The Dalimar Affair

Chapter One: Interview

Charles Dalimar sat rigidly in his seat, the very picture of quiet, icy anger. The rapid-fire exchange of questions and answers had fallen into a temporary lull, and the affronted gentleman reached into his waistcoat pocket, withdrew his watch and frowned at the time. Lifting his eyes from the small white face of the timepiece, he stared coldly at one Sherlock Holmes, London's legendary detective. Though he smiled pleasantly enough at his interrogator, he gave off a distinct aura of a man who felt he was being wronged in the extreme.

"I am afraid that I must cut our interview short, Master Holmes. I am late for my engagement."

Abruptly unfolding himself from his worn wing backed chair, the detective got to his feet with an almost feline ease and, smiling magnanimously, bowed his head to his guest, reaching out to shake the other man's hand.

"But of course, Mister Dalimar, I do sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. You understand, surely, that there is no offense meant in this- it is standard procedure, in cases involving missing persons, to speak with those who had close proximity to them at the time, whether they are guilty or not. You, sir, are innocent, of course, but everything humanly possible must be done to find Mrs. Somerset and her daughters." He said earnestly, gripping Dalimar's hand for a long moment. Gradually, the auburn haired man seemed to relax, and he offered a sorrowful smile.

"Yes. Yes, I do understand. It is just…my Emma loved Rose Somerset and her girls, you see. Like family. Rose was such a comfort to Emma when she was sick, and tended her as if they were sisters…I never would do anything to harm Rose, or little Gwennie and Charlotte. Never. And I am tormented with guilt at the idea that some blackguard kidnapped the three of them while they were at my estate- they would not have been in harm's way if not for my insistence. That is why is enrages me so when investigators insinuate that I had something to do with this tragedy." Murmured Dalimar, and it seemed for a moment that he would be crushed by the force of his guilt and grief. With a sympathetic face, Sherlock Holmes patted the man's shoulder and escorted him out of his private study.

"It must be a great burden to bear, on top of the loss of your betrothed. I apologize once again, and give you my condolences as well."

"Thank you, Master Holmes. Please do all in your power to find the Somerset women. It would give all of Blackpool great peace to have them back, alive or even…"

"Of course."

They were in the living area now, where Watson waited with their client- a young auburn haired woman who called herself Winifred Wulf. An odd, bold creature was she, bedecked in trousers and waistcoat like a man, her hair tied in a thick gingerly plait under her cap. Miss Wulf glared unabashedly at Charles Dalimar when he offered her a little bow, silent but giving off an almost tangible air of malevolence. Darting a stern look over at the woman, warding off the angry outburst he sensed was impending, Watson stood and also spoke with Dalimar, bidding him to rest more, to take more country air whenever possible. Thanking the good Doctor, Charles Dalimar bid them all a fine evening and strode briskly into the misty London night.

"It would seem," said Watson, closing the heavy door and looking back at his companions. "It would seem that Charles Dalimar truly is innocent, from what I heard of your interrogation of him, Holmes."

"On the contrary, Watson; I am now convinced beyond all shadow of doubt that Dalimar is guilty. Miss Wulf was quite right in her suspicions." Holmes stated, absently pacing before the roaring fireplace, his hand straying towards the wicked looking hunting crop resting on the mantel. Watson did not seem entirely surprised by this- indeed, he felt rather relieved. Charming as the man undoubtedly was, there was something about Charles Dalimar that disturbed the doctor. It was a comfort to know that Holmes suspected (knew) something was afoot.

"Then we are in agreement. Will you help me find Rosie and the girls now?"

Holmes looked sharply at Miss Wulf and slowly nodded. The auburn haired lass let out a great shuddering sigh and blotted at her teary eyes with the heels of her hands.

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Holmes, thank you! There's no telling what that bastard's been doing to them. The police were no help-."

"They rarely are, my dear." Interjected Holmes.

"They just kept saying over and over again that the whore's son had been acquitted of all charges against him, that he had a solid alibi, that there was nothing to prove that he had anything to do with the disappearance…"

"Red tape is often the noose for many of Britain's finest officers." Holmes said with a sardonic smile.

