The ad would want you to think it was just for private cooking lessons, but it's laced with poorly disguised jokes. Clearly whoever wrote it thinks they're clever. Will skims his fingertips over the newspaper, lets the ink stain his skin, closing his eyes and trying to see the man behind the ad.
He's middle-aged, if not older. He's been luring people in and butchering them for quite a while now—decades, probably, judging by the cockiness of his advertisement. Most pattern killers like that grow bored after a while, sociopathic narcissism or psychopathic need to explain their motives driving them to do increasingly risky things to get the attention of the police, in order to receive the proper credit for their crimes. This man wasn't a psychopath, though, nor a sociopath. He just simply...enjoys murder.
Normally, this is where Will would pick up his cell phone and leave an anonymous tip on the police crime hotline, tell them there was a cannibalistic serial murderer lurking around the area code of the phone number given in the ad.
But not today. Not when his very bones ache and all the raw and bruised places on his skin throb in time with his pulse. Not when exhaustion is slowly eating away at him in a way that has nothing to do with how little he slept last night.
Not when these ink-stains on his fingertips and the man behind them are his last chance to get away.
“Is this...” Will squints down at the ad. “Doctor Lecter?”
“Yes. How may I help you?” The man has a pretty heavy accent—Eastern European, maybe, something Baltic. Maybe the brutality of the Soviets had been where he’d picked up his little cannibal habit.
“I was calling about your ad in the classified—the cooking lessons?”
“Ah, yes.” Will can almost see the smile creeping across this Dr. Lecter’s expression.
“When is the next lesson you have available?”
“I usually give lessons on Friday evenings and during the day Saturday.”
Will sighs. Friday is two days away, and he’s not sure he has anything left in himself to hold on to for that long.
Dr. Lecter must understand Will’s sudden silence. “But if you need something sooner, I am sure we could come to an agreeable date. What works best for you?”
“Tonight.” Tonight, because the only thing Will really knows is that he can’t do this anymore.
“It is a bit short notice, but I believe I can accommodate that. Is tonight at six-thirty acceptable? Is there anything particular you wish to learn?”
Will has to fight back the sudden urge to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. “Sounds good. And uh, I don’t really know anything about cooking besides how to fry fish and boil water.”
“It is of no concern. I must warn you, I only accept payment cash—is that fine?”
“Yeah.” At this point, Dr. Lecter could probably have asked for a blank check with his signature in blood on it and Will wouldn’t have hesitated. “Ninety-five dollars, right?”
“Exactly. Do you have a pen and paper nearby? I will provide you with my address...”
Dr. Lecter’s house is nicer than Will had expected; it’s almost a mansion, really, in one of Baltimore’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. He managed to feel even more out of place than usual when he gets off the bus in his plaid flannel and worn-out jeans (Will had been treated to a black eye that took two weeks to heal the last time he tried to ask for money to buy new clothes, and he hadn’t dared to ask again after that).
“Hello,” Dr. Lecter greets when he pulls the front door open, smiling politely. Will was right; he’s middle-aged, Caucasian, nicely dressed. Cocky bastard who’s been doing this for a long time. “You must be Will. My kitchen is through this way—”
“Don’t,” Will interrupts quickly, trying to keep his voice steady. “I know what you are.”
The doctor pauses, head tilting ever so slightly as he locks the door. “And what am I?” His expression remains stoic. Unreadable. He’s probably spent a lifetime wearing this very carefully tailored disguise.
“Cannibal serial killer.”
“That is quite a leap—from hobbyist chef offering culinary lessons to a murderer,” Dr. Lecter says, tone casual, detached and disinterested, like they were discussing the weather and he found it boring.
“I—I could tell from your ad. You kept making little cannibal jokes. It’s a perfect set-up, offering cooking lessons, luring people in like that, so you can kill them and eat them.” At least Will’s voice has stopped shaking so badly.
“Do you plan on informing the police?”
Will laughs unsteadily. “No. I plan on letting you do whatever it is you wanted to.”
Dr. Lecter’s stoic expression shatters a little, genuine surprise showing. “Why?”
“Because I want to die, and at least this way my body won’t go to waste. Like I’m donating my body to science. It makes me feel a little better about the suicide while fully able-bodied when there are a hell of lot of people who’d give anything to have what I have thing, you know?” He cracks a smile that he knows probably just looks more manic than anything.
Dr. Lecter takes a step closer to him and inhales deeply.
“Did you just...smell me?” Will asks slowly, incredulous.
