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This Dangerous Game

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 Huge thanks to the wonderful CrazyInL0v3, Petriey and marlahanni for the beautiful cover art. 

 

 28 September 1888.

Extract from a Wanted Poster produced and displayed by the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.

GHASTLY MURDER IN THE EAST END

Another murder of a character even more diabolical than that perpetrated in Back’s Row, on Friday week, was discovered in the same neighbourhood on Saturday morning. At about six o’clock a woman was found lying a back yard at the foot of a passage leading to a lodging house in Old Brown’s Lane, Spitalfields…A lodger named Davis was going down to work at the time mentioned and found the woman lying on her back close to the flight of steps leading into the yard. Her throat was cut in a fearful manner. The woman’s body had been completely ripped open…

 

30 September 1888

Extract from Reynolds Newspaper.

WHERE ARE THE POLICE?

The police have exhibited an incapacity that amounts to imbecility in all their methods: and whether it is the outcome of divided counsels in high quarters or sheer incompetence, the result is the same, and a brutal murderer is given what seems absolute impunity to practise his horrid crimes…The police have failed miserably. They have obtained grace again and again from a horror-stricken public; and almost in so many words they have dared the human fiend of Whitechapel to try his hand once more…and with all their assurances he is as free as ever to pursue his hellish work, and may pursue it periodically, for aught the police can do, for years to come…

 

02 October 1888

Extract from The Tattle Crime.

OUTSIDE HELP SOUGHT AS SCOTLAND YARD ADMITS DEFEAT

By Freddy Lounds

After a succession of appalling and lamentable blunders – faithfully recorded in these pages with strict adherence to the facts – Scotland Yard have bowed to the force of public and civic outrage and sought outside assistance in apprehending the notorious and brutal ruffian known only as Jack the Ripper. The Tattle Crime can exclusively inform its discerning readers that the Yard have called out to the former Colonies, who were not deaf to the plea, and from which aid has been despatched accordingly in the form of a most Esteemed Expert. Mr Will Graham, late of the Baltimore City Police Force where he held the office of Inspector, is reputed to be of great acuteness in solving such fiendish outrages as these and is due to arrive in London this very week to bestow the benefit of his insight upon our overpowered constabulary. However, in a sensational twist to this darkest of tales, The Tattle Crime has learned that Mr Graham may not be quite the immaculate and upstanding official he is being represented as – and was in fact obliged to leave American shores following a series of highly questionable events…

 

03 October 1888

Extract from correspondence between Superintendent J. Crawford (London Metropolitan Police, Scotland Yard, London) and Doctor J. Price (St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London).

Dear Jim, I trust you got my previous letter? Please come as soon as you can. Mr Graham has not even arrived in London yet, but has sent another rather impertinent message insisting on something he is referring to as a ‘medical profile.’ I am not entirely sure what he means by it, but it seems imprudent to dismiss it out of hand; and considering he has come so far I suppose we must extend him every courtesy. Of course I can think of no one better suited for the task than yourself. Please bring Mr Zeller with you, or any other assistant of your choice…

 

04 October 1888

Extract from correspondence between Commissioner K. Purnell (Baltimore Police Department, Maryland) and Superintendent J. Crawford.

Well, Jack, let us hope that this situation remains as mutually beneficial as myself and your superior officer trusted for. I suppose Mr Graham has arrived with you by now? By this time you will have been informed about the reasons why I was so little sorry to see him go; and I shall not try and deceive such an esteemed peer as yourself by pretending otherwise. Nevertheless his reputation precedes him – and notwithstanding the deeply unfortunate circumstances under which he leaves the United States, if there is anyone capable of assisting you in apprehending the perpetrator of these terrible crimes in which London finds herself ensnared, then that person is undoubtedly Will Graham…

*****

Superintendent Jack Crawford (six foot one inch; stern, impassive face; impatient manner; means well but often acts badly) runs his eye over the evening papers before flinging them across his desk in a way that is fretful and miserable and entirely out of character. He’s aiming for the wire wastepaper basket but misses by several yards and gives a wince of irritation as the pages go fluttering and spiralling into the air like a mocking pastiche of confetti. He doesn’t pick them up. The newspapers contain thousands of words, but there are several which particularly stand out and are now defiantly parading round in his peripheral vision – even closing his eyes wouldn’t be enough to erase them; they may as well be tattooed on his retina. These words are: police, failure and defeat.

