Saturday, July 12, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 20

             Karthey blinked; would it be possible that Cramwell feared the color red? She thought back to when she had brought flowers into the house from Jelilah’s garden; he had ignored the white flowers, but smashed the vase with roses in it. It occurred to her that nothing in the entire house (save the picture of Jelilah in the cloister, with its rose bushes) was red; every other color possible for furniture and cushions and carpet and curtains, but not red. Not even the covers of the books on his shelves were red.

"Cramwell," Karthey breathed, "Why are you afraid of the color red?"
Cramwell bent his head down, as he always used to during his jaunts into town. "I'd rather not say," he muttered.
Karthey slipped the bracelet off her wrist and tucked it under a brown cushion out of sight, and placed her hand on Cramwell's, which rested on his knee. She saw the book of Poe’s works sitting among Jelilah’s novels like a thorn among roses, and she recalled the red pen markings. Karthey picked up the book and turned to the page; the story’s title, which she hadn’t noticed before, was “The Masque of the Red Death.” Red Death, red pen—there had to be a connection!
"I dare say there's very few people in town who don't know
every dark secret I've ever had!"
“Cramwell,” she begged, “Please tell me!"
Cramwell scowled, "You know already! Your father knows, I dare say there's very few people in town who don't know every little dark secret I've ever had! Busybody gossips!" he pushed her hand away bitterly.
Karthey remained at his side. She let his words hang in stillness for a moment, and then she told him, "Actually, I am probably the only person in Precinct who knows the most about you. There's nobody else who would know why you hated red, or even that it was the only color you feared. I had no idea till now. Please, Cramwell," Karthey repeated, "I need to know this story."
Cramwell was silent for a very long time. Karthey feared that this response meant a silent refusal.

"H-His name was...Beric Richmond."
Karthey looked up at Cramwell, but the man's face nor his posture changed.
"Who?" she prompted.
Cramwell sighed and unfolded a tale he had never imparted to anyone before.

"Growing up in London, I went to primary school, and there I met Beric. At first he was so close to me that I thought we might be friends--" Cramwell's voice caught and he swallowed hard. "But the more I got to know him, the more he changed, and the glistening outside fell away and the real boy began to come through.
"His name was Beric Richmond..."
"To the teachers, he was a devoted student, very little trouble in the classroom. It came about though, that I passed his high marks once, and the darkness within surfaced. It was then that I discovered everyone's nickname for him: Beric the Red."
Karthey tipped her head, "The Red?" she echoed.
"He loved the color red," Cramwell explained somberly, "and once he began turning dark, in secondary school, it seemed his ultimate desire was to make everyone around him fear and loathe it. Red was his signature. Every time he pulled a prank or committed an act of vandalism, he would either do it in red, such as paint or—" He shuddered, "animal blood, or leave some sort of red flag, like a scrap of fabric, a piece of paper, or a handkerchief, behind, as a calling-card. We called him Beric the Red, and he almost enjoyed it.”
Karthey didn’t like the sound of Cramwell’s last comment, “Was he—“ she licked her lips and hesitated, “—unstable, or something like that?”
Cramwell shrugged, “Near enough, anyway; they always carted him off to a psychiatrist a few weeks before graduation at the end of each term. He was graduated on paper, but it was always under the table, behind closed doors. No doubt it was because no teacher wanted to cope with Beric for two years in a row.”
“I thought you said he was a good student.”
Cramwell sniffed, “Good student, yes; good classmate, heavens, no! It wasn’t Beric’s observed behavior the teachers had a problem with; I’d say it was the complaints coming from the other students about the way Beric treated them. I grew up hoping every year that I could graduate and be in a different class than Beric—“ Cramwell broke off and covered his face with his hands, “—and every year I’d return to school, and there he’d be, grinning at me from the back row.
"Once I entered the University, I thought I had rid myself of him forever. Three months later, Beric shows up in most of my classes—mostly the same ones as a group of American exchange students, among which was Miss Jelilah."
Karthey cherished the glimmer of joy in the dark tale, "Oh," she sighed, "that's where you met her?"
"Among which was Miss Jelilah..."
Cramwell's lips only twitched slightly, but his expression softened as he said, "Yes. Jelilah was a general favorite, as was I, yet there was mutual agreement among our friends that the two of us would make the best couple." He shook his head, "That wasn’t good enough for Beric, though; he thought Jelilah was meant for him. Beric had always been slightly twisted; he had a personal therapist from a young age. But once he had his sights set on Jelilah, there was no stopping him, no telling what he would do. He was relentless, merciless in his persecution of me and his manic obsession with Jelilah."
Karthey could tell by the way Cramwell shuddered and looked away that most likely therein lay countless equally painful anecdotes. She said nothing as Cramwell continued.
"His actions became so extreme that the men in white jackets carted him off to the asylum just two weeks before graduation." Cramwell sighed and shrugged. "To this day, I have hated and avoided the color red, merely because of the terror it holds for me."

