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Winning A Loser's Game

Chapter Text

“I heard you’re on loan to Jack Crawford’s team,” said Dr. Alana Bloom.

“For the Minnesota Shrike,” said Will Graham without looking up from the bone fragments he was examining. “Eight victims now. Nine if you count the girl impaled on antlers. The deputy head okayed it.”

“You can still say no.”

“But I won’t. I never do. That’s why I gave veto power to someone else.”

Alana would dearly love to meet the person Will trusted to keep him away from fieldwork. It couldn’t be the FBI’s deputy director, even though he was the one who reviewed the requests to consult Will. Unfortunately, Will was unforthcoming and there was no one she could ask.

Alana settled for asking: “Do you trust them?”

“Well, he hasn’t led me wrong so far,” Will replied, and Alana’s mind pounced on the pronoun. “I’m better off at the crime lab. I do good work there. I only have to talk to people in the same line of work, and that’s enough socializing for the likes of me. He was right about all of that.”

“I have no complaints, except he turned you against profiling,” Alana said.

“The numbers don’t lie,” Will shot back, but he didn’t sound defensive. “Profiling isn’t as effective as TV shows make it out to be. More often than not, it just muddles the investigation. No offense.”

“None taken. The statistic doesn’t apply to you, anyway. Even if it does, you’re on the tail end of the bell curve.” Alana smiled. “Here’s to hoping he won’t lead you wrong this time.”

Will sent Alana a text message before he left for Minnesota as was his custom.

He sent another text a week later, telling her he was returning to Virginia and asking if she could pick him up from the airport. Thus Alana got to see how Will was faring, post-case.

Alana was spoiling for a fight when Jack Crawford accost her at Georgetown University the following day.

“He closed the case in a week,” Jack declared. “Eight months of us going nowhere, he takes a look, and we have the Shrike. All in one week. He should be in the field.”

“But he can’t,” Alana said sharply. “You know the rules. Will does not do fieldwork unless a case had no leads for six months, and even then only with the deputy director’s approval.”

Jack scowled at the reminder. Alana knew if it were up to Jack, Will would be under the BAU, working in the field full time. Thankfully, Jack had neither the power nor the influence.

“Even if Will didn’t have these stipulations, I wouldn’t recommend it,” Alana continued. “The case left Will deeply disturbed. He’ll need a lot of time and help to regain stability. Which, by the way, was already shaky due to a severe brain infection.”

“He recovered.”

“Only just. He’s supposed to take it easy. And he was, until you took him to the field.”

Jack ignored the accusation. “Can you talk with him?”

“Absolutely not! That would be unethical.” Alana flushed but didn’t look away. “For personal reasons, I very much doubt I could maintain objectivity.”

“Do you know anyone else who has the right qualifications?” Jack argued.

“As a matter of fact,” said Alana, “I do.”

Hannibal felt mostly curious when he found agent Jack Crawford from the FBI in the waiting area. Wary, but curious.

“It’s not very often you meet those who have experience treating A/O patients,” Agent Crawford began, after admiring the office decor or making a good show of it. “Dr. Alana Bloom mentioned that when she referred me to you.”

Ah, so this was the reason why Agent Crawford was visiting him, rather than some other run-of-the-mill therapist on the FBI’s beck and call. DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia had a predominantly Beta population, which meant a corresponding lack of mental health professionals who catered to Alpha-Omega people.

“Most psychology departments are filled with personality deficients. Dr. Bloom would be the exception,” Hannibal said.

“Yes, she would,” Jack agreed. “She told me that you mentored her during her residency at Johns Hopkins.”

“I learned as much from her as she did from me.”

“She also showed me one of your papers. Social Models of A/O People: differences and similarities with those who have vision loss.

“Yes.” Hannibal’s actual conclusion from his research was that Alpha-Omega interactions bore a great resemblance to that of elephants because their acute sense of smell and hearing made sight of secondary importance. But Hannibal was too invested in his reputation to publicize that. For it implied the difference between homo sapiens alpha and homo sapiens beta was something innate, not culture-driven, and that would have triggered a firestorm of outrage.

“I gather you have an agent in need of my services,” said Hannibal.

“He belongs to the crime lab. His name is Will Graham.”

“Not the famed forensic scientist who wrote The Scent of Death?”

