Chapter 11: Multiple Lines Of Thought

Holmes and Watson on their way to Holyhead
"I beg your pardon, Holmes," I said, "but lately you have been predicting the future so well, I thought perhaps you had the rest of the investigation laid out already."

"If only!" the great detective sighed. "If crimes such as this could be solved by following a recipe, Watson, even the dolts at Scotland Yard could do it.

"As a rule, I plan my investigations one move at a time," Holmes continued. "I always have a goal in mind, and a general idea of how to get there, but any new development can cause me to change my plan. In the present instance, I was planning to stay in London for at least another few days, but the 'sudden and dramatic' visit from Buckingham Slate -- as you put it -- has changed my mind."

"How so?" I asked.

"His presence, in disguise, no less -- and that of his followers -- served notice that direct investigation in the city might entail serious personal risk, while promising limited tangible reward."

"I see, Holmes."

"But the information he gave us supports lines of thought that had already seemed promising to me, and this support makes our presence in London somewhat less essential at the moment than it otherwise may have been."

"I didn't realize you had formed any theory about the crime," I said, "let alone one which Bucky could have supported."

"I have been thinking about this case since long before we had a client, Watson," he replied. "Most of my earliest ideas were questions such as: Why was an MI6 employee missing for a week or more before somebody started looking for him? Why were Metro Police sent to an MI6 'safe house' in search of an MI6 man? Why was there so much sensational slander in the press about what police found in the flat where they discovered the body? Why has their investigation made so little progress? Why are transparently ludicrous theories about a 'sex game gone wrong' still in circulation? And why have we even heard of this story at all?"

"An imposing list of questions," said I.

"The tip of the iceberg," said he. "There are many other important questions, but these are among the most vital at this juncture."

Holmes paused and we listened to the clackety-clack of the wheels while I contemplated the scope and nature of the task ahead of us.

"Fortunately," Holmes continued, "this is a case in which the whole appears to be less than the sum of its parts."

"I don't follow you, Holmes."

"Perhaps it's not the best analogy, Watson," he continued, "but I mean to say, if one tried to answer each question individually, he could very well go mad trying. But that would be a false approach in any case, because these questions are not mutually independent -- unlike the 'cheese' in the children's song, they do not 'stand alone.' They are all intimately related, and therefore the only truly satisfying explanation must be one that answers them all simultaneously."

"Which sounds like a very tall order, my friend," I replied.

"But is it? If there exists an explanation which answers all these questions, then surely it will not be very difficult to find, Watson."

"Have you tried to formulate any such explanation, Holmes?" I asked. "If so, I'd be delighted to hear it."

"Sometimes it helps to re-phrase the questions," he said, "and to step back and look at them from a different angle. I've been asking why certain things have happened. But if we were willing to defer consideration of motive for a moment, and concentrate on the suspects and their capabilities, we might find ourselves with multiple lines of thought, all running in the same direction. For instance:

"Who could commit such an audacious crime in an MI6 'safe house', and get away unseen? Who could disable all the surveillance systems? Who could make sure that nobody would check on Gareth Williams when he stopped going to work?

"Who could plant false stories about the scene in all the papers without fear of retribution? Who could keep 'sex game gone wrong' popping up in the headlines, even though it obviously makes no sense? Who could have suppressed this story, but decided to let it play out in public?

"Who could interfere with a police investigation? Who could hide witnesses from Scotland Yard? Who could assign Buckingham Slate to run a team who are not all qualified to investigate this case?

"Are there Russian secret agents managing the Yard's case assignments? Is there a direct feed from the Chinese Minister of Propaganda to the British dailies? Could a militant Irish Republican faction prevent MI6 from checking on an employee who had stopped coming to work? Could bearded madmen in caves half a world away have done any of this?"

Holmes paused again and we listened to the clackety-clack of the wheels while I tried to absorb what he had just said.