“I have decided to heed your advice.”
The Chesapeake Ripper finished scenting the vintage in hand before deigning to comment. Bedelia always chose excellent wine that deserved proper appreciation, and today‘s selection was no exception to this. It was also a rather sudden announcement, one he had not predicted this early on in her conditioning. Hannibal did not care for surprises that were free of his influence. “Oh?”
“I am coming out of retirement, at least to a mild extent. Two patients is not a practice, but it is a start.” Bedelia said with only the slightest of smiles. Hannibal was sure he had hidden his surprise well enough, but Bedelia had still picked up on it, clever woman that she was. Whether she was too much so for her own good was yet to be determined.
“What has brought this about?” Hannibal asked, intrigued but keeping his expression of interest in check. This was a game after all.
“A colleague and former student of yours, Alana Bloom, contacted me about a most unusual man.” Bedelia, the smile lingering on her lips. She was certainly pleased with herself about something, and she wanted to tease him with it. It was a very dangerous move on her part considering who she was playing with, but not without its charm. Like fortune, Hannibal favored the bold.
“He must be unique to lure you back into practice after everything I have said has failed. What makes him so enticing?” Hannibal took the baiting, though he slipped in just enough menace between his words to warn Bedelia off from continuing this game of hers. He was also left wondering why Alana had contacted Bedelia and not him, feeling slightly miffed by the oversight.
“Disclosing that to you would be a breach of docter/patient confidentiality.” Bedelia looked positively smug as she took her own sip of wine. Hannibal knew she had never intended to tell him the real reason in the first place. She was simply feinting moves to see how he would react like a fencer taking jabs at their opponent. “Though he is not officially my patient. He has only agreed to have conversations with me.”
“Then what is hindering your answer?” Hannibal asked neutrally, making a show of considering his wine and acting like the topic of conversation mattered little to him. Terrible thing that it was and akin to a force of nature, his curiosity had been roused though. Who would Alana refer to Bedelia and not him, and more importantly, why?
“I believe that is best left up to Dr. Bloom to explain the circumstances about her friend. I suggest you ask her about Will Graham.” Bedelia said, her countenance glacier with secrets. To pursue inquiry any further would make him come off as desperate, so Hannibal gracefully nodded, conceding this turn in the game to her. He could afford to be gracious. The name was a peace offering of sorts and more than enough to go on if Hannibal felt like hunting this man down, literally or figuratively.
From Bedelia’s lips to his ears, that was the first time Dr. Hannibal Lecter had ever heard of the FBI profiler known as Will Graham.
“Good evening. Please come in, Miss Kimball.”
Hannibal wondered why Freddie Lounds of TattleCrime.com was sitting in his waiting room of all places after making an appointment under a false name. Admittedly he had some high profile patients, disgustingly rich media darlings who just couldn’t keep themselves out of trouble, but no one who should have peeked Freddie Lounds’s interests. Her kind of literature ran more toward gore, violence, and death than sordid, poor life choices.
“I’ve never seen a psychiatrist before and I’m unfortunately thorough. So you’re one of three doctors I’m interviewing. It’s more or less a bake-off.” Lounds said, looking around at his office, though not in appreciation or awe of it like most did upon entering. Hannibal could tell she was cataloguing it, picking it apart in her head to hoard information for later reference like an odd magpie.
“I’m very supportive of bake-offs. It’s important to find someone you’re comfortable with.” Hannibal told her, watching her as she tried to glean anything of value from their surroundings and from him.
“I can imagine you as my therapist which is good. If I couldn’t visualize opening up emotionally, I know it would be a problem.” Lounds smiled a little too sweetly, trying to come off as vulnerable. It was a ploy that probably worked very well on other people who weren’t him. Freddie Lounds was a rapier, a slim weapon of razor steel hidden in a scabbard of tacky fashion choices and clever lies.
“May I ask why now?” Hannibal smiled back, wanting to put her at ease. He was weapon too, but was far better at hiding the caliber of his metal, the prey mistaking him for art before they felt firsthand the truth of his edges.
“Would it be alright if I asked you a few questions first?” Lounds said, beginning to make her move.
