When Theodore awoke, Hugo wasn’t in bed.
For a mad, frantic second, Theodore believed that Hugo had run off. Then he heard footsteps from the sitting room. It was not unusual for Hugo to rise first and let Theodore sleep. Theodore didn’t know why it had surprised him this morning.
Theodore stretched and drew a deep breath. His breath caught short when he detected a note of rotting corpse. It was seeping into the bedroom. That was enough incentive to get Theodore out of bed. It was well past time he and Hugo decided what to do with their unwanted guest.
But all thought of the body left Theodore’s mind when he found Hugo in the sitting room. He had hung up every cork-board they had—which was quite a few—so that they lined the walls, surrounding the room. And upon each cork-board, Hugo had affixed small slips of paper in a neat grid. Written on these in Hugo’s small and tidy handwriting was a man’s name, each one of the hundred-and-ten suspects, and two numbers, the times they had checked in and out.
‘Morning,’ said Theodore.
Hugo started, so absorbed in his task he hadn’t heard Theodore enter. ‘Good morning.’
‘I’m organising my thoughts.’ He finished cutting up a slip of a paper and affixed it to the nearest cork-board. He had left a square of space beneath each name and it was only now Theodore noticed a handful of the names had other slips of paper beneath them. The one Hugo had just added read “Size eight, brown, lace-up boots”, which he had placed beneath Charles Parsons’s name, alongside other slips that read “Queer” and “Murder Victim”.
Hugo went back to his work, while Theodore wandered to examine the other names with those extra details. He passed Jack Roe, beneath whom Hugo had written “No record of check out”. Then there was Percival Hodgson, with the details “Regular”, “Chamber #4”. The name was familiar to Theodore, but it couldn’t be the same person he was thinking of.
There was one more. Arthur Greenwood. Checked in at 5PM Tuesday, checked out 4PM Wednesday. Beneath this, Hugo had added more notes than any other name.“Knew details about the murder (claims was told by another patron)”, “Claims to have known victim (description vague)”, “Claims to have witnessed a man following victim (description vague)”.
Theodore felt his ears grow hot. He was still annoyed at Art for his candour at dinner, even if he had said things which Theodore agreed with. But whether or not Art was a good friend, he was still an old one. Theodore had vouched for him and Hugo usually trusted Theodore’s judge of character. So to see the little notes of doubt in brackets and the repeated use of the word “claims” made Theodore seethe. He didn’t mention it.
Instead, he said, ‘I’d like to visit the Hammam again, to see if the rumour has developed at all. There may be witnesses there today that weren’t there yesterday. What do you think?’
There was a brief moment before Hugo answered. ‘All right. Perhaps somebody there knows who Charles Parsons is.’
Theodore offered to cook breakfast but Hugo had already eaten, so Theodore wolfed two slices of toast before the pair of them left. Hugo barely spoke during the short walk to the Hammam but he was a quiet person anyway and Theodore couldn’t decide if this was unusual or not. However, as they were climbing the steps to the Hammam, Hugo tugged on Theodore’s sleeve. He nodded down the street.
Theodore looked. A car had just rounded the corner onto Jermyn Street. A sleek, black automobile with the word “POLICE” on the grill. The detectives watched as the car sidled into parking space a short ways down the street.
‘Maybe they’re not coming here,’ said Theodore. But even as he said it, three men wearing coats of varying greys stepped out of the car and walked towards the Hammam. They crossed the road at a shallow angle, more concerned with reaching their destination directly than getting out of the road.
‘Maybe we should leave,’ Theodore whispered.
‘They’ve seen us now,’ said Hugo, ushering Theodore up the remaining steps. ‘We’ve done nothing wrong.’
Though we are harbouring a corpse in our spare room, thought Theodore.
Inside, the attendants greeted them as cheerfully as they always did, leading them towards reception. Theodore wondered if he should warn them about what was coming, but what good would a few seconds do? Furqan was working behind the desk, and though a different attendant served the detectives, Theodore locked eyes with him.
The doors opened behind them. The policemen had arrived. The attendants greeted them happily but the three men passed without stopping. Hugo pulled Theodore aside as they approached the desk. One of the officers, a tall man with a moustache like a shoe brush, flashed his badge. Furqan stepped forward, looking determinedly calm about the situation.
