I imagine other young ladies seldom found themselves in such a questionable state –crawling among the shadows of a dank, deserted emporium like some marauder. But I, being a Holmes, welcomed these singular predicaments.
Crouching under a counter, I swiped my black bangs aside and held up the anonymous telegram wired to Scotland Yard, the cryptic words lit by a sliver of moonlight.
‘YFITOZIB NRWMRTSG. MLGGRMTSZN QVDVOVIH’
Given the Yard’s usual state of incompetence, it hardly came as a surprise those bunglers had failed to decipher so simple a message, and with Uncle Sherlock attending to a case in Paris, the Yard turned to me. It wasn’t difficult to see the words formed a substitution cipher of reversed alphabets: A’s replaced Z’s, B’s replaced Y’s, C’s with X’s, etc until the message read:
‘BURGLARY MIDNIGHT. NOTTINGHAM JEWELERS’
The showroom clock began striking the hour. I stuffed the slip into my frock-coat and flattened myself against the woodwork. A frisson of anticipation coursed through me. My pulse sped up with each chime, and after the twelfth sounded, a heavy silence hovered in the air. I waited and waited, the seconds passing by at a glacial pace. Then, I heard it.
A tight knot formed in my chest as the rusted hinges of a window screeched in the darkness. Given the showroom’s undersized windows, I suppose it was small comfort to know a small, rat-like man had just scrambled inside instead of a beast.
Light scuffs on the floorboard proceeded without an inkling of hesitation. The man’s footsteps flitted past the diamonds, past the signet rings and opals, and then he stopped in his tracks, as though he finally found what he came here for.
He drew nearer, his tall shadow washing over my boots. I swore under my breath and shifted to the other side of the counter, but only to glimpse a pair of slender calves. I blinked. The silhouette in front of me didn’t belong to a man at all but rather… a girl.
Careful not to betray my presence, I rose from my hiding place. With her back to me, a girl of about sixteen hovered over a counter. She couldn’t have been more than a year older than me. Through her long, flaxen tresses, I caught her hand fishing out a delicate artifact out of its confines.
“I’d advise you to stop right where you are.” I kept my voice soft as I sprang from the counter. “Else I’m afraid you’ll be in for quite a vamp.”
I positioned my hands strategically behind me, pointing at her through the fabric of my frock–coat, ready to defend or attack if warranted, but to my surprise, the girl tilted her head at me in cataleptic manner. Like a mesmerized puppet, her dull, glassy eyes locked with mine, and then a vacant smile crept her lips.
A chill crawled over me. “What the deuce you think you’re doing?”
And just like that, she completely dismissed my words and returned to her plundering. I stared at her in disbelief until a series of barks emerged in the distance. The Scotland Yard terriers. The moment I heard the barks, so did she. The girl’s queer expression began to morph before me. Her face contorted; her clouded eyes turned hard.
“A…dog?” she whispered to herself. She whirled to her side, and her face blanched at my sight. Her trembling hands dropped the diadem with a clatter. She backed away from me; her irises wildly darted around the showroom -until they landed on the half-opened window.
“Don’t be foolish,” I whispered.
Of course, the girl didn’t heed my words. Like a frightened deer, she bolted, her long dress swishing with every step. Just as her fingertips reached for the windowsill, I fixed my attention on the girl’s ankles and flexed the digits sticking out from my fingerless gloves. The muscles in my fingers tightened, prickling with exhilaration. The tingles transformed into vibrations. Maintaining a controlled mind, I stared at her feet and felt the vibration of the swishing fabric become coherent with my own vibration.
Like a marionette to a puppeteer, the hem of the girl’s dress came alive under my fingertip’s command. The fabric slinked towards her ankles. Manipulating matter in this manner was all a matter of adjusting frequency, phase, and amplitude of brainwaves through mental concentration and a focus point. If Scotland Yard witnessed this moment, no doubt, they’d attribute it to delirium or lunacy. Afterall, they –and even my logician Uncle for that matter – remained in the shadows of England’s preternatural society. The very society I belonged to.
With a whorl of my finger, the fabric snaked around her calves and held her captive. The girl froze. But before she could glance at her immobile feet, I seized my chance and brought her to the floor. At that very moment, the two officials of Scotland Yard who had stood watch outside, burst through the entryway. I called off my enchantment.
Commissioner Delacourt, a burly, square faced official from Scotland Yard, swooped down on her like a hawk after a rabbit while Inspector Abberline cuffed her. Once she was detained, the Commissioner wheeled around to face me, his voice sharp as glass.
“What the devil are you doing here, Miss Holmes?”
I sniffed. So they were casting me to the sidelines once more after employing my deductive abilities. My gaze drifted to the restive terriers that circled the Commissioner before I pointedly caught his eye. “I merely came to tidy up after the lumbering hounds.”
Delacourt’s jaw clenched. “You were strictly meant to find a lead, Miss Holmes, not blooming follow it. This is no place for a fem-civilian.”
The girl in his grasp let out a strangled plea. “U-unhand me. I swear to you I’m innocent.”
Lestrade scoffed. “If we had a shilling for every time we heard that. State your name, miss.”
The young woman’s rose stained lips trembled. “Elizabeth Adler.”