Theodore had tried to tell himself that splitting up had been a good idea, though he found it harder to believe that two hours later.
It was a quiet day at the Hammam, so it hadn’t taken long to make the rounds. Theodore was disappointed to find that most of the other patrons hadn’t heard the rumour at all. The few that had had nothing useful to add and still nobody else knew it had been murder. Theodore found himself sat alone in meshlakh, stewing in the hot air. The sensible thing, he knew, would be to head home, but he was damned if he was going to face Hugo with nothing to show for his time. He remained adamant there was a better lead to be found here.
Percival Hodgson. The name kept crossing Theodore’s mind. Back when he was regular at the Hammam, he had known a Percy whose surname may have been Hodgson. He had been an old regular like Theodore, but while Theodore might attend one night every other week at the most, Percy would stay for a whole week at a time. And he made no secret about why he was there. Any good-looking boy who attended the Hammam on a day that Percy was present would find themselves acquainted with him, whether they wished to be or not.
But that Percy had to be approaching his sixties by now. Surely, he wasn’t still cruising the Hammam at that age? Then again, if he were, and he had been here on the night of the murder, there was a good chance he’d learned something. He was a notorious gossip, after all.
Deciding there was no harm in it, Theodore dressed and found the stairwell that led to the upper floors, where the private chambers were. Here, the decor had not changed much from when the building was a hotel, although some attempt had been made to help it mesh with the bathhouse theme. The old floorboards creaked beneath a red Persian rug. The bold, red walls were decorated with oil paintings of Eastern scenes, women wearing patterned headscarves and men with bushy beards. These touches ought to have added a little colour to the place, but under the pale, British daylight everything looked muted. It was past noon but the stillness made it feel like early morning.
Theodore knocked on the door for room number four. For a few moments, nothing happened. Theodore knocked again.
‘I’m coming, hold on to your knickers!’
Theodore heard movement. He presumed the man was simply crossing the room to the door, though he seemed to travel more distance than could possibly fit inside the room. At last, the door opened.
Theodore was greeted by a short, pudgy man in a white dressing gown. It was definitely the same Percy, though the last seven years showed. Crow’s feet were etched deep into his temples and his hairpiece failed to conceal the patches of grey on either side of his head. The moment he saw Theodore, delight blossomed onto his face.
‘Theo, darling!’ he cried. He immediately extended his arms to embrace Theodore, squeezing him so tight it almost winded him.
‘Look at you, all grown up,’ said Percy. ‘Where have you been, my dear boy? Is it true you’ve settled down?’
‘More or less.’
‘I heard one mad rumour that you’re a private detective now, but that must be nonsense, surely?’
‘No, that’s true,’ Theodore blushed.
‘You don’t say!’
‘Speaking of which, I wondered if I might ask you a few questions about a case I’m working on.’
‘Oh!’ Percy made rapid, tiny claps with his hands. ‘Delighted! Delighted!’
He put his hand on Theodore’s shoulder and led him into the room.
The only light came through a narrow band between the drawn curtains. It took a moment for Theodore’s eyes to adjust. It was just like any other hotel room, with nondescript, pale wallpaper and blandly patterned carpet. However, even in the few days that Percy had occupied it, he’d managed to fill the place with clutter. Clothes were draped haphazardly across every item of furniture. Two suitcases sat open on the floor, their contents spilling out around them like bomb-site debris. Half of the duvet was dangling off one side the bed, which, to Theodore’s surprise, was not empty.
Lying in the bed, atop the covers, was a man. Stark naked.
With a yelp, Theodore covered his eyes. ‘Do excuse me! Is this a bad time?’
Neither Percy nor his guest seemed very concerned. ‘Dougie, love,’ said Percy, ‘perhaps you could cover up a tad?’ He spoke with the tone of an impatient parent, though he had surely known what he was leading Theodore into.
Moving at a glacial pace, the man lifted himself from the bed, plucked pieces of clothing from around the room, seemingly at random, and shut himself in the bathroom. Theodore lowered his hands.
‘Douglas,’ said Percy, as if this explained all. ‘Carpenter. Good with his hands.’ He gave Theodore a knowing wink. Theodore couldn’t help feeling as though he were showing Douglas off like a trophy he’d won.
Percy sat at the dressing table—crowded with bottles of perfumes, creams and other toiletries—and began dusting his face with powder. ‘So, you want to grill me? Do you worst, inspector!’
Theodore pulled up a chair, though there was too much clutter for him to pull it far. It suddenly felt odd to be conducting an interview without Hugo. Theodore wasn’t sure why, since he usually did most of the talking anyway. Perhaps there was something about Hugo’s silent presence that reminded Theodore they were not having a friendly chat. Theodore cleared his throat and tried to affect some of Hugo’s steeliness. ‘I understand you’ve been here since Monday?’
‘So you were here Tuesday night?’
Percy frowned at his reflection. ‘Is this about the man who died?’
Theodore took a moment to phrase his next question. ‘What makes you think a man died?’
‘It’s been all over the Hammam, darling.’
‘What have you heard?’
‘Nothing much.’ Percy shrugged. ‘Just that a body was found. I didn’t think it was really true until you started asking about it.’
‘I didn’t actually—oh, never mind. Did you notice anything unusual that night?’
Percy delicately straightened his hairpiece. ‘Every night at the Hammam is unusual. That’s why I come back.’
‘You still attend regularly?’
‘Whenever I can.’ Theodore caught a conspiratorial gleam in his eye, reflected in the mirror. ‘I’ve sampled practically every bathhouse in London but Jermyn Street is the best. It’s like a second home to me now.’
‘And you know the patrons well?’
‘No home is complete without a family.’
‘On Tuesday night, did you meet anyone you hadn’t met before? A tall man with dark hair, perhaps? Perhaps unwelcoming of male attention.’
‘Goodness, Theo,’ Percy laughed. ‘I’ve met so many chaps like that they all blur into one. You’ll have to be more specific.’
‘Perhaps I could run some names past you, to see if you know them?’
Percy spun on his seat to face Theodore. ‘Oh, let’s do!’
Theodore began with the name that interested him least. ‘Keegan Doyle?’
The glee on on Percy’s face evaporated. ‘Keegan Doyle?’ he repeated. ‘How disappointing. I don’t know any Keegans.’
‘Not to worry,’ said Theodore, smiling to himself. ‘How about Charles Parsons?’
‘Oh, Charlie?’ His face lit up once again. ‘Oh, yes, I’ve met Charlie once or twice. Charming lad. Not one of ours, regrettably. Hopelessly oblivious to my affections. Such a waste. Still, you never know when a chap is curious about trying new things…’
‘What does Charles look like?’
‘Oho!’ Percy slapped his knee. ‘Very handsome, you’ll be glad to hear. Skin as smooth as a newborn baby.’
‘Right,’ said Theodore, trying not to smirk. ‘Anything else? Hair colour? Height?’
‘Oh, he’s fairly tall.’
‘How tall is fairly tall?’
‘You know. Pretty decently tall.’
‘Would you happen to know if he has a tattoo? A horse, on his hip?’
‘Ahh!’ Percy leaned forward, a satisfied twinkle in his eye. ‘You’re talking about Jack.’
‘You do know him!’
Theodore glanced at the bathroom door. He didn’t know why he was suddenly concerned about what Douglas might overhear—especially since Percy showed no concern at all.
Theodore smiled at Percy. ‘Why don’t you tell me everything you know about Jack?’
Next Update: 31st July