Chapter 99: Retracing Our Steps

I savoured nature's display
of autumn colour. [source]
The Yorkshire air had a most refreshing effect as we retraced our steps, heading back to the hotel and dinner.

The great detective, who had been very quiet for the past several days, continued to put his thoughts into words. And I savoured nature's display of autumn colour while listening to him.

"The three hypotheses I've been describing," said he, "are certainly possible. And, given what we know, we may consider them quite plausible. But they are still hypothetical. In other words, they may be accurate, but their accuracy is by no means proven. As such, they represent three areas of uncertainty.

"However, I do not regard these uncertainties as major weaknesses in our case, both because in all three instances, several plausible alternatives exist, and because these hypotheses are all attempts to answer secondary, or even tertiary, questions.

"We may never find satisfactory answers to all these outlying questions, but the core of our case is built on answers to other, more central, questions. Do you follow?"

"I understand what you're saying," I replied, "but I don't see where you're going."

"I think Gareth Williams was murdered," he continued. "I think MI6 played a major role in his death, and I think so based on considerations independent of these uncertainties.

"I think Gareth was doing something his superiors felt had to be stopped in a way that would knock his confederates on their heels. How much difference does it make if I don't know exactly what he did to make them think so?

"Whatever he was doing, I think he was doing it because he had learned so much in his job that he had lost faith in, and respect for, the system he had originally chosen to serve. How much difference does it make if I can't say precisely when he changed his mind, and why?

"Or, what if I'm wrong, and what if he joined GCHQ eleven years ago with the express aim of betraying Britiain from inside an intelligence agency? How much difference would that make?

"I think the mysterious young couple he met at Patisserie Valerie may have been sent to entrap him, and to capture any secrets he could be persuaded to leak. How much difference would it make if I were wrong about that?

"In these instances, and in many others, the amount of difference it makes depends upon the context."

"Now you have me completely confused," I said. "What are you driving at?"

"Quite often," he replied, "after a murder, the family and friends will want to know what happened, how it happened, how their loved one's life drifted into channels where such a thing became possible, and so on.

"But in a court of law, there is a much narrower focus: Who did it? Can you prove it? These are the questions that drive the police, or should.

"And with respect to these questions, the core questions, we are much more solid. Who could obtain access to the flat, either to kill the occupant, or to deposit his body there? Who has enough control of the press to implement the character assassination we've seen?

"Why have no embarrassing questions been raised in Parliament about the lack of investigative progress? Why, despite the official spokesman for MI6 having declared it a matter for the police, are the police still not allowed to interview British intelligence agents?

"I can answer these questions without knowing who was meeting whom at the back of the cafe, Watson. And, to the extent I have to tell Hughes anything at all, I think I should stick to the core of the case, or as close to it as possible."

"You don't want to speak freely with him," I observed. "May I ask why not?"

"The waters are too deep, too dark, and too dangerous!" replied my friend. "I don't want to draw him into them. The questions I'm expecting from the family are precisely those I am least prepared to answer. So perhaps, for the moment, I should say as little as possible.

"Reporting to Hughes," he added, "for all the delicacy it requires, may be the least of my outstanding problems."

We walked along in silence for a minute or two before I finally asked, "What else is there?"

"For me," he replied, "there is the little matter of justice. A gauntlet has been thrown in my face, Watson, not to mention that two more lives have been taken. What am I going to do about it?"

I must admit I was stunned at my friend's response. I hadn't realised he would be looking to avenge the deaths of Slate and Robinson, as well as trying to solve the mystery of what happened to Gareth Williams.

But the longer I considered it, the more sense it made. How could I have expected any less of him?

"The more I weigh our options," said Holmes after another lengthy pause, "the more I think we should return to London tomorrow and do more research. I will write to Hughes, tell him we're investigating, and stress that we are still on the trail. That should keep him from worrying too much about the mystery, which is my primary concern for him at present.

"The problem of what to do about the case itself still haunts me, Watson," he continued, "so if you find me staring out the window with a pipe in my mouth, don't worry."

"Don't mention it," I replied. "I've seen you do that once or twice already. It usually means the bad guys are in trouble."

"I also need to talk with Mycroft," he added. "That should be interesting."

"Would it be too much," I wondered aloud, "to ask for another little birdie to come along and whisper sweet nothings in our ears?"

"Yes," replied Sherlock Holmes.