When Margery Lautner died peacefully in her sleep at age 79, Hannibal was genuinely devastated. She’d been a spry old woman with minimal arthritis in her careful fingers, and he’d assumed they could have several years together yet. She’d been his tailor for 15 years, and had understood him in a way few did.
He grieved morosely for six months until spring threatened once again, and he realised he’d have to bite the bullet and find another tailor. Although there were those with flash and prestige that serviced the Baltimore elite, Hannibal had very specific tastes and needs. Margery herself had only ever mentioned one other Baltimore tailor to him – with a grunt of approval and some muttering about ‘fine work’, which was practically a commendation coming from her.
The man himself proved elusive, however. Hannibal found that this Mr Graham was spoken of in hushed murmurs in the Baltimore social scene, as apparently the man was choosy with his clientele. And downright prickly to those who didn’t meet his criteria, apparently. Even getting his contact details was near impossible – Hannibal finally found a former colleague from John Hopkins who was willing to give him a referral – an actual referral for a tailor – with the caveat that Hannibal owed him at least two dinners.
It was fine. Hannibal had seen his work occasionally, and knew the man’s eye was unparalleled. He could be exactly what Hannibal needed after Margery’s death, and spring was coming. Change was good for the soul. Hannibal called and made his appointment with the man’s assistant.
Will Graham’s little shop was tucked out of sight down a side alley in a less than fashionable part of Baltimore. It had old, faded advertisements for shoes battling for window space with lost dog flyers. Hannibal dubiously double-checked the address, then stepped into the dim shop, a bell jangling over his head. The interior was simple – bolts of cloth along one wall, suit samples hung along the other. In the centre of the worn carpet was a small platform for the customer to stand during a fitting, with a three-fold mirror tucked off to the side.
At the rear of the shop, in front of a curtained doorway, sat a man with dark curly hair and glasses, poring over a ledger with a pen in hand – he wore a flannel shirt, which seemed incomprehensible considering his business. Hannibal had assumed Will Graham would be a crotchety old man, and might even have guessed that this was Graham’s assistant and not the man himself, except he had a tailor’s measuring tape draped around his neck and chalk pens sticking out of his pocket.
“Mr Graham?” he asked politely, as the man hadn’t looked up at the bell over the door ringing.
Finally the man looked up – scruffy with stubble and using the frame of his glasses to prevent eye contact, but still very attractive. His eyes flickered over Hannibal’s suit – the tan plaid, three buttons on the jacket (currently undone), matching waistcoat, cream shirt with English spread collar that was so spread it was virtually a cut away, and a paisley tie with a double Windsor knot. Will Graham took all this in with a quick, professional eye, and then looked back down at his ledger.
“No,” he said simply.
Hannibal, who had been coming forward, halted abruptly.
“I beg your pardon?” he asked. Will Graham was rude, and that was such a disappointment after all the effort he’d gone to for this referral.
“No, I will not take you on as a client. Sorry to waste your time,” Mr Graham said, not sounding very sorry at all.
“May I ask why?” Hannibal said stiffly.
“Because I’m not going to fuck around with all of that, whatever it is,” he replied, waving a hand at Hannibal’s suit. “I don’t know what that is, but I’m not having a bar of it.”
Hannibal was silent for a moment, trying to decide if he could stuff all of Will Graham’s tailor fingers down his throat before he choked himself into unconsciousness and/or aspirated too much of the blood. As he thought, Graham made another note in his ledger. He was doing his accounts, Hannibal realised incredulously – in a world with computers and tablets, he was actually doing his accounts in a ledger.
“How do you keep track of the running tally?” Hannibal asked, peering at the numbers. He was still appallingly insulted, but was reserving judgement for just a moment more.
“Eidetic,” he said simply. “Not long-term. Long-term I used mnemonics. But I can keep a number in my head, add and subtract things without losing track.”
Hannibal suspected it was a combination of eidetic memory skills and some truly impressive visualisation skills – the man was, after all, holding a conversation while doing his books with no calculator – but he didn’t say as such. Instead he touched the lapel of his suit jacket. “You say you don’t know what it is, Mr Graham, but what do you think it is?”
