Saturday, July 19, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 21

Mavis choked, “Karthey, are you sure?”
Karthey was silent for a very long time; Mavis could feel the dread terror growing with each heartbeat in the silence. Finally, her voice reached his ear, “Cramwell thinks it is going to happen within the hour of seven o’clock tonight.”
            Mavis was elated with the news; for once they had the jump on the kidnapper. “All right,” Mavis agreed, “I will pass this on to Sheriff Zander. I love you, honey.”
            “I love you too, Dad. Goodbye!”
            Mavis hung up the phone, bolted down his sandwich, and fairly ran back to the police station.
            “Tongs!” he called to one of the officers, “I’ve just had a break in the case!”
            Officer Tong came running over, “Whaddaya got, Mavis?” he asked. He was a lot more amiable a man than Hammer.
            Mavis rushed back to the room where the police had all the information on the kidnappers and victims and looked at all the profiles. Everything was just as Karthey had said. He turned to Officer Tong.
"He was a lot more amiable man than Hammer..."
            “Every single one of these victims usually wore something red: an umbrella, jewelry, a jacket, and a hat. I’m going to work with Sheriff Zander to see how much we can find on the name Beric Richmond, meanwhile, you send the word around that everyone wearing red needs to watch out! I think that’s what the kidnapper is going for in his locations: the ones wearing red. If we have others watching out for them, even, we could prevent this kidnapping from happening.”
            Tong, a diminutive Asian, glanced dubiously at the enthusiastic journalist, “Unless it already has.”

            This dark realization stopped Mavis cold, but he thought about it very fast and shook his head, “No; none of the kidnappings have occurred before twelve o’clock. It’s—“ he checked the clock on the wall, “one quarter till noon right now, so we have fifteen minutes to get the word out and warn everybody. This could be the day we catch him!”
            Tong sighed, “I’ll let people know.” He turned to walk away, but stopped and looked back at Mavis. “Lemme get this straight,” he commented casually, “you said anyone wearing red, right?”
            Mavis nodded, and Tong gestured to his neck with a wry smile. Mavis looked down at his red silk tie. Quickly, he snatched it from around his neck and stuffed it in his jacket pocket. You just couldn’t be too careful with serial kidnappers!
            That evening, Mavis excused himself from the dinner table to go over the material he and Zander had amassed on Beric Richmond.
            Beric was a direct hit on all counts. Running a search for that name brought up a whole host of files—files that scared Mavis more and more as he read them.
            He found that Beric had indeed attended the same schools in the same years as Cramwell Fornberg, that he was mentally unstable from the beginning, and that every time he was carted off to the psychiatric hospital, he would behave until he was released back home, convince his parents (until he was old enough to enroll himself) to enroll him in school again using a different name (usually by harassment; it seemed a large amount of Beric’s genius went to appearing sane and compliant to those whose cooperation he needed, while making his enemies’ lives absolutely miserable), and the cycle of mental and behavioral digression would begin again, culminating in another stint in the psych ward, another release, and another alias. The teachers dared not refuse him, for fear of what the young student would do to them. One teacher in Beric’s secondary school had dared to refuse him, to stand up to him, and within a week, he had completely ruined her career and orchestrated her dismissal. That was the only record Mavis ever found of anyone standing up to Beric. The rest seemed to bend to his will. Beric Richmond would have his full education, and no one could stand against him.
            The files on Beric, along with records from the various educational directors from the schools in England (who were only too happy to supply the Americans with the information they requested, if it meant having Beric locked away for good), listed the various deeds committed by “Beric the Red” in detail, and many of them made Mavis sick to his stomach just reading about them. With each new file, Mavis began to get more and more worried about the victims already kidnapped; would they really be untouched by such a twisted man? Could he feasibly harbor any hope, knowing what he did now, that they were even still alive, or would be if they ever found him or them?
            When he had finally left the office to be home in time for dinner, Mavis had noticed that everything red was hidden out of sight. The only things red in town were the traffic signals, and everyone avoided close proximity to those. Mavis was glad that Tong had done his job. Would Beric strike? Were they wrong? If they were wrong, would somebody disappear? Mavis caught himself wishing that Precinct was smaller than it already was; with a smaller group, Sheriff Zander would have only to gather the entire community in a place like, say, the Square, and call roll to figure out if anyone else had been taken overnight.
            Sheriff Zander and his men had staked out all the locations Cramwell typically visited during the day; these would be the likeliest locations for a kidnapping, given the perpetrator’s modus operandi. There were no leisurely nighttime strollers as there often were downtown that night. That single awful night, everyone finished his or her business in town and scurried straight home.
            Mavis sighed and closed the file, but he could not shut out thoughts of Beric Richmond spinning in his head, lurking in the shadows of his house. His eyes were so tired he could hardly keep them open, but his thoughts foretold a long night of tossing and turning. Mavis thought about Karthey; if Beric didn’t find anyone to grab in town, would he set his crazed sights on Fornberg Hill? Was his daughter safe there anymore? Were any of them safe?

