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Dread and Hunger

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Chapter 2: Montrachet

            The FBI wasn’t the friendliest place to meet someone at, but when Will explained that he had physical, vital evidence in regards to the recent murder, he was admitted into the building with an escort to Agent Jack Crawford’s office. The man in question was much older, gristly in appearance and expression, and he clasped his hands together on the desk, observing Will with mild suspicion. Will tried to reassure himself that the agent probably looked at most people like that. Then again, probably not. Will studiously studied the edge of the desk rather than look at him.

            “What can I do for you today, Mr. Graham?” he asked. At the presentation of the letter, his brows lifted questioningly, but he made no move to touch it.

            “I go to school at the location the woman was murdered yesterday, and this morning I opened my door and found this,” Will explained. “I know you haven’t released whether or not it’s the Chesapeake Ripper, but at the initials, I went out on a limb.”

            At that, Jack Crawford reached forward and picked up the letter, eyes scanning the artful, elegant script before pausing at the initials, his glare deepening.

            “C.R.,” he murmured. “You think the Chesapeake Ripper sent you this?”

            “The body was right on the quad where I’d definitely see it, and judging from the floral arrangement, it seemed to be an offer of courtship,” said Will. Saying it out loud in front of an aged FBI agent wasn’t as convincing as it had sounded in his head. At the stunted silence, he hurried on. “I don’t really…see people, Agent Crawford. There’s no reason another person would send me something like that, and the people that I do know don’t have those initials.”

            “Are any of your friends good for a laugh?” Jack inquired.

            “They have a sense of humor, but not that kind,” Will replied, not bothering to reassure him that his ‘friends’ could be limited to less than as many fingers he had on one hand.

            “So you think that the Chesapeake Ripper is interested in you because –what, realities and your assumptions of them?” Alright, it definitely sounded stupid when Agent Crawford said it. Will inhaled, counted to three, then exhaled as slowly as possible.

            “I, uhm…I have an empathy disorder,” he said heavily, looking down to the bottom of the desk. The words were rocks, tumbling from his mouth with little regard to what they bruised on the way out. “Whoever wrote this knows that, and seems to know it…intimately. The only people in the world that know about that are now you, me, the therapist my father made me go to when I was twelve, and my father. None of us wrote that letter.”

            “That we know of,” Crawford stated, and Will glanced up to his face, jaw working furiously.

            “You think I wrote that and brought it here?” he asked incredulously.

            “It’s possible.” Crawford’s shoulder twitched into a shrug.

            “I can take a handwriting test if you like, but I didn’t write that,” Will snapped, fingers tapping along the outside of his leg. “That’d be me handing myself over on a silver platter, and I’m not the sacrificial type.”

            “No, but the Chesapeake Ripper is the flashy sort to do something much like that,” Agent Crawford mused, and he spun on his swivel chair, grabbing his phone. “Give me Price down here.”

            Will’s fingerprints were taken, as well as a swab of his saliva. It didn’t seem to matter that he’d been the one to turn the letter in, he was treated with a sort of consternation, each move he made suspect to the situation at hand. The letter was taken by a man in latex gloves, and it disappeared from view. He was shown the door by Crawford who assured him that he’d give him a call if anything ‘checked out’.

            Right.

            He found himself at Sangre the next night, going over the drink list and shadowing a girl a few years younger than him. It was a dim, swanky bar with just the right touches to give it a feel of pomposity as well as class. The drinks were served in old fashioned glasses, and there wasn’t a single chair in the place that hadn’t been reupholstered after being recovered from an antique shop.

            “They want to feel like they’ve stepped back in time, so keep it short, sweet, and articulate,” she coached him, and Will nodded, studying her hands whose nails were serrated from a bad biting habit.

            “I can do that.”

            “Good. If you want to go grab that man’s order, I’ll get the guys in this corner.” She disappeared around a heavy partition of velvet curtains, and Will made his way to the new patron, adjusting his satin red vest. It was itchy, like it’d been passed over by too many hands, but it would have to do, much like the Belle Bleu’s uniform just had to do.

