Saturday, March 29, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 5

             There was little doubt in Cramwell’s mind as to the identity of the kidnapper now; he had mentioned “news.” That was careless of him, but then, how could he know that Cramwell would solve it so quickly? He probably had no idea that Cramwell was wise to his methods. No doubt he assumed Cramwell was still scared. Cramwell had him fooled; but there was another matter that bothered him. He had also mentioned “harm.” This took the kidnappings to another level; Cramwell had frequently comforted himself with the idea of the victims all sitting together in a dark attic or basement somewhere in town, frightened and disoriented but otherwise unscathed. Would all this change now? Was he getting bored waiting for Cramwell to pull himself together and do something? Cramwell set his jaw grimly; he wouldn’t keep his adversary waiting. After all, he had said where he would be and when. How would it be if Cramwell went to the rendezvous—but not alone?
            For the second time that day, Cramwell did not go to the library. Instead, he visited the police station of Precinct.
            The woman in the lobby was shocked to see him, for she knew Cramwell Fornberg as well as anyone, and that was by sight alone.
            “Can I help you?” she asked dutifully.
            Cramwell fixed his strange blue eyes on her and laid the latest newspaper with Colby’s picture and last known location on the desk in front of her.
            “I know who did it,” he stated confidently.

            Mr. Mavis stood outside the grocery store and watched the library carefully. He stood there until just before four o’clock, but for some reason, he never saw Cramwell come out.
            He wanted to confront the man. Evidently Cramwell knew more than people realized; his erratic behavior had not emerged before people started disappearing. Could he have done something to cause the abductions? For even Mr. Mavis was beginning to believe that a waitress or a young boy do not just run away; there had to be a mastermind behind it. What if it was Cramwell Fornberg himself?
            As the clock struck four, Mr. Mavis decided to go into the store and wait for Cramwell to come. He waited behind the high shelves of canned goods, because he knew that Cramwell would come there for soup, as he always did.
            Sure enough, as soon as the last chime died down, the entrance bell beeped and Cramwell Fornberg shuffled into the grocery store. Mr. Mavis waited patiently, unmoving. At last, the cane appeared, followed by the man himself. Mr. Mavis saw the queer blue eyes lock onto him.
            “Mr. Fornberg,” Mr. Mavis said in a low voice, “I need to ask you a few questions concerning the recent abductions.”
            Cramwell did not respond. He selected his soups and moved toward the register. Mr. Mavis followed him.
            “Cramwell, how much do you know?” Mr. Mavis asked bluntly.

            Cramwell stopped, turned to look Mr. Mavis full in the face, and informed him in no uncertain terms, “I know everything.” He turned heel and strode out of the establishment. Mr. Mavis still followed him.

            “What do you mean?” Mr. Mavis wanted to ask, but just then he found himself surrounded by the Precinct Police force, and an officer pulled his hands behind his back and stated, “Mr. Mavis, you are under arrest for the suspected abductions of Clarissa Forquist and Colby McKee, et al, with intent to harm.”
            “Intent to what?”
            “You have the right to remain silent—“
            “I don’t understand, why are you—“
            “Anything you say may be used against you—“
            “What is the meaning of this?”
            “You have the right to an attorney…”
            Cramwell stood on the curb and did not watch as they took Mr. Mavis away. They would put him in lockup until they either got a confession or something happened to prove his innocence. Cramwell was fairly certain the latter would not happen, but he wasn’t so sure that the former would, either. He climbed up Fornberg Hill with a markedly lighter step. If he had assumed correctly, the third kidnapping would not happen. Whoever the victim would have been, he had been the one to save his or her life before Mavis had the chance to take it. And the victim would probably never know of it.

