|a red North Face "Base Camp" bag|
It was the largest, most durable holdall they had, the North Face "Base Camp" model, and there were plenty of colours to choose from. I bought a red one.
"This is easy!" I smiled inwardly as I made my way back to 221B Baker Street, where Holmes would be waiting to praise me for my skill in obtaining the one object in the world he most wanted to examine ... or so I thought.
But when I returned home, instead of the great detective in person, I found a note, which read:
Dear Watson,Somewhat disappointed by the reception, but pleased and proud that he had taken such a bold step so soon, I sat down and began to examine the bag.
I have gone to Cheltenham and will not return until evening.
The walls were of a material I had never seen before: strong but somewhat elastic, and certainly watertight. It felt like a very durable frabric -- mesh, perhaps? -- doubly laminated with thick vinyl. A D-shaped zipper ran across the top and was covered by a D-shaped flap. This was a bag that could be left out in the rain.
It had handles at the sides and on both ends, so the bag could be carried by one person or two -- and it was easily large enough to hold more gear than one person could comfortably carry.
Heavy woven nylon compression straps ran around the bag in multiple directions; these would make it easy to tighten the load inside the bag, so the contents would not shift around.
The zipper itself intrigued me; the teeth were larger than any I had ever seen, and appeared to be made of plastic-coated steel. It certainly wasn't going to fall apart or rust anytime soon.
I considered the various ways in which the bag could be locked; this seemed especially important in light of claims that Gareth Williams had somehow climbed into the bag and locked himself in. He panicked because he couldn't get the lock open, then suffocated, or died of a heart attack, depending on which account you happened to believe -- if you believed any of them.
At each end of the zipper was a steel "tag" through which a fabric "pull" was threaded. It was possible for me bring the zipper almost closed, thread a padlock through the "pulls," then force the "tags" far enough apart to squeeze the lock into the bag. Presumably, then, it would have been possible for someone smaller than I to climb into the bag, bring the zipper almost closed, grab the "pulls" and bring them into the bag, then thread a lock through them. Why anyone would do that was -- and still is -- utterly beyond me.
As a medical professional, I am aware of the practice known as auto-erotic asphyxiation; starving one's body of oxygen to enhance sexual pleasure. I haven't tried it, nor have I been tempted, but there's no denying that people do it. I have heard of many different ways in which people have done it, some of which have cost them their lives -- accidentally, it is always claimed.
A tiny corner of my brain understands what drives people to experiment with various methods of enhancing their pleasure. But no part of me understands why anyone would deliberately choose a method as risky as this.
I wondered what sort of person would look at this bag and think, "That would make for an excellent orgasm."
Then I wondered what sort of person would look at it and think, "That would make an excellent murder weapon." And the spinal chills were upon me again.
I tried to imagine what it would take to confine a man inside a bag like this. Once trapped in such a bag, he wouldn't be able to do anything except breathe, and that not for very long.
If somebody, somehow, got Gareth Williams into the bag, padlocked it shut and left it the bathtub, he wouldn't have had a chance -- even if they didn't tighten the compression straps.
The police -- or sources allegedly within the police department -- had been "leaking" the "theory" that an unknown person had locked Gareth Williams in the bag for sexual kicks, planning to return later and release him.
But how could anyone could believe a person trapped in such a bag could be left alone for any length of time, and would still be alive later? How could anyone do such a thing for kicks? Why would anyone lock the bag, unless ... unless ...
How could a boy-genius, who grew up to do valuable secret work for the government, be so stupid as to say "Please lock me up in this heavy plastic bag and leave me in the bath"? And could those have possibly been his final words?
The more I thought about it, the more I thought, "Either Gareth Williams was seriously demented, or he was murdered."
I couldn't wait for Holmes to return. Lacking his gift of mental compartmentalization, as well as his skill upon the violin, I found myself with nothing to do but turn the bag over and over in my hands, and the thoughts over and over in my mind.