Read an Excerpt
The door to Dr. Hannibal Lecter's memory palace is in the darkness at the center of his mind and it has a latch that can be found by touch alone. This curious portal opens on immense and well-lit spaces, early baroque, and corridors and chambers rivaling in number those of the Topkapi Museum.
Everywhere there are exhibits, well-spaced and lighted, each keyed to memories that lead to other memories in geometric progression.
Spaces devoted to Hannibal Lecter’s earliest years differ from the other archives in being incomplete. Some are static scenes, fragmentary, like painted Attic shards held together by blank plaster. Other rooms hold sound and motion, great snakes wrestling and heaving in the dark and lit in flashes. Pleas and screaming fill some places on the grounds where Hannibal himself cannot go. But the corridors do not echo screaming, and there is music if you like.
The palace is a construction begun early in Hannibal’s student life. In his years of confinement he improved and enlarged his palace, and its riches sustained him for long periods while warders denied him his books.
Here in the hot darkness of his mind, let us feel together for the latch. Finding it, let us elect for music in the corridors and, looking neither left nor right, go to the Hall of the Beginning where the displays are most fragmentary.
We will add to them what we have learned elsewhere, in war records and police records, from interviews and forensics and the mute postures of the dead. Robert Lecter’s letters, recently unearthed, may help us establish the vital statistics of Hannibal, who altered dates freely to confound the authorities and his chroniclers. By our efforts we may watch as the beast within turns from the teat and, working upwind, enters the world.
"Do you know what today is?" Hannibal asked over his breakfast gruel at the lodge. "It's the day the sun reaches Uncle Elgar's window."
"What time will it appear?" Mr. Jakov asked, as though he didn't know.
"It will peep around the tower at ten-thirty," Hannibal said.
"That was in 1941," Mr. Jakov said. "Do you mean to say the moment of arrival will be the same?"
"But the year is more than 365 days long."
"But, Mr. Jakov, this is the year after leap year. So wasl941, the last time we watched."
"Then does the calendar adjust perfectly, or do we live by gross corrections?"
A thorn popped in the fire.
"I think those are separate questions," Hannibal said.
Mr. Jakov was pleased, but his response was just another question: "Will the year 2000 be a leap year?"
"No—yes, yes, it will be a leap year."
"But it is divisible by one hundred," Mr. Jakov said.
"It's also divisible by four hundred," Hannibal said.
"Exactly so," Mr. Jakov said. "It will be the first time the Gregorian rule is applied.
Perhaps, on that day, surviving all gross corrections, you will remember our talk. In this strange place." He raised his cup. "Next year in Lecter Castle."
Lothar heard it first as he drew water, the roar of an engine in low gear and cracking of branches. He left the bucket on the well and in his haste he came into the lodge without wiping his feet.
A Soviet tank, a T-34 in winter camouflage of snow and straw, crashed up the horse trail and into the clearing. Painted on the turret in Russian were AVENGE OUR SOVIET GIRLS and WIPE OUT THE FASCIST VERMIN. Two soldiers in white rode on the back over the radiators. The turret swiveled to point the tank's cannon at the house. A hatch opened and a gunner in hooded winter white stood behind a machine gun. The tank commander stood in the other hatch with a megaphone. He repeated his message in Russian and in German, barking over the diesel clatter of the tank engine.
"We want water, we will not harm you or take your food unless a shot comes from the house. If we are fired on, every one of you will die. Now come outside. Gunner, lock and load. If you do not see faces by the count of ten, fire." A loud clack as the machine gun's bolt went back.
Count Lecter stepped outside, standing straight in the sunshine, his hands visible. "Take the water. We are no harm to you."
The tank commander put his megaphone aside. "Everyone outside where I can see you."
The count and the tank commander looked at each other for a long moment. The tank commander showed his palms.
The count showed his palms. The count turned to the house. "Come."
When the commander saw the family he said, "The children can stay inside where it's warm."
And to his gunner and crew, "Cover them. Watch the upstairs windows. Start the pump. You can smoke."
The machine gunner pushed up his goggles and lit a cigarette. He was no more than a boy, the skin of his face paler around his eyes. He saw Mischa peeping around the door facing and smiled at her.
Among the fuel and water drums lashed to the tank was a small petrol-powered pump with a rope starter.
The tank driver snaked a hose with a screen filter down the well and after many pulls on the rope the pump clattered, squealed, and primed itself.
The noise covered the scream of the Stuka dive bomber until it was almost on them, the tank's gunner swiveling his muzzle around, cranking hard to elevate his gun, firing as the airplane's winking cannon stitched the ground. Rounds screamed off the tank, the gunner hit, still firing with his remaining arm.
The Stuka's windscreen starred with fractures, the pilot's goggles filled with blood and the dive bomber, still carrying one of its eggs, hit treetops, plowed into the garden and its fuel exploded, cannon under the wings still firing after the impact. Hannibal, on the floor of the lodge, Mischa partly under him, saw his mother lying in the yard, bloody and her dress on fire.
"Stay here!" to Mischa and he ran to his mother, ammunition in the airplane cooking off now, slow and then faster, casings flying backward striking the snow, flames licking around the remaining bomb beneath the wing. The pilot sat in the cockpit, dead, his face burned to a death's head in flaming scarf and helmet, his gunner dead behind him.
Lothar alone survived in the yard and he raised a bloody arm to the boy. Then Mischa ran to her mother, out into the yard and Lothar tried to reach her and pull her down as she passed, but a cannon round from the flaming plane slammed through him, blood spattering the baby and Mischa raised her arms and screamed into the sky. Hannibal heaped snow onto the fire in his mother's clothes, stood up and ran to Mischa amid the random shots and carried her into the lodge, into the cellar. The shots outside slowed and stopped as bullets melted in the breeches of the cannon. The sky darkened and snow came again, hissing on the hot metal.
Darkness, and snow again. Hannibal among the corpses, how much later he did not know, snow drifting down to dust his mother's eyelashes and her hair. She was the only corpse not blackened and crisped. Hannibal tugged at her, but her body was frozen to the ground. He pressed his face against her. Her bosom was frozen hard, her heart silent. He put a napkin over her face and piled snow on her. Dark shapes moved at the edge of the woods. His torch reflected on wolves' eyes. He shouted at them and waved a shovel. Mischa was determined to come out to her mother—he had to choose. He took Mischa back inside and left the dead to the dark.
Mr. Jakov's book was undamaged beside his blackened hand until a wolf ate the leather cover and amid the scattered pages of Huyghens' Treatise on Light licked Mr. Jakov's brains off the snow. Hannibal and Mischa heard snuffling and growling outside. Hannibal built up the fire. To cover the noise he tried to get Mischa to sing; he sang to her. She clutched his coat in her fists.
"Ein Mannlein . . ."
Snowflakes on the windows. In the corner of a pane, a dark circle appeared, made by the tip of a glove. In the dark circle a pale blue eye.
From the Hardcover edition.