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Dread and Hunger

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Chapter 4: Pinot Noir

            Jack Crawford found him four days later while loitering outside of his apartment. In one hand he turned his car keys over and over and over, and in the other hand he grasped a familiar cream envelope. Will stopped, heart lurching at the sight. The fight or flight instinct left him, replaced with a quiet reassurance that in reality, he hadn’t actually done anything wrong.

            Why did he feel so guilty, then?

            “Is this where he leaves them?” Crawford asked, feigning nonchalance. In truth, he wasn’t very good at it. Will could smell the discontent.

            “Every time,” Will replied hollowly. Jack nodded and gestured towards his front door.

            “May I come in?”

            “Sure.” Will wheeled his bike over and unlocked the door, hair rising up on end as he walked past the FBI agent and into his house, every cell inside of him screaming to run and run fast. Jack Crawford followed him into the apartment and shut it, effectively sealing off his only practical escape.

            He didn’t bother concealing the three letters that sat on his table, open and unassuming. The seeds still intermingled with the flower petals and gravel on the table, the envelopes in a disheveled pile. Jack looked them over, brows raised in surprise, and he passed the new one to Will once his bike was put away. Will sat down in one of the dining room chairs, turning the letter over to study the thick build-up of wax on the seal.

            “You open it,” Jack urged, and Will passed his thumb under the wax, popping it open. His heard was palpitating at the thought of what he’d find since the last note, and he numbly wondered if he should see a doctor. Heart palpitations couldn’t be healthy.

            This time, violet hyacinth petals fell into his palm, followed by white tulips. Like before, they were freshly bruised, recently ripped from the stem where they’d taken the first of their last breaths. He turned his palm over, let them drop to the table, and he opened the letter.

Dear Will,

Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,

A hand that can be clasp'd no more—
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.

He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro' the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.

                                                                                                            Yours,

                                                                                                            -C.R.

            “Did he kill someone again?” Will asked quietly, setting the letter down. He slid it to Jack whose eyes cut across it, devouring each line hungrily.

            “Yes,” Jack replied once he finished the letter. Will shook his head and buried his face in his hands dismally.

            “I told you,” he said, voice muffled.

            “Why didn’t you bring these to me?” Jack asked, gesturing to the small pile of them. Accusation riddled his tone an ugly shade of red.

            “You accused me of being the Chesapeake Ripper the first time. I didn’t think you’d listen.” Will said, lifting his head.

            “I’m listening. I’ve got a man with no face kneeling before a cross with a note in his palm that has your name on it,” Jack said heavily.

            “He’s apologizing,” Will realized after a moment. His mind reeled, hungry for the image he’d see when he faced the corpse, terrified at what it’d reveal. He shoved the hunger down, down, down.

            “He’s apologizing for the murders?” Jack asked skeptically.

            “He cornered me in an alley the other night, and he had a knife to me. At the last second, he pulled away. Maybe he knows how much it scared me, maybe he knows how…‘wrong’ it was. He’s come here before to apologize, but I wasn’t home and he blames himself.”

            “Do you mind telling me why you didn’t call the cops then?” Jack growled.

            “He knows enough about me that I thought he’d kill me if I did,” Will retorted. “Have you ever been hunted by a serial killer, Jack Crawford?”

            “Plenty of times,” Jack assured him, eyes darkening. He studied Will across the table, and whatever he found beneath the hair and the surface of his skin, he didn’t quite like. “Would it help if I apologized? We should have listened. I should have listened to you. I looked you up afterwards; top of the class in forensics and criminology, and your professors say you have a knack for seeing things that no one else in their classes can see.”

            “Yes,” Will agreed reluctantly.

            “You have been able to reconstruct cases that were considered long dead, used as examples of cold case files, and in one of your reports, a theory was used that led to the capture of a serial killer over in North Dakota.”

            “…Yes.”

            “I also spoke with your old therapist.” Jack steepled his fingers and surveyed Will critically. “She said you were too smart for the therapy because you kept seeing through the techniques and deemed them useless.”

            “Yes.”

            “At twelve-years-old,” Jack added curtly.

            “…Yes.”

            “She said your empathy disorder made you so utterly disgusted with yourself that you could identify with literally anyone in the room, and your lack of stable barriers made their thoughts and ideals your own, so much so that you were afraid you were just as capable at killing as the boy that brought a gun to school in your tenth grade year.”

            “Aren’t there laws about doctor-patient confidentiality?” Will asked snidely.

            “You gave her express consent to discuss your therapy when you were sixteen-years-old, after that shooting,” Jack replied easily. “Now, you’ve got five personalized letters from a killer I’ve been hunting for years. The Chesapeake Ripper cornered you in an alley, and when he could have made you his next victim, he instead is sending you flowers and apology letters.” If Jack’s voice grew any louder, it’d be considered shouting. Will wondered if he pointed that it, Jack would lower his voice.

            Probably not.

            “I tried to tell you,” Will said, staring at the pile of letters.

            “Yes, you did. Your old therapist said that you were on the spectrum.”

