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HARRIS, Richard

The Silence Of The Lambs

The Insect Zoo is a large room, dim now and loud with chirps and whirs. Cages and cases of live insects fill it. Children particularly like the zoo and troop through it all day. At night, left to themselves, the insects are busy. A few of the cases were lit with red, and the fire exit signs burned fiercely red in the dim room.

"Dr. Pilcher?" the guard called from the door.

"Here," Pilcher said, holding a penlight up as a beacon.

"Will you bring this lady out?"

"Yes, thank you, Officer."

Starling took her own small flashlight out of her purse and found the switch already on, the batteries dead. The flash of anger she felt reminded her that she was tired and she had to bear down.

"Hello, Officer Starling."

"Dr. Pilcher."

"How about 'Professor Pilcher'?"

"Are you a professor?"

"No, but I'm not a doctor either. What I am is glad to see you. Want to look at some bugs?"

"Sure. Where's Dr. Roden?"

"He made most of the progress over the last two nights with chaetaxy and finally he had to crash. Did you see the bug before we started on it?"


"It was just mush, really."

"But you got it, you figured it out."

"Yep. Just now." He stopped at a mesh cage. "First let me show you a moth like the one you brought in Monday. This is not exactly the same as yours, but the same family, an owlet." The beam of his flashlight found the large sheeny blue moth sitting on a small branch, its wings folded, Pilcher blew air at it and instantly the fierce face of an owl appeared as the moth flared the undersides of its wings at them, the eye-spots on the wings glaring like the last sight a rat ever sees. "This one's Caligo beltrao--- fairly common. But with this Klaus specimen, you're talking some heavy moths. Come on."

At the end of the room was a case set back in a niche with a rail in front of it. The case was beyond the reach of children and it was covered with a cloth. A small humidifier hummed beside it.

"We keep it behind glass to protect people's fingers--- it can fight. It likes the damp too, and glass keeps the humidity in." Pilcher lifted the cage carefully by its handles and moved it to the front of the niche. He lifted off the cover and turned on a small light above the cage.

"This is the Death's-head Moth," he said. "That's nightshade she's sitting on---

we're hoping she'll lay."

The moth was wonderful and terrible to see, its large brown-black wings tented like a cloak, and on its wide furry back, the signature device that has struck fear in men

for as long as men have come upon it suddenly in their happy gardens. The domed skull, a skull that is both skull and face, watching from its dark eyes, the cheekbones, the zygomatic arch traced exquisitely beside the eyes.

"Acherontia styx," Pitcher said. "It's named for two rivers in Hell. Your man, he drops the bodies in a river every time--- did I read that?"

"Yes," Starling said. "Is it rare?"

"In this part of the world it is. There aren't any at all in nature." - .

"Where's it from?" Starling leaned her face close to the mesh roof of the case. Her breath stirred the fur on the moth's back. She jerked back when it squeaked and fiercely flapped its wings. She could feel the tiny breeze it made.

"Malaysia. There's a European type too, called atropos, but this one and the one in Klaus' mouth are Malaysian."

"So somebody raised it."