Chapter 3: Sauvignon Blanc
When another body was reported on the Tri-Delta lawn, the school had a meltdown. Classes were cancelled –much to Beverly’s dismay since she was right in the midst of a fiber analysis breakthrough –and everyone hovered in groups in order to make plans for vigils and for better security. Will sat at one of the benches nearby, watching the spectacle of teachers attempting to console and wrangle in the hysteria, all the while their own sat perched just underneath their chins.
This time, he had no doubt this kill was for him.
“They said it’s the Chesapeake Ripper,” Alana said, arms folded across her chest. She was one of Will’s few friends, in the midst of her graduate program, her backpack stuffed so full of books it was a wonder she didn’t topple over.
“It is,” Will said, staring at the corpse through cuts and breaks of the living bodies milling about.
“What makes you say that?”
“He’s a poet –can’t you tell?” Will glanced at her wryly, and she cracked a tense grin. She was no more comfortable around dead bodies than other people were. “This is Hades tricking Persephone to Hell.”
“I’m familiar with the story,” said Alana, and when a teacher managed to lead a group of students away, she sat down beside him. How she wore heels in the middle of campus, he didn’t know, but he did commend her for it. Struggling through wet soil in that sort of shoe seemed a punishment to him, but to each their own. He studied the patent leather for a prolonged moment before looking back to the woman posed in such a grotesque fashion.
“Behind her, he planted flowers, but the gaping black maw he created between those two trees represents Hell. The branch in the shape of a hand reaching through is Hades.”
“Why did he use a branch for Hades' hand rather than another human hand?” Alana wondered. Will shrugged.
“I think that’s his hand. The branch was moved and trimmed but not killed from the tree. He says he represents the life in the darkness, so I don’t think he’d want a dead hand for that. He’s leading Persephone into what, to mortals, is the worst of places to be, but we all know she ruled Hell after getting there. Hades paved the place before her to be a queen.” Will swallowed heavily, his palms clammy against his jeans. Nervously, he drummed his fingers.
“So you think that one psychiatrist was right? Dr. Chilton claims the Chesapeake Killer is in love.” Alana wrinkled her nose in disgust at the thought, and Will twitched his shoulder in a shrug. He noted the FBI agents moving about, and that was even better confirmation than his own thoughts or Dr. Chilton’s news analysis.
“He even found the right dress to put her in. The right floral crown, the whole…set-up. He’s detailed. A romantic.”
“Are you impressed at his care, or are you horrified you can see the care he put into it?” Alana asked lightly. Will tensed, looking to her knee cap, then to the ground where her foot rested. Although they’d never talked about his mind very much, out of her respect for their friendship, there was a reason Alana was the top of her class. She knew without him ever having to say a damn thing.
“Both,” he admitted, and he scratched the back of his neck.
“Seeing and understanding doesn’t make you the same,” she assured him, and she lightly patted his shoulder, squeezing it.
“I know you know, but as your friend I’m making sure that you know I know.” He laughed at that, standing up when the sight of Persephone’s curly brown mop of hair was too much for him. That was the only inaccuracy to her appearance, and it was enough for him to solidify the kernel of truth that he’d been wrestling with for a few weeks now.
The Chesapeake Ripper was interested in him, for reasons he was too terrified to know.
There was a letter waiting for him when he got home, and he snatched it from the floor of the apartment hall with a vengeance. He let his bike fall onto the middle of his apartment floor as he hurriedly locked his door behind him, and when he sat down at the table, he opened it with shaky hands, the heavy paper supple and smooth. Out of the envelope, seven seeds fell, and he stared at them on the cheap wooden tabletop before he unfolded the letter, swallowing convulsively.
You bring the light clasped round you, and although
I knew you’d bring it, knew it as I waited,
Knew as you’d come that you’d come cloaked in light
I had forgotten what light meant, and so
This longed for moment, so anticipated,
I stand still, dazzled by my own delight.