            “More along the line of autistics and Asperger’s than narcissists and psychopaths,” Will tried to assure him.

            “Your mind makes leaps no one can follow; you saw the Chesapeake Ripper’s message to you before anyone else could.”

            “I’d just call it an over active imagination, nothing more or less,” said Will reluctantly.

            “I’d like to borrow that imagination, Will. The Chesapeake Ripper is interested in you, and I need your help to understand why.”

            “You can take the letters, but I don’t want any part of this,” Will said, holding his hands up and out. “I can’t say he won’t kill me for even talking to you right now.”

            “You’d have an FBI escort to ensure nothing happened to you,” Jack pointed out.

            “No, I just…I just want to be left alone.” After a beat, he added, “By all of you.” Will was ashamed at how his voice cracked, vulnerable. Jack nodded, and Will wasn’t sure if it was in understanding, or because he felt Will needed the validation.

            “Just take one look, tell me what you see, and I’ll make sure everyone leaves you the hell alone.”

            That is how Will Graham found himself escorted in a ritzy car to the FBI HQ, placed before a table full of photos and shots of the deaths that’d occurred ‘in his name’. His hands passed over the smooth texture of each photo, and he thought of the way it’d felt to be pressed up against the wall in the dank, foul alley. It’d been terrifying –that much was obvious. Alcohol made things swim, emotions that floated about before surfacing after they had the time to be softened, mulled over for a while. He tried to focus on the terror rather than the pleasure, the fear rather than the excitement. He wasn’t sure if the pleasure and excitement he recalled were his or the Chesapeake Ripper’s.

            The man in the photos knelt before the cross at one of the churches, an old, catholic one by the looks of it. It would have been almost spiritual, if he’d had a face. Beside the photo, the note they’d pried from his hands held Will’s name in familiar, arching script.

            “It’s nice paper,” Will commented.

            “We checked the paper and the ink. Although nice, there are several boutique stores in the entire surrounding area that sell it, and even most chains can get their hands on it,” Jack grunted. When they’d arrived, he’d cleared the room of anyone lurking about. The older man, Price, had given Will a thumb’s up before clearing out, and Will wasn’t sure if it was a vote of confidence or a gesture of good will.

            Maybe good luck, since Price felt that he needed it.

            “What’s he do?”

            “Have you read the papers?”

            “Some. None of them look the same, go to the same places, or have anything remotely in common with one another until he decides they all belong in his collection.”

            Jack stared at Will, and Will avoided his gaze. He plucked at a photo, staring at Persephone walking towards Hades. Was the Ripper telling him he offered a life of ruling within the darkness? He wanted to court him with the flowers, show him just what he could do for him, and when he went too far, he apologized. Maybe he had been moments from death in that alley, and then the Ripper decided he wasn’t done playing yet.

            The thought made his palms sweat.

            “He decides they belong in his collection,” Jack repeated when Will said nothing else. “Is the collection ongoing from the past years, or is each one new?”

            “Each one is different and unique. Usually he works in sounders of three or so, doesn’t he?”

            “Yes.”

            “I wonder why.” Will slid three of the photos together: the courtship, Persephone, and the apology. “If he’s sticking to that rule, he’s finished.”

            “Do you think he’s finished?”

            “No,” Will murmured. “Why sounders of three?”

            “Timing? Ease?” Jack thought out loud.

            “I wonder.” Will frowned down at the photos, waiting for them to tell him.

            “Where he didn’t kill you, then his plan, whatever that is, continues.”

            “He could have killed me in that alley, and instead he’s apologizing. He knows I went to you with the first letter, so he gave you a reason to come and see the rest,” Will said.

            “So he’s playing with us,” Jack realized, and Will nodded, glancing up.

            “The apology is for me because he almost killed me and he wants to drag this out however he can. He wants me, but he doesn’t want to…end me. If he only wanted to apologize, he would have just sent a note, seeing as how not every note is a death, although every poem is. He wanted you to see, though.”

            “See what, exactly?”

            “The reason why he’s interested in me.” Will tapped the photo of the kneeling man, his face missing. “That’s him. You can’t see his face because he’s the Chesapeake Ripper, but he believes I can see the man behind the face.”

            “Because of your…imagination?” Jack pressed.

            “Yes.”

            “Will you look at the body?”

            “I don’t want to see the body.” Will shook his head sharply, pressing his hand flat to the photo. It was a lie, but at the same time it was also not a lie in the least.

            “I just want you to look.”

            “Normal people don’t want to see dead bodies,” Will retorted.

            “There’s nothing wrong with looking to see if you see something that no one else does.”

            “I can look, but the…the thinking will shut down. I don’t want to see him.” Will’s fingers tapped on the photo, and he glanced to the faceless man, throat dry. “I don’t.”

            “You don’t want to see him because it’s a dead body or is it because you don’t want to see the Chesapeake Ripper?”

