know thy enemy. Examine your ground” thought Clarice bitterly. “How pathetic. Nothing more than you deserve, girl” She waited for the blade but it was a long time coming. Instead she found herself compressed by an arm wrapped around her waist from behind. She sensed that she was in a small alcove, being turned to face the wall. The body behind her was absolutely still and felt perfectly balanced. She heard the snick of a knife opening as the light from her pursuers bounced off the walls and the slime in the side tunnel. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a shaft of reflected light hit the blade. It was a harpy. Clarice realised she wasn’t surprised.

“Lacerating” was the word that sprang to Clarice’s mind. What had happened to her when they last met, what had happened since and what was probably going to happen now.

“Mi madre …. “ were the only words Clarice heard before there was the splatter of blood against concrete some shuffling and a sluggish sigh like an old accordion breathing its last. All light extinguished and just the dripping water and sounds of voices calling to one another.

“Now” ordered her companion and Clarice felt herself being propelled along the tunnel again, into the blackness. He turned and shouted back down the tunnel. “ Ella no esta aqui “

Overhead Clarice became aware of metal projections at intervals, simply because he pushed her head down and to the side from time to time. “Ladders” was all he said. Finally “Stop. Hands above you and to the left” Clarice felt for the rusted metal bars and felt herself lifted swiftly and her right foot guided to the first rung “Climb 10 rungs” She did as she was told and stopped again. She felt his limbs and body pass lightly by her, climbing the ladder sideways on. No breathing other than her own adrenaline compressed rasps.

Pewter coloured light appeared above her head along with a rain of sand and grit as he opened the grate by main force. The air was damp and heavily scented with oleander but felt like a Montana morning to Clarice as he pulled her out of the drain and carefully closed the grate.

“Quickly” he hissed, taking her by the elbow and directing her toward a low wall, surrounding a garden spiky with palms and bougainvillea. The light, Clarice could now see, was coming from a lamp over an elaborate wrought iron gateway.

“Resistance is futile” thought Clarice and had to stifle a giggle. This was completely surreal. Unceremoniously he picked her up and almost tossed her over the wall. Clarice landed on her hands and knees. The grass was short and rough. There were sprinklers carving parabolas through the night air

Self-consciously she turned to look at him properly for the first time in 18 months. He was washing his hands under the splash of a fountain. It was half concealed by ferns and moulded in the shape of a large scaled fish, spouting water from its mouth. His jaw line looked a little different, as did the nose and ears, but the set of his shoulders were the same. His movements, like the lock and load on a well used shot gun, were achingly familiar.

Turning toward her he withdrew a linen handkerchief from his sleeve using just thumb and forefinger and shook it out. Against the dead black of his coveralls it looked impossibly white. He offered it to Clarice. She almost laughed out loud.

Undreamed of even in her most secret and whimsical imaginings, he smiled, a fine open smile. Clarice, for an instant, saw someone else – a young man with the sun at his back holding a bottle of wine in one hand and two glasses in the other. He had got the joke. He looked up briefly at the night sky the muscles in his neck taught as annealed armour “OK Clarice, I surrender. I request a truce ….. under Orion “ He extended the white square. Then he dropped his head with that smile she remembered from another place, intense and all enveloping. She reached for the linen. It would be rude not to. She joined him by the fountain and meticulously cleaned her hands, face and neck. She needed time to think. She was aware of being examined minutely

“Violence becomes you Clarice” He was looking at her a little askance. Clarice looked directly at him. Uncompromising. ‘He never lies’

“Walk away Doctor, or I may do something I’ll regret” He looked at her eyes bright with mischief. “ It was customary in Medieval times for damsels in distress to reward their rescuer with a favour” Clarice stony faced, returned the soaked linen square to him. ”Thank you Doctor but I don’t subscribe to ancient rituals”

“Xenophobic to the last Clarice. What a pity. I felt sure at Muskrat Farm that you were a natural traveler, Clarice, open to all manner of new perspectives and vistas. Clearly I was wrong. Better burn your passport when you get back to West Virginia “ He carefully folded the linen and replaced it in his sleeve.

“Yoked to a mule train, you will only ever be able to see straight ahead, Clarice, never open to any other perspective. All the intriguing action occurs at the edge of your vision, Clarice. Didn’t they teach you that at Quantico ? How predictable.” Clarice could feel her jaw muscles clench.

“Zest for life not on the menu Clarice ? Acting as you did tonight I would expect you to be dead in 3 weeks in this city. A dark adapted eye never looks straight ahead.” He considered her for a moment. “I’m sorry that I won’t be able to show you the city by day. Buonas noches. Suenos dulces” A slight inclination of his head and he was gone with just a palm frond nodding in the diffuse light from the gate to show where he had passed. Clarice folded to her knees by the fountain hugging her stomach. ‘Shit’


copyright 2004, by EGL

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