“Of course.” Hannibal considered playing along to find out what she was doing here, toying with the idea. As much as he hated having his time wasted, his curiosity had been peeked. Lounds feinted fragility so well. It was almost a shame to ruin the farce of it.
“I love that you’ve written so much on social exclusion. Since that’s why I’m here, I was wondering…” Lounds looked a touch too smug and that right there would never do. Clever as she was, Lounds had to be reminded of her place on the food chain. She was a mere hyena to his lion.
“Are you Freddie Lounds?” Hannibal easily cut her off, making Lounds react like she had been struck, all the air leaving her lungs.
“I am so embarrassed.” Lounds tried to construct her retreat. Hannibal wasn’t about to let her though. In his opinion, scavengers should learn to check to see if their quarry was truly dead and their killer done with the meat before stealing from the corpse.
“You should be. This is unethical even for a tabloid journalist.” Hannibal drove that point home, studying how anger rose in Lounds and how she contained it.
“I’m a criminal justice journalist.” Lounds staunchly defended herself and her profession.
“Which begs the question, what are you doing here? You were very persistent about your appointment time. To my knowledge, I currently have very few patients who would be of any real interest to you.” Hannibal mused, enjoying Lounds’s discomfort.
“I was given some bad information. I don’t suppose you know anything about a man called Will Graham, or would care to comment about him if you did?” Lounds asked, looking very displeased about something or with the someone who had fed her poor intel. Hannibal hid his surprise about hearing about the same person so soon from completely different sources.
“I can not comment on someone I do not know. Now I really must ask you to leave, Miss Lounds. You have been terrible rude in wasting my time. What’s to be done about that?”
“I am curious about something. Have you purposely avoided mentioning Will Graham to me for any reason?” Hannibal asked his former protégé who acted as his sous chef this evening. Arrangements had been made after he had spoken to Bedelia and Ms. Lounds, Hannibal settling Alana into his kitchen with a few beers in her before broaching the fragile subject.
“Absolutely.” Alana smiled, her kissable lips quirking up around their edges.
“Not on my account I hope. You know I am discreet, and I would very much like to hear of this friend you have been hiding from me.” Hannibal tried not to feel too irked. Alana was going to make him work for it. He would have respected her less if she hadn’t.
“No, it’s on Jack Crawford’s account, the agent in charge of the Behavioral Sciences Division at the FBI. He’s obsessed about catching the Chesapeake Ripper, and he’s grooming Will to catch him.” Alana sighed upon mentioning Crawford, a man who was obviously not in her good graces.
“I sincerely hope he does, though I fail to see how. Many have tried.” Hannibal offered up, preening inwardly as he carved humble tomatoes into roses. He had been considering having an affair with his former protégé for some time now, wondering if she would be worth his efforts and attention.
“Will is special. He has an ability that no one can even begin to understand.” Alana spoke almost sadly about this unique person Hannibal kept hearing about from strange sources.
“What makes him so special?” Hannibal allowed himself to ask, his curiosity peaked. His subtle presentation of tomato roses was covered with discarded carrot tops by Alana, making the serial killer inwardly sigh. Whether intentional or not on her part, it was a dismissal.
“Empathy, an extreme amount of it. Will has the capability of thinking like the killers he is trying to catch. Usually he teaches profiling at the FBI, but lately Jack has been pulling him into field work.” Alana said. “It’s not good for him. None of it is.”
“You are trying to protect him.” Hannibal pointed out, his words having an interesting effect upon her.
“He’s my friend. He needs a friend.” Alana spoke as if she was trying to scold herself on this matter, a personal reminder to keep her distance.
“Are you in love with him?” Hannibal ruined that by asking, observing Alana wince before sighing into her beer.
“You know I think too much for that sort of thing.” Alana smiled ruefully, “I have considered it, but Will is too unstable to be in a healthy relationship. He needs a friend more than he needs a lover. Plus I have a professional curiosity about Will. It’s better if I avoided any information that I shouldn’t have about him.”
“He sounds like someone you should bring with you to my dinner party. I would love to meet him.” Hannibal said.
That got a laugh from Alana. “Easier said than done. I’m afraid the feeling would not be mutual. Will distrusts psychiatrists. He’s had a few too many try to get inside his head.”
