Chapter 55: Terry Hewitt

Previous: Breakable

Dr. Terry Hewitt
As the afternoon wore on, I tried to ignore the ticking clock. But my apprehension continued to build as I contemplated the possibility of interviewing the professor who was coming to see Holmes, rather than simply taking notes while the detective asked the questions.

But, as so often in the past, I needn't have worried. Holmes arrived with ten minutes to spare, so Dr. Terry Hewitt found the detective lounging in his favourite armchair, just as if he had been there all week.

"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson," said Holmes after our landlady had introduced our guest. Shaking the professor by the hand, he continued, "This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, before whom you may speak as freely as before myself."

I rose and shook Hewitt's hand, and Holmes gestured toward the other armchair. "Please make yourself comfortable, Dr. Hewitt. Thank you for coming to see us today. You have saved us a trip to Manchester."

Hewitt smiled. "It's the least I could do," he said. "I was surprised to hear from William Hughes, and of course I'll do whatever I can to help that poor family. I knew I would have an hour or two to spare in the city this afternoon, and I couldn't think of a better place to spend it, sir."

"May I ask why you're in London today?" said Holmes. "I understand you're teaching at Bangor now?"

"Yes, sir," said Hewitt. "I left Manchester University in 2008. Now I teach at Bangor, I work for a private firm as well, and I also speak at conferences here and there -- all around the world, lately. Next week I will be helping to host a conference here in London, and I've been here today to assist with the preparations."

"We certainly do appreciate your cooperation," said Holmes, "and we won't take any more of your valuable time than necessary. What, sir, can you tell us about Gareth Williams?"

"I was shocked when I heard the news," replied Hewitt. "Nobody ever expected news like that, sir."

"When did you meet him?" inquired my friend.

"He came to us in 1997 at the age of 18," said Hewitt. "That was four years younger than most postgraduate students."

"And what were your impressions of him?" the detective continued.

"He was an exceptionally gifted student," said Dr. Hewitt, "a very talented young man."

"Aside from his academic qualities," asked Holmes, "what do you recall about his personality?"

"He was friendly, Mr. Holmes," replied the professor, "but he was reserved with staff and fellow students alike. He was certainly not a ‘geek,’ but 'reserved' is the best description I can give you. I think that reserve came about because he was so much younger than the students around him, sir."

"Completely understandable," said Holmes. "What else do you remember about him?"

"He didn't need much supervision," answered Dr. Hewitt. "He was a very able student. He was very private and worked well on his own. I remember he was interested in cycling, but I don't recall his being interested in anything else other than his studies."

"What was he studying with you?" asked Holmes.

"He was modelling how light reflects on surfaces," replied his former teacher. "His PhD thesis, 'Methods for Global Illumination Models,' examined how light and shade could be replicated in computer games."

"Not a topic for the mentally challenged," said my friend.

"No, not at all," replied Hewitt. "It requires some very advanced mathematics and computer programming techniques."

"He finished his PhD?" asked Holmes.

"Yes," replied Hewitt.

"And then?" asked Holmes. "What happened next?"

"After he left Manchester," said Dr. Hewitt, "he began a post-doctoral qualification at Cambridge. But he dropped out of that course just after he started, and he signed up for GCHQ."

"How do you know that?" asked the detective.

"He came into my office one day," said Hewitt, "and said, 'I’m going to GCHQ.' He had to tell me, as I was his referee for his vetting."

"What came of that?" asked Holmes.

"Nothing at first," replied the professor. "But MI5 eventually got hold of me and examined me about him. His knowledge of maths skills and computing techniques would have made him attractive to them."

"I need to ask you a somewhat more difficult line of questions," said the detective. "In the article by Yakub Qureshi that appeared in the Manchester Evening News of August 28, you were quoted as saying, 'Everything that was said about him was true.' Is this an accurate quotation?"

"Yes, sir," said Dr. Hewitt. "I believe that is what I said."

"And did you mean it?" asked Holmes.

"Yes, sir," replied Hewitt.

"When you said that, were you aware that Gareth was being described in the London press in terms such as 'gay,' 'drag,' 'bondage,' and so on?"

"Oh, no, Mr. Holmes," replied Dr. Hewitt. "I had no knowledge of such descriptions at the time, and no intention of supporting them. None whatsoever, sir."

"Did you ever see any indication," asked Holmes, "that Gareth was interested in bondage, cross-dressing, gay sex, or anything else out of the ordinary?"

"As I said, he was very reserved," said Dr. Hewitt. "We spoke fairly often, but we spoke of maths and computers, data structures and algorithms, requirements and deadlines. We hardly ever spoke of anything personal, but when we did, it was usually about his most recent bicycle race. In other words, even if he had been a gay cross-dresser with a bondage fetish, I probably wouldn't have known about it. But to the best of my knowledge, no, sir. He wasn't."

"I have nothing further, Dr. Hewitt," said my friend, rising from his seat, "save to thank you once again for calling on us."

"It's been my pleasure," replied the professor, rising to shake both our hands. "I don't mind saying I've been disappointed with the police and their investigation. If you gentlemen can solve the case, I'm not the only one who will be very grateful."

"We're doing our best," said Holmes with a narrow smile, as he led our guest to the door.