The Deep End – Chapter 18

Prologue 1 • 2 • 3 • 4 • 5 • 6 • 7 • 8 • 9 • 10 • 11 • 12 • 13 • 14 • 15 • 16 • 17 • 18 • 19 • 20 • 21 • 22 • 23 • 24 • 25 • 26 • 27 • 28 • 29 • 30 • 31

Hugo’s notebook was on the bedroom floor, pages splayed and folded under. Hugo had accidentally hurled it there when he’d thrown open the bedcovers. Theodore picked it up and placed it on the bedside table. He put his novel on top to flatten it out.

The detectives ate breakfast together, though they prepared their meals separately and didn’t even share a ‘good morning’ as they ate. Hugo finished first and left the table without waiting for Theodore. He went to his pile of clothes and began changing, right there in the dining room.

The phone rang. Theodore went back to the master bedroom to answer. It was a short conversation. After putting the phone down, Theodore looked towards the ajar door, through which he could hear the quiet footsteps of Hugo heading down the hall. Theodore hesitated to call out, aware that these would be the first words he spoke to Hugo that day. But when he heard the front door open, he had no choice.

‘Huey! That was Butterfield. He wants to see us this morning, nine on the dot, so we can update him on our progress.’

Hugo didn’t answer right away. ‘You go. I’ve got my own plans.’

‘But I already told him you’d be there,’ said Theodore as the front door clicked shut.

As Theodore dressed, he noticed Hugo’s notebook still on the bedside table. Theodore never used a notebook. Nevertheless, without pausing to think about why, he picked it up and dropped it into his breast pocket. It was a small comfort.

At the Hammam, Theodore pushed his way through the attendant’s usual warm welcome. Furqan was waiting for him by reception. Without a word, he turned and lead Theodore upstairs to Mr Butterfield’s office.

Mr Butterfield was busy opening his post, using an ornate, bone-handled letter opener. He smiled as Theodore entered, then frowned when Furqan shut the door behind them.

‘Where’s the other?’ he said.

Theodore sighed. ‘Hugo is chasing another lead.’

Mr Butterfield looked annoyed, but simply gestured to the chairs before his desk. They sat. Furqan hovered.

‘From what I hear, the two of you have been splitting up a lot,’ said Mr Butterfield. ‘With all this ground you’re covering, I expect you’ve made good progress, yes?’

‘Yes,’ said Theodore, firmly. ‘The victim’s name is Jack Roe. Our lead suspect is a young, slim man with blond hair. Jack and he were involved in a disagreement on Tuesday night.’

‘Oh!’ Mr Butterfield nodded happily. ‘Good, you already know about that.’

‘Excuse me? You know about that?’

‘One of the attendants on duty Tuesday night witnessed that “disagreement.”’

Theodore’s mouth fell open. ‘And you’re just telling me this now?’

‘I only found out myself yesterday evening,’ said Mr Butterfield. ‘Did Furqan not tell you I would be conducting interviews with staff?’

‘I did,’ said Furqan, dryly.

‘I have now spoken with everyone on duty that night. Most knew nothing of note about the victim, but Mr Dev Mandal relayed this story of the blond haired man whom the victim, ahem, importuned. He didn’t understand the significance of what he had seen, of course, but, naturally, I saw its potential relevance. I invited you here this morning because I thought you’d want a chance to speak with him yourself.’

‘Oh,’ said Theodore, still annoyed. ‘Yes, I’d like to speak with him.’

Mr Butterfield nodded at Furqan, who left. ‘Please note,’ Mr Butterfield continued. ‘I have taken pains to prevent my staff from learning about the murder. Dev believes I was questioning him because we received a complaint about the victim from another person he “propositioned”.’

‘I won’t tell him anything,’ said Theodore.

‘Good.’

Furqan returned before long. He took Theodore to an empty office, where Dev Mandal was waiting. Theodore found Dev sitting casually atop a desk, hands in his lap. He wore the typical attendant’s robes, though he’d removed his turban, revealing a conspicuous bald spot. Like all the attendants at the Hammam, he was  dark-skinned, although his chestnut complexion was darker than many of his colleagues. Most of his face was hidden behind a bushy, black beard, though his toothy grin shone through. And while to Theodore’s eye he looked every bit the typical Turk, when he opened his mouth to speak it was a jolly, cockney accent that tumbled out.

‘Oh, it’s you! Theodore, isnit?’

It was only when Theodore had digested the initial surprise of Dev’s voice, and had moved on to the second surprise that Dev knew his name, when he recognised him. Theodore had no specific memories of Dev, though he’d surely spoken with him a thousand times and received dozens of massages by his hands. Back when he was a regular, Theodore was friendly enough with the Hammam’s attendants to know many of them by sight. Though he felt a twinge of shame when he realised he’d never learned any of their names.

‘You alright?’ said Dev with a frown, before his eyes went wide. ‘Oh, the voice! You’re more used to’—he affected an eastern lilt, taking care to roll his Rs—‘Good morning, sir! Can I help you, sir? Anything you wish, sir. How glorious it is to see you, sir.’

‘I take it you aren’t a native Turk, then?’ said Theodore.

‘Nah, I was born here, in London. Butterfield has us all do the voice to make the bathhouse feel more authentic.’

‘I see,’ said Theodore with interest. ‘Mandal isn’t even a Turkish name, is it?’

Dev raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re right, it’s not,’ he said with a slight smile. ‘My parents moved here from Delhi.’

‘So how is it you work in a Turkish bathhouse?’

Dev shrugged. ‘I’m brown. It’s all the same, so far as the punters are concerned.’

