Chapter 123: Very Curious Circumstances

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Police guard the townhouse
in which the body was found
I tried to re-read the entire piece, but I kept returning to what seemed the key passage. This much, perhaps, I had learned from my friend. Holmes always seemed to focus on the essential details, or at least he always strove to do so. I highlighted the following text.
On 23 August, at 6.30pm, a uniformed officer was sent to Williams's top-floor flat ... The place was "spotless" ... he entered the bathroom, and found a holdall in the bathtub. Red liquid seeped from it. Inside was a body, in such a contorted position that he thought its "legs and arms had been cut off". ... the policeman noted that there were no signs a struggle. This was not a robbery or home invasion. It was a "neat job", a euphemism for a professional kill.

... MI5 agents swept through the Alderney Street flat, followed by detectives from the Homicide and Serious Crime Command, assisted by SO15, Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command. ... Once the spooks had departed, it was down to the murder squad to study the evidence..
What, I wondered, was the meaning of this sentence:
Once the spooks had departed, it was down to the murder squad to study the evidence.
Questions swirled through my mind: How long were the "spooks" at the scene? Were the police there the entire time, or were they sent away to wait? What could the MI5 agents have been doing when they "swept through" the flat? And how had SO15 "assisted" the homicide detectives?

Holmes always wanted the scene of a crime to be as undisturbed as possible. I wondered how vigourously the MI5 agents and SO15 officers had "undisturbed" things in Gareth's flat. 

I was pondering these mysteries when the great detective returned. "I see you've found the Guardian, Watson," said he. "What do you think of the article?"

I showed him the sections I had highlighted, and he nodded. "There is fertile ground for speculation here," he said. "But some other very pertinent details are included as well. Have you noticed this paragraph?" He read from the paper:
Gareth had been stuffed inside the near-airtight red North Face sports bag and placed in the bath, containing any spillage and minimising odours, too. The heating was on, increasing the rate of decomposition, which significantly lessened the chances of retrieving evidence from the corpse.
"What do you remember about the month of August?" asked Holmes. "If I recall, we were comfortable in light jackets even in the evenings. There was no need for any additional heating. And Gareth lived in a top-floor flat. Surely he was warm enough."

"Why would anyone turn on the heating?" [source]
I nodded and Holmes continued. "It's all circumstantial, Watson, but what a circumstance! The heat by itself could not have hampered the investigation in the slightest. It needed both heat and time. If the body had been discovered shortly after the murder -- and surely this is a case of murder, regardless of the outrageous theories to the contrary" -- he held the paper in one hand and slapped it with the other -- "the temperature in the flat would have been irrelevant. If the killers turned on the heating to accelerate the decomposition, they had to have known that it wouldn't matter unless the body should lay undiscovered for a long time. In order for the heat to destroy the evidence, the killers also had to prevent Gareth's employers from looking for him when he failed to appear at work. Now who could do that?"

"And if that isn't the true explanation," I replied, "then why would anyone turn on the heating?"

"That's a good question, too," answered Holmes, "and there's another detail deep in the story that is new to me." He held the paper closer to his face and read another paragraph:
In the midst of lurid speculation, Ian and Ellen Williams reached London. In normal circumstances, they would be required to make a physical identification. However, given the degree of decomposition, police would rely on family photos. Was Gareth murdered, his distraught family asked. Despite launching a major investigation – Operation Finlayson – Scotland Yard were finding it a hard question to answer. One major problem facing investigators was the length of time that the body had lain undiscovered. Another was that they were being blocked by the security services from probing too deeply into Williams's life.
"We already knew the identification was done by comparison with photographs," said Holmes. "And we already knew the police were being blocked from probing too deeply, in several directions. But I don't believe the name of the investigation has been previously reported. Operation Finlayson: what does that mean?"

"The name of the investigation?" I asked. "What bearing could that possibly have on the case?"

"Sometimes the most relevant details are hidden in the strangest places," replied my friend. "Where do you think they get these names?"

"I have no idea," I admitted.

"But I do," he said. "Names of operations form a special kind of code, in which references are often made to places, events, or people, but always obliquely. Well, almost always. The U.S. plan for the 2003 attack on Iraq was called 'Operation Iraqi Liberation' until the geniuses in the White House realized the acronym -- OIL -- made their intentions a trifle too obvious. Code names of police and military operations are usually a good deal more subtle, but they almost always hint at something. What is Finlayson? Is it just a put-together sequence of short words: Fin, Lay, Son? No, no, it can't be! All my instincts are against it."

Holmes stepped toward the bookshelf. Perhaps his alphabetical index for the letter 'F' would tell us something. But before he could reach it, Mycroft appeared at the door.

"Hello, Mycroft," said the detective. "Your timing is good. Perhaps you can save us some time and effort. What, if anything, comes to mind when I say the word 'Finlayson'?"

"Why do you ask?" replied Mycroft. He had been with us for about about a month at that point, and was beginning to regain a semblance of his former, slightly disputatious, personality.

"It might be relevant to a case," replied Sherlock. "But surely that has no bearing on my question. Does the name 'Finlayson' mean anything to you?"

Mycroft made his way to the couch and settled into it. "According to an old Scottish tale," he said slowly, "a young woman named Mary Finlayson boasted one night at a dance that she could dance any man -- even the devil himself -- off his feet. According to the story, she spent the whole night with a tall dark stranger, dancing to a tune known as the Devil’s Music. And the next morning she was found stone cold, spread-eagled on the dance floor.

"The story," continued Mycroft, "is said to be an allegory warning of the dangers facing anyone who dares to challenge the established powers."

I looked from one brother to the other with wide eyes. "Is it possible?" I asked.

Sherlock motioned me not to speak, and turned to his brother. "What would you think if I told you 'Operation Finlayson' was the name of a murder investigation?"

"If the name of the investigation does refer to Mary Finlayson," replied Mycroft, "it could imply that the victim had threatened an entity so powerful that the murder must never be solved. And if this is the case, the name could only indicate that the investigation was thoroughly compromised from the beginning."

"Could the word 'Finlayson' be a reference to something else?" asked Sherlock.

"Of course it could," said Mycroft.

"Does anything else come to mind?" asked the detective.

"Not at the moment," replied his brother.

"But would anyone dare," I interjected, "to use a name that virtually announces the investigation is not what it purports to be?"

"It wouldn't be the first time," said Sherlock Holmes.

"This is all circumstantial," I observed.

"Indeed," replied the detective. "But these are very curious circumstances."