Unlike the majority of his colleagues, who are inclined to see the victims as virtually asking for it (on the grounds of all being prostitutes) as well as pretty much dispensable (on the grounds of being female and poverty-stricken), Jack feels genuine grief at the idea of such horrific violence. He’s a widower and has no daughters of his own – has no children at all, for that matter – but the conceptual leap isn’t particularly great. So the flow of condemnation at the failure to catch the Whitechapel murderer touches him far more acutely than as a mere matter of professional pride. Of course it’s demoralizing to be vilified in the press – of course it is: only yesterday The Tattle Crime carried an unflattering caricature of him having a blindfold tied around his face by a grinning, leering figure obviously meant to be the Ripper himself; The Illustrated Police News published a similar cartoon the day before. But professional pride is one thing, and compassion and humanity are another; and Jack Crawford is an unusual example of a high-ranking official in ample possession of both these things.

On his desk is the correspondence from Commissioner Purnell and this is yet another thing (as if there wasn’t already enough) over which Jack is unsettled. He finds the whole concept of Will Graham – of what he is reputed to be able to do; as well as what he is alleged to have actually done – to be profoundly troubling. And although he’s embarrassed to admit it (the small-mindedness of the sentiment conflicting with the worldly, cosmopolitanism with which he likes to think he’s more than unusually endowed) the idea of a foreigner – an American – also displeases him. It would have been preferable to have kept this as a London concern, a British concern, but the scheme had been devised between Purnell and Jack’s own superior officer; and who is he to tell the Chief Superintendent of Scotland Yard what to do for the best. No doubt it’s something the Home Secretary would have been involved with too, or at least be made aware of? Well, yes, of course he’s going to be aware – questions have already been raised in Parliament about the failure to apprehend the so-called Ripper. Jack grimaces at the thought of it and runs a tired hand over his face. An American though…aren’t Americans supposed to be brash and unsophisticated? (Jack doesn’t really know; he’s never actually met any). Then he sighs heavily and rummages in his desk for the small bottle of brandy that he keeps there; ostensibly ‘for medicinal purposes,’ but really for moments like this. Of course the reality is that it hardly matters whether Will Graham is brash, or unsophisticated, or both troubled and troubling, or all of these things, or none of them; the only thing of any real consequence is whether or not he’s effective. And God knows it’s efficiency that’s needed; haven’t the newspapers said the same? Hasn’t he said the same himself? Because the bottom line is that some unholy madman is tearing innocent women apart on his watch – on the watch of Jack Crawford – and for all intents and purposes, there doesn’t seem to be anything that anyone can do to stop him.

*****

Freddy Lounds (five foot ten inches; vivid red hair like a fox’s pelt; peering bloodshot eyes and probing ink-stained fingers) is sat at his desk in breeches and shirt sleeves, punching vigorously at a creaking Underwood typewriter as if it’s done something to personally offend him. So many deadlines at the moment (dead-lines…a possible punning headline in there somewhere?), and it’s in everyone’s interests to meet them given that this recent spate of murders have been sensational for sales. Simply sensational. Indeed the interest is now international and Freddy, as well as countless newsmen like him, are doughtily determined to keep it that way. At first he’d been somewhat sceptical (“It’s only a few dead whores”) but gradually the potential was fully realised and now if he could meet the Ripper he’d shake him by the hand. The decency, or otherwise, of this sentiment doesn’t occur to him, but even if it did he wouldn’t let himself be troubled by it: Freddy doesn’t really like women (not that he’s particularly fond of men either) – an antipathy which appears to be entirely mutual. In this respect it’s not always clear from whom the aversion between Freddy (on one side) and humankind (on the other) has its origins: who fired the first shot, as it were. Like an eternal interpersonal game of chicken-and-egg.

Of course until the Ripper is obliging enough to deliver up a new dead prostitute then Freddy needs to find other ways to keep the case bubbling and simmering in the public eye. Lambasting the police has proven a convenient means of doing this, and the invective against Superintendent Crawford and co. has grown more vicious and accusatory in direct proportion to the spaces of time between each new murder. In a purely logical, pragmatic sense – and Freddy is nothing if not pragmatic – then the fact this type of killer is entirely unprecedented means the standard means of criminal investigation can’t reasonably be expected to be up to the task of catching him. But then in turn (which is also pragmatic) this is the police’s problem rather than Freddy’s.

