Chapter 39: Where He Bought His Dresses

"What aspects of the Gareth Williams case were you assigned to investigate?" asked Sherlock Holmes.

"I looked into some fascinating details," replied Buckingham Slate, "such as where he bought his dresses."

"Where he bought his dresses?" exclaimed Holmes.

"Yes, sir, and how he paid for them."

"Tell us all about it," said my friend.

"In the wardrobe of his flat were found six boxes of designer clothing, all for women. There were dresses, tops and shoes, all from big-name designers: Stella McCartney and so on. None of the pieces had ever been worn, or even unwrapped. All the buttons were still done up, all the packaging was still intact. The collection, though very small, was worth in the neighbourhood of fifteen or twenty thousand, sir.

"I had the honour of tracing the purchases, finding out where each item came from and how much it cost, how he paid for it all and when. Spellbinding details, Mr. Holmes, but I cannot see how any of this has any bearing on the case."

"You can't?" asked Holmes.

"No sir," replied Slate.

"Well, it may be nothing. Please continue," prodded Holmes.

"I was also part of a team that looked into his bank records, his travel history, and his telephone usage," Slate said. "We didn't find anything unusual, once we understood what we were looking at."

Holmes shot Slate a quizzical look and the Scotland Yard man explained. "We don't investigate many national security employees, sir. He traveled extensively, compared to ordinary people, and most of his expenses were looked after. So his finances didn't seem to match his lifestyle -- and 'red flags' were raised by several of my associates, who thought they were seeing serious discrepancies.

"But then an officer from MI6 explained how Gareth's rent was paid, and he gave us several other details which made all our red flags seem like false alarms, if you don't mind a mixed metaphor, sir."

"Not at all, Bucky," replied Holmes. "What else did you find out?"

"Everything seemed to be in order, sir. There was nothing unusual in the telephone records, and the bank history made sense eventually, as did the travel. 

"What other aspects did you look into?" asked Holmes.

"That was the extent of it, sir," replied Slate. "The investigation was -- or is! -- extremely fragmented."

"What do you mean by that, Bucky?"

"Well, sir, the case was assigned to the Homicide and Serious Crime Command; our officers have little or no security clearance. So we can't look into any work-related aspects of the dead man's life."

"Oh no?"

"No, sir, that's someone else's job. We're only police; we can't even talk to MI6 officers directly. We talk to an MI6 'liaison' man, who takes our questions and comes back with answers, eventually, maybe. Who's to know whether we can trust his answers? We can't check up on any of what he tells us.

"I'll give you an example of where this has hurt us, sir. We were curious -- well, some of us were curious -- about what Gareth Williams had been working on, at GCHQ for the past ten years, and at MI6 for the past twelve months. So we asked the 'liaison' man, and about three weeks later, after repeated questioning, he finally gave us a response. You know what he said? He said, 'I can't tell you.' And that was all. That was all he would say."

"Did you ever get a better answer to that question?" asked Holmes.

"No, sir," Slate responded. "But we did get a few 'hints,' none of which made any sense to us."

"Tell me about them anyway," said Holmes.

"We had it from an anonymous source, sir, that the intelligence people -- MI6 especially, I gather -- were quite annoyed that information concerning Gareth Williams' work history got into the press. This was very early on, and they responded, we think, with a barrage of disinformation."

Holmes cleared his throat.

"That is to say, sir," Slate said, "that they redoubled their nonsense. And I got thinking -- this is entirely unofficial, and speculative ..."


"Maybe the earliest reports of Gareth's work were correct. Why else would they get so upset? Would MI6 panic if they saw lies in the papers about a subject on which they wanted the truth kept quiet? Hardly.

"So, just to satisfy my own curiosity, I did some research, sir. And I found out that the earliest published reports described Gareth Williams as a code-breaker, a genius who deciphered the codes by which terrorists plotting in England were communicating with their contact in Pakistan.

"Is this correct? I don't know. I did get the sense that these were the reports that made MI6 so nervous."

"Did you ever follow that up?" asked my friend.

"No sir," said Slate. "It was all very speculative, and against orders as well. I don't have clearance to second-guess MI6. So instead I went to the dress shops."

"Did you ever find out for whom the gifts were intended?" inquired Holmes.

"What gifts, sir?" replied Slate.

"The dresses that were still buttoned, in the packages that were never opened. Did you think he was intending to keep them for himself?"

"We didn't know what to think, sir," said Slate.

"Quite so," replied Holmes. "Indeed you didn't."