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An Invitation

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Lisa Stays is a hard worker. Every evaluation she ever went through has stated that, in those words. Two years into teaching at Quantico she is now more on the evaluating side of things, but she still has superiors and they still put the words in her file. A hard worker.

It's a difficult workplace, but not the worst one she's been in. Here, the comments about her hair mostly go unspoken, even when she grows it longer – but there are other issues like the invisible lines dividing the things she ought to be doing from the ones better left to people considered to be more in the career track; the “brilliant” ones. Researching crime scenes left by Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham falls far enough into the latter category that she is called into her boss's office.

"We have people looking into this already," Mangal Desai tells her. "Agent Bernard Hutchison is publishing an article, and they may be opening the investigation again for some of these."

"Then why would Agent Hutchison publish an article?"

"It's not…" Desai says. "Look, we need you to focus on your curriculum right now. There will be an extra National Academy this year, and we need to adjust accordingly."

She does her research at home and doesn't note down the hours.

The crime scenes are horrific, very clearly set up for the shock value... although not for that alone. Over her years of working in the field, Lisa has seen a lot and forced herself to deal with it appropriately, but she's still glad she never had to see this in person.

Most of what's written about Lecter and Graham emphasizes Lecter's strong influence over Graham and hardly ever mentions Graham as someone having an actual will of his own. However, there is a marked difference between the way Lecter's art/macabre social commentary looked before he met Will Graham and the way it looks now. A few of the crime scenes pop up every year, not quite like clockwork, and there is no telling whether these are the only murders the couple commit, or just the public ones. Lisa is leaning toward the second choice. There is no reason for Lecter and Graham to only make spectacles for the FBI and their many fans across the world and none for themselves.

Lisa drinks cup after cup of tea editing her text, muscles in her legs and back pleasantly aching from the basketball match her students invited her to. She’s always found physical exertion a good remedy for frustration.

The first few crime scenes were less cohesive, if still impressive in their own right. They looked like Hannibal Lecter's vision with a grid overlay of something else. That something else varied, veering from uncharacteristic blood smears over everything to the body showing more evidence of blunt force trauma than Lecter usually left. Arguably, one could count the disputed body of August 2016, face down on the floor with its back torn open from the hooks and wires meant to keep it upright (one investigator claimed the first witness must have torn the body down despite the woman having no memory of doing so, while his superior noted that the body may have been disturbed much earlier, close to the time frame of the setting of the stage, as it were).

There is more cohesion in the more recent tableaux, although the artistic themes have shifted. Where once there were ironic statements and fine art, now there is a more raw expression. It's not without its own sense of aesthetics – some of the scenes have been remarkably evocative – but it's nothing like what Lecter has produced before. There is a distinct lack of published material on that. On Will Graham's influence.

Lisa doesn't expect her much-edited article to be accepted into any of the larger publications. She doesn't have a great record of published material. Bernard Hutchison may be representing the FBI in Criminology, but there are other journals, less prestigious ones, that still have large readerships.

***

It's just under two weeks after her article is published that a postcard arrives, addressed to Agent Lisa Stays, Quantico. The admin looks strange when he hands it over, but it's not until Lisa reads the beautiful handwriting that she understands why.

Thank you for your lovely analysis, Agent Stays. We have found few researchers as flattering and generous toward us. You are, of course, correct in your hypothesis about our work not being restricted to these recent showpieces. You are welcome to try to find the rest. Expect more correspondence to arrive within a week, to your home address.

Best regards,
Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham

She passes Agent Hutchison on the way to her office. His lips are compressed into a thin line and he stares straight ahead, so she aborts her nod at him. She is sweating. Her boss is waiting by her office door, his arms crossed. He is holding a small stack of printouts. The number of pages in the stack looks just about right for her article, she notes. Of course. She stops in front of him and he glances down at the postcard in her hand before fixing her with an evaluating stare. No doubt the postcard was scanned and sent to him as soon as it arrived. She waits, wearing her best relaxed body language, until he opens her door and gestures her inside.

"Normally," he says, not bothering to ask her if she wants to sit in her own office, "we avoid acquiescing to the demands of criminals. However, these are not the most common sort, are they."

"No, sir," Lisa replies, even though a reply is hardly needed.

"Frankly," he keeps on, "this is a little ridiculous. You don't stand out in any field. Your work is steady and good, you're popular with your students, but you have never produced anything… imaginative. Nothing beyond the norm."

Why, thank you, sir, Lisa doesn't say in an ironic tone of voice. Instead she falls back on her old go-to response from when she was young. "Sir."

Desai studies her face for a while longer and then sighs. "I assume what hooked Lecter was the flattery. That was, in fact, smart of you."

Lisa takes a measured breath. "Sir, if I may, I wasn't trying to hook him. I was exploring an angle I didn't see explored anywhere else."

"Yes, yes," he says. "Nevertheless. There has been no communication for years, if one doesn't count the crimes themselves. For Lecter to reach out now… They have evaded everyone, seemingly easily. Maybe this is the way to go."

"Sir?" Lisa asks, but she has a sinking feeling in her stomach.

"You will wait for the promised communication, and if it is what Lecter seems to imply it is, you will be assigned a team of two and get to work. Keep the same angle. Try to seem respectful, maybe a bit in awe. It seems to have worked so far."

It's been years since she was in the field. She has never led a team, and as her boss so helpfully pointed out, she does not excel in any field. Still, he wants to send her after the most notorious serial killers ever to have evaded justice.

"Yes, sir," she says.