Chapter 24: Ian And Ellen Williams

Previous: Damages

Gareth Williams got his kicks on his bicycle.
"You don't need to make any snap decisions," said Sherlock Holmes. "The lies are not going away anytime soon. But there are a few other things that we should do now, while we're here together."

"What can we do to help you, sir?" asked Ian Williams.

"Tell me about Gareth," he said, turning to the parents. "Other than a competitive cyclist and a wizard at maths, what sort of man was he?"

"If you'll excuse me, Mr. Holmes," said William Hughes, "I'm sure Ellen and Ian can answer all your questions about Gareth, and in the meantime I might be able to set up an interview with one or more of the people you would like to meet. Shall I make a few calls and see what I can arrange?"

"Please," said the detective. "That's an excellent idea."

"Gareth was a lovely young man," said Ellen Williams when Hughes had departed, "very bright, very kind and friendly. He caused us no trouble, sir."

"Did he cause trouble elsewhere?" Holmes asked.

"None that we know of, sir," replied his mother. "He was almost too busy to cause trouble in school. He was small for his age, and he spent most of his school years in classes full of older students, so there wasn't really anyone for him to pick on, even if he had been the type. But he wasn't, sir. He just wanted to read and learn, and to advance through the curriculum as quickly as he could."

"Did he have trouble getting along in school?" Holmes inquired.

"In some ways he was a child among adults, sir," said his mother. "But in other ways he was a like genius among idiots! So there were always obstacles between Gareth and other, 'normal' people. Later, when he took a top-secret job, there was another obstacle -- he could never say anything about his work. So he was always at a disadvantage when it came to making small talk, and sometimes keeping a conversation going seemed beyond him.

"But he wasn't sad, or bitter, or lonely, or anything like that. He understood that his gifts set him apart from other people, but he learned to connect with us on our level, sir."

"What sort of things would make him angry?" Holmes asked.

"He didn't like to be cheated, sir," said Ian Williams. "And he didn't like to see anyone else cheated, either."

"What did he do for fun when he wasn't in school?"

"He loved music, sir," said Ellen Williams, "and he loved to ride his bicycle."

"Other than the bicycle, how else did he play? Think back -- even as a young child, did he ever play at being confined?" asked Holmes.

"No sir," said his father, "he didn't like being trapped. This is one of the things that make us so certain that the stories in the papers are all wrong. The idea that anyone would allow himself to be locked inside a bag for kicks is preposterous, but for someone like Gareth, who got his kicks on a bicycle? Never! Just never!!

"He loved the open skies, the long, beautiful views, the thrill of working his body hard, and breathing hard, and moving fast under his own power. It's impossible to imagine that he would ever allow anyone to lock him into a bag for kicks, sir."

"Did he ever tell you about what he did for a living?" Holmes asked.

"Only that it was secret and had to do with breaking codes," said Ian Williams.

"Do you know anything about the exam he failed just before he left Cambridge?"

"No, sir," said his mother.

"Did he ever talk to you about his decision to drop out of school?"

"No, he didn't," said his father. "He didn't want to talk about it at all."

"Had he ever failed a math exam before?"

"Not that we knew of, sir," his mother replied.

"I would be surprised if he ever failed anything," said Holmes. "It seems to me more likely that this 'failed exam' is the beginning of the legend that was built for him by his employers."

"What do you mean by that, sir?" asked Ian Williams.

"In intelligence terminology, 'legends' are false stories under which people live clandestine lives," said Holmes. "Agents working illegally in foreign countries need elaborate legends, some of which are developed over years. For someone like Gareth, less work would be expended on creating a legend, but he would still need an answer to the question of why he left Cambridge.

"From the 'national security' point of view, it would be far better to have him telling people, 'I failed an exam and dropped out,' than, 'I was recruited to work in British intelligence,' don't you think?"

"You think he was recruited before he left Cambridge?" asked his mother.

"I think he was recruited as soon as he arrived there," said my friend. "MI5 and MI6 have always had their eyes on the Universities at Oxford and Cambridge, as well as schools like Eton. GCHQ is the newcomer but would naturally do the same thing. They're looking for smart, smart-assed rich kids to bring into the service of their country's elite, before they see a bit of the world and figure out what's going on, just in case they have a conscience."

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Holmes," said Ian Williams, "but Gareth wasn't rich, nor was he a 'smart-ass.'"

"I didn't mean to imply that he was," said Holmes, "only that he was probably caught in a net that was intended to ensnare others."

Hughes returned with good news. Dinner was almost ready, one of Gareth's former teachers could join us later in the evening, and we could meet Gareth's sister Ceri and her husband Chris, provided we were willing and able to stay overnight.

The setting was so comfortable, and the host so gracious, that we had no trouble accepting the offer.