It begins again with the copycat killer.
Will arrives at the murder scene in the middle of a field, his rental car making distressed noises as he drove over the uneven ground. The first thing he notices as he steps out of the car is the noise. Crows have sensed a meal and descended on the scene.
Zeller rushes in, waving his hands and the birds scatter with laughing caws.
A particularly large crow lands on Will’s shoulder. He freezes, and the thing caws roughly, shifting its weight from foot to foot.
“Jesus, Graham,” Zeller says. “I knew you were freaky, but even the crows love you.”
Will reaches carefully into his pocket, finding the bag with the last of his sandwich that he’d had on the train ride over. He pulls off a piece and offers it to the crow, who examines it, then takes it neatly from his fingers.
“Crows are smart creatures. Some think they’d be as smart as humans if they were bigger,” Zeller says. The crow turns to inspect him and caws harshly before flying off. The beating of its wings strike Will across the face, and he flinches.
“Then we’d have six-foot-tall birds eating our corpses,” Bev says, walking over to dust off Will’s shoulder. Her touch makes Will shrink in on himself. Zeller has a better read on him, Bev seems far too friendly. “Come on and see.”
Will is expecting a killer full of remorse, willing to risk discovery by returning to the scene of a crime to leave a girl back in her bed. Instead, he gets this.
Cassie Boyle, pale from blood loss and death, impaled across the horns of an elk in a reclining position. Her arms and feet swung gently, never touching the ground as if she was floating in a pool instead of impaled and suspended by a killer who wasn’t quite the Minnesota Shrike. Her lungs were missing, the cavity filled with air she would never breathe.
It takes Will's breath away. It’s beautiful, but it wasn’t done by the Minnesota Shrike.
“Our cannibal loves women,” Will says. “This girl’s killer thought she was a pig.”
“You think this is a copycat?” Jack asks.
Will turns back to the tableau and lets the pendulum swing.
Blood ran back up her arms, her chest and her feet into the wounds around the antler impalements. He blinked, and the stag head was gone, her injuries shrinking and vanishing except for the long incision down her chest. He blinked and the life came back in her eyes, her head turning to look at him, mouth open in a scream. He blinked, and the wound in her chest sealed up, and her ribs rose with terrified panting. He blinked again and she was whole, dressed and smirking, a cigarette in hand. She took a deep pull and blew the smoke in his face.
It’s familiar. She is so much prettier in death than she was in life. In death, she is a work of art.
Will coughed and waved the smoke away.
“It’s a gross one,” Zeller agreed. The crow cawed from its perch on Cassie Boyle’s knee.
“What do you think?” Jack asks.
Will leans on his social awkwardness to give him a moment to think.
He needs to distract Jack Crawford. He needs to deflect the attention away from this killer, to redirect Jack’s focus on to the Minnesota Shrike, and to distract Jack with someone else so that Will can maneuver.
“The cannibal who killed Elise Nichols had a place to do it and no interest in field kabuki. So, he has a house, or two, or a-a cabin something with an antler room. He has a daughter. The same age as the other girls. Same hair color, same eye color, same height, same weight. She's an only child. She's leaving home. He can't stand the thought of losing her. She's his golden ticket.”
“You know, an intelligent psychopath, particularly a sadist, is very hard to catch. There's no traceable motive. There'll be no patterns. He may never kill this way again.”
“Have Dr. Lecter draw up a psychological profile. You seemed very impressed with his opinion.”
He needs to focus on the current murder, on the Nichols girl. There are hundreds of girls of the same description in mortal danger right now, and he should be concentrating on catching their potential killer. Instead, he keeps thinking about Cassie Boyle's killer and the steady, powerful hands it took to shove a body down onto an elk's antlers. It would have taken incredible force to drive the antlers through her body. The killer was strong. The work isn't sloppy in the least so he must be extremely calm to be able to deliver such force cleanly. There was no forensic evidence, even with the mess it must have caused.
Strong, steady, and collected. All traits found commonly in psychopaths. The artistic eye was unique, though. This psychopath crafts gorgeous tableaus with the gore and violence that most people find disgusting. Will is drawn to it. He sighs. There was so much potential in this killer, so much more interesting than the Minnesota Shrike.
He tries to concentrate but finds it almost impossible. There's something so familiar about the tableau of her death.
Will sleeps fitfully and fidgets through his breakfast with Hannibal, worried that he will somehow sense Will's attempt to mislead Jack.
The food is good and then -- then there are other things to worry about like the easy pull of the trigger and the weight of the gun in his hands. The ten shots it takes to bring down Garret Jacob Hobbs.
He stumbles home to his dogs at the end of the longest day of his life. He hasn’t slept in twenty hours, and he has a little bit more to do before he finally collapses. Jack is focused on the clean up of Garret Jacob Hobbs and Hannibal is focused on the clean up of Will. It's an overwhelming combination for anyone, more so for Will. It had been hard to avoid both their gazes and Will had spent most of the day staring at his toes while they interrogated him. Jack's method was straight forward and brutal while Hannibal attacked from the sides, poking soft spots Will hadn't known he had.
It might have been too much to deal with except for the gift he had been given yesterday: the return of an old acquaintance. Will sat on his bed and leaned down to pull a thick file from underneath the mattress. It was thick enough that he could feel it there while he slept, a constant reminder of the case that had gotten him rejected from fieldwork.
He leans against the wall and flips the file open to the start of the photographs from the Chesapeake Ripper cases. Each one shows a tableau of violence and bloodshed. There is the man murdered in a church, propped up on the pew with his tongue marking his spot in the bible. Another is of a man killed in his workshop with every single tool on the wall used for some part of the murder and subsequent dissection. Each person is surgically missing a body part. There is no consistency to which organ was removed. For a while, there had been speculation that they had a doctor Frankenstein on their hands but occasionally something as small as a kidney would be taken. The body parts would be thoroughly rotten before enough were collected to make a corpse. Still, the rumor had made an impact because of its macabre nature.
Will stares at the photographs and lets it soak into his brain, looking for clues that he might have missed. There are none, he's been over the files endlessly, but he combines this knowledge with what he witnessed yesterday.
Footsteps clip through the living room and Will looks up as a massive stag squeezes impossibly through the door to his bedroom and walks towards him, its fur replaced by the feathers of ravens.
“Hello there,” Will says, reaching up to pet the deer's soft feathers. “I’ve missed you.”
His monster has come back home.
He sees his monster everywhere, after that. He chases it while Hannibal chases him.
Will cannot seem to shake the psychiatrist. Jack likes him, and that seems to be enough for Hannibal to stick like a burr. Perhaps Will should not have invited Jack to consult with Hannibal for the Hobbs case as well as being Will’s psychiatrist.
Their first meal together is awkward for Will, though Hannibal seems bizarrely pleased throughout. Will stares at his plate of artfully arranged shiitake mushrooms and remembers the comatose diabetic he pulled from the trunk of a car earlier that evening. The doctor’s food has more humor than the man himself. Will’s lip twitches slightly, and he eats the entire thing. His monster waits at his side, gaze locked on Will’s face as he eats the shiitake and beef dinner.
His monster shows up constantly after years of absence. Will knows his monster isn’t real, but he cannot help how good it feels to see it again. He knows his monster, knows what type of killer he is through and through. Unlike the other monsters he has to encounter for his new job, his is uniquely beautiful. It’s like having his pack with him wherever he goes, a more sentient companionship than he usually allows himself. It’s grounding to have a companion, which his grasp on the world around him fades.
Will knows he’s going crazy. He doesn’t need a psychiatrist to tell him that he shouldn’t be seeing a manifestation of a serial killer everywhere he goes. But he keeps a lot of himself hidden from Hannibal. He will now allow them to take his monster.