Freddy Lounds smiles to himself and takes a sip of his coffee, which he has stingingly black and bitter, then flags down the office’s errand boy who happens to be walking past his desk. “Take these for me, would you Charlie?” he says. “Ocean Postage, mind you – they’re to go abroad.”

“Sir,” replies the boy. He glances down to where Freddy is gesturing and sees a packet of letters next to the typewriter: most, but not all, of which are addressed to the headquarters of the Baltimore City Police.

*****

Charlotte Tate (five foot four inches; wavy blonde hair the colour of pale straw; still pretty but increasingly wan and careworn) is trying to read the newspaper headlines, her lips moving very slightly as she stumbles through the unfamiliar words. The factory girls, trudging past in their print cotton dresses and neat bonnets, look askance at her tawdry attire (Bracelets! A boa!), her uncovered head (No hat!), and exchange knowing looks. These looks are seasoned with just the right amount of contempt (Oh, shocking! Shameful!), but Charlotte learnt to stop paying attention a long time ago. She doesn’t even envy them anymore; for all that their neat little bonnets signal respectability, and that the cotton frocks are stitched together with propriety and decency itself. Who would want to work in a factory? It’s the most deplorable type of drudgery: long hours, low wages; an exhausting, miserable life for next to no money. Hazardous too. There are constant stories of workers maimed and killed courtesy of faulty machinery and perilous conditions, everyone knows about them – the endless parade of blind seamstresses, and crippled textile workers, and matchmakers disfigured with phosphorous jaw. Charlotte is not miserable (at least not most of the time) and because she is young and clinging onto prettiness then the money is in reasonably ready supply: life, while not exactly kind to her, has at least been economical in its cruelty. That is not to say she wouldn’t prefer to do something else of course, given the choice. But what else is there to do? There really is very little else. Not when you are a woman, at any rate.

Charlotte knows that the screaming message in the blocky black newspaper headlines is an important one; but somehow she’s not quite willing to connect it with herself, because she doesn’t recognise her own image in the lurid descriptions of whores, harlots, and daughters of vice. A man from the Baptist society shouted that at her once: just there in the street, right in front of everyone. Some people laughed, and some looked outraged, and one or two even looked sympathetic, but it wasn’t enough to make anyone intervene on her behalf. He was wearing a shiny black suit that resembled a beetle’s carapace: a long, skittering beetle with legs and arms and religious tracts, calling her wicked names like ‘slut’ and ‘Jezebel’ until his face grew red and flecks of spittle flew out of his mouth. Charlotte didn’t say a word the entire time, but if she had she would have told him that she hadn’t planned this life, or wanted it. She would have told him how she was married once and that that the usual clichés applied just as well to her as to anyone else – how they were ‘poor but respectable’ and ‘young and in love’ and how they ‘lived decently but kept within their means.’ She could have told him – or anyone, if they’d troubled to ask – about how excited and happy they were to start their married life (because London was the pinnacle of an Empire on which the sun was alleged to never set and surely only good things could happen in such a place, especially to a couple that loved so well and so sincerely?); but how her husband had been killed in a factory accident, and how the money ran out, and that it was ultimately either die on the street or earn a living from it. She still carries a cameo of her husband: a little piece of miniature portraiture, small enough to hang in a doll’s house, which is tucked inside a tortoiseshell clasp and swings round her neck on the days she’s not working. The necklace is not there today.

He had really seemed to hate her, that beetly Baptist man, although he didn’t appear to care about the men who made the whole profession possible. At least if he did he never mentioned them. The newspapers, on the other hand, have the opposite concern. They don’t really care about the women at all; they are more preoccupied with the man. This unknown man, this ‘Jack the Ripper,’ who is killing prostitutes – even though the latter don’t appear to signify beyond the fact that they were once alive, and now they are not. They are like supporting actresses in someone else’s drama. Charlotte doesn’t notice this as either a good or a bad thing: it just is.

“Lottie!” says a voice, “Lottie! Over here!” And Charlotte turns round to see another girl, Emma – another Daughter of Vice, another Fallen Woman – with whom she used to share lodgings in the past and, in the present, occasionally shares a corner of the street. Grimly they confer over the most recent murder. The term ‘Jack the Ripper’ is already common currency: everyone knows who he is. And yet no one has any idea. Isn’t that odd?

