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Freddie nurses her glass of pinot blanc while she watches the bartender mix a whiskey sour and present it to the woman sitting alone at the bar. Alone yet with such self-possession, she drinks unmolested by men who think any woman without company is an invitation.

Freddie is impressed in spite of herself.

The bartender says a few words, jerks his head at Freddie sitting at a small table in the back, surrounded by her own impenetrable aura. Men don’t approach her in bars unless she needs them to, so they can tell her things they shouldn’t be telling her.

Beverly Katz’s expression is not well pleased when she spots Freddie. Her shoulders twitch as if she’s about to turn her back on Freddie, pretend she didn’t see the woman who paid for her drink, or maybe get up and leave, the gifted whiskey sour untouched, a poisoned chalice.

Her shoulders twitch, but Beverly Katz doesn’t evade. She stares at Freddie a moment longer than she would have done if she were going to ignore Freddie’s presence.

Only after Freddie rises and collects her bag and her glass, does Beverly Katz turn back to face the glittering row of bottles behind the bar.

Freddie leans her hip against the bar, close enough to see the tired lines around the FBI agent’s mouth and eyes. They must be the same age, but Katz looks wrung out.

“I know who you are.” Beverly Katz’s hands are loose fists on either side of her untouched drink.

Freddie smiles, though the other woman is resolutely not looking at her. The long mirror behind the bar will allow Katz to see the smile. “I’m flattered.”

“Don’t be.”

Freddie can hardly remember the last time a new acquaintance greeted her without hostility. She puts her glass and bag on the bar, sits on the stool next to Beverly’s.

“Either the FBI keeps a file on me or you’ve read my website.” A beat, to see if Katz bites. She doesn’t, which is no more than Freddie expected. “So we can dispense with the introductions.”

To her credit, Beverly Katz doesn’t demand to know how Freddie knows her. She picks up her whiskey sour at last, doesn’t take a sip. Condensation drips on the bar, prawn-pink under neon lights.

“I’ll enjoy this drink since it’s paid for, Ms. Lounds, but I’m not interested in getting into bed with you.”

Freddie’s smile is for herself alone this time: a man would say something so aggressively ambiguous only if he were intent on getting Freddie to spread for him, while still pretending he’ll tell her nothing. Brian Zeller did, thought himself the victor when he gave away sensitive information about an ongoing investigation in exchange for a quick lay and a vague promise of more.

Odds are even whether Beverly Katz is dismissing Freddie or coming on to her. Either way, she’s talking.

“I was hoping for fruitful conversation rather than orgasmic bliss,” Freddie says, sips her wine.

Beverly Katz mirrors her, still not turning to face Freddie, but she watches Freddie in the mirror. Her throat works while she swallows. Every conversation is a seduction. “I don’t think I can help you there either.”

“Is it my reputation or the DOJ’s Ethics Handbook which is making you shy?”

A shrug, more stiff than nonchalant. “Six of one, half a dozen of the other.”

“Then I’ll just sit here, on this stool in this public space, and finish my drink. We don’t have to talk.” In a seduction, it is important to know when to back off and let the other person lead for a bit. It gives them a false and very potent sense of control.

Katz doesn’t bother to pretend she hasn’t had a retort perched on the tip of her tongue since she saw Freddie watching her. Rather than seeing it as weakness, Freddie is impressed: this woman’s contempt for her is real, not a shadow game for who gets the upper hand.

“What you wrote about Will Graham, it was wrong. Worse, it was prejudicial to our investigation. I know you have no truck with responsible journalism, but don’t assume you are objective about him.”

“I am the most objective,” Freddie counters. “A witness heard him tell me not to piss off a guy who thinks about killing people for a living.”

Katz shakes her head, frowning, but still she refuses to face Freddie, resists complicity.

Freddie turns the stem of her glass slowly, the cool smoothness and play of neon on the pale wine soothing. She doesn’t mention how frustrating it was for her to be blindsided by Eldon Stammets, have her professional overtures rejected by the Hobbs girl, and then see Will Graham and that Dr. Lecter, of all people, taken into Abigail Hobbs’ confidence. Insane people are unpredictable, which makes Freddie’s job considerably more difficult.

