Saturday, June 21, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 17

             Karthey woke the next morning at eight o’clock and absentmindedly reached for her cell phone. For a moment, she worried because there were no outstanding texts on the phone…but then she remembered the events of the previous day. Karthey sat up in bed, stretched, and smiled. She wondered as she dressed what new surprises awaited her today.
 
            The first surprise awaited her at the bottom of the stairs. Cramwell stood there, looking up at her expectantly—fully dressed and without his hat.
            Karthey paused when she saw him. “Good morning,” she called down to him as she descended.
            Cramwell did not respond to her greeting, though he did look as if he had something he very much wanted to say. He nodded to her as she reached the bottom of the stairs.
            Karthey tried to anticipate what it was that he wanted. She crossed the entryway and started to enter the east hallway. “Do you want me to make us some breakfast?” she asked.
            “Ah, Miss Mavis!” Cramwell burst out suddenly.
            Karthey stopped and looked back at him, standing there at the foot of the stairs, hands fidgeting at his sides, rocking nervously on his feet. “I told you,” she said with a half-smile, “my name is Karthey.”
            “Well, hm, Miss—Karthey,” Cramwell stuttered awkwardly, “I was—that is to say, er, would you…care to accompany me to, ah, to breakfast at—at the, um, café?”
            Karthey smiled, “Certainly,” she agreed.
            Cramwell offered his arm again, and the two of them left the house, only pausing on the doorstep as Cramwell picked up his paper and tucked it under his arm, intending to read it there in the café.

            Whitney was taking orders from patrons that morning, and she nearly passed by the table where Cramwell sat, assuming he would just have his usual, when the odd man raised his hand.
            “Excuse me,” he beckoned her.
            Whitney approached their table, wondering what this could be about.
            “We—we…” Cramwell began stammering, his eyes darting around the room.
            Whitney began to get very uncomfortable. What was The Cram trying to say to her?
            Karthey Mavis, sitting completely unruffled opposite him, spoke up. “We’d like to order breakfast, Whitney,” she explained.
            Whitney turned to her and couldn’t keep the shock out of her voice as she breathed, “What’ll you have?”
            Karthey glanced at the menu. “Two of today’s specials, please,” she said. “With orange juice and coffee for both of us.”
            Whitney did not so much as look in Cramwell’s direction as she scribbled down the order and darted back to the kitchen.
            

