New Start

Will managed to pass his psychological evaluation. Jack wasn't stupid; he'd requested a stranger for a reason, and knew enough to pass a test, surely. He tapped the file on his desk, weighing what it was worth. Finally, he called Bloom. "Graham wants to come back and work for me."

"I bet he does. Are you going to let him?"

"He passed his psych eval – I have little reason to tell him no."

"You know he doesn't like to kill people."

"No, he doesn't. But he won't hesitate to put a bullet in Lecter's brain, that's for damn sure. The Bureau is not a good place to carry out personal vendettas and witch hunts."

"So you don't trust him."

"I trust him. He's a good man. But every man has his limits, and I pushed Will past his. I'd be naïve to think he won't snap on this one."

"What are your chances of catching Lecter without him?"

"About nil, but I think it's about nil with him, too. We already know who Lecter is; this is a case where the rest of the FBI can do the footwork. I don't need to resurrect his demons for this."

"That's already happened, you know. As long as Lecter is loose, Will won't have any peace. You understand that, right?"

"Yeah, I do, which is the only reason I'm considering this. I want you to tell me if I'm wrong."

"If you really wanted to know that, you'd have sent him to me for that evaluation."

"I did suggest it; he specifically requested a stranger."

"I see."

"Don't be like that; you're the one who wants to be his friend, not his doctor. He respects you for that."

"Then as his friend, I have to warn you that you will have to take him off this case eventually. If you don't catch Lecter, he will turn inwards and slowly self-destruct. He knows this; we all do that on a dead-end case. But he will not be able to walk away himself. Not this time."

"I've already told him that the job doesn't outlast me; when I retire, he goes too."

"Fair enough. Go ahead and give him a chance then. Maybe you'll get lucky."

"Thanks."

Crawford hung up the phone. The file didn't seem any less weighty; he knew this decision was still on his head, even if he had Bloom's approval. Molly was going to kill him, probably.

But it did seem best for Will, which was what mattered. That, and tracking down Lecter.

Will felt out of place. He'd trimmed his beard and put on a dress shirt, but that didn't make him a professional, and he knew it. He sat in Jack Crawford's battleship grey office and studiously did not look at the man. He had not wanted to see Jack's eyes linger on his face, nor did he want to see pity there, of all places. He knew if he gave the man a little time, he would see neither of those things.

Jack hung up the phone and turned his attention to Will. "How is the move going?"

"Well enough. I'm still looking for a place. Molly's place sold."

"Good, good. I'll be honest with you, Will, we're running blind here. We know he started in Memphis, of course, but we don't know where he went from there. We hope that flooding the news with his picture will turn something up, but so far that's mostly just a lot of false tips from people who think they saw something – the usual. He's probably smart enough not to give himself away with his more unique handiwork."

Will nodded. "You said he's mailed a few letters?"

"Yes, a death threat for Chilton and a tease for Starling. We haven't been able to get anything useful out of either of them yet."

"You're sure they're from him?"

"Yeah, the handwriting matches."

"I'd like to see them."

Crawford nodded and stood up, pulling a folder off the shelf. "The originals are logged in evidence, of course, but here are the photocopies."

Will read Chilton's letter first, and Jack saw the smile that ghosted his face. Then Starling's, and a frown replaced it.

"Tell me about Clarice Starling."

"I can do better than that; you can meet her. She's in class right now, but I can call her over later today."

"Are you going to tell me what happened? Or should I ask her?"

Jack sighed. "I sent her in to interview Lecter. You know how he always stonewalls the researchers, so I thought I'd send him someone more…interesting."

"Interesting how?"

"She's a pretty young girl, Will. Lecter had been in there for over eight years…"

"So he took the bait?"

"Yes; but not in the way I'd planned. He never did answer her questions, but he dangled Buffalo Bill in front of her, so she kept talking to him. He gave us the information we used to catch him."

"I see."

"Look, when I sent her in I didn't know that Buffalo Bill was one of Lecter's former patients, okay? We have the tape now; we could have wrapped up the whole thing without ever talking to him if we'd known where to look."

"And where was that?"

"Raspail's relatives had the tapes of his sessions with Dr. Lecter."

Graham nodded. He looked back at the letters and reread them a few times.

"Talk to me." It was said in a companionable, inviting way, but Will knew it was his way of making sure he hadn't lost his edge.

"This threat to Chilton is bogus. The tattooed feeding instructions? No way. What Lecter really wants to do is give the man a long, slow painful death. This note is just meant to intimidate him, to start the torture now. A promise of what's to come, to heighten Chilton's fear. Lecter knows Chilton is the type of man who values control, so this is meant to scare him more than a death threat. Lecter will not snipe him; killing from a distance would never satisfy him. He likes to feel his victims writhe; see the panic on their faces, the whole nine yards. Ideally, he'd abduct Chilton and take his time with him, making sure the doctor knows exactly who is doing this to him. That would require a good deal of privacy, and also some confidence that he would not be traced when he took Chilton. But he has no intention of leaving Chilton alive afterwards."

"So you're saying that a guard on Chilton is our best chance for catching Lecter?"

"For now. I don't know anything about Memphis yet." He glanced down at the other letter. "What is Threave?"

"A castle in Scotland; that's all I know so far."

Will didn't ask any other questions; he wanted to wait to meet Clarice Starling.

Will knew Jack wanted them to see one another, but it wasn't until he met her that he understood why. Her eyes lingered on the left side of his face, as everyone's always did. But the way she looked at him was not with pity or awe…she was uncomfortable for a different reason.

