Chapter 100: A Wild Theory

"You asked for a wild theory." [source]
"We were fortunate to have Slate on our side, even if only for a while," said Sherlock Holmes, "but we cannot realistically expect to find another source inside the investigation. Which of them would dare talk to us now? Still, we are not without resources."

"I'm happy to hear that," I said, and we walked along in silence for a while.

As we approached the hotel, Holmes asked, "Is there any reason why we are obliged to hurry back to London?"

"None that I know of," I replied.

"Maybe we should stay until Monday," said my friend. "I'm enjoying the peace and quiet, and you seem happy here."

"I am indeed," I replied. "I have a comfortable bed, the food is excellent, and the scenery is beautiful. You're thinking clearly again, speaking freely, and even showing some fighting spirit. In my opinion, Yorkshire has been good for both of us."

"A bit more of it might be even better," said the detective, and I could not disagree.

We enjoyed a tasty dinner at the hotel, then retreated to an outdoor table with our coffee and tobacco. Holmes filled a pipe and lit it, and said, "Wouldn't you just love to know what happened to our guests after they departed Tuesday night? Aside from the fact which must be obvious to every reader -- that the stories in the press were full of impossibilities and contradictions -- we happen to know that Slate and Robinson were not where the reports placed them at the time of the 'botched burglary,' and we can be quite confident that the Minister wasn't there at the time, either."

"Right," I said.

"How can we use this information to our advantage?" asked Holmes, but I could not suggest an answer.

"Perhaps all we can do is keep it in our pocket and hope for a chance to use it later," said the detective, answering his own question. "Progress will likely be difficult to come by in the near future. We shall need to marshal all our resources. We may need to develop new resources. And we shall certainly need to be patient."

"We can express that patience immediately," I suggested, "by postponing our return to London!"

"Indeed," replied Holmes with a smile. "But we'll want to get moving early Monday morning. Patience may be a virtue, but sluggishness is assuredly not!"

"Do you have any concrete plans for London?" I asked, expecting a negative response.

"I have a few vague ideas," answered my friend, "and a half-baked scheme, nothing more. I need more time, Watson."

"We have plenty of that," I said.

"I need more tobacco, too," said Holmes.

"We can get that," I replied.

"And so we shall," said the detective. "We shall also see whether I can work up another plan, preferably a better one."

"When you said we were not without resources," I asked, "what did you have in mind?"

"Another look through the files might do us some good," replied my friend. "We may be able to get some more assistance from my brother. I know a great many other people, one of whom might be able to help us. There are several other possibilities as well."

"You'd rather not say what they are?" I asked, half in jest.

"Not yet," he replied. "Wait and see, my friend. Wait and see."

For the next few moments, we smoked in silence, save for the chirping of a few birds and the rustling of the wind in the trees. Then Holmes turned to me and said, "You're right, Watson. I am in the mood to speak freely this evening. You have other questions, don't you?"

"Yes, I suppose I do," I replied.

"Ask me one," he said.

"All right," I replied, "Thus far, you have concentrated on the hypotheses you find most plausible. To me, the lines of thought you have suggested all seem quite probable. But I can't help wondering about some of your least probable hypotheses."

"Ah, yes, Watson," said Holmes. "What Inspector Lestrade would call my 'wild theories.' Would you like to hear about my wildest theory?"

"Yes, of course," I answered.

"First," he said, "we must acknowledge an implicit contradiction in the published reports. It's been reported that the body of Gareth Williams was unmarked save for small bruises at both elbows. But it has also been reported that his body was 'in an advanced state of decomposition.' We have no way of knowing which is true, if either, but we can say with confidence that if the body was badly decomposed, no small bruises would be visible.

"Many reports support the decomposition story, some indirectly. One of them, published by the Sun, quoted coroner's officer Kim Bedwell, who told the very short inquest session held September first, 'I'm satisfied that the deceased is Gareth Wyn Williams... Identification was confirmed by comparison of the deceased with a recent photograph that was supplied by the next of kin.'

"If Kim Bedwell told the truth and was quoted correctly, it's entirely possible none of the family have ever seen the body. And if that is the case, then it is entirely possible Gareth Williams is still alive!"

"You don't mean it?" I gasped.

"I do!" he replied. "You asked for a wild theory. This is the wildest theory I can give you."

I whistled softly.

"Next in line," Holmes continued, "would be the wild theory that says Gareth Williams is dead but the body found in his flat belonged to someone else."

"Do you think that's possible, too?" I asked.

"If no family member has seen the body," he replied, "then virtually anything is possible."

"Wouldn't switching the body be too risky?" I asked.

"Compared to what?" asked Holmes. "Leaving the body of an MI6 man in an MI6 'safe house?' There is no possible interpretation which does not require outrageous audacity on behalf of the killers. Have you any other objection to my wild theory?"

"What would be the point?" I asked.

"Suppose the killers wanted to make sure they would never be betrayed by the forensic evidence available from the body. What better way could they achieve this than by leaving behind another body altogether? Perhaps the body that was found in the flat was in a remarkably advanced state of decomposition because its owner died long before Gareth Williams was last seen alive."

"And if that is the case," I said, "then we may be investigating a more monstrous crime than we ever suspected!"

"Don't get carried away," cautioned my friend. "It's only a wild theory!"