“London’s a big place,” says Charlotte, because it’s true and it is. “What are the odds of running into him?”

“No odds at all,” replies Emma. And maybe they believe this, and maybe they don’t; but it’s easier to frame it this way because what other choice do they have? “I had to go out last night,” adds the latter, as if to confirm it. “My landlady was screaming for the rent. Said she’d throw me out if I couldn’t pay her today. She’d do it too, the hard-faced old bitch.”

“But she won’t…will she Em? You got your money?”

“That I did.” She takes a grimy paper envelope from her reticule to show to Charlotte and together they examine the copper coins inside; an embarrassment of riches. “They have eclairs in the pastry shop down Fairfax Road,” Emma adds. “I saw them this morning. We could treat ourselves.”

So the two of them links arms and proceed down the middle of the pavement, laughing gaily at nothing and ignoring the disapproving looks from the passers-by. In several decades time, psychologists will coin the term ‘cognitive dissonance’ to account for such seemingly irrational behaviour: a coping strategy for dealing with fear and inconsistency, and not at all uncommon amongst the troubled and traumatized. Although this insight will come far too late to help Charlotte or Emma, or anyone else like them.

*****

As the girls pass down the street their laughter drifts in through the window of Inspector Will Graham (late of the Baltimore City Police Force, currently of Camden Place, London; five foot nine inches; brown hair and blue eyes), who glances up and then smiles in spite of himself, because it’s so long since he heard genuine, unaffected laughter that was neither sardonic or mocking and there’s something deeply appealing in it. Not that he’s much given to laughing like that himself (he doesn’t even try and remember when the last occasion was, because frankly it’s an impossible task) but he can still appreciate it in others. It’s a bit like enjoying music whilst being unable to play an instrument yourself.

Will has the same newspapers on his desk but is trying very hard not to look at them; partly because they are extraordinarily depressing, but also because one of them has a large picture of himself on the front and the sight of his own image always makes him writhe in spasms of acute embarrassment. Instead he’s preoccupied with trying to compose a letter back home, although it’s proving an arduous task and the words won’t come. In fact in the past ten minutes he’s only managed two – Dear Father – which in the grand scheme of letter writing feels singularly unimpressive. It’s not even as if his father is particularly dear, but the grudging old bastard is going to expect communication of some kind. And besides, Will doesn’t have anyone else to write to. He glances down again at the two lone words, which almost seem to be mocking him in their insincerity. Dear Father: who is in fact not dear.

Will spins the pen into the air and neatly catches it one-handed before tucking it behind his ear. Then he pours himself a glass of water from the carafe on his desk, trying to prevaricate for just a little bit longer, and catches his reflection in the shiny surface when he places it back down. The face that stares back at him is frustratingly young and fragile looking: all wide-eyed and delicate-boned. He’s tried cultivating a beard to give himself a bit of gravitas, but isn’t entirely convinced at how successful it’s been (and in his gloomier moments is forced to concede that it shows an undeniable and unfortunate tendency towards fluffiness). Such youthfulness feels somewhat ironic, considering that if the toils of life are supposed to show on the face – which surely they ought to? – then by rights he should look well and truly fucked. Sighing slightly, he picks up the pen again.

The passage over proved remarkably quick; only six days from New York to Liverpool. I have now arrived safely in London and am glad to say that I am already settling into life in a new country.”

The second part is a complete lie but it hardly seems to matter (anyway, Will’s skilled at lying when the situation demands it; so therefore intends to start as he means to go on). And it’s not as if he ever felt particularly settled in the old country either, so who cares anyway? In order to labour the bullshit point he adds: “In fact I anticipate being very happy here.

