The day progressed quickly. Hannibal Lecter left on an errand. Anastassia was planning on serving the meal with a nice chardonnay. She had discovered that there was only one bottle left of what she wished to use. A specific wine, Bouchard Pere & Fils 2007 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, was needed and Lecter went out to find another bottle. She was sitting on the sofa working on some knitting using an exquisite cashmere yarn when the doorbell rang.
Opening the door for Will Graham, Anastassia spoke warmly. “Please Will, come in.”
He followed behind Anastassia as she took him through the large home and into the less formal sitting room. Placing the knitting back in the basket she turned to him and spoke.
“Please have a seat Will. May I get you something to drink? Some tea perhaps?”
He shook his head. “No thank you Dr. Serdste. I’m fine. Where is Dr. Lecter?”
Taking a seat herself, she smiled gently at the nervous man. “I understand in the business side of things that you call me Dr. Serdste. Please Will, you are a guest in my home, Anastassia is fine.”
“Thank you Anastassia.”
“Hannibal had to run a quick errand for me. He should not be long at all.”
They chatted for a little while. It was just mundane chit-chat. Both Will and Anastassia were enjoying each other’s company when a timer went off. Anastassia rose from her seat and asked Will to follow.
“I have some finishing touches to put on lunch; let’s continue this conversation in the kitchen?”
“I am sorry Anastassia. I did not realize I was interrupting your lunch. Dr. Lecter told me to meet him here at one in the afternoon.”
The kitchen smelled wonderful. The tease of an aroma bespoke good food filled the air. She laughed softly. “Will, the idea was that you would be joining us for lunch. So please? Will you join us?”
Will looked embarrassed for a brief moment and then nodded. “I would be delighted to. Thank you.”
“Take a seat at the bar Will. Are you sure there is nothing I might get you?” She smiled.
She pulled a heavy crystal glass from a cabinet and a bottle of water from the refrigerator. The top of the water bottle was opened in her slender, yet strong, hands. Pouring the glass to half full, she placed both the glass and the bottle in front of Will Graham.
“How are you doing these days Will?”
He gave the same reply he always gave. “Fine, and you?”
Anastassia made a face at him. She was relaxed and at ease in her own home. “Will, I am a physician. I can see with my own eyes that you are not fine.”
There was a spark of anger in Will’s bright blue eyes. “What has Dr. Lecter told you?”
Blinking in surprise, she shook her head. “He said you would be coming out for lunch.” She paused and sighed. “Will, Hannibal does not tell me of his patients or of his conversations with you. You have nothing to fear there. You are clammy with sweat and pale. Your eyes twitch nervously and you are having a bit of a problem with repetitive motions. You cheeks look as if they burn with a low grade fever. It wouldn’t surprise me if you have had a headache that has lasted a while. How do I know all of this? I can see you with my own two eyes.”
“I am sorry Anastassia. I didn’t mean to – “
“No you didn’t. There is no reason to be sorry. I do worry of course Will. Hannibal is quite fond of you.”
She turned to remove the freshly baked round loaves of bread. They would be turned into bread bowls shortly. The salad was made and a couple of sprays of truffle oil and wine were added to the greens from a kitchen atomizer. The soup was stirred and the whisky sauce reduction was checked upon. Leaning against the counter, Anastassia looked at Will.
“Will. Please get yourself checked out. Something is amiss.”
“That is why I see Dr. Lecter on a regular basis.”
“I think this is more physical than mental. Something is not right Will.” She spoke gently.
He nodded and in a quiet voice said a simple thank you once more. The door opened in that moment. Hannibal Lecter walked in from the garage carrying a small sack. Pausing to kiss Anastassia’s cheek, he greeted Will Graham with more warmth than his usual cool demeanor. “Good afternoon Will. It is a pleasure to see you again.”
Rising, Will offered a hand to Lecter. “Always a pleasure Dr. Lecter.”
“Has Anastassia been keeping you occupied while I was out?” He smiled upon hearing her laughter.
“Yes. She is a delightful hostess.” Will’s own smile faltered slightly.
“Is something wrong Will?”
“No. Not at all.”
“Hannibal will you please uncork the bottles of wine and put them in the decanters?” Anastassia asked.
“Of course my dear.”
Will Graham watched the pair. They looked like a happy couple. Will Graham was taken aback to see Lecter dressed so casually. Hannibal Lecter looked comfortable in a pair of well-worn jeans, driving moccasins, and a fisherman’s sweater. Anastassia was dressed similarly in a pair of jeans, sweater and moccasins as well. Their outfits had not been planned. Will sensed that there were hidden secrets between the two. He couldn’t tell you what, but he knew there was something in the way that they looked at each other.
