Hugo Fox and Theodore Bellamy were asleep, in the bed that they shared, when they were disturbed by a knock at the door.
Hugo groaned. ‘Looks like somebody didn’t get the message not to call here anymore.’
Theodore grunted in response, somewhere between sleep and consciousness. Hugo was only ever either asleep or awake, never in-between. Thus, it fell to him to answer the door. He dressed and didn’t hurry about it, despite the frantic knockings. If it were as urgent as the knocker made it sound, they would still be there in five minutes.
As Hugo was about to leave, Theodore said, ‘Wait.’ He lifted his arm into the air, hoping that might encourage the rest of his body to follow. ‘I should come too, if it’s a client.’
‘Two minutes?’ said Hugo.
Theodore nodded into his pillow. Hugo left to answer the door, turning on a few lamps as he went. Just before he opened the door, it occurred to him that this client had gotten to their flat without ringing the doorbell.
Mrs Beck looked both severe and sheepish, which was an achievement in itself. ‘This is very embarrassing for me, so I’m just going to say it. I need your help.’
Hugo eyed her suspiciously. ‘What sort of help?’
‘What I mean to say is, I would like to hire you for a case.’
‘You would like to hire us for a case?’
Mrs Beck said nothing, perhaps not wishing to speak the words aloud any more than was strictly necessary.
Hugo thought for a moment. He was often accused of being expressionless. He wasn’t sure how true this was, but it was in situations like this he was grateful to have a strong poker face. ‘In that case, you’d better come in.’
He held the door open, inviting Mrs Beck in. Once again, he indicated the armchair. That was where the clients always sat. Hugo took his usual position on the right side of the sofa.
For a time, neither of them spoke.
‘Erm,’ said Mrs Beck. ‘What are we doing?’
‘We’re waiting,’ said Hugo, simply.
‘Waiting for what?’
‘Mrs Beck!’ called Theodore, having emerged from the bedroom. Unlike Hugo, he hadn’t dressed, instead having thrown on a richly-patterned silk dressing gown, yet had still taken the time to neatly comb his hair. ‘This is an unexpected pleasure.’
Theodore couldn’t help wearing his feelings on his sleeves. Luckily for him, he liked most people, and rarely needed to hide what he thought of a person. But on those rare occasions he encountered someone he wasn’t so fond of, he would mask his true sentiments by being overly pleasant. Kill them with kindness, that was his strategy.
‘A man has been murdered,’ said Mrs Beck. It seemed she was in no mood for pleasantries.
‘I see,’ said Theodore. He took his own place on the sofa, beside Hugo. ‘Go on.’
Mrs Beck faltered for a moment, before organising her thoughts. ‘You might know Kitty Hinshaw, who lives at number one? She invited a man to stay with her today. A few moments ago, she woke up to discover him dead in her sitting room, with a knife in his back. That’s as much as I know at present.’
Hugo interlocked his fingers and studied Mrs Beck carefully. ‘You know what kind of detectives we are. You don’t fit the profile of our typical clients. I must assume there’s some reason you cannot notify the police.’
Mrs Beck took a long breath. ‘Kitty’s an actress, and a reasonably successful one at that. She’s concerned the press might paint her as a murderer.’
‘Is that the only reason?’ said Theodore with a frown.
Mrs Beck fidgeted uncomfortably. ‘I’m concerned the police might discover the two of you.’
Hugo shrugged. ‘By all appearances, we are two bachelors sharing a two-bedroom flat.’
‘And this business of yours?’ said Mrs Beck. ‘Do you not keep paperwork? If the police decide to search the building, are you confident they won’t find anything incriminating?’
This suggestion gave Theodore pause. He shot an anxious look to Hugo whose calm expression did not flutter. ‘The police will have to be notified eventually,’ said Hugo. ‘The longer you take to call, the more guilty we all look. I suggest you telephone at once.’
‘Oh, come along, now,’ Mrs Beck huffed. ‘This is supposed to be your area of expertise. There must be something you can do. If you help me, I’ll—’ She paused. The detectives waited. When she next spoke, her voice was quiet but deliberate. ‘If you help me, I’ll let you stay.’
Theodore’s eyes lit up at once. Hugo, yet again, gave no clear reaction. ‘Theodore and I would like a moment to discuss. Do excuse us.’
Mrs Beck seemed surprised they didn’t accept her offer at once. Theodore was confused about this as well. Nevertheless, Hugo calmly and quietly led Theodore into the dining room and made sure the door was firmly closed. He turned to his partner. Theodore had his arms folded, stubbornly awaiting an explanation.
‘Teddy,’ said Hugo, in a voice barely above a whisper. ‘I know you want to stay here, but it’s not a good deal.’
‘Isn’t it?’ said Theodore, hotly. If he was trying to keep his voice low, he wasn’t succeeding. ‘She has something we want and a problem only we can solve. You know we can solve it.’
Hugo shook his head. ‘She may offer us the flat today, but what about tomorrow? She may promise not to report us to the police now, but she can change her mind whenever she wants. Her word means nothing. Even if we save her neck, it’s not going to change how she feels about us.’
A variety of expressions competed for Theodore’s face. Sorrow won. ‘It might,’ he said, gazing at the door as though he could see Mrs Beck through the solid wood.
‘She hates us, Teddy,’ said Hugo. ‘I don’t think we should stay in a place where we have to trust someone like her. We should get out while it’s still safe to do so.’
‘Ugh,’ Theodore spat. ‘Why do you always have to be right?’
Hugo smiled his little smile that was so often lost on others. ‘It’s a curse.’
‘Oh, Huey, I know we can’t stay but can we help her anyway? You never know, once she sees us at work, sees what we really do and what we’re really like, she might have a change of heart.’
‘I doubt it.’
‘Please,’ said Theodore, with big, sad eyes
Hugo groaned. Every time he saw those eyes he told himself it would be the last time he gave in to them. ‘All right,’ he said. Before Theodore got too pleased, he added, ‘But only because it benefits us. If the police come here, we want to keep Mrs Beck mollified. And while I doubt they’ll go through our files even if they do search the flat, it’s sensible to avoid it if we can.’
If Theodore absorbed any of this, it didn’t dampen his mood. He beamed at Hugo.
When they returned to the sitting room, they each returned to a business-like attitude as they retook their seats.
‘It is a generous offer to revoke the eviction,’ said Hugo, ‘but we must decline.’
Mrs Beck pursed her lips. ‘I see.’
‘However,’ said Theodore. ‘We have decided to take your case. Call it a gesture of good faith, to ensure no hard feelings during our departure.’
‘Oh.’ Mrs Beck raised her eyebrows, in both surprise and suspicion. ‘Thank you.’
‘Here is what we’ll do,’ said Hugo. ‘Theodore and I will investigate. At 8am, we will telephone the police. If need be, we can tell them the body was not found until then. Otherwise, we have a contact in the force who will let us present our findings. If they are compelling enough, he may be able to dissuade the police from conducting any further investigation.’
Mrs Beck glanced at the big, grandfather clock. ‘You expect to catch this murderer within nine hours? In the middle of the night?’
Both Hugo and Theodore were already on their feet.
‘What you will learn as our client, Mrs Beck,’ said Hugo, ‘is that we are very good detectives.’