“I don’t, actually,” Will tells the paper sarcastically. “I anticipate being extravagantly and excessively miserable.” Then he realises that he’s talking to himself – and that this is probably not a good habit to acquire so very early on – and so has a sip of water instead and tries to think of something to write which is suitably safe and dull. What though? He skims his eyes round the room, inadvertently catching sight of the newspaper headlines again (oh God, not those) before settling on a stack of playbills that arrived this morning from Astor’s theatre and which are enthusiastically advertising a forthcoming lecture series. It’s an odd combination: The Art of Engineering on Monday, evolutionary biology on Tuesday, and the evening after a presentation from a self-proclaimed ‘dare devil’ ("Asshole," says Will) who survived diving from the Clifton suspension bridge; for seemingly no better reason than to bore the general public rigid with the re-telling of such lethal stupidity. In this respect, he thinks, the grouping of the last two is highly ironic: bad luck Mr Darwin – natural selection doesn’t win today. He smirks to himself, then abruptly sighs out loud and reluctantly forces his attention back to the letter. Oh for God’s sake, this is ridiculous; it’s only a message to his father, why is it so difficult? Perhaps he could describe the morning’s dutiful round of sight-seeing? Trafalgar Square and the Horse Guards Parade. He’d taken a walk through St. James’s Park afterwards, admiring the Pavilion and the spread of shrubs and foliage, then shared his lunch with a stray dog that came and joined him by the lakeside. Will is fond of dogs although this is likewise something he can’t describe to his father, who detests them as dirty scavengers and would never let Will have one in the house. Will is cherishing vague hopes that he may be able to acquire one here, although given the prohibition on pets at every boarding house he enquired at it doesn’t seem very likely.

I saw St. Paul’s cathedral this afternoon. I believe it would have interested you. The architecture is very…”

He frowns and comes to a halt. Very what? Indicative of humanity’s superstition, credulity and pathetic willingness to devolve responsibility to a spectral High Power (in effect: a big bearded man in the sky)? An utter waste of taxpayer’s money? A pretentious, swaggering piece of shit?

Carefully he writes: “very impressive.”

He puts down his pen again and gazes out the window, trying find some inspiration. The building opposite has an enormous streak of coppery-coloured damp down the side that begins at the chimney and runs the entire length of the wall. Look at it too long and it starts to bear an unfortunate resemblance to a urine stain; as if someone’s taken a piss down the side. As if it’s come down from the heavens themselves. God again? Dear Father, I am sure you would be enormously diverted by the big streak of celestial piss on the other side of the street.

Will gives a defiant smirk at the idea of the look on his father’s face if he actually did confide this particular insight, then runs his hands through his hair until it stands on end, unpins his collar and rolls up his shirt sleeves; which is probably terribly vulgar, but there’s no one to see him do it, so (once again) who cares? Not that he would care if there was someone. To compound the point he takes his boots off and flings them into the corner so he can sit there in bare feet, then earnestly tries to think of something to write that the old bastard would actually want to hear.

The class structures here are extremely ingrained, almost ludicrously so. In this regard there are certainly things that the Old Country could learn from the egalitarianism of America.”

Not that this is really true either. Maybe blood and birth – good breeding – are of less consequence, but you hardly need to cross the Atlantic to recognize the twin pillars of money and respectability as eternally essential elements of the social contract. Will, who has never acquired money (and never aspired to respectability) feels he is in a good position to judge on these things. Although this is hardly the type of sentiment his father – who is conservative in his politics, conformist in his outlook, and aspirational in his notions of social mobility, despite having a collar of a distinctive blue hue – is going to show any kind of sympathy with. At times Will feels something like guilt for the intense contempt he harbours towards Graham Snr for such mindless submission; to Will, there’s nothing commendable or admirable in it – it’s simply a form of identifying with the oppressor.

After some thought, he adds a merry little exclamation mark at the end of the sentence (America!) to give the impression that this is something over which he and his father, as enlightened, democratic Americans, can share a private joke: sniggering secretly together at the stuffy, narrow-minded English. Not that this cosy confederacy would be at all the state of things if his father really was here: they’d have already begun cycling through the usual sequence of chronic, chafing resentment, with Will ultimately regressing into a state of adolescent petulance (the beard has never been a safeguard against this, either) and his father glowering and chewing on his moustache, which always appears as wiry and tufted as a toothbrush, before retreating into a miasma of speechless outrage. Will knows that a good portion of the discord stems from the fact that his father would have liked the type of son with whom he could sip beer and discuss the Baltimore baseball league (as opposed to a son like…him); but also from the fact he resembles his mother, who was likewise wide-eyed and delicate-boned, and that the association is a painful one from his father’s point of view. Although whether it’s the pain of grief and loss, or the more bitter pall of rage and resentment he’s never been able to fully determine, and hardly feels able to ask. They’re not on those sort of terms.

