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Dread and Hunger

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Chapter 6: Chardonnay

            “An FBI agent was looking for you,” Beverly said, sitting outside of a bagel shop.

            “He was probably going to ask me about you,” Will replied evasively. The Bagel Shop was just that –a bagel shop. They used bagels rather than bread, and somehow that made it unique, as well as expensive. The bagels were delicious, though. He bit into one affectionately coined as ‘Donkey Punch’ and used the large bite to avoid elaborating.

            “I’ve still got some time before they start doing that. I haven’t even applied yet,” Beverly said. “They’re crawling around on campus, asking questions. Maybe they got a hold of your last paper on reconstructing forensics and wanted to talk to you.”

            “We’re just in college. I’m sure if they wanted real insight, they’d ask a professional.”

            “Yeah, maybe you’re right.” Beverly took a bite and spoke around the food. “Guess I can’t even call you a professional bartender, can I?”

            “I got a new job,” said Will, looking across the street. It was a much more upscale bar, no one over the age of forty sitting among the chairs unless accompanied by a far younger, supple female. He was strictly to work at the bar, not leaving his post unless told to. A week into training and he hadn’t seen Hannibal show up; he wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or utterly disappointed by the fact. He must have royally butchered dinner.

            “I can’t come crash this one in petticoats, can I?”

            “I’d rather you didn’t. I’m going to try and keep this one,” Will said, and maybe if he said it with more feeling, it’d be true.

            “I went to Sangre after you were let go; why hadn’t you told me they fired you?” He looked away from the woman arguing on her cell phone and studied Beverly’s hands, clenched around a bagel whose insides were spilling out.

            “I forgot,” he said honestly.

            “Well…I wasn’t the only one you’d forgotten to tell. I left, and a man stopped me and asked about you. He was cute, in an older, not-quite-your-dad-but-the-cool-young-uncle sort of way.” He could feel the grin ruminating in her words. “You got a boyfriend, Will?”

            “What’d he say?” Will asked, looking up to her face.

            “He asked if I knew you, asked if you’d found new work yet…that kind of thing. I said I didn’t even know you’d gotten fired, and he sympathized with the plight of a friend left out of the loop.” Beverly stared him down, eyebrow raised expectantly.

            “I forgot,” he emphasized weakly. “I’m sorry.”

            “He said he was a regular of yours. Dr. Hannibal Lecter. You getting something on the side you’re not telling me?” Her grin was wicked.

            “We had dinner, but nothing else,” he said, and Beverly cackled.

            “He’s an older guy, Will. I didn’t know you were into that!”

            “I don’t know what I’m into.” Will said defensively. “It doesn’t matter, it was…it was stupid. I haven’t seen him since.”

            That sobered her up. Be it his tone or his picking apart of the top of the bagel, she took another bite of hers and left him to his thoughts, allowing him to marinade in how much he supposed he’d messed up. He should have pressed back against him, given him the silent okay. He should have let Hannibal turn his mind off, leave him to the machinations of autopilot, of action and reaction. Maybe Hannibal sensed how much it wouldn’t have helped, though. He was a doctor, after all. He saw more of Will than even Will saw.

            “Well, he seemed interested enough to stop me outside of Sangre and ask about you. He said he hoped you were doing well.” Beverly found the right words, the tone of teasing gone.

            “I am,” Will replied.

            “Are you?” Beverly asked. “Really, Will; are you okay?”

            He didn’t have an answer to that. He finished his food, grabbed his backpack and headed to lab, wondering if Hannibal would show up to Hollin’s when he worked the next night.

-

Dear Will,

            I wonder if your penchant for shifting from occupation to occupation is a sign of mental duress, or mental instability. Certainly your future career goals working on forensics and criminology indicate the potential for psychopathic tendencies, but then again, my own thoughts and work lend themselves to a darker, less savory side of the world.

            You’ve been dwelling within your own mind while you walk from class to class. If I hadn’t intervened yesterday, you’d have stepped into oncoming traffic. Am I your Keeper, Will?