He sees his monster in Abigail’s hospital and the woods outside her home. His monster stalks behind Abigail’s friend, Marissa, and lunges at the intruder in the woods.
“We should report this, yes?” Lecter says, and Will agrees after a beat. He knows his monster. There will be a need for the police soon enough.
His monster does not disappoint.
“Do you think she knew the boy down by the stream?” Will says, watching the blood drip from Marissa’s fingers.
“Somebody’s brother,” Hannibal says.
“Will,” Jack says. “You said this copycat killer would not strike the same way again. You said it. But we have two girls mounted on stag horns within weeks of each other.”
“I may have been wrong,” Will allows. “There was new evidence found on the body, flesh on the girl’s teeth. He struck her. That is different from Hobbs’s design.”
“I think he was provoked,” Hannibal says. “Nicholas Boyle murdered this girl and his own sister.”
Could Nicholas Boyle be his monster? That small blonde child they had seen in the woods behind Abigail’s house? It seems so unlikely. And he was certainly too young to be the Chesapeake Ripper from Will’s notes which would mean that his monster was two different killers.
Could he be wrong? Could his monster be two different killers, after all? Will watches as the ravenstag picked its way through the room.
His monster is up to something, and Will is going to find out what it is.
He might love his monster, but he doesn’t plan on making it easy for him.
“Sometimes at night I leave the lights on in my little house, and walk across the flat fields, and when I look back from a distance, the house is like a boat on the sea,” Will tells Hannibal.
He doesn’t tell him that he never walks alone.
He will wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of the porch creaking and heavy breathing. When he looks outside, his monster is standing there, reaching for the doorknob.
Will beats it to him, pulling the door open and stepping out into the night, no matter how cold it is.
They walk out into the fields around his house. His monster walks directly in his blind spot. Either he’s protecting his blind spot or hiding where Will cannot see him. Or both.
He steps on rocks and sharp stalks and recognizes the pain only distantly. The ravenstag’s breath puffs against his elbow, urging him onward. They walk until Will, without his glasses, can only see his house as a blur of lights in the distance. Each night they wander a little farther away from Will’s home, a little farther into the darkness of the night.
“It's the only time I feel safe,” Will says and curls his toes. His feet are bleeding in his shoes.
The Turner family dies in their home, execution-style, except for Mrs. Turner, who is shot last and in the forehead. The killer has a special connection with Mrs. Turner. The killer was her child, led by an adult who desperately wanted to be a mother.
“A perversion of motherhood,” Hannibal calls it. Will wouldn’t know. He’s never had a normal family to compare others against. His mother was distant, and his father was too focused on his personal well being to care for a small child. He’s never really had a family.
The second family to die was in the process of opening their Christmas presents when they died. No fancy meal this time, so the killer was more focused on the image of a happy family than recreating a specific image.
Good. The children were more likely to survive if the adult was focused on having a family instead of having children that conformed to a preconceived notion.
Will crouches by the corpse of a child in the fireplace, executed and disowned. He lets the pendulum swing and considers running his hands through the child’s hair. He is more disappointed in the child than angry. The child didn’t want to be part of the family, and that made him a threat to them. They had dealt with him swiftly and with sorrow. He wouldn’t cry about him, but he would need to find a replacement, a new child.
The pendulum wipes away the blood across the floor and the bullet holes, then the whole family is standing, parents side by side.
The pendulum swings, and he sees his parents’ faces instead of the Frist family. He raises the gun and shoots them both point-blank. There is no forgiveness in his mother’s eyes.
When he inhales and frees himself from his thoughts, Will sees his reflection in the mirror. Instead of his face, he sees a featureless face with his ravenstag’s antlers. This is his family now.
Given a more human form, his monster shows up everywhere, leaving little treats for his dogs or working on Will’s fishing lures.
They find a matching case of a missing middle child that matches the geographical trend of the killings. Chris O’Halloran’s family wouldn’t answer their home phone when they called. Jack and Will and a SWAT team rush to the house to find Chris aiming a gun at his mother in the backyard.
The SWAT team floods across the yard like the rising tide, sweeping the family to safety while Chris flees. Will sprints after the boy, chasing him to the pool house where the boy rounds on him and aims his gun at Will’s chest.
A bellow breaks the silence, and his monster lunges forward, in between Will and the child.
“Chris, wait,” Will says, putting his hands up and pointing his gun at the sky. “Don’t shoot, it’s okay. You’re home now. Put the gun down, Christopher.”
A woman steps out from the pool house and wraps her arms around Christopher, her gun pressed against the child’s chest.
“Shoot, Christopher,” she says, and there’s a bang.
The woman drops to the ground, and Christopher runs free, straight into the arms of the FBI.
Will walks over to the woman, and watches as her blood runs from her heart onto the pavement.
Will walks too far with his monster and the police find them. Him, really. His monster dissolves into mist as the headlights flash over them.
“Are you lost?” the police ask, as though Will’s monster would lead him astray.
“I’m from Wolftrap,” Will says.
“You’re in luck, we’re still there,” the police say. “Why don’t we drive you home?”
He wants to keep walking with his monster, but he climbs into the car.
His feet are bleeding again, seeping into the carpet floor of the police car. He looks out the window and his ravenstag stares back from the woods, too cautious to slip into the car with him. Good. The police are dangerous for his monster. Only Will gets to encroach on his monster’s identity. Not the FBI, not the local detectives and certainly not local beat cops.
Still, he hates the separation.
When he gets home, he leaves the front door open, but his monster does not return to him that night.
Hannibal takes him to the butcher the next day. They leave their appointment early to do so, walking through the crisp evening in step with one another.
“A good meal is its own form of therapy,” Hannibal says. He opens the door to the butcher for Will, as though Will is some fragile debutant that cannot handle even that. It should grate at him, but Will lets himself shrink into that protection, allowing the small niceties because Hannibal is simply Hannibal. Will does not think he could do anything to change Hannibal’s behavior. Where Will’s mind feels chaotic and malleable, Hannibal stands in stark contrast, an immovable, immutable force.
He feels fragile around Hannibal and feral around his monster. His truth is strung out somewhere in the middle, just like his life.
Inside the butcher shop, pigs hang from hooks on the ceiling.
“I had a case like this once,” Will says, walking up to them. Hannibal looms over his shoulder. “They strung them up by their feet and slit their throats to bleed them out.”
“But they taste delicious so who really cares?” the butcher says, finishing up with his current customer. The shop is surprisingly crowded for an evening weeknight.
“Yes indeed,” Hannibal says. His slash of a mouth pulls up into a polite smile that reaches his eyes for once. “Harold, good to see you again.”
Will turns to face the butcher. He’s a plain man, painted in shades of grey. He must go outside as often as Will does, to have cultivated that level of pallor.
“Oh,” Harold says and blushes. Will’s hit with the sudden realization that this man finds him attractive. It’s uncommon for him to sense that others are interested in him, but he’s seen a mirror lately. He knows he looks fucking awful, all sunken eyes and skin so pale his veins are starting to show underneath. This man likes it though, likes that he looks half out of his mind.
This man is a threat to Will. Not quite one he needs to worry about, but a threat nonetheless.
Will shifts from foot to foot and Hannibal sees the way Harold is looking at him. The smile drops from his eyes. Will hopes Hannibal isn’t mad that Will isn’t going to get along well with his butcher.
“We’ve come for the usual, Harold,” Hannibal says, and he puts his hand on the back of Will’s neck. Will tenses. So does Harold.
