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The Belgian Whorehouse Killbook

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Chilton tapped his pencil. Before his arrest and subsequent transfer to Camp Müllerin, Will Graham had been offered a place at Oxford to study pattern recognition, and had scored unusually high on the MI-5 entrance exam. Smarter than your average boat mechanic. The question was, could Graham be reconditioned to serve the Reich's counter-intelligence interests?

The senior officers conversed among themselves and a deal was struck. A few days after Will Graham’s interment, 50 milligrams of lysergic acid was slipped into his gruel. Colors became too bright for him. Words hung in the air like pockets of smoke long after he’d spoken them. And so, Will was sent to bed early with the order to report to Doctor Lector's office the following morning for a psychiatric evaluation.

(*)

Will studied Lector from afar. He was young for a physician, and built like he was hewn from wood. His most recent patient had been a teenage girl in the bed across from Will's, whose last words "I'm not going to die here, I'm not going to die here" were muffled by the blood and foam pouring from between her clenched teeth.

The other prisoners were happy to supply Will with gossip. Hannibal's office wall was covered with broken clocks. He had other affects---filing cabinets, three unmatched chairs, several reel to reel films of past patients that he liked to watch alone---but every broken clock was a memento of someone Hannibal knew. A patient, or a victim, usually both. He called the clocks by their owner's names. He hid his heart in one of them.

That night, a butcher named Mason managed to brain one of the gate guards with a cinderblock, and got eight miles into the woods before he stepped on a bear trap and the soldiers had to carry him into Lector's office. Everyone could hear him screaming. He called Will's name. He called everyone's name. He screamed like a man trying to claw his way out of his own coffin.

Will watched the guards change shift at the gate thru his window. Mason kept screaming and Will ignored it until eventually there was silence.

When Lector started playing his theremin at two in the morning, Will lay awake and felt, well, not hate precisely. Curiosity, loneliness, frustration at anyone who indulged in sentiment during wartime, but nothing more. What might have been hate ten years ago was now an empty space next to his heart.

His finger unconsciously slipped into a hole in his slacks, drawing circles on his upper thigh, and after the song finished he pulled it away and went back to planning his escape.

(*)

On the way to his appointment with Lector, Will spotted a guard painting black lines across a pink mask, to signify the bandanna he'd been wearing two months ago when a hand grenade melted half his face. Camp Müllerin was a dumping ground for fascist soldiers too disfigured for combat but not damaged enough to be sent home, and all the military personnel at the camp wore masks.

Someone brewed coffee for a Cubist with three eyes. Lugs in pig masks paced the gun towers. It seemed a bit dramatic, but it wasn't for scaring prisoners. It was part of their therapy.

Mason had started screaming again when Will arrived at Lector's office. With an exasperated sigh, Chilton pushed Will thru the door and shut it with a click, sealing them in, alone.

"Hello Mister Graham. I don't believe we've ever met."

Will swallowed. "No, I don't believe we have."

Doctor Lector sat in an armchair. The screaming outside did not seem to bother him. He wore full uniform with a heavy coat draped over his shoulders. His mask had three squares in the place of eyes and a mouth. No one knew what he really looked like, before or after his disfigurement.

Lector said, "Can I interest you in a Chardonnay? I buried it in the snow last night." Perfectly still, his chest did not rise nor did his hands gesture when he spoke. He might just as well have been a voice recording inside a shop dummy, so microscopic were his movements. "I stopped drinking the water years ago. Chilton puts hallucinogens in that too."

The drugs burned a little ball of courage in Will's gut. "You knew he was lacing my food?" Will asked.

"Of course. He tells me everything. I'm his psychiatrist."

Will's eyes lit on a bottle of wine on Lector's desk beside two long-stemmed glasses. He filled them and set one by Lector's elbow and drank his own in one swallow so he wouldn't have to look at the doctor's eerie mask. It reminded him of an electrical outlet. Or a doll house. "Are you in therapy too, Doctor Lector? Is that why you're wearing a mask?"

"Secrecy works in my favor. For all my patients know I was drawn and quartered by Cossack stallions and yet lived to tell the tale. Limbless, helpless, squirming into my uniform each morning like a hermit crab. Soldiers are more forthcoming if they can assume the worst about you."

"I don't see any other prisoners in therapy."

"Your's is an atypical case. Chilton values your well-being."

"Or, Chilton hasn't had me shot because he needs code-breakers like me on the payroll and you're his Svengali."

Was there a hint of amusement in the way Lector cocked his head toward Will?

"I apologize Doctor Lector, that was very rude of me."

