The Killer Coffee shop was where Hannibal went every Thursday afternoon. It had started one day, when Hannibal was on his way to his rare books dealer in Washington and a Biblical flood had opened up overhead while he was walking the two blocks from the Bentley to Giraud’s. Having decided that his suit did not deserve to be destroyed at the hands of a deluge, he ducked into the first open doorway and found himself in a tiny coffeehouse which seemed to draw its staff exclusively from the forensic science students of the surrounding universities.
He was still trying to figure out if it was just too on-the-nose, even for him, to make a tongue-in-cheek joke about the name.
Then it happened that the Killer Coffee kept its head above water by serving real European coffee.
Hannibal found the smell of the place pleasant, the coffee surprisingly well-made, and was willing to indulge a flight of nostalgia for the cafe culture of northern Europe. As he made the trip to Washington weekly for the benefit of an immobile client, he accustomed himself to taking an hour in a windowside seat to savor the taste of his drink and the array of humanity that filtered by.
Today they hurried in and out, desperate to spend as little time as possible in the chill winter air. The sun shone down on them with mocking clarity, casting crisp shadows but bestowing no comfort. Hannibal strolled leisurely along the walk, unmindful of the cold and enjoying the sight-- until something remarkable caught his eye.
It was a man-- one Hannibal hadn’t seen before-- sitting in a windowside booth with his hands clasped tightly around his cup, looking very uncomfortable indeed.
He wore a lavender shirt on which the roots of old, long-set wrinkles were attempting to fight their way through a very recent and very inexpert ironing job, and an ill-fitting pair of trousers, and the curls that had been corralled into place were obviously not yet domesticated; a few at the temples and behind the ears were readying to make a bid for freedom.
The most natural aspect of his appearance was his hunted expression, which sat so effortlessly across his not-inelegant features that it was almost assuredly the one to which they were most accustomed.
Hannibal faltered, and hung back to linger by a decorative tree while he watched the man.
As he stood there, a businessman who had been hurrying down the sidewalk, engaged in a squabble on the mobile phone in his hand, suffered a rupture in the bottom of the grocery bag he held with the other. Canned fruits and energy drinks hit the pavement and scattered, and the man stopped and cursed loudly into the ear of whoever was on the other end of the line. A predicament largely of the man’s own making, and utterly banal. Hannibal hardly paid any attention to it.
But the man in the window did.
He flinched when it happened, as though the accident had happened right next to him, instead of ten feet down the storefront. His eyes, tucked away behind thick-rimmed glasses and until this point kept carefully averted from any human activity, snapped to the scene almost unwillingly, like those of a startled animal.
His expression went blank for a moment, distant, as though he had gone somewhere emotion could not follow. When it returned, it wasn’t sympathy or concern; it was anger. Not the anger of a righteous man-- petty, vituperative, spiteful rage.
Hannibal couldn’t help watching the way the man’s features twisted from placidity to wrath with so little actual change, the way the fury, having appeared in an instant, was active and nonstatic, an array of microexpressions which made the display breathtaking in its depth.
The man on the sidewalk snapped at his phone and snapped it shut violently. The man in the window jumped and recoiled back into himself, tucking his head back down and bringing up a hand to push the glasses back into what Hannibal realized was the perfect height for preventing eye contact.
Hannibal was enthralled.
He lingered a few moments longer, just to commit the sight to memory, and stepped confidently out to make his approach to the cafe, while he formulated his plan.
The bell on the door tinkled merrily, just as usual.
Upon approaching the counter, he saw that the face taking orders from the small cluster of middle-aged women, though familiar, wasn’t the one he had been expecting.
“Is Ms. Katz ill?” he inquired politely, once the women were gone and Brian Zeller was scrawling out his usual order on a napkin.
“Nah, she’s fine. She asked me to cover her shift so she could go to her great-aunt’s party.”
“Funeral,” Jimmy Price corrected, sailing by with a fresh jug of milk.
“Right. Well-- a funeral is a kind of party!” Zeller whined after him, twisting around to face him as he plopped it onto the counter and grimaced into the opening of the cap.
“How on earth did you hold on to ‘great-aunt’ but not ‘funeral’?” Price turned back, snippy, filling the pitcher blind to get his retort.
