It begins again with the copycat killer.
Will arrives at the murder scene in the middle of a field, his rental car making distressed noises as he drove over the uneven ground. The first thing he notices as he steps out of the car is the noise. Crows have sensed a meal and descended on the scene.
Zeller rushes in, waving his hands and the birds scatter with laughing caws.
A particularly large crow lands on Will’s shoulder. He freezes, and the thing caws roughly, shifting its weight from foot to foot.
“Jesus, Graham,” Zeller says. “I knew you were freaky, but even the crows love you.”
Will reaches carefully into his pocket, finding the bag with the last of his sandwich that he’d had on the train ride over. He pulls off a piece and offers it to the crow, who examines it, then takes it neatly from his fingers.
“Crows are smart creatures. Some think they’d be as smart as humans if they were bigger,” Zeller says. The crow turns to inspect him and caws harshly before flying off. The beating of its wings strike Will across the face, and he flinches.
“Then we’d have six-foot-tall birds eating our corpses,” Bev says, walking over to dust off Will’s shoulder. Her touch makes Will shrink in on himself. Zeller has a better read on him, Bev seems far too friendly. “Come on and see.”
Will is expecting a killer full of remorse, willing to risk discovery by returning to the scene of a crime to leave a girl back in her bed. Instead, he gets this.
Cassie Boyle, pale from blood loss and death, impaled across the horns of an elk in a reclining position. Her arms and feet swung gently, never touching the ground as if she was floating in a pool instead of impaled and suspended by a killer who wasn’t quite the Minnesota Shrike. Her lungs were missing, the cavity filled with air she would never breathe.
It takes Will's breath away. It’s beautiful, but it wasn’t done by the Minnesota Shrike.
“Our cannibal loves women,” Will says. “This girl’s killer thought she was a pig.”
“You think this is a copycat?” Jack asks.
Will turns back to the tableau and lets the pendulum swing.
Blood ran back up her arms, her chest and her feet into the wounds around the antler impalements. He blinked, and the stag head was gone, her injuries shrinking and vanishing except for the long incision down her chest. He blinked and the life came back in her eyes, her head turning to look at him, mouth open in a scream. He blinked, and the wound in her chest sealed up, and her ribs rose with terrified panting. He blinked again and she was whole, dressed and smirking, a cigarette in hand. She took a deep pull and blew the smoke in his face.
It’s familiar. She is so much prettier in death than she was in life. In death, she is a work of art.
Will coughed and waved the smoke away.
“It’s a gross one,” Zeller agreed. The crow cawed from its perch on Cassie Boyle’s knee.
“What do you think?” Jack asks.
Will leans on his social awkwardness to give him a moment to think.
He needs to distract Jack Crawford. He needs to deflect the attention away from this killer, to redirect Jack’s focus on to the Minnesota Shrike, and to distract Jack with someone else so that Will can maneuver.
“The cannibal who killed Elise Nichols had a place to do it and no interest in field kabuki. So, he has a house, or two, or a-a cabin something with an antler room. He has a daughter. The same age as the other girls. Same hair color, same eye color, same height, same weight. She's an only child. She's leaving home. He can't stand the thought of losing her. She's his golden ticket.”
“You know, an intelligent psychopath, particularly a sadist, is very hard to catch. There's no traceable motive. There'll be no patterns. He may never kill this way again.”
“Have Dr. Lecter draw up a psychological profile. You seemed very impressed with his opinion.”
He needs to focus on the current murder, on the Nichols girl. There are hundreds of girls of the same description in mortal danger right now, and he should be concentrating on catching their potential killer. Instead, he keeps thinking about Cassie Boyle's killer and the steady, powerful hands it took to shove a body down onto an elk's antlers. It would have taken incredible force to drive the antlers through her body. The killer was strong. The work isn't sloppy in the least so he must be extremely calm to be able to deliver such force cleanly. There was no forensic evidence, even with the mess it must have caused.
Strong, steady, and collected. All traits found commonly in psychopaths. The artistic eye was unique, though. This psychopath crafts gorgeous tableaus with the gore and violence that most people find disgusting. Will is drawn to it. He sighs. There was so much potential in this killer, so much more interesting than the Minnesota Shrike.
He tries to concentrate but finds it almost impossible. There's something so familiar about the tableau of her death.
Will sleeps fitfully and fidgets through his breakfast with Hannibal, worried that he will somehow sense Will's attempt to mislead Jack.
The food is good and then -- then there are other things to worry about like the easy pull of the trigger and the weight of the gun in his hands. The ten shots it takes to bring down Garret Jacob Hobbs.
