Babyrousa babyrussa

Why so gloomy, babirusa? Is it because Evolution gave you some weird extra tusks that are ugly, useless, too brittle to fight with, and may eventually grow so long that they curve around and fatally puncture your skull? Could that be it?

Credit: From WTF, Evolution?! - Workman Publishing. Babirusa, (Babyrousa babyrussa).Photo © Danita Delimont/Alamy


When Doctor Lecter stands Mason turns his head slightly to track the movement, his shoulders tense and then when the doctor only retrieves his sketchbook and pencil Mason relaxes again. He lets out a breath that he hadn’t realised he was holding.

It’s more of a relief than he might have guessed, that Lecter isn’t going to push him. As well, it gives him the option to use this time instead of just waiting for the metaphorical axe to drop.

Mason has made a mistake — or, if not a mistake, at least a miscalculation in the development of his special pigs. Babirusa.

Babyrousa babyrussa, the hog-deer. He had thought that the gamble might be worth it, for the large tusks — the extra bulk he could have dealt with in time, crossing down with smaller lines, but the slow breeding had nipped the idea in the bud. There are other litters, and though it is a disappointment, he can remove this one from the program without losing time.

He might even be able to put them to some use — they are robust, large and there is enough of Hylochoerus meinertzhageni in them that they have retained much of the musculature of this more familiar breed. There’s a market for such a thing: the combination of domestic and wild stock. Especially now that the Australians have shut up shop in their export of Iron Age pigs. Germany, Italy, Russia. There are specific gaps in their markets that Mason is now in a position to fill.

If he can spin it correctly even the slow reproduction rate could be turned into an advantage, turn them into a premium line — exclusivity, after all, is the backbone of advantage that brands such as the spanish Jamón ibérico hold.

But that still leaves him with the issue of his own project. How to increase the size of the tusks without introducing other, undesirable traits. There is one particular litter that might help with this: two goodly sized males, three females. One of the males in particular has developed tusks that are larger than might have been expected. If it’s anything more than a fluke then it should be easy enough to take advantage; backcross him over the dam, put the other male over two of the sisters and put the third female under a larger breed for an outcross. All going well it should give him something to work with.

Mason twists his ring on his little finger, bites his lip in concentration, the room slides out of focus. He counts back generations on his fingers, estimating how long it will be before the animals reach sexual maturity, how many generations before he will know if it’s worked.

It’s a long game, but he knows what he’s doing. He hardly notices the soft, steady sound of Doctor Lecter’s pencil.

Mason Verger seems to be the master of making particularly ugly faces. But it’s been a while since Hannibal’s drawn from life, and he prefers a moving, breathing subject over any still life or landscape. One can only do so many of those before tearing their hair out.

And Mason was a surprisingly interesting subject when he wasn’t opening his mouth to say something awful. A well-tailored suit keyed in insight to the forms of the body beneath, and he sat with a bored sort of grace that made him a natural for modelling. Strange.

Hannibal’s eyes flick back and forth from his page to Mason back down to his page again until he has to stop. Something moved.

“Mason, would you mind crossing your ankles again?”