            “Both. The second.” Definitely the second. Logic told him that it wasn’t the Chesapeake Ripper, that the Ripper certainly wasn’t finished with him, but the idea of inhaling the pungent smell of dead flesh and chemicals and staring at a face with no skin made his heart palpitate again –definitely needed to see a doctor.

            “I need you to see, Will.” Jack said, and the words were clear: there wasn’t really a choice in the matter.

            Will followed him to the adjoining room, the wall of body slabs metallic and clean to belie the foul things they hid inside. Jack opened one and hauled out the gurney, leaving Will with the gristly visage of a very dead man. Will wanted to close his eyes, but he forced himself to stare. The flesh was dingy, an ugly shade of grey.

            “Death does not look good on you,” Will said quietly.

            “You did a paper on intelligent psychopaths once that made your teacher post it in one of the school’s journals. You emphasized how difficult they were to catch because there is no traceable motive or rhyme and reason. They change methods; they are meticulous and tidy. This is the first time the Chesapeake Ripper has given us anything to go on, and it’s you. You’re his motive, and whatever he’s seeing when he looks at you is manifesting on these people.”

            “He wants to understand me, and he wants to be understood,” Will said.

            “What?”

            “He thinks there’s something worthwhile in my mind. The Chesapeake Ripper is, above all, arrogant. He knows you won’t catch him. That’s why he’s toying with you. He…” Will gestured to the body, eyes glued to the man’s distinct lack of face. “He knows you won’t catch him because he leaves nothing but what he wants you to see and understand. That lends itself a certain isolation, though, doesn’t it?”

            “Isolation?”

            “The only person that knows who the Chesapeake Ripper is, is the Chesapeake Ripper.”

            “You think the Chesapeake Ripper is lonely?” Derision colored Crawford’s word black.

            “If you were the only one in the world that knew why you did what you did, wouldn’t you be lonely too?” Will asked. “A face that no one can see, and he thinks he’s found someone that could maybe understand.”

            “You have a knack for understanding the monsters,” Jack said after a beat.

            “I can understand anyone,” Will snapped. “Monsters, normal people, the ones that think they’re normal when they’re not.”

            “He only cares about the fact that you can see him, though.”

            Will nodded in agreement, and he finally tore his gaze away from the man’s sinew and muscle.

            “I wonder why three,” he said.

            “They were sounders of three before, but not now. Not if he’s just getting started,” Jack replied. Will nodded in agreement. If he was going to be left to live through whatever the Chesapeake Ripper had in store, then it was natural to assume other people were going to continue getting hurt.

            There’d been a steady tapping noise in the background, and it was only when Jack walked away with him that he realized he’d been tapping fingers on the metal, just centimeters away from taking the man’s hand.

-

            Will was kindly let go from his job at Sangre.

            Somehow, amidst his penchant for avoiding eyes and remaining aloof, his bosses felt he was too much the ‘kicked puppy’ that people just felt the need to take home. He wasn’t quite sure how to take that critique –it came down to aesthetics rather than true criticism of his work ethic –but he handed in his itchy red vest and bowtie all the same.

            He was just leaving the bar when Hannibal was walking in, and he was unable to meet the doctor’s eyes when they both stopped.

            “Off work so early, Will?” Hannibal asked.

            “I was fired,” Will said, studying the cracks on the sidewalk. He wondered if Hannibal cared about avoiding the cracks in the cement as much as he did.

            “Fired?” Hannibal’s brows lifted and he shifted his stance. “What was their reasoning?”

            “Apparently there is some sort of endearing quality to my face that just doesn’t sell.”

            “I wasn’t aware that you had to work at selling alcohol. Don’t the consumers gladly come to you?”

            “That’s what I thought.” Will scuffed his shoe on the sidewalk and looked up, eyes finding their way to Hannibal’s shoulder. “Back on the market, I suppose.”

            “Are you going to attempt to remain within the service industry?”

            “I’ve been told that I know how to make a really good Old Fashioned.”

            “That you do,” Hannibal agreed.

            “Should I pass along another message to someone here for you?” It was a teasing sort of question, something that bordered along the lines of almost flirtatious. Will instantly regretted it, willing himself to pull the words back into his mouth.

            “Have you eaten yet?” Hannibal asked instead.

            “What?” Will managed to find his way to his face, surprised to see a pleasant smile. The sunlight made his eyes tawny, and they were fixed very decidedly on Will.

            “I’d imagine you haven’t had dinner. Allow me to pour the drinks for you instead.”

            “Oh, Dr. Lecter, I couldn’t…”

            “You’ve just lost a second job, and I would be remiss to see you go hungry because you forgot to eat in your haste to find a new occupation. It’s the least I can do.”

            Maybe it was the way his expression was mischievous rather than piteous, or the fact that when Will looked at his feet, he saw that Hannibal wasn’t standing on any cracks in the cement. It could have been that he’d already been rung out and left to air dry by Jack just a few days before, or maybe it was because there was something vastly appealing about someone cooking dinner for him when they most certainly didn’t have to.

            “Okay," he said, and the word gave him a small bolster of courage. "...Okay."