Chapter 31: A Very Curious Matter

The Grosvenor Hotel, Chester,
when Holmes and Watson were young.
"What was all that about?" I asked when we had settled into our hotel.

"What was all what about?" replied Sherlock Holmes.

"I'm not sure I followed your conversation with Ceri and Chris," I said. "How did you know they were trying to sell their house? And why are the police trying to keep her quiet?"

"According to the London dailies and the international press," said Holmes, "the police were called in by Gareth's colleagues at MI6, who became concerned after not seeing him at work for some time.

"But there have been conflicting reports," he continued. "And according to one of them, it was actually Ceri who called the police. Normally, a sole dissenting report would not attract much of my attention. But that report was published right here, in the Chester Chronicle. Why?

"Some other aspects of that report were very curious. It gave the name of the street where Chris and Ceri live, it gave the name of the hospital where they both work, it stated that their home was for sale, and it even quoted the asking price. Why?

"The article was ostensibly about Ceri's having gone to London to help the police, who were trying to determine where Gareth was and what he was doing in the final days of his life. There didn't seem to be any reason for all the personal details, especially the price of their home, unless --"

Eastgate Clock, Chester
"Somebody was trying to intimidate her?" I asked.

"You might be onto something, my friend," he replied.

"These details may or may not be crucial to the case," he continued, "But they are fascinating nonetheless. The question of whether or not it was Ceri who phoned the police hardly seems to bear on the matter of who killed Gareth. But it may be very important.

"How long does it take for a body to reach 'an advanced state of decomposition?' How long was Gareth missing from work? Why weren't the police called sooner? And, perhaps most telling: Why were the police called at all? Wouldn't MI6 normally look into any instance of one of their own who was missing from work? And wouldn't they do that immediately?"

"If Ceri has information that would contradict the official story," I said, "and if the contradictions would be so uncomfortable that the police find it necessary to intimidate her, that may tell us something in itself."

"Maybe," said Holmes. "It is also possible that we are reading this incorrectly. Ceri was in a very fragile mental state immediately after learning of the death of her brother. The police can be a little bit callous; after all, they see horrific scenes on a regular basis. It is normal for witnesses, or potential witnesses, to be told not to speak of what they know, while the legal process is underway. And it is not unknown for a zealous reporter at a small paper to write up every detail he can find, even though some of those details are quite irrelevant to his story.

"Put all these factors together. Ceri is distraught, the police in London tell her not to talk, then she returns home and finds gobs of personal information about her husband and herself in the local paper. Who wouldn't be intimidated?

"But was that the point? Were the details about their house being for sale intended to provide a pretext for unscrupulous characters to gain access to their home? We may never know. But it won't hurt them to be careful."

The Grosvenor Hotel today
"If you are right about this," I began, "and if there are elements within both the police force and the Chester Chronicle who are trying to keep Ceri quiet to suppress her knowledge, then I don't understand why her dissenting statement was published at all."

"It is a very curious matter, Watson," my friend replied, "one of many exceedingly odd aspects of this very bizarre case."

"It seems almost too bizarre to be solved," I suggested.

"On the contrary, my friend," the great detective replied, "it is almost too bizarre not to be solved. All these curious details are trying to speak to us, Watson. What are they saying?"

"I can't imagine how we could ever find out," I admitted.

"I don't know yet, myself," said Holmes, "although I do have my suspicions. But do not despair. We are scheduled to meet Buckingham Slate tomorrow evening, and unless I am very much mistaken, we will be in a far better position after that meeting than we are now."

Next: Impossible