            Karthey shook her head, well aware of the days when Whitney’s reaction would have been dwarfed by her own under the same circumstances. She watched Cramwell fumble with his newspaper as he unfolded it and spread it on the table.
            “DINER OWNER LATEST VICTIM,” proclaimed the headlines. Karthey smiled. So her dad had received her note, and had taken immediate action. She watched Cramwell’s face, noting that he read the article with intensity that perhaps belied surprise, for he was not used to reading of a kidnapping the morning after noticing one. She saw him press his lips; reading of Mrs. Preston’s abduction reminded him of how he had felt when he first noticed she was gone.
            Whitney returned with their beverages, and a little later she brought the entrees. Cramwell folded up the newspaper and placed it on the seat next to him. Karthey was dying to know what her father had written in his article. She was also curious to know how Cramwell intended to go about working with her to solve the mystery. Would he just come out and start talking? Would he rather wait until they were alone?
            “What do we know about the victims, anyway?” Karthey whispered under her breath.
            “Pardon?” Cramwell jerked out of his self-absorbed silence.
            Karthey colored and repeated her question, “I was just wondering how we could go about investigating the victims to try to find the identity of the killer,” she explained.
            Cramwell didn’t seem at all bothered by the fact that she had just sprung the topic of the kidnappings on him over breakfast. As a matter of fact, he reached into the front breast pocket of his tweed jacket and pulled out none other than the very first paper that Karthey had written after the abduction of Cherry Macintosh and promptly lost. Karthey could hardly believe he still had the paper, much less on his person.
            He looked down and read it, “Well, they all seem to frequent this area of town a lot,” he noted.
            Karthey nodded, digging in her purse for a piece of scrap paper and a pen. She found a small notepad and began writing on it. “So that’s our angle then? Find out where these people go a lot, and see if there’s any connection?”
            “Angle?” Cramwell echoed, but he wasn’t looking for an explanation. Karthey glanced up to his face, and saw that he was staring at the paper again, with an amused light in his eye. He continued without looking up, “First let’s get a fix on the locations where everyone was kidnapped. I think that would be a better place to start. It’s here on the paper, but I think it would be better if we had it all in one place. Maybe there’s a certain connection between the kidnapping locations that will enable us to predict where the next victim might be taken.” He stopped and pressed his lips, and Karthey knew he was reflecting on what he had just said. Five people had disappeared already, and here he was talking as if he knew for certain it would happen again. How horrible!
            “Okay,” Karthey slid out from the booth to a rack of newspapers standing next to the front door of the café. In a smaller rack on the top were several maps of the area, both local and state-wide. Karthey chose a map of Precinct. She spread it out on the table.
            “All right, so—“ she checked the paper, “Clarissa disappeared about here—“ she marked the corner near the diner with an “x”, “and Coby was last seen on the corner over here—“ she marked again, this time next to the grocery store. “Alivia disappeared from the corner about here,” she made a third “x” in the Square, “and Cherry vanished from the library.” Karthey lifted the map and glanced at the newspaper underneath. “Did it say where Mrs. Preston was last seen?”
            Cramwell took it out from under her eyes with unexpected alacrity. “The last time anyone can recall seeing Mrs. Preston was as she waited to cross the street at the corner of Fourth Street and Carmichael Avenue.”
            Karthey marked the location on the map, “That’s right near the park,” she mused.
            Cramwell snapped the paper from in front of his face and bent deeply over the map. He studied each mark carefully. When he finally sat back in his seat, he looked at Karthey with a wan expression.
            “I know the connection,” he stated briefly, “They’re all places I go.”
^^^^^^

            Cramwell left the café at eleven and returned to the house with Karthey in tow. The girl herself tried to make sense of what she had just heard. She clutched the map in her hand as Cramwell walked as fast as his cane would allow, wondering if they had actually solved the case, after all this time.
            Once they were back in the mansion, Cramwell did not stop until he had reached his study. His own map still hung on the wall. He seized a pointer from among the pens on the desk and extended it. He slapped the map with it as he spoke heatedly.
            Whap!
            “The waitress worked at the café, but she was near the diner the last time anyone saw her.”
            Whap!
            “The boy was last seen at the grocery store, where I usually go. I happened to be at the park when his mother was still looking for him.”
            Whap!
            “Miss Rogner left her umbrella at the diner, and was last seen walking across the square from there.”
            Whap!
            “The girl was at the library, I go there every day.”
            Whap!
            “Mrs. Preston—“ Cramwell caught his breath, overcome with the realization. “Mrs. Preston was seen near the park, the last time anyone saw her.” His voice fell, and he sank into the armchair behind him and let the pointer fall to the floor.
            Karthey stared at the map and leaned back against the mahogany desk. “Do—“ she tried to make sense of this new angle, “Are you saying that the kidnapper was not just planning who to kidnap, but where?”
            “It’s possible,” Cramwell looked up at her with mild fear in his eyes. “The identities of his victims may not have been planned at all.” He turned back to the map, “He just knew where to get them, because it would point back to me.”
            Karthey shook her head, “But that’s impossible!” she protested. “Anyone in their right mind doesn’t just go around grabbing random people, just for the sake of location! No—remember the notes? The kidnapper would give you at least the gender ahead of time. That shows some level of premeditation.”
            “You can know ahead that you are planning to grab a woman from a specific spot without having to know who the woman is,” Cramwell pointed out.
            Karthey pondered this for a moment, “However,” she postulated, “you need to know that a woman will be there, and that she won’t be someone that will be noticed by too many people right away.”
            Cramwell thought over her point, comparing the victims in his head to verify her statement. “What about the boy? His mother noticed he was missing right away.”
            Karthey sighed, “But Colby runs out of sight of his mom a lot, it’s what boys his age do. Mrs. McKee searched the whole town before she went to the police and confirmed he was missing, and they concluded that he was kidnapped.” She stared back at the map. “I just can’t think of why he—“ she stopped.
            Cramwell noticed, and looked up at her, “What is it?”