“Gentlemen, lunch is ready. If you both would be so kind as to find a seat in the dining room? I will bring everything out shortly.”
Anastassia had set the table earlier. They were using the informal dining room. It was more personable than the large formal dining room that was located in the opposite direction in her home. Lecter led the way and took a seat at the head of the table. It put Anastassia to his left and Will to the right. It had already been decided that would be the seating arrangement since Anastassia was left handed. The men kept the conversation light. Anastassia did a quick sear of the scallops using a kitchen torch before bringing the first course out. They all talked about the weekend. Lecter was telling the story of Anastassia surprising him and her parents with the final act.
“I didn’t realize that you were voice trained Dr. Ser – Uhm. Anastassia.”
She smiled. “I believe that depends on who you talk to Will. I am sure that that there are quite a few people that would disagree with the thought of me being trained.”
“Ma Stassi you are far too modest.”
She laughed softly and shook her head at the men. “Perhaps. Do you know Antonio Paravaci by chance Will? He was my duet partner.”
“I recall the name from somewhere. But I could not tell you where.”
Lecter nodded. “He is an interesting boy. Quite charming in his own right.” The tone was somewhat dry.
Anastassia chuckled lightly. “I suppose you could say that.” Excusing herself she cleared the table and returned with the next course. Lunch was rich lobster corn chowder served in fresh baked bread bowls.
They ate well. The soup warming them in the cool afternoon was a pleasant distraction. Anastassia brought out the dessert course; she only came in with two desserts. Lecter looked puzzled.
“I have a call to make so I will leave you gentlemen to get on with your business.” The hospital had called and she needed to return it quickly. Giving Lecter a kiss on his cheek and a nod to Will, she left.
Lecter watched her leave. There was something in his eyes that betrayed him and Will Graham noticed.
“You love her don’t you Dr. Lecter?”
“Love? No Will. I care for Anastassia deeply. She is many things to me and we have known each other a long time. Yet, I do not believe it to be love.”
“I think it is something neither of you wish to risk saying or believing.”
Lecter’s voice became terse. “Analyzing the analyst Will?”
“Observation Dr. Lecter. It is merely an observation.”
They got down to business. The crime scene photos were indelicate at best. Hannibal Lecter looked over each photograph. There were similarities to the Chesapeake Ripper killings, but it merely surface value. It was not a copycat either. Implements that had been used on the body were identical to the ones that the Chesapeake Ripper used and in the same fashion. Yet they were not left in the body. The implements were tied in a neat package off to the side. The bodies lacked the surgical skill as well as the organ removal. They were a simple homage. They were an offering to the greater killer.
“I can see him Dr. Lecter. I can see how he does it. I can even see why he does it. What I can’t see is who he is. This man – “
“Statistically speaking you believe him to be male Will?”
“No. There are bodily fluids on each of the bodies.”
Lecter cringed inwardly at the mere notion of that. His face showed nothing.
“This man is what I can’t see. There is no pattern to a preference. We have different ages, genders, hair colors – everything. He’s meticulous like the Chesapeake Ripper. Yet, it is not the same. I do not believe it is a coincidence. This man wishes to be greater than the Ripper. He wishes to go from protégé to master.”
“You think that they are working together?”
“No.” Will closed his eyes. “This man wants to achieve status or something along the sorts. This man wants the world to know who and what he is. The Chesapeake Ripper does not care about any of that.” Will Graham opened his eyes once more, but remained somewhat lost in thought. “The Ripper is being idolized. This is almost a sacrifice to the man’s god. The god he worships is the Ripper.”
Lecter shook his head. None of this was truly a surprise. He now had an inkling of something else. “This man is young is he not?”
“I believe so yes.”
“He is impulsive?” Lecter asked.
“Yes and no. The victims are not based upon impulse but upon study. It is the act of killing that is impulsive. The killings are messy. We know where and when each one took place. The Ripper rarely leaves us anything to go on.”
Lecter shut the folder that he had been studying. “You will find him Will. He will make a mistake and soon.”
“How do you know this Dr. Lecter?”
“I just do. He is becoming too impatient. He wants a sort of recognition that he cannot have. With that he will become impulsive and try to – dare I say? Branch out.”
Will Graham nodded. “I think you are correct Dr. Lecter. I need to figure out how.”
“You will do so. Not to worry.” Lecter patted the other man’s shoulder. “I have the utmost of faith in you Will.”