When he hears the click of the doorknob, Will shakes himself awake. His cheek is numb from where his hand’s been mashed into it; the other cheek is vibrating with pain, hot and swollen. His neck aches; his shoulders ache. His ribs are bruised, if not altogether broken. His hipbones feel constricted and sore. He straightens himself up in the chair, but he’s not sure he can manage to stand.
Chiyoh walks in, lets the door shut behind her. There’s blood on her clothing, blood on her hands, no warmth in her eyes.
He slumps a little, drops his hands to rest on his knees. “What’s the--”
“You need to leave,” she says. Her eyes are unblinking, her voice emotionless.
“I'm not leaving,” Will says. He's surprised at the calm in his own voice. “How is he?”
“You need to leave,” she repeats. “Your presence is the greatest variable in his survival that I can't guarantee.”
Now he straightens up, glaring back at her: a challenge. “Can you say that in plain English?”
He knows what she means. He just wants her to say it.
“You tried to kill him.”
He neither confirms nor denies it.
“Did I?” he asks.
Chiyoh walks to the window, drawing the blinds. She doesn’t look at him; he watches her silhouette against the fine lines of moonlight seeping through the aluminum slats.
“You were going to leave him to him die,” she informs him, as if he may not have known. “You would have left him to die, and then you tried to kill him.”
“I removed him from the situation,” Will points out.
She slides a finger between two of the blinds; a triangle of light pours in, flitting with the motion of her hand in the gloom. “With a great deal of risk and inelegance.”
“Let me see him,” Will says. It’s hardly an argument in his favor, and he knows it. He traces a circle on the floor with the toe of his shoe, but it hurts; his knee complains at the motion, and he stops.
“When he is fully capable of making that decision for himself, unclouded by sentiment,” she says. “Until then, I can’t find it in his best interest.”
She turns around, looks at him with eyes that feel as if they are trying to see into his head, into his emotions and motivations. He has to look away first, and he crumples a little as he does.
“You need to leave,” she repeats. “You are either a danger to him, or not. If you are, then you know why you can’t stay. If you’re not, you will understand that the two of you together run the greater risk of being hunted than either of you apart. No one is looking for me. I can take care of him.”
Will’s throat goes dry, his neck goes cold. He pushes himself, with some effort, to his feet. “Let me say goodb--”
“No,” says Chiyoh.
“Tell him I--”
She shakes her head. “No,” she repeats.
For a brief moment, his mind flares with a ferocity, and impulse to push her aside and storm into the other room, but he knows she’s more lethal than he is, and uninjured, and a voice at the back of his consciousness also whispers that maybe she’s right.
He might have left him.
She presses an envelope into his hands. It has cash, and keys to a car, and forged identification: a license, a passport, a credit card. His haircut is different, and he’s thinner in these pictures. He glances at the date of issue on the passport and then regrets it; it’s nearly four years old.
“What are you going to tell him?” Will asks. He runs his thumb along the ridges of the car key. It’s a modern key, high-security, with a remote and a three-dimensional raised pattern. It’s not sharp; it has no use as a weapon. “He’s going to want to know where I am when he wakes up.”
“I’ll tell him the truth,” Chiyoh answers. “That you left him in my care.” She raises an eyebrow at him. “I believe his mental picture of each of us is complete enough that he will be able to fill in the missing pieces to his satisfaction. He can make his own decision, then.”
Will’s hands are shaking. He shoves them to his sides, where they hang stiffly.
He looks past Chiyoh to Hannibal’s door.
She steps in front of it. “Go.”
He walks to the car with the envelope in his hand, a paper bag full of various antibiotics, oral and topical, and Chiyoh pointing a crossbow at his back.
This is new. He’s never been threatened with a crossbow before. But he wonders, in that moment, what it would feel like, to have a bolt in his back. He wonders if she’d let him live, or take a kill shot, if he turned around.
For a moment, he considers doing it.
He imagines Hannibal, waking up in that bed, still feverish, likely pumped full of morphine, and asking for him.
He knows then that Chiyoh won’t kill him.
But he presses the remote, opens the car door, puts his few things on the car seat beside him, and puts the key in the ignition.
He points the car west. He doesn’t turn the radio on.
He stops when he sees the fuel gauge getting low. He’s in West Virginia.
He pulls up the hood on his jacket and goes into the gas station convenience store. There’s a young girl at the counter; Will isn’t sure what her ethnicity is, but she’s not white. She has brown skin and long black hair that she wears in a single plait--Indian, or Pakistani, maybe. She reads a fashion magazine and texts at the same time.
He picks up a bottle of water, and chooses a bag of something from the shelves of salty snacks, without really looking at what he’s taken. Whatever it is, it’s covered in bright orange cheese powder.
The man in front of him asks the girl a question. When she answers him, he asks, “what?” over and over, then mimics her accent back at her and calls her a “fucking terrorist.”
Will slides his hands into his pockets, feels for his knife, slides his fingers around it, glances around the store.
“I sever his spinal column,” he mouths, not daring to even vocalize it in a whisper. “Instantly paralyzing him. He falls backward onto the floor.”
“I’m sorry,” the girl says again. “We don’t carry that brand, sir.”
The man leans forward, over the counter.
“Hey,” Will says. “Leave her alone; what’s your problem?”
“You wanna go?” the man asks, and he turns on Will, now. He’s bigger than Will, but doesn’t seem athletic. Will’s fairly certain he could take him.
‘He tries to punch me in the face,’ Will thinks to himself. ‘The injury is a target. I wait for him to swing, then catch his fist, and stab him in the eye.’
Instead, Will smiles. It’s a thin-lipped, close-mouthed, cruel smile, and he looks up at the man through his eyelashes.
He doesn’t say anything.
He watches the man shudder. “Weirdo,” he mutters, and walks away.
Will waits for the door to swing shut behind him, the string of bells clanging, and he puts his purchases down on the counter.
“Thanks,” says the girl.
“I don’t know how you don’t want to kill him,” Will says, as he pays. He means it.
She shrugs. “We get three or four of those a day,” she says. “It’s only scary when I’m the only one here.”
He reaches for a candy bar, pulls out another dollar. “Are you going to be okay?” he asks.
“Oh, yeah,” she assures him. “My dad just had to run an errand; he’ll be back any minute.”
Will buys a magazine, too.
He leaves the store. He stands outside the door, loitering with his magazine, until a man in a gas station uniform, whom he assumes is the girl’s father, shows up.
It’s a celebrity gossip magazine; he wishes he had paid more attention to what he’d been buying.
But then, not on the first page, but not buried in the back, he finds a glossy spread with the words LOVERS’ LEAP splashed across two full pages. There’s a photo of him, an unflattering one, and a photo of Hannibal, somewhat more flattering, but Hannibal was always better at posing for the camera. They’re superimposed into the same image; there weren’t many actual photos of the two of them together.
According to the article, they’re both dead.
He inhales sharply, and rolls up the magazine. He gets back into the car.
He pulls over again somewhere in Kentucky; it’s early morning by now. The cut on his cheek is burning; he administers antibiotic ointment in a truck stop bathroom and sleeps in the back seat of his car.
He gets breakfast from the same truck stop: a sausage and egg sandwich on an English muffin and a glass of orange juice that is too watery not to be from concentrate. The coffee seems to have a thin film on its surface; he can’t bring himself to drink it.
There’s a woman at the far end of the counter, with a crying boy. Apparently he wanted chocolate milk, and she wouldn’t let him have it. She’s screaming at the child, telling him he’s embarrassing her, asking why he would do that to her. The child only cries more loudly.
Will can tell that the boy is trying to stop, but every time she scolds again, he starts crying harder.
“Hey, pipe down,” says one of the truckers. He pulls out a quarter, offers to show the kid a trick.
“See?” the woman yells at the little boy. “See, everyone is angry at you. They all want you to be quiet.”
She sweeps her gaze at the other diners, making eye contact with each of them, as if asking for confirmation.
Her eyes meet Will’s. He holds her gaze, and slips his fingers around the fork at his table setting.
“I gag her using the cloth napkin,” he tells himself. He doesn’t even mouth the words this time. “And stab her in the larynx with a fork, effectively muting her.”
He smiles. “It’s okay, ma’am,” he says. “Your son isn’t bothering anyone.” He uses just enough emphasis to imply that she is.