He stumbles home to his dogs at the end of the longest day of his life. He hasn’t slept in twenty hours, and he has a little bit more to do before he finally collapses. Jack is focused on the clean up of Garret Jacob Hobbs and Hannibal is focused on the clean up of Will. It's an overwhelming combination for anyone, more so for Will. It had been hard to avoid both their gazes and Will had spent most of the day staring at his toes while they interrogated him. Jack's method was straight forward and brutal while Hannibal attacked from the sides, poking soft spots Will hadn't known he had.
It might have been too much to deal with except for the gift he had been given yesterday: the return of an old acquaintance. Will sat on his bed and leaned down to pull a thick file from underneath the mattress. It was thick enough that he could feel it there while he slept, a constant reminder of the case that had gotten him rejected from fieldwork.
He leans against the wall and flips the file open to the start of the photographs from the Chesapeake Ripper cases. Each one shows a tableau of violence and bloodshed. There is the man murdered in a church, propped up on the pew with his tongue marking his spot in the bible. Another is of a man killed in his workshop with every single tool on the wall used for some part of the murder and subsequent dissection. Each person is surgically missing a body part. There is no consistency to which organ was removed. For a while, there had been speculation that they had a doctor Frankenstein on their hands but occasionally something as small as a kidney would be taken. The body parts would be thoroughly rotten before enough were collected to make a corpse. Still, the rumor had made an impact because of its macabre nature.
Will stares at the photographs and lets it soak into his brain, looking for clues that he might have missed. There are none, he's been over the files endlessly, but he combines this knowledge with what he witnessed yesterday.
Footsteps clip through the living room and Will looks up as a massive stag squeezes impossibly through the door to his bedroom and walks towards him, its fur replaced by the feathers of ravens.
“Hello there,” Will says, reaching up to pet the deer's soft feathers. “I’ve missed you.”
His monster has come back home.
He sees his monster everywhere, after that. He chases it while Hannibal chases him.
Will cannot seem to shake the psychiatrist. Jack likes him, and that seems to be enough for Hannibal to stick like a burr. Perhaps Will should not have invited Jack to consult with Hannibal for the Hobbs case as well as being Will’s psychiatrist.
Their first meal together is awkward for Will, though Hannibal seems bizarrely pleased throughout. Will stares at his plate of artfully arranged shiitake mushrooms and remembers the comatose diabetic he pulled from the trunk of a car earlier that evening. The doctor’s food has more humor than the man himself. Will’s lip twitches slightly, and he eats the entire thing. His monster waits at his side, gaze locked on Will’s face as he eats the shiitake and beef dinner.
His monster shows up constantly after years of absence. Will knows his monster isn’t real, but he cannot help how good it feels to see it again. He knows his monster, knows what type of killer he is through and through. Unlike the other monsters he has to encounter for his new job, his is uniquely beautiful. It’s like having his pack with him wherever he goes, a more sentient companionship than he usually allows himself. It’s grounding to have a companion, which his grasp on the world around him fades.
Will knows he’s going crazy. He doesn’t need a psychiatrist to tell him that he shouldn’t be seeing a manifestation of a serial killer everywhere he goes. But he keeps a lot of himself hidden from Hannibal. He will now allow them to take his monster.
He sees his monster in Abigail’s hospital and the woods outside her home. His monster stalks behind Abigail’s friend, Marissa, and lunges at the intruder in the woods.
“We should report this, yes?” Lecter says, and Will agrees after a beat. He knows his monster. There will be a need for the police soon enough.
His monster does not disappoint.
“Do you think she knew the boy down by the stream?” Will says, watching the blood drip from Marissa’s fingers.
“Somebody’s brother,” Hannibal says.
“Will,” Jack says. “You said this copycat killer would not strike the same way again. You said it. But we have two girls mounted on stag horns within weeks of each other.”
“I may have been wrong,” Will allows. “There was new evidence found on the body, flesh on the girl’s teeth. He struck her. That is different from Hobbs’s design.”
“I think he was provoked,” Hannibal says. “Nicholas Boyle murdered this girl and his own sister.”
Could Nicholas Boyle be his monster? That small blonde child they had seen in the woods behind Abigail’s house? It seems so unlikely. And he was certainly too young to be the Chesapeake Ripper from Will’s notes which would mean that his monster was two different killers.
Could he be wrong? Could his monster be two different killers, after all? Will watches as the ravenstag picked its way through the room.
His monster is up to something, and Will is going to find out what it is.
He might love his monster, but he doesn’t plan on making it easy for him.