Karthey said nothing, only pondered the tale she had just heard. She chuckled softly, “My dad’s favorite color is red,” she told Cramwell, “that’s why I was so happy when I found the roses in the garden, because I thought it gave me a little taste of home. I had no idea—“
“It’s quite all right,” Cramwell reassured her. “There was no way you could have known until you knew me better.”
Thinking of home brought the threat of tears behind Karthey’s eyes. She talked to keep from bursting into tears.
“Dad had this red silk tie that my mom bought him when they first got engaged. He loved it so much, he wore it all the time.”
Cramwell nodded, “I know; I kept seeing it around town, that’s why I first suspected him. That and Alivia’s umbrella—“
“You must have seen Colby’s jacket too, and hated it,” Karthey added.
Cramwell was about to correct her, but just then, Karthey had a thought that made her jump to her feet, and the coral bracelet fell from its hiding place, making him wince at the sight. “That’s the connection!” she shrieked, running out the door of the sunroom, back to the study where they kept all their “intel.”
Cramwell followed her, and by the time he reached the study, Karthey had already lined up photos of the victims and was looking at them side by side.
“I can’t believe I didn’t see it!” she cried repeatedly, “How could I have missed it?”
“Missed what?” Cramwell asked.
“The pattern to the victims!” she cried victoriously, holding up the photos one by one. “Clarissa had a red scarf that was her favorite that she always wore; it was left behind when she was kidnapped. Colby’s red jacket was left behind when he was taken. Alivia’s red umbrella? Left behind. Cherry had red jewelry, and at least one earring was left behind at the scene of the crime.”
“What about Mrs. Preston?” Cramwell interposed. “I don’t recall that she ever wore anything red.”
“She—“ Karthey stopped and thought furiously over her memories of the matronly proprietor, “She had a red felt hat that she wears all the time while traveling to and from work. It’s so adorable; she must not wear it while she works.” Karthey paused to think of the reasons why Cramwell wouldn’t know about it, nor why Mrs. Preston, who looked fabulous in red, would never wear it while she worked at the diner.
“Was she friends with Jelilah?” Karthey asked Cramwell.
“Jelilah was friends with everybody,” Cramwell answered immediately, “why?”
“Because Jelilah might have told her about Beric, and that would explain why Mrs. Preston never wore red around you.”
“Wait a moment, hang on,” Cramwell protested, “are you seriously insinuating that Beric Richmond could be responsible for the kidnappings? Why on earth would he still be lurking around? I’ve not seen him in over a decade!”
Karthey looked solemnly at Cramwell, “It would seem that evidence points to him, certainly. Didn’t you see the book?”
“What book?” Cramwell asked, not quite understanding Karthey’s line of thinking.
Karthey left off her frantic rifling through the desk to run back to the sunroom and retrieve the Poe book. She flipped it open to the page with the underlining, “It’s the one about the Red Death,” she said, “and there are some parts underlined with red pen. That’s what clued me in to the connection of the red things.”
“The kidnapper has never used red pen before…” Cramwell murmured, reading over the hidden message.
“The one thing we don’t know is exactly when it will happen,” Karthey began, but Cramwell stopped her.
“Here,” he said, pointing to the book, “the part that’s underlined is in the seventh chamber of the Prince’s hall.”
Karthey wrinkled her forehead, “So?”
Cramwell blinked, “Have you never read this story?” he asked, his voice tinged with surprise and disdain.
Karthey shook her head.
Cramwell laid the book aside and explained, “Each room in the story has a clock, and windows of a different color that correspond with times of the day and stages of life. The seventh chamber could mean the seventh hour.
Karthey allowed herself a slight smile; she found it interesting to hear Cramwell using her sort of critical thinking. Just then, she remembered her father, working away in Precinct but without the sort of knowledge that Karthey was able to glean from Cramwell himself. Hesitantly, she moved closer to Cramwell.
“I don’t think my dad knows about Beric; I know for sure he would have no idea about this last note. May I tell him?”