“Of course,” Harold says and turns toward the cold cases. He pulls several thick, red cuts of filet mignon from the case and wraps them in shiny brown paper.
He passes the meat across the case, and his eyes linger on Hannibal’s grip.
Hannibal drives them back to his house, with the meat tucked into a small cooler in the backseat.
Their dinner is quiet, but not awkward the way Will expected. Hannibal is content to let Will sit in silence, without pressure to talk. The food is incredible, a beef dish that Will cannot pronounce but that melts on his tongue. Hannibal sends him home with a cut of meat, far fancier than Will himself could cook properly.
The dogs swarm him like piranhas as he steps into the front door, smelling food. Will tucks the meat into his freezer for a later date and tosses treats to the dogs.
He wakes up the next morning to a call from Jack.
There’s been a murder.
Will locks his front door and heads to his car.
It’s an ugly one, but that is Will’s specialty.
Will watches the wind blow away tiny blue petals across the forest floor. Forget-me-nots are tucked into every wound on the victim. The bright blue makes the red of her blood stand out.
“The dogs are looking for the rest of her,” Jack says, standing over the corpse.
“What’s missing?” Will asks. Jack reaches down with a gloved hand and disturbs the flowers to show Will a chunk of the girl’s calf has been sheared off with something very sharp.
Will lets the pendulum swing.
The blossoms disappear from her injuries, and blood flies back into her body. A chunk of flesh reappears on her calf, with a tattoo on it. Something distinctive, but Will cannot make it out. He’s too blinded by fury. Time rolls forward again, and he swings a knife and cuts off the tattoo with a clean strike. The girl is already dead, and the wound barely bleeds. He wishes it would bleed more. He wishes the girl was still alive so he could kill her again.
He’s furious about something as he rips flowers from their stems and packs them into the wounds.
She wasn’t who he wanted to kill. Instead, he’s forced to leave a message behind.
“The forget-me-nots are a message,” Will says.
“To who?” Jack demands.
“I have no idea.”
Will comes home to find his front door unlocked. There’s been an intruder in his home. Will steps into his house cautiously. The dogs are busy in the corner, chewing on something that had been tossed there to distract them. The intruder was here recently. They might not have left yet. Will quietly and quickly retreats to his car and returns with his gun.
He explores his house from top to bottom, but there is no sign of anything else being disturbed. The intruder’s intent was not to steal or to place something in Will’s home. The goal must have been to replace something.
Will checks his medicine cabinet, breaking pills in half and tasting them to see if they’ve been replaced with sugar pills. Everything is as it should be. He goes over his cupboards of dry goods, but nothing has been opened. He rummages through his seasonings and sauces, and nothing looks different from before.
Finally, he pulls open his freezer and finds what has been replaced. The meat Hannibal had given him is no longer frozen solid. Will touches the meat, and it gives a little. This meat is fresh. Knowing what he will find, Will lets the pendulum swing.
His monster has been here, and he left Will a gift.
This meat isn’t beef.
This meat is human.
Will spends his working hours researching the language of flowers, but forget-me-nots have the clearest meaning of flowers.
“The message was for an ex-lover,” Will tells Jack. “It was a message written in anger, but the intent is clear.”
“You don’t write messages that aren’t supposed to reach their intended audience,” Jack says. “How did the killer know that their recipient would see it? I need a list of everyone who regularly hikes through that clearing.”
“That would be too risky,” Will says, instantly sure. “It’s a message for someone who follows crimes closely.”
“Freddie Lounds?” Jack asks.
“Maybe,” Will says and bit his lip. “Or one of her readers.”
“That’s thousands of people,” Jack says. “Most of whom probably have ex-lovers.”
“I’ll keep working on it.”
Neither Will nor Bev or anyone on the team make their first breakthrough. Instead, it’s a fresh FBI agent with a penchant for reading blogs when he should be working.
“Look,” Irwin says, plugging his computer into the conference room monitor. “I found the Jane Doe.”
Her face appears on the massive screen. She’s vibrant in life, red hair flowing over her shoulders and a slightly lopsided smile. She’s posing for the camera, wearing what is something she found in a dumpster or high fashion. On her calf is a distinctive rose tattoo in shades of red and black.
Tucked behind her ear is a sprig of forget-me-nots.
“What is this site?” Jack asks.
“It’s Tumblr,” Irwin says. “People make blogs where they post things they’re interested in. This is a photography blog, where the user has done tons of these photoshoots.”
“Does it say what her name is?” says Jack.
“No, it just refers to her as Fifteen,” Irwin says. “He always uses code names for his models. There are numbered names, animal names, zodiac names. I think he just chooses whatever strikes his fancy.”
“You would think a model would want her name attached to any photoshoots she did,” says Bev.
Will walks up close to the screen, staring at the flowers behind her ear.
“Maybe it was just a coincidence that those flowers were used,” Bev says. “It might not be a message at all, just the actions of a sick fuck.”
“It’s definitely a message,” Will says.
“Maybe,” Jack says. He turns his back on Will. “Irwin, see if you can track down any more information about this girl. We’ll find this killer by finding her.”
Will tells Hannibal about the murder and Hannibal insists on seeing photographs.
“We think it’s a message aimed at one of Freddie Lounds’s readers,” Will says. “It’s intended for someone who follows true-crime closely.”
“Or someone who is in law enforcement,” Hannibal muses.
Will frowns at the photographs.
“Jack doesn’t think it’s a message at all,” he admits, jaw flexing. “He’s going with Irwin’s investigation route.”
Hannibal looks at Will closely. Will interrupts him before he can inquire more about it. He hates when Hannibal makes him look closely at his relationship with Jack.
“Hannibal,” he says cautiously. “I still have that meat you gave me. I don’t know how to cook it.”
Hannibal froze for a fraction of a second, still as a hunter.
“Can I bring it over?” Will asks. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if Hannibal says no. He doesn’t want to ruin the gift in his freezer. “Tomorrow.”
“Of course, Will,” Hannibal says, leaning forward in his chair. “You are always welcome at my dinner table.”
The next day the ravenstag follows Will’s car up the drive to Hannibal’s house and lingers in the windows while Hannibal cooks.
They eat the human flesh together, Hannibal, Will, and Will’s monster.
He dreams of his monster now, and he never feels lonely, even in his sleep.
He dreams of his ravenstag coming in through his front door. It crumples to the ground and rebuilds itself up as a wendigo, seven feet tall and crowned with antlers. In his dream, he goes to the wendigo, and it pushes him back, crowds him up against the wall. His dogs are silent, sleeping sounding by the fireplace, as the wendigo slides a long-fingered hand down Will’s front and into his sweatpants. Will grabs it’s slender shoulders and holds on for dear life as it takes hold of his cock with fingers that are barely more than skin over bone.
Will knocks his head back against the wall and pants as the wendigo rips his clothes to shreds and drops to its knees. He whines high in his throat as the wendigo drags its cold mouth down Will’s chest, past his stomach to nose at his cock. His monster’s antlers bump against his middle, hard and sharp. He abruptly remembers his monster’s previous gift to him, Cassie Boyle, impaled on a rack of antlers. Arousal surges through him.
His monster opens its lip, exposing razor-sharp teeth, and takes Will’s cock delicately into its mouth. A shudder runs from the tips of Will’s toes to the top of his head, and he comes down his monster’s throat.
He wakes up in his living room, heart hammering in his chest with come splattered across the hardwoods.
It might be time to let Hannibal medicate him. Then, though, he would probably lose sight of his monster. It wasn’t worth it, not just yet.
