Saturday, June 7, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker" Part 15

“I know you, Miss Mavis,” Cramwell continued icily, “I heard you last night, and I knew you would be back.” Cramwell took a step toward her, and as he continued to speak, first his hands and then his whole body began to shake—but was it anger, or fear? His voice was harsh and hard, “I pretended to leave, and then I watched you deliberately enter the library. I watched you on the camera, snooping, feeling, prying, digging, scratching with your fingernails, doing everything you could to get into the one place in this house I have forbidden time and again!”
            Karthey could not take her eyes off of Cramwell Fornberg, and as he stood before her, shaking and staring and glaring and seething, she knew fear. Before this time, she only feared what she did not know about him. Now, to see him so angry, so violated, and she had been the one to make him so, she genuinely feared him.
            By now, Cramwell was standing in front of the armchair, and he sank into it, completely worn out from his outburst. Karthey saw pain, saw weariness, and saw deep, interminable hurt. This was what Cramwell carried about with him every day as he went into town, avoiding eyes and comments, and retreated the minute he finished to his sanctuary where Jelilah awaited him. More than her fear, now, Karthey wanted to know what had really happened to Jelilah; she wanted to know the truth instead of the stories she had heard growing up. But would the words come? Would he answer?
            “What—“ Karthey fought to bring up the words as Cramwell picked up his head, “What happened to her?”
            Cramwell fixed Karthey with that weird stare that never failed to fill her with dread—but she saw that behind it were the still-warm embers of love. Cramwell turned his gaze to the face of his wife.
this couple inspired the Fornbergs!
            “We…” his voice was no more willing to leave his mouth than hers had been. “My Jelly and I were at the seaside. We had been married one year—it was our first anni…anniversary.” Cramwell’s eyes dropped and locked in a wide-eyed stare as he relived the details of that day, and his voice warmed to a tone Karthey had never heard him use before; come to think of it, she had never heard anyone use the tone of voice Cramwell did now. His voice never faltered once while he described his dear wife.
            “Jelly loved the seaside; I loved to watch her, to be with her, to feel her arms in mine, to feel her pull me along with her as she ran into the surf again and again, to hear her laugh echo in my hears, to see that wonderful, glorious smile that made her whole face shine like starlight. Then one day—“ Cramwell’s voice caught, and the warmth dissipated; just like that, he reverted back to his old, terse way of speaking. “We would have stayed two days longer; the tide was in…it was just going out. A storm was coming in, but it hadn’t—arrived yet. But the breakers…the sea was rolling, the white foam stood on every wave, crashing upon the shore. I stayed—oh! I should have gone with her! But the crashing sea made me afraid, I stayed back on shore. Jelilah wanted to run in the surf again—why couldn’t she listen?”
            Karthey had been staring at the painting during this time, but at a strange sound from Cramwell she looked up in surprise. Tears stood in his eyes as he stared at Jelilah’s face. Karthey wondered if he had forgotten her, and was lost in his memories now, memories he had never uttered since they first occurred, the memories that had so burdened his soul and made him the reclusive hermit he was. Cramwell continued.
            “She ran out—she wore that same white dress—she ran out, calling, and waving at me. She wanted me to come with her, she ran into the water so that her dress was drenched and clung to her body. But Jelly didn’t care. She loved every minute of it. She loved the power of the water. She just kept going, deeper and deeper, turning back, reaching back, deeper again, turning, reaching—“ Cramwell was weeping in earnest now, and Karthey longed to reach out and comfort him, but she dared not, for fear of incurring his wrath in his fragile emotional state.
            “A wave came, it seemed to cover her up. I thought I saw her arms, still reaching for me…and then—“ Cramwell covered his face with his hands at the sheer horror of it, “—she screamed. When the wave went back out, I couldn’t see her any more.” Cramwell dropped his hands and seemed to recover his composure in an instant. He looked back at Karthey and continued flatly, “The undertow had caught her, and carried her under. By the time I ran out to search for her, she was gone. The tide went out, and I never saw her again.” Cramwell sighed and did not look at the painting (thought Karthey saw that he most likely very much wanted to) as he informed her, “She dared to taunt Nature with her carefree attitude, and Nature swallowed her in one gulp. That is why I keep to a schedule, and do the same things I have done since returning to Precinct. It is—“ he hesitated, obviously thinking of the kidnappings, “—safer for me, that way.” His eyes shifted from side to side, as if he considered himself surrounded at all time by unseen demons who waited on his every side for his foot to stray so they could work their mischief.
            As Karthey watched the man, it seemed as if the tall, looming “monster” façade seemed to melt away, and she saw him vulnerable, alone, full of fear. She sought to empower and embolden him. She realized that this might be a moment of opportunity no one else in Precinct had or could ever have—the chance to speak with Cramwell Fornberg. She had his ear—she, Karthey Mavis! He was not brushing her off, shooing her away, or communicating via text message. He was speaking to her, and more importantly, with her. She carefully leaned forward, not daring to take her eyes off him.
            “So many people in Precinct are afraid of you,” she told Cramwell, “they are just as afraid as you are. Some even believe you are a ghost. This is what fear does.”
            Cramwell fixed his eyes on the girl before him who spoke to him as no one else had done since—well, for a very long time. “How do you mean?” he queried.
            Karthey wondered at this open invitation to continue speaking, but she determined not to let it go to waste. “Fear robs a person of life. When you live out of fear, it’s not living at all.”
            “Are you saying that I must throw my life to the dogs in order to really live?” Cramwell asserted. “The very idea behind keeping set hours and a private schedule is to preserve my years as much as possible.”
            Karthey paused to ponder Cramwell’s words; all this time everyone had assumed guilt was the only reason one would choose to live such a secluded life, when he was really doing it out of self-preservation. She thought back to all the discussions she had with her father about life.
            “Life,” she stated, “is not about taking all risks, nor is it about taking no risks. Your life is not safer because you do not think you take risks. Just look at the way you’ve been getting notes all week. Life is about taking the risks that make us grow, Mr. Fornberg. To a baby, walking is a risk; to a duckling, swimming is a risk; to a bird, flying is a risk; yet all these things are necessary for their development, for their lives.
            For one fleeting moment, Karthey and Cramwell locked eyes, but then Cramwell blinked, and the moment was over.
            “That will be all, Miss Mavis,” he said coldly. He would not look at her again.
            Karthey stood and left the cloister. Had anything she said made any sort of impression, or was it all for nothing? She wandered out of the library, but just as she reached the top of the right-hand stairs, Cramwell emerged from the east hallway.
            “Miss Mavis!” he commanded.
            Karthey obediently stopped and turned.
            He stared at her, his lips moving, but no sound came. After several moments, he awkwardly dug his cell phone out of his pocket and began typing. Karthey patiently waited until he had finished and sent it, then withdrew her own phone when it vibrated.

