Saturday, May 24, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 13

            Karthey’s eyes snapped open at seven-thirty the next morning. The autumn sun shone brightly through her window—and then she recalled what had transpired the previous evening. Wracked with guilt, she wondered how on earth she would be able to remedy the situation. If she was going to live here much longer (it was almost a week already!), she certainly did not want him placing more restrictions on her because she meddled in too many things that displeased him. What could she do?
            Karthey smiled; she knew he would not leave his room until eight o’clock. She had half an hour to enact the wild, impulsive idea that had just entered her head. She got up and threw on her bathrobe, intent on acting upon the impulse before she convinced herself otherwise.
            Karthey slid her feet into her slippers and ran lightly down the left-hand stairs, across the entryway, and down to the kitchen. She found eggs, some zucchini, a red bell pepper, and half an onion in the refrigerator. She quickly mixed all these together and fried it in a pan. Putting this together with a glass of orange juice, half a grapefruit, utensils, and a napkin, she set these all (facing away from her) in the dumbwaiter, waiting until after the clock had struck quarter-till-eight before toasting a piece of bread and spreading butter on it. She then scampered to the top of the stairs to wait for the sound of Cramwell’s cane on the steps.
            Cramwell Fornberg groggily regained consciousness as the clock struck eight—goodness! It was loud! The sound was much louder than he’d been used to hearing it before. The next thing Cramwell noticed was that he was still fully dressed…and sitting in an armchair down in the cloister, next to the painting of Jelilah. Why on earth—

The roses.

            Cramwell’s heart jumped as he remembered them. That foolish Mavis girl! Why had she gone into Jelilah’s garden? Was she not content to stay in the house? Did she not have plenty to do there, without going outside at all? No one was supposed to go there—much less take flowers from it! Much less roses, for heaven’s sake! Cramwell shuddered at the memory. He hated roses; red was his least favorite color.
He dimly remembered serenading Jelilah, and then he sat there in that armchair and spoke with her, though what he said, he did not know. Now it was morning, and time for Cramwell to put on his dressing gown and collect the paper—but he was already wearing his dressing gown. He had put it on before coming downstairs, and then fallen asleep down in the cloister. Confound that Karthey Mavis! The longer she stayed, the more Cramwell found his docile, innocuous routine completely derailed, much like the kidnapper had derailed his routine in Precinct.
            Ah, yes; the kidnapper. Cramwell had to admit as he thought to himself that he had actually been quite pleased with the information Karthey had left him on the desk—if only she hadn’t left that vase with the horrid roses on it, too. The list, though; she had certainly been thorough. Cramwell thought about making a visible “network map” of sorts. He had matched people with their places of employment. Now he could map out their schedules, the likeliest routes they would take to reach each successive destination, most of which Karthey had listed.
            At this point in his train of thought, Cramwell almost jumped out of the chair when he realized he was now ten minutes late. Bother that Karthey Mavis! He shuffled out of the cloister, taking care to lock the door behind him and place the key in a little recess behind the candelabra on the right, where he usually kept it. Cramwell stopped by the front door to pick up his paper, and went to the dining room to put it on the table before going downstairs to the kitchen to prepare his breakfast.
            As he laid the paper on the table, a squeaking sound coming from the general direction of the dumbwaiter gave him pause. Cramwell cautiously turned heel and stared at the small door in the wall. Apprehensively, he advanced toward the wall. The squeaking stopped; so did Cramwell. When it did not continue, he made his way toward the door and very quickly jerked it open.
            He stood and blinked for several moments, not fully comprehending what he saw. A nice breakfast, all laid out for him in the recess of the dumbwaiter; who had done this thing? Who but that meddlesome Karthey Mavis? Cramwell carried everything to the table and commenced his daily routine (with the exception of wearing yesterday’s clothes under his dressing gown). He opened the paper, grateful that yet again, there was more news and speculation about the previous four kidnappings, but as of yet no new victims. He finished his meal and the paper by nine, returned his dishes to the dumbwaiter, moved to the sunroom to read for fifteen minutes, headed upstairs, changed his clothes, and by nine-thirty was on his way down the hill, without ever having seen his guest—just as it had been for the last week. He thought no more on petty inconveniences.

