Chapter 83: A Distinguished Visitor

It emitted a cloud of foul-smelling gas.
Perhaps the crossword was too easy. Or maybe the minutes went by too slowly. In any case, I had solved the first puzzle without much difficulty, and had already started another, when something Holmes was doing reacted suddenly and emitted a cloud of foul-smelling gas.

With all the windows open, the only thing left was to open the door at the top of the stairs. As I did so, the door at the bottom of the stairs swung open. "This is perfect!" I said to myself; then to Holmes I whispered, "They're here!"

I began to swing the door back and forth on its hinges, trying to dissipate the foul aroma and pretending not to have seen the visitors I was pretending not to expect. But a familiar voice called, "Hello? Dr. Watson? Is that you?"

I stopped what I was doing and peered out through the spreading fog. "Mycroft?" I asked, trying my best to sound surprised.

"Indeed," he replied. "Is Sherlock at home?"

"Why else would I be working so hard to ventilate the place?" I thought. "I never do this when he's away!"

"Yes," I shouted down the stairs. "He's inside, working on some chemistry."

"May we come up?" asked Mycroft.

"I'm sure you may," I replied, "but if I were you, I'd wait a few minutes for the air to clear a bit."

I heard murmurings from Mycroft and his companion, who were still at the bottom of the stairs, but I couldn't understand what they were saying.

Then Mycroft spoke up, saying, "We'd prefer to come up immediately, if he'll see us."

"Suit yourself," I replied, and got out of the way as they climbed the stairs.

Mycroft entered the room first, followed by a younger man in a very sharp suit. The latter looked familiar, but I couldn't put a name to the face, nor could I remember where I had seen him.

"Hello, Sherlock!" said Mycroft. "Are you busy? Of course you are! But may we interrupt you?"

"I suppose so," said my friend slowly, looking up from his reeking glassware for the first time since their arrival. "What can I do for you, Mycroft?"

"I've brought the Minister with me," said Mycroft. "He hoped you would see us." Then, turning to his companion, he said, "That's my brother, sir, and this is his friend and colleague, Dr. Watson."

The Minister shook my hand, waited for Holmes to come around from behind his experiment, and shook his hand as well. "It is indeed a pleasure," said Holmes, "but you've taken us by surprise. Just a moment, please."

Holmes turned to me and said, "Watson, would you be so kind as to clear off the couch and give our guests a place to sit?"

I did so as quickly as I could, and said, "Please, gentlemen, make yourselves comfortable."

The Minister moved toward the couch, but Mycroft did not. "I don't mean to be rude," he said, "but I do have another appointment -- in fact, I'm late already. The Minister has some questions for you, Sherlock, and I'm confident that you can answer them without my assistance. For all I know, the Minister may prefer to speak with you privately, anyway."

"Yes, yes, of course," said my friend. "Drop by and see us again, Mycroft, perhaps when the air is a bit less aromatic!"

After Mycroft had closed the door behind him, the Minister sat upon the couch and cast a questioning gaze in my direction. "You can rely upon Dr. Watson's discretion," said Holmes. "Please speak freely."

"I am sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Holmes," said the Minister, "as I can see you are very busy. But I was speaking with Mycroft, and he gave me some amazing news. He said if I wanted to hear more, I would have to get it from your lips. So here I am. I do hope you'll speak freely in return."

"About what, Minister?" asked my friend.

"According to Mycroft," replied the Minister, "you have been investigating the death of Gareth Williams."

"I am sorry to say," answered Holmes, "that I am not at liberty to discuss any ongoing investigation."

"Mycroft says you are on the verge of making an arrest," said the Minister, with a hint of desperation in his voice, and as if he had not heard Holmes' previous statement at all.

"I'm sorry, sir," said my friend, "I simply can't --"

"Ah, but you must!" interrupted the Minister. "It is a matter of extreme concern to me. I implore you, Mr. Holmes. I'll keep your secrets as well as anyone ever could. Please tell me what you've found out."

"It would be highly irregular," said Holmes after a pause.

"What harm could come of it?" the Minister persisted.

"Well, I suppose you're right," said my friend after a longer pause. "You must promise not to tell a soul."

"You have my word," said the Minister.

"Listen very carefully," replied the detective, "and I will tell you what we know."