Lloyd arrived at the woman's house just as the sun set. As he rapped on the door he noticed his knuckles were wet. It nearing December it obviously wasn't from the heat of the day, but from nerves. Brushing them against his trousers, he wiped the evidence of his inexperience from his hand and knocked again.
A hand pushed the lace curtain. Crinkled eyes peeked at him through the glass window.
The door opened, though a chain allowed but slight access.
"Can I help you, young man?"
He flashed his credentials.
Bowman. Lloyd Bowman. It would be fun to say but he decided against it, settling for a more pedestrian introduction.
"Special Agent Lloyd Bowman. FBI. I've come to ask you a few questions about the night you visited the tow pound in New York."
"Visited. Young man, it was hardly a visit. It was rather more an abduction, as my car was essentially held hostage until I presented them with money as ransom. It's modern highway robbery, if you ask me. The signs were confusing…machines with credit cards…so confusing."
"Yes, I spent some time there earlier today. Not pleasant at all, I'm sorry you had to experience such a thing. Can you answer a question or two? It would be a great help to me."
"Just a moment."
She closed the door. A swiping noise revealed the lock was being unhitched.
As the door opened, she spoke quietly, "Come in, young man. I'll be happy to help in any way I can."
Looking around revealed a charming house, feminine and reserved. It suited her.
"Does your son live here with you?"
"From time to time, when he is in trouble or the mood suits him, why?"
"The attendants at the impound lot spoke of your son."
The woman turned her face.
"Did they? I can't imagine why. He's of little use, I assure you."
Lloyd searched the room with his eyes. Not a hint of masculinity in the room.
"Would you mind if I took a look in his room?"
She stood and with a sweep of her trembling hand, spoke, "Certainly. Follow me."
As she walked, the woman conversed, "You're welcome to search all you like. He doesn't leave much here. Toiletries and some of his clothing, for the most part."
Trying not to seem too interested, he replied, "Clothing is what I'm after, mostly. Everything in the room is his. No one else uses the room?"
"No one else has every used this room."
She opened the door and allowed Lloyd to pass. She remained outside the room.
"This is it. I keep it shut up when he isn't here. I go in once a week to dust the furniture, but I don't fuss about. I don't want to discourage him from coming back by poking around too much. You'll put everything back in order?"
Nodding vehemently, he assured, "Yes, of course. I won't disturb a thing. He'll never even know you've let me in."
Scoffing, she turned and spoke as she walked down the long hall, "It doesn't matter, really…I pay the bills. He isn't good for much more than taking."
She disappeared into what, from the sound of it, was the kitchen. Cupboards opened and closed in the distance as he searched the room.
Clean. Not many personal items to speak of, a half bottle of cologne in the shape of a little golden globe. Curious, he tipped it upside down to read the brand. Avon. Had to be thirty or more years old, from the look of it. The man obviously hadn't lived her consistently for quite some time. A drawer tugged open revealed neat rows of undergarments. Bright white. Clean, the woman was meticulous in her care. Every drawer of every bureau housed neatly folded rows of barely-used clothing.
Nothing of any consequence, perhaps the closet might yield some dividends.
Pulling the golden knob, the bi-fold door popped open. Several suits were ordered by color, black, then blue and finally a brown tweed jacket and a tan herringbone, housed neatly but not much used. Pushing past, there were two hangers of interest. Excitement caused him to yank the garments too quickly, bending the wire hangers.
Tossing them on the bed, he reached for his briefcase. Tearing through the photographs, he found one. Comparing was easy; the outfit matched the one of the man in question exactly. The man in the surveillance stills wore fitted clothing. Checking the sizes revealed the clothing was of a larger size than would fit Hannibal. This would have been baggy on him. The clothing matched the description, but because of the size, linking it to Hannibal seemed unlikely. Restoring the room to its original state after he took a series of photographs, Lloyd followed the sounds to the kitchen.
She'd made coffee, and had set a plate on the table.
"You like cookies, don't you? Boys love cookies."
Lloyd sat where directed.
"I do love cookies, ma'am, but I'm hardly a boy."
"Compared to me, you're a boy. It's not an insult to be young. Appreciate it. It's over before you know it, you can trust that."
Smiling, he accepted the bone china cup brimming with coffee.
"Yes, I do trust that, ma'am. I'll remember."
She took her seat.
"Did you find what you needed?"
"You keep all of your son's belongings well. I can tell he was well cared for, a lucky man."
She huffed, "Not that he appreciated it."
"He appreciated it enough to bring you the money you needed."
Her eyes were blank.
"I won't say he never helped me."
