Chapter 87: A Second Toast

Previous: Delirious

"To the world's first and finest
consulting detective, and to one of
his most impressive achievements!"
"Scott, call for a van and a couple of men, will you?" said Slate. "Wait in the street until they arrive, and then bring them up here. I'll guard the prisoner until you return."

"I'll be right back, Bucky," said Robinson, and he started for the door.

"I can't thank you enough, Mr. Holmes," said Slate when his colleague had disappeared down the stairs. "I've never seen anyone make so much progress on a case in such a short period!"

"Don't take it too seriously," said Holmes. "You came by at a good time, and we've had plenty of fortune along the way. The battle is not yet won, of course. Not by a long shot."

"Still," said Slate, "it's been a privilege, Mr. Holmes. You've done the lion's share of the work. Are you sure you want none of the credit?"

"My reputation is made, Bucky," replied my friend. "I don't need any more feathers in my cap. I don't want to deal with the press. I don't want to testify in court. I can count on you to do those things, and to do them well. But it will be hard work, no? It's a mixed blessing, but it's all yours."

"What feathers?" gasped the Minister. "What cap? You know what, Mr. Holmes? When I look at you, I don't see any cap, feathers or no. I see a double-crossing scoundrel. What a dirty little trap you set for me, you --"

"Zip it!" snorted Slate, and the Minister glared at him. "Let's get moving, Your Highness," he said. "I think I hear Robinson on the stairs."

"Travel safely, Bucky," said Holmes, extending his hand.

"And the same to both of you, gentlemen," returned Slate, shaking Holmes' hand, then mine. "Thanks again, and goodnight."

"I'm glad that's over!" I said when Slate and the Minister had left us. "Maybe I can sleep again."

"It's not over, Watson," said my friend. "We may think we've coaxed a clear confession out of him, but that doesn't guarantee a conviction. And even if this demented man is convicted of his part in the drama, what of all the others?

"The 'Liquid Bombers' may have been a hoax, but airport security will never be as it once was. The 'Easter Bombers' may have been another hoax, yet drones are bombing Pakistan almost every day, supposedly trying to eliminate such people, but often killing innocent families instead.

"Were the 'Easter Bombers' really trying to do us harm? Or were they simply looking for better education and employment prospects? We may never know, but relations with Pakistan have certainly taken a turn for the worse. Was that a justified response? Or was it prearranged and waiting for a pretext? We may never know that, either."

I sat quietly for several seconds, trying to absorb what my friend had said without being overwhelmed by my thoughts of the implications.

"Here's something I don't understand about what was done to Gareth," I said. "What was the purpose of the bondage and drag ruse? Who were they trying to fool?"

"Those are complicated questions, Watson," replied Holmes. "We may never know the answers. But consider this: Gareth Williams was as clean as they come. He didn't smoke, didn't gamble, didn't use drugs, didn't even drink, really. Maybe a glass of champagne every now and then if everyone else was having some, but otherwise nothing."

"Which makes perfect sense for a competitive cyclist," I said.

"Indeed," said my friend. "He had no spouse, no children, no dependents who could be threatened, or on whose accounts he could be blackmailed. As far as we know, he had no romantic partner who could be used in any way. The only aspect of his life, or of his personality, they could use against him was his interest in women's fashion."

"And you think that's what started it?" I asked.

"I do," said Holmes. "I'm not sure how it all unfolded, exactly. But I can't imagine they'd fail to attack such a vulnerable spot, especially given that there were few, if any, other 'soft targets' to choose from.

"I could spell out several possible scenarios illustrating how all the players could have been connected, and how the personal dynamics might have worked. But surely we have better things to do."

"I can think of one better thing to do right now!" I said. I poured cognac into two snifters and handed one to Holmes.

"To the world's first and finest consulting detective," I said, raising my glass to my companion, "and to one of his most impressive achievements!"

My friend drank with me, but he did not seem overjoyed. "I wouldn't overstate the success of the thing if I were you, Watson," he said. "They probably haven't even got him to the station yet. So many things could go wrong."

"Don't think like that, Holmes," I protested. "You're always so morose! Can't you just relax and enjoy the victory?"

"I wish I could, Watson," he replied. "Believe me, my friend, I wish I could. But I can't shake the feeling that we have done something horribly foolish."

"What do you mean?" I asked, recoiling from the idea.

"We have forgotten something," he answered, "or we have overlooked something. I don't know. But I don't feel right about it, I can tell you that."

He thought for quite some time before he spoke again.

"He won't spend a night in prison, Watson," he said, finally. "Slate and Robinson may be in terrible trouble. How could I have been so stupid?"

"Are you serious, Holmes?" I asked in dismay. "You don't think they can find a charge that will stick?"

"I don't think they will lay any charge at all," he replied. "We might even pick up the papers tomorrow morning and find out that none of this has ever happened."

"You're too pessimistic!" said I. "You have too many misgivings."

"No, Watson, I'm too realistic," said he. "And the more I think about it, the less I like it. I'll tell you what, my friend: If we read about the Foreign Minister being arrested by Buckingham Slate and Scott Robinson, in tomorrow morning's papers, I will buy you lunch at your favourite restaurant."