Will eats his leftovers from his meal with Hannibal as he scrolls through the Tumblr they found number fifteen on. There are dozens of photoshoots on it, all out in the wild, all with female subjects. Jack seems to think the blog will lead them to the killer, so Will devotes his time to that instead of the language of flowers. Whoever the message is for, they won’t know until someone comes forward or another body is found.
Irwin tracks down the blog’s owner electronically, and the usual team tracks down the killer forensically. Will is assigned to give Irwin any tips of who the blog owner might be. Whoever it is, they clearly know the first victim and could give them a name. Searches of local missing person’s files had come up with nothing.
Will scrolls through the blog over and over again. There’s something that bothers him about the blog, and he cannot seem to hone in on what it is.
Some of the models are tall, while some are short. Some are dark, and othesr are pale. There doesn’t seem to be anything connecting them all besides their gender and general attractiveness.
They’re all referred to by some type of code though it's too random for Will to figure out. There’s already a codebreaker on the case, working on that. Will focuses on the girls in the pictures. Most of them are dressed, though a couple are only barely not nude.
The poses are all amateurish, most of the girls repeating variations of the same three positions. Either the photographer is guiding them to those poses, or there are some rules about modeling that Will doesn’t know about. The later is highly likely, but basic research doesn’t lead him to expect the three variations he sees. Most of the models are standing, one leg up on a rock or log and staring straight at the camera. Others are close-ups of the girls’ faces, their faces soft and a little sleepy looking. Every other photograph has a girl lounged provocatively on the grass, staring into the middle distance with the camera looking down at them.
He looks closer at the last group of photographs. The girls look incredibly relaxed, all the tension from around their eyes melting away. There are no smiles, no forced expressions, no flex of any muscles in their body actually. Their heads rest back on the ground, supported at a certain angle by a rock or stick. They weren’t conscious, but they were posed to look awake.
He shows Bev the photographs and explains his idea. She nods along instantly.
“I can’t tell what type of drug it is from looking, but it seems like some type of date rape drug. We get the toxicology report for Jane Doe back today, so I’ll keep you posted.”
Date rape drugs were easy to get access to and designed to be delivered discreetly. He probably put it in water bottles then resealed them with a little glue, so they feel like they’ve never been opened.
Jack is right, after all.The blog did lead to their next big break. Their blog owner is likely also their killer.
His session with Hannibal goes as smoothly as possible that week, though they’re never easy. Lately, he feels like he’s walking into a lion’s den every time he enters Hannibal’s office. Any slip up, and Hannibal might notice the existence of Will’s monster and then where would Will be. Locked up in a psychiatric ward, probably, and his monster was unlikely to visit him there. His monster had better things to do than that with Will safely removed from his hunt. Many others would die at his monster’s hands, and Will wouldn’t be able to work the cases.
That was unacceptable.
So he hid his monster’s existence, for all his monster seemed to lurk closer whenever he was around Hannibal. He thinks his monster likes Hannibal. He did partake in the gift Will was given after all. They were locked in a threeway chase, Hannibal trying to find the truth in Will, Will trying to find the truth about his monster, and his monster trying to avoid detection by Hannibal.
“There’s something more about the girls which is bothering me,” Will said. “But I can’t figure out what.”
Hannibal flips through the photos Will printed out at his desk.
“The drugged ones all have the same naming scheme, except for two outliers,” Hannibal says. Will leaned over Hannibal’s desk to look down at the arranged photographs of the drugged girls. Number one through fifteen were all drugged, along with one named Artemis. Number seven was the only other exception.
“What is he counting?” Will asks. He runs a finger down the side of a photo and gets a paper cut. Blood seeps into the print, the dry paper acting as a wick. “He’s not counting the ones he drugged, or there wouldn’t be outliers.”
“Maybe one of the other girls know. Has Jack investigates these other ones?”
“So far, our focus has been on Jane Doe, number fifteen. I could convince him to broaden the search, I think. It would get us to the killer faster.”
Will looks at the bloodstain expanding on the photo of number fourteen in his hand.
Wait. Will frowns at the photo.
“There’s something familiar about this photo,” Will says.
“I think you’ve been staring at them too long, a break and dinner would do you good.
“No,” Will says. “I know this spot. I was so focused on the girl that I didn’t notice, but I know where this was taken.”
“It’s a fishing spot, a twenty-minute walk from here.”
Hannibal watched him with hooded eyes then stood and reached for his jacket.
“Lead the way,” says Hannibal.
It’s odd walking in front of Hannibal Lecter. Will keeps catching himself walking slower in the hopes that Hannibal will step in front of him. He forces himself to focus and pulls the folded up photo of fourteen out of his pocket. She’s standing in the photograph, her leg up on a log by a river. It’s a fishing spot that Will has used before, though it’s usually too crowded for his taste. So close to the city there’s almost always someone there.
He calls Jack and explains where they’re going. Jack tries to convince him to stay where he is, but they need to secure the sight before it’s further trampled by city dwellers that fancy themselves fishermen.
The walk swiftly, one of Will’s hands jammed in his pocket for warmth and the other gripping the photograph tightly.
He sees his monster in ravenstag form keeping pace with them in the woods, just a step behind Will and in-line with Hannibal.
He bites his lip as his vision warps slightly and focuses on the task at hand.
The walk takes them twenty-three minutes.
The road down to the bay has been blocked off, a new no trespassing sign affixed to a board propped up in the middle of the road.
“This is public land,” Wills says, and his elbow brushed against the reassuring shape of his gun under his coat.
He smells the scene before he sees it. The usual dead-fish-and-salt smell is smothered under the stench of rotting flesh and roses.
Will is dialing Jack before he steps into the clearing by the river and sees the corpse.
Number fourteen has been hacked in half at the waist. She’s sprawled across the ground, her head just barely in the river, while water tugs at her long black hair.
Will guesses from the smell that she’s been dead since the photos were posted two weeks ago.
There are flowers again, roses this time. They spill from the cut in her middle like blood, lush and red.
“The flowers are fresh,” Hannibal says, looking down at the body. “No more than twenty-four hours past being picked from the plant.”
“The girls been here longer than that. Our killer revisited the crime scene.”
Jack and the FBI descend on the scene within an hour. Will keeps watching over the corpse while he and Hannibal wait.
He lets the pendulum swing as Hannibal and his monster watch over him.
The flowers vanish first, then the blood. Her lower half snaps up four feet to reconnect with her upper half. She blinks up at him, drugged out of her mind and tries to smile.
She mouths a name that Will cannot make out, then time is rushing forward, and he’s pulling a scalpel from his bag and falling on her, rolling her over to make the first cut on her back.
Will snaps back to reality and thinks he might throw up.
“He used a scalpel to do this,” Will says.
“The first part, yes,” Hannibal says. “This is a hemicorporectomy.”
“A surgery that bisects a person's body. It’s a risky amputation, but possible. You may be looking for someone with medical training. I’ll know how much training when I examine the wounds without the flowers.”
A doctor, a photographer, and a blogger. Who is their killer?
According to the ‘Le langage des Fleurs’ by Louise Cortambert, roses stand for youth, innocence, and pleasure. According to the local florist, they stand for romance. Neither seems to convey a message. Will grinds his teeth and lets his message theory go.
“Her fingerprints aren’t in the system,” Bev tells the team, sitting in the conference room. Jack, Irwin, Zeller and Will are all there, waiting while Hannibal examines the body.
“They wouldn’t be,” Will says. “She was a good girl.”
He knows this. He knows his killer better now that he’s beginning to piece together his mind.
“Why take their photos?” Bev asks as he turns to leave.
“The blog is his trophy case,” Will says. “The numbered girls are the ones he successfully killed.”
“Maybe more, if he didn’t take photos of the earlier one.”
