Discounting the events of the previous night, this was the first time Hugo had visited a bathhouse since the day he and Theodore met. He was a little nervous, though he wasn’t sure why. It was just water and hot air. And he had the perfect guide in Theodore.
Theodore was practically bouncing with excitement as they checked in. Hugo, meanwhile, intended to treat this as an academic exercise. He was retracing the steps of the victim in the hours and minutes that led to his murder. Giving his name, paying the fee, receiving his towels, handing over his boots and valuables. He wasn’t pleased to give up his spectacles, though it was with the loss of his notebook that he truly felt blind.
An attendant led them to their cubicle. For a moment, Hugo was concerned he might take them to the very one in which the body had been found. Fortunately, it was already occupied by another gentlemen, blissfully unaware of what had happened there.
When the attendant left them at their own cubicle, Theodore immediately unbuckled his belt and began to undress. There was little point in modesty inside the baths. Even so, Hugo pulled the curtain.
‘What’s your idea?’ he said as he unknotted his tie.
Theodore grinned. ‘Chances are somebody here today knows something about last night, yes? Maybe they saw something or heard about something. Or maybe the murderer himself is here.’
‘It’s all possible,’ said Hugo, feeling a twang of concern about that last notion. ‘But what good is that if we can’t ask anyone about it?’
Theodore grinned wider. ‘We don’t have to ask. They’ll tell us,’
Hugo paused undressing, folded his arms and waited. Theodore was a tart for drama.
‘We spread a rumour.’ Catching Hugo’s grimace, he quickly added, ‘No details! We say nothing about the victim or the crime scene. We don’t even say it was murder, just that somebody died. If it gets back to Butterfield, he can deny that easily enough. But like any good rumour, it will percolate. If it passes by anyone who knows anything, they’ll add to it. And by the end of the day, it’ll come back to us with all the new information. As soon as anyone says “Did you hear about the murder?” we’ll know somebody has let on what they know.’
Theodore’s smile broke. ‘You don’t like it?’
‘I didn’t say that,’ said Hugo, though he knew it was nigh impossible to keep a secret from Theodore. The plan was sound in theory but Hugo had every suspicion that it might turn into a pointless game of Chinese Whispers.
‘It’s just an idea. I’m open to suggestions,’ said Theodore.
‘I have no suggestions,’ said Hugo, truthfully. ‘Let’s do your plan.’
Hugo struggled to fix his towel, so Theodore did it for him. Hugo tried no to feel like a child who needed help with his shoelaces. Once they were ready, Theodore led the way, through the beaded curtains, into the hararah. Several pairs of eyes turned. Not all, not even most, but enough to make one feel like a cut of meat in a butcher’s window.
Theodore raised his arms, breathed in deeply and let out a long sigh. ‘Memory is the diary we all carry about with us!’
Time had not dulled Theodore’s expertise. With military precision, he zeroed in on a pair of young men and immediately struck up enthusiastic conversation. Hugo’s instinct would have been to spend some time bathing first, so as to disguise his true agenda, but Theodore lathered on charm and got away with it.
‘Theodore Bellamy, pleasure to meet you. Your first time? I was a regular once, but I’ve not visited in a few years. It doesn’t appear to have changed much. What’s your take? Yes, I agree, or at least I used to. No, it’s just— well, haven’t you heard about the man who died here last night? Yes, a friend told me about it this morning, but I didn’t think it could be true. I have no idea, all he said was a body turned up and management is keeping it hush hush, for obvious reasons. Could just be a rumour, of course, but it does make one wonder.’
This conversation repeated several times with a dozen different groups. A few were a little dazed by Theodore’s loud and convivial nature, but most warmed to him quickly. He was even a little flirtatious, which tickled many and left one or two bathers—who were genuinely there just to bathe—amusingly confused.
Meanwhile, Hugo followed Theodore around without saying much. He felt like a lame dog. He didn’t normally consider himself a shy person, but he had no skill for small talk. It wasn’t long before he began to wonder if there was any point in him being there.
After a few hours, Theodore thought they should give the rumour time to “cook”. In the meantime, they could spend some time enjoying the baths properly. Hugo suggested going out for lunch instead. Theodore happily informed him that the Hammam served food and, if he remembered correctly, the Spanish omelette was excellent. Seven years together and Hugo still struggled to say no to Theodore.
Irritatingly, the Spanish omelette was rather good. Having admitted that, Hugo allowed Theodore to convince him to take a massage. At first, Theodore sniggered at Hugo’s grimaces of pain, but when the attendant moved on to shampooing Hugo did at last find himself relaxing a little. He still thought it peculiar to have a stranger touching his bare skin, not to mention the decadence of receiving a massage when he was taking time off work to solve a murder, but he did at least feel he was gaining some insight into Theodore’s life before they’d met. And perhaps into the life of the victim.
As rested his head on the marble slab, he was about the let his eyes droop when his attention was caught by a man, directly in his view. The man was young, boyish, perhaps only just eighteen. His skin was smooth and pale and there was no stubble on his chin. He had wavy, blond hair that hung in curtains around his face. He wore one towel over his shoulders and clutched at the other as if worried it might drop. Hugo couldn’t be sure without his spectacles, but he fancied the boy looked anxious, his eyes darting furtively around the room like a mouse expecting a hungry cat.
The boy caught Hugo staring. And that was the same moment Hugo realised he was staring. Before Hugo could even try to look apologetic, the boy turned tail and left.
‘Oh, look who’s here!’ cried Theodore.
Hugo was about to stammer his apologies, insisting he wasn’t looking at the boy in that way, when he realised Theodore’s attention was directed elsewhere entirely. He rose to greet a lithe man with dark hair and a pencil moustache. They embraced tightly, patting each other’s bare shoulders. Hugo raised himself from the marble, but the attendant pushed him down again to finish shampooing.
‘Hugo!’ Theodore beamed. ‘Hugo, this is Arthur Greenwood, an old friend of mine.’
Arthur raised an eyebrow at Hugo. ‘So this is the one,’ he said, extending a hand.
Hugo shook it, feeling utterly foolish to greet someone while laid on his front.
‘Sit, sit!’ said Theodore, practically shoving Arthur onto the step beside him. ‘We’ve so much to catch up on.’
‘How come I don’t see you about anymore?’
‘I’m about,’ said Theodore, a mite defensively. ‘But, you know, my circumstances have changed.’
Arthur gave a sideways glance at Hugo. ‘Somebody told me you’re a detective now?’
‘Indeed! Hugo and I are partners,’ Theodore announced proudly.
‘You don’t say,’ Arthur nodded. ‘Then you must have heard about the murder?’
Next Update: 10th July