Hugo paused by a bus stop to refer to the map. He had taken the tube to Clapham Common but it was still a walk to K. Doyle’s address. He had passed row upon row of identical terraces, counting each one as he passed, only to discover that the correct street was not where he was expecting it to be. He normally had a keen sense of direction, but the map told him he had gone too far.
He was obviously nervous. If, as he suspected, Keegan Doyle was the real victim, then the woman he had spoken to on the phone was probably his widow, though she didn’t know it yet. Hugo had no idea what her emotional state would be, though he was certain he wouldn’t know how to behave around it. He thought about telephoning Theodore.
With a start, he realised he was about to pass the street again and crossed the road so quickly that he almost stepped into the path of a cab heading the other direction. The Doyle residence stood halfway along the terrace. It was a small, brown-brick house with bay windows and a little patch of grass out front. Hugo rang the bell, though he had no idea what he was going to say.
He heard movement but it was a good minute before the door opened. On the other side was a short woman with a narrow frame and a face that reminded Hugo of some movie star, though he was not au fait enough with popular culture to say which one. And even Hugo could tell she was out of sorts. Her eyes were ruddy, though her face was pale and she looked as though a child had dressed her. She wore a bright green cloche hat, indoors, with a jolly flower on the side, completely at odds with the dreary grey-blue dress she had paired it with.
The woman took one look at Hugo and said, ‘Sorry, no salesmen today.’ And she began to close the door.
‘I’m looking for Keegan Doyle.’
The door kept going. ‘He’s not in.’
‘I’m a private detective. I’ve been hired to find him.’
The door stopped. ‘Hired by who?’
Hugo swallowed. ‘A friend of your husband’s. He would prefer to remain anonymous.’
The door didn’t budge. ‘The police are already lookin’ for him.’
‘Yes, and I hope they find him. But it can’t hurt to have more people on the case, can it?’
The door remained hovering mere inches from its frame. Then, slowly, it creaked open.
She smiled weakly, but said nothing as she turned and headed back inside. Despite being more honest than usual, Hugo felt a stab of guilt at pretending he had no idea where her husband was.
She led him into the sitting room. It was a small room that tried to be square, though the jutting chimney shaft and the angles of the bay windows made it an awkward space to fit furniture into. There was a wooden cot in the corner, although no a baby inside. Hugo took a seat on a low, tan armchair, expecting the woman to sit in the identical chair opposite. Instead, she paced the room aimlessly, paying more attention to the view out the window than to Hugo.
‘Once again, thank you for taking the time to speak to me, Mrs Doyle,’ said Hugo. ‘You are Mrs Doyle, I take it?’
‘My Christian name is Molly.’ She spoke with a breathy, Irish twang.
‘A pleasure to meet you.’ As an afterthought, he added, ‘My name is Hugo Fox.’
Molly was indifferent.
‘What can you tell me about your husband?’
She sighed. ‘I dunno.’
‘That’s all right.’ Hugo thought frantically for the sort of question Theodore would ask. ‘How did you meet him?’
‘I’ve known him since I was a lass. We grew up in Cork and our families knew each other, so…’
‘So you fell in love?’
‘Aye,’ she said. The glimmer of a smile crossed her face. ‘I’ve loved him since I was five years old. He took a little longer to catch on, though.’
‘Why did you come to London?’
She heaved another sigh. ‘He was always restless, back home. Far back as I can remember, he would go on and on about just packing a bag and walking off whichever way he fancied. He never did anything like that, of course, but he always liked the idea.’
‘Was he unhappy in Cork?’
‘Why come to London?’
She prefaced her answer with a creaking groan. ‘He’d had a row with his dad. His family owned this butcher’s shop and his dad wanted him to work there after we married. I think he had it in his mind that Keegan would take over one day. Keegan didn’t like the thought of that. A few days later, he told me he’d gotten a typing job with the London City Council and was moving away. Fool that I am, I followed him.’ She paused her pacing and actually looked at Hugo. ‘Is this helpful?’
Hugo cleared his throat. ‘How long has your husband been missing?’
‘When did you last see him?’
‘In the morning, before he left for work.’