            Karthey, for her part, made up her mind to be as unobtrusive as she could possibly be. She stayed put until she heard Cramwell leave, and then she spent the next few hours cleaning up. Just as the clock struck eleven, she remembered Derrik. She had almost forgotten the meeting! Karthey dropped the duster right where she was, dove for her coat, and flew down the hill in eager anticipation.
            Derrik was just walking up when she reached the gate. Karthey was so excited to see him that she jumped up and down like a child half her age and waved her arm.
            “Derrik!” she cried, “Derrik!”
            She saw him break into a run when he heard her calling and saw her waving. He clutched at the bars of the gate, his eyes wide with astonishment.
            “What happened?” he begged his sister, “Did he try something yesterday? Do you want to run away now?”
            Karthey saw that he must have mistaken her overjoyed reaction for terror. “Oh no!” she cried, “Derrik! I found a garden yesterday, with red roses in it! Cramwell smashed the roses, and he was angry with me, but he actually asked me for help, too. He’s been asking about a whole bunch of people from town—“
            “Wait a minute,” her brother interrupted, “He speaks to you, now?”
            Karthey shook her head, “Nope, still texting; but I saw him once, Derrik! I actually saw Cramwell Fornberg!” Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes were wide, and Karthey could not hold still. She fidgeted with agitation.
            Derrik raised his eyebrows, “You actually saw him? Without his hat on? I don’t think I ever saw him whenever he went to town. I could see that hat coming a mile away, and I knew to stay away. What did he look like?”
            Karthey ceased her wriggling and tried to remember what she observed, “Well, he’s not very tall, and he’s not very old, and I guess you could say he’s really—“
            “Little, creepy munchkin?” Derrik guessed.
            Karthey frowned at her brother, “No! He just seemed sort of…sad, really; very solemn, like there was something really big that he did not want to talk about.” She looked her brother straight in the eye. “He’s not creepy, Derrik; I think he’s afraid.”
            Derrik actually took the time to seriously consider his sister’s words. “I think I’ve heard Dad talk about that kind of thing,” he said, “He’s seen it in, like, testimonials and court proceedings and stuff, like when somebody has witnessed something obvious that everyone else knows about, but to that one person, the event was traumatizing—so traumatizing that they don’t even want to talk about it, because to talk about it would be to bring up those feelings again. The thing that seems to be obvious to everyone else, but no one wants to talk about: he calls it ‘the elephant in the room.’”
            Karthey smirked, “Yeah, I think Cramwell has one of those; only this one’s a woman. I think she might have been his wife.”
            “The one he—I mean, that people think he killed?”
            Karthey frowned and shook her head, “I don’t think Cramwell is the type of person to kill people, any more than you or I. I really think she died from something else, and he couldn’t save her or something, so he’s been feeling guilty all this time.” She confronted her brother with her hands on her hips. “I thought people had moved beyond that theory.”
            Derrik shoved his hands in his pockets and licked his lips guiltily. “Well, yeah, but—“
            “Then drop it.
            Derrik looked at his sister curiously, “Karthey, do you like Cramwell?”
            Karthey blushed furiously, “No! Not in that way—not really,” she answered quickly. “I just think people have been treating him unfairly without realizing it.”
            “So now you’re his advocate?”
            “Derrik!” Karthey clutched at the bars of the gate between them. “Think about it: what if these things I’m telling you about Cramwell could help us solve the case? What did you find out about the notes?”
            Derrik huffed and brought his sister up to date, “The forensic detective analyzed the notes and compared them with witnesses who could remember times when Cramwell suddenly acted completely unlike himself, and concluded that the notes most likely showed up in the places where Cramwell went every day, which would mean that the writer—who we still assume must be the kidnapper—knew Cramwell enough to know his daily schedule.”