He pays his bill, and orders a chocolate milk for the boy and one of the film-layered coffees for the woman before sliding gingerly off his stool and heading back to the parking lot.
It’s nighttime when he stops again. He buys a cheap phone from a discount store in a strip mall that looks like it’s seen better days. He pays cash.
He stops in a Chinese restaurant in the same strip mall. It has water-stained bamboo-printed wallpaper and chipped teacups full of hot, bitter green tea. His chicken comes in sauce that’s too sweet and makes his tongue feel like it’s glued to the roof of his mouth. He eats all of the white rice, plain, to counteract the flavor.
He leaves a tip that is too large, and sees the young waitress hold up the five-dollar bill he left on an eight-dollar meal with a look of both awe and guilt, sees her eyes drift over to where he’s sitting in his car, just outside the restaurant, as if she is wondering whether he made a mistake, whether she should tell him he left too much money.
He waves a hand at her and hopes that’s enough.
He drives until he finds a broad spot in the shoulder of the road, abutting a field. He pulls over and makes a phone call.
“Jack Crawford told me you were dead,” Molly says, when she answers the phone. She doesn’t ask who’s calling, doesn’t say hello; she somehow knows he’s calling, and he’s not sure how she does that.
“No, I’m very much alive,” Will answers.
“I assumed as much,” Molly says. “I didn’t think Hell had a Nebraska area code.”
Will squints down at the phone. “I’m in Nebraska?” he asks.
“Good God, Will.” Molly’s voice is quiet. “You don’t know where you are? What--”
“I’ve been driving,” he explains. “I just...got in the car and started driving.”
There’s an audible snort on the other end of the line. “Same idea, opposite direction,” she says. “We’re in--”
“Don’t tell me,” he says, before she can finish. “Is Wally--”
“Fine,” Molly assures him. “He’s fine. The dogs are fine, too.”
Will blinks at this revelation. “You took--”
“Wally wouldn’t let me leave them.”
There’s silence, then. Will isn’t entirely sure what he needs to say, or what he needs to hear.
As always, Molly seems to know better than he does. “Are you alone?” she asks, finally.
“Yes,” he says.
“Have you told anyone else?”
“No,” he answers. It’s not a lie, even if it paints the wrong picture. “I’m planning on keeping it that way, for now.”
He hears her sigh. “Jesus Christ, Will.”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “For a litany of things.”
“So am I,” says Molly. She takes a breath; it’s audible. “I’m not expecting to hear from you again.” It’s both permission and a warning, at the same time.
“Are you sure?” he asks.
“The more I know, the more danger we’re in, Will,” Molly answers. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“Well, I’m dead,” he says, carefully. “And intending to stay that way, so... the FBI should be generous, considering. Don’t let Jack Crawford talk you out of what’s yours.”
“Considering he’s the one who did this to us?” Molly asked. “Believe me, I won’t. It’s the only way, isn’t it? That’s the only way they’ll ever leave you alone. If you’re dead. If they know you’re alive, they’ll break you.”
“I’m not sure they didn’t,” he admits.
They say their goodbyes; they’re quiet, and strained, and Molly’s confidence isn’t a bolster; it only makes him feel more hollow.
He tosses the phone into the field, pitching it overhand, as far as he can throw.
He sleeps on the side of the road.
He wakes up sweating profusely and unable to move. There’s someone in the car. He can feel them, sense them, but he can’t open his eyes.
“Help,” he tries to say, but his lips stay half-parted, limp. It feels unbearably warm, as if someone turned up the temperature in the car.
He tries to bend a finger; nothing happens. His toes are equally unresponsive. He still can’t speak.
“Sleep paralysis,” he tells himself. Again, he tries to mouth the words, but his lips won’t move. He tells himself it will pass, but in the present, it’s terrifying. He can’t look, can’t see who is in the car with him; he’s waiting as dread creeps up on him, and he wonders why they haven’t spoken, why they haven’t touched him.
He tells himself to stay calm, tells himself to stay still. He tests his hands and feet again, then waits.
It takes four more tries before he can bend his pinky finger, and then, slowly, motion comes back to the rest of his hand.
His eyes open of their own accord. “Help,” he says again, as if the words are forcing themselves from his mouth belatedly.
“Fuck,” he mumbles.
Then he retches.
He only barely manages to get the car door open before he pukes on the packed dirt and gravel.
His hands are shaking; his ribcage feels like it’s on fire; the cut in his cheek is twitching.
“Fuck,” he repeats, and stumbles into the field. He’s got to find the phone. He vaguely remembers which direction he threw it in, though he’s not sure he can gauge the distance, now. His vision’s blurry.
He has to lie down.
He comes to on the ground, a police officer staring down at him. “Subject is responsive,” the officer says. He’s a young, very young man, looking very worried, his brow furrowed and his eyes wide. “Sir? Are you alright?”
“I have to lie down,” Will informs him.
“You’re already lying down, Sir,” says the officer. “Can you tell me your name?”
Will can’t remember the name on his identification. He pulls it out of his pocket and holds it up, hand outstretched.
The officer takes it, frowns at it, looks back at the car. “Okay, Mr. Walton,” he says. “Do you think you can stand?”
Will shuts his eyes for a moment. Walton. He’s sure Hannibal thinks it’s some terribly clever joke, but Will can’t place it. “I--” He holds his hand up. “Help?”
The officer helps him to his feet. Will considers the practicality of running, but it only takes him a moment to realize that it’s highly unlikely he could take more than a couple of steps on his own.
“You okay?” the officer asks. “Jesus, you’re burning up, and--” He squints at Will’s cheek. “What happened to you?”
“Domestic dispute,” Will mutters. It’s true, in a manner of speaking.
The officer blinks, and swallows hard. “Do you, uh...are you going to want to press charges, Mr. Walton?”
He shakes his head. “I left my wife,” he says. Completely true, if unrelated.
“Look, I’m--” The officer speaks into his radio. “I’ve got a really sick guy here,” he says. “Injured. I’m gonna take him to the hospital.”
Will’s lucidity is waxing and waning in turns as the police office checks him in.
“Do you have your insurance card, Mr. Walton?” asks the woman at the intake desk.
“Uh--” Will checks his pockets, checks the wallet with the cash. “No, I...forgot--”
“No problem, I’ll just see if I can--” she calls a number, types some information into the computer. A moment later, her face brightens. “There you are,” she says, and she scratches down some numbers on a sheet.
It occurs to Will that Hannibal has been keeping up the health insurance payments for a fictional human for...he’s not sure how long. He hopes his surprise isn’t showing on his face; he’s too weak, mentally or physically, to be in much control.
He's not sure how long he's in the hospital. He knows it's more than a day. He sleeps, mostly, and eventually his fever breaks.
"The initial treatment of your injuries was impeccable," one of the doctors tells him, "but your aftercare has been...how shall we put it...?"
"Like I was living in my car?" Will offers.
The doctor chuckles at that. "Well. Yes."
They feed him soup and pudding. The soup is too salty, thin, has too much powdered bouillon: there are golden smudges at the edge of the bowl. The pudding tastes overly of artificial vanilla flavoring.
He swallows hard.
“Good?” the attending nurse asks, when he finishes.
“Best thing I’ve ever eaten,” Will answers grimly, imagining rich stock, thick with collagen, thyme and bay and panna cotta with aged balsamic vinegar and strawberries.
A day later-- he thinks it’s a day later-- he's fully coherent; he's sitting up, even taken a walk around the room. Everything aches, but it's more from disuse than injury.
A nurse comes into the room.
"We have a call at the desk," the nurse says, "from someone claiming to be your sister. "
"Shit," Will mutters, and runs his hand through his hair. "Put her through."
"How bad it it?" Chiyoh asks.
"How bad is what?" Will counters. "Nice to hear your voice, too."
"I need to know if you're in danger," Chiyoh replies. "Is it fatal?"
"I took shitty care of myself," Will replies. "Some of my cuts got infected. I'll be fine."
"Are you sure?" Chiyoh asks. "How are the doctors? I could have you moved to somewhere more...cosmopolitan."
"As opposed to a hick town in Nebraska?" Will asks. "They're fine. I'm not dead. Everyone's that corn-syrup Midwestern friendly. They keep trying to get me to smile."
He hesitates. "How is he?" he asks.
"It's a slow recovery," Chiyoh answers.
