Chapter 82: Coffee And Cigars

Previous: Dinner For Four

Mrs. Hudson brought up a tray of coffee.
When we had all finished eating, Mrs. Hudson brought up a tray of coffee. Holmes invited our guests to relax on the couch, and we all paid the landlady friendly compliments as she cleared away the dishes.

"What's in the humidor?" Holmes asked of no one in particular. Then he opened it and handed it to Scott Robinson. Seeing this, I made a point of opening the windows before settling down in an armchair. Holmes waited until we all had cigars, then closed the humidor and put it away before settling into a chair of his own.

"It is just possible," he said, "that I have gauged the entire case incorrectly. It may be that I am wasting your time tonight, gentlemen. We shall find out soon enough. But in the meantime, do enjoy the coffee and cigars."

"I almost forgot to tell you, Mr. Holmes," said Slate, "and it may not even matter, sir. But a couple of interesting details have just come to my attention, and I would be remiss if I failed to share them."

"Please do," replied my friend.

"We have always believed that there are two mysterious couples involved in this case," said Slate, "but that might not be true, sir."

"Oh?" said Holmes. "Pray continue."

"One couple," said Slate, "the so-called 'Mediterranean couple,' were allegedly 'buzzed in' to Gareth's building by a neighbour in June or July, reportedly after claiming to have a key to his flat. Investigators are obviously very interested in the 'Mediterranean couple,' and police artists have even produced e-fits of them.

"The other pair, the so-called 'Holland Park couple,' reportedly met Gareth Williams several times at the back of a cafe near the Holland Park tube station, under circumstances which can only be seen as suspicious. For reasons unknown to me, sir, investigators are not quite as interested in the 'Holland Park couple,' and have not produced e-fits of them. Other than saying that the two couples are different, and that the 'Holland Park couple' are not of 'Mediterranean appearance,' they have said, and apparently learned, nothing of the people who repeatedly met Gareth in the cafe."

"And that cafe would be Patisserie Valerie?" asked Holmes.

"What's in the humidor?"
"Precisely, sir," replied Slate. "That's the background. Now here are the interesting parts. The officers who interviewed the staff at Patisserie Valerie failed to show them the e-fits of the 'Mediterranean couple.' Why? I have no idea, sir.

"Then, so I've been told, a reporter went to the cafe to interview the staff himself. One of the waitresses, seeing the e-fits for the first time, identified the 'Mediterranean' woman as the very one who had met Gareth Williams at the back of the cafe!"

Holmes took a long pull on his cigar and blew a large ring of smoke. Then he blew a dozen smaller rings through the large ring, one after another in quick succession.

"That's a nifty trick, isn't it?" he asked.

"Quite, sir," replied Slate. "I haven't smoked long enough to do it myself."

"What?" said Holmes. "Oh, the smoke rings! Never mind them, Bucky; I meant the trick by which the police made one couple appear to be two!"

"Does it change anything in your analysis, Mr. Holmes?" asked Slate.

"We shall see," replied my friend. "We shall see."

Holmes appeared to be getting lost in his thoughts, so I kept one eye on the clock and made small talk with our guests while he sat quietly, apparently working out the implications of what we had just heard. The coffee and cigars were almost gone when I roused Holmes and our guests by saying, "It's quarter past seven, gentlemen. Soon we should start getting ready for the next phase of our evening."

Holmes snapped back to the present, turned to Bucky, and said, "You and Scott should check the microphones again and make sure everything is working properly. Then slip into the bedroom, close the door, turn off the lights, and wait quietly until I call you."

"Yes, sir," said Slate, and he and Scott started moving.

"Watson, if you will be so kind," Holmes said to me, "please find a crossword to work on or a book to read and spread yourself out on the couch. I will busy myself with a chemistry experiment. The last thing we want is to give anyone the impression that we're expecting company."

"I am with you, Holmes," I said. "I could even spread these papers around the place and fall asleep on the couch!"

"Make sure you have your jacket on," he replied, "and your revolver in your pocket. Then, by all means, fall asleep, if you can."

He knew, of course, that I couldn't.

So while he busied himself with the production of another foul aroma, I lounged on the couch, working on a crossword, and listening very hard for the footsteps on the stair that I wasn't supposed to be expecting.