‘And when did you first know he was missing?’
‘Not until the next day, when I woke up and he hadn’t come home,’ she said. ‘I was expecting him late because he’d told me he was going to the bathhouse after work.’
‘The bathhouse?’ said Hugo, feigning ignorance.
Again, Molly stopped pacing. ‘The one on Jermyn Street,’ she said. ‘He visits maybe once a week. Maybe twice.’
She lowered herself onto the other armchair. Hugo wasn’t sure what he’d done but he had her attention now. ‘It’s the done thing in London, or so they tell me. A lot of his colleagues do it. Keegan tries to be sociable with his superiors, in the hopes they’ll give him a promotion.’
‘Did he ever tell you anything about these visits?’
Molly did not answer right away. When she eventually spoke, she said, ‘Not much. Why? Do you think the bathhouse is important?’
‘It could be,’ said Hugo.
Another hesitation. ‘The police told me he never even reached the bathhouse that day.’
Hugo was certain Molly was trying to imply something with these pauses, though what it was he wasn’t certain. Once again, he found himself wishing Theodore were there.
He leaned forward. ‘What do you know about the reputation of the Hammam?’
Molly frowned slightly. ‘I don’t know. It’s meant to be a well respected place.’
‘That’s not what I mean,’ said Hugo. He took a moment to choose his next words. ‘Do you think it’s possible that your husband was visiting for another reason?’
Molly blinked. ‘Such as?’
Again, Hugo mulled over his phrasing. ‘There are some men who visit the Hammam to meet other men. What I mean is, meet them intimately.’
Molly’s face darkened. Hugo had misinterpreted the subtext.
‘If you’re sayin’ what I think you’re sayin’,’ she said, wielding each word like a stabbing knife, ‘then the answer is no, that is not possible. Keegan is a good man, a good Catholic man.’ She leapt from her seat and Hugo feared she was about to strike him. Instead she pointed at the door. ‘If you’re only here to throw ridiculous accusations at a man you’ve never met then I think you’d better leave.’
Hugo was trying to construct his apologies when the doorbell rang. The moment seemed preserved in time, Molly and Hugo paralysed into staring at one another. The spell broke. Molly went to answer the door, leaving Hugo unsure what to do with himself.
‘Hello, Molly, sorry I’m late.’
‘Actually, you’re right on time.’
‘She’s been very good, as always. I’m happy to take her anytime you need. How are you holding up?’
Hugo felt dishonest eavesdropping and so emerged into the corridor. Molly was clutching a dozing baby, moving aside to allow a plump woman woman to reverse a pram through the door. Once inside, the woman turned and caught sight of Hugo.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Am I interrupting?’
‘He’s part of the investigation,’ said Molly, flashing a scowl at Hugo. ‘He’s just leaving.’
Hugo might have had a chance of placating Molly before the doorbell had rung but now her mind was made up. It was unlikely she’d discuss the matter in front of her babysitter. Nevertheless, Hugo pressed his luck.
‘Before I go, you wouldn’t happen to have a photograph of your husband I could take, do you?’
Molly stiffened. ‘I’ve already given mine to the police.’
‘Do you have another?’
‘Back in Cork, maybe. The only photo of him we have here is our wedding photo. I only had the one copy.’
‘But there are other copies?’
‘Keegan had the other two. Another small one he kept in his wallet and the big one that’s on his desk at work. Maybe you could try there.’
‘At the City Council?’
Molly confirmed this by saying nothing. The plump woman’s eyes darted between the two of them.
Hugo dared to ask one more question. ‘Did your husband have a tattoo of a horse on his hip?’
The plump woman giggled nervously. Molly inhaled sharply and said, ‘Good day, Mr Fox.’
The door thudded shut behind him, but Hugo was already hurrying beck to the station. Keegan Doyle was the victim, he was certain. Which made it all the more irritating that Molly hadn’t quite confirmed it. Hugo felt uneasy relying on certainty alone.
When he reached the station, he came across a telephone right outside. After a moment’s loitering, he got inside and dialled the number for the Hammam. After the mess he’d made of that interrogation, it was time to admit he couldn’t do this without Theodore.