"You still have not told us how you came by your conclusion, my friend." Watson said suddenly, dispelling the bleak atmosphere with the instigation of one of Baker Street's most honored rituals. There was really no need to doubt the words of the great detective- he had proven himself near infallible time and time again- but it was a familiar ceremony, this discussion of evidence and damnation. With a smile, Holmes retrieved his battered pipe from its rack on the wall, packed the bowl with tobacco, lit it, and drew in a deep draft of the fine smoke. A wispy smoke ring floated into the silent air, and Holmes set to pacing again, slower this time. The others waited, the doctor patiently, the youngster with marked impatience. At last, his wide brow furrowed, Holmes began to speak.

"I trust you all noticed Dalimar's appearance? Decidedly clean, very well dressed. He took scrupulous care of himself before coming here." The detective paused and puffed thoughtfully for a moment.

"Too clean. There was not so much as a follicle of hair on him. His nails were as well ordered as a woman's. And his cologne, it was most strong, was it not? In both instances, the cleanliness and the scent, he was attempting to hide something. His hands told the greatest tales. Most hands do. The pads of his right index finger and thumb were slightly discolored, as one might expect of any Englishman who is fond of his tobacco. But this stain was of a darker shade, and only upon his fingertips."

"Poison." Winifred stated flatly, her face going blank.

"I suspect so, Miss, yes."

"Arsenic." Said Watson.

"I was rather thinking stains from the juice of belladonna berries. Also on his hands were several mild burns and cuts, typical of one who works closely with electrical wiring and the cutting of metal. Our friend Charles has been tinkering about- with what, though?"

Winifred's anxious expression dissolved into a look of pure gravity, her mouth a grim, tight line.

"Locks. Rosie wrote to me once and said that the man has an obsession with making puzzle-locks. No true keys. You have to find the right pieces, or fiddle about with different patterns or buttons until you create the right sequence. She mentioned too that Dalimar is very fixated on the supernatural world. Rose stated in her very last letter that he was mumbling about spirits and the energy of souls, and something about hearts beating forever as one. Emma Ravenhearst, that poor American girl Dalimar was so infatuated with, was very ill at this time, by the way. Do you suspect that Charles was poisoning her instead?" Miss Wulf inquired anxiously. Holmes pursed his lips, leaned against the mantelpiece.

"Perhaps. He was in love with this girl and did everything within his power to make her well…without consulting a physician, it is true, but still. A very devoted man, our Dalimar. What motives would he have?" mused the genius, sounding very much like a teacher who was carefully leading his students towards the answer of a painfully simple problem.

"She refused his proposal. That was about the time she fell sick and Dalimar hired Rose to take care of her. Emma needed a wheelchair, she was so weak." Winifred supplied. Watson got up and went to one of the overstuffed bookshelves that lined the walls, pulling down a heavy tome so battered and bedraggled that the title could no longer be easily read. Winifred thought that it might be a text on Toxicology, but Watson turned away before she could get a true eye on it. Frowning, he cracked it open and began thumbing through its mildewed pages.

"He could have given her a tiny bit each day. Not so much that it would kill her, of course, but more than enough to make her ill. He did not want Miss Ravenhearst to leave him, it strikes me, so he made sure that she could not so much as walk, let alone run."

Holmes paused at this, straightening himself to his full, impressive height, dark head tilted upwards.

" Yes. He did not want her to leave…thus, he killed her. Whether by accident- a little too much toxin with her morning porridge and tea- or with purpose, I do not know. But he murdered her, and then he took Mrs. Somerset and her children. A true madman." He murmured, with perfect calm. It was almost as though he were offering his opinion on the weather rather than delivering his forensic analysis of what had transpired in the isolated Ravenhearst manor. A feverish light came into Holmes' eyes and he whirled about, taking great strides across the room until he disappeared into his study, leaving his companions to stare after him. Winifred made as if to follow the detective, but Watson raised a hand to stop her. Within minutes, after much thudding and scraping, Holmes returned to them, bearing a microscope and a newly made slide.

"Dirt from Dalimar's boots. He is a keen man, but no one can eliminate every incriminating detail. I would offer you a look, friends, but I believe I am right in thinking that I am the only one present who can discern any difference between various samples of soil, and we really have no time to waste on such niceties. Now, let us see if I am correct." Holmes set the microscope down upon a coffee table that positively groaned under the weight of a multitude of papers, inserted the slide and twiddled the device's knobs, mumbling to himself all the while.