“Maybe it doesn’t fall within the purview of libel laws.” Beverly Katz’s voice breaks through Freddie’s reverie. “That still doesn’t make what you wrote right.”

Freddie drains her glass, sets it down on the bar. “I wonder about the FBI’s yardstick for objectivity, when it employs someone with Will Graham’s faulty credentials to profile murderers.”

Katz’s glass meets the bar much more loudly than Freddie’s had. She turns her head at last, dark hair sweeping her shoulder and nearly whipping Freddie, a glare blooming on her stern but pretty face. Freddie is already reaching for her bag before Beverly speaks – time for this dance to end, for now.

“Good night, Ms. Lounds.”

***

Freddie doesn’t think of herself as a seeker of truth, but she does believe in words. The ability of her fingers on a keyboard to change how people think, shape their perceptions forever. The Internet is a palimpsest written and rewritten all the time, but Freddie knows how to make something stick. She writes in invisible ink, so even after what was read slips one’s mind, a bit of heat – anger, passion, frustration – can bring it all back, black and white, stark contrast.

“You want people to listen to you, you have to make ‘em,” her daddy used to say, a staff reporter for a modest rag in a decaying industrial town. Nicotine-stained teeth and typewriter tape smeared on his hands, an alcoholic, the jovial kind. For the most part.

Freddie learned just enough from him to know the right story will come, and when it does, Freddie won’t let it get away. They will remember her name from the bylines, the book blurbs, the business pages of Variety.

Abigail Hobbs remains resistant to Freddie’s offers of help. The girl seems to believe she can control her own story. Freddie would quickly disabuse her of the notion, but she doesn’t do charity.

As a consolation prize, rumors begin to swirl that the Chesapeake Ripper may be active again.

Freddie wrangles an interview with Dr. Chilton, the sort of man who cannot resist a woman making a deferential request, laughs at Freddie’s weak-tea joke about the two of them sharing a first name. Artificial connections will do as well as organic ones, but Chilton balks at allowing Freddie to interview Abel Gideon.

Freddie bites back another observation: she and Chilton also have in common a distaste for sharing credit.

She posts the story anyway, relishes the mean thrill when she pictures Chilton’s displeasure at Jack Crawford’s decision to manipulate Freddie to his own ends, even getting her face time with Gideon. Unlike Chilton, who wants to control all the angles, Freddie doesn’t mind a bit of rough handling and having to do the legwork, provided there are no bruises and she gets what she wants from the bargain.

This brings Will Graham back into Freddie’s orbit. Her interest is piqued again by that strange little man, who avoids eye contact yet tightens his jaw when Freddie shakes his hand without removing her gloves. Kid gloves, subtle yet blatant. The courtesy of deception.

He is twitchy, evasive, unassuming. He misdirects the observer’s primal reactions to him onto a neural bypass, which makes him seem small and slight and sort of good-looking, for those that way inclined. Jack Crawford is a bulldog, and he trusts Will Graham with a dog’s single-minded faith. Dr. Alana Bloom, slight and pretty in a way far more convincing than Graham’s, seems to dote on the man. Some women harbor the lethal combination of a taste for the self-confidence of assholes and a green thumb for nursing broken wallflowers back to life.

Freddie Lounds looks at Will Graham across the conference table at FBI headquarters, and her every instinct starts buzzing.

She doesn’t see Beverly Katz during her visit to the FBI, but she spots Katz’s name on evidence logs from the LeBeau and Sutcliffe crime scenes, bought from a lab tech with a healthy preference for cash over sex.

Freddie feels a slight flush, as of mild arousal or intense amusement, when she walks into the bar washed in pink neon and sees Beverly Katz did as she promised she would when Freddie called her. Katz is waiting for her, holding the bar stool on her left occupied with her folded coat and bag. Green mohair, black leather, good taste. Freddie would have gone for something more ostentatious.