“You’re looking for someone with a great deal of expertise on the protocol for a hemicorporectomy, but no practical experience,” Hannibal says, emerging from the autopsy room. He pulls his gloves off with a snap.
“A hemicorporectomy? Really?” Bev asks.
“You know what it is?” Will asks, surprised.
“The Black Dahlia had a hemicorporectomy performed on her. I read about it during my schooling.”
Will vaguely remembers that now. He’s seen the photos of the Black Dahlia, a sheet covering her middle and her head and feet too far apart to be still connected.
“The blog is the trophy, but the photographs are the bait,” Will says. “He uses the modeling gig as a way to get these girls alone in the woods. And then he kills them, stuffs flowers into them and leaves them for us to find. And he has knowledge of hemicorporectomy. There has to be something there that can lead us to him.”
“I can’t track this guy down,” Irwin says, sounding like someone might hit him for his failure. “He’s using too many techniques to mask his trail. I can’t figure it out, and I’ve tried everything.”
“Work in identifying the non-numbered girls. Someone is out there still alive who knows our killer,” Jack says. “And start looking for anything that might identify the location of the numbered victims.”
Hannibal pulls Will aside as the team disperses.
“Come have dinner with me,” Hannibal says, and it sounds like an order. Will doesn’t put up a fight. His ravenstag walks into the conference room, and Will freezes, carefully keeping his eyes locked on Hannibal.
“Sure,” he says, and the ravenstag nudges him towards Hannibal.
For three hours, he doesn’t look at the photos, doesn’t think about the crime scene. He’s too worried, busy with his monster and Hannibal.
He’s never sure how she does it, but Freddie Lounds has their crime scene photos on her website by sundown, along with the photos from the forget-me-not murder.
Will goes to check on the blog the next morning, and it’s gone.
By the time he gets to work, he can hear Jack shouting at Irwin in the conference room.
“Best not go in there,” Bev advises. “He’s extra cranky today.”
“I have copies of all the photographs and captions,” Will says, unworried. The blog would only go down if they were getting closer to their killer.
“What about all his trophies, though?” asks Bev.
“He’s got something better now. Photos of the actual crimes are up on the Tattler. Those photos are better than any pictures of the girls while they were alive.”
Zeller exits the lab and comes to stand next to them. “I’m not sure why he’s in such a bad mood. There are always archives of websites. We can pull up a copy whenever we want. Irwin wasn’t the one who spooked the killer.”
“That would be Freddie Lounds,” Jack says, stepping out of the conference room. He jabs a finger at Zeller. “Tell me about finding archives of websites.”
“I’m sure Irwin can explain it better, he’s our tech guy,” Zeller shrugs. “But basically it’s possible to pull up a copy of any website that’s ever existed. The internet is forever.”
Irwin gapes at Zeller over Jack’s shoulder.
The door to the lab bangs open and Jimmy joins them.
“We have a match on the first victim,” he says, and they all hurry into the conference room. Jimmy tosses three images up on the big screen: the killer’s photo of the vic, a photo of her corpse and a new photo of a smiling girl. “Miriam Carr, age twenty-three, was last seen in the Baltimore area three weeks ago.”
“How did you find her?” Jack asks.
“A reader of the Tattler contacted us about one of her students that she hadn’t seen in a while. We’ll do a DNA check once we get access to her old apartment, but the photos are pretty conclusive.”
“Why wasn’t there a missing person’s report filed?” Bev asks.
“It sounds like she didn’t have anyone in her life who would notice her missing. Her teacher assumed she dropped out until she saw the photographs. She has no family, no friends that we can find.”
Will steps past them all to get up close to the screen, close enough that all he can see is Miriam Carr’s smiling face.
He’s getting close to the killer, he can feel it. Will tracks the killer like a hound with the scent of blood in his nose.
They find the next victim by accident. A pushy customer was peaking in the window of the butcher’s shop at six am to see if she could convince them to open an hour early when she saw the scene. She called the police, who called the FBI, that contacted Jack, who called Will.
By six-thirty, Will is driving to Baltimore.
Harold is hanging by his feet next to the pigs from one of the hooks on the ceiling. He’s been dead for a while. His throat has been cut, and he’s been left to bleed out. Placed carefully into the grisly neck wound are pink buds and white flowers.
“Lauristinus,” Zeller says. “My mother used to have those in our garden.”
The pink and white of the flowers look like healed flesh at a distance.
Will uses his phone to look up the meaning discreetly. ‘Cheerful in adversity.’ This one was definitely a message. Their killer had a rival. A rival for what though? And it was unlikely their killer was really cheerful in adversity as he murdered his rival. Unless of course, their killer is happy when he kills. Some of them are.
But this kill is different from the others. It’s inside, artfully staged, and a male victim. The only similarity is flowers. Maybe this isn’t their killer. Maybe this is someone else.
A hair-raising cry echoes into the store and Will turns around to see his Wendigo standing in the parking lot, his slash of a mouth curled up in a smile.
Hannibal steps out of his car.
Lauristinus isn’t such a common flower as forget-me-nots and roses. It doesn’t have a common name. It’s been chosen exactingly.
“There’s a second wound here,” Bev calls, and Will walks closer. “Near his spine. It looks like part of him his been removed.”
“The filet mignon,” Will said. “This is the copycat killer.”
He turns and runs outside, pushing past Hannibal to throw up on the pavement.
It’s one thing to eat human flesh and another thing to see the person he was eating.
They work in the lab all day trying to find any additional evidence on Harold, but they find nothing. No fingerprints, no DNA. Just a missing chunk of meat and a slit throat.
There is some rampant discussion about whether Will is right and if this really is the copycat killer.
Will himself says nothing. He knows what happened to Harold, knows this is his monster. The lauristinuses only proved him right. This killing was a love note for Will. His monster had seen the way Harold looked at Will and was furious about it. He had enjoyed killing Harold. A shiver runs up Will’s spine.
His monster was in the shop the day Will met Harold.
He didn’t tell anyone that the copycat killer is the Chesapeake Ripper. Each of the copycat killer’s victims was missing an organ, but that was the only connection, and plenty of killers took trophies. He didn’t have any proof. He just knew in his bones every time he sees one of his monster’s kills.
He went home with Hannibal that evening, leaving his car at the butchers. He picked at a loose thread on his jacket sleeve as they drove, firmly avoiding glancing at Hannibal. His monster keeps appearing in the side mirrors, dashing alongside the car.
They got a late dinner, and he was yawning into his meal. He doesn’t want to sleep though, he keeps seeing Harold’s body swinging back and forth when he closes his eyes.
“Stay here tonight,” Hannibal said as they washed the dishes together. “I’ll give you medicine to sleep.”
Will needed a little distance from his monster, time to process what he saw today. He’d left out enough food for his dogs for two days in casework kept him out too late.
He nodded at Hannibal, and Hannibal smiled.
The guest bedroom was the same one he’s slept in a few times now, though he knows Hannibal has others. He took the pill Hannibal gives him and said goodnight. The comforter was a deep maroon this time, and the top sheet was folded back invitingly. Will slid into the bed and was asleep in moments.
The moon rose through Will’s window, and Will rose from the bed, dressed only in a sweat-drenched t-shirt and boxers.
He slipped past Hannibal’s bedroom without making a sound and down the stairs. The backdoor was unlocked when he approached, and he slipped out into the night.
At the edge of the forest behind Hannibal’s house stood his monster in wendigo form. Will approached without fear. As he got closer, the wendigo held out its spindle-fingered hand. Will placed his hand in his monster’s grasp.
They walked hand in hand deeper into the woods. His monster led him this time, no longer lurking behind him. Will went where he was guided.
