Art was sat on a chair in the reception of the Jermyn Street Hammam, fidgeting nervously. When Theodore walked in, he was on his feet at once, greeting him before even the attendants could.
‘I was so relieved when you telephoned,’ he said, almost tripping over his words. ‘Listen, if it’s about what I said earlier, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—’ He stopped when he saw Hugo, standing right beside Theodore. ‘Oh, you’re here too.’
‘Yes,’ said Hugo. He smiled.
Art frowned. ‘Why did you ask me to come here?’
‘We’re having a meeting,’ said Theodore. He nodded towards reception, where Furqan was already waiting. Barely even acknowledging they’d seen him, he turned and disappeared behind reception. Though he left the door open.
‘Come along, now,’ said Theodore as he gently ushered Art behind reception.
Upstairs, the door to Mr Butterfield’s office was open. Furqan was standing just inside, ready to close it as soon as they entered. Butterfield was at his desk as usual, although, for the first time, he was not in the middle of some other task. Instead, he waited patiently, a sober expression on his face. Three chairs were set out.
The detectives sat without invitation. Art hesitated. He risked a glance back at the door but Furqan was guarding it. He sat down.
There was a brief silence.
‘The case is solved, I take it?’ said Butterfield.
‘Not quite. We have one question left,’ said Hugo. ‘Did you kill Keegan Doyle yourself or did you have Furqan do it for you?’
Art gasped. He was the only one who did.
Butterfield smiled. ‘I did it myself, of course. What sort of manager do you take me for?’ He interlocked his fingers and put his hands on the desk. ‘I take it the policeman’s visit gave me away? Since I was the only man—other than yourselves—who knew where the body was?’
‘That confirmed our suspicions,’ said Theodore. ‘Tipping off the police about the body was your trump card. Why did you wait so long to play it?’
Butterfield sighed. ‘I feared you would work out who tipped them off and draw reasonable conclusions. The police would have little reason to believe you, but still, there was the risk. I was hoping for a more… mutually beneficial solution.’
‘Luckily for us, we were already on to you before he knocked,’ said Theodore.
‘I believe a customer of yours is missing a gold signet ring,’ said Hugo.
‘…It’s come to my attention.’
Hugo pulled the ring out of his pocket and held it up for Butterfield to see. ‘I took it when Furqan and I searched the lockers. We also found a pair of brown, lace-up boots which Furqan kept. The ledger suggested they belonged to a Mr Charles Parsons, but since I met Charles, alive and well and missing no boots or ring, it was clear he had checked out with all of his belongings. Thus, the locker had been assigned to somebody else.’
‘I encountered the new owner of that locker complaining at reception,’ said Theodore. ‘He had lost his ring but not his boots, meaning he had already reclaimed the latter. Since you gave them to him, you must have known those boots didn’t belong to Charles Parsons, and yet you didn’t tell us. It served your purposes to keep us confused. You never wanted us to find the murderer.’
Butterfield nodded to himself, more amused than anything else.
‘What would you have done had I asked to see the boots again?’ said Hugo.
‘Actually, we still have the boots,’ said Butterfield. ‘We gave that customer a decoy pair. We expected you would be more likely to notice the difference.’
‘Good thinking,’ said Hugo.
Another silence fell across the room. Art was fidgeting again. Furqan hadn’t moved an inch.
‘I take it you have some form of insurance? For your safety?’ said Butterfield.
Hugo nodded. ‘If we don’t walk out of here alive, a letter will be delivered to the police informing them where to find the body along with a written account of what we know.’
Butterfield dismissed these words with a lazy wave. ‘Relax. You won’t be harmed.’ With a sigh, Butterfield took a cigar from his desk drawer and lit up. ‘To business, then. How much have you figured out?’
Hugo and Theodore shared a glance. With a gesture, Hugo encouraged Theodore to speak first.
‘There never was a queer killer. That was a story you invented, to interest us in taking the case and to distract us from the truth.’
‘The truth,’ Hugo continued, ‘is that Keegan Doyle was not killed for being queer. He wasn’t queer at all. There’s only one reason you would want him dead.’
A wry smile played across Butterfield’s lips. ‘Go on.’
‘We think we have a good idea what happened,’ Theodore obliged. ‘Keegan Doyle was a typist at County Hall. It was the first job he found that would get him out of his hometown, though he had aspirations for better. So he worked hard and his work was rewarded with a high profile assignment: taking minutes for the Public Control Committee. And one of the cases he worked on was the Hammam’s hearing to reinstate its revoked license.’
‘Your license was revoked because of complaints of what the Council call indecent conduct,’ said Hugo. ‘You argued that your clientele were too respectable for that, but agreed to increase staff as a countermeasure. The committee was satisfied with that and restored your license. Keegan was the only one who saw the flaw.’
‘What difference does it make how much staff there are,’ said Theodore, ‘if your staff turn a blind eye to the queer goings on? Dev told me that’s what you encourage them to do. Queers are good for business after all. However, whether it was his career aspirations or his Catholic upbringing, Keegan was possessed by a sense of duty to expose you. But who at the council would listen to the conspiracy theories of a lowly typist?’
