Chapter 13: Chianti
You dreamt of me the other night. You woke panting, and I’d have presumed it be your current lover had you not looked so utterly afraid. Did you dream of my hands on your skin, bare and hot with desire? Did you taste the flower petals I lay at your door and stun yourself with the honest, carnal want?
You pressed your fist to your mouth, rolled over and silently wept. Scared of your own desires. I comforted myself with sounds you’d once made when I pressed myself to you, when hips met hips and lips dared share a kiss. You may recoil at the thought, but there is some aspect of you that craves me. Some part of you that woke you in the silence of your room with your hair wet to your temples.
There are many that would presume you to be stunted emotionally because of your empathy, but we both know this not to be true. The level that you feel is so pronounced, so abstract that it brings out the basest of instincts in you with little to no thought. It wakes you with a hunger. And what do we know of hunger, dear Will?
It needs to be fed.
Jack found him after one of his classes with Beverly. He took one look at her, then another; she gave a look back and quirked an eyebrow.
“Agent Crawford, this is Beverly Katz. Beverly, this is Agent Crawford, the guy-”
“The guy who’s supposed to be keeping you safe from the Chesapeake Ripper,” Beverly cut in. She dragged her gaze over Jack’s bulldog frame and pursed her lips. “So far so good, I guess. He’s still on the loose, though,” she pointed out ruthlessly.
“Can I have a moment with Will?” Jack asked, jaw set. For some odd reason, he wasn’t rising to the bait.
“I’ll be late to class,” he said, and Beverly gave him a hard, pointed stare before she nodded and walked away, giving them space. He pulled out a ziplock baggy of Doritos and offered a handful to Jack. Some classes made it so that you had to eat between them, otherwise you didn’t eat at all.
“I got your voicemail,” Jack said, ignoring the offer of processed snacks. “His latest kill was in your forensics class, and he redid his murder of the ‘wound man’.”
“Where were you?” Will asked him, scuffing his shoe on the concrete. He let his leg swing over a crack. Living dangerously.
“Not at work.”
Bags and shadows danced under his eyes. Red rimmed them like a fine-tipped pen.
“You were crying,” Will said, peeking at his eyes. He inhaled another handful of chips.
“Is it your wife?” He glanced to his ring finger, boasting a modest gold band.
“You once barged into my apartment and accused me of fucking the Chesapeake Ripper,” Will reminded him.
“Cancer,” Jack ground out, glaring.
“…I’m sorry,” he said, and his hands clamped around his bag of Doritos, breaking them.
“You said you think you did something to upset him,” Jack said, ignoring his poor attempt at condolences. Condolences were often like that, no matter how sincerely said. How did one comfort the dying? How did one comfort the one trapped watching them die? Will dazedly thought, love is watching someone die.
“He knows I’m…seeing Hannibal,” he said slowly. He preferred the Chesapeake Ripper over cancer. At least he could try to fight back against the Ripper.
“So he’s jealous. He wants you to see that he’s jealous?”
“There’s another man that’s showing up at my place of work, asking questions about the Ripper…I think he either has a death wish, or he knows something we don’t know.”
“What’s his name?” Jack frowned, lips pursed over clenched teeth. Will dropped a handful of broken chips into his mouth.
“Tobias Budge,” he said after chewing. “The one I called you about.”
“I’ll look into it,” Jack promised. “Are there more notes? More poems?”
Will knew that he should say something about the last one, but he couldn’t bring himself to. There was an intimacy about the details the Ripper had written, a teasing elegance as he made it quite clear how easy it’d be to tell everyone what he’d done to Will. After his knock about accusations of fucking the Ripper, how was he supposed to then tell Jack that he was having wet dreams about him, and the Ripper knew about it?
Are they only a distraction because I have not been forthcoming enough?
“No.” He took another handful of chips and all but inhaled them so his face didn’t give away the lie.
“Just call if he does. I’m going to get the motion put through to have you in a safe house until we can get this under control.”