"Hmm…ah, yes. Very much as I thought."

"What is it? Or are you just going to make us guess?" snapped Winifred.

"If you had any knowledge of different soils, Miss Wulf, you would be able to see that Mr. Dalimar had several kinds of dirt upon his footwear. Four, to be precise. The sort of muck that comes of London's streets, a more grainy kind that one might find on a country road, a rich sort of loam that frequents a garden –similar, say, to the soil that comes from the Ravenhearst gardens- and, perhaps most importantly, this; a dark, almost clay like soil, with certain traces of fungal mycorrhizae. Soil that came from deep within the earth. Why, do you think, a man as proper as Dalimar would be underground?"

There was a long, pregnant pause of astonishment as Wulf struggled to wrap her mind around this shocking analysis of so trifling a detail.

"U-underground? You…you don't suppose that he's got Rosie and her girls in a cave somewhere, do you?"

"That, Miss Wulf, is precisely that I think. Dalimar cleaned himself for this interview because he did not want to leave traces of his handling of Mrs. Somerset. The wounds on his hands come of his work on the locks- locks, we can only assume, that he built to hold his captives prisoner underground. The fact that he was so concerned about leaving no hint of Mrs. Somerset's person on himself tells us that she is not dead- at least not yet. He has been handling her recently, and has some purpose for her, and perhaps the offspring as well. What you spoke of earlier, Miss Wulf, the talk of spirits and heartbeats, sounds very ominous. Charles Dalimar is obviously insane, which makes him a highly dangerous man. He loved Miss Ravenhearst in his own twisted way, and her death means that he is volatile at this point; it would not be far fetched to think that he intends to harm the Somerset mother and children to reach his own ends."

Sherlock Holmes spoke solemnly, his intelligent eyes darkened. He had long thought that England could offer him nothing in the way of true adventure. He had felt that all there was to the crime world was an endless parade of crooks and thieves and conmen, with only a few opponents of true merit to challenge him. Now, a madman of the highest order was hiding in the shadows, working towards an unknown but sinister end. The lives of a helpless woman and two innocent children were at stake. There would be no room for error.

And then Watson, that great dear friend, came over to Holmes' side and clasped his shoulder. Countless adventures and dangerous escapades had forged a strong bond of brotherhood between them, and after nearly ten years of friendship, the good Doctor knew Holmes so well he could nearly read his thoughts.

"We have no time to lose. The sooner we get to Blackpool, the sooner we can rescue Mrs. Somerset."

"My thoughts exactly, Watson."

They were drawn out of the moment by Miss Wulf's approach, her boots rapping heavily upon the floorboards.

"When shall we leave for Blackpool?"

Detective and doctor stared at the young woman, then at each other, brows raised. It was Homes who spoke next, his tone politely brisk, teetering on the very edge of dismissive.

"I fear, Miss Wulf, that this adventure is far too dangerous for a young lady, even one as…unconventional…as yourself." The detective said firmly, eying the redhead's attire. Winifred's strange amber eyes flashed in indignation, her nostrils flaring as she drew in a sharp breath, and she raised her chin in defiance, ready to tear into Holmes. Swiftly, Watson stepped in, sensing that any argument between their pugnacious little client and his admittedly tactless friend would swiftly lead to fisticuffs.

"We realize that you wish to see your friend safely out of whatever dreadful place Dalimar's keeping her, but we truly must insist upon your remaining in London. Mr. Holmes and I have been through many misadventures, some more life threatening than others. I assure you that Mrs. Somerset and her daughters are safe in our capable hands, there is little need to worry."

Winifred did not immediately give a reply to this. Instead she let the chilled, uncomfortable silence linger, her eyes shooting darts of venom into the two men before her.

"No need to worry? Forgive me, sirs, but I do worry. I worry most exceedingly. It strikes me that you two have no real idea of what, exactly, you are walking into. Charles Dalimar is insane and twisted, that we know. But he is brilliant. Cunning. He has tricks and traps at his disposal, and he will protect what he thinks of as his, gents. You will be walking headlong into his territory with little to no idea of the terrain, no idea of what he has in store for unwanted visitors. He might have a few little friends helping him. Who knows? Not you."

"And you are suggesting that you do?" asked Holmes, watching Winifred's round earnest face with his calculating gray eyes. His client gave a very wry smile.