Theodore felt another stab of guilt. He’d always assumed the staff were real Turks, which he now supposed was naive of him. He tried to save face. ‘To tell the truth, I was actually more surprised that you remembered my name.’

‘Ah, ‘course!’ Dev’s beard was once again parted by his grin. ‘Back in the day, you was our favourite customer.’

Theodore felt himself blush. ‘You say that to everyone, I’m sure.’

‘Ha. Not likely. Rest assured, when Butterfield told me he was hiring you I gave a hearty recommendation.’

Before he became too embarrassed, Theodore picked up a chair from the side of the room and moved it closer. ‘So tell me, Dev,’ he said, sitting down. ‘What was it you saw on Tuesday evening?’

‘Ah, well. I’m on morning shifts this week but I was covering evening bath duty for Bahri, manning the east hot room. The smaller hot rooms are, well, you know them, they’re separate from the main hararah. There’s always supposed to be at least one attendant in each, to make sure bathers can call for assistance without getting up. In the main room we can walk around a bit, but there’s not a lot of room in the small rooms so I just stand in the corner and try to be part of the furniture. Not that these fellas paid me any mind.

‘They came to the east hot room sometime after seven. One had red hair and freckles, the other was younger, with blond hair. At first, they seemed quite chummy with each other, joking and laughing. Actually, I was pretty sure they were a couple, since they sat so close, side by side. And one of them, the redhead, even washed the other one’s back.’

Theodore blinked at that. ‘Oh, really?’

‘There there was a bit of a pause in the conversation. Next thing I knew, the redhead sort of threw himself on the blond fella. Like, he went for a kiss and put a hand up his towel. And, well, the blond fella clocked him one.’

‘What happened after that?’

‘Oh, the blond fella left pretty sharpish. I helped the redhead to his feet and told him if he was going to do that sort of thing he’d be better off doing it back at the changing rooms, rather than out in the open like that.’

Theodore stroked his moustache thoughtfully. He’d always known the staff were aware of what went on, but he’d never dared test the limits of their discretion. He’d never imagined they might give him tips. ‘You weren’t shocked by what you saw?’

Dev snorted. ‘It’s not like we don’t know what goes on. I mean, you and that Arthur Greenwood would talk about it right in front of us.’ He laughed when Theodore blushed again. ‘Oh, yeah, we know all about what you two got up to. You weren’t exactly subtle.’

For the first time, Theodore was very glad Hugo wasn’t there.

‘Are you two still together?’ asked Dev.

‘Well, I wouldn’t say we ever were a couple, exactly,’ said Theodore. ‘But no, we’re not together.’

‘Aw, shame.’

‘I must say, you seem remarkably au courant about the whole thing.’

‘What, you mean men and men?’ Dev shrugged plaintively. ‘It shocked me at first but you get used to it. Good for business, Butterfield says.’

‘He encourages queer behaviour?’

‘Well, they don’t normally do it right in front of us like the red-haired fella,’ Dev smirked. ‘But, yeah, management prefers us to turn a blind eye so long as they keep it to themselves. And, for the most part, they do.’

‘But you must get complaints.’

Dev snorted. ‘Course we do. People who’ve been on the wrong end of the stick. People who’ve seen things they’d rather not. We just refund them. I’ve never known Butterfield to care so much to hire a private detective before.’

It took Theodore a moment to remember Dev believed he was investigating precisely this sort of complaint. ‘This is a special circumstance,’ he said, quickly. ‘Don’t the police ever get involved?’

‘The police aren’t bothered,’ Dev shrugged ‘I mean, what can they do, charge us for our customers’ crimes? They just turn over any complaints they get to the PCC, let them deal with it.’

‘The PCC?’

‘Public Control Committee. They handle licensing for all of London’s bathhouses.’

‘And what do they do?’

‘Not much. They tried revoking our license but we told them we’d hire more night staff to patrol. Couldn’t really argue with that.’

Theodore felt an odd swelling of pride for the Hammam. He’d always known it was safer than most places inverts liked to congregate, but he’d never realised quite how untouchable it was. What’s more, Dev had corroborated Art’s story pretty closely. Hugo couldn’t dismiss it now. Though Theodore had no doubt he’d try.

‘Did the red-haired man have a tattoo on his hip?’ asked Theodore.

Dev sniggered, a little nervously. ‘I’m not in the habit of examining customer’s hips, sir.’

‘Very well. What about his name? Can you tell me that?’

‘Sorry,’ said Dev, scratching his beard. ‘The blond fella might have used it but I try not to eavesdrop.’

‘Could it have been Jack?’

‘Ah! That sounds familiar.’

‘You’re sure? It definitely wasn’t Keegan?’

‘Ah, now…’ Dev cocked his head in a way that worried Theodore. ‘Keegan does sound familiar… ah, no, that was the customer who made the lost property request. No, his name was definitely Jack.’

‘All right, now, Dev, I need you to think really hard.’ He pressed his palms together and looked Dev in the eye. ‘The blond haired man. Is there anything else you can tell me about him?’

Dev pursed his lips. ‘He was very young. Not long out of school.’

‘Anything else?’

‘I don’t know. What sort of thing do you mean?’

‘What about his name? Did the red-haired man use it? I know it’s difficult, but just try to remember.’

‘I remember,’ said Dev abruptly. ‘His name was Dougie.’

Theodore hesitated. ‘You’re certain?’

‘Yes.’ He seemed a little offended by the remark. ‘I mean, I don’t know that’s his name, but I distinctly remember the red-haired chap calling him Dougie.’

‘Huh,’ said Theodore.


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