“I--” was all Zeller had uttered of his rejoinder when Price blithely activated the steam wand, which did an effective job at drowning out the rest.
Undeterred, Zeller made a second attempt once the machine had run its course, only to be cut off again by the sputtering of the steaming milk. Price was humming when it ended, and wriggled his shoulders as though the scowl Zeller was directing at him warmed his back, before he turned away to finish his job without having once glanced back.
Zeller grudgingly turned back to the counter and Hannibal, seeming at a loss once he remembered he’d been in conversation with a customer.
“I thought I was familiar with all your regulars,” Hannibal said, nodding discreetly in the direction of the intriguing man, sitting painted by the weak winter sunlight.
“Oh, him? He’s not really a regular. His name’s Graham. Something Graham. Will, or something. He comes in here occasionally. Weird guy.”
“Weird? Does he make trouble?”
“Oh, no, no, not really. He’s just kind of intensely quiet. Sort of wards people away from him. I guess it might be a problem if we lose tables cause no one wants to sit near him, but he only ever comes in when the place is mostly empty, anyway, so it’s not really an issue.
“Although this is actually more of a crowd than usual when he comes in,” Zeller pondered. “I wonder what’s up?”
“Beverly said he’s on a blind date,” Price said with relish, descending on the gossip like a crow on a piece of carrion.
“Nope! Apparently a friend set him up, and we don’t know anything about the mystery woman.”
Hannibal attempted to seem as uninvested an audience as possible, but it didn’t seem to matter.
“Is it necessarily a woman?”
“What, you think it won’t be?”
“I don’t know, he could be like a Kinsey 2.”
Price scrunched up his face and made an unconvinced sound, and the two hemmed and hawed at each other for a few moments before Price said definitively, “Trust me. It’ll be a woman.”
Zeller put up his hands and pulled an of course you know best face. A pause followed, during which Hannibal took a calculated risk and asked, “And what does our friend Mr. Graham do?”
“I think he’s a teacher over at the FBI Academy,” Price informed, taking the lure with enthusiasm. “Bev was talking about wanting to get his class but not having the prerequisites.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s got some sort of Special Agent deal going on too, though. I heard some Quantico kids talking about how he’s a forensic monster, or something. I dunno, it’s hard to imagine a guy like him doing anything other than theoretical work.”
“You think he’s the David Hilbert of necrosis?” Price asked, scornfully.
“Well-- I’m just saying it makes sense! What’s your brilliant theory?”
Price paused and cocked his head to the side while he considered Graham. “Hmm. I always imagined him being one of those people who spend their days down in the basement levels going through ancient files, trying to draw parallels between old cases and new ones.”
Zeller snorted. “You’ve been watching too many crime procedurals. Do they even have those?”
“Hey, if they do, wouldn’t they use people exactly like Mr. Social Butterfly over there? And how is it that I’m doing all your work?”
But Hannibal was no longer listening.
He lingered by until his drink was presented him, at which point he briefly smoothed down his jacket, took his cup carefully by the saucer, and wended his way to the far end of the storefront, sliding into the seat opposite the arresting Mr. Graham without a word or any sign of hesitance.
Graham looked up, startled, at him, but didn’t utter a word; Hannibal busied himself with arranging his dishes just so, waiting to see what his new acquaintance would do; he could feel the extraordinary gaze moving over his shoulders, his hands, the lower part of his face, but no sound was forthcoming.
When he looked up, the man’s eyes (green-grey, as it was revealed) were turned away from him, seeking escape in the impersonality of the street and the desolate branches of the bare trees along it, as he brought his cup up to obscure his face and took a larger sip than was probably comfortable.
Hannibal made no secret of regarding him, letting the weight of his gaze settle on the man’s skin, before turning his gaze out the window as well. In the not-unpleasant but humdrum urban scenery before him, he found his eyes drawn to a littleleaf linden by the sidewalk, struggling to hold on to the last of its foliage.
“I often think,” he intoned conversationally, “of a verse by Horace: ‘hard on the heel of spring treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers comes autumn with his apples scattering; then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.’”