            “Welcome, sir, to Sangre. Is this your first time?” The harpsichord music was just soft enough that he didn’t have to raise his voice, and he smoothed out his vest before looking up. When he saw the very familiar face, he balked a little under its amused stare.

            “It is,” Dr. Lecter said, crossing his leg at the knee. “Is this your first day out of training?”

            “Dr. Lecter, I…yes.” Will nodded, glancing about the bar area before looking back to him, studying the curve of his jaw.

            “When I supposed you’d find something less drawn to the public eye, I should have known this would be such a place for you. There is a distance that was held between people in the 1800’s that this pop culture genre seems to seek.” There was an ironic twist to his mouth as he looked about the brass lamps and muted light, a dismal attempt at gaslights for ambience.

            “How did you know I’d be here?” he asked, and he looked to the table when the doctor’s gaze flicked back to him.

            “Your acquaintance Bryan was kind enough to tell me. I suppose gossip gets about quickly within the bartending circuit.”

            “I didn’t realize I was so popular,” he said dryly, and Dr. Lecter laughed appropriately.

            “No one makes an old fashioned like you do.”

            “Is that what you’ll be having tonight?” Will asked, grabbing his notepad to take his order.

            “I’ll try it, if you recommend it. Have you sampled their selection yet, Will?” Will glanced up to his face, and he studied his eyes, hazel and gold in the lamplight. Behind him, he heard his trainer coming back from her table, and he cleared his throat, looking away.

            “Not yet, but I’ll make sure to use the top shelf bottles,” he promised, and he walked back to the bar, mixing the drink.

            Like all Saturdays, the place steadily filled up as the night wore on, and Will found himself trapped behind the bar making drinks rather than taking most orders. The outfits ranged from the normal, dressy attire to the costume variety that represented the bar in its entirety, and Will found that it was more often than not easier just to pinpoint people by their clothes rather than their face or name. In between rushes, he managed to make it to Dr. Lecter’s table in order to total his bill.

            “I’m sorry, Dr. Lecter, here you are,” he apologized, passing over the ticket. The man laughed lightly, reaching into his wallet for cash rather than fuss with a card.

            “It’s no trouble to me, but if I may, you do seem tired. You should rest after your shift.”

            “I’ll try,” he promised, although not with too much sincerity. He took the cash and returned with change, but when he went to hand it back, Dr. Lecter stood and stopped his hand, fingertips delicately gliding along the back of his hand to his wrist.

            “I insist you keep the change,” he said, and at a head taller Will had to look up to try and meet his gaze. “You’ve certainly earned it, with the way you’ve been running about.”

            “I…thank you,” he said, and he tucked it into his pocket.

            “With your neuroses, I’d imagine this amount of socializing would leave you drained after each shift.” Will didn’t know quite what to say to that. Was he psychoanalyzing him? He stepped away in order to let out a short huff of breath, shifting from one foot to the other.

            “I’m just talking at them; they only talk back for an order or two,” Will reassured him, and when a small group of ladies stepped in with hoopskirts and –god forbid –parasols, he balked at the image.

            “I’m sure,” Dr. Lecter said, obviously not at all sure as he took in the appearance of the people before him. He seemed to think along the same lines as Will did, judging by the faint lines just around his mouth. Will glanced to his chin, then his neck, then his shoulder, unwilling to admit he’d noticed so small of a shift in expression.

            “This doesn’t seem to be your style, doctor. I’d hate for you to waste your time in a place like this just because of how I mix drinks.”

            “Rest assured, Will. It’s not just because of the drinks.” There was a flirtatious allure to his voice, and he was heading towards the door before Will could even think to reply, the back of his neck heating up with the reality of what was just said. He didn’t have time to meditate on it, though; the girls made it to the bar, and he made his way back behind it to greet them, relieved to find that he was not the only one on the staff or in the crowd that had a penchant for avoiding eyes.