Cramwell reached into his pocket with a sigh and withdrew his cell phone. He handed it to Karthey, “Use this; I’ll let you have the last five minutes on it. This had better work. Remember that if you’re wrong, someone is due to disappear today—someone wearing red—and we’re back to square one, only this time with six people gone,” his voice sank to a horrified whisper, “perhaps even killed.”
Karthey nodded and went out into the hall to call her father.
Mavis put down the files that he’d been through six times already and sighed. He was grateful to receive Karthey’s note; he knew it would have taken much longer for people to realize that Mrs. Preston—for all her caring and bustle and chatter—had been kidnapped instead of, say, visiting her only daughter in upstate New York, as she was known to do unannounced of occasion. Knowing that Jelilah died of some other cause besides murder was a comfort for him, as well; if a man wouldn’t murder his wife, he was far less likely to murder another man’s daughter. It made him feel less worried over Karthey’s safety.
"The clue... puzzled him infinitely, though..."
            The clue “Cramwell hates red” puzzled him infinitely, though. Why had Karthey put that in her note? It seemed out of place amidst the others. Of course, he knew why she had put it in; she was trying to provide him with as much information as she felt was pertinent to helping him with the case. But nothing about the color red seemed to apply to the case at all; this was a missing persons case, not missing balloons or missing paint.
            Mavis kept his pace brisk and his mind active as he walked down from the police station to the diner. He had followed her advice anyway, as far as he was able. He had searched over the graduate lists again and again, listing all the people with red hair, or the graduates who wore red shirts in their yearbook photos. A lot of them were still in England, or perhaps moved to Europe. There were a few he’d found who had come to America, but these stayed in the southern states, or moved to western ones; almost none of them came north, and certainly not as far north as Connecticut.
            Mavis ordered a sandwich from the glass-fronted cooler and Charity handed it to him. He sat down at the table behind him with a sigh. He was definitely reaching his wit’s end.
            Before he had taken two bites of his sandwich, his cell phone rang. Mavis opened it.
            Mavis jerked up straight, “Why are you calling?” he pulled the phone away from his ear and checked the caller ID. The number was hidden, “Where are you calling from? Did you run away?”
            “No!” Karthey’s voice was strained and urgent, “Dad, it’s nothing like that; I’m still up at Fornberg House with Cramwell. He just told me why he hates red!”
            “Karthey, I know, you said that in your note, and I’ve tried every direction I can think of, but I seriously doubt it has any bearing on the case—“
            “Dad, I only have five minutes, so just listen! It might have bearing on the case; tell the police to look up the name Beric Richmond.”
            “Who?” Mavis dug a pen out of his pocket and pulled a napkin out of the dispenser on the table.
            “Beric Richmond; he went to school with Cramwell.”
            Mavis finished writing the name and looked at it, “I never came across that name in all the records, Karthey,” he told her, “I have all the lists of graduates from every year Cramwell graduated, and I’ve never head that name.”
            “Beric was never on the official graduation lists. Cramwell says he always went to a psych ward just before graduation, but he was able to fool them into thinking he was better just in time to graduate on paper and be in the next grade the following year. Then he would go crazy again…Dad, I really think this is your guy.”
            “What makes you so sure?”
            “There’s a pattern to the victims.”
            Mavis started excitedly at Karthey’s unmistakably definite tone. “Did you find one? We’ve explored all the angles we could think of, and there was nothing—“           
“Dad, please listen, I just found out what it was.” Karthey was getting scared, and Mavis knew her five minutes were almost up, “all the victims had red accessories: Clarissa had a scarf, Colby had a jacket, Alivia’s umbrella—and the red things were left behind! I really think that the commonality between the victims was the red things, and that Beric could possibly be the one behind all this! Please, Dad! You have to check this out! Cramwell got another note two days ago that said that today was the day someone would be kidnapped and—“ her voice caught, “Dad, I think he’s threatening to kill them.”