Having Frederick Chilton over for dinner was as close as Hannibal would ever come to keeping a pet, at least in his opinion. Like a well trained monkey trying to type up prose, Chilton chattered on about this and that, trying out bits of gossip to get a reaction out of him. Both men knew who was more well respected and sought out after in their profession, so it amused Hannibal to no end to give his dining companion nothing back expect for neutral statements and bland expressions.
Even a monkey banging on a typewriter was bound to spell out some kind of word though, Hannibal blinking in surprise mid conversation at something unexpected.
“Ah, so you have heard of him.” Chilton looked positively smug about garnering Hannibal’s full attention upon him. Hannibal mused that the man’s self preservation was truly lacking.
“I have, but only in passing. I was unaware that you knew Will Graham.” Hannibal said evenly, though the idea of Chilton conversing with this man rankled. The elusive profile had not come with Alana to his dinner party. Hannibal could have tracked down the man easily enough, but if everything he had heard about the man was true, their meeting could not be a forced thing. Will Graham was hunting the Chesapeake Ripper, and it would never do for Hannibal to just give himself away by being impatient. He would meet this Will Graham at the right time and place, and the profiler would be none the wiser with whom he was conversing with. Until then, Hannibal would just have to put up with the mild insult of life that Chilton had met the man first.
“Not as well as I would like.” Chilton admitted with a huff. “He is an interesting topic of conversation in some circles though.”
“How did your paths cross?” Hannibal made himself ask, cursing luck and her fickle nature.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of Abel Gideon. I’ve just ousted him as the Chesapeake Ripper.” Chilton said in a grandiose manner that set Hannibal’s teeth on edge.
“So you have…”
“I was interviewed by the FBI!” were the first words of greeting out of Franklin’s mouth. Hannibal gestured toward their seating instead of responding. It was best to let Franklin wear himself out a bit before feeding into his delusions.
“Oh? And why were you?” Hannibal asked once they had settled.
“You remember my friend Tobias? He kept saying very strange things to me so I contacted the authorities about it. The FBI came and questioned me.” Franklin looked very pleased and excited with himself about it. That simply wouldn’t do.
“How did it make you feel reporting your friend Tobias?” Hannibal made his words a slim knife to slip in between ribs and twist. The sadist watched in delight as Franklin’s triumphant expression crumbled in on itself like the ash skeletons of burnt out logs.
“I didn’t like it. What if I’m wrong?” Franklin mumbled, twisting his fingers into fleshy knots.
“What if you’re not?” Hannibal countered, poking Franklin’s shortcomings at his leisure.
“I’m always wrong.” Franklin flailed about a bit, his neuroses getting to him. “The man who interviewed me was weird. He kept asking me odd questions, and making comments about the music behind his eyes. I‘m thinking about complaining about him”
“Do you remember this man’s name?” It was an effort for Hannibal to maintain this performance of normalcy. Tapping down spikes of anger that threatened to shred his person suit from the inside out, Hannibal made himself retain the appearance of being harmless.
“Graham something. I didn’t like him. He was very unprofessional….” Franklin pouted, once again failing to recognize just how much danger he was in as the lion in the room stirred to twitch its tail.
“I think it would be best if we didn’t dwell on the matter.”
“Why did Mr. Budge come here?” Jack Crawford asked Hannibal as he put pressure on the wound in his thigh. Tobias had proved himself to be quite interesting for a time before Hannibal was forced to end him..
“He came here to kill my patient and then me came to kill me…” Hannibal began to spin his lie, enjoying this encounter with the agent who was so desperate to capture him. It was short lived though, a tech of some sort interrupting them with a look of concern on her face.
“Jack, Will’s in the hospital.” the slim Asian woman told Crawford, who turned his focus fully from Hannibal to her.
“What happened?” Crawford snapped, looking torn between concern and duty.
“He went in for minor injuries, but stayed to do an MRI. They found something…” the agent told him.
“On my way.” Crawford cut her off, already leaving a fuming Chesapeake Ripper behind to check in on his best profiler. “Thank you for your time, Dr. Lecter. We’ll be in touch.”
Though Hannibal was careful to maintain his relationships with former colleagues from his time at John Hopkins, Doctor Sutcliffe was an unexpected caller. “I know it’s been a while but I just recently had a case that made me think of you.” he said after proper greetings were exchanged.
