Saturday, July 5, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 19

             Horrible, brutal man! To ruthlessly taunt him so! Karthey scowled and closed the book. She stalked upstairs in silent determination. She would do everything in her power to help Cramwell catch this unseemly crook.

            As she lay in her bed, waiting to fall asleep, Karthey reflected the number of times Cramwell had spoken about “the next victim,” or “when (not if, she realized) it happens again” that day. She had wondered why his thoughts had been so morbid, and now she understood. He knew it was going to happen again, but this time, she knew they were hot on the kidnapper’s trail, and the two of them would be ready to catch him in the act. “One day, two day” had passed; that meant they still had “three day” before “BOO” happened. Karthey thought back to the book; one of the underlined sentences mentioned something about “seizure…termination…were in the incident of one hour.” One more day, the space of an hour—they could catch him, all right! Comforted by this thought, she sank into blissful slumber.

            Karthey snapped straight up in her bed, blinking furiously. What on earth—
            “JELILAH!! AHH! DEAREST JELLY!!”
            Who was screaming? Karthey fumbled for her cell phone. The time read 10:03. Was that Cramwell? Karthey heard a door slam, and immediately afterwards, a frenzied, crazed wailing began.
            Karthey flopped miserably back onto her pillow when she realized the cause of Cramwell’s sudden anguish: he had been so wrapped up in both Karthey and the case that he had forgotten his normal custom of serenading the painting the night before. She could hear him shouting as he played, and sometimes he would be so overcome that the wailing of the violin would stop, and Karthey could just barely make out his wailing voice as he sobbed over the painting. “Forgive me… I’m so sorry! Jelly, forgive me!”
            Karthey’s heart relaxed, but her guilt over the man’s sorrow did not. She fell asleep to his wailing, and it haunted her dreams until she awoke the next morning.
            Karthey awoke to the sound of a vibrating cell phone. Blearily, she reached for it on the nightstand. What time was it?
            8:05; the screen informed her there was a text waiting. Karthey opened it.

Please take your breakfast in the kitchen at this time, Miss Mavis.