I see you, and you see me, and we smile
And your smile says you are as pleased as me
With everything and nothing still to say
All that we’ve saved and thought through all this time
Boils down to affirmation now as we
Stand here enlightened in my realm of grey.
He shook his head, but the words remained the same. A steady thrum of pleasure snaked down his back and, with a groan of disgust, he tossed it to the center of the table where the other poem lay. Poetry? The Chesapeake Ripper was sending him poetry? Two bodies could now be said to be equally his blame, since something about him had made the Ripper want to…well, rip. He dragged his fingertips over his eyelids, rubbing them until galactic spirals churned in his vision.
He couldn’t stay in his house like this. Like Dr. Lecter said –friends were supposed to be your stability.
Perhaps that was what had him out at a club that was certainly not his style that Friday night, seated at the bar while Beverly, Alana, and Alana’s girlfriend, Margot, danced to a syncopated and too fast beat. Beside him, Brian Zeller took a rather large gulp of his beer, spinning on the stool to watch them.
“This was a great idea,” he said to Will, motioning towards Beverly. “She’s pissed they won’t let her finish her work, so it’s going to sit there all weekend because the school insists we aren’t there.” Brian was a good friend of Beverly’s since they were both studying forensics with sights on the FBI. While sometimes Brian found Will to be all but intolerable, Will found that his presence was certainly tolerable enough. He wasn’t Beverly, but he’d do. He needed the noise, the alcohol, and the feverish high that places like this brought in order to get rid of the image of Persephone reaching for Hades’ hand on the middle of the Tri-Delta lawn. He wondered if they’d dig up the flowers the Ripper had planted, or if they’d keep it as some odd memento. He wondered if they'd give him one to put into a terra cotta pot.
“I thought she could use it,” he said over the beat. He sipped his whiskey, pleased that he’d caught the woman in time before she’d given him bottom shelf well water instead of something smooth. Once he’d told her he bartended, she was quick to give him middle shelf, which was all a guy could ask for.
“This isn’t your scene, though, right? I mean, you’re not going to go try and…” Brian laughed and motioned towards the dance floor where several men lurked, attempting to find ways to ingratiate themselves to the gyrating bodies. Will shrugged, eyes leaping to the flashing, seizure-inducing lights.
“You can, and I won’t judge,” he promised Brian, and that’s all that Zeller needed to hear. He was gone after he chugged his beer down, and he worked through the crowd in order to get to where their friends were, moving to the beat.
Time crawled, though. While they moved and shifted and bounced about to the ever changing songs and sounds, he took drink after drink until the sweaty air became too hot, the stool beneath him too unstable. Will paid his tab and stumbled from his seat, unable to find his friends but more than able to find a side door out into an alley. He gulped in the cool air, and he wiped his forehead, leaning back against the brick and closing his eyes to make the world stop spinning for just a moment.
It was at that unfortunate moment that he was grabbed, the world lurching about him wildly as he was spun and slammed against the brick wall face first, making spots of starlight explode in his eyes.
“Fuck, what are you-”
“Sh,” the person said, and Will froze as the assailant pinned him against the wall from his knees to his shoulders, their body flush against him. He thought to shout out, to resist, but against the side of his ribs he felt a thin, deadly pressure, and his drunken mind said that yes, Will, that was indeed a knife. People with knives pressed to their skin didn’t shout or resist because they weren’t stupid, and you’re drunk but certainly not stupid.
“Don’t move.” The voice was low, gravelly. Will froze against the wall, although he had it in him to nod so that the man knew he was going to comply. Was he being robbed? He didn’t have much since he deposited his tips into his account as soon as possible, but there was at least twenty bucks in his wallet.
He didn’t go for his wallet, though, pressed so close as they were. Will knew that he was burning up from the alcohol, but that paled in comparison to the heat that radiated from the man, something that scalded his skin and pierced deep. Against his back, the man’s heart beat at a steady, regular interval, and Will knew this wasn’t the first time he’d handled another person so violently.