"I have a fair better idea of what's what than you do, for certain. In the last year I've broken into Ravenhearst manor no less than three times- which, as you've probably already guessed, led to the lawsuit that Dalimar filed against me a while ago. I found no hint of Rosie, but I did get a rather lovely little mental layout. I managed to stay around long enough to realize that there is something wrong with that place. The walls watch you, it feels like, and there's never been a house half so silent as that one. Dalimar is a sick man, and the manor is a dark place, and that's no lie. You and the good Doctor here need me, just as much as I need you. Apart, we'd never find Rose or Gwendolyn and Charlotte. Together? The whole of us just might totter out alive."

The lady left it at that, leaning back on her heels and watching Watson and Holmes, almost serene. It was readily apparent that Winifred Wulf was no cringing little milksop. She meant it when she said that she would accompany them on this mission. Either they would allow her to come, or she would follow them to Blackpool and join in anyway. There existed no other alternative.

"Where precisely do you originate from, to be brought up so brazenly?" Holmes demanded, his voice tinged with the barest hint of admiration of the stubborn young woman before them. A singular young lady, to be certain. He knew of few men who were so forward and intrepid, and only one other female. On the whole, this entire case was already promising to be quite the refreshing anomaly.

"No place you've heard of, I expect." Winifred grinned. The corner of the detective's thin mouth twitched upwards for a second before he swung his head towards Watson, his long fingered hand dipping into the other man's waistcoat and fishing out a very battered pocket watch. He checked the time- nearing eleven. They would have to retire sometime soon if they wished to depart.

"Well, Watson, dear mother hen, what say you to this arrangement?"

"The lady has made up her mind. I fear there is no changing it." The doctor stated, not without good humor. Winifred beamed, and Holmes snapped Watson's watch shut.

"Excellent. The next train for Blackpool leaves at five tomorrow morning. Plenty of time to gather a few necessities- since you are so set upon us all being a prepared as possible, Miss Wulf, I trust you have some form of weapon to carry along?"

"O' course. My mother raised me right, after all."

A puzzled pause.

"Right. Watson?"

"I'll make haste and fetch my medical supplies. I only pray that we don't need them."

"As do I. You are to meet us here at four thirty, Miss Wulf. I sincerely hope that you are not over fond of sleeping late."

"Not with Rose at stake, I'm not. I bid you both a good night, sirs, and…I thank you again. From the depths of my heart."

Bowing towards doctor and detective, London's current poetical darling turned about and showed herself out the front door of 221b Baker Street, her diminutive form swallowed by the cool, caressing fog. Head bowed, her throat unnaturally tight with emotion, Winifred murmured softly to herself,

"Hold fast, Rosie."

Well, there we go. The first chapter of my first Sherlock Holmes story. Now, Conan Doyle owns the Baker Street Boys, as we all know. Rose Somerset, her daughters, Charles Dalimar, Emma Ravenhearst and the Ravenhearst estate are all property of Big Fish Games. These characters, environs and situations are taken from the truly awesome computer game Return to Ravenhearst. I highly recommend looking into it if you love puzzles and supernatural plots.

As for Miss Winifred Wulf, she is my own creation. No touching. Mine. She is a…traveler…of sorts, and has been in England for about six years at this point, making a living as a poet and novelist. She has a cheerful and absolute disregard for authority (or at least English authority), and she adores Rose and her children. She is highly loyal, practical, and is more than willing to break a few laws/windows/limbs to get things done. Winifred and Officers of Scotland Yard do not mix well because of this.

This story takes place in the May of 1896. Fans of the Ravenhearst game will know that Rose and her daughters went missing around August 5th, 1895, and that Dalimor was acquitted of kidnapping charges the month after. Both Mr. Somerset and Winifred knew he had something to do with the loss of their loved ones, and Winifred tried to investigate. After being caught during her third break in, she decided she needed to bring in a professional. Thus, we have the fearsome alliance of Wulf the Vigilante and the Baker Street Duo. God have mercy on England.

So, what do you think, readers? Have I done justice to Holmes and the good Doctor? Any problems with my Holmesian deductions? Feel free to let me know in a review!

On a final note, a great heap of gratitude goes out to Trivial Queen. Thank you, my dahling, for all your help. Mwah!