An Orderly at Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane hadn’t been Will Graham’s job of choice, not by a long shot. An Institute of sterile corridors smelling overwhelmingly of Lysol, the slamming of barred heavy duty doors and so-called Doctors picking apart a man’s brain until all that he was is laid bare filled Will with a foreboding feeling. There could come a day where Will would walk through the Asylum’s doors and never be allowed out again.
Not an irrational fear, when Will falls on the Autism spectrum with the dangerous slip-slide of empathy into madness.
His medical and psychological file made it nigh impossible to be hired in a seemingly endless ocean of jobs. His anti social personality, an aversion to eye contact and discomfort of physical closeness to people, made him difficult to get along with and undesirable to an employer who demand perfection for the going wage of peanuts. For the first six months, Will participated in the circus of job interview after job interview, getting fed the line of ‘Unsuitable for this company, good luck in your future endeavors’, with a smile barely concealed insincerity as they slide Will’s CV back to him. ‘Unsuitable’ was corporate talk for rejection of those with mental health issues, the thinnest of veneers that allowed them to skim over the laws that were meant to protect people like Will.
And yet his unsuitability for jobs were what made him perfect for the Baltimore State Hospital. The irony was almost funny if it wasn’t so depressing.
Will had been browsing the job section of the local newspaper in a roadside diner, with a stone cold cup of coffee at his elbow and a resentful waitress glaring at him from her perch at the cash register. Will’s funds had been dwindling since his last temporary job he was able to keep and he had taken advantage of the warmth of the Diner, counting out the change from his coat pocket to pay for the coffee so he had a reason to be there. The waitress’s opinion of him had taken a nose dive since then.
With the newspaper spread out in front of him, Will studiously ignored her gaze and perused the vacancy section with dwindling enthusiasm until the very small advert for the orderly position caught his eye. It was vague at best, practically buried by those surrounding it. It boasted only a few lines, comprising of title, hours, annual salary with the magical words to all job seekers ‘No experience necessary- on job training’.
Will only hesitated briefly. There comes a certain desperation when your gas and electrical supplier turns it off to your house and you’ve been subsisting on convenience store factory packed sandwiches because you couldn’t afford anything else. It brings a certain clarity to the saying ‘beggars can’t be choosers’.
With that in mind, Will applied the next day and within a fortnight he attended a rudimentary interview by the senior Orderly by the name of Barney Matthews and he was hired for the Night shift.
Dr Frederick Chilton was the head of the Institute and gave Will what could only be a well rehearsed welcome speech that consisted of various levels of scare mongering and intimidation tactics. Will got the distinct impression the man enjoyed the thoroughfare of it all.
Chilton sat behind a wide ostentatious desk, his name plate made in cursive gold lettering. “I’m sure Barney has gone through the wards protocol with you?”
“He was very thorough, Sir,” Will replied.
“Yes, quite.” Chilton said mildly. “Barney’s a good man, but I suspect he hasn't impressed upon you the very serious danger the inmates pose to you and those around them. It’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. You’ll be working with them, after all.”
Chilton watched him avidly, as if hoping for a reaction that meant Will would balk at the task. Will kept his face carefully blank. “I understand that. The rules speak for themselves. All inmates are to be treated with the utmost caution. Doors remain locked, no personal conversations with them, keep them at a physical distance, nothing sharp can be passed to them to serve as a weapon on harm themselves-”
“Yes, yes, all of that,” Chilton said impatiently. “Don’t deviate from it. Do not deviate from it for any reason . Especially when dealing with Hannibal Lecter, our resident cannibal. You’ve heard of him, haven’t you?”
Even before coming to the Hospital, Will had heard of Hannibal Lecter, the psychiatrist who cannibalised parts of his victims and made a macabre picture of them for the FBI to find.
He was all over the news three years ago, they called him the Chesapeake ripper before they coined ‘Hannibal the cannibal’. He was a sensation, a man of education and taste, but with the penchant for murder. Doctors of the highest field wrote numerous articles about him, ordinary people enjoyed the scintillating details. There wasn’t a news outlet that didn’t splash Lecter’s face on every television for the world to see.
“I have read about him,” Will said finally.
Chilton smiled without any real humour. “Hannibal Lecter is our most dangerous criminal. He gutted Jack Crawford, the man famed for his capture with a linoleum knife. It’s a wonder Jack didn’t die. Hannibal didn’t count on the man’s tenacity, that’s for certain.”
