‘However, you’ve made a few mistakes,’ said Molly. ‘Three, by my count.’
Hugo studied her closely. ‘Which mistakes?’
‘One, Keegan did not attend Jermyn Street to meet men. Two, I did not bring a blade, or any weapon, to Jermyn Street. Three, I did not kill my husband.’
Hugo could only stare. She turned back to the baby, feeling no need to elaborate. She spoke casually, as though she didn’t care whether Hugo believed her or not. ‘You’ve done a far better job than the police and for that I’m grateful. But you’ve also lied to me. You’ve seen my husband. I didn’t even know he was dead. Oh, let’s be honest, I knew, but until you said it I couldn’t shake that last shred of blind hope. It’s not how I’d’ve chosen to find out, but I’m glad to know.’
‘Are you telling me that aside from those three mistakes, I’m correct?’ said Hugo.
‘I suppose I should take it as a compliment you think I’m strong enough to strangle Keegan. You said the killer carved the name of his sin into his chest?’
‘Which sin? Adultery?’
Molly nodded to herself. ‘As I told you yesterday, my husband was a good, Catholic man. He was guilty of no sin. If anything, it was his virtue that killed him.’
Hugo was starting to lose his mind. ‘Look, what is it you’re trying to tell me?’
‘Nothing,’ she shrugged. ‘Honest, I really don’t know any more than you do. For the most part, you were bang on the money. I did suspect Keegan was goin’ to the bathhouse to meet men like that. I knew full well what went on there. He never spoke much about work, but he did tell me about the license dispute. It was a high profile job, you see, to be assigned to the Public Control Committee. He was proud. But I think he forgot he told me that. And what the dispute was about.
‘When he started goin’, he said it was good for his career and I wanted to believe him. But as time went on, he was goin’ several nights a week and sometimes he wouldn’t get back until very late. Whenever I confronted him about it, he just dodged my questions and told me not to worry. But I could tell he was keepin’ something from me. And I was losing patience. So, as you rightly figured out, I disguised myself.
‘It was a mad idea, but once I’d had it it wouldn’t go away. I don’t have the curviest shape, so I thought if I cut my hair, taped down my bosom and wore a suit, so long as people didn’t look too closely I might just get away with it. When I stepped out the house, I was so paranoid, I thought everyone could tell, I was just waiting for somebody to point and yell, “Fraud!” But when I got to Jermyn Street, they checked me in without so much as a funny look.
‘So I went into the bathhouse and went to a cubicle and that’s as far as I’d planned, as far as I thought I’d be able to get. So I pulled the curtain and spied through the gap. I couldn’t see Keegan, because he was in the hot room, of course. But they’d given me two towels. So in my cubicle, I tried covering up and it sort of worked, one towel around my waist and the other over my shoulders. Other men were wearing them like that, so I thought I’d give it a go. And I got away with it.
‘Even inside the hot room—the hararah, do they call it?—I couldn’t find him. For a second, I was afraid he wasn’t there after all, that the bathhouse was just a lie and he was off somewhere else and I’d cut my hair for nothing. But then I looked into one of the smaller rooms to the side and there he was, sat with a man. And he was washing his back.’
‘Was that all you saw?’ Hugo interrupted. ‘He washed his back, nothing else?’
Molly raised an eyebrow. ‘You don’t think that’s enough? Well, perhaps you’re right. As you said, I went to Jermyn Street with some expectation of what I would find, but still it shocked me. I went back to the changin’ room, I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. But then I thought about what I would say when he came home. How would I explain what I’d done to my hair? I didn’t want him to dodge the question again. I had to confront him then and there.
‘I waited, to get him on his own. After maybe twenty minutes, he came into the cold room, by himself, so I went and said hello, cheerful as anythin’. Like you supposed, my disguise didn’t fool him. He figured out what I’d seen right away, and took me into a cubicle to talk about it. He confessed everythin’.
‘Turned out he was there as an undercover inspector.’ She smiled proudly at that. ‘He was investigating if queer activities were still going on there. That’s why he was washing that man’s back, to see how he’d react, and what the bathhouse would do about it. But if anyone found out his true agenda, it would jeopardise the whole assignment. That’s why he couldn’t tell me what he was really doing. And now he had his proof, he didn’t need to do it anymore. So you see, it was all a misunderstandin’.’
‘I felt pretty embarrassed after that, so I went home. I didn’t want to get in the way of his work any more than I already had. I was expectin’ him late, so it didn’t trouble me that he wasn’t home when I went to bed. But when he wasn’t there in the mornin’, I worried. I’d got inside there once before, so I went back to Jermyn Street at lunchtime, lookin’ for him, but he’d just gone. I called the police, but I couldn’t tell them anythin’. If I told them I’d snuck inside the bathhouse I might become a suspect. And since his name wasn’t in the record, they thought he never went there, even though I knew he had. It was so frustrating!’ She let out an aggravated grunt, but then looked at Hugo with a slight smile. ‘That’s why I was intrigued when you started askin’ me about the bathhouse yesterday. I thought maybe you’d succeed where the police failed. And, well, you’ve not done badly.’
Hugo murmured noncommittally.
‘I was hopin’ for answers, though.’ Molly sighed heavily as she sank into an armchair. ‘I suppose, if Keegan was found as you say, what must have happened is he played the part too well, with the wrong person, and they killed him for it.’
Hugo paused. All he wanted now was to extricate himself from this awkward situation, but there’s no graceful way to take one’s leave after you’ve just falsely accused somebody of murder. He felt like he’d not only let himself down with his mistake, but he’d let Molly down too. And he believed even the harshest truths are kinder than the most well-intentioned lies.
‘Mrs Doyle,’ he began. ‘I’m afraid your husband lied to you. He was not an undercover inspector for the council. He was suspended from his job three weeks ago.’
Once again, Molly went quiet, staring at Hugo with fascination.
Hugo went on. ‘And if what my partner has heard is true, he did far more than simply wash the man’s back in the hot room.’
Hugo’s voice caught in his throat, but his silence spoke volumes.
Molly looked at her lap. For the first time, tears splashed down her cheeks. ‘I feel so foolish.’
The only thing Hugo could think to say was, ‘Please don’t.’
‘This is all my fault.’
‘How could it be your fault?’
‘I don’t know,’ she sniffed. ‘I just feel like if I never interfered, if I’d left well enough alone, he’d be alive right now.’
Hesitantly, Hugo walked over to her and placed an awkward hand on her shoulder. ‘It’s not your fault he lied.’
‘He loved me. And Ciara too. No matter what he got up to at Jermyn Street, I know he did. That should have been enough. But I had to go sticking my beak in.’
‘No,’ Hugo heard himself say. ‘What he did wasn’t fair to you.’
Molly gave Hugo a pitying look. ‘What’s unfair is he’s dead and I’m alone. All that other stuff doesn’t matter anymore.’
Hugo stopped trying to reassure her. He was clearly doing a lousy job.
She seemed to understand why he’d fallen silent, because she said, ‘If you want to make this better, I suggest you finish the job you started. Go find the man who killed my husband.’