“Oh my god!”
The curtain dropped, for the final time, and Abigail Hobbs turned only to face her best friend Marissa, who was practically bouncing on her pointe shoes.
“You sounded amazing!” Marissa exclaimed, or would have if she was prone to exclamations. “When did you get so good at opera?”
“Well,” Abigail said, drawing her to the side. “There’s a man who lives under the opera house…”
The Hermit Under the Opera House
(and his seven dogs)
Hannibal stood as the opera ended, clapping politely. It had been a wonderful performance, with a lavish set and an exquisite soprano that looked vaguely familiar, though he couldn’t quite place the voice.
“Hannibal!” Jack exclaimed as he emerged from his box. “What a pleasure to see you here!”
“Jack,” Hannibal replied, pleasantly. “Always a pleasure.”
“Walk with me,” Jack said, as he headed back to the manager’s office. “How did you like our performance?”
Hannibal followed, jacket folded over his arm. “It was excellent. Who was the soprano? I was expecting Bedelia, but I don’t believe I’ve heard this one before.”
“Ah.” Jack’s face contorted. “She’s new. But great, isn’t she? Her name’s Abigail Hobbs.”
“She was a chorus girl, but she’s got some real good talent. She’s been taking lessons too.”
“Their teacher must be excellent. She sounded wonderful. Though I have to admit.”
“I thought I heard the barking of dogs.”
Abigail knocked on the mirror in the dressing room. “You there?”
The mirror creaked open an inch. An eye peeked out from the darkness. “Anybody with you?”
“No.” She crossed her arms as the mirror inched wider. “How are the dogs? I thought I heard Buster earlier.”
“He was excited to hear you sing.” The mirror finally swung open, revealing Will Graham, the hermit who lived under the opera house with his seven dogs. “You did well, I think. I don’t know that much about opera.”
“This is ironic, considering that you’ve been giving me singing lessons.” She stepped through the mirror.
“Your dad would have wanted it,” he said. Winston, at his feet, nosed Abigail’s legs thoughtfully.
“Who you killed,” Abigail reminded him.
Will winced back.
The passageway was dark and damp, and their steps resonated like the hooves of stags through loam. Will led the way, Winston at his feet. After brief intervals, they were joined by the other dogs, one at a time, until a pack of dogs clustered at their feet and they had to pick their way carefully across the path lest they trod on a paw or tail.
“So, what are we learning today?” Abigail said, as they emerged into his lair: piano against a wall, fly-fishing gear on a table by the brightest lamp, bed in the center of the room. “Because I’m pretty sure I could teach myself everything you taught me about singing with a book.”
Will squinted at the book, before he sighed. “Want to learn how to tie fishing flies?”
Abigail crept back into her dressing room and straight into Alana’s frown.
“Shit,” she said.
“Where were you?” Alana demanded. “You can’t just sneak out.”
Abigail nudged the mirror shut with a foot. “Nowhere. I didn’t leave the opera house.”
Alana eyed the mirror. “How’s Will?”
“He’s fine,” Abigail said, affecting her best innocent expression. “He’s adopted more dogs. Have you met Winston yet?”
“Not yet.” Alana frowned at her. “Was Winston the one that was barking last night?”
“Will says that was Buster.” Abigail brushed the dog hair off of her skirt. A night with the dogs, and this happened. She stared at Alana. “Is something wrong?”
“Well,” Alana said, “Jack wants to see you. You have a visitor.”
Seated in Jack’s office, Hannibal stood as Abigail was escorted in. “Hello, Abigail.”
Abigail stared steadily back. “Who are you?”
Alana interrupted, “Abigail, this is Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal heard your performance last night and wanted to meet you.”
“I heard you had a teacher,” Hannibal said. “He must be very skilled to produce such talent.”
“Not really,” Abigail said. “He’s taught me everything out of a book.”
Hannibal blinked, once, the only sign of his surprise.
Jack explained, “Will lives under the opera house.”
“He has six dogs,” Alana added. “Seven,” she corrected herself.
Abigail said, helpfully. “Also, he thinks he’s my dad even though he killed him.”
“So,” Jack said, “Hannibal. Are you interested in becoming a donor to the opera?”
“I’m always happy to be a patron of the arts,” Hannibal agreed.
“We run heavily on donations,” Jack said. “Even if we weren’t paying Will to feed his dogs—”
“If Will is not an employee of the opera house, is there a reason you pay him a salary?”
“He’s a consultant,” Jack said, stiffly.
“What is he consulting on?”
Hannibal very politely did not ask how often an opera house encountered murders.
Alana hastily explained, “There’s a lot of death and murder in operas. Will consults on their realism. To help actors understand their motivation.”
“I was not aware that realism was a core component of operas.”
“Will insisted,” Jack said. “Also, all he wants is enough dog food for seven dogs.”
There was an incessant knocking on the mirror.
Will cracked open the mirror in Abigail’s dressing room, squinting out. “The point of living under the opera house is so I don’t get visitors.”
“Hello, Will,” Hannibal Lecter said genially, ignoring the protest. “May I come in?”
