Hugo Fox and Theodore Bellamy got ready for work. They dressed, which took twice as long for Theodore, so Hugo brewed a pot of coffee as he waited. They were tea drinkers by nature, but always had a bag of coffee prepared for when the work demanded irregular hours. They had done this often enough that Hugo could time the coffee to be ready at the same time Theodore was. They drank quickly, without conversation, and headed downstairs.
Mrs Beck was waiting for them outside flat #1. Theodore prided himself on his ability to read people, and though it was clear Mrs Beck was feeling a cocktail of shock, sadness and fear, the emotion Theodore detected most clearly was irritation, as if the whole business was nothing more than an inconvenience.
She opened the door to the flat, revealing the body of Harry Jackson only a few feet within. The cloying stench was rancid, made all the more sickening by a note of something sweet. Theodore could never get used to it. The body was laid face down in the carpet, perfectly rigid with his arms at his sides. The knife was embedded between his shoulder blades, at the heart of an ugly, red stain which consumed his shirt.
Hugo crouched beside it. He regarded it the same way an auto-mechanic might examine a flat tyre. At times he came so close as to almost touch it, but was careful not to disturb anything, should the police decide to investigate after all. Every so often, he jotted something down in the small, flip notebook he kept in his breast pocket. He used a fresh one for every case.
Theodore had a notebook too, though he’d not written a single word in all the years he’d owned it. He always kept it with him, though, just in case.
Not much shocked Hugo, a trait which Theodore admired. Theodore, on the other hand, could do without the crime scenes. He hated to see people in distress, which was why he’d taken to being a detective in the first place, but it did mean he came up against a lot of human suffering. And never did he see misery laid out so clearly, and so helplessly, as in a crime scene.
While Hugo was busy, Theodore strolled about Kitty’s flat. If he hadn’t already known who lived there, he might have guessed a lot about her. The flat was messy. Not unclean, but cluttered, as one might expect of a person who usually lived alone. It was definitely a woman’s flat, fashioned in delicate reds and pinks with tassels on the lampshades and floral patterns on the upholstery. And it wasn’t a leap to imagine it belonged to an actress. All of the wall hangings were theatre posters.
One of these posters caught Mr Bellamy’s eye. It was for a show called “Head Over Heels” and had the words “Introducing Kitty Hinshaw!” in big letters at the top. So this was the West End production in which Kitty played the lead role. The poster itself depicted a woman in a black dress and big hat, tumbling through the air. She was only a loose approximation of what Kitty looked like, presumably so they could use the same image whenever they recast. Yet there was something about it that troubled Theodore, and for the longest time he was hard pressed to say what.
‘Mr Jackson did not die here,’ said Hugo, breaking the silence.
Forgetting the poster, Theodore returned to the body? ‘What do you see?’
‘No blood stains,’ said Hugo. ‘With only one wound, he must have bled considerably before he died. And yet, though his shirt is drenched, the floor is clean. Furthermore, the wound has congealed at the edges, suggesting pressure was applied to stop the bleeding.’ He pointed at details through the hole in Harry’s shirt but Theodore took his word for it.
‘Someone tried to save his life?’
Hugo shook his head. ‘More likely a misdirection. Compare the width of the knife blade with the size of the wound and the tear in his shirt. Too narrow. I doubt this is the blade that killed him.’
Theodore frowned. ‘They stabbed him and replaced the knife with a different one?’
‘Quite possibly.’ Hugo studied the knife handle. ‘Olive wood. I daresay if we were to check Miss Hinshaw’s cutlery, we’d find it part of a matching set.’
Theodore wasted no time. He went to the kitchen and pulled open all the drawers. ‘Success!’ he declared, finding a draw full of knives, forks and spoons all with identical olive wood handles.
Returning to the sitting room, he found Hugo stood up and his notebook put away. ‘An attempt to implicate Miss Hinshaw, no doubt,’ he said. He turned to Mrs Beck, who was hovering by the door. ‘This will count towards proving her innocence.’
But when Hugo caught sight of Mrs Beck, he faltered. She had turned very pale, staring at the body as if she couldn’t look away.
‘Are you all right, Mrs Beck?’ asked Theodore.
She opened her mouth but her voice caught in her throat. It seemed to surprise her.
‘Take a seat,’ said Theodore. He rushed forward to guide her toward a chair, choosing the nearest one that also faced away from the body.
‘A drink? he suggested.
‘I’m fine,’ she said, ‘Perhaps this has been affecting my nerves more than I thought.’
‘You don’t need to be here, you know?’
‘I’m fine,’ she insisted. ‘I want to help.’
