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Cuisine Euphonique

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He managed a few hours of fitful sleep, dreams full of shrill noise and blood beading from walls. As soon as he was up, he tried Beverly's phone — then Jack's. He got no answer from either, so he got in his car and drove to Quantico, fast enough that he was lucky not to get pulled over. 

He found Crawford emerging from the elevator near the entrance, followed by Katz and two other agents. They were hurrying for the door. He trailed them. 

"The first victim was an audiophile," Will said to Jack's back. “A regular at a specialty music store in Baltimore. You need to send someone down to question the owner." 

Jack spun on his heel and looked Will up and down. "A specialty music store."

"Yes. High-end audio equipment. The sort of stuff the Catcher would use to record and assemble his masterpieces." 

Crawford frowned, then nodded. "Fine. We'll send someone this afternoon." 

"This afternoon? But—"

But Jack was already on the move again. Katz looked back to mouth a silent sorry. Will grabbed her by the sleeve.

"What the hell's going on?" 

"Dunt is no longer a suspect. And we may have a new victim."

"Who?"

"You know Alana Bloom?"

Will nodded once, heart sinking with fear. 

"A friend of hers has gone missing, a well known patron at the Baltimore opera. He left her a voicemail in the middle of the night. He’d been approached by an unstable patient and was about to call the cops. He never did."

The corners of Will's vision blurred. His chest felt suddenly tight. 

"A patient?" was all he managed.  

"The guy’s a shrink. Doctor of psychiatry."

"Did he— give Alana a name?"

Katz shook her head. "The message was cut short." She glanced back uneasily towards her departing colleagues. "Look, I really have to—" 

"Wait! There's gotta be more to this or Jack wouldn't be in such a hurry. What else did the message say?"

Beverly hesitated for a moment, then leaned in closer and lowered her voice. "Our good doctor told Alana that the patient wanted him to hear a new composition of his." She must have read his look, because it was her hand on Will's arm now, squeezing, holding him up. “Look. I'll make sure this music place gets checked out ASAP. Meanwhile don't do anything stupid, okay?”

She was gone. Will had to find a wall to lean against. He closed his eyes and counted until he no longer felt like he was going to slide down against it. 

He shoved a hand into his pocket. Was this the jacket he wore the day he saw Alana? 

It was. And there it was. He pulled out the business card. Fingers shaking, he touched the name and credentials embossed into the paper. 

Then he groped for his phone. 

He called the number the chef had given him last night. No ringtone. No voicemail. Only the sound of Will's own heart, thrashing with panic in the claustrophobic confines of his chest. 

There was only one thing he wanted, and that was to be wrong — about absolutely everything. 

---

His entrance set off a discreet door chime, the only sound inside the Euphonic Oasis. 

Will was alone. He stood surrounded by pristine display cases and listened to the sound of nothing. What kind of audio equipment store didn't play music — or anything at all — to advertise its wares? 

Just as his ears were starting to ring from the stifling hush, he heard footsteps, clacking in a hurried beat over floor tiles. 

The owner emerged from the back. He looked just as Will had remembered him: small and tidy, slicked dark hair, a bland smile set in a line. Loops of thick black cable hung from his arm. 

"I'm sorry, we are just about to close for lunch," the man said and then, recognising Will, dialled down his merchant’s smirk. "Ah. Returning the headphones again?" he added with the faintest hint of bile in his voice. 

"No, they’re great actually." Will tried his best to sound breezy, all while his insides churned. "I was just in the neighbourhood and remembered there was something you wanted me to try them with. Some piece of music I guess.”

The man's face froze for an instant, then slid into a pleased expression. "I suppose I can spare a moment," he said. "Please wait here." 

With that, he set the coil on his arm on the counter and vanished again. Will stared at the cable. He thought about the photos of restraint injuries pinned around Jack Crawford's office. Bruises and lacerations of pure desperation, somehow worse than flayed flesh. His gun, concealed by his jacket, felt heavy against his hip.

One of the chrome boxes displayed inside the store’s glass cabinets lit up as if by magic, its tiny green and red eyes flickering to life and jerking Will from his thoughts. The owner reappeared, this time armed with a set of headphones Will recognised as the same model he'd been sold. And used with the chef last night.  

“Most of my customers think top-of-the-line equipment can transform them into audio connoisseurs,” the man said, unlocking the case and plugging the headphones into the front of the switched on unit. “They're wrong. One needs to start with the right kit as well as the right set of sounds.”

