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Page Six

 

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I smell blood and an era of prominent madmen. - W.H. Auden

 

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1.

 

“Graham!” Crawford shouted across the busy newsroom. “My office. Now!”

 

Activity came to a grinding halt as everyone's eyes turned to Will. From her desk in the corner, Beverly Katz gave him a look that contained raised eyebrows and question marks. Will shrugged; he didn't know what Crawford wanted.

 

The chief editor of the Baltimore Sun impatiently waited for Will to join him. “We got a situation.” Crawford ushered him down the hallway and through the door into his office. A woman stood by the long desk, sour-faced, dressed in red. “Kade Purnell,” Crawford introduced her, “FBI.”

 

Purnell studied Will from the toes of his scuffed shoes to the tips of his messily curled hair. “Have a seat, Mister Graham.”

 

“I'd rather stand.” Will already had a bad feeling about this meeting. “What's this about?”

 

Purnell opened her briefcase, extracting a sheet of paper with an official-looking logo. “This is a court order that allows me to seize all your files about the Chesapeake Ripper, including computer hard drives and portable media.”

 

Will stared at her. “You can't just -”

 

Crawford cleared his throat. “Will. She can.”

 

Purnell placed the paper on the edge of Crawford's desk. “Mister Graham, we asked you, nicely, to stop. Since you can't seem to play nice, neither will we. You're interfering in a federal investigation.”

 

Will crossed his arms. “Yeah, well, if you guys were doing your jobs, I wouldn't have to.”

 

Behind Purnell, Crawford covered his face with a hand. Purnell snapped her briefcase shut, looking decidedly unimpressed by the jab at the FBI's capabilities, or lack thereof. “Last warning, Mister Graham.”

 

“Or you'll what, arrest me?”

 

Purnell smiled unpleasantly. “You know things about that case the FBI didn't even know. I am not the only one who is starting to wonder what your sources are, or if you are the source.”

 

Will ground his jaw. Him, the Chesapeake Ripper? “That's ridiculous, and you know it. Jack?”

 

The chief editor's face was blank, impassive; there'd be no help from that quarter.

 

“That will be all, gentlemen.” Purnell strode to the door. “Have a nice day.”

 

As soon as they were alone, Will turned an angry look at Crawford. “You're just letting her do this?”

 

“My hands are tied.” Crawford sat on the edge of his desk. “You think I'm happy about this?”

 

“I think I want to vomit.”

 

Crawford sighed. “Look, I had a word with Donald. We don't want the feds on a rampage in here.”

 

Will didn't like the sound of that. “Are you pulling my plug?”

 

“I'm telling you to take a break and to play nice, damn it.” That was Crawford's no-nonsense, no-argument voice. “Wait for this to cool down. Come back in a week. Spend time with your dogs. And get some sleep, for fuck's sake. Your sad Panda eyes are starting to scare me.”

 

“Jack...”

 

“Don't make me send you home,” Crawford threatened. “And now get out. See you in a week.”

 

“Jack.”

 

Out.”

 

Will stomped out. He stopped in the men's bathroom, peering at himself in the mirror. Panda eyes, my ass. He looked a little tired, that was all.

 

When he got back to the newsroom, three men with identical crew cuts and 'FBI' printed on the backs of their jackets were going through the contents of his desk. Beverly beckoned him over to her corner, where Zeller and Price had already converged. “We heard,” Zeller said in a hushed voice. “What're you going to do now?”

 

“Not much I can do.” Will felt helpless, and that made everything worse.

 

Beverly nudged an elbow into his ribs. “I hope you backed that shit up.”

 

“In triplicate.”

 

“Good.”

 

Price raised his voice over the low din of conversation. “So much for journalistic freedom, eh guys?”

 

A few agreeing murmurs from the other work stations. Someone clapped their hands. Someone else jeered. The FBI agents packed four large boxes and left.

 

Will trudged over to his desk, eyeing the empty fast-food wrappers, the coffee rings permanently imprinted on the wood. Everything else was gone. The side of Will's computer tower had been opened, the internal and portable drives unplugged and removed. They'd even gone through his drawers, taking USB sticks and CDs that had nothing to do with the Chesapeake Ripper case.

 

Will grabbed his backpack from the floor, not even surprised when he noticed the open front and top compartments. His notebooks were gone. So were his voice recorder and camera. If he hadn't been keeping his cellphone in his pocket, they probably would have taken that, too. “Someone tell Jack I'm taking that break he told me to take. See you guys in a week.”