A pause, long enough that Hannibal suspected his overture had fallen short, and then: “Horace didn’t really have a way with words, did he.”
Hannibal took a moment to savor it: the voice, the moment, the sentence and all its promises of insight gleaned, before he turned back to Graham, this time with a neutrally friendly gaze.
“No. Nor did he have any particular insight into human nature. Though he did occasionally manage to stumble upon something of value, however infrequently.”
Graham gave his chin a sidelong glance, face once again carefully hidden behind the cup. “Such as?”
“‘He who postpones the hour of living is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses.’”
Graham raised his eyebrows and nodded his head to the side in a gesture of noncommittal agreement. “I’m afraid I’m more acquainted with Mark Twain than the Romans.”
Hannibal tipped his head in apparent consideration. “In many ways Horace’s antipode. Homespun, well-phrased, and with many a surprisingly penetrating sentiment to his name.”
“‘All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.’”
“I find myself most drawn by his statement, ‘Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.’” Graham snorted. “Which do you find most compelling?”
“‘The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.’”
“I’ve found that the people who would understand such an aphorism know a great deal about humanity. Often more than they’d prefer. You must have many opportunities to learn.”
“I have a lot of dogs.”
“Are you any more fond of eye contact with them?” Hannibal asked, in the same conversational tone, and enjoyed Graham's ambushed flinch when bluntness was met with bluntness.
“Social graces aren’t my forte. At least I’m not in full command of them and choosing to disregard them,” he said with a sidelong glance and such acid in his tone that Hannibal had to smile.
“Discomfort makes you rude,” he observed, ducking his head a little to get at Graham’s turned-away expression.
“... Yeah,” Graham reluctantly answered the not-question with a sickly smile.
Hannibal let it linger in the air for a few moments, and then said, “Let me buy you another cup of coffee.”
Graham hesitated. “Actually, I’m supposed to be meeting someone.”
Hannibal put on a smile and put out a hand. “Dr. Hannibal Lecter. I believe we’ve met.”
Graham looked briefly at him, and then at his proffered hand, with a kind of quiet horror, gaping with his mouth closed and his eyes wide. “Oh, god. You’re…”
Hannibal smiled patiently, kept his hand out, waited.
“I-- Sorry. Will Graham.” He clearly blinked away his preoccupations before uttering the introduction and shaking Hannibal’s hand, briefly but warm and steady.
“Will,” Hannibal said in a warm murmur, savoring the simple richness it possessed when fitted on the man in front of him.
Will flushed, dropped his eyes to study Hannibal’s lapels, and said, “Well, Alana said you wouldn’t be too openly emotive.”
“And how do you find me?”
“Reflective. Like the surface of a very still lake, with shadows of big things moving in the deep.
“...Sorry,” he amended a moment later. “I shouldn’t have-- not very polite.”
“No need to apologize,” Hannibal reassured, pleased beyond measure at the depth of perception he’d managed to turn his way for a brief moment. This stumbling, ungroomed, discomfited little chick, still growing into his wings and afraid to spread them, this remarkable boy tormented by the things he saw and the incomprehension of his environs-- Hannibal could see something bright and radiant before him, something that in a thousand generations he would be lucky to find once.
Something stuck in the back of his mind, though, and wriggled to make itself unignorable. On a rather feeling-based suspicion, he chanced, “Would ‘Alana,’ by chance, refer to Dr. Alana Bloom?”
Will frowned, confusion playing across his features in sweet darting flashes. “Yes? Didn’t she contact you?”
Hannibal smiled to himself at the reemergence of his old protege-- and an auspicious appearance, at that. “No. She must be in collusion with the colleague who approached me with this. I mentored her during her time at Johns Hopkins.”
Will’s eyes met his, full with a shock of sudden understanding. “You’re a psychiatrist.”
The electrifying bolt of realization died out, and dread bled in. Will Graham had not had positive experiences with psychiatrists, Hannibal surmised with a degree of amusement. Therapists, sought out by fear or perhaps ordered by an employer or court, who were confused and intimidated by his mind, or clumsy ladder-climbers who heard whispers of the gift Hannibal had glimpsed so briefly, and wanted to make their name with it. Perhaps both.
