Disclaimer: The characters you recognize are the creation of the brilliant mind of Mr. Thomas Harris. Others belong to me. The title is taken from the biographical account of Agha Shahid Ali, written by Mr. Amitav Ghosh. It seemed apt, both literally and metaphorically. You'll see why.

Starling, trundling her second grocery cart of the day across the lot, heard the slap of the air rifle and recognized it instantly as a muzzle signature. She ducked by reflex as the people around her shuffled along, oblivious. Hard to tell where it came from. She looked in the direction of her car, saw a man's legs disappearing into a van and thought it was a mugging.

She slapped her side where the gun no longer lived and began to run, dodging through the cars toward the van.

"Hold it! Stop! FBI! Stop or I'll shoot!"

The adrenaline coursing through his veins in addition to Starling's frantic screams caused Piero to drop the harpy beside the Mustang, forgetting the secondary reason why he had seized it- to cut the valve stem off the car's front tire. The flight reflex took over and he ran toward the van, diving in just in time as Mogli thrust his foot down on the accelerator, driving away from the grocery store.

Starling bent down to pick up the harpy, and saw the package under her car, near the front left tire.

A three hundred and twenty five dollar bottle of Cháteau d'Yquem, and the note, written in that familiar hand: Happy Birthday, Clarice.

The human body and mind are for the most part synchronized, the former being the servant of the latter. However baser instincts take over when the mind is unable to provide instructions, drawing inspiration from the activities performed a thousand times over in the past- monotony; diversity isn't feasible at these times. Starling fastened her seat-belt and keyed the engine into ignition by rote- providing much needed time for her brain to process the newly acquired information. A conclusion was drawn in about ten seconds: Dr. Lecter is here and has been kidnapped… She reversed her car and drove after the van full throttle as her brain completed …by Verger.

Carlo pulled the dart from Dr. Lecter's neck, relieved when the hole didn't spurt. The relief was short-lived as Mogli saw a Mustang two cars behind in the rear view mirror and informed him. Carlo turned to Piero and slapped him hard on the cheek, making his ear ring. "One small job and you couldn't do it," he yelled in Italian. He moved to the back window to keep an eye on the car and shouted, "Fast! Go fast. Take the other route, the desolated one.''

Amidst ear-shattering honking and curses from other drivers, the van took a sharp right turn. Carlo smiled a gnomish smile as Starling followed. "Bad move," he mouthed as he pulled out a pistol from the waistband of his trousers and waited.

Seeing no other cars in the vicinity, Starling sped up so that she was now driving side-by-side with the van. She lowered the window glass and screamed at the driver, "FBI! Pull over to the side right now!" Mogli ignored her and increased the speed. Starling pursed her lips and swiftly steered left, ramming the Mustang into the van causing Carlo and Piero to fall in the back beside their captive. Carlo quickly shuffled to his feet, lowered the side window glass and pointed his gun at the Mustang. Ignorant of the danger, Starling tried to repeat her move but before the impact could be made, a bullet from the pistol pierced her rear tire causing it to burst and the car to swirl. The tires screeched hysterically, sparks flying tangentially across the burst one as the Mustang turned a quarter circle. Starling deftly rotated the steering wheel with one hand to counter the precession couple and with the other pulled up the handbrake causing the car to halt instantly. The muscle car would have toppled if not for its lower than usual center of gravity and bulkiness. She jumped out and caught a glimpse of the van as it disappeared through an appreciable curve behind the rows of trees.

She didn't have a cell phone with her and the road was deserted. She couldn't contact anyone, leaving her with the only option to replace the tire. The fact that she knew where the van was headed was the only consolation for her efforts.

"One simple task and you couldn't do it properly! I knew I shouldn't have hired you fools!" Mason ranted in his lip-less voice.

"So what if Starling knows about the kidnapping? She's been suspended. There aren't any resources at her disposal. Plus half the authorities are in your pocket. I really don't see what the big deal is,'' Margot, who was standing in one corner of the dimly lit room, uttered.

"You don't see because you're fucking blind! Starling has worked in the FBI for seven years. She must have contacts she can pull. And what if she approaches the media? Lecter means TRP. The authorities may turn a blind eye initially but as the public pressure builds up, they'll be forced to act. I won't have enough time with this son of a bitch!" He pointed toward Dr. Lecter, who was still unconscious and sitting on a steel chair restrained by thick nylon ropes, with his eye.

Hesitantly, Mogli asked, "So what do we do now?"