“Your name is Hannibal?”
“Like the Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps with elephants?”
“Huh. You know we just performed an opera about him.”
“I am aware. I was in attendance on opening night.”
“Abigail’s performance was wonderful. I hear we have you to thank for that.”
“And also for the dog.”
“When I offered to give you singing lessons, I didn’t expect for opera patrons to start knocking on my door.”
“You offered singing lessons out of guilt because you killed my dad.”
Will managed to look guilty about Garret Jacob Hobbs’ murder, again. “He was murdering chorus girls,” he said, rather sheepishly.
“I know,” Abigail said, from her spot on the floor, petting the dogs. “I was there.”
“Right.” Will stared awkwardly into the distance. Under candlelight, his profile was cast in dark and brooding shadow.
“Why are you using candles?” Abigail asked. “Isn’t that kind of dangerous, with the dogs?”
Will muttered something.
“Hannibal said it made me look good.”
Abigail was quiet for a moment, processing.
“Hannibal? Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the new opera donor?”
“But you don’t even have a door!”
“Hey,” Alana said. “How’s it going?”
Will blinked. “Most people knock before they come in.”
“Do you even hear knocking? Your front mirror is five minutes away from your lair and the journey includes at least three flights of stairs and a boat ferry.”
Will ignored the comment in favor of petting Winston. “Then why are you here?”
“I thought I should warn you.”
“Warn me?” Will looked at his dogs. “About what?”
“What is he doing here?” Bedelia demanded.
Will, lingering in Jack’s office with four of his seven dogs, said, “I would also like to know that.”
Jack cleared his throat. “While we plan out our seasons years in advance, there are unfortunately some cancellations and we’ll need to recast Il Muto.”
“I don’t see why I have to be involved in that,” Will said. “That sounds like an opera. I don’t know anything about operas.”
“You’re teaching Abigail,” Alana pointed out.
Will shook his head.
Bedelia declared, “I shall sing the lead.”
“Well,” Jack said. “About that. Abigail’s really popular right now. You know, she did so well in that opera about Hannibal. The Carthaginian general, not Dr. Lecter.”
Hannibal inclined his head.
“Which is why I’m proposing that Abigail play the role of the Countess.”
Bedelia’s eyes narrowed.
Will said, “So why am I here?”
“You’re employed as a consultant,” Jack said.
“For murders,” Will interrupted.
“Well, I don’t see any murders around here, now that you killed Garrett Jacob Hobbs—”
“Sorry about killing your dad,” Will said, to Abigail.
“He was going to kill me, so you’re forgiven,” Abigail replied, ignoring Jack’s increasing fury.
“—so you’ll just have to consult on casting decisions.”
“The point of living underneath an opera house was so nobody would bother me,” Will pointed out. “This is a surprisingly large amount of human interaction for a guy who lives underneath an opera house.”
Abigail, with the wisdom of the youth, suggested: “Maybe it would help if you wore a mask.”
Will was successfully avoiding all human interaction when his phone rang.
“I live in an underground lair with seven dogs for a reason, Jack.”
“Got something for you to look at,” Jack replied. “Meet on stage. I’m sure you’ve got a secret passage somewhere.”
Will looked at the dead body. It had been fifteen minutes, and the corpse had yet to get up and continue their aria. “This is the most realistic death I’ve ever seen in an opera house.”
“I haven’t heard a single note come from their mouth.”
He held up a hand. The corpse remained still. “Do you hear that?”
Beverly said, “You know that they were actually dead, right?”
“That explains why they weren’t singing.”
Abigail said, “I remember that you killed my father.”
“I did.” Will played with Winston’s ears. They were really good ears. Winston huffed happily back.
“So why are there more murders?”
Will pointed out, “This is an opera house. If there weren’t murders, there’d be a problem.”
“Not all operas have murders.”
“No,” Will agreed. “Some of them have double-suicides.”
Abigail gave him a look. “Comedies don’t involve death.”
“Some comedies do. They just usually don’t take as long to die.”
“For somebody who knows nothing about operas, you know a lot about operas.”
Will released one of Winston’s ears to point above him, in the approximate direction of where the stage would be. “I live under an opera house.” Buster took advantage of Will’s distraction to squirm his way into Will’s lap. He adjusted his seat accordingly to accommodate.
Abigail frowned. “Do you know who’s killing them?”
Will glanced at her. “Well, the obvious answer is nobody’s sung about it yet.”
“The killer kept them alive,” Will said, studying the new body. “For a very long time. Long enough to sing at least an aria.” He turned to face the others. “Are we sure this person is actually dead? It seems kind of impressive to writhe in near-death for that long.”
Beverly, looking up from where she was processing the scene, asked, “Is there a reason you’re wearing a mask?”
Will took it off and sighed. “I really hoped that people would forget about me if I had this on.”
“Like spontaneous amnesia?”
“Like a sudden inability to recognize people because their face is covered.”
Hannibal knocked on the mirror.
Will scowled. “People are going to think that you and Abigail are having an affair if you keep sneaking into her dressing room.”
