Chapter 77: An Unexpected Bonus

Previous: Mycroft Holmes

Metro Police e-fits of "the Mediterranean couple"
Holmes left late Friday morning dressed as a labourer, and was away for most of the afternoon. To my surprise, he returned with news from Buckingham Slate.

"Bucky gave me these e-fits," he said, "of the 'Mediterranean couple' the police say they're looking for."

"What's an e-fit?" I asked.

"It's an acronym," he replied. "The letters stand for Electronic Facial Identification Technique. It's much like a traditional police artist's composite: an image of a face, based on witness statements. But an e-fit is not hand-drawn. It's generated by a computer.

"The e-fit operator chooses a nose, a mouth, eyes and ears, a chin, a forehead, hair, and so on, from a palette provided by the program he's running."

"Almost like a digital Mr. Potato Head," I suggested.

"Something like that," replied my friend. "It's easier and faster than the traditional method, unless you count the time and effort required to develop the software.

Hampton police e-fit of a burglary suspect
"As for accuracy," he continued, "it's a young technology, with plenty of room for improvement. Some of the e-fits I've seen looked as realistic as Mr. Potato Head. Others were quite a bit better. But I have never seen e-fits as detailed as these."

"The technology is improving?" I suggested.

"Or there could be another explanation," Holmes replied. "Several possibilities come to mind. Are they photos? Or modified photos? Or do they simply reflect far more effort than police artists usually put into such things? I don't know yet, but I do find these images very interesting."

"So do I," I replied.

"If, as Cheryl Eastap has suggested," continued my friend, "the police are mostly trying to establish a decoy, it might make sense for them to pull out all the stops, as it were. Look at the bit of hair protruding sideways just below the man's left ear. Did a police e-fit artist select that from a menu? Did a witness describe the man in such detail?"

"What happened to the woman's neck?" I asked. "Why does the image of the man's neck fade away at the bottom, whereas her neck simply stops?" 

"I don't know," said Holmes. "I don't think we'll ever know. We should draw whatever inferences we can from these images, but I don't think we should expect any actual information about them."

Metro Police e-fit of a man
wanted for sexual assault
"Not even from Slate?" I asked.

"Bucky has to be very careful," replied Holmes, "especially since he's been taken off the case. He can't ask too many questions. I think he did very well to get these for us."

"No doubt," I agreed. "I take it you went out in disguise to see him?"

"Not exactly," said the detective. "I simply wanted to deliver a message that couldn't be intercepted. I didn't expect him to be at home, so finding him there would have been another stroke of good fortune, even without the e-fits. He will be here Tuesday as well."

"I see," I replied. "Did you tell him anything about our work on the case?"

"No," said Holmes. "He'll find out in good time."

I didn't reply, and my companion seemed lost in thought for a moment. Then he said, "These e-fits may provide some of the missing links for us, Watson."

"How is that, Holmes?" I asked.

"They are finely detailed," he replied, "much more so than any others we've seen. What can that mean?

Metro Police e-fit of a man
wanted for questioning
"If they are photos, or modified photos, where did they come from? If they are CCTV images from the Alderney Street 'safe house,' then where is the rest of the video from the cameras which took these shots?

"Having got nowhere for six weeks, the police cannot suddenly reveal that they have surveillance video from the block of flats where the body was found. Can they?"

The question seemed rhetorical to me, and I didn't even try to answer it.

"I don't think so either," said the detective. "The alternative explanation is that they put an extraordinary amount of time and effort into creating these images and making them as lifelike as possible given the tools available. Why?

"And why haven't they put together e-fits of the couple with whom Gareth reportedly had multiple 'chance encounters' at the back of Patisserie Valerie near the Holland Park tube station?

"If, as I suspect, the Mediterranean couple are a decoy, then perhaps there's a good reason why the police aren't putting as much energy into pursuing the Holland Park couple."

"Yes?" I said, hoping he would say more.

"It's just a thought," Holmes continued, "but it may be worth following. It would answer a handful of questions at one stroke."