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Holes in the Floor of the Mind

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At 5:30 a.m., Hannibal awoke.

He rose and urinated, then washed his hands and splashed cold water on his face. He flossed with a floss pick, the sharp end removed. He brushed his teeth and ran a wet comb through his hair. Because of the alcohol content, he was not allowed free access to mouthwash. The taste left after brushing was not quite clean enough to satisfy him, but he could live with it.

“Good morning,” he said, lifting his chin to the camera’s eye.

Still in his shorts and undershirt, he began to stretch. In his mind, he crossed through the rooms of his memory palace until he found the place he stored his memories of music, in an old Chinese apothecary on the upper floor of the building which had housed his psychiatry office. He selected Smetana’s Má vlast, a performance he had attended a half dozen years ago. He opened the drawer, and the music spilled out and rushed to fill the chambers of his mind.

He finished stretching and then performed calisthenics for forty-five minutes, using the space between his desk and the plexiglass wall. Then he stretched again, removed his damp garments and crossed to the exposed shower nozzle, where he washed the sweat and must of sleep away. He donned clean undergarments and jumpsuit, which he was allowed fresh each day, and he slipped his feet into his sneakers and smoothed the velcro. He was not permitted a razor to shave himself, but the hospital allowed him to pay someone to come shave him daily--at exorbitant cost, since it required him to be fully suited in a straitjacket and supervised by two guards--but then, at least, he would feel almost presentable.

At 8:00 he ate. On Mondays it would be corn flakes and milk, sliced melon, coffee and orange juice, and something that passed as a protein. Other days might see toast, oatmeal, or even a muffin.

Today was a Monday. Food was fuel. He ate it.

Someone came to shave him by 10:00 a.m. Until then, he wrote or composed or drew, and again afterward until noon. He used to have frequent meetings with his lawyer during this time, and regularly he would be required to attend court. But those days had mostly passed now, as his lawyer had successfully acquired a stay of court proceedings while investigations into the FBI’s practices, employment of, and relationship with him were ongoing. Will Graham had proven notoriously uncooperative with all investigations, to the extent of even moving away from Wolf Trap and failing to leave a forwarding address. He had caused the slow wheels of bureaucracy to grind to a halt for a time. Will’s three days of testimony had been painful for him, but that was over now.

Or so Hannibal had heard. He did not pay much attention to the proceedings. It was of no concern to him.

Lunch was at noon. It might be a sandwich or soup, with a side of saltine crackers, paired with soft vegetables, the color and taste leached out of them by too much boiling.

Noon arrived. He ate. Food was fuel.

He exercised again in the early afternoons, not enough to break a sweat, but enough to keep him healthy, his joints limber, his muscles strong.

In the afternoons, when there was time in Denise’s schedule, she would sometimes ask him if he minded if she sat in his anteroom and talked over her classes with him. Their conversations had begun as a polite passing of the time--Denise made it a point to spend at least a few minutes every day speaking to each man or woman in her care--but Hannibal had liked her undaunted manner with him. She was studying to become a registered nurse at the local university and had detoured into a class of classical philosophy. She liked to speak to him about either subject, saying that their discussions helped her remember.

Hannibal liked talking to her too.

On days when inmates would have breakdowns or health issues or when they would just be generally uncooperative, he had the afternoons to himself. He read then, as much as he could. He read quickly and liked almost all of it. Of late, he had found Ruth Ware amusing.

His mail came at approximately 4:00 p.m. Sorting all of it took some time: he had bills, legal notices, advertisements, periodicals, popular magazines, professional correspondence, fan mail. Answering all of it could take hours, well into the evening, sometimes after dinner. Having not yet been found guilty of a crime, he still had the right to receive his mail without tampering from any of the hospital staff. There was a cursory inspection of the exterior of the packages and an x-ray of its contents--for his own safety, of course. Correspondence was the one privacy left to him, outside the confines and expanse of his mind.