-

            This time, the letter was waiting for him when he got back from a study group a few days later, resting against the bottom of his door. He considered calling Jack Crawford, but after the first abysmal meeting, he didn’t want to go through that again. He scooped it up and wheeled the bike into his apartment, locking the door behind him.

“To Will Graham,

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: 
Its lovliness increases; it will never 
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep 
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep 
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

                                                                                                            Yours,

                                                                                                            -C.R.

            “Yours,” Will muttered, setting the letter on the table. Inside, the flower petals were much aged, remnants of what he’d taken from the bouquet. If it was the Chesapeake Ripper, he was certainly in danger. Serial killers didn’t just send love letters for no reason –usually, their reasons escalated until they were wearing their love’s skin as a suit in some sort of sick, bizarre homage. It was possible that this was just to back him into a paranoid corner until he had no means of escape, but why warn him? Were the other victims warned through poetry and letters scrawled stylishly on thick-woven paper?

            A quick internet search informed him that no, the Chesapeake Ripper certainly didn’t send the other victims letters. If he had, Freddie Lounds would have found out –resident campus reporter with a penchant for being illegally nosy –and second, the variety of victims were too diverse and sporadic. If he’d found images of all curly-haired brunettes, maybe. As it was, none of the victims looked remotely like him, and he wasn’t sure if that was a comfort or a warning sign.

            Will tried to entertain the thought that it was a prank, but it was an easily discarded theory. Who would bother pranking him? If it was a prank, wouldn’t they have signed it fully the Chesapeake Ripper rather than leave it to hope that he leapt to that conclusion? In truth, he’d have welcomed it as a prank rather than admit to himself that he potentially had a serial killer sending him notes.

            He slept, and when he dreamed, he dreamt of white oleander and monkshood petals falling from the hands of the dead.

-

            “You seem troubled, Will,” Dr. Lecter said, accepting his drink. It was a Montrachet from a winery Will had only heard talk of, but Sangre offered the best in all things.

            “Are you charging per hour, doctor?” Will asked, the sarcasm half-hearted at best.

            “Please, you may call me Hannibal. I’ve known you long enough that the title is unnecessary.” Hannibal swirled the wine in the glass and inhaled the bouquet, eyes closing. “A good choice.”

            “I thought you might like it.”

            “And once again I am reminded why I moved my afternoon leisure time from Belle Bleu to Sangre.” Will ducked his head at the compliment, turning the drink tray flat against his stomach as he took a step back. After his initial arrival, Hannibal had resumed his Monday through Friday appearance, refusing to take advantage of the lady fingers discount if you ordered drinks from 3-7 that included a shot of Bailey’s.

            “To my original observation, though; are you troubled?” Will looked away from him to the empty bar because apparently no one lurking about for a steampunk aesthetic seemed to come out of hiding until at least 6:30.

            “Some trouble sleeping,” he admitted, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Hannibal nod.

            “School assignments keeping you awake in the dark hours of the night?”

            “Love letters, mostly,” said Will, and he froze when he realized what’d popped out of his mouth. He hadn’t meant to say it, mostly due to lack of desire to share that aspect of his business, but also because it was troubling business at best and deadly business at worst.

            “Love letters,” Hannibal repeated, and a smile ghosted his lips. “Are you dating someone, Will?”

            “No,” he hastily replied, turning back to Hannibal. “No, just…someone sending me love letters. At least, letters of admiration.”

            “Do you lie awake and think of them fondly, or are you losing sleep because the contents make you uncomfortable?” Dr. Lecter tilted his head, and his knowing gaze ripped right through Will to expose him.

            “It’s…more my worry of who it’s from,” he said, and he rocked back on his heels, gripping the serving tray tightly. When Hannibal motioned for him to sit, he did so, poised on the edge of the opposing chair, watching Hannibal’s crafty fingers turn the wine glass about on its napkin.

            “Unrequited love?” Hannibal asked lightly.