‘May I be of assistance, sir?’
‘We’re looking for a man named Keegan Doyle,’ said the officer. ‘I understand he may have visited here on Tuesday evening.’
The detectives’ ears perked. The night of the murder.
‘I do not know the name,’ said Furqan, plainly. ‘You are welcome to check our records.’
He pulled out the ledger and turned it round on the desk. Theodore felt Hugo tut beside him. This was the sort of VIP treatment a police badge bought you.
As the officer with the shoe brush moustache flicked through the ledger, the others positioned themselves strategically about the room, occupying as much space between them as possible. One of the officers eyed Hugo and Theodore suspiciously. Theodore shrugged apologetically.
The seconds dragged. The moustachioed officer was taking a long time with the ledger, flicking back and forth between the same two pages. After an eternity of this, he pushed the ledger back to Furqan, thanked him and, with a nod, he led the the other officers out of the building.
‘Couldn’t find him?’ Theodore suggested, the moment the doors shut.
‘I didn’t know the name either,’ said Hugo. ‘And after the time I’ve spent looking over that ledger, I daresay I’d recognise every name in it.’
‘Wonder why the police are looking for him here,’ said Theodore with a shrug. ‘Do you think it’s relevant to us?’
Hugo just frowned, staring into space.
‘Sirs?’ An attendant leaned into view. ‘Apologies for the wait. We can now assist you if you wish to check in,’ he said, gesturing towards reception.
Theodore stepped forward, before noticing that Hugo hadn’t moved. ‘Hugo?’
‘Um.’ There was a lot of weight in that “Um.”
‘What is it?’
Hugo looked at Theodore. ‘I’m worried we’re wrong about the identity of the victim.’
‘You think it might be this Keegan Doyle person?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘So let’s ask around and find out.’
‘No,’ said Hugo, with a firmness that surprised Theodore. ‘I want to follow this up elsewhere. I want to find Charles Parsons, Jack Roe and Keegan Doyle and conclude which of them is missing.’
Theodore glanced at the attendant, who was still hovering nearby with a confused look. Theodore smiled at him. ‘Give us one moment.’ He placed a hand on Hugo’s shoulder and led him to the corner of the room. ‘You’re saying you want to leave?’ he said, in his best attempt at a low voice. ‘What about the rumour?’
‘This should be a simple problem, Teddy,’ said Hugo, not bothering to whisper. ‘But it isn’t. There’s already been at least one mistake in the ledger and now the police think a man was here when there’s no record of him.’
‘That could just mean he wasn’t here. They’re probably investigating a completely different crime.’
‘If that’s the case, I want to know.’
‘Okay, but it can wait, can’t it?’
Hugo blinked. ‘We need to identify the victim.’
‘We need to find the killer,’ said Theodore, his voice rising. ‘What does it matter what the victim’s name was?’
Hugo stared at Theodore. ‘You’re the one who cares so much about his family having him.’
Theodore scowled. ‘That’s just common decency. Chances are the’—he lowered his voice for the next word—‘killer didn’t even know the victim. Even if it was King George himself, it doesn’t tell us anything about who murdered him.’
‘We don’t know that for sure until we investigate.’
‘So we’ll investigate,’ said Theodore with a sigh, ‘but if there’s somebody in the bathhouse today who knows something or saw something about the actual murder, I don’t want to miss it.’
There came a lull in the argument. Theodore was aware of the silence in the rest of the room, as the attendants forcibly acted as though nothing was happening. Only Furqan looked at them, his face as stern as ever.
At long last, Hugo spoke. ‘All right. Why don’t you do your thing and I’ll do mine?’
‘You mean… split up?’
‘Why not?’ Hugo said casually, as though it were nothing. ‘Just as we did last night. We’ll cover more ground. As you said, we get to invent the rules, don’t we?’
His own words hit Theodore like a slap in the face. He was sure this wasn’t the same thing at all, but he didn’t know how to say that. Hugo made it sound so simple. So Theodore heard himself saying, ‘All right.’
‘All right,’ said Hugo. He flashed a reassuring smile.
‘All right,’ said Theodore.
For a moment, neither of them moved. Then Hugo squeezed Theodore’s arm and left. Theodore’s feet were rooted to the floor until the door swung shut.