‘It has been two hours,’ said Furqan.
Hugo was very tempted to ignore the subtext and tell him, ‘Correct.’ Instead, he closed the ledger and held it out. ‘I have all I need.’
As Furqan took it, he glanced at the empty chair. ‘Where is Mr Bellamy?’
‘Pursuing another lead.’
Furqan scowled, but that was nothing new. ‘Do you recall I impressed upon you not to discuss the murder with the patrons?’
‘Several of the attendants have been questioned about a body that was found last night.’
‘Is that so?’ said Hugo, innocently. He felt a twinge of annoyance that Theodore didn’t have to suffer this interrogation. ‘I can assure you we’ve not told anyone about the murder. But it’s impossible to prevent the spread of rumours.’ This was all technically true.
Furqan pursed his lips but dropped the matter. He turned to leave.
‘One moment,’ said Hugo.
Furqan paused before turning back.
‘You said that if I needed help with the investigation, I should ask you.’
‘That is correct,’ said Furqan, though he didn’t seem thrilled about where this was headed.
Hugo flicked through the pages of his notebook. ‘I’ve compiled a list of every patron who was checked in during the murder. That amounts to one-hundred-and-ten names.’
Furqan smirked. ‘You have one-hundred-and-ten murder suspects?’
‘I do,’ said Hugo, ignoring Furqan’s derision. ‘Though I’m more concerned with which of them is the victim.’
‘He will be difficult to identify from so many.’
‘Not especially,’ Hugo shrugged. ‘I’ve already narrowed it down to three candidates.’
Furqan froze for a moment, his face actually registering an emotion other than scorn. Hugo enjoyed it immensely.
‘Only three?’ he said. ‘Out of one-hundred-and-ten?’
‘A patron cannot check out if he has already “checked out”, so to speak.’ Hugo smiled to himself. ‘Of those one-hundred-and-ten, eighty-six checked out last night. A further twenty-one checked out today. That leaves three. Two of these, I expect, are still here, while the third could not check out because he left the building last night in a laundry hamper.’
‘You are… very thorough,’ said Furqan.
‘That’s the job,’ said Hugo. ‘I’d like to run the names past you, if I may. Perhaps you can confirm whether or not they’re staying here tonight.’
‘One moment,’ said Furqan. He left.
Hugo waited. After five minutes, Furqan returned with a slip of paper on a clipboard. ‘The rota for chambers this week,’ Furqan explained. ‘Begin.’
Hugo cleared his throat. ‘Percival Hodgson. Checked in two days ago, stayed Monday night.’
‘Mr Hodgson is a regular. He usually stays a few nights at a time. Tonight, he is staying in his usual private chamber, number four, where he has been since Monday.’
‘Very well,’ Hugo nodded, noting this. ‘Charles Parsons. Checked in at twelve-thirty-one PM.’
‘Ah. There is no Charles Parsons here tonight.’
Hugo put a mark by Charles Parson’s name and pressed on. ‘Jack Roe. Checked in at six-oh-five PM.’
‘Why do you continue? I understood Charles Parson’s absence would prove he is the victim?’
‘Only if Jack Roe is present.’
For the briefest of seconds, Furqan looked unsettled in a way Hugo couldn’t place. Once again, Hugo felt a moment’s irritation that Theodore was not there. He would have had no trouble reading Furqan’s expression. It was Hugo’s own fault for letting him leave.
‘I take your point,’ said Furqan. ‘There is also no Jack Roe present.’
‘You’re certain?’ said Hugo.
‘There can be no doubt?’
‘I have said yes.’
Hugo scowled and rapidly flicked through his notes. ‘There must be a mistake.’
Furqan huffed indignantly. ‘If there is, it is not I who has made it.’
‘That leaves only two other possibilities. Either one of these men left without checking out. Or there is a second dead body in the building that hasn’t been discovered yet.’
A dark silence hung over the room as the possibility crossed their minds.
Furqan sighed. ‘Then we must get to the bottom of this.’
