Chapter 34: Other Mysterious Couples

Gareth Williams reportedly met
a mysterious couple at a pastry shop
near the Holland Park tube station.
Sherlock Holmes fell quiet as our train left Chester, and from the look on his face I judged it best not to intrude on his silence. So I left him to his thoughts and sat back to watch the scenery roll by.

From time to time my friend would emit a low-pitched moan, or so it seemed to me. I wondered whether he was in pain, and I turned slightly in my seat to keep a corner of my eye on him, even while continuing to look out the window.

Quite some time passed before I realized that he was not moaning at all. He was singing to himself, so deep in thought that an occasional snippet of melody would escape his lips. And as more time passed, I began to recognize the tune.

It was deep and dark, slow and sombre, and brought to mind several occasions when I had seen Holmes in a similar mood and heard him sing a similar song. Long experience told me that this particular frame of mind, accompanied by such a haunting melody, was likely a portent of imminent grief -- for his quarry.

But who or what was his quarry? I tried to imagine the mental processes taking place behind the expressionless face of the great detective. But I found the capacity for hard, cold, logical thought to be most elusive. My mind was still overwhelmed by visions and sensations. I could almost see the body decomposing in the padlocked bag. I could almost hear the bereaved family weeping at the funeral. But I could not find anything resembling a handle, or a window. With nothing to hold onto, and no opportunity to look inside, I felt myself beginning to lose hope that the mystery could ever be solved.

So we rode along in near-silence. As I listened to the clackety-clack of the wheels and the occasional sombre note from my friend, I hoped that he was making progress in ways I was unable to observe.

We were nearly halfway to London before my companion spoke. "It's too soon to tell whether Slate will be a good source of information for us," he said, "but it is possible that he might provide us all the clues we need to break this case wide open."

"Do you really think so, Holmes?" I asked.

"It's possible," he replied. "It's also possible that we will get nothing of value from him whatsoever. But I do like our chances."

"I'm glad to hear that," I answered, "because I've been starting to think --"

"Yes, I know," said my friend. "I've been seeing it in your face. But it's too soon to worry. We've barely scratched the surface, and already we've uncovered some very useful material. Several promising avenues of investigation remain open -- dare I say 'untouched?' Perhaps Slate can help us to prioritize them.

"I'm especially interested," Holmes continued, "in what he can tell us about the mysterious couples in this case."

"Couples, plural?" I replied. "I'm aware of one mysterious couple, who are supposedly of Mediterranean appearance. Is there another couple attracting your interest?"

"No," said my companion. "There are two such couples. Both have appeared briefly in the news reports, and one or the other could have a significant bearing on our investigation."

"I read your entire file of clippings in one sitting," I said, "and we have been on the move ever since. But I am still ashamed to admit that I cannot remember anything about any couple other than the Mediterraneans."

"There's no shame in it," replied Holmes. "This is my area of expertise, not yours. If you gave me a stack of medical journals to read, and quizzed me on them afterward, you would probably find that I had missed many of the details which you had caught."

I couldn't tell whether Holmes was serious or simply humouring me. His memory is so exceptional that I had trouble imagining him forgetting any details at all. But I smiled and nodded, as if in agreement, and he continued.

"There's a French-style cafe near the Holland Park underground station which Gareth Williams used to frequent, 'Patisserie Valerie' by name. It's been reported that according to waiters who worked there, Gareth came in a few times a week, ordered a coffee, took it to a table at the back of the room, and sipped it slowly. While he was doing this, a young man and woman -- not the couple described as Mediterranean -- would come in, order nothing, make their way to Gareth's table, and talk to him for a few minutes. Oddly, even though the same scenario was played out repeatedly, they always seemed surprised to see him. According to the reports, the mysterious young couple never sat down at Gareth's table, and no envelopes or packages ever changed hands. But the story still raises interesting questions."

"Such as --" I prompted.

"First of all," said Holmes, "considering the amount of obviously fictional reporting that has adorned this case, we are well justified in asking whether these mysterious people even exist. If they do, then more questions follow. Who are they? Were they really having 'chance encounters' with Gareth Williams, dropping in without ordering anything, and just happening to find him there? Or were they meeting him on a prearranged schedule, with instructions to appear surprised? What was the connection? If they were meeting deliberately, then why? And what, if anything, do they know about the manner and circumstances of his death?"

"Do you think Slate will be able to answer these questions?" I asked.

"No," said Holmes, "but he may be able to give us an indication of how important they are."

"And what do you know about the other couple?" I inquired.

Shortly before his death, Gareth Williams'
best friend and her husband were suddenly
transferred to Denver, Colorado.
"They are a husband and wife," said Holmes, "both of whom worked for GCHQ in Cheltenham. The wife has been described as Gareth's best friend. Just a few weeks before Gareth met his unfortunate end, she and her husband, according to the Daily Mail, were 'suddenly' transferred to Denver, Colorado."

"There's no mystery in that," I said. "People get transferred all the time."

"Indeed they do," replied Holmes. "But here's the interesting part. According to the Express, after Gareth's body was discovered, the American FBI were furious, because they wanted to interview the wife, but they were prevented from doing so -- by British officials!"

"Hullo!" I cried. "Could this be one of the clues we've been looking for?"

"It's difficult to see it as anything else," he answered. "If British intelligence had clean hands, so to speak, what would be the harm in allowing the FBI to speak to the dead man's friend?"

"On the other hand," I suggested, "if British agents were somehow complicit in his death, they would want to to keep potential witnesses as far away from the investigators as possible."

"So it would seem," agreed Holmes. "It would also seem that we are looking at a sophisticated, coordinated effort to shield the killer, or killers, and to hide the reason, or reasons, why Gareth Williams was killed. And it is becoming ever more certain that this shield is not the work of Chinese or Russian espionage agents, nor of Islamic or Irish Republican terrorists -- none of whom, to the best of my knowledge, are capable of interfering with the FBI in any manner whatsoever."