“You know what he’d do if I suddenly disappeared,” Will warned him. “I said it before, the last time you suggested it.” Jack’s tense expression said what his words didn’t –he most certainly knew.
He finished his chips and pulled out his sandwich, loitering outside of the building where his lecture was. Jack stared up at the sky, giving him a chance to get a few good bites in.
“Maybe putting you in a safe house would be a good way to lure him out, though,” he said at last. Will’s jaw furiously worked, his frown at Jack impressive.
“You want to make me bait?” he asked around his food. He swallowed with difficulty.
“You’d be the best sort of bait for the Chesapeake Ripper.”
“He wouldn’t try and follow me, he’d just kill people until you gave me back.” He took another bite and scowled. “Like a tantrum,” he added.
“He’d make mistakes in his anger, though,” said Jack.
“You want to hike up the body count because you could maybe catch him? Is that what they’re teaching at the FBI?” Will asked. He nudged the pickle back into his sandwich before it could fall to the ground.
“Even if he did make a mistake, it’d take a few before you caught it. So is my disappearing and a bloodbath happening in the aftermath worth catching him? Is that how you’re going to explain it to the grieving widows?”
He took another pointed bite, blood rushing in his ears with a hollow sort of drumming.
“We have to stop him somehow, and even with these letters we aren’t getting any closer,” Jack growled. Will tried to speak, then stopped. He swallowed his mouthful of food with difficulty
“Do you think catching him before your wife dies is going to somehow make it easier in the aftermath?” he asked coldly. “When you’re alone, you can comfort yourself knowing that at least you’re not the only one grieving? At least you got him in the end?”
“I didn’t hear you say that.” Jack’s voice lowered to a warning rumble as he rounded on Will.
“…You didn’t.” Will nodded and looked down, finishing off the sandwich. The silence between them was serrated, enough to cut, enough to wound. He brushed bread crumbs from his flannel, stuffed the ziplock bag into his back pack. Fear made him rude.
“Call me if something comes up,” Jack said at last, and Will had to applaud his self-control as he turned and walked away. If he’d hit Will, Will figured he’d have deserved it.
He barely made it to class, sliding into the seat beside Beverly as the doors closed. She gave him a pointed, curious look, but he ignored it in favor of pinning his stare just to the left of the professor, allowing the lecture to wash over him. Maybe if he tried hard enough, the class would help him forget how amusing the Chesapeake Ripper found it that he’d invaded his subconscious thoughts.
What do we know of hunger, dear Will?
It needs to be fed.
The next letter was different.
He opened the door to three large bouquets of roses, the letter tucked discreetly into one. Will carried them one-by-one to the table, stupefied, and he idly thumbed one of the petals as he opened the letter.
I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!
There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.
The perfect pitch of music, I think, would be the sounds of you screaming.
Will called Jack, heart pounding.
“Another one,” he said, pacing. He drummed fingers on his leg, and he slapped it when he realized the action. “Another one, and I think it’s bad.”
Steven Borneholdt sat in his usual chair at the Baltimore Symphony, but he would never play the cello again –not now that he was the cello. Will stared at the body, draped and reeking of odd chemicals, and he gripped the letter tightly in his hand. He wasn’t embarrassed to admit the trembling of his bones, the twitches of his muscles that begged him to run and run far.
“The perfect pitch of music would be the sounds of you screaming,” Jack murmured, crouching down to inspect the body.
“Well, if we dragged a bow across his vocal cords, he’d probably sound like he’s screaming,” Price commented. Will flinched.
“What do you see, Will?” Jack asked.
“…I don’t know,” Will said.
“You don’t know?”
“I don’t know. Things were fine, they were…this doesn’t feel right.” Will inched closer, forcing himself to look at the neck of a cello forced through the mouth and down the exposed throat. “I’m…seeing what should be the Chesapeake Ripper, but I’m not hearing him.”
“What do you hear?”
“I hear…a deep note. Mellow, reaching…” Will gestured towards his neck, and he rubbed the back of it roughly. “It’s a serenade.”