“It’s probably best that Hannibal no longer has access to linoleum knives then,” Will said for want of anything better to say.
Chilton didn’t appreciate the joke. “You may laugh, Mr. Graham, but just because Hannibal Lecter is now behind bars, it doesn’t make him safe. The previous Administration to this Hospital soon learnt that lesson. He fooled everyone the first year he was committed here, a model of cooperation. Security around him was allowed to relax.” Chilton’s disgusted tone of voice told Will what he thought of that. “One afternoon he complained of chest pains and he was taken to the dispensary. His restraints were removed to make it easier to give him an electrocardiogram. When the nurse bent over him, he dropped the civilised person suit. Doctors were able to save one of her eyes. Lecter was hooked up to the monitors the entire time. He broke her jaw to get at her tongue. His pulse never got over eighty five, even when he swallowed it.”
Will remained silent. There was nothing he could add to that.
Chilton leaned forward, delighted that he now had Will’s full attention. “Do your job, just don’t ever forget what he really is.”
Will licked his dry lips. “And what is that exactly?”
“A pure sociopath, no doubt about it.” Chilton answered. “But he’s impenetrable, much too sophisticated for the standard tests. Like most sociopaths, he operates under a guise of charm and affability. He can manipulate you into telling him everything about you without you even knowing he’s doing it. If he tries to talk to you, which he might, do not engage him. You may be the shiny new thing in here, but he’s only taking an interest so that he can play his mind games with you. I’m sure I don’t have to reiterate how badly that would go for you with all that I have told you, do I?”
“That’s not necessary, no,” Will said mildly, mind turning over everything.
Chilton smirked, leaning back in his seat like the cat that caught the canary. “I thought so. Welcome to Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Mr Graham. I hope that you will be very content working with us.”
Mere minutes of being in Barney’s company, Will could tell they would get along just fine. The senior Orderly was a big man, standing at well over six feet and broad in the shoulder and arms. He dwarfed Will and normally Will would have been intimidated by the man, but he was soft spoken and courteous from the moment they met. H didn’t have the need to fill silences up with inane small talk, didn’t force eye contact with Will or act offended by Will’s abrupt mannerisms. He took it all in his stride, like everything was as it should be. It was a refreshing change of pace.
They both now stood in the observation room just off of the ward where a series of screens lined one wall, displaying various angles of CCTV footage of different corridors and cells. Towards the back of the room was a large mesh cabinet that housed cans of mace spray and restraints in various sizes and shapes. At the top hung a long metal pole with a V at the end of it, all the better to pin a violent inmate to the wall with.
Will eyed it all wearily and Barney caught the look. “Certain inmates like to test the boundaries of authority by acting up. We have to take a zero tolerance policy on such behaviour or they will overrun us. In time, you’ll get used to how things work here.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It will become like second nature.”
Will seriously doubted that but he kept his thoughts to himself. “Would these ‘certain inmates’ also include Hannibal Lecter?”
Barney didn’t show any surprise at Will dropping the man’s name into the conversation. His lips quirked into amusement. “Ah, I see the esteemed Dr Chilton has already regaled you with Dr Lecter’s escapades.”
Will shrugged. “He might have mentioned a thing or two about him.”
Barney grinned. “That, I have no doubt. Chilton is right in the sense that Dr Lecter is a very dangerous man. I don’t think there is a man alive who can forget that in his presence.” Barney considered his next words carefully. “You have to understand that there is a certain way in dealing with Hannibal Lecter. He is severely disdainful of rude people, of disrespect shown to him. You treat Lecter with politeness, of respect that an educated man deserves and he won’t give you too much trouble. Keep yourself to yourself and no heart-to-heart talks with him and you’ll do just fine.”
“And the nurse? What did she do that Lecter considered so disdainful?” Will asked, unable to refrain from curiosity.
Barney shrugged again in a self deprecating gesture as he fished out a pile of letters from the cubbyholes that ll had names on each of them. “That I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t talk to him right, maybe she didn’t talk to him at all, I can’t say for sure. To Dr Lecter it made perfect sense. I’m not saying that all you have to do is be the picture of politeness and he’ll leave you alone, it's not that easy. But it does go a long way with him. Come on, I have to give him his mail. I’ll introduce you at the same time, make sure you get off on the right foot.”