“Oh? Do tell.” Hannibal said, wondering what could have prompted this.
“Yes, I had a man here recently suffering from encephalitis. He was having vivid hallucinations and suffering from lost time.” Sutcliffe told him, making the back of Hannibal’s neck prickle from some odd reason.
“Fascinating. Is he still?” Hannibal prompted, ignoring the sensation.
“No. He’s already left the hospital after receiving treatment but it made me think of you and your cooking.” were the words that made Hannibal want to roll his eyes. Despite being brilliant in his field, Sutcliffe lacked subtlety and finesse.
“May I inquire this patient’s name to see if he would like to speak of his hallucinations? I would be willing to trade a dinner for that.” Hannibal said after a moment’s consideration. It wouldn’t hurt anything to refresh his ties with Sutcliffe, and the case might provide some sort of interesting distraction or insight.
“It’s a deal. His name is Will Graham.”
“Hannibal? Hello? Are you still there?”
Abel Gideon had made quite a mess of things. Chilton was in the hospital, clinging tenaciously to life after getting what he so richly deserved. He had tried to steal Hannibal’s name from him, his coveted title. If Chilton only knew, he would be thanking Gideon for playing with his insides. For that slight, Hannibal would have done far worse to him.
Not content with ruining Chilton’s appetite for the rest of his life, Gideon decided upon going after any psychiatrist who had ever spoken to him or about him, which meant Alana Bloom was on that list. Her inclusion had ultimately been Gideon’s downfall though. Showing up at her home had led to him being shot and his capture.
Hannibal had gotten the phone call early in the morning, and was now at Alana’s home, offering his support and comfort, though he would have preferred to stay in bed. Alana needed to decompress over the matter, but that grew boring after a while. A mild drug cocktail of his own design placed in her tea put Alana to sleep, Hannibal leaving a note before he slipped out.
Too awake to go back to bed and curious to see where Gideon had been caught, Hannibal took a walk in the field behind her house, finding the spot easily enough from the blood spray on snow. As he studied it though, Hannibal felt another presence at his back, turning slightly toward it to find a man standing not too far off from him. Despite it being rude to do so, Hannibal couldn’t help but stare. The stranger looked lovely against the dark backdrop of winter’s woods, his dark curls being tousled by chilled winds. His eyes were the same color as the season’s sky overhead, blue grey and having seen too much in their time.
“You look as alone as I feel.” the beautiful stranger told Hannibal before looking away, his eyes avoiding Hannibal’s own. He already knew who this man was, had seen Ms. Lounds’s pictures of him often enough, Hannibal‘s heart beating uncomfortably in his chest. “I’m sorry. That was rude…forget I said anything.”
“Wait.” Hannibal called after him, the elusive man already beginning to leave. It was far too soon for such partings in his opinion.
“I’m really bad at this. Socializing in general.” Will Graham waved him off, really there, here and now, before Hannibal. “I didn’t mean to intrude. I only came to see how Alana was doing.”
“I left her sleeping. The experience has tired her. Best to leave her alone for now.” Hannibal assured, wishing the wind was not at his back. He wanted to know Will Graham‘s scent, memorize it. Mentally breathless, Hannibal was running through his mind palace throwing open doors and upturning drawers, trying to find the right words to make this man stay and talk to him a little while longer.
“I’ll be on my way then, Doctor Lecter.” Will effortlessly wounded. He stepped away and all Hannibal could do was follow after him, his own name bringing speed to his step and boldness to his hands.
“How did you know my name?” Hannibal asked, making Will pause by reaching out to touch his arm. The profiler stopped as abruptly as if he were grabbed, responding so beautifully to him.
“I keep hearing it, and not only from mutual acquaintances. It seems to reside in the mouths of complete strangers as well.” Will smiled, the expression slight but there enough to make Hannibal’s chest oddly constrict. “It almost feels like fate to meet you.”
“I must confess that I have been wanting to meet you as well for a while now as well.” Hannibal’s admittance brought a flush of red to Will’s cheeks, the warm blush endearing the man to him even more.
“I’m not that interesting. You’ll be disappointed.”
“Somehow I doubt that.”