‘That was the most excitement I’ve had in ages. I understand why you do it now.’
The cab slid to a halt outside twenty-two Queen Street. Theodore took out his purse.
‘No, no, I’ll get it,’ said Art, counting out a stack of notes and handing them to the driver. Theodore made no objection. He opened the door and put one foot onto the pavement.
‘No goodbye?’ said Art. ‘You’re not angry with me are you?’
‘No,’ said Theodore.
‘I’m sorry Dougie was a waste of time. I did tell you he might be innocent. But you can see why I thought I should tell you about him and at least we know for sure now, so it wasn’t a total waste, was it?’
Theodore looked at Art. ‘Keegan’s wallet,’ he said.
‘What about it?’ said Art.
‘Did you put it in the drawer when you opened it?’
Art’s face turned dark. ‘Of course not. How could I? You were watching me the whole time.’
‘I know, but I can’t think how else it got there.’
‘So you thought I might be the murderer?’
Theodore had nothing to say.
‘On second thoughts, let’s not stay in touch.’
‘I didn’t mean—’
Art folded his arms and faced the front. Theodore wanted to explain himself, but what was there to explain? He shut the door and watched the cab drive away. To his surprise, he didn’t feel all that upset about it.
When he opened the door to the flat, he was surprised to find Hugo there, sat behind his desk and looking just as startled to see Theodore.
‘Hello,’ said Hugo.
‘Hello,’ said Theodore.
For a long while, that was all either of them said. Then Hugo said, ‘Darling, can we talk?’
‘Of course,’ said Theodore, terrified but also delighted that Hugo had called him ‘darling’. ‘Shall I make tea?’
‘Oh. Why not?’
Theodore prepared the best tea tray he’d ever made, with loose leaf Earl Grey and three kinds of biscuit. When he brought it through to the sitting room, Hugo was sitting in the armchair, where the clients normally sat. Theodore put the tray down and poured two cups. His thumping heart almost made him spill. The sofa was still made up as a bed from when Hugo had used it last night. Theodore just perched on top of it.
‘Can I ask you a question?’ said Hugo.
‘Of course,’ said Theodore.
Hugo paused. ‘Do I bore you?’
‘Please be honest with me,’ Hugo insisted. ‘Are you unhappy?’
‘Of course not.’
Hugo looked doubtful. ‘I love you. And I don’t want to lose you. But I realise you gave up a whole lifestyle to be with me. So if there’s something I can’t give you and you want to get it from somewhere else, then… Then I’m willing to give it a try.’
‘Oh, Huey, don’t be so silly! This is all my fault. I’m happy. I’m more than happy.’ He sighed. ‘Going back to the Hammam made me nostalgic about the good old days, yes, but I wouldn’t give up what I have now. I’m living with a man I love more than anything and I’m a private detective who fights injustice. How could I possibly be bored?’
‘But… the other night…’
‘I know, I know, forget that, I’m sorry I ever said it.’ Theodore held his face in his hands. ‘It was all Art. At dinner, he told me about his sham marriage and said all this stuff about how risky it is for the two of us to live together. I was scared. I only suggested opening the relationship because I thought it would make it safer for us to stay together.’
Hugo frowned. ‘How would that make it safer?’
‘I don’t even know anymore. That was just how Art made it sound. That if I let myself get too close to you, they’d… they’d catch us and split us up.’ Theodore sniffed. ‘Oh, this is silly…’ He took out his handkerchief to dab his eyes.
‘Teddybear…’ Hugo crossed the room and joined Theodore on the sofa, taking him into his arms. Theodore welcomed the embrace, holding Hugo so tightly, as though he was afraid to let go.
For a while, they sat like this, without speaking, without moving. Then, in a quiet and gentle voice, Hugo said, ‘I’ve worried about the same thing, you know?’
‘I worry about nearly everything,’ Hugo admitted with a smirk. ‘But that’s why I keep my things in the spare bedroom. That’s part of what the agency is for. So long as our house is also an office, we have an excuse to live together.’
‘Ohh,’ said Theodore. How had he not thought of that before?
‘I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. All we can do is just take things as they come. It’s a risk, yes, but living without you scares me more.’
Hugo planted a kiss upon Theodore’s forehead. Theodore blushed. ‘I should’ve known you’d be able to calm me down with a bit of common sense. I ought to have just told you everything from the start.’
‘Yes, you should have.’
‘But Huey, promise me one thing.’
‘Don’t just do things to make me happy. This is your relationship, too. Your happiness is just as important as mine.’
Hugo looked up at Theodore’s smiling face. ‘I can do that.’
‘That’s my man.’
The sun was setting. The room was cast in an amber gloom. The tea had gone cold.
Hugo and Theodore were sat together on the sofa, talking about the case. Theodore told Hugo all about his investigations inside the bathhouse. He told him about his embarrassing encounter with Percy and Dougie. He told him what they knew about Jack and where they had differed on his conduct in the bathhouse. He even told him about how Percy had made a pass at Theodore, making it very clear that he had turned down the offer at once. Hugo’s nostrils flared when Theodore told him about his coffee with Art and he exhaled sharply when he learned that Art had accompanied Theodore to confront Dougie. But he listened with interest as Theodore told him about his interview with Dev and about how he’d identified Dougie as the blond haired man. And his eyes widened with alarm when Theodore told him about how he’d shut a wrongly accused man in a wardrobe.
Hugo admitted to his own mistake. He told Theodore about tracking down Charles Parsons and the awkward conversation they’d shared. He told Theodore about the even more awkward meeting with Molly Doyle and Theodore sniggered when Hugo told him she had kicked out the house for suggesting Keegan was going to the bathhouse to meet men. Theodore was impressed to learn how Hugo had infiltrated County Hall and found out the gossip of Keegan’s suspension. And he made a loud guffaw when he learned that Hugo, too, had accused the wrong person, though he was fascinated to hear about Molly’s disguise.
As an afterthought, Hugo added, ‘Oh, and there’s this.’ He dug into his pocket and pulled the gold signet ring. ‘I found it in the locker that should have been Charles Parsons’. But since he’s alive I suppose it’s not relevant.’
Theodore took the ring and turned it over in his hands. ‘Oh, yeah. There was a man at reception asking about a ring like this.’
Hugo raised an eyebrow. ‘When?’
‘Yesterday afternoon,’ said Theodore. ‘He said it was a family heirloom that the Hammam had lost.’
‘Did he mention anything about a pair of boots? Size eight, brown lace-ups? With scuff-mark on the right sole?’
‘No, nothing like that.’
Hugo cast his eyes around the room, across each of his cork-boards and the one-hundred-and-ten names affixed to them. With a start, he was on his feet.
‘What is it?’ said Theodore.
‘We need to move that body,’ said Hugo. ‘Right now.’
Next Update: 11th September