Katz doesn’t smile, doesn’t frown either. She moves her things off the stool so Freddie can join her. Freddie holds her breath, doesn’t utter a greeting. Let Katz have the opening gambit.

Katz waits till Freddie has ordered a drink. “Look,” she says. “You will write whatever you want to write, my talking to you can only make things worse.”

Freddie waits, twirls the straw in her glass: a rich, creamy piña colada this time. Katz is drinking a beer rather than hard liquor, so Freddie softens her mask in response. A bit of flirtation never did any harm.

“Some of us want to catch the Ripper before he nets your website more hits by killing again!”

Freddie sucks up a sweet mouthful through her straw. “You’re a precise person, Ms. Katz, you didn’t call me here just to tell me what won’t happen between us.”

Beverly Katz hesitates, the expression sitting oddly on her strong features, making her appear like soft clay. She rubs her thumb over the mouth of her bottle.

Freddie sets down her drink, stands. “I’ll see you around future crime scenes, then.”

Freddie doesn’t feel victorious because she’s put on her coat and turned away before Katz speaks. Freddie knew Katz’s pride would allow no less.

“OK, wait,” Beverly Katz says, almost reaching out to touch Freddie’s elbow. “I said wait! Sit down, all right?”

Freddie complies, unbuttons but doesn’t take off her coat. She could leave at any moment – the cheapest ploys are sometimes the most effective.

Beverly Katz drains her beer. “If I talk to you, will you promise to leave my name and any mention of Will Graham out of whatever you write?”

They are facing each other at last. Freddie can only hope her smile appears sincere. “‘A source close to the investigation claims,’ etc. I believe this next round is on you.”

Katz snorts. An honest-to-goodness snort. Freddie can suddenly imagine her as a child, with pigtails and scabby knees and a dirty T-shirt.

“We are not operating within the bounds of conventional social discourse,” Katz says, but she’s laughing as she says it, laughing at Freddie, at herself. “You can buy your own drinks, and I will buy mine.”

Freddie’s pout is mostly for show as she slurps the last of her piña colada and signals the bartender.

As Freddie anticipated, Beverly’s good humor doesn’t last. By the time her second beer is half gone, she is quiet and somber again. They are discussing Will Graham, and Katz weighs every word as though she is being deposed. Had she ever been fool enough to try, Freddie would have had a hard time pumping her for information.

Katz’s voice is impassioned, the hand not holding the beer bottle straight as a cleaver, which splits the air as she tries to convince Freddie. To convince herself. “Will Graham has an overactive imagination and an ability to sift the evidence a certain way. That’s it.”

“Sift?” Freddie prods.

A shrug, bordering on the sullen. “Interpret.”

“Shape. Assemble. Skew.”

Beverly Katz shakes her head, falls to brooding again. Freddie waits her out, again. She seems better able to let silence work on this woman than she usually is.

Beverly picks at the label on her bottle. “He told me once that when he does it, when he interprets a crime scene, there’s only he. He and the crime. Nothing else.”

“How very functional of him.”

Beverly scowls. “Look, if you already have all the answers…”

Freddie leans back on her stool. A symbolic yielding of space, not a surrender. “I don’t, but I also don’t think you are asking the right questions.”

“Will Graham is not a murderer.”

If she feels the need to insist so much, she must harbor some doubts, but Beverly’s voice is emphatic, and her face brooks no argument.

Freddie drinks and watches and lets this storm subside. Then she can take a different tack and keep probing.

***

Freddie didn’t use to believe she could be traumatized. She was wrong.

Trauma requires sentiment, and Freddie has none. Not for her daddy, not anymore, not for the police detective Eldon Stammets shot right in front of Freddie. She barely knew that man, his death was not about Freddie, she had no part in it except that she happened to be standing close enough for the dead man’s warm blood to spatter her.

When Abel Gideon takes her hostage, when he gives her the hand ventilator and cuts into Dr. Chilton, chatting away like a pediatrician taking a skittish child’s temperature, Freddie doesn’t really think. She breathes in the medicinal scents, the iron-rich tang of blood, she listens to the soft, wet sounds organs make when they’re being shifted and removed. She eyes the instrument tray, gauges her chances of grabbing a scalpel and jamming it into Gideon’s aorta before he could stop her.