Will couldn’t say no, this was now part of his job and they would have to meet at some point. Having Barney there could only make matters easier.
Will followed Barney out of the observation room and down a long green corridor with its lysol smell and the distant slamming of barred doors. This was part of the Hospital where there was no natural light from any windows, the fluorescent lights in metal grids overhead making his eyes squint at their harsh light.
The ward was secured by three barred doors, each having a separate key to open them, all hanging from Barney’s huge ring of keys at his belt. “Copies will be made for you,” Barney assured Will as they got through the third and final door.
They were finally on the ward for the most dangerous of inmates, a long stretch of corridor with about six cells on each side. Some were padded cells, a reinforced door with a small narrow window like an archery gap. Others were barred like the usual prison affair, with narrow beds and a squat toilet. Will didn’t let his eyes linger on the dark shapes of the occupants of the cells, concentrating instead on Barney’s broad back as the man led him to the very last cell on the left, facing nothing more than a cleaning closet.
As Will passed Lecter’s neighbour, the man’s filthy hands gripped the bars and pressed his manically grinning face to the space between the bars and hissed, “Bet you scream real good.”
“Shut it, Miggs,” Barney snapped as the grinning man, Miggs, retreated to his bed whilst giggling.
They stopped at Lecter’s cell, a good distance away from the bars, the squeak of their standard issue rubber soled shoes announcing their presence ahead of them.
Will was surprised to see that Lecter’s cell had more in it than the others they had passed. He had a tiny desk pushed against the opposite wall of his bed, what looked like loose sketching paper with markers neatly set next to each other. Beautiful artwork was pinned to the bare walls, detailed scenes of what Will presumed were European cities judging by the distinctive architecture.
Standing in the middle of the room with his back to them was Hannibal Lecter. He wore the light coloured jumpsuit with his inmate number stamped on the back in black numbers. He appeared tall, taller than Will by a head, with short dark hair that was longer than the typical buzz cut other inmates had. He was broad shouldered and slim; a State Hospital not conducive to anyone fat despite the lack of exercise.
“I have your mail here for you, Dr Lecter,” Barney said. “Correspondence from a Dr Du Maurier and your subscription to that psychology journal you like.”
“Thank you Barney,” came Hannibal’s soft cultured voice. It had a metallic rasp beneath it Will suspected it was from disuse. Barney pulled out a metal drawer in the cell door and slipped the mail in before closing it and pushing it through to Hannibal’s side.
Hannibal finally turned and faced them and Will was arrested by the sight. With such a reputation as a cannibalistic serial killer, there is a part of the human psyche that expects such a person to be ugly. Perhaps it’s because people expect a face to match the crime. It’s always a surprise when the face is revealed to be attractive.
Hannibal wasn’t attractive in the classical sense, but his features were striking with his strong jawline, straight nose, thin lips and eyes that were dark and they reflected the fluorescent light like pinpricks of red.
Hannibal glided forward and stopped a good away from the bars, staring at Will. He seemed to take in every detail from the toes of Will’s boots to the unruly curls on his head, filing away every detail. It was an uncomfortable feeling and yet Will pulse quickened with adrenaline. There was something oddly thrilling to be standing so close to someone that was so dangerous, separated only by bars of metal.
Will had almost forgotten Barney was standing beside him until the man spoke again. “Dr Lecter, i’d like to introduce to you Will, the new staff member on our team.”
Hannibal never took his eyes from Will’s face at Barney’s introduction. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Will.”
Will couldn’t say the feeling was mutual so he nodded his head with a soft, “Dr Lecter.”
Hannibal didn’t exactly smile, his lips barely moved, but there was an expression in his eyes that made Will feel like he was… not amused exactly. Maybe delight was more fitting.
Barney carried on talking. “He’ll be on the night rotation, dealing more with security and the smooth running of the ward than with your day duties. I doubt you’ll see much of each other but I thought I should introduce you anyway.”
Hannibal’s nostrils flared as if he was scenting the air. “Is that so? You will soon find out, Will, that the nights in such a place as this are hardly sedate as i’m sure you are used to. Perhaps we will see more of each other than dear Barney believes.”
That felt like a promise. “I guess we will see.”
Barney led the way back down the corridor and Will couldn’t resist the temptation to look back despite the warning alarm ringing inside his head. He found Hannibal was watching him in turn.