"Please, call me Hannibal."

As this was their first session, Hannibal began with a series of questions in order to establish a baseline from which he could monitor positive or negative progress in Will's cognitive ability. Questions such as:

1) What is your name?
2) What city were you born in?
3) Touch your left cheek. Now touch the other one.
4) Name three flavors of cake.
5) Is it better to fly via Mastodon or astral projection?
6) Do you peel a banana before you eat it?
7) Which burns faster, money or the creative process?
8) Which is more puzzling, that God created a world capable of evil, or that we are justified for cooperating with it?
9) How is a kite like a pair of pliers?
10) What is the moral of the story "Hickory Dickory Dock"?
11) Would you sit in a chair where someone has died?
12) Do my lips move when I speak?
13) How about now?
14) Are you a doctor?

Will considered the last question. Are you a doctor? he thought. What kind of doctor are you?

Lector hadn't moved. He hadn't written anything down in a notepad. He hadn't touched his wine. He'd simply sat in his armchair and committed all of Will's answers to memory as if his head were filled with magnetic tape.

"You appear to be experiencing the phenomenon of jamais-vu, Mister Graham." said Hannibal.

"I think you mean déjà vu." said Will. Will shielded himself as car headlights passed the window. His eyes were still dilated and gave everything a fuzzy halo. Will dropped his hand and then stiffened as he looked up and found Lector towering over him, the mask mere inches from his face.

"Déjà vu assumes you have already visited this room, have already had this conversation." said Hannibal. Will waited for the doctor to step back, but he didn't. "Jamais vu is the impression that you are seeing the world for what it truly is for the first time. Is this true?"

The doctor stared from out the dollhouse windows, waiting for an answer. Will's pulse remained steady. "Yes." said Will.

"We'll have to watch that in our intervening sessions. We don't want to precipitate an...event."

The squares in the mask filled Will's field of vision until he thought he saw...things inside, red-tinged shadows against a darker background. Will strained forward, his breath fogging up his glasses, so curious...

Then he thought better of it and lept out of his chair, shutting his eyes when he knew Lector wouldn't see it. "What's with the clocks?" Will asked.

Will took a clock at random and looked over his shoulder. Hannibal was seated once more in his chair as if he'd not budged. "Spoils of war." said Hannibal.

"I like them." said Will. He turned the clock in the light. It was dark red and shaped like a heart. Not a cartoon heart, a real heart with veins and a blue artery sticking out the top. "I used to take these things apart all the time when I was little. The hand-made ones I mean, not the cheap factory ones."

"That one hasn't worked in years."

Will found a pencil in Hannibal's desk and set to righting the gears inside. "I like the masks too." Will admitted.

"The mask functions as both a prosthetic and an expression of man's dissonance within himself. A man knows his own inner darkness, he traces and retraces it's paths a thousandfold like a hunter in his haunted forest, but it is only when we reveal that darkness to others that we may finally exorcise it."

Will eyed the pig men in the gun towers. "How horrible."

"We're at war, Mister Graham. Horror is no longer a fixed tangible."

"I guess we all have our reasons for being here." said Will. He stretched his hand, studying the scars across the back of his knuckles. "I was smashing banks at a student protest when they arrested me. We had this idea of a new Berlin, where you went to work but you didn't get paid. But then you didn't pay rent either. And all our meals in the town square, together, as neighbors."

Will wound the clock. They listened to it tick, each man lost in his own thoughts, equally disillusioned by the ideologies that had spurred them to war in the first place.

Hannibal stared straight ahead at the office door. "Mister Graham....Will...you should know I've been intercepting Russian radio for the last few weeks. If you are going to attempt an escape, you should do it quickly."

Will stood perfectly still, watching the minute hand move within the heart. The Russians were infamous for leaving no survivors, soldier or civilian. "How much time do we have?"

"A week. Perhaps less."

"Then why don't you leave?"

"Because we're losing the war. And there's no jail cell waiting for men like me."

Will watched the courtyard darken outside, smoke from a dozen chimneys rising into the stars. He placed the clock back on the wall. "I'd like to repair more of these if that's alright," said Will, "Same time tomorrow?"

"If that is convenient for you, Mister Graham."

Hannibal listened to the heart tick. Chilton was already waiting outside. He walked Will Graham out of his office and shut the door and wrote down his notes for the day.

Hannibal listened to the heart tick. He tried composing on the theremin that night, but everything came out sounding tuneless and desperate.

Hannibal listened to the heart tick. He thought of Will's smile and pressed a hand to his chest to smother it's ache.

TO BE CONTINUED