Please accompany me into town today, Miss Mavis.

            Karthey looked back to Cramwell, to try to ascertain the meaning of this unexpected request. He was allowing her to go into town? When all this time she thought she would have to stay cooped up on the hill until the police apprehended the culprit? Cramwell, however, had his head bent down again, and was still texting.
            “Yes,” Karthey told him, in answer to his first text, as she waited for the second one. It came in short order.
You will remain at my side the entire time, and you must not speak to anyone.
That will be all.

            He was looking at her when she finished. Karthey felt a rush of warmth in her cheeks as she dared to smile at Cramwell Fornberg.
            “Thank you!” she cried as she ran down the steps for her coat and scarf. She was going with Cramwell, and she couldn’t speak to anyone (evidently Cramwell really had no idea that she was already talking with Derrik every day, so these restrictions, if they were meant to be heavy, were nothing of the sort), but at least she could see Precinct again, with her own eyes! Nothing about Cramwell’s stony resistance to her could ever dampen the anticipation she felt as they descended the Hill side by side.
            Mr. Mavis frowned and let his head drop into his hands. His elbows rested on piles of paper in front of him. On each piece of paper were several lists, theories, hypotheses—all concerning Cramwell Fornberg and the kidnappings. So many things didn’t add up!
            Derrik had been faithful in bringing everything Karthey said to him. He had been grateful to get the note from her, and every day it encouraged his heart to hear how his daughter was working just as hard as he was—with far less information. Mr. Mavis pushed away from his desk and walked over to the map of Precinct he had pinned up, with Karthey’s note tacked to the corner, right where he could see it, even though he had already memorized every word, he read it so much.
            Derrik had informed him that Karthey noted Cramwell making a map of at least twenty different people and their specific routes through the town, so Mr. Mavis had done his best to make one of his own, marking down a list of peak times of “people-traffic” both the largest volumes of people coming and people going from almost every business establishment in town. That had to be it—the kidnapper must have chosen times of light traffic or heavy, depending on the location.
            The street corner angle had thought to provide a pattern, because “Clarissa’s corner” had been near the grocery store, where Colby disappeared, and Colby in turn had been last seen near the diner, where Alivia had last visited before being last seen in the Square near the library, where Cherry disappeared—but Cherry had not been on a street corner at all!
            Together, father and son had then come up with the angle that perhaps the kidnapper was a previous acquaintance of Cramwell’s. Getting evidence from Cramwell’s past from London had not been a picnic. So many forms to fill out! Mr. Mavis reflected gratefully that at least they could use e-mail, which was much faster than having to ship everything over the Atlantic. He had the list of everyone who went to school with Cramwell from primary to university. Mr. Mavis had noticed the name Jelilah Hammond on the list of university students, as an American exchange student. Wasn’t that the name of Cramwell’s wife? Now he knew where they met, at any rate.
            According to Derrik, Karthey had also mentioned something about the death of Cramwell’s wife affecting him deeply—but what did that have to do with the kidnappings? Mr. Mavis dismissed it from his mind with a shake of the head. He glanced at the clock on his wall. It was almost ten-thirty. He needed some coffee; so what if Cramwell would be at the café? If he walked slowly enough, Mr. Mavis was sure he could arrive in time to see the old codger leave.
            Mr. Mavis strode out of City Hall and across the Square to the café. He pushed open the door, stepped back to let Mr. and Mrs. Gardner out, and walked straight to the counter.
            “Hey, Beth,” he said to the petite brunette at the cash register, “can I get a medium caramel sauce Americano?”
            Beth smiled, but behind the grin something strange hovered in her expression. “Sure thing, Mr. Mavis. You want whip on that?” She kept glancing at something over his shoulder.
            “Sure,” Mr. Mavis was beginning to be distracted by the fact that Beth was distracted herself.
            Beth shook away whatever had been bothering her, and she rang up Mr. Mavis’ order. “That’ll be $3.15,” she said, “Go ahead and have a seat, and I’ll bring it to your table.”
            “Thanks, Beth!” Mr. Mavis turned to grab one of the booths lining the café walls. He stopped short. “Karthey?” he gasped.

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