That night, long after he heard the clattering of dinner plates and laughter, long after he heard music and chatter, and far long after he heard doors closing, showers running, and feet mumbling, Will Graham left his room. It had been locked, but the gum did its job and kept the bolt from setting. A mere fiddling with the ink cartridge of his pen did the rest of the job, and the lock turned with a muted, triumphant click.
His feet padded along the soft carpet that muffled his steps, and the solidly built stairs didn’t betray him. He paused before the front door, staring. Every muscle in him begged him to go to it, begged him to throw the locks and make a break for it until he could find a road and a good Samaritan to help him.
He didn’t, though.
Just how many stalked the trees surrounding the house? Just how many cameras were on every angle he could take to escape? He thought of Matthew knowing the moment he’d tried to run, and he rocked back on his heels, away from the door.
Instead, he made his way down another hall and headed towards the security room.
He didn’t expect it to be empty. No matter how many slept, Dr. Lecter was no fool. Sure enough, poking his head in, he saw Francis beside one of the monitors. His back was to Will, but that didn’t stop him from seeing the antenna of a satellite phone that cut into the shadows of the room, nor did it stop him from seeing the map lit dimly by a few desk lamps and the monitor’s glow.
“You got the voicemail? Good. He’s getting desperate.”
A pause as Dolarhyde listened to the speaker.
“The man whose phone was bugged got transferred. I’ve got another guy, but he’s not there yet. Dr. Lecter needs you to find out exactly what they know so far, that we can plan the next step.”
Another pause, and Will swallowed, a dry click in his throat.
“You don’t need to know how many dead. You’ll see soon enough.”
He hung up and set the phone off to the side, beside the monitor. There was a pause, a long and dreadful silence as Dolarhyde stared down at the monitor. The lamplight gave his bones a sharp edge, his mouth a cruel twist. The hollows of his cheeks were pronounced, the curve of his shoulder elegant.
Truth be told, he looked like a dragon.
Will slipped down the hall and hunkered down in a corner of it, melding himself into the shadows. From his pocket, he produced a hairclip, nothing more than one of the things he’d found in one of the many bedrooms. Decidedly, and with a fair amount of careful aim, he tossed it at the door. It smacked the wood, fell with a quiet and plaintive thump.
It took less than two seconds.
Dolarhyde was at the door, his sharp gaze peering into the dark. The light behind him gave him an ethereal glow as he turned his head one way, then another. Even hidden as Will was, he still felt too exposed, far too noticeable as Dolarhyde took one step, then another out of the door his nose to the air like he could smell Will if he tried hard enough.
After a pained, loud heartbeat, Dolarhyde turned away from Will and headed down the hall to investigate.
The moment he was gone, Will rushed into the room.
The satellite phone was first, although he paused long enough by the computer to glance at it.
Thirty-Two Dead in Will Graham Killing Spree:
The Faces of Will Graham: Dozens Dead in Lecter Slayings
Where is Will Graham?
News updates. Links to articles. Dolarhyde was watching the media as much as he was trying to watch the FBI. If time hadn’t been a rapid pulse bulging right beneath his eye, Will would have stopped to read them, glean over the first one in particular –thirty-two dead? Will Graham Killing Spree?
Another time; some time when Dolarhyde wasn’t hunting through the house to see who lurked outside of his door at 3:30 in the morning.
The back door was quickly unlocked, and he was rushing down the steps before he had time to really consider his actions, before he could wonder just what was going to happen when he was caught.
Fingers fumbled over a phone number he’d come to memorize over the years, a failsafe to him in times of need or duress. He hadn’t had occasion to use it in six years, normal as things had seemed, but he used it now, running across the back lawn to the safety of the shadows of trees. The air was cold, wet. Cicadas screamed for their lives.
He didn’t answer the first two times, and Will let out a hiss of impatient air as he dialed it again. If he’d risked his live, if he’d risked his fucking life just for the bastard to ignore his call…
“Crawford here,” Jack said tiredly.
Relief seared him, a pleasant burn that made his legs give, and Will pressed his back to the tree, a sob managing to rip past his lips.
“Jack…Jesus, you finally picked up.” Will let out a sharp, aggravated breath of air as he hunched down, cradling the phone close to his face like the lifeline that it was. “Jack…it’s Will.”
“Cold as shit out here,” Duncan commented.
Earl swirled his spit around in his mouth before he spat it on the ground before them. Their rocking chairs creaked out of time, and the autumn breeze sent the wind chimes to clacking and smacking together in a horrendous cacophony. Late evening, and the crickets yowled.
“Hate them wind chimes,” Earl muttered. “Debbie likes them.”