She has seen what Abel Gideon can do. She wants to see what will happen, how far he will go. She pumps the ventilator, doesn’t move or speak. Her armpits grow damp, and her stomach rumbles even as she thanks a god she never believed in that she’s not partial to meat dishes.

Freddie learns about trauma with a man’s life in her hands, her right hand cramping with the effort of pumping, her left hand slick with sweat around the small apparatus. The old observatory is dark after Gideon leaves, and Freddie imagines how she must look, a pale face and dark eyes in the dimness. She must look like a crazy person. She doesn’t even like Chilton!

Her hand squeezes, cramps, releases, hurts, squeezes again.

Then suddenly the world is in the room with her: sodium lights, men and women with blue gloves and covers on their shoes, blood which dripped from Gideon’s apron when he left and little yellow evidence markers all over the floor. A paramedic relieves Freddie of the respirator, someone else guides her to sit down at the foot of the great telescope.

She looks up when a familiar woman’s voice orders her to keep still while protective covers are put over her hands, so the microscopic traces of everything Freddie has touched don’t get disturbed before they can be scooped out and put into tiny vials for examination. Freddie is a piece of evidence. Someone ought to hang a yellow plastic tag around her neck.

Beverly Katz doesn’t offer false smiles or easy assurance. She looks concerned. She is committed to exactitude, but just now she is neither neutral nor very professional. Freddie might tease her about that, later.

“I won’t ask if you’re OK,” Beverly says quietly. No one else is supposed to know they are familiar with each other.

“Good.” Freddie is annoyed at herself for breaking eye contact. “Waste of breath.”

***

Freddie cuts back on her nightcaps, she has no desire to end up a washed-out lush like her father before she’s even captured her big break.

She buys a gun and learns to use it.

She updates her blog, events rushing in to keep her busy: Abigail Hobbs presumed dead although no body was found – so much for the book Freddie considered writing even without Abigail’s help, let the girl try suing once Freddie had a movie deal and a bestseller to her name – Will Graham arrested and charged with multiple murders.

Freddie should feel vindicated by that last one, but she doesn’t. She hasn’t spoken to Beverly Katz since the night at the observatory. She wonders if Beverly was the one who processed the forensic evidence which will convict her coworker and prove Freddie was right all along.

Moral victory without a paycheck leaves a numb aftertaste, like cheap liquor.

Freddie has been writing about the bodies discovered in the river when her phone rings. She doesn’t bother suppressing a smile when she sees the caller ID.

“I wondered which one of us would get tired of playing chicken first.”

Beverly’s laugh sounds hollow in Freddie’s ear. “Well, I plead to being chicken. Can we meet?”

Freddie runs through the rain, from the taxi to the door, pauses to shake out her curls and slow to a saunter up to the bar. She slides into the empty seat just as Beverly turns to face her, no longer intent on staring at her drink and not at Freddie.

“You must not care to sneak up on people with a perfume like that.” Beverly is nearly smiling when she says it.

Freddie returns the smile, forging a conspiracy. Her perfume is cinnamon and musk. It establishes her presence, unsettles with its potency while she’s there, makes her harder to forget after she leaves. Keeping other people off balance is a useful way to secure Freddie’s bottom line.

They finish half of their first drink in relative silence. Now they are here, Beverly is stalling. Finally she says something about the difficulty of establishing wrongful death in the absence of a body. Most of a body. Freddie knows she is being invited to pounce.

“Did you ever meet her?” she asks.

To her credit, Beverly doesn’t feign ignorance. “Abigail Hobbs? No. The living don’t really fall within my purview.”

That says something about both of them. Freddie bites back that remark: she doesn’t have Beverly where she wants her, not yet. “The killers pay better than the victims.”

Beverly shakes her head. “I don’t do my job for the paycheck.”

Freddie swirls her wine in its glass. No need for serious seduction when Beverly reached out and wanted to talk.