“Just the one. I got to borrow him for a case. Have you heard of Garrett Jacob Hobbs, the Minnesota killer?”

“A little. The papers said the lead investigator detected the smell of decaying human flesh from the killer’s resignation letter.”

“After which it was a matter of setting our best trackers after the scent,” said Agent Crawford with grim satisfaction. “But it was Will Graham who’d thought to examine the company documents in the first place. This is what sets him apart—he knows where to look.

Hannibal nodded. He must be the FBI’s most formidable bloodhound, Will Graham. Hannibal couldn’t help but wonder why he hadn’t been on the Ripper’s trail two years ago when Hannibal had dropped his last sounder.

“After everything he’s done for us, finding someone who can help him recover from the aftermath is the least we can do,” Agent Crawford concluded.

Hannibal felt a shiver run down his spine. Whether this request was good fortune or the first step to his downfall, it was impossible to say. But one didn’t refuse opportunities such as this.

“I’m more than happy to lend Will Graham a sympathetic ear, if that is what he needs.”

Hannibal believed in thorough preparation. Therefore he did his due diligence researching Will Graham before their scheduled meeting at Quantico.

A cursory Internet search revealed Will Graham the writer. He’d published the surprise bestseller, The Scent of Death, which Hannibal enjoyed so much, he’d invited Alana (who recommended it) and a handful of acquaintances to have a night of discussion. It had been a delightful evening. Not a single guest detected the irony of musing over “cloaking ourselves with death’s perfume and yet denying its presence” while consuming a dinner of human liver and fava beans, paired with a fine bottle of Amarone.

A deeper search revealed Will Graham the researcher. Will was a prolific writer of scholarly papers. Hannibal had not the time to read them all, but Google Scholar gave him enough information. Will Graham wrote the standard monograph for determining the time of death from insect activity. He also led the landmark study on Alpha-Omega human senses, which pioneered the techniques the military and law enforcement used in the field. There was also the odd article on detecting engineered viral agents from old corpses.

Georgetown University, Will Graham’s alma mater, featured him as a noteworthy alumnus on its website. Former New Orleans homicide detective Will Graham entered GW’s forensic science program in 2008 and quickly gain recognition for his keen insight into criminals. He left the master’s program to get a doctorate in forensic anthropology before he joined the FBI crime lab, where he did his groundbreaking work. GW was proud of Dr. Graham’s accomplishments, both as a scholar and a role model for Omegas who wanted to rise above their circumstances. Too many didn’t see a future beyond the military. Too many stayed poor and disadvantaged.

When he’d exhausted the mainstream sources, Hannibal turned to

The front page article of TattleCrime was, as expected, about the Minnesota Shrike’s capture, and the ever-resourceful Freddie Lounds posted a grainy photo of Will Graham lurking behind several uniformed FBI agents and paramedics in front of the Hobbs’ home. The photo’s quality was poor, and it was clearly taken from a distance. Hannibal only knew the person was Will Graham because Ms. Lounds indicated him as such with a yellow arrow. Will Graham’s face was a pale circle framed with dark hair and glasses. Hannibal could only just make out the green-brown plaid shirt Graham wore.

Hannibal read Ms. Lounds’s commentary on Hobbs’s capture.


FBI employs Alpha hounds to hunt down the Minnesota Shrike!

After months of floundering, the FBI brought in Special Agent Will Graham, author of the New York Times bestseller The Scent of Death, to track down the Minnesota Shrike, the serial killer who took the lives of eight half-beta girls in the Minneapolis area.

Within days, Agent Graham determined Garrett Jacob Hobbs, a construction worker, was the killer from Hobbs’s resignation letter, on which Agent Graham detected the smell of the last victim, Elise Nichols.

When the FBI stormed Hobbs’s residence, they found Hobbs’s omega spouse dead on the porch. Their daughter, Abigail Hobbs, was taken to the nearby ICU with a knife wound to her neck. It is believed Hobbs first killed his spouse and then tried to kill his daughter when he saw law enforcement vehicles approaching his home. That Hobbs had the opportunity to murder most of his family speaks volumes of the FBI’s lack of planning.

TattleCrime was not able to secure an interview with Special Agent Graham, but managed to snap a photo of him after the FBI gunned down Hobbs. While it is hard to see from the photo, Agent Graham was sheet-white and looked absolutely shaken when the paramedics took Abigail Hobbs to an ambulance.