"And you know he'll notice, if you saw the insurance claims come in and never did anything about them," Will observes. "You don't know how he'll react if something happens to me, if it'll affect his recovery."
"There's more cash waiting for you in a P.O. box in town," Chiyoh says. "Show them your ID to get the key. If you don't pick it up, I'll know you're dead."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Will says, but she's hung up the phone.
"Was that Annabelle?" asks the attending nurse.
"Excuse me?" Will asks, squinting at the nurse.
"Sorry," the nurse says. "Don't mean to pry. You...talk about her in your sleep. I thought she was your wife, but--"
Will's brain is still murky; it takes him a moment to process the nurse's mistake.
"It sometimes seems that way," he answers.
And then he hastily checks out of the hospital, laden down with new prescriptions, new instructions, and a cheeky warning from the doctor not to sleep in the car until he's fully healed.
He goes to the post office. There’s an envelope in his P.O. box, with cash, as promised, and an insurance card with a Social Security number on it.
One of the notes has some numbers scrawled on it, in blue ink, and for a moment, his heart races, and he rifles through the bills more carefully, checking each one for a note, a message of some kind. But the rest are unmarked, and he resigns himself to the fact that the numbers aren’t in Hannibal’s neat, precise script.
He takes a motel room about two hours north. He uses the credit card this time; he had been hesitant to use the card and leave a trail, but Chiyoh knows where he is now, so he might as well save the cash. It’s not fancy, but it’s not a dump, either. There’s a Bible in the night table drawer, breakfast in the lobby. It’s nothing the doctor cleared him to eat, not until his mouth is fully healed, but he drinks the coffee. It takes like re-used grounds made from stale beans.
There are two beds, a television on the dresser, a closet with an ironing board and a safe. He doesn’t own anything to put in the dresser or the safe.
There’s a library in town, that still has old, paper card catalogs, with four public computers that no one is using. He takes the one in the corner, the one that is most obscured from public view.
The first thing he does is google Walton. He finds Sam Walton and the rest of the Wal-Mart-owning clan, a science fiction author named Jo Walton, a town in New York, in the Catskills...nothing that looks remotely like the sort of thing Hannibal would find amusing.
He finally finds a twentieth-century composer named William Walton, and it’s the first reference that seems like it might be a likely possibility. He composed the score to Laurence Olivier’s Henry V and Richard III, an Opera of Troilus and Cressida, and something called “Set Me as a Seal Upon Thine Heart,” but nothing that Will can definitively link, not without listening to the actual music.
He writes down the names of the three Shakespeare plays, just in case, and turns to the Tattlecrime website.
It’s been nearly two weeks, now, since he supposedly died, and it seems as if every person who ever stood behind him in a line has a story to tell. He clicks through a few of them, but they’re all the same: he was quiet and seemed harmless, if off-putting. Some of them never, no, never, ever believed he could have been the Chesapeake Ripper, they’d always known he had to be innocent. The others seemed convinced the two men had devised the Ripper together, a single identity for a duo, who carried out crimes together, never mind Hannibal’s long history that spanned years before they had ever met.
There is art, artists’ renditions of their slaughter of Dolarhyde, of their descent from the cliff. Some of them depicted it as a leap, others as a fall. All Will remembers is the rush of air at his back, his fingers pressing into Hannibal’s spine, the weight of Hannibal’s body and the warmth of his skin, the stickiness of the blood between them, his and Hannibal’s and Dolarhyde’s, all indistinguishable.
There are theories, people insisting they must still be alive, people claiming they had been fished from the water to be cut up, their brains examined for science, people claiming Hannibal was a devil who could not die, people insisting that it was a ruse, a page torn from Sherlock Holmes, that they were both surely still alive and laughing at everyone. There are people calculating the speed at which they would have fallen, the force with which they would have hit the water, arguing over whether it was, indeed, lethal.
And then there’s a short, but heartfelt note from Freddie herself. He can’t stomach it enough to read it. He wonders if she believes Jack; he suspects the answer is no, she’s too smart, and too familiar with the parties involved, but she also has some sense of self-preservation, it seems.
He makes a brand new email account, and then uses it to register a username on the Tattlecrime message board. He uses his new last name, and, because it’s fresh in his mind and certainly doesn’t connect back to Will Graham in any way, gives himself a first name and a middle initial.
Do you think, Henry V. Walton posits, in the thread titled “Murder Husbands: Dead or Alive?” that in the end, they went together, because neither of them could bear to leave the other again?.
He hits the post button. Will’s certain that if Hannibal is even remotely lucid, he’ll be looking.
He logs out, erases his history, and goes to browse the shelves. If he’s going to be stuck in town until he’s better, he supposes he can read something. After accidentally picking up three novels from different series about doomed vampire lovers in a row, he gives up on contemporary fiction and sets off to find the Shakespeare.
Someone is talking on the phone. In the library. Not in a whisper, in a full-volume, chatty, conversational tone.
“Could you keep it down?” someone else asks.
The man on the phone doesn’t stop chatting. He’s talking about a party, asking who is going to be there, making disparaging comments about guests Will doesn’t know the names of.
Will shuts his eyes for a moment. “I hit him upside the head with a drawer from the card catalog,” he whispers under his breath. “I pull out the pin from the drawer and insert it into his ear, rupturing the eardrum, the cochlea, and finally, the brainstem, severely impairing vital function.”
The man is still chatting. Will walks to the old card catalog, runs his fingers over the wood. It’s worn smooth, the finish rubbed away from years of use. He opens one of the drawers, flicks through the cards. He rips a single card out, takes a pencil from the little plastic basket beside the notepaper, and scrawls something on it.
He walks over to the man on the phone, puts the card down in front of him.
Faulkner, William 1897-1962
The Sound and the Fury
Kindly shut the fuck up.
He heads to the front desk, mentions to the librarian at the desk that there’s someone in the back who may be in need of instruction on the use of library services, and realizes that he can’t check out the books without a library card.
“I’m not a resident,” he explains to the librarian.
“I know,” the librarian assures him, with a skeptical glance.
The librarian can’t know, he tells himself, but he gives the librarian an awkward half-smile, not actually making eye contact, and strolls out, hands in pockets.
He drives to a bookstore. There aren’t any in town; he has to stop in a strip mall with a big box store. He finds The Complete Works of William Shakespeare on the discount rack.
He stops in a pharmacy and buys himself a pair of reading glasses with the lowest prescription he can find. He opts for wire frames, round lenses, the farthest thing from the glasses he used to favor that he can find. He buys an electric razor, and a hair clipper, too. He briefly considers buying hair dye but he suspects his hair color isn’t that distinctive.
He trims his hair and his beard-- as much of his beard as he dares, with his face still injured-- on the floor of the motel room bathroom, onto the bath mat, to try to avoid a mess, but little bits of hair keep coming off on his clothing.
He supposes it’s time to do laundry, anyway. He breaks a five dollar bill for quarters and finds the motel laundry.
He’s supposed to go back to the hospital for a follow-up. He leaves town instead. He drives until he hits Colorado, then checks himself into another motel. He uses the credit card, again. It’s like a trail of breadcrumbs, he supposes.
This motel has a little office with a computer. He signs on to Tattlecrime and browses through the posts, looking for anything that could be a message back.
Nothing. No one’s even replied to his comment.
He’s about to sign off when he sees the little red “1” superimposed over his inbox icon.
There’s a twinge in his shoulders, a tingle up his spine; his throat goes dry.
“Hello!” says the message. “Welcome to Tattlecrime! It looks like you’re new here. Please read our Posting Guidelines and familiarize yourself with--”
He grimaces, slumps a little in his chair, and clicks the little trash can icon. He goes up to his room, showers, and cracks the spine on The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
He skips past the front matter and starts in on The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
He’d read some Shakespeare in high school, and again, some in college, like everyone, but it had been the big plays: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Richard III, King Lear.
He finds himself disgusted with Proteus, disappointed for Julia, and half-wishing Silvia and Julia had divested themselves of the men and run away together.
In the next town, he goes to a pharmacy and buys peroxide, rubber gloves, and the smallest, sharpest scissors he can find-- he thinks they’re meant for fingernails or cuticles, or something. He cuts out the very last of his stitches-- the ones on the deepest cuts-- on his own. He knows he probably shouldn’t, but he’s careful and sterilizes more than he thinks is absolutely necessary. There’s a twingeing, pinching sensation everywhere that he cuts, and he picks the threads out with a set of tweezers, which burns and tickles at the same time. Every time he winces, it pulls his flesh at the wrong angle, and the threads tug harder. He bites his lip to stop himself, bites it until he tastes blood.