Will pauses again, fretfully gnawing on the end of the pen, and allows his eyes to stray away from the letter and roam across the detritus already littering his desk. Lying across the blotter is a note from Jack Crawford curtly requesting him to come to Scotland Yard first thing tomorrow morning. That’s it; that’s all it says. Nothing about the purpose of the visit, or what’s expected of him, or even a few trite yet well-meaning lines about being glad that Will is here…although Will isn’t glad he’s here, so maybe there’s no reason for Jack Crawford to be either? He’s still not sure how much they know about him – how much detail Commissioner Purnell went into, the exact extent of the disclosures. That whole incident following the brain fever…God, surely they can’t know everything? Although really, it hardly matters whether they know or not – because he’s still here regardless and tomorrow is going to be expected to stumble straight back into someone else’s nightmare. If he could he’d probably cry, or even scream; but is ultimately afraid to do either because of the sense that if he starts he’ll never be able to stop and will be sobbing and screaming every single day for the rest of his life. Of course there’s no doubt that the awareness of this is the true problem to be avoided; ironic, really, that prevaricating from writing the letter – that the letter itself – is merely playacting for evading the genuine source of distress. But how to even begin contemplating such a thing: a problem so huge and horrifying that it’s like a living thing; like a second person in the room? He doesn’t even have the words to discuss it with himself. If it was written down it would have to be expressed in ellipses, obscured behind a sequence of dots because the enormity of it defies both awareness and articulation: ‘The things Will Graham feels are ….’ He only know that he doesn’t want to do it – wants to go home, wants to be normal – even though wanting isn’t relevant, being little more than a form of hopelessness-by-proxy. Then a mournful, childish part of Will wants to proclaim ‘I can’t bear it’ but of course he has no choice but to bear it – and has never had a choice, and is never likely to have one – so he says nothing.

“And I’m not going to talk to myself,” Will adds (before realizing that this admirable resolution is somewhat undermined in that it does, in fact, entail talking to himself), so he inwardly rolls his eyes and returns to his letter.

I have secured very pleasant lodgings,” he writes, “at a reasonable rate and in a convenient part of the city. The landlady has been very kind to me, and the buildings in the neighborhood are of an extremely striking aspect in the style of…” He pauses once more, and then replaces his pen on the table. In the style of what? He’s never really known all that much about beautiful things.

*****

Dr Hannibal Lecter (currently resident of an exclusive medical practice in Harley Street; previous provenance no-one-quite-knows-where; six foot one inch; dark hair and dark eyes) is also reading the newspapers, giving the occasional wince of distaste as he takes in the details of the latest atrocity in Whitechapel. Admittedly his aversion is very far removed from the kind expressed by 99% of the paper’s readership, but to him the sentiment is no less valid. In fact if anything it’s more so, because it comes from a place of genuine discernment and intellectual integrity as opposed to blindly bleating moral outrage. Slaughter such as this is almost unbearably ugly to him: brutal, mindless and pointless. Worse than that – artless. Graceless. No virtuosity at all. Hannibal gives a fastidious shudder and allows himself a small sigh at the depressing bestiality and swinishness of the populace in general. Even in a supposedly cosmopolitan and sophisticated city like London, one only need to glance out the window to seem them teeming and floundering like farmyard beasts. Oh yes, and speaking of which…

“Sir,” says a voice from outside his study, “I’m sorry to disturb you but Mr Froideveaux is here.”

“He is rather early,” replies Hannibal in a calm tone that in no way betrays the internal twinge of irritation at the interruption. In fact Mr Froideveaux is inevitably early, in a neurotic, overanxious way (tedious). Although there is no denying that he has had worst patients (not that he had them for long…as it were), and that to be consistently late would be far more objectionable, so he is prepared to tolerate it.

“Shall I show him into the consulting room?”

“If you would be so good,” says Hannibal. He refers to his watch and realises he has precisely 12 more minutes, so opts to spend them in a thoughtful examination of the second newspaper. Inspector Will Graham is rather intriguing looking; not least because he is extremely young to be in a position of such responsibility. Either he has some obliging relative who has purchased the influence on his behalf, or Inspector Graham is a perfect prodigy of the macabre. On reflection, he believes it is almost certainly the latter. Will Graham looks skittish and ill-at-ease, very far removed from the kind of strutting and swaggering which one would anticipate a privileged upstart to display before onlookers. On the contrary he’s refusing to look at the camera, rather studying the floor instead. Not fond of eye contact, then. One would think he didn’t really want to be there. And yet there he is nonetheless. How very interesting.