“And you, I believe, are a teacher?”
Will reacted to the nudge as though it had been a physical one, twitching back to himself, before dazedly replying, “Oh. Yeah. Criminal Psychology, over at the Academy,” and taking another drag of his coffee.
“An interesting and effective technique,” Hannibal commented, reaching for his cup to mirror the action. “If only everyone could apply it.”
Will huffed a laughing breath, pulling sharply away from his drink, and gave a strange half-exasperated grin that made Hannibal crave to begin a catalogue of all its variations. “I always have a handful of students who can’t understand the difference between a crime of rage and a crime of disdain.”
Hannibal hummed consideringly. “Anger and contempt are often linked.”
“Yes, but they’re separate enough to manifest in different ways,” Will pronounced, authority in his tone that Hannibal found captivating.
“In my own opportunities for observation, I’ve found that true enough,” he agreed, “so I will defer to your obvious expertise.” He enjoyed the little flinch Will stifled at that, as though he didn’t want the expertise at all, and wanted to be reminded of it even less. “What do you do when you aren’t informing the future of federal law enforcement?”
“Trying to forget all the things I just lectured on,” Will replied, with a kind of merciless honesty that Hannibal was beginning to anticipate and delight in.
“And I, uh. I fix up boat motors and play with my dogs,” he added a moment later, abashedly.
Hannibal was beginning to understand the rhythm of Will Graham’s conversation: he would be too honest, too impulsive, too true to himself; and then he would remember that he was trying to make conversation, to be polite and make a good impression. Hannibal wondered just how far he felt from a good impression at any particular time.
“Manual pastimes are often of great value. They are logical, predictable, and easy to understand. And mastery of a problem is both immediately attainable and viscerally satisfying. Quite unlike the harsh realities of the world we are faced with. My particular passion is for the culinary arts.”
Will looked up at him, almost managing eye contact. Hannibal could feel the gaze reaching his eyelashes and glancing off. “You cook?”
“I do. I’ve been accused of being a fussy chef, I’m afraid. I’m very particular about my ingredients, and I invariably seek to elevate all my creations to the level of art-- something I’m afraid my peers don’t always find laudable when they are waiting for dinner.”
Will cracked a wry grin, slightly less bitter than before. “They say you have to suffer for your art.”
“They do,” Hannibal acknowledged with a dip of the head. “My particular experience, however, has been more that art is predicated upon suffering, whether from the subject, the creator… or the observer.”
His chisel had glanced just right; Will’s aspect became instantly more harrowed, and he gave a miniscule shake of his head, as if to drive a thought away, but no sign of suspicion or recrimination was thrown Hannibal’s way.
“Or the materials,” was added in a voice slightly hushed.
As they had been speaking, Hannibal’s eyes had been tracking a woman in a thick coat of lipstick and an ill-fitting jacket, who had come in off the street and had been making a round of the cafe, looking back and forth and down at a little scrap of paper in her hand. Hannibal followed her around the shop with amusement, watching as her eyes slid past Will for the third time in a row, only to snap back to him with a look of startlement. They then turned to Hannibal, bewildered and with the beginnings of outrage painted in the corners of her eyes. Hannibal smiled at her, perhaps not masking the aspect of his eyes as much as he otherwise would, and turned back with a more genuine show of pleasure when Will asked, “What suffering do your dinners require?”
“Only the endurance of a certain element of theatricality I seem unable to abandon.” The woman was standing in the middle of a walkway and staring.
“You’d be very disappointed in my kitchen. The only drama in it is a faulty gas oven.”
“Instability can bring about a unique opportunity to let Chance take a role in an otherwise rote formula.”
Will snorted. “Have you welcomed instability into your kitchen, Doctor?” he asked dubiously.
A smile surfaced across Hannibal’s features. “I haven’t yet, but I would be pleased for that to change.”
The sullen sound of the woman’s shoes drifted to Hannibal’s ear as she stormed out of the shop.
If Will caught the innuendo, he gave no indication of it. “You might find it easier to find than to rid yourself of,” he muttered into the depths of his cup.
“Once unstable, always unstable?” Hannibal inquired with interest, aware that he played with the knife-edge of perception.