Graham finally put his pen down, looked up and made eye contact. He looked away again hastily, but a progress of sorts had been made. He scrubbed a hand down his face, and sighed. “It’s not a suit, it’s a disguise. It’s carefully constructed and deliberately done. From the depth of thought that’s gone into it, I’d say you and Maggie have been working on it for years. You are wearing camouflage, Doctor Lecter, in the most noticeable and flamboyant way possible.”
All sense of insult disappeared. Hannibal assumed the utterly pedestrian ‘Maggie’ was supposed to be Margery Lautner, of course. And Will Graham was right on every count. Hannibal was so elated he was tempted to propose – not once, not once in the fifteen years since he’d begun stitching his person suit together with Margery’s help, had anyone literally seen the stitches.
“You would make a brilliant psychiatrist, you know,” Hannibal said. He took a seat in the chair opposite Graham’s desk without invitation. The man hardly stood on etiquette.
Graham snorted derisively, then shot a look at Hannibal, his mirth dropping. “Oh god, you’re a psychiatrist, aren’t you? Fucking Sutcliffe let me believe you were a neurologist like him,” he grumbled.
“What tells you this suit is camouflage?” Hannibal asked, rather than deigning to respond to that comment.
“It’s very well tailored in all the wrong ways,” Graham said shortly. Hannibal gestured for him to go on, and he gave another deep sigh. “The English spread collar both shortens your neck and makes it look wider – usually reserved for those with an overly long neck or thin face. The double Windsor compounds this. You have naturally broad shoulders, so the rest of your body has been visually padded. At a guess, I’d say Maggie tailored everything two inches below your natural waist?”
Hannibal didn’t say anything, which was as good as confirmation. Graham gave a one-shouldered shrug and went on. “So the hem of your suit jacket falls two inches too low, and the symmetrical pockets too. Then you have the right-hand ticket pocket,” he said, pointing his pen at the second diagonal welted pocket there. “When tailored correctly, that can draw the eye to the narrowness of a man’s waist, but here it’s all muddled by the dropped length and pocket flaps. And the plaid. The noisy, over-the-top plaid paired with paisley. Really, plaid and paisley?”
“I happen to like paid and paisley,” Hannibal said mildly, and Graham didn’t that snort again.
“Nobody likes tan and crimson pinstripe plaid with copper and pink paisley,” he said, and seemed to be on a roll now, because he kept going without prompting. “So, okay – if that’s not enough of a hot mess, I think you’re wearing raised sleeve heads to make your arms look smaller and less muscular, while your shoulder pads extend just far enough to make it look like you have heft but not definition. The fabric of both suit and dress shirt have too much hand, which makes them thick and stiff, and with the waistcoat, furthers the illusion that you are a well-fed social butterfly.”
“I am a well-fed social butterfly,” Hannibal said with amusement. Will Graham rolled his eyes.
“Perhaps. But I think you’re more attractive, more muscular and more dangerous than you look.”
“Who clothes themself in beauty? The most dangerous predator, of course.”
“You think I’m beautiful?”
Will (he had now become Will in Hannibal’s mind; it was hard to mentally call a person by his last name when he was complimenting you in a back-handed fashion) opened his mouth and said nothing for an awkward minute, and then coughed, flushing prettily.
“Well, you’re… I mean, you’re not what you’re making yourself appear,” he said gruffly. Hannibal arched an eyebrow, and Will looked pointedly at his suit. “Beige. You’re making yourself look fat and beige. You should be wearing something in a two-piece, single-button with a solid colour.
“Why don’t you make me what you think I should wear?” Hannibal asked, with a smile. “But first, I think you should have dinner with me, at my home.”
“Why would I go to a predator’s house?” Will asked, seeming genuinely curious rather than derisory. Hannibal had been hoping Will would say something about going to a predator’s house for dinner, because he was sure there was a cannibal pun in there somewhere. No matter.
“You come to my house for dinner because you are not prey,” he said, and waited. It took a while – not because Will was slow, but because he clearly didn’t consider himself as interesting to others beyond what he could do – both as a tailor and someone with keen deductive abilities.
Finally it dawned on him, and Will flushed pink, ducking his head. If he wasn’t prey, then he was a potential mate. “Yes, okay. And I’ll make you the thing,” he muttered at his ledger. Then he frowned at it. “Shit. I’ve lost count.”