Saturday, April 5, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 6

             Karthey saw a strange expression on her dad’s face as he walked in the door that night, at six-thirty. She was so happy to see him anyway that she did not ask questions, but threw her arms around him.
            “Oh, Daddy! I thought I would never see you again! This means Cramwell Fornberg dropped the charges, right?”
            “Yes,” Mr. Mavis replied shortly, “Yes, he did.” He loosened his red silk tie and sank uneasily into his armchair. “Karthey—“
            She grabbed her stool and sat next to him. “Yes, Dad?” she gazed at him expectantly.
            Mr. Mavis felt like a fool; he felt like a traitor. Look at her! She trusted him so much! How could he tell her that he had just traded his life away?
            “Dad?” Derrik emerged from his room, “You’re back?” he cried, incredulous but happy at the same time.
            “The Cram let him go!” Karthey enthused with her brother. Derrik threw one arm around his dad and the other around his sister.
            “We’re all together again,” Derrik sighed happily.
            Karthey noticed that her dad wasn’t smiling. “What’s the matter?” she asked him.
            Mr. Mavis leaned back and wished he hadn’t made the deal. Why couldn’t he have thought about anything else? Why did Hammer have to stick his hairy paunch in the middle of all this, as if he knew anything?
            “Karthey, in exchange for my release—“ Mr. Mavis looked at his daughter and swallowed the lump forming in his throat, “—I must live in Fornberg House until the kidnapper is caught.”
            Both siblings pulled away, horrified. Karthey couldn’t speak. Derrik gasped, “What?”
            Mr. Mavis tried to explain, “It seemed to be the only thing acceptable to a man like Cramwell Fornberg! I had no other choice!”
            “You—“ Karthey stammered, “You traded jail for Fornberg House? You would go up Fornberg Hill just so you wouldn’t be in jail the whole time? There’s no way out of your imprisonment?”
            “Dad, how could you do this to us?” Derrik cried, “Who knows what The Cram might do to you? He’s a monster!”
            “For the last time, Derrik,” Mr. Mavis reprimanded his son sternly, “He is not a monster, he’s a man!”
            “A man who will take another man from his family?” Karthey joined her brother in protest, “Dad! You can’t do this! You have to work, to be here for mom, and for all of us.” She sighed heavily and looked at her father and brother, “Let me go instead.”
            Karthey!” Derrik gasped incredulously, “Karthey, no!”
            “Please, Karth,” Mr. Mavis agreed, “I can’t let you take my place in this! I must face it alone.”
            “Dad,” Karthey reasoned, her chin trembling, “You’re the key to the whole investigation in the abductions. You are the only one in Precinct who knows the most about each of the victims, and you are the only one writing about them! Precinct needs you! And we need you at home! I can do this, Dad.” Karthey’s hazel eyes blazed with determination. “Please let me do this,” she whispered.
            Mavis pulled his daughter close and stroked her red hair. “I love you, Karthey Mavis; you are my most precious treasure. If you really want me to stay, I will stay.” He pulled her up and looked her straight in the eye, “But promise me you will not let him harm you in any way! Promise me that if you do not feel safe, you will run, and you will fight, and you will get as far away from him as you can.”
            Karthey sighed and licked her lips. “I promise.” She stood up straight and looked up at her dad, “All right, what do I have to do?” She asked.
            Mr. Mavis smiled ruefully, “I think you will just be living there. You should pack your bags for at least a few weeks—“
            “That long?”
            “I don’t expect so, but it would be wise to be prepared in case something extraordinary happens. Remember, he’s a very private man; I would caution you to stay out of his way, Karthey. Also, for the duration of this time—if you still want to go—you can’t leave the grounds of Fornberg Hill.”
            “Great; never leave, and remain invisible.”
            “Yes, that’s it. He wanted me there by eight o’clock.”
            Karthey checked her watch, “It’s almost seven. I’d better—I’m going to go pack.”
            Mr. Mavis sighed, “I love you, Karth. Let’s beat this thing, what do you say?”
            Karthey knew her dad was trying to put a positive spin on the whole situation, but she wasn’t buying it. She sighed, cast one more baleful look at her dad, and went to her room to pack her suitcase. The whole atmosphere was thick and gloomy.

