|"Do you still make that fine dark ale?"|
We stepped inside shortly after 7:30, and within seconds, every conversation in the pub had ground to a halt. Sherlock Holmes smiled and nodded at a few of the regulars while he made his way to the bar, and I followed behind him.
"You're looking as sharp as ever, Holmes!" said the man behind the bar, shaking my friend by the hand.
"You're not doing too badly yourself," replied Holmes. "This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson," he added. "Watson, meet my friend and former schoolmate, Michael Harrington."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Watson," Harrington said, shaking my hand. "What will you drink?"
"Do you still make that fine dark ale?" asked the detective.
"Indeed we do," replied Harrington. "Do you think Dr. Watson would enjoy a glass?"
"I wouldn't be a bit surprised," said Holmes, and I smiled eagerly.
The regulars, seeing us warmly welcomed, resumed their interrupted chatter as Harrington filled two large glasses and placed them on the bar. Holmes and I sat on tall stools and tasted the ale, which was quite excellent.
A few minutes later Harrington approached and whispered briefly to Holmes, who replied in similar fashion, after which our host departed momentarily.
"Come this way, gentlemen," he said when he returned, leading us through a heavy oaken door, down a short corridor and into a comfortably-furnished office.
"The room you normally use is being renovated," he said to my friend, "but I trust this one will be suitable for your meeting."
"It will suit us very well indeed," replied Holmes. "What can we pay you for the ale?"
Harrington laughed heartily and clapped Holmes on the shoulder. "It's a pleasure to see you again, Holmes," he said. "You're welcome to a glass of ale anytime!"
"Make yourself comfortable, Dr. Watson," Harrington added, turning toward me. "I'll show your guest in when he arrives."
"Thank you very much," said Holmes. Harrington smiled and returned to the bar.
"I'm very intrigued by the scenario you described on the train," I said when our host had left. "But you said you had other hypotheses, and I'm wondering what they might be."
"It's always possible that the stories in the papers are incorrect," replied Holmes. "The waiters at Patisserie Valerie could have mistaken someone else for Gareth Williams. The reporters could be making up stories. Or the police could be leaking false information. These three scenarios are not impossible, and they would not be unprecedented, but at the moment I see them as fairly improbable."
"What else do you have, then?" I asked.
"The other hypotheses are based on the assumption that the stories are correct," he replied, "but they give the pastry-shop encounters different interpretations. Perhaps they really were chance meetings, and Gareth and the mysterious young couple were truly surprised to find that their paths had crossed."
"Do you really think that could have happened?" I asked. "Repeated meetings in the same shop with people who found him at the back of the room, without ever ordering anything? That is very strange, don't you think?"
"It does push the limit of credibility, does it not?" replied Holmes. "I see it as very improbable indeed. But, strictly speaking, it is still possible.
"Improbable things can happen," he continued. "Actually, improbable things happen all the time. But impossible things can never happen, and it is important to recognize the difference.
"It is also possible," he added, "that the meetings were prearranged and the 'surprise' was faked, but the subject of the meetings was more or less innocent, having nothing to do with Gareth's work or the chain of events that led to his death."
"But if the meetings were innocent," I asked, "why the subterfuge? Why would they pretend to be surprised? Why wouldn't they just sit down at his table?"
"You're quite right, Watson," said Holmes. "I see this as more probable than the 'chance meeting' hypothesis, but not by very much."
"Has anything else come to mind?" I inquired.
"It is also possible that the meetings were not entirely innocent, but that Gareth never mentioned anything about them to his 'best friend,' and that she and her husband were transferred for entirely unrelated reasons."
"But then why would the Brits refuse to let the FBI interview her?" I asked.
"Indeed," answered Holmes. "Difficult questions lie in every direction."
Just then we heard a sharp knock at the door. "Yes!" called Holmes, and Michael Harrington's face appeared.
"Your guest is here, Mr. Holmes," said our host.
"Please show him in," replied Holmes.