The snow floated down, soft and silent. When the cottony drifts climbed past the lintel of the dining room door, Hannibal turned on the radio: it said that there were whiteout conditions on I-95, and if possible, to stay home.
“You’re welcome to one of the guest rooms,” said Hannibal.
The one to which he showed Will had been prepared beforehand: the linens were turned down neatly, and an electric fire glowed in the grate. It had threatened snow all day. Will had walked his dogs early, left them extra water and food, but hadn’t brought an overnight bag.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like to presume on Hannibal. Even now, he liked to presume too much, and that was a problem.
There were toiletries on the bathroom counter. The single-use items in sealed plastic, as if Hannibal had taken them from a hotel room – though he’d never be so crass, and there were no logos on the packaging. Full-sized soap, full-sized lotion bottle, full-sized shaving set, all pristine. Bathrobe folded neatly on top of a stack of towels.
Will put the bathrobe on, after he showered, and for a moment considered going down to the kitchen again. Perhaps Hannibal would be awake, still; he didn’t seem to sleep much. Perhaps he would make Will a warm drink, whiskey-and-lemon or verbena tea, or…
He made himself stop thinking about it, and went to bed.
Morning found him considering the shaving set again.
The shaving cream smelt like the soap and the lotion: slightly, neutrally, of almonds. But there was also aftershave. It came in a dark blue, blocky splash bottle, which bore no lettering and was otherwise unrecognizable. And it was decidedly not what Hannibal used.
Will had bought his winter coat at Neiman Marcus. He’d considered getting cologne, too: the thought of constructing his trap by shopping, as if Will himself were a Christmas gift – what would Hannibal like to smell on him? – filled him with an unsettling, savage joy, not unlike what he’d experienced while waiting for Matthew Brown to carry out his murder by proxy. But it was too obvious, and he was afraid he would get the answer wrong.
In the end he’d compromised, and stopped using aftershave altogether.
Now Hannibal was telling him. Will went through his routine, and used the blue splash bottle. It went on with a burst of bitter citrus – as vivid as if someone had cut the fruit open beside him – that seemed to dissipate against his skin, leaving behind an impression of creamy softness. An orange grove in blossom, Will thought. Then softer still: sweet dried grass, old cedar chests…
He went downstairs. The ridiculous gilt-and-glass coffee maker percolated on the counter, and Hannibal was in his dressing gown, making eggs in a little copper pan.
Will looked for it, and saw it: a slight flare of his nostrils on the inhale, and a narrowing of the eyes, like the content blink of a cat. But Hannibal only said, “Good morning, Will,” and looked at him directly and smiled, the way he always did.
He considered taking the bottle with him. It was expensive, but he’d used it, and it was meant to be his: in that way it was like a toothbrush. Taking it sent one sort of message. Leaving it sent another.
In the end he left it, along with the toothbrush. Later in the week it snowed again, Will stayed over again, and both the aftershave and the toothbrush were lined up on the guest bathroom counter, waiting for his return.
They never discussed it. Will wore the aftershave only when he stayed overnight at Hannibal’s. But after he was finally released from hospital, and had begun to make a dent in the chaos two evidence sweeps had made of his house, Will found the scarf he’d worn through those weeks. It had been shoved, unwashed, to a corner of his front closet – and it carried the scent still. He had always thought the aftershave was light, with hardly any sillage, but with repeated applications it had soaked through the wool and lingered, shockingly strong.
He pressed it against his face, and went to his knees. Sunlight, he thought, orange trees blooming green and white, and a fingernail pressed carelessly to the rind of the fruit. The month was May, but it was not spring where Will was: spring was across the ocean, in someone else’s company.