There were three C. Parsons listed in the London City Directory. Hugo had telephoned each of them. One had been an elderly man named Colin who grumbled about time wasting telephone calls. One was called Charles but had never heard of the Jermyn Street Hammam and seemed bemused about the notion of bathhouses in general. The other had not answered the telephone. Hugo might have taken this as indication that the third C. Parsons was lying dead in their spare room and therefore unable to come to the phone. Yet the seed of doubt had already taken root.
The directory also listed an address. Hugo took a cab to Kensington, which dropped him off on a quiet street with tall, terraces of red brick and marble. Checking the address he’d written down in his notebook, Hugo rang the bell.
Hugo wasn’t sure what he was hoping for. If Charles Parsons answered, thus proving himself alive, Hugo would know his suspicion was correct, though it would feel like taking two steps back. If Charles Parsons was dead, and nobody answered the door, that wouldn’t be enough to quell Hugo’s doubts. If Charles Parsons was alive but merely out of the house, which was likely enough considering it was the middle of the day, Hugo would have no way of knowing.
The intercom crackled. A woman’s voice said, ‘Hello?’
‘I’m looking for Mr Charles Parsons,’ said Hugo.
There was a pause. ‘Is this Mr Walsingham?’
Hugo considered saying yes, but decided against it. ‘No. Is Mr Parsons available?’
He was expecting the woman to ask for more information, his name at least. But with a loud buzz, the door clicked open.
Hugo climbed the stairs to the flat, where he found the door ajar. He stepped inside, into an empty hallway.
‘Hello?’ he called.
A woman’s voice yelled from somewhere. ‘Charlie! Someone to see you.’
A door opened. A man poked his head into the hall. He had dishevelled, dark hair and a boyish face.
‘Are you Charles Parsons?’ said Hugo.
The man approached Hugo. His sleeves were rolled up, his hands were wet and he held a dishcloth in one of them. As he crossed the hall, there was a moment where he cast a surly look at one of the doors as he passed, perhaps the door behind which the woman—his wife?—was concealed. Hugo didn’t know what to make of it. He missed Theodore.
‘That’s me,’ said the man. ‘Can I help you?’
Hugo remembered himself. ‘My name is Simmons. I represent the Jermyn Street Hammam. I understand you attended the bathhouse on Tuesday?’
Hugo braced himself for denial. It would be just typical of this case if he was some other Charles Parsons, leaving Hugo back where he started. Thankfully, Charles said, ‘Yes, that’s right.’
Hugo smiled his little smile. ‘I telephoned earlier but there was no answer.’
‘We were both out this morning,’ said Charles. ‘What is this about?’
‘We’ve found an error in our records pertaining to you. I was hoping you could help me set them straight.’
‘Will it take long?’
‘Only a few minutes.’
He slung another scowl at the door behind him, before gesturing at a door to Hugo’s left. ‘The sitting room is this way.’ Thankfully, he didn’t ask for identification.
He led Hugo into a bright and airy room. A wide bay window invited the daylight in, though the pale walls and cream furnishings made the place look more empty than it was. The place was sterile in its neatness. Every surface was practically bare and every line was perfectly straight.
Charles sat on the settee that faced the fireplace and invited Hugo to take the armchair. As he did, he noticed several things out of place. On the end table beside the sofa was a wind-up alarm clock and a glass of water, left overnight judging by the tiny bubbles in the liquid. And stuffed into the space between the settee and the end table was a pillow bundled into a blanket, clearly not the usual spot for either.
Charles suspiciously followed Hugo’s eye. But he smirked. ‘It’s funny,’ he said.
‘What?’ said Hugo.
‘When a husband is unfaithful, his wife kicks him out the bed. But when the wife is unfaithful, the husband still ends up sleeping on the settee.’ He raised his hands in defeat.
‘I apologise. It’s none of my business.’
Charles shrugged. ‘If she wants to invite other men into our marriage I don’t see why I can’t do the same thing.’
