The Hammam was only a short walk from Queen Street, yet Theodore had not come this way in years. ‘Gosh,’ he said as they turned onto Jermyn Street. ‘It’s barely changed since when I was young.’ A shadow passed across Theodore’s face. ‘Did I just say when I was young?’
‘Twenty-eight is still young,’ said Hugo.
‘But it’s all downhill from here, isn’t it?’
‘Why do you look at me when you say that?’
A man was waiting for them by the front door of the Hammam. A Turk, like most of the Hammam’s staff, though rather than the typical robes and turban he wore a dark suit and fez. And while Theodore remembered the staff as jolly and affable, this man watched them with stern, steely eyes as they approached.
‘You are Mr Bellamy and Mr Fox?’ he asked as the detectives climbed the steps.
‘That’s us,’ said Theodore, flashing a smile.
The stern-faced man narrowed his eyes slightly. ‘This way, please.’
The detectives followed him inside. The attendants in the reception moved to greet them as they entered, but froze at the sight of the stern-faced man. He and the detectives passed through as if they were ghosts.
The stern-faced man led the detectives behind reception, through a door, up four flights of stairs, to a door at the very end of the landing. A sign on the door said “Management”. The man knocked twice.
He opened the door and stepped aside. The detectives entered an elegant office, decorated with green ferns and large oil paintings. There was no trace of the eastern aesthetic from the rest of the interior.
Theodore recognised Frank Butterfield sitting behind the desk. An older gentlemen with half-moon spectacles and wiry, white hair. He wore a waistcoat but no jacket and had his sleeves rolled up past the elbows. At the sight of the detectives, he stubbed his cigar into an ashtray and jumped to his feet.
‘Mr Bellamy!’ he cried, greeting him with a violent handshake. ‘So good to see you again. And you must be Mr Fox?’
‘Yes,’ said Hugo, escaping Mr Butterfield’s grip before the handshake could begin in earnest.
‘Thank you, Furqan,’ Mr Butterfield said to the stern-faced man, who was looming near the door. ‘If you could wait by the, ah… we’ll be along in a moment.’
Furqan bowed deeply and the shut the door as he went.
Mr Butterfield clapped his hands together. ‘So, Mr Bellamy, I understand you were once a regular here. The staff have fond memories of you.’
‘They do?’ said Theodore, feeling his face flush.
‘But you don’t visit anymore?’
Theodore glanced at Hugo. ‘My circumstances changed.’
Mr Butterfield also turned to Hugo. ‘You, on the other hand, I don’t believe were ever a customer.’
This wasn’t a question, but Mr Butterfield seem to want a response. ‘You wanted us to look at a body,’ Hugo said.
‘Yes, yes, I’m getting to that,’ Mr Butterfield grumbled. ‘First, I want to be certain I understand the situation here. You two are…’ He moved his hand in a circular motion.
‘Yes,’ said Hugo.
‘And your detective agency is for other men who are…’ He moved his hand again.
‘Yes,’ said Hugo.
‘And women,’ said Theodore.
Mr Butterfield raised an eyebrow. ‘There are women that way too?’
‘More than you’d think.’
‘How curious. I’ve never heard of anything like that going on in the women’s bath.’ He reflected on this for a moment. ‘But the point is, you don’t involve the police?’
‘Not unless we need to,’ said Hugo.
Mr Butterfield nodded, more to himself than the detectives. ‘What is your fee?’
Hugo and Theodore shared the briefest of glances. Their response to this question had been well-worn by time.
‘We don’t typically charge a fee,’ said Hugo.
‘We only take cases that interest us personally,’ said Theodore, ‘to help innocent folk who cannot trust the police.’
Mr Butterfield nodded again. Nevertheless, he reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a black, iron box, unlocked it with a key and doled out a pile of five pound notes.
‘This case will interest you, I’ve no doubt,’ he said. ‘But I have no intention of letting you work for free. This must remain secret, from the authorities, from our patrons and from the public at large. Furthermore, your investigation must not disrupt the day-to-day business of the Hammam. Before you can begin, I must know that I can trust you.’
Hugo eyed the money suspiciously. ‘So this is a bribe?’
‘Call it a waiver,’ said Mr Butterfield. ‘Since I cannot put the terms of our arrangement in writing, by taking the fee you may consider yourselves under contract, with the conditions I’ve stipulated. That is the only way this can work.’
Hugo looked at Theodore. Theodore looked at Hugo. A wordless conversation passed between them.
Hugo placed his concerns into a grimace. This businessman wants to treat us like employees.
Theodore raised his brow. He just wants to be sure he can trust us to keep a secret.
Hugo pursed his lips. This will cause problems in the investigation.
Theodore nodded. At least we’re being compensated for the trouble.
Hugo sighed. Reluctantly, he took the money. Mr Butterfield sighed his relief, before shaking hands with each of the detectives in turn.
‘Very good,’ he said. ‘Now you may see the body.’