Chapter 67: When A Dam Breaks

"The turmoil in his mind must have been
similar to what happens when a dam breaks."
"Gareth couldn't have known Fred," continued Holmes, "and he wouldn't have been using terms like 'pins' and 'pinsetters,' but he must have found it very easy in retrospect to see that the 'Easter Bombers' were set up to be knocked down."

"Like the stumps in cricket?" I suggested.

"Yes, exactly," said the detective. "The analogy would have been familiar to him, so we may as well use it ourselves. From this point of view, 'Tell me that how is your sweety girlfriend?' can be seen to mean, 'Send me some more self-incriminating email.'"

"Right," I said.

"Once Gareth Williams saw that the 'Easter Bombers' were not actual terrorists," Holmes continued, "but only 'stumps,' it couldn't have taken him very long to start examining the possibility that the 'Liquid Bombers' were stumps, too, and that they had all been set up in order to be knocked down.

"This simple hypothesis, repugnant though it may be to a loyal government worker, answers so many of the questions Gareth must have been asking himself, that he would have been forced to take it seriously."

"Questions such as?" I prompted, lighting my pipe and settling back in my chair.

"Such as 'Why didn't the police find more incriminating evidence?'" said Holmes, "and 'Why did it take so many trials to get so few convictions?' and 'Why did the trials -- especially the first trial -- draw so little media coverage?'

"If the 'Liquid Bombers' were stumps and their plot was impossible by design, all these questions would be answered, and the answers would all be the same. The simplicity of the explanation must have been attractive to the young mathematician, who had been trained to look for the most elegant methods and proofs."

"I'm sure I know nothing about that," I interjected.

"You may not be familiar with the mathematical terminology," Holmes replied, "but you've watched me do the same thing for many years. Unless I have reason to believe otherwise, I always view the simplest possible solution as the best one."

"I suppose you do," I said, "although I can't say I've noticed it before now."

"Never too old to learn, eh?" he said with a chuckle. "Good for you, Watson.

"The elegance inherent in the explanation may not have been sufficiently powerful to convince Gareth immediately that these so-called 'terror threats' were actually enormous frauds, but surely it must have been strong enough to make him take the idea seriously. And as soon as he did so, other, larger, questions would have appeared. These questions in turn would have demanded their own answers, which would have prompted new questions.

"The turmoil in his mind must have been similar to what happens when a dam breaks. The escaping water erodes the broken wall of the dam, and this erosion allows even more water to escape. The greater flow of water accelerates the erosion, which accelerates the flow of water, which accelerates the erosion, and so on. And the cycle continues until either most of the dam or most of the water is gone."

"Or both," I added.

"Indeed," said my friend. "Gareth's elation at having broken the codes must have faded rapidly when he began to understand that he had merely helped to knock down some stumps. But how did he react? Here we are on less solid ground."

"I understand," I said. "And I am interested in your hypothesis, even though you may not have solid evidence to support it."

"Not yet, anyway," Holmes continued, "but I am hoping for some help from Slate on this topic, and I will be joining him this evening for a ride on the Underground. He put an ad in the Times while I was in Yorkshire. Did you see it, Watson? I'm sure you wouldn't have understood it unless you had been told what to look for."

"What was it this time, Cookie Monster and Elmo?" I asked, remembering the whimsical example he had scribbled for me.

"Not quite so contemporary, Watson, nor quite so childish," he responded, "although I do like the idea. No, this time it was Abbot and Costello."

"Nearly as childish!" I remarked, and my friend laughed.

"What about this meeting?" I asked. "I suppose I'd be in the way?"

"Not at all," said my friend, "but you'd be much more useful to me here. And you'd hardly be able to catch what was being said above the clatter of the rails, which is why I chose the location for our meeting. The Underground provides the best acoustic camouflage in the city. Did you know that?"

"I hadn't thought of it that way before," I said.

"Running water is good, too," he replied, "but not as effective as running trains. In any case, I will give you a thorough report when I return. But in the meantime, let's speculate about Gareth, shall we? Assuming we are still on the right track, what would have been going through his mind?"

"What do you think?" I asked.

"I wouldn't be surprised," said Holmes, "if he asked himself, 'Why are we spending so much time and effort knocking down stumps? And why don't real terrorists hit us, especially since we're so busy chasing stumps?'

"He probably wondered, 'Why, when the 'Liquid Bombers' were caught, did the Crown spend so much time and effort trying to get convictions against them, as if they were really terrorists?'

"I think he must have asked himself, 'Who is setting up these stumps? And why?'

"Each new answer would suggest more questions, and each new question would demand an answer. Unless I am reading this all wrong, Gareth had more than ample courage to keep looking for more and more truth as more and more lies crumbled around him.

"And as he did so, his remarkably powerful intellect, armed with his detailed knowledge of the traps into which all these knuckleheads had fallen, became a different kind of trap, one into which he -- the boy genius himself -- had fallen."

"I'm not sure I follow you," I said.

"What could he do next?" asked Holmes. "He could hardly go to work the next day and say, 'Hey everybody, Rashid Rauf is an agent provocateur and I can prove it!' Could he? Dylan Parry kept describing him as 'naive,' but was he naive enough to do something like that? I think not. I think he kept his own counsel, at least for a while."

I nodded, not even knowing what questions to ask, and Holmes continued.

"But eventually he had to say something to somebody, and I think that happened in late July or early August. It's just a hunch, but we'll see. We've come a long way down a road paved with best assumptions. It wouldn't do to end our trip without a wild guess, would it?"

"All right, then. Early August it is," I said slowly. "August of 2009, roughly a year before Gareth Williams was last seen alive."

I was impressed, as always, with the chain of ideas Holmes had strung together. Yet I was somewhat dubious as to his choice of date.

"Can you say anything about the significance of the date?" I asked. "Do you have any idea what he said then, or to whom?"

"Yes and yes, Watson," he replied. "I can and I do. But one wild guess is enough for the present. Perhaps Bucky can shed some light on the corners of this story that remain dark. Perhaps you can shed some light for us as well."

"How can I do that?" I asked.

"Do a bit of research for me this evening, will you?" he replied. "Find out what was going on in the United States in early August of 2006, the prequel to the arrests of the 'Liquid Bombers,' as it were. I'm afraid I've strewn the files all over the place. But to a man with your organizational skills, -- "

"I'll do my best to overcome the difficulties," I said, and silently I continued the sentence in my mind: "... inherent in living with a brilliant madman!"

"I knew I could count on you, Watson," he said. "Don't wait up; I have other business that needs my attention and I expect to be out late. But we can give each other full reports in the morning."

"Certainly," I said. "Travel safely, Holmes."

I saw my friend out, then stopped to marvel at my own capacity for denial. I had known from the moment I entered the sitting room that I would be the one to pick up all the papers and sort them chronologically. But I had never permitted the knowledge to surface until I saw Holmes leaving for the rest of the day.

I wondered whether young Gareth Williams had experienced brushes with thoughts that had seemed too horrible to contemplate if they could be avoided, and which for that reason were possible for him to ignore -- until the dam broke.