                                                                                                                                                                                                 Yours,

                                                                                                                                                                                                 -C.R.

            Enclosed, the flower petals from the garden just outside of his lab had been hastily torn, as though they were an afterthought. Had he been randomly touched with inspiration, thinking himself remarkably clever? Will thought back to the day before, but he couldn’t remember any such moment where someone saved him from the incoming blow of a vehicle. Then again, much of his days were blurs, rain drops smearing the windowpane as he went about in a sort of slump. Someone had shouted, and he’d turned, but no one shouted to him. Maybe the Chesapeake Ripper used someone to call out, to raise their voice just loud enough that he’d be pulled from his muddled thoughts. He used people like an artist used paint and a canvas –maybe this was no different.

            He called Jack Crawford, and it went to voicemail.

            “Hey, Jack…it’s Will. Will Graham. I got another letter, but it’s not a poem. I don’t think there’s a body, but he said he saw me on campus, so…maybe a campus student? Maybe a teacher or professor? I don’t know. I’m still thinking about the sounders of three. I wonder why three.”

            He couldn’t figure out why three, but he did figure that maybe Jack could look at campus cameras and see if anyone popped into view.

-

            Hollin’s had velvet drapes of sapphire and gold walls. The panes on the chandelier were rust-colored to mute the light, and a faint orchestra played the classics. Will was strapped into a cummerbund of garnet with a matching bowtie, and after a week working the bar, he decided that out of all of his jobs, this one was the finest. The people that went to Hollin’s didn’t want to become the bartender’s friend. They were there for business or pleasure, and they brought along both in enough supply that they didn’t have to rely on him to fill in the gaps. They just wanted their drinks, and he was happy to oblige.

            “You changed your aftershave,” Hannibal said, and Will had to focus on not gaping at him. He slid onto the barstool with ease, jacket in hand, and underneath the lowlight from above, his eyes were maroon.

            “I did,” Will agreed. It’d cost a pretty damn penny to do, but the associates at the boutique assured him that the woodsy scent did nothing but provide a base to accentuate his already bold smell. He hadn’t thought to see Hannibal again, so he’d felt no danger in doing it. Now, he felt foolish, and he shifted his weight from foot to foot, glancing about to make sure no other patrons needed a drink.

            “Has it helped your sleep?” Hannibal asked.

            “I don’t think it’s the aftershave,” he said. Hannibal nodded thoughtfully.

            “It is a vast improvement. Rather than drown your natural tones, it enhances them.”

            “I didn’t realize you were so passionate about my smell, Dr. Lecter,” Will said, reaching for a wine bottle. He held it up for Hannibal’s critique, and at the small, pleased nod he worked at uncorking it.

            “I have a sensitive nose, and the synthetic, artificial notes do nothing to ease my burden.” Will was acutely aware of Hannibal’s gaze on him as he worked, and he ducked his head. He wasn’t sure whether or not to be nervous or excited; probably a bit of both.

            “Well, hopefully this chardonnay helps,” he said, setting the glass before him. Hannibal looked to it, then flicked his gaze back to Will.

            “A good choice. I smell oak, pear, and the lightest bit of melon.”

            “Beverly told me that she ran into you,” Will said, and Hannibal took a sip of the wine, savoring it. When he didn’t answer, Will walked over to a new customer and quickly made their martini, his skin buzzing insistently at him. Having not seen Hannibal since that night, his presence at Will’s new place of work was almost as exhilarating as it was dreadful. What was he to say? How was he supposed to act?

            “I had the pleasure of meeting Beverly Katz, although I hadn’t realized the two of you were friends until she told me as much. I wasn’t aware you’d neglected to tell her you’d gotten fired.”

            “I forgot,” Will said irritably.

            “A fact she said she’d bury you with,” Hannibal said gravely.

            “She did.”

            “Did she mention our conversation?” Hannibal asked curiously.

            “She did that, too. She said you were attractive.”