Dinner was at 5:30. It was a prescribed square meal with rice or noodles or a mashed potato, canned green beans or peas or corn, a roll, applesauce or “fruit cocktail,” and some limp carrots and radish shredded over browning iceberg lettuce. The meat was a leathery pork or gray meatloaf, or a dry, boneless chicken. On holidays, he might get ham or turkey. For dessert, there might be Jell-O or a pudding cup. Sundays were “Salisbury steak.”

Today was not Sunday. Hannibal was glad. The food was fuel. He ate it.

As was his habit, he had set aside the periodicals for last. They were usually his favorite reading, his last open window into the larger world outside, and he subscribed to a number of them, so that most days afforded him something new to experience. If nothing else, there was always The Baltimore Sun. The newspaper was covering his trial in detail, and it was often the first place he had news of the people he knew.

His professional correspondence he handled before anything else, and there were several letters today, taking up all of his time before dinner. He set aside the writing to eat, then returned afterward to the work.

Bills came next. Hannibal could not pay them himself, but he read them and sorted them with notes for his financial manager.

He had three pieces of personal mail today. One was a confession of love and admiration, scented with a cloying department store perfume. Hannibal set that one aside, near the corner of his desk, to allow it to air before he composed a reply.

The second was a young man asking for advice about social adjustment. Some people had an odd notion in their heads that they could get solid psychiatric advice from him through fan mail, without needing to pay a fee. If something sparked his interest, they might even be right, although this particular young man’s problem seemed to be garden-variety anxiety. It was tedious. Hannibal thanked him for his letter and suggested that he seek proper professional advice.

The third letter was his favorite today. It explained in delightful detail the tortures that Hannibal would experience if ever he were to see the light of day outside the asylum again. It was somewhat less imaginative than what Mason Verger had planned, all told, so it was a little disappointing, but few people had the kind of financial freedom and time abed to spend daydreaming that Mason Verger had had. This fellow made up for it with passion and voice. Hannibal could forgive the sender for his lack of imagination.

On his heavy paper, he neatly composed a brief reply in pencil.

My dear Thomas,

I can’t tell you with what delight I received your letter today. Such a fever you have! It put me in mind of a recipe I know--a spicy flank steak, with a dry rub. I’ve no doubt the doctors and lawyers should like to keep me all to themselves for years yet, so I’m afraid I won’t be able to share it with you for the foreseeable future. Perhaps one day. In the meantime, might I suggest that you turn your attention closer to home? I suspect someone near you might enjoy the warmth of your affection.

I have little view, but I like to imagine your face in the space across from mine. As I see them, your eyes are earnest and open. How do you see them, when you look in the mirror? I imagine you sometimes wonder how you can keep pace with the fire burning within.

Au revoir,

Hannibal Lecter, M.D., Ph.D.

After he had sealed this letter, he wrote to thank his romantic admirer, sealed and addressed all three letters, placing them in a careful stack to go through the sliding meal carrier to be delivered on the morrow.

He turned with pleasure, then, to the short stack of periodicals. The Baltimore Sun was on the bottom, looking thicker than usual, and it was not the right day of the week for their community release. No holiday shopping was upcoming, so Hannibal was mildly curious what the insert would be. He set aside Vogue Italia and Bon Appetit and unfolded the newspaper.

His own gaze looked from the page back at him. Will Graham’s image was to the right, taking up equal space. The pictures were each of their mugshots. Hannibal’s face was cut and bruised, eyes flat, walls up, giving nothing. Will’s face was slick with sweat and pale with illness, his own eyes shadowed and haunted. He looked dangerous. It was a photo from the year they met. Hannibal had always liked that picture.

Freddie Lounds smirked from a thumbnail nearby.

TATTLECRIME SPECIAL EDITION: THE CANNIBAL AND THE EMPATH

Hannibal slowly reached out and smoothed the folded newspaper, careless whether the newsprint would rub off onto his fingertips. Several thoughts flashed through his mind.

