He spent most of the late morning and early afternoon in the town, ostensibly shopping but also keeping tabs on the more notable gangsters who drifted in and out of the region. He never asked questions directly but listened to the gossip and chatter of the waitresses, waiters, and baristas of the local coffee shop, which happened to be a favorite of the policia, as he sipped his coffee at midday. He would never eat the food at that establishment but the drinks were superb. He made sure to tip the staff well and was rewarded with speculations about any number of nefarious dealings in the area.
He and Will had been following stories about a local dog fighting ring for a few months. They were close to finalizing their plans to disrupt the ring after Hannibal confirmed schedules, locations, names and numbers of participants over the past six weeks. Some of the lesser criminals would be tip-offs, albeit anonymously to the policia. Will would surreptitiously acquire a dog and of course, depending on what information Hannibal could glean from the local alcoholic physician (and his handwritten medical files) re-stock their dwindling supply of frozen perishables.
After his drink and while the rest of the town dozed during siesta, he walked home. Laden with a net bag filled with fresh produce and a small melon cradled in his other arm, Hannibal climbed the steep hill toward the small pink stuccoed house that he and Will shared. He could hear the barking of the dogs even from this distance away. Seeking privacy and inconspicuousness above all else in this new life for themselves was paramount. The pack of dogs served to keep away curious busybodies and the house was set well back from the road, all but hidden behind several flowering blue Jacaranda trees. For the dogs to be this loud, there had to be a reason for it. Hannibal picked up the pace as he crested the top of the hill, seeing Will’s pickup truck in its customary spot.
Pushing open the side door which led to the kitchen, he walked in expecting to be greeted either by a pack of dogs or by his husband. Instead, he was greeted by Tosca the cat. Hannibal put all the produce on the small butcher block island and went to investigate the source of the hubbub.
“Will?” called Hannibal as he walked toward the rear of the house.
Will and the dogs were out on the shaded patio. What Hannibal did not expect to see was the kennel out back. With all the dogs milling about it was difficult to see inside the wire enclosure. “Is someone ill? Is everything all right?” Hannibal attempted to count doggie noses but in all the confusion, he quickly gave up.
Will stood up quickly and walked over to Hannibal giving him a huge bear hug. “You’re back early.”
“I bought a melon from Senor Carvajal. I thought we could have it with chilies and lime. Which one’s in the kennel?” said Hannibal
“Umm. That’s Rusty,” replied Will.
“Rusty? Did you go and rename someone without telling me?”
Will shook his head no.
Hannibal sighed and pulled away to look at the newest addition. “I thought we agreed. No more dogs without a discussion first.”
“They were talking about putting her in the ring. She’s just a pup.”
“I see. How convenient. You deliberately chose her to entice me with the inevitable consequences of your actions. I have dinner to prepare which will take some time. Gives you more time to bond with her.”
The last comment was said over his shoulder as Hannibal strode back into the house, running a hand through his hair. As if sensing his distress, Tosca came padding over and rubbed against his leg. He picked her up and listened to her purr.
“Ah, mia bella. I have some lovely treats just for you.” He sighed as he put her down on the floor and proceeded to sharpen his favorite knives in preparation for dinner.
‘It’s a matter of trust. How many times have I said to him and assured him that I keep my promises? Haven’t my actions bourne that out?” Hannibal gave the cat a bit of boiled chicken before slicing the chilies and melon.
He continued to ruminate on the new addition and why it rankled him so. ‘You know what it means, how much of a commitment from Will it’ll entail. Has he drifted apart from me? We share a house but the passion has lessened from past searing heights. In its place, quiet domesticity endures. Is that so very bad? Or are you worried that the dogs provide more stability and comfort than you are able to provide? That the perpetual acquisition speaks to a different kind of emptiness? Sharing a space but nothing else. Can you go back to something less?'
Nodding his head in agreement, Hannibal mixed up a mint, lime and olive oil vinaigrette and finished slicing the melon and red onions. A loaf of his homemade bread and goat cheese from the market sat on the kitchen counter. Preparations over, he went to change into his gardening clothes. Perhaps he could find some comfort in routine.
Will sat and pondered what Hannibal did and didn’t say. The unspoken rebuke colored the evening air between them. He watched Hannibal enter the garden, wearing the woven sun hat Will had bought for him. Even the fabric flowers in its brim couldn’t lift his spirits. He debated whether he should go over to speak with him and decided it could wait until dinner.