The man's hands began to move slowly, leisurely. They trailed along the side of his thighs, his waist, his ribs. When they reached the juncture between chest and arm, they slid over his back and splayed across his shoulder blades, the small bump in the spread informing Will that he was dragging the knife along, too. He held as still as he could, breaths turning into gasps, transforming to wheezes. He was going to die. He was going to die drunk outside of a club in an alley, then what would the Chesapeake Ripper say?
The man’s hands glided over his shoulders, then jerked him from the wall enough that he could slide his hands down his chest, across his ribs. Even with the space provided, he didn’t feel like he had an out. The man’s chest was pressed flush against him, his arms an iron cage. In the darkness of the alley, he could only see shapes, distinctions of where the knife was separate from the hand, and when he paused on Will’s heartbeat it doubled in time, alerting his attacker that he was utterly, utterly terrified.
The hands continued their investigation, gliding across his stomach and abs, hesitating at the waistline, pausing just above his jeans. He gulped, and the man’s hands drifted down, stopping just at the point where his hand rested right on top of Will’s member.
“Please don’t,” he said quietly, and the man applied pressure, rubbing the area in slow, massaging circles. Will shuddered and his head fell forward so that it could press into the brick, a sharp breath hissing from his lips. The man behind him hmm’d thoughtfully, and he pressed his nose and mouth against Will’s neck, inhaling deeply.
He felt when it began to become aroused, tightening the material of his jeans, and the other man felt it, too. There was a disconnect, a whisper in his mind that reminded him that physical reaction was not a true sign of arousal, that the body naturally reacted to stimulation. When the man bit down on his neck and sucked lightly, though, the thought swept away from him, disorganized and chaotic in the rush of pleasure that made his knees weak. This wasn’t right; this wasn’t right.
It felt pretty damn good, though.
His breaths became pants, his member straining against the material. The man gripped it tightly, squeezed, and he moaned, leaning back against him. The man’s free hand wrapped tightly around his chest, holding him back against the erection he could feel pressed tightly to his rear.
A door slammed to the side of the club.
The man shoved him, and he fell against the brick wall, his breaths escaping in quiet, muted gulps. Footsteps rushed away from him, and when his mind made the connection to turn and look, there was no one there. He blinked, stared at the empty alleyway, and when he finally got his legs to cooperate, he found his way to a taxi and slid into it, rubbing his neck where the assailant had left their mark.
The next day, well after he’d dry-heaved into the toilet and scrubbed the taste of day old whiskey from his mouth, he savagely tore open the letter that waited on his doorstep, innocent and lovely with its curling script and cream paper. This time, it was gravel that fell into his palm, and he knew without having to truly know just who had assaulted him in the middle of an alley in DC.
You really must be more careful where you go so late at night. What if I had not been the only killer in the alleyway? What would you have done, then?
“You look far more tired than usual, Will. How was your weekend?” Hannibal saw all, it seemed. Will set his drink down, a Sauvignon Blanc, and he rubbed the lack of sleep out of his eyes.
“Pretty hellish,” he admitted, then rebuked himself. That wasn’t something Hannibal Lecter had to know. He was a customer, for Christ’s sake.
“More letters from your admirer?” At his gesture to sit down, Will took it, glancing about to make sure no other customers were about. Sangre wasn’t a popular place on a Monday at 4:00 P.M., which is probably why he was stuck with the shift. New blood got the worst shifts.
“And what I suspect is a body, but I can’t confirm that,” he said, and admitting it out loud was like spitting acid onto the table before them. His fingers tapped out a tuneless beat on the server tray, and he held his breath. Should he tell Hannibal that he’d been sexually assaulted? He’d considered going to the cops, but his classes and experiences told him just how futile that adventure would be. Women who’d been raped or assaulted faced a gauntlet of horrifying and accusatory statements, and men were faced with a blank stare of utter disbelief. Men weren’t sexually assaulted. Women mostly lied about being sexually assaulted.