Mason had already planned for this eventuality. Physical handicap and a restless mind did have certain advantages- a plethora of idle time for plotting, for instance. "Cordell, call Krendler. Tell him to get his ass here quickly. Ask him to bring Pearsall as well. Starling won't defy her boss. Also, instruct the staff on the airport to ready my private jet immediately. Ask the security to be discrete with the goods I'll be bringing. No issues with money, get it? I don't want any hurdles or surprises. Mogli, load Lecter into the van. We are going to India."

With a terse nod, Mogli left and Mason continued, "I won't budge an inch on the method of torture. I've waited far too long for it. Carlo, you have the responsibility of the pigs. I'll arrange a cargo jet for their transportation. You'll follow us in it, okay? Don't worry, I'll make sure enough hands are greased so that no questions are asked once you land in India."

As Carlo nodded, Mason simply added, "Take Tommaso with you."


Starling arrived just in time to watch the huge iron gate turn on its hinges and a black Mercedes move out of the entrance of the Verger estate, followed by the same van she'd been chasing from the grocery store. She maneuvered her car and parked it broadside, a few metres from the convoy, effectively blocking the road. A blue-beaconed SUV was howling toward the scene of confrontation. Starling sighed in relief.

When the SUV stopped, she got out, forgetting to pull out the keys in her hurry. She marched straight up to Pearsall. No greetings were exchanged. Words were pouring out of her mouth before her legs had ceased activity. "Sir, Verger has Lecter. I saw his men kidnap him in a grocery store parking lot earlier. I tried to..."

"And you didn't inform the authorities?" Krendler interrupted.

She ignored him and continued, "...stop them but couldn't."

Cordell joined the trio and said in a trained, sophisticated voice, "Ms. Starling, you shouldn't be here. You're legally deterred from coming anywhere near Mr. Verger. Here's the restraining order." He handed the paper to Krendler when Starling refused to accept it.

"Looks authentic. It says you harassed Mason Verger, Starling," Krendler announced after a quick glance at the paper. He had helped Mason acquire it from the local court.

Starling addressed Pearsall with all the seriousness she could muster, "Sir, it's a ploy to divert attention from the real situation. Dr. Lecter and the goons who kidnapped him are in that van, I'm sure. I urge you to search-"

"Without a warrant?" Krendler interjected once again, feigning shock. "That's illegal."

Before Starling could retort, Cordell said, "Mr. Krendler is right. If you do what Ms. Starling is asking you to, Mr. Verger will be left with no choice but to sue you and the organization you represent, Mr. Pearsall."

Pearsall frowned at the threat directed at him but he knew he couldn't do anything. His office was already dealing with the embarrassment caused by the 'Evelda Drumgo' fiasco and another lawsuit would surely mean his disgraceful departure from the FBI. The lack of a reply confirmed his helplessness and sealed the deal. "Now please ask Ms. Starling to clear the road. Mr. Verger has a plane to catch to India."

Pearsall sighed. "My hands are tied Starling. Move your car."

Starling crossed her arms against her chest. "No."

"Excuse me?"

"I said 'No.'"

Pearsall couldn't believe his ears. "Are you refusing to obey a direct order from your boss, Starling?" Krendler asked, adding fuel to the fire.

Outraged by her defiance, Pearsall warned, "Starling, move your car or I swear to god I'll grill you under the most serious disciplinary codes for your behavior. Heed the order or I'll make sure you never see the insides of the Hoover building ever again."

Unfazed by the threat, Starling continued shooting daggers at him. Though a picture of moral obstinacy outside, she inwardly acknowledged that her career as a public servant was practically over.

No one noticed Krendler leave Pearsall's side and head toward the Mustang. The logjam ended when he reversed the car, thus making way for Verger's convoy to leave.

"Motherfucker!" Starling hissed under her breath, eyeing Krendler who was now leaning against her car with a smug smile on his face.

With no worry of her career now occupying her mind and his 'cornpone country pussy' remark flashing before her mind's eye, Starling marched toward her arch nemesis. Recalling every leery look he ever gave her, every lewd comment and innuendo, every move he ever made to get into her pants, she kneed him in his groin with strength that surprised even her. She got into her Mustang and drove away, disappointed that she couldn't spare a few more seconds to enjoy the agonizing screams of her foe. She had to content herself with watching him writhe in pain in the rear view mirror.

Time was of the essence...Dr. Lecter's life was on the line.

To those of you following LvL, I haven't abandoned the story. I have several diverging plot routes in my mind and I need to decide which one to take. I'll update it soon.