“We make choices according to our emotional needs,” Freddie says. “Careers, partners, hobbies, whom we love, whom we mourn – they’re all about Number One.”

Beverly arches an eyebrow. Her reply is borderline hostile, but her face is not. “Are you trying to establish an affinity between us, Ms. Lounds?”

Freddie holds up her hands, palms up. “I wouldn’t dream of trying to manipulate you, Ms. Katz.”

Beverly’s chuckle is smoky, genuine. They order a second round of drinks, and Beverly begins to talk about Will Graham.

Freddie swallows her distaste for the man, listens to how carefully Katz picks her words. She doesn’t reveal anything about her work, nothing confidential or incriminating, but two things become clear: she is still consulting with Will Graham about ongoing investigations, and she doesn’t want him to be guilty of multiple murders.

“Will Graham can’t still trust many people,” Freddie murmurs, an obvious lure, but Beverly is distracted and stressed, and she’s had a couple of drinks. She misses the implicit compliment and takes the bait.

“He certainly doesn’t trust Hannibal Lecter.”

“Ah, yes,” Freddie replies. “The elusive Dr. Lecter. I keep running across him, just glimpses. A word here, a hint there. For such a flashy man, he seems to go through life constantly covering his tracks.”

Beverly’s face turns pensive, like a Renaissance Madonna. Freddie watches her closely.

“What is Dr. Lecter like to work with?”

Beverly takes a deep breath, visibly pulls herself together. There’s something there, just below the surface, but Beverly isn’t ready to say it just yet. “He’s courteous. Insightful. But it’s like he’s always holding himself back. Will always dove right in. Until the water closed over his head, and he couldn’t swim back.”

Freddie clenches her jaw. Will Graham is a murderer, and Freddie knew it long before everyone else would acknowledge it. She’s about to say something biting, maybe blow her chances for good or maybe get Beverly to snipe back and show her hand. She doesn’t get the chance.

“Dr. Lecter called it my evidence,” Beverly says, unprompted.

Freddie holds her breath, her heart thundering. Here it is at last, like a flower opening in time-lapse.

“We were talking about the evidence against Will, and he called it ‘my evidence.’ Like he wanted me to feel bad for finding it.”

Freddie leans a little closer, smelling her perfume and Beverly’s shampoo (grass and sunlight). “What do you think you’re missing?”

Beverly averts her gaze, her shoulders tense as she grips her empty glass. “I think I already missed it. My friend is a murderer, no matter what I think. The only question is whether he knew what he was doing at the time.”

“And yet Hannibal Lecter tried to cast doubt on your critical mass of evidence.”

“Suspicion is not evidence!”

“You require evidence,” Freddie points out. “All I need are strong suggestions, the strength of my convictions, and a keyboard with an Internet connection. Evidence is whipped cream on top: tasty, unessential, low in nutritious value.”

Beverly is glaring at her. Freddie would hate to break faith with this woman. She sits back, gives Beverly space, puts on a reassuring smile.

“You want to do your job well, and you want your friend not to be guilty. I want to do my job with success, and I don’t care whether Will Graham killed all those people or not. We’re already here, having a friendly drink, comparing notes. We both prod and push for a living. You don’t need to trust me. You just help me with your evidence, and I will help you with your suspicions.”

There it is: some of Freddie’s cards on the table. Not all, of course. Never all. What happens next is not up to Freddie, and she hates the brief loss of control even as she relishes the fizz of adrenaline and alcohol in her bloodstream.

Still no answer, so Freddie applies a little pressure: the assumption that an agreement has already been reached, a goad to acquiescence.

“We’ll make a good team, Bev.”

Beverly makes a face. “Actually, we don’t know each other at all. I don’t expect you to know that no one calls me Bev.”

Freddie relaxes a bit. Banter is acquiescence too. “I definitely will, now. Freddie and Bev. Like an 80s sitcom. Nonthreatening. They’ll never see us coming.”

Beverly laughs, the first real, head-thrown-back, full-throated laugh she’s indulged in Freddie’s presence. “Just call me Beverly. Everyone else does.”