He wasn’t sure how long they walked, only that his monster seemed to know where they were going. They arrived in a small clearing, the moonlight spilling down in silver sheets to illuminate his monster. As Will gets closer to finding his monster’s identity, it’s as though the hallucination becomes clearer too. He can see that his wendigo is made of midnight flesh, that it’s hard under his grasp as though chiseled from granite.
His monster crowded him up against a tree. He seemed to like it when Will couldn’t escape his grasp. The moon surrounded the wendigo’s head like a halo as he loomed over Will. His monster leaned in until Will cannot see the moon at all, and then his monster was kissing him.
Will arched into it, hands reaching up to grab his monster’s antlers. The wendigo tilted his head forward so Will was forced to tip his head back and his hands were pinned to the tree above his head by the antlers.
His monster’s lips were stony too, and cold. Will felt his own heat like a furnace. His monster pressed against him from toes to hands, pulling all the heat from him. His monster shifted, and a hard knee was forcing Will’s legs apart. It almost hurt against his cock, but Will couldn’t help but grind down against his monster’s thigh.
Hands wrap his hips, gripping hard enough to bruise. Will was hoisted into the air and resettled against the tree trunk, with his knees gripping his wendigo’s hollow chest.
Sharp fingers pulled down his boxers, and his monster thrust up into Will.
His cock was as hard as the rest of him, unforgiving and cold as he forced Will’s body and mind to yield to him. Will gave into him instantly. His mind was made up. He would find his monster, and he would keep him. Fuck the FBI. Will would never be alone again, as soon as he figured out who his monster was.
Will’s eyes rolled back in his head, and he came with a cry, spilling across their chests. His monster keeps fucking him, unyielding even as Will whines and struggles against the overstimulation.
“Please,” Will begged, and his monster finally relented with a few final hard thrusts. When he pulled out, Will could feel something wet dripping out of his hole.
Will pulled his boxers back on with shaking legs, leaning against his monster to steady himself.
His monster led him back to the house, and as they went, he pointed into the distance. Will turned to look and heard a click.
He wasn’t alone with his monster. There was something else in the woods. Something small and weak, a petty creature with a desire to watch and take and control. It was pathetic compared to Will’s monster.
Will’s lips pulled back in a snarl and whoever it was scampered away. Will walked back to the house with his hand entwined with his monsters. At the doorstep, Will arched up and pulled the wendigo’s head down for a cold kiss.
He let himself back into Hannibal’s house and crept upstairs.
Not a sound came from Hannibal’s room.
Will tucked himself back into bed.
Staying with Hannibal was like a never-ending therapy session. Will found himself enjoying it. He called Alanna and asked her to check in on the dogs while he stays with Hannibal and “gets his head on straight”.
With every step closer to his monster’s identity, Will feels more and more sure of himself. He lets Hannibal dig into the recesses of his mind, lets him drag up deeply hidden memories of trauma so engrained he doesn’t notice it anymore. It’s fascinating to see the roots of some of his quirks, instead of scary. His mind doesn’t even feel raw after their sessions. He feels invigorated instead, as though the deeper Hannibal digs into his mind, the closer he is to finding the truth of his monster. He has all the evidence, it’s simply a matter of connecting the right neurons, and no one plays with his neurons quite like Hannibal.
Will got dressed to go into work, and Hannibal convinced him to work from home instead. Will took off his jacket and his shoes and settled into Hannibal’s house, like he lived there. They went over the three flower murders, again and again, talking in circles around it. Jack called and reported no new evidence.
“He’s young,” Will said. “His use of a scalpel is amateurish, and his flowers have no meaning beyond an attempt at an aesthetic.”
“That’s true only if you disregard the lauristinus murder,” Hannibal interjected smoothly.
“I do disregard that one, it’s a different murderer.”
“You’re set then in your belief that this is the copycat killer.”
“I know it,” Will said, his voice taking on an edge of conviction that he’d never heard from himself before.
“Very well,” Hannibal conceded. He leaned back in his chair like a judge presiding over a court. “Tell me what you know about the flower murderer then.”
“He’s young,” Will repeated. “Nothing special about him except for the kill count. He doesn’t maximize his enjoyment of each kill during the act, or he wouldn’t have to go back and add flowers later. He’s still learning what it is about killing that he likes and he’s been studying the Chesapeake Ripper to the point of emulation. That’s where he got the idea for the flowers and the staging. His photography doesn’t suggest that he has any sort of artistic eye, but he wants to be like the Ripper so he’s trying.”
“Why the Chesapeake Ripper?” said Hannibal.
“Because he’s the most famous active killer in the region. His kills are splashed across the front page of every newspaper in the region and once they made it to the cover of the New York Times. Our killer wants attention, and no one gets attention like the Chesapeake Ripper.”
“Are you sure the Ripper is a he?”
“Statistically speaking, the Chesapeake Ripper is a male,” Will said.
“We deal in outliers with the FBI.”
“Not on this case. I know he’s a man.”
“How?” Hannibal asked, leaning forward.
“Because I’m on his trail and I’m getting closer,” Will told Hannibal. “Everything’s coming into focus now. I just need a little more evidence.”
“The Ripper hasn’t been active in years. He hasn’t been active since you joined the FBI. Why are you chasing him?”
“I studied him in school. I’ve gone over every one of his murders just like we’re going over this case and I’m so close I can almost reach out and touch him,” Will said, leaning forward in his seat. They were so close that Will could see the flecks of green in Hannibal’s brown eyes. “I’m going to be the one to catch him.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Hannibal said and tilted his head. “But you’ll have to wait for him to strike again.”
Will broke eye contact and looked down at his hands.
“Yes, of course,” Will said. “And as you said, he hasn’t killed in years. I’m highly unlikely to get the chance to see one of his kills in person.”
“‘Get the chance’ is an odd way to describe seeing a person’s corpse.”
“Even an FBI agent can see the beauty in what the Chesapeake Ripper does,” Will said.
A phone call interrupted Hannibal’s response.
Will picked up Jack’s call and barely had a chance to say hello before Jack was talking.
“What the hell are you doing wandering in the woods alone at night?” Jack demanded.
“What?” Will asked. Had Jack found out about his long walks with his monster in the woods around his house? Had one of those cops reported him?
“There’s a photo of you on The Tattler out in the fucking woods. You look like one of our killer’s photoshoots, and you look out of your damn mind. Are you?”
“Hand me the phone, Will,” Hannibal said, and Will obeyed. “Jack, this is no time to be yelling.”
Will couldn’t make out what Jack said in reply, but it was loud.
“Will is perfectly sane and able to make his own choices of what he does with his time. The person at fault here is whoever took those photos.”
“Freddie Lounds took those fucking photos,” Jack bellowed loud enough for Will to hear clearly.
“If you insist on yelling I will have to end our conversation,” Hannibal said. “Please restrain yourself.”
Jack hung up. Hannibal’s jaw flexed, and he handed Will’s phone back.
“I’m not sure this is a big deal,” Will said, putting his phone back in his pocket. Freddie Lounds was regularly writing about him in her stories, usually painting him as insane and out of control.
“It’s rude,” Hannibal said. “And an invasion of privacy.”
“Nothing Freddie Lounds does is polite,” Will said dryly.
Hannibal walked to his desk and pulled an iPad out of the top drawer. He pulled up The Tattler with suspiciously few taps of the screen. Will wouldn’t have guessed Hannibal was an avid reader of The Tattler.
“Ah,” Hannibal said. He looked closer at the iPad.
“Ah what?” Will asked. He crossed over to Hannibal and looked over his shoulder.