Duncan grunted. “Debbie likes being a pain in my ass.”
“Yeah,” Earl said with a snort.
They stared out at the road, the distant sound of semi-trucks roaring by on the interstate their only companion. It was quiet in Lamar County, peaceful. Sunsets were mighty nice.
Cold as shit, though.
“She gonna make us come out here every time we chew?” Duncan asked.
“Says she wants her house ‘to be a fuckin’ home’.”
“I’ll show her a fuckin’ home. God damned forty-five fuckin’ degrees out here.”
“She’ll slap you with the barrel of that shotgun in there, that’s what she’ll do,” Earl replied. “Did it to her brother just the other night, came home drunk and shouting.”
“Slapped him with the barrel of that sum’bitch, tossed him outside to sleep out here.”
“All ‘cause she found those church folks,” Duncan muttered. “God damn pastor coming around every other weekday. ‘Askin me, when I’m gonna get my ass to the pews? Bein’ a veteran an’ all, when’s my ass gonna warm a pew?” He sent a decisive wad of spit out onto the dirt; a complimentary response to a ridiculous notion as a Sunday morning sermon. “I serve my God’n my country, ‘n I figure I find God in more holier places than a church. Get my spir’tual en-light-ment from the forest, see.”
Earl hummed in agreement. “More’n one way to skin a cat. More’n one way to love a God.”
“Got damn eight AM service, wantin’ me to slap my ass on a cold pew,” Duncan continued. When he got on a roll, it was hard to deter him. “Cold as shit pew.”
“Better them church folks than those god damn psychos running up and down the east coast,” Earl said. He watched his old dog, Mutt, lazily crawl out from under the house in order to plop himself properly at his master’s feet. He nudged him with his boot, rubbed the dog’s side with the heel of it. His tongue lolled as his tail whapped against the wood.
“Saw that,” Duncan said with a sneer. “Bunch of crazies with their panties in a damn knot, stealin’ them doctors and killing cops.”
Earl spat on the ground. “God damn cop killers.”
“Death penalty for cop killers is what I’m saying,” Duncan pressed. “That’s all I’m sayin’, they won’t stop killing if they think they’ll just get a slap on the wrist. They’ll just keep killin’ cops, and I heard that doctor was a nice fellow; testified on account of his finding one of those agents and all. Saved his life since he got stuck with a knife.”
Earl was stopped from sharing his own opinion on the fate of cop killers when a car pulled up in their yard and eased to a stop. It was a fancy sort of thing, black with chrome accents and tinted windows. The man that climbed out of it looked the real city sort; slicked back hair, leather dress shoes, and a blazer of all the god damn things.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” he greeted.
Earl and Duncan shared a look. Duncan spat on the ground, and Earl rocked in his rocking chair.
“It’s a nice night, isn’t it?” the man pressed.
“Cold as shit,” Duncan grunted. “Forty-five fuckin’ degrees.”
“It is chilly.”
Silence. The car idled, and Earl wondered what sort of year it was. 2015? 2017? His cousin had a really nice Subaru, 2015 with a decent paint job.
Duncan didn’t have such curiosities. “You lost there, boy?”
“I am a bit turned around, yes,” the man said with an awkward laugh. “Would you mind giving me directions?”
“You ain’t from around here, are yeh,” Earl noted.
“No, sir, I’m not.”
“What’s a boy like you doing out here? Where you headed?”
“It’s a bit personal –I hope you understand.”
Duncan and Earl exchanged looks, and Duncan snickered. Earl absently spit another wad out into the yard.
“Oh, I understand just fine,” Duncan assured him.
Silence once more. The man shifted, unsure of himself. Mutt huffed a breath and lifted his head, only now just recognizing a stranger in the yard. He peered up at Earl, as if silently questioning if he should do something about it.
“Oh, you see it now, do you, Mutt?” Earl grunted. He nudged the dog affectionately and swirled the chew around in his mouth. Tasted like ass, but he’d eat his leg rather than give it up.
“Really, gentlemen, if I could just-”
“We don’t take kindly to strangers just hustlin’ along and getting right in our business, see?” Duncan said. He stood up and adjusted his pants, hitching them up at his hips. “So you just get along now and go buy one of them maps at a gas station like all the other folks do when they get lost down here.”
“Damn Yankees,” Earl muttered in agreement.
The man was dumbfounded, and he looked between the two of them with the same kind of expression Debbie had when she went to throw a cup away and splashed chew all over her arm. She hadn’t realized it was his chewing cup ‘till that moment, but god almighty he’d never heard the end of it. Now, he was stuck outside in the cold-as-shit weather when he wanted a chew.