            Derrik volunteered to escort his sister to the gates of Fornberg Hill. Karthey felt like she was walking down death row to her execution. Her feet felt as heavy as lead, and her heart heavier still. She couldn’t help remembering the conversation she’d had with her brother and Gavin—was it only a week ago? She wondered that so much had happened in such a short time.
            When they finally approached the tall, forbidding hedges and the cold, resolute gates, Karthey had two conflicting thoughts. Part of her thought, “Finally!” while the other cried, “Too soon!” She turned to Derrik.
            “Just like ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ eh?” She reminded him, trying to be brave.
            Derrik looked positively ashamed of himself. “Karthey,” he whispered hoarsely, “Karthey, please—“
            “I made my choice, Derrik,” Karthey cut him off. “I’m trying to be brave, here, but honestly, I’m scared out of my wits—and I’m the one who’s going up that Hill! Will you be brave for me?”
            “I will,” Derrik promised. “I’ll be here at eleven o’clock every day. The Cram’s usually at the library, he’ll never know.”
            “I’ll look forward to eleven o’clock, then,” Karthey responded. She checked her watch. She had ten minutes to climb the hill.
            Derrik knew how crucial this was. “You should go,” he urged her.
            “Derrik,” Karthey’s eyes begged him. He hugged his sister. “I love you; I’m gonna help Dad, too, every day. We’ll catch this criminal soon, you’ll see.”
            “I believe you,” Karthey whispered. “Goodbye, Derrik.”
            “Goodbye, Karthey.”

            Karthey turned and opened the gate. The path before her snaked ominously. When she heard the clang of the gate as it shut behind her, she began marching up the Hill to the front door, and she did not look back.
            Karthey reached the tall, dark doors of Cramwell Fornberg’s mansion and pressed the doorbell. A gust of wind rushed around the corner and hit her full-blast. Karthey shivered and tucked her hands under her arms.
            No one came to the door, which was not unexpected, but Karthey saw something light up near her feet. Sitting in a small basket on the doorstep was a cell phone. Karthey bent down and in the moonlight read the tag on the box, clearly inscribed with her family name, Mavis. Was the cell phone meant for her? He probably was expecting her dad. She picked it up; the screen notified her that a text message was waiting. She activated the phone and read the message.

Look up and to your left. There is a camera.
There are cameras all around my house, and I control them all.
 I will be watching you at all times, so don’t try anything.
You will find the door unlocked. Lock it behind you when you enter.

            Karthey looked up; sure enough, the tiny red light on a closed-circuit camera blinked at her. She slowly gripped the doorknob and turned it. The colossal door opened slowly, and Karthey crept inside Cramwell’s mansion.
            “Hello?” she finally squeaked, her voice falling flat in the thick, heavy air of the house.
            The cell phone vibrated again.

I expected a man.
Are you his daughter?

            Karthey looked around; the whole house was silent. Where was Cramwell, she wondered, that he could be watching her so closely? Could he hear her, too?
            “I am Karthey Mavis,” she announced to the thick, foreboding air, “I am here in my father’s place.” She kept turning around, gazing at everything.
The front hall was dimly lit by dirty, dusty lamps covered in cobwebs. A chandelier hung from the ceiling, but it was not alight. Karthey wondered if maybe it burnt out or something. The crystals on the chandelier only added to the weird shadows around the room, she felt. The wainscoting and trim around the entryway was all dark wood, the carpet, a deep-green color, and two stairwells along either wall connected at the top, where a vaulted, dark hallway seemed to lead to a mysterious abyss.
She felt the cell phone vibrate a third time.

Will you please stop gawking like a child!
Your room is up the left-hand flight of stairs, down the hall immediately on the left, second room on the right-hand side.
If anything is not to your liking, that is the only room you may change.
I expect you to stay in the house, go where you like, explore, clean if you are so inclined, but everything must remain as you find it.
You may enter any room in the house except the small cloister in the library.
That room is strictly forbidden.

            As soon as she finished reading this text, another came.

Enjoy your stay, Miss Mavis. You may retire to your room now.

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