[photo insert]

(Side note: the GW graduate student body was right to vote Graham the prettiest.)

TattleCrime will follow up with another article about Hobbs’s motives and his descent to murder. With luck, you will get to hear from the elusive Special Agent Graham, who has a well-known aversion to serial killer cases, yet agreed to track down the Shrike.

Quite a few gems amidst the tabloid chaff! Agent Crawford hadn’t mentioned Will Graham’s aversion to taking serial killer cases. Nor had he mentioned how the case left Will visibly shaken though it was possible Crawford wanted Hannibal to draw his own conclusions. Of course, it was quite possible Ms. Lounds was embroidering the truth if not outright lying.

Hannibal put down his tablet and pondered how he should approach Will Graham. He was highly intelligent. That went without saying. His acute sense of smell made him uniquely dangerous. It would do Hannibal no good if Will Graham took a whiff and scented Cassie Boyle’s blood and guts from his person.

For now, Hannibal would have to stay away from his special pantry. A trip to the pool wouldn’t be amiss either. Anything that would help mask suspicious smells that may linger.

It would be a hassle, but it couldn’t be helped. Anyway, if Will Graham proved not worth the effort, Hannibal could always rubberstamp him as needing no therapy.

There was someone inside Jack Crawford’s office when Hannibal was finally escorted there. The person turned around when the door opened and peered at Jack and Hannibal owlishly behind a pair of glasses.

“Will Graham, Dr. Hannibal Lecter,” Jack said.

Hannibal perhaps should have paid more attention to Freddie Lounds’s side note about Will Graham’s looks. As it was, Hannibal wasn’t able to suppress the instinct to stare as his heart rate picked up.

Will had the kind of face you didn’t want to look away from. One you couldn’t help but notice and admire, despite the layers of Salvation Army frump. Will’s eyes were particularly arresting— pale blue and full of torment, like the ghosts of a hundred murderers haunted him still. It lent Will an air of a wounded doe; aspiring his audience to either help him or hunt him.

Hannibal felt both urges. How extraordinary. He never felt contradictory desires before.

Jack offered Hannibal the chair next to Will, and then took his place behind his desk. Once seated, Hannibal offered his right hand for Will to take a whiff. Will blinked at the gesture. Hannibal guessed Will had long since abandoned any expectation of olfactory courtesy from Betas.

“I don’t want to presume your fondness for eye contact,” Hannibal said.

“I’m not good with eyes,” Will muttered with his gaze downcast. “Eyes are distracting.”

Hannibal smiled as he watched Will breathe in deeply. It was the A/O equivalent of studying a person’s face; scenting and listening to Hannibal’s body to get a measure of him. Will’s first impressions were probably more accurate for it.

“So what is this about?” Will asked.

Jack steepled his hands. “You’re up for a commendation. I endorsed it. The review board approved your active return to the field, pending a psych eval.”

Will tensed. “I do consultations, not fieldwork. That hasn’t changed.”

“It’s just a precaution. We respect your desire to remain in the crime lab, but considering what you’ve been through…”

“You wanted to make sure I’m not broken. I’m a big boy, Jack. You don’t have to beat around the bush.”

Jack smiled like he conceded the point. “You just have to do the interview. The paper tests you filled out when you returned from medical leave are still good.”

Will’s scowl was adorable. “At least that’s something.”

This wasn’t the norm, Hannibal knew. Only new recruits or those transferring to a different department had to undergo psychological evaluations. Will, who wasn’t seeking to leave the crime lab, shouldn’t have to go through one. From the look on his face, Will knew all this, too, and disliked the implications. Hannibal wondered if all these extra steps were related to Will’s medical leave.

“Is Dr. Lecter going to conduct the interview?”


“Why not Heimlich?”

“He’s no longer accepting A/O applicants.”

Will sighed. The sound reminded Hannibal of a soft wind echoing inside a marble sepulcher.

“Do I have to do a sense assessment?”

“It’s regulation.”

“We can do it now,” Hannibal offered. “It need not be formal. The point is to have the right expectations for each other.”

Will looked dubious, and Hannibal knew why. One of Hannibal’s patients likened a sense assessment to a blind man trying to describe a lily-of-the-valley to someone nose-blind without the benefit of touch. Yet law enforcement agencies insisted on them to avoid liability. After all, their A/O employees were more likely to sniff out a scandal, often literally. (“No, I didn’t mean to find out you were cheating on your wife, but what else was I supposed to think when you started smelling like another woman?”)