The right set of sounds. Not music. Music was incidental to this man. Something else mattered to him and spurred him on. 

"But that's not the whole recipe, is it?" Will said. "What's the magic third ingredient?"

The man studied Will for a moment through his spectacles, eyes bright and beady. In the silence of the store, Will could hear the stuffy whistle of his breath. 

"Why, the listener, of course. Someone who strives to live up to their full sensory potential." He held up the headphones as if he meant to put them on Will's head. "If I may," he said.

Will took an involuntary step back. His heart thudded in his chest, loud enough for him to fear it might betray him. He managed a smile and took the headphones to put them on himself. He felt like he was about to submit to a test. Did James Ellender fail his?

The headphones wrapped around his ears and shut out the last vestiges of sound, down to the store owner's breathing and Will's own heart. 

The man watched Will for a moment, then pressed play. 

The music rose from the sea of silence: chorus and strings giving way to an instrument Will didn't recognise, hollow and haunting like a glass flute. It scraped over Will's sensitivities, a shimmering and sharp sensation. The back of his neck and his forearms prickled.

A voice rose up next, doleful and tender. A woman. A soprano. 

At the sound of that voice, the frisson rippling over Wills' skin turned into the sickly shudder of dread. Still, the music had him caught and he couldn't help closing his eyes. But instead of the skinned woman from Oriole Island, he saw the interior of a familiar kitchen. 

Here, the music in his ears was mere backdrop to another kind of opera, one composed of knives, flesh and oil for Will's ears only. He wanted to be in that kitchen and hear the chef's music with a yearning as deep as the one permeating the dead woman’s aria. 

It was too much. Will snapped the headphones from his head and opened his eyes.

Hands braided, the store owner stood before him, perfectly still. He hadn't budged, hadn't let up his insistent stare. 

"Well?" he asked.

Will knew what this man wanted to hear from him: that Will had felt more than heard the music; that it had played on his senses and his skin as if he were another instrument in the score, the human masterstroke of the sonic circuit. All the things this man had also felt himself to be. 

"She's got some voice," he said instead, as blandly as he could. "Can you write down the name for me?"

The store owner's hopeful smile fell from his face. He pulled the headphones from the jack a bit too hard. "Of course," he muttered and stepped behind the counter to fetch a notepad. When he finished writing, he offered the note Will. 

Will glanced at the paper and saw without surprise but with a sinking sense of conviction the name of Adrianna Remini. 

He smiled again, nodded in thanks and moved for the exit.

At the door, he stopped and turned. He found the store owner still behind the counter, watching him as intently as before. The cable hung once more from his arm. It looked heavy. Long.

"Can I ask you something?" Will said. 

The bland line across the man's mouth reappeared. He inclined his head in an oddly courtly nod. "Of course."

"I read somewhere that music is the only sensual pleasure without vice," Will told him. "Would you agree?"

Behind the glare of his glasses, the store owner blinked. "No," he said. "No, I would not agree." He let out a short, nervous laugh. "What a strange phrase. Where did you read it?"

"Samuel Johnson said it."

"He must not have understood the purpose of music at all. Not at all."

---

The Oasis sat next to a narrow alley that cut through to the next block. 

Will circled around and pulled over behind a dumpster near the alley's entrance. He could just see the store's back exit and the car parked next to it: a dark green Bentley, gleaming like an enormous beetle. Outrageously expensive but still, it must have been the owner's. 

He waited. Snapshots of nightmares to come swarmed in his head: the ID on a crumbled flayed body; the realisation and the crushing grief. He tried to focus. He looked up the business listing of the Euphonic Oasis and found the owner's name: Archer Flynt, sole proprietor. He took down the plates from the Bentley.

He checked his phone: maybe Beverly would text to tell him it was all okay and the worst hadn't come to pass. Maybe the chef would call him out of the blue and ask what dish Will wanted to hear being prepared for their first dinner together. 

Minutes passed and still Flynt hadn't emerged. Did Will blink and miss his exit? The Bentley stood where it had. He couldn't wait any more, so he crept the car closer. The store's back door had a small, round window cut into it. No light inside. 

Will swore loudly and drove to the end of the alley. He turned out into the street and found the front of the Euphonic Oasis shuttered. 

Flynt hadn't left for lunch. He'd shut up shop and left through the front. Gone, right from under Will's nose. 