            Hannibal laughed, and Will smiled a little at the ease of it. He rolled his shoulders back, conscious of his borrowed dress shirt and not-so borrowed trousers. One fit like it belonged against someone else’s skin, and the other needed replaced soon.

            “She was rather sharp. I like her,” Hannibal decided, and he nursed his drink as Will left to help a few more people, one of the men ruddy in the face and loud. Will watered his drink down, avoiding his eyes as he slumped against the bar.

            “We were so, so close to that deal!” he exclaimed, and the woman with him soothingly rubbed his shoulder. “No, no, just…no. You, hey,” the man gestured towards Hannibal, and he looked up with a placid expression.

            “Yes?”

            “You see the bill that just passed in congress? You see that shit?”

            “I did,” Hannibal said, and his eyes ghosted towards Will’s uncomfortable expression before shifting back to the man.

            “It’s shit, right? I mean, it’s…c’mere, it’s…” The man slid closer to Hannibal, and in an effort to grab onto him, he knocked the chardonnay over, spilling it everwhere. Will grabbed a damp rag and hurried over, making eye contact with the manager and giving a solemn shake of his head.

            Hannibal was not so nonplussed. He leaned away from the spilt drink and the man’s eager hands, his brows lifting but not twisting to anger.

            “Do you normally drink so much, or are you merely upset at this particular bill passing?”

            “This is shit! I work in congress, and when I say that is a shit bill, that is a shit bill…” He stumbled back and fell onto the barstool beside Hannibal, forehead damp with sweat.

            “You work in congress? Do you, perhaps, have a card? When you’re not inebriated, I should like to pick your brain on the matter.” Will shook his head, mystified as the man produced a business card, Hannibal’s voice and words a spell woven around his head. The manager appeared with a security guard, and the man bobbed his head towards them mulishly.

            “I’m f-fine, I don’t have to…it’s fine, guys,” he said, waving them off.

            “You should apologize to the waiter,” Hannibal suggested. “He has to clean up your mess.”

            “It’s fine, isn’t it? It’s…it’s fine,” the man said, and Will delicately picked up the wine glass, wiping the bar down without looking up.

            “Come on, Mr. Newsun, let’s go,” the manager said, and they hauled him off of the stool, leading him towards the exit. In the wake of his energy and his drunkenness, the rest of the bar seemed too quiet, too open. A few customers stared, uncomfortable, and Will hesitated a moment too long before going back to Mr. Newsun’s party. The group of people with him quickly settled their tabs and left, murmuring amongst themselves, and Will tossed their untouched drinks in the sink. The room was still too quiet.

            “Will, make sure everyone gets a drink on the house, alright?” The manager walked back in and flashed him a smile, phone in hand. Will nodded and deposited the rag back in the sink, drying off the counter in front of Hannibal with a new one.

            “I’m sorry,” he said, pouring him another glass of wine. Hannibal smiled, tucking the business card into his jacket pocket.

            “He was quite rude,” he said.

            “You hate the rude,” Will remembered, and Hannibal accepted the glass of wine from him, taking a sip.

            “In a world of so many vast possibilities, cruelties, and inhumanities we face, the least we can do is be polite to one another,” he said, lips poised over the edge of his glass. “Do you often apologize for the mistakes of others?”

            “It’s good business, or so I’m told,” said Will, folding the small towel and hanging it up.

            “I wonder how many people you allow to push you about for the sake of good business. Are your professors able to bully you into doing something, simply because you’re able to empathize with their desires?”

            “What are you, my keeper?” Will snapped, and the words burst between them, aimed to smart and sting. Hannibal paused, and he tilted his head, much like a predator would. Will closed his eyes, counted back from ten, and opened them, staring at the flared bottom of the wine glass.

            “Am I your keeper,” Hannibal mused quietly.

            “I’m sorry, that wasn’t…that was rude,” Will said to the wine glass. “You’ve been nothing but polite, I’m just…” He was what? Haunted by dreams where a man pressed a knife against him in an alleyway and he liked it? Drowned by flower petals of foxglove and nightshade? Reaching for a branch in the shape of a hand, only to find death waiting on the other side?