 

Beverly followed him down into the lobby. “You okay?”

 

“Do I fucking seem okay to you?” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sorry.”

 

“Don't let it drag you down.” She clapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, are you still doing that weird foreign food thing? There's a new restaurant, corner of Charles and Pratt, near the Convention Centre. Friend of mine went and wouldn't stop raving about it.” She handed him a folded, crumpled flyer. “Check it out?”

 

Will pocketed the flyer without looking at it. He appreciated Beverly's attempt at cheering him up, but right now, he just wasn't in the mood. “I might. Thanks, Bev.”

 

“Don't be a stranger, okay?” She squeezed his shoulder. “If you need company, I'm just a phone call away.”

 

-

 

Will's beat-up Sedan rolled to a stop in front of his house, next to a car that didn't belong there. Immediately, he noticed the open door and the dogs romping around the parking lot. He slammed the heel of his hand against the steering wheel, anger twisting in his chest; fucking FBI. Of course they'd come here, too.

 

A woman strolled out of Will's house. She waited until the dogs were finished with their greeting rituals, then held out her hand. “Doctor Alana Bloom. They left me behind to cushion the blow.”

 

No need to ask who 'they' were. Will walked past her without a word, going straight for his study. Drawers stood open, folders were missing from the bookshelves. Books were missing. The laptop that usually hibernated on the desk by the large bay window was gone. Loose sheets of paper littered the floor. They'd even upturned the mattress of the bed tucked into a corner, as if he was some old lady hiding her life's savings between the bed springs.

 

The click of heels on floorboards announced Doctor Bloom behind him. “Mister Graham, I'd like to talk to you.”

 

Will put his desk chair back into its proper place. “You with the FBI?”

 

She picked up a couch cushion from the floor, frowning at the shoe print on it. “I'm a professor from the psychology department of Georgetown, but I regularly consult with the Behavioural Analysis Unit and lecture at Quantico.”

 

“Good for you. Get out of my house.”

 

“I understand you feel that your personal rights have been trampled, and I -”

 

“And you just trampled them some more. I don't recall giving you permission to wander around my house.” Will spread his arms, indicating the chaos around them. “Hope you guys found what you were looking for. Now get out.”

 

Doctor Bloom opened her bag and pulled out a card, sticking it between the ears of the little dog statue on the sideboard. “I'd appreciate it if you could give me a call. I've been following your coverage of the Chesapeake Ripper case.”

 

Will scoffed. “According to Kade Purnell, the FBI thinks I am the Ripper.”

 

“That is exactly why I would like to talk to you. Your articles show an amazing insight into the mind of this killer. You've given the profilers at the BAU a lot to think about. If you agree to sit down with us, we'd love to pick your brain.”

 

Will barked out a laugh. “Wait, first you guys waltz all over me, now you want my insight?”

 

Doctor Bloom winced. “I know my request probably comes at a bad time...”

 

“A really bad time.” He pointed past her. “There's the door. I'm sure you'll find the way.”

 

He stood by the window until Doctor Bloom's car disappeared around the bend of the road. The dogs pressed up against his legs, whimpering, sensing his distress. His head felt like it was about to explode. Grabbing the Aspirin bottle from his desk, he swallowed two of the pills dry, then looked at the chaos around him with a baleful eye.

 

The work of half a year, gone. With any luck, they hadn't found the online backups. If they had, there were still the accounts he'd set up under a different name. If they'd found those, his last resort was one storage medium no one could pack into a box and carry away. The idea of writing down six months worth of material from memory was making Will's stomach cramp, while the empty spot on the desk where his laptop used to be mocked him; he currently didn't even have anything to write on.

 

-

 

Wolf Trap's little media outlet had only a small selection of computers, none of them quite what he was looking for. He bought a handful of USB sticks to replace the ones the FBI had taken – USB sticks he'd probably never see again – and drove back to Baltimore.

 

When he pulled out his wallet to pay for the new laptop, the flyer Beverly had given him fell to the floor. Mischa's, it read in calligraphic letters at the top. Fine dining. International Specialities.

 

The Convention Centre wasn't too far from where Will was parked. If memory served, the contents of his fridge at home consisted of a couple of bones in the freezer and a half gallon of milk that had probably gone sour by now. Will checked his watch. It was almost dinner time. He could go grocery shopping, or he could treat himself. After the day he'd had, he decided a treat was in order.

