Kitty answered the door. ‘Oh, hello Mrs Beck.’
Mrs Beck smiled sympathetically. ‘May I come in?’
Kitty seemed surprised. ‘By all means.’
Mrs Beck followed Kitty into flat #1. There was no body on the floor. There were no policemen combing through Kitty’s things. There was no sign that a murder had taken place here only a week ago.
‘Tea?’ said Kitty.
‘Please.’ Mrs Beck took a seat. She waited in awkward silence until Kitty emerged with teapot and tray.
She poured two cups. ‘So how can I help you?’
Mrs Beck’s comforting smile seemed cemented onto her face. ‘How are you doing?’
‘Fine,’ said Kitty.
‘Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?’ Kitty took a sip of tea.
Mrs Beck shifted in her seat. She cleared her throat. ‘You should know, William’s hired a lawyer. It looks he’ll be making the manslaughter defence like Mr Fox suggested. I think his case will be stronger now we know Lucy lied about Harry’s intentions. His best hope is a a few years of prison time. If his case fails, he’ll hang.’
‘I see,’ said Kitty.
‘And Lucy has pleaded guilty to attempted murder.’
Kitty nodded. ‘Lucky we had the Dilly Detectives to see us through.’
Mrs Beck narrowed her eyes. It wasn’t that Kitty seemed uninterested, just unaffected. Mrs Beck might as well have been talking about some celebrity scandal in the newspapers.
‘Are you sure you’re all right?’ She reached over and touched Kitty’s hand.
Kitty regarded this gesture with amusement. ‘This is about Harry, isn’t it?’
Mrs Beck fought the urge to snap, ‘Obviously!’.
Kitty took hold of Mrs Beck’s hand. ‘That’s all water under the bridge,’ she assured her. ‘I’m seeing somebody else now.’
Mrs Beck blinked. ‘Already?’
‘It’s sort of thanks to Harry that we met. It’s Maxwell Glossop, you know, from number three.’
Mrs Beck pursed her lips. ‘Kitty… you should know, I’ve served Mr Glossop an eviction notice.’
‘He stole your post. I can’t have my tenants violating the privacy of their neighbours.’
‘Pfft! Don’t be such a spoilsport. He didn’t mean any harm by it.’
‘If it wasn’t for him, the whole business with Harry might not have happened.’
Kitty scowled. ‘Harry would have found some other way in. You can’t blame Max for that. He’s a good man, really.’
‘What sort of good man would think the best way to woo a woman is to lie to her?’
Kitty shrugged. ‘People do mad things when they’re in love. Look at the Rookwoods.’
‘I’m not sure they’re the best yardstick to measure yourself against.’
Kitty just shrugged again.
Mrs Beck sighed. ‘Kitty, take some advice from an old lady. Mr Glossop doesn’t love you. That’s not what love is. You can’t keep falling for men just because they show you the slightest bit of interest. Haven’t you learned that by now?’
Kitty said nothing, but sipped her tea thoughtfully.
‘Oh!’ said Theodore. ‘Good evening, Mrs Beck.’
It was the third time Mrs Beck had knocked on their door, yet Theodore was still surprised to see her.
‘Good evening, Mr Bellamy,’ she said with a smile that was a little forced. ‘Do you have a moment?’
‘I’m not sure.’ Theodore gestured to the coat and hat he was wearing ‘We’re just heading out. We’re viewing a flat.’
‘Actually, that’s what I’ve come to talk to you about.’
‘Oh,’ said Theodore. His moustache curled. ‘I think we can spare five minutes.’
He led her in. Hugo was standing in the sitting room, halfway through putting on his own coat. Mrs Beck tried the same forced smile on him.
‘Huey, Mrs Beck wants to speak to us about something,’ said Theodore. He tried to sound innocent, though he eyed Hugo to let him know exactly what was happening.
Hugo wouldn’t believe it until he heard it from Mrs Beck’s mouth. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you take a seat?’
Mrs Beck happily took her usual place in the armchair. Hugo and Theodore took their usual seats also.
‘So…’ said Mrs Beck. ‘I should tell you that, ah, I’ve decided to evict Mr Glossop from flat #3.’
Theodore raised a bushy eyebrow. ‘Right.’
‘And, er, what that means is, since the Rookwoods, well, since they’re not living here anymore, I’m down half my rent.’
Theodore’s brow furrowed. ‘Right.’
‘What I’m saying is, I can’t really afford for you to move out right now. So… would you consider staying?’
She smiled at the detectives, as if she expected them to be thrilled by this offer. Instead, they stared at her with a mixture of amusement and disappointment. Theodore actually let out a deep sigh, while Hugo gently patted his arm in reassurance.
‘We understand your predicament,’ said Hugo. ‘But you’ve already made your feelings towards us perfectly clear. For our own safety, and the safety of our clients, we must live with a landlord we can trust.’
‘Although’ added Theodore, hopefully, ‘if we believed you’d had a change of heart, we might reconsider then.’
Mrs Beck was paralysed for a moment. ‘What must I do?’
‘Just tell us honestly how you feel about us,’ said Hugo.
‘Honestly?’ said Mrs Beck. ‘Honestly, my feelings haven’t changed. I don’t understand your relationship in the slightest.’
The detectives hung on her words, waiting for the ‘but’.
‘However… this week, I’ve learned more about the private lives of my tenants than I ever cared to, and your secret… well, now I reflect on it, it seems rather tame by comparison. Perhaps it’s not my business to understand. It’s not my life, after all.’
Theodore’s eyes sparkled like diamonds, but Hugo remained wary.
‘And our business?’ he asked.
Mrs Beck ground her teeth. She spoke slowly, almost reluctantly, but she seemed determined to say her piece. ‘I’m not pleased about it. But I can’t pretend it hasn’t helped me. It would be… indecent to say you can’t help others.’
This wasn’t exactly the change of heart Theodore had hoped for, but maybe it was enough. He gave Hugo a hopeful look, his nose inches from Hugo’s face.
Hugo sighed. ‘Better the devil you know, I suppose.’
Hugo barely had time to yelp when Theodore held his chin and pulled him into a kiss.
Mrs Beck cleared her throat, pointedly. The detectives broke apart.
‘All that being said,’ Mrs Beck added in a stern, teacherly voice, ‘I still expect discretion. Let’s just go back to how it was before I found out about… all of this. What you do in your flat is your own business. I don’t want to know about it.’
‘Right,’ said Theodore, a little stunned.
‘That’s more than fair,’ said Hugo. ‘Thank you, Mrs Beck.’
Mrs Beck gave them her forced smile. ‘If that’s everything… have a good evening.’
She left. The door clicked shut behind her.
Hugo turned to Theodore. ‘Are you disappointed?’
‘No,’ said Theodore. ‘We changed her mind. We can stay. That’s what I wanted.’ His voice lacked its usual cheer. He stroked his moustache thoughtfully. He was happy to keep their little hideaway from the world, but a thousand square feet didn’t feel as roomy as before.
Hugo put a hand on his knee. ‘Our evening’s free now. We could go out?’
Theodore smiled. ‘To be honest, after the week we’ve had, all I want to do is sleep forever.’
Hugo’s head fell back onto the sofa. He’d just realised how tired he was. ‘I’m so glad you said that.’
They kissed again, with no Mrs Beck to disturb them this time. Gingerly, Theodore lifted Hugo into his arms and brought him to the bed they shared.