            The next morning, Cramwell looked forward to opening his paper and seeing that his life had returned to normal. Sure enough, “MAVIS IS LEAD SUSPECT IN RECENT KIDNAPPINGS” heralded the events that Cramwell Fornberg had instigated the previous evening. The article never mentioned his name, just as he requested. Cramwell resumed his old routine—though after spending nearly a week doing things completely outside his habit out of fear, he found they were less terrible and threatening than he had originally thought they would be, and he didn’t mind behaving like a man who held his head up and glanced at the people he walked by, instead of the morose turtle afraid to poke his head out of his shell. Cramwell had rid the town of the one thing he feared most; the rest of the world couldn’t hold such terror for him anymore.
            He strode down the Hill, head erect, but his demeanor was as defensive as ever. His eyes discouraged anyone from speaking to him unless he spoke first, which he certainly would not do. He walked in and sat at his booth in the café. Beth took his order this time, and Cora brought his coffee. Cramwell watched the people coming in and out of the café. There was Sheriff Zander; Jason Plattner showed up and ordered a triple latte with a cinnamon roll. The Gardner family showed up and ordered breakfast. Cramwell never realized he had overstayed until he glanced out the window and saw that the clock above City Hall had nearly reached ten o’clock. Something was missing, he knew it; but what?
            Cramwell stood, and suddenly he knew: Alivia, the woman with the red umbrella. She usually came in around nine-thirty, when Cramwell was leaving. He had not seen her today, he was sure of it. He would have remembered the umbrella. Had she been—
            Cramwell shook his head; absolute nonsense! Mr. Mavis was in lockup, so if it wasn’t him—why did every sort of disappearance have to be a kidnapping anymore? She was probably ill or out of town—or something. Cramwell left for the library, keeping an eye out for that red umbrella. The whole walk to the library, he never saw it. He stopped in front of the library and shook his head again. What was he doing looking for a red umbrella when the October sun shone high in the sky? Cramwell sighed and shrugged. That umbrella was all he knew of Alivia Rogner. She would be harder to spot without it. He would have to accept that she might be somewhere else in town, without that umbrella.
            Four-thirty came, and Cramwell stepped out of the grocery store with a full basket, still thinking about—no, worried now—Alivia. It upset him dreadfully when matters in his life were not the way they had always been; one thing out of place, and it felt like everything was out of control. He tapped his cane in consternation and began walking across the square toward Fornberg Hill.
            A flash of red caught his eye and he stopped in his tracks. Alivia’s umbrella! There it was, next to the diner! Cramwell quickly moved to that spot—as quickly as he could, that is, with his cane. Yes! It was certainly the same umbrella, leaning against one of the black metal tables set outside the diner. Cramwell picked it up and brought it inside. Was Alivia there?
            Mrs. Preston was shocked to see him, but she didn’t let on. “Hello again, Mr. Fornberg!” she said as he walked in, “What brings you here?”
            Cramwell said nothing, but showed her the umbrella.
            “What’s this?” Mrs. Preston took the umbrella, “Alivia’s umbrella? Why, yes, she was here about two o’clock. How strange! She never goes anywhere without this umbrella, rain or shine! She uses it for a cane when she’s not walking in the rain!” Mrs. Preston giggled, “Bless me! That rhymed! I certainly didn’t plan it that way, you should know.”
            “Have you seen her since then?” Cramwell asked, knowing full well that this was probably the first time in years Mrs. Preston had heard him speak.
            He noticed she took a long time to reply; she probably knew that, too. “Well, um, no; but she is usually home for dinner. I’ll call her on the telephone.”
            Mrs. Preston rushed to the tiny office at the back of the diner and dialed a number. After waiting for several minutes without speaking, she hung up the phone with a frown. “That’s so very odd!” She mumbled, “There’s no answer, not at her house, nor on her cell phone. Where could Alivia be?”
            Cramwell’s stomach sank again; he knew good and well what the papers were going to say the next day. He picked up the umbrella again. “Never mind,” he said, “I’ll take this with me.”
            “All right, Mr. Fornberg,” Mrs. Preston replied, “Goodbye.”

            Cramwell stumbled out the door and onto the sidewalk. Alivia was gone! It had happened again! Cramwell remembered Mr. Mavis, who was no doubt sitting in lockup this very minute, because Cramwell himself had put him there. Did Mr. Mavis have a man on the inside, or was he completely innocent? There could have been a perfectly harmless explanation as to why the two notes—the request and the threat—had been written with the same pen: it could have been because the pen was on the counter at the diner. The two men didn’t have to even know each other to use the same pen if the pen belonged to the same establishment visited by them both. Cramwell set his hat and started off for the Police Station. He would need to see Mr. Mavis, though what exactly he intended to do about the situation was still a mystery to the man.

            Mr. Mavis sat on the cot in the small lockup cell with his head in his hands, thinking furiously. There was not much else for him to do. Why had Cramwell Fornberg played him like this? Was it because he was guilty, or because he thought Mr. Mavis was guilty? If he was guilty, how could Mr. Mavis prove it? If he wasn’t, then who was the real culprit?
            These questions and countless others had kept Mr. Mavis awake during the day. The police had questioned him endlessly, and Mr. Mavis had answered each question so fully there could be no doubt of his innocence, but since Cramwell Fornberg had made the accusation, the police could not fully release Mr. Mavis until Cramwell Fornberg dropped the charges. Mr. Mavis thought of his wife, and Karthey and Derrik. The cops had let him call his wife shortly after arriving at the station, but that was all. They knew he was arrested, they knew Cramwell Fornberg was responsible, but they didn’t know why or when he would be released. Mr. Mavis himself did not put much stock in the hope that he would be released at any time in the near future. If he knew Cramwell Fornberg, and if Cramwell Fornberg thought that the man who was behind the kidnappings of late was safe behind bars, Cramwell would resume his normal daily routine, which never carried him past the police station at all. Why would Cramwell—