Will wanted to punch something — better yet, himself. He breathed through his anger and despair. Stupid. Desperately stupid. He grabbed for his phone and called Katz. After four rings, she answered.

“Alana’s friend. Does he own a green Bentley?”

There was a moment of silence on the other end. "Yes. Yes, he does. It's missing though. Where are you? And give me the plates."

"Yeah, I've— hang on."

His phone chimed in his ear. He glanced down at the screen and froze. 

Not an email, not a text — but a notification from a number he didn't recognise. 

A location tracking pin. 

Breath shaking in his chest, Will tapped on the screen to open the maps app. He watched as the blue dot crept slowly across downtown Baltimore. Ten, fifteen minutes from where he was, maybe more. 

"Graham?" On the other end, Katz sounded urgent. "What's going on, where are you?"

"I've gotta go."

"Go where? Didn't I tell you not to do anything stupid?"

"I don't know. I'll tell you when I get there. Archer Flynt, owner of the Euphonic Oasis. He's on the move and he has your man."

---

Accessed by an exit from a nondescript stretch of road, the building was an unfinished skeleton of a chain hotel, one of those places made for business conventions and airport sleepovers. No sign of building works around it — construction must have been halted or abandoned.

It was here that the blue dot on Will's phone had finally stopped. 

Will parked under the ramp, out of sight. He texted Katz: here, will need backup. He stared out at the building: no cars around it, no light inside. He took a deep breath and stepped out into the grey autumnal day. 

He squeezed through a gap in a chain link fence and made his way across the enormous half-paved lot. He felt absurdly exposed, a tiny speck under a vast leaden sky pierced by the crowns of the pines that soared just beyond the barren structure.

Maybe sending Will here had all been a ruse. Still, he had nothing else to hang his hope on. He kept his hand on his holster and when he stepped through the doorless entrance, he drew his weapon.  
 
Inside he found only silence, as complete as the one in Flynt's store. Not even the wind through the pines or the sound of traffic had made it through the concrete and glass. Nothing to interrupt whatever performance was about to take place here. 

Thin daylight crept in through the filthy windows and guided Will down the corridors that wrapped around the hotel's first floor. Around the second or third corner he saw a doorway with a light coming through it — a fluorescent light. Will's pulse picked up. He stalked closer and peered inside. A staircase, with steps leading up and down. The light was only coming from one direction: the basement. 

Nowhere to go but down. 

At the bottom of the stairs, flickering fluorescent tubes crudely strung from above illuminated a space as vast and empty as the warehouse that had been Adrianna Remini's final stage. No sign of Flynt. Only the odd pile of discarded cardboard boxes, a faint electric hum that couldn't have been the lights and, at the far end of the floor, a swarm of black cables slithering in through a door which must have led to the basement's next section. 

Will toed out of his shoes and slid them behind a cardboard box. He tried to steady his shaking breath as he moved across the cold concrete. His heart fluttered in his throat and his hand felt damp around his gun. Was he too late? Would he soon smell blood and death above the mold and damp?

He tiptoed over the twisting cables, in through the doorway — and clamped his hand over a gasp.  

More empty boxes, a vast circle of enormous speakers, cables everywhere like a pit of black snakes and there, in the center of it all: an armchair, a man. 

Still in his coat, the man had been tied to the chair with cable. His wrists were taped to the armrests. At the sight of Will, his eyes grew wide. Will couldn't read his expression: shock, terror, relief? All things Will himself felt.

Will nearly lunged forward. He got to his knees in front of the chair and mouthed his name, over and over:

Will. I'm Will. 

The man in the chair shut his eyes and seemed to slump. Will clasped at his hand, that unmistakable hand he'd know anywhere, and squeezed. The man looked up at him slowly, this time with relief and recognition. Will shaped his name around the hum of silence that engulfed them: 

Dr. Hannibal Lecter?

The man jerked his head in a nod. 

Hurt?

A shake of the head this time.

What Will wouldn't have given to hear the answer in the man's own voice instead. He started to pull at the tape at his wrist. The man shook his head fiercely and Will remembered himself: the noise. He fumbled for his Swiss army knife instead and made the cuts as silently as he could. 

As soon as he was done, their eyes locked and their hands clasped again — only for a moment. And then the man pulled his hand free and raised his index finger to his lips. 

Shh. Do not make a sound. 

And then Will heard footsteps, matched to the sound of a labored breath.