Pressing, Lloyd questioned, "We have a witness who puts Hannibal Lecter at the impound yard. I've seen the footage. The man who helped you that night fits Dr. Lecter's description."
"Really? Funny, I didn't see him there. What are you implying?"
Her eyes narrowed. Suspicion lit them.
"I'm not implying a thing. I see you're wearing glasses."
"Yes, of course I'm wearing glasses. My eyesight is poor."
Squinting revealed poor eyesight, but was the memory poor, as well? How does one frame a question like this…one that might be considered rude?
Words formed easily in the mind did not spill as effortlessly from the tongue.
His struggle obvious, sipping her coffee, the elderly woman pronounced, "I'm not getting any younger, young man. Ask your questions. My stories are coming on soon and I don't want to miss them."
"Yes, I apologize. I was wondering…your eyesight. It isn't so poor you wouldn't recognize your own son, would it?"
Her eyes were intent, but did not shift as she swirled the spoon within her
"Are you saying the man was not my son?"
She had a poker face he'd give her that.
"We have a witness identifying Hannibal Lecter, placing him in the impound office on the night and time in question. The only man in that location on that night who could possibly fit his description is the man seen interacting with you."
"He called me mother, I'm certain that was overheard."
"Yes, the gentleman in question was heard referring to you as mother, that is true."
Sipping her coffee, she added, "Why would a man call me mother if her was not my son?"
By the woman's demeanor and questioning, it was uncertain which of the two was doing the investigating.
"A matter of respect, perhaps. Hannibal Lecter lost his mother under very trying circumstances. Very tragic."
"Tragic? I'm curious, how?"
"She was killed during the war, World War II, to be exact. His family had fled to a hunting lodge they owned deep in the forests of Lithuania. She was killed in front of him, outside the cabin. A battle casualty, from what I'm told. He loved her very much and felt her loss deeply."
"I'm glad for her. Not all sons are close to their mothers, even as small boys."
It was obvious the man in question wasn't her son, but it was equally obvious she wouldn't admit it.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Would you accompany me back to Baltimore?"
She looked up from her coffee.
"To what end?"
"I'd like to put the man in a lineup. See if you can recognize him."
"Do you know where my son is? I don't."
She was so hard to read.
"Not your son, the man who claimed to be."
Sighing, she set the cup down and leaned forward, offering, "If you insist the man I spoke with was Hannibal Lecter, if you take me to him will I be able to see him…face to face?"
"Yes, but don't worry, you'll be safe. He won't be able to see or hear you."
The way she reached out and gripped his wrist surprised him.
"Does he pose such a threat he cannot sit at a table and converse with an old woman?"
Lloyd paused. This situation was above his pay grade, for sure.
"It isn't that. It's…well, he's Hannibal Lecter, a master manipulator."
"I taught kindergarten for 40 years. Five year olds are master manipulator, young man. Hannibal Lecter is no threat to me, and id he was I wouldn't care. Everyone I loved is dead. As I said, my eyes are poor but my hearing is not. If the man would allow, I'd like to speak with him face to face. If not, I'll remain in my home. It is of no consequence to me either way."
Lloyd reached for his phone. The first call was to Pearsall, the second, Clarice.
The meeting set, surrounded by police officers and agents, Hannibal stood tall, walking with a dignified air of impassivity. No need to appear aggressive, or defensive. In his mind was without worry. With legs shackled, the chain wrapped around his waist was linked to the handcuffs fastened in front of him. It was of no consequence, really. Hannibal could move more smoothly, chains wrapped and restraining, than most people did unbound.
The moment she saw him moving through the reception area of the prison, Clarice rushed to the door.
Pearsall held up a hand.
"You know contact isn't allowed, Clarice."
"It's an informal meeting, Clint. How about we dispense with the formalities, okay?"
"Clarice, I feel like I've spent my entire career explaining policy to you. Policy you're damned familiar with, but don't seem to think applies to you and your family. It's getting old."
"So am I…"
Pearsall wheeled around to find the source of the reply. Standing beside Bowman, the elderly woman.
"…And to be honest, since this meeting is being held at my request, I think it should be played by my rules. That, or I can take my wrinkled self back to Connecticut. Either way suits me fine, I might add."
Pearsall stood still and stared.
"Nothing to add, sonny?" she asked as she patted his arm and walked past. Commenting over her shoulder to Clarice, she informed, "I'd say that means you can hug your husband, Mrs. Lecter."
Pushing past Pearsall with a smile, Clarice threw her arms around her husband's neck. Kissing him quickly, she whispered, "Hey, H. Are you sure this is a good idea?"
Humming as he nuzzled her cheek, Hannibal replied, "Hmmm…it wasn't my idea, my Love. I am merely a participant."