When he had first allowed himself to be taken into custody, TattleCrime had had no print edition. His eyes scanned the edge of the paper and below the title and found the volume and edition numbers: 1.1. The publication date showed that the issue was already a few weeks old.

Without internet access, he had not renewed his subscription to TattleCrime. Someone must have placed it in his mail deliberately, even hiding it from the casual eye. But who? Nearly everyone in the hospital with access to the mail room would have known he would be interested in it.

Handling the newspaper gingerly, he lifted it up to his nose and inhaled deeply. He sorted out the smells of the hospital and the mail room, the scents of travel and printing press, and found cardamom, galbanum, French labdanum, white flowers, patchouli, cocoa. Serge Lutens’ Borneo 1834 cologne, he thought as he laid the paper back down.

Frederick Chilton? Odd. Frederick had not been affiliated with the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for some time now, not since the Verger fortune had bought a majority share after the state sought to privatize its institutions, and the Vergers had installed Alana Bloom at its head. It was a mystery.

So TattleCrime had a print version now. The last few years must have been good to Miss Lounds. Serial killer fans loved scrapbooking. There was something special about having the pictures to touch and handle, the images of blood splatter and the vacant eyes of the deceased, arrested in time, captured and held in the most important and most fleeting moments of their delicate lives. Lurid headlines, titillating gossip, and morbid details of nightmares found life against the tears and rage of those left behind. And all of it smelled of glue and newsprint and recycled paper fibers, whispering gently under the soft warmth of one’s own, still living, fingers.

Hannibal would have to renew his subscription.

TattleCrime celebrates its FIRST print edition with a special issue dedicated exclusively to THE DOCTOR OF DEATH and THE FBI’S OWN CRIME GIMP! Includes a special section of Hannibal Lecter from Baltimore’s society pages, and NEVER BEFORE SEEN prints of BOTH Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter! Plus NEW EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS with persons close to the case, as well as ALL YOUR FAVORITE reprints of TattleCrime originals, and all the classic and famous photos and articles of this modern Bonnie and Clyde! DETAILS WITHIN.

Hannibal turned the page with cheery curiosity.

The first page held just pictures he had seen before and a summary article of the events leading up to his own incarceration and trial, with about even attention paid to both him and Will. There was an interview with an “unnamed source” from within the FBI on page 3, with a handful of details from the times in which he had visited the FBI offices both before and after Will’s arrest, but the source was speculating heavily and sometimes inaccurately. Hannibal suspected it was someone he had only met in passing, if at all. He hoped for better as he turned the pages.

He did not get it. Among the ads and Freddie Lounds’ snide innuendoes and outrageous accusations were few tidbits of new information. The society pictures of him were some of them new, but nothing surprising--just social affairs and charity events and opera performances, all moments he remembered easily. There was an interview with Frederick Chilton persistently calling him “Hannibal the Cannibal.” Low-hanging fruit, that, but about the caliber of what one might expect from Frederick. A collector would probably value the issue as a keepsake, but Hannibal wanted a glimpse of something more.

He turned another page and went still.

The photo was of Will, in a hospital room under dim light, with a flash. It took the entire center portion of the page, larger than most photos, the text of an article around it. Miss Lounds had designed her layout carefully.

The walls in the picture had faded into darkness under the contrast of the flash on the white linens, leaving the monitors near the head of the bed looking dim: 62, 98, 116/72. Hannibal’s mind ticked off the numbers and what they meant without conscious thought.

The flash reflected off metal and glass surfaces in a scattered dazzle of gleaming points of light, as if the stars themselves lit Will’s convalescence.

Will was asleep: eyes closed, mouth slack, his dark features handsome even in such an unflattering moment. He was also naked, the thin, white, hospital-issue blanket thrown back over his thighs. A big black box hid his genitals, more or less, though it did little to cover the shadow of dark hair trailing down from his navel. A white bandage wrapped around his middle, its pressure holding him together, from his abdomen to over his sternum, leaving the smooth expanse of his chest exposed. His arms rested at his sides.

