‘Our first priority is finding out who the victim is,’ said Hugo.
‘One problem at a time.’ said Mr Butterfield. ‘First, you must decide what to do with body.’
‘We must decide?’
‘Of course. That’s what the police would do, isn’t it?’
‘You want us to hide the body?’ said Theodore.
Mr Butterfield wore a strained expression. ‘Not hide necessarily. But it cannot stay here. As I’ve mentioned, our clientele is a nosy lot and there’s nowhere the staff won’t go eventually. Whatever happens, it must leave the building tonight. Once again, I expected you would know what to do.’
There was an awkward silence. Mr Butterfield watched the detectives curiously, oblivious to why they were so perturbed by this suggestion. ‘What do you normally do with the bodies?’ he asked.
‘We don’t handle the bodies ourselves,’ said Theodore. ‘We let the police do that.’
‘No, the police must—’
‘No police, we know!’ Theodore interrupted, losing patience. Mr Butterfield hissed at him to keep his voice down.
‘Perhaps we should discuss this elsewhere,’ suggested Hugo.
They exited the cubicle as carefully as they entered, ensuring the curtain still covered the entire doorway once they’d exited. Mr Butterfield instructed Furqan to remain standing guard before he and the detectives returned to his office.
The door was firmly closed. The men resumed their seats.
‘So,’ said Mr Butterfield, as though that were a complete sentence.
Hugo took a deep sigh. ‘We have a friend in the London Necropolis who’s helped us with some cases. He may be able to transport the body out of the city and make it disappear in the paperwork.’
‘Sounds good,’ Mr Butterfield nodded.
‘No!’ Theodore protested. ‘He must have family. We can’t keep the body away from them.’
Hugo placed a sympathetic hand on Theodore’s knee. ‘Teddy, I know it’s unpleasant, but we can’t just drop the body on his family’s doorstep. The police will get involved. And we’ve no way of finding his family without knowing who he is.’
Theodore scowled. ‘Obviously I’m not suggesting that.’
‘All right,’ said Hugo. ‘Then what?’
Theodore thought fast. ‘It doesn’t matter if the police find the body so long as they don’t find it here. We could dump it in Hyde Park or in a public lavatory. Someone else will find it, call the police and once they identify him it will reach his family. It’s the same crime, just a different location.’
Mr Butterfield scratched his chin. ‘That could work.’
‘It might…’ said Hugo, slowly. ‘But if we’re spotted or if we leave the slightest piece of evidence, we’ll become the murder suspects.’
Theodore was undeterred. ‘We can do it right. We’ve seen enough crime scenes to be wise of all the mistakes.’
Hugo’s grimace didn’t waver. Theodore didn’t blame him. They had a flexible relationship with the law at the best of times, but this discussion made Theodore feel like a real criminal. It was as though the three of them had committed the murder themselves. Even so, Theodore was determined not to back down. Hugo, searching Theodore’s eyes, seemed to realise this.
Hugo cleared his throat, about to speak. But there was a good while after the idea came to him before he spoke it aloud. ‘We have a spare bedroom. The body can stay there until a better solution presents itself.’
‘That suits me,’ shrugged Mr Butterfield. ‘Just consult me before you make any further decisions.’
Hugo barely paid Mr Butterfield any attention. He was still looking at Theodore. I’m sorry, his pleading expression said. That’s the best I can think of. Theodore swallowed. The thought of harbouring a corpse in the spare bedroom made him feel ill. But if Hugo had to accept solving the case without involving the police, it was only fair that Theodore agreed to some concessions too. Hugo was trying to keep him safe as well as happy. So he nodded. It would have to do for now.
‘Next on the agenda: transportation,’ said Mr Butterfield, ‘How to remove it from the building without anyone noticing.’
‘And I take it you mean without closing the bathhouse,’ said Theodore, dryly.
‘Indeed not,’ said Mr Butterfield. ‘That’s what I paid you for.’
The detectives stifled their grumbles.
‘I take it you have laundry facilities here, for the towels?’ said Hugo.
‘We do,’ said Mr Butterfield.
‘How big are your hampers?’
Mr Butterfield made no attempt to hide his grin.
Two attendants dropped a large, wicker hamper in front of Hugo and Theodore. They hadn’t been told what it was for and Mr Butterfield was quick to dismiss them. He turned to the detectives with an expectant look.
Hugo looked at Theodore with a resigned expression. There was nothing else for it. Together, they each took a handle and carried the hamper into the bathhouse.
Theodore was convinced they stood out like a sore thumb, that everyone in the bathhouse would be wondering why two white men in suits were carrying a laundry hamper instead of the regular eastern men in robes and turban. As it happened, nobody paid them any attention. They had other things on their mind.
Furqan was still dutifully standing guard outside the out-of-order cubicle. The moment the detectives arrived and dropped the hamper outside the curtain, he left without a word.
‘It’s our problem now, I suppose,’ muttered Hugo.
Theodore gave the hamper a sharp shove, sliding it under the curtain without parting it. Then he and Hugo once again slipped through as tiny a gap as they could manage.
Needless to say, the body hadn’t moved. Even though Theodore knew what to expect, he still blanched at the sight of it. Hugo, on the other hand, was well prepared. He pulled a pair of gloves from his pocket and handed them to Theodore.
‘Even so,’ he said, ‘don’t touch it if you can help it.’
Theodore didn’t need to be told twice.
Under Hugo’s direction, they untucked the bedsheet and lifted it by the corners, suspending the body in a makeshift hammock. Carefully, and without Theodore looking down, they folded the corners together, wrapping the body inside, and lowered the whole, ghastly bundle into the hamper. Theodore scooped up the victim’s clothes and dropped them in the hamper too, before Hugo fastened it shut.
Theodore breathed his relief. ‘What a fun evening this has turned out to be.’
‘Do you suppose Mr Butterfield expects us to mop, too?’ said Hugo, nodding at the spots of blood which stained the floor.
‘He can do that himself,’ said Theodore, irritably. ‘I think we’ve done enough.’
They didn’t bother about keeping the room obscured as they carried the hamper back through the curtain. Theodore could feel the lump shifting inside when they turn the corner. He tried not to think about it.
Mr Butterfield was waiting for them in reception. ‘Masterfully done, sirs.’
‘Let’s get going,’ Theodore huffed. ‘This thing’s heavy.’
‘We’ll continue the investigation tomorrow,’ said Hugo.
Mr Butterfield nodded. ‘Keep me informed.’
The short walk back to Queen Street felt very long indeed. They didn’t pass many people, but each time they did Theodore was haunted by visions of the hamper slipping from his fingers, splitting open and the corpse slumping out on the pavement.
Back at the flat, they dropped the hamper in corner of the spare room, like a piece of unwanted furniture. The detectives said no more about it that night. Hugo was even quieter than usual. Theodore felt Hugo blamed him for the situation. Theodore had to admit, Hugo’s plan to make the body disappear was looking more and more attractive. Even so, he didn’t regret standing his ground. Though he was a man who could spend twenty minutes labouring over which tie to wear each morning, there was one thing he was certain about. He was going to do right by the dead man.