Theodore looked to Hugo, who was standing nearby, looking concerned in a useless sort of way. Theodore thought for a moment, then took the seat opposite Mrs Beck. ‘If you’re sure, perhaps you’d like to take me through what happened tonight? Only if you’re ready.’
He smiled at her, warmly. She frowned, but seemed to relax.
‘I was asleep,’ she began, ‘until I was awoken by the sound of Kitty screaming. I rushed upstairs and met Kitty on the landing, who was also on her way to find me. The door to her flat was open and I saw Harry lying there with a knife in his back. She said she woke up and found him that way.’
‘When was this?’ said Theodore.
‘Ten thirty. I checked the clock on my way out.’
‘Had you met Harry before?’
‘I met him this morning,’ said Mrs Beck. ‘Kitty introduced me to him when she asked for the spare key to her flat. She said he was going to stay with her and she needed a key for him.’
‘And was that the last time you saw him?’
‘Yes, although I heard him. He and Kitty spent most of the day here, in her flat. I could hear them through the ceiling.’ She paused. ‘Do you not need to write any of this down?’
Theodore tapped the side of his forehead. ‘I’ve a good memory. At what time did you last hear them?’
‘They went to bed around nine thirty. I was in bed already. I must have fallen asleep shortly afterwards.’
‘So Harry Jackson was killed at some point in the following hour,’ said Theodore. He looked to Hugo, who nodded. Theodore continued, ‘Would you say you’re a light sleeper?’
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Beck.
‘But you weren’t awoken until you heard Miss Hinshaw’s scream?’
‘I was awoken twice, actually,’ said Mrs Beck. ‘By the front door. My flat is right beneath it and I’m usually awoken if somebody comes or goes during the night.’
‘And were these people coming or going?’
‘They were both returning home. I cannot tell you at what times they were, but the first person was Mr Glossop who lives at #3. He has quite a distinctive step after he’s been drinking.’
Hugo took out his notebook and wrote something down.
‘So you didn’t overhear a struggle or some other commotion in that hour?’ said Theodore.
Mrs Beck thought for a moment. ‘No.’
‘Positive. It would have woken me.’
‘That supports the idea he wasn’t killed here,’ said Theodore, turning to Hugo. ‘Anything you want to ask?
Hugo didn’t hesitate. ‘Did Mr Jackson bring any of his belongings with him today?’
‘How should I know?’ said Mrs Beck, irritably. ‘Wait. Yes. He had a suitcase with him.’
‘Can you describe it?’
‘Um. Light brown. Leather.’
A quick look about the sitting room revealed nothing, so Hugo disappeared into Kitty’s bedroom. Mrs Beck made a noise of protest and made to go after him, but he returned within seconds, suitcase in hand.
‘Is this it?’ he asked.
‘I think so.’
Hugo placed the case on the floor, knelt in front of it and began to search. It was full of clothes, unsurprisingly. Hugo carefully lifted each garment and placed them, still folded, in neat piles beside the case. Before long, the suitcase was empty, but Hugo didn’t stop there. He ran his hands around the lining. ‘Ah!’ He’d discovered a hidden pocket in the lid. Inside this was an envelope.
‘Addressed to Mr Harold Jackson at Room 12, Morley House, Gosling Street, Whitechapel,’ said Hugo.
‘That must be Harry’s last address,’ said Mrs Beck. ‘Kitty mentioned he was staying in a lodging house but had to move because it was being renovated. That’s why she invited him to stay with her.’
The envelope was already ripped open, but there was still a letter inside. ‘You have the better reading voice,’ he said, passing it to Theodore.
Theodore couldn’t dispute that. He read the letter aloud.
I’ve been trying to see you. I’m not angry. If you’ve changed your mind, I’ll understand. But we must talk. I’ll be at 22 Queen Street.
You know who.
‘I’ll be at 22 Queen Street,’ Hugo echoed. ‘Somebody who lived here was in correspondence with Jackson?’
‘Somebody?’ said Mr Beck. ‘Surely this letter is from Kitty?’
Theodore made a murmur of doubt. ‘No names and deliberately vague. Could be from anybody.’
‘It’s a romantic letter,’ said Mrs Beck. ‘“Dearest.” “With love.” Aside from Kitty, the only women in the building are myself and Mrs Rookwood at #2, who is married. Kitty was already seeing Harry.’
Theodore and Hugo exchanged amused looks. ‘Why do you assume it’s a woman?’ said Theodore, grinning.
‘Well, because… Now, really, I mean… Oh, come off it! You’re not seriously suggesting Harry was an invert as well? And having a secret relationship with another invert who also lives here? What are the chances of four in the same building? Furthermore, the men in this building, Mr Rookwood and Mr Glossop, are gentlemen.’
Theodore rolled his eyes.