A colostomy bag rested next to him, its tubing nestling at the edge of the bandage before disappearing underneath. The bag was partially full.

Hannibal drew a long breath in through his nose. Miss Lounds, he thought, shame on you.

Hannibal had seen Will nude on more than one occasion: once when he had cleaned and dressed him in Florence as he prepared Will for their final communion, and again back in Wolf Trap after fleeing from Muskrat Farm, when he had changed Will into warm flannel pyjamas to sleep off the paralytic the late Cordell Doemling had given him. Will was not particularly modest--he had answered the hotel door in his underwear on one of their very first meetings, after all--but he hated to show vulnerability, especially to strangers. Hannibal had respected his privacy by banishing the images he had of Will’s nudity to the place in his mind where he kept Will’s patient files, and there he left them alone.

It was not Freddie Lounds place to violate Will’s privacy in such a manner, for the hungry eyes of voyeurs and strangers. Not when Hannibal had denied himself.

It was rude, and Hannibal was deeply offended.

Will would know about this picture, Hannibal thought. He would have seen it back when it was new, back when Hannibal himself had been avoiding news from home as he traveled abroad, when he had determined for that errant period of his life that he would attempt to live without Will Graham in his life.

Hannibal studied the picture carefully, committing to memory all its detail: the faded light in the hospital room, the sharp shadows from the flash, the whiteness of the sheets and the bandage, the gleaming lights and the cool indifference of the medical equipment, the shadows of Will’s fine features, the smooth sheen of his skin.

Then he closed off his mind to the image, filing it far from his own memories. He had no need to fold the paper to hide the picture from his view. In his mind, it simply ceased to exist.

There was another picture on the same page of a sailboat on a trailer in front of Will’s home in Wolf Trap. Taken from the street, it showed Will dressed in winter clothes, crossing the yard toward his barn. There was also a stock photo of the Duomo, in Florence. The article was about how Will had followed Hannibal to Europe in that boat, once he had healed well enough to sail it. He had “chased Hannibal across the Atlantic like a spurned lover,” the article read. A few sentences later, Freddie shamelessly contradicted herself by concluding that they had “run off to Europe together.”

Reunited in Florence, Lecter cast aside his brainwashed bride to take back up with his partner and return to the United States to massacre a dozen men at the Verger estate, among them, noted philanthropist and billionaire, Mason Verger.

But what part did Graham play in the massacre? FBI sources claim that a heavy dose of paralytic was found in Graham’s bloodstream on the following day, which exonerated him from the crimes committed there. But is it a COVER UP? Did Graham double-cross Hannibal Lecter for a second time, delivering him to the FBI in exchange for his own immunity from prosecution?

Or did Hannibal Lecter, the world’s most dangerous serial killer, truly surrender himself to the FBI voluntarily? Did he sacrifice himself for the love of his estranged murder husband, so that at least one of them might go free?”

Hannibal blinked.

Murder husband?

He tilted his head and tasted the words.

It was a silly phrase, an absurd use of syntax to generate the compound noun. Really, Miss Lounds was usually a better writer.

But the words captured and held him nonetheless. It was rare to entertain an utterly new thought. He had never looked past his intimacy with Will as more than doctor and patient, or partners, then friends or even family, perhaps even lovers. But all of these notions--these inadequate twists of language crafted to explain something inexplicable--were secondary to his sense of complement, of completion, when he was with Will. He could have conceived of marrying Will no more than he could have conceived of marrying himself. When it had seemed he should never reconcile with Will, they may have been one in the only honest way left to them. But fate and circumstance had led him to save Will, and then Will had rejected him one final time. Hannibal had lost the luxury of hoping for the future, of planning for life as they were meant to live it. He could only wait.

Nowhere in any of those thoughts had he considered such a simple, ordinary thing as marriage. It had seemed as distant and unlikely a possibility as living forever.

