Chapter 70: Positive Results

"I've been dreading looking
inside that box for several days now."
Our trip to Violin Land was wonderful. Holmes was clearly transported, as if on wings of sound. His facial expressions, at times bright and animated, at others deeply relaxed, gave no hint that he was in the midst of investigating an exceedingly dark and mysterious series of events.

I enjoyed the evening as much as I could, but, lacking my friend's ability to compartmentalize the subjects of his investigations and detach himself from them, I couldn't stop my thoughts from wandering. And whenever they wandered, they found their way to Gareth Williams.

I kept wondering what Gareth was thinking during the summer of 2009. If Holmes' analysis was correct, Gareth was under considerable mental stress, trying to resolve the contradictions which his job had suddenly brought to his very sharp attention.

If the security services and the Crown prosecutors didn't know that the "Easter Bombers" and the "Liquid Bombers" had been set up to be knocked down, should he tell them?

If they knew already, and had prosecuted the "Liquid Bombers" relentlessly while greatly increasing airport security, even despite such knowledge, then what Gareth had seen would clearly be very dangerous to them, and maybe he shouldn't tell anybody.

Did they know or not? It had to be one or the other. But how could Gareth find out which it was?

Where could he turn? Whom could he trust? What could he do? What could he say? Should he say anything?

I returned to these questions again and again, even as the famous virtuoso showcased the great master's most beloved compositions. At one point it seemed to me that Perlman was breathing new life into Paganini's most intricate pieces. But then the thoughts of breathing and of life led me straight back to visions of the padlocked bag sitting in the bathtub, not to be found until its contents had reached "an advanced state of decomposition."

Holmes and I were planning to observe the results of our experiment in decomposition the following day, and my thoughts of things to come dampened my enthusiasm for the concert, and hampered my attempts to fall asleep later. It was not the first time that thoughts or visions of the man in the bag had given me trouble in the night. But these thoughts were more gruesome than their predecessors.

The sandman took me in the wee hours after a long struggle, and Holmes let me sleep until almost noon. "You'd better eat your breakfast, Watson," he said when he saw me moving at last. "It won't be long before Mrs. Hudson brings our lunch."

The food had been cold for hours, but I was hungry, and I sat down and began to eat. "Today is Wednesday," said Holmes. "It's been a week since we started the decomposition experiments."

I blanched, and Holmes couldn't help but notice. "I don't suppose you're looking forward to seeing the results?" he asked.

"Not at all," I said. "To tell you the truth. I've been dreading looking inside that box for several days now."

"I'm sorry the prospect has caused you such discomfort," replied Holmes. "You don't need to look if you don't want to."

"I don't?" I asked, with relief that must have been very obvious.

"No, not at all," said my friend. "I've seen the results of our experiment already -- after my own breakfast, mind you -- and I can tell you about them if you prefer."

"I would appreciate it very much," I said. "I would also appreciate it if your report could wait until I've finished eating."

"Yes, yes, of course," replied Holmes. "I apologize for my timing. When you're ready to light a pipe and sit down with me, I will tell you whatever you want to know."

I joined him several minutes later and again he apologized. "I had no idea the details of this case would cause you such trouble," he said. "With your medical training, I rather expected you to take everything in a more clinical stride."

"Thank you," I replied. "Most of the time you should be correct to think so. But this case has sunk its claws into me in a way I have hardly ever experienced."

"Yes, I can see that," answered my friend. "I cannot recall any other case which has made you so obviously uncomfortable. I hope you will be suitably overjoyed when we solve it."

The hint of a successful conclusion brought a smile to my face, even though the result was by no means certain or imminent. "That's the spirit, Watson," said Holmes as he watched my transformation. "I'll spare you the details."

"Good!" I said. "What have we learned?"

"In warm conditions," he said, "decomposition occurs quite swiftly even in brine. Powdered cleansers have a mild accelerating effect, but spray-on cleaners do even more to speed things up. Presumably they are formulated to do more work with less scrubbing, so they are more efficient chemically."

"That would make sense," I replied, trying hard to grasp what the detective was saying without forming any clear pictures in my mind.

"Dish washing detergents accelerate the decomposition process in a powerful way," he continued, "but laundry detergents even more so. Everyone uses hot water to wash dishes, but modern laundry detergents are formulated to work with cold water, and they appear to be the strongest."

"That makes sense, too," I said.

"I don't even want to describe," continued Holmes, "what the enzyme-based, cold-water laundry detergents did to the chunks of pork."

"I am quite sure I don't want to hear about it," I said.

"Well then, our experiment is finished," he said. "We have learned all we need to learn in this regard, and our results are, to a very large extent, those we should have expected."

"I suppose you're right," I agreed.

"Decomposition is a natural process," continued the detective. "It doesn't need to be started; it just happens. And as we have shown, it doesn't take very much to speed it up."

"How significant," I asked, "would you say these results are to the investigation?"

"If nothing else," replied my friend, "we've shown that Gareth Williams could have been dead less than a week before his body was found in 'an advanced state of decomposition,' especially if an accelerant -- such as laundry detergent -- was added to the bag. Our findings may lend additional credibility to what we heard from Chris and Ceri regarding the final days of Gareth's life.

"We haven't proven that laundry detergent was used to accelerate the decomposition of the body, just as we haven't proven that liquid cleanser was used on the counter tops of the dead man's flat. But we have demonstrated the viability of hypotheses involving the use of such substances to eliminate traces of evidence.

"In that sense," Holmes concluded, "the results of our experiments have been very positive."

"Now," I said, "if we could only get some positive results from the letters you posted yesterday."

"Sometimes," replied my friend, "patience is the most difficult part of the job."