‘So he took it upon himself to investigate the Hammam,’ said Hugo. ‘Unfortunately, it did not go unnoticed. It’s not clear to us what happened exactly. One of his coworkers claimed he stole confidential documents. Another suggested he asked inappropriate questions during meetings. A third believed he had become obsessed with the Hammam after the hearing, as did his own wife. Whatever he did, it was egregious enough that he was suspended from work.’
Butterfield, who had listened to the whole thing with an amused smile on his face, raised an eyebrow at this. ‘He was suspended?’
‘He was already attending the Hammam regularly at this point,’ said Theodore, ignoring Butterfield’s interruption, ‘but not to meet men. Percy called him a window-shopper, saying he only liked to look. Dougie met him many times, but despite an attraction their relationship remained celibate. And even after his suspension, Keegan continued to attend multiple times a week, using a fake name. He was an undercover inspector. He had to prove his suspicions to secure his job.’
‘And on Tuesday evening, that’s exactly what he did,’ said Hugo. ‘From what Theodore learned when speaking to your staff, it’s rare for bathers to be intimate where the staff can see them. Keegan must have struggled on that front too. So he struck up a friendship with a regular, Douglas Milliner, who was a well-known cruiser of the Hammam. He only ever met Douglas inside the bathhouse and only ever in the east hot room, which was always manned by an attendant. If Douglas made a pass at him, and the attendant did nothing, Keegan would have his proof. But despite Keegan’s best attempts to allure him, Douglas abstained.’
‘Keegan was running out of time,’ said Theodore. ‘His hearing had been arranged for the following week. If he were to find proof by then, he would have to take matters into his own hands, quite literally. He made a very unmistakable pass at Dougie, and though he received a punch to the face in exchange, he also got the proof he needed. Dev Mandal was the attendant on duty, but instead of ousting Keegan from the building as he was supposed to, he gave Keegan advice on where he might have better luck. It would be hard to find clearer proof than that.’
‘And that might have been it,’ said Hugo. ‘Had it not been for Keegan’s wife, Molly. Suspicious of the time he was spending in the Hammam, she took a bold and rather unexpected action. She disguised herself as a man and infiltrated the bathhouse. She spied on her husband, saw one of his attempts to “seduce” Douglas and confronted him about it.
‘What else could Keegan do? He told her the truth, that he was an undercover investigator for the council and had found proof that men in the Hammam were continuing to commit hygiene violations. Though he neglected to mention he was suspended from work and was not there in any official capacity.’
‘Fortunately for him, his wife believed him,’ said Theodore. ‘But she wasn’t the only one. The cubicles aren’t exactly soundproof after all.’
‘Was it Furqan who overheard? On his rounds, the way you claimed he found the body?’ asked Hugo.
‘It was,’ said Butterfield, as casually as if they were discussing some gossip about the neighbours. ‘He’s a very loyal employee. He warned me at once.’
‘I expect that was before Molly left,’ said Hugo. ‘Either that or you were lucky enough that Keegan was still in the changing cubicle when you got there.’
‘The former is correct,’ said Butterfield. ‘I’d expected him to leave with his wife. My plan was to have Furqan follow them and decide what to do once we knew where he lived. When she left without him, he remained in the cubicle. I saw an opportunity. I seized it.’
‘You confronted him there,’ said Theodore. ‘Perhaps you disarmed him with some irrelevant chit-chat, or perhaps you confronted him outright with what you knew.’
‘Irrelevant chit-chat,’ Butterfield nodded. ‘So I could close the curtain.’
‘And you choked him to death,’ said Hugo.
‘I did,’ said Butterfield, without a trace of shame.
Art had stopped fidgeting. He was now sat in an awkward position, his knuckles against his chin and his eyes fixed on the carpet to right of Butterfield’s desk.
Butterfield nodded approvingly. ‘An accurate assessment of events. I’m impressed.’ He sighed. ‘If I’d known Mr Doyle was not actually here on behalf of the council, things might have happened differently.’
‘And this is where we enter the narrative,’ said Theodore. ‘“One problem at a time”, that’s what you said to us on Tuesday night. You approach many of your problems that way, don’t you?’
Butterfield laughed. ‘I would say I trust myself enough as a problem solver to improvise.’
‘So you’d killed a man. That was one problem solved. Now you were faced with what to do with the body. You couldn’t call the police, of course. The public scandal might affect your business, yes, but you were also afraid of becoming a suspect. Fortunately, you remembered me and the business card I gave you years ago. Your very own on-call body removal service.’
‘You carved the word into his chest,’ said Hugo, ‘to create the impression of a killer targeting queer men. You assumed, quite rightly, that this would be enough to interest us in the case. And that we’d immediately suspect another bather and overlook you.’
‘It worked a treat,’ said Theodore. ‘With the body out of the bathhouse, that was your second problem solved. However, you’d created a third problem. You now had two detectives investigating the murder you had just committed.’
‘Fortunately, we were under your employ,’ said Hugo. ‘You were in charge of your own investigation. All you needed to do was steer us away from the truth and towards a suitable scapegoat to take the blame.’
‘You’ve played a merry little game with us, haven’t you?’ said Theodore. ‘You’ve lied, you’ve planted evidence, you’ve attempted to frame an innocent man. And you helped him do it.’
These last words were directed at Art. Art didn’t realise at first, but the pause in the conversation prompted him to look up. He winced when he discovered Theodore glaring at him.
‘I can explain,’ he said.
‘No,’ said Theodore firmly. ‘Allow me.’