When Tattler News released the ‘Special Edition’ of ‘Will Intentions’, Nicole pinned her copy to a corkboard much like Will’s. She’d already snuck into his apartment, taken photos, and recreated something of his workspace within her own office, to better step into the shoes of what his fans were calling ‘a vigilante move’.
To partner with the Tattler News release, she’d also released a special post on her blog with a ‘tell all’ interview courtesy of Freddie Lounds, coworker and ‘close friend’ of Graham. She’d already received four more subscriptions, as well as twenty new messages in her inbox, thanking her for her hard work.
I saved an image of the handkerchief! someone had commented. I’ll try to find one like it at the store. Maybe I’ll cosplay it.
Lounds had asked to see the handkerchief Nicole had mentioned, but it was never revealed in person. The look on Lounds’ face when she was told ‘no’ made Nicole more than grateful she’d put a lock on her jewelry box before the reporter had shown up.
As for her end of the bargain, she’d passed his manuscript along to her agent. Anything more, and she’d have her own story about uneasy trips to the FBI to tell her readers.
Abigail didn’t speak to Will until they were somewhere in Vancouver, BC. She spent most of the trip with her earphones in her ears and her head towards the window. Given the time, Will didn’t press her. It seemed she’d been playing a game with him for almost as long as he’d been playing a game with Hannibal.
And yet, no; what game do you think you’re all playing?
The border situation had been tricky, but the homeless man –Mike, Will kept having to remind himself –was more than true to his word at getting them across. Once across, it was the sort of drive done by someone who had a very important place to go with little time to get there. They stopped for gas and nothing else. The next couple of days was nothing but yoo-hoo’s and donuts, Will’s dreams bleeding into the waking hours of watching hill after hill of white pass by. Blankets of it draped along the interstate, but the plows had done their job. If their car appeared suspicious, no one stopped them. The more they kept to normal hours of traffic where it was difficult for cops to keep an eye out, the better. Hannibal remained in the backseat and only got out when absolutely necessary.
“I’m not sorry for not telling you,” Abigail said by way of greeting. Will stood beside the passenger door, a cup of shitty gas station coffee in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. His watch had died somewhere just before the border. Since ditching his phone, he hadn’t felt the need to dig through his bag in order to charge the thing, seeing as how one without the other was somewhat of a moot point.
He glanced to the black, blank screen, and he wondered why he was even still wearing it. He hadn’t thought about his steps since Hannibal’s office. Streak broken. He wasn’t sure if that meant something, and if it did mean something, he wasn’t ready to unbox it yet, much the same way he wasn’t quite ready to unbox that there was another person inside of his head that killed people so that he didn’t have to.
“I didn’t tell you a lot of things,” he replied.
“You didn’t call, either,” she said, and it took him probably longer than it should have for Will to realize she sounded almost hurt by it. He wasn’t quite focused; maybe the watch having a blank face was more of a problem to him than he thought.
“If I’d known Hannibal had gotten to you first, I would have been…more forthcoming,” he admitted. When she didn’t speak, he took a drag from his cigarette and continued, “hell, when he was breaking into my apartment, you could have just let him in. I asked Beverly to house you because I didn’t want to make you a target of yet another serial killer.”
“I didn’t actually get fired from Subway. I quit.”
Will hummed in agreement. “Figured that an hour into the drive.”
“I followed Beverly following you sometimes, too.”
“We could have all carpooled if you two communicated better.”
“You first,” Abigail shot back.
That was fair. Will’s cheeks ballooned, and he blew air out slowly, counting back from ten.
“Abigail,” he said, and the look she gave him made this so much harder. “You’re…not guilty of anything, really.”
“Says the guy that called me ‘the knowing bait,’” she retorted.
“No, I mean it…” he sighed and looked around the decrepit gas station pointedly. “I’m abetting a murderer.” Silence. He scowled and continued, “right now, you could walk away and not face any legal persecution should you go back to the states, whereas I would go to jail. That guy in there –”
“The one you stabbed –”
“I don’t remember stabbing –look, him too. The three of us would go to jail, but you wouldn’t.”