            “You’re just exhausted,” Hannibal supplied, and Will nodded, swallowing heavily.

            “I’m afraid to dream,” he said, “and I dream now more than ever.”

            “A place where you were once able to sever control and allow something else to hold a dominant force over you now holds you captive within your thoughts. Is it your secret admirer?”

            Will nodded, a short, jerking thing, much like the cut strings of a marionette.

            “He followed me on campus the other day. He…every time I’m alone, I look over my shoulder, but I don’t see anything. Every time I wake up in the morning, I wonder if he’s going to be looming over me. I don’t know what he wants. I shouldn’t take that…out on you, though. I’m sorry.”

            “It’s quite alright, Will. You said you don’t know what he wants; is that true?”

            “No…I know,” Will said slowly. He saw a customer walk up and excused himself, fixing their drink before making his way back slowly, eyes on the room rather than look to where he knew he’d find an attentive, pleasant face. “I think he’s lonely. I think he…sees me, and he thinks that I could understand him the way no one else can.”

            “If he’s killing people, what use does he have of someone understanding him?” Hannibal wondered.

            “People can wonder and investigate, and that is exciting,” Will said, “but there’s something in knowing that when someone looks at you, they can see your mind and not be scared of what they find.”

            “Do you understand what this person is trying to convey?” Hannibal took another sip of his wine, eyes caressing the light reflecting off of the glass before he looked up again.

            “If it didn’t sound so ridiculous, I’d say it was a courtship. He wants to –uhm, he…in his own way, is trying to court me.” Courting. There was something silly about saying it out loud, but there they were. Hannibal didn’t laugh at his use of words, though. He set the wine glass down and considered Will seriously.

            “People, when they admire someone, reach out in whatever medium they can. A person finds someone sweet, they get them chocolate. They want them to swoon, they play music that makes them feel admired and beautiful. They want to excite them, they take them on adrenaline-inducing highs. They want to treat them, they take them to dinner.”

            “They want to consume them, they consume the artistic depictions of them,” Will added dryly, then stopped. He stared at Hannibal, and in the small distance between them, Hannibal stared back.

            “I…I will be right back,” he said, and he went around the bar, grabbing one of the other workers to man his post as he slipped out of the back, fingers clawing for his phone.

            Jack Crawford’s phone went to voicemail again. Will drummed his fingers on his leg and paced in the alley, jumping at any small sound.

            “Jack, it’s Will Graham. I still wonder about why three, but he’s eating his trophies. They’re surgical trophies, right? Organs? He’s eating them. He wants to consume them, take…part of them. For the people, it’s food, it’s just eating to him, that’s why you call it sounders –he sees meat, not people. But for me, he hasn’t killed me yet because to consume me would be to take away the one person he thinks could bridge the gap between his mind and the world. It’s not a physical sustenance but a mental one, and to supply the physical would leave the mental drained, depleted.

            “He’s eating them, though. He’s eating them, but I still wonder why three.”

            Will leaned his head back against the brick wall, and he exhaled shakily. The Chesapeake Ripper wanted to eat him, but he didn’t know quite how.

            When he returned, Hannibal was finishing his drink. His maroon eyes tracked Will’s movements, and the shift of his shoulders was lithe, graceful. At the offer of another glass, he shook his head.

            “Did I say something to trouble you?” he asked.

            “You wanted to treat me, so you took me to dinner,” Will said distractedly. “Beverly said you asked if I was doing alright.”

            “It was my treat,” Hannibal said slowly.

            “I’m not doing too well,” he confessed, taking the glass from in front of Hannibal.

            “Perhaps you need another treat,” Hannibal suggested lightly. The curl of his lips sent small tingles of pleasure trailing along Will’s veins.

            “I don’t want to inconvenience you,” Will said. Then, “Is it selfish that I was glad you followed me from Sangre to Hollin’s?”

            “I think, given what you’re currently undergoing, to be selfish is not only a requirement, but I all but demand it of you,” Hannibal replied.