Oh. Will’s head was thrown back against the tree trunk, his spine arched. There was a bush in the way of his cock, but there was no disguising that he was in the throes of pleasure.
“At least there’s a bush,” Will said. How much of last night had been real? He’d thought when he woke up with come on his shirt that he’d had an elaborate wet dream. He hadn’t realized he’d been sleepwalking too.
Hannibal zoomed in on Will’s face then swiped to the next photo. It was Will with his teeth bared and bits of bark in his hair.
“I may have been sleepwalking last night,” Will said. “I thought it was a dream.”
“It’s a rare but possible side effect of the medication you took,” said Hannibal. He closed the case of the iPad and slid it back into the drawer. “It usually coincides with more severe side effects. Did you have any hallucinations?”
“I don’t think so,” Will said. The other person in the woods had been real, obviously, and Will’s monster was a constant hallucination, not affected by any drugs. Had anything else seemed odd?
“I think we should go to the hospital. There are a few tests I want to run on you.”
Hannibal crossed to the study door.
“Come along, Will,” he said.
The hospital was surprisingly empty as they walk to the exam room. Hannibal knew the doctor and did all the talking.
Will let him. He was far more concerned about losing his wendigo. He was so close to finding his monster’s true identity but if they give him something that affects his brain, he’ll lose his chance. He hated the thought of that, hated that he might lose his monster, hated that he might be alone again.
He changed into a gown without really noticing. His monster was so close Will can almost feel those antlers sprouting from his own head.
A wooden stick pressed down his tongue to examine his throat. Cold plastic peaked into his ears. Unfamiliar hands pressed at his stomach. He felt less than human. He looked at Hannibal, and Hannibal met his gaze. Will’s chest expanded on a deep breath.
The CT scan was a little better because no one was touching him. His fingers and veins where the injection had gone in were cold. He turned his head and saw Hannibal watching as he disappeared into the machine.
They drove home in silence, Hannibal’s suit jacket draped over his lap. Will stared at his hands. Hannibal’s warmth spread into Will.
Will found himself sitting at Hannibal’s kitchen counter, staring into space as though he could will his monster back into being.
“Go fishing,” Hannibal suggested, and it sounded like a dream.
“I don’t have my gear,” Will said. “It’s at home.”
“I have some,” Hannibal said, and Will stared at him.
Hannibal does indeed have fishing gear. It’s all brand new, but there are no tags.
“I was considering taking up the hobby,” Hannibal said, however the waders are in Will’s size.
Will finds a map among the gear that has a spot along the shore circled. It’s a five-minute walk from Hannibal’s house.
“Have you been here before?” Will asked, gesturing at the spot on the map.
“I hear it’s a good spot,” Hannibal said noncommittally.
Will repacked the gear and left with it.
He searched the woods for his monster as he walked, fruitlessly. It seemed that his visit to the hospital was enough to reorganize his scrambled brain. His monster alluded him yet again.
There was a no trespassing sign on the gate that leads down to the shore. Scratch marks on the ground show that the gate had been opened recently though, probably by another illicit fisher. Will closed the gate behind himself as he approached the shore. Fresh footsteps were visible in the soft soil, but the beach itself was deserted.
Will put down the box of gear and set about organizing himself. He examined the gear more closely. It was the same brand and style that he had at home.
“Hannibal,” Will sighed. It made his set up easier, though.
Wading out into the water he found himself having to go quite far out to get thigh deep. The smooth rocks shifted under his feet.
He cast out a line, and it dropped down into the water with a plop.
The only noise was the rush of the water past his legs and the whistle of the wind in his ears.
His mind drifted with the waves. Water sloshed against his chest, splashing up over his waders.
The murderer that the FBI was chasing was eager for attention. It was clear from the public posting of his murder trophies and in his emulation of the Chesapeake Ripper that he wanted attention from anyone, be it the public or another more notorious killer. The FBI had been the wrong sort of attention, so he’d taken down his blog.
Will reeled in his barren line and cast again.
The killer was young. His method of murder differed between victims, suggesting that he was experimenting to find the method he preferred. Most serial killers started in their twenties, so if he was just beginning to kill, he would be young. His mind felt young when Will inhabited it.
He was young, eager for attention, with basic computer skills but nothing so advanced to know that the FBI could easily access old copies of his blog. Or he did know that and was too cocky and stupid to think the old hacks in the FBI could figure it out.
He reeled in a small fish. It flopped around weakly as he pulled the hook from its mouth and set it free.
The tide turned and started to retreat. Will wadded further out to keep his depth. A slick rock slipped out from under his foot, and Will went down, his knee striking a sharp stone. He blinked his eyes open in the murky green water and could see a red blur being pulled from his knee by the tide. The stone had cut through his waders. Will struggled back to his feet, his pole still in hand.
He cast his line.
The Chesapeake Ripper, the copy cat killer, his monster, was different from this young buck. His ripper knew his preferred technique and did it with practiced polish. He’d been killing for a long time, long before the name Chesapeake Ripper was coined, probably long before he’d arrived in the Chesapeake area.
His line pulled taut.
Will began to reel in his catch.
His monster was an immigrant. He’s sure of it. The killing style was too distinctive for the FBI to have not found similar cases elsewhere in the states. His monster was a migrant with a surgical understanding of the body and a flair for the beautiful, if sometimes melodramatic.
Whatever had caught his line was heavy but not moving. He had to fight the tide to reel it in, the fishing wire straining. He heaved on the line, pole bending and a hand popped to the surface in front of him, his fishing hook a garish black in bone-white skin.
He reached out and clasped the hand, pulling up an arm with a familiar shirt and pulled harder and saw a mass of red hair rise to the surface of the water. He tugged the arm to the left and Freddie Lounde’s face rolls to the surface.
Will gently unhooked his line from her hand and pushed her out to sea.
He breathed in, and his chest hurt. He looked down to see blood diffusing in the water, pulled by the tide out to sea. Blood drips down into his waders, and he puts his hand on his chest which comes away wet and sticky. The blood was almost black, just like Garret Jacob Hobbs’s blood had been. Will had bullet holes in his chest, exactly where Hobbs’s wounds were.
Will fell to his knees, the seawater murky with his blood, his chin barely above water. Each wave rose over his mouth, threatening to choke him on his own blood. He shouted, but he didn’t know what he was trying to say. ‘Help, I’m drowning’ or ‘ leave me here to die’ or ‘where are you?’
His body jerked, and Will looked down again to see antler horns protruding from each bullet hole. He was lifted into the air above the waves. His head lolled back, and he saw the ravenstag’s blue-black feathers.
A crow caws and Will is in the arms of the wendigo, being carried to shore.
Will looked up into the eyes of his monster.
“Will,” the wendigo said. “William!”
“You know my name,” Will said, stroking the wendigo’s face. His fingers left bloody streaks on his cheeks.
“Your name is William Graham,” the wendigo said and melted into Hannibal Lecter. “Will, it’s six pm, and you’re in Baltimore, Maryland.
Sirens wail in the distance and flashing red and blue lights illuminate the sharp plates of Hannibal’s face. Distantly he heard Jack shouting, but his attention was fully on Hannibal.
Freddie Lounds was far too high profile to become a victim without serious threat of discovery.
What was his monster thinking?
What was Hannibal thinking?
Jack broke the news to him while Will was bundled in a shock blanket in the back of an ambulance. As far as the FBI was concerned, Will had had a small seizure while he’d been fishing and fallen in the water. The medics insisted on taking him to the hospital, Hannibal insisted he could take care of Will at his house, and Jack yelled at them all. It was Bev who secreted Will into a car and drove from the scene. No one noticed them go except for Hannibal, who watched with dark eyes as the car pulled away.