He’d firmly decided against filing the report.
“It is interesting that this person has chosen you,” Hannibal said, tilting his head. “Why do you think that is?”
“He thinks…I can connect with people on a level beyond human interaction,” Will said slowly. Don’t give it away. Don’t give it away. “But I’m sure that I upset him the other night, so I may not hear from him ever again.”
“How did you do that?” Dr. Lecter asked, intrigued. His eyes lightened perceptively.
“Are we going to start calling these therapy sessions, Dr. Lecter?” Will replied dryly.
“These are mere conversations between acquaintances,” Hannibal replied genially. He inhaled the bouquet and smiled appreciatively at Will, nodding his approval. “Some would argue this a more of a summer wine, but I enjoy the freshness of it.”
“I thought something light for the day,” Will said. Something light while discussing something dark.
“A lovely thought. But do go on.”
“I went out with friends to a club they like, and I got a little drunk,” Will revealed, rubbing the back of his neck. “He basically informed me that he didn’t like that.”
“Are you so sure it’s a he?”
“If the murders that are correlating to the letters are him, then yes.” He thought of the muggy, cold air that’d collected in the space around them, the heat that’d burned his skin. That was no woman that’d pressed him against the wall.
“He feels entitled to where you go and what you do, then,” Hannibal observed. “Why do you think that is?”
“Obsession,” Will replied automatically.
“So you believe this person is obsessed with you?” Will shrugged, a non-committed gesture.
“He’s obsessed with some part of me that he thinks he can see, but he doesn’t really know me. He’s never spoken to me, but he’s made assumptions, and he’s obsessed with those ideas.”
“By your logic, then, if he did come to know you, would it cease to be an obsession? Would it transcend to something more?” Hannibal wondered. “You who looked at the murders that you feel are linked to this admirer, you assumed to know of them the way this admirer assumes they know you. In your own way, does that make you obsessed in some form or other?”
“I only looked to see after their deaths correlated to me, though,” Will protested.
“Then perhaps the obsession is with yourself, that you see someone kill another and suppose it has anything to do with you,” Hannibal replied with a sly smile.
“…Maybe,” Will said reluctantly.
“Are you, perhaps, upset that he didn’t ask permission before sending you such letters?” Hannibal inquired when Will didn’t add anything. “I should have asked permission as well before engaging in any sort of conversation –my mistake.”
“It’s different with you,” Will said, looking up to his face. “You aren’t running around town killing people just to get my attention.”
“Thankfully,” Hannibal replied gravely. He maintained an intense, searching stare, and the longer Will looked, the more he found his breath coming somewhat short, wanting.
“And…I like our conversations,” he added a beat later. He looked out of the window where passersby hurried through whatever errand sent them scurrying so quickly. He felt Hannibal’s stare on his skin like a stain he couldn’t quite scrub off, and he wasn’t sure whether he should elaborate or slink back to the bar where he’d pretend to wipe it down for a little while. Hannibal busied himself with enjoying the wine, and that was enough compliment for him.
“I enjoy our conversations as well, Will,” Hannibal said at last. “Despite your reluctance for any interaction with others, once you put aside a refusal to be anything more than professional, you’re quite adept at socializing with people, as adults are wont to do.”
“My refusal to be anything more than professional?” Will asked, eyes flickering to Hannibal’s lips. They twitched.
“Oh, yes. I could see the fear in your eyes, at first; God forbid we became friendly.” It took him a second to realize that Dr. Lecter was teasing him. Will smiled wryly, and he looked to the bar, giving a start when he saw his boss. He stood and held up the server tray, akin to a shield, and he nodded to Hannibal, as professional and aloof as he could make it.
Whether his boss bought it or not, that much was uncertain. Hannibal left a generous tip, and Will was left with an odd feeling that made his bones press tight against his skin.