I was full of questions about the Gareth Williams case, but he was having none of it. "It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts, Watson," he said. "Let us hear from Mr. William Hughes before we try to answer any questions." And much to my astonishment, for the next few hours he spoke of nothing but violin music.
A few minutes before ten o'clock, we heard the doorbell, then footsteps on the stair. Holmes caught my eye and said quietly, "Sit tight. Say nothing. Write everything down."
Then we heard Mrs. Hudson's voice. "Mr Holmes? Mr. William Hughes to see you, sir."
"Show him in, Mrs. Hudson," my friend replied, and the door swung open, revealing our much-anticipated guest.
"Mr. Holmes? Thank you so much for seeing me," he said, looking across the room at my friend.
"Not at all, Mr. Hughes. Please sit down and make yourself comfortable. This is my friend and colleague Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak freely," he continued with a nod in my direction.
"Thank you so much, sir. I don't know where to begin. The police have made a hash of everything. The press have made it even worse. The family and friends are devastated, the funeral is tomorrow, and we still don't even know the cause of death!"
"Ah, Mr. Hughes," said my friend, "you and Dr. Watson share the habit of starting in the middle of a story. Please take a deep breath and relax, and tell us the whole story, from the beginning."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Holmes. We've been living this nightmare for nearly a month now, sir, and sometimes --"
"It's all right, Mr. Hughes. You're among friends here. Relax, take your time, and tell us everything you think we should know."
William Hughes took several deep breaths before he began to speak.
"For me, sir, it starts with my cousin Ellen. I've loved her as a sister all my life. Ellen married a chap named Ian Williams, a fine fellow, and they had two children: a boy, Gareth, and a girl, Ceri.
"Gareth was blessed with a gift for mathematics that impressed everyone. His teachers were amazed, but they didn't know what to do with him, or for him, perhaps I should say. They started sending him to Bangor University, just one day a week at first, when he was 13, and he graduated with a first-class degree in maths when he was only 17 years old.
"He earned a PhD. from Manchester University at 19, and then he was off to Cambridge, St. Catharine's College, and we started to think he might stay in academia for a while, maybe even become a professor. He would have made a fine teacher, sir. He was so friendly, he had a way of putting people at ease. He wasn't much for small talk, but he was a joy to listen to about things that mattered to him, things he knew well. He certainly knew what he was about when it came to maths, sir. And he had a passion for it.
"He had always done extremely well academically, so we were stunned when -- at the age of 20 -- he failed an exam and dropped out of St. Catharine's. We worried for his future, sir, but he soon found a job with the government.
"He worked for GCHQ in Cheltenham, sir, and the only thing we really knew about his work was that it was secret. He said it had something to do with codes, but other than that he said nothing, and we could sense that it would have been rude to ask. He often traveled to the US on work-related matters, but he always returned to Cheltenham.
"Cheltenham is not far from Wales, and Gareth came back home to see the family as often as he could. He loved to ride with his father -- both of them expert cyclists -- and Gareth raced with the local bicycle club, too. He was a wonderful sportsman, and he won quite a number of races, especially in the hills. Oh, how he loved to ride in the hills!
"Late last summer, Gareth moved to London for a temporary posting. We were given to understand that he had been seconded to MI6 for a year. He said he would be back in Cheltenham this September.
"Here in London, Gareth lived in a flat at 36 Alderney Street, in Pimlico. The crown paid his rent, it was close to his work, and he was happy here, although he missed the country. He was anxious to get back to Cheltenham, sir. But it never happened.
"We got the bad news on the 24th of August, a date I will never forget. Gareth had stopped returning calls from Ceri, so she called the police and asked them to check on him. They went to his flat at 36 Alderney Street, and that's where they found him, sir. He was dead!
"They found his body in the bath, in a holdall -- a big red bag made to carry camping gear. The bag was closed with a zipper. And the zipper was padlocked shut!"
I already knew most of these details, having spent the previous day reading about the case. But I couldn't stop myself from gasping. Nor could I stop the cold shivers running up and down my spine.
Sherlock Holmes rang for Mrs. Hudson. "You must need something to drink, Mr. Hughes. What can we offer you?"