His cigarette had burned too low; he let out a hiss when it singed his fingers, and he stubbed it out on the tire before tossing the butt of it in the trashcan by the pump. Too late, he saw the warning on the pump that said not to smoke while gassing up. Will glanced about, but there was no one to scold him on the dangers of such endeavors. There was only him and Abigail at the moment, and he’d have almost welcomed Hannibal coming to interrupt them. He could imagine how a psychiatrist would be a much better option for giving advice than he would.
Abigail looked out past the cars parked just at the treeline, the expanse beyond it. Her expression was difficult to read, a mix of something pained and something hopeful.
“I don’t have anything else,” she said, and when she looked back to him, she smiled. In that moment, he’d have called it genuine. “I told you before, I’m looking for closure. Since that’s all that seems to matter to me at this point, I’ll stick around until I find it.”
Will sucked air in sharply, frowning. “The consequences –”
“I know how to juggle consequences. I can weigh the risk of pros and cons.”
Given how long she lived under the roof of the Minnesota Shrike, he believed her. When it was time to go, they climbed back into a beat-up Tahoe they’d swapped somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and she made a point to lay her head in Will’s lap, much like she had back at the apartment.
Much later, Will would find a polaroid of the scene tucked into his jacket pocket, the colors washed out and faded but still good. He tucked it into his shirt pocket, to preserve the color.
“I’m just outside of Tattler News, Jerry, and here we’ve got not only fans of the paper demanding answers, we’ve got some of Will Graham’s ‘avid fans’ here with signs! Just this past evening, as we know, Will Graham’s apartment was invaded by the FBI, boxes upon boxes removed from the scene as they attempt to glean over anything they can in order to find both him, as well as the Chesapeake Ripper. So far, there is no information revealed as to whether or not they have any solid leads to their whereabouts.”
“Now, I know we’re dealing with the Chesapeake Ripper, Chet, but I think what’s interesting are the avid fans of Graham’s you’ve got gathered around you!”
“Yes, these people aren’t here for news on the Ripper, they’re actually here for Will Graham. You can hear some of them in the back, chanting –you can hear it, can’t you?”
“Yes, of course!”
“They’re upset that the suspect in the disappearance of Hannibal Lecter –”
“—Hannibal the Cannibal, more like –”
“Hannibal the Cannibal, I like it, I like it! They’re not here about that, though, they’re here because they support Will Graham, and they want to be here first should any news strike on him.”
“Have you spoken to any of them, Chet?”
“I have, Jerry! Excuse me, miss, do you have a moment?”
“I’m not saying anything bad about Ill Intentions or Will Graham.”
“You support him, then?”
“I don’t know if you’ve ever actually read his writing, but he speaks to us. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him!”
“How do you feel when you think about the accusations laid at his doorstep? Abetting a serial killer, of all things?”
“Accusations? Okay, look, how do we know that he wasn’t kidnapped? How do we know that the moment the Ripper realized Will knew who he was and what he was going to drop in the papers, that he didn’t kidnap him in order to eat him? Maybe he’s laying low until he knows it’s safe to come out. Clearly he’s safer as far away from the FBI as possible!”
“What do you think about the gas station camera showing him leaving the scene with Abigail Hobbs and Hannibal Lecter?”
“Anything can be doctored these days, jeez! And this isn’t some TV show CSI stuff where you can zoom in and just ‘see clearly’ you know, I worked at a store where we had cameras and whenever we pulled them up to catch thieves, the cops always said it was too blurry! So prove to me it’s clear enough to see, and I’ll –”
“Chet, that’s all the time we have for tonight, but keep to the streets! We’ll be there live the moment something happens.”
“Thanks, Jerry, coming to you live from the steps of Tattler News, this is Chet with Channel 5 News, and have a good night.”
