Chapter 19: Making Sure

Previous: Llandudno

Conwy Castle and suspension bridge
The next morning, we enjoyed a quick breakfast, then a quicker cab ride from St. George's to the Llandudno Junction railway station, where we would catch the train for Holyhead.

Holmes was carrying a small package he had brought from the hotel, and while we waited for the train, he handed it to me, saying, "I've had an opportunity to visit St. George's newsstand, Watson. Go ahead. Open it."

Inside the package, I found a stack of morning papers -- "for both of us," Holmes informed me -- and a smaller packet tied with string.

I untied the string to reveal a thick stack of postcards. "What's this, Holmes?" I asked.

"Just a little something for your book, my friend," said Holmes. "I think it may turn out to be a good one, and it would be a shame if you failed to offer your readers a glimpse of northern Wales. But we must move along quickly now, and we won't be able to stop and enjoy many of these splendid sights ourselves.

"Some wonderful vistas will present themselves momentarily, though, and we would be fools to miss them," my friend continued. "We are about to cross the river at Conwy, where the bridges are built into an ancient castle."

"Amazing!" I said.

"We'll be riding through it in just a few minutes," replied Holmes. "We'll also be cutting across the northern edge of Snowdonia National Park, a land of wide, U-shaped valleys separated by steep, jagged mountains. I would love to go touring there sometime, but we can't do it on this trip, Watson."

"I don't mean to complain, Holmes," I said, "and surely you know what you're about. But we were in a hurry to get out of London yesterday, and we seem to be in a hurry again now, yet yesterday afternoon and evening when we were sightseeing, we could have been moving. Enjoyable as it was, I can't help wondering why you felt compelled to stop -- let alone overnight."

The train arrived and we boarded it before Holmes could answer my question. "Bucky threw me off my plan, Watson," he said once we were settled in our seats. "I was planning to stay a few more days in London, but having sent his followers to Edinburgh, I thought it best to get ourselves out of Baker Street before they could return to London. They'll find the nest empty. And their bird, if he's wise, will have flown far away."

"But Mrs. Hudson?" I exclaimed.

"They won't bother the sweet old woman," Holmes replied. "And they will have no idea of the role she played against them."

"You know the type better than I do," I admitted.

"I've been dealing with their ilk for a long time, Watson," he said, and I nodded. Our landlady would be in no danger.

"But once we were in Wales," he continued, "I began to calculate. If we had proceeded at our former pace, we would have arrived in Holyhead late yesterday afternoon, and I wanted to avoid any possible collision there."

"What sort of collision, Holmes?" I asked.

"As I was reviewing the case," my companion explained, "I recalled William Hughes having said, 'the funeral is tomorrow'. Strange as it may seem with all that has happened since, that was only two days ago, Watson! The funeral was yesterday. And -- especially with Bucky having been followed -- I wanted to make sure that the people who were in town to watch over the funeral didn't catch sight of any consulting detectives. But they will be back in London by now, and we won't have to worry too much about being seen there today."

"Seriously, Holmes, do you really think they had people watching the funeral?"

"Definitely," he replied, "and I wouldn't be surprised if they were watching the town as well."


"Oh yes. I take it as given that they've been watching the family ever since the news came out," he said. "And they may know that Hughes has attempted to enlist our aid. That's something we can probably deal with. But a 'chance encounter' in a hotel lobby, in a little town at the end of the earth, would have been just too much, Watson."

I recalled our earliest days together, when Holmes was unknown among police as well as criminals, and his freedom of movement was almost unlimited. Then I began to reflect on what a difference his success had made. Soon I became engrossed in the view out the window, and I was only vaguely aware of Holmes rustling through the newspapers he had brought until he spoke again.

Sir John Sawers at the funeral
of Gareth Williams

"Hullo!" he said. "They were out in force yesterday. The 'Secret' Service was very public indeed. Sir John Sawers was there -- the chief of MI6. This is very serious business, Watson.

"Calling himself 'the only public face of the Secret Intelligence Service,' Sawers gave the press what must be considered the official MI6 position on the case, and a spectacular dodge it was, too.

"Listen to this, Watson:
asked if the investigation would ever get to the bottom of what happened to Mr Williams, Sir John said it was not for him to say. He insisted it was a police matter ...
"You see that? It happens all the time, Watson! The world's most powerful intelligence agencies turn investigations of the mysterious deaths of their employees over to bumbling city police every day! Every single day, Watson, perhaps every hour!"

It had been a long time since I had heard such heavy sarcasm from Holmes. He valued cool, clear thought above all else, and normally preferred to take a straightforward approach.

"Look at the face on this snake, Watson!" he exclaimed, pushing the Daily Mail in my direction.

As I beheld the pictures and read the article, I could feel my spinal chills beginning to return -- and this time they carried a deep and powerful resonance from the past.

I had experienced a similar feeling in 1963, while watching the funeral of President Kennedy on television. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were there, as well as the other most powerful military people in America, all ostensibly paying their respects. But something in their faces made me feel that showing respect for the dead President was the least of their concerns.

It seemed to me they were mostly interested in making sure he was dead.

Postcards from Conwy Castle:
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Next: Unthinkable