            “I don’t even know who it is,” Will confessed, leaning in and staring at the fake kerosene lamp between them. “I have…my suspicions, but if I’m right…”

            “Ah, a secret admirer. I could imagine, with your constitution, that such a thing would be invasive and horrifying to think of,” Hannibal noted, a mild tone of mocking. Will gritted his teeth and refused to acknowledge it.

            “I think this person may be someone that’s hurting other people, and I don’t know if they’re hurting them for me, or if it’s just…something to pass the time.” He thought of the woman on the quad and closed his eyes, lashes fluttering against his skin as he exhaled shakily.

            “Have you taken your concerns to the police?”

            “They weren’t helpful in the least,” Will replied, snorting. “In fact, they took my prints and all but accused me of bringing misleading or damning information to them.” He glanced to his knees, sighed, then looked out of the semi-parted curtains to watch pedestrians outside. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, or if I should even do anything.”

            “What do your school studies tell you to do in a situation like this?” Will had almost forgotten that Hannibal knew what he went to school for.

            “Report your concern so that it’s on file, and don’t try and message back.”

            “Have you done both of those things?”

            “Yes.” Will nodded firmly. “I keep my door locked, my windows locked, I try not to be alone-”

            “Another difficult task for one such as yourself, I’d imagine,” Hannibal cut in dryly. Will looked to his shoulder, frowning.

            “I have friends,” he said, like that absolved him of anything.

            “I’m not questioning your acquiring of friends, but I do question your ability to open up to them and build your relationships with the sharing of intimate details about your life. When this happened to you, did you go to them?” At Will’s guilty silence, he nodded knowingly. “And when it troubled you further, did you finally seek them out?” Another silence. Hannibal took a sip of his wine. “Friendships are made to be built by trust and shared experiences that bond you, but a person such as yourself struggles with that connection to people because you struggle to open up.”

            “How do you know so much about me?” Will asked suspiciously, unwilling to admit his embarrassment at being read so well.

            “You’ve met my eyes once since helping me today, and that is the average of each time you’ve ever served me. I believe on a good day, you will meet my gaze approximately four to five times, and on a particularly bad day, you can’t manage the trouble at all.” It echoed his old boss, and Will nodded, morose.

            “I’m sorry.”

            “Don’t be. Do you avoid the gaze of others because you are made physically uncomfortable, or do you see the very things one would rather keep secret?”

            “You really are psychoanalyzing me,” said Will, glancing up to his face. He forced himself to look at his eyes, drumming his fingers on his knee. He made it a good three seconds before looking over his shoulder instead.

            “Am I making you uncomfortable?” Hannibal asked.

            “A little.”

            “I’d apologize, but I’m not entirely sorry,” he revealed and Will nodded in agreement.

            “I had a feeling.”

            “This…person you suspect as harming people while sending you love letters; do you believe it will escalate over time?”

            “That’s my concern. We’ve studied obsession, stalking, and ‘offerings’, and it doesn’t end well for the target in any case except for cases where law enforcement took their claims seriously. Even then, it’s difficult to…pinpoint the person behind it. They stay low, they stick to the shadows and underbelly of society, and they use any suspicion directed towards them as a means to make the victim appear mentally unstable and inefficient as a witness to any crime.” When a customer walked in, Will stood, turning the serving tray about in his hands. Hannibal glanced to the patron, then nodded in understanding.

            “Do you feel like a victim, Will?” he wondered before Will walked away.

            “I feel…” His voice halted in his throat and refused to go further. When he couldn’t finish his sentence, he nodded his head to Hannibal and excused himself silently, the back of his neck hot with embarrassment. As he took orders, he saw Hannibal relax into his chair and look out of the window with a calm, sanguine expression, as though they’d never spoken. Thankfully, the good doctor didn’t press for an admission when he finalized his bill, and Will was able to get away without having to admit that he felt rather flattered that out of everyone in DC, he was the one the Ripper decided to notice.