He’s traveling more slowly, now. He finds a brochure for a ghost town, the old, tumbledown remains of a mining town just outside Cripple Creek, and books a room at a nineteenth-century hotel after reading that it’s reportedly haunted. Its original owner, the brochure says, was rumored to be murdered by the daughter he kept locked up in the room beside the lobby.
The place is ornate, still very Victorian in its decor. His room is a jarring change from the unadorned motel rooms, with a high, carved wooden headboard that looks like something out of a gothic novel. It’s out of place in a room paneled with knotty pine.
The staff seems bemused at the strange man, traveling alone, showing up without a reservation, but they’re accommodating enough and don’t ask questions.
He’s unsurprised, if disappointed, by the lack of ghosts.
In the morning he drives out to the ghost town. It’s a collection of wooden structures left over from the mining days, some more intact than others. Still no ghosts. He’s not sure what he’s expecting, but it’s not there-- no frisson of energy in the air, no chill on the back of his neck.
He turns north again, drives past Pike’s Peak. He doesn’t visit, only stares at it from a distance. He goes up the twisting roads of the Rocky Mountains, pays twice as much for a place to stay in a resort town that looks like a living version of what he passed through in Cripple Creek, old gold rush buildings painted bright, primary colors, with little wooden porches and gingerbread trim.
He gets a nosebleed the first night; his nostrils dry and raw and itching. He buys aspirin, saline spray, and an oxygen canister in the morning; they help a little. There’s a bar with swinging saloon doors like something out of the movies and a potbelly stove.
He considers the fact that alcohol has a stronger effect at higher altitudes, and proceeds to get as drunk as he deems safe-- drunk enough that every light he sees looks like it’s twinkling, not so drunk that he can’t find his hotel.
He crosses a footbridge with a sign that says ‘Great Blue River,’ and leans down, eyeing the rushing water beneath.
“You’re neither great nor blue, you know,” he informs it.
He reads The Taming of the Shrew, find himself furious with Petruchio, feeling more rage toward a fictional character than he ought, and wakes with a pounding headache.
He checks Tattlecrime again, sees nothing, and logs off.
He passes into Wyoming. He’s just over the border when he realizes he’s about a day’s drive from Yellowstone. For a moment, he considers buying himself a new rod, but he wonders where the line is drawn, where the credit card is concerned. He’s running low on cash.
He falls asleep reading Henry VI, Part 2. He only realizes after he begins it that the book lists the three parts out of consecutive order, and that Part 1 comes last of the three.
He checks out of the motel at three in the morning and starts driving to Yellowstone. He gets to the lake by eight. It’s later than he’d like, but still relatively quiet, and there are still rental boats left. He buys a three-day fishing permit, rents a rod and a boat.
It’s not the biggest lake he’s ever fished, but the Rocky Mountains aren’t like the Appalachians; they pierce the sky with their snow-capped grey peaks in the distance, sharp and cold and brutal. He finds himself attending the horizon more than he’s attending the line, and he’s not sure what he’s waiting for.
There’s a tug at the line. Setting a hook is a reflex by now, and he can feel it catch, but as he begins to pump the rod, he’s struck with unease. He imagines gutting a fish in a motel bathtub; the image is unsatisfying, somehow.
He plays the fish in; it’s a lake trout, on the small side, and he holds it up, looks it in the eye, and throws it back.
Between rowing and reeling, he’s already feeling sore and a little lightheaded. He wonders when he’ll be fully recovered, when ordinary activities won’t exhaust him anymore.
He packs up the rod and sits in his rented boat, watching the skyline.
He eats a slice of pizza and downs a beer at a local pizza joint; pizza, like the mountains, is nothing like it is on the East Coast. It’s got doughier crust, sweeter sauce. When he checks into a new motel, he falls asleep before he even turns down the covers on the bed. It’s seven o’clock. He sleeps for ten hours, finds himself wide awake at five.
He might as well get back on the road. He checks out at the front desk, and as he puts his credit card back in his wallet, he peers at his driver’s license, and then at his insurance card.
There’s an address.
A mailing address.
He’d noticed it before, of course: the address, like the license plates on his car and the state on his passport, makes him a resident of Pennsylvania. But now he presses a finger to the letters, thoughtfully.
He stops at the nearest little souvenir shop, full of Yellowstone memorabilia. It’s closed, so he leaves and finds a little breakfast joint, where he buys an egg sandwich and waits for the gift shop to open.
He buys a single postcard. He bypasses all the photos of Old Faithful; they’re too…gratuitous, somehow, and finally settles on a photo that’s maybe a little off-putting for a postcard. It’s a scene of the woods, at night, the moon filtering through the tall vertical silhouettes of the trees and leaving long, slender slivers of light on freshly-fallen snow. It’s at once profound in its vastness and as claustrophobic as the bars of a prison cell that it mimics.
He buys a pen, too, a ballpoint pen with a “floating” center, full of trout that slide up and down the length of the pen when he moves it.
And then he stands, at the counter in the gift shop, looking down at the blank space on the back of the card. He doesn’t know what to write; everything that comes into his head is too trite.
He ends up sketching the lake trout he caught. He’s no artist; his lines aren’t as clean as Hannibal’s, and he doesn’t know how to draw something to capture the life in it, or the motion, but it looks like a trout, albeit a stiff, dead one.
He prints out the address from his license and insurance card onto the postcard, but he’s not sure what to put for a name: obviously, Hannibal Lecter won’t do.
He settles on “H. Walton,” presses a stamp into the upper right corner, and puts the postcard into the mail.
He sends another postcard when he reaches Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho.
When he sees a sign for a Large Ball of String at a museum in Oregon, he takes a detour and pays his five dollars..
The ball of string is underwhelming. He had been expecting something taller than a man; instead, it comes up a little higher than his waist, but he supposes that’s what he gets for visiting what is merely a large ball of string and not the world’s largest. For all he knows, it’s not even Oregon’s largest.
The little museum, though, has photographs and old documents, farm tools, and other curiosities. The gift shop is selling handmade iron hooks. He curls his fingers around one, hefts it, then puts it down, and moves to inspect the postcards.
There isn’t one with a picture of the twine, but he finds a nice picture of a covered wagon and stands at a table in the back, filling it out with a trout pen.
He draws a picture of the ball of string, but he’s not sure it actually looks like anything but a mess of scribbles.
He’s standing there, filling in more scribbles, when a woman comes to the register and demands her money back. She accuses the clerk-- a rather bewildered old man-- of false advertising. He explains that he’s just a volunteer, and he can’t refund the money, as she’s already seen the museum.
Will jabs his trout pen into the corner of the postcard while the woman snipes at the clerk.
He tooks and looks over his shoulder at the iron hooks, then glances at the woman, curling his fingers into the same shape they had taken around the hook as he’d held it in his hand, imagines driving the pointed end into the soft flesh at her navel.
He writes out the rest of the address, and brings the postcard up to the clerk. “Thanks,” he says, as the clerk sells him a stamp and offers to put it in the mail for him. He smiles blandly at the irate woman. “That ball of string was something else, wasn’t it?”
The next day, he reaches the ocean.
He drives out as far as he can, to the lighthouse at Yaquina Head, finds himself climbing black iron-grate stairs in a steep spiral.
At the top, it’s blustery and cold, and he regrets not having a heavier jacket as he huddles deeper into the one he’s wearing and looks out at the water. It’s green, deep gray-green as far as the eye can see, and the waves break over the craggy black rocks in white pulses. The sky is so thick with clouds that it’s a nearly-uniform pearl gray.
He descends the lighthouse, and climbs down the wooden stairs built into the grassy cliffside to the shore. The beach here is rocky, littered with dark gray pebbles, and he scoops up a handful, tossing them one by one into the water.
There are larger rocks, a little further out, in the shallows, punctuated here and there by seabirds, and he stares at them for a moment before he takes off his boots and socks, rolls up his pants to the knee, and wades out to the nearest one. His pants get soaked in spite of his efforts, and when he climbs atop the rock, it’s jagged enough that it’s not slippery, but jabs uncomfortably into the soft skin beneath the arches of his feet.
