Chapter 37: Off The Case

"Tell us what's been happening."
Buckingham Slate appeared in the doorway and Sherlock Holmes greeted him warmly as Harrington departed. Slate seemed subdued as he shook hands with Holmes and me in turn.

"Please sit down, Bucky," said Holmes, motioning toward a heavy wooden armchair near the desk, "and tell us what's been happening."

"I'm dreadfully sorry, sir," replied Slate, "but I am no longer in need of your assistance, and I hope I haven't wasted too much of your time."

"No longer in need?" cried Holmes in amazement. "Do you mean to say you've solved the crime?"

"No, sir," replied Slate. "I mean to say I've been taken off the case."

"When?" asked Holmes.

"Saturday afternoon, sir," replied the Scotland Yard man. "I was just finishing my shift -- three o'clock it must have been -- when I was called in to see my supervisor and told we have plenty of officers on this case already, and other cases to solve, and I've been reassigned to a new case-load starting Monday -- that was today, sir.

"I tried to put the ad in the paper as soon as I found out, but they couldn't run it until Sunday morning, and you said twenty-four hours, and that's why it said 'Monday' in the ad -- as peculiar a message as I've ever sent, sir, or seen! if you don't mind my saying so.

"But it all seemed so slow, sir. I wish I could have informed you sooner, and I hope I haven't started you running around on my behalf, since it would have been a poor, pointless mission indeed."

"You have done nothing to apologize for, Bucky," said my friend when Slate had finished speaking. "Surely you are not in a position to choose which cases you work on. But the timing of this decision seems curious. Did your supervisor give you any reason to suspect that you were reassigned because you had come to see me?"

"No, sir," replied Slate. "This was not about you specifically, sir."

"It was about something more general?" asked my friend.

"It may have been," said Bucky. "It may have been about nothing. It's difficult to tell.

"I was unhappy with the lack of progress. And I made no secret about that. There's a fine line, sir, between pressing for better results in a way that is seen as beneficial to morale and good for the team, and doing it in a way that is seen as whining, or sowing dissent."

"You've been on the force for a long time, Bucky," said Holmes. "Surely you can 'press for better results' in a positive way if you want to."

"I may have misspoken, sir," replied Slate. "It's not that I carried myself any differently on this case than I have done on other cases in the past. It's not that at all, sir. The difference is more subtle, and it has to do with the case itself."

"Do continue," said my friend.

"Some cases are simply not to be solved, sir. I can't put it any better than that. The case is on the books as 'open,' and the investigation is classified as 'active,' but nothing is really happening, and if you've got a bit of a sixth sense, you get the feeling that the higher-ups want it that way. After a while, there comes a time when 'active' can become 'inactive' without too much political fallout, and you just know that this is what was 'supposed' to happen.

"Now you need, I called it a 'sixth sense,' and you need some experience, too. To younger officers and those more inclined to 'routine,' the smooth passage of certain files from 'hot' to 'cold' rings no alarm bells whatsoever. But to a few others, such as myself -- all old hands, by the way -- certain cases seem destined to go unsolved, 'predestined' you might almost say. This is one of them.

"And to 'press for better results' on a case that is 'not to be solved' -- it's not a wise career move, sir.

"Oh well, what the hell?" concluded Slate. "It's all water under the bridge now. I'm sorry if I have put you to any trouble, even though, as you say, there was nothing I could have done about it."

"You may rest assured," said Holmes, "that Dr. Watson and I have gone to no particular trouble on your behalf, although your surprise visit did spark a bit of an adventure. Still, I am intrigued by the timing of your reassignment; that is to say: they must have known you were unhappy about the lack of progress in the investigation for quite some time, no? As you say, that was no secret. But you came to see me last Friday, and then on Saturday -- the very next day -- you were taken off the case. Do you believe there is any connection between these two singular events?"

"I cannot say, sir," replied Slate. "The timing is interesting in another way, as well. The funeral of Gareth Williams also took place last Friday, and now the police expect less of the spotlight, one might say.

"The Chief Inspector mentioned the funeral, and the lower profile this case will now take. But she didn't say anything about my coming to see you, nor about my dissatisfaction with the investigation. Of course, she doesn't have to. Nor would she, sir. She's very, shall we say, polished, sir."

"She certainly is," agreed Holmes. "And, as you say, she can reassign staff from one case to another with no explanation. Tactically speaking, she is quite correct to do so in this instance, regardless of her motive. So we cannot draw any firm inferences from the timing, which may be coincidence. Still ..."

"What is it, sir?" inquired Slate.

"You arrived at our Baker Street flat in disguise," said Holmes. "Why? Two men followed you. Why?"

"I wore the disguise," replied Slate, "because I had a strong, almost eerie feeling I was being followed, and I didn't want to lead anyone to you. But I felt I could wait no longer before coming to see you, sir. I was impatient about the investigation -- very impatient indeed.

"Still, I took six consecutive left turns on my way to Baker Street, sir, and I didn't see anyone behind me. So I truly cannot account for the men in the doorway. I haven't been threatened, or harassed, in any way since I last saw you, not that I wish to belittle the precautions you have taken."

"It may seem a small point, Bucky," said my friend, "but I am trying to gauge whether I would be putting your life in danger if I were to ask the question that is foremost in my mind."

"Surely there is no risk of that," replied Slate. "Ask me any question you like, sir."

"It is unfortunate that you no longer need our help with this case," replied Sherlock Holmes, "but it needn't be a total loss.

"Would you be inclined to help us?"