Theodore was sitting by the plunge pool, his legs in the water. It was only now the attendant disturbed him he realised how long he’d been there.
‘Telephone for you, sir.’ The attendant carried a bathrobe, draped over his arm. He held it up for Theodore. ‘If you would come with me.’
Theodore stood and, after taking a moment to dry his legs with his second towel, stepped into the robe and fastened it around himself. The attendant walked him out to reception.
At the desk, another attendant was dealing with an irate customer. A short, middle-aged man with a bald spot was getting red in the face, jabbing his finger with every other word.
‘I don’t care to be compensated, it is a family heirloom! Now go back there and check again. A gold signet ring with an E engraved in the top. I am not leaving without it.’
Theodore offered a sympathetic look to the beleaguered attendant, before taking the handset his own attendant offered.
His attendant had left to assist his colleague with the angry customer. Even so, Theodore turned away and spoke into the receiver with hushed tones. ‘Is that you, Art?’
‘Are you busy, Theo?’ There was something about his tone.
‘Is everything all right?’
‘Yes, yes, I’m fine. It’s just, I’ve remembered something and I thought you’d want to know right away.’
‘What is it?’
‘I’m in a coffee shop on the Strand. Can you meet me? Now?’
The coffee shop was practically dead. It was a quaint, little place, cramped and narrow, gloomy like a cave. Despite its size, it took a few minutes to find Art, sat in a booth embedded in an alcove at the very back. He was huddled over a coffee, not drinking, idly twirling a spoon through his full cup. The moment he caught sight of Theodore approaching he sprang to life. ‘Theo! Thanks for coming. Sit, sit. Do you want a drink?’
Theodore slid into the booth. ‘No, I shouldn’t stay long.’
‘I’ll get it for you.’ He had his pocket book out, rifling through a stack of notes.
‘Art, just tell me what you want to tell me.’
Art frowned. ‘You’re not angry with me, are you?’
Theodore had to think about this. He supposed he was, and had been ever since their conversation at the Criterion. Though if Art asked why, he knew he wouldn’t be able to explain his feelings. So he just said, ‘No.’
‘You probably will be in a minute.’
‘Why?’ said Theodore, his eyes narrowing.
Art’s smile faded. ‘Do you think it’s right to do a bad thing if you do it for a good reason?’
Theodore was stunned. Not just by the nature of the question but also by the way Art had asked it. Even now, he watched Theodore with intense expectation, as though however Theodore answered was the most crucial thing in the world.
‘Well…’ said Theodore, cautiously. ‘I think that would depend on what and why.’
‘What if you lied to protect someone?’
Theodore looked about the coffee shop, wishing it were full so their voices wouldn’t carry so much. Leaning in to whisper, he said, ‘Art, my whole life is a lie to protect people. I’m not going to judge you.’
Art bit his lip. ‘It’s not just that. I’m afraid if I tell you, innocent people might get hurt.’
‘Come on, Art. You know me better than that. Whatever it is, I’ll do the right thing.’
Theodore thought this ought to make things simple, but Art spent a long time thinking very carefully. Theodore waited, scared to make any sound that might change Art’s mind.
Art sighed. ‘You asked me if I saw anything out of the ordinary that night. I told you I saw him talking to someone.’
‘Yes. A slim, surly man,’ said Theodore.
‘Yeah…’ Art scratched his neck. ‘Look, I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the murder. I don’t want someone to get arrested if he’s innocent.’
‘We’re not going to the police.’
Art nodded. ‘The truth is, when I spoke with him that night—my friend, the victim, I mean—he actually turned me down.’
‘I see,’ said Theodore, hoping there was more this confession. ‘Does this mean you and he never actually slept together?’
‘Oh, no, we did.’ Art shrugged. ‘But he’d grown bored of me, I suppose. Like you, he enjoyed variety. Or like you used to…’
Theodore ignored this last point. ‘So what happened?’
‘I’m ashamed to admit it but I, sort of, hung around him a little, hoping he’d reconsider.’
‘And you saw something?’
Art nodded. ‘There was… an incident.’
Again, Theodore waited.
‘Like I said I saw him talking with someone. A young fellow, thin, with wavy blond hair.’
‘How did he wear his second towel?’
Art blinked. ‘I don’t remember. Is that important?’
‘Probably not,’ said Theodore. ‘Go on.’
‘Anyway,’ Art resumed, ‘they went into one of the smaller hot rooms together. Again, I’m not proud, but I was jealous…so I followed. I hung near the door and spied on them through the curtain.’
Art paused again, as though waiting for Theodore to ask. Theodore obliged. ‘What did you see?’
‘Nothing, at first. They just bathed, chatting a bit but mostly quiet. But the blond man’s towel had come a little loose and, well, my friend’s hands wandered and he tried to kiss the blond fellow. It wasn’t well received. The blond man socked him one, right on the cheek.’
Theodore remembered the bruising on the right cheek of the body. ‘What happened after that?’
‘The blond swore a lot, called my friend a pervert and stormed off.’
‘I see…’ Theodore’s mind was racing. It was all piecing together. All he had to do was track down this blond man. He couldn’t wait to tell Hugo.
As if reading Theodore’s mind, Art said, ‘This could be completely unrelated, you know. I mean, it’s the Hammam. Misunderstandings are part and parcel. You will investigate properly before you do anything, won’t you?’
Theodore paused. He placed his hand on Art’s own. ‘I promise.’
Art’s smile returned, a little pained but familiar. ‘You’re not angry with me, then?’
Theodore withdrew his hand. When Art’s face fell, he tried to salvage things with a sincere smile. ‘I’m glad you told me the truth.’
Art nodded. ‘Of course.’
Silence fell over the table. Art studied Theodore, who looked away in embarrassment.
‘I should go,’ said Theodore.
‘Wait.’ Art took a pen from his jacket and scribbled something onto a napkin. ‘Here’s my new number. Maybe when all of this is over, we could… stay in touch?’
He slid the napkin across the table. Theodore wasn’t sure he was going to take it at first, but of course he did.
‘Take care, Art.’
‘See you around, Theo.’