 

Mischa's was squeezed in between a book store and a flower shop. Will walked past the place twice before he finally saw the discreet wrought iron letters above the entrance, nearly hidden against the dark wood of the door. No advertisements out on the street, no menu in a glass box. Thick, grey curtains with red stripes blocked the view of the inside through the windows. All in all, not very inviting, but when Will pulled the door open, snatches of conversation drifted out along with scents that made his mouth water.

 

He walked through a short, tunnel-like entrance area and was greeted by a waiter in pressed slacks and a crisp, white shirt. “Good evening. My name is Matthew. Table for one, or will you be expecting company?”

 

“Just me, thanks.” Will looked around. The first thing his gaze caught on was a massive pair of stag antlers behind the bar, stark white against a dark grey wall. They spread wide, like the thorny branches of a tree. The sight jarred him, reminding him of one of the first serial killer cases he had ever covered, the Minnesota Shrike. Garret Jacob Hobbs had killed eight girls and mounted them on antlers like pieces of meat at a butcher's.

 

Matthew guided Will to a table close to the bar, handing him a tall, leather-bound menu. “Here you go. I'll be right back.”

 

Will studied the menu. He just barely managed to keep himself from laughing out loud in shock. The prices were exorbitant. He glanced over the top of the menu, at the other guests. Businesspeople and couples, from the looks of it, and all of them elegantly dressed, the men in suits, the women in...Will didn't even know. He had zero knowledge about fashion, contemporary or otherwise. He shifted uneasily, feeling out of place. He was wearing one of his old sweaters, the one with the frayed collar that Buster had chewed on. Mischa's catered to a far richer clientele than he had guessed at from the unimpressive outside.

 

Matthew returned with a glass of chilled water. “Have you decided?”

 

Will didn't even try to pronounce the name of the dish. “I'll have the baked rabbit.”

 

“Excellent choice. Our regulars swear by it. May I recommend wine? We have a Pinot Noir that goes very well with that meat.”

 

“Sure, thanks.”

 

Will let his gaze roam while he waited. Aside from the morbid wall decoration behind the bar, the rest of the furnishings looked antique; lots of plush, red upholstery and lacquered wood. Small lamps shaped like old oil lanterns hung low over each table, creating intimate pools of light. The inside of the restaurant was larger than the outside had suggested, the tables spaced far enough apart to reinforce the feeling of intimacy, of cosiness. The barkeeper, a sharply dressed blonde, met Will's roving gaze with a queenly nod.

 

Matthew returned again, carrying a big-bellied wine glass on a small tray. He lingered at the table. “Excuse me, but are you Will Graham?”

 

Will was caught off-guard. “Have we met?”

 

“I don't think so, but I'm an avid reader of your weekly column in the Baltimore Sun. Page six, right?” Matthew grinned. “I recognize you from your picture.”

 

Will had what Beverly always called his 'murder face' going in said picture; it had been taken after he'd spent a whole week running on little more than caffeine and vending machine snacks. Crawford, the bastard, refused to let him pick a different picture, insisting it fit the crime theme too well.

 

Matthew lowered his voice to a stage whisper. “I hope you're not here to investigate us.”

 

Will was beginning to pray the waiter wasn't one of those crime scene groupies, or a hobby detective. He'd had enough of those. His email account at work was overflowing with diatribes from people who swore up and down they were the Watson to his Sherlock. “Just here to eat.”

 

Thankfully, the arrival of new guests called Matthew away. When he circled back around to Will's table for the third time, it was with a small plate in hand. “On the house,” he said. “I'm afraid I let slip to the cook who you are. He's a big fan of your work, too.”

 

He was gone again before Will could voice a protest. The appetizer was six pieces of meat arranged symmetrically around a tomato carved into the shape of a rose, with a slice of toasted bread on the side. Will smelled garlic, thyme, butter. The meat had a strange texture, crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside. He couldn't compare the flavour to anything he'd had before. It tasted heavenly.

 

“What kind of meat was that?” he asked when Matthew came to collect the empty plate.

 

“Heart. Did you like it?”

 

Will had eaten cow heart once. It had been rubbery, tough to chew. “It was excellent. My compliments to the chef.”

 

Matthew walked off with a pleased smile, as if he'd cooked the appetizer himself. He only spoke to Will one more time that evening, when he served him the main course and wished him bon appétit; guests were filing into the restaurant at a quicker pace now. Will wasn't bothered; he didn't require company to keep himself occupied, and something about Matthew was rubbing him the wrong way. The waiter was too friendly, his eyes fixed too keenly.

