Chapter 41: Departures

Buckingham Slate glanced at his watch and grimaced. "I've stayed later than I expected, gentlemen," he said, "and I must be leaving soon. But I am heartened that you've taken an interest in the case, and I'll be delighted to help you in any way I can. Shall I place another ad to arrange our next meeting?"

"That's a fine idea," said Sherlock Holmes. He scribbled a few words on a scrap of paper and handed it to the Scotland Yard man. "Put this in the Times classifieds to tell me when you want to meet again, then be on the westbound platform of the Great Portland Street tube station at eight o'clock on the evening of your choice. We'll take a ride together and have a chat.

"Nobody will interrupt us on the train, but tonight it might be wise to arrange a discreet departure. Watson, would you mind asking Michael Harrington to join us?"

I did as bidden and a few minutes later the proprietor met us in his office. "I would like our friend to slip away quietly," said Holmes. "Can you help us arrange something?"

"Consider it done," said Harrington. "I'll be back soon."

"I remain concerned for your safety, Bucky," said Holmes after Harrington had left. "You're working against orders here, and cutting across the plans of some very powerful people, unless I am reading all the signs incorrectly. There's no harm in being careful."

"It's clear you trust Mr. Harrington, sir," said Slate.

"He's been a good friend for a long time," replied Holmes. "I met him in school and he was a capable ally even then: bright, keen, and very loyal. He has lent me a hand on many occasions since, always with a smile."

Harrington returned and announced, "I've called a cab to the neighbours' house, sir, and my wife will take you out through the family entrance. Anyone waiting for you in the pub, or in the street, faces a long and lonely evening indeed."

Mrs. Harrington appeared presently and asked, "Are you ready, sir? Let's wait for the cab next door, shall we?"

Slate thanked us all around and gathered up the elements of his disguise. "Keep an eye on the Times, sir," he said to my companion. "We'll meet again, I'm sure."

"Thank you kindly for your hospitality," said Holmes when Slate and Mrs. Harrington had left.

"I'm glad to be of assistance," said Harrington. "Do you and Dr. Watson wish to slip away quietly as well?"

"You're sharp tonight, Harrington," replied my friend. "I suppose we could wait until your wife returns, and then call another cab."

"I was thinking the same," replied Harrington with a grin, and ten minutes later we were on our way back to Baker Street.

"What do you make of all we have learned from Bucky?" I asked.

"It may take a while for all the new information to settle," Holmes replied. "On the whole, it seems to support the notion that we are on the right track. I will be eager to follow up the clues we have been given, and we can look forward to several more meetings with Slate. It's going to be a long, drawn-out process, unless I am very much mistaken."

"It's been a long day," I ventured, "even if we did get a late start."

"You were the one who started late this morning," replied Holmes. "It's been an even longer day for me. But we are making progress, and sometimes progress is more valuable than sleep."

"Speaking of which," I said, "I hope I can fall asleep fairly easily tonight."

"I hope you will sleep soundly," said Holmes. "We have plenty to do tomorrow, and I shall certainly need you at your best."

We arrived at Baker Street and I went through the usual routine of settling in for bed, but then I spent several fitful hours tossing and turning, and thinking about -- or actually seeing -- the naked body decomposing in the padlocked bag, the fine powder on the counter tops, and the door to the flat, locked from the outside.

"How did this all happen?" I wondered, and my thoughts began to spiral in on themselves, until I was wondering how it happened that I was wondering how it had happened, and then I drifted off, into a dream-riddled sleep that was better than none at all, but not by much.