Careful to remain unheard, she replied, "You've never been merely a participant in your entire life."
Pearsall swung around. Shocked, he proclaimed with shock, "Clarice, you brought the kid?"
Logan, holding Devyni, responded, "Nope. I brought little man. They were both invited, but Angel was napping and Auntie M didn't think it was a good idea to wake her."
"Good call, Logan. Thanks for going back for Dev."
"No problem, Clarice."
"I want to hug Daddy. Can someone take the chains off him so he can hug me back? Daddy won't bite, I promise."
Mother looked up.
"Yes, will someone please remove Dr. Lecter's chains so he can hug his son. I won't face a man bound like an animal."
Pearsall protested, "Have we thrown protocol totally out the window here? No, I won't have his chains removed. There are procedures in place for everyone's protection."
Never forget what he is.
The woman's response was swift.
"Whether Dr. Lecter was or was not the man at the tow pound in New York remains to be seen. Who he is, however, is the man who I watched on last night's news broadcast defending an endangered inmate. He put his own life at risk to help him, I might add. I believe that has earned him the benefit of the doubt here. Innocent until proven guilty, isn't it? Not the reverse. I'll speak with him unchained, or not at all."
Pearsall waved his hand at the guards.
"Has everyone but me gone crazy? Fine. Remove the chains."
Hannibal waited patiently as the chains were removed.
He then bowed to the elderly woman.
"Thank you for your confidence, Madame."
Hannibal winked, but added no more.
She smiled. He then turned toward Pearsall.
Lending voice to perceived indignity, Hannibal stressed, "As to your previous comment, my son is not a young ruminant, Director Pearsall."
"A ruminant. You referred to my son as a kid. He is a fine young boy, not a goat."
Pearsall palmed the back of his neck and rubbed vigorously.
"Yeah, it means a little boy, too. It's a pretty common term."
Bowing to allow additional slack in the chains, Hannibal responded, "My son is bred of a magnificent woman and as such, is anything but common."
"You always know just what to say, H."
Devyni ran to his father and jumped into his arms.
"Hello, my son. I've missed you. Have you been a good boy? Have you represented me well while I've been away?"
Snuggling close, his small arms wrapped around his father's neck, Devyni assured, "I've been a very good boy. Uncle Logan and Auntie Dee come over every day and play with me. Uncle Barney took Mommy, Angel and me to the mall to see Santa. I've been having a wonderful time, but I miss you very much!"
Hannibal traced his nose along his son's cheek and inhaled deeply.
"I've missed you very much, as well, my son."
Pacing, Pearsall muttered, "You can see the boy once more before we leave, okay? We need to get this settled."
Hannibal nodded. Logan stepped up quickly and scooped the boy up with a smile.
"No worries. We'll be playing in the hallway. Clarice, can you come get us when Dev can see his dad again?"
"Sure, Logan. Thanks."
Hannibal extended a hand.
"My thanks, Logan. Your support hasn't gone unnoticed and has been greatly appreciated."
Turning his head with a bashful smile, Logan answered, "Anything for you and your family, Doc."
"If the lovefest is over, maybe we can start the interview."
Pearsall opened the door to the conference room.
"Okay, everyone take a seat."
The old woman looked up.
Pearsall replied gruffly, "You don't think you're going in there alone with him, do you?"
She stood her ground.
"I go in there alone with the man, or not at all."
"Lady, I'm trying to protect you and you're doing everything you can to work against me."
"I'm doing my best to meet your needs, as well as my own. If you aren't happy, I can take a cab to the train station. Amtrack runs to Connecticut from here. I'm not so old I can't find my way home."
The door propped by his heel, facing the guards and pointing to the table, Pearsall directed, "You can run a single chain from his waist to the docking hoop in the center of the table."
Once more protesting, the woman reiterated, "I will face him unbound or not at all."
"Okay, stick him in a chair and bring him a cocktail, for all I care." Pearsall threw up his hands and took a seat on a bench. "I'll be here if anyone needs me to clean his boots, or anything. Christ."
Hannibal chuckled as they led him into the room. The woman followed quietly. Both waited until the door was closed.
"Do you know if we can talk freely here?"
Nodding, Hannibal assured, "Yes. You may talk freely. This room is designated for attorney and client meetings. There are no recording devices."
Squinting, the woman adjusted her glasses.
"Your voice seems familiar, but my eyes are not what they were long ago. I'm unsure about you. Are you unsure?"
"No, ma'am, I'm quite sure." Hannibal stood, crossed the room and kneeled by her side. Reaching for and kissing her hand he held it gently.
Until the next chapter, my friends!