 

He was half-finished with his meal – the baked rabbit was succulent and tender, the fingerling potatoes melted on his tongue, even the cooked beets had a taste he was quickly getting used to – when he saw someone approach. The man who stopped at Will's table was dressed like he was about to hit the opera or some other up-scale venue of entertainment. “Good evening. May I sit?”

 

Will glanced at the other tables, finding they were all occupied. Matthew was at the entrance area, turning a couple away with an apologetic look on his face. “Yeah, go ahead.”

 

“Thank you.” The man sat, extending his hand. “Hannibal Lecter.”

 

The name rang a faint bell. Will wasn't very well-versed in Baltimore's upper crust society, that was more Zeller's turf. Will tended to tune out of conversations as soon as they began to revolve around rich people doing rich people things. He'd grown up poor in Louisiana with a father who repaired boat motors for a living, and he remembered all too well the cruelties rich people's kids got away with – the cruelties rich adults got away with.

 

“Will Graham.” They shook hands. “I'll be done in a few minutes, then the table is yours.”

 

“A good meal is something that should be enjoyed, not rushed through.” Hannibal folded one leg over the other. “Thank you for the compliment, by the way.”

 

Will didn't understand. “Compliment?”

 

“The appetizer.” Hannibal lifted a languid eyebrow. “I was told you liked it.”

 

You made that?”

 

“You seem surprised.”

 

There wasn't a single spot on Hannibal's shirt, nothing that indicated he'd spent the last few hours slaving away over pots and pans. Maybe he'd changed outfits before he left the kitchen, but if he was the cook, what was he doing out here now? The tables were packed. Matthew had just turned away another group of guests. “Sorry, just...”

 

“Just?” Hannibal prompted, a glint in his eyes.

 

“Well, you don't really look like a cook, I guess.”

 

“And what does a cook look like?”

 

Before Will could answer, the barkeeper came up behind Hannibal with a glass of wine. He took it from her with a nod of thanks. “Imagine, Bedelia – apparently, I don't look like a cook. Maybe I should start dressing up in those awful chequered pants and white tunics.”

 

Bedelia's cool gaze flicked over Will. “Not everyone has an appreciation for the finer things in life.” She walked away with a smirk on her lips.

 

Will felt heat rise up from his collar into his cheeks. Even if that last comment had been meant in jest, it had hit its mark. Worse, she'd made it loudly enough for some of the guests at the adjacent tables to overhear. Will felt their glances on his skin, his frayed sweater, his unruly hair: pity, derision, poor man at a rich table, doesn't know what he's talking about, making a fool of himself.

 

Hannibal eyed him over the rim of the wine glass, smiling faintly. “I hope you didn't take offence.”

 

Will hadn't just taken offence, he was suddenly furious. On any other day, he might have laughed it off, ignored it, but not today. Not after the crap with Kade Purnell and the FBI, the invasion of his house, Crawford all but ordering him to keep his head down. With exaggerated precision, Will set his silverware down, fishing for his wallet. He should have heeded his first impression, that Mischa's wasn't very inviting, and gone home to order a pizza.

 

“Mister Graham?”

 

The price of the meal had been listed at $75. He hadn't bothered to check the price of the wines; this was supposed to have been a treat.

 

Hannibal leaned toward him, keeping his voice low now, meant only for Will's ears. “Mister Graham, please.”

 

Will tucked two folded bills under the edge of his plate, a hundred and a twenty. Probably – maybe – way more than he owed, but whatever. Hannibal or Bedelia could use his money to light a cigar, for all he cared. And then they could shove that cigar -

 

He rose, grabbing his jacket. “Have a nice evening.” And thanks for ruining mine.

 

-

 

At home, Will googled Mischa's.

 

He wasn't above being a vindictive asshole, given enough of a cause, and he did work for Baltimore's largest newspaper. Even if he wasn't going to write anything, he knew people who would; Abel Gideon, for example, known for his scathing critiques of Baltimore's restaurant scene, always on the lookout for a new place to tear into.

 

He'd only begun his search when his cellphone buzzed on the table, showing Nicholas Boyle's number.

 

Five minutes later, Will was on the way to Mount Vernon, thoughts about Mischa's, Hannibal Lecter and that barkeeper, Bedelia, fading from his mind.

 

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