He asked her a bit about her time at the Academy and the Buffalo Bill case, before moving on to Lecter. They were having an informal conversation, not an interrogation. But he was definitely confused by her…protectiveness of Lecter. Something didn't add up.

"So you're saying you don't think he'll come after you?"

She shook her head. "Not at first, anyway. Maybe if he gets bored."

"Because the world is more interesting with you in it?" he asked, quoting Lecter's letter.

She didn't exactly blush, but she was a bit shy over that. Something…something odd. He couldn't put his finger on it. "No, not really. He'd…want to save me for later, and would only kill me when he tired of the game. I think he likes to play games, so…he wouldn't want to waste it. If that makes any sense?"

He smiled. "Sure. It's hard not to sound crazy when you try to explain how an insane person thinks."

She smiled at him a little over that.

"You spoke to him most recently. What do you think was on his mind, anything he'd want to do or visit?"

"I think…I think Dr. Chilton was first on his list."

Will nodded. "Yes, that's not something he's going to let go. I wonder how Chilton is handling this?"

"And…well, I should tell you that he did ask about you."

Will stilled. "Oh?"

"Just asked me if I knew you; when I said I didn't, he dropped it."

Will nodded, suspecting Lecter had said something a bit more. "He won't forget me either, but hopefully Chilton's special brand of treatment will stay forefront in his mind for now." He paused a moment. "Was that out loud?" he asked her.

"I'm afraid so," she said, but her grin was sincere this time.

He asked her a few questions about the others who worked at the hospital, to gauge how well she read people and relationships. "So…what else did you talk about with him?"

She sighed. "Mostly stuff he dredged up from my childhood. I doubt that's going to be very helpful. He liked to insinuate that he knew more than he did, and he enjoyed…picking at things."

Will looked at her in alarm. "What…what did you tell him?"

"Oh…about my Dad's death and the farmer I went to live with afterwards."

"The lambs," Will said, recalling the letter.

She nodded. "I know you're not supposed to talk during an interrogation. I'm new, but not *that* green. It's just…if I didn't give him anything, he wouldn't talk, and, well, he was supposed to stay locked up."

"Yes, he was," Will said with feeling. "Did Crawford come up?"

"Oh, yes, of course. He knew I was working for him."

Will nodded. "Are you…are you familiar with Lecter's case file?"

"Briefly, yes, but I haven't combed through it. I was…I was working on the Buffalo Bill case," she said apologetically.

"Of course, of course. We…we should probably go back through it and see if we can turn up any unfinished business, old acquaintances, that sort of thing. I don't recall the investigation digging too far into his past last time, so there's probably more that could be added to the file; we'll know after we review it. And then update it. See who he's been corresponding with if Chilton's kept records." Will didn't know if Crawford had planned to let her work on Lecter's case, but it had become obvious that she was involved. She was also potential bait. He wanted to hear from her, and if he got…bored…he might renew his interest in Agent Starling.

"You wanted her to see my face. You wanted to intimidate her."

Crawford did not deny it. "You know what Lecter is. You worked his case, you know his file, you were at his trial. And yes, he sliced you up. I don't have to worry about his charms working on you; you're immune. She never saw him in his natural environment, though – he was always a caged prisoner to her, mostly polite. She thinks he won't hurt her; he is encouraging that illusion. I…I think she respects him."

"She will not help us catch him."

"It's not that bad. I just want her to develop a healthy fear of him, that's all."

Will nodded, not sure if Crawford had sized up the situation this time, but willing to go along with his intuition…for now. Whatever Lecter had done to Starling made her a liability, but perhaps he could work with her.

"Did the hospital keep track of Lecter's correspondence? Do we know who he was talking to?"

"Not as detailed as we would like, no. Lecter was a writer, and he kept a steady stream of mail going in and out. They logged it, but sometimes it was simply listed as 'personal correspondence' without any indication of whom he was writing to."

Will sighed. "Figures. Even so, I'll sift through that, see if I can find anything. Does the Bureau have a copy of Starling's conversations with Lecter?" he asked.

"Yes." Crawford sighed. "I suppose you'll want to go through them?"

"I can ask her first, if you'd like."

"It's not that, Will," he said. Will just waited a moment for him to continue. "You know how when you make a mistake as a parent, you hope no one else was watching?" Will nodded. "It was probably a mistake to send her in there. And you're going to see that more clearly than anyone."

"He wasn't supposed to escape," said Will quietly. "That mistake wasn't yours."

"No, it wasn't," Crawford agreed. "But we'll do our best to correct that now. You can have the tapes."

Will was planning to move Molly and Josh out here after he got his first paycheck. That way, if he decided to bolt, he wouldn't be disrupting all their lives again. He wanted to be sure he could do this before he brought them out here. And it gave him time to look for a place. He didn't mind a commute; much more important to be on the water when he got home from work. He knew he'd find something; he started looking in Dundalk and Middle River, and let himself be shocked by the price of housing in Baltimore after the Florida Keys.

For now, though, he was staying with Stewart. A motel was nice and anonymous (not to mention within his budget), and it was good to catch up with his old friend. Still, he was a bit jumpy that Lecter could find Stewart, too, if he wanted to. He did not sleep well there. He would dream that he was back in Florida, and he'd get up in the middle of the night and go down to the kitchen. Everything would seem normal…until he opened the fridge, and there would be Molly's head staring back at him. Or he'd find her dismembered in the bathtub. It shocked him awake every time. And in the unreasonableness of 3 AM, he could not reach for her and reassure himself that all was well.

Still, at least he was doing something about it, and he talked to her on the phone each day. They'd adapt to this. Somehow, things would return to normal.

He just had to keep his co-workers from finding out how badly he wanted to kill Lecter.