The next few hours were excruciating. Hugo and Furqan searched for the missing men everywhere they could think of. Hugo cross-examined all of his notes to see if he’d made an error, but was disgruntled to find nothing. They returned the ledger to the reception staff to be updated, but this turned up no record of either man checking out in the time the ledger was out of action. They knocked on the doors of every private chamber but found nobody who wasn’t accounted for. They announced the names throughout the bathhouse but nobody responded to them. Furqan took Hugo through every room in the building, including the less-often visited storerooms and the underground furnace room, but they found no missing persons, alive or dead. Both Charles Parsons and Jack Roe remained absent without leave.
By the end of it, Hugo was exhausted and all but out of ideas. ‘There’s only one other thing I can think to check,’ he said. ‘I’ve noted their locker numbers. We might be able to tell something from any valuables they’ve left.’
From Furqan’s grimace, it was clear he was not a fan of this idea. Nevertheless, he pulled a key from his belt and once again led Hugo behind reception.
The lights flickered on, revealing the windowless locker room. It was a long, narrow space that may originally have been a pantry. The lockers lined the two longer walls, ceiling to floor, each a row of several hundred small, metal doors. Far from the eyes of the patrons, there was no call for frippery. The metal was dark and dull and in need of a good dusting.
Hugo read from his notebook. ‘Charles Parsons had locker two-oh-five and Jack Roe had seventy-three.’
Furqan was familiar enough with the layout of the lockers that he found the nearest of the two, number seventy-three, in only a few strides. He inserted the key. The door squeaked open. The locker was entirely bare.
Hugo sighed. Finding nothing seemed to be the theme of the night. ‘What about two-oh-five?’
They stepped a few paces along the row to find it. This one was in the very top row and Furqan had to reach above his head to open it. Hugo had already resigned himself to finding this locker empty too. To his surprise, there was a pair of boots inside.
Furqan lifted them out and handed them to Hugo, who turned them over in his hands, muttering his appraisal. ‘Size eight, lace-ups, brown, scuff-mark on the right sole.’
‘Is it significant?’ said Furqan.
‘It means Parsons is out most likely victim,’ said Hugo. ‘He left without his boots, whereas it appears Jack Roe was well enough to retrieve his footwear. Though I cannot account for why there is no record of Roe checking out.’
‘I will investigate if the reception staff made a mistake,’ said Furqan, disgruntled.
‘Very well. I suppose that’s as much as we can find out today. Thank you.’
Hugo gave Furqan a nod and headed for the door, glad to finally get out of this place. Then Furqan cleared his throat. With mounting dread, Hugo turned back. Furqan said nothing, but held out his hand towards the boots Hugo was still holding.
Hugo made no move to return them. ‘I intend to study them further.’
‘These boots are lost property. You may study them as much as you wish but they cannot be removed from the premises.’
‘I don’t think the usual rules necessarily apply in this situation.’
‘As you put it, that’s the job,’ said Furqan. ‘I can only defy the rules if Mr Butterfield authorises it. I can discuss it with him if you wish.’
Hugo pouted. He knew how that would go. And if he tried to press the matter, Mr Butterfield would remind him of the fee he’d paid and the vague contract they were under that only Mr Butterfield seemed able to define the terms of. And the simple truth was the boots were probably not so valuable a clue to go to all that trouble for.
‘No, that won’t be necessary,’ said Hugo, hating himself as he handed over the boots.
Furqan took the boots, his lips tightening into a smug little smile, and turned to close the locker.
‘Ah!’ said Hugo suddenly. ‘One moment.’
He stepped in front of Furqan and reached up inside the locker, balancing on his toes to do so. Being a not-so-very-tall man, he knew from experience how easy it was to miss a thing pushed to the back of a high shelf. It was a shot in the dark, yet sure enough, as he felt around the corners his fingers brushed against something small and metal.
He palmed it. After a few more cursory pats, he stepped away. ‘Nothing.’
‘You are very thorough indeed,’ said Furqan with a smirk.
Only when Hugo had left the Hammam and walked far enough that it was no longer in sight was he finally brave enough to examine the thing in his hand. It turned out to be a gold signet ring. In the flattened top was an engraving of the letter ‘E’.
He didn’t see how this clue helped the investigation, though he couldn’t help feeling at least a little giddy about his small act of rebellion. He was getting a little tired of the Hammam’s rules and red tape getting in the way.
Fortunately, he had his names. One victim and one-hundred-and-nine potential murderers.