Hugo paused, unsure if Charles had intended another meaning. A moment passed and Hugo decided he was oblivious. That aside, Hugo was pleased to have discovered the reason behind the woman’s aloofness and Charles’ funny looks at her door. Perhaps he could manage without Theodore after all.
Charles wiped his hands with the dishcloth and placed it on the end table. ‘Our housekeeper’s day off,’ he explained. ‘So?’
‘Ah, yes,’ said Hugo, taking out his notebook. ‘Our records indicate you checking in at twelve-thirty-one?’
‘That sounds about right.’
‘But we don’t have any record of when you left.’
‘Hmm.’ Charles bit his lip while he thought. ‘Not sure. Before six at any rate.’
‘Are you sure? You definitely weren’t there in the evening?’
‘My friends can vouch for me. I left and arrived with them; Giles Campbell and John Griffin. Hopefully, you have their records. I paid in full if that’s what you’re worried about.’
‘That’s all very well, sir.’ Hugo made note of these names. ‘Can you tell me your shoe size?’
Charles frowned at this, but said, ‘Size eleven.’ Three sizes larger than the boots left in his locker.
‘Do you own a gold signet ring?’
‘No, nothing like that. I’m not one for jewellery.’
‘Do you know anyone called Jack Roe?’
Charles frowned again. ‘Why? What’s that got to do with the records?’
Hugo thought fast. ‘We’re missing records for him too but we’re having trouble tracking him down. I’m asking just on the off-chance.’
‘Ah, all right,’ said Charles with a nod. ‘No, I don’t know anyone by that name.’
‘What about Keegan Doyle?’
Charles shook his head.
Hugo thought. ‘Who is Mr Walsingham?’ When Charles stared, Hugo added, ‘That’s nothing to do with the records. When I rang the doorbell, your wife asked me if that was my name.’
‘Ah,’ said Charles. ‘Walsingham is the name of my solicitor. My wife knows I’m meeting with him later today. About the divorce.’
‘I see,’ said Hugo. ‘Sorry.’
Charles smiled in a vacant way, his eyes glazing over. ‘Are you married?’ he said.
‘No,’ said Hugo, for that was the truth.
‘If you ever do marry, just remember—’ The words caught in his throat, as if all the things he wished to say had become trapped there. He sighed. ‘Just remember, the story doesn’t end when the ring is on her finger.’
It was some time before Hugo said, ‘I’ll remember that.’
Hugo ran for a cab but it drove off before he reached it. There was practically no traffic on these residential streets, so he had no choice but to go back to the high street to find another. At least the walk would give him a moment to organise his thoughts.
Charles Parsons was not the victim. He’d not even been there that evening. Hugo supposed he could spend time verifying that by chasing up these friends Charles had mentioned, but now he knew Charles was alive he was much less interested in him. Now his priority was to find Jack Roe and Keegan Doyle.
On Kensington High Street, Hugo found a telephone box, inside which was another copy of the London City Directory. He tried looking up Jack Roe first, but couldn’t find a single person with that name. Though he dragged his finger down the column of Rs again and again, it jumped from F. Roe to B. Rogers every time. Hugo reasoned Jack Roe may have been a tourist, which would make finding him difficult if he did turn out to be the victim.
There was one K. Doyle. Hugo took a note of the address before telephoning. It barely got through the first ring when a woman answered. ‘Hello? Inspector?’ she said.
Hugo hesitated. ‘No, sorry, my name is Simmons. I’m looking for Keegan Doyle.’
The silence that followed made Hugo fear the line had gone dead. The woman said, ‘I’m sorry. He’s not here right now.’
She hung up without saying goodbye.
Hugo was not surprised that Keegan was absent. He already knew the police were hunting him. But now he knew that a woman at his home—his wife?—was expecting a call from an inspector. It must have been she who reported him missing. And perhaps it was also she who had told the police to look for him at the Hammam.
Either way, she knew something. Hugo had a lead.
Next Update: 2nd August