As having a child once seemed.

Husband.

He looked off into the distance.

The idea was quaint, and of course impossible in any kind of legal sense. He would never be able to marry except under a fake name, and then what would be the point? It could only ever mean anything as a symbolic gesture, and a union in the eyes of God was unthinkable. Laughable.

No. Their oneness would only be truly consummated in the shared act of murder, such as had eluded Hannibal no matter how tantalizingly close Will had dangled it in front of him, always and forever just out of reach. Murder husbands, indeed. There was no truth in it. Will had made sure of that.

But the thought was sweet even so, and it warmed the cool confines of his cell. It was a little piece of life he had once believed entirely denied to him, and now though it could not nourish him, he could taste a little of what he might have had. Or might one day have, if Will remembered him. When Will remembered him.

In some inexplicable way, it seemed like all he had ever wanted. The thought filled his chest and throat with the want and desire and need that Will always stirred in him, and the pale void he left in his absence.

Turning another page, Hannibal caught his breath.

Here was another picture of Will that Hannibal had never seen, this time taking an entire page, minus a text box in the bottom right. It was closer than most of Miss Lounds’ pictures of him, almost lifesize. His beard was a little longer than when Hannibal had seen him last, his hair a little messier, curling down around his ears and just brushing the collar of a white dress shirt. Sunlight glimmered golden off his curls, light shining soft around him, diffuse on his face, making him appear younger. He was looking down, turned slightly away from the camera, his gray-blue eyes caught in introspection, his expression soft, gentle, with just a hint of his dangerous intelligence gleaming through.

He looked as Hannibal liked to imagine that he must look when alone: thoughtful, vulnerable, ripe with potential. Exquisite. Hannibal indulged himself by delicately running the pad of his middle finger down the line of hair at the side of Will’s face, careful not to smudge the newsprint. He moved his finger over Will’s strong jaw, up the side of his cheek, across the boundary of his beard. He touched Will’s brow, the faded white scar from the bone saw. His finger slid down over the slope of Will’s nose, to his lips, over his chin, down the tendon on his neck to the hollow at the base of this throat. He caressed Will’s earlobe, brushed a knuckle against that one curl that liked to fall onto his forehead, pressed his thumb butterfly-soft against Will’s eyelashes.

Hannibal could never touch Will like this in life--only in his mind. Only in his art. Always and forever just out of reach.

Letting the image fill his mind, Hannibal felt himself falling into the picture. Will’s skin grew warm and soft beneath his touch, and he felt the damp heat of Will’s breath as Will’s lips parted beneath his fingers. The gray-blue eyes lifted to hold Hannibal in their fathomless regard, feeling everything Hannibal had ever felt, encompassing everything that Hannibal ever was and ever would be. He reached toward Hannibal and drew him in, his presence filling the voids and cracks of Hannibal’s entire being, until Hannibal was nothing if not Will, and Will was all of him.

Husbands.

Hannibal gazed at the picture as time slipped away from him. Minutes became an hour. Vogue Italia and Bon Appetit lay forgotten next to him as he imagined Will returned to his place beside Hannibal, as he was forever inside him.

Eventually he roused himself and read the rest of the tabloid. Nothing more in it was of particular interest. He turned back to the phrase “murder husband” again and looked at it for a moment, amused. Then he returned to the beautiful image and regarded it again for a time, just tracing the textures and shadows with his artist’s eyes. He had long since committed it to memory now, an image glowing in the light and airy halls of the cathedral he had built for Will in his mind.

It was growing late, and he liked to exercise one more time before retiring to sleep, so he stacked the unread periodicals to peruse on the following day. He assembled his trash, including the TattleCrime issue, after setting aside a subscription card to fill out and send along with his outgoing mail.

He undressed for his evening workout since he would not get a change of clothing before the morning, and he disliked sitting in his own sweat overnight. This workout was vigorous, energized as he was by a new sight of Will, even if it was just in still image. Then he took another shower, longer and hotter this time. He was heedless of the camera’s eye on him.

