|"I never said it was unfounded."|
"I have formed seven," he replied, "some more probable than others, of course."
"Which of them do you regard as most likely?" I asked.
"The first question in my mind," he answered, "is whether the published reports are true. If not, we must work with hypotheses regarding the investigation and the press.
"But if the papers have it right," he continued, "we are getting glimpses into the life of Gareth Williams. Let's assume for the sake of discussion that the reports of these two mysterious couples are substantially correct.
"It's sheer speculation, of course. But where does it lead us?
"Suppose he were involved in activities of which he knew his employers would disapprove. How would he communicate with his associates? He'd been working for GCHQ, the Queen's eavesdropping service, for ten years -- deciphering intercepted communications, unless the press has that wrong -- so he would know better than to expect his phone and email conversations to be private.
"Face-to-face meetings would be required, but where? Nobody living in a 'safe house' would dare to host such a meeting unless he were insane or terminally stupid, and we have no evidence that Gareth Williams was either."
"Because of surveillance?" I asked.
"Exactly," replied Holmes. "One would expect a 'safe house' to be covered with video cameras and microphones."
"If that were the case," I interrupted, "then the police would already know what happened to Gareth Williams, and when, and who was in the flat at the time."
"Assuming the police have access to the video," he replied.
"You don't think they do?"
"Then who does?"
"That's a good question," replied Holmes. "What do you think?"
I smiled grimly. We both knew the answer.
"If Gareth met a mysterious young couple in a pastry shop in order to have short, private conversations," I said, "what would that tell us?"
"Possibly they were setting up longer conversations elsewhere. That's how I would do it. I'd want to meet in lonely, out-of-the-way spots or in crowded public places, using a different location each time, and on a different timetable as well. That way, my associates and I would only have to make sure we weren't being followed -- we wouldn't have to worry about being anticipated."
"And walking into an ambush," I suggested.
"Precisely," said Holmes. "Perhaps their short chats at Patisserie Valerie, which none of the staff apparently overheard, were meant to determine whether other meetings were needed, and if so, to arrange them. This is all speculation, you understand."
"Indeed," I replied. "I asked about your hypotheses, and this is just one of them. But it's fascinating. Pray continue."
"Suppose we're on the right track. Whatever they were doing, what if Gareth confided in his 'best friend?' He knew her from work, remember, and she was very well connected there, since her husband worked for GCHQ as well. What if Gareth confided in her, and she confided in somebody else, such as her husband? And what if Gareth's employers found out in this manner that he was betraying them, or planning to do so?"
"Do you think he could have been?" I asked.
"Hypothetically?" said Holmes, and I nodded.
"If -- if -- all this happened, what would they do? Would they sweep the informants out of the way, for their own protection or to isolate Gareth, or both? Would they arrange for Gareth to be eliminated, in a tidy, professional way? Would they want his body to be found, horribly, sensationally, sending a powerful, unmistakable message to his collaborators? Would they leak fantastic, lurid tales to the press to cover their tracks?"
"If so -- if so -- it wouldn't be the first time."
More chills crawled up my spine. "For 'sheer speculation' this is making altogether too much sense," I said.
"I said it was speculation," replied the detective. "But I never said it was unfounded. Each link in this chain is entirely plausible."
I nodded slowly, trying to absorb the implications. And once again we listened to the clackety-clack of the wheels.
"From King's Cross," said Holmes, "we'll be heading back to Baker Street, to drop off our luggage and pick up Bucky's disguise. If there's nothing urgent in our mail, we'll have a few hours before we need to be at Harrington's Pub to meet him. Where do you want to have dinner?"
"Don't worry," I replied. "I'll think of something."