The stranger’s eyes bugged for a moment, and he let out a laugh, incredulous as all get out.
“As serious as sin, boy,” Earl said. “Got all them crazies runnin’ around our state, fuckin’ things up and makin’ us get some bad publicity. Last thing we need’s a Yankee boy comin’ down here, huntin’ and gettin’ lost and comin’ after our women.”
“I’m here on business, it’s simply that-”
“Lamar County business is our business, see,” Duncan interjected. “And since you’re inclined to your secrets, we’ll be inclined to ours. Secrets like directions, see?”
Earl squinted a bit at him, and when the stranger didn’t immediately move to leave, he stood up and went shoulder to shoulder with Duncan, giving him his most impressive stare down. It was a damn good one, all things considered. Farm work and ranch work had left him leathered, sun-beaten and wrinkled. Debbie still liked him, though, when she’d had one shot too many. She said he was a pretty as a newborn babe.
Now that all those bible thumpers got her roped into weekly church, she didn’t drink no more. Probably didn’t think he was a pretty newborn babe, neither. God damn bible thumpers.
“I’ll…be going, then,” the man said. He inched back towards his car.
“That’s the best idea I’ve heard today, Earl.”
“A damn fine idea, Duncan.”
They stayed standing until the man peeled out from the yard, fast enough that it kicked rocks.
They were just sitting down once more when another car pulled up, far less fancy and with a great deal more sputtering and general noise-making.
“God damn, we’re popular tonight,” Duncan grunted.
Earl fished about for another wad of chew, then tucked it into his lip. “Damn popular.”
It wasn’t another Yankee –if it was, they were a decent sort. A pretty lady with wild red hair and the most darling baby blue eyes Earl had ever seen made her way over. She’d turned the car off and tucked the keys into her jacket pocket. Sensible shoes and a camo coat, like she knew how the hell to dress for the elements. Earl liked her infinitely better.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she began. The closer she got, Earl was able to see red-rimmed eyes and a trembling mouth.
“You okay, sweetheart?” Duncan asked.
“No, I’m…I’m not at all. I’m in desperate need of help, you see.” She fiddled with a handkerchief in hand, and she stifled a sob as her knees tried to buckle on her. At the sight of tears, that did it. Earl was down the steps and leading her up them before he could think of a reason why not to. She was seated in his rocking chair, and after several prompts to Earl, a sweet tea from the fridge was produced.
“Now, now take it easy, little lady, what’s wrong? Someone get you bad? In some trouble?” Duncan asked. The woman fiddled with the glass and took a sip, casting them a grateful glance. Tears rimmed her eyes, although she fought to keep them back. A strong type.
“I’m…trying to find my husband, you see,” she said. “I think he’s run off with another woman.”
“What a got-damn, worthless-”
“Duncan,” Earl chastised. It wasn’t right to cuss near a lady.
“Sorry, miss, I just…if he’s left you, why are you going after him?” Duncan scratched his neck where the beginnings of a beard were growing. “Why you want him when, no offenses out here, but he clearly ain’t wantin’ you?”
She looked up from her glass, and there was fire in her eyes. “So I can beat the sense into him, then out of him, that’s why,” she snarled.
Earl decided he liked this gal. A sensitive sort that didn’t take shit from no one.
“Well, we don’t get a lot of people out around here.”
“I’ve been following him, and I think he passed this way. If I showed you a photo, could you confirm it?”
“If we’ve seen him, we’ll tell you,” Earl promised.
And damn, when she pulled out her phone and showed them a picture of that guy they’d just been shooing off their property, it just made Earl’s heart swell a bit. He looked over her head at Duncan, and Duncan looked back.
“Yeah, sweetheart,” Duncan said with a grin, “yeah, we seen him.”
“Have you ever thought about killing someone, Dr. Lecter?” Will asked.
He sometimes loved asking questions like that, mostly because of how Dr. Lecter took his time answering. He always gave Will’s question consideration due their seriousness. No matter how odd, off-the-wall, or obscene, he took his time answering. On nights when Will woke up with remnants of his night terrors clinging to his eyes, he needed to know that someone else out there felt that way, too.
“We all have,” he said after a moment. “Although, I’d suppose you’ve given it a lot of thought lately?”
“I keep dreaming of killing people,” Will murmured. “I keep…dreaming that I have this…insatiable hunger. That no matter how much I kill, I will always want more.”
“Have you given your father a lot of thought lately?”