The lights dimmed on an automatic timer, and Hannibal finished his evening routine and retired to bed, where he slept soundly and sweetly until the morning.

At 5:30 a.m., Hannibal awoke.

He rose and urinated, then washed his hands and splashed cold water on his face. He flossed and brushed, exercised and showered, and he nodded his good morning to the camera.

At 8:00 a.m., his breakfast arrived. On most days, an orderly would carry the tray in from a cart, deposit the tray in the sliding food carrier, and then pad out on soft-cushioned feet, without even saying hello.

On this morning, the click of women’s heels echoed in his chamber instead. Hannibal looked up from his desk, where he had been reading The Baltimore Sun.

Alana Bloom approached the glass, carrying his breakfast tray herself. She was dressed smartly in a white and silver suit tailored to the third trimester of her pregnancy. Her little frame seemed dwarfed by the size of the child growing inside of her, but she kept her poise and femininity even so. Her brown hair shone with a spectacular luster as it fell loosely down her back. She would take to pinning it up, Hannibal thought, as soon as tiny fingers could grab hold of it.

“Good morning, Alana,” he said.

“Good morning, Hannibal.”

She took his tray to the sliding food carrier and exchanged it for the trash he had placed there. She lifted out the issue of TattleCrime and opened it, thumbing through the pages idly.

“I’m surprised you’re discarding this so quickly,” she said.

“I have no further need of it.”

“Did you enjoy seeing it? Seeing Will in it?”

Hannibal looked at her curiously.

She let the hand holding the newspaper fall to her side. “When Frederick first brought it to me, I wasn’t going to let you have it. He thought it would be therapeutic, he said, but I don’t think you should be . . . dwelling . . . on your victims.”

“What changed your mind?”

She did not answer right away, but remained watching him, her lips pressed together in a thin red line. She was fastidiously polite, often guarded, and sometimes even sarcastic with him now, but he did not sense any of these from her now. She seemed almost sad.

“I wasn’t sure I should tell you, but you will no doubt find out one way or another, so it might as well come from me,” she said.

“Yes?”

“Will got married.”

Hannibal blinked. He inhaled slowly. “I see,” he said.

“I’m happy for him,” she said. “I wish you could be too, Hannibal. He needed to move on, and he has. He has a family of his own now. It was all he ever wanted.”

Hannibal said nothing.

“It’s time to move on, Hannibal,” Alana said, almost gently.

“And so you allowed me that tabloid so that I may move on?”

“When someone we love goes on with their lives without us, it can be hard to let go. Sometimes it’s helpful to see them one last time, to get closure.”

He recognized now that emotion that had seemed like sadness at first. It was pity.

“When will you have moved on, Alana? Or are we pretending you did not buy your way into being my keeper? What is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander?”

She lifted up the newspaper. “Are you sure you don’t want to keep this for a little longer?”

He looked at the curved pages shivering in the air, and he thought of the beautiful image within. Unbidden, the memory of Will’s injured, nude form came to him as well, not banished as well as he had thought. His husband.

No, someone else’s husband.

“It might be the last you see of him,” Alana said. Her pity was not without an edge of cruelty. A part of him admired it.

“I have no further need of it,” he repeated calmly.

She sighed as she continued to gaze at him. Hannibal returned her look. Finally, she nodded her head and turned to stride out.

Hannibal crossed to the food carrier and lifted out his breakfast. He brought it back to his desk and laid it neatly next to The Baltimore Sun.

Today was a Tuesday: there was a slice of tough, fatty ham in a rind, some overcooked scrambled eggs, oatmeal, wheat toast with a packet of jam, and a few slices of cantaloupe, with black coffee and orange juice.

The food was fuel. He looked at it. The scents from it invaded his nose and brushed the back of his palate.

Hannibal could not eat.