            Automatically, Karthey stumbled out of bed and draped her bathrobe around her shoulders. She slipped the cell phone in her pocket and left her room. She had just reached the doorway into the east hallway when she stopped short and her head snapped up. Karthey Mavis was awake now!
            The memory of the last two days electrified her, and also made her wonder why on earth Cramwell was resorting to his old methods. Weren’t they on speaking terms? Why wouldn’t he talk to her today, then? Did it have something to do with last night?
            Karthey pondered this as she poured herself a bowl of cereal and ate it in solitude at the kitchen table. Undoubtedly it did pertain directly to the events of last night. They had one day to solve the identity of the kidnapper and possibly even figure out the one piece of the puzzle missing to prevent the next kidnapping—but Cramwell was evidently back to his old habits. Had Karthey, by one simple mistake, ruined her only chance of ever solving her end of the mystery? Surely if Cramwell had resorted to the sort of man he had been a week ago it would be another five days—maybe more—before he would even fathom inviting her into town again, and who knew how many more people would disappear by then?
            Karthey checked the time; it was almost nine o’clock, the time when Cramwell would be in the sunroom reading Jelilah’s novels. Resolutely, Karthey washed her bowl, ran upstairs, and put on a nice dress—the first one she’d worn all week—and her favorite coral bracelet; she would need the good luck it ostensibly brought her when she went to apologize to Cramwell Fornberg.
            She carefully crept down the stairs. With meek, quiet steps, she made her way down the east hallway, toward the glass-paned door that led to the sunroom. She could hear Cramwell’s warm, gentle monotone emanating from within as she approached.
            Karthey held her breath as she placed a hand on the door. Her heart leaped into her throat and pounded against her windpipe. Softly, she turned the handle and pushed the door open.
            She heard Cramwell’s voice pause as she entered the room and closed the door noiselessly behind her, but he only hesitated a moment before continuing reading, deliberately maintaining his posture. Cramwell Fornberg was ignoring her, but his manner was such that Karthey could feel the wall of latent anger swiftly mounting in front of her.
            Karthey stepped closer, and she caught a familiar phrase from Cramwell’s lips. She bit her lip and hung back, ashamed. He was reading Shakespeare’s Othello, the tale of betrayal between trusted friends, and the despair of falling for unfaithful women. Part of her tried to convince the rest of herself that she could find a better time later, but Karthey knew that the best time for an apology was as soon as possible after the offense; besides, she was there, in the sunroom, right at that moment. She took a bold step forward.
            “Cramwell?” Her voice sounded very small in the heavy stillness of the room.
            He paused mid-sentence, but continued unperturbed.
            Karthey sighed; worse than having to apologize to an angry person was having to approach an incorrigible one. “Cramwell…” she decided to forge ahead anyway. “Cramwell, I’m sorry—“
            Quite suddenly (she could never be quite sure how he managed it), he was facing her, staring needles out of his blue eyes, the ice in them freezing her to the spot.
            “Why do you insist on speaking to me, Miss Mavis?” He spat at her, marking each word with more derision than Karthey had ever thought a human capable of speaking. “Thoughtless girl! Nosy busybody! Loose vagrant, I should have known, with your red hair; they always have red hair. Cruel Desdemona! To lead me on with your seeming virtue, causing me to turn away from the one woman to whom I freely gave my heart, whose heart was in turn entrusted to my care! Did you really think you could make me leave all that behind? Did you harbor some secret hope that if I turned to the kidnappings it would make me forget about her?” His voice was hard; at the last outburst, he was almost screaming and Karthey could see tears standing in his eyes. She felt tears on her own cheeks, but she stood abashed and said nothing.
            Cramwell bit his lip and turned to the marble statue reclining next to his chair, at the immortal face gazing so patiently and lovingly at him. He stroked her cheek and spoke a quiet, choked question, “Did you think I’d be better for forgetting?”
            Karthey’s generous heart brought a sudden wild urge to her limbs. She fairly flew to Cramwell’s side and grabbed his hand, as he still did not meet her gaze.
            “No, I certainly never meant you to ever forget your wife!” she insisted, “I am truly sorry that these worries and puzzles kept you from your daily tryst.” She sighed, pulling a little footstool next to Cramwell’s chair to sit on. She searched for his face.
            “I am glad you do not want to forget Jelilah,” she told Cramwell sincerely, “I would just as soon a man forget half his own life as forget a beloved wife who has died.” She bit her lip to check her emotions, and could not restrain a warning, “But, truly, if the memory makes every day a funeral, it cannot be good for the soul.”
            Cramwell still caressed the marble face beside him, paying no heed to the living face on his other side. He still heard every word Karthey said, and a memory he hadn’t recalled in a very long time suddenly materialized in his mind’s eye.

            The couple had just moved to Precinct. Jelilah bustled about the big mansion, eyes bright like a child who has been given the grandest toy in the world. Cramwell had remarked that she wore the same radiant expression as she had the day before their wedding.
            Jelilah had turned to him, her deep blue eyes so bright they were almost violet. She shook her brown curls at him. “I make a point, Cram,” she stated almost boastfully (but Jelilah rarely boasted), “to live every day as if tomorrow was my wedding, and every morning I awake and the dullest-grey day is full to bursting with promises of joy and the anticipation of fulfilled dreams; every night I go to bed, eager for the next day to thrill me with its charms.”

            Cramwell blinked away the tears that blurred his vision. How long had it been since he’d ever felt like that about the day or even the night? Had he really fallen that far from the eager youth Jelilah Hammond had consented to marry, had indeed spoken those indestructible vows to? He was not an old man, not quite thirty yet—but had he lost the will to live already? Hadn’t all of Karthey Mavis’ “meddlings” returned to him some of that vivacity that had so long languished under the fears and regrets of yesteryear?
            Cramwell briefly turned from the cold cheek of the statue and toward the warm, soft hand that grasped his own—
            Cramwell started violently and threw the hand away as if he had seen a snake.
            “Cramwell,” Karthey tried to say, “What—“
            Blue flames kindled in Cramwell’s eyes as he stared at her, full of horror and loathing. He glanced at her hands and convulsively covered his head with his arms, shaking violently.
            How dare you!” He chastised the girl, “Foolish girl! How dare you bring that color into this house!”
            Karthey stared at her open hands, looked down at her dress, wondering what he could have meant. “What color?” she asked him.
            That color!” he pointed to her person, but his hand was shaking so badly Karthey wasn’t sure where he pointed as he continued to fume maniacally, “The color of treachery! Of cruelty! Of pain! Of death! First the roses, now this! When will you learn, girl?”
            Karthey looked down at her outfit; what could she be wearing that could warrant such a reaction? Her eyes fell on the bracelet around her wrist—it was red coral.