‘What can you tell us about the man who lives in flat #3,’ said Theodore.
‘His name is Maxwell Glossop,’ said Mrs Beck, ‘and I must have let my flats to a dozen young gentlemen like him. Of my current tenants, he’s been here the longest, having moved in three years ago. A bachelor belonging to a wealthy family seeking parental freedom in the city. This type of accommodation is popular with his sort.’
‘He has a valet who lives with him. Stiles, I believe his name is.’
It was past one o’clock by now, so Mrs Beck rapped hard on the door. They were expecting a wait and a few repeat knockings, yet the door was answered almost immediately. They were met by a middle-aged man with a jowly face and drooping eyes. He looked haggard and drained. He wore a simple black suit with a bow tie, suggesting he was the valet, Stiles, rather than his master, though the bow tie was loose and his waistcoat unbuttoned.
‘Mrs Beck?’ he frowned. His bleary eyes snapped to the detectives. ‘Has Mr Glossop done something?’
The three of them looked at one another. ‘Why do you say that?’ asked Theodore.
‘Are you gentlemen not police?’ said Stiles, turning pale.
Hugo chose his words carefully. ‘We are detectives investigating a murder. I suggest you tell us everything.’
Stiles swallowed. ‘Perhaps you’d better come in.’
They were led into a dimly lit sitting room which was oddly threadbare. There were no paintings on the walls, no curtains on the windows and the floor was covered in plain beige fitted carpet. The furniture was stylish and comfortable, if a little sparse. One might have thought Mr Glossop had only moved in recently, rather than three years ago.
‘What’s this?’ slurred a voice. ‘Stiles, you know how I feel about guests.’
Maxwell Glossop himself was splayed out upon the sofa. He was a young man with a pencil moustache. His thickly oiled hair was coming loose and his shirt was unbuttoned, exposing his midriff. He had an open bottle of gin in his hand, which slopped onto the carpet when he gestured too wildly.
‘It’s Mrs B!’ Maxwell called. ‘And the nancy boys who live upstairs.’
Hugo and Theodore stopped in their tracks.
Maxwell snorted. ‘I’m just joking, you saps. Although, you must know how it looks when two bachelors to share a flat…’
‘He came home like this,’ said Stiles in hushed tones. He was shaking, his nerves completely shot. ‘I’ve been trying to get him to bed for the past four hours.’
Mrs Beck was astonished. ‘Mr Glossop, a drunkard? I knew he enjoyed a tipple, like any boy his age, but I had no idea he was this bad.’
‘Is it usual for him to drink so heavily?’ asked Hugo.
‘Lately, yes,’ said Stiles. ‘I believe a woman is involved.’
‘Ah,’ said Theodore.
‘What are you lot whispering about?’ said Maxwell.
Theodore smiled at Stiles. ‘Do you suppose you could give us a few minutes with him?’
Theodore had expected Stiles to be reluctant, but he seemed relieved. He bowed and left the room. The detectives sat down with Maxwell while Mrs Beck kept her distance. She seemed a little afraid of him.
‘Hello, Mr Glossop,’ said Theodore. ‘How are you this evening?’
‘Oh, swell.’ He took a swig of gin. ‘I’d offer you a drink but I have a rule against entertaining.’
Maxwell snorted. ‘Hosting is wives’ work. Gentlemen don’t host, we attend. You fellows ought to understand that.’
‘Naturally,’ said Theodore, dryly. ‘And where have you attended this evening?’
‘This evening?’ Maxwell scratched his chin. ‘Do you know, I’m not sure. I started at the Duke of Wellington and just went from there. But everyone was being dullards so I came home.’
‘What time was that?’
‘Between nine thirty and ten thirty?’
Theodore might have spent a bit more time trying to endear himself to Maxwell, but Maxwell was not returning the favour. ‘A man was killed tonight. In this building, between those times.’
‘You don’t say?’ said Maxwell.
‘His name was Harry Jackson.’