He rotates, slowly, looking at the low cliffside he’d come down, then at the lighthouse, then at the sea, memorizing the view.
Then he wades back to shore.
There’s a giftshop, and he stops and sends another postcard, draws the coastline the way it looked from the rock, as best as he can, in the blank space, and puts it in the mail.
He has to buy himself a dry change of pants, and in the end, buys a new shirt and a sports jacket at the same time, and takes himself out to a nice restaurant-- a fancy seafood joint, the kind of place where people don’t dine alone.
He tries to imagine what Hannibal would eat in a place like this, orders himself raw oysters, seared scallops served in brown butter with Pernod, a panna cotta with blackberry sauce and figs, and an entire bottle of wine.
The waitress tries to make small talk, and at one point, he suspects she’s flirting. He responds politely, but somewhat distantly. At the end of the meal, when he gets his check, there’s a note scrawled across the bottom of it in ballpoint pen.
“Keep your chin up,” it says.
He leaves the last of his cash as a tip.
In the morning, Will sneaks into a marina, following a family with a key to the gated entrance.
He walks out as far as he can, to the last slip on the dock, and stands with his eyes shut, face to the wind.
He’s weighing his options. He’s run out of continent; he can’t drive any further west. He could turn back, but he can’t go home. Anywhere on the Chesapeake is out of the question; there’s too much risk of being recognized, too many people he knows, or who know him. He can’t go to the Southeast; he needs to keep at a safe distance from Molly and Wally, and Louisiana is out of the question, too, for the same reason Maryland is. He supposes he could take a different route East. He’s never seen Mount Rushmore.
He tries to count days, wonders how long it would take for Hannibal to recover from his injuries enough to travel. It’s been weeks, now; surely it’s enough.
He wonders if he’s even still in the same place. All he has is an address in Pennsylvania, and he’s not even sure if it’s real. Hannibal, on his own, he could track. Hannibal under Chiyoh’s protection is another story; she’s too cautious, and keeping Will at arm’s length is too much a priority for her.
He’s out of cash, completely.
He turns the car north.
He stops in a roadside bar that night, the kind of place that promises live music on weekends and serves burgers and beers. He orders one of each. It’s a stark contrast to the melting, savory scallops he ate the night before.
There are ads on the huge, wall-mounted televisions, for other beers and other burgers, which he ignores in favor of reading more parts of Henry VI. He isn’t paying attention when the news program comes back on, but then, as the bartender offers him another beer, he overhears a snatch of what the talking head is saying.
“--died a hero, really,” says the blonde woman in her neat-as-a-pin suit. “He put an end to two dangerous serial killers, and gave his own life to do it.”
“In a highly unorthodox manner,” argues a bald man in a suit. “Not to mention--”
He puts his book down. There’s a twinge at his spine.
“Hey,” he says to the bartender. “Yeah, another one, and can you put the game on?”
She flashes him a grin, and swaps the channel, without even asking him which game he means. He pretends to pay attention, even though he’s not entirely sure who these teams are. He manages to determine which one he should be rooting for by listening to the locals.
He finishes his burger, and lingers over the rest of his beer. He’s still tense, and he considers drinking enough to stop feeling cold over the tiny snippet of the news program that he saw.
He holds a hand up to the bartender, but when she comes over, he doesn’t order.
“This might be a little...unorthodox…” he says tentatively. “But I’m stranded ‘til I can get my hands on some more cash, and I was wondering if--”
“No offense,” she says, with a smile, “but you don’t look like the dishwashing type.”
He raises an eyebrow at that. “What type do I look like?”
She pours him another beer without prompting, squinting at him as she works the tap.
“College professor?” she ventures. “The kind who likes to hole up in your office and make your TAs teach the snotty freshmen.”
She plunks the beer down in front of him.
“Hm,” he says.
“So?” she asks. She doesn’t take her hand from the pint glass, and when he reaches for it, she tugs it back. “No free beer till you tell me how close I am.”
“Surprisingly close, actually,” he answers. “I used to teach.”
She relinquishes the glass. “Used to?” she asks. “What do you do now?”
“Drive around the country begging for work, apparently.”
She calls her manager. “He wants to know how you are at repairs.”
He laughs bitterly, without meaning to.
“That bad?” she asks.
“Depends what I’m repairing,” he answers.
She points a thumb toward the back room. “We’ve got a bunch of crooked tables and a dart board that won’t hang straight, for starters.”
“I think I can manage that,” Will answers. He looks down at the drink in his hand. “Maybe not on my third beer.”
“In the morning, Will,” says the waitress.
He squints at her. He hasn’t given her his credit card, and he’s pretty sure he hasn’t introduced himself. “Will?” he asks.
She flicks at his Complete Works of William Shakespeare and shrugs. “Unless you want to give me something better.”
He hands her his credit card with a pointed look.
“Okay--” she starts, scanning the card for a name, and then snorts.
“Will’s close enough,” he says.
He pays his check, and tugs on his jacket.
“Listen,” says the bartender. “You got a place to stay?”
“I’ve got enough for a hotel room,” Will assures her. He doesn’t need money, only cash. “I was going to--”
She leans over the bar, resting her arms on the lacquered wood. “You don’t have to,” she says.
He’s not sure what kind of invitation this is, and he doesn’t care to ask. “I’d be bad company,” he tells her.
“Suit yourself,” says the bartender. “Be here at noon if you want to work.”
He comes back at noon, meets the bar manager, an older man in a hunting jacket who immediately sets off Will’s mental alarms, though he’s not sure why. The manager shows him around the property, gives him a key to the tool shed, offers him less than minimum wage in cash and gives him a list of tasks to complete, from fixing a leaky faucet in the dingy ladies’ room to buying enough chicken wings in town to make up for missing stock from a shipment.
Will walks into the bar, arms loaded down with packages of chicken wings, when he hears a tinkling bell and a whine, and then the unmistakable clatter of paws on a wooden floor.
The dog-- a mutt, who looks like she’s at least part foxhound, sits down at his feet, head tipped up, eyeing him eagerly, as if she’s hoping for a treat.
“Sorry, pal,” Will says. “I’m not giving you raw chicken.”
He passes the chicken off to the kitchen, then checks the dog’s collar for a tag.
Susie is engraved on a little silver heart.
“Hey, Susie,” he says. He gives her a solid scratch behind the ears and promises he’ll try to sneak her something that’s been cooked, later, if she’s still there.
It turns out Susie is the manager’s dog. She’s well-behaved apart from a habit of begging for food.
He’s hanging the dart board in the main room of the bar when the manager comes in and starts chewing out the bartender. He’s accusing her of stealing from the bar, says she’s not reporting all the drinks she sells.
Will remembers his free beer the night before and winces.
“Fire me, then,” she says.
He doesn’t fire her. He does let out a string of swears that start bland and slowly become more personal, more intimate, more vicious.
Will looks at the hammer he’s holding in one hand, and the darts carefully locked in their little cabinet. He unlocks the glass door, plucks a dart from its case and tests the tip.
It’s very sharp.
He manages to slip Susie a meatball before the manager leaves. Will stays at the bar after his work is done, drinks another beer and eats another burger.
“Hey,” he says to the bartender. “Do you have any paper?”
This isn’t the sort of place they make postcards for.
The bartender gives him a stack of scrap paper. He takes out his trout pen and draws a picture of the bar’s exterior.
“That’s pretty good,” the bartender tells him.
“No, it’s not,” he says. “But thanks. Envelopes?”
She scrounges around the back office for an envelope. “You want me to mail that? Want courier service?”
He doesn’t answer. He addresses the envelope.
He folds up his drawing, and notices it’s got a printout on the other side; it looks like a test page from a printer. He seals it, and shoves it in his jacket pocket.
“Someone’s real conversational tonight,” says the bartender. She doesn’t seem to care. She pours him another beer.
He starts turning over the other sheets of paper, out of curiosity. There are printouts of order confirmations, emails.
And then, he turns over a photo of a young girl. There’s a name, a description, the word ‘MISSING’ in large, block letters.
Will frowns at the photo, and somehow, the girl in the photograph changes. Blonde hair is now brunette; small eyes are now large and wide. He has to squeeze his eyes shut to make Abigail disappear, to bring back the photo printout.
“They found her,” the bartender says. “A day later. Dead. Everybody knows her jackass boyfriend bashed her head in, but nobody can prove it.”