She doesn’t give, not quite, but she doesn’t exclude either. Freddie can work with that.

***

Surfaces, appearances. They matter. Often they are all that matters.

Freddie dresses the way she does for a reason, she chooses her strong perfume for deliberate effect, she prods and pokes because the meek have never inherited anything except other people’s leftovers. A man being killed close enough to spatter her with his blood only made her falter for a second. Abel Gideon scared her badly, but she wouldn’t let it stick.

She doesn’t want to go back to the observatory. The gun doesn’t make her hand shake less, she grabs the door handle as if on a dare, can’t stop looking around at the angular shadows, the unexpected light. She knows she is being steered for someone else’s benefit, that anonymous phone call a trail of breadcrumbs.

She still wouldn’t call Jack Crawford until she sees what’s in it for her.

Then cognitive dissonance swallows her like a trapdoor. The brain plays catchup, and when it gets to where Freddie’s mysterious caller wanted her to get, all she can think is: You should have called me.

(Freddie will think the same thing less than an hour later, watching Jack Crawford climb out of his car and shamble toward her, puffy with lack of sleep in his buttoned raincoat, looking like a tired flasher. She will think it again when she runs into Hannibal Lecter in front of Chilton’s hospital, and he fixes his calm, appraising gaze on her while he offers her private therapy sessions, heavily implying Freddie’s perceptions need a second opinion, an outside agent to mold them.)

You found something. You knew it was big. Why didn’t you call me?

Freddie knows that, in Beverly’s shoes, she might not have called either, probably wouldn’t have called. She lays down her gun, pulls her camera out of her bag, doesn’t even have to think about framing a shot. Freddie’s hands perform automatically while she struggles with uncustomary feelings: betrayal, sadness, loss, shock.

But for the dripping water and the smell, Beverly looks like a museum exhibit.

She looks like nothing which was ever alive. No sense of wonder or animation left in what remains.

***

Waiting behind the scenes is the opposite of Freddie’s style, and she finds that it isn’t an acquired taste. Jack Crawford and his FBI flunkies take turns interrogating (threatening) her, but they need Freddie’s cooperation, which puts them on the defensive, makes them even more self-righteous than usual.

Freddie amuses herself in any way she can, under the circumstances.

After Will Graham managed to drag her back into his barn of horrors and restrain her, he got Crawford on the phone to talk to Freddie. She has been in the FBI’s custody (Crawford insists on calling it ‘under the FBI’s protection’) ever since, but she isn’t complaining.

In exchange for her help, Crawford has to keep her in the loop about the trap being baited for Hannibal Lecter. Crawford doesn’t seem to anticipate staying in the FBI much longer, nor does that upset him, so long as he gets his quarry.

He looks sour whenever Freddie mentions how much better her book about the Lecter case will do than her scrapped idea for a book about Abigail Hobbs, so Freddie makes sure to mention it at least once a day.

“When can I interview Will Graham again?” Freddie demands one day, sitting at the same conference table where she agreed to finger Abel Gideon as the Chesapeake Ripper.

Crawford regards her with his bulldog mien, the look he might use on wayward children, if he had any. “You won’t be talking to Will Graham any time soon, Ms. Lounds. Seek other avenues of inquiry.”

Graham barely spoke to Freddie that day in his barn, while they waited for Crawford to arrive. He untied her hands only reluctantly, then kept his distance. He still couldn’t look Freddie in the eye, but he had no difficulty picking up the frozen human jaw from where Freddie had dropped it and returning it to the freezer.

Freddie smiles. “Such a fragile flower. It can’t sit right with you, having this case hinge on Will Graham’s ability to pretend like he really did kill me.”

Jack Crawford has altered dental records, desecrated at least one corpse, not to mention covered up a killing Will Graham can claim as his own: the owner of the frozen jaw. Yet roughing up a woman remains beyond Crawford, despite the way he looks at Freddie – that special brand of hostility men reserve for women who unsettle them without bothering to dress up their behavior as flirtation.

“Where did you get the meat?” Freddie asks without warning.

