‘Who mentioned anything about a murder?’ said Hugo.
Before Art could answer, Theodore turned to the attendant shampooing Hugo. ‘Sir, would you leave us for a moment? We’d like to speak privately.’ The attendant bowed deeply and left to pursue other duties.
‘Everyone’s talking about it,’ said Art, gesturing about the room. ‘They’re saying some poor fellow got choked to death in one of the changing cubicles last night.’
Hugo’s eyes were locked on Art. ‘Who told you that?’
‘I don’t know. Some chap in the changing rooms.’
Art smiled. ‘So you are investigating.’
Hugo scowled. Theodore could tell he was about to press Art for an answer, and interrupted him by placing a hand on his shoulder. He’s my friend, Theodore said with his eyes. Don’t embarrass me.
Hugo returned with a placid expression. He knows about the murder. He’s a suspect.
Theodore noted that Hugo suddenly had a lot more faith in the rumour plan now Art was implicated, but swallowed his irritation. ‘Why don’t you tell us what you heard?’
‘Not much.’ Art folded his arms and pursed his lips. ‘The victim. Young man? Auburn hair? Average height?’
‘That could describe many people,’ Hugo scoffed.
‘Tattoo of a horse on his hip?’
Hugo shut his mouth. Theodore leaned forward. ‘You knew him?’
Art nodded, to himself rather than in answer of the question. ‘Not well. Not by name. But he and I… met on a few occasions.’
‘How did you know it was him?’
‘When I saw him last night, he promised—well, he suggested—that he and I would share some company. Only I didn’t see him again, which was unusual. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but after I heard what happened I started to wonder…’
‘So you were here when the murder happened?’ said Hugo.
The implication was not lost on Art, though he just smirked. Hugo held his expression. It was a simple enough question.
‘I checked in yesterday and stayed the night, yes’ said Art. ‘Just as many others did.’
‘I think what Hugo is trying to say,’ Theodore added, with a stern glance at Hugo, ‘is that you must have been one of the last people to see the man alive. Could you tell us about it? Did you notice anything out of the ordinary?’
Art shrugged. ‘Like I said, I didn’t know him well. Our relationship was strictly business. After I checked in, I bumped into him here, in the hot room. We chatted, trite stuff, small talk and innuendo. He left to have supper, I asked if I’d see him later, he said if I was looking in the right places. But I didn’t see him again.’
‘What time was it when you saw him?’ said Hugo.
‘I checked in about five o’clock. So after that.’
‘And he never told you his name?’ said Theodore.
Art shrugged again. ‘He may have done. I never made an effort to remember it.’
Hugo exhaled sharply. It was very slight. Art didn’t notice but Theodore did.
‘Are you certain there’s nothing else you can remember?’ said Theodore. ‘Anything out of the ordinary? Even the slightest detail could help us.’
Art shrugged a third time. Then he frowned. ‘You know, I think I might have seen him talking to another man.’
‘When?’ said Hugo.
‘I don’t remember exactly.’ Art waved a dismissive hand. ‘After my conversation with him.’
‘What did this man look like?’ said Theodore.
‘Tall. Slim. Surly.’
‘Anything more distinctive?’ said Hugo.
‘Sorry, chaps,’ Art sighed. ‘That encounter was hardly the highlight of my evening.’ He got to his feet. ‘Although this encounter has been the highlight of my day. Will I see you later?’
This was addressed to Theodore, as though Hugo wasn’t even there. Theodore, caught between Art’s hopeful expression and Hugo’s frown, was lost for words.
‘Just to catch up, of course,’ said Art with a grin. ‘The Criterion, my treat. You remember where it is, right?’
He swaggered away. Theodore caught himself admiring the view and quickly averted his eyes, but Hugo had caught him too. Theodore looked sheepish for a moment, but chuckled when he saw Hugo’s legs were still covered in suds. He helped him towel them off.
‘Don’t be too harsh on Art,’ Theodore said. ‘I know he can be an acquired taste but he’s a decent enough fellow.’
‘He didn’t seem very distressed to learn his friend has been murdered.’
‘Oh, come now. He did say he didn’t know the victim well. And Art’s one of us. How could he be the killer?’
‘I haven’t accused him of anything,’ said Hugo, plainly. ‘Although I hope you’re not sparing him the usual scrutiny you’d give a suspect simply because he’s an old friend of yours.’
‘You just don’t like him.’
‘He’s given us some new details at least,’ Theodore reasoned. ‘There’s this man he saw the victim with.’
Hugo gave a polite nod but Theodore sensed his scepticism.
‘Dismiss it if you must,’ Theodore huffed, ‘but no matter what you think of Art, we’ve learned one thing: Someone here today knows about the murder. We just need to find out who.’
For the remainder of the afternoon, Theodore quizzed the other bathhouse patrons about the rumour. Though many had heard about the death, he didn’t find a single person who knew it was murder.
‘It doesn’t prove anything,’ Theodore was quick to insist.
‘I didn’t say it did,’ said Hugo.
Though even Theodore had to admit it was peculiar. If it was true that Art had learned of the murder from “some chap in the changing rooms”, why had that person told Art but nobody else?
Next Update: 12th July