Will shivers. He tries not to seem as interested as he is. He looks at the bartender over the top rim of his glasses. “Is the jackass boyfriend still in town?” he asks.
“What, you gonna play hero?” the bartender retorts. She snorts, but writes down a name and address.
He finishes the various parts of Henry VI. The next play in his book is Titus Andronicus. He knows what happens in this one. He skips it, and goes straight to Richard III, which is just as well, as it directly follows the events of Henry VI.
He doesn’t go to the boyfriend’s address right away. The next morning, he searches for news articles about the girl.
She was seventeen, found pumped full of drugs and her skull crushed with a baseball bat. There aren’t any pictures of her body, but there’s a photo of the crime scene: a field behind the high school, spattered with dark blood.
The jackass boyfriend is an eighteen-year-old baseball player. It doesn’t take long to piece together that he had a reputation for drinking and acting out that was being covered up by his coaches, the school, and everyone else who wanted to see him get a scholarship.
But all the boy’s friends insist he was with them the night his girlfriend went missing, and it seems like there’s more to it than just a cover-up. The boy and his friends all admit to getting drunk that night, but insist they didn’t see the girl-- that, in fact, they were expecting her to show up.
An angry phone call from the boyfriend, demanding to know where she is, seems to corroborate this. Will suspects this boy isn’t bright enough to call deliberately to take the heat off himself. He wonders what other evidence he’s missing.
He goes back to the bar and finishes repairing the tables. Susie comes in and sits with him while he works; he rewards her with leftover deviled eggs from the refrigerator.
The manager picks a fight with the bartender again; it seems like this is a regular occurrence.
“How do you stand that?” he asks the bartender, after the manager has cleared out.
She shrugs. “It’s a good gig, and he’s harmless,” she replies.
“I suppose he’s an acquired taste,” Will mutters.
The bartender shoves a salad in front of him. “Eat your vegetables,” she orders. “You can’t live on burgers and fries.”
He finishes his salad and goes out to the high school baseball field. It’s been too long since the crime; there’s nothing left here, just grass and sand and a chalked white baseline.
There’s a row of houses directly across the street. The chainlink backstop is the only thing separating them from the field. If people had been home, they would have heard screams, the sounds of a struggle, something.
Will walks the perimeter of the field, hands in his pockets, and goes home.
He tries to puzzle out his next step. He won’t risk going to the police station; he doesn’t need people asking who this strange newcomer is. He can’t question anyone. He has his suspicions, but he has no access to an autopsy or a toxicology report. He doesn’t know if there were footprints or tire tracks. He’s got nothing.
The next day, he drives by the girl’s house, where she had lived with her mother. The lights are on and there are two cars parked outside. It’s not the kind of neighborhood he can sit in for long without someone noticing.
At the bar, he scribbles what he knows down on one of discarded ‘Missing’ fliers and addresses it to H. Walton in Pennsylvania.
“I looked up that kid,” he says to the bartender. “The dead one.”
“Oh, yeah?” she asks. “You solve the case yet, Sherlock?”
“I don’t think it’s the boyfriend,” Will answers. “I think someone wants people to think it’s the boyfriend.”
“What would they do that for?” the bartender asks.
Will shrugs. “Cops around here, they graduate from the local high school?”
“Mostly,” answers the bartender. “Why?”
“It doesn’t sound like this kid was well-liked,” Will answers. “Easy scapegoat. Cops aren’t going to look further if they’re trying to pin it on him.”
“Or maybe he got drunk and smacked her in the head,” the bartender answers. “I’ve had to kick that kid out of my bar. There’s a reason he’s not well-liked.”
Will concedes. He peels his envelope back open, adds to the list, and then asks for tape to re-seal it.
There’s no glamor in this, no art-- it’s not the sort of case he would ever have dirtied his hands with. He’s like to think it’s the sort of case that would have already been solved, in Baltimore, but he wonders how much of that is his own snobbery.
The next day, he drives by the boyfriend’s house. It looks ordinary enough; there’s a basketball hoop mounted over the garage and an ugly plastic garden gnome with most of the paint faded off of it sitting in the yard. It’s been knocked over. The bay windows in the front of the house are shattered; they’ve got cardboard taped up inside them.
He remembers Abigail’s house; the paint on the garage door, the huge block letters spelling out “CANNIBALS,” and winces.
He wonders if these people have had to re-paint their doors, whether they’ve had to wash egg off their cars, pick up bags of shit from their front stoop.
He wonders if they’ve thought about leaving town.
He draws the boyfriend’s house that night, down to the toppled lawn gnome.
“Who are you writing to?” the bartender asks.
Will shrugs and puts the envelope in his pocket without addressing it, this time. “A friend.”
The bartender snorts. “It’s not a friend,” she replies.
Will leans back on his stool, pushes his glasses up. “What makes you say that?”
“You don’t let anyone look at what you’re writing,” she says. “Or drawing. You write constantly. On paper. Nobody writes on paper; nobody puts things in the mail.”
“I do,” Will answers.
She snorts, and, with the air of an offering, she sets a shot down in front of him. “You do realize, whatever you don’t tell me, I’m going to pry out of you somehow. What’s the story, you’re out here all alone, with a credit card but no cash, no job, writing letters to somebody back home.”
Will slides his hand into his pocket, runs his fingers along the sharp folds of the envelope’s edges. “What do you think the story is?” he asks.
It’s tempting fate, he realizes, but there’s something exhilarating about it, something that makes his pulse race.
“You left a girl,” says the bartender. “Not...not because you don’t love her, but because, I don’t know, it was too much commitment, you were scared of being tied down. Typical bullshit guy stuff. Now you’re regretting it, but you’re scared to go back, because you don’t know if she still wants you. And I know for a fact I’ve never seen you on a phone, so maybe you don’t have one. Maybe she was paying the phone bill. Maybe she’s not answering your e-mails; I don’t know. So, letters.” She gestures dramatically at the stack of scrap paper on the bar.
Will raises an eyebrow. “You got all this from me stuffing some shitty drawings in an envelope?” he asks.
“You never even so much as look at anybody else who comes in here unless they make a sound,” the bartender points out. “You don’t talk to anybody. You don’t flirt with me. I mean, some of this bullshit, the whole ‘guess my dark secret’ shit, that could be flirting, but I don’t think it is. I think you’re honest-to-god curious how much I can tell.”
“Maybe,” Will agrees.
“Or maybe it’s that teacher thing,” she muses. “Maybe you’re just programmed to converse in questions. How much did I get right?”
Will finally picks up the shot. There’s one, obvious, glaring error in her story, but correcting it means admitting to too many other things. “I’m not actually sure,” he admits, and downs it.
He drops the empty shot glass to the bar while the back of his throat burns at the flavor of cheap whiskey. “But it’s not a girl.”
“Hm,” says the bartender, a slow smile spreading over her face. “That explains some things.”
He stops by the dead girl’s mother’s house a second time, and a third time. There’s a second car, always the same car, sometimes in front of the house, sometimes now. She doesn’t live alone.
“Do you know if they tested the boyfriend for drugs?” he asks the bartender, that afternoon, when she shows up for her shift. He’s been cleaning the ceiling vents; there’s enough mold and dust to smother a large animal; he’s sneezing in between words.
“Huh?” she asks. “Bless you. Huh?”
“The dead girl. Did they test the boyfriend for drugs?”
“No idea,” says the bartender. “I guess they must have, yeah? It would be stupid not to.”
“They would have been able to arrest him for something, if he’d tested positive,” Will agrees. “So we have to assume she was using, and he wasn’t. Who lives with her mother?”
“Mother’s boyfriend,” the bartender answers. “Shit, you really are playing vigilante detective, aren’t you?”
Will shrugs. “Just curious, I guess,” he says. “Nobody suspects mom’s boyfriend?”
The bartender shakes her head. “No,” she answers. “He’s not the type.”
“You’d be surprised,” Will replies.
“You haven’t met him,” the bartender says. “He’s a little guy, walks with a limp. She would have been able to run. He wouldn’t have been able to smack her with a bat.”
“She died from an overdose,” Will says, shaking his head. “She was dead before anybody hit her with the bat.”
The bartender blinks. “Okay, Sherlock,” she says. “You know more than the cops, I guess.”
He somehow feels better that she’s taken to calling him Sherlock, instead of his real name.
