Hugo and Theodore shared a confused look. ‘I’d recommend you resign from the Hammam and move abroad,’ said Hugo.
‘And if I don’t?’ said Butterfield.
Again, the detectives glanced at one another. ‘We’ll report you to the police,’ said Theodore. Wasn’t that implicit?
Butterfield smirked. ‘No, I don’t think you will.’
He paused and stared the detectives down, as if daring them to disagree.
‘Are you threatening us?’ said Hugo.
‘Not at all!’ Butterfield chuckled. ‘I don’t have to do anything to you. You see, before tonight, I believed you would tell the police if you learned the truth. In our first meeting, you told me you avoid involving the police, so you can protect the innocent. If you discovered there was no queer killer, that the victim wasn’t one of your lot and that the whole thing was little more than petty industrial espionage, you’d know there were never any queer lives at risk. There’d be nothing to stop you calling the police. And yet… here we are. You’ve done nothing, except tell me what you know. You’re just as invested in keeping this secret as I am. And I think I know why.’
He took a moment to enjoy the effect this had on the detectives. Out of Butterfield’s view, between their chairs, Theodore’s fingers felt for Hugo’s hand. Once he found it, Hugo reassured him with a tight grasp.
‘If you’re talking about our harbouring a body,’ said Hugo, ‘we have a contact in the Met who will overlook that.’
Butterfield shook his head. ‘If you tell the police what I’ve done, you’ll have to tell them why. The proof Mr Doyle found will be exposed. The council will suspend our license for good.’
Theodore said, ‘Oh.’
Hugo said, ‘That’s no concern of ours.’
‘I disagree,’ said Butterfield. ‘This place is a safe haven for your sort. You can meet, socialise and… do whatever it is you poofs do with complete discretion.’
‘While you profit off of us,’ said Theodore, irritably.
Butterfield shrugged. ‘Think yourself lucky that I do.’
‘There are other bathhouses,’ said Hugo. ‘Your clientele can go elsewhere.’
‘If the Public Control Committee find out we lied to them, that we actually profit from your kind, they may well introduce stricter regulations for all the bathhouses in London. It wouldn’t surprise me if they conduct more inspections. They’ll catch violators. It could lead to arrests. Before you turn me in, I think you should take a moment to think about whose interests you’re serving.’
He picked up his cigar stub and inspected it. Satisfied it had gone out, he trimmed the end with a cigar cutter and dropped it into a brass cigar tube. The detectives didn’t say a word.
‘Here’s what I suggest,’ said Butterfield. ‘Why don’t we part ways and say no more about it? Finish the job I hired you for, get rid of the body and the whole dirty business will be done with. And in case there’s any discomfort about that, I’ll even double your fee. Yours too, Arthur.’
He reached into his desk and threw another wad of five pound notes on the table.
‘Do we have an accord?’
Hugo wanted to throw the money in Butterfield’s face. He wanted to assure him that he and Theodore were not so easy to manipulate. He wanted to have Butterfield arrested, to shout his secrets to everyone in Piccadilly Circus and not give a damn about the consequences. But his fury evaporated the moment he looked at Theodore.
This was the Hammam. It was the same damn argument all over again. And no matter how much they wailed and screeched and dug in their heels, it was going to end the same way. If they wanted to protect innocent people, they would have do what Butterfield wanted.
Art hadn’t even hesitated to take his share from the desk. Hugo, on the other hand, looked Butterfield dead in the eye and said, ‘Our fee is already sufficient.’
‘There won’t be a problem?’ said Butterfield.
‘No,’ said Hugo.
The detectives stood to leave, as did Art, following their lead.
‘That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain,’ said Theodore. ‘There’s daggers in men’s smiles.’
‘I hope we don’t meet again,’ said Hugo.
‘Agreed,’ said Butterfield. He turned his back on them.
On their way out, they passed Furqan at the door. He watched them with a contemptuous smirk.
Hugo, who was leading, paused in the doorway. He took out the gold signet ring and held it out to Furqan. ‘This might help with your dissatisfied customer.’
Furqan’s smirk vanished. He took the ring. And once the three of them were outside, he shut the door with a thud.
Then they were standing in the quiet of the corridor. There was no satisfaction, no relief. There wasn’t even any sadness or fear. Just the numb feeling that came with being completely powerless.
‘I tried to tell you, said Art.
The detectives looked at him.
‘Over and over I said Dougie was innocent. You might’n’t have realised if I hadn’t said anything. I very nearly came clean yesterday, in the coffee shop, but you said you’d do the right thing, no matter what. I thought if you found out the truth, you’d report it even if it meant getting the Hammam shut down.’
Hugo looked at Theodore. Theodore looked at Hugo. Arm in arm, they turned and headed back for the stairs.
‘You don’t understand!’ Art went on. ‘It’s Jenny, she, she’s obsessed with money, she’s put herself in charge of my finances, I can’t get a gin at a bar without her asking where that cash went. I didn’t want to do it but, well, you saw what he was offering.’
But the detectives were already headed downstairs.
‘Theo, please! Don’t leave things like this!’
The detectives left. Art watched them go, not daring to follow.
Hugo and Theodore went home. They had spared no time to eat that evening, so Theodore offered to make something. Hugo helped him cook the chicken breast they had in the fridge by preparing a golden sauce to pair it with. They sat down for the first normal meal they’d shared in days.
It felt odd to end the day like this, with a sit-down dinner as though all was well. This was the day they had prepared to dump a corpse. This was the day their home had been searched by a policeman. This was the day they had accused a murderer and he’d gotten away with it. But they were still alive. And they still had each other. Sometimes, that was all the victory you got.