“He is serenading you with this, then?”
“I don’t think this is about me, Jack.”
“Then why send you the note and three vases of flowers?”
“You know, all those flowers and not a single print,” Price bemoaned, disgruntled. “Water samples may give us an indication, but if that indication’s DC…well…” He gestured wildly.
“I don’t hear the Chesapeake Ripper…I hear someone calling out to him. I hear this as…a call to him. A song for him.”
“You think someone’s noticed his work and wants to replicate it?” Jack shook his head, standing up from beside the body. “I don’t see that. It looks like he’s escalating. Whatever you did since the last body, he’s decided that he’s done.”
“It doesn’t feel right,” Will murmured. “It’s breaking his pattern of three.”
“You said, ‘why not three?’ to me just little while ago,” Jack reminded him.
“I know,” Will snapped, pressing his palms to his eyes. “I…what’d…he take this time?”
“His entire run of intestines are missing,” Price replied cheerfully. “Is he making sausage?”
“I didn’t want to hear that,” Jack murmured.
“Did you make sure Tobias Budge is okay?” Will asked.
“We checked up on him, and he assured us that he was perfectly alright,” he replied.
Will stared at the body, and he politely disagreed.
Tobias owned a shop called Chordophone, and it sold violins, cellos, and many other manner of stringed instruments. Will stepped in and inhaled the taste of wood polish, dust, and chemicals. Above him, the bell on the door betrayed him.
“Will,” Tobias said, rounding the corner. He paused mid-stride, head tilted. “What a surprise.”
Will was happy to be the one surprising people for once.
“I was in the area,” he said, gesturing behind him.
“Are you often in the Baltimore area?” Tobias asked. Will didn’t feel that it was right to remind him that he often drove at least two hours round-trip just to visit Will and drink wine in DC –the trick about lying was that you had to remain perfectly calm and amicable.
“When the Chesapeake Ripper kills here, yes,” Will said. “He…said he wanted to play me like a violin. He already did with someone else.”
“How awful,” Tobias said, not sounding awful at all.
“Yeah,” Will agreed, looking at the violins. He walked over and brushed his fingers against one lightly. “The more I thought about it, though, I found it off.”
“Off?” Tobias’ eyebrows lifted.
“You said he was interested in me because I didn’t seem as though I’d break. I think, though…he’s losing interest, maybe. He sent me violin strings, he’s mentioned you several times, and now with the body…I think maybe he wants you, instead.”
“…That must be some measure of relief for you, that he is shifting his focus away." Tobias tried very, very hard to sound sympathetic. It was about as unconvincing as Will thought it’d be when he’d first ran the potential for their conversation through his head. Jack didn’t know he was there, so he had to be careful, cautious.
“I’m worried about it, though. Does that mean he’s going to kill me? Does that mean I’ve put you in danger?”
“The FBI has already assured me that they’re going to do their best to keep me safe,” Tobias assured him.
“I’m worried about you.”
“You’re kind to worry,” Tobias replied. “But if I also inform local authorities, I’m sure they’ll do their part.”
Will was about to inform him of how silly that was, seeing as how the Chesapeake Ripper had managed many times to slip in and out of plenty of public places undetected, but he was distracted by a long bundle of familiar, bleached white string.
“What’s this?” he asked, fingering it.
“Oh, that?” Tobias picked it up and gripped the bundle idly. “It’s cat gut. Unlike steel or polymer, it creates a perfect pitch and sound to the instrument. I recommend it to all of my students.”
“Cat gut,” Will repeated.
“Yes, imported from Italy. The Baltimore Symphony orders directly through me.”
“I didn’t know they used cat guts on stringed instruments,” Will said dazedly. His heart throbbed irregularly, and he wondered just what would happen when one day it decided to stop. At least it’d be his fault instead of the Chesapeake Ripper’s. He should have seen a doctor.
“What else would they have used before string and polymer, Will?” Tobias asked with a laugh.