Hannibal smiled enigmatically back as Will swung the mirror open. Once underground beneath the opera house, he unpacked the Tupperware from the thermal bag. “I made you dinner.”
The dogs perked up at the smell.
Will stared. “It looks good.”
“Bon Appetit,” he said. And then, after a telling pause, “I do hope that this dish hits the right note.”
Will looked at the new body, limbs splayed on the stage from where they had landed. Her hair was a riot of curls haloing her body.
“Well?” Jack demanded.
The wall set piece loomed before him. In Tosca, set to be performed later in the season, the titular soprano Tosca would climb up the parapet after discovering her lover had been executed, before flinging herself off—
Will eyed the distance. “At least she didn’t bounce.”
Jack demanded, “Do you have a profile?”
Will looked at the body, neatly sliding it among the others. “You’re looking at a very methodical man,” he said, replaying the murder in his mind. “Surgical knowledge of anatomy. Very little emotion. Definitely not a tenor.”
“Why not?” Beverly asked. “What’s wrong with tenors?”
“Too impulsive,” Will said promptly. “Have you ever known a tenor without poor impulse control?” He dusted off his hands. “This is far too methodical. We’re looking at a bari-bass here, for sure.”
“Are we seriously making a suspect list based off of their vocal ranges?”
Jack buried his head in his hands, “Just do it, Zeller.”
“Have we considered that Will is the murderer and he’s telling us this just to throw us off our tracks?”
Abigail stuck her head through the mirror and shouted, “You’re not my dad!”
Alana, standing beside her, said, “I’m not sure teenage rebellion is a convincing argument for why Will couldn’t have murdered these chorus girls.”
Abigail emerged on stage, hands and white dress splattered with blood, eyes wide with terror.
She opened her mouth to sing, and all that came out was silence.
The audience hushed in anticipation.
The knife clattered to the floor.
Jack said, “Is that… real blood?”
Beverly said, “Yup.”
Jack said, “Is Nicolas Boyle dead?”
“How,” Alana asked, “are you supposed to recover when your prima donna emerges on stage covered in blood—”
“She was supposed to be covered in blood,” Will pointed out. “That’s part of the opera.”
“—and doesn’t sing?” Alana continued, leveling a firm look at Will.
Will stared back.
Jack sighed, “At least Bedelia knows the part,” he said, as she emerged on stage to resume the opera.
Hannibal said, in tones of mild surprise. “I had already planned a diversion.”
“What did you do?” Jack demanded.
“What did you do?” Alana asked.
“What didn’t you do?” Will sighed.
And then the chandelier crashed onto the stage.
Jack said, “We’re going to have to close for the rest of the season. Possibly longer.”
“Why?” Alana asked.
“This is two serial killers in a year!” Jack shouted. “Two!”
“It’s an opera house,” Hannibal said mildly. “Surely the drama would only add to its appeal and mystique.”
Alana said, “I don’t know why you come to the opera, Hannibal, but most people prefer their opera murders to stay strictly fictional.”
“Also, we’re missing a chandelier since it fell on Bedelia and broke her leg.”
“Oh, you righteous, reckless, twitchy little man.”
Will glanced at the others. “Me?”
Bedelia glared at him.
“What did I do?”
She directed his gaze to her casted leg.
Will said, “In my defense, when I said ‘break a leg’, I didn’t know Hannibal was going to take it literally.”
Freddie Lounds, recorder in hand, asked, “Will Graham! Any comments on your protégé’s murder spree?”
Will held up a hand. “Are we sure that it’s a murder?”
“What does that mean?”
He glanced around. “Is it really a murder if nobody sings about it?”
Abigail’s dressing room was cordoned off—an active crime scene, Jack called it. Good riddance, Bedelia called it.
“Peace at last,” Will called it, petting his dogs. Their tails wagged in happy abandon. “Who knew that all it’d take were a few murders.”
“It’s phrases like that that make people suspect you,” Beverly pointed out.
Will eyed Beverly. “Who let you in?”
“I have access to crime scenes.”
“That doesn’t explain why you’re here,” Will retorted.
“Just looking for bodies.”
“You wouldn’t find them.”
“Got up and walked away, did they?”
“Sure. Right at the end of the act, after their bows.”
The underground lair was filled with candles, casting the room into a bright and cheery glow. On the table was a spread that could rival the second act of La Boheme or the climactic finale of Don Giovanni.
Will looked at the spread and sat. His dogs clustered at his feet, eyeing the food hungrily but patiently. “What’s this?”
“A celebration. The successful conclusion of our drama.”
Will raised an eyebrow. “Abigail is still the prime suspect in an active investigation.”
“And during that time,” Hannibal carved off a slice of the roast pig, “your sole entrance remains cordoned off from society.”
“I have other passages out.”
Hannibal looked up. “I know.”
Will met Hannibal’s eyes. Very carefully, he sliced off a bite and placed it in his mouth. Each bite was filled with flavor, heavy and resonant.
Hannibal, at the head of the table, lifted his wine glass. “To the unsung murders of opera.”