“Yes. I wanted to make sure you were not intoxicated. Neurotoxins like alcohol and psychotropic drugs will ruin a good cut of meat, you know.” Dr. Lecter looks perfectly serious, and Will isn’t sure whether he should laugh at that or if he should be terrified.
“Well. Uh, where do we do this?” asks Will. He rubs at the back of his neck awkwardly. “And how?”
“Usually I snap the neck, unless I have specific plans for a particular individual. Less mess, you see. I confess that I had no particular plan for you. Where would you be comfortable?”
Will shrugs and glances around the dark, artsy decor of Dr. Lecter’s home. “Here is, uh, good.” Really, he hadn’t been expecting any kind of choice to be offered to him.
“Remove your clothing,” Dr. Lecter commands quietly.
“What?” Will freezes.
“It is very difficult to undress a corpse.”
“Oh.” Once again, Will is struck with an urge to giggle at how fucking insane this all is, but he pulls his shirt off anyways, folds it up neatly and lays it on the floor.
Dr. Lecter reaches out and stills Will’s hand when Will goes to undo his belt, the doctor’s eyes trailing over all the scars, burns, bruises, and other injuries Will’s collected along his upper arms and torso.
“I, uh, already come tenderised, so you won’t have to worry about that, I guess,” Will jokes. It sounds ridiculous and horrifyingly inappropriate even to his ears, one of those absurd dark things he says sometimes that made everyone around him stop and stare in that “oh my God, you don’t just say shit like that” sort of way.
“How did you get all these?” It’s a question, but Will can tell that Dr. Lecter probably already knows the answer.
“I have an, uh, excellent partner.”
“He abuses you.” Something is shifting in Dr. Lecter’s expression, something Will can’t quite figure out, and the doctor goes statue-still for a long minute.
“Yeah.” Will’s voice cracks and all the adrenalin that had been holding off the exhaustion drains from his body. He’s tired again, suddenly, all his energy leeched from his body. “Yeah.”
Dr. Lecter drags a long finger along Will’s collarbone and traces the finger-shaped bruises where Will had been strangled last week. “How long?”
“Is this...why you came to me?”
“Ever try to run from a cop, Doctor?” Will laughs harshly. “They call him a pillar of the damned community, for Christ’s sakes. Who do you think everyone believes when I try say something or get help? They think he’s this perfect, loving man who keeps trying to take care of a neurotic head-case. And every time I run, every time I am finally free, he finds me. And you know? He’s always nice for those first few days. It’s easy to believe him. Fuck, sometimes I want to believe him.”
“And you decided you had had enough.” Dr. Lecter’s tilting his head again. Thinking. “You saw death as your only option to escape.”
“Yeah.” Will feels light-headed and sick suddenly, like his knees are going to buckle out from underneath him and he’s going to start fucking crying like a little kid. “Decided I could do with one of those nice permanent naps.”
Dr. Lecter drops his gaze to a collection of scabbed-over cigarette burns along Will’s side. “Do those burns hurt?”
Will shrugs, lolls his head on his shoulders.
“They are second-degree burns. You should really have them covered with a sterile bandage.”
“You’re not gonna kill me?” Will isn’t sure if he’s disappointed or not.
Dr. Lecter doesn’t offer any reply. “Come. My first aid kit is in the kitchen.”
“Ow,” Will mumbles, watching Dr. Lecter sink to his knees in front of where Will leans against the marble countertop, to dab at the burns with burn cream.
“Do you have a favourite food, Will?” Dr. Lecter asks quietly.
It’s been forever since anyone asked Will what he wants, and it takes him a moment to realise Dr. Lecter probably is waiting for an answer. “I like, uh, pasta.”
The doctor laughs a little at that, but it’s not cruel or mocking. “Then we shall have pasta.”
Will stares at Dr. Lecter, thinking. “Can you make pasta from people?”
“No, not unless one went to the trouble of using a centrifuge to separate the blood and used the resultant plasma with water. It would be time-consuming, and of course the recipe would have to be adapted, because of the viscosity of plasma, but there would be no real difference in the pasta. A lot of work for no noticeable result.”
“And...have you done that before?”
“I have. But I believe I have been very rude by keeping you so long and not offering you anything to eat, and as it seems my dinner plans have been changed, perhaps you would enjoy sharing a meal with me.” Dr. Lecter presses medical tape around the gauze he places over the burns gently.
“Your dinner plans have changed?”
Dr. Lecter smiles up at Will. “Good company is hard to find, you know. Meat is commonplace. And I believe,” he says, voice pitched a little lower, eyes dropping to the myriad of wounds and scars along Will’s skin, “that there is a far more deserving piece of meat that is just waiting for my knife.”