|Police remove the body of Gareth Williams|
from the block of flats at 36 Alderney Street
"In your letter, you said the police had made a hash of it. I take it they haven't made any arrests?"
"Arrests? No sir!" our guest replied with disdain. "They're not even ready to call it murder!"
"And they still haven't identified a cause of death?"
"No, sir. All we know about that is what we've read in the papers. And most of what's been printed in the papers has been rubbish!"
"In what way?" Holmes asked, and there was a long pause before Hughes answered.
"First they lied about the body, sir. Then they lied about the man!"
"How did they lie about the body?" Holmes inquired.
Hughes drew another deep breath. "Some of the papers said he had been stabbed. Some even said he'd been dismembered! But then the police said there wasn't a mark on the body, no sign of any physical violence at all."
"What else can you tell us about the condition of the body?" Holmes asked.
"Very little. The body was 'in an advanced state of decomposition', and this, we're told, complicates the toxicology, making it difficult to determine both the time of death and the cause, sir."
"How long had Gareth been missing?" Holmes inquired, and William Hughes struggled to compose an answer.
"Gareth returned from a trip to the US on the 11th of August. That was a Wednesday, sir. Ceri talked to him on that day -- that was his last contact with his family. The police have released CCTV footage of Gareth shopping in London which they say was shot on the 14th and 15th of the month -- Saturday and Sunday. But that's all we know, sir."
"But the body," said Holmes, "which was found on the 23rd, was said to be 'in an advanced state of decomposition,' was it not? That is very curious, Dr. Watson."
"Indeed, Holmes," I replied. "But as to how curious, that may depend on the bag."
"Quite so. What, if anything, do you know about the bag?" Holmes asked William Hughes.
"According to the police, it was a large red holdall, manufactured by 'The North Face.' It's normally used to carry camping equipment or sporting gear. We don't know any more than that, sir," Hughes replied.
Once again we heard Mrs. Hudson's footsteps, and the conversation paused.
"I may have to ask a few more painful questions," Sherlock Holmes said, after Mrs. Hudson had left us a tray of refreshments.
"I suspected as much," replied William Hughes. "And to be honest, sir, that's one of the reasons I was reluctant to write to you, and to come here in person. But now that I'm here, sir, I can see there'd be no point in asking for your help and then refusing to answer your questions, now would there?"
"My thoughts exactly," Holmes said.
"Ask me anything you like, Mr. Holmes. I'll tell you whatever I can."
"Did Gareth have any enemies that you know of?" Holmes continued.
"None that I know of, sir. But of course, in his line of work, sir, there are always enemies, are there not?"
"Was he a large man?"
"Oh no, sir. He stood five feet seven, five-eight at the most, sir. He was slight of build, though very well-toned. He spent too many hours on the bike, sir, and climbed too many hills, to be otherwise."
"So, we have a small man, in a large bag, padlocked, in a bathtub. And yet the police aren't willing to say 'murder'. What do they think happened? Do they think he padlocked himself into the bag?"
"So it has been suggested -- by at least one daily paper, sir". William Hughes looked profoundly incredulous.
"I agree it sounds preposterous," said Holmes.
"But that's not the worst of it, sir. The papers have been full of the most lurid claims and innuendos, right from the very beginning, when they started saying it looked like a 'bizarre sex game gone wrong'. Can you imagine?"
"How absurd," said the detective, and our guest continued.
"The papers have said that once in his flat, police found gay porn, women's clothing that would have fit Gareth, contact numbers for male escort agencies, bondage equipment, wigs, makeup and all sorts of other very odd things -- at least, things that would have been odd to find in the flat of a single man, sir."
Holmes nodded. Hughes continued, "Then the police announced that none of this was true. But that's hardly stopped the speculation in the press! Nor has it stopped the police from saying they think the solution to the mystery lies in his private life."
"That is very strange," offered Holmes.
"We think so, too, sir, and we'd like to know why they're doing this. Another thing we want to know, sir: Why did all this rubbish ever get printed? We never saw any sign that Gareth was gay. It seemed to us as though perhaps the government or somebody were trying to smear Gareth's reputation."
"Indeed, Mr. Hughes," said Holmes. "It certainly sounds as though somebody somewhere is trying to do something. What about the family? Where are they, and how are they coping?"
The last question surprised me, because -- although I had seen Holmes investigate many unexplained deaths, some of which turned out to be outrageously bizarre murders -- I had never seen him express much concern about the relatives of a victim.
"We're up in the northwest of Wales, sir, near Holyhead."
Holmes didn't respond immediately, and Hughes continued. "Holyhead is a beautiful natural port, sir, about halfway between Dublin and Liverpool. Valley is just a few miles east of Holyhead, and that's where Ellen and Ian live. I live a few miles further east, and Ceri and her husband Chris live near Wrexham, but most of the others are nearby. I can't say any of us are doing well, sir, but they will all be cheered to hear of your interest in the case -- assuming you are interested, sir?"
"I am definitely interested, Mr. Hughes. Whether I can be of any service is another matter. I will certainly do whatever I can."
"We are most grateful to you, sir," replied William Hughes, rising from his seat.
"What do you think, Watson?" asked Holmes when our guest had departed.
"I don't know what to think, Holmes," I replied. "Do you?"
"I think William Hughes is up against forces larger than he can imagine -- forces much stronger than he and his family can fight on their own. If we were to throw our weight onto their side, that wouldn't tip the balance, Watson. But it might make a good start. Are you game?"
"I cannot imagine what that family is going through," I replied. "First to lose their son, brother, nephew; then to have his name tarnished in the papers. Of course I'm game, Holmes! What can I do to help?"
"Find a shop that sells 'North Face' gear," he said, "and bring back one of those bags!"