‘What is it?’ said Art.
‘It’s Jack’s wallet,’ Theodore hissed. ‘Or Keegan’s, Jack was a fake name. His clothes were in the changing room where he was killed. He must’ve had it in a pocket.’
‘So howcome it’s here?’
Theodore grunted impatiently. ‘Obviously, Dougie looted it. After Keegan was dead.’
Art looked at the door Dougie had left through. They could still hear him talking. He was discussing a quote for a custom-made writing desk.
‘Should we just leave?’ said Art.
Theodore paused. ‘No,’ he heard himself say. ‘I want to hear him confess.’
Theodore was already crossing the room, to the door, where he flipped the sign to closed. Then he dashed to a tall wardrobe at one end of the shop and motioned to lift it. ‘Give me a hand.’
‘Where are we putting it?’ Art sounded dubious, but went to help all the same.
Together, by Theodore’s lead, they lifted it off the ground and shuffled it over to the back door, placing it just inside, careful to make as little noise as possible. Once it was in position, Theodore opened it up and placed himself at the back door’s other side. ‘When he comes out, I’ll push him in and you close the doors.’
‘Um. All right.’
Art took position beside the wardrobe. He looked pale.
‘Relax,’ Theodore told him. ‘Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.’
Art was not reassured.
They waited for an eternity, Theodore pressed against the wall, Art hovering awkwardly by the wardrobe, listening to Dougie go on about this writing desk. The customer he was talking to must have been old, because Dougie repeated himself a lot. Somewhere, at the back of Theodore’s mind, Hugo’s voice was speaking sense, asking what Theodore would do if this went wrong and what his plan was for after they captured Dougie. Theodore ignored it. He was going to do this without Hugo.
At last, the conversation wound down. Dougie bid the customer goodbye and the telephone clicked back into the receiver. Theodore tensed. Those silent few seconds were agony. Then, at last, Dougie stepped back into the room.
‘Look, I don’t know what you—oof!’
Theodore shoved. Dougie stumbled headfirst into the wardrobe and Art scrambled to get the doors shut.
‘What the bloody hell!?’
The doors rattled. Art gasped but Theodore was already there. He grabbed the top of the wardrobe and tugged. He only just pushed Art out of its way as, like a felled log, it tumbled, landing face down.
Art stared at it, as though it were a corpse. ‘Is he okay?’
The wardrobe began to swear. It shook and hopped but Theodore sat on top of it. After that it just made angry, banging noises.
‘We found the wallet,’ Theodore yelled above the din.
‘What wallet!?’ said the wardrobe.
‘Keegan’s wallet. The one you stole after your murdered him.’
‘What the hell are you on about? I don’t even know any Keegan!’
‘Keegan Doyle, Jack Roe, whatever he called himself. He tried to kiss you and you killed him for it. Then you took his wallet because you can tell yourself it’s not wrong so long as you’re just doing it for the money.’
The wardrobe went quiet. ‘Jack’s dead?’
Theodore froze. Those two words had been a hoarse squeak, only just audible through the solid wood.
‘You… didn’t know?’ Theodore glanced at Art, who had turned white.
‘This is some sick joke. He’s not dead.’
‘But you must know,’ said Theodore, frowning. ‘Why did you think I was investigating him?’
‘Perce said you were a private detective. I assumed you were hired by a jealous housewife or something. You never said Jack was dead.’
It was true, Theodore remembered, he’d never said so. And Dougie had been in the bathroom when Percy made that deduction.
‘He’s really dead?’ said Dougie.
Theodore swallowed. ‘He was murdered. In the bathhouse, on Tuesday night.’
‘Oh.’ Dougie’s voice cracked. Theodore listened, certain he could hear the muffled sound of choked sobbing.
‘Dougie,’ he said, warily. ‘I’m going to lift the wardrobe so brace yourself.’
He took Dougie’s silence to mean he was ready, but as Theodore stood, he felt Art’s hand on his shoulder.
‘Are you sure?’ he said. ‘What if he’s lying?’