“I’m just saying! There’s no definitive proof that –”
My condolences in regards to your wife. You’ll think I’m mocking you, but I mean that with utmost sincerity. Because of me, you’ll never find the closure for her that you promised , and if your pride is stronger than your grief, you’ll never wear your wedding band again.
Some things, though, are more important to me than your wedding, your wife, and your troubles.
Since I first met you so many months ago, you have been somewhat of a partner and someone of a problem for me. There was once a time that I’d have killed –pun intended –to work with the FBI, to be part of something bigger than myself. Time with you has shown me just what that would have been like, and I’m almost grateful that I was too mentally unstable to qualify. Something tells me that if I’d ever ended up in the BAU with you, I’d have one day wished we’d never met.
There was once a time I was in your corner. There was once a time where I honestly, truly wanted to help. Then I realized that you used people like others use staplers or hunting dogs: whenever you want, however you want, with no consideration of how or where the chips fall when you do. I’ve got enough of a stable head on my shoulders these days to realize what that entails for someone like me –disposable. Not a true employee, therefore not a true problem.
Until I became a true problem, I suppose.
I can’t say that my choices have been right, or if they’ve been just. I can say that I have never felt more alive, and I feel very much part of this world and the moments that I’m in it. I appreciate them far better since this all began, and I’m looking forward to the ones that come.
Catch me if you can,
Two Years Later:
When a novel entitled Ill Intentions hit bookstore shelves without warning one bright and sunny Monday morning, copies were sold out by mid-afternoon. By Tuesday, those avidly devouring each word stormed to the internet and social media, raving about the contents within, and by Tuesday afternoon the FBI was involved.
Unfortunately for the FBI, the agent that had sent the manuscript to the publishing house had never actually met the suspect Will Graham, author of the thriller that would hit the New York Time’s Bestseller List in the months to come. In fact, after a brief e-mail chain from over a year before, fleshing out final drafts, Chiyoh would admit to Jack Crawford, head of the BAU for the FBI, that they could only show a single text from a burner phone traced to somewhere in Alaska that read the following:
Ask Jack Crawford if he’s still refusing to wear his wedding band when you meet him.
Of course, when Chiyoh received an e-mail from a scrambled domain two days after being questioned, they knew not to call the FBI back. Jack Crawford most certainly wasn’t wearing his wedding band; time had not healed his wounds.
And in the months to come, no one would find the missing author to the best cat-and-mouse crime thriller to have ever been written –a direct quote from the Morning Show with Mara. The novel was his only clue, and no matter how many times his avid fans poured through the pages, made road trips to the places referenced, gleaned over the metaphors left behind, there wasn’t a single hint that Will Graham was even still alive.
They had faith, though. This is the most fun I’ve had in years, one avid fan confessed online.
The sales kept climbing. No one quite knew what the agent did with the royalties .
Three Years Later:
Will looked up from his laptop briefly and nodded. The sun was hot, and sweat made the collar of his shirt mildly damp. It was a good vantage point, though, with a great view. The kind of view writers killed to have as their muse.
“We’ll need to move soon,” he said, and Hannibal hummed non-committedly. A common discussion between them, and sooner or later Hannibal always caved. He had a hunger for new, and whether that was a new view or a new hunt, either way worked in their favor. Will kept them on the run, and Hannibal kept them curious enough to keep going.
“Are you editing?” Hannibal asked.
“Final stages,” said Will, and he scowled over a comma splice and fixed it. “When I send this, we’ll have to go.”
“Abigail’s school isn’t out for another week and a half.”
“She can send a letter to her professors,” he returned.
“You were the one to say that schooling was important.”
Hannibal smiled and sat down beside him, leg crossed elegantly. “You also said that we shouldn’t split up.”