‘You don’t say?’ said Maxwell, sitting up. ‘This Harry Jackson wouldn’t happen to come from Buckinghamshire, did he? Worked as a chauffeur?’
Mr Beck gasped at this. ‘Friend of yours?’ said Theodore with a smirk.
Maxwell spat. ‘Friend is generous. I met him in a bar maybe half a year ago and I may have shared a drink with him from time to time. But that was before the bloody spiv stabbed me in the back.’
Theodore said nothing, waiting for Maxwell to fill the silence, which he did with little hesitation.
‘So, I’m sure you know Kitty Hinshaw lives downstairs. There’s not a man alive who’d miss her. The producer of that show she does must’ve enjoyed a cigar the day he hired her, I’ll tell you that for free. Needless to say, I took a shine to her. However, a classy lady like Kitty needs a bit more courting than your pound-a-penny-petticoat. I had a whole plan worked out. But, fool that I was, I bragged to Harry about it.’
Hugo interrupted, ‘Did this plan happen to involve a bouquet of Dendrobium orchids?’
‘Oh, smashing, he blabbed to you too!’
‘How did you know that would work with Miss Hinshaw?’ asked Theodore.
Maxwell’s eyes twinkled mischievously. ‘Sometimes in life, if you want something you have to cheat a bit. So I was checking my post one morning and Kitty came out of her flat. She was headed to the post box with a letter to her aunt, but when she opened the front door, it was pissing down with rain. Well, she wasn’t sure about going out in that, so I told her I was heading out soon and since I’d be going past the post box anyway, I didn’t mind taking her letter. “Oh, would you? That’s so kind”.’ The impression didn’t so much resemble Kitty as it was simply a higher-pitched version of Maxwell’s own voice. ‘I said it was nothing. Complete nonsense of course, I had nowhere to be. But I went out in that rain just to make it look like I was posting the letter, when you know I kept it. The things we do for pretty girls, just on the off-chance it might give me a clue on how to woo her. And, hoo boy, did it ever!’ The unflattering impression returned. ‘“Thank you for the flowers you sent. You know Dendrobiums are my favourite.” “I saw a shooting star on opening night. I think it means the show will be a hit.” She likes flowers and she’s superstitious, that was all I needed. After that, I just copied the address onto a new envelope, posted the letter and nobody was any the wiser.’
Theodore’s smile did not crack, but there was contempt dripping from his eyes. Maxwell was too drunk to notice.
‘But you told Harry about it,’ said Theodore.
‘Idiot.’ Maxwell spat again. ‘I talk too much when I’ve been drinking.’
‘So I’ve noticed.’
‘Yeah, the blaggard got in first.’ He took another swig. ‘But it’ll all end in tears.’
‘Why do you say that?’
Maxwell grinned maliciously. ‘I heard them arguing. Tonight, I came in, and when I passed Kitty’s flat I heard raised voices. Trouble in paradise, I suspect.’ He yawned. ‘Pity the trick with the orchids won’t work twice but I’ll have my day in the sun before long, I promise you.’
Hugo made frantic scribbles in his notebook. But before Theodore could ask another question, Maxwell let out a loud snore. His head lolled forward and he was fast asleep.
‘Mr Glossop?’ said Theodore.
Nothing. Maxwell was dead to the world. Theodore let out the shiver of disgust he’d been holding onto. ‘What a creep,’ he muttered. ‘The more one analyses people, the more all reasons for analysis disappear.’
‘I must apologise for him,’ said Mrs Beck, stepping out from the corner of the room. ‘I would never knowingly let one of my flats to someone who was not respectable. I assure you, when first I met him, he came across very well.’
Theodore gave Hugo a meaningful look. ‘Perhaps this just proves that you cannot judge people by your first impressions.’
Mrs Beck’s eyes narrowed. ‘I consider myself an excellent judge of character, Mr Bellamy. I have no doubt that this drunken behaviour is no more than a lamentable symptom of Mr Glossop’s recent heartbreak.’