Will laughed, a hoarse bitter sound that made the beast in Hannibal perk its ears up. “That does seem to be the general impression.”
“The general impression is often much in the wrong,” Hannibal pointed out.
“So it is.”
They lapsed into quiet then, a deep contemplative silence that suited the conversation at that juncture and both its participants.
In the burbling hum of mundane coffeeshop noise, Hannibal detected a distinctive set of footsteps. Discreetly, he turned his head to find a black-clad Beverly Katz wiping down a table while she eyed him and his new acquaintance with open amusement. She met his inquisitive gaze head-on, as he had come to expect of her, and something in her demeanor told him she knew . Hannibal smiled at her; the beginnings of a grin crept across her features as though irrepressible, and looked down to finish her task before tucking the cloth into her apron and marching over to their booth.
“I’m hurt. Someone set you two up and it wasn’t me?”
Will flinched, and nearly spilled the meager remnants of his drink. “Ms. Katz,” Hannibal greeted warmly, nodding at her with indifferent politeness.
Will had recovered, and turned to her with a fragile smile. “I thought you were at a funeral.”
She shrugged. “What’s there to do at a funeral? I said goodbye to Aunt Geraldine, I put my name in the lottery for her cats, I listened to five minutes of droning about her life and kept checking the coffin for signs of rolling over. I got the hell out of there and came back to work.”
Will raised his cup in salute. “Atta girl.”
She turned a grin briefly at him. “So this is new, I’m guessing. When I came in, Brian was gawping and Jimmy looked heartbroken. I think he may have his eye on you, Dr. Lecter.”
Will managed a quiet laugh, mostly swallowed by his cup as he brought it to his lips. Hannibal smiled at her and said nothing; she grinned wide and asked, “So, can I get you guys another round?”
“Actually, I was about to ask Mr. Graham if he might let me cook him an early dinner.”
Will’s eyes snapped up, startled into a moment of full eye contact; Hannibal, playing the long game, let his lips creep into a smile but graciously looked away and to Beverly, who was enthusiastically mouthing “you dog” at him.
“Well, sounds like I’m going to scoot,” she said, giving Will a friendly knock on the shoulder and making ‘I’m watching you’ eyes at Hannibal before turning away with a wave.
“Ms. Katz seems to feel that she’s ‘on your side,’ so to speak,” Hannibal reflected with amusement, turning back and tracing the shape of the dappled shadows across Will’s shoulder with his gaze.
“I think I’m a stray she wants to adopt,” Will said as his eyes followed her on her way back to the bar, but there wasn’t any resentment or discomfort in the comment.
“In that case, she has a very good taste in strays.”
Will huffed a breath of acknowledgment but didn’t otherwise react. Hannibal wondered if he was compartmentalizing for the sake of conversation, or disassociating from uncomfortable observations. In any case, he let it pass and picked up his cup, willing to let the conversation slip into a lull.
“I didn’t know you and Beverly knew each other.”
“I suppose I’m something of a regular,” Hannibal said once he’d finished his sip, settling his cup carefully back into its saucer. “Ms. Katz’s café renversé is just as compelling as her conversation.”
Will cracked a crooked smile at him. “Not as oddly provocative as yours.”
Hannibal put on a closed-mouth smile that suggested unguarded pleasure. “I have the advantage of an incomparable conversational partner.”
Taking a staged pause, he continued, “I must confess I’d greatly like to continue our exchange, but I fear to do so here we would necessarily have to ingest more caffeine than would be good for either of us. Perhaps we could remove ourselves to my home, and I could conjure something to follow our afternoon coffee?”
Will paused in the middle of downing the last of his drink, and slowly swallowed and lowered the cup. “You were serious?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Will Graham’s eyebrows twitched briefly together as if in momentary consternation, but no other signs of a struggle were to be seen. The diving descent of a thrush into the tree painted itself across his features for a split second before his expression cracked into a wry smile that reached all corners of his face and posture. “Well, it’s your mistake to make.”
Hannibal felt an unexpected rush of warmth for the lively tint to Will’s demeanor, for the protean shift from the haunted specter he had been so recently. He welcomed it with interest, tucking it away in a pocket of his mind where it could be examined later.