Will whistled the dogs into the house where he fed them and made sure they were bedded down for the night. He came back outside, opened the kennel and carried Rusty inside before settling her in the mudroom along with toys, bedding, food, and water, along with setting a pad down in case of any accidents. He shut the door and expected to see Hannibal in the kitchen.
He checked the garden to find the patio swept and clean.
He walked back into the house locking the exterior doors. The only other room with a closed door was the study. He knocked and waited for the muffled “come in.” When he opened the door, the fragrance of the Jacaranda trees filled the room. Hannibal sat in an armchair by the window, most of him in shadow.
Will closed the door and said “Won’t you come and eat Hannibal? I thought we could talk.”
“I’m not very hungry Will. You go ahead. Everyone settled?”
“Yes. The dogs are fine.” He paused before continuing “What I did, It was impulsive, rash, inconsiderate. I’m so sorry Hannibal.”
“I always keep my promises, Will. It’s a matter of trust. The thing is, can I trust you, Will? But I find that it’s more than just trust. It speaks to a deeper concern I have. Do I mean so little to you?”
Will gasped out a breath as if he had been punched. He hadn’t thought things would go so far so fast. His brain whirled as he tried to find a way out, an answer which would solve it all.
“You mean everything to me. Do you want me to give her up?”
Hannibal sat in silence before answering. “You’re the best person I’ve ever seen with dogs, Will. You would only find another to take Rusty’s place and you would worry about her with any new owner you placed her with no matter the circumstances. This isn’t about Rusty, not directly nor is it about her former owner. You still haven’t given me an answer Will.”
“Yes, you can trust me. Do you want me to take out the dog fighting ring single-handedly?”
“Again, the grandiose statement. Why spoil months of fun and deprive me of my pleasure? Of planning it together? I think I should leave and turn myself in as I did back in the driveway of your farmhouse. Another useless grandiose gesture in return from me. And we are still no closer than we were.”
“Stop it! Please!” cried Will, unable to stop the hitch in his voice or the tears which brimmed in his eyes. He sank to the rug and covered his face in his hands. “I don’t want that Hannibal. I’m sorry I hurt you. What’s going on in your head?”
“There was a time when words would have been superfluous. This-” Hannibal spread his hands wide in a graceful arc. “-situation exemplifies our diminishment.”
Will’s empathy kicked in high gear. He compiled together previous conversations, facial expressions, and minute body language to arrive at a conclusion. “You’re right Hannibal. I took things for granted. And I’ve ruined your timetable, haven’t I? To say nothing of your concerns about what we have between us. Before you say anything else, let me show you something.”
He stood and walked out the door to the master bedroom, returning a few moments later with an envelope in his hand.
Hannibal steeled himself for its contents. Will handed it over to him face side down.
“But this has been opened?” Hannibal’s fingers danced along the slit in the envelope and he turned it over curious. He recognized the handwriting immediately.
“Take it out.”
With shaking fingers, Hannibal removed the half sheet and read the beginning aloud. “Dr. Hannibal Lecter requests the pleasure of your company.” He swallowed, pausing a moment. Will recited aloud the rest of the details of the invitation from memory.
Will continued “It was the first invitation that you extended to me, the first time that it seemed there was a tangible possibility of more between us. How could I get rid of it? How could I change what it represented, what possibilities it held? I kept it as a talisman of sorts through everything that came after.”
Hannibal sat with shining eyes and looked up at Will. “I’m sorry if my acquisition of Rusty delays your plans for Mister Guzman, our odious neighbor. I know how carefully you have been cultivating him primarily to obtain his properties and a bit more security here. I’m sorry I’ve been distant and focusing on the pack instead of on us.”
Hannibal held up his empty hand to interrupt the words spilling from Will. He extended it and smiled brightly when Will clasped it.
“As always Will you continue to surprise me. Please allay your concerns regarding the ‘shopping’ timetable. It’s not feasible to have the organizers of the dog fighting disappear too quickly between Rusty’s acquisition and their inevitable fate. Better for me to continue to woo Mr. Guzman so that he leaves the property to me in an ironclad will, his closest and dearest friend, and for you to finish her training. Then we can go hunting together as we had planned.”
“I’m sorry for taking you for granted Hannibal. That changes here and now. I promise.” Will drew him out of his seat and led him out of the room. “Come let’s have dinner.” The invitation sat on the chair, the ivory of the paper drawing all the dimming light in the room to it, like a beacon as Will quietly shut the door and the two of them went to dinner with an easy familiarity long missed.