“Irwin prepared this for you,” Bev said and passed back a laptop. “Irwin uploaded the relevant data then IT stripped it of all identifying marks short of the IP address.
Will opened the laptop and came face to face with the real reason the FBI had shown up in force at Hannibal’s secret fishing spot. The killer’s website was back online, and the latest post was all photos of Will. He recognized them as the photos Freddie had taken of him in the woods. It didn’t surprise him that Hannibal had killed her now. She had violated Will’s privacy, the ultimate rudeness, and Hannibal had no patience for that.
They drove to a safe house. Hannibal would find a way to get the address, but until then, Will was separated from his monster. He hated it.
The safe house was a small, plain apartment on the outskirts of Baltimore. Will had none of his possessions with him, but the dresser drawers were stocked with generic clothing in a variety of sizes, and there were plastic-wrapped toothbrushes in the bathroom. He would be safe in this bland prison as long as he didn’t leave.
The laptop Bev had given him contained all the files on their latest case, including a few old victims that had been identified while Will was at the hospital. It gave him something to pretend to focus on while he got used to the idea of Hannibal Lecter being his monster.
Will tried to look at the killer’s website. He supposed it was like Hannibal’s morbid fascination with The Tattler. His computer uploaded a white screen and froze his cursor spinning. Too many people knew about the website, and every one of them was going to see Will in the throes of pleasure. It was embarrassing.
He called Bev, to see if she was having the same issue. She wasn’t. He went back to his email and noticed a delay in the speed of his computer. Maybe it wasn’t the website having an issue. Maybe his computer was the problem. He tried to keep working, but the computer got slower and slower and finally he was forced to power it down. Leaving it on the coffee table while he went in search of a snack. His mind drifted to Hannibal as he opened the fridge and considered his options.
They had eaten at least one of his victims together, but Will suspected that he had eaten many more at Hannibal’s dining table. Hannibal had always taken an intense pleasure at watching Will eat.
The artistic choices of the Chesapeake Ripper matched Hannibal’s aesthetics too, all Rococo nonsense and layered metaphors. Any of the Ripper’s main kills would have been beautiful in Hannibal’s house. Hannibal was too smart to commit any of his crimes at home, though. His kills were carefully chosen to mimic randomness. Will wondered what the criteria were for Hannibal’s selection of victims. The killings were obviously premeditated, but now that he knew it was Hannibal, he no longer thought the kills were planned weeks in advance. Hannibal could make something gorgeous on the fly, with only the sourcing of his materials delaying the kill.
Will found himself smiling.
He pulled out a package of pre-sliced cheddar and found some crackers in the cabinet. In a nod to Hannibal, he even put them both on a plate before taking it into the living room to watch tv.
There was a knock at the door. Will peaked through the peep hole to see Irwin standing there awkwardly, a laptop in his hands. Will opened the deadbolt and let him in.
“Bev said your laptop wasn’t working,” Irwin said, and Will waved him inside. He fell on the plate of crackers ravenously. He waved the laptop at Will. “I brought you a new one.”
“Thanks,” Will said because Hannibal’s manners were rubbing off on him, slightly.
He took the laptop and set it down next to the old one.
“You wouldn’t happen to have something to drink, would you? These crackers are really stale,” Irwin said around a mouthful of crumbs.
Normally Will would tell Irwin no and kick him out, but the young FBI agent was always so eager to please.
Will opened the fridge door and leaned over to look inside, eager to please. He stood up sharply and a heavy object cracked against the back of his skull.
Will woke up soaked in freezing water. He blinked open his eyes, his eyelashes sticking together with crusty blood.
“Wake up, Graham,” Irwin barked. He was holding a dripping bucket in one hand and a knife in the other. Will lurched backward and found himself bound with his hands behind his back. He slumped against the floor.
“So you’re the killer,” Will said. His head was pounding, and his vision was dark in his left eye. The floor seemed to be made of jelly. He had some serious head trauma.
“The great William Graham finally figures it out,” Irwin said. “I thought you’d put it together faster but, the FBI, on the whole, is so stupid that even someone as slow as you seem smart.”
Will tried to get his eyes to focus past Irwin. They seemed to be in a small, single-room cabin. The water was already discoloring the wood floor underneath him. There were thick trees outside the windows, too far away for Will to guess what type they were.
“Why did you do it?” Will asked, but he already knew. He needed Irwin to keep talking long enough for help to arrive. Surely someone was looking for him. He had his whole FBI team and his monster. Someone had to care enough that he was missing to come and find him.
“I did it because I could. I’ve read about serial killers all my life and everyone around me at the FBI is obsessed with them. But they can’t spare a moment’s notice for me. So I’m proving them wrong. It’s me they’ll be obsessed with, me who killed the pathetic William Graham, who did what even the Chesapeake Ripper wouldn’t dare to do. Everyone will know my deeds, and no one will know my name.”
“You don’t want them to know your name? You don’t even have a moniker yet. You’re just one of the dozens of serial killers in the states, just another one of many,” Will said. He rolled onto his back a little to hide his fingers as he felt his bindings. It felt like a slick synthetic rope, the kind designed more for sliding things along than binding. It would make the knots at his wrists easy to undo if he could just reach them.
“That’s better than one of millions,” Irwin said. “I’m in the top percentile of human beings now.”
“If you’re ranking humans by most killed, that’s probably true. But what kind of a ranking is that?” and tugged at his bindings. Couldn’t this bastard have taken up chess or something less murderous to become the best at?
“Don’t even think about escaping, Graham,” said Irwin. “I’m stronger than you, I’m armed, and I’m smarter than you. You don’t stand a chance. You didn’t even think there was something wrong when I showed up to your safe house. You don’t even know how I found you.”
“You located me from the IP address. You knew the IP address of the laptop from when you loaded up the files and when that IP address accessed your website you sent a bug that froze my computer long enough to use the WIFI signal to locate my position. Smart.”
“Smarter than the FBI by a long shot,” Irwin sneered but he was visibly annoyed that Will had figured out his method. “You never even thought to look in your own ranks, too busy searching for young, pathetic photographers to see that I was right in front of you.”
He should be worrying about what was right behind him.
Hands wrapped around his head and would have snapped his neck had Irwin not lunged to the side.
The knife clattered to the ground between Irwin and Will.
Hannibal lunged after Irwin, the two of them falling to the ground together.
Will rolled over, so his hands were facing the knife and wiggled until he grabbed the hilt. He flipped the knife upside down and shoved the knife into his bindings. The slippery rope fell out of the knot easily. Will scrambled to his knees with the knife gripped tightly in his hand.
Hannibal and Irwin split apart for a moment, and Will lunged awkwardly forward, knife stabbing deep into Irwin’s hip. Irwin let out a screech. He tried to pull the knife out of his leg but the spurting blood made the hilt slippery.
Hannibal stepped forward and snapped Irwin’s neck.
In the sudden silence, Hannibal grabbed a dish towel and used it to pull the knife from Irwin’s hip.
“My monster,” Will said, stepping towards Hannibal.
“I know you’re the Chesapeake Ripper,” Will said, hands out placatingly. “I know, Hannibal.”
Hannibal snarled at him, teeth bared and lunged forward, knife flashing.
Will stepped inside the sweep of the blade, his hands landing on Hannibal’s chest and leaned up to kiss his snarl. The knife bit into his side and bounced across his ribs. When he fell back, the shock of the pain making his knees weak, Hannibal caught him.
As Will looked up at Hannibal, antlers sprouted from his head.
“You are William Graham,” his monster said. “And you are mine.”