Hannibal, unlike Will, does not roll up his shirt sleeves or take off his collar or fling his boots across the room; although he does perform his own personal version, which is to stretch his long legs out in front of him in a manner which is far more nonchalant and casual than his usual custom before steepling his fingers beneath his chin and gazing thoughtfully into space. All the way from America too…how has such a rare plant come to be transplanted so far from its native soil? And into terrain that’s so undeniably barren and unpromising? Then he spends a few moments amusing himself with the notion of Inspector Will Graham as an actual plant, and what species it could possibly be. Firstly he cycles through the droseraceae – carnivorous plants that scour for stimulus then employ seductive snares to lure their victims in – but ultimately rejects this analogy as too coarse. Too…obvious; more suitable for Hannibal himself, if anything (smirk). A rose, then? Rosaceae. Beautiful and fragile-looking, but with a thorny underbelly that snags and tears at the unwary – at anyone who underestimates their potential for savagery. In his previous practice, he encountered a patient with a deep puncture wound acquired from a rose bush: gangrene had occurred, followed by sepsis, and the man lost first his limb, and then his life. An unusual case. Hannibal narrows his eyes, almost imperceptibly, and returns to studying the photograph.

Although he is not generally given to flights of imaginative whimsy, something about Will Graham’s sad young face has undeniably caught his attention. It’s not compassion exactly (compassion being inconvenient); more like…what? Fascination? Captivation? No, not that; not exactly. Perhaps intrigue would be more accurate. He reads the accompanying text for a second time, neatly slicing through the hyperbole to extract the underlying facts that speak to him from the photograph. Young. Lacking in confidence – and yet there’s an undeniable air of self-possession in the defiant little tilt of the jaw and the frown line between the delicate eyebrows. He still knows how to hold his own. But what exactly is it that draws such an unlikely specimen (rosaceae) into such a relentless, pitiless occupation. What exactly is the appeal? Because of course there must be one. Admittedly this is an excessive amount of conjecture to draw from a single grainy, monochrome photograph; but then Hannibal Lecter has always been extraordinarily skilled at seeing things that other people can’t; at things it would not even occur to other people to look for. And so he sees Will Graham, and he wonders.

From beneath the window comes the mournful call of the newsboy: “Terror in the East End! Read all about it! Ghastly murder in Whitechapel!” Has there been another one then? Most people would probably migrate towards the window at this point, but Hannibal is not most people so he remains where he is and gazes contemplatively at the view of the city from the confines of his chair. Dusk is beginning to descend, shrouding everything in thickly coagulated shadows that bleed into the fog. The gas in the streetlamps is already being lit; darkness is coming.

“City under siege!” calls the newsboy. “Read all about it! Fiendish murderer still at large!”

The 12 minutes are up so Hannibal stands and straightens his coat, permitting himself one final glance at the photograph. Such a sad face. Without fully thinking about it, he briefly touches his fingertip against the features (wide-eyed, delicate-boned) that gaze out from the newspaper. Later on, he will ask himself what compelled him to perform such an action and won’t be able to fully say.

“Keep your wits about you Inspector Graham,” he tells the picture. “I rather fear you are going to need them.”

*****

Tomorrow Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter are going to meet for the first time and their respective worlds are going to tilt. Jack Crawford is going to meet Will Graham, and Will Graham is going to meet Jack Crawford and in doing so discover that there are far worse things about London in the autumn of 1888 than a room with no view and no dogs. Charlotte and Emma are going to meet with Fate (if Fate isn’t too stately and solemn a term for two poverty-stricken street women for whom the world cares nothing) and Freddy Lounds and his brother journalists are going to write more newspaper articles and in doing so, without even knowing it, create what commentators in decades hence will describe as the first modern prototype for the concept of a serial killer. The public, in the meantime, are going to buy the newspapers and read the articles and then they will grow outraged; but only because these are the last remaining days before the outrage evolved into outright terror. And then the fog is going to descend again – the worst fog, people will later say, for 30 years – and the shadows will choke across the streets and dark things are going to crawl out of them. None of this has happened yet; but it will. The pieces are assembled on the board – just so – and now the game begins.