‘It’s a simple enough matter to resolve,’ said Hugo. ‘If we gather handwriting samples from everyone in the building, we’ll soon find the identity of the sender.’
‘I guarantee you,’ Mrs Beck huffed, ‘none of my residents were having a secret relationship with Harry Jackson. This letter is definitely from Kitty. It probably has nothing to do with the murder.’
‘I’m not so sure,’ said Hugo. He paced the width of the room, his hands behind his back. ‘We know Mr Jackson was not killed in this room. And since he is fully dressed and neither you nor, as you claim, Kitty heard a struggle, he must have left the flat willingly during the night. You insist you would have heard if somebody left the building, so we can only assume he visited one of the other flats. And that flat is, most likely, where he was murdered. Afterwards, the killer returned his body here, pressing a towel or rag to the wound to prevent leaving a trail of blood, which is why the wound has become congealed. They let themselves in using the spare key that you gave Mr Jackson and dropped the body just inside the door, which is why he fell into so neat a position. Finally, the killer took one of the knives from the kitchen and inserted it into the wound, so as to implicate Miss Hinshaw. The letter may have little to do with the murder, as you say, but it may shed light on why Mr Jackson decided to visit somebody else’s flat while Miss Hinshaw was sleeping. If we can discover whose flat he went to, we should be able to identify where he was killed and which of your tenants is the murderer.’
Hugo was a man of few words. Theodore hardly minded, since he could talk enough for the both of them. But it was a rare joy to watch him hold court on something that interested him.
Mrs Beck was not so enamoured. ‘Mr Fox.’ She squared herself up to him. ‘It is a very serious thing to accuse my tenants of murder. I only let these apartments to dignified folk.’ She slung him a look that said, ‘Present company excluded.’
Hugo shrugged. ‘Who else do you suggest?’
‘I had presumed an intruder.’
‘Not impossible’ said Hugo. ‘Although, if there were an intruder, they must still be in the building or else you’d have heard them leave.’
‘What self-respecting intruder would use the front door?’
‘I don’t see how else they could have left.’ He opened the nearest window and looked out into the street. ‘If they jumped,’ he said, popping his head back inside, ‘they’d have landed in the basement patio, no matter which floor they jumped from. Assuming they didn’t injure themselves, they’d then have to climb up the steps and over the locked iron gate. Why, when the front door poses no such obstacle?’
Mrs Beck grumbled to herself. Theodore didn’t know why she should be so annoyed that Hugo was doing a thorough job.
Hugo frowned. He put his head out the window once more. When he brought it in again, he was smiling.
‘I believe I’ve found something,’ he said. ‘Mrs Beck, would you mind letting us into the patio?’
The basement patio was a small, sunken space between the house and the street. Back when the house had been a house, the patio had served as a service entrance for the basement. Now, the gate prevented access from the street and the basement door was kept locked, according to Mrs Beck, except when she took the bins out. There were two metal bins kept here, one of which, Theodore noticed, was missing its lid.
‘Damn foxes,’ muttered Mrs Beck.
‘We may have to thank those damn foxes,’ said Hugo. ‘Otherwise, we might not have found this.’
He reached into the bin and produced a bundle of towels. Even in the gloom of the streetlights, Theodore could see they were stained red with blood.
‘The tools of the post-murder cleanup,’ said Hugo. ‘And I expect at least one of these towels was used to suppress the bleeding while the killer moved the body. Afterwards, they bundled them up and dropped them out the window.’
Theodore looked up. Sure enough, a column of the flats’ windows were perfectly positioned above the bin.
‘But which flat?’ said Theodore. ‘It could be any.’
‘Which window they used may not tell us much,’ said Hugo. ‘The killer may have used Miss Hinshaw’s window after depositing the body. But there’s more…’
He squeezed the bundle, making a sickening, squelching noise.
‘Hidden inside this bundle, I expect we’ll find the knife that really killed Mr Jackson.’
He pulled at the edge of one of the towels. The bundle unravelled and something came rolling out, which he caught. But it was not a knife. It was a brown bottle labelled “Arsenic Trioxide”.
Hugo breathed a little gasp of surprise. ‘Curious.’
‘Arsenic?’ said Mrs Beck. ‘That’s a poison, isn’t it?’
Hugo nodded. ‘Commonly a rodent poison, but a significant dosage can be fatal to humans.’
‘But Mr Jackson wasn’t poisoned, was he?’
‘Only an autopsy can prove that,’ said Theodore.
‘But why stab him if he was poisoned already?’ said Mrs Beck. ‘And where is the knife you were looking for?’
‘It appears this matter is more intricate than I first thought,’ said Hugo. He was not at all embarrassed or aggravated to have been wrong. He just smiled the little smile that Theodore knew so well and dropped the bottle into his pocket.