            “Which doesn’t say much, because Precinct hardly knows him at all, and everybody there knows his schedule.”
            Derrik pursed his lips in thought, “Good point,” he conceded, “Anyway, the codes suggest that the writer also knew Cramwell well enough to know that he would be able to solve them.”
            “Yeah, being the only one in town with a code book anymore, at least the ones from the library,” Karthey supplied.
            “Right; we’re looking into previous associates of Cramwell now, just to see if any of them might have found their way to Precinct or the nearby towns with a bone to pick, and is choosing now to pick it with him.”
            Karthey recalled the map she had seen in the library that morning. Multiple colored lines crossed over each other in every direction—but each color in a specific direction. “I think Cramwell’s trying to find out the next target,” she mused to her brother, “I saw a map he’d been marking routes on, based on the information about some of the people that I gave him yesterday.”
            Derrik looked at her in surprise, “You mean he’s making a map of who would be where at what time and whether they’d meet each other, and trying to figure out a possible pattern from the victims that way?”
            Karthey paused a moment to sort out what her brother just said, and confirmed it with a nod, “Yeah, something like that, I think. He only gave me fifteen names, but he had more than that on his map. I think he’s figuring out more on his own.”
            Derrik was visibly impressed with both his sister’s observation and Cramwell’s uncharacteristic actions, “Wow, okay; maybe we should start doing that.”
            Somebody should,” Karthey agreed.
            Derrik checked his watch and smiled at his sister. “Well, I should be getting back to town. I’ll tell you what, though, I’m glad we get to talk, little sister. I sure do miss having you around.”
            Karthey felt her throat constrict with emotion as she replied, “I miss you too, Derrik.”
            “We’re so close, Karth!” Derrik enthused, “I can almost feel it! We’ll catch this guy soon, you’ll see.”
            “I hope so! I’m doing everything I can!” Karthey cried.
            “See you tomorrow, Sis.”
            “Hug Dad for me!”
            Karthey stood at the gate and watched her brother depart back into town. He disappeared around a corner, and she was alone once more.
            She returned to the house and finished the dusting before sitting down to a quiet lunch. After she finished her meal, Karthey sat in the library and began reading through the dustier codebooks Cramwell had, since these were obviously ones he hadn’t touched in a while. She meandered next door to the study and took a closer look at the map. She smiled as she studied the route of each color, making a short game of trying to guess whom each thread belonged to by its route. This one that went from the neighborhoods to the school, past the café, to the thrift store, to the library, back to the school, and out to the diner—that had to be Mrs. Forquist. The one that went from the café, to City Hall, to the park, to the library, back to City Hall—definitely Mayor Heartlin. And the one that seemed to zig-zag back and forth and through the neighborhoods in a random manner, stopping in at most (if not all) the establishments in downtown Precinct—Karthey smiled as she traced with her finger the line that looked as busy as the person it represented, Alivia Rogner.
            Karthey returned to the library with her head swimming with thoughts of Precinct. Previous associates, Derrik had said; how many people did Cramwell actually know? How on earth was she supposed to figure that out? What sort of information did the police have that would tell them that? Was it possible that the kidnapper was someone from Cramwell’s history, who had followed him to Precinct? What had really happened out at the seaside?
            Karthey closed her eyes as the clock struck three, trying to shut out the swirling, nagging, discombobulating thoughts. She tried to envision each mystery as an individual in her imagination, to try to keep them all separate; they insisted on combining into the single, irreducibly complex Cramwell Fornberg. No matter how hard she tried, he was always standing there in front of her, staring right at her—

            Karthey jumped out of the armchair in fright. Here she was, wide-awake, and Cramwell Fornberg really stood before her, staring right at her without saying a word!

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