Theodore’s and Hugo’s eyes met briefly. Theodore was reluctant to say what they both were thinking. Fortunately, Hugo had no such qualms. ‘Mr Glossop’s drunkenness is one thing,’ he said, ‘but I think my partner was more concerned that he freely admitted to stealing Miss Hinshaw’s post. That he did so intending to manipulate her into a relationship with him.’
Mrs Beck scoffed. ‘You make it sound so serious.’
‘The former is a crime and the latter is, at the least, dishonest. You told me that the privacy of your tenants was of the utmost importance to you.’
‘It is,’ Mrs Beck said indignantly. ‘But women make men do mad things. Boys will be boys, after all.’
Hugo’s lip curled slightly. ‘If Mr Glossop had not stolen that letter and had not shared what he had learned, there’s a good chance Harry Jackson wouldn’t be lying in dead in Miss Hinshaw’s apartment right now.’
Mrs Beck let out a falsetto ‘Ha!’, registering her scorn whilst also allowing her time to think of a good response. She found one. ‘That’s completely unfair! You can’t blame Mr Glossop for that. He didn’t kill him.’
‘That remains to be seen,’ said Hugo coolly. ‘Though if he did, I’ll be interested to see if you continue to defend him so fervently.’
Mrs Beck’s mouth opened and closed like a fish. Theodore beamed at Hugo. He was very good at tying people up in legal loopholes.
‘Sirs?’ hissed a voice. Stiles had re-entered, creeping on tiptoes. ‘And madam? Is he asleep?’
‘Out like a light,’ said Theodore. Stiles might have been ecstatic if he weren’t so exhausted.
Stiles respectfully asked for help moving his master to the bedroom. He positioned himself to take hold of Maxwell’s feet but Theodore just put his arms under Maxwell’s shoulders and lifted him clean off the ground. In a few quick strides, Theodore brought the dozing drunk to his bed.
Mrs Beck and the detectives waited in the sitting room while Stiles tucked Maxwell in. Then, when Stiles returned, Theodore said, ‘May we ask you a few questions, Mr Stiles?’
Stiles’ looked as though all his hopes and dreams had been smashed. ‘Sir? Must we do it right now? I’m very tired.’
‘Time is a factor, I’m afraid,’ said Theodore.
Stiles sighed. ‘Very well.’
He sat down on the sofa, where Maxwell had sat. But while his master had sat splayed, taking up as much space as possible, Stiles perched on the edge, like a dog who wasn’t normally allowed on the furniture. He put his palms together in his lap.
The detectives sat. Mrs Beck hovered again, a little more closely this time.
‘How long have you been Mr Glossop’s valet?’ asked Theodore.
‘Since he was eighteen, sir,’ said Stiles. ‘Before that, I worked for his family as a footman.’
‘I sense you don’t much enjoy the work?’
Stiles smiled weakly. ‘It’s not normally like this.’
‘You said earlier you suspected Mr Glossop’s condition was related to a woman. How aware were you of his infatuation with Kitty Hinshaw?’
Stiles let out a long, tired breath. ‘I was aware. You may have noticed Max can be very talkative.’
‘What did you think about it?’
‘Not all that much, to be honest. Max was prone to developing, ah, infatuations. They rarely lasted. Either the girl says yes and he gets bored, or she says no and he declares he never liked them in the first place. But Miss Hinshaw was… different.’
‘In what way?’
Stiles voice caught. ‘I think he may have thought she was—how to say it—out of his league.’
‘Did you know Harry Jackson?’
Stiles pursed his lips. ‘Max has many acquaintances. I inevitably end up meeting most of them. I encountered Mr Jackson a number of times.’
‘What were your thoughts of him?’
‘I can’t say I spared him much thought at all,’ said Stiles, a little too insistently.
‘But I will say,’ Stiles added, ‘I didn’t approve of Max socialising with somebody of Jackson’s standing. I wonder if it’s not because of that “friendship” that Max’s drinking habit has worsened.’
