Daphne Holmes and the Book of Cipher

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.

A diadem.

“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.”

4 thoughts on “Daphne Holmes and the Book of Cipher

  1. Kathy Panzella says:

    I would delete: 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.
    and Manipulating matter in this manner was all a matter of adjusting frequency, phase, and amplitude of brainwaves through mental concentration and a focus point. Would change fem-civilian to a woman and a mere civilian. Liked it. Would read more.

  2. Bret says:

    As a Sherlock Holmes fan, I love this idea of making the main character his niece! Also, nice job with starting with a cipher.
    A couple of suggestions: this is YA fiction, and I know we are supposed to “write up”, but I might be careful with too many expressions like: emporium, marauder, frisson, flaxen tresses, quite a vamp, fem-civilian. Some here and there, I think, are OK, but don’t let so much challenging vocabulary/expression take over and distract from the real action. Also, I wasn’t quite sure why the thief wouldn’t be a little more concerned when first confronted by Miss Holmes, she just kept on stealing until she heard the dog.
    You are very creative and have a mind for mystery:)

  3. Bjorn Schievers says:

    I very much like the idea of a Sherlock Holmes story as a young adult novel. But since this is Daphne (I like that name a lot, but it doesn’t sound British enough for this!) and not Sherlock, why not make it completely your own? She’s in some society that deals in the supernatural, which reminds me a bit of ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’. I very much like the story and it’s well executed already. The pace and tone are good, though I wouldn’t mind a bit more time period descriptions. Which makes me wonder if this is in the Edwardian period or in the interbellum?

    In paragraph ten you have an error: ‘Through her long, flaxen tresses, I caught her hand fishing out a delicate artifact out of its confines.’ It uses the word ‘out’ twice.

    I don’t feel like any expressions distracted from the story, I think they’re part of the charm and atmosphere. I love what you’ve done here and think it warrants reading further!

  4. kerrikeberly says:

    Oh, this is nice. I like it. It’s well written, pacing is great and I was hooked from the very first paragraph. In fact, I chuckled out loud. No major problems, in my opinion, just a few small things that caught my eye.

    …I suppose it was small comfort to know a small, rat-like man had just scrambled inside instead of a beast.
    >>>used small twice in the same sentence

    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 couldn’t picture how a shadow would fall across her boots from the other side of the counter.

    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.
    >>>Whirled her head to the side? Whirled to her side makes me thing she’s laying down. Also, “irises wildly darted around the showroom” reads awkwardly. Reword so it doesn’t conjure an image of a pair of eyeballs literally darting around the room?

    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.
    >>>Used vibration twice in one sentence.

    Manipulating matter in this manner was all a matter of adjusting frequency, phase, and amplitude of brainwaves through mental concentration and a focus point.
    >>>Used matter twice in one sentence, then again a few sentences later.

    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.”
    >>>This is so great! Loving Daphne’s character and the voice of your story. I would definitely read on.

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