Crawford’s face doesn’t change, though his rigid posture radiates distaste.

“It couldn’t have been some wino destined for the potter’s field.” Freddie is happy to talk, if Crawford won’t. “My guess is, a recent runaway, not yet ruined by the hard life. Someone whose trail you could live with erasing, until you have your man.”

Crawford folds his hands on the tabletop. “I know her name. Her family lives in Michigan. They will be informed in due course.”

“Did Will Graham cut off some of her flesh? He had to, didn’t he, to make it convincing.”

Crawford is watching her like he’d quite enjoy gagging her. “I thought you no longer believed Will Graham was a murderer.”

“That doesn’t mean I consider him fit for the work you’ve had him do,” Freddie fires back. She will never forget the weight of that vacuum-packed jaw in her hand.

“You don’t feel safe under my protection, Ms. Lounds?”

Freddie can tell Jack Crawford has been married for a long time – his flirting technique is rancid.

Freddie spreads her arms, smiles. “On the contrary. I’ve always wanted to be the means for a man to come into his own, I just never imagined that man would be Will Graham. I am happy to sit here and have you feed me milk and cookies, for now. The second you decide your scheme requires Hannibal Lecter paying another visit to these hallowed halls, I’ve got a rope of bedsheets ready to aid my escape.”

Crawford relaxes, as much as Freddie has ever seen him do. A proud man, with little left to him but his pride. “Indulge my curiosity: what changed your mind about Will?”

Beverly Katz. Sometimes the truth just tumbles out. Not this time.

“I knocked on enough doors and set off enough alarm bells. Little things piled up and evolved to become big things.”

This is the truth also: Freddie did the legwork, assembled evidence, and allowed it to guide her away from her earlier convictions, in a direction which also happens to make for a better story.

Beverly would be proud of me, Freddie thinks wryly.

Crawford is watching her. “Maybe I should hire you for my investigative team.”

Freddie smiles widely. “Silliness ill becomes you, Agent Crawford.”

He nods, eyes crinkling: a fencer conceding a point. Even if she had the inclination for it or could pass the background checks, Freddie wouldn’t want to work with Beverly’s former colleagues: people who see pieces of a story, but don’t know how to make them come together.

In her own way, Freddie is the most honest of them all.

***

“You’re not FBI. No agent dresses so… inventively.”

Bedelia Du Maurier peppers her speech with deliberate pauses: a pose rather than a search for the right word. She knows what she wants to say, just as she knows how to present herself. Even after having fallen off the face of the earth, she is composed, put together, beautiful as a painted medieval saint. Something impenetrable.

Freddie approaches the conference table, slips the key card she swiped from one of Crawford’s people into her pocket. “I’m a special consultant.” The irony makes her smile. “My name is Fredricka Lounds. I…”

Dr. Du Maurier proves perfectly able to talk at a fast clip, when necessary. “I know who you are.” So much for Freddie’s ruse in using her full name. “Forgive me, but I have no desire to be immortalized in the pages of your book, Miss Lounds.”

Freddie leans her palms on the conference table, faces the seated psychiatrist as she has seen Jack Crawford do when he attempts to intimidate someone. “Ah yes, your immunity deal. How fortunate for you. The tales you must have traded for that.”

Du Maurier’s smile is the slightest curving of lips. “I’ll never tell.”

Freddie pulls out a chair. “Not even to help a fellow sufferer? Your friend Dr. Lecter has disrupted all our lives.” Du Maurier watches her, still smiling slightly. “I could keep your name out of it…”

A manicured hand waves this off. Bedelia Du Maurier favors the scent of lilacs and orchids, flowers on the cusp of over-ripeness. “Being damaged by Hannibal Lecter is hardly an… exclusive club. His corruption spreads, through Will Graham, you, me… on to true innocents.”

Freddie smirks. Such a cheap ploy, pretending either of them cares about innocents. “Well, I intend to rise like a phoenix, brighter than ever.”

Freddie knows when she is being analyzed.