They looked to one another, and Will was the first to fold. He sighed and looked back to the word document, thumb idly tapping on the space bar. It wasn’t his old laptop, but it was a nice one none-the-less. Top model, fast processor. He hadn’t been sure how to explain to the sales rep. that he literally just needed something nice enough for word document, and by the time Hannibal had walked over, the French had been butchered just poorly enough that they paid quickly and left with the first model to have been suggested despite having no need for a computer whose processor could run top of the model videogames.
“I’ll wait to send this until school is out.”
“Mike found something in Germany that looks promising,” Hannibal offered. Germany had been on Will’s list for some time.
“Did you send him money?”
Hannibal nodded, took his hand and held it. It was as familiar a move as breathing, as shifting to a better position in your seat. Will squeezed his hand, and Hannibal squeezed back. Conversations about Mike had never quite eased into something simple, but the physical contact helped. Mike stayed as far away from Will as possible, and Will tried to pretend that interacting casually with someone he’d stabbed in the past was perfectly normal.
To Hannibal, it very much was, and he saw little wrong with the way things were. Will and Abigail supposed that they could take the bad with the good, and that was that.
“What’s this novel about?” Hannibal wondered, and he looked over Will’s shoulder to read a passage from it.
“I thought to do a sequel, but everyone does sequels,” said Will.
“Yes, and they’re never as good as the first,” Hannibal agreed.
Talking about writing was an intimate affair to Will. He always tried to write what he knew, and for a long time that’d been nothing more than blank screens and frustrating evenings over a fifth of Jack. To share something like that, though, he figured was always difficult for writers –their words, their work was their lifeblood, and for someone to read over it and possibly reject used to be more than he wanted to deal with.
After being on the run for so long, some fears had eased over time; not all, but some.
“Chiyoh said that this coming Fall would be the best time for something new to drop. The FBI isn’t tailing her anymore, either,” Will said. He chewed on his bottom lip, then, “I’m writing about you.”
“You know, I like her. She’s resourceful, and she knows not to ask too many questions. The more you know, the more liable you are.”
“She said that Jack still isn’t wearing his wedding band.”
Hannibal laughed, not entirely kind. “That is what you get for leaving him with the parting gift you did. ‘Catch me if you can’. Do you think he will, someday?”
Will looked back to the sunset bleeding over the tops of the trees, something rich in reds and oranges, all russets and deep ocher. The trees’ leaves looked dipped in blood, the promise of good weather according to the locals. Will would miss Spain. Somewhere along the way, they’d likely circle back, but it wasn’t safe to stay in a place for more than a year unless it was somewhere rural, somewhere no one often thought to tread.
“If he finds us, his intentions will be less than pleasant,” Will replied after a while, turning memories over in his head. Molly had married at some point, and Beverly had taken over Charlie’s spot after it was revealed that Charlie and Todd both had a cocaine problem. Tattler News was now Beacon Weekly and Freddie Lounds was running a solo career online since the change. The avid fans were still avid, but it had been some time since Will had walked into his home to find someone unexpected inside of it.
That had been a burglary that hadn’t ended necessarily in the burglar’s favor.
“Dare I say he’d have ill intentions?”
Silence, save for birds screaming in the distance, dipping into the trees below blackened by the steadily growing night. Will watched them, felt Hannibal watching him.
“What story of mine are you telling?” Hannibal asked after some time.
“They know my story…but they don’t really know yours. Readers were able to see who I was before you, but who was the Chesapeake Ripper before me?”
“Do you think of things like that? ‘Before me’ and ‘after me’?”
“I think of who we are now.” Will glanced over and smiled wanly. “Is there an ‘after me’ for you?”
Hannibal loved answering questions with questions. “Is there an ‘after me’ for you?”
Will looked back to the sunset. “I don’t know if we’d survive the separation.”
“Then it’s best we continue traveling together, for the sake of our survival.”
It was quiet once more, and when Hannibal leaned in for a kiss, Will let him. He wasn’t quire sure what the future would bring, but one thing was for certain:
He hadn’t worn that watch in years, and if he had his way he’d never wear it again.