            Karthey’s eyes held a strange glint as she looked carefully at the list of victims next to the map. “You said before that the locations, not the identities, were chosen because it would all point back to you,” she mused. “What if he did know the identities of some of the victims?”
            Cramwell said nothing in the silence, only waited for her to continue.
            Karthey smiled grimly, “Yes, he sent the notes—but every time, it was someone you didn’t know.”
            Cramwell sniffed, “Well, after the second disappearance, I admit I began to take more notice.”
            Karthey nodded, “Yeah, I remember the day my dad said he’d noticed you going into City Hall—you’d never been in City Hall before that, had you?”
            Cramwell shook his head, “Not if it was not required, no.”
            Karthey tapped the tip of her nose pensively, “So you start taking notice of other people… and then he takes Mrs. Preston.”
            The grandfather clock crashed out half-past-twelve in the silence that hung after that statement.
            Cramwell stared at the map until his eyes felt like they were going to roll right out of his head. “So why Mrs. Preston?”
            “Why anyone else?” Karthey agreed. “There has to be something that says he either knew or didn’t know the people he would grab before he would grab them—the timing, the angle, the number of people…we really need to figure this out.”
            Cramwell shook his head and stood. “I think this calls for a walk back into town.”
            Karthey sighed and ran a hand through her red curls, “Shouldn’t we have lunch first?”
            Cramwell paused, rubbing the back of his neck and glancing at the map. “Sure,” he agreed abruptly, speaking in short, bursting tones again, “We’ll have lunch and then we will leave.” He could not stop puzzling over the ponderous mystery, and it was beginning to wear on him. He was very much unused to thinking actively about so many things beyond the routine. But “unusual” and “beyond the routine” seemed to characterize his life the past week, more so over the last few days.
            The clock had just struck one when Karthey and Cramwell finished lunch. Karthey washed the dishes down in the kitchen and had just emerged to where Cramwell waited for her in the east hallway, when she had an idea. She glanced at the tall pile of books gathering dust in the library. She sniffed.
            “What if we returned some of those code books when we go into town?” she suggested to Cramwell.
            The man looked a bit shocked, as if such a thing never occurred to him. “Return the books?” he echoed faintly. He wandered into the library and glanced over the stack of books nearly as high as his waist. True, he hadn’t read some of those in months, true, he had memorized all the codes in a few of those books… Cramwell selected a few titles he knew he wouldn’t ever miss and placed them in the basket he normally took to town with him.
            “All right,” he said to Karthey, “I’m ready.”

The two of them finally left the house, headed back for Precinct. Karthey brought with her the map with all the kidnapping locations marked on it, plus the estimated times of the kidnappings written next to each mark.
            She was glad to have that paper in her hand as they walked back into town together. It hid from her the stares and whispers of the people. Cramwell was becoming more comfortable around her, she noticed, and she around him. Karthey counted it no small victory that the man who held so many secrets and was so full of paranoia he couldn’t say two words to any other person (much less a woman) was now capable of dialoguing with her about the kidnapped victims.
            As they walked side by side through the town, Karthey took an interest in noticing the reactions of the people around her. She was used to them smiling as she walked by before; some people still smiled at her now—at least, until they saw Cramwell. Then their reactions were one of two: either their heads went down and they ceased eye contact, or they stopped and stared in surprise. Karthey found herself hoping that she could solve the mystery very soon so that people would smile at her again. This sort of life might be normal for someone like Cramwell, but she certainly wasn’t used to it at all, and hoped she never would be!
*All Photos from Google.com

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