“Harder to ignore. You must get so tired of always being overlooked because of your choices.” Dr. Du Maurier looks pleased with herself. This must be the most fun she’s had since her disappearance.

Freddie has never met a game she couldn’t play to win. “As you must get tired of always being weighed and measured as somewhat less than the sum total of your being, simply because you chose to associate with a man longer than was wise.”

“What is it… that you think you know about me?”

“I know Hannibal Lecter was your colleague, and after you were attacked by a patient referred to you by him, you accepted Dr. Lecter himself as a patient. Until you dropped him and disappeared. It’s the stuff of novels rather than true crime.”

“People in fiction can vanish unnoticed, Miss Lounds. I know what it is to have my life in another’s hands.”

Freddie does not mistake this small display of honesty for vulnerability. She has played that card often enough herself. “And I know what it is to hold a man’s life in mine.”

Bedelia’s pale eyebrow quirks. Damn. Isolation doesn’t suit Freddie’s temperament, it makes her sloppy. Another woman would push her hair back, play with her jewelry. Try to deflect attention from herself by drawing attention to her appearance.

Freddie prefers to smile and take up the attack. “Where did you go? You gave Jack Crawford and Hannibal Lecter quite the runaround. Where did you hide?”

It would be beneath this woman to refuse an open challenge. Not that Freddie is expecting a straight answer. Where would be the fun in that, and this is the most fun Freddie’s had in days. It must be even longer for her interlocutor.

Bedelia Du Maurier crosses her legs, a whisper of silk, a change of angle at which she presents her torso and lovely head for inspection. She knows every womanly trick. She knows that Freddie knows too.

“I went to a place without phones, where milk comes in glass bottles, and the newspaper arrives once a week by seaplane. I had groceries delivered to me, no newspaper, and I would always go for a walk during delivery hours. I’d leave an envelope of money wedged in the screen door, and they’d leave me a cheery thank-you note. At least I presume the notes were cheery. I never read any of them. People in such isolated spots are either friendly or hermits. The isolation permits little alternative.”

“It sounds hellish.”

Du Maurier smiles more widely now, showing just a hint of teeth. “It was very dull. I quite enjoyed it. Some people learn to make silence their friend.”

Freddie knows she should play this close to her chest, but she decides to fling her truth down. She no longer deals in stories which cannot touch her. She saw Beverly’s frozen blood thaw and drip from between the glass panels, a bored giant’s abandoned experiment. A carcass rather than a corpse. Freddie will not be Hannibal Lecter’s or any man’s meat, and she wants this woman to know that.

Freddie folds her hands on the table, leans forward for emphasis. “Does the name Beverly Katz mean anything to you?”

She is showing too much, and she knows it. Even if she didn’t, Du Maurier’s gaze is nearly predatory as it bores into Freddie.

“I have heard the name. One of the victims.”

Freddie nods. Just so: one of many, nameless, sliced up, devoured. “I will tell you what I told Will Graham the last time he could bring himself to look me in the eye: Hannibal Lecter killed Beverly Katz. It was he and no one else. Jack Crawford will try to drown me in injunctions, libel suits will come flooding in. But I will never let that part of this story go.”

The women watch each other. The room breathes in, breathes out. Until the doorknob rattles, and Jack Crawford joins them, looking thunderous. He glares at Freddie, doesn’t spare Bedelia either.

The psychiatrist smiles, ignoring the angry man as she looks Freddie in the eye. A gunslinger’s nod which costs nothing, one survivor to another.

“I am… very pleased to hear that, Miss Lounds.”

Jack Crawford wraps his meaty paw around Freddie’s arm, practically lifts her out of her chair, roots in her jacket pocket for the key card. Uh oh, daddy’s mad. Freddie shares one last smirk with Bedelia Du Maurier before the door closes between them: conspiracy as sham equality.

Then Freddie is alone with Crawford, lets his clipped words wash over her. If Du Maurier is here, the trap must be about to spring, on Will Graham, on Hannibal Lecter. Soon there will be fewer left to tell their side, to have their stories shaped by someone who knows how to make words work in her favor.

Freddie cannot wait to see what happens next.