Will nodded, standing up to pace. He often paced in Lecter’s office, and he liked to think of himself as remarkably familiar with the whorls and dips of his wooden floor. Sometimes the words got stuck, but Dr. Lecter seemed to hear them all the same.
“Is there some form of aggression to your dreams? In the manner in which you take a life?”
“My heartbeat feels calm…steady. It doesn’t race until I wake and think back on what I saw.”
Will paused beside the ladder that led up to a wraparound second story, and he dragged his fingers along the grips of a step. In each groove of the wood, he imagined blood flowing like obscene rivulets, staining everything in its wake. He imagined what his hands had felt like, choking the life from the faceless victim in his nightmares, and he slumped against the ladder, rubbing his eyes to erase the remnants that felt like something much akin to a real memory.
“In your dreams, death is a release. You’ve honed in on your talents, so much so that your heart no longer betrays adrenaline and gives way to mistakes.”
“Do you have dreams like that?” Will asked, looking up. Poised in his chair as he was, Dr. Lecter tilted his head slightly to the side.
“Are you seeking the feeling of normalization through familiarity?”
“I’m wondering if I should check myself into a psychiatric ward,” Will retorted sharply.
Dr. Lecter stood, and he crossed the distance between them at a leisurely pace. Will tracked his movements, hands lowering to his sides, and when Dr. Lecter dipped down to meet his eyes, he cringed back into the ladder, the closeness stifling and mildly off-putting.
Dr. Lecter didn’t move back to give him space. He remained close, crowding him as he tilted his head one way, then the other; His eyes narrowed, and his lips pressed down. That close, Will could smell his cologne that blended nicely with his aftershave, and he gulped a breath of it down before his shoulders relaxed slowly, centimeter by centimeter. Silence sat muffled around them, and just outside of the window, the screech of a weed-whacker grated.
“Apart from your general aversion to eyes, I see no glazed expression or feverish stare,” Dr. Lecter noted lightly. “Your pulse is strong in your neck, and your knees aren’t weak. You aren’t running a temperature that I can see, and you haven’t mentioned lapses of time.”
“Wh-Why?” Will asked. Dr. Lecter didn’t step back to give him air. Will gulped down another mouthful of his cologne, and his eyes flickered up to meet a mildly amused gaze. After a shaky exhale, he looked away.
“You wondered if you should check yourself into a psychiatric ward,” he murmured. That close, Will could track the beat of his pulse at his throat. He stared at it, the even timing of it having a mildly calming effect on his nerves. “You give no indications of a split personality, nor any illness that would cause loss of memory or lapses in time.”
“I haven’t lost time.”
“Have you woken in any location other than your bed?”
Hannibal smiled briefly, a faint flash of canines. “Then you’re fine, Will. Dreams reflect some aspect of ourselves, but all that this tells me is that you’re particularly stressed, and it’s manifesting in your dreams. You’ve thought often of your father recently, and the only form of control over death one can have is if they are the one to cause it, therefore; it seems to me that your fantasies of a calm, stillness to your killing is that this is the only thing your mind feels that it can control. Life, with all of inability to be predicted, is made safe and normalized with your ability to still your heart when taking a life. Better to take than to have taken.”
Will looked up to his eyes once more, and he nodded curtly, once. Relief was a slow trickle, but it was warm, and Dr. Lecter’s answering smile as he finally backed away and let Will breathe stayed sweet in the back of his throat.
“…That’s a relief,” he said after a beat, straightening. The ladder shifted behind him, and he pushed away from it to continue his previous pacing. “I don’t know how I’d fare in court.”
“If it turned out that you’d killed someone?”
“Yeah. I don’t know the statistics for a solid defense in regards to someone claiming an alternate personality, but I’d assume that the jury wouldn’t buy that so easily.”
Hannibal laughed, a warm and low sound. “You know the statistics for soulmates in court, though.”
Will let out a derisive snort.
“You scoff at it?”
“Someone…claiming that because of their soulmate, they were driven to violence is about the shittiest excuse I can think of,” Will explained. “Soulmates aren’t the end-all. They may prompt, they may entice, and they may twist your thoughts and chemicals up a bit, but you don’t lose your mind. To say that a soulmate was the cause of any actions done by a person would be like saying that they’d put a gun to your head.”
“You’d be especially critical of a person with a half-connection, then,” Hannibal observed.
“There is no chemical compulsion at that point. The justice system is especially skewed in regards to soulmates, but I don’t buy it. At all.”
‘Woe be to the fool that stands before you in trial.”
Will sat down across from him once more, and the smile given was crooked at best. “I’m no judge…nor am I the jury or the executioner. If I’m lucky, I’ll never even have to walk into a court room so long as I live.”