Will didn’t know, and he mumbled something much along those lines. After he left, his fat fingers fumbled for Jack’s number.
“Will,” Jack greeted. The sound of multiple voices in the background almost drowned him out.
“The Chesapeake Ripper was in Tobias Budge’s shop and stole cat gut string to prove it to me.”
“I know; we spoke with Mr. Budge, and-”
“Then I thought, ‘why a cat?’”
“…I’m not following,” Jack said heavily.
“Why a cat’s guts, Jack? Why not person guts?”
“You think he took his intestines to make strings?” Jack clarified. He didn’t sound opposed, merely…resigned. It wasn’t that far of a stretch.
“Maybe. I think…maybe he’s looking at Tobias now because Tobias was looking at me.”
And Tobias is only looking at me because he wants to look at the Chesapeake Ripper.
When Jack hung up, Will sat in the driver’s seat of his clunky old Subaru, only mildly pleased with the series of events. Jack would try harder to protect Tobias, and maybe that would give him the insight to see just what sort of person made the strings of a violin out of the guts of a man.
The letter bothered him.
It was a thorn that got too deep under the skin to pull out, so it festered. It was the open wound in his mouth that he kept tonguing over, willing it to heal right so he could stop thinking about it.
The poetry was right, the rhythm and rhyme of it ringing true. The tone was off, though, and the oils from his fingers discolored the sides from his gripping too hard. How had he, in a matter of a mere week or so, gone from teasing and mocking him at the state of his dreams, to wondering the pitch of his scream? Nothing large had changed in his world, and he dragged his thumb over his lips, mulling over the feel of three vases of roses. His guts panged with hunger.
And what do we know of hunger, Will? It needs to be fed.
He called Hannibal because he was already in Baltimore, and he wanted to see him.
“Will,” Hannibal said, distracted.
“There’s another body. This one’s in Baltimore.”
“Are you here?” Pots and pans struck together in the background. Will absently bit his thumb.
“Towards the center of town. Do you want to grab drinks?”
“I’m preparing dinner for tonight, otherwise I would.” It was the first ‘no’ Will had ever received from Hannibal. He paused over it, puzzled.
“Do you want to eat together tonight?” he asked, cautious.
“I’m actually having Tobias over for dinner tonight,” Hannibal said with ease, like they were discussing the weather. Will bit down on his thumb so hard that he snatched it from his mouth and winced, shaking his hand.
“I’m having Tobias over for dinner,” Hannibal repeated.
“Is everything alright?” Hannibal asked.
“Yeah, I just…” He just? He stared unseeing out of the window of the Subaru, and he swallowed convulsively, adam’s apple bobbing. “I just need to head back to DC.”
“I thought it right to tell you,” Hannibal said, and maybe he sensed the way that Will’s breath came short, even though he held the phone away from his mouth so that it didn’t betray him.
“No, it’s fine; that’s fine,” Will said when he could manage to sound completely normal. “I’ve just had a long day.”
When the call ended, he sat in the car with the engine off, staring at nothing in particular as he thought. He thought about the body that didn’t quite fit, square peg in round hole, and he thought of the blunt, vulgar writing in the latest note. Mostly, he thought about how dumb he was, and how he’d been so entirely confidant in telling Hannibal that Tobias couldn’t sway him that he’d never thought to clarify in return if Hannibal felt the same.
He laid his head on the steering wheel, and he stayed like that for a long time.
When he got back to his apartment, he stared at the three vases of roses, left by a dismal Price who’d said there was nothing for him to use from them, apart from water samples. He thought of square pegs and round holes. He thought of hands that stilled tapping fingers, of the way Hannibal moaned his name when he found just the right spot. Calmly, almost mechanically, he picked up one of the vases and hurled it at the wall, watching dispassionately as it shattered glass and water every which way. The roses flew high into the air, arcing over one another, and they hit the floor with soft, muted thuds. Will poured himself a glass of whiskey and left them there.