Karthey awoke the next morning at half-past eight o'clock. Sleep had not been easy for her that night. Talking with her father had planted doubts in her mind, especially since the last note he had given her (which she had found at the grocery store) consisted of a list of names which Mavis thought could be connected somehow to the kidnappings. She had asked Cramwell about these as they walked into town that afternoon to return the rest of the books to the library which Cramwell had been keeping for years, and actually had dinner at the diner, but Cramwell couldn't say much about them.
"These may have motives that I never realized," he said with a shrug. "They never bothered or interacted with me in school very much at all. That doesn't mean they couldn't have done this, though."
Karthey had sat awake, staring at the list. More names! And this time the kidnapper intended to become a killer! What if the notes had not at first been intended for Cramwell at all, but one of these was at the cafe when he was, saw him pick up the first napkin, and merely capitalized on the fact that they could send warnings to an old schoolmate? Would they really be someone as twisted as Beric Richmond if they cared enough to warn someone ahead of time? These and countless other questions had kept Karthey awake until she could not think for sheer exhaustion, and now she had overslept. She picked up her cell phone and saw there was a message waiting on it.

Please join me for breakfast in the dining room, Carthi.

Karthey quivered as she slipped on her robe and slippers. He'd called her Karthey in text! He had actually bothered to type out her name, (albeit spelled incorrectly) even though he had trouble saying it out loud. Karthey smiled as she descended the stairs and entered the dining room.
Cramwell was waiting by a second chair he had pulled out for her. Two bowls of cereal and two glasses of juice stood on the table.
"Good morning," he said in his odd, terse manner as Karthey took her seat. "Did, er, did you, um—sleep well?"
Karthey shook her head emphatically. "Oh no," she answered, "not at all!" she hesitated, "Did you?"
"No," Cramwell returned immediately.

As Karthey ate her cereal, she could not shake the feeling that there was something missing from Cramwell's breakfast. She was almost finished when she realized what it was. She looked at Cramwell.
"Where's the paper?" she asked innocently.
Cramwell nearly jumped to his feet. "Oh, blast, I knew I was forgetting something," he strode quickly—without his cane, Karthey noticed, he walked with much longer and more youthful strides than he'd ever used with it—out the door of the dining room.
Karthey mused how a man who had been getting his paper every day for the last decade would suddenly forget it one morning.
"He's probably afraid," she told the bust of Jelilah, "afraid that the police couldn't act in time and the kidnapper got away, or that they caught the kidnapper but all of his victims are maimed or dead." Such fears were not far from Karthey's thoughts, either.

She heard Cramwell open and close the front door, but he did not return to the dining room. Karthey waited, but she did not hear a sound from the entryway. The grandfather clock struck nine times, and Karthey decided to see what had happened to her host.

            She found Cramwell, sitting on the stairs in apparent shock, with a piece of paper in his hand. His expression was one of a condemned man resigned to his fate.
            “Cramwell?” Karthey called to him.
            Cramwell jerked out of his stupor and looked up at her.
            “What’s wrong?” Karthey asked, coming closer, trying to look at the paper in his hand. “Wasn’t there a newspaper?”
            “No,” he said, “Just this.” He showed her the small card in his hand. It was a plain white paper, marked in the center with a wide red circle with a black cross over it.
            “What is it?” Karthey took the paper and studied it closely, wary of some hidden meaning, worried that it might mean that Beric had marked them both. “Is it a message?”
            “Yes,” Cramwell confirmed, but when he saw the fear in the girl’s face, he understood what she was asking and sought to reassure her, “but it isn’t from the kidnapper. It’s from the…paperboy. He, um—I mean, we have a prearranged signal if… er, for some reason the newspaper won’t fit in the chute. This is the, um, signal.”
            Karthey relaxed only slightly, “So the paper is still at the bottom of the Hill, then?”
            Cramwell looked away from her, and she caught a strange light in his eye. “Yes,” he replied simply.
            Karthey waited, but when Cramwell did not continue, she proposed, “Do you want me to—“
            “Yes,” Cramwell accepted her offer before she even finished. “That would be great, thank you.” He still would not look at her.
            Karthey wondered why Cramwell Fornberg would suddenly be so short with her. He had been acting strangely all day—and it wasn’t even nine-thirty yet! She excused herself upstairs to put on some clothes and get her shoes on, and when she returned to the entryway, she heard the door of the library close. Cramwell had retreated. What was going on? Karthey slipped on her coat and scarf and went to retrieve the newspaper.

            The weather was lukewarm and grey, and a gentle breeze played with the wisps of Karthey’s red hair around her face. She started off down the path, head tucked against the wind, concentrating on her feet so she wouldn’t slip on the soft ground. Once she had made it most of the way down the Hill, finally Karthey looked up. She stopped dead in her tracks.
            Someone very familiar stood at the foot of Fornberg Hill—standing inside the gate!
            Daddy?” Karthey shrieked.

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