Susie meets him at the door the next day. She’s whining, and Will drops to one knee, strokes her head, makes sure she’s not injured, and then tells her that everything’s going to be okay.
The manager’s shouting at the bartender again.
Will takes a deep breath, lingers back a little, waiting for an opportunity to ask for his list of tasks for the day, but the manager’s not letting up.
The bartender just rolls her eyes, and keeps getting her station ready for the day.
Will glances around the bar...there are dozens of glass bottles ready to be cracked over the man’s skull, a blender, and, he notices, with a particularly gruesome thought, vegetable peelers. There’s an oven in the kitchen, a big, restaurant over,a meat slicer, and a walk-in freezer. There are kebab skewers and ice picks, a cleaver and countless knives.
He clears his throat.
“What do you want?” asks the manager.
Will shrugs. “You’re scaring the dog.”
The manager turns, and blinks at him. “The fuck?” he asks. “The fuck do you care?”
“I don’t,” Will answers. “But you might want to keep it down. You’re scaring the dog.”
The manager coughs, and then looks from Will back to the bartender. “You put him up to this?”
The bartender holds her hands out, empty. “I--”
“What’s going on?” asks the manager, and he turns back to Will. “Are you fucking her? Is that what--”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” the bartender snaps. “We’re no--”
“Yes,” Will answers calmly. He lowers his glasses, stares intently at the manager. “Do you have a problem with that?”
The manager turns sheet-white, but he throws his hands up and starts for the door. “Do whatever the hell you want, I guess,” he mutters back at them.
The bartender blinks. “What just happened?” she asks.
Will looks back at the door, pulling his glasses back up. “He wanted me to deny it,” he said. “He was all ready to call me a liar; he had nothing to say when he got his answer.”
“How did you manage that?” she asks.
“I spent the whole time imagining how I’d kill him,” Will replies.
“That’s not morbid,” says the bartender. She looks around the room, leaning her elbows against the bar. “The darts,” she says. “Definitely the darts.”
She motions as if to throw a dart, and then another. “Back of the head.”
Will, without a list of tasks to check off, makes his own rounds of the bar, checks for wobbly table legs, loose screws, uneven floorboards, whatever else he can think of. He digs up two dead plants from just outside the front entrance and tosses them in the dumpster, and makes a note to buy something to replace them.
When he comes back inside, the bartender already has a beer and a sandwich waiting for him. He hops up on a stool.
“Any updates from Schroedinger’s Boyfriend?” she asks.
Will raises an eyebrow. “What?”
“Schroedinger’s Boyfriend,” the bartender repeats. “You know, until you open the box, your romance is simultaneously alive and dead. Is that why you’re afraid to go home?”
“I’m not a--” Will starts.
“Sure, you’re not,” says the bartender.
That night, he looks up the dead girl’s father. He lives about an hour away, has a job, and, from the looks of it, a nice house. In the news articles about his daughter’s death, he has nothing but unkind words for the girl’s mother, talks about how this would have never happened if he’d had custody of his child.
It doesn’t take very long searching public records for Will to determine that the man had never filed for custody.
He drives back out to the ballfield. It’s still empty, still serene. The lights are on in the houses across the street. The sky is dark here, the darkest sky he remembers seeing in a long time, and he watches Perseus following Casseopeia above him.
“You know who deals around here?” Will asks the bartender, the next night.
“Deals?” the bartender asks. “Deals what? What are you looking for? If you want good weed, I can--”
“Dead kid’s source,” Will answers. “Whoever gave her the drugs. She overdosed, somebody got scared, wanted to cover it up. Made it look like she was beaten to death. Which means they felt responsible, or at very least thought they’d be in hot water. That’s who we should be looking for.”
“We?” asks the bartender. “We aren’t looking for anyone. We have police for that.”
He raises an eyebrow at her, imploring. “Please?”
She hands him a beer. “I’ll trade you,” she replies.
“Trade me what?”
“You want to solve a murder,” she says.
“It’s not a murder,” he replies. “At best, it’s criminal negligence and obstruction of justice.”
“Whatever. You want to solve whatever that is, I want to solve your love life.”
“I don’t have a love life,” Will points out.
“Exactly,” says the bartender. “Tell me about this boyfriend.”
Will coughs into his hand. “Ah.”
“Come on,” she urges.
He looks up at the ceiling. “He’s not my--”
“--boyfriend,” she finishes, leaning over the bar. “Yeah, yeah. That’s what they all say. How liquored up do I need to get you to find out anything about you?”
He sighs. “He...likes to cook?”
“Boring,” she replies.
Will rolls his eyes. “I don’t know what you expect,” he answers. “He also likes Medieval architecture, but that bores me, so cooking it is.”
She raises an eyebrow. “And this is what you’re running away from? Soup and cathedrals?”
“I’m not running away.”
“No, you just came two thousand miles out of your way for fun,” she observes.
“I told you something,” Will points out. “Your turn.”
“So, what do you think it was?” she asks. “Something like heroin? Something that could kill her right away?”
“Something like,” Will replies. “But there are a lot of things that are harmless on their own that are lethal in combination.”
“Well,” says the bartender. “There was a couple on Center Street, guy and a girl, they probably would have been your prime suspects, but--” she shrugs.
“They got busted a few weeks before the kid turned up dead. She would have had to get whatever she was using from out of town.”
Will’s fingers go cold, and he curls them more tightly around his glass. “Or the cops,” he says. “I’d bet there was a discrepancy between what they seized and what went reported.”
“Whoa, there, Sherlock,” the bartender says, cautiously, and she glances around the bar. No one seems to be paying attention. “Careful.”
Will finishes off his beer and looks up at her, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “Out-of-towners wouldn’t have known the boyfriend plays baseball. And it explains why the police department hasn’t made any arrests.”
“You’re nuts,” the bartender informs him.
“I’m also right.”
“That and dollar’ll get you a cup of coffee and your skull bashed in on the baseball field,” she points out.
“You know I’m right,” Will realizes, when he looks at her expression.
Her face goes carefully blank. “What’s the best thing your boyfriend cooks?”
Will isn’t prepared for the question. He finds himself drawing in a breath, finds his eyes closing involuntarily, his mouth watering.
“He hasn’t cooked for me in a long time,” he answers.
“So what?” she says. “You’ve gotta have a favorite.”
“Eggs,” he answers. It’s simultaneously true and false: hardly the most delectable offering at Hannibal’s table, they were also one of the few things he could enjoy with an absolutely clear conscience. “He makes the best fucking poached eggs you’ll ever eat.” That part, at least, was entirely true.
“Also boring,” she informs him.
“Yeah, well,” Will says honestly. “He doesn’t cook the kinds of things most people like to hear about.”
“Oh,” she says. “What, like, organ meats? Guts and stuff?”
He nods. “Exactly that.”
“Heh.” She makes a strangled face. “Yeah, thanks. You can keep that. Somebody tried to make me eat tripe, once.”
“It wasn’t cooked properly,” Will answers. It’s reflexive, and it’s out of his mouth before he realizes what he’s said.
“Yeah, because there’s a proper way to cook rubber tubes,” the bartender says, sticking her tongue out.
Will shakes his head. “Not cooked long enough,” he answers. “Trippa alla Romana would have traditionally been cooked overnight. Give it three or four hours at least, and you won’t have rubber tubes.”
He can taste it as he speaks, meltingly tender, seasoned with salty pancetta, simmered in sauce made from fresh tomatoes, garlic, the basil and oregano Hannibal had sent him to pick from the herb garden adjacent to the kitchen. He’d had to describe the shape of the leaves, with an amused smile, when Will admitted he only knew what they looked like dried, in jars.
“That’s great,” the bartender informs him. “You can eat it all.” She flashes him a grin. “Do I get a dinner invitation, after you’ve worked your shit out?”
“If you can’t stomach tripe,” Will answers, mildly amused at his own joke, “I feel like that may be unwise.”
Susie is whining again when Will gets to work the next morning.
“What is it, this time?” Will asks.
He walks into the bar to a metallic crash and clatter.
There’s silverware, everywhere, scattered over the floor.
“Pick this mess up,” the manager snarls at him.
Will doesn’t say anything; he only starts gathering silverware in a stack on the nearest table.
He gives the bartender a questioning look, when the manager is out of sight.
“There were water spots on a fork,” she says, shrugging. “You know, because this is a classy joint, where people actually use their silverware.”