“What do you want me to do?”

“Tell me your impression of me. The day in the life of, as you perceive it.”

Will sniffed. “You swam this morning. In an indoor pool. It was early in the morning and you were alone.”

Hannibal expected Will to mention his morning swim, but the sheer detail still jolted him. “Correct.”

“You have pots of herbs in your kitchen. Sweet Basil, Rosemary, Sage… all the usual French cuisine suspects. You added parsley and spinach to your morning protein scramble. None of the ingredients inside your house is mass production.”

“I’m careful about what I put into my body,” said Hannibal, his heart and mind more alive than it had been in years. “This means I end up preparing most meals myself.”

“Half-truth,” Will stated, again alarmingly accurate in his judgment. “Shall I go on?”


“You met Jack for the first time at your office.” Here Will’s eyes fluttered shut, as if he was recalling something he’d seen, not reconstructing events in his wondrous mind. “A spacious place with a private library, leather chairs, and a fireplace. Solid wood furniture and a few oil paintings—both from the mid-nineteenth century based on the varnish and paint composition. After you agreed to Jack’s request, you spent some time alone in your office. Researching me, I wager. Then you sketched something with a 4B pencil, sharpened with a metal handled blade, probably a scalpel. You had a wood fire going. When you were done, you straightened the notes on your desk, and went back home with your sketchbook tucked to your right.”

Will held up his hands, like he was touching invisible walls. Hannibal couldn’t look away.

“Today, after breakfast and a swim, in that order, you did your morning ablutions. You passed your usual aftershave and picked the one you wear when you’re expecting to meet an A/O. You have a sandalwood based cologne for formal occasions, and you’ve used it this past weekend. Then you stepped inside your walk-in closet, passed the tailored suits and silk ties you favor, and picked your current outfit from the back. It’s your most casual suit—the only one that doesn’t need dry-cleaning and hasn’t been touched by those chemicals. You only take it out when you want to blend in. Normally, you don’t bother. But not today. Today called for a different kind of performance. That is your design.”

Will opened his eyes and met Hannibal’s gaze head-on.

“I could say more—about your professional-grade kitchen full of stainless steel appliances, your spotless house with every frame and decorative item perfectly aligned, your meticulous habits. But it won’t be necessary, right?”

Hannibal kept his expression impassive as shockwaves of thrill racked through his body. This wasn’t Will showing off his ability to observe and deduce. This was a warning. That no matter how good Hannibal may think he was at understanding a person, Will was better. That before Hannibal could even start his probing, Will would know him as if he’d crawled right inside his skull. That in the end, Will would know Hannibal better than he knew himself.

Was Hannibal willing to stand naked before him?

Most people would flee from such a gaze.

Hannibal wanted to demonstrate a Ripper kill right then and there. With Jack Crawford as the centerpiece.

He quelled the urge.

“You see a lot, Will,” Hannibal said calmly. “I imagine what you see and learn touches everything else in your mind. Your values and decency are present yet shocked at your associations, appalled at your dreams. No forts in the bone arena of your skull for things you love. What a fearful and wonderful gift you have.”

Now it was Will’s turn to seal his mouth shut. He squinted at Hannibal for several breaths, his confusion plain on his face.

At last, Will rose from his chair.

“Excuse me, I’m late for my outpatient therapy.”

And with that, he left. Hannibal watched the door close behind Will. Then he turned to Jack.

“Will’s not receptive to, uh, psychiatrist, Doctor. Too many of them want to study him rather than understand him,” Jack explained.

“He’s a prodigy,” Hannibal said. “He must have taught himself to cope alone when he discovered how cruel the world is to those who are different. He cannot help but fear other people’s attention, and fear makes him rude.”

Jack sighed.

“You’re not wrong.”


So how did it go?

Good old-fashioned police work once the killer made a mistake. He’s dead now. We gunned him down, but not before he killed his spouse and almost killed his daughter. It was a nightmare. I’m never doing this again.

You said that fifty cases ago. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Jack Crawford thinks I need therapy. Went over my head and brought in a therapist.

Have you scared them off yet?

No. This one’s different. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say my party trick turned him on.