The young woman shuddered as soon as she stepped from her car. The task she had been sent on was the cause of her discomfort. She told herself silently "Here I go again. I can't believe I'm doing this again."
She had arrived at the Baltimore Psyciatric Hospital for a visit, one designed to extract information. The goal was familiar, but the subject this time was quite different. She had been tasked by her superiors with getting an analysis involving a matter of some importance to them.
She entered the facility, showing her shield to the gatekeeper who checked his sheet for clearance to allow her entry. After just a few seconds he buzzed her through the first of many gates in her journey into the bowels of this gray monolith.
Finally arriving at her destination she greeted the final gatekeeper with a sincere smile.
"Hello, Barney. How have things been with you?"
"Just fine, Clarice, and you? How have you been?"
"About the same as always, Barney. I've managed to stay busy", she said, smiling yet again at the massive black man.
"That's great to hear, Clarice. The drill is the same as always. Do not approach the cell, do not pass any metal objects, pens, paper clips or papers with staples through the port. Keep your wits about you and you'll be just fine. I'll be right here, watching on the monitor just in case you need any help. Now, if you please, put your firearm in this locker. I'll hold the key for you."
Though familiar, the process served to sober her even more, sharpened her senses as she got ready to walk the silent corridor toward her goal.
The steel barred door slid into the wall and she stepped through. The door reasserted itself into a barrier to exiting from this place. She started walking slowly, noting that some of the cells had new occupants while there were some familiar faces. She walked past the next to last cell, the one once occupied by Mad Miggs, the pervert who had taken her by suprise those years past. Mad Miggs, who now resided in the place of the dead thanks to his next door neighbor.
She approached the next cell and saw, just as she expected, the occupant standing at attention awaiting her arrival.
"Hello, Clarice. So good of you to drop by for a visit. How long has it been? Three years? My, how time flies, except for the time inside of this place. What brings you around today, Clarice?"
"Hello, Dr. Lecter. As you've guessed, I'm here to talk with you again to get your insights into a matter.
"Clarice, I'm starting to think you only come around when you want something from me. That is hardly any way to maintain a friendship, is it?
"Is that what we are, Doctor? Are we friends?
"Oh, I'd like to think so. After all, we've been through so much together, you and I. You might say we have a history together."
"I suppose you could think that, Doctor."
"Yes, well, here we are yet again."
He stopped speaking and stood, silent, expectant, and motionless, forcing her to state her purpose.
"Doctor, I've been sent to get your thoughts regarding a matter of political interest to my superiors."
"Politics? Well , that does put a novel spin on things, doesn't it? Why do you think your superiors have sent you to gain this information from me, Clarice?"
"I believe they are using my relationship with you as a means of obtaining what they want, Doctor."
"Yes, well stated, and quite true. Please, you can call me Hannibal. You are learning Clarice, yes indeed. You have succeeded in piqueing my interest. Tell me what you wish to know."
"Doctor", she began, noticing Lecter's wry smile at her failure to use his first name. "My superiors wish to have your insights into the recent events concerning one of the Democratic Party presidential hopefuls."
"Mr. Barack Obama, I presume?"
"Yes, how did you know?"
"Clarice, please. The other candidate is a known quantity. The young Senator from Illinois is much more enigmatic, much more interesting, less known. Why do your rulers have an interest in him?"
"Doctor, this visit is totally off the books, and does not exist. My superiors think it is to their advantage to understand the man who may become their boss. The phrase 'forewarned is forearmed' was used."
"Very astute of them, wasn't it? Self preservation is always a very powerful motivator, isn't it?'
"Yes, it is. Will you help me out with this, Doctor?"
"While I hate to be crass, Clarice, I must ask you this. What's in this for me? After all, my circumstances are less than palatial and I must extract something from this little exercise."
"Doctor, I've been given no promises to extend to you for your cooperation. This is a black hole operation, no tracks to be traced. I do however, offer you a present, one which I cannot describe at this time. You may find it to your liking, you may find it of no value whatsoever. In real terms, it is of very small value. The value you attach to it is one you must determine for yourself."
"Fascinating, Clarice. You offer me little to nothing and then expect me to help your superiors. Now, tell me what is in this for you."
"Doctor, I've been given no promises either. I imagine the FBI will find a way to make it worth my while. I'm eligible for a new assignment and this may allow me more flexibility."
