Hannibal held out absolutely no hope for the new barista at all.
There were only so many coffee shops within easy walking distance – or even difficult walking distance – of his office, and he’d dismissed the thought of trying the huge international chains with their poor grasp of various European languages. Instead, one by one, he’d visited the smaller local businesses, either city chains or one-shop family-run places that mostly traded on their homespun atmosphere. And, one by one, they had all failed him grievously.
The coffee shops in the neighborhood now had “staff wanted” signs in their windows more often than not.
He could have made the coffee himself, of course. His office had quite a spacious kitchen well-stocked with both food and beverages for whenever he was working late or had company. But he enjoyed his midday strolls, and was it so much to ask to have his preferred coffee when he stopped into a café on his way?
The first time, he hadn’t contemplated that there might be a problem. But now, after dozens of attempts, with responses ranging from the perplexed to the outright rude, his faith in even the most basic talents of humanity was beginning to wane. Each new barista they employed seemed to be worse than the last – inexperienced students or the long-term unemployed who would do anything for a buck. Did no one take pride in their art? Did no one know how to make coffee?
With a sigh that anticipated yet more wasted time and another foul, unacceptable beverage, Hannibal checked his watch and ventured into the coffee shop. This place had a few branches in the city, with a moderate number of people gathered around its tables. He spotted the new kid immediately. The initial impression was far from satisfactory: unkempt hair, thick-framed glasses, and a beard that had apparently grown beyond stubble out of sheer laziness. Even though he must have been in his mid-thirties, he looked like an English student who’d just rolled out of bed.
His nametag read “Will”.
“Uh, yes?” the barista said finally, as the woman in front of Hannibal moved away.
Hannibal usually hoped for a slightly more civil form of address, but at least Will’s attitude was harmless enough: nervous, anxious to please. He explained, in careful tones to compensate for his accent and any possible misunderstanding, precisely what it was that he wanted. Will listened attentively.
“You want me to brew it in the cup?” Will said. He didn’t sound incredulous. And he hadn’t replied with an outright: “Sorry, can’t do anything that isn’t on the menu.”
Hannibal nodded. “Yes, just coffee grounds and hot water.”
“Oh, so like Turkish coffee?”
Hannibal’s heart sank. This had started out so promisingly. “Yes… But, Will, let me be very clear when I say this: no.”
Will simply nodded and turned to his vast array of modern beverage technology. Hannibal turned to gaze at the other customers, barely even wanting to see what travesties Will was concocting behind the bar.
“Excuse me, sir?” Will was back. “Is this what you had in mind?”
Hannibal looked down at the cup on the bar. It seemed reassuringly brown and thick. But still… he’d been fooled before. His eyes on Will, he raised the cup to his lips and took a sip, savoring the drink, testing it in the way he might a fine Bordeaux. Finally, he gave a slight, almost imperceptible nod. “It was. Thank you Will.”
He settled his bill and let his change clunk into the tip jar. In addition, he decided, he would do Will a much larger favor and let him continue to brew coffees for many years to come.
Over the next few weeks, Hannibal made the shop a regular stop during his lunch hour. Will was always there, stammering through interactions with customers, sometimes simply gazing off into space if no one was immediately demanding his attention. He usually greeted Hannibal with a nod, though, holding up a finger and making his coffee before Hannibal could get a word out.
Without any good reason Hannibal could give himself, he started to linger at the coffee shop, picking up a newspaper from their stack and settling into a chair to read it. Usually when he did this sort of thing, his motive was to observe someone who would later encounter him all alone in a dark space far from any assistance… But here he only truly watched Will, this young man who should not have been interesting in any way, but was in fact a singular example of his species.
“I’m very impressed,” Hannibal said on one rainy day that was keeping the shop quiet. “You made my order correctly on the first try.” He was leaning against the bar, watching Will wipe down his machines.
“Oh, well… It’s not very difficult.” Will seemed to have trouble even looking at him, like a blushing teenager. “And it seemed like the kind of drink you would have wanted, even before you, uh, said anything.”
Hannibal raised his eyebrows. “Before I said anything?”
Will shrugged, turned away. “I don’t know. It’s just… certain types of people want certain things. You can see how they dress, what phone they have. You can figure out their job, relationship status, that sort of thing. Coffee’s a pretty big part of people’s lives these days.” When he turned back, his eyes flicked up nervously to meet Hannibal’s. “Although I’m not sure why I thought… You’re always so nicely dressed. Quiet, confident. You’re not a yuppie, lawyer, trader type. Doctor?”
“Oh. I think a lot of medical professionals just want the caffeine, really. All those late shifts.”
Hannibal smiled. “You would be correct. Although personally I never had trouble staying awake. I do appreciate the care you take, Will. Perhaps you’ll let me make you dinner sometime as a token of my appreciation.”
“Dinner?” Will paused in his wiping. “That’s… that’s really kind. But it’s just my job. And I don’t even know your name.”
Oh, the pitfalls of a coffee shop that didn’t insist on writing first names on its cups. “Hannibal Lecter.” Hannibal held out his hand.
Will shook it surprisingly firmly. “Will Graham. I guess there aren’t too many Dr. Lecters in the phonebook. That was another thing about the drink, you know, your accent… something Baltic?”
“Lithuania, originally,” Hannibal said. “There we call it ‘lazy coffee’.”
Will smiled for the very first time since Hannibal had known him. “When I open up my own café,” he said. “I think that’s what I’m going to call it.”