            “Cramwell Fornberg to see you, Mavis,” Officer Hammer announced, and through the door trudged the man himself!
            Mr. Mavis sprang to his feet. “Please, sir,” he said, remembering to maintain a respectful tone with Precinct’s most powerful and volatile resident, “Please! You have to drop the charges! You know I am innocent!”
            Cramwell stood across from Mr. Mavis, silent and unmoving. Officer Hammer watched this man in awe. He looked across at Mr. Mavis, the slick journalist that more than once had exposed Hammer’s mistakes, faux pas, and impulsive decisions when writing articles on the officer’s various cases. Hammer resented this; moreover, he saw an opportunity to elevate himself in the perception of Cramwell Fornberg—whose perception, in turn, of the whole town no doubt came from the papers that had been so unkind to Hammer—while meting retribution out on his enemy. Hammer resolved to become the mouthpiece of Cramwell Fornberg.
            He leaned close to the cage, “How much do you know about the perpetrator, Mavis?” Hammer growled, “How can you say you’re innocent, when just today we have received word of another abduction?”
            “Another one? Who was it this time, officer?”
            Hammer glanced at the silent Cramwell and saw a glint of what he thought to be outrage in his eyes as he watched the prisoner. Cramwell’s mouth was set in a fine line.
            “You know good and well about Alivia’s disappearance, I think, Mavis!” Hammer accused, “You’re not the sort of journalist to miss out on a good scoop, now, are you? And the fact that the abductions have all run the first page—written by you, sir!—well, that’s more than a coincidence, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Fornberg?”
            Mr. Mavis clung to the bars of his cell and frantically begged his accuser, “Please, Mr. Fornberg! I don’t know Alivia very well at all! I had no idea she had disappeared! And if I have been in lockup all day, how could I have been the one to arrange her disappearance?”
            Hammer was just warming up to his role as mediator. He stuck his face in between the men now, continuing to beat Mavis back with questions. “Are you in league with the man who took her? Do you have connections with the kidnapper who is abducting the citizens of Precinct one by one?”
            Mr. Mavis shook his head, “Look, all I know about those kidnappings is everything I printed in the articles. I’m not the guy who took them! I have nothing to hide! Please let me return to my family!”
            Cramwell remained silent and unmoving as he reflected that he could allow him to return, at a mere word; but he also knew that he had a reputation to maintain, one of a hard, unforgiving, strange, masterful man. Obviously he held quite a bit of power over these people, considering the way they all tender-footed their way around him, and the respectful, pleading tone Mr. Mavis used even now. Cramwell held all the cards in this game; he might as well play them.
            What he hadn’t counted on was Hammer’s apparent quarrel against Mavis. The man was absolutely relentless in his onslaught of the journalist.
            “Why are you so concerned with Mr. Fornberg, then, Mr. Mavis?” he demanded, “You arrange a meeting in the place and time you knew he would be, yet all you seemed to want to know is how much information he had on the kidnappings. Why wouldn’t you ask more about him if you didn’t already know everything about him? And if you know all about him, then what is preventing you from pinning suspicion on Mr. Fornberg, merely because you are the only one in town who fancies himself familiar with a man like him?” Officer Hammer glanced back at the stony, well-dressed man before threatening, “I don’t know but that he might think you better off as a permanent resident in his house till we get this whole mystery straightened out, just to keep an eye on you.”
            Mavis frowned at Officer Hammer, “Since when were you so close to Mr. Fornberg that you knew how he thought?” he responded.
            Hammer considered this as he looked back at Cramwell’s face; the expression had not changed, or, if it had, changed for the worse. Cramwell frowned slightly now, as if disliking the idea of anyone coming into his domain (really, Cramwell was pondering the wisdom of Officer Hammer’s suggestion; perhaps at his house, he could win the confidence of the journalist, and the two of them could solve the mysteries together).
            Officer Hammer sighed, enjoying the total despair on his enemy’s face. “Well, you’re right, I suppose, Mavis; perhaps it is better for you to stay here in lockup for the duration of the—
            “Release him.”
            Both Hammer and Mavis jumped at the sound of the voice. They looked over to the only other person in the room—Cramwell Fornberg.
            “Sir?” Officer Hammer gasped shakily, not wanting to believe the clear, cutting voice had come from The Cram himself.

            Cramwell gestured mildly toward Mr. Mavis. “Release this man; I’ve decided to drop the charges. He is free to return home and bid farewell to his family, and then he must report to my house by eight o’clock.” His words were short and cutting, as if he was unused to speaking to another person. He turned and walked out of the room without waiting. On his way, he heard the officer behind him unlock the door and inform Mr. Mavis, “You’re free to go.”
            Cramwell kept his pace even as he walked out the door. Mr. Mavis ran up and caught his arm as he stepped out onto the sidewalk.
            “Thank you, Mr. Fornberg,” he gasped.
            Cramwell didn’t trust himself to look at him, “Remember our deal, Mr. Mavis,” he responded evenly.
            “I will,” Mr. Mavis promised. He didn’t see that he had a choice.

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