"Self interest and self promotion. How I do love an honest woman, Clarice. Do you see my new addition I've gained in gratitude for my former efforts on your behalf?"
"You have a radio."
"Yes, indeed. I've been listening to the world outside these walls. Among some of the things I've paid some attention to are the little political contretemps among the candidates. Spell it out for me. What, specifically, do you want to know, Clarice?"
"My superiors want to know the effect that the Obama/Reverend Jeremiah Wright conflict is likely to have upon Obama. Will this be the straw that breaks his back or can he rebound from this?"
"Clarice, it is quite tiresome to go over ground we have gone over before."
"What does that mean, Doctor?"
"Essentials, Clarice. While it may seem like the young Obama will be destroyed, what you are actually observing is his metamorphosis, his becoming."
"Please, go on."
"The young candidate, while quite liberal, has some scruples. He hesitated to cast his mentor aside, saddled by concepts of loyalty, honor, and friendship. He has been forced into the extremely painful position of losing his dream of the Oval Office or sacrificing the relationship he has enjoyed with Wright. Either choice bears a price. His delimma is which price is he willing to pay. There is no escape, he must chose one or the other. What you saw in his disavowal of Wright was his bursting from his shell. He has cracked the shell, come out from the hard skin of morals, made the decision to do whatever is necessary for his own survival. What you saw on the tv was a man murdering his own soul."
"Are you sure, Doctor?"
"When have you ever known me to be wrong, Clarice?"
A chill coursed through her as she considered the implications of what she had just heard. Her superiors would be confronted with the prospects of swimming with a political shark if Obama became POTUS.
"Just to give a more complete picture, Doctor, what do you make of Obama's opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton?"
"It's obvious, Clarice. She had her metamorphosis many years ago. She is a perfect political predator, a sociopath. She will do whatever she deems necessary to win her goals. With Senator Clinton, there are no scruples or morals, there is only risk assessment. Her single consideration is balancing personal risk against potential gain. If she views the gain as achievable with little risk to herself, she will go forward. She will cast her associates to the lions, sacrifice them without qualm. She has a long record in this regard. Compared to her, young Obama is a rank amateur. He does, however, have potential."
"Thank you, Doctor. I'll pass this along to management and they can make whatever use of it they will. I'm sure they will be appreciative of your efforts on their behalf."
"My turn now to ask you another question. Do you still hear the lambs, Clarice?"
"No, Doctor, I don't. I haven't had that dream on over a year."
The man behind the bars said nothing, showing his reaction only by a minute raising of his eyebrows.
The FBI Special Agent stood, preparing to depart. Her exit was delayed.
"Not so fast, Clarice. Quid pro quo. You mentioned you had a gift for me."
"Yes, I did, didn't I? Are you still allowed to keep the items in your basket?"
"Yes, within limitations. The items are subject to inspection, but they have taken nothing from me. They come along and paw through my things from time to time to try to aggravate me, but other than that, my possessions are just that, mine."
"That's good, Doctor. That's the conditions I was led to believe were operational. My gift to you should be safe, then."
She put her hand into her purse and withdrew a yellow manila envelope, the kind with no metal clasp. It was 6"x9", and slightly rounded by whatever was within. Special Agent Starling approached the metal drawer which allowed for the passage of materials. She put the envelope within and pushed it through without a glance at Lecter.
"Goodbye, Doctor. Thank you for your help in this."
She turned to go but his voice stopped her after just a step.
"One last thing, Clarice. You see these two people we have been discussing. It may become a very dangerous place, this world of yours. The pain Obama has undergone may very well become transferred into anger. He could become a seriously dangerous man, wishing to strike out at those who caused him this anguish. Are you sure you don't want to come in here with me? It'll be safer for you."
It was her turn to raise her eyebrows and favor him with a small, terse smile.
"I'll keep your offer in mind, Doctor. Who knows, the path we all walk has many turns."
She turned and strode away, her footsteps growing fainter, more distant. Doctor Hannibal Lecter went to the metal slide and withdrew the envelope. Opening the flap, he saw within lace and drew a scent of perfume into his nostrils. Instead of taking the item out, he resealed the flap and put it into his basket along with his scant trove of possessions.
"It seems as if metamorphosis is the watchword for today."
On the metal shelf was his radio, the volume turned down. He turned it up and heard the final bit of Love Is In the Air.
"I simply love synchronicity", he said to himself, and smiled.