|Holmes finally lit his pipe.|
Holmes finally lit his pipe, then sat down in his favourite armchair and said, "Go ahead, Watson. Describe our position, and I will stop you if you go awry."
"We're certain Gareth Williams was murdered, are we not? We've seen the bag, you've met the landlady, and because of what we now know, we can be confident that he was deliberately killed. In fact, I'd say the probability that he died by suicide or accident is about the same as the probability that he died of natural causes."
My friend smiled grimly and I continued. "If he was murdered, as we think he was, then either he was killed in the 'safe house' on Alderney Street, or he was killed elsewhere and his body was brought into the 'safe house', presumably by the killer or killers."
"Which do you think it was, Watson?" my friend inquired.
"Killing an MI6 man in an MI6 'safe house' seems an incredibly audacious thing to do, Holmes."
"But consider the alternative, Watson," he replied. "How much audacity would it take to kill an MI6 man elsewhere, then lock his body in a bag and drop it in the bathtub of his very own flat -- even if that flat were not in a 'safe house'? It's an enormously audacious crime in either case."
We heard a ring at the door, Mrs. Hudson on the stairs, and some commotion just outside our flat. Then Mrs. Hudson appeared, saying "There's a man here to see you, Mr. Holmes, but he has no appointment, and I've told him --"
"It's all right, Mrs. Hudson --," Holmes began, but he was interrupted by the man himself, who squeezed past our landlady and through the doorway with what seeemed as though it could have been his final breath.
He was old, grey and hobbled, wearing a tattered light jacket and a hat that may have been new when Holmes was a lad. His hair was long and shaggy, his face hidden behind a raggedy beard. He remained just inside the doorway, looking anxiously from Holmes to Mrs. Hudson, to me, and back to Holmes again.
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson," Holmes intoned, and our landlady slipped quietly away. She had seen enough odd visitors over the years not to be frightened for her own safety whenever a new one appeared, and she knew Holmes kept a revolver in his desk drawer, so she wasn't frightened for us, either.
As soon as the door was closed, the old man spoke.
"Forgive me Mr. Holmes for the disguise, but I can't be seen coming to you just now."
With these words, he removed his jacket and his hat -- to which his hair and beard were attached! -- straightened his back, and stood before us, looking suddenly taller, younger, and entirely presentable.
Holmes recognized him instantly. "Bucky! What a pleasant surprise! Don't move!!"
The detective stood up quickly and crossed the room, visiting each of the windows and drawing all the curtains. Having done so, he shook our visitor by the hand and said, "Come in and sit down. You should be safe now, at least for a while.
"Watson, this is Buckingham Slate," Holmes said, "a detective from Scotland Yard with whom I have worked on a previous case. Not as thick as the sort they tend to hire there these days, if I may say so. And Slate -- Bucky! -- please meet my friend and colleague Dr. Watson, upon whose discretion you may rely entirely. What brings you here? It must be something serious."
"If there's one thing I'll need, it's your discretion, sir," Slate began, "and yes, I should say it's serious enough!"
"Tell me all about it," Holmes said, and I reached for my notepad once again.
"Well, sir, you remember the case you helped me on before? That was tricky, deep, and ugly -- but you could always find a way forward, and that was what amazed me."
"The case did present one or two features of interest," Holmes said, flashing his most self-effacing smile, but only for a fraction of a second.
"That's what we need here, sir: a way forward. I know some of your methods, thanks to Dr. Watson's accounts for the most part, as well as that one case we worked together, and I've been trying to apply them. One thing you're famous for among the force, or perhaps I should say 'infamous', sir, is your thoroughness, your determination to leave no stone unturned."
I was beginning to suspect Holmes was as susceptible to flattery as any man, but much more adept than most at not showing it. He nodded slightly to acknowledge the praise, and said, "And..."
"I always try to apply that principle, sir, and it's taken me far in one case after another, even if I do say so myself. But in this case, there doesn't seem to be a stone that's not cemented tightly in place. Try as I might, I cannot turn over a single one, sir, nor can I figure out why."
Holmes eyed Slate intently and said, "What's the matter, Bucky? What's going on?"
"Well, sir, it seems as though every witness I want to talk to is either permanently missing or suddenly unavailable. I keep getting the feeling that evidence is being created and destroyed, sir, and for some reason, most of my men don't even have high enough security clearances to discuss the case amongst themselves -- yet I cannot get any others!"
"May I ask the nature of the case?" Holmes inquired.
"It's murder, sir, if I'm any judge. Not everyone thinks the same, though. Some say to them it looks like accident, or even suicide, but I don't see it that way, sir. I think the man was deliberately killed."
"And the name of the victim?"
"Why, it's Gareth Williams, sir. The MI6 man who was found padlocked in a holdall in Pimlico."
Holmes, up and moving again, peeked between the curtains and out across Baker Street. "You've been followed, Bucky," he said, "by two men who are waiting in a doorway across the street. We'll have to be careful."