Chapter 46: Beyond The Pale

Previous: Dylan Parry

Gareth Williams reportedly helped to foil
a plot to bomb transatlantic jets in 2006.
Sherlock Holmes opened some windows and sat down. "What did you find in the archive that got you smoking so heavily?" he asked.

"Three pieces in particular caught my eye," I replied, "but I think the thoughts they set in motion were more significant than the articles themselves. Among other things, I've begun to form new opinions as to the causes of death and rapid decomposition."

"Do tell," said my friend.

"I'm starting to think perhaps Gareth Williams may have been given a drug," I said. "Not enough to kill him, but enough to incapacitate him for a while. If he were rendered defenseless, knocked unconscious perhaps, it would only have taken a few minutes to remove his clothes and lock him in the bag. After that, even if he regained consciousness, it would have come too late to save his life. Once he was locked in, his death would have been inevitable.

"Perhaps he struggled a bit in the holdall, bruising his elbows. Slate said there were no other marks on the body. If he died by suffocation, we would not expect any.

"The toxicology lab could find no evidence of any drugs, but that doesn't really tell us very much. If he was given a drug, he could have metabolized it before he died. Or it could have been obliterated in the course of decomposition.

"I don't have anything more elaborate to offer," I concluded, "but I believe my new hypothesis fits the facts as we know them."

"Indeed, it would explain the lack significant marks on the body," said Holmes. "It would also explain why there was no sign of a struggle in the flat. If he was incapacitated by a drug before he was attacked, he couldn't possibly have fought back."

"Slate thought the white powder found on the counter tops could have been residue from a cleaning product," I continued. "Presumably he thinks the surfaces may have been wiped with a cleanser of some kind, but not properly rinsed or dried. I've been assuming he's right, and wondering whether the same product, if applied to the body, could have caused the rapid decomposition we've been reading about."

"It would be easy enough to test your hypothesis," replied the detective. "We could collect an assortment of cleaning products and see whether any of them can cause rapid decomposition and leave a white powdery residue behind. It wouldn't necessarily tell us what happened, but if your thinking is very far from the truth, this would be an easy way to find out.

"However," he continued, "we could probably learn more by doing two separate experiments. We have no reason to assume the same thing produced both effects. Perhaps one substance left a powdery residue, and another caused the rapid decomposition.

"Of course, it's possible that the white powder came from something other than a cleaning product. It's also possible that whatever accelerated the decomposition was not a cleaning product, not a household item at all, but something very different. We may never know. But rather than sitting around and speculating, we could try a few things and see what there is to learn."

"That sounds like a good idea to me," I said. "At least it would give us a better idea than we have now."

"We'll need supplies," Holmes continued, "and it's a bit late in the day to go out shopping. But there's no rush. Our experiments can wait until tomorrow. What else have you been smoking about?"

"I've found conflicting reports about Gareth Williams' work history," I said, "one of which appears to be the piece Slate mentioned. I think there could be a clue in it, but I can't work out what it is, or what it means."

"If the air in this room is any indication," said Holmes, "you've been trying very hard."

"Indeed," I replied. "I've been wrestling with a difficult question."

"What is the question?" asked Holmes.

"If Slate is reading this correctly, as I believe he is," I replied, "Gareth Williams made multiple contributions in the war against the terrorists. Some of these are considered fit for the public to read about, but not all. His most significant contribution, which may have saved thousands of lives, is apparently beyond the pale. I've been trying to figure out why."

"For security reasons, perhaps?" he asked.

"Maybe," I said, "but it's difficult to imagine what the reasons could be. According to the story Slate mentioned, Gareth Williams helped to crack a code which terrorists were using to communicate by email. The decoded emails were used as evidence at a trial which resulted in three convictions. Therefore, they must know that their email has been intercepted, and that their code has been broken. So why should it still need to be a secret?

"It's especially puzzling now," I continued. "Presumably the terrorists never knew who broke their code and thwarted their plot. Perhaps if they had found out, they would have retaliated against him. But Gareth is dead. They can't hurt him anymore. So what harm could come from their knowing?"

"What was the plot?" asked Holmes, "and when was it thwarted?"

"It was a plot to bomb transatlantic jets," I replied, "and it was foiled in 2006. Here's the article, by Jon Clements in the Mirror. He says the intercepted emails were key to the convictions of Abdullah Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain. That was in 2008."

"I don't recall any of those names," said Holmes.

"Neither do I. Clements says they were communicating with the mastermind of the plot," I said, "a fellow in Pakistan called Rashid Rauf."

"Rashid Rauf?" said Holmes. "That name rings a bell. I'm sure we have something about him in the files. Excuse me for a moment, will you? Let me see what I can find."