Will hauls the silverware into the kitchen, and loads it into the dishwasher with the help of the cook.
The bells at the front door ring, and he hears the bartender say, “we’re not open,” in her usual, cheerful, for-customers voice.
He hears a deep voice say the bartender’s name.
“Oh, cut the crap, I’ve known you since you were four,” the bartender replies, and he can guess by the tone of her voice that she’s rolling her eyes as she says it.
He steps out of the kitchen.
“You’re William Walton?” the police officer asks.
“Yeah,” Will answers.
“We’d like to ask you a few questions down at the station.”
Will glances at the bartender. “What’s this about?” he asks.
She shrugs. The officer clears his throat. “You may not be aware, but there was a murder in this town a few weeks back.”
“Missing kid, I saw the posters,” Will replied.
“He wasn’t aware,” says the bartender. “Because he wasn’t in town. He only got here a week ago.”
“You, too,” the officer says, nodding at the bartender.
“What’s going on?” the manager asks, ambling back into the main room. “What are you--”
“We’re gonna take your daughter down to the station, ask her a few questions,” says the officer.
“The hell you are,” snaps the manager. “I need her to run my--”
“It’ll be fine, Dad,” the bartender tells him.
“Dad?” Will asks, when they’re sitting in the back of the patrol car.
“Stepdad,” the bartender grumbles. “Don’t get any warm, snuggly family ideas. I still hate his guts.”
“Well, I had no idea.”
“Oh, come on, Sherlock, it’s obvious I hate his guts.”
“I meant about the family part,” Will clarifies.
The bartender makes a face. “We never got along; he was the one with the great idea to open a restaurant. Then mom died, I had to leave school and save his ass. Needless to say…” she shrugs.
When they get to the station, they tell Will they want to ask him some questions. He asks if they’re going to charge him with anything.
“That remains to be seen,” says one of the police officers.
“He’s not answering anything without his legal counsel present,” says the bartender.
“What legal counsel?” asks one of the officers. They look at Will. “You have legal counsel?”
“I--” Will starts.
“Me,” says the bartender. “I’m his legal counsel.”
“You’re not a lawyer,” says one of the officers.
“I’m one semester away from a law degree,” says the bartender. She puts her hands on her hips, thrusts her chin out stubbornly. “I’m his legal counsel.”
“Hm,” says Will, a slow smile spreading over his face. “That explains some things.”
She snorts. “Cute.”
They want to know if he was on the baseball field where the crime took place. He tells them he was. They want to know why.
“Curiosity,” Will answers. “It’s not every day you move to a new town and find out there’s an unsolved murder.”
“It isn’t every day someone moves to this town, Mr. Walton,” says the officer. The officer names the motel he’s been sleeping at. Will confirms it.
“This is ludicrous,” says the bartender. “He’s only been in town for a week, there’s no way to link him to--”
“Where were you before that?” the officer asks.
“Newport, Oregon,” Will replies. “Burns, Oregon. Sun Valley, Idaho. Blackfoot, Idaho. Jackson, Wyoming. You want me to keep going?”
“That’s a lot of cities,” says the officer. “You want to explain--”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” the bartender says, irritably. “He got dumped. He went on a road trip. It’s hardly weird.”
“Would your ex-girlfriend corroborate this?” asks the officer.
Will glances at the bartender, then takes off his glasses and smiles serenely at the officer.
“Boyfriend,” he corrects, making the most direct eye contact he can.
He can see the officer twitch where he stands.
“And I’m not sure where he is right now.”
The questions continue, but now, Will doesn’t take his gaze off the officer, just stares at him intently, and he watches the man grow increasingly agitated, while Will does nothing, answers the questions in the fewest words he can without sounding uncooperative.
It’s clear they have nothing; it’s clear they only intended to intimidate him, and that’s backfiring spectacularly.
“Are you going to charge him with anything?” the bartender asks, irritably, after about a half an hour. “We’d love to keep chatting, but we have to get back to work or there’s not going to be anybody to pull your pints when you get off your shift.”
They finally tell them they’re free to go.
“But you,” the officer says, nodding at Will. “I’ll have my eye on you.”
Will smiles, tries to feign delight. “Will you?” he asks, interestedly.
The officer shudders.
One of the other officers offers to drive them back to the bar, and it’s only as they’re pulling out of the driveway that Will sees the State Trooper’s car in the lot, beside an unmarked car. The door of the unmarked car opens, and a man wearing a DEA jacket steps out.
“That,” the bartender tells Will, as their police escort walks them back toward the bar, “is why you keep your mouth shut at the bar.”
“Understood,” Will answers.
Susie trots up to them; she’s crying again. Will scoops her up. “What’s the matter?” he asks. “What’s he mad about this time?”
The police officer holds the door to the main entrance open for them.
“And that,” the bartender starts, as she steps through the door.
She cuts herself off, stops dead in her tracks, so that Will nearly smacks into her.
And then she screams.
Will’s heart leaps in his chest.
Susie whines more loudly at the bartender’s cry; Will shifts her to hold her more tightly as he steps around the bartender, who is shaking where she stands.
The manager has been nailed to the wall, naked, his arms and legs splayed out as far as they can extend. The skin of his back has been torn away, in perfect, checkerboarded concentric rings, and a cluster of darts form at the center of the rings, a few stray darts not quite hitting their mark: one in the man’s shoulder, another impaled in the wall.
The police officer picks up her radio and calls for backup. Will knows she won’t need it.
He’s staring; his fingers are trembling against Susie’s warm, soft fur.
The bartender walks up to the corpse, now, seemingly mesmerized, and reaches for one of the darts.
“Don’t touch it,” Will says. “It’s a crime scene.”
Will is twitching, the entire time the police question him, for the second time that day. His foot is tapping, beneath his chair, of its own accord, no matter how many times he tries to stop.
But of course, he was with the police; everyone knew that, everyone knew that he couldn’t be responsible. The bartender is absolved, too, and he watches her, the way her emotions fly back and forth, between horror and queasiness, and something else, something like revelation.
The poor cook had been locked in the storage shed; he’s fine, if a little shaken, but can’t tell anyone anything.
The bartender puts up the “CLOSED” sign and tells them all to go home.
Will glances at Susie, and, without a second thought, picks her up again, puts her in the backseat of his car. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says to the bartender.
“No, you won’t,” she answers, and she gives him a pointed look. “If you fucking stick around, I’ll fire you.”
He drives back to the motel.
On the bed is a postcard, a familiar postcard, of the Yaquina Head lighthouse, with his crude attempt at a landscape on the back, and a crisp hundred dollar bill.
“Hannibal?” he asks.
He doesn’t expect an answer.
He doesn’t get one.
He sleeps with the postcard on the pillow beside him. In the morning, he packs up his few belongings, walks Susie, and puts her in the car with him.
There’s mist along the shoreline, snaking up to the cliffs, just before dawn. Susie eyes it skeptically as they descend the wooden stairs to the beach, looking back at Will, as if she’s not sure whether it’s safe.
Will walks ahead of her, into the mist, and when his feet his solid ground, Susie follows.
He looks around expectantly, breathing in the salt air, and watches as the sky gradually brightens. It’s disorienting to him, being on the shore at dawn and having the sun rise behind him and not over the water, and he turns to see a brilliant halo limning the hills, the silhouette of the lighthouse.
Susie barks, and Will spins around again, to see the man trudging up the rocky shoreline toward him.
A part of him feels compelled to rush forward, but his feet are frozen in place, and he watches in fascination as Hannibal moves closer. He’s moving slowly, less surely, and he seems a little worn, a little ragged around the edges, but there.
Now Hannibal’s in front of him, and Will’s hand-- the one that isn’t twisted in Susie’s leash-- is snaking up the soft weave of Hannibal’s sweater, tugging at it, testing it to see if it’s real.
Their eyes meet, and Will pulls Hannibal closer, those last few inches, until all the distance is behind them, until there’s nowhere left to travel. Hannibal’s thumb catches at Will’s cheek, and he looks Will over with a careworn expression, the expression of someone checking the family heirloom china for cracks.
Will shuts his eyes, and that touch-- the firm pressure against his skin-- is the only thing in the world.
Then Hannibal’s breath is warm against Will’s ear, and his fingers brush Will’s hair back.
“Hello, Will,” he says. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”