‘If that’s an act he should be on stage.’ Without Art’s help, Theodore squatted beside the wardrobe and lifted it back onto its legs. The doors swung open, revealing a somewhat battered Dougie huddled in the corner. His eyes were red, though that didn’t stop him from glaring at Theodore.
Theodore resisted the urge to apologise, though he did extend a hand to Dougie. Dougie eyed it like a suspicious cat, but in the end allowed Theodore to help him up, out of the wardrobe and onto a nearby chair.
‘Before anything else, let’s clear up a few things,’ said Theodore. He showed Dougie the wallet. ‘This belonged to the man you know as Jack. His wedding photo is in here as well as his work ID.’
‘I’ve never seen it before,’ Dougie said, irritably.
‘It was in the drawer behind the till.’
Dougie made an apathetic shrug.
‘You see how incriminating this looks.’
‘I never put it there. What d’you want me to tell you?’
Theodore frowned at the wallet, but put it away. ‘So… I think you knew Jack better than you’re telling me.’
Dougie looked at his shoes. ‘I dunno.’ Theodore waited. Dougie let out a heavy breath. ‘So, I go to the bathhouse a lot. I’m not queer or anything, I mean, I like women, honest, I do. But sometimes you just want a bit of fun without the fuss. And there’s lots of nice gentlemen at the bathhouse who’ll even pay money to spend time with you. And, yes, some of them even invested in my shop, but it was never any more than that. Jack… Jack was different.’
Dougie gasped, as if in pain, and held his head in his hands.
‘Take your time,’ said Theodore.
He sat up at once. ‘I’m fine. It’s fine. It’s just… it’s strange to say this out loud.’
Theodore smiled, nodded and, again, waited.
‘We didn’t… do anything, I mean we never went to bed together. Jack didn’t have money so the subject never came up. Besides, he didn’t seem to be there for that, at least, not in the same way as Percy, say. Even so, we started spending time together. Only ever in the bathhouse, mind, we never arranged to meet outside, Jack was adamant about that. But it got so we saw each other every other weeknight. I even started turning down offers from my usual fellas to spend time with him. Some nights, I didn’t go to bed with anyone, I just sat and chatted with him. I told myself we were just good friends but even then I think I knew. I… loved Jack.’
He exhaled, as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
‘So what happened in the small hot room on Tuesday night?’ said Theodore.
‘I’m not sure exactly,’ said Dougie. ‘I’m still trying to put it together in my head. But, yeah, we were sat and chatting in the small hot room, the one on the left, like we always did. But then something came over Jack. Out of nowhere, he jumped on me, kissed me and ran his hand up my thigh. So… I punched him.’
‘I dunno. Honestly, I don’t, I just did it. Maybe I liked it and it scared me.’ He paused to think. ‘No, I think I was angry. I mean, I’d never been that close to anyone, man or woman. I didn’t want it to be that he was just grooming me to cop a feel. It was cheap. I loved him and he ruined it.’
‘Was that the last time you saw him?’ said Theodore.
Dougie scoffed. ‘Not quite. Barely five minutes later, I saw him talking to another man in the cold room. I told you this, the young, blond fella? After I watched them go into a changing cubicle together, I realised our relationship wasn’t so special to him as it was to me. And you said you’d heard about him sleeping with somebody else too, so I suppose I was just one of many.’
Theodore sighed. ‘You weren’t describing yourself. You saw him with a different blond-haired man.’
‘Uh, yeah,’ Dougie scowled. ‘Why would I describe myself?’
‘And the way you tutted and scowled when talking about Keegan and the blond man together, that was jealousy, not disgust.’
Dougie blushed. ‘You picked up on that?’
Theodore hung his head. How had he found himself here? ‘Experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes. I believe you, Dougie. You didn’t kill Jack. I can only apologise.’
‘Golly, thanks,’ Dougie said, unconvincingly.
‘I’m sorry to have wasted your time. And I’ll pay if there’s any damage to the wardrobe.’
‘Leave it. Just go.’
Theodore looked at Art, who gave a hangdog smile before practically jumping for the door.
‘Just—’ Dougie faltered. ‘If you find out what happened to Jack, let me know. Okay?’
Theodore nodded. ‘That’s a promise.’
Next Update: 4th September