‘I see,’ said Theodore. He looked at Hugo, who understood the hint. He wrote in his notebook. His pencil did not touch the paper, but it still made Stiles concerned.
‘Harry Jackson was murdered tonight,’ said Theodore. ‘In this building.’
Stiles said nothing.
‘Mr Glossop couldn’t give us an accurate account of his movements this evening. Might you be able to help?’
Stiles was turning pale. ‘Maxwell may be many things, but he’s no murderer, I assure you.’
‘And we may be able to prove that if we can determine where he was tonight,’ said Theodore, sincerely.
Stiles sighed. ‘I was with him for most of the day. He had a number of social engagements that I accompanied him to. After that we went to a pub he frequents called the Duke of Wellington. At around seven, he dismissed me. I don’t know what he did after that.’
‘And what did you do?’
‘I came back here. I busied myself with a few errands, darning some socks, balancing some accounts, that sort.’
‘When did Mr Glossop return?’
‘At a quarter to ten, in much the state you saw him now.’
Theodore stroked his moustache. Stiles hadn’t really told them much they didn’t know already. ‘And while you were working here, did you notice anything out of the ordinary?’
Stiles thought for a time. ‘I did overhear an argument from downstairs.’
‘From flat #1?’ said Theodore, raising an eyebrow. He wouldn’t have thought the sound could carry that far.
‘Oh, I thought it was flat #2,’ said Stiles. ‘Yes, I distinctly recognised the voices of Mr and Mrs Rookwood.’
Hugo scribbled for real now. ‘When was this?’ he asked.
Stiles seemed a little daunted by the sudden enthusiasm. ‘Uh,’ he faltered. ‘It went on for a while. I was first aware of it maybe around nine thirty or twenty to. Max came home shortly afterward, so I stopped paying attention, but they were still at it by ten o’clock.’
‘I see,’ said Theodore. ‘Is there anything else you can tell us?’
Stiles shook his head. ‘I’m sorry I cannot be of more help, sirs.’
Hugo closed his notebook. ‘Could you provide a handwriting sample for yourself and Mr Glossop?’
Stiles groaned to himself, but nevertheless produced his accounts book and a RSVP letter of Maxwell’s. Process of elimination ought to have meant one of these two were certain to have written the letter. But once again, Hugo studied each of the samples and shook his head.
They thanked Stiles for his time. He exhaled his relief as if he’d been holding his breath all night.
‘As I said,’ said Mrs Beck smugly as they walked away from flat #3. ‘None of my tenants are the sort to conduct a secret affair with Harry Jackson.’
‘Quite the coincidence that they each had met Harry before too,’ said Hugo.
‘And these arguments that Mr Glossop and Mr Stiles overheard…’ said Theodore.
‘What about them?’ Mrs Beck barked.
‘Consider what you told us,’ said Theodore. ‘You said you could hear everything that happened in flat #1 tonight. You never mentioned an argument.’
Mrs Beck nodded. ‘I heard nothing of the kind.’
‘Precisely. Neither did anyone else. Now, I can understand that Miss Hinshaw or the Rookwoods might not tell us if they themselves had argued, but it’s curious that neither overheard the other. It doesn’t stack up. The only thing I can think of is both Glossop and Stiles are lying and failed to keep their stories straight.’
‘You aren’t suggesting they killed Harry?’ said Mrs Beck, incredulously.
Hugo tutted to himself. He had very little patience left for Mrs Beck. If they had caught one of her tenants standing over the body with a bloody knife in his hand, he was sure she’d insist it couldn’t be true.
Theodore looked uncertain. ‘Maybe she’s got a point, Huey. If none of them wrote the letter, maybe none of them are involved.’
Hugo was adamant. ‘The letter invited Harry to Queen Street. It must